Inside the year’s hottest movie, ‘The Batman’

Inside the year’s hottest movie, ‘The Batman’
The much-anticipated latest film is from writer-director Matt Reeves. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 March 2022

Inside the year’s hottest movie, ‘The Batman’

Inside the year’s hottest movie, ‘The Batman’
  • Director Matt Reeves and his all-star cast discuss their interpretation of the Caped Crusader’s story

DUBAI: There has never been a Batman film quite like “The Batman.” Something has always been missing. 1966’s “Batman” was too campy to take seriously. Tim Burton’s films relegated Batman to a supporting character. Even Christopher Nolan’s much-lauded Dark Knight trilogy was about Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne first and foremost, with Batman always feeling like a costume he wears rather than a character in the film. And, in all of them, there was a boy overcoming the tragic death of his parents by becoming a hero — with that part of the story ending there.

“From the first time I read the script, it was clear that this was a drastic departure from the traditional way that Bruce Wayne and Batman are portrayed,” Robert Pattinson, who plays the title role in the new movie, tells Arab News. 

Let’s be clear: The much-anticipated latest film from writer-director Matt Reeves (“War of the Planet of the Apes,” “Cloverfield”) is not another origin story. The film picks up with Batman a year into his journey as the caped crusader, and while he’s established as Gotham’s dark knight, he has not processed the traumas of his youth. He has forgotten how to be Bruce — his truest face is Batman’s.

Robert Pattinson plays the title role in 'The Batman.' (Warner Bros.)

“Bruce Wayne is traditionally portrayed as a society playboy. He’s very much in control of the three aspects of his personality — the silly public face, the serious Bruce at home watching old movies, and Batman. In this one, he’s let Bruce wither away since his parents’ death. The only way he can survive is creating this alter ego which he wants to live in more and more,” Pattinson explains.

“I think he doesn’t have an enormous amount of control over what’s happening to him when he puts that suit on. He genuinely believes he’s another person when he puts it on. And he’s addicted to it. And so when the red light comes on, and calls him out, it’s almost like he’s more afraid of his identity being revealed than dying. For him, it’s almost worse than death,” he continues. “Don’t ask me to explain that.”

For Reeves, that was a conscious decision. While the other Batman films are often about the villains more than the hero, that was out of necessity, as there was no room for Batman himself to grow. But “The Batman” is about the journey of the hero himself, ultimately leading to him the best version of that hero. 

Zoe Kravitz (left) stars as Selina Kyle. (Warner Bros.)

“I’ve seen lots of origin stories,” says Reeves. “I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to do an origin story. I want to come right into (the life of) a young Batman.’ I wanted to position him along an arc of becoming. This is a guy who has room to improve. He’s still pushing. He can become better. I wanted to take that Batman and have him solve a mystery, something that would not be an origin tale, but would refer to his origins and shake him to his core.”

While the film is not an origin story for Batman, it does show how a cast of characters that have traditionally surrounded him — including Penguin (Colin Farrell), Selina Kyle — aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), and Riddler (Paul Dano), came to be who they are. Each of them is more grounded than ever before, without the over-the-top villainy or hint at the supernatural that was found in previous iterations. 

“That’s how this world was designed,” says Jeffrey Wright, who plays Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon. “What’s wonderful about Batman as an idea is that they’re all human. They all exist in a city fashioned after New York City back in 1939. It’s a grounded thing. They have their flaws and their strengths.

 Jeffrey Wright (left) as Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon. (Warner Bros.)

“What really excited me about this script and Matt’s vision was that he was making a Batman for now, honoring the history of the franchise starting in 1939, and infusing this film with a relevance to 21st century Gotham that I think is really exciting,” Wright continues. “I think it’s going to be thrilling for fans because it is modern, but it’s also based in the origins of the characters, which is around mystery, detective work and all of that good stuff.”

That rooted humanity was exactly why Reeves wanted Pattinson in the role.

“What excited me about Robert is that he has this intensity,” says Reeve. “We all know that he will push himself to any place. I wanted a Batman who was exceedingly human. His scars are his strength. What happened to him made him perfectly suited to be the person who will push himself to any length, because it’s the only way he can find meaning in his life. This Batman is a human being, and his superpower is his willingness to endure.”

Paul Dano as the Riddler. (Warner Bros.)

For the cast, it was often a huge challenge to forget some of the franchise’s history and see the humanity buried beneath the iconography; to fashion a real person who was not just an imitation of another performance, and to silo their understanding of those characters. Although not all of them tried to sever that tie fully. 

“I will say that Jim Carrey (who played Riddler in 1995’s “Batman Forever”) was one of my favorite actors growing up. I was obsessed with Jim Carrey in late elementary school. And coincidently Jack Nicholson (who played Joker in 1989’s “Batman”) was my other favorite actor when I was young,” says Dano.

“Luckily, Matt gave us the keys with the script to take the energy that’s there. I do think that this stuff has their energy in it: It’s been around in the culture for a reason. I didn’t have to really think about any other villains work but unconsciously I’m sure it informed me, because those performances are indelible to me.”

Kravitz, on the other hand, found the shadow of those previous performances daunting, having to live up to portrayals of the character from Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway and others. 

“It was intimidating,” she says. “I think the hardest part is forgetting that these are iconic characters. That really was half the battle. I think to really honor who these characters are, and play them as three-dimensional people, you can’t think of them as Catwoman. You can’t think of them as someone iconic. You just have to play a human being in a situation and hope that it all flows together.” 

Robert Pattinson and director Matt Reeves on set. (Warner Bros.)

As well-established as this cast is, another daunting prospect awaiting them once what is undoubtably the most anticipated movie of the year in the Middle East and beyond has been seen is the new level of fame and attention it will bring to each of them. Pattinson has had his fair share from his days in the “Twilight” franchise, but this is something differen. This is Batman.

“It feels very surreal. I’ve been seeing the posters and still thinking it isn’t actually happening. But it’s starting to feel a little bit more real now,” Pattinson says. “But when it comes down to it, I really liked the movie. So at least there’s that.”

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’
Updated 12 August 2022

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’
  • The social media superstar has millions of followers, but still works his day job

DUBAI: It’s a strange life being a content creator. Take Egyptian social-media star Mohammed Tarek, for example. He’s a dentist by day — graduating earlier this year after six years of exhaustive study in Egypt — but in his free time he makes comedy videos, often talking directly to his phone. He puts on voices and does parodies from his bedroom, putting together whatever bits come to mind when he wakes up in the morning before work. By all accounts, he’s a humble, normal person who spends his time with his friends and family. But you’d never know it when he goes to the mall. There, he is a superstar, swarmed by fans. 

“I still remember the first time I got stopped back in 2016,” Tarek tells Arab News. “I was just walking with my sister in the mall, and this girl came up to me. She said, ‘Hey! I love your videos!’ I was like, ‘What? You actually watch my videos?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I would love to take a picture.’ I was stunned. I said, ‘No, I want to take a picture with you!’”

Getting stopped by strangers has become a regular occurrence for Mohammed Tarek. (Supplied)

Since then, getting stopped by strangers has become a regular occurrence for Tarek, who has won legions of fans across the region, amassing 4.3 million followers on TikTok, another 2.3 million on Instagram, and more than half a million on YouTube. He’s even caught the eye of the biggest movie studios in the world, recently getting the nod to voice Aquaman in the Arabic-dubbed version (reanimated so that the character’s mouths move properly with the spoken Arabic) of Warner Bros. summer animation blockbuster “DC League of Super-Pets” — a role played by New Zealand comedian Jermaine Clement in the English-language version. It was a call he never saw coming.

“It’s not the most random thing that’s ever happened in my life, but it’s pretty random,” he says. “The call I got to get the role was insane. I was sitting in uni, just minding my own business, and somebody just called me from this random number, right? I answered it, and they're like, ‘Hey, do you want to be Aquaman?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sounds good!’” 

Mohammed Tarek voices Aquaman (second from left) in the Arabic version of ‘DC League of Super-Pets.’ (Supplied)

Voice acting has always been one of Tarek’s dreams. He has amassed dozens of his own characters that poke fun at different Egyptian cultural archetypes. 

“I’ve always been a fan of voiceover work. Growing up, I found it crazy how people could put so many emotions across just through their voice. The animation is there, of course, to express something, but the voice is the main thing. The voice is what you remember. I would grow up watching Arabic-dubbed cartoons and movies, so being able to move into that world is really full circle for me, and I love it just as much as I thought I would,” says Tarek. 

Like most comedians, growing up, Tarek’s first audience was his family, using his personality to cheer them up in the darkest of times. 

“I’m the youngest, with two older sisters. I remember one day, my sister came home crying from school. She was really devastated. My father tried to calm her down, but nothing worked. I said to myself, ‘I need to fix this.’ So all I did was come up to her and crossed my eyes. I said, ‘Hey, look at me!’ She burst out laughing. I thought, ‘This is the thing I’m going to do from now on,’” says Tarek. 

Tarek was born in Saudi Arabia, moving to Egypt just as he entered his teens. There, he used comedy to fit in with his new classmates, who were very different from the ones that he had known and had initially intimidated him. His plan worked, and he even won over his teachers in the process.

After six years of exhaustive study, Tarek recently graduated from MSA University in Egypt. (Supplied)

“I used to write songs about my teachers, taking the melody of popular songs and rewriting the lyrics to suit each of them. The students would laugh, but the teachers would actually laugh with us too. I would stand on a podium in front of the class and they would sit behind me and loved it. My parody songs became a yearly ritual in our school,” he says. 

Tarek first moved into content creation in the early days of YouTube on the now-defunct short-video platform Vine. But he never really expected to find an audience beyond his own home.

“Each of my videos would have five views,” he says. “Four of them would be me, and the other view would be my mom.” 

But in 2016, Tarek made two covers that were similar in spirit to the ones he used to write about his teachers, taking popular songs by Adele and Hozier and singing new lyrics from the perspective of one of his Egyptian characters. He thought nothing of them — until the view count started to climb.

“I woke up one day and thought, ‘What is going on? Why do I have a 100,000 views?’ Then it was ‘Why do I have five million views? What is going on?’ That was the moment when people really started to respond to me,” says Tarek. 

As his star rose, he refused to abandon his plans and launch himself fully into content creation, deciding to stick in school and make videos when he found the time. It’s a choice he doesn’t regret, even now as he’s finally practicing dentistry, but it’s been more exhausting to balance than he usually admits to people.

“I have a lot of friends who are in the social-media area, and they’re exhausted from all they do. I have a lot of friends in the dentistry area, and they’re all burned out. None of them can really relate to what I go through. I’m tired from being a content creator and I’m tired from being a dentist every day. Who does that? Whenever I’m feeling low, it all just hits me. But right now, I’m doing fine,” he says with a smile. “Right now, I’m on a roll.” 

Tarek isn’t content with just social media and dentistry, either. The shift into acting with “DC League of Super-Pets” is one that Tarek is taking seriously, and one that he plans to pursue fully.

“Right now, I’m trying. I'm starting to take acting workshops, which is a huge step for me, because I would never have done that back in the day. Nobody believes it, but, naturally, I’m a really shy person. I was the timid, naïve guy sitting in the corner because I didn’t want to deal with people. A part of me doesn’t understand myself right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop,” says Tarek. 

“I have no idea where I’m going to be five years from now. I’m just going to keep going. If I get offered an audition, I’ll go. I’m going to take any opportunity that’s in front of me. You just have to work, you know what I mean? I truly believe that,” he says. “And I know that’s going to take me wherever I’m supposed to be.”

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine
Updated 12 August 2022

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine
  • The chef patronne at Fusions by Tala trained in Switzerland at the Michelin-starred Prisma
  • She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best

TORONTO: For 33-year-old Tala Bashmi — chef patronne at Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama — modernizing Bahraini and Khaleeji cuisine feels like a “responsibility.” 

Bashmi grew up in Bahrain, and actually began her career at the Gulf Hotel, before heading to Switzerland to train at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois and the Michelin-starred Prisma. 

Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama. (Supplied)

She returned to Bahrain in 2014 and worked her way up through the ranks at the Gulf Hotel to eventually head Fusions by Tala, where she’s determined to reinvent Gulf cuisine. She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best.

“I always saw a gap for a different version of Middle Eastern and Khaleeji cuisine,” Bashmi tells Arab News. “I want to compete on a global scale by elevating our cuisine technically, visually, and flavor-wise,” she says. 

Here, Bashmi offers some advice and a delicious fish recipe to try at home.

Tala Bashmi's Seabream Carpaccio. (Supplied)

What’s your top tip for amateur cooks?
Don’t rush things. For the first two years of my career, I wasn’t even allowed to cook. It was purely preparation. I believe all young chefs should start that way and not jump the gun. When you rush things, you end up burning something. You (eventually) want to combine perfection and speed, but speed alone is not beneficial. 

Also, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife. A dull knife will slip and, most likely, cause injury. So, invest in a good quality knife and keep it sharp. 

What's one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish?
I can think of a few. There’s olive oil. And invest in good salt — not iodized table salt! Whenever I travel, I always get salt that’s local to the region. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the simplest local ingredients can elevate or transform a dish.

What is your favorite cuisine?
Currently, it's Korean. The entire experience of making your own Korean barbeque is fun. With its fermented and pickled elements, it relies heavily on the traditional umami taste, which I enjoy a lot.

What is your favorite dish to cook?
I really enjoy cooking seafood, especially when it's fresh from the market. I love clams. I make a type of curry that has clams and local crabs in it, which you leave to simmer on the stove. When you cook all day, every day, you want to make your meals quick and tasty. 

What’s the most difficult dish you prepare?
Desserts at the restaurant have a lot of elements and are relatively time-consuming. There is the cooking, chilling, setting, assembling, and layering. I’d say my lavender dessert — lavender sponge, blueberry jelly, white-chocolate mousse, and lemon crème brûlée — is the most difficult to prepare.

What are you like in the kitchen? Are you a disciplinary or are you more laid-back?
I was lucky enough to work under a second chef who showed me that you can be kind, gentle, and forgiving in this environment, without being disrespected. So, I follow his example. I don’t like to put people down because everyone learns differently. I want my team to feel happy, comfortable, and confident when they come into the kitchen. Patience and learning to deal with different personalities are important. 

RECIPE: Chef Tala’s pan-seared faskar with vine leaf risotto


90g Faskar fillet; salt; pepper; 30g butter; 3g thyme; turmeric (optional); 150g of Arborio rice; 20g onion (finely chopped); 70g vine leaves; 10g lime juice; 10g parmesan cheese; cooking oil; vegetable stock or water


Instructions (fish):

Pat your fillets to dry them. Season with salt, pepper, and turmeric (optional).

Heat a non-stick pan to almost smoking point. Add 2 tbsp of oil per fillet.

Place the fillet (skin side) with a weight on top.

Cook for one minute, until skin is golden-brown. 

Turn the heat to low, add thyme and 10g of butter. 

The residual heat will finish cooking the fish (time depends on thickness of fillets)


Instructions (risotto):

On low-medium heat, melt 10g butter in a pan, add onion, sauté until translucent. 

Stir rice into the mix.

And one ladle of veg stock (or water) at a time, making sure broth is fully absorbed.

Meanwhile, blanch the vine leaves in hot water for one minute or until softened. Finely chop.

Cook risotto for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. It should be al dente, but creamy.

Add remaining butter, cheese, vine leaves, salt, and lime juice. 

Serve hot.

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph
Updated 12 August 2022

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph
  • Comic-book series finally gets the TV treatment it deserves after escaping development hell

LONDON: For decades, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” epic has been one of the go-to examples of why comic books should be acknowledged as much, much more than outlandish adventures starring superheroes bedecked in garish spandex. 

Despite this (or perhaps because of it), bringing the sprawling saga to the screen — big or small — has been a tortuous process, with countless iterations promising much before, inevitably, falling by the wayside.

Tom Sturridge as The Sandman. (Supplied)

So Netflix deserves some credit for the mere existence of “The Sandman” — a 10-part series developed by Gaiman, David S Goyer and Allan Heinberg and starring British actor Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, the lord of dreams and nightmares. When Morpheus is captured by an occultist and held prisoner for more than 100 years, his kingdom (the Dreaming) falls into ruin, with the balance between dreams and nightmares lost, and rogue entities blurring the lines between the waking world and the fantastical nature of human imagination. After escaping, Morpheus must regain his throne and restore the balance before irreversible damage is done.

“The Sandman” boasts an incredible ensemble cast, with star turns across the board. Jenna Coleman, Stephen Fry, Charles Dance, Patton Oswald, Joely Richardson and Boyd Holbrook are particularly enjoyable, while David Thewlis puts in a staggeringly unsettling performance as one of the many threats Morpheus must prevent from rending the human world asunder.

Tom Sturridge as Morpheus and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in ‘The Sandman.’ (Supplied)

Props, too, to Sturridge for not buckling under the weight of such a momentous character — one beloved by decades of readers. While his performance, at times, relies on such intense whispering as to almost be shouting, Sturridge makes Morpheus a believably fallible protagonist, and a charismatic guide through Gaiman’s fantastically vivid world.

“The Sandman” is many things — fantastical, dark, malevolent, violent, shocking, horrifying and heartwarming — and often several of those at the same time. Weaving such a fanciful tapestry is no mean task, especially in a genre about to get a lot busier with new “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” series on the way. 

“The Sandman” does more than hold its own, however, and while there may be some fans unhappy at some of the tweaks made between page and screen, this remains epic, dazzling, complicated fantasy.

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars
Updated 12 August 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Authors: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins

In Salmon Wars, investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring readers to massive ocean feedlots where millions of salmon are crammed into parasite-plagued cages and fed a chemical-laced diet.
The authors reveal the conditions inside hatcheries, and at the farms that threaten our fragile coasts. They draw colorful portraits of characters, such as the big salmon farmer who poisoned his own backyard and the American researcher driven out of Norway for raising the alarm about dangerous contaminants in the fish.
Frantz and Collins document how the industrialization of salmon threatens this keystone species, and they show how it doesn’t need to be this way.

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music
Updated 12 August 2022

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music
  • DJ KEH: In 2017, I went to an event in the Philippines to attend an international DJ (event), and from here the spark started
  • DJ KEH: The nice thing about being a DJ is that you can create a common bond between you and the audience and take them on a journey through music

RIYADH: Though delivering beats and remixes for a living may seem risky, Saudi DJ KEH does not regret quitting his job at airline carrier Saudia to work as a professional DJ.

“My music career started in 2017 with great potential to make a huge difference in the (electronic dance music) scene in Saudi Arabia due to the popularity and unique style,” he told Arab News.

“In 2017, I went to an event in the Philippines to attend an international DJ (event), and from here the spark started,” he said, adding that he was transfixed by the way the DJs at the turntables bewitched audiences with their shows. 

“There, I realized that I wanted to be a DJ. I didn’t even finish my vacation,” he said. “I went back to start learning, but my family was not supportive at the beginning because, as always, there is something strange about anything new … but after a while, my mother supported me in every possible way.”

Now DJ KEH gets requests to play at public and private events, and has played across a whole raft of events in Saudi Arabia.

“The nice thing about being a DJ is that you can create a common bond between you and the audience and take them on a journey through music,” he said of his profession. “Through music, you can enter the hearts of all people without saying a single word.”

He added that he thinks that it is important for music classes to be introduced into all communities.

“It is very important to have music in the community to learn about other cultures. The language of music brings all the world together,” said the DJ.

He says his musical journey has been influenced by many DJ’s, including a close friend.

“I was inspired by my friend and my first supporter, Hani Al-Bangari, and there are many local talents. Globally, there are many, starting with David Guetta and Martin Carol Cox,” he said.

Sharing his future plan, which is to represent his country at the biggest international events as well as possible, he said: “I want to prove that we are successful in all areas whenever the opportunity arises.

“I think the government is giving space to talented local musicians, and this is one of the directions of Vision 2030. Now, my goal and the goal of all DJs is to develop the DJ profession in Saudi Arabia.”