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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.
Arriving fourteen years after the last Jurassic Park entry, the fourth film in the twenty-two-year old franchise is finally here with Trevorrow’s Jurassic World; a thrilling, but flawed, addition to the series that never really recapture the magic of the original, but still manages to excite and serve as a fitting summer blockbuster.
Picking up twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, the story is centred in and around the dinosaur amusement park on Isla Nublar, belonging to billionaire Simon Masrani (Khan), who has taken the idea from the late John Hammond and turned it into a multi-million dollar reality. Responsible for managing the park’s security is rigid operation manager, Claire (Howard), while her impressively knowledgeable colleague – and love interest - Owen (Pratt) is in charge of training the park’s dinosaurs.
As one might expect when playing god, things quickly go wrong when the genetically engineered Indominus Rex – the park’s latest attraction – escapes from its enclosure leaving Simon and his team of soldiers – led by Vic (D’Onofrio) – to fight of the giant monster.
Having spent over a decade in development limbo, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be found in the realisation of what, at times, like a pipedream for diehard fans. Though reception has been mixed, Jurassic World proves to be a thrillingly visualised world. The park and all of its bells and whistles – including a petting zoo and a triceratops ride – are designed with careful detailing and the film succeeds in communicating a sense of awe and wonder.
However, in the harsh light of day, the film just doesn’t have the same impact, when considering the fact that the plot isn’t all that fresh – in fact, the skeleton of the story is the same – scientists play god, things go wrong, step forward hero. Granted, the dinosaurs being substantially larger and smarter adds a grandeur to proceedings, their human counterparts aren’t so lucky.
Performances by both Pratt – channelling his inner Indiana Jones – and Howard are solid, however, most of the characters aren’t explored or fleshed out enough to make you care about the outcome, leaving the mass destruction the hub of enjoyment – and it’s simply not enough.
Considered by some quarters to be Spielberg’s biggest contribution to Hollywood, Jurassic Park has a timeless quality about it; a quality that stacks the odds against a successful sequel even more so. This is a top popcorn movie, so to speak, but just lacks the sheer magnitude in ingenuity of the original. But then again, it has broken several box office records.
Melissa McCarthy can rightly be thought of as a guaranteed box office draw, but even as she continues to climb the Hollywood comedy ladder, there has been more misuse of her comedic talents than fans would care to admit. But, boasting an interesting cast, Paul Feig’s latest action-comedy flick, Spy, puts McCarthy centre-stage and though there’s nothing groundbreaking or even particularly fresh here, there’s a decent amount of humour and brainless fun to be found in its surprisingly effective R-rated offerings.
Though this is the third collaboration between McCarthy and Feig – see comedy hit, Bridesmaids, and last year’s not-so-hot, The Heat – Spy sees the bubbly and versatile actress take a lead role under the writer-director for the first time as Susan Cooper; a sharp and an able CIA analyst who spends most of her day sitting behind computer screens, dreaming of one day going into the field. Essentially, she is the eyes and ears for one of the agency’s best field agents, Bradley Fine (Law), who, unfortunately, is totally unaware of her affections towards him.
Things soon go awry when Fine’s latest mission in Varna, Bulgaria goes bust, leaving the identities of the CIA’s top agents compromised. Seizing the opportunity to show what she’s made of, Susan manages to convince her boss (the terribly underused Allison Janney) to let her go undercover and track down Rayna Boyanov (Byrne); the daughter of a deceased arms dealer who has managed to get a hold of a nuclear device and is the only person on the planet who knows where her father might have hidden it.
Positioning itself as a bit of James-Bond spoof, Spy is engagingly humorous and, at times, brutal in a cartoonish way. It doesn’t take itself seriously and there’s a good dose of just plain silliness and far-fetched ideas thrown into the mix. But it’s still far from perfect; some of the jokes miss the mark – McCarthy’s ‘bodyguard-talk’ being the exception – while the action set-pieces and the visuals aren’t as refined as that of, say, Kingsman: The Secret Service, for example – another recent spy-comedy.
Nevertheless, McCarthy is the heart and soul of the party and as a woman who is constantly judged by her appearance, she manages to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt performance, all the while keeping her comedy acting-chops intact. Meanwhile, Byrne – equipped with a deadpan expression and extravagant hairdos – is equally entertaining and her character’s femme-fatale persona is cleverly lampooned. Law has proven he can adapt and deliver in comedies and does so as a handsome and vain operative, while Statham delivers the role of a wired field agent in surprisingly amusing fashion.
Spy is another fine collaboration between Feig and his go-to-girl, McCarthy; witty at times, brainless at others, not everything seems to gel, but if you’re in the mood for a mindless globe-trotting adventure, then Spy ticks all the boxes for an easy-breezy watch.