“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

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“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

If there is one present day screenwriter who has written so much about the working-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it is writer-director David Ayer. In the past, he has written crime dramas such as “TRAINING DAY”“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”“DARK BLUE” and “STREET KINGS”. Just last year, he added another entry in his crime filmography with last year’s “END OF WATCH”

Shot in documentary style (at least some of it), “END OF WATCH” followed the daily grind of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, two young Los Angeles Police Department beat officers who are both partners and close friends, who patrol the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Taylor, a former U.S. Marine, is video recording his police activities for a film class, much to the annoyance of his fellow cops. The partners deal with a fire, occupants of a crack house, a public disturbance call that leads to a fight between a Bloods gang member named Tre and Zavalas, and a noisy party filled with Latino gang members that include a leader named Big Evil. But when Taylor has a hunch about Big Evil and convinces Zavalas that they should stake out the house of the home of the gang leader’s mother. When they do, the partners pull over a truck that leaves the house, arrest the driver and discover ornately-decorated firearms and a large amount of money inside the truck. Further investigations of the house leads to the discovery of more arms, human trafficking victims, and a warning from an ICE agent that the partners have stumbled into an operation with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. The agent warns Taylor and Zavalas that they are over their heads, but the two officers end up ignoring him. The young officers’ private lives are also explored. Zavalas’ wife is pregnant with their second child and Taylor meets and ends up marrying a young woman named Janet.

“END OF WATCH” is not a bad movie. It provided an interesting look at the daily lives of police patrolmen in the working class neighborhoods of Los Angeles. In a way, it almost reminds me of the 1988 movie, “COLORS”. In many ways. The movie also benefited from some superb performances by leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. The two actors managed to create a sizzling screen chemistry that made the close relationship between the two characters believable. They especially shined in the movie’s last reel, which featured Zavalas’ account of an embarrassing and funny encounter with his in-laws. And I also found Ayer’s direction very energetic. To my surprise, I was not even bothered by the the movie’s handheld camera format. And Ayer’s handling of the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang members, who are working on behalf of the Mexican cartel, was outstanding. In fact, I consider this last scene to be the movie’s pièce de résistance.

Despite the virtues I have listed . . . I did not like “END OF WATCH”. I do not dislike the movie. But I did not like it very much. Part of my disappointment with the film has to do with David Ayer’s screenplay. I could not tell whether he had intended for “END OF WATCH” to simply be a documentary style look into the lives of two police patrolmen . . . or a story about two police officers’ troubles with a Mexican crime cartel. It seemed as if he was trying to mix two different crime genres and failed to balance it out. It did not help that the subplot regarding Taylor’s film project had no real impact on the movie’s main narrative and it was simply discarded two-thirds into the movie. Ayer’s script allowed an ICE agent to warn Taylor and Zavalas that they had stumbled into a Mexican cartel operation following their arrest of the truck driver. But when an ICE surveillance camera recorded a cartel member putting a hit on the two young officers using Big Evil’s gang, the ICE agent failed to make a reappearance to warn the pair. Instead, Ayer’s script allows Tre to issue the warning. And I found myself asking . . . why. Why did Ayer allow Tre to issue a warning about the hit and not the ICE agent?

Aside from Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, the movie’s other characters strike me as one-dimensional . . . especially the character of Tre and the members of Big Evil’s gang. In fact, some of their dialogue felt as if it was over two decades old and had been lifted straight from “COLORS”. Ayers tried to broaden the other characters. He managed to somewhat succeed with the Gabby Zavalas character, portrayed by Natalie Martinez. But everyone else seemed to fall flat. David Harbour was simply wasted as disenchanted police officer Van Hauser, who continuously warned the two younger officers that the L.A.P.D. will stab them in the back one back. Unfortunately, Ayer never explained Van Hauser’s mindset. Watching“END OF WATCH”, I found it hard to believe that Anna Kendrick was once nominated for an Academy Award. She was surely wasted in this film as Taylor’s girlfriend and eventual wife. And her character struck me as even more one-dimensional as the gang members.

I wish I could say that I liked “END OF WATCH”. The trailer had impressed me. I was also impressed by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Michael Peña, who projected a dynamic screen chemistry. And I found the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang dynamic. But somewhere along the way, the one-dimensional supporting characters and questionable subplots simply left me cold.

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Top Favorite Romantic Movies

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I decided to list my top ten favorite romantic movies. Here they are: 

 

TOP FAVORITE ROMANTIC MOVIES

2-Casablanca

1. “Casablanca” (1942) – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the unpublished 1940 stage play, “Everybody Comes to Rick”, which is about an expatriate American who is reunited with a former lover that happened to be married to a Resistance leader. Directed by Michael Curtiz, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains co-starred.

1-Lover Come Back

2. “Lover Come Back” (1961) – Rock Hudson and Doris Day co-starred in their second movie about rival advertising executives on Madison Avenue who clash over a product that does not exist. Directed by Delbert Mann, Tony Randall and Edie Adams co-starred.

3-It Happened One Night

3. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert starred in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the Samuel Adams Hopkins short story, “Night Bus”. In it, an out-of-work journalist keeps tabs on a socialite running from her father to marry a playboy aviator. Frank Capra directed.

4-Brokeback Mountain

4. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) – Ang Lee directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about two mid 20th century cowboys who engage in a 20-year forbidden affair. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal starred.

5-The Lady Eve

5. “The Lady Eve” (1941) – Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy about a female cardsharp who falls for the heir of a brewery fortune. When he dumps her after discovering her profession, she turns on him in revenge. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda starred.

6-When Harry Met Sally

6. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) – Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan starred in this romantic comedy about two people who become friends during a cross-country trip and decide to abstain from sex to maintain their friendship over a period of twelve years. The movie was directed by Rob Reiner and written by Nora Ephron.

7-Hitch

7. “Hitch” (2005) – Will Smith and Eva Mendes starred in this romantic comedy about a professional dating consultant who falls for a gossip columnist determined to ruin the reputation of the unmasked so-called “date doctor”. Directed by Andy Tennant, the movie co-starred Kevin James.

8-The Notebook

8. “The Notebook” (2004) – Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams starred in this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel about a young couple in 1940s South Carolina, who struggle to overcome class differences. Nick Cassavetes directed.

9-Random Harvest

9. “Random Harvest” (1942) – Ronald Coman and Greer Garson starred in this adaptation of James Hilton’s 1941 novel about an amnesiac World War I veteran woh falls in love with a music hall star, only to suffer an accident which restores his original memories, but erases his post-War life. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, the movie co-starred Susan Peters and Philip Dorn.

10-Wimbledon

10. “Wimbledon” (2004) – Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst starred in this romantic comedy about a British washed-up tennis player and an American up-and-coming star who meet and romance during the Wimbledon Championships. Directed by Richard Loncraine, the movie co-starred Sam Neill and Jon Favreau.

Top Ten (10) Favorite Disaster Films

Recently, director James Cameron re-released his 1997 blockbuster “TITANIC” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic. Because it is a disaster movie, I decided to post my favorite disaster films in the list below: 

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE DISASTER FILMS

1. “2012” (2009) – After a second viewing of Roland Emmerich’s movie about a possible apocalyptic disaster, which is based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon, I realized that it has become a favorite of mine. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson starred.

 

2. “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) – Roland Emmerich also directed this film about catastrophic effects of both global warming and global cooling in a series of extreme weather events that usher in a new ice age. Another personal favorite of mine, it starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Ian Holm.

 

3. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez starred in this exciting movie about the experiences of a U.S. Marine platoon battling invading aliens in Los Angeles. Jonathan Liebsman directed.

4. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this Golden Globe award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s book of the same name about the sinking of the Titanic. As far as I am concerned, this is probably the best cinematic version of that particular event. Kenneth More, David McCullum, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman co-starred.

5. “Titanic” (1953) – This is my second favorite movie about the Titanic and it centered around an estranged couple sailing on the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. Great drama! Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie starred Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart and Brian Aherne.

 

 

6. “Independence Day” (1996) – Produced by Dean Devlin and directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie is about a disaster of a science-fiction nature, as it depicts a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and its effects upon a disparate group of individuals and families. The movie starred Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia.

 

7. “Titanic” (1997) – James Cameron directed this latest version of the Titanic sinking that won eleven (11) AcademyAwards, including Best Picture. Centered around an ill-fated love story, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart.

 

8. “In Old Chicago” (1937) – Based on the Niven Busch story, “We the O’Learys”, the movie is a fictionalized account about political corruption and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Directed by Henry King, the movie starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Oscar winner Alice Brady.

 

9. “Outbreak” (1995) – Wolfgang Petersen directed this tale about the outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba at a town in Northern California, and how far the military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland.

 

10. “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the movie centered around the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake; and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks. Ronald Neame directed a cast that included Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar nominee Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley and Frank Albertson.

As a treat, here is a video clip featuring scenes from recent, well-known disaster movies.

“SOURCE CODE” (2011) Review

“SOURCE CODE” (2011) Review

It is a miracle that I ever got the chance to see the new techno-thriller, “SOURCE CODE”. It is a miracle . . . at least to me, because I never saw a movie trailer or read an article about it before the eve of its release. I would have ignored it completely if I had not noticed several billboards advertising the movie throughout the city. And since the movie featured actors I happened to admire, I decided to go see it. 

Directed by Duncan Jones and written by Ben Ripley, “SOURCE CODE” is about a decorated army helicopter pilot named Colter Stevens, who finds himself on a mission to locate the maker of a bomb that exploded and destroyed a train headed into downtown Chicago. Stevens is isolated inside a chamber, where he communicates with Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin. She explains to Stevens via a computer screen that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over someone’s body in his or her last eight minutes of life. He learns from the program’s creator, Dr. Rutledge that the Source Code is not a simulation, but a visit into the past in the form of an alternative reality. Stevens cannot truly alter the past to save any of the passengers, but that he must gather intelligence that can be used to alter the future and prevent a future attack. In short, Steven’s mission is to locate the bomb on the train, discover who had built it and report back to Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge before the bomber can detonate a second larger bomb, a dirty nuclear device in Chicago.

While watching the movie’s first half hour, I had assumed that the psychic essence of the Colter Stevens’ character was being sent back into the past to change the timeline and prevent the destruction of the train. I thought that this was some kind of cinematic version of the old UPN television series, “SEVEN DAYS” (1998-2001). But Stevens eventually discovered how he got the assignment to identify the bomber. Confused and frustrated, he used the cell phone of a train passenger and discovered that he had supposedly died in the Afghanistan war two months earlier and that his severely injured body was appropriated by the Air Force and used by Dr. Rutledge to enter the Source Code. When that plot twist was revealed, I realized that “SOURCE CODE” might have more in common with both the U.K. and U.S. versions of“LIFE ON MARS”.

“SOURCE CODE” was not a hit. Although the movie earned three times the amount of its budget, it really did not earn that much at the box office, despite favorable reviews from critics. Pity. Because I believe that it was a well made film. I also have to give kudos to Don Burgess for his supervision of the movie’s visual effects, including his photography of Montreal and Chicago. I was especially impressed at how he and his crew handled a particular scene in which the Stevens character exchanged romantic glances with one of the train’s passengers, a woman named Christina Warren, while the train was being incinerated by the terrorist’s bomb.

Director Duncan Jones did justice to Ben Ripley’s first-rate script with excellent pacing and action sequences. And using the superb cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, he handled the dramatic scenes very well. Jones managed to do a great job in balancing both the dramatic and actions sequences. But what really made “SOURCE CODE” very appealing to me was Ben Ripley’s screenplay. I cannot help but admire how he paced each big revelation in the movie’s story without rushing or bringing it to a slow crawl. And as I had watched the movie reached its finale, it occurred to me that “SOURCE CODE”ended on a note that I believe that the U.S. version of “LIFE ON MARS” should have. I found the whole experience very satisfying.

Earlier, I had commented on the superb acting in the “SOURCE CODE”. And I still maintain that belief. Although the movie featured solid acting by the supporting cast, it was the four main leads that shined . . . at least in my opinion. Jake Gyllenhaal did a marvelous job in his portrayal of Coulter Stevens, the military helicopter pilot that found himself a part of a government program that he never signed for. Gyllenhaal perfectly conveyed his character’s initial confusion, growing awareness of the Source Code program, his growing affection toward the Christina Warren character. And the actor managed to pull all of these acting chops and remain a very effective action hero. Both Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright as Colleen Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge respectively, took me by surprise. Literally. Farmiga’s Captain Goodwin started out as a cool professional that utilized a brusque manner to ensure the completion of Stevens’ mission. But the actress did an excellent job in conveying her character’s growing attachment and compassion toward the doomed helicopter pilot. Wright’s Dr. Rutledge followed a reverse path. When his character was first introduced, I was left with the impression of a slightly nervous and shy man who was determined to save Chicago. But as the movie progressed, Wright slowly, but effectively pulled back the layers of his character to reveal a man, whose obsession with his creation had eroded a great deal of humanity from his personality. Behind the shy and nervous man was a ruthless being that lacked any compassion whatsoever. Watching Wright perform, it occurred to me that he has become a true chameleon, capable of getting under the skin of any character. Michelle Monaghan’s portrayal of the passenger Christina Warren seemed to lack the complexity of the other three major characters. But I must admit that she did a great job in portraying her character as a warm and vibrant personality. One could not label her character as a “damsel-in-distress”. After all, her character had died before the movie’s first reel. But it finally occurred to me that instead of the damsel, Monaghan’s Christina Warren served as Coulter Steven’s emotional center.

Did “SOURCE CODE” have any flaws? Well . . . I realize that I had commented on the supporting cast’s “solid” action. And I stand by my word. However, not all of them were perfect. There were a few characters among the train’s passengers that struck me as a tad over-the-top. If the movie had any other flaws, I did not notice. I was too busy being intrigued and entertained by Ben Ripley’s first-rate story, Duncan Jones’ direction and the superb acting by the movie’s four leads. It is a pity that the movie failed to become a major hit, despite earning a profit. I still believe that it had deserved to become one.

“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review

“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review

I have seen only four movies directed by Roland Emmerich. All of them were disaster films of some kind, whether they centered on an alien invasion or a natural catastrophe. Of the four movies, only one of them I had failed to see in the movie theaters. That movie happened to be Emmerich’s 2004 movie, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”

The movie depicted the catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that ushers in global cooling which leads to a new ice age. “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” began with a paleoclimatologist named Jack Hall on an expedition in Antarctica with his two colleagues, Frank and Jason. While drilling for ice core samples on an ice shelf for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Jack almost falls to his death, when the shelf breaks off. Later, Jack presents his findings on global warming at a United Nations conference in New Dehli. Unfortunately, many diplomats and Vice President of the United States Raymond Becker remain unconvinced by Jack’s findings. But Professor Terry Rapson of the Hedland Climate Research Centre in Scotland believes Jack’s theories. Two buoys in the North Atlantic simultaneously show a massive drop in the ocean temperature and Rapson concludes that melting polar ice is disrupting the North Atlantic current. He contacts Jack, whose paleoclimatological weather model shows how climate changes caused the first Ice Age, and can predict what will happen. Jack believes the events will take hundreds or thousands of years. But his team and NASA’s meteorologist Janet Tokada build a forecast model with their combined data.

Across the world, violent weather causes mass destruction, including a massive snowstorm in New Delhi, a hailstorm destroying Tokyo, and a series of devastating tornadoes in Los Angeles. President Blake authorizes the FAA to suspend all air traffic due to severe turbulence. Meanwhile, Jack’s son, Sam is in New York City for an academic competition with his friends Brian and Laura. There, they befriend a student named J.D. (Austin Nichols). During the competition, birds migrating south suddenly fill the sky and the weather becomes increasingly violent with intense winds and rains. Sam calls his father, promising to be on the next train home. Unfortunately, the storm worsens, forcing the closure of the subways and Grand Central Terminal. As the storm worsens a massive tidal wave hits Manhattan, causing major flooding. Sam and his friends seek shelter in the New York Public Library.

After seeing the last Roland Emmerich film, 2009’s “2012”, I came to a conclusion that the director likes to follow a pattern regarding his disaster films. One, most these films usually feature a dysfunctional family or divorced couple, a new romance, cheesy dialogue (especially from minor characters), questionable science, an annoying government official, a head of state – friendly or otherwise, a friendly foreign-born colleague and a noble scientist in one of the leads. Well, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” certainly featured every one of those traits. Which goes to show that the movie is not exactly an epitome of originality. I also have one more complaint. In my recap of the movie’s first forty minutes, I failed to point out that Dr. Lucy Hall, Jack’s ex-wife and Sam’s mother, remained behind at a Washington D.C. to care for a very ill young patient, while the city’s remaining citizens are evacuated to Mexico with the rest of the country’s southern citizens. Northern citizens, along with Sam and his friends in New York, are forced to remain behind and wait for rescue. The movie made such a big deal about Lucy’s willingness to sacrifice her safety for the sake of her patient. Yet, very little time passed before an ambulance appeared to evacuate both doctor and patient to the south. Talk about a wasted storyline.

Despite my quibbles about the movie’s lack of originality and the Lucy Hall storyline, I must admit that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” has become one of favorite disaster movies of all time. I really enjoyed it. I was surprised to discover that screenwriters Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff may have used the historic 1993 Storm of the Century as an inspiration for the film. The screenwriters also did an able job of setting up the story with a series of natural disasters – the breaking of the ice shelf in Antarctica, the hailstorm in Tokyo and the series of tornadoes in Los Angeles. Emmerich and Nachmanoff also did an admirable job in setting up the movie’s centerpiece – the tidal wave that hits New York City – with a series of events that began with Terry Rapson and his colleagues detecting the drop in oceanic temperatures and ended with a heavy rainstorm that threatened Manhattan. With the exception of the Lucy Hall storyline in Washington D.C., I feel that this movie was well-paced not only by the screenwriters, but also by Emmerich’s direction.

However, I cannot talk about “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” without discussing the film’s special and visual effects. And I must be honest that I found them mind blowing. The special effects teams supervised by the likes of Louis Craig, John Palmer and Christian Rivest did a superb job in depicting the film’s natural disasters. I also found Greg and Colin Strause, Greg Anderson, Remo Balcells and Eric Brevig’s visual effects featured in the movie equally stunning. And with the assistance of cinematographer Ueli Steiger, these two teams made the Manhattan tidal wave and Ice Age sequences two of the most memorable I have ever seen in a disaster film. I have not been a fan of the musical scores featured in Emmerich’s films such as 1996’s “INDEPENDENCE DAY” and 1998’s “GODZILLA”. But I was surprised to find myself impressed by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker’s score for this film. It had a haunting and smooth quality that seemed lacking in some of Emmerich’s other films.

Despite my love for this film, I must admit that I found it almost difficult to endure some of the cheesy dialogue and acting by many of the minor characters. In fact, one could find some of the worst acting by minor characters in the sequence featuring the New York City tidal wave. Thankfully, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” featured a solid cast that proved to be more talented than many of the minor supporting actors. I think that Dr. Jack Hall might prove to be one of my favorite Dennis Quaid roles. I realize that the actor is more known for portraying sexy, roguish types in movies like “THE BIG EASY” and “THE RIGHT STUFF”. But I must admit that I found it refreshing to see him portray a no-nonsense and intense type like Jack Hall. He was ably supported by Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character’s son, Sam Hall. Gyllenhaal must have been at least 22 or 23 years old at the time, but he skillfully projected a sardonic weariness, tinged with a little offspring resentment that strongly impressed me.

I also enjoyed the performances of Ian Holm as the intelligent and warm-hearted Terry Raspon; Sela Ward as Jack’s nearly frantic ex-wife; and Emmy Russum as Sam’s tender-hearted, yet ambitious love interest. Perry King’s President of the United States may have come off as a little too noble, but he still gave a solid performance. I was especially amused by Arjay Smith’s portrayal of Sam’s sardonic friend Brian; Glenn Plummer as the blunt, yet hilarious homeless man who decides to remain at the public library with Jack and his friends in order to survive; and Nestor Serrano as Jack’s no-nonsense boss at the NOAA. But the one performance that surprisingly impressed me came from Kenneth Walsh as the irritable Vice-President. The actor ably developed his character from a snide and bureaucratic politician to a man who had the grace and wisdom to realize that he had been wrong to doubt Jack.

I realize that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” had received mixed reviews upon its release nearly seven years ago. Many critics had complained about the questionable science behind Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s story and some of the film’s other flaws. But I believe that its virtues – a solid cast led by Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, stunning special and visual effects, a well-paced script and solid direction Emmerich – outweighed the flaws. And this is why it has become a personal favorite of mine.

“PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME” (2010) Review

“PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME” (2010) Review

Recently, I had listened to a radio talk show in which a movie reviewer compared Disney’s new movie, ”PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME” to the 1962 Oscar winning film, ”LAWRENCE OF ARABIA”. Much to the detriment of the Disney film. And as I sat there and listened to him bash ”PRINCE OF PERSIA”, it occurred to me that there still were plenty of idiots in this world . . . including radio disc jockeys. 

Directed by Mike Newell and based upon the 2003 video game, ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” is about an orphaned street urchin in sixth century Persia named Dastan whose gallant and courageous act at a marketplace attracts the attention of King Sharaman and leads to his adoption into the Royal Family. Fifteen years later, Dastan, his royal-blooded foster brothers, Prince Tus and Prince Garsiv, and his uncle, Prince Nizam are planning an attack on the sacred city of Alamut, which is believed to be selling weapons to their enemies. However, Persia’s successful invasion of Alamut eventually leads to a great deal of trouble for Dastan, when he is framed for the assassination of the king. With the help of Tamina, Princess of Alamut, Dastan eventually discovers that the invasion was nothing more than a means for the real assassin to search for a magical dagger that Dastan has already managed to get his hands on. The dagger enables to bearer to travel back in time. The assassin wants to use the dagger to overthrow the Persian Royal Family and seize the throne.

I had mixed feelings about watching ”PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME”. A part of me was attracted to the idea of viewing another Disney live-action movie with a fantasy setting. Another part of me recalled my disappointment over Tim Burton’s rather flaccid movie, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Attraction and curiosity won out and I went to see the movie . . . despite my low expectations. Needless to say, I ended up enjoying the movie a lot.

Granted, the movie had its share of flaws. First of all, one had to endure some of the over-the-top dialogue that has plagued movies like ”SPIDER-MAN”, and from the ”STAR WARS””LORD OF THE RINGS” and ”THE MUMMY” franchises. Some of the action sequences that featured actor Jake Gyllenhaal jumping all over the place struck me as a tad too frantic. It almost seemed as if Mike Newell and cinematographer John Seale had channeled Paul Greengrass and photographer Oliver Wood from the”BOURNE” movies. I love actor Alfred Molina. I have been a fan of his for years. But I must admit that I found his performance as an ostrich racing-organizer named Sheik Ama waaaay over-the-top. Speaking of ostrich racing . . . WHAT THE HELL? I have never seen anything so ludicrous in my life. I mean . . . I could understand camel racing or even horse racing. But ostrich racing?

Yes, I do have some quibbles about the movie. And yes, I realize that it is not an example of artistic Hollywood movie making at its height. It is certainly not the best movie of this summer. But dammit! I liked it a lot. One, screenwriters Jordan Mechner, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard wrote a very entertaining adaptation of the video game. I am certainly not familiar with it, but I did like the story. Not only was it filled with plenty of action and fantasy, it had a good, solid mystery over the identity of King Sharaman’s assassin. This mystery also served as the background of a well-written family drama involving Dastan and the Persian Royal Family. Most importantly, the movie’s script featured a funny and spirited romance between Dastan and Princess Tamina.

Speaking of the cast, I never thought I would see the day when I actually enjoy a sword-and-sand fantasy that featured Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. He is not the type of actor I would associate with a costume movie from the Disney Studios. I must admit that for the movie’s first ten to twenty minutes, I found it difficult to accept Gyllenhaal in the role of a street urchin-turned-adopted member of the Persian Royal Family. But he seemed to be doing such a good job and I was becoming engrossed in the movie that I eventually overcame any unnecessary problems I had with him in the role. Most importantly, Gyllenhaal had great chemistry with Gemma Arterton, who portrayed Tamina. The only other movie I had seen Arterton in was the latest James Bond movie,”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. Honestly? I had not been that impressed by her performance in that movie. But I was impressed by her performance as Princess Tamina. She gave the character a strength and drive rarely seen in female roles from the past five or six summers. She also seemed to have better chemistry with actors that are from her generation . . . like Gyllenhaal.

Ben Kingsley gave a very subtle performance as Dastan’s adopted uncle, Prince Nizam. He did a great job in portraying the one character that acted as the Persian Royal Family’s backbone. Both Richard Coyle and Toby Kebbell gave solid performances as Dastan’s two royal brothers. However, I must admit that I did not find them particularly memorable. Steve Toussaint did a good job in portraying the dependable, yet intimidating Ngbaka knife thrower Seso. I certainly enjoyed his performance more than I did Alfred Molina’s. It seemed a pity that the latter’s character annoyed me so much. I also have to commend Gísli Örn Garðarsson, who portrayed the leader of the Hassansins, hired to kill Dastan and recover the dagger. For a character that did not say much, I found his performance particularly intimidating.

I have another confession. I was not that particularly enamored of Mike Newell’s direction of the 2005 movie, ”HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”. And when I heard that he was the director of ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” . . . well, I was not expecting to be impressed by his latest work. ”GOBLET OF FIRE” had convinced me that Newell should avoid the science-fiction/fantasy genre. However, his direction of ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” proved me wrong. Sure, I could have done without some of the frantic action sequences. And I would never consider the movie to be on the same level as the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” movies. But I thought it was a pretty damn entertaining film.

Which brings me back to the radio disc jockey. Why did I consider him an idiot for comparing ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” to”LAWRENCE OF ARABIA”? Who, in their right mind, would compare a summer Disney movie based upon a video game, with an Oscar winning film about a World War I hero? Who would be stupid enough to do this? Apparently that radio disc jockey was stupid enough to do so. And why did he do this? Because both movies were set in the Middle East. Go figure.