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Al Talata Yeshtghalonha: Cheeky Girls Just Want to Have Fun
What happens after years of gruelling schoolwork followed by four, if not five, years of college papers? Is it enough to secure a cushy future, or are the new realities of our age going to render all these efforts in vain? Al Salasa Yashtghalonh (Arabic for The Three Fooled Her) throws the question out there while turning around to thank its lucky stars that it finally found something worthwhile to talk about. By now we should congratulate ourselves; all the social dilemmas that we face have created the perfect fodder for one of the most creatively bankrupt eras of Egyptian cinema.
Nagiba (Abdel Aziz) is a straight-A student. Don’t let her Ugly Betty demeanour fool you; she has never watched TV in her life. The girl is all about studying those textbooks. However, in the course of two hours, she completely inhabits three conflicting sets of philosophical paths with admirable ease and without a hint of scepticism. Ostensibly, it's a commentary on the Egyptian schooling system that favours blind submission and parakeet memorising over comprehensive understanding.
Our perky heroine meets three different boys and proceeds to eagerly mould herself to their liking. First, the spoiled mama’s boy only pursues her to help him pass his exams. After the inevitable rejection, she hooks up with a Downtown-bar socialist and joins him in public demonstrations. When that too doesn’t work out, along comes the trendy neo-Muslim preacher to pick up the pieces. However, his pious exterior is only a front for his product-pushing agenda. And like the previous two love interests, their courtship ends at the police station, where the officer-in-charge (Lotfy) hits the reset button on her brain so she can go out and make other misguided choices.
It’s a light comedy that frolics carefree, from start to finish. The heavy subject matter is treated daintily, aided by colourful art-direction, and the performances float perfectly in the film’s cheerful demeanour. Abdel Aziz breaks into her scenes with a big smile on her face and, apparently, nothing on her mind. She shouts, jumps and gives cute second-take looks when something funny happens. Put her in one of those motion-capture suits and you’ve got an energetic cartoon side-character for the next Ice Age sequel.
Geared towards a family crowd, the film also features a bunch of kids who inexplicably show up every once in a while without causing too much distraction. And that’s how Al Salasa seems to carry itself on; lightly and without too much cringing to its credit.
The film flies by so fast; it doesn’t get a chance to do too much damage, and in doing so, it succeeds in providing another cinematic summer breeze. It’s one that won’t exactly refresh you, but it won’t hurt either.
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.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.