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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.
Adapted from John Green’s 2012 bestselling novel of the same name, The Fault in our Stars - a formulaic but engagingly honest story of star-crossed lovers brought together by a mutual pain - will sadden, enrich and perhaps even comfort, many of those who come across its path.
The story is centred on the sixteen year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley); a girl who has been battling with terminal thyroid cancer since the age of thirteen. After being one of the few to respond to an experimental drug treatment, her condition is now stable, though the side effects have weakened her lungs and she is now constantly attached to a portable oxygen tank.
Hazel has pretty much accepted the fact that her days are numbered but her parents, Frannie (Dern) and Michael (Trammell), are increasingly concerned for her emotional well-being and urge her to join a cancer support group for young cancer patients like herself; not wanting to stress her parents any further, Hazel soon agrees to go.
It’s there that she first meets Augustus Waters (Elgort); an optimistic osteosarcoma survivor who lost part of his leg due to the illness. He is now living cancer-free and only comes to the meetings to support his best-bud, Isaac (Wolff). Instantly intrigued by each other, Hazel and Augustus strike up a flirty friendship but Hazel - someone who views herself as a grenade and is set on protecting those around her from the blast when that day eventually comes - is reluctant to let Augustus in. But as their relationship slowly begins to inch towards romance, she soon sees that she really doesn’t have much say in the matter.
Woodley is absolutely enigmatic as the story’s cancer-stricken heroine and ends up infusing a great amount of likeability and authenticity into the role of a young girl asked to face her destiny much too soon, while Elgort shines as the witty and the incredibly charming young man who refuses to let the cruelty of life dampen his spirits.
The Fault in Our Stars is only the second feature-film for director Josh Boone – see 2012’s Stuck in Love - however, he executes the tricky adaptation like a veteran. Scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webert, the gravity of the material is handled wonderfully and there is a heavy dose of sincerity, humour and most important of all, heart, injected into the story’s sombre themes.
On the downside, its teenage-romance premise does get a little too cutesy in parts and the subplot, which involves a trip to Amsterdam, feels a little underdeveloped. Nevertheless, it’s the easy chemistry between its protagonists and its earnest approach makes The Fault in Our Stars a success and an ultimate real tear-jerker that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
First, it’s important to establish that we cannot place the blame in its entirety on Ramez Galal for his sadistic show. A big part of the blame should fall on us, the viewers, who eagerly wait for pranks and spike the show’s ratings, even reaching the point where café owners will blast these shows on large TVs to attract customers. It’s time to admit that there’s a sadist in all of us.
The premise of the show is a guest will come in to film an episode about the World Cup on a zodiac boat out at sea. The boat malfunctions, one of the presenters dives in to see what’s wrong, and the events quickly escalate to the boat sinking with the guest and a fake shark attack.
In the episode with Rania Mahmoud Yassin and Mohamed Riad, it’s interesting to point out that the boat didn’t sink entirely, and Rania kept a firm clutch on her sunglasses in a situation where any normal person would’ve let go of his/her belongings in exchange for safety. We ignored these points at first, but after several mentions on TV and by other viewers, we couldn’t help but wonder.
The show comes with a lot of legal issues this year, of which, a case that Athar El Hakim filed against Galal, banning her episode from airing, under the pretence that the prank extremely frightened her. The truth behind that is in question, after a video of her discussing her pay for the episode was leaked. Other legal issues concerning the show include damage to marine life from planting metal poles to support the hidden cameras.
Because nothing is black and white, it’s important to admit Galal’s sense of humour and experience, especially when it’s imitated by an artist like Mohamed Fouad in his show “Fo’sh Fil Mo’askar”, a stale and completely void of humour prank show.
We have to admit, we were impressed by the shark boat Galal uses to rescue the guests. He is a smart actor who was able to establish himself within Ramadan TV and create shows that people wait for year to year.