Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

D: Mike Newell
W: Jordan Mechner, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard
C: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, etc.

Oh no, another film based on a video game! So what's different this time around? Well I thought that the involvement of Jerry Bruckheimer, Jordan Mechner, Mike Newell, Harry Gregson-Williams and lets face it, a pretty good cast, would get the job done. Not to mention the whopping 150 million dollars that were thrown at it. I was rooting for this film, sincerely, and I even shared some of Chesty Jake's enthusiasm for the project, but I can't say that this achieved a new level of excellence in game-to-film adaptations. At least not where it matters. It's not something inconceivable though, to turn a video game into a good or even a great film. It's just that the studio heads aren't exactly getting it, at least not yet, other than seeing it as a way to earn a quick buck with the least amount of effort. $150 million is not taking it lightly though, cos that's a pretty serious investment right there, setting a new record for these things. With Jake Gyllenhaal though, they'll at least break even with the worldwide gross, even though the brand awareness isn't exactly on the level of Halo, Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.

In this case though, they've at least made an effort and considering how these things usually turn out to be, that's commendable. Don't expect production value, cinematography and direction on the level of Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven though, cos you'll be disappointed. It's somewhere between Alexander and Troy, but in a parallel universe, if that makes any sense. Prince of Persia makes you want to return to these films and I mean that in the nicest way. The Sands of Time takes the fast-paced action approach to an adventure movie, with all the visual effects you'd expect and naturally there's a lot of slow-motion sequences spread pretty much everywhere.

The main character in this film is actually none of the one's played by an actor, it's the damn dagger. The Dagger of Time. This item serves as a storyteller's God mode if you will, cos you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want and get away with it. This is where the pacing comes into play, cos whatever explanation is given, you won't bother thinking too much about it...hey look at that bird over there. Lot of fancy titles are thrown about and you don't really care what does what and what are the consequences. The film needs to move along quickly, otherwise people might notice the flaws. I was actually surprised by this aspect, cos not once I felt genuinely bored, so I guess that's good. The pacing is made clear from the get-go, cos the film throws you right into a conflict that you couldn't care less about. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to get into the groove of it and actually focus on what was being said, cos up until that point I was completely indifferent to what was happening on the screen. Putting all your eggs into one basket doesn't usually bode well to the story; the dagger determines pretty much everything.

This film desperately wants to be funny and tap into the territory that Indiana Jones is very comfortable in. The stakes are obviously different for these characters, so the comparison isn't exactly fair, but the more light-hearted moments of Prince of Persia are trying to capture the male-female dynamic that was so well done in the Indiana Jones trilogy. Btw, Alfred Molina played Satipo in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The National Treasure films have tried to do the same, but both ultimately fail at that, PoP especially.

While the cast is good, most of the actors are unable to give a lasting impression. A sad waste of resources if you ask me. Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina are very capable craftsmen, but the script doesn't provide enough to build on. Even rising star Toby Kebbell, who replaced an actor on location due to an accident, is severely underused. The guy's got talent, anyone who's seen Wilderness or RocknRolla can agree to that. He comes off as some random brute in this film, which is a shame. Jake Gyllenhaal's British accent is pretty decent imo, considering how most Americans butcher it, and I was surprised by that, since the trailer suggested the opposite. Gemma Arterton, believe it or not, does the best job with what she's got. She seems to be able to get teary-eyed as if on command, several times, and all in all she comes off as relatively sincere as Princess Tamina. Gyllenhaal's contribution is mostly physical though and you can see Chesty Jake has done some serious training for this film, combat wise. Alfred Molina plays a pathetic fool named Sheik Amar (forgettable, sadly), who serves as comic relief and Kingsley's Nizam is depressingly cold and emotionless, most of the time anyway.

Harry Gregson-Williams is nowhere to be found, cos as soon as you leave the theater, you won't remember a single note from the soundtrack. I had higher hopes for his score, considering what the man has done for the Scott brothers. Same can be said for Newell's direction. The film skips from one place to the next one, as if ticking off story points on a list and it's in a serious rush. While the editing and pacing keeps you relatively interested throughout the film, it's there for other reasons. The visual effects, fight scenes and action sequences are impressive, but not impressive enough to turn a blind eye on everything else. Nizam is one of the most obvious villains in recent years, lay your eyes on him once and it's done. He even resembles Jafar from Aladdin. The not-so-subtle political commentary is adorable. The dagger removes from the sense of urgency, so the game's main mechanic does a big disservice to the plot, in this particular form. All in all, the film is worth it for the fans of the franchise and a rental if you want to watch it with friends. It's a decent action film, but personally I found more enjoyment in Indiana Jones IV and Troy. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time definitely ranks in the Top 5 game-to-film adaptations, for what it's worth.


Iron Man 2 (2010)

D: Jon Favreau
W: Justin Theroux
C: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, etc.

I thought the first one was pretty good overall, had it's obvious flaws and rested too much on the shoulders of Downey Jr.'s performance, but even despite that I found it to be one of the best comic book films in quite awhile. I didn't plan to watch Iron Man 2 in the cinemas at first, but curiosity and impatience got the best of me.

The main reason I find any enjoyment in watching these films is Robert Downey Jr. He is the film and that hasn't changed with the sequel. This man's career and life was in the shitter at one point and the man has risen from that as someone who takes nothing for granted and bares a kind of aura of complete indifference. He brings spice and attitude to a performance and treats it as if it were his last. With that said, the character is treated way too lightly in this installment, setting it off balance and tilting it towards cheap amusement rather than something more meaningful as in the first film. Yes the character was essentially dying, but this film never manages to create a real sense of drama despite the character's predicament.

The other phoenix actor in Iron Man 2 is of course Mickey Rourke. His career was even worse off than Downey's at one point, but certain people believed in his talent and the guy made an incredible comeback. While his Russian accent is the usual sloppy American take on it, the man has a presence about him. I know some people hated those whips of his when they first saw the trailer, but personally I found his weaponry pretty badass. While some of his slow-motion stuff is friggin' awesome, some of it doesn't make any sense whatsoever, like the crash behind him on the Monaco Grand Prix track for example. The man is greatly underutilized in this film. The character ultimately comes off as too emotionless and as a man of few words, in other words just poor. The end of the film was definitely more exciting than in the first one, but this certainly had room for improvement as well. As Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, Ivan Vanko is an underdeveloped villain.

I can't stand shallow films and both films have that kind of aura to them. It's a blockbuster in the most direct sense of the word and while it does provide a good enough plot and solid entertainment, it can't shake off that smell. I don't give a shit how many real life personalities they throw into the mix, it's not something that adds believability, it's just a meaningless connection to our own reality. The use of licensed music comes off as a little tacky, cos it's more about waving the money dick than actually having the right song play at the right moment. The best use of a licensed track has got to be Daft Punk and "Robot Rock", which fit the fight scene very nicely. The whole AC/DC campaign is as shameful as a cash-in can get though. Would've been perfectly normal to use those two tracks without releasing a whole compilation album + DVD and a music video. Don't get me wrong I love AC/DC and the songs fit the film's attitude, but that Iron Man 2 album is just fucking disgraceful. Aerosmith had 4 songs on Armageddon (including one original track) and no Aerosmith Armageddon album was necessary, to give you an example.

Supporting cast is nice, but most of them don't provide a memorable performance. Pretty much all of them are there to fill a spot and that's embarrassingly true for especially Don Cheadle. None of the side characters are developed enough to warrant any emotional investment. Gwyneth Paltrow and Sam Rockwell are the only one's who serve an actual purpose, while Paltrow remains a little disconnected as in the first film, but Rockwell provides both comic relief and plays a good conniving loser. Scarlett Johansson has a nice fighting sequence, heavy on wire use, but nice nonetheless.

I like Justin Theroux more as an actor than a writer to be honest and the same goes for director/writer Jon Favreau. Dialogue does the job and then there are those witty comebacks of Tony Stark, but I remember the first one as a more polished package in that regard. The main problem with this film is that it's more shallow, more smoke than fire, so to speak. A potentially great sequel is tipped towards quick and easy popcorn entertainment and once again the film relies too heavily on Tony Stark's character and Robert Downey Jr.'s performance. A few plot holes here and there don't help either. In a nutshell, it's even more off balance than the first one.


Shutter Island (2010)

D: Martin Scorsese
W: Laeta Kalogridis
C: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, etc.

A friend talked me into seeing this and I didn't really put up much of a fight at the time, since I was planning to watch it sooner or later. Martin Scorsese directing seemed like a good enough reason.

This is a very long film, not just looking at the total running time of 138 minutes, but how long it actually feels. Most of the scenes are so unnecessarily drawn out that I felt like I was watching a 4 hour movie. Shutter Island is heavy on dialogue and unfortunately it's nothing memorable. Laeta Kalogridis is no Quentin Tarantino, who can pull off long scenes with refined dialogue, while keeping the tension going.

Trailer gives the impression of a horror movie, when it's actually a surprisingly slow-paced thriller. Shutter Island belongs into the category of mindfuck movies such as Fight Club and Memento. First half of the story tells the audience a lie that is then turned upside down and rendered obsolete. Your enjoyment depends a lot on whether you can figure out the turn or not. Unfortunately, Shutter Island is also heavy on exposition, which makes the drawn-out dialogue-heavy scenes feel like you're constantly spoon-fed. That coupled with figuring out the story way ahead of time, can really ruin this movie for you. And for me, that was pretty much the case.

If you're lucky, then the biggest moment of exposition will come as a surprise and you're able to enjoy it as a straightforward thriller. With the right mindset, this would be an enjoyable ride. My mind, at the moment of watching it, was slightly hung over from the night before and mildly tired. In other words, my tolerance level was lower than usual. While Martin Scorsese brings with him his expertise, he's a little out of touch with the contemporary horror/thriller genre. Editing and camera work is nice, some beautiful dream sequences here and there, overall polish and production value is present. Scorsese hasn't written much in the past 10 years and here he seems almost disconnected from the project. With The Departed, you could feel the weight of his contribution to the project as a whole. This thing lacks a certain level of emotional investment.

Shutter Island is the fourth collaboration for Scorsese and DiCaprio; the $40.2 million opening weekend is also a career best for both. These two seem to enjoy working together just as Burton and Depp. Nothing wrong with that obviously, but what exactly drove both to this particular project ? Handed over from director Wolfgang Petersen to David Fincher to Martin Scorsese, it's a studio cash-in and certainly not a labor of love. It's one of those films you can enjoy watching, but there's 5 or 10 others every year that are just as good. The amount of positive feedback has left me a little puzzled, even though I wasn't in the clearest of moods while watching it, but what exactly differentiates Shutter Island from the rest of the mediocre/decent horror/thrillers of recent years such as The Ring (2002) or Gothika (2003) ? The only reason people are going to remember this 5-10 years from now is that it was directed by Martin Scorsese. Laeta Kalogridis's writing was forgettable and her writing credits in general are far from impressive (Alexander, Pathfinder).

I was expecting a thought-provoking mystery that would leave me baffled, but instead Shutter Island mostly depends on a couple of moments of exposition, some nice CGI sequences and Martin Scorsese's bag of tricks. The long spoonfeeding scenes of unnecessary explanation of the plot and it's characters do a lot of harm. When the truth comes out, the rest of the film is standard wrapping up of what's left that feels even more drawn-out than some of the longer scenes. There's too much excess dialogue here; the film should have been considerably shorter. 4 or 5 people walked out of the theater halfway through and even though I felt the same way, I was with friends and I prefer to finish a movie that I payed to see. I hope others enjoy it more than I did, cos it can be enjoyable in the right state of mind. With that said, there's not much here that would justify multiple viewings or to be even remembered if it weren't for a masterful director. And I seriously hope that no one cried at the end of this.