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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.
With seventeen novels to his name, it’s fair to say that author, Nicholas Sparks, has enjoyed a decent amount of success, especially since his very first book-to-film adaptation of the super-cheesy Message in a Bottle back in 1999. Nine of his novels have been turned into big Hollywood motion-pictures – including The Notebook and Dear John – and his latest, a disastrous and a painfully predictable attempt at a romantic drama, is the author’s tenth and quite possibly, most damaging of them all.
The story opens with Sophia (Robertson); a young woman looking forward to moving to New York City, where she plans to pursue her dreams of working at an art gallery right after she graduates. Things soon get complicated when - while attending a bull-riding competition of all things - she lays her eyes on Luke Collins (Eastwood); a handsome and a talented bull-rider who is making a return after suffering a major injury a year prior. The two are quick to connect and soon begin to spend more time with one another.
One night, they come across a devastating car accident and after managing to pull an elderly man named Ira Levinson (Alda) - and his box full of old letters – out of the wreck, the film smacks on another layer to the story. Sending us all the way back to WWII, the film shifts its focus to young Ira (Huston) and a beautiful young girl named, Ruth (Chaplin), and begins to follow their romance; a story filled with plenty of heartache and tragedy to keep hardcore Sparks fans amused.
One thing’s for sure; if you’ve seen one Nicholas Sparks movie, you’ve seen them all. Two pretty people fall in love. Their potential happily-ever-after is challenegd by a series of obstacles and hurdles which they need to find the strength to overcome. Tragedy strikes. Tears are jerked. Roll credits.
The Longest Ride is one of author’s weakest entries, it’s a little too predictable and as the tenth book-to-movie adaptation for the celebrated author, there’s nothing to separate it from the pack or make it more relevant or topical. The story jumps back and forth rather awkwardly between the past and the present and there is very little that connects the two periods together, making us think why bother with the timeline to begin with?
On the upside, the leads – although lacking quite a bit of chemistry – are likable and both Eastwood and Robertson bring enough charm and easygoingness – yes, that’s a real word – into the story. However, their pretty faces aren’t enough to save the day; unsurprising and tediously slow, The Longest Ride is a truly a long ride.
Arriving six years after the original, the follow-up installment to Kevin James’ embarrassingly unfunny and especially agonizing Paul Blart: Mall Cop is just as insufferable and unnecessary as its predecessor.
Directed by Andy Fickman – see She’s the Man – and written by Nick Bakay and Kevin James himself, the story is once again centered on the New Jersey mall security officer, Paul Blart (James) whose life after foiling the Black Friday heist six years ago, is currently down in the dumps. See, his one true love, Amy (Mays) has decided to leave him after only six days of marriage – the explanation is never really given – and his mother (Knight) passes away, leaving Paul to raise his teenage daughter, Maya (Rodriguez) all by himself.
Watching his daughter grow up is something that Paul is struggling with, and when an opportunity to travel to Las Vegas to attend a small Security Officers Convention comes up, Paul and Maya pack their bags and head to Sin City for a much-needed vacation. Unfortunately, their holiday is soon interjected by a group of professional thieves, led by super-robber, Vincent (McDonough), who have decided to use the hotel in which the Blarts are staying at as the target for their next mission. Can Paul save the day once again and be the hero he has been preparing his whole life to be?
Happy Madison Productions seems to have forever lost the concept of comedy and what constitutes a movie worthy of anyone’s time and money. The original movie - released back in 2009 – made some serious bank, grossing over one hundred-and-eight million dollars worldwide on a budget of twenty-six. So, no matter how disturbing that statement actually is, a sequel actually makes sense. Sadly, the efforts of a six-year-long production labor – which is nowhere to be found in fact - doesn’t really pay off as Mall Cop 2 is nowhere near as harmlessly entertaining as the original picture - which says a lot considering that the first movie wasn’t as amiable as we are making it out to be. It’s predominately worse. It’s worse than worse. It’s shameful and totally uncalled for.
The comedy, if you can really call it that, relies too much on James’ shape and size to elicit laughs - not to mention his immense talent of committing to pratfalls – and he is the story’s main attraction. He does well and if you’re a fan, there is some joy to be found in his latest shenanigan-filled debacle. However, if you’re not, you are probably better off giving Mall Cop 2 a serious pass.