The Great Wall

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Andy Lau
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”)
Written by: Carlo Bernard (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”), Doug Miro (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”)

For those prematurely concerned with another Hollywood whitewashing of Asian culture when “The Great Wall” was announced with star Matt Damon, rest assured: this is most definitely a Chinese movie with Americans along for the ride. With most of the dialogue in Mandarin (with English subtitles) and some of the Chinese film industry’s biggest stars in actor Andy Lau and acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, “The Great Wall” doesn’t feel culturally compromised (at least to this ugly American), but it doesn’t ever fully embrace its potential for mash-up weirdness either.

When a pair of European men, William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), narrowly escape a monstrous creature while on the hunt for black powder in China during the Song dynasty, they stumble across the Great Wall as the color-coded soldiers prepare for an attack by the Tao Tie. The Chinese army, made of up archers, wall-walking infantrymen, and rope-assisted crane fighting women, are defending the capital from the creatures (essentially telepathic monster dogs who came to earth in a meteor and represent greed!). When William proves himself to be an effective warrior, he earns the trust of Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and devises a plan alongside the Chinese soldiers to defeat the dog-monsters once and for all.

While “The Great Wall” isn’t a bad movie, it is mostly a boring one—and one that leaves what could be epic multicultural weirdness on the table. Damon is fine, if not totally committed, to the role of a semi-scoundrel looking for honor, but the trio of screenwriters (including frequent Damon collaborator Tony Gilroy) fail to drum up much internal conflict for William—or anyone else for that matter. “The Great Wall” presents its conflict (the fight against the telepathic dog-monsters from space), the threat they pose (the dog-monsters have breached the Great Wall) and the unlikely secret weapon Damon introduces (a magnet!) that can help take the Tao Tie down and save the planet in the process. If that sounds potentially bananas, especially in the hands of Zhang, you’d be right. But “The Great Wall” never lives up to its batshit crazy potential.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

May 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)
Written by: Boaz Yakin (“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”), Doug Miro (“The Uninvited”), Carlo Bernard (“The Uninvited”)

With the exception of 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow,” Jake Gyllenhaal always seemed like the type of actor who couldn’t be wooed by the bells and whistles of mainstream Hollywood. From standout performances in unique films like “Donnie Darko,” “The Good Girl,” and “Brokeback Mountain,” so much of Gyllenhaal’s on-screen attraction has been the fact that there wasn’t much action-hero attitude in him begging to escape.

So, it’s a bit surprising (not only because he’s playing a Persian, but looks nothing like someone of Persian descent) that Gyllenhaal signed up to star in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a movie adaptation of the popular video game series created by Jordan Mechner in 1989. While the title might sound like a gaudy Middle Eastern soap opera, there’s nothing remotely dramatic about this lazily-scripted story. Like most over-produced Jerry Bruckheimer mainstream hullabaloo (with the exception of the first “Pirates of the Caribbean”), “Persia” is not so much entertaining as it is a dizzying experience.

Adopted from the streets as a boy by the Persian king, Dastan (Gyllenhaal) – although he is not of royal blood – has been raised just the same as the king’s biological sons Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle), who is next in line for the royal throne.

Disobeying his father’s wishes, Tus commands the Persian army to raid the Holy City of Alamut when he receives word from his uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) and his spies that the city is supplying weapons to Persia’s enemies. To make amends for their betrayal against the Persian king, Tus claims Tamina (the breathtaking Gemma Arterton), the Princess of Alamut, as his wife. It’s a short engagement, however, before the king arranges her to marry Dastan instead.

But when Dastan is framed for the murder of his father – an incident he has no motive for, but makes matters worse by fleeing – he and Tamina team up out of necessity. Now running for their lives through Persia, the duo must survive long enough to find the king’s real killer and, of course, fall in love. Mixed into the absurd narrative is a magical dagger, which possesses the power to send people back in time.

Don’t attempt to break “Persia” down any more than you have to. That would surely defeat the purpose of a Bruckheimer-produced film. The less brainpower used on the CGI-heavy fantasy, the more likely you are to appreciate its kitsch. In this instance, however, dumbing down “Prince of Persia” into gawky scenes of swordplay, romance and unintentionally funny anachronistic dialogue shouldn’t be enough reason to give Bruckheimer a blessing to fund another pointless journey into another of these sand traps.

The Uninvited

January 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Emily Browning, David Strathairn
Directed by: Charles and Thomas Guard (debuts)
Written by: Craig Rosenberg (“After the Sunset”), Doug Miro (“The Great Raid”) and Carlo Bernard (“The Great Raid”)

The comedy genre has the Farrelly brothers, action flicks have the Wachowskis, and the Coens are at the top of their game in the drama department. Could the Guard brothers be the answer horror movie lovers have been looking for in familial filmmaking? Don’t hold your breath.

In “The Uninvited,” Charles and Thomas Guard give their own take on the 2003 Korean horror film “A Tale of Two Sisters.” A hybrid ghost story and domestic thriller, the film feels like a cheap combination of “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” and “The Sixth Sense” and cheats the audience out of what should have been a supernatural indulgence.

Australian actress Emily Browning (“Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events”) stars as Anna Rydell, a young girl recently released from a mental hospital where she was staying after the death of her mother. Despite still having indistinguishable nightmares and creepy hallucinations when doctors discharge her, Emily returns home to live with her sister Alex (Arielle Kebble), her father Steven (David Strathairn), and his girlfriend Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), who was once a live-in nurse for their sickly mother. “Welcome to your new ward,” Alex tells her sister. “Better food, crazier people.”

Something, however, is not sitting well with Emily when she becomes part of the new family dynamic. She is convinced the ghosts in her nightmares are trying to warn her about her future stepmother. When a young man who works at the local grocery store tells Emily he saw something unusual the night of the fire that took her mother’s life, she starts to believe the images she sees hold the secrets of the tragedy.

Short on shocking moments, the biggest flub “The Uninvited” dishes out is its horribly uneven tone. At times, it feels like it wants to go the way of “The Grudge” or “The Ring” in terms of scare tactics and then it flips on a dime and tries to become a serious Hitchcockian thriller. The Guard brothers can’t muster up nearly enough imagination to have the best of both worlds. It’s evident that they’ve lost their way from the muddled first half to the typical twisting conclusion that doesn’t come soon enough.