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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.
With films like Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight finding unbridled box office success, adult feature film adaptations have, to some extent begun, to reach saturation and the latest proves exactly that.
The Maze Runner builds on a genuinely intriguing dystopian setting that fails to offer anything new to the genre as a film, despites the interesting premise of James Dashner’s 2009 book.
Directed by first-time filmmaker, Wes Ball, the story follows Thomas (O’Brien); a young man who finds himself waking up with amnesia and surrounded by an army of equally curious young men. He soon learns that he has woken up in the Glade; a sprawling savannah that is towered off by high – and maze-like – concrete walls.
Just like Thomas, the boys, led by Alby (Ameen) – who has been stuck in the Glade for the past three years – are unable to recall who they are and how they got there. The increasing number of new arrivals eventually led the confused boys to build a functioning mini-society of sorts, that depends on ‘runners’ – the fittest, fastest and most agile of the group – to race into the maze each day and look for a way out. The task is made all the more daunting by the fact that the gates that guard the maze close buy sundown and no one dares imagine what could happen to anyone who gets stuck there with the large monsters known as Grievers who patrol the maze at night.
Thomas initially has a hard time believing the myth, but realises the severity of the situation when one of the boys’ life is put into danger. The group is soon thrown into complete chaos when the first girl to arrive at the Glade, Teresa (Scodelario), shows up with a threatening message, making the boys realise that they can no longer wait for a miracle but, that they themselves must find a way to escape – and fast.
The Maze Runner marks the first and the opening chapter of a planned three-part series that once again sees a group of teenagers fighting for their lives against a mysterious and much superior force. To its credit, though, the story is fairly engaging, as the plot builds on a similar premise to William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.
The film succeeds in projecting a deliciously claustrophobic tone and the characters are likeable, while even the action is pretty solid throughout.
However, the film plays out like an intro to the series and those who haven’t read the book might feel a little cheated by the fact that the character of Thomas is never really explored and short-changed by the abrupt - and calculated - finale.
Overall, The Maze Runner is a decent, if unremarkable, first chapter to the series and now the pressure is really on for the second.
Hollywood funny-man Vince Vaughn finds himself stepping into another underachieving man-child role in the latest comedy offering from director Ken Scott, Delivery Man. Typecasting aside, this remake – of Scott’s own French-Canadian indie-hit, Starbuck (2011) – manages to retain most of the original’s quirky charm.
David Wozniak (Vaughn) is a charming yet incredibly irresponsible truck-driver who delivers meat for a living. Working alongside his boss and father, Mikolaj (Blumenfeld), and his two, slightly more dependable brothers, Victor (Delaney) and Alesky (Moynihan), David has always been labelled as the black sheep of the family.
Well known for his tendency of taking stupid business risks, David is not only in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to a group of thugs, but he has also just found out that his cop girlfriend, Emma (Smulders), is pregnant with their first child.
David is not given much time to adjust to his newest life-changing circumstances; he soon discovers that he is father to over five hundred children. You see, years ago, David was a regular donator at various sperm banks in exchange for cash and the consequences of his actions have come back to haunt him.
Out of his five hundred and thirty three children, one hundred and forty two have filed a law-suit find their prolific father. Naturally, David ignores the legal advice of keeping a low profile, and soon jeopardizes the legal proceedings by going undercover to meet his biological off springs.
Being his usual fast-talking, humorous self, Vaughn doesn’t find himself venturing out of his comfort zone in Delivery Man. Despite failing to deliver gravity and weightiness to some of the film’s more heartfelt moments, he’s still able to carry the plot with familiar wit and charm. As the supportive best-friend, Pratt is incredibly funny, whilst the rest of the supporting cast all offer reliable and a whole-hearted performances.
Adapted from an indie-feature to a full-blown Hollywood remake, Delivery Man succeeds in delivering just enough to do the original justice; however, those who might have already seen the original may have a few doubts. The jokes are there, and although only a few are deserving of real laugh out loud moments, they still manage to entertain.
Unfortunately, Delivery Man is a predictable, one-dimensional Hollywood production. But then again, it’s also pretty harmless and light-hearted; an easy watch, if you will.