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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.
Unlike the first two films in the wildly popular cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young-adult novels, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I –the first instalment of a two-piece finale – is an underwhelming and slightly hollow watch.
Mockingjay Part I begins shortly after the end of Catching Fire, which saw Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) pulled out and rescued from the games by game-maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman), and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson).
Brought underground and aided by the District 13 rebels – led by President Alma Coin (Moore) – Katniss is asked to serve as the face of the growing revolt against President Snow and his tyranny over Panem. However, getting the young-rebel on board is not easy, as Katniss – whose beloved home district was levelled by Snow’s bombers in the previous instalment – is still trying to overcome the loss of her fellow District 12 champion, Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), who has now become a prisoner of the Capitol.
Desperate to bring Peeta back to safety, Katniss soon agrees to become the ‘Mockingjay’ and operate as a symbol of hope and resistance for the people of Panem.
Just like Harry Potter and Twilight – other similarly structured franchises that have split the big finale into two or three parts – Mockingjay Part 1 feels abrupt. Granted, it’s unfair to judge a two-part film as, essentially, one arc is running through both, but a film released on its own can only be watched on its own and this first part spends its two-hour-plus running time setting up the pieces of the puzzle and building up the story with no payoff.
This is somewhat remedied by returning director Francis Lawrence’s focus on big battle scenes, though once again, there’s no real payoff, no punch-line.
One thing that won’t be put into question is another engaging, emotional and an overall solid performance from Oscar-winning actress, Jennifer Lawrence, who manages to keep the story kicking, regardless of its awkward pacing. Other returning faces, which included Hoffman, Harrelson, Hutcherson and Banks, are all equally reliable and, as the determined President Snow, Sutherland is once again a strong and a dependable villain.
Given the reasonable star-power behind it, much was expected of The Angriest Man in Brooklyn – loosely adapted from a relatively unknown film titled, The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson – see Sum of All Fears – and written by Daniel Taplitz, the film is centred on Henry Altmann (Williams); a crabby family man and a real-estate broker who’s prone to raging outbursts which sadly, have resulted in estranged relationships with his wife, Bette (Leo) and son, Tommy (Linklater).
After a series of medical tests and examinations, Henry soon meets Dr. Sharon Gill (Kunis); a seemingly worn-out doctor who informs him that he has suffered an aneurism. She adds fire to the fuel by telling her unstable patient that he only has ninety-two minutes to live.
Henry rushes out of the hospital and quickly hits the road of redemption. In an attempt to mend broken relationships with Bette, his son, Tommy, and brother, Aaron (Dinklage), Henry needs to hurry before it is too late.
Undecided on what it wants to say, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is probably one of the most bewildering and cringe-inducing films of the year. Lost and with little structure behind its premise, the film – just like its main character – spirals out of control pretty quickly and one too many ideas, stories and subplots are thrown into the mix, without ever giving it enough room or time to explore them.
Nonetheless, watching Williams in action is always interesting, no matter how crazy and the late Oscar-winner is once again given free reign and even though, he does go a little overboard with the theatrics at times.
Draining, lazy and painfully sloppy, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is likely to throw viewers into fits of rage, too. An understandable reaction to sitting through eighty-three minutes of nonsensical and unfunny blabber.