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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.
Is love stronger than the laws of gravity? Well, that's one peculiar question that the Argentinean director, Juan Diego Solanas, attempts to answer in newest trippy sci-fi adventure, Upside Down.
Upside Down begins with an informative voiceover explaining the story of two parallel planets – Down and Up – that are stationed exactly opposite each other, existing in the same solar system, with shared yet opposing gravity. All physical matter must obey the gravity of the world from which it comes; both planets exert an equal, but opposite, pull and messing with these laws of physics can potentially result in deadly consequences.
While Down is poor and rundown, Up is rich and affluent; going Up or interacting with the people from Up is deeply forbidden, and the only thing bridging the two is the sinister company, TransWorld.
As a child, Adam (Sturgees) – a hopeful young boy from Down – climbs to the top of Sage Mountain to get close to Up, only to meet the pretty young blonde, Eden (Dunst), from the planet Up. The couple’s affections soon blossom; however, they also attract unwanted attention from the authorities. A bloody confrontation occurs, leaving the soul-mates stranded on their own individual planets for the next ten years.
The story then moves forward and Adam – who is convinced that Eden is gone forever – is working in a run-down lab, trying to perfect a secret, pink bee pollen ingredient he’s inherited; one that allows matter to detect the gravitational fields of both planets at once.
Soon, he lands a job at the intimidating TransWorld and finds that Eden is working there as well. However, in order to get to her, Adam needs to fight against strict corporate rules and against the forces of gravity to find his way into her arms again.
The concept is definitely unorthodox, but not entirely ridiculous. It's a rather creative concept, yes, but perhaps a little too grand for its own good.
The backdrop is not the problem here – it's the story itself. To begin with, this is a tale of star-crossed lovers who will do anything – even challenge the laws of gravity – in order to be with each other. However, their story never really gets a chance to develop, and thanks to a couple of ridiculous subplots and the overpowering presence of their parallel worlds – shot beautifully using CGI effects – it never gets a chance to evoke any sympathy from, or connection to, the audience.
Both Sturgees and Dunst share a decent amount of on-screen chemistry, but the characters get a little lost in their parallel worlds. With no real story to work with, Sturgees looks flustered and Dunst lacks the charisma and allure to draw the audiences in.
Packing in an enormous amount of visual thrills, Upside Down is quirky, original and pleasing to the eye. However, its overly ambitious approach manages to forsake the heart of the story – or rather, lack thereof.
Subtlety has never really concerned Australian-born filmmaker, Baz Luhrmann. The man who brought us as Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge is both known and reviled for his dazzling and glitzy visual panache, and the notion of impossible love is forever present as the heart of his largely theatrical and melodramatic productions.
Flamboyant and extravagant, The Great Gatsby is visually striking, but when stripped down, has little to offer.
The film opens with a depressed and weary Nick Carraway (Maguire) who is being treated for alcoholism. Unable to articulate his thoughts on a man named Gatsby, he begins to put pen to paper under instructions from his doctors.
We then flash back to 1922, where Nick, then a bond salesman, moves to the fictional town of West Egg, nearby to his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Edgerton). Nick’s new home happens to neighbour that of a mysterious and elusive Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). An enigma to his neighbours, Gatsby perennially throws the most extravagant parties, but the millionaire generally lives his life as a recluse.
After discovering that Tom is having an affair, Nick receives an invitation to one of the Gatsby’s infamous parties. Once there, Gatsby reveals that he is still in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy, after a brief romantic encounter years before. As Nick slowly becomes entangled in the bizarre life of Gatsby, the cynicism and hypocrisy of West Egg’s inhabitants drives the characters to great lengths to preserve their own vanity and sense of self-importance.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel has continually struggled to translate onto the big-screen and previous adaptations have failed to capture the essence that made this the ‘Great American Novel’.
Disappointingly, Luhrmann’s stab at the project has yielded few improvements. The director’s trademark approach is extraordinary, and over-the-top doesn't begin to describe the flamboyant visual experience that he creates. But while for the most part it works, the unflinching visual style and the sweeping overhead shots prove to be a little too sensational for what is an intricate and complex plot.
However, the biggest downfall is the emotional hollowness of the story. Luhrmann fails to infuse emotional connections between the characters, while the soundtrack – which features everything from jazz and hip-hop to techno and dance – is every bit as awkward as it sounds.
Despite Luhrmann’s misguided post-modern motions, DiCaprio gives the film depth with an excellent interpretation of the eponymous character’s charm and allure. Meanwhile, Mulligan plays her character in a way that maintains her position as the object of desire perfectly; though she too is a victim of the absurdities of West Egg, it becomes difficult to surrender any sympathy to her. Maguire, on the other hand, shines in his wallflower role; although he is guilty of enabling many of the decisions that the characters make, he retains an innocence and naivety that is integral to the plot.
All in all, Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby fails to render the novel’s grandness in terms of plot, but taken as a whole package, the stylistics make for an entertaining piece of cinema.