PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (2010). To say that this isn't as bad as other films adapted from video games is a bit like saying that day-old roadkill doesn't smell as bad as week-old roadkill: It isn't praise so much as it's looking for the silver lining in an otherwise unfortunate situation. Certainly, Prince of Persia is far better than such wretched works as Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, but it's still little more than an average fantasy flick. The plot concerns the efforts of a buff prince (a game but miscast Jake Gyllenhaal) to aid a princess (dull Gemma Arterton) in protecting a mystical dagger from falling into the wrong hands. The blade, you see, has the power to turn back time, although the specifics of this procedure seem to change at the writers' whims as well as sometimes allow the holder to end up at the most convenient points in time imaginable. As expected, the film is packed with CGI effects, some more believable than others. The only original characters are the ostriches, and it must be noted that they deliver the best performances. The film takes chances with the fates of some of the characters but then serves up an ending that leaves the viewer feeling absolutely cheated. I won't reveal how this plays out, but let's just say that this device should be retired right alongside the hoary "It's all a dream."
DVD extras are limited to a 16-minute making-of featurette and trailers.
THE SQUARE (2010). The Square recalls one of cinema's all-time classic lines, that moment in 1981's Body Heat when Kathleen Turner's femme fatale Matty Walker studies William Hurt's gullible Ned Racine and declares, "You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man." The Square's Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom) isn't clever — or evil — like Matty, but Raymond Yale (David Roberts) is an even bigger clod than Ned. He's like the Inspector Clouseau of reluctant criminals, bumbling his way through an ill-conceived plan and accidentally causing someone's death every time he turns around. An Australian neo-noir directed by Nash Edgerton and written by his brother Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner, The Square is one of the few twisty thrillers of recent vintage that manages to keep audience members happily off-balance. The setup is basic: Lower-class Carla discovers a hidden satchel of money belonging to her thuggish husband (Anthony Hayes) and talks her married lover Raymond, a well-to-do architect, into helping her steal it so that they can split town and live happily ever after. They hire an arsonist (Joel Edgerton, handing himself a plum role) to burn down the Smith household to conceal the theft, but because the thieving couple are strictly amateur hour, matters take a deadly turn right from the start. The film's screenplay is a fine construction, full of memorable characters as well as throwaway lines that eventually figure into the proceedings (oh, that poor dog!). The ingenuity extends to the title, which harbors at least three distinct meanings. And at the center of it all is hapless Raymond, merely the latest in a long line of cinematic losers who learn the hard way that crime doesn't pay. But we shouldn't be too hard on the guy: When the biggest twist arrives near the end of the film, we realize we've been as snookered as Raymond.
DVD extras include 25 minutes of deleted scenes; a 30-minute making-of piece; three scene deconstructions; and Spider, Joel Edgerton's short film that played with The Square during its theatrical run.
STARCRASH (1979). Many of us fortunate enough to have been kids when the Star Wars explosion occurred in 1977 spent the rest of our youths obsessed with all things science fiction. (This might help explain why the woeful TV series Battlestar: Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century managed to last more than one episode apiece, but I digress.) At the tender age of 13, I personally couldn't get enough of Starcrash, Italy's low-budget answer to George Lucas' blockbuster. The film was picked up stateside by Roger Corman (indeed, this new DVD release comes courtesy of the Roger Corman's Cult Classics line), but I actually caught it while living in Portugal, where it played at a local theater longer than one would deem healthy for the minds of impressionable lads and lasses. Obviously, it was no Star Wars, but damn if it didn't get the job done for those seeking more fantasy-laced thrills. Of course, seeing the movie again as an adult, it's an embarrassment — was I really that easy to please as a teen? — but to paraphrase The Godfather: Part III, just when I thought I was out, it pulls me back in. This isn't a bad movie like The Switch or Grown Ups, where even once is too much; this is the type to be savored again and again, like a patented Ed Wood mess-terpiece. The main reason it appealed to my virginal 13-year-old eyes was, of course, beauteous Caroline Munro, who, as heroine Stella Star, dressed like nobody in the Star Wars universe. Munro, whom I had remembered from earlier roles opposite James Bond, Sinbad and Dracula, proved to be a memorable leading lady, even if this British thespian had to suffer the indignity of being dubbed by a Yank actress. Even with this unfortunate handicap, Munro is, ahem, perfect as Stella Star, a space outlaw who attempts to save the universe from the cackling villain Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). Surely the similarity of the name Zarth to Darth is a coincidence, equally as dictated by chance as the fact that this film includes characters fighting with sabers made of light, spaceships that can suddenly take off at warp speed, and a climactic assault upon a death sta— uh, thingee. But Starcrash also gives us sights previously unimagined by Star Wars, including a robot with a Southern (not British!) accent, a planet populated by Amazon hotties (smelly Jawas need not apply) and rising young actor David Hasselhoff wearing as much mascara as Munro. And for street cred, there's a decent score by John Barry (listen carefully and you can hear strains that he would later use in his Oscar-winning Out of Africa soundtrack) as well as a competent, somber — and therefore dull — turn by Christopher Plummer as "The Emperor." The way The Emperor saves everyone at the last possible nanosecond — well, it's unlikely that even The Force could top this neat trick.
DVD extras include a 12-page booklet by author Stephen Romano (whose experiences with the film often mirror my own — and doubtless those of a million other guys who came of age at the time); audio commentary by Romano in which he discusses the film's history; a separate audio commentary in which Romano breaks down scenes; 17 deleted and extended sequences (mostly footage that was trimmed by Corman from the international print to make it speedier for U.S. audiences); a 73-minute interview with Munro; a 40-minute interview with director Luigi Cozzi (aka Lewis Coates); 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage; and theatrical trailers.
Rating For Caroline Munro Fans, Sci-Fi Completists & Bad-Movie Buffs: ****
Rating For The Rest Of Humanity: *