El Attaba Gazaz (Review)

El Attaba Gazaz

aka Glass Threshold

Directed by Niazi Mustafa

Egyptian comedy films date back to at least 1919’s Madam Lolita, with popular early comedians in the silent era being Ali al-Kassar and Nagib al-Rihani. Both had roots in the local improv theater scene (called al-masrah al-murtajal) and most of the story was just goofball antics around a loose plot. Rihani was fond of stories involving class displacement, Salama Fi Khayr (Salama is Fine) featured an errand boy mistaken for a sultan. Rihani died in 1949, and by the late 1940s Egyptian comedy had shifted to musical comedies.

Another important name in Egyptian comedy is Ismail Yasin, who made his film debut in 1939. His exaggerated physical comedy propelled him to fame, and by the 1950s his name was used in the titles of the films he starred in, such as Ismail Yasin in the Army (1955) or Ismail Yasin in the Wax Museum (1955). Some of his films were outright copies of Abbot and Costello (Haram Alek aka Ismail Yasin Meets Frankenstein (1954)) and he starred in what is arguably the first Egyptian scifi film, A Trip to the Moon Many of Yasin’s works were scripted by his mentor, Abo El Seoud El Ebiary, who was said to have written over 500 films, examples being al-Zawja Raqam 13 aka Wife No. 13 (1962) and Mirati Mudir ‘Am aka My Wife is a General Director (1966),

1963’s A’ilat Zizi (Zizi’s Family) is a standard generic romantic comedy featuring an actress trying to convince a director to get her a role in his film. She doesn’t get the part, but does win his heart. And that would probably be the tagline in America. Fatin Abd al-Wahhab directed, and it starred Suad Husni and Fouad el-Mohandes, who is important because he stars in this film. Also starring in this film is el-Mohandes’s then-wife, Shwikar, and they worked together in many comedic films covering several genres including westerns and gangster films.

By the 1970s, Egyptian cinema was on a decline due to increased government control, and comedic films became one of the few ways to speak out. But that is a tale for another movie review’s infodump. Some of the artists and movie names above you might see spelled different ways thanks to the liberal translation methods of Arabic to English.

Fouad el-Mohandes (فؤاد المهندس aka Fuad al-Muhandis) was born September 7, 1924. After making a name in the theater world, he entered motion pictures in 1954. His most famous role is in Futin Abd Al Wahhab’s Aa’ilat Zizi (Zizi’s Family), then el-Mohandes went on to star in a series of films with his second wife, Shwikar, including Akhtar Ragul Fil Aalam (The Most Dangerous Man In The World), Ard El Nifaq (Land of Hypocrisy), and Sayedaty Al Jamila (My Fair Lady). Yes, that is an Arabic My Fair Lady. By the 1970s, el-Mohandes had returned to supporting roles, and he focused more on the theater. He formed his own troupe in Zamalek called the Fouad El-Mohandes Theater. He died in September 2006 at age 82

Shwikar (شويكار‎ aka Shweikar or Showekar) was born November 24, 1936 and began acting in the Egyptian city of Alexandria before being discovered and working in Cairo. After beginning in dramatic roles, she eventually moved to more comedic roles and teamed with her second husband Fouad el-Mohandes for a series of films in the 1960s.

El Attaba Gazaz is the beginning of our Batmania! series, where we look at Batman-ish films from around the world. Why is El Attaba Gazaz in this series? Because one of the characters dresses up as a Batman inspired character during a musical number, and there is more Batman costume hijinks later in the film. Sadly, it isn’t a masked hero film, but it is as close as we can get from Egypt. When I first found out about this film, I freaked the heck out trying to find out what its name was, as the name wasn’t apparent. After some prime rib Googling, I figured out the title and ordered a disk off of eBay. It arrived, complete with a bonus greasy thumbprint on the DVD. And the store misspelled my name so badly I did not think it would be humanly possible to get it so wrong. But they also somehow turned part of it into “Imam” so now I am a religious leader in the world of Islam. So expect some random jihads by the end of the week.

El Attaba Gazaz is filled with the standard spy film joke tropes…communication devices in all sorts of random objects, secret doors, disguises, fake deaths, identical strangers, night clubs, hypnosis, goons with hooks for hands, goons with eyepatches, and turncoats. Technically, the film looks ambitious and manages to keep some of its more bigger scope images in the context of musical numbers, giving the film a charming edge. But the boom mike fairly obvious is many scenes. And the cheap Egyptian DVD doesn’t have subtitles, but here at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles. The character names are guesses based on my limited Arabic speaking ability.

Egyptian films feature songs, in case you were wondering. Like a lot of older foreign films, much action takes place in nightclubs. This can been seen in American films in the 30s-40s, but by the 1950s television had taken over the land and America had become the land of couch potatoes. The potatoization of Egypt and Turkey happened at some time in the 1970s, thus the large amount of nightclubs still in movies in the late 1960s.

Abdelhafeez (Fouad El-Mohandess) – Abdelhafeez is just your average dude who looks like a mean megaspy and gets involved in a bunch of shenanigans and hijinks. He ends up taking down the spy ring and getting the girl despite not knowing what is going on most of the time. Abdelhafeez gets Hulk-like angry when he hears a certain tune we’ve dubbed the Angry Song.
Shwikar (Shwikar) – We’ll just call her character Shwikar because I couldn’t figure out her name. She’s the featured act at the nightclub that the spy ring uses for cover, and also sort of the boss Max’s girl. But Max uses her to seduce other agents, leading her to fall for nice guy Abdelhafeez.
Max (Fouad El-Mohandess) – Max is an evil spy who even the evil spy ring doesn’t like. He first shows up as a bald guy, but he’s really not. Most of the film he’s believed dead, though some characters think he’s alive when they see his lookalike Abdelhafeez.
Abbas (???) – Boss of the spy ring, hates Max and wants him dead, but things spiral out of his control. Trying to sell some secret documents. His goons include a female hypnotist/magician, Azziza the one-eyed goon, and Raheem the goon with a hook hand.
The Cop (???) – The Cop tries to use Abdelhafeez to take down the spy ring, but don’t tell anyone he’s secretly the evil evil spy Scipola who is just out to steal secret documents for himself.

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Camp (Review)


Directed by Abdel-Aziz Hashad
Written by Hytham Wahid

Egypt has a rich cinematic history that crumbled away in the early 1970s due to the nationalization of the film industry (which began in the mid-60s) and the cinema entered a period of decay that produced few quality films. There has been a small resurgence in the past few years as a number of indie directors spring up, revitalizing some of the magic of the Golden Age. As Camp is the product of a first time director who is considered part of the new wave of filmmaking, we’re going to skip the history lessons and jump into this modern Egyptian film.

Camp is a slasher film, and it is true to its slasher film roots in that a whole group of young people are ruthlessly slaughtered by a masked killer. It follows a lot of US slasher film tropes, from the killer popping up from all over the place to the killer killing people without being noticed. And we can’t have a horror movie if women don’t fall down while running from a killer. Camp is so similar to the American films it imitates, it actually detracts from the film, making it less of an Egyptian film and more of a slasher film similar to what you would find in any direct to DVD horror section. The kills are not particularly innovative and the film seems to exist just to show that Egypt can make films just as good as the US. This is director Abdel-Aziz Hashad’s first film, but he has gone on to make several more.

It is obvious that writer Hytham Wahid is a big horror buff. In interviews (sadly, the interview link disappeared after the 2011 Egyptian revolution) Wahid refutes claims that this is the first Egyptian horror film, mentioning other titles such as Yassin Ismail Yassin and Mohamed Shebl’s 1983 film Anyab (Fangs) starring singers Ahmed Adaweya and Aly El-Haggar as bloodsucking vampires, and 2006’s Ouija. Wahid talks a lot about the suspense of Camp, he seems to be less about the kills and more about the buildup. At TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles, but they might have helped in picking up some of the suspense. I did have a good time trying to guess who the killer was, and I picked wrong.

Preppy Guy (Ayman Refai) – The main male character, as he spends the most time on camera. Most of his time on camera is in either a sweater or a racing uniform. Who wears a racing uniform on vacation? Ayman Refai (or Ayman El Refaey) is a singer in Egypt.
Frosted Hair (Hani Salama) – Frosted Hair is a ladies man. To import that fact on us, various female characters give him gazes throughout the film, of love, hate, or disgust. Hani Salama (sometimes Hani San’e Allah) also starred in the Egyptian movie Ouija.
Yamin (Mohamed El-Khola’y) – Yamin is so cool, he’s ice cold. Yamin is also mourning a dead girlfriend named Sheki, who died shortly after the flashback in the beginning and she comes to speak to him as a ghost later. Mohamed El-Khola’y also starred in the Egyptian movie Ouija.
Kevin (???) – Kevin is the nerdy guy who wears a kung fu shirt at some point, and carries around a gorilla mask. Because, who doesn’t? I couldn’t figure out who played him, but suspect the actor’s name is Mohammed Atef.
Nancy (Yasmine Gamal) – Preppy Guy’s girlfriend, and that’s about all the characterization she gets until she cheats on him and then is quickly killed by The Killer.
Selene (Amira Hani) – Selene spends most of her time being disapproving of the others, watching over her younger sister that she brought along for some reason, and acting all emo. Amira Hani acted in the TV series El Amma Nour, but of course you were aware of that fact.
Yasmin (Reem Helal) – At time it sounds like they’re calling her Yassanem, but as that isn’t a real name we went with Yasmin. Reem Helal was first runner-up at the Miss Egypt 2006, this is Reem Helal’s first film role.
The Killer (It is a mystery) – He’s a killer who kills people. Which one of the characters is this guy? Watch the film and find out! Or PayPal me $10 and I’ll tell you.

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The Mummy’s Kiss (Review)

The Mummy’s Kiss

Mia Zottoli as Ramsay Amun/Hor-Shep-Sut
Sasha Peralto as Ana Harwa/Princess Hat-Em-Akhet
George Thomas as Professor Carter Moore
Aysia Lee as Tina Kim
Richard Lynch as Dr. Wallis Harwa
Arthur Roberts as Osiris
Katie Lohmann as Isis

Shhhh!!! Be very very quiet! We’re sneaking downstairs to catch a glimpse of late night TV, since we’re tired of going to bed early. Luckily Step-father is asleep on the couch, so we can change channels without much trouble. Let’s see what’s on the pay channels tonight…HBO has Out For A Kill, Showtime is playing a Queer as Folk marathon…what’s this? The Mummy’s Kiss? I liked the first two Mummy movies, let’s give this one a whirl. Hey….SHE’S NAKED! WHOA!
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