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.
Failing to develop its concept, writer-director James DeMonaco’s final chapter in the horror series, The Purge, the franchise has reached its final destination with a damp squib.
Set in year 2025, it’s once again time for the annual Purge; a government-sanctioned twelve hour period where anything, including murder, is allowed. Designed on the theory of keeping crime down for the rest of the year by letting people let loose, the New Founding Fathers of America - led by Caleb Warrens (Barry) - are big supporters of the occasion and look forward to it every year. However, Senator Charlene ‘Charlie’ Roan (Mitchell) is not exactly on board with the idea and having lost her entire family to the Purge eighteen years before, she’s determined to shut it down and eliminate the practice for good once she is elected President.
Naturally, Roan’s objections to the annual ‘cleansing’ doesn’t sit all too well with the Founding Fathers and order the assassination of the Senator during the upcoming Purge. Protected by Detective Barnes (Grillo), Roan’s security system is soon breached, forcing her and Barnes to flee and head to the streets where the annual violence has already begun.
Playing off of the same concept as the previous two films - except this time there seems to be very little creative direction from DeMonaco - there is an obvious lack of danger present in the mix, with the writing defiantly refusing to explore its premise beyond the aggression masked killers and bloody street violence. What was once a seemingly interesting idea that had theory behind it, now relies on a shock value that has simmered over the trilogy.
Offering a not-so-subtle political viewpoint, subjects such as racism, sexism and religion are integrated into the storyline, but are never really explored in the context of the film’s concept.
Adding to the story’s demise are performances from a cast who fail to evoke any emotion throughout the entire movie, let alone establish a connection with the audience. As the fearlessly-protective cop, Grillo is stiff and ends up taking the material given a little too seriously, while Mitchell is surprisingly hollow as the idealistic politician.
The rules of the game are unclear and the gaps in logic in DeMonaco’s flimsy screenplay are aplenty. Bloody, violent and ridiculously adrift, The Purge: Election Year has failed to cash in on its potential and has settled on a meandering ending to the series, reminding us all that it was probably never really that good to begin with.
Arriving six years after Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland took the box-office by storm – the film ended up earning over a billion dollars despite receiving mixed reviews - the adventures of Wonderland continue with a story that serves both as a prequel and a sequel, in James Bobin’s visually exciting, but rather empty, Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Three years after sailing around on her late father’s ship, Alice (Wasikowska) returns to London to learn that there has been some significant changes in her mother Helen’s (Duncan) living situation and that, on top of everything else, she is now at risk of losing her father’s ship for good. However, before she gets a chance to deal with the situation at hand, which finds her at direct conflict with her ex-fiancé Hamish Ascot (Bill), Alice is contacted by the caterpillar-turned butterfly Absolem (voiced by the late Alan Rickman) whom she decides to follow through a magic mirror leading to Wonderland.
Once there, Alice learns the Mad Hatter (Depp) who, as a result of believing that his family is still alive, has now begun to age rapidly and is slowly dying. Tasked by the White Queen (Hathaway) to save their land by going back in time, Alice decides to pay a visit to Time himself (Cohen); a half-man, half-machine King of clockwork who is not so keen of allowing Alice to use the chromosphere to travel back and save Hatter’s parents from. Refusing to accept defeat, Alice steals the device and sets on her journey, though she soon learns that changing the past doesn’t come without consequences.
Written by Linda Woolverton and directed by The Muppet’s James Bobin, there’s a significant change in the story’s visual dynamics which finds Tim Burton’s shadowy, gothic style in Alice replaced by a psychedelically vibrant and colourful backdrop that is both pleasing and exciting to watch. However, unlike the obvious work and creativity put into bringing energy and precise technicalities into its visual – the use of 3D actually pays off - the writing comes off as a lazy.
Woolverton’s screenplay is confusing at times and the characters, despite their whacky and imaginative surroundings, fall surprisingly flat. At twenty-six years of age Wasikowska seems a little too old to be wandering around Wonderland. Although typically weird and zany in their reprising roles, her co-stars Depp, Bonham-Carter and Cohen, fail to rise to the occasion.
Shiny and exciting to look at, Alice Through the Looking Glass is, overall, a disappointing revisit to Wonderland which, despite its best efforts, fails to make a lasting impression.