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Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time



Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an epic action-adventure film based on the Ubisoft video game of the same name. Set in medieval Persia, the story's central plot focuses on an adventurous prince who reluctantly teams up with a rival princess to stop a ruthless ruler from unleashing a sandstorm that will scour the face of the earth. Director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) attempts to create a film of epic proportions that falls a bit short of its predecessors.

Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) was born and raised a pauper, but after king Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) witnesses an act of bravery by Dastan, he is welcomed into the royal household. As an adopted prince and brother, Dastan enjoys wrestling with his men to the politics of the kingdom, leaving the future leadership to brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). The brothers invade the holy city of Alamut after their Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) convinces them that the citizens of Alamut are providing weapons to their enemies. Dastan isn't fully convinced, but rather than disagree with his brothers he instead leads a successful and heroic attack on the city. There he meets the mysterious and beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who is guardian to an ancient dagger that is a gift from the gods. Through chance, Dastan discovers the dagger's exceptional power -- by releasing the Sands of Time contained in the hilt, the possessor can reverse time. It doesn't take long for Dastan to realize that the dagger is the ultimate weapon -- someone with malicious intentions could use the dagger to rule the world.

Review: Sex and the City 2


Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City 2 has a lot going on. The cast is large (so many cameos!), the storylines are many, puns -- and crotch shots -- abound, the budget is sizable, and the movie clocks in at just less than 2.5 hours.  Could the movie have been simpler? Sure, but then it wouldn't be Sex and the City.

The film begins with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), our narrator, reminiscing about when she met Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in NYC; this is mainly an opportunity to show how the ladies look in 1980s era fashion. From there the story moves to Connecticut, where Anthony and Stanford are getting married by Liza Minnelli (their wedding hall looks like something out of The Gay Divorcee).

Carrie is still getting used to her role as Big's wife, Charlotte's two daughters are overwhelming her (despite the help of her Irish nanny), Miranda is working with a sexist boss, and Samantha is dealing with aging. These are the basic plot threads through the film. The first portion of the film feels like a standalone episode of the former TV show, but then the ladies travel to Abu Dhabi.

Review: MacGruber



You can read more of contributor Laurie Coker's reviews and features at True View Reviews.

Throughout the screening of MacGruber at SXSW this year, the audience laughed riotously and cheered. Afterwards we had the pleasure of meeting the cast in a Q&A session and hilarity abounded. Admittedly, I chuckled during the film, based on a Saturday Night Live sketch that spoofs one of my favorite old televisions shows, MacGyver. Still, I am not into silly, sometimes sick, stupid, over-the-top humor like my husband, so some of the film had me head in hand, thinking "Are you kidding me?" To be fair, I am not familiar with the skits on SNL created and made famous by comedians Will Forte and Kristen Wiig, so I went in not knowing what to expect, but if the audience reaction says anything, I most definitely was in the minority that night.

Forte plays MacGruber, a pseudo-MacGyver character who sports a mullet-like haircut and a cherry-red muscle car and seems permanently trapped in a particularly terrible 80s action movie or sitcom. In the SNL sketches, MacGruber's entire life consisted of trying to defuse something, only to be distracted just long enough for the bomb to go off and kill them all, but this would not do in a feature-length film, especially one hoping to garner sequels. So in the movie, he is a sort of uber-commando hired to stop an evil plot by a villain named Cunth (Val Kilmer) – yes, Cunth. The villain's name basically speaks volume to the kind of humor that makes up the rightly R-rated MacGruber.

DVD Review: The Messenger


The MessengerFor much of the last decade, most films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to find audiences or garner much critical praise. From The Situation to Home of the Brave to Stop Loss, war-related films usually opened to tepid reviews and disappeared with little notice. As America's two wars dragged on, filmgoers showed little interest in seeing the carnage at their local multiplex, and critics dismissed most of the films as clichéd or unrealistic.

And then, of course, The Hurt Locker changed everything. A brilliant multi-Oscar winner and solid box office success, Kathryn Bigelow's harrowing tale of an Army bomb squad proved that an exceptionally well made Iraq war film could indeed satisfy critics and audiences.

Unfortunately, somewhat lost in the glare of Oscar-season hype surrounding The Hurt Locker was another glowingly reviewed, Oscar-nominated, must-see Iraq war film released late last year -- The Messenger, available today on DVD and Blu-ray. Directed and co-written by Oren Moverman, the film first screened locally during Austin Film Festival in 2009.

A rawly emotional and yet thoughtful story, The Messenger follows two Army officers assigned to what is perhaps the military's toughest duty: casualty notification. It is their mostly thankless job to tell the next of kin, face to face, that their loved ones have been killed.

The younger of the two officers is Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), freshly returned from a tour in Iraq and still recovering from serious injuries from a bomb blast. With only a few months left in his enlistment, Montgomery is understandably unhappy with his final duty assignment. He also takes an immediate dislike to his new partner and mentor, Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a career soldier whose by-the-book mentality and emotional detachment make Montgomery's job all the more unpleasant.

Review: Exit Through The Gift Shop


Banksy art

Street art fascinates me -- although I can't recall seeing an artist in action, I've often wondered about the process of late-night tagging and wheatpasting. How did someone manage to paint the Roman symbol of Venus on the train trestle over Lady Bird Lake? The most well-known street art in Austin has to be Daniel Johnston's "Hi, How Are You?" mural with Jeremiah the Frog on the Drag, and the Flickr: Austin Street Art documents the vast and diverse street art on our city streets. Many people discredit this art as street vandalism, but a new documentary shows a different view of this fringe art form, including the hypocrisies and controversies surrounding street art.

Narrated by actor Rhys Ifans (Greenberg, Pirate Radio), Exit Through the Gift Shop is the first film from infamous street artist Banksy from the Bristol underground scene. Although his name might not be familiar to most, his reputation has spanned the globe. In 2004 in the Louvre, Banksy hung a picture he had painted resembling the Mona Lisa but with a yellow smiley face. In June 2007 Banksy created a circle of plastic portable toilets -- nicknamed "Portaloo Sunset" -- to resemble Stonehenge at the Glastonbury Festival, not far from the "sacred circle." Deemed inappropriate, his interactive installation itself was vandalized before the festival even opened. Most recently, an artistic feud developed between Banksy and his rival King Robbo after Banksy painted over a 24-year-old Robbo piece on the banks of London's Regent Canal. "Team Robbo" retaliated by painting over several Banksy pieces in London.

Review: The Secret in Their Eyes


It's little wonder that the stunning crime thriller The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Argentine import, opening Friday at the Arbor, is all at once lyrical, brutal, poignant and provocative, an intimate and personal journey with much broader implications about the nature of justice.

Equal parts police procedural, psychological thriller and love story, The Secret in Their Eyes is the story of recently retired criminal investigator Benjamín Esposito (Ricardo Darín), who in 1999 decides to write a novel based on a 25-year-old rape and murder case that still haunts him. The story is told largely in flashbacks to 1974, following Esposito and his colleagues as they investigate the crime.

Like many horrific crimes, the murder claims many victims beyond Liliana Coleto (Carla Quevedo), the young woman who is brutalized and killed. Her husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), lives with long-term grief and emptiness that drive him to irrational behavior; for months, he deludes himself into thinking he'll find the killer by waiting for him every day in a train station. Esposito and his alcoholic partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), may be hardened cops, but they develop an obsession with the case that jeopardizes their careers as they break rules to find evidence and clash with superiors to keep the case open.

Review: Letters to Juliet


Still from "Letters to Juliet" from Rotten TomatoesI attended the screening of Letters to Juliet the day that Lynn Redgrave's death was announced, so it was both refreshing and bittersweet to see her older sister Vanessa in the film. Vanessa Redgrave always gives a quality performance, no matter the size of the role. Even so, her role in this film isn't as large as I would have liked.

The main character is Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker for The New Yorker, engaged to hot chef Victor (Gael García Bernal). As viewers we are expected to suspend our disbelief that on their salaries -- and less than a month before Victor's new restaurant opening -- the couple can afford a pre-wedding trip to Genoa, Italy. Okay.

During their stay in Italy (lushly shot, I might add), Victor drags Sophie along to various foodie stops, while she wants to see the sights. They end up amicably spending time away from each other, and on a solo walk around Genoa, Sophie stumbles upon Juliet's house.

In the courtyard, women leave notes to Shakespeare's celebrated character. At the end of the day, these notes are collected and Juliet's secretaries answer them. Sophie helps them and discovers a 50-year-old letter written by a young Brit about her regretted decision to leave her boyfriend Lorenzo. Soon Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her orange-hued, twentysomething grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) meet Sophie and they start on a search for Lorenzo.

Review: A Surprise in Texas


A Surprise in Texas

The story of Nobuyuki Tsujii is truly inspiring. Blind since birth, the Japanese classical pianist has not let his disability prevent him from becoming a renowned musician who has won accolades the world over for his amazing talent.

The new documentary A Surprise in Texas chronicles Tsujii's stellar performances at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the world's most prestigious musical competitions. The film, which opens Friday at the Arbor, follows Tsujii and a half-dozen other young competitors during the grueling three-week event. Produced and directed by veteran documentarian Peter Rosen for the Van Cliburn Foundation, A Surprise in Texas is a pleasant enough peek into the world of the Van Cliburn competition. But while it captures the power of the concert performances, it's far less successful at humanizing most of the performers or turning a compelling subject into a compelling film.

Review: Babies


Bayar of Babies

When an environmentally conscious friend told me that he and his wife planned to follow a primitive cultural practice of not using diapers on their firstborn son, I was intrigued -- how is this done? Award-winning French filmmaker Thomas Balmes and writer/producer Alain Chabat shed some light on this question and many other cultural habits in the documentary Babies, originally titled Bebe(s), opening in Austin theaters today. This amusing and inspiring film provides a charming cross-cultural vision of one year in the life of four babies from around the world, from Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo.

Babies simultaneously follows the wee ones from birth to first steps: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.

We Interrupt This Fest Coverage to Bring You Robert Downey Jr. and DJ Jon Favreau in Austin


Iron Man 2You were expecting some Cine Las Americas news this morning, right? I didn't make it to the one fest screening at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar on Tuesday night. I was at another screen in the same theater for a special star-studded screening of Iron Man 2 complete with gifts, Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau.

I don't have pictures, in part because no cameras were allowed in the theater -- and yes, at least one sneaky type was escorted out for bringing in a cell phone despite multiple warnings not to do so Security was tight, and for good reason. This was the first public screening of Iron Man 2 apart from the film's red-carpet premiere.

The event was the hot-ticket item for movies in Austin tonight, which is saying something. Every screen at the Alamo on South Lamar was booked already, most for special events, so there was no chance of an overflow screen being used. We were all seated about an hour early but in this digital age, so few of us had watches that it felt surreal.

When the event finally began, we were told we would see a video intro to the film, which has been done at special screenings before. But some of us just knew that this wasn't going to be a simple sneak peek. The gal next to me, who has a crush on director Jon Favreau, thought I was pulling her leg when I said I was absolutely sure he'd show. Not that I was told anything, but he was here for the very first Fantastic Fest's opening-night film (Zathura), so why wouldn't he be here ... especially since the twitterpation about this event started with him tweeting about this special screening? The video was a snarky comedy bit with Favreau trying to wrangle Downey's snipes about geeks. I told my seatmate to keep an eye on the doors, and she was enthusiastically surprised to see Favreau walk in.

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