Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’

Special Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’
Zac Efron, right, and Darin Olien in ‘Down to Earth’ Season 2. (Twitter/@ZacEfron)
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Updated 05 December 2022

Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’

Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’
  • With eight episodes per season, we really got to know Efron and his travel companion, well-being expert Darin Olien
  • Each episode of the second season ends with the message: ‘The team acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands across Australia’

One of the shows that helped me escape my confined space during the 2020 pandemic was Netflix’s “Down to Earth with Zac Efron.”

In the first season actor Zac Efron ventured to France, Puerto Rico, London, Iceland and many other spots.

In each of those places he touched upon the themes of nature, sustainable living and green energy.

He sometimes brought in his famous friends to help with certain adventures. At other times he consulted experts to explain what they were working on to help save the planet.

The first season was a bit all over the place, jumping from topic to topic, much like our attention span during lockdown. This made it the perfect show for those times.

I had only been a casual viewer of Efron’s work up to that point, and knew nothing of his personality, but by the end of season one I had concluded that he seemed like a cool guy to go on a trip with. Many critics agreed, as the season won a daytime Emmy in 2021.

With eight episodes per season, we really got to know Efron and his travel companion, well-being expert Darin Olien.

The second season, also made up of eight episodes, premiered on Netflix in November.

The new season is much more focused, not only because it is centered in one country, or continent, but the two are much more aware of their immense male white privilege, something that seemed a bit lacking in the first — albeit immensely fun — season.

The duo this time around explored the indigenous communities of Australia much more mindfully, and seemed to pass on the mic so that natives could tell us their own story.

Both Efron and Olien were there to learn, enjoy and inspire. And we were like flies on the wall who got to witness it all without leaving our sofas.

Each episode ends with the following message: “The team acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands across Australia.

“We pay respect to the elders past, present and emerging for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country.”

Showing the additional wisdom of the last two years, the two men seemed to really want to get it right this time and not be “the white saviors” in this narrative.

They wanted to be the individuals who let natives take up the space and rightfully guide us all.

Efron and Olien, along with the audience, were merely coming along for the ride. We were all passengers on the journey, with the natives the ones at the wheel.

Narrated by Efron, who would often sneak in playful puns and philosophical observations, season two is a more down-to-earth exploration and one well worth sitting through.

Both seasons can now be streamed on Netflix MENA.


French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 
Updated 26 January 2023

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

DUBAI: French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the 48th Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. 

Khoudri has been nominated for her role in filmmaker Cedric Jimenez's “Novembre,” which tells the story of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of Nov. 13, 2015. She plays Samia, a charitable young woman who volunteers at a homeless camp. Her flat mate is bankrolling her cousin, one of the terrorists. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by lynakhoudri (@lynakhoudri)

The actress is no stranger to starring in films based on real-life incidents. In November 2022, she premiered “Nos Frangins” or “Our Brothers.” The movie tells the harrowing true story of French Algerian student Malik Oussekine who died in police custody in 1986 following several weeks of student protests against a university reform bill. Khoudri plays the role of his sister. 

Meanwhile, Louis Garrel’s “The Innocent” and Dominik Moll’s thriller “The Night of the 12th” are leading the race at the Cesar Awards, with 11 and 10 nods, respectively. 


Review: Shababik Restaurant — follow in Ronaldo’s footsteps at this authentic Lebanese hotspot in Saudi Arabia  

Review: Shababik Restaurant — follow in Ronaldo’s footsteps at this authentic Lebanese hotspot in Saudi Arabia  
Updated 26 January 2023

Review: Shababik Restaurant — follow in Ronaldo’s footsteps at this authentic Lebanese hotspot in Saudi Arabia  

Review: Shababik Restaurant — follow in Ronaldo’s footsteps at this authentic Lebanese hotspot in Saudi Arabia  

RIYADH: Shababik restaurant’s pop-up location in Diriyah, Riyadh, made headlines recently when Portuguese football legend Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently signed for local team Al Nassr, stopped by for dinner with Saudi Minister for Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal.  

Shababik serves authentic Levantine cuisine. It launched in 2014 in Jeddah, and the pop-up will be open until Feb. 22 as part of Diriyah Nights. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shababïk (@shababikksa)

Shababik’s outdoor terrace makes it an ideal place to visit while the weather is cool (there are heaters provided to make sure it’s not too chilly). Sitting outside gives you the opportunity to take in the surrounding palm trees and urban art, and the nearby architecture, which is inspired by the traditional Najdi style. It’s a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere — although the restaurant does occasionally host live music.   

We visited earlier this month to sample a little of the Ronaldo lifestyle.  

For starters, we selected the hummus with meat. It was fresh and tasty, but lacked the all-important final touch: a drizzle of olive oil. The Fattah — a staple dish of cooked eggplant and toasted croutons — was a great way to begin the meal, and we also enjoyed the cheese roll, which was dusted in wild thyme and served grilled rather than fried, giving it that slight crunch without the grease. 

The oriental potatoes were fine, if a little lackluster. They needed more flavor to really bring the dish to life.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shababïk (@shababikksa)

From the seafood menu, we selected the grilled prawns in a marinade of buttery garlic and lemon sauce with chopped cilantro. The prawns were tender and beautifully cooked, and the sauce complemented them well.   

The highlight of the meal was the lamb shank oriental rice wrapped in pita bread. The cinnamon-and-pistachio aftertaste was especially interesting and really worked to enhance the flavors of the meat. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shababïk (@shababikksa)

Throughout our visit, the staff were friendly, prompt and eager to help. 

As you might expect, given the restaurant’s recent high profile, those wishing to dine at Shababik must first reserve a table on the MyTable app and pay SR350 per person up front. 

Overall, the food was good, but it’s the Diriyah location that really makes a visit to Shababik worthwhile — giving it a vibe inspired by authentic Saudi roots. 


Women in cinema: The rise of female directors in the Arab film industry

Women in cinema: The rise of female directors in the Arab film industry
Nadine Labaki on the set of her award-winning movie 'Capernaum' in January 2017. (AFP)
Updated 26 January 2023

Women in cinema: The rise of female directors in the Arab film industry

Women in cinema: The rise of female directors in the Arab film industry
  • Arab women have garnered awards, critical acclaim and box-office success for their films in recent years, and introduced audiences to ‘a secret world we were not aware of’ 

DUBAI: In recent years, there has been a notable increase in the number — and public profile — of female Arab filmmakers. This is, no doubt, partly due to the increasing market for stories told from an Arab perspective — finally breaking the stereotypical image of Arabs in international films as either victims or villains — as well as to the increasing diversity of the international cinema industry.  

As more films helmed by female Arab directors are released, so their participation in the international festival circuit increases too. They are opening the door to women's cinema in the region, and offering a more rounded, nuanced portrayal of Arab women and their societies to the rest of the world.

Darin J. Sallam (C),  Deema Azar (R) and Ayah Jardaneh (L), at Sallam's office in Amman on Jan 10, 2023 (AFP)

   “It’s a given that since more women started making films, we started seeing a different dimension of female characters,” Ayah Jardaneh, co-producer of the award-winning historical drama “Farha,” Jordan’s official entry for the 2023 Academy Awards, told Arab News.  

“Farha” and several other films made by Arab women have attracted global attention in recent years. Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s “The Man Who Sold His Skin” made the 2021 Oscar nominations, Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” did the same in 2019, and Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani’s “The Blue Caftan” was shortlisted for this year’s Best International Feature Film, but did not make the final nominees. All three won awards at major international festivals. 

Touzani, according to Los Angeles-based critic and producer Husam Asi, “really dives into the psyche of a woman in a very unique way.”   

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania poses at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 1, 2022. (AFP)

  

Supporting female directors is “important everywhere, because women were somehow invisible, but I think it is (especially) important in the Arab world. I’ve met these women, and they are just incredible directors. They have so much passion, they have so much drive, they are so intelligent,” Asi told Arab News.    

Arab female filmmakers have “started breaking the stereotypical roles of women in films, not restricting women to a secondary role, (and they are showing) stronger female representation in their characters. But we still have a lot of work to do,” Jardaneh said.    

“While I don't believe in women getting jobs based solely on gender, women are qualified and talented, so it’s about time that they got the positions, roles and titles they deserve based on their qualifications and without any discrimination against them,” she added. “It is empowering and encouraging that the film industry in Jordan is almost 50 percent women. In the Arab world generally, it is also increasing.” 

In Saudi Arabia, Asi said, “50 percent of directors are women, compared to Hollywood, where less than 10 percent are.” 

Moroccan filmaker Maryam Touzani poses with the Jury Prize during the closing ceremony of the 19th Marrakech International Film Festival, on November 19, 2022, (AFP)

He continued: “The female directors (in Saudi Arabia) are so passionate. You know, (when) you’ve deprived someone of something and suddenly you give it to them, they want to use it; they are so excited, they have the energy, they have so many plans. Each one of them has a big plan, they have big dreams.” 

The first feature-length film made by a Saudi female director was Haifaa Al-Mansour’s 2012 movie “Wajda.” The film was made entirely in Saudi Arabia, and many of the scenes were shot from a van, due to social restrictions then imposed on women. The film cost $4 million to make, but toured the international festival circuit — picking up several awards — and reportedly brought in around $14.5 million at the box office.   

So far, though, this “new” Arab cinema has been mostly restricted to independent movies, rather than mainstream blockbusters. “The dominance of female Arab directors exists only in independent cinema, and not commercial cinema,” Asi said, adding that the same is true internationally.  

"Independent cinema requires less money. (It could be just) a few hundred thousand dollars (to make a) movie that can go all the way to festivals.” Some female-directed indie movies have, like “Wajda,” been successful commercially too. Labaki’s 2007 movie “Caramel,” for example, pulled in nearly $14 million at the box office, having cost around $1.6 million to shoot. 

Saudi film director Haifaa al-Mansour at the Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 6, 2021. (AFP)

Independent, or arthouse, cinema started appearing in the Arab region at the turn of the millennium, when Arabs felt the need to “present our own perspective on international matters,” according to Asi. At that time, anti-Arab and anti-Islam sentiment was running high in the West.  

Investing in cinema became a political decision, as “Arabs — or Arab governments, particularly in the Gulf — became more aware of the importance of media. They started investing in this new cinema, which differs from from the commercial cinema directed towards an Arab audience. They wanted to go beyond that and reach an international audience.” 

Several Gulf cities or countries launched their own film festivals and a number of Arab women received grants from these festivals to make their movies. Palestinian-American director Cherien Dabis made “Amreeka,” reportedly the first Arab-American movie, with financial support from the Gulf. 

Mohamed Atef, programmer of the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt and of Mamlo — an Arab film festival that takes place in Sweden, told Arab News that the number of regional and global funders willing to back female filmmakers is rising rapidly, with gender issues high on their agendas. In part, this is because, since the #MeToo movement came to prominence, a number of film festivals now insist on giving equal opportunities to both genders in their programming.  

But the importance of female filmmakers goes beyond being a beacon for greater social inclusivity and gender equality. They will also ensure a greater diversity of narratives, Azza El-Hassan, a Palestinian-British documentary filmmaker, said. Accepting that men and women have different experiences means “you should accept that a different kind of cinema will come out when a woman holds a camera, than when a man holds a camera,” she told Arab News. “For example, (in) ‘The Man Who Sold His Skin,’ the protagonist is a man, but the director is a woman. You see it, you feel it. The way she films him, the way she approaches the topic. This is women’s cinema, though the topic has nothing to do with women.”   

“A good director is a good director regardless of whether they are male or female,” Atef said. “But there is a feminist directing style.” However, he added, it’s not only women making ‘feminist’ movies. Some well-known Egyptian men have made “very feminist” movies, he said, while some female directors, although their films may revolve around women’s issues “are making movies in a male style.” 

Asi said female filmmakers are more likely to give a “three-dimensional” portrayal of female characters — something notably lacking throughout cinematic history across the globe. 

“The female characters that they create are so beautiful, so rounded, they have such depth, as if they are inviting you into a secret world that we were not aware of, because up to now we were introduced to women from a man’s perspective,” he explained.  

Critics, producers and directors all agree that the future for Arab women in cinema looks bright.  

“I think, in a very short time, it will be an equal industry (in terms of gender),” said Atef. “Cinema is a very dynamic and very smart industry and it always filters what is good and what isn’t.”  

Jardaneh is similarly optimistic.  

“There is an obvious shift in the world, Arab representation is changing. I believe it is our time as Arabs to shine in all industries — and especially our industry; to have our stories told, to have infrastructure and stability. We have the talent, the resources, the stories, the history, and the passion,” she said. “The only way to go now is forward.” 


Actors Riz Ahmed, Allison Williams announce Academy Award nominees

Actors Riz Ahmed, Allison Williams announce Academy Award nominees
Riz Ahmed, won the 2021 Best Actor Oscar, announced this year's nominees. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2023

Actors Riz Ahmed, Allison Williams announce Academy Award nominees

Actors Riz Ahmed, Allison Williams announce Academy Award nominees

NEW YORK: The multiverse-skipping sci-fi indie hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once” led nominations to the 95th Academy Awards as Hollywood heaped honors on big-screen spectacles like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” a year after a streaming service won best picture for the first time.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Academy (@theacademy)

Nominations were announced Tuesday from the academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, by Allison Williams and Riz Ahmed, a British-Muslim actor who won the 2021 Best Actor Oscar.

Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” landed a leading 11 nominations on Tuesday, including nods for Michelle Yeoh and comeback kid Ke Huy Quan.

The 10 movies up for best picture are: “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans,” “Tár,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Elvis,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Women Talking” and “Triangle of Sadness.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Academy (@theacademy)

If last year’s Oscars were dominated by streaming — Apple TV+’s “CODA” won best picture and Netflix landed a leading 27 nominations — movies that drew moviegoers to multiplexes after two years of pandemic make up many of this year’s top contenders.

The nominees for best actress are: Ana de Armas, “Blonde”; Cate Blanchett, “Tár”; Andrea Riseborough, “To Leslie”; Michelle Williams, “The Fabelmans”; Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The nominees for best actor: Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”; Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Austin Butler, “Elvis”; Bill Nighy, “Living”; Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”

The nominees for best supporting actress are: Angela Bassett, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”; Hong Chau, “The Whale”; Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Jamie Lee Curtis, ““Everything Everywhere All at Once”; Stephanie Hsu, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The nominees for best supporting actor are: Brian Tyree Henry, “Causeway”; Judd Hirsch, “The Fabelmans”; Brendan Gleeson, “Banshees on Inisherin”; Barry Keoghan, “Banshees of Inisherin”; Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The nominees for international film are: “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Germany); “Argentina, 1985” (Argentina); “Close” (Belgium); “EO” (Poland); “The Quiet Girl” (Ireland).

The nominees for original screenplay are: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”; “The Banshees of Inisherin”; “The Fabelmans”; “Tár”; “Triangle of Sadness.”

The nominees for best original score are: Volker Bertelmann, “All Quiet on the Western Front”; Justin Hurwitz, “Babylon”; Carter Burwell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Son Lux, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”; John Williams, “The Fabelmans.”

The nominees for best animated film are: “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”; “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”; “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”; “The Sea Beast”; “Turning Red.”

If last year's Oscars were dominated by streaming — Apple TV+'s “CODA” won best picture and Netflix landed 27 nominations — movies that drew moviegoers to multiplexes make up many of this year's top contenders.

Steven Spielberg's “The Fabelmans” struggled to catch on with audiences, but the director's autobiographical coming-of-age tale is set to land Spielberg his 20th Oscar nomination and eighth nod for best-director. John Williams, his longtime composer, extended his record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person. Another nod for best score will give Williams his 53rd nomination, a number that trails only Walt Disney's 59.

Last year's broadcast drew 15.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen, up 56% from the record-low audience of 10.5 million for the pandemic-marred 2021 telecast. This year, ABC is bringing back Jimmy Kimmel to host the March 12 ceremony, one that will surely be seen as a return to the site of the slap.

But larger concerns are swirling around the movie business. Last year saw flashes of triumphant resurrection for theaters, like the success of “Top Gun: Maverick,” after two years of pandemic. But partially due to a less steady stream of major releases, ticket sales for the year recovered only about 70% of pre-pandemic business. Regal Cinemas, the nation's second-largest chain, announced the closure of 39 cinemas this month.

At the same time, storm clouds swept into the streaming world after years of once-seemingly boundless growth. Stocks plunged as Wall Street looked to streaming services to earn profits, not just add subscribers. A retrenchment has followed, as the industry again enters an uncertain chapter.

In stark contrast to last year's Academy Awards, this year may see no streaming titles vying for the Oscars' most sought-after award — though the last spots in the 10-movie best-picture field remain up for grabs. Netflix's best shots instead are coming in other categories, notably with animated film favorite “Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio” and the German submission, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”


Review: ‘Plane’ fails to land but sees Gerard Butler give a soaring performance     

Review: ‘Plane’ fails to land but sees Gerard Butler give a soaring performance     
Updated 25 January 2023

Review: ‘Plane’ fails to land but sees Gerard Butler give a soaring performance     

Review: ‘Plane’ fails to land but sees Gerard Butler give a soaring performance     

CHENNAI: “Plane,” helmed by Jean-François Richet from a screenplay by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis, pales in comparison to some of the great action thrillers of our time.  

With a half-hearted storyline, the only real attraction is Gerard Butler as Captain Brodie Torrance who pilots a huge commercial airline from Singapore to Tokyo just before New Year’s Eve.   

Torrance is a single dad, who promises his little girl that he will be back in Singapore to ring in the New Year, but the universe has other plans. Among the sparse passenger list is a convicted murderer named Louis Gaspare (a middling performance by Mike Colter), who is being extradited. The plot thickens when the pilot is rather bizarrely forced to fly into the eye of a menacing storm, eventually landing on an island inhabited by separatists and militias.  

We quickly pivot into an escape drama with the passengers trying to escape the militants and seek out a mode of communication on the jungle. Richet jumps genres and the work is uneven with more lows than highs.   

Butler manages to be the film’s saving grace — his conversations with his daughter are endearing and memorable, while the director fails to build any real tension in the plot.