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.
Ah, horror sequels – what can you say about them that haven’t been said before? We’re at a point now where not even the most ardent and committed of horror fans can argue the notion that sequels in this particular genre of filmmaking are largely motivated by the prospect of a huge cash-in at the box office. It’s understandable; filmmakers need to make films that make money so that they can make more films.
There are occasions, however, where that motivation is all too obvious and Sinister 2 suffers exactly that. Following on from the relatively unnerving original starring Ethan Hawke, to call this a sequel would be giving the script far too much credit; there are no new ideas or even any kind of continuation with the story of the film’s antagonist, Bughuul.
In the first film, we’re told that Bughuul possesses a child, who then goes on to murder his or her family. The house in which the murder takes place is then essentially haunted, driving the next tenants – who discover videos of the previous murders – away, but back into the arms of Bughuul, where they are murdered by, again, one of the children – and so on and so forth. There are various small details in between the cracks of this vicious cycle – violent dreams, creepy twins, a clan of ghost-kids – but the problem with Sinister 2 is that it revisits all of these elements and expects you to be okay with that. It’s not okay; in fact, it’s terrible. This ‘sequel’ essentially retreads the same skeleton of the plot and, because of a typically rosy ending, is far inferior in terms suspense and expectation – it’s the same but nowhere near as good, is what this review title could have read.
The only glimmer of light to come through the film is the performance of James Ransone, who reprises what was peripheral role in the original as the nameless deputy. There’s a real sense of the character – credited as Deputy So & So – being a kind-hearted, lone-wolf gun-slinger who wants to do good and is often misunderstood because of it. He’s worn-out, he’s tired and he’s always on the move. Aesthetically, the film hits the right notes – but, again, there are no surprises; the family lives in an old, creaky farmhouse, for example.
If ever there was a perfect example of the misguided nature of the film sequel, Sinister 2 is it. You can commend a sequel for trying to build on and expand the original, but this film seems to have regressed.
Like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler before her, Amy Schumer is the in comedienne in Hollywood right now and her first major role couldn’t have come under the conductorship of a better person; Judd Apatow. The man who had a hand in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad and Anchorman is comedy royalty in Hollywood and, as a director, has a knack for bringing out the best in his actors with his very character-driven comedies and does exactly that with Schumer, giving her a perfect platform to introduce herself to the world.
There isn’t exactly much that you could call innovative with the plot of Trainwreck and so all of its enjoyment is owed to the actors themselves. The story follows Schumer’s character, also named Amy, and her toil and trouble in the game of love. Barely functioning as an active member of society, Amy drinks to get drunk, smokes to get high and jumps in bed with strange men to forget – all that despite being in a relationship with a gym-rat ably played by WWE wrestler and occasional actor, John Cena.
Through her work with a magazine, she comes to meet a sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Hader), and end up falling for each other, with the only potential obstacle standing in the way of a future together being Amy’s fear of commitment.
Again, there’s not a lot about the plot that will blow you away; two lovers-to-be come to fall for each other in unlikely circumstances, an event brings to light a problem with one or more of them which builds a barrier between them, before one of them has the courage to make a compromise and they live happily ever after. It’s the basic template that all romantically infused films are based on and there’s no getting away from it, especially when thrown in a hotpot with comedy.
But it’s Schumer and her supporting cast – as well as that Judd Apatow touch – that keep the viewer engaged in what is otherwise a pedestrian story. The humour is sharp and witty, but, most importantly, the characters are very relatable, with the script not falling back on clichés. The viewer isn’t expected to see the characters through rose-tinted shades; it doesn’t boil down people to good or bad; they’re just human.
More important than all that, however, is that Trainwreck is funny, ridiculous, but at times endearing – a perfect recipe for a rom-com.