DUBAI: In video-game terms, 2013’s “The Last of Us” was pretty much perfect. Set 20 years after a pandemic caused by a mutant fungus has turned most of humanity into aggressive cannibalistic hosts known as the Infected, it follows world-weary smuggler Joel escorting Ellie, a teenage girl immune to infection (and thus viewed as the best hope for developing a vaccine by the Fireflies — a rebel group resisting FEDRA, which exerts totalitarian rule over the quarantine zones where the vast majority of the survivors live), across America.
Joel initially views Ellie purely as cargo, but his paternal instincts (buried since the death of his daughter on the first night of the pandemic) eventually kick in. Ellie, meanwhile, whose bravery and surface-level maturity mostly succeed in masking her fragility, allows herself to trust Joel — despite knowing the risks of trusting anyone. The game was a masterpiece — scary, emotionally engaging, superbly written and beautifully paced.
HBO’s long-awaited adaptation, which launches Jan. 15 on OSN+, has a lot to live up to, then. And the games myriad fans are, generally, an unforgiving bunch.
Judging by the first six of the show’s nine episodes, those fans can rest easy. It helps that co-runner Neil Druckmann also co-directed the game for Naughty Dog. Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie capture the chemistry that is the key to “The Last of Us” — Pascal portraying the vulnerability below Joel’s gruff, no-nonsense exterior with great skill, and Ramsey blending Ellie’s light-hearted teenage silliness with the knowing cynicism and hard shell necessary for her survival.
Much of the game’s storyline is replicated, as are the stunning scenery and monsters created by Naughty Dog. However, the show also shifts the plot significantly at times — usually for the better (in terms of a TV show).
Like the game, the show shifts dynamics well — at times Joel and Ellie’s journey is uneventful enough to lull them (and you) into a false sense of security. Then it goes all high-octane again. It seems Druckmann and co-creator Craig Mazin have managed the almost-impossible; creating a show that will satisfy (most of) the game’s fans, but enthralling enough to pull you in even if you know nothing of the source material.
Bella Hadid launches affirmations hotline through Kin Euphorics brand
Updated 10 June 2023
DUBAI: US Dutch Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid has launched a hotline through the brand she co-founded, Kin Euphorics.
A collaboration between Kin Euphorics and The Mayfair Group led to the launch of a hotline that provides callers who dial into +1(332)-222-4444 with daily positive affirmations dreamt up by Hadid herself.
“Getting to connect @kineuphorics and @themayfairgroup for this special collaboration is a blessing for me — our angels on speed-dial crewneck is live now! The affirmations on our hotline came straight from us - I hope they inspire you to spread kindness and be someone's angel today. If you see this sweater on the street , please go do one thing to make someone’s day.
Thank you @samabrahart @devonnemcfarland and the Mayfair team for your love, connection, patience and heart. I adore you. Thank you to my partner in heart crime and kin @jenofkin and our magical team. I feel lucky. I love you all,” Hadid posted on Instagram.
Brooklyn-based Kin Euphorics, founded by Saudi Arabia-raised Jen Batchelor, boasts non-alcoholic tonics that were “made to transform the world’s oldest social ritual, drinking, into a conscious act of better being,” according to the beverage brand’s official website.
The name Kin Euphorics is a nod to the Greek word “euphoros” – meaning a state of well being.
The brand claims that many of its key ingredients, such phenylethylamine and rhodiola rosea root extract, improve cognitive function and increase energy levels. Kin drinks will also soon be infused with lavender grown on the Hadid family farm in Pennsylvania.
“Throughout my whole life, I have only wanted to promote products and business’ that I wholeheartedly stand by,” wrote Hadid on Instagram following the announcement of her new role as co-founder in 2021. “If it feels unauthentic to me, it’s hard for me to do what I do best. That’s why I am so passionate about sharing with you my newest endeavor, so we can help bring happiness back into the world, through brain health.”
Since starting her meteoric career at the age of 17, the Palestinian-Dutch model has suffered with social anxiety and depression, which she has been transparent about with her fans.
“Since I was 14, I had tried everything to help myself feel better… so I searched and scoured for anything holistic that would help with my chronic exhaustion, depression and anxiety… This is THE drink to make you feel good. Before anything, I was a passionate consumer. It has benefited me for over a year now,” Hadid claimed on social media.
Saudi artist Nujood Al-Otaibi to take McLaren F1 x Vuse studio residency in Dubai
Updated 10 June 2023
Shyama Krishna Kumar
DUBAI: Saudi artist Nujood Al-Otaibi says she feels lucky to have become one of the first artists to be awarded a residency at Dubai’s Studio Thirteen – a special initiative led by the McLaren F1 team and Vuse to help underrepresented artists.
“I'm still in the process of creating my own style as well as my identity. And because I have changed my style from hyper realistic to abstract, I feel that luckily that change came at the right time in my life to help me extend my knowledge,” the 35-year-old told Arab News.
“Every artist, in their emergent time, needs a mentor to support them and to guide them. Especially in residency, there will also be a community of partners who will help one open my eyes and I will be able to gain more knowledge. Being a part of an artist community is amazing,” she added.
Through the residency, Al-Otaibi will have access to the funded studio space housed in Studio Thirteen, the home of artist Rabab Tantawy, who designed the McLaren car livery at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Tantawy will mentor other artists in the residency.
“I feel like the more people go out and talk about themselves and the challenges they face, the more it inspires others. So, I feel like other people would understand and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, we have to help people who have challenges. I want to encourage creatives with disabilities to step out and not be ashamed or scared of people’s judgements,” she said.
“After expressing my emotions and telling my story, everyone was very supportive. I was not expecting that. I thought no one would support me, no one would understand. But once I let it out, it was amazing. So, now, I wish I can tell everyone that you can do it, too.”
The announcement was made at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday in the presence of Julia Morley, chairperson and chief executive of Miss World Organization, with Miss World 2022 Karolina Bielawska from Poland and Miss India World 2022 Sini Shetty in attendance.
“The decision to award India with this prestigious honour recognises the nation’s rich cultural heritage, its commitment to promoting diversity, and its passion for empowering women,” the Miss World Organization said in an Instagram post.
The 71st edition of Miss World is expected to take place in November this year. The final dates are yet to be revealed.
“India has the greatest hospitality in the entire world. It is my second time here … and you make me feel like home,” said Bielawska at the announcement.
India last hosted the Miss World pageant in 1996, in Bangalore, where Greece’s Irene Skliva won the title.
The country has also produced six Miss World winners: Reita Faria in 1966, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in 1994, Diana Hayden in 1997, Yukta Mookhey in 1999, Priyanka Chopra in 2000 and Manushi Chhillar in 2017.
Miss World 2022 was held in March last year in Puerto Rico, where Bielawska was crowned, beating runners-up Miss USA Shree Saini and Ivory Coast’s Olivia Yace.
Dubai restaurant Ossiano makes it to World’s 51-100 Best Restaurants list
Updated 09 June 2023
DUBAI: In anticipation of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 ceremony, to be held later this month in Valencia, the list unveiled its 51-100 ranking, including the award-winning Ossiano located at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai.
Helmed by chef Gregoire Berger, Ossiano entered the global list for the first time at No. 87, making it a brand new entry for Dubai.
Chef Berger said in a statement: “We are incredibly honored to be included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 extended list. To be considered as one of the top 100 dining experiences in the world and to be amongst so many amazing professionals is such a fantastic achievement and showcases the team’s relentless hard work. At Ossiano, the entire staff, from the kitchen to the restaurant floor, always strive to serve an extraordinary experience and we look forward to continuing to raise the bar to drive Ossiano forward as a truly unique culinary destination.”
The announcement marks another milestone for Ossiano this year, which was ranked No. 4 and the highest new entry in the 2023 Middle East and Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
The renowned restaurant also retained its star at the Michelin awards ceremony held at Atlantis The Royal last month and was awarded Restaurant of the Year in the second edition of the world-leading restaurant guide Gault&Millau in April.
Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib talks new film about an aspiring Saudi wrestler
Updated 09 June 2023
DUBAI: If Dubai has a face, it was probably drawn by Mohammed Saeed Harib. The Emirati animator, artist and filmmaker behind the new film ‘King of the Ring’ — now screening in cinemas across the Middle East — has become an icon in his home country, and is responsible for so much of how the city presents itself to the world, with the characters from his animated series “Freej” welcoming tourists on FlyDubai, his robot design having guided visitors through Expo 2020, and now the newly redesigned characters Modesh and Dana serving as the city’s mascots.
It's no wonder, then, that Harib focuses more these days on the message behind what he’s making. He hasn’t lost his sense of fun, of course, but while he may have set out 20 years ago with a goal to entertain and lovingly poke fun at his own culture, he’s become much more aware that he is a cultural ambassador, and as the region’s artistic voice begins to boom louder, what is being said matters just as much as how it’s said.
“I’ve found it very important to use my skills to make sure that there are good products for kids growing up,” Harib tells Arab News. “My animated series ‘Siraj’ may not get as much media attention, but it’s been (out for) years and it’s still shown in schools. It’s funny, because I’d would rather be known for that kind of work, honestly.”
At first glance, “King of the Ring” (Malik Al-Halaba in Arabic) may be an odd fit for an artist with those intentions. It’s the story of a Saudi man who aspires to be a pro wrestler, far from Harib’s usual wheelhouse. But beneath the surface it’s something more.
“When I was approached, they cautioned me that this was not a slapstick film — it was a heartfelt story. I said, ‘Perfect, that’s exactly what I want to do.’ I wanted an action-comedy with some soul in it,” says Harib.
That was easier said than done, of course, especially in the circumstances Harib was handed. The film was shot in Abu Dhabi halfway through 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ‘unprecedented times’ led to a production no one could have prepared for.
“Abu Dhabi was by far the most restrictive city during the pandemic, and so we had to adjust accordingly. It was a bit surreal checking into a hotel and having them repeat back to me, ‘So you’ll be staying here 90 days?’ And just as that was sinking in, Saudi Arabia stopped all flights, and we lost our lead actor,” says Harib.
He didn’t have much to compare this to. His last live action film, 2019’s “Rashid & Rajab,” was made over a six-year period in intimate locations near his home, with actors and crew he’d known for years, and producers he counts among his closest friends. “King of the Ring” was a major film, with an international cast — the first large-scale co-production between Saudi Arabia’s MBC, Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation and Vox Cinemas. And even with all that weighing on him, a pressing question jumped into his mind: ‘How the heck do I capture pro wrestling?’
“I was a big fan as a kid, but I haven’t really focused on it for years, and never with a filmmaker’s eye. But I became obsessed. We ended up having to build a wrestling ring in one of the board rooms of the hotel, just to practice the routines over and over again because I was so adamant on understanding what every movement meant,” says Harib.
“In the film, the wrestling starts very amateurish, both in its choreography and how it’s filmed. Then as the film goes on, my best directing comes just as the wrestling gets really good as well. We all were learning as we went — we grew up with the character,” Harib continues.
The director pushed himself further than he ever had before, guided through a harrowing experience by the yearning to become a better filmmaker than before he started — a goal he accomplished. It’s probably why he connected so strongly with the soul of the film, the chronicle of a man battling the limitations his society has placed on him.
“This story sheds light on struggling personalities — people who are fighting to find their voice when society dictates that you don’t go against the grain. There are judgmental figures around you telling you how you should act, how you should look, how you should betray yourself or what line of business to go into. We made this film to be a family picture because we want parents and kids to see this journey and gain something from watching this man fight to be something different and succeed,” says Harib.
Coincidentally, this is not the first film from the Gulf this year to deal with pro wrestling. “Sattar,” from Telfaz11, was a record-breaking hit in the Kingdom, but is substantively different from “King of the Ring.” While the former’s over-the-top comic sensibility fitted more with its YouTube comedy origins, Harib’s film is aimed at a very different audience.
“Last week, one of the stakeholders from Telfaz11 came to our premiere in Saudi Arabia, and he came up to me afterwards to tell me how happy he was that he’d come,” Harib says. “This was a film that kids should see, with a clear message. ‘I can’t recommend our film ‘Sattar’’, the man said, ‘if they’re not of a certain age. It’s wonderful both these films exist!’”
“Sattar” has singlehandedly redrawn the cinema landscape in the region, offering a roadmap towards the untapped commercial prospects for Saudi-related films in the Kingdom. In the UAE, on the other hand, “Sattar” didn’t perform nearly as well, showing that there is still work to be done in crafting films that appeal to both Emiratis and Saudis in equal measure.
“I hope we arrive at a point where we can enjoy each other’s films, but people need to know that while we are part of one family, we have differences,” Harib says. “There are many unique cultural nuances. The Emirati population, for example, did not have the same YouTube culture that has shaped Saudi appetites over the last decade. That material is a hard sell to audiences who are unfamiliar with it, and vice versa. There is a lot of work to be done in navigating these differences.”
And those differences, of course, are ever-evolving. Harib is working on a new season of “Freej,” and he’s constantly marveling at how different the country is from when he started the show in 2006. The characters he created barely exist in real life, as the Emirati people continue to evolve with the times, and cultural traditions begin to change with them.
“I’m working on a film about this now actually — an animated feature — and it’s my passion project. I’ve spent so long servicing companies, or governmental organizations, but this one is for me. It will take some time, though,” says Harib. “Perhaps in five years, we can sit down for an interview about it, and try to figure out how much the Gulf has changed once again.”