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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.
Peter Jackson’s fourteen-year-long Middle-Earth adventure has finally come to a close with the third and final instalment Bilgo Baggins’ journey with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; a slightly bloated, but generally successful, finale that boasts plenty of action and technical superiority over its immediate predecessors.
Hitting the ground running and wasting no time in plunging audiences in the deep-end, The Battle of the Five Armies begins exactly where the second film left off, with Smaug (once again voiced superbly by Cumberbatch) setting Lake-town ablaze as Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) and his army of loyal dwarf-followers watch from the Lonely Mountain.
After escaping imprisonment, Bard (Evans) slays Smaug, leaving the endless treasures of the mountain unguarded for Bilbo, Thorin and co. to continue their quest. But as news spreads of Smaug's demise, the lure of the mountain's coveted riches triggers an inevitable path to war.
A With a running time of just over two hours, The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of all of The Hobbit entries, though it’s also the most ambitious and visually-creative of the lot. The cinematography is exquisite and the CGI techniques seem to have been pushed to their very limit.
The cast is, as always, steadfast and dependable with Armitage delivering a blockbuster performance as Thorin, though Freeman’s usual whimsical nature and superb comic timing is, surprisingly, underused. Similarly, the rest of the cast, including Lilly as the she-elf, Evans, as the newly-emerged leader of Lake-town, and McKellen take a back-seat.
With this being the finale, it plays out like a climax and is heavy on the action and not much else – as a standalone film, it may feel a little hollow for some, but for fans, it's a fittingly spectacular conclusion to the series.
Although there are moments of genuine hilarity to be found in the follow-up to the delightfully raunchy 2011 comedy, Horrible Bosses, it’s hard not to wince at just how eager and desperate it is to please.
Directed by Sean Anders – who also co-wrote the script along with John Morris – Horrible Bosses 2 once again follows the turbulent, and at times abstract, lives of Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day); three good friends who, after successfully managing to free themselves of their ‘horrible bosses’, are now contemplating starting a new business together with their invention, the Shower Buddy; an elaborate and ever-so-slightly ridiculous shower head inspired by car washes.
Their efforts attract the attention of wealthy retail tycoon, Bert Hanson (Waltz), who offers to fund their business if they can produce 100,000 units. After taking out a loan, renting a warehouse and hiring employees, Hanson takes the stock but back out of the deal, leaving the three friends in six-figure debt.
Considering that their previous plot of murdering their bosses didn’t quite go as planned, the three friends decide to go in another direction; kidnap Bert’s extremely spoiled and arrogant son, Rex (Pine), and ask for a hefty ransom. However, their seemingly bullet-proof plan goes haywire when Rex – a shady figure like his father – quickly turns the tables on the dim-witted threesome with a devious scheme of his own.
Just like many comedy sequels – see Hangover II, Dumb and Dumber Too – the payoff is never quite as satisfying as the first-time around. Relying on the same brand of humour, Horrible Bosses 2 just isn’t as funny as its predecessor and becomes repetitive pretty early on – particularly the crass rape jokes.
Only Chris Pine comes out of the other end with any dignity, bringing his deliciously devious character to life, with the always brilliant Christoph Waltz needlessly tarnishing his recent rich vein of form with what is a completely unnecessary sequel. Though the cast is packed to the rim with popular and likeable actors, all seem to be going through the motions – though the blame for that should fall squarely on the monotonous, tedious and cringingly uncreative script.
At its very core, the film is flawed. Those who wronged our three heroes in the first film were to be condemned to murder. This time round, the son of the man who did them wrong is condemned to a kidnapping. Sequels should build and go bigger than the original; Horrible Bosses 2 bafflingly aims lower.