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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.
Sinking the already-shaky horror-genre deeper into further oblivion, Ouija – based on a popular spirit-summoning board-game from the 1890’s – is, unfortunately, nothing to get excited about.
Written and directed by Stiles White – along with the penning support of Juliet Snowden – the story is centred on best friends, Laine (Cooke) and Debbie (Henning), who, ever since they were young girls, loved to indulge in a childish and seemingly harmless play using the Ouija board.
Several years later, however, Laine is shocked to learn that Debbie has killed herself and even more surprised to learn that – after visiting her home – that there is evidence of Debbie playing with the Ouija board all by herself; a big no-no in the world of spirits and magic. In order to get to resolve the mystery surrounding her death, Laine calls upon the help of her sister, Sarah (Coto), friend, Trevor, (Kagasoff) and Debbie’s boyfriend, Pete (Smith), to play with the Ouija board and summon Debbie’s spirit.
However, things turn upside down when they accidentally end up summoning an evil spirit who, unlike Debbie, wishes to spread harm upon the group. Now, Laine, who brought everyone into this mess in the first place, needs to find a way to shut the portal - between earth and the life beyond - before it’s too late.
Although the idea of turning a popular board-game into a movie doesn’t sound all that ridiculous and the material seems generally interesting, there just isn’t enough imagination or character in Ouija to make it worthwhile. Lacking depth and character, the film relies a little bit too much on the jump-scare tactic and the lack of suspense and tension only adds to its weak attempt to create a frightening horror experience.
Adding salt to the wound, the characters are just as weak thanks to the poorly-scripted material. Cooke leads the way as the only character of note and the relatively new face won’t have harmed her future prospects. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, simply don’t register and ultimately fail to convey a single genuine emotion.
Ouija is tedious, unimaginative and seemingly uninterested in elaborating and expanding on its own source material.
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.