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Sarkhat Namla: Definitely Not the Official Film of the Revolution
Sarkhat Namla revolves around the economic differences in Egypt seen through the eyes of Gouda (Abdel Gelil), an Egyptian contractor who was wrongly imprisoned in Iraq. The film tries to address the issues that Egyptians have been faced with in increasing economic difficulties such as the increase in food commodity prices, the rate of corruption and their effects on the Egyptian people.
Upon returning from Iraq, Gouda is disillusioned at the depressing state of the country. With very little to his name, Gouda finds himself in conflict; his sense of patriotism compels him to get involved in the revolution, but at the same time, his efforts to live a comfortable life lead him to become involved in the same type of underhandedness that the revolution is rising up against. Naturally, this inner struggle drives Gouda to extreme measures and consequences.
Originally meant to be a comedy, the story suffers from many elements that simply felt forced. Since it's mainly seen through the eyes of Gouda, you'll get the feeling that his jokes are misplaced. Egyptian films in the last twenty years or so have invariably pulled off adding humour to real-life situations but sadly, it doesn’t work here. It wasn't only the script that was the downfall of the film; but the setting as well.
Sarkhat Namla’s advertising campaign positioned it as the official film of the revolution. This is inaccurate, as it tries to focus on the events that helped in inspiring the revolution. In fact, the shooting was almost completed before January 25th, and when the revolution kicked off, additional scenes were filmed to make it more relevant. This further adds to the mess of the script, as the story seems disjointed. Another contributing factor is surely the fact that it had to be quickly edited after being picked to screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Abel Gelil turns in an adequate performance that doesn’t stray too far from his usual style. On the other hand, Youssef fails to shine and isn’t adequately used, appearing intermittently as Gouda's belly-dancer wife. The rest of the cast are distinctly average; nothing more, nothing less.
It’s actually astounding how the film fails to deliver on any of its promises. It’s neither really about the revolution, nor is it funny; the jokes and scenarios are worn out, the parts that specifically talk about the revolution only do so in a very shallow way, and images and footage of the protests are used awkwardly. Ultimately, Sarkhat Namla is a poorly executed film that fails to portray an important and topical subject adequately.
Adapted from the pages of Lee Child’s eighteenth novel in the Jack Reacher franchise, Never Go Back comes four years after Christopher McQuarrie’s relatively well received Jack Reacher; a movie, regardless of its somewhat predictable and flawed premise, was largely considered an entertaining and above-average crime-thriller. Unfortunately, its 2016 sequel, an action-packed but terribly derivative story of the we-must-uncover-the-truth-and-break-a-load-of-bones-in-the-process variety, doesn’t for make for as good viewing.
Set four years after the events of the first film, the story is once again centred on the ex-military police officer, Jack Reacher (Cruise); a perpetual loner and a man of few words who hitchhikes from town to town, stumbling on corruption and crime which he usually resolves with one smouldering look and a pair of deadly fists.
After doing so in the movie’s opening sequence, Jack soon makes contact with Susan Turner (How I Met Your Mother’s Cobbie Smulders); a woman who has taken over his former position at the Virginia-based military unit and with whom he has, over time, formed a close - and relatively flirtatious - relationship with.
However, when Reacher decides to surprise her with a visit, he soon learns that Turner has been arrested on what appears to be, fake espionage charges. With the case naturally falling right in his field of expertise, Jack soon sets out to uncover the truth and, oh yeah, break a few bones in the process.
While many fans of Lee Child’s series of paperback thrillers – it seems that the British author has been churning them out once a year ever since its beginning in 1997 - are still a little stuck-up about the fact that Tom Cruise – a man of five-foot-and-seven-inches – has been cast to play a man who is his physical opposite. But you have to hand it to Cruise; regardless of his now aging physique, he once again proves why he’s paid the big bucks.
However, while the presence of Tom Cruise - who embraces his character with enough stoic bravado and fighting skills to give Jason Bourne a run for his money – elevates the film, the same cannot be said for the flimsy and often uneven storyline that surrounds him. Attempting to offer a profounder insight into Jack Reacher’s history and life - hinting that he is in fact a desperately lonely man who is looking for a deep and soulful connection to another human being - Zwick’s ill-conceived script, along with a combination of cheap one-liners, and awkward comedic tone and weak action set pieces, is not strong enough to carry its own weight.
Lacking momentum and a presence of an intimidating villain - Heusinger’s cold-blooded killer who refuses to take his gloves off is as exciting as watching paint dry - Never Go Back doesn’t know what it wants to be and even though, fans of the series won’t be too disappointed with the end-result, those with little patience might not want to stick around whilst it figure it out.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.