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.

Mike Newell – Love in the Time of Cholera

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

Imagine a director knowing that a film he or she is going to make has been adapted from someone else’s work and must therefore be treated with the utmost respect to the author’s original literary intentions. The thought must be nerve-wracking on any level.

Now, imagine if that work was considered by many literary critics as one of the most adored love stories of the 20th century. Director Mike Newell knows exactly how pressure like that feels.

Newell, director of “Four Wedding and a Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” found himself in this position of great responsibility when he signed on to direct Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez’s 1985 novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

The story follows the heartbreaking tale of Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem), a young man who is scorned by love and dedicates his entire life to the woman who has broken his heart.

Via phone from his hotel in New York City, Newell talked about passing notes with Márquez during production, shooting the film in English rather than in the novel’s original Spanish language and what a peculiar title like “Love in the Time of Cholera” means to him.

When did you first read Gabriel García Márquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera?”

I read it when it first came out 20 years ago. Twenty years later, I read it again and was bowled over by the incredible writing. I rediscovered how humane, generous, and loving [Marquez] is to the characters without being sentimental.

Is that what resonated with you the most?

What resonated with me the most – and part of it was personal – was that my parents lived to be very old and had a successful 60-year marriage. I was very interested in the emotion of “whole lives.” I could look back in photograph albums and see [my parents] as children and see them on their wedding day and then as old people. I knew where the wrinkles came from. I knew where the rough patches had been. I was very sensitized towards this … and found that irresistible.

Were you given the opportunity to meet Márquez and talk to him about the film adaptation?

I didn’t. While we were making the film he was very sick. He now is not, but during that time he wouldn’t leave Mexico City. So, we communicated by notes. In particular, when he read the first draft of the script, he was very complimentary. He said, “You’re too respectful. You should kick the book around more.” I pinned these first notes onto my wall and they became a sort of Bible for me.

Has he seen the movie and, if so, what was his response?

He finally saw the movie about eight weeks ago. The lights went up and his whole family was there. He stood up and like a footballer who just scored he punched the air over his head. When he turned around he had this big grin. Then he offered to write all the Spanish subtitles.

Was it ever an idea to shoot the film in Spanish? If so, what brought you to the final decision to keep it in English?

It was never thought of that way. We had a very interesting response to it. It was not done that way because this film is made with Hollywood money and Hollywood money says that it wants the film to be made in English. I expected there to be some sort of backlash. But Latinos are delighted to see it in English. Somehow it brings [the story] out of South America. When South Americans see it, I think they feel like they have joined some kind of world community. It’s the strangest thing.

I’m sure part of that is because you are able to give the story new life with the score that you chose. Talk to me about using some of Shakira’s music and what that brought to the film.

Every [composer] wanted to be part of the film. When I listened to their work it would sound Colombian, but it wouldn’t sound like the novel to me. People were beginning to get impatient and my office started filling up with CDs because I hadn’t chosen anyone yet. One day, someone came into the office and asked, “Does it sound like this?” They played me this mysterious, sad love song. I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what it is!” I asked, “Who is that?” They said, “That is Shakira.” For me, it became the imprint sound of the film.

What does the title “Love in the Time of Cholera” mean to you?

What I came to believe is that love is life and cholera is death. [Márquez] is saying that life is a death sentence. Even though that is true for all of us, the question is: “Are you going to live for all the opportunities that you do have?” He puts life into every sentence of his book with detail, atmosphere and texture.

With the popularity of this book – especially being named to lists like Oprah’s Book Club last month – does that put added pressure on you as a director to get it right?

Absolutely, I think it does. We’ve always been expecting for people to come to us and say, “Where’s this bit and that bit?” and sometimes they do. It’s definitely big pressure. The book is so personal to so many people in so many different ways, it was a frightening thing.