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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.
It should be pretty clear by now that if you’ve seen one Nicolas Sparks film - Notebook, The Last Song, A Walk to Remember - you’ve seen them all. Continuing in the trend of relentlessly sappy romantic melodramas, The Choice - adapted to the big screen by Bryan Sipe and directed by Ross Katz - will speak to those who are willing to listen. However, those who prefer their movies with a little less cheese might want to rethink their order.
Set in a small idyllic coastal town in North Carolina, the story is centred on Gabby Holland (Palmer); a medical student who has moved away from the chaotic city life for some peace and quiet while studying to become a doctor. Unfortunately, the peace she was looking for is not to be found as she has moved in next door to, Travis Shaw (Walker); a handsome veterinarian, who, along with his on-and-off girlfriend, Monica (Daddario), enjoys throwing loud parties and get-togethers, much to Gabby’s distaste.
At first, the two are at each other’s throats, with Gabby not withholding her obvious exasperation with the hunky neighbour. However, when their significant others - including Gabby’s boyfriend Ryan (Welling) - conveniently disappear from the picture for a few days, it’s not long before the two fall for one another.
Logic, common sense and reality, are nowhere to be found in this idyllic romantic setup, set along a sun-dappled coastline where each sunset is better than the next. For fans of this particular brand of romantic movie, what ‘connection’ the two leads manage to cultivate is satisfying enough. Unfortunately, for those who might be a little bit more grounded and connected to reality, this latest heavy serving of romantic sap just won’t do.
Sticking unremittingly to its formulaic mould, The Choice - boasting all of the worst romantic movie tropes under the sun - is the definition of derivativeness, featuring plenty of hand-holding, eye-gazing and corny romantic exchanges. The leads, although, pretty to look at – this is a Nicolas Sparks movie after all – are just not strong enough to carry the film through; Palmer’s overacting is bothersome at best, while Walker largely serves as the eye-candy of the piece.
All in all, those who enjoy the comfortable predictability that can be found in Nicolas Sparks stories, will definitely find something to like about the author’s eleventh book-to-screen adaptation. It’s everyone else that we’re worried about.
If you’re idea of ‘funny’ is watching Robert De Niro making a complete and utter fool of himself as a filthy and foul-mouthed senior on a ‘life-changing’ journey sexual pursuits, then Dan Mazer’s Dirty Grandpa is a must see. However, if you would rather spare yourself the torture of having the image of the legendary, Oscar-winning actor tarnished for good, then you are advised to look for your dirty laughs elsewhere.
The story is centred on Jason Kelly (Efron); an uptight corporate lawyer who, having given up on his dreams of one day becoming a renowned photographer, is now - rather begrudgingly - working for his controlling lawyer dad, David (Mulroney). When his grandmother dies from cancer, his grandpa Dick (De Niro) - a retired military mechanic whom Jason was really close to as a kid - decides to guilt his grandson into driving him from his home in Atlanta, Georgia down to Florida, so he can honour and fulfil his late spouse’s dying wishes who has asked him to let loose a little.
Only a week away from his essentially arranged marriage to the beautiful but bossy Meredith (Hough), Jason - not wanting to disappoint his recently widowed grandpa - reluctantly agrees. However, he soon discovers that Dick has other reasons for their little road trip, when, after running into a couple of Jason’s friends old from college – including the promiscuous hottie, Lenore (Plaza) – Dick persuades Jason to take a little detour through Daytona Beach; a popular spring break spot for college students, where he can do some serious skirt-chasing and, yes, get laid.
Dirty Grandpa - directed by Borat producer Dan Mazer and first-time screenwriter John Phillips - is neither funny nor smart and watching it unfold on the big-screen is a grating, painful experience. Instead of focusing on offering quality laughs, the film seems more interested in shocking throughout its one-hundred-minute runtime, which include a never-ending stream of racial slurs, genital-based humour and profane-filled one-liners that seem to be on the repeat for most of the movie.
Robert De Niro - in what has proven to be one of his worst roles of his career - is, well, very unlike himself and while some might find his sex-crazed and dirty-mouthed ways novel and, dare we say, entertaining, there will also be many of those who will feel nothing but embarrassment for the seventy-two-year old actor. Efron, meanwhile, is Efron and spends most of the time shirtless.
It’s a rather tiring experience and while its particular brand of toilet-humour has its audience, the sloppiness and the lack of trying in Dirty Grandpa is almost insulting.