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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.
Sinister looking children’s toys – dolls and puppets in particular – are a common feature of many a horror film, often somehow possessing dark demonic powers. Annabelle, the latest horror of such kind and the prequel/spin-off to the last year’s summer hit, The Conjuring, unfortunately is rather dull.
Directed by John R. Leonetti – of The Conjuring, Sinister and The Mask fame – and written by Gary Dauberman, Annabelle is set in the early 1970s and follows Mia (Wallis) and John Gordon (Horton); a young married couple living in Santa Monica, who are expecting their first child.
One night, their next-door neighbours are killed as a result of a satanic cult home-invasion job. Unfortunately, the drama doesn’t end there and they soon end up victims of a similar crime, but after a certain amount of struggle – and blood spilled – the couple manages to come out alive.
Soon after their traumatic ordeal, their home – that they’ve grown to love and care for – begins to suffer a series of supernatural occurrences and after it becomes a little too much to handle, they decide that it’s best to move. Unfortunately, trouble follows them to their new home and John and Mia soon realise that Mia’s prized collector’s doll might have something to do with it all.
Annabelle starts off strong, with Leonetti and Dauberman weaving a decent amount of tension and suspense into the opening. However, although, their ideas are relatively solid – and some of the scares genuinely frightening – the plot soon become repetitive and what little novelty the premise has wears off pretty darn soon.
In terms of performances, both Wallis and Horton managed to sustain a good amount of chemistry; however, their characters – just like the story – aren’t formed well enough to form a connection with the audience.
Riddled with clichés and familiar formulas, Annabelle is little more than an attempt to cash-in on the success of its much more convincing and entertaining predecessor.
Hollywood funny-man Vince Vaughn finds himself stepping into another underachieving man-child role in the latest comedy offering from director Ken Scott, Delivery Man. Typecasting aside, this remake – of Scott’s own French-Canadian indie-hit, Starbuck (2011) – manages to retain most of the original’s quirky charm.
David Wozniak (Vaughn) is a charming yet incredibly irresponsible truck-driver who delivers meat for a living. Working alongside his boss and father, Mikolaj (Blumenfeld), and his two, slightly more dependable brothers, Victor (Delaney) and Alesky (Moynihan), David has always been labelled as the black sheep of the family.
Well known for his tendency of taking stupid business risks, David is not only in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to a group of thugs, but he has also just found out that his cop girlfriend, Emma (Smulders), is pregnant with their first child.
David is not given much time to adjust to his newest life-changing circumstances; he soon discovers that he is father to over five hundred children. You see, years ago, David was a regular donator at various sperm banks in exchange for cash and the consequences of his actions have come back to haunt him.
Out of his five hundred and thirty three children, one hundred and forty two have filed a law-suit find their prolific father. Naturally, David ignores the legal advice of keeping a low profile, and soon jeopardizes the legal proceedings by going undercover to meet his biological off springs.
Being his usual fast-talking, humorous self, Vaughn doesn’t find himself venturing out of his comfort zone in Delivery Man. Despite failing to deliver gravity and weightiness to some of the film’s more heartfelt moments, he’s still able to carry the plot with familiar wit and charm. As the supportive best-friend, Pratt is incredibly funny, whilst the rest of the supporting cast all offer reliable and a whole-hearted performances.
Adapted from an indie-feature to a full-blown Hollywood remake, Delivery Man succeeds in delivering just enough to do the original justice; however, those who might have already seen the original may have a few doubts. The jokes are there, and although only a few are deserving of real laugh out loud moments, they still manage to entertain.
Unfortunately, Delivery Man is a predictable, one-dimensional Hollywood production. But then again, it’s also pretty harmless and light-hearted; an easy watch, if you will.