Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia poster
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Escaping from a hot day, I managed to catch my first film for a week. Another in a string of computer game adaptations: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

“You can’t have an ostrich race… when you only have one ostrich!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: orphan boy is rescued by king and goes on to (go on, you knew it) save the world. Using sand.

Computer game adaptations have had a hard time of it in Hollywood. Mario Bros wasn’t that bad. But around the same time you had Street Fighter which was crap (well, it had Van Damme and Kylie Minogue – it never stood a chance). The more recent Doom adaptation pretty much sucked, too. I am happy to say that PoP:tSoT bucks the trend slightly.

First of all, it has an actual story. I have no idea how closely this relates to that of the game on which it’s based, but it’s a good one. A nice plot with layers, twists and believable characters. OK, it’s silly as well. Come on, it’s a fantasy film.

Next up, it has a good cast. And, more importantly than just shoving actors in for the sake of it like the aforementioned failures, PoP makes full use of them. Ben Kingsley is slightly typecast as the hard-nosed brother to the king, but as ever puts in a wonderful performance. Jake Gyllenhaal hams it up as the lead, Dastan. And the gorgeous Gemma Arterton alternately makes you drool and want to slap her as befits her spoilt high priestess character.

Visually, it’s a complete treat. The skips between built sets and CGI are flawless which makes it seem enormous in scale. There’s a good use of quick camera pans and twists to enhance the action without leaving you wondering what direction you’re looking in (future James Bond directors, take note). One part in particular I liked was the Hassansin’s lair – very much like a Persian version of Q’s lab from the Bond flicks.

The stuntwork in particular should be enjoyed. The fight scenes and the like hark back to the original game and it’s motion-captured lead sprite. If free-running was a sport in ancient times, Dastan would have been a gold medallist.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the film drags a bit. Although there’s no real fluff or waste in the storyline, it’s just a little too long especially when it’s being targeted partly at kids who don’t often have the attention span to eat a whole ice cream before it falls to the floor.

Otherwise, it’s a cracking little action film.

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British Cinema – Streets Ahead

Last night I caught two films at the Cineworld, both British yet both on opposite ends of the financial scale. Both, however, were excellent and proved beyond a doubt that you don’t need a bazillion dollars and household name megastars to produce entertaining, thoughtful cinema.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two men kidnap a girl for ransom… and then things start to get interesting.

One thing that didn’t strike me until the film reached the end credits was that the cast of this film is exactly three. This includes background characters and extras – there are none. Precisely three human beings appear on the screen throughout the entire feature.

We have Vic (Eddie Marsan), Danny (Martin Compston) and Alice (the beautiful Gemma Arterton). Vic is the mastermind, Danny the cohort and Alice the victim. The actual kidnapping is right at the start of the film and is simply the setup for the twists and turns that are to follow. It also takes almost ten minutes before we get the first spoken dialogue (barring some screaming).

Disappearance has more twists than a twisty turny thing that’s been tangled up in knots. The character relationships are exemplary, well handled and superbly acted. Full credit has to be given to the three thesps involved. They each play a very different personality and they do it well.

I think that’s what I enjoyed most about the film. It doesn’t hinge on the kidnap, it all revolves around the people caught up in it. Their relationship to each other, their reactions, how they handle the situation and little things that go wrong. The first film that springs to mind when I think of a plot like this is Danny Boyle‘s superb Shallow Grave. Disappearance is up there with that in terms of great storytelling.

The budget for this film must be minimal, and it proves beyond a doubt that no matter how much cash you throw at a film it’s lost without a great story. Yes, Clash of the Titans (2010) I am looking at you. And Avatar, frankly. The likes of James Cameron‘s opus succeed only because of the money involved. Disappearance succeeds despite the lack of it. It’s lowly budget is in no way reflected in what you see on screen.

A definite must-see.

Centurion

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Rome decided to go all out against the Picts, doesn’t come off too well and leaves seven soldiers stuck deep behind enemy lines.

Second time lucky, I managed to catch this one before it vanished from the multiplex. I’m very glad I did as well. Similarly to Disappearance above, this is a low-budget (compared to Hollywood) effort, filmed in the UK and using British talent. It’s the opposite end of the pay scale, though, with a very large cast, some wonderful scenery and gory effects.

Neil Marshall’s first major release was Dog Soldiers which I loved. The horror story background was played off against the great incidental dialogue. Centurion follows this pattern as we see the Roman soldiers bantering with each other.

Centurion isn’t a straightforward epic, however. The huge cast is quickly whittled down to a smaller core with an actual plot. Imagine BAT*21 meets Gladiator meets Braveheart. Ish.

The way the story is told is very clever – the first line of dialogue marrying up perfectly with the last. Essentially we follow one character – Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) – as he finds himself attached to a legion sent north to defeat the Picts who have so far withstood the Roman invasion. As history will tell you, they continued to do so and the legion’s fate is not a pretty one.

Seven men survive out of three thousand. They set off to rescue their general, and then to find their way back to safety. All the way they are hounded by a near-mystically gifted tracker (Etain, played by the disturbingly sexy Olga Kurylenko) and a small group of Picts intent on ensuring they don’t make it.

The film seems to have been shot almost entirely outdoors which must have been uncomfortable for all involved as it looks flipping freezing. I’m no historian, but the settings and so forth seem pretty authentic although the language has been brought up to modern standard (including the swearing). A nice touch to have the Picts speak what I assume is some early version of Gaelic which is subtitled. Again, apologies if my lack of historical knowledge proves that statement to be utter crap.

It’s certainly not a heart-warming film. As we’d expect from Marshall, it’s brutal and unforgiving. Beatings, bashings, decapitations, stab wounds, hacks, slashes… all present and accounted for.

I await the forthcoming Robin Hood film which is probably the most similar release so far this year. I’d like to compare the budgets and see which one I enjoy the most. Judging by the trailers, I think it’s going to be Centurion. And, hey, wasn’t the best thing about Costner’s version Alan Rickman – who just happens to be British?

Yes, this week I am mostly very proud of our home-grown films.

Oh, and for reading this far… a quick quiz. What is the connection between both of these films and James Bond? No prizes other than kudos!

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