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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.
Based on a 2010 novel of the same name – written by the English young-adult fiction writer Andy Mulligan – Trash is best described as a feel-good story that carries a smimilar spirit to Oscar-winning drama, Slumdog Millionaire; similarly, it's a colorful and a slightly strained drama of adolescence and poverty.
Set in Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil, Trash follows the story of Raphael Fernandez (Tevez), Gardo (Luis) and Rato (Weinstein); three fourteen year-old Brazilian boys who live in a lakeside favela and who earn their pennies by sorting trash at the nearby dumping ground.
During one of their routine scavenger hunts, Raphael comes across an expensive looking wallet that, just as luck would have it, is full of cash. While no one is looking, Raphael quickly pockets the cash. However, when crooked police officer, Federico (Mello), turns up desperately looking for the wallet, Raphael realises that there is more to his find than it meets the eye.
As it happens, the wallet, which also contained a flip-book photo of a little girl with coded numbers on the back and a mysterious looking key, is directly linked to a wealthy and seemingly corrupt politician who is currently running for mayor. Realising that they are in way over their heads, the boys reach out to Father Julliard (Sheen) and aid-worker, Olivia (Mara), for help, all the while doing everything they possibly can to evade the hands of the corrupt police force who will do everything they can to get their hands on the wallet.
Trash, adapted to the screen by Richard Curtis, spends most of its running time in Portuguese and does a decent job in portraying the poverty hiding beneath the colourful streets of Rio; the chase scenes through the bustling streets and tight alleyways are particularly enjoyable. However, although pleasing to the eye, the material feels a little forced, a little too pretty around the edges and yes, a bit too Hollywood; if you were expecting more of a harsher look inside the life of favelas, perhaps you will need to revisit movies such as City of God or Elite Squad for a better insight.
Nonetheless, Trash does manage to keep things relatively upbeat and entertaining mainly because of the infectious energy and dynamism brought on by the three leads, who, despite their limited acting experience, hold the entire film together.
It was exactly twenty years ago that likeably goofy duo, Harry and Lloyd, won the hearts of many in the incredibly daft but entertaining comedy, Dumb and Dumber. Having cemented their place in Hollywood cult history, the friends return in Dumb and Dumber To; a follow-up that’s relatively entertaining, but nowhere near as memorable as its adored original.
Following the heartbreak of his unrequited love for Mary Swanson, Lloyd (Carrey) has spent the last twenty years in a mental hospital, completely withdrawn and in an unresponsive state. Best pal Harry (Daniels) has continued to visit him, but it’s not till he brings bad news that Lloyd snaps back into life – that news being that Harry is in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
After finding dead-ends every which way that they turn, they soon discover a long lost letter from former lover, Fraida Felcher (Turner), informing Harry that she was pregnant with his child, whom, as they soon find out, has been given up for an adoption. Excited that they might be able to find that donor after all, the reckless twosome soon hit the road in order to find Harry’s daughter, Fanny Felcher (Melvin), and quite possibly, the kidney that will keep Harry alive.
Fans of the original 1994 release will probably be excited most by the sequel, which is once again directed by the Farrelly brothers and scripted by the same writing team.
Both Carrey and Daniels seem happy to reprise their roles as the brainless but lovable best-friends and throw themselves into it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, the material isn’t all that fresh and the script fails to take into account that the world of Hollywood comedy in 1994 is miles away from what it is now.
Subsequently, the whole thing feels far too slapstick and, though that was the general M.O. for the first film, it feels dated – and quite frankly, crude – in 2014.