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Helm Aziz: CGI-Heavy Comedy
We have a reason to celebrate; green screens and CGI technology have finally hit Egypt. It’s over a decade too late but better late than never right? Right?! Well maybe not when they look like this crummy Egyptian ‘blockbuster’ Helm Aziz (Aziz’s Dream).
Ezz plays the titular Aziz, a corrupt, sleazy businessman who only cares about money and women. One night, while asleep, he sees a vision of his late dad (Mounir) in heaven wearing glowing white robes. He extends his hand to Aziz inviting him up a staircase and through a doorway but Aziz, after taking a couple of steps, refuses. The same scenario repeats itself the next night as well. With the help of a sheikh, Aziz interprets his visions of his father as a warning of his impending death. Convinced that he only has until the end of the month, Aziz goes about setting things right with all the people he’s wronged before he gets chucked into hell.
This film doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Half of its appeal comes from watching the cast hamming it up and generally being as over the top as possible; case in point, Mounir in a shiny, gold bullfighting onesie. The main cast which, in addition to Ezz and Mounir, includes Kassab as Magda, Aziz’s personal secretary, and Emam as Tamer, his right hand man and brother in law, do an ok job as long as you’re down with the campiness.
However, the cameos, the funniest of which portray some awesome historical figures, are the film’s secret weapon. Menna Shalaby, who plays Aziz’s late mother in a brief cameo towards the very end, walks away with the entire film and she alone manages to really nail the balance between pleasantly over the top and flat out ridiculous. Now the melodramatic style doesn’t always work, the meaningful parts are very heavy-handed and intensified by an equally unsubtle score and the film quite often comes across as a bit of a sitcom but had the audience in stitches for the majority of its runtime.
The dream sequences in particular seemed to delight them but we weren’t sure whether it was because they actually thought the stuff on screen was funny or due to the novelty of Egyptian actors being surrounded by (sloppy) CGI. Both heaven and hell are almost completely digitally created and have a slight videogame feel; especially the latter which is all thin wood planks over a bed of bubbling lava with fireballs crashing about everywhere.
Another thing that adds to the cheapness of the visual effects is that they occasionally reference other films. Heaven, with its floating islands over sparkling, blue water, looks like an Avatar rip off; while another dream scene in which Aziz and his dad have a sword fight, takes place in a room that looks like something out of Kill Bill. While these references are probably intentional, you can’t help but think of how bad they look in comparison to the originals.
It’s patchy and the tonal shifts between the funny parts and the serious, preachy parts are jarring at best, but the film does have its fair share of laugh out loud moments, some of them genuinely hilarious.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.