March 29, 2011

ARCHIVE REVIEWS: “Prince of Persia” and “Moon”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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SOURCE CODE is this weekend’s major live-action opening, so here’s a look at some recent work by its star Jake Gyllenhaal and its director Duncan Jones.
Gyllenhaal has had a curious Hollywood career thus far, and PRINCE OF PERSIA:  THE SANDS OF TIME, far from his most auspicious moment, was his first pre-Source Code attempt to carry a Hollywood action movie.  Gyllenhaal started out playing sensitive teens in pictures like October Sky and the cult-hit Donnie Darko, and eased his way into sensitive young men roles in The Good Wife and Moonlight Mile.  He made his big-ticket Hollywood debut in The Day After Tomorrow, which made a pile of money, although relatively little of it was attributed to him.  The following year, he scored a major critical and indie box-office hit with Brokeback Mountain–but again, it was co-star Heath Ledger who won the Best Actor nomination, while Gyllenhaal was relegated to Supporting.  In the half-dozen years since, Gyllenhaal has made largely interesting choice that haven’t paid off at the box-office (Zodiac, Jarhead, Rendition, Love and Other Drugs, Brothers).  He, and no doubt his advisors, decided it was time for a blockbuster action franchise.
Unfortunately, Prince of Persia wasn’t it.  Based on a video game and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the film offered plenty of CG creatures, time travel, and PG-13 violence.  But the picture, directed by the usually
very fine Mike Newell (whose credits include the much better fantasy adventure Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), was burdened by a lousy script (credited to Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, although as with most Bruckheimer epic one assumes there were other contributors).  And Gyllenhaal, although he had buffed himself up to play a shirtless hero, was about as convincing a Persian prince as–well, as Seth Rogen would be as the Green Hornet (if you could imagine such a thing).  The picture was made with everything except imagination, emotional commitment or a spirit of fun, and on a rumored $200M budget (meaning closer to $350M when global marketing costs are included), it made $335M.  (It also did over 70% of its business overseas, a phenomenon discussed in Mitch Metcalf’s column today.) Not the way to start a franchise, or a mainstream Hollywood action career.  On Starz networks and homevideo:  Still Not Worth Seeing.
Duncan Jones’ MOON is an entirely different kind of fantasy.  Written by Nathan Parker (from a story by Jones), it’s an indie brain-teasing piece of sci-fi.  It concerns an astronaut (Sam Rockwell) stationed on the moon under a corporate contract to periodically send fuel back to Earth.  He’s completely isolated except for his computer sidekick (voice of Kevin Spacey).  And then one day he discovers that he has an exact double on the moon with him.  Is the other him a hallucination?  A clone?  The movie cleverly questions identity and existential purpose, all within the context of a puzzle thriller.  Jones’ modest first film was screened and bought at Sundance, and on a very minimal budget managed to gross $10M worldwide, enough to get Jones promoted to a moderate Hollywood budget and the chance to work with a movie star like Jake Gyllenhaal.  On Starz networks and homevideo; At Home In Your Home
–Mitch Salem

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."