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Get stamps (2013).

Summary: Remakes of Hollywood films are often disappointing because they do not match your perceptions of the originals. Never mind the version of 'Gambit' starring Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. In my microscopic opinion, the 1966 version with Michael Caine and Shirely MacLaine is the superior one. Maybe Mr Firth and Ms Diaz were desperately trying to better the performance of (two decades) before. 'Gambit' tells the story of an art theft that goes wrong as it should do.

Well, crime does not pay, does it? That a former finance minister who once had an apartment overlooking the Nile and who is said to be residing in London with a breathtaking view of the River Thames might be an exception. Anyway, the first twenty minutes of the original (and better) version of the film is taken up with an account of how the robbery should proceed without a hitch until the cut to the scene in which Harry Deane (Michael Caine) wraps up his presentation of the ideal theft to Nicole Chang (Shirley MacLaine). Hmm. 'Ideal theft'. Does that not sound like a snappy name for a magazine whose readership comprises persons of interest to Interpol and the FBI? In this week's issue, [a well-known politician] tells about how he trousered millions in false expenses claims. [A high-ranking government official] talks about bird watching in East Africa and life on the run. Also this month, the ins-and-outs of Swiss banking, Weapon of the Week and five-star safe house accommodation in the Western Hemisphere. Apologies. I digress.

Of course, the audience is led up the garden path with the opening of 'Gambit' (the less frivolous, more sincere without taking itself too seriously original) as the plan seems foolproof. When the pair put the plan into action, everything that can go wrong does.

Now imagine the sequence of events leading to the purchase of postage stamps for two letters to be sent to UK. We hear Deane in voice over.

"You've got two letters here and you don't know how much they weigh, so you'll need to take at least LE10 to cover the cost, weight and all. The last time I did this, the man automatically said LE5 per letter. Make sure you've got change in LE1 coins.

"This is the only post office in the area that's open until 5 o'clock. It's now coming up to 4.20. Take a taxi to the junction of Nozha Street and Urouba. Have the taxi dropped you off directly opposite the post office and cross the road on foot, otherwise the taxi will have to make two U-turns and go back under Gal' Bridge, which will take time.

"There shouldn't be too many people there, so you should get served straight away. You tell the clerk you want stamps for England and then you hand over the letters. He will tell you how much you need to pay. He gives you the stamps, which you lick and stick on the envelopes. After that, you walk outside and shove the letters in the green post box outside. As Mohamed Ali Pasha might have said after the massacre of the Mameluks, 'Robert hayib2a 9ammak' (Bob's yer uncle'). Then you can walk home and get us some foul and ta9miya on the way, can't you?"

Just like the (slicker, slightly more understated) original 1966 version of 'Stamp-it'. His writer found a taxi, but the driver insisted on full details of my intended destination and of the route thereto: Would it be via Abdel Aziz Fahmy Street or by way of Triumph Square? Or would I like the scenic route through Giza and Assiout? When I was set down at the appointed place, crossing the road presented itself as a supreme challenge to the anticipatory faculties and the adrenaline gland was on stand-by, owing to three flows of traffic from three carriageways that converged in Nozha Street. So I was forced to cross the northwest carriageway to cross the southeast carriage road in three stages, if you see what I mean.

Once in the post office, I approached one of the positions, where a clerk was picking up his glass of tea. With his head he motioned me to another window where two youths were filling out an A4-sized form to register mail. The person behind the counter eyed me momentarily with utter lack of interest. Time dragged quickly. On the one hand, waiting is tedious. On the other hand, the longer one has to wait, the less time there is to be - dare I say it - served. Another customer with a similar form brushed past me and the clerk directed him to write his mobile phone number there and his full address there and his life story own in that space there and his take on the theory of knowledge on the other side. Finally, my turn came.

'Can I have stamps for two letters for England, please?' I asked.

'Wot?' the clerk replied.

'You heard me, Sunshine. STAMPS FOR TWO LETTERS TO ENGLAND!'

The clerk took the letters, weighed them, then consulted a charge chart. Having stared at it long and hard, he said, 'That'll LE6.50 per letter.' I wonder if the word 'please' had been omitted deliberately. I handed over LE20.

'Got any change?'

'I'm afraid I don't.'

The clerk made me 'pay' for that last remark by taking at least ten minutes to find some elusive change, which he eventually handed to me, allowing the coins to drop onto the floor on my side of the counter. I think the word 'sorry' was also left out on purpose.

And now for something sort of related to the above. The 1971 original version of 'Get Carter', starring Michael Caine, sure beats the pants off the remake (year) with Sylvester Stallone. As for the 2013 version of 'Get Stamps'...

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Date:Jun 6, 2013
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