Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Movie Review

The Prince of Persia film, has long been in production since Disney picked up the rights more than five years ago.  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean), it takes on the hefty task of being a video game to movie adaptation that doesn't suck.  It mostly succeeds.  Starring Jake "I fucked Heath Ledger" Gyllenhaal as the eponymous hero, the film deviates slightly from the storyline of the original video game it shares its name with, making some alterations for the sake of box office money.  The story basically goes that Prince Dastan and the army of Persia invades the neighboring kingdom ruled over by Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) because of a tip-off that she has been supplying weapons to an enemy of Persia (political undertones, anyone?).  During the ensuing celebration over the spoils, the king of Persia lies dead from a poisoned prayer robe and Dastan is on the run, blamed for the murder.  He must return the mystical Dagger of Time to its home before it falls into the wrong hands, ending the world or something. The evil vizier (Ben Kingsley) wants this dagger for himself to turn back time and be king, so he hires a group of assassins called--I'm not fucking with you--"Assandsins" (ouch). 
The first thing I noticed about PoP: The Sands of Time was how great it looks.  This is the biggest production ever to be filmed in the UK, and it shows.  Huge set pieces, elaborate action sequences, and beautiful locales permeate the film, and the massive budget seems to have gone to very good use.  Director Mike Newell, who also helmed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, showed in that film that he has a good eye for action at the very least, and he hones his chops here with some impressive sequences, my favorite being one toward the end when two master knife throwers have a face-off, taking cover and slinging countless knives at each other across the room.  Also impressive was the acrobatic stunts.  While the parkour all felt somewhat synthetic in comparison to other films such as Casino Royale and District B-13, it was still exciting to watch and was well-choreographed.   
Jake Gyllenhaal was a questionable casting choice to many when the news first came through, but he is convincing here as the Prince and slides easily into the role.  His accent sounds a little hammy, but first and foremost his role here is to be an action star and he pulls it off well.  Gemma Arterton is batting three for three as she once again plays a beautiful heroine, and plays her well.  Arterton is a star to keep an eye on.  Although the film plays if off as a huge reveal midway through, it is painfully obvious from the beginning that the vizier (Ben Kingsley) is meant the be the villain here, and once he actually becomes the villain, he once again knocks it out of the park.  Kingsley is a great actor and he is clearly having fun here as the scheming uncle.  Alfred Molina is also notable as the comic relief, a sheik who hates taxes and runs an ostrich racing ring.   
My biggest problem with the movie was the script.  It was pretty bad, and incredibly by-the-numbers.  There are some absolutely ham-fisted lines of dialog here, and it seems that the scrip-writer went through a checklist of everything that needs to happen in a blockbuster film.  This has every element one would expect from a movie of this caliber, right down to the Prince dropping in on a chamber of princesses.  In addition, I did not much care for the deux ex machina toward the end of the movie (I never like when movies do these, even if it did sort of fit with the plot here), though the few minutes that followed were refreshingly un-cliche in their execution.   
On the bright side, this film will likely please fans of the game.  It is very light-hearted and stays far away from the dark, angsty tone of the two video game sequels.  It seems like it was directed at a family-oriented audience, despite some occasionally surprising levels of violence and the fact that the plot takes a bizarre turn later in the film, mentioning gods, the end of the world, and so on.  Bruckheimer plans for this to be the next huge franchise for Disney, so I'm excited to see where the sequels go with the material hinted at in this film.  That means I want to see the sequels, which I guess means I enjoyed this movie.  
Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time was not a great movie.  But it sure as hell was not bad.  It was good, not quite mediocre, and a fairly fun couple of hours if you can ignore the agressively light-hearted tone and occasional kiddie stuff.  If you have kids, it's probably going to be a great time.  Though somewhat flawed, it's pure summer escapism. 
Score: B-


Iron Man 2 Movie Review

It's been a long, and for some, very painful wait for the next installment of Marvel's Iron Man movie franchise.  John Favreau's original was a massive blockbuster, a critical darling, and wet dream for Marvel fanboys and physics nuts alike.  While light on the action, it did a fantastic job of setting up the hero's origin story, explaining the technology behind the suit, and establishing a balance between Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his indestructible alter-ego.  So how does the sequel compare? 
(*Mild spoilers follow) 

With the origin story out of the way, Iron Man 2 wastes  no time setting up its plot.  Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of the man who originally worked on weapons tech with Tony's father, has been hiding in Moscow for 40 years, plotting to ruin Stark and Iron Man.  The opening credits feature a tattooed, golden-toothed, cackling villain putting together his super weapon.  Meanwhile, Tony Stark finds that the core that keeps him alive and powers his suit is also slowly killing him like a deadly cancer.  Also meanwhile, Justin Hammer (played to sneering perfection by Sam Rockwell), Tony's rival in the industry, would like nothing more than to see Tony brought down hard. 
This is all in the first half hour or so of the film.  After that, many more plot lines develop.  This brings me to the main problem I had with Iron Man 2: the movie comes dangerously close to what I like to term the Spider-Man 3 complex, in which a movie becomes so overstuffed with plot material and characters that it runs the risk of collapsing under its own weight.  Mind you, this film isn't nearly that bad, but at the same time it's a shame that with so much going on Mickey Rourke, a fantastic actor and, in my opinion, an excellent casting choice for a villain in a superhero movie, did not get more screen time.  Whiplash had the potential to be awesome, but as it stands he only gets two very short action sequences, and the rest is spent bickering with Hammer.  That said, John Favreau manages to juggle all of these plot lines and make them coherent, even though I would have liked to see more of some of these stories and less of others.   
Let me also say that this is one damn fine looking movie.  Iron Man was no slouch visually, and in the years since that movie the special effects have taken several bounds forward to create a stunning looking film.  Everything looks very sleek, colors pop magnificently, and the Iron Man and War Machine suits look fucking great.  As something of a flim student, I couldn't help but pay attention to the direction of the film and how beautiful it looked.  I can't wait to see what this looks like on Blu-Ray.   
Say what you will about John Favreau, but the man knows fan service.  You thought Iron Man was a treat for the fans? This one is an absolute nerd-gasm.  Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Nick Fury, allusions to Thor and Captain America--there is a lot of stuff here that fans of the comic will absolutely love.  Seeing Iron Man and War Machine team up was nothing short of epic.  I just wished it had lasted longer.  
Robert Downey, Jr., of course, does great once again.  The man truly exemplifies Tony Stark.  Scarlett Johansenn is also good as Natalie Rushman aka Black Widow, though I find it odd that she doesn't have the Russian accent.  I heard somewhere that she couldn't do it so they removed it from the script.  Either way, I love the girl but she was more eye candy than anything, spending the final act of the movie in that tight black leather suit.  Don Cheadle is a worthy successor to Terrence Howard as James Rhodes, and I found myself forgetting that the actors had been switched.
So here's the bottom line: go see Iron Man 2 if you liked the first movie.  No, it's not nearly as good as the first movie, but it is still solid summer entertainment.  It certainly has its flaws: a convoluted script, comic relief in places where it should not have been, an underutilized villain, and a disappointing shortage of action (though what action there was was terrific) and a long running time, but those are really just minor complaints.  In the end, Iron Man 2 is a lot of fun and you'll probably find yourself charmed once again. Also, stay after the credits.  You won't be disappointed.
Score: B


Why High Fidelity is an Essential Film

 "A comedy about fear of commitment, hating your job, falling in love, and other pop favorites."
What makes an "essential" movie?  I count No Country For Old Men as an essential film, simply because the entire thing is so well made.  I can go into that later, for the real reason I'm writing this is to talk about High Fidelity. Perhaps you've heard of it--John Cusack once again plays a sarcastic nobody who you have trouble liking but can't quite hate, either.  He plays Rob Gordon, a record store owner/slacker who, in the opening scene of the movie, is going through a break-up with his girlfriend, Laura.  The first lines are already profound as Rob looks into the camera and asks, "Which came first?  The music or the misery?  Do I listen to pop music because I'm sad or am I sad because I listen to pop music?"  He then assembles a list of the top 5 most painful breakups he has had to endure.  Rob is a huge fan of Top 5 lists. 

It's this list of breakups that makes up a lot of the structure for the film.  Rob thinks he's just a loser whom nobody can stand to be with.  Eventually, he attempts to get in contact with each of the five women on his list.  And he starts to realize things.  One girl wasn't satisfying to him so he broke up with her.  Another was just ridiculously, sickenengly pompous (Catherine Zeta-Jones is notable for her performance here). As Rob is going through these different reunions, mourning his most recent breakup, and harrassing Laura about her new supposed lover, he starts to realize what a jerk he is.  He goes from a "women hate me" state of mind to a much, much humbler viewpoint.  At one point, he sadly explains to us the Top 5 things he misses most about Laura.  Watching his transformation can likewise be very humbling itself.

What really makes the film shine, though, are the brilliant nuggets of deep advice that Rob feeds his viewers.  These are sprinkled evenly through the script, which is actually really good--witty one moment and tender another.  It's a balance not often achieved in movies.  It's also a delightful treat to music fanatics.  Pop culture references and references to songs are generously dispensed, and to boot the songs are almost always applied to the current situation.

Deep talks are the norm for the movie.  Rob discusses how we talk about exes, and indirectly invites us to look back on our pasts and into our own hearts.  Granted, the movie is a lot to digest and will definitely be difficult to watch if you have just come out of a relationship or are feeling lonely.  But I also think that that's a scenario in which a viewer can get the most out of watching it.

I may make it seem like a dismal ride, but the themes of High Fidelity elevate it beyond status as a traditional comedy.  It's a golden commentary on life and love wrapped in the packaging of a raunchy comedy.  When looked at from that different perspective, it becomes an Essential Film. 


Top 10 Movie Villains of All Time

 Every movie needs its villain.  A good villain chills the bones and wreaks havoc for the hero.  He stands for all that is evil, and is usually very difficult to defeat.  Personally, I like to watch the villains more than the heroes.  The list of top villains has been done to death, but I felt, after years of going over it, it was finally time to put in my favorite villains.  Enjoy. 
10. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day)-Robert Patrick 

  Just run.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the epitome of a perfect sequel: it delivered bigger & better action, a much better story with raised stakes and greater scope, and, perhaps most importantly, a better villain.  Arnold was fine from the first flick, and is certainly iconic, but there is something much more menacing about the newest version of Skynet's war machine.  Maybe it's the fact that you can blast a hole in his head, impale him, nearly chop him in half, blow him up, and freeze & shatter him, and yet he will simply recover and keep coming back by just restructuring himself.  Or perhaps it's his ability to impersonate anyone (with more than just the voice) in order to trap others.  Or maybe it was because he wasn't stop-motion animated.  Whatever it was, the T-1000 was ruthless and even gave the original Terminator a good fight--and that's saying something.   
9.  John Doe (Seven)-Kevin Spacey 
"Detective.  Detective.  DETECTIVE!! You're looking for me." 
John Doe is one of the best kinds of villains.  He spends his time behind the scenes, pulling all of the strings while Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt pull their hair out.  In all, Kevin Spacey had something like less than fifteen minutes of screen time in the entire movie. But the time he does have is well spent and executed masterfully by Spacey, walking into the police station with bloodied hands and later leering up at his captors.  Moreover, John Doe has a religious agenda, and he executes his fanatical retribution in horribly grotesque ways--remember Sloth?  By the end of the film, audiences realize that John Doe was also the winner in this conflict, which makes it even more unsettling.   

8. Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood)-Daniel Day-Lewis 
 In case you're wondering, that's not a cheerful, good-natured laugh.
There are three things that movie villains don't usually do: the first is admit that they are evil.  That usually goes without saying.  The second is star as the main protagonist in the movie.  And the third is to metaphorically drink someone else's milkshake (sorry, I had to throw that in there).  But Daniel Day-Lewis pulls if off with such stunning aplomb that it is downright frightening.  In one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema, Day-Lewis lets Plainview's evil and menace unfold through callous apathy over his son's disability, shooting the man who claims to be his brother, and beating a young man to death with a bowling pin.  And of course, he also admits that he is a bad man.  But perhaps the scariest thing about Plainview is that he isn't a typical Hollywood villain--he is the archetype of (barely) exaggerated American entrepreneurship and greed. 

7.  Col. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)-Christoph Waltz
"Ohh, that's a bingo!  Is that how you say it? 'That's a bingo'?" 
The opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's WWII revenge fantasy is arguably the best in one of the greatest films of 2009.  In said scene, Landa cheerfully drinks milk, smokes a pipe, and then without missing a beat, executes the Jews hiding underneath the floorboards of the man's house he had be conducting his interrogation in.  Landa is fluent in five languages, and uses his mastery of each to manipulate and outsmart his prey, all the while grinning from ear to ear and proudly wearing his title of "The Jew Hunter".  He enjoys hunting down and toying with his victims, and he has no hunter or superior; he is the hunter, and has only his own agenda.  The result is a charismatic, ruthless, and sinfully entertaining villain to watch.

6.  Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Gangs of New York)-Daniel Day-Lewis  
 This would be comical if he wasn't so fucking scary.
With a name like "Bill the Butcher", people are going to realize that you're going to fuck their shit up.  Also sporting a wicked fashion sense (plaid pants and a stovepipe hat) and an epic mustache, a comical-looking character managed to be ruthless and mean as hell.  Bill the Butcher did exactly that to a lot of people, and yet still had enough fatherly disposition to take young Amsterdam under his wing.  He hates the immigrants and wants to slaughter every last one of them.  It is truly a shame that Daniel Day-Lewis did not get the Academy Award for his incredible performance that year (it went to the vastly inferior Adrian Brody).  Fun fact: Day-Lewis made many of his fellow actors nervous by staying in character between takes, even sharpening his knives during lunch. 

5. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)-Christian Bale 
 "Hey, Paul!"
  The novel on which this movie is based is perverse, sickening, horrifying, and wrong in every sense of the word.  But it was a brilliant work of art.  The movie follows suit.  It softpedals the really offensive content but still emulates much of what made the literature so great.  Christian Bale knocked this one out of the park, giving us a cold, batshit crazy Bateman who can move quickly and unpredictably between charm and pure evil.  Sometimes the two clash, such as when he almost kills his secretary, and sometimes a side takes over completely.  The surreality of the film, with sometimes not knowing if something is real or just a product of Bateman's fractured mind, is part of the treat of watching and trying to figure out the film--in essence, it is a thinking man's slasher film with a yuppie villain that is as much fun to pick apart as it is to watch him dance to Huey Lewis & the News while chopping up a co-worker with an axe. 
4. Harry Powell (Night of the Hunter)-Robert Mitchum 
Notice the "Love" tattooed on his hand.  He has "Hate" printed on the other hand.
Sadly, many have not heard of this older film.  It's a shame, because Harry Powell is nothing short of despicable and is truly one of the greatest villains of all time.  It's largely in Mitchum's performance.  Powell is a kind, fatherly man who has the entire town fooled in his sweet, good-natured personality, but the children see him as he really is--a ruthless murderer who only wants to get to the fortune that their father left with them.  Powell pursues the children across the state, very methodically and casually.  The children know it is time to run for their lives when they hear him singing an old church hymn: "Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms...Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms..." Powell frequently prays, which is even more unnerving since he considers his killings completely justified and chats nonchalantly with God about them. 

3. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men)-Javier Bardem 
  You do NOT want this guy coming after you.  
No Country For Old Men was a bit of a departure for the Coen Brothers.  Known for movies that have at least some degree of comedy such as Fargo, Raising Arizona, and The Big Lebowski, their latest film, while it did have some quirky characters, was unapologetically grim.  Anton Chigurh was like a storm of destruction.  Wherever Llewelyn Moss fled with his stolen drug money, Chigurh would be there within a couple of days with his cattle gun and his silenced shotgun.  His shortage of dialogue and the dead look in his eyes contributed to the terror, and his dependence on the flip of a coin to decide the fate of a victim made for one of the tense scenes in the entire movie.  As for who he kills, he rarely cares: his employers, innocent bystanders, and old acquaintances are all fair game to him.  Somehow, the ugly haircut made him even more menacing.  

2. Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal/Red Dragon)-Anthony Hopkins 
 "A census taker once tried to test me.  I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."
Hannibal Lecter eats a duder's brain while the guy is still alive and able to converse with him.  Another guy he dangles over a balcony by his intestines. Those alone solidify his place on this list.  What puts him at the coveted #2 spot however, is the man himself.  Lecter displays a startling attention to etiquette and respect for Agent Clarice Starling.  He sees everything as a game: in exchange for giving Clarice information on the serial killer Buffalo Bill, she must tell him about herself so that he can pick her apart psychologically.  But, as I said, he also respects her: when Multiple Miggs throws semen onto Clarice's face, Lecter begins talking to her (we don't know what he says), and Miggs ends up swallowing his tongue.  When they are handcuffed together, and the police are closing in, Lecter chops off his own hand instead of Clarice's in order to get away.  Everything Lecter says and does happens with an intensely eerie charm. He watches everyone as though he can look right through them into their soul, and his smile makes one think he may be considering them for dinner.  And he probably is. 
1. Bill Lumbergh (Office Space)-Gary Cole 
 Behold, the face of evil.
Surprised?  You may be wondering why Bill Lumberg is at #1.  It's because the only thing worse than being ruthlessly murdered by any of these psychopaths is being told you have to come into work on a Saturday.  And Bill does just this.  He also mercilessly tortures poor Milton by moving his desk multiple times and stealing his beloved red stapler.  Peter Gibbons, try as he might, cannot escape Lumbergh's wrath.  They work in the same place so a "Hey Peter.  What's happening?" can happen any moment.  Lumbergh is a cruel, evil boss, and that is why he is the greatest villain of all time.