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Assal Eswed: A Fish out of the USA
Ahmed Helmy’s latest offering finds him playing an Egyptian American who returns to Egypt with naïve enthusiasm after twenty years abroad. In an attempt to convey the protagonist’s background and to set the tone, the filmmakers benevolently named their main character Masry Arabi (the Egyptian Arab), eliminating the need for any kind of setup or back-story; and creating a sluggishly blunt poise that continues throughout the film.
Assal Eswed is Arabic for molasses and literally translates into black honey. We Egyptians have a pathological need to sugar-coat reality, and Assal Eswed not only projects a polished Cairo full of lovable grifters; it also drenches you in the thick molasses of self-denial. The film’s central argument is summed up in the song playing over the closing credits: what makes Egypt so special? The song answers by repeatedly asking the question– the film’s ambition is only matched by its naiveté.
Masry (Helmy) returns to Egypt, having accidentally left his American passport behind. Little is known about him, his past or his plans. In fact, there is little that Masry knows himself. This ripe setup could have led to interesting social commentary, yet Assal Eswed keeps milking every possible joke out of the setup throughout the film’s two hours.
During the first half, the film plays like a tourist horror comedy: Masry suffers through every tourist rip-off cliché imaginable until he finds his old home again.In his old house, Masry is reunited with his neighbour and childhood friend Said (Edward) and his family, who embarrass him with typical Egyptian hospitality. Unaccustomed to people extending a hand of help and wanting nothing in return, Masry asks the warm family how much he should pay for their graciousness, to which they all collectively blush and remind him that he’s not in America anymore; here, we look out for one another.
Assal Eswed tries to the best of its abilities to ponder the reasons holding this country and our culture back; yet, instead of criticizing, the film ends up as the biggest apologist for Egyptian ambivalence– hokum is the light at the end of the film’s tunnel, not salvation.
Although Egyptians may find reassurance in the film’s sentimentality, non-Egyptians may detect an echo of the vacant nationalism that feeds many Egyptians’ sense of entitlement. In either case, what Assal Eswed really desperately needs is box office earnings and ensuring that product placement gets a sizable screen time. Subtlety is a sin in this film’s book.
For a Nicolas Cage movie, The Trust not as bad as one might expect, considering the actor’s string of duds in recent years. Playing out like a low-budgeted version of Ocean’s Eleven - except this time it’s the cops who are doing the crime - The Trust has initial promise, but as the minutes begin to unfold, boredom begins to kick in as becomes obvious that the story isn’t really going anywhere.
The film begins by introducing us to two cops, Stone (Cage) and Waters (Woods), who work in the evidence room at the Las Vegas Police Department. Both seemingly tired of their jobs, Stone is hoping that a promotion from his boss will soon come knocking while the prostitute and pot-loving Waters is painfully indifferent about the entire affair. Their lives, however, soon change when Stone accidently discovers large amounts of unexplained cash on bail release paperwork, triggering him to chase a money trail.
Bringing Waters into the picture, their investigation soon leads them to an empty building that was recently fitted with a super-secured - and super-suspicious - meat locker, which they believe is a safe filled with cash. Unfortunately, their plan of penetrating the vault doesn’t go as planned, leading the two to places they never thought they’d have to go to.
Blending flashes eccentricity with deadpan comedy, Nicolas Cage is surprisingly effective and relatively pleasing as the self-loathing cop who stumbles upon a discovery that, although illegal, holds the possibility of a new and a more exciting life. As his partner-in-crime, Woods is equally effective and the two actors play off each other extremely well, sharing a decent amount of onscreen chemistry.
However, their potential - along with the movie’s initial promise of delivering a dark and a relatively humorous caper - is lost with the script’s lack of risks. Co-directed by brothers and first-time filmmakers, Alex and Benjamin Brewer, the film is shot with a surprising amount of grit and visual flair. Though the siblings manage to build a solid amount of tension, there’s an imbalance to the whole film, in terms of tone, especially in the last act.
Still, even with all its flaws - the music could have been a bit more involving throughout for example - The Trust is still a far superior Nicolas Cage film than anything we’ve seen in recent times.
Disappointingly cartoonish and almost unbearable to sit-through, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Nine Lives - the Wild, Wild West director sinks to a new low here - is just as dreadful as its trailer suggest. The story - shockingly credited to a total of five screenwriters - is lethargic and uninteresting with Sonnefeld’s inability to ignite some much-needed energy or thematic effects into the mix, clearl throughout the entire ordeal.
The story is centred on Tom Brand (Spacey); an outspoken and a hot-headed New York real estate kingpin who is currently devoting all of his hours to putting the finalising touches on the largest skyscraper the world has ever seen. Working alongside his son David (Amell), Tom is a workaholic and his long working hours tend to keep him away from spending more time with his second wife, Lara (Garner), and their daughter, Rebecca (Weissman).
In an attempt to make up for missing out on his daughter’s eleventh birthday, Tom decides to buy her a cat from a mysterious pet shop owner named Felix (Walken). Picking out Mr. Fuzzypants as the gift, things take a turn for the wacky when, Tom falls off a roof and through a glass wall, losing consciousness in the process. Miraculously, he survives the fall but, when he awakes, Tom realises he’s trapped inside the body of Mr. Fuzzypants.
It’s seemingly hard to get excited or find anything nice to say about this latest talking-pet-family comedy that, considering its poorly constructed script and even worse special effects - seventy percent of the movie was entirely computer generated - seems lazy and uninterested in telling any kind of story to begin with. What’s even more surprising about Nine Lives is that it’s produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp - the production company behind hits like Taken, The Transporter and Lucy - making you wonder what possessed them to take on the story of a human trapped inside a body of a feline in the first place. It just doesn’t make sense.
It’s not entirely surprising, though, that Spacey was chosen to play Mr Fuzzypants, with the Oscar winner and House of Cards star’s alluring yet coldly indifferent voice standing in as the perfect match for the role of the cat. However, thanks to a long-series of bad jokes - which of course include plenty of poop gags - lame dialogue and a script that can’t seem to come into its own, Nine Lives has racked up enough points to be nominated as one of the worst films of 2016.