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Abdel Aziz Street: Classic Cairo Underdog TV Series
Straight from the off, this show holds no punches. From episode one, a fast pace of events was set and there’s been no looking back since. Audiences were immediately thrown into the world of the main character; Abdel Aziz. Yes, just like the street.
Abdel Aziz hasn’t got much to shout about. His father is a modest porter, and his mother a humble housewife. As a child, ‘Zizo’– as our hero is referred to – works small odd-jobs to bring in extra cash to the house. He does so behind his father’s back, whose only wish is that his son focuses on his school work so that he can eventually go to university and make something of himself. Being the scoundrel that he is, Zizo pays little attention to his father’s counsel and instead lags behind as he drags his way through school.
In the meantime, he falls for his neighbour Lobna, who in contrast, is a very astute student who goes on to study pharmaceuticals at university. Love never comes easy, and this love story’s foil comes in the form of the son of Gargawy – an influential figure in the area – who grows up to be a strapping police officer.
Along with partner in crime Qandeel, Gargawy pretty much terrorises the neighbourhood, and harvests his heavy-handed influence to pillage the great Abdel-Aziz Street. Only one man can stand up to them and save the street; yes you guessed it, it’s Zizo.
As with the majority of Egyptian Ramadan series, there is an overwhelming amount of plotlines to follow in Abdel Aziz Street. But the drama is enough to keep you wanting more. The series portrays Abdel Aziz Street as a dog-eat-dog world, where merchants cheat to win, and no man would hesitate to step over another to get to what he wants.
As we say, the series piles on the drama by the bucket-full. This does sometimes translate in excessively long scenes that are more suited to film than Ramadan television. It also has a reverse effect on the flow of an episode, as the pace of events often cut short by a blunt event or plot point that has to be drawn out in an elaborate and theatrical scene.
This seems to be done at the expense of deeper-seated explanations. For example, the history of the romance between Zizo and his forbidden love is rarely explained, and at times comes across as a little shallow.
Stylistically, the mise-en-scène is spot on. The series does a great job of portraying Abdel Aziz Street, Attaba, and the surrounding Downtown Cairo areas. This actually feeds a certain charm and realism into the characters and their stories. It’s also worth noting Amr Saad’s turn as the lead; it has thus far been an impressive performance.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.