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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.
Zack Snyder wowed audiences back in 2006 with his super-slick fictionalised retelling of the infamous Battle of Thermopylae in 300. Now, the long-awaited sequel is here; bloodthirsty and unforgiving, it's safe to say that 300: Rise of an Empire will not disappoint fans of the first film.
Serving as both a sequel and a prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire takes its attention away from the Spartans and their army of noble men, this time putting its focus on the origins of their enemies and the wider ramifications of the events from the first film. The story is centred on Athenian General, Themistocles (Stapleton); a fearless warrior who, during the Battle of Marathon, fatally injured King Darius I (Naor), the great leader of Persia and father of God-King-to-be Xerxes (Santoro).
Ignited with anger and an incredible desire to spill Grecian blood, Greek-born Persian warrior, Artemisia (Green) plans to transform Prince Xerxes from a fearful Prince into a Persian God-King, to ultimately guide their people into war with the Greeks.
Ten years later, Xerxes is ready to send his troops into battle, concurrently engaging King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan men in the overwhelming Battle of Thermopylae, as well as General Themistocles, who goes on to battle Artemisia's naval army at sea. The fate of Greece lies entirely with Themistocles, whose army is once again devastatingly outnumbered, but whose determination and courage go a long way in their fight for freedom.
Santoro returns to reprise his role as the towering giant that is Xerxes and although the character’s backstory is one of the most engaging elements of the film, the Brazilian actor fails to offer any depth to the complex kind. As the lawful Queen Gorgo, Headey retains a very royal pride intensity as the wife of the fallen Leonidas, while Stapleton – as the film’s lead – delivers just enough to score a passing grade, but ultimately lacks the charm and presence of Gerard Butler.
On the other hand, adding Green into the picture is arguably one of best decisions that the filmmakers could have made; as the trouble-brewing Artemisia, she steals the show.
Sticking to the same visual aesthetic, 300: Rise of an Empire is just as absorbing as its predecessor, with director Noam Murro given the freedom to paint on a much larger – and bloodier – canvas.
Although the thrust and energy of 300 seems like an awfully difficult feature to replicate, there are still plenty of adrenaline-pumping moments behind the blood-stained battles to make 300: Rise of an Empire an enjoyable follow-up.
Taking its cues from David Memet's provocative play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, About Last Night is a remake of a 1986 Edward Zwick film. Being the latest romantic comedy claiming to take a deeper looks at the age-old subjects of love, sex and relationships, it holds just enough charm and humour to make it an admirable addition to cinema-cheese.
Set on the sunny-streets of L.A, the film follows two best friends; businessman Danny (Ealy) and his motor-mouth best friend, Bernie (Hart). Like many other men their age, the duo’s measure of success lays in how many women they hook up with and they naturally have no interest in looking for or finding ‘the one’.
However, things soon change for them both when Bernie meets the sexy and equally feisty, Joan (Hall), while his best-bud strikes up an immediate connection with Joan's beautiful roommate, Debbie (Bryant).
Time passes by and each couple have shared a fair amount of ups and downs in their respective relationships; Bernie and Joan's hot-headed union is on rocky grounds, while Danny and Debbie – who have moved from a one-night stand status to a full-blown live-in relationship – are questioning whether their relationship will weather the storm of uncertainty and returning exes.
The cast is well-fitted to this type of comedy and, thanks to their on-screen presence, they manage to convey their day-to-day hardships in a way the audiences can easily relate to. Vibrant and infectious, Hart – recently seen alongside Ice Cube in the buddy-cop comedy, Ride Along – puts his over-the-top energy to good use, whilst the dynamics shared with Hall is the movie's key draw. Meanwhile, Ealy's and Bryant's more sedate alliance - told through a gushy, overly-sentimental eye for romance – is satisfying as the meat of the plot, but not as exciting.
Directed by Hot Tub Machine's Steve Pink, the film’s premise is fairly familiar; boy-meets-girl, they share one night of steamy passion, fall in love, move in, before the inevitable question "am I ready for this?" reels its ugly head. However, despite its somewhat conventional and unsurprising setup, the script - written by Bachelorette's Leslye Headland – keeps things relatively light, humorous and, at times, even emotionally stirring.
About Last Night manages to put its own spin of realism and good-natured humour on the forever-entertaining, battle-of-the-sexes; forgettable yet extremely engaging, the dialogue, along with the cast's biting chemistry could easily set this as the best date-movie of the year, thus far.