Yango Play launches in the GCC with bilingual AI assistant, Ramadan shows

Yango Play launches in the GCC with bilingual AI assistant, Ramadan shows
Roman Shimansky, MENA region business director at Yango Play, was photographed on the red carpet. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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Yango Play launches in the GCC with bilingual AI assistant, Ramadan shows

Yango Play launches in the GCC with bilingual AI assistant, Ramadan shows

DUBAI: Tech platform Yango launched Yango Play, an artificial intelligence-powered entertainment super app, in the GCC market this week.

As Dubai’s Burj Al-Arab glittered in the background, the launch party saw guests hit the red carpet, including the stars of Yango Play’s exclusive Ramadan programming lineup. Those shows include Egyptian drama “The Assassins” (“Al Hashasheen”), as well as the Yango Play Original and the company’s first Saudi production, “Sakf El-Waled.”




Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk attended the event. (Supplied)

Roman Shimansky, MENA region business director at Yango Play, took to the stage and explained Yango Play’s mission to deliver different types of entertainment – from music to games to series – all on one platform. The AI-powered entertainment service combines video streaming, music, and mini-games in one place.

“What's so cool about it? First of all, our concept is very, very simple. Play everything you like, all in one place. Play music, play movies, play games, series all together. Second, is our unique artificial intelligence technologies. Yango Play is powered by AI, which allows us to bring next level features like an Arabic-speaking voice assistant, like a personalized stream of music that that adjusts to your tastes in real time, and so many more features,” he said.




Dancers perform on stage at the launch event. (Supplied)

He also introduced Yasmina, the bilingual AI assistant integrated into Yango Play. Yasmina can interact with users in Arabic and English and is able to understand major Arabic dialects, including Egyptian and Lebanese. Yasmina suggests songs and answers myriad questions — anything from today’s weather to this year’s Ramadan dates.  

Yango Play is available in the Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other GCC countries. The service provides subscribers with cross-platform access on smartphones and TVs.




Radwa Shaheen on the red carpet at the event. (Supplied)

In a released statement, Shimansky said: “At Yango Play, we're devoted to crafting a joyful entertainment experience, offering a selection of diverse content that turns every moment into a delightful adventure. Our ever-evolving platform uses AI to provide more seamless and intuitive experiences by understanding your preferences—whether by curating uplifting music for your drive, engaging shows for family time, or quick games for a brief pause in your day. We are deeply committed to enhancing these experiences through our original content and strategic collaborations with regional creatives, ensuring that each choice on our platform is a step towards discovering vibrant new emotions.”


REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level
Updated 18 April 2024
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REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

LONDON: Don’t say it too loud, but we might, finally, have reached the point when good TV adaptations of hit videogames become the norm, rather than the exception. Hot on the heels of “The Last of Us” and “The Witcher” comes “Fallout,” an eight-part series based on the post-apocalyptic world explored in the series of famed Bethesda games.

In an alternate future, with the world devastated by a global nuclear war, a community of wealthy individuals retreats to a series of underground vaults to ride out the fallout. Some 200 years later, wide-eyed vault dweller Lucy (Ella Purnell) is forced to leave the safety of her underground home when her father is kidnapped by raiders from the surface, kickstarting a journey that will not only make her confront the horrors of the unlawful society above, but also sees her meet a revolving door of eccentric (yet equally horrifying) characters along the way. Among these are Maximus (Aaron Moten), a squire in the militaristic Brotherhood of Steel, and The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a terrifyingly mutated former actor now forging his way as a bounty hunter.

The key to the success of “Fallout” is that your enjoyment of the show is not dependent on whether or not the previous paragraph made any sense to you whatsoever. Rather, creators Graham Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, along with developers (and executive producers) Christopher Nolan and Lisa Joy have taken the wise decision to create a world wherein knowledge of the wider “Fallout” universe is a bonus, but not a prerequisite. So even if this is your first introduction to the world of Pip-Boys, gulpers and Vaulters, you won’t be penalized, and you certainly won’t feel like you’re missing out.

The world of “Fallout” is a gloriously gritty, bloody and savage one, but it’s also one of razor-sharp humor and fiendish satire — not least thanks to Goggins’ phenomenal turn as The Ghoul. Acerbic and frighteningly violent, The Ghoul is the very embodiment of the savage, unforgiving wasteland, and Goggins has a blast with perhaps the role of his career to date. Lucy is the polar opposite, and Purnell is equally as great as the naïve-yet-capable young woman entirely unprepared for the muck and murder she emerges into. Throw the two together with a razor-sharp, witty script and top-drawer production values and you have a show that’s about as much fun as you can have without a controller of your own.


Gulf Cinema Festival celebrates region’s rising stars

The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
Updated 17 April 2024
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Gulf Cinema Festival celebrates region’s rising stars

The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
  • ‘We learn from each other,’ Omani director Muzna Almusafer says
  • Success of industry ‘enhances Kingdom’s soft power on global stage,’ Saudi director Musab Alamri says

RIYADH: Leading lights and rising stars from the region’s blossoming film industry have been gathering this week at the fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh.

Among them is Omani director Muzna Almusafer, whose movie “Clouds” is in the running for a prize of SR50,000 ($13,300) in the shorts category.

Set in southern Oman, the film tells the story of a war veteran and widower as he navigates the crossroads of societal expectations and his values.

“It was a dream for me at the beginning, to write such a story … something very sensible, something very honest, something from my own life and what I encountered in my life,” Almusafer told Arab News.

“I don’t know if I will win, but I’m winning this,” she said. “I’m winning knowing you, knowing people. For me, this is an honor and this is a win itself.”

Speaking about the movie industry in Oman and Saudi Arabia, she said: “We learn from each other. It’s not about who is first and who is second. It’s about who can reflect better and who can say things better. And better is always depending on us as people, how we look at things and depending on the audience.

“As artists, we can teach people how to look at life from a different point of view.”

Two of the keys to the success of the region’s movie industry were funding and drive, she said.

“Funding is the first thing, because when you want to pay actors, when you want to pay a scriptwriter, it’s always money at the beginning.

“But then also your drive. It has to be lit all the time. You should have this fire inside you. You shouldn’t stop. Once you stop, you don’t have it. So it’s important that you continue and you know and you learn.”

Saudi movie director and critic Musab Alamri said the landscape of cinema in the region was changing.

“Previously, the UAE held the top position in box office sales. However, since 2022, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the leader in ticket sales revenue. Saudi Arabia now holds the top spot in the MENA region and ranks 14th globally in terms of revenue generation,” he told Arab News.

Where Qatar and the UAE were once the leaders in financial support for movie projects, Saudi Arabia was now in the driving seat, he said.

“Saudi Arabia has witnessed the emergence of significant financing opportunities, including the Red Sea International Festival Fund, the Cultural Development Fund, Daw Film and production support programs at the Ithra Center.”

The film “Norah” by Tawfik Alzaidi was an example of how far the industry had come, Alamri said.

The film, which received funding from the Saudi Film Commission under its Daw initiative, garnered a nomination for this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section, he said.

“Such successes highlight the significant impact of these programs in fostering the growth and recognition of Saudi cinema on the international stage.”

Despite a decline in feature production across the Gulf, the Saudi film industry was riding high, Alamri said.

“Throughout the past year and into the first quarter of 2024, there has been a monthly release of Saudi films in cinemas and on digital platforms such as Netflix. Saudi cinema has also gained prominence in international film festivals, with six Saudi feature films showcased at the recent edition of the Red Sea International Festival.

“This surge in Saudi cinema not only contributes to the local economy but also enhances Saudi Arabia’s soft power on the global stage.

“I anticipate that within the next eight to 10 years, Saudi Arabia will achieve self-sufficiency in film production, eliminating the need for direct government support. Saudi films will garner significant recognition at prestigious international festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Toronto and Berlin.”

Saudi actor Baraa Alem said government initiatives, local and regional film festivals and the rise of independent filmmakers had all contributed to the “cultural richness” of the region’s movie industry.

The recognition received by movies like “Norah” and “Four Daughters,” which was supported by the Red Sea Fund and nominated for an Academy Award, was evidence of “that hard work,” he said.

Speaking about the Gulf Film Festival, he said: “By providing a forum for filmmakers, industry professionals and audiences to connect and engage, the festival not only celebrates the region’s cinematic achievements but also stimulates dialogue, creativity and innovation … (and contributes) to the continued growth and development of the Gulf film industry.

“As filmmakers from the gulf we share similar cultural values and identities.”

The festival ends on Thursday.


Johnny Depp appears at UK premiere of Saudi-backed film ‘Jeanne du Barry’

Johnny Depp appears at UK premiere of Saudi-backed film ‘Jeanne du Barry’
Updated 17 April 2024
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Johnny Depp appears at UK premiere of Saudi-backed film ‘Jeanne du Barry’

Johnny Depp appears at UK premiere of Saudi-backed film ‘Jeanne du Barry’

DUBAI: US actor Johnny Depp said he felt “strangely, oddly, perversely lucky” to have been offered the role of French King Louis XV at the UK premiere of his new film “Jeanne du Barry.”

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival Foundation provided post-production support for the period drama, marking the first time the foundation co-produced a French movie.

Depp was accompanied by the film’s co-star and director Maïwenn on stage at the Curzon theater in Mayfair, where the duo briefly introduced the film.

“I feel very lucky to have been [offered the role] – strangely, oddly, perversely lucky,” he said on stage in London, according to Variety. “Because when Maïwenn and I first actually met and talked about the notion of me doing the film and playing Louis XV, the King of France — see that’s when instantly what happens in your brain is you instantly go back to Kentucky, where, like, everything is fried. So you realise that you’ve come from the bellybutton of nowhere and suddenly you end up playing the King of France.”

 


‘The Sympathizer’ cast, director discuss new series that shows the Vietnam War through a Vietnamese lens

‘The Sympathizer’ cast, director discuss new series that shows the Vietnam War through a Vietnamese lens
Updated 17 April 2024
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‘The Sympathizer’ cast, director discuss new series that shows the Vietnam War through a Vietnamese lens

‘The Sympathizer’ cast, director discuss new series that shows the Vietnam War through a Vietnamese lens

DUBAI: “The Sympathizer,” HBO’s latest spy drama streaming in the Middle East on OSN Plus, is based on Vietnamese-US author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel.

It tells the story of a double agent known to the audience only as the Captain (Hoa Xuande), a North Vietnam operative who is a plant in the South Vietnam army. After he is forced to flee to the US and take up residence in a refugee camp, he continues to spy for the Viet Cong.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Speaking to Arab News in a virtual interview, Xuande, an Australian actor of Vietnamese descent, talked about digging into the dual nature of his character and the struggle it creates.

“It is important to remember that the Captain is a human being and he’s trying to play to survive. And, obviously, the struggle of war, and trying to save his people, and trying to find the best outcome for the people that he cares about, and trying to not rock the boat so much.

“And, so, I really tried to dig deep into the facts of the period of the time. And I tried to figure out the psychology of what people were thinking and the ideologies that were spinning around at the time,” he said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The show was also an opportunity for Xuande to reconnect with his people’s past.

“I’ve been so used to being told what Vietnamese people are or the stories that even my parents grew up telling me, you know. Their perspectives were always generally lost, right? Depictions of the war were always depicted through the Western perspective,” he said.

“I always knew what the war was about. But I really wanted to get deep into the stories that that we’ve never heard before. And I did a lot of YouTubing and reading of articles. And, so, once you learn those stories, you start to appreciate that Vietnamese people — who bore the brunt of the trauma of this war — have never really had their voices heard. That weighed heavily on me. And so, I tried to carry this throughout much of the show, playing the Captain. And I guess that kind of made me appreciate my own history that I haven’t really learned about before.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Veteran Korean director Park Chan-Wook, the name behind cult classics such as “Oldboy” and “The Handmaiden,” oversaw the new adaptation. Park directed the first three parts of the seven-episode series, which premieres weekly on OSN Plus. The show also stars and is executive produced by Robert Downey Jr.

“‘Sympathizer’ is a story about identity and this individual having two kinds of minds and two kinds of identities. I’m drawn to that kind of story because the story is dealing about an individual who wants to be someone else while there is certainly some other identity within him. Or it might be a case of him being forced to become someone else than who he really is,” said Park.

“So, whenever that kind of situation is forced upon him, he has to put on a mask. And then at some point that mask eventually becomes his identity itself. So, the story is dealing with how certain tragedy or comedy happens because of that kind of situation. And I feel like I’m certainly drawn into that kind of story.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sandra Oh, an American Canadian actress born to South Korean immigrants and best known for her roles in shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Killing Eve,” plays the character of Sofia Mori, a liberal feminist who, in the midst of a complicated love triangle, begins to realize her own complicity in the racism suffered by her people.

“From my character’s perspective, to play a character who is representing a very Asian American character, who is a liberal in her own way, and who is a defiant woman in her own way… But throughout the series, I tried to show how through her relationship with the Captain and the love triangle that you’ll see comes about in the series, she starts to question how she has also been complicit in the very thing that she is fighting against, against the patriarchy and against the racism. You see how much she’s internalized and is starting to question the internalization,” said Oh.


Amir El-Masry, Pierce Brosnan to dramatize British Yemeni boxing legend’s story

Amir El-Masry, Pierce Brosnan to dramatize British Yemeni boxing legend’s story
Updated 16 April 2024
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Amir El-Masry, Pierce Brosnan to dramatize British Yemeni boxing legend’s story

Amir El-Masry, Pierce Brosnan to dramatize British Yemeni boxing legend’s story

DUBAI: British Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry will star alongside Pierce Brosnan in the sports drama “Giant,” based on the story of British Yemeni boxer Naseem “Naz” Hamed.

El-Masry will play Hamed, who competed from 1992 to 2002, and Brosnan is set to portray his Irish-born boxing trainer Brendan Ingle. The film will be written and directed by Rowan Athale (“The Rise,” “Gangs of London,” “Strange But True”) and Sylvester Stallone is on board to executive produce, alongside other Hollywood executives.

“Giant” tells the story of the boxer’s humble beginnings in a working class area of Sheffield and his discovery by Ingle. Hamed shot to fame amid rampant Islamophobia and racism in 1980s and 1990s Britain.

El-Masry won a Scottish BAFTA for his performance in the film “Limbo” in 2021 and was cast in the fifth season of Netflix’s historical drama “The Crown” as the young Egyptian billionaire Mohamed El-Fayed, among other acting credits.