Archive for May, 2010

Review: Prince of Persia

Damn you, Jake!  Damn you!  Why did you agree to headline this loud, overblown popcorn flick (based on a video game, no less) when you know I must watch every film in you oeuvre?  You must have been aware that your mere presence in this film would force me to be there, on the front row eating nachos, opening day?  Why did you do it?  Why?

Okay, that’s out of my system.  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is Disney’s latest collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer to develop a summer blockbuster franchise.  Considering their first effort, The Pirates of the Caribbean, utterly and completely drove me mad, I had low expectations for PoP .  First, there are the accents.  Why does everyone speak as if they are day players on East Enders?  Granted, much of the cast actually is British, but why must my precious JG be saddled with a faux ‘Allo Govna accent that would make even Madonna cringe?  Add to the accents the fact that, despite some well-developed tans, most of the cast is Caucasian, and I spent the first 45 minutes of this movie waiting for Mickey Rooney to appear.  Eventually, though, I realized that I had given in to the movie’s dumb fun and was just enjoying PoP for what it was.

Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, an orphan boy adopted and raised by Persian King Sharaman.  Despite his noble upbringing, Dastan cannot resist such plebeian urges as fighting in martial arts matches with the locals.  His two brothers, meanwhile, are more serious.  When Dastan is framed for King Sharaman’s murder, he flees with the help of Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who was captured when Dastan led an army into neighboring Alamut searching fro WMDs.  Eventually, Dastan realizes that Iraq Alamut had no WMDs, and the army really invaded Alamut to steal oil a magical dagger that controls time.  Armed only with the help of Tamina, a band of roguish gypsies, and parkour, Dastan must protect the dagger and prove his innocence.

The film is enjoyable mostly due to my JG’s irrepressible charms.  Despite his truly horrible accent, you can’t keep from rooting for him to prove his innocence, vanquish the bad guy, and get the girl.  (Well, I didn’t necessarily want that last part to happen.)  Director Mike Newell’s biggest hit to date is Four Weddings and a Funeral, so he seems like an odd choice to direct a sword and sand blockbuster.  I think this explains the poorly choreographed fight scenes and pretty amateurish Matrix-like special effects.  The dialogue, as you would imagine, is laughable.  I think that Arterton’s character should have been named Princess Exposition, which you can tell just by watching the trailer.

Prince of Persia probably will not be a blockbuster of Pirates-like proportion, but I’d take Jake over a scenery-chewing Johnny Depp any day.  The fact that I left the theatre not regretting the $7.50 and two-hours I gave to watch the movie, while faint praise, is praise nonetheless.  Considering that the slate of summer films this year leave much to be desires, you could do worse than Prince of Persia.


May 31, 2010 at 9:49 am 3 comments

“Cropsey” Gives Me The Willies

Today I watched the creepy trailer fora new documentary, Cropsey.  I’m a little concerned that the filmmakers might be exploiting the tragedy of missing children for their own Blair Witch-like quest for fame, but I will reserve judgment until seeing the movie.

May 16, 2010 at 11:13 am 1 comment

Review: Letters To Juliet

It’s hard to review a movie like Letters to Juliet.  After all, it doesn’t aspire to be high art; it’s only goal is to entertain the audience and make them swoon over young love and the beautiful Italian landscapes.  Well, Juliet succeeds on only one of those levels.  The story is pure movie magic:  Sophie, the always enjoyable Amanda Seyfried, is in Verona, Italy with her sweet, but slightly self-absorbed, fiancée Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal).  When Victor leaves Verona to attend a wine auction, Sophie stays behind.  Eventually she begins to assist a group of secretaries who spend their days answering letters written by heartbroken women to Juliet (as in Capulet).  When Sophie discovers a 50-year old letter from “Claire” that tells of her unrequited love with “Lorenzo”, she responds, only to be surprised when Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) arrive in Verona on a quest to find Lorenzo.  Will Claire find her long-lost love?  Will Sophie realize that her heart belongs with Charlie and not Victor?  If you have seen the trailer, you already know the answer to both questions.  If you have missed the trailer, spoiler alert:  Yes.

The biggest problem with Letters to Juliet, which is the problem with most romantic comedies, is that the only reason to root for the two lovers is force of habit.  The audience knows going into the theatre that Sophie and Charlie are meant to be together, so the writers and director aren’t compelled to present a believable couple.  From the minute the Sophie and Charlie meet, they bicker (like most rom-com couples).  He views her as a shallow and unrefined; she calls him a “prig.”  All it takes is a few montages of car rides through the Italian countryside before the two lovebirds are eating gelato and lying under the stars together.  The more interesting story lies with Claire’s search for Lorenzo, but the film treats it as a side plot, introducing an array of comically unsavory suitors.  The elegant Vanessa Redgrave deserves better, but did I really expect the director of Bride Wars to deliver it?

The rest of the cast is mostly fine, but “mostly fine” doesn’t cut it in the world of romantic comedies, which needs actors with strong chemistry to be effective.  As a travelogue for Italy, though, Letters to Juliet shines.  It would well be worth your time to catch the film at a second-run theatre or on Blu-ray just to view the beautiful Italian farmlands, vineyards, and historic cities.  Just don’t let those pesky characters with their derivative story get in your way.

May 16, 2010 at 9:24 am 6 comments

Love at First Sight: Michael Fassbender

I recently watched Inglorious Basterds again, which reminded me of how dreamy Michael Fassbender is.  He plays a small, yet pivotal, role in Basterds, but Fassbender gets plenty of screen time in Fish Tank, director Andrea Arnold’s 2009 British drama about a troubled teenager and her relationship with her mom’s new boyfriend, Connor.  From the moment he stumbles shirtless into Mia’s (Kate Jarvis) kitchen, Fassbender embodies practically any  fantasy a teenage girl or gay boy could conjure.  Sexy daddy figure?  Compassionate protector?  Roguish cad?  Check , check, and check.  It is hard to overstate how unbearably sexy he is in Fish Tank. Don’t believe me?  Check out the scene where Connor carries a sleeping Mia to her bed.  The scene is at once sweetly tender and overwhelmingly erotic.  Fish Tank doesn’t have a current DVD release date, but save it to your Netflix queue.  You can catch Fassbender this summer in Jonah Hex and next year in a remake of Jane Eyre.  Let the swooning begin.    

May 11, 2010 at 11:08 pm Leave a comment

I Can’t Wait to See…The Square

I recently saw Terribly Happy, a great Danish film that is darkly humorous, suspenseful, and sinister.  Today I saw the trailer for The Square, which  is being billed as the “best film noir since Body Heat.” I have to say I am excited that indy noir is making a comeback.  (Or at least two decent indy noir films are opening the same season.)  Plus, David Roberts looks like an Aussie silver fox and a future candidate for Celebrity Crush of the Moment!

May 4, 2010 at 12:26 am Leave a comment

Review: The Runaways

I really wanted to like The Runaways.  Despite the movie’s less than encouraging reviews, I thought that I would be able to appreciate the riot grrl history the story offered.  Unfortunately, this film is all kinds of mediocre.

The movie begins in 1975 as two aspiring rock stars, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), experience the pains of embracing individualism.  Joan is encouraged by her guitar instructor to remain unplugged because “girls don’t play electric guitar.”  Cherie gets booed off the stage at her high school talent show.  (Well, to be fair, she was only lip syncing to a David Bowie LP.  I would have felt cheated, too.)  Eventually, the two girls meet courtesy of record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) and what follows is a tale of friendship, betrayal, sex, drugs, and rock & roll.  At least, it would have been had director Floria Sigismondi not decided to use montage to tell many of the important moments.

Sigismondi, a former music-video director,employs the same techniques for this feature film that are prevalent in so many videos today: Images go in and out of focus, actors pose more than emote, and music substitutes for dialogue.  The problem is that this directorial style keeps the audience from becoming fully invested in the characters.  When will filmmakers learn that simply having a great story to tell doesn’t mean that their work is done.  A movie needs a well-written script, clear directorial vision, and compelling actors to really work.  Too bad that The Runaways lacks in all of these departments.

Of the cast, Dakota Fanning is by far the best .  I felt sorry for her Cherie Currie, a 15 year old girl coping to deal with her sudden fame.  I’m still perplexed as to why Kristen Stewart keeps getting work.  As Joan Jett, she’s got the look down, but this girl just has no screen presence.  It’s frustrating when the luminous Alia Shawkat is relegated to a bit role with only  two or three lines while Stewart gets top billing.  But the worst part of the movie is Michael Shannon’s performance.  I will give most of the fault to the script, which gives Shannon lines that sound like they were written either by Joe Eszterhas (“Jail-fuckin’-bait!  Jack-fuckin-pot!”)  or Dwight Schrute (“If I’m training a wild dog, and it bites my hand, then I’ve done my job.  My hand is made of iron.”), but, as super-producer Kim Fowley, Shannon is determined to chew up every piece of shag carpeting on the 70s era set.  If he really wants to play a powerful record producer working with a groundbreaking act, I suggest he take a look at this classic from Wendie Malick’s ouvre.

There is a great movie to be made about The Runaways; unfortunately, The Runaways is not it.

May 3, 2010 at 11:54 pm 2 comments

Love at First Sight: Jake Gyllenhaal

Ah, Jakey G.  Those puppy dog eyes and that sexy, yet shy, smile.  You just know he would have been the hot jock in high school who was nice to the gay boys and wrote poetry about being “misunderstood.”  Nowhere are those qualities more evident than in Lovely and Amazing (2001), Nicole Holofcener’s drama about a family of body- and youth- obsessed women.  Playing Catherine Keener’s  photo lab boss (and eventual jailbait boyfriend), Jake is a sweeter, goofier version of the character he played in The Good Girl.  Totally crush-worthy, and a main reason I saw this movie three times in one week at  the theatre .  If you haven’t seen it, add this to your Netflix queue today!

May 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm 3 comments

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