Monthly Archives: May 2010

Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

prince of persia one sheet
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the first big blockbuster to come out for the summer season. It’s tremendous fun, non-stop action and an adventure film with an appealing story. I not only enjoyed it but kept wondering when I could get a Blu-Ray copy so I could really step through some of the scenes and see how they were assembled. I bet you’re going to like it too.

The film starts with Dastan (William Foster), a beggar boy living by his wits in the bazaar in Persia, getting caught for stealing. Seconds before he’s to be punished for his thievery, the King of Persia (Ronald Pickup) appears and, seeing a hero within Dastan, stops the punishment and instead has him move into the palace as an adopted son. Zoom forward fifteen years or so and now-adult Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is joining his royal brothers Prince Tus (Richard Coyle) and Prince Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) on an assault on the holy city of Alamut. With them is long-trusted family advisor Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley).
The assault of the city, a combination of swordfights, archery and Parkour, is truly thrilling, and watching Gyllenhaal swing, swoop and leap from building to building is great fun. Turns out that it’s also surprisingly true to the original video game: Prince of Persia actually started out as a late 80s video game for MS-DOS and Apple II computers. The reasons for the attack are suspect and soon Dastan is on the run, a victim of palace intrigue, Princess Tamina of Alamut (Gemma Arterton) in tow.

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Prince of Persia has very much the same feel and pace as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, except that Prince is a bit more family friendly. There’s also a sweet — and witty — romance between Prince Dastan and the beautiful and strong Princess Tamina, complicated time-travel elements, and a hilarious gem of a performance by Alfred Molina as the savvy, entrepreneurial rogue Sheik Amar that help make Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time one of the best films of 2010.

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Review: MacGruber

macgruber one sheetIt’s probably not a good sign to start a review by saying that the film wasn’t anywhere near as bad or as stupid as I was afraid it’d be, but that’s exactly how I felt after the end credits of the new Saturday Night Live spin-off MacGruber. Crude and sophomoric, it still had lots of laughs and a surprisingly polished appearance, coupled with amusingly over-the-top performances from some decent actors.

The story line is something or other about a nuclear missile, the X5, stolen by thuggish bad guys from a military convey in Siberia. Their mastermind?  The evil Dr. Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), who has nefarious plans to, bwahahaha, blow up the world!  Of course, in a parody film as crass as this 99 minute movie by first time director Jorma Taccone the story doesn’t really matter that much. It’s all about the sight gags and the one liners, and MacGruber doesn’t disappoint.
Will Forte is MacGruber, a retired special forces operative who previously served as an Army Ranger, Navy SEAL, Army Green Beret and was awarded 16 purple hearts, 3 Congressional Medals of Honor and more. Problem is, he’s a complete idiot and everything he gets involved with goes sideways and often results in innocent bystanders dying. A newspaper headline flashes by at the beginning of the film “MacGruber stops terrorist cell, 200 civilians casualties” and that’s about the sensibility of the entire film.
If you’ve seen any action films in the last decade, you’ll recognize cliche scenes and dialog that keeps the film moving along, even as some of the scenes are rather, um, indelicate. Still, I laughed quite a bit during the film, and, yes, cringed once or twice too.

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Review: Robin Hood

robin hood one sheetIf you can get over the fact that this is most assuredly not the story of Robin Hood of Nottingham Forest, eternally battling the evil Sheriff of Nottingham for Maid Marion’s hand, you might find that Robin Hood is an interesting and exciting war movie set in medieval times with Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) as the central character.

Like director Ridley Scott’s last outing with Crowe, Gladiator, Robin Hood is a dirty, gritty movie with so much mud that you’ll begin rooting for the invention of washing machines to help brighten up the landscape. Crowe plays the same character he plays in all his films, the troubled, misunderstood rebel who just wants to be loved, with grimaces and tough looks aplenty. Perhaps he needs to extend his range a bit in his next project?
Considering this as a medieval war film leads to the question of whether it actually makes sense, and in many ways Robin Hood feels like it’s two movies, the first exploring the experience of a military man returning to a decaying England after a decade pillaging Europe on the Crusades, and the second where the writers suddenly realize that they have an end point less than an hour away and need to have created the entire Robin Hood backstory and mythology. What is Maid Marion’s (Cate Blanchett) relationship to Robin? Why is Robin the sworn enemy of the Sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen)? Why does Friar Tuck (a delightful Mark Addy) turn his back on the church and join a rebel band?
It’s the second part, with Robin leading the English against a half-hearted invasion by the foppish French King Phillip, where the action gets exciting but the story – and storyline – get left in the ever-present dust. Reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s recent Sherlock Holmes (read my review of Sherlock Holmes), Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is a darn good movie but has almost nothing to do with the story we all know. If that bothers you, skip Robin Hood. If you can look beyond it, you might just find this an exciting knights and serfs film.

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Review: The Square

the square movie posterIn classic movies, we’re presented with a morality play, an examination of good versus evil, with a satisfying comeuppance, an ending that reminds us that good triumphs. Modern cinema, however, seems to have far more moral ambiguity and it’s common for the bad guy to triumph.

That’s why it was a pleasure to watch the dark, intense Australian film The Square. It’s noir at its best, with a logical – and tragic – sequence of events set off by an all-too-common situation: an affair between two people in a small town.
The couple having the affair are construction contractor Raymond Yale (David Roberts) and hairdresser Carla (Claire van der Boom). They’ve been having the affair for a while, but Carla is becoming dissatisfied and wants the older Raymond to leave his wife (Wendy, played by Lisa Baily). For her own part, she’ll also leave her unstable, low-life husband Greg “Smitty” Smith (Anthony Hayes) and the two of them will make a new life for themselves far away from their small semi-rural New South Wales town.
From that point on, everything that transpires seems distressingly inevitable and watching the story unfold and the pressures of the impending departure begin to wear down Raymond, are akin to watching a train wreck: you want to look away, but a morbid curiosity keeps you staring at the screen until the inevitable, shocking but satisfying ending. Films like The Square also remind me why I love cinema so much, actually, and demonstrate that it’s a thoughtful script, solid acting and good direction that make a great movie, not special effects or big budgets. Highly recommended.

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Review: Iron Man 2

iron man 2 one sheetSequels are rarely as good as the original, but Iron Man 2 is one of the few exceptions. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s sure darn fun and engaging, and the new story twists, the health issue that Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) faces and the half-baked but disturbing archenemy Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), all add up to create a film that’s sure to be the first summer blockbuster.

The original Iron Man ends with wealthy industrialist Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, closing a press conference with the startling announcement that he is Iron Man. The second film starts with Russian bad guy Ivan Vanko watching the press conference on a crummy TV in a Soviet tenement, even as he also watches his father Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev) die. Vanko has a vendetta against Stark, but it’s not until later in the film that we figure out the basis of that grudge. Meanwhile, he may live in a tenement, but that doesn’t stop him from having an advanced physics lab in the basement and inventing the Whiplash weaponry.

Meanwhile, Stark is relishing his fame along with the wealth that being a captain of industry offers, acting like a rich frat boy. He’s appealing, however, and engages in much flirting and witty banter with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his secretary and confidante, as the film gets going with the opening of Stark Expo (which has a cool online site associated with it:

There are flaws, no question, and the Tony’s health problems are glossed over when it could have been an interesting additional facet to the protagonist’s dilemma, but still, I really enjoyed Iron Man 2 and look forward to seeing it again.
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