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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.
Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist can rightly claim to be one of the most successful haunted-house tales ever told and so a reboot of what is probably one of the scariest films of all time makes sense in that money-grabbing Hollywood kind of way. But as with so many reboots, Gil Kenan’s uninspired take on the 1982 classic proves that it’s no easy task.
The story is centred on the Bowens; a family of five who, due to the recent recession, have been forced to downsize their home and move to a more affordable neighbourhood. Having recently lost his job, Eric Bowen (Rockwell) and his wife, Amy (DeWitt) have been struggling to keep up with the mounting debts and finding the perfect home for themselves and their three kids; teenager Kendra (Sharbino), her younger brother, Griffin (Catlett) and their youngest sibling, Maddy (Clements) hasn’t been easy.
Settling on a semi run-down estate in a town where the pricing seemed to be just right, the Bowens are excited to get settled into their new surroundings. However, things soon go bumping in the night and both Griffin and Maddy – the latter of whom doesn’t seem to be at all bothered about making new ‘friends’ in the closet – begin noticing strange occurrences. Griffin is the first to voice his concern, however his parents think that he is just being overly-anxious about his new home – that is until Maddy goes missing only to resurface as a voice inside the family’s television.
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire – see Rabbit Hole – the script stays very faithful to its source material. It’s something to be commended, yes, but the horrors of old just don’t have the same effect as they did back then and this reboot lacks freshness, creativity and that extra little oomph needed to bring it into the 21st century. Subsequently, it’s difficult to assess as to how loyalists to the original will receive the film; on one hand, it stays close to the original, but on the other hand, there’s nothing new – no new angle, no new pull.
Luckily, the acting is solid and everyone involved turns in relatively convincing and connecting performances. One of the most versatile actors working Hollywood right now, Rockwell turns out to be a decent choice for the role of the troubled father and Clements - although, nowhere near as powerful as her predecessor - is creepily endearing.
In the end, though, Poltergeist 2015 is too weak to stand up to the original. One of the things that made the 1982 version the iconic horror it is today is that unnerving atmosphere and the unsettling energy which followed the story from beginning to end. For what it’s worth, Kenan’s keen eye and roaming camerawork manages to keep his audience on the edge of their seats, but the predictable jump-scares only serve to take away from tension.
Trying to recapture the heart, wit and all-round musical grandeur of its 2012 predecessor, Pitch Perfect 2 sees actress-turned-filmmaker, Elizabeth Banks, sit in the director’s chair for her very first feature film. But as is so common with sequels, Banks’ directorial debut is a little off-key and not or as comically refined.
Following their success and three consecutive wins at the A Cappella U.S nationals, the Barden University Bellas are riding high. Led by Beca Mitchell (Kendrick) and Chloe Beale (Snow), the Bellas have been travelling the country on a victory tour, which also happens to include a very special stop at the Kennedy Center, where the group performs for President Obama and other a cappella enthusiasts.
However, things don’t go exactly to plan and when a rather unfortunate wardrobe malfunction involving Fat Amy (Wilson) labels the group as a national disgrace and the Bellas are mortified to learn that they will no longer be allowed to compete or admit any new members to their ensemble as a result.
Devastated by the outcome but equally determined to regain their former glory, the Bellas – who have been currently replaced by their rival team from Germany called Das Sound Machine on the victory tour – are now left with only one choice; win the global a cappella championship or be cast aside forever – dramatic gasp!
Delivering bigger and bolder musical numbers, Pitch Perfect 2 ticks the boxes on the musical entertainment front and the cleverly-constructed mash-ups seen in the previous film will leave any loyal Barden Bellas fan giddy with joy. However, the script isn’t without its problems, written by the 30 Rock’s Kay Cannon, the plot is unfocused and unpolished; everything feels a little overstated and the humour – especially those involving Das Sound Machine –
doesn’t seem to be as focused or as polished as before and although, there was plenty of reason given for the story’s comeback to the big screen, it feels a little overstated and the jokes – especially anything involving any Das Sound Machine member – are quite crude. Even the character of Fat Amy, who was the comedic heart of the original, becomes worn early on. Essentially, there seems to have been little or no character development and, generally, it's too much of the same.
It also doesn’t help that Kendrick’s role has been somewhat downsized in order to make room for Steinfeld who plays Emily Junk; an eager freshman hoping for a place in the squad.
If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that Pitch Perfect 2 will still score big at the box-office and many will be able to turn a blind eye, and a deaf ear, to its inoffensive, but equally infuriating, flaws. Don’t be surprised if a Pitch Perfect 3 comes to fruition.