By Adam Donato
Video game movies are infamously bad, and Disney is no exception (Wreck-it Ralph doesn’t count). Prince of Persia is a very notable video game franchise about, to put it simply, a Prince going on adventures in Persia. The series of games has a long history with a supposedly large fanbase. Disney sought to replicate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Jerry Bruckheimer producing the film. Indie darling Jake Gyllenhaal stars with Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Doctor Octopus himself, Alfred Molina. The film was given a budget of $200 million, not including marketing, and didn’t make its money back. Is this another good movie going criminally unseen or did it follow the trend of video game movie that would be better if you had a controller in your hand?
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is fine. It’s a big, dumb blockbuster wannabe that is perfectly digestible. There’s a lot of reasons to root for this movie to be a success, while also having so much going against it. That’s usually the recipe for a controversial movie that everyone is sure to have an opinion on, but nobody saw it. Even if one did see Prince of Persia, it’s so unspectacular that it’s hard to have an opinion on it in general.
On one hand, It’s a video game movie in the best way. People who played the game have noted how a lot of the action is very reminiscent of the source material. Speaking of action, this movie is full of it. If you like parkour, then this is the Casino Royale of video game movies. The budget is very high so of course the action is quite the spectacle. While it may look too animated at times, it gets away with it thanks to its video game roots. The cast is full of talented actors. Gyllenhaal headlines the cast and they couldn’t have picked a more likable leading man. He makes Dastan, this one-dimensional hero, into a somewhat interesting protagonist. Needless to say, you’re rooting for him. Arterton, also starring in the Clash of the Titans movie in the same year, was very hot at the time (pun intended). Kingsley is always a pro. Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, and Richard Coyle all do well in the movie, but none of them steal the show quite like Molina. Sheik Amar is the most memorable character in Prince of Persia and it’s not even close. He would’ve been the Jack Sparrow of the movie, but his character was not given nearly enough screen time. It’s a very light movie that’s fun for the family and is graciously just under two hours.
Literally everything else is not good. The cast, while great, does not fit the movie whatsoever. This is Ghost in the Shell level white-washing and it’s just sad. Indy Mogul questioned why the movie didn’t go full Bollywood and it’s not a bad idea. Gyllenhaal wasn’t even a bankable star at the time and honestly still isn’t. The main gripe that people have about the movie is the script. It’s not terrible, but it is very standard. At least it has themes, despite how shoved down your throat they are. We get it, the movie is about destiny and brotherhood, but the movie still puts “destiny” on the screen at the beginning and end so that you get the message. It’s one of those scripts where if you ask any questions about the internal logic of the story, it falls apart. The romance is whatever. It’s hilarious watching the main couple kiss while the world is crumbling behind them. The villain is fine. Have you seen literally any other movie ever? Then you’ve seen this movie.
Prince of Persia did have the disadvantage of being put through development hell through the 2000s. It had to maneuver through the Writers Guild of America strike and the Screen Actors Guild strike. It’s also fair to say that Bruckheimer has a fifty percent success rate and his Disney family films are more often than not bad. During an interview for Spider-Man: Far From Home, Gyllenhaal jokes about how Dastan may not have been the best role for him to take on. It honestly might be for the best as Gyllenhaal has one of the best track records during the 2010s. It’s not hard to see how Disney would think Prince of Persia would be a big success with its recognizable franchise, notable talent involved, and $200 million budget. The poor movie was up against Sex and the City 2 and Shrek Forever After. It never stood a chance. Maybe if it had better word of mouth.
It’s sad to say, but chalk this box office bomb up as yet another video game movie that just didn’t translate to the big screen. The 2010s had a small string of video game movies that seem to be trending the genre upward, but only ever so slightly. One could make a solid argument for Prince of Persia as the best video game movie. Alas, it feels like a cross between the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the worst Mummy movie. Look at the bright side, if it was a success, then Gyllenhaal would’ve been too busy doing tired sequels instead of starring in critical successes like Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and (maybe the best of them all) Nightcrawler. Don’t watch Prince of Persia, but if you do, maybe you won’t hate it. It’s definitely a movie.
By Adam Donato
In 2005, Paul Haggis managed to write, direct, and produce Crash, a movie that tries to tackle racism with interconnected stories about people of different ethnicities coming into conflict with one another over their differences. The film was only able to get off the ground due to its ensemble cast of recognizable names like Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and… Ludacris. Domestically, it made about $50 million at the box office and doubled that number with its overseas haul. The Oscars ignored the critical controversy around the film by giving Crash three Oscars for Editing, Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. Fifteen years later, it’s interesting to see the decline in popular opinion of what was one of the best movies of 2005.
In 2006, Jack Nicholson announced Crash as Best Picture at The Oscars over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. In 2019, when Green Book won Best Picture, it was compared to Crash, as both are movies that have obvious themes about racism and didn’t deserve Best Picture. When sub-par movies are put on a pedestal or given accolades over more deserving features, they get labeled as overrated. The worst thing that could’ve happened to Crash is winning the Best Picture Oscar. This raises an important question that this review won’t be able to fully answer: What makes a movie worthy of Best Picture? Crash had the support of the Screen Actors Guild due to its all-star cast. Haggis had written the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, the Best Picture of the previous year. It was about a prevalent social/political issue. The conception of the movie is an underdog story for the ages, with Haggis having to use his own car and house as sets. So it’s understandable, in hindsight, why Crash won Best Picture. The last thing that makes a movie worthy of Best Picture (which should be the first, but we don’t live in a perfect world), is the quality of the movie itself. This begs the question: is Crash good?
No. Crash feels like the type of movie that you would show to middle school children in an effort to explain what racism is. The characters in the movie are either redeemed despite their previous bigotry or left in tragedy despite a previous track record of doing their best. A great deal of the dialogue, while probably is said by people in real life, is laughable. Characters throw around racist slang terms as insults and it usually lands in a comical fashion. Some of the scenarios the characters are put in are entirely contrived in the most ridiculous way. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when Ludacris is giving a monologue about racism, all the while playing into the stereotype he’s arguing against. The movie mostly comes across as preachy as it beats you over the head with racism. Filmmakers are supposed to manipulate the audience, but audiences don’t like knowing they’re being manipulated. Some people don’t care for the ending of Toy Story 3, because of course it’s upsetting to see your childhood toys accept death together as they are about to descend into the fiery pits of hell. It’s a cheap scare, like when a character quietly walks into a dark room and gets frightened by their cat in a horror movie. The same principle applies to Crash. The sheer volume of obvious racism in the movie is overkill. It’s fair to say this movie is catering towards the Academy voters with its shoehorned Los Angeles setting and heavy-handed morality tale.
Now, with all that being said, yes. All the negative things the previous paragraphed detailed about Crash are true, but it’s also very good in a lot of ways. The film's lack of subtly kind of makes it brilliant. It’s very possible to watch this movie as a comedy by laughing at all the cringe-worthy dialogue and insanely coincidental story. Let’s go one step further and actually pick out the good in the movie. The movie is very well-edited. The ability to find a way to connect all these stories so that the overall picture makes sense is the saving grace of this picture. No character feels like they’re gone for too long and the emotional beats are hit quite consistently. The entire cast does an amazing job, considering what they’re given to work with. Sometimes, the performances feel over-the-top, but it works because the movie is already so excessive. The soundtrack of the movie sets the tone perfectly and In the Deep by Kathleen York and Michael Becker was very deserving of its Best Original Song nomination at the Oscars. The movie is shot competently enough by cinematographer James M. Muro. Lastly, it’s clear that Haggis made the exact movie he wanted to make, which is endearing after everything he went through to make this movie happen.
The themes of the film are very complicated. In fact, that last word kind of sums of the point of the movie — it’s complicated. To err is human. There are no good or bad people in this movie. Characters, who are prejudiced learn a lesson and are redeemed. Other characters who seem virtuous discover they’re not as clean as they think and suffer for it. Just like the Avenue Q song, everyone’s a little racist. Human beings often let their differences lead to conflict, but through compassion and understanding, we can see the best in people. It’s hard to break barriers without crashing into them.
Crash is anything but subtle. It certainly is a movie that gets people to react. Whether they’re laughing or crying or angry, they feel something and that’s all the movie is trying to do. Cheadle’s character has an opening monologue about today’s people having to crash into one another just to feel something. After the Oscar backlash, Haggis admitted the movie wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it was one that stuck with people. As a person who watches movies all the time, it’s nice to watch one that sticks. If Crash makes people reflect on themselves and see the prejudices they have that prevent them from connecting with others, then that sounds like a pretty important movie. Maybe even one deserving of Best Picture.
By Adam Donato
Friday the 13th (1980) is directed by Sean S. Cunningham, an apparent genius. The film was conceptualized and marketed before the script was even written. Cunningham had the idea for the title and how giant block letters would zoom forward to break a pane of glass that would be the screen. He was given funding for a teen horror movie that would rip off Halloween (1978) by breaking it down to the bare essentials. The film stars Betsy Palmer with a cast of unknown young people, one of whom is the now household name Kevin Bacon. The massive success of the movie would spiral into what is one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time. The “story” follows a group of camp counselors trying to set up shop at a cursed campground. This is a spoiler review, so if you’ve been sitting at the bottom of a lake for the last forty years, stop reading now.
On the one hand, it’s unfair to compare Friday the 13th to Halloween, one of the greatest horror films of all time. The reason for the comparison comes from the blatant and admitted influence that Halloween has had on the Friday the 13th franchise. Jason Voorhees certainly belongs in the same group as Michael Meyers and Freddy Kreuger when it comes to horror icons, but the quality of their movies differs heavily. It’s said that the movie was going for the teen audience as the movie would be a cross between Halloween and Meatballs. A horror movie about teenagers who are cracking jokes and getting busy with each other. Regardless of the actual quality of the movie, it deserves credit for kickstarting one of the most successful horror franchises in history and standing the test of time so much so that #Voorhees starts trending on Twitter every time the thirteenth of the month ends up being on a Friday.
The movie is a horror classic, but it’s not very good at all. The story is weak and the characters are weaker. According to the producers, this was by design. Friday the 13th movie has been credited with establishing horror stereotypes concerning teenagers having sex leading to their ultimate demise. This puritanical theme has influenced horror films for decades, but apparently isn’t the intention of the movie. The director cites that he feels audiences are looking too far into it and the movie isn’t trying to say anything except “sometimes bad things happen to good people.” This isn’t a bad theme, but it’s also not as strong as what audiences think the movie has to say about the dangers of the ignorant youth of America. The negative reception from critics at the time only fueled the movie’s box office, which was a massive success making over $39 million off a $500,000 budget.
Okay, so the movie isn’t trying to make you think. Then where’s the appeal? The movie was said to purposefully have generic characters with no backstory so that the audience would be strangely unaffected when they died. The characters are boring and they have no arcs. Why do this? The film is meant to be enjoyed at base value. Stupid (and sometimes naked) young adults getting murdered by an overpowered psycho killer. One could say, the film is trying to make you laugh just as much as it’s trying to make you scared, but that’s giving the film too much credit. It’s meant to be a crowd-pleaser for teenagers to enjoy good-looking people getting murdered. Whether it’s genuinely being scared of the villain, laughing at the ridiculousness of the kills, or just waiting until one of the girls takes their tops off.
Weirdly enough, the twist ending of Friday the 13th works better in retrospect. If you’re watching the movie in 1980, then the twist of the killer being Jason Voorhees’s mother is a mundane one, especially since the puritanical themes are misinterpreting the film. Somebody watching Friday the 13th today with all of the popular culture knowledge that comes from the franchise, one would expect Jason Voorhees to walk out wearing his iconic hockey mask at the end of the first movie. This makes the twist hit harder than originally because we have some kind of relation to the killer. The first movie wastes very little time talking about the background of why the camp is cursed. A boy drowned in the lake due to the negligence of the camp counselors. The mother doesn’t show up until the third act, so she is not developed at all. Watching it now, we know Jason Voorhees, even if you haven’t seen the movies. So when you watch this movie expecting him and it turns out to be his mom, then the twist works because of your attachment to the popular character and the expectations that come with a franchise like this. In a way, Friday the 13th ages like fine wine, but not intentionally. Also, the fake-out ending with Jason grabbing the final girl out of her boat is dumb. Apparently it was meant to be a joke, which is kind of funny due to its ridiculousness, but other than that it makes no sense. That’s a big tonal shift, because how he is still alive is ambiguous, and leaving it up to interpretation on whether or not it was a dream feels cheap. This makes it a very fitting ending as the movie is the definition of cheap.
This review would not be complete if some credit was not given to Tom Savini and Harry Manfredini. Savini was sought after for his special effects makeup work on Dawn of the Dead (1978). Most of the gore is very convincing despite the clear changes in skin tone when the characters have their necks sliced. Manfredini composed what is one of the most iconic horror movie scores of all time. The decision to only have music play when the villain is present is an inspired choice and elevates the film. These two aspects are what stop the movie itself from being devoid of value.
In trying to conclude this review, it’s hard to hate this movie. It’s charmingly old, undeniably iconic, and has such an independent/underdog spirit that’s hard not to root for. It deserves credit for its impact and what it did accomplish, but as a movie, it’s trash. The characters and story are nothing, which would be fine if the movie had some compelling themes, but according to the filmmakers behind the movie, it doesn’t. If you enjoy mindless killing, endless gore, ridiculous scares, or young Kevin Bacon, then you might like this movie. Watch it in the dark with a big group of friends and have fun talking over most of it.
By Adam Donato
Eight years after the moderate success of Bad Boys in the ’90s, Michael Bay decided to direct a sequel. The movie brings back Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as their characters juggle their personal issues with each other while trying to solve another case. Since this was a sequel to a successful action movie and Will Smith was at the height of his fame in the early 2000s, Bad Boys 2 was sure to be a hit. Because of this, the movie was given a budget of more than one hundred million dollars over that of the first movie. Did all that money make this installment a better movie?
Seventeen years later, Bad Boys 2 is still one of the most iconic action movies of this century. It’s fair to see how the first movie is very much a product of its time, and the same goes for the second movie. Bay was big in the early 2000s as he had just come off of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, and would later go on to do five Transformers movies. Movies directed by Bay are easy to spot, and Bad Boys 2 just might be the most Bay movie ever. It’s shot very well, despite being too flashy. Over-the-top and mindless action sequences are hard to care about or even follow. Racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes abound throughout the entire film. A tone of hyper-masculinity dominates as the movie is riddled with guns, drugs, and women’s posteriors. If you’re looking for a movie that appeals to the male basic instincts, then Bad Boys 2 is the one for you.
Same as with the first one, the saving grace of this movie is Lawrence and Smith. The chemistry between them is very good and they are the most interesting thing on the screen. Their banter, while devoid of any sort of cleverness, is still funny due to the energy of these comedic artists. Just like the first movie, the two leads have a source of conflict between them in the form of personal problems. Mike is dating Marcus’s sister and Marcus is planning on transferring away from Mike. This sets up a more promising conflict, but both situations are resolved in the most pointless way that makes you wonder if the subplot was even necessary in the first place.
Smith has a love interest in the form of Gabrielle Union in this movie. She is an undercover cop looking for her big break as her case gets mixed up with the Bad Boys. There was little to no resolution with her character besides she helped solve the case and she kissed Mike on the beach in front of her brother at the end. Joe Pantoliano steals every scene he is in. He’s just so upset and it’s funny to try to figure out what’s going on with his hair as he goes on his angry tirades. Villains Jordi Molla and Peter Stormare are much more interesting in this movie. It’s very hard to understand what’s going on with their story, either because it’s too convoluted or it’s too boring, but at least they have plenty of personality. Also, Michael Shannon plays a disgruntled KKK member and is hilarious every time he is on screen. You’d think he is above this, but in the same year Bad Boys 2 came out, he also played the villain of Kangaroo Jack.
Compared to the first movie, it’s hard to say whether or not it’s better or worse. It’s better in the sense that the budget is higher, which makes the action scenes a lot bigger and more frequent. It seemed towards the beginning that there was gonna be more of a plot to this movie than the first one, but that was also a disappointment. The villains were more memorable, but that is probably just because they were crazy drug addicts. It looks nicer overall and is more iconic from a historical perspective. The 360º shot with the famous quote “Shit just got real” is dope. But at the same time, Bad Boys 2 has a lot working against it. It’s a half-hour longer for absolutely no reason. If the first one didn’t exist, then the sequel would be better, but knowing how disappointed Bay was with the first one, it’s discouraging to see him make the same movie with a bigger budget. They’re both not good movies, but the second one stings more because it’s hard to see filmmakers not take advantage of improved situations.
The benefit of the doubt was given with the first movie due to production issues, but the sequel doesn't have much of an excuse. It’s crazy and over the top, but there is absolutely no substance there. It’s hard to recommend this movie to anybody except twelve-year-old boys who just hit puberty. Getting off the critical film soapbox, Bad Boys 2 is exactly what you’d expect from a Bay-directed blockbuster. There’s cool action, hot girls, and funny one-liners. There is a large fanbase for this movie, so here’s to all you frat boys and middle-aged men. If you require movies to have things like a good story, character arcs, or themes, then steer clear of this spectacle of testosterone.
By Adam Donato
Bad Boys was released 25 years ago in April of 1995. The film is a Jerry Bruckheimer production and is directed by Michael Bay. It’s a buddy cop movie starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. The duo have to swap lives as they try to protect a witness and solve a narcotics case in Miami.
Bay is one of the least-respected directors in Hollywood, at least according to critics. His films prioritize action over story and are often annoyingly offensive. Bad Boys is not as bad as Transformers in those regards, but it’s close. To Bay’s credit, he usually makes a sleek-looking movie. The setting of Miami is beautiful and all the characters are very good-looking people. Action sequences are his forte and they do look good in this movie. There’s lots of explosions and gunfights for all the action junkies out there. Even Bay was annoyed with the story of the script as he called for rewrites and was given little to no resources to do so. The bit of Marcus, the married man, and Mike, the bachelor, switching lives to fool the witness goes on forever and is repetitive. The case they are solving isn’t interesting in the slightest and every time the story cuts to the bad guys, it’s a snooze fest.
The saving grace of this movie is Lawrence and Smith. The two have very good chemistry and are a lot of fun to watch bicker with each other. It’s hard to understand their backstory as you’re just kind of thrown into them being friends and being on a case. Speaking of the case, there is nothing significant about this case for the two lead characters. While they both almost died throughout, neither is given any kind of substantial character arc. They both start and end in the same place. It’s funny to imagine how much generic garbage this movie would be if the two leads weren’t so charismatic.
Tea Leoni, Joe Pantoliano, and Theresa Randle are the standouts of the supporting cast. Leoni holds her own up against the main duo. Pantoliano is very funny as he is full of energy every time he’s on-screen. Randle is a riot throughout the whole movie as she continuously gets mad at her husband for everything he does. The worst part of the supporting cast is the villain. He’s always angry and shooting people. That’s about it. Anyone looking for an antagonist with any kind of personality or depth, forget about it.
Overall, it’s hard to hate this movie. Smith in the nineties is always a treat to watch, although Lawrence does carry the movie. Seeing the iconic hero shot of the two leads and hearing the Bad Boys song playing is enough to call this movie enjoyable. This movie has enough personality to overcome the blandness of its story. Bad Boys isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s also not very good.
By Adam Donato
Pretty Woman is directed by Garry Marshall, written by J.F. Lawton, and was released on March 23, 1990. The movie stars Richard Gere as a rich businessman who hires a goofy prostitute (Julia Roberts) to be at his beck and call for the week. From a budget of fourteen million, Pretty Woman made about $463 million worldwide and has become one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time.
The driving force of this movie is the chemistry between the two romantic leads, Roberts and Gere. Roberts excels in this role as her fun personality and genuine vulnerability make her a joy to watch on screen. These qualities make her feel utterly relatable, which is a great achievement as most people would generally say they have nothing in common with a prostitute. Gere, as the straight man in this comedic duo, brings a dignified presence to this movie. Both characters have nice arcs as Roberts gives up her life of prostitution to go back to school before getting rescued by her knight in shining armor and Gere gives up his seedy business ways by diverting from his greedy lawyer to help save an old man’s naval business.
This romantic comedy stands out as the protagonist has a quite unconventional career choice. It was handled very well in the sense that the film paints her as “the safest and most self-respecting hooker on the market”, which helps. In an earlier draft of the script, Roberts’ character was to have a cocaine addiction. This was supposed to be an added conflict in the story as she was to struggle with staying sober during her week with Gere. Even darker, Roberts’ friend was supposed to overdose while she was away with Gere. While this would’ve been beautifully tragic, the film took the safer route. Roberts becomes more redeemable by the end by giving up her career as a prostitute, in favor of going back to school to get a real job. While some people may not be able to root for a prostitute, the film does a very good job of making a generally unfavorable character into one that we are rooting for by the end. The consensus is the Roberts does pull this character off as she was nominated for an Oscar and even won a Golden Globe for her performance.
The antagonist in this movie is Jason Alexander, pre-Seinfeld. His character is meant to be the devil on Gere’s shoulder as he tries to gut the old man’s naval business, while they’re still vulnerable. Alexander does a good job with what he is given. It’s just a shame that his character is made so one dimensional towards the end. There’s a route this movie could’ve taken, where you understand, from a business standpoint, why Alexander is doing everything that he is doing. Alas, once we see him force himself upon Roberts, the grey area that his character operates in this movie disappears and he is kicked out the door by Gere to the audience's delight. Then again, who’s asking for a complex antagonist in a cheesy 90’s romantic comedy.
As a whole, this movie works on every level. The writing, while standard romantic comedy fare, pulls off having such an unconventional protagonist. There are many callbacks in the movie that feel very satisfying. While the chemistry between the leads is very real, Marshall deserves a lot of credit in directing their performances. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny and the romance is sweet. Taking a grossly rich businessman with a goofy prostitute and making them feel relatable is this film’s crowning achievement. Their relationship is utterly sweet and is one that is hard not to root for.
Overall, Pretty Woman deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of romantic comedies in movie history. Being able to hold up so well after thirty years is quite impressive. Roberts and Gere are electric together on screen. Avoid this movie if you are an over the top moral conservative or if you are just not into romantic comedies. Otherwise, Pretty Woman is rightfully iconic and deserves to be seen.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.