LONDON: Teen horror is a surprisingly tricky thing to get right. Go to far with the ‘horror’ and it makes it unsuitable for teen audiences. Go to far with the ‘teen’ and it makes it a tough sell for anyone else. In an attempt to tread this finest of lines, Disney+ has opted to adapt the works of prolific teen-horror writer R. L. Stine into a new, eight-part anthology series, featuring standalone episodes and a cast of fresh young actors.
“Just Beyond” covers a lot of ground in those eight episodes — from aliens and monsters to ghosts and alternate universes. Each episode stays unerringly on the right side of family-friendly, with just the occasional jump scare and a tendency to wrap every episode up with a nice, narrative bow by the time the credits roll. Fans of Stine’s books and graphic novels will find a lot to like in “Just Beyond”.
Where the series really finds its feet is during its more allegorical moments. In among the stories of witches and ghouls are some heart-warming (yet still teen-friendly) parallels. When a young girl realizes that the monster stalking her (“My Monster”) is created by her anxiety following her parents’ divorce, she discovers it only chases her if she keeps running. A teenage witch tries to hide her gifts from her friends (“Which Witch”) until she realizes that they love her no matter what. A grieving son takes his widowed mother for granted (“The Treehouse”) until a trip to an alternate dimension teaches him to appreciate that they both miss his dad. You get the idea.
Some of the messages are a little heavy handed, and some of the performances a little over earnest. But though “Just Beyond” can be a tad on the nose, that’s probably what it’s going for. Parents, admittedly, might not find a huge amount to draw them in, but this show isn’t really for them, as the title of the first episode in the series makes clear. Its name? “Leave Them Kids Alone.”
Review: Red Sea International Film Festival title ‘Farha’ is a devastating look at war
Updated 09 December 2021
CHENNAI: Jordanian film “Farha” is competing in the Red Sea International Film Festival’s Red Sea Competition section and saw its first screening at the event take place on Wednesday night.
The film opens on a cheerful note that soon turns dark as it rolls along, bringing death, destruction and displacement to the silver screen. Penned and helmed by Darin J. Sallam, it is set in a small village in 1948, the year Israel declared its independence and the Nakba began as Palestinians were driven out of their homes en masse.
It is in this atmosphere that 14-year-old bubbly Farha (Karam Taher) is making plans to begin school. She is certain she can convince her father, Abu Farha (Ashraf Barhom), to let her study, although he wants her to settle down and get married. This passion for education gripped me and the importance of encouraging young girls’ literacy is one of the most compelling themes of the film — even though it is not the main subject matter.
Just when things seem to be going her way, Farha’s village is attacked and her father locks the girl in the family’s cellar saying he will be back soon.
Inspired by real-life incidents, Sallam’s work portrays the violence taking place outside the cellar with Farha watching through a small opening. The film explores the brutality of the soldiers, and also depicts a microcosm of the human will to survive through Farha’s attempts to cling to life in the cellar with no water or food, all while in debilitating fear in this nail-biting film.
We see the human cost of conflict and how emotionally and physically difficult it is to live through such events, all through the experience of one young girl.
First-time actress, Taher carries the work with dedicated brilliance conveying an amazing arc of hope and despair, suffering and joy. Her eyes light up as she watches the birth of a child outside her cellar and the joys of new motherhood, but she pales moments later with the arrival of soldiers. Against all this, Farha’s drive to survive is a lesson in sheer willpower.
The frames are sparse but powerful, with production design by Nasser Zoubi and arresting photography by Rachelle Aoun.
‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise
With his second Netflix special just released, a DC blockbuster on the way, and his own sitcom due soon, the stand-up’s years of hard graft are paying off in a big way
Updated 09 December 2021
DUBAI: At the end of his latest Netflix special, after an hour of uproarious laughter, Palestinian comedian Mo Amer walked back on to the stage and decided to tell a very personal story.
“The crowd was going bananas, and I looked around at the design of the stage. On one side was the Banksy art of the Palestinian girl holding a balloon, on the other was the West Bank’s wall, and I thought I’d tell my first experience of going to Palestine — the first time I ever went to go visit my grandparent’s house,” Amer tells Arab News.
The trip occurred in 2009, before Amer’s star had ascended to the heights it has reached today, when he is not only a headline comedian across the world, but also a co-star in the Golden Globe-winning series “Ramy,” the star of the upcoming DC blockbuster film “Black Adam” opposite Dwayne ‘The Rock Johnson, and the co-creator, along with “Ramy” star Ramy Youssef, of his own upcoming scripted Netflix series, loosely based on his own experiences.
Amer, 40, moved to the US from Kuwait when he was 12 years old. His father died when he was 14, which sent him spiraling downwards, a hole he was only able to rise out of when he discovered comedy. Along with comedy, it has been his mother who has been the biggest support in his life. He paid tribute to her in his first Netflix special, 2018’s “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.”
On that trip to Burin and Nablus — the villages of his ancestors — after a delicious meal with his extended family, he looked out the window and saw a mosque that his cousin told him was hundreds of years old. Amer was intent on praying in it and set out from the house only to find a group of men who insisted that he perform the call to prayer for the village that evening.
After some hesitation, Amer accepted the men’s request. After he finished, a man came into the mosque to find out whose voice he had just heard bellowing out across the town. He knew everyone in the village, he said but he didn’t know Amer, and ask who his father was. When Amer told him, the man looked stunned.
“Do you know who installed the sound system in this mosque? Your father did,” the man told Amer.
“It was just by coincidence that the special became about my father,” Amer says. “It was never scripted, and was not intended to go in that direction. I just knew then that this story would lend itself well to what I was talking about as an overall connective tissue.”
When Amer got home from shooting what would become “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” streaming now on Netflix, he remembered that he had the footage of that trip somewhere, and through “a miracle,” he managed to track it down on a friend’s old hard drive two days before they had to submit the final film to Netflix.
When they finished editing the special, the first person that he showed it to was his mother. On the screen, Amer recounted the story to the audience with tears in his eyes. When he looked up to see her reaction, Amer’s mother was sobbing, too.
“When she saw that, an encore memorializing my father, and then saw the special was dedicated to him, it was a really cool moment. She just lost it,” Amer says.
Sharing the experience of his parents, and of the Palestinian people, has always been a huge part of Amer’s comedy, and his own identity.
“It’s just who I am. Once you see the experience through your parents’ eyes, and what they’ve gone through, it’s hard to shake that,” he says.
Amer is now at a point in his career where he’s able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before. He’s also doing it through an artistic medium that, when it’s done right, is perhaps the most empathetic and soul-baring, allowing viewers to experience both his perspective and that of the Palestinian people in an incredibly intimate way.
“That’s why I think the art of stand-up is so liberating. It’s never been about the money. I could care less about money,” he says. “Making money is great, and I want to make what I can, but it’s about telling great stories. I’m less concerned about money, and more concerned about punching above my weight. Creating a masterpiece is a worthy trek. That’s how I feel. That’s where I’m at right now with my stand-up, and my TV show.”
Amer has never forgotten the mission he set for himself when he first adjusted the microphone to his tall frame — the days in his early teens when he first began sharing his comedy, and found that no one was telling stories about his experience, or the experience of Arabs of any descent.
“I first got on stage at 14 years old, and I started touring when I was 17. Immediately, I started noticing that there was this huge gap — a massive, gaping hole,” he says. “There was no real representation at all on any of those stages of Arabs or Muslims. I said to myself, “OK, why don’t I introduce it?’”
Decades later, while Amer is still intent on sharing the stories of both his family and his people, part of the real joy of this part of his career is that he no longer needs to introduce himself to every audience. With “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” the crowd knows both him and his work well, allowing Amer to spend the bulk of the time telling jokes about things far outside the realm of his identity.
“I’ve already told my story. Now I can just be a stand-up comedian, talking about whatever comes to mind. That’s something that I’ve always been waiting for. I’m not just explaining where I come from, and to me that’s really fulfilling,” Amer says. “I can just be me, and then at the end showcase a small village with 2,000 people in it where my family comes from, a bit of seasoning that I can pinch on at the end. And honestly, I’m still pinching myself that I’m there. I’m speechless.
“My first special ended up being about my mother, and the second one, completely unplanned, was about my father. It feels like I’ve done the biggest things I wanted to do,” he continues. “I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Everything else is just gravy.”
Review: Benedict Cumberbatch plays against type in ‘The Power of the Dog’
Netflix’s Western drama showcases its talented cast, and a director with an eye for detail
Updated 09 December 2021
LONDON: There’s something a bit discombobulating about watching Benedict Cumberbatch swaggering through the Montana mountains in “The Power of the Dog” — the latest movie from New Zealand director Jane Campion. Some of the British actor’s most notable performances, remember, have him as a man of extraordinary precision and poise; characteristics that are a long way from his portrayal of rancher Phil Burbank. That said, such a sense of slight discomfort only serves Campion’s movie, helping to build a sense of something not quite right at the heart of her adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 Western novel, set in 1925.
Phil and his brother George (Jessie Plemons) run a successful ranch. Phil is the practical one, turning his hand (or knife) to anything that needs doing and building an easy rapport with the ranch hands. He calls George ‘fatso’ all the time, and mocks his brother’s aspirations of climbing the societal ladder.
When George marries widowed inn owner Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil suspects she’s only after his money. And when Rose and her oddball, effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) come to live at the ranch, Phil turns outwardly hostile to the pair of them, driving Rose to drink and taunting Peter’s academic pursuits and lack of wilderness skills. Phil offers to take Peter under his wing, teaching the boy to ride and urging him to ‘man up’ and throw off the influence of his mollycoddling mother.
Cumberbatch plays Phil with such sophisticated menace that we’re never sure if his interest in Peter is benevolent, or part of a more sinister plan. Smit-McPhee, also, imbues Peter with such eccentricity that it’s never clear how genuine his foal-like innocence really is — an ever-present unknown that Campion skillfully wields throughout the movie’s long runtime.
“The Power of the Dog” is also staggeringly beautiful, with the rolling hills of New Zealand standing in for Montana and providing breathtaking backdrops to the story’s very human dynamics. While the final act drags its feet ever so slightly, the film remains a stylish masterclass in slow-burn character development.
‘We need to invent another way of living,’ says Moroccan artist Abderrahim Yamou
The acclaimed veteran artist has placed nature at the heart of his work for decades
Updated 09 December 2021
LONDON: The paintings of Moroccan artist Abderrahim Yamou give a fresh and sometimes startling perspective on the wonders of the natural world. Yamou, it seems, notices details which most miss — so, a seed is portrayed in all its splendor and given the same prominence as a tree trunk or a flower. It’s like walking into a new dimension, where normal proportions and perspectives no longer apply.
Yamou says his science background shaped his acute observation of nature. As an undergraduate, he studied biology at the University of Toulouse, before earning the French equivalent of a Master’s degree in the history of contemporary art in Morocco at the Sorbonne. It wasn’t until 1986, however, aged 27, that he decided to commit himself fully to art.
Yamou’s imagination is also fired by his homeland of Morocco. Born in Casablanca in 1959, he showed a leaning towards art from an early age, drawing on any surface he could find. This artistic drive didn’t come from his father — a blind lottery vendor — or his mother (“I was born in a humble, respectful and caring environment,” he tells Arab News), but he was given the space to be creative, as reflected in the wide range of mediums he uses. Apart from his paintings, Yamou also creates sculptures inspired by traditional African art, most notably N’Kondé statuettes from Bas Congo.
He describes how, early on, he started “working with earth.”
“I mixed the earth with glue and spread it out on a wooden surface. When I kneaded this material, I had a wish to see a green shoot. But that was impossible because the glue sterilized the soil,” he says. “My interest in plants, gardens and trees stems from this time and also has its roots in the south of Morocco, where green symbolizes life and survival.’
That interest has been maintained throughout his life. It’s particularly clear in his series “Branches” and “Chlorophyll” series.
Of the former, he says: “I was interested in the movement and direction that a branch takes to go towards light. On this journey, the plant undergoes constraints which force the branches to contort in order to move forward. I have observed these contortions a lot in my garden and I find them aesthetically beautiful — a poetry of effort and dancing resistance.”
Discussing “Molecule P1,” a painting from the “Chlorophyll” series, he explains: “I am interested in the interior of plants — the molecules that constitute them and the atoms of chlorophyll. In this painting, branches, seeds, flowers and atoms coexist. My view of nature is much more poetic than botanical.”
Yamou currently divides his time between Paris and Tahannaout, a village south of Marrakesh, near the foot of the Atlas Mountains. But the place he most loves to be, he says, is his studio.
“Except for external constraints, I like to be in the workshop every day. It’s a place of research and chosen solitude. I keep the rigor and constancy of my former scientific studies,” he explains.
His close observation of nature over many years has led Yamou to form some carefully considered opinions about how best to look after our planet.
“We are all aware of the growing environmental concerns. But to reverse this, we need more than awareness,” he says. “We need to invent another way of living; we need to make more room for the other inhabitants of the earth — all the other living things, the flora and fauna. We need to realize that plants and animals are also inhabitants of this planet and that their presence contributes to the global balance. We must gradually reduce the number of humans on earth and learn to live with less — except for those who have nothing or very little.”
He encourages people to persevere with their personal efforts to protect the planet, as each and every action is worthwhile and builds a momentum for change.
“While waiting for collective action to take effect, it is not useless to proceed individually to reduce all that appears harmful to us,” he concludes.
Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh
Updated 09 December 2021
Rebecca Anne Proctor
RIYADH: Two sculptures glisten in the sunlight in an outdoor space in JAX, the recently developed creative district in the industrial zone of Diriyah, just outside of Riyadh. They are part of the third Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium held under the theme of The Poetics of Space, which featured 20 works by Saudi and international artists focusing largely on the interplay between light and shadow.
Some of the large abstract sculptures appear to undulate like waves with their curvaceous forms while others challenge the surrounding desert landscape with their bold geometric forms. Saudi artist Wafa Al-Qunibit’s work Allah is representative of her desire to speak to both the Saudi and international community through intersecting and overlapping circles carved into marble depicting the name of God in Arabic. Karin van Ommeren’s Awareness Stone was created to symbolize eternity through a composition that has no beginning or end.
The 20 sculptors were chosen out of 418 applicants from 71 countries. The selected artists came to Riyadh, where they all created their works over a period of three weeks from Nov. 15 until Dec. 5 from giant blocks of black and white pearl marble imported from Oman. The resulting works are exhibited on site in JAX for four days until Dec.10.
What was crucial to the initiative was the element of cultural exchange — uniting artists from around the world in Riyadh through creative dialogue with the end goal of beautifying the city of Riyadh.
Artists Anna Korver, Haider Alawi Al-Alawi and Kim De Ruysscher announced as winners of the 2021 symposium
The symposium was organized by Riyadh Art, dubbed as one of the world’s largest public art projects of its kind. It is also one of Riyadh’s four megaprojects launched by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, on March 19, 2019. An integral component of Saudi Vision 2030, its mission is to transform Riyadh into a sustainable and environmentally friendly city.
“We tried to update the project this year to make it bigger and more international through workshops and panels and educational programs,” Sarah Alruwayti, architectural project advisor at The Royal Commission for Riyadh City responsible for Riyadh Art, told Arab News. “We aim to create a cultural platform not only for visitors but also for sculptors from around the world to engage with each other. We need to get our talents out into the world and the rest of the world needs to learn about us more.”
“We have 12 projects under Riyadh Art, of which two are annual and 10 are permanent, all of which add a lot of value to the economy and society as they focus on developing roads and bridges and they all encompass art,” Alruwayti said. “The projects work to beautify Riyadh—Riyadh is already beautiful but we are working to add more artistry to the city reflecting Vision 2030’s aims to transform the city into a gallery with no walls.”
Ali Jabbar, the curator of the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium, founded the event three years ago in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Culture. The first and second symposia, in 2019 and 2020, were held in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter.
This year marks the first time that the symposium takes place under the umbrella of Riyadh Art. Jabbar, with the help of five heads of international museums, including Eike Dieter Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Cristiana Collu, the director of Rome’s Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, chose the final selection of 20 sculptors.
“The Tuwaiq symposium is the largest one in the world now in terms of organization, size and quality of sculptures and their artistic and technical value,” Jabbar said. “It has placed the Saudi sculpture scene in the world map.”
The winners of the competition were announced on Dec. 7. First prize was awarded to New Zealand artist Anna Korver for her artwork entitled The Lighthouses triptych, which fused abstract geometrical forms with multiple cultural associations, suggesting female figures. Second prize went to Haider Alawi Al-Alawi of Saudi Arabia for his approach in depicting the landscape through a fusion of abstraction and figuration. His sculpture entitled Beauty evokes the Saudi landscape, featuring the sun, wind and sand. Third prize went to the Belgian Kim De Ruysscher for his Unseen, depicting a figurative form covered in what appears to be a kind of drapery, exploring the concepts of illusion and perception.
The next Tuwaiq Sculpture Symposium will take place in 2022.