This weekend sees a couple of atrocious Hollywood train wrecks storm the multiplex while a couple of interesting smaller films sneak into the art houses. (And one you can already watch right now – via your cable box!)
Is it Oscar season yet?
A couple of big, splashy Hollywood productions invade this weekend. Until now we hadn’t really been feeling the effects of the Writer’s Guild strike from a couple of years ago, but boy are we now. Many of the movies we’re experiencing now at the theater were either rushed into production before the Writer’s Guild deadline, or were worked on during the strike, during which writers couldn’t contribute new drafts and script doctors couldn’t work their rarely discussed voodoo on troubled Hollywood projects. This has resulted in stuff like we’re seeing this weekend – big movies that are built on a pre-existing brand name (in one case a videogame, the other a beloved television series and lovingly-embraced first film). And the rest of the summer looks just as threadbare. Besides some obvious bright spots like Pixar’s third ‘Toy Story’ movie, things are pretty barren. When a 3-D remake of Joe Dante’s ‘Jaws’ rip-off ‘Piranha’ is an obvious highlight, you know we’re in deep, deep trouble.
Keeping that in mind…
‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time‘ is this weekend’s biggest new release. I’ll quote an earlier Bonus View blog post when I say: Stop making videogame movies! The best one ever was Frenchman Christophe Gans’ ‘Silent Hill.’ Even that was long on atmosphere, but short on plot, characters, or anything worth caring about. Just stop. The two experiences are completely dissimilar and trying to meld or adapt them just doesn’t work. ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ is the latest (and certainly most expensive) example of this.
At first, it appears that Disney (the studio behind ‘Prince of Persia’) and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are simply trying to recreate the magic of their ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘ films. After all, it involves a shaggy, slightly fey hero (Jake Gyllenhaal); it’s set in a far-away time; and it involves a mystical element. (Instead of monsters and ghosts, ‘Prince of Persia’ is centered around a dagger that lets you travel through time. Although, truthfully, people only ever go backwards in time, hmmm…). Jake even has beads in his hair, just like Captain Jack. But those movies had some sizzle, and moved along swiftly no matter how bogged down in tangential plot elements they became (like in the later sequels). ‘Prince of Persia’ is just a bore.
The time travel dagger is a neat plot device (it’s like a hand-held Delorean), and placing something like time travel in this ancient setting sounds cool. Even the act of traveling backwards through time, compliments of the dagger, is pretty engrossing, a kind of glittery particle light show. But it’s too seldom used to deliver very much dazzle, and the plot is so leaden and vague that these minor sequences don’t do much to wake you up. For all that spectacle, the only time you’ll actually stare at the screen in wonder is when you try to mentally calculate how much all of this stuff must have cost, between the hundreds of extras, the elaborate sets, the ostriches, the costumes, the computer generated imagery, and Ben Kingsley.
The movie’s sole breath of fresh air comes in the form of Alfred Molina as a greedy ostrich racer and “small business owner.” He’s absolutely electric, the most special special effect in this godawful travesty.
My recommendation: Just skip this movie entirely. You’ll be glad you did. Or you’ll wish you had a dagger of time to go back and convince yourself not to buy a ticket to ‘Prince of Persia.’
Mark my words, it’s going to be a huge fiasco for Disney and will put additional strain on the studio’s relationship with Bruckheimer. (One wonders how many ‘G-Force‘ and ‘Prince of Persia’-sized bombs their partnership can endure). I’ll see you in a few days for the weekend box office report…
The other big movie this weekend is ‘Sex and the City 2.’ I didn’t have time to see this because I had a screening at 8:00 and this movie is sooooo long (147 minutes!) that I couldn’t squeeze it in and still make it to my other movie (a smaller film opening in June that is quite awesome). The reviews, so far, have been pretty awful. The film’s current Metacritic score is 27 – that’s worse than the abysmal remakes of ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street.’ That’s a worse score than Kevin Smith’s ‘Cop Out,’ for crying out loud. (The less discriminating Rotten Tomatoes has its score at 14%. FOURTEEN.)
Of course, not that any of this matters. The four Manhattan ladies will drink, they’ll schmooze, they’ll act bitchy, and in the process probably set back feminism a couple of decades. But fans will come, in droves. They’ll sneak martinis into the movie theater in plastic bottles and talk long into the night about the plot twists, costume changes, and soundtrack choices. In a way, I do support the social atmosphere around the new ‘Sex and the City’ movie. It’s the closest thing we’ve gotten to a female ‘Star Wars’ (or something along those lines). I just wish the movies were better. Now that’d be something.
Don’t leave yet!
There are still some gems out there! You just have to look a little harder!
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, he of ‘Amélie’ and (with co-director Jean Caro) ‘City of Lost Children,’ is back with a brand new, utterly charming French comedy called ‘Micmacs.’ How to describe it, how to describe it..?
(Especially when I saw it so long ago) Well, it’s kind of like if Fellini remade Soderbergh’s version of ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘ as an adaptation of the board game ‘Mouse Trap.’ Yeah, that’ll do it.
Essentially, it’s the tale of a young man (Dany Boon) who, in a dazzling opening sequence, gets shot in the head with a stray bullet while working at a video store. (In a bizarre running gag, people are watching ‘Micmacs’ within ‘Micmacs’.) When he recovers, he realizes that the neighborhood where he works and lives also houses the munitions factory that produced the bullet lodged in his skull. And across the street from that munitions factory is another one responsible for the landmine that blew up his father when our hero was a young boy. Since he can’t work and doesn’t have a place to live, he falls in line with a bunch of lovable misfits. Together, they make plans to take down the two munitions factories. Wackiness ensues.
If the above description sounds cloying and obnoxious, don’t worry, it’s not. Jeunet, ever the visual wizard, sets up the suspense scenes as large scale tableau, Rube Golberg-ized sequences where one thing always leads to another, spectacularly. When I came out of the screening a few months ago, I said that the film was “just a delight.” The friend I had taken with me agreed. So go see it. It’s fun and light but not at the expense of imagination or intelligence. In short, it’s not ‘Prince of Persia’ or ‘Sex and the City 2.’ That should be enough, quite frankly.
The other easy recommendation is George A. Romero’s latest (his sixth!) zombie flick ‘Survival of the Dead.’ It’s a pseudo-sequel to ‘Diary of the Dead,’ but is more focused and often funnier. It’s about a band of National Guardsmen who, running from the oncoming zombie apocalypse, wind up on a New England island that’s being fought over by a bunch of irate Irishmen. Does it reinvent the genre? No. But Romero, always the lefty provocateur, knows how to push the right buttons. The film’s final image is one that’s haunted and delighted me since seeing it.
And the best part?
You can watch it right now – On Demand!
So no excuses. You can watch one of the week’s best movies. In your underwear. What’s better than that?