Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Three Persian princes (Jake Gyllenhaal, Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbell) invaded a holy city protected by a princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton) because their royal intelligence led them to believe that the city provided weapons to Persia’s enemies. In truth, the false information was created and spread because someone wanted a special dagger that had the ability to turn back time. Based on the video game of the same name, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” directed by Mike Newell, plays out like a typical video game: the main character Dastan (Gyllenhaal) was heroic and had a heart of gold, he met villains-turned-friends (Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint) along the way, and the identity of the big bad was eventually dramatically revealed even though we could see it coming from a mile away. But prior to watching the film, I decided to have an open mind and not take it too seriously. Surprisingly enough, I quite enjoyed it because its energy reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ action-adventure “The Mummy” although not as funny and creative with the action sequences. I thought the film worked best when it showcased the fighting scenes such as when Dastan would try to evade the enemies by jumping from one roof to another à la Jason Bourne in Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum” only with more sweat and sand. However, I have to admit that the bickering between Dastan and Tamina did get under my last nerves. I knew that they were going to end up in each others’ arms eventually so I kept wondering when they would actually be useful together in order to finally drive the story forward. Perhaps Arterton was to blame because although she was beautiful on the outside, the way she played her character lacked charm. I thought she could have played her character with more cheekiness and far less self-righteousness. I didn’t understand why Dastan would fall in love with her because she acted like a spoiled brat for the majority of the time. When she wasn’t, she acted like a common damsel-in-distress. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” ticks all the boxes in terms of what makes a good and entertaining action flick. I especially liked the visual effects toward the end when Dastan and the princess went under the holy city and danger was literally found in each step. However, I wish the filmmakers would’ve challenged themselves more (or, more importantly, challenged us more) by toning down certain evil looks by characters that had murky allegiances so that it would have been less predictable.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Before returning to Hogwarts for his fourth year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was haunted by nightmares involving Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally gain his strength. Meanwhile, Hogwarts hosted the Triwizard Tournament in which a champion was chosen from from each wizarding school: Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) from Durmstrang Institute, and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But this year was a unique case because the Goblet of Fire had also chosen Harry, only a fourth year, to participate. I find “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” directed by Mike Newell, one of the most fast-paced installments in the series. I highly enjoy it every time I watch it because I love the way competitions unfold. I was happy that the filmmakers took a gamble and actually showed the competition as very dangerous and intimidating. Up until this film, we did not get to see much blood and dark magic. There was a breath of fresh air in the story because we finally had a chance to see negative tension between Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson). Both involved jealousy–the former jealousy involving celebrity (or lack thereof) and the latter jealousy involving a budding romantic relationship. On the other hand, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) caught the attention of our protagonist. Much of the humor came from the awkward interactions between the teenagers, the things that went wrong when hormones took charge, and sarcastic remarks. Since the film painted the teenagers as always on edge, there was real tension as they struggled to find their identities. Furthermore, the addition of students from other wizarding schools made the magical universe that much bigger and the issue of camaraderie despite language and cultural barriers was a touching common theme. Given that “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is my second favorite book of the series, I had very high expectations from the film. I am aware that a lot of hardcore fans did not enjoy it as much as I did because it left out important details (or got it wrong altogether) and that the screenwriters failed to remain loyal to the book in terms of character development. While I do agree to some extent, if I had not read the book, I still would have enjoyed the movie because the adventures were so thrilling. There were some truly scary moments (the third task in the tournament), very curious mystery (the addition of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody played with great fun by Brendan Gleeson), and there were a plethora of laugh-out-loud comedy (pick any scene that had to do with the Yule Ball). My only minute criticism was that the male actors should have gotten much-needed haircuts.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on true events, director Mike Newell tells the story of how FBI special agent Joseph D. Pistone (Johnny Depp), whose mob alias is Donnie Brasco, climbs the ladder of the mafia hierarchy. Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino) takes Brasco under his wing because Brasco can become somebody that he always aspires to be–a high-level member of the mafia who has genuine power so he can be proud of his life and the things he has done. As Brasco becomes more into the mafia life, he starts to detach from his responsibilities to his job and, more importantly, his family (Anne Heche plays his wife). “Donnie Brasco” was not the kind of movie I expected. Although I did expect for it to have very entertaining tough guy conversations that were common to gangster films, I did not expect it to have as much heart. The relationship between Brasco and Pistone was fascinating because the two almost had a father-son relationship. The tricky thing was that Brasco knew all along that he eventually had to turn Pistone in to the FBI; how could he do that to a friend or a father figure? The performances were exemplary, especially from Depp and Pacino, because there’s a real complexity and tension between the characters and their respective families. I felt like the more they tried to help each other out, the more their families’ lives started falling apart–as if their relationship was toxic or was never meant to be. I also really liked Michael Madsen as Sonny Black. His tough-but-cool persona reminded me of his character Mr. Blonde in “Reservoir Dogs.” Ultimately, this film is about the two lead characters’ evolution: one toward the mafia life and one away from it. For a two-hour running time, we wereable to observe the differences between what a character was thinking and what a character was doing. Although there were a plethora of similiarities between the two, the differences were enough to trigger a certain nuanced intelligence that are worth discussing when the credits start rolling. “Donnie Brasco” is arguably unlike other gangster pictures because it does not necessarily focus on how to be a gangster but on what it means to be a gangster. It’s worth seeing.