Sign in using your account with
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.
Considering its controversial and much talked-about source material, Fifty Shades of Grey – Sam-Taylor Johnson’s adaptation of E.L James’ best-seller – is surprisingly safe, shockingly uninvolved and tediously uninventive for a movie that was supposed to deliver – and show – so, so much more.
The story is centred on a young literature student Anastasia Steele (Johnson) who agrees to step in for her sick roommate, Kate (Mumford), and do the interview with handsome and the mysterious twenty-seven year old billionaire, Christian Grey (Dornan).
The two are quick to connect and it’s pretty clear that both of them are immediately taken by one another; she likes his good-looks and raw aura of masculine intensity and he is intrigued by her innocent beauty and clumsy ways. After being stalked and rescued from a drunken night out Anastasia realises that there is no escape from his peculiar – and intrusive – charms and soon gives into the idea of being seduced by the handsome young tycoon.
Dakota Johnson – the beautiful offspring of actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson – is definitely the only success of the entire production. Gutsy, beautiful and surprisingly funny and her innocent-like ways – not to mention her gorgeous baby-blues – and she carries her side of the story relatively well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the handsome Irishman and ex-Calvin Klein underwear model, James Dornan. Physically, he is the perfect casting choice, but his monotonic, almost robotic, delivery is unconvincing and what on paper should be a complex character is never really explored. It’s something that maintains a certain air of mystery, yes, but leaving such little room to explore his motivations isolates the character in a way that doesn’t allow auciences to truly ingest his relationship with Anastasia.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey never really knows what it wants to be and its lack of drive, focus and identity. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script is as hollow and instead of grabbing the story by its horns and allowing it to dip a little further towards the darkness, it ends up taking a more safer-route, ultimately, boring us all in the process.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey loses the drive and identity that made the book one of the most divisive best-sellers of the decade. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script fails to embody the book. Granted, said book shocks much more than it incites reflection, but the film even fails on that.
It was just a question of time before E.L James’ fictional smash-hit found its way to the big-screen; few books have stirred as much controversy in recent times. It’s rare that a film adaptation has the potential to better than the book on which it is based – this was the case here and, while it can be argued that it is indeed better, it’s still a less than satisfying viewing experience.
Although it’s nowhere near creative as other similarly-plotted teen-dramas out there– see Easy A, Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You – as far as high-school comedies go, The DUFF is expectedly formulaic, but is far from the worst film you’ll see this year.
Loosely based on the novel of the same name – written by the seventeen-year-old Kody Keplinger – the story is centred on Bianca Piper (Whitman); a quirky, socially-awkward and zombie-movie-loving high-school senior who spends most of her time hanging out with her two ‘more attractive’ best-friends, Casey (Santos) and Jess (Samuels).
Known for her laid-back look – which involves a lot of overalls and plaid – and casual approach to life, Bianca is considered somewhat of a loner by her other schoolmates; someone who has learned to turn a deaf ear to all the high-school drama and a girl that pretty much abides to her own set of rules. However, she soon receives the shock of her life when her childhood friend and neighbour, super-hot jock Wesley (Amell), informs her – very nonchalantly – that she is in fact a DUFF; a Designated Ugly Fat Friend who is only used to make her other friends look good in comparison.
Astounded and saddened by his statement, Bianca soon makes a deal with Wesley and asks him to – in exchange for Chemistry tutoring – help her shake of her DUFF image and turn herself into someone who Toby (Eversman) – Bianca’s long-haired and guitar-playing crush – might even consider dating.
Adapted to the screen by Josh A. Cagan, the story embodies a long list of teen-drama tropes and its only the occasional witty and sharp writing that elevates the film above being just another teen movie. Heavy on social media references and pop-culture nods, The DUFF is kept afloat by a well-assembled cast of performers who, apart from a couple of half-baked characters – including Thorne as the evil Queen Bee – manage to keep the film above the standard teen framework. Mae Whitman – remember that adorable little girl who played the President’s daughter in Independence Day? – is all grown-up and delivers the highlight performance; her spot-on comedic timing and sharp wit is a fantastic match for Amell’s surprisingly layered and sincere performance as Wesley.
Yes, The DUFF is a film we’ve all seen a million times before and anyone who has ever sat-through at least one high-school comedy in the past already knows what to expect. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable. On the contrary; it’s sweet, easy-going and fun.