Friday, May 28, 2010

Action Overlead in Prince of Persia

“Prince of Persia” One Epic Video Game-Based Adventure

For a video based in a video game, “The Prince of Persia” is quite an epic.
Jake Gyllenthal channels his best Errol Flynn to portray Prince Dastan, a commoner elevated to royalty by the King of Persia at the peak of its empire in the sixth century A.D.
King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who has two natural sons, is so impressed with the feisty lad Dastan that he figures he will light a fire within his rather complacent court.
And so he does. Director Mike Newell moves this fantasy-adventure at breakneck speed; from the storming of the gates of the holy city of Alamit, where Dastan encounters the equally feisty Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), to the discovery and possession of a magic crystal handled dagger capable of reversing the sands of time to the fire and brimstone finale.
Oh yeah, the ever-popular time-shifting device is central to this highly improbable tale, concocted by video game creator Jordan Mechner in league with three other WGA screenwriters.
This action-special effects stew blends elements of ancient Persian history, poetry, “One Thousand and One Nights” and such modern fantasies as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Matrix.”
Jake Gyllenthal underwent grueling physical training to look and act the part of dashing Prince Dastan, and I must say the effort paid off. Gyllenthal is convincing in the frequent swordfights and balletic in the gravity-defying, Matrix-like leaping and scampering about roofs, walls and perilous canyons.
Sir Ben Kingsley has enjoyed a lucrative career as villain in recent films such as “Shutter Island,” and his wily Nizam is suitably sneaky and sinister snake.
Kingsley also leaps about and wields a sword with aplomb, which is required in this athletic but CG-enhanced choreography.
The adversary flirtation between Gyllenthal and beautiful Gemma Arterton is another plus, adding the necessary ingredient of romance into this fanboy fantasy.
Yes, “Prince of Persia” is formulaic, but I don’t think that matters at all to its target audience: the same kids who spend their time playing video action games. This is way bigger, louder and in your face.

Sloppy Seconds for SATC 2

A Guy Tries to Understand “Sex and the City”

It is useful to bring along a true fan when considering something you don’t quite understand.
Such was the case with “Sex and the City 2,” the eagerly awaited sequel to the 2008 film based on the successful 1998-2004 HBO television series.
As a fashion-impaired guy, I am at a distinct disadvantage in gauging the effectiveness of this chic urban romantic fantasy about four best female friends in New York City. I brought my friend Beth, who is such a fan she has the entire original series on DVD.
The story is set a couple years after the first movie version, based on characters in a book by columnist Candace Bushnell.
The once carefree single career girls are married. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) have children. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is with the man of her dreams: John James “Mr. Big” Preston (Chris Noth), with no plans for motherhood.
Only sexy Samantha (Kim Cattrall) remains resolutely single at age 52.
Alas, all is not perfect in marriage land. Charlotte has two girls, one who cries constantly, and a buxom nanny who makes her nervous and insecure.
Miranda has quit her gig as a high-powered lawyer, and she is finding being a housewife not as fulfilling as she hoped.
Even the perfect Mr. Big seems more interested in his new flat screen TV than his wife of two years.
When one of Samantha’s movie star discoveries decides to pay her back with an exotic trip for her and her three best friends to attend the premiere of his latest film, the girls say go for it.
The exotic trip is to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and the Sheik who has sprung for the trip has insisted on first class all the way.
My guy mind is no more impressed with absurdly expensive 5-star hotels than it is with costly designer dresses or ridiculously expensive Manolo Blahnik shoes.
I must admit the four matching white Maybach limousines with uniformed chauffeurs are pretty cool.
Writer-director Michael Patrick King has thrown in some roadblocks along the way. Charlotte can’t stop stressing about her children back home. Carrie runs into Aiden (John Corbett) the hunky boyfriend she almost married. Samantha pushes her blatant sexuality too far in the ultra-prudish Muslim country.
All these complications push the air time to a draggy 160 minutes. Beth missed the carefree highjinks of the younger, less complicated single girls of the original adventures while admiring the hunky qualities of Chris Noth and John Corbett.
As for me, a movie that begins with an elaborate gay wedding with entertainment by Liza Minnelli no less is just too, too much… of what I am not sure.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Re-Live the 1980s with "MacGruber"

Be careful who you invite to see “MacGruber,” the first Saturday Night Live skit-based movie in ten years.
On television MacGruber is a short sketch based loosely on the “McGyver” TV action series. The punchline in every episode is everything blows up “real good” at the end.
This is hardly the basis for a feature-length film, but writer-star Will Forte, screenwriter John Solomon and director Jorma Taccone have managed to stretch a thin concept into a pretty darn funny R-rated 1980s action flick parody.
The R in this case stands for “raunchy.” Freed from the restraints of network television, MacGruber can be as naughty as he wants to be, hence the warning at the outset of this review.
The story begins in Ecuador. After the murder of his fiancée Casey (Maya Rudolph) in the middle of their marriage ceremony, MacGruber, the most decorated soldier in US military history, has renounced violence and retreated to a monastery.
Technically, MacGruber is dead, but when his old friend and mentor, Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) beseeches him to save the world from nuclear destruction one last time, MacGruber reluctantly agrees to retrieve his cool 1980s clothes, cut his hair into his signature mullet, and assemble a dream team of mercenaries to take down his nemesis, Dieter Con Cunth (Val Kilmer). It is Cunth who blew away MacGruber’s true love a decade ago.
Cunth (take note of that pun-friendly last name) has gotten ahold of a Russian nuclear warhead and plans world domination.
Not over MacGruber’s dead body, he vows.
The hilarity ensues with MacGruber’s ill-fated dream team and continues with his stripped-down, second-string dream team, consisting of rookie Green Beret Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), and resourceful, platonic gal pal Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig).
Kristen Wiig reprises her TV role as MacGruber’s adoring, wide-eyed sidekick, and it is the precision of her deadpan delivery that keeps this flimsy vehicle together.
Phillippe is an equally appealing straight man to Forte’s bungling character.
“MacGruber” is not as vulgar or offensive as “Borat,” but it is not a movie you’d want to take your mom to. It reminds me of a dirtier version of the early Mad magazine, with every frame chockablock with visual gags. It is easily the funniest Saturday Night Live sketch movie since “Wayne’s World.”

Three stars

Sequels Happen

Sequels Happen, and Beget “Shrek Forever After”

When a movie is successful, sequels happen.
The producers swear “Shrek Forever After,” the fourth in the hugely popular series, is the final chapter.
I wouldn’t bet good money on it.
When last we saw Shrek the Ogre (voice of Mike Meyers) all was well and good in the land of Far, Far Away. Shrek had battled a dragon, vanquished evil Prince Charming, won and wed Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz), the girl Ogre of his dreams in Shrek 2, and Fiona became pregnant in Shrek 3.
Challenged to come up with trouble in this happy-ever-after lovefest, screenwriters Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke decided Shrek is bored with fame, adulation, fatherhood and even his beloved Fiona. In short he is having a mid-life crisis after only one year of marriage.
This sounds a lot like real life, which is why “Shrek 4” is less appealing to younger viewers. In the end it is perilously close to a “chick flick.”
The wicked Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohm), who was just one of many villains in Shrek 3, now aspires to rule Far, Far Away as King and absolute despot.
If you are familiar with the Bible, you will immediately recognize that Rumplestiltson is a lot like Satan. He lures people astray by encouraging discontent, at same time offering something he swears is better.
That’s exactly what he does with gullible Shrek, who now views the time of being feared as an Ogre and fancy free of responsibility, commitment and romantic entanglement as a paradise lost.
Rumple draws up a complicated contract that promises a return to the good old days for one tiny price: giving up one day- 24 just hours- of his life. Shrek fails to see the implication of losing even one precious day, and terrible things happen.
On the plus side there is a lot of funny stuff when Shrek’s orderly life gets turned upside down. Talkative Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is no longer his sidekick and best friend. Valiant Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become fat and lazy. The entire Kingdom of Far Far Away has become a wasteland; its castle occupied by preening Rumble and a gaggle of cackling witches flying about.
Worst of all, Fiona not only does not know Shrek; they have never met, fallen in love or had little Ogres.
My Shrek fanatic 12-year-old friend Trevor still likes the action-packed Shrek 3 the best.
I can see his point, but as an adult and a parent I can see Shrek 4 as an instructive parable about appreciating what you have, who loves you, and cherishing your loved ones. As a lesson it is downright golden, enhanced by a great classic pop music soundtrack, in 3-D and IMAX in select theaters.

Three stars

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Romantic "Letters," Brutal "Robin Hood"

Ah, to be young and in love.
Ah, to be any age and in love…
“Letters to Juliet” is a charming romantic fantasy asserting there is no expiration date on love.
Adorable Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie, an American girl in her 20s engaged to an ambitious young master chef, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal).
In his quest to perfect his Italian cuisine, Victor convinces Sophie to take a pre-honeymoon trip with him to Verona, Italy.
Victor becomes consumed by networking with local foodies while Sophie begins to feel neglected.
Wandering the streets of Verona, the home of Shakespeare’s most famous fictional lovers, Sophie discovers the actual house purported to be Juliet’s house, complete with balcony. Stuffed in cracks of the walls of the house are hundreds of scribbled messages to Juliet, as asking advice in matters of romance. Sophie volunteers as a letter reader and replier.
OK, it’s a pretty hokey setup, and hokier still when Sophie discovers a letter than has been hidden in a crack since 1957.
The letter was written by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), now an elderly widow.
When she was young, Claire visited Verona and fell in love with a young man named Lorenzo.
Lorenzo wanted to marry Claire, but she got cold feet, wrote the fateful letter asking for advice, and returned to England where she met and married another man.
More than 50 years later Sophie writes a letter that lures Claire back to Verona, her handsome grandson Charlie (Chris Egan) in tow.
The best antidote for cloying hokey-ness is humor. Vanessa Redgrave is a brilliant, distinguished actress who knows how to be funny. You see there is more than one Lorenzo in Verona. In fact there is a whole squadron of them.
If you can’t see where all of this is leading, you just don’t know chick flicks. This is a chick flick of a somewhat higher order because it features Redgrave’s true-life love, Franco Nero. Are we swooning yet? If not you are excused.

Robin Hood the Gladiator?

There is nothing very merry about Russell Crowe’s stoic “Robin Hood” and his band of angry men.
My idea of Robin Hood came from a British television series that was shown in America from 1955 to 1950. Robin Hood was played as a lovable rogue “feared by the rich, loved by the poor.” His band of followers were described as “merry men” who were always confounding the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, but “still found plenty of time to sing.”
There is very little merriment in the overly-long new “Robin Hood,” and even less singing.
Director Ridley Scott has re-envisioned the legend of Robin Hood along the lines of his 2000 epic, "Gladiator,” which also starred Russell Crowe.
War is a serious business, and Robin Longstride (Crowe) is a grim survivor of the brutal Crusades, which were lead by King Richard “The Lionheart” (Danny Houston) in a valiant but futile effort to convert the Holy Land to Christianity.
The story begins in the late 12th century with two key deaths: King Richard and Sir Robert Loxley, a Knight and friend of Robin’s. It is Sir Robert’s dying wish that Robin return Loxley’s sword to his father (Max von Sydow).
The death of King Richard has elevated his callow, unscrupulous younger brother John (Oliver Isaac) to King.
John has already upset his mother (Eileen Atkins) by marrying a French noblewoman, Isabella (Lea Seydoux). Now he has caused further distrust by joining forces with Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), a hateful opportunist secretly in league with the French.
So, you got that? England, yay! France, boo!
OK, there is more to it than that, as this movie is about two and a half hours long, building to a climactic battle scene that looks like a Medieval D-Day.
It’s all very violent and manly (Crowe is a convincing archer and swordsman), but I’ll take Robin’s band of merry men any day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Girls Night The Musical

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun at Paradise Live Seminole Hard Rock

“Are there any guys in the audience?” asked Sharon the angel. “Suckers!”
I was one of 11 of those “suckers” at a Saturday night performance of “Girls Night: The Musical,” playing through May 22 at Paradise Live at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood.
“Girls Night” is undeniably a show for females, but it is not without interest or entertainment value for men. In fact I rather liked it- but I’m a guy who really appreciates the opposite sex.
Written by Louise Roche, the show originated in the UK in 2003 and made its Off-Broadway debut in 2007.
“Girl’s Night” is presented by Entertainment Events, the same folks who mount the “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding’ and “Defending the Caveman” shows. As such it is more than a musical revue but less than a book musical. The show relies a lot on audience participation, and the chief cheerleader for that is Sharon, played by Nikki Allred, a Miami actress.
Sharon is a girl who died after falling off the back of a mo-ped at age 17, leaving behind an infant daughter, Candy Rose.
In life Sharon was a bit of a rebel. The daughter she bore was born out of wedlock. She refused to tell her friends who the father was, but we will learn in the rocky course of the evening.
Sharon is an angel, complete with a pair of tiny wings. Her best friends meet regularly to remember her, and this occasion is particularly special because Candy Rose, now 22, is getting married.
Sharon’s friends are stereotypes of common personalities. Liza (Sonya Carter, from the original New York cast) is outgoing and secure in her sexuality. Sonya Carter also has the best belt-style voice in the cast.
Kate (Marianne Haaland) is repressed and insecure about her marriage. Carol (Lauren Zapko), the twice-divorced older sister of Kate, is just the opposite: brassy, sexy and used to using her womanly wiles to dominate.
Anita (Lauren Kairalla) is a baby machine, with four kids and another on the way.
Throw these chicks together, give them a few drinks, and stand back. “Girls Night” features a few original interludes, but mostly it’s girl-power standards such as “I Am What I Am” (actually written for a drag queen), “It’s Raining Men” (which has become a gay theme song), “I Will Survive” and of course “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which actually was written by a guy, Robert Hazard, for Cyndi Lauper.
Of course Kate would sing Janis Ian’s self-pitying “At Seventeen,” and all the girls take turns with torch songs like ‘Cry Me a River” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud.”
In the sorority party spirit there is some raunchy humor. I didn’t realize there are blow up male dolls too, but one is used to advantage for ribald humor in this show. If you are broad-minded and you just want to have some fun, this is your show.
Tickets are $45 and $55. Call 800-745-3000.

Elvis at 21 at Boca Museum of Art

Elvis Presley in His Prime at Boca Museum

When you think of Elvis Presley, fine art is not the first thing that usually springs to mind- Elvis’ portrait on black velvet, maybe.
Yet popular culture meets fine art in “Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer,” running through June 13 at Boca Raton Museum of Art in Mizner Park.
Wertheimer was just 26 when he accepted an assignment to travel with Elvis in the pivotal year 1956, when the popularity of the young Tennessean singer was morphing from budding star to boundary-breaking youthquake cultural icon.
Not only are Wertheimer’s black and white images technically brilliant, they are insightful in revealing the psychological transition from aw shucks country boy to revolutionary trend-setter.
Wertheimer’s images capture Presley’s stage magnetism, and more important, his sexual attractiveness beneath that magnetism. In his prime at age 21, Presley had the raw power to reduce any girl to tears, which is proven again and again in Wertheimer’s photographs.
I was a kid when Elvis was at his peak of popularity, and I didn’t quite understand why he drove all the little girls crazy. As Elvis began his long decline into bad movies and cheesy Las Vegas stage shows, I forgot what made Elvis special in the first place. With Wertheimer’s help I feel I have gained a belated understanding of this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Thanks for the memories.
“Rememberingstanleyboxer: a Retrospective 1946-2000” on the other hand is more what we expect from a fine art museum. Frankly I wasn’t that familiar with this American abstract expressionist painter, and this exhibit of 50 paintings and 13 sculptures serves as a handy primer.
So thanks for the education Boca Museum. Now I feel I know a little about this important American artist who is represented in virtually every important art museum in the USA.

Art Meets Fashion at Boca Museum Art School

Speaking of crossings boundaries, art meets fashion in the work of Nicole Napolitano and Rebecca Rolle, both students at the Art School of Boca Museum of Art at 801 W. Palmetto Park Road.
The girls fabricated dresses out of metal, vegetable and animal materials in dresses called “Mineral” made with metal, “Vegetable” made with tea bags and “Animal” made with feathers. You can see their handiwork on display through May 21 at the Art School. Both girls will attend New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute in the fall.
Call Boca Museum at 561-392-2500 or visit for more information.