Casanova (2005)


Casanova

Casanova doing what he does best.

(2005) Romantic Comedy (Touchstone) Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, Omid Djalili, Stephen Greif, Ken Stott, Helen McCrory, Leigh Lawson, Tim McInnerny, Charlie Cox, Natalie Dormer, Robert Levine, Lauren Cohan. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

 

All men dream of being Casanova. Not the actual man but having the same characteristics; being irresistible to women, bold, self-confident and protected by powerful friends when the chips are down. In some ways, his image has become a parody; the real man was notorious self-promoter and his memoirs are fairly unreliable, but he told a good story.

Casanova (Ledger) has been bedeviling the women of Venice to the point where the Doge (McInnerny) has been warned by the Inquisition that a Cardinal Pucci (Irons) has been sent for the sole purpose of arresting the lover. Casanova is warned to either leave the city or wed someone, this someone being Victoria (Dormer), who is loved in turn by Giovanni (Cox) and whose sister Francesca Bruni (Miller) has bewitched Casanova.

Francesca is kind of a Renaissance Gloria Steinem and espouses equality for the sexes. She despises everything Casanova stands for, therefore in keeping with Hollywood convention you know she is going to fall in love with him, although Casanova will have to impersonate her own fiancée, Papprizio (Platt) – Genoa’s own King of Lard – to win her hand.

The problem here is that Hallstrom and the writers aren’t sure whether they’re making a bedroom farce or a screwball comedy and the difference between the two is pretty significant. It’s set up to be a comedy but there are swordfights and rooftop chases. Casanova comes off like  a cut-rate Douglas Fairbanks, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those aspects are some of the movie’s highlights.

The late Heath Ledger made this the same year he made Brokeback Mountain and it was clear he was just coming into his own as an actor. He is self-assured and handsome, not relying on his looks nearly as much and beginning to show signs that his raw talent is beginning to gel, talent that would culminate in his Oscar-winning performance in The Dark Knight just three short years later. It makes his untimely passing all the more poignant.

The comedy here is mostly supplied by Djalili as Casanova’s long-suffering valet and by Platt. If you’re going to cast Platt as the King of Lard, you’d better have some scenes to back it up and Platt, one of the most underrated character actors in the past decade in my opinion, has some great moments where he gets to swashbuckle as well, and holds his own doing it. Reminds me of his work as Porthos in the 1993 version of The Three Musketeers.

It’s a shame that the script went in the modern rom-com conventional direction of boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy wins girl, girl breaks up with boy and while I don’t want to give away the ending, Helen Keller could see it coming. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the most sensitive way of putting it.

If you take the attitude that this is going to be some fun entertainment with a little titillation, not a whole lot of originality and very little historical accuracy you’re going to like this just fine. I just wonder why they didn’t use the “real” exploits of Casanova from his memoirs – some of those were far more interesting and outrageous than what we got here.

WHY RENT THIS: Ledger is superb. There is a swashbuckling feel that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Errol Flynn movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Falls back on Romance 101 clichés too often. Lacks genuine wit.

FAMILY VALUES:  This is a film about one of the world’s most legendary lovers; no surprise there is a whole lot of sexuality in it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the opening sequence, Casanova is trying to evade the Inquisition by leaping through a window into the University of Venice. There is in fact no such institution; the building he is leaping into is the Teatro Olympia, one of the first Renaissance-era theaters and located 140 km away from Venice.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a pretty solid featurette on the costume design and those costumes are rather lavish.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $37.7M on an unknown production budget; I don’t think this movie cost an enormous amount to film so I think it recouped it’s costs and maybe made a few bucks but not more than that.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Finding Nemo

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

In ancient Persia, tandem wet t-shirt contests were done with slightly different rules.

(Disney)  Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Steve Toussaint, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Reece Ritchie, Gisli Orn Garvarsson, Claudio Pacifico, Thomas DuPont, Dave Pope, Domokos Pardanyi. Directed by Mike Newell

One thing you can say about summer movies, they don’t require a great deal of brain power to enjoy. The more action and fantasy you can cram into 90 minutes, the better and if it takes you away from your cares and troubles, even more so.

Of course, the characters onscreen have plenty of cares and troubles. Take Dastan (Gyllenhaal), for example. He’s a Prince of the mighty Persian Empire, but not by birth. Wise King Sharaman (Pickup) adopted young Dastan from the streets of Baghdad after observing the boy’s bravery in standing up for another boy. Dastan has grown into a headstrong young man, a gifted fighter and a bit of a wiseass. More than a bit, perhaps.

He and his brothers Garsiv (Kebbell) and Tus (Coyle) – the latter of which is heir to the throne – are on some kind of military exercise with their Uncle Nizam (Kingsley). The plan is to attack the holy city of Alumet – which King Sharaman has expressly forbidden them to do, mind you – but whom their intelligence has led them to believe is supplying their enemies with weapons. The leader of Alumet, Princess Tamina (Arterton) is understandably peeved, considering her people have done no wrong.

Still, the city seems impregnable enough until Prince Dastan discovers a weakness in the defenses and leads the troops into the city, even though he’s been expressly forbidden to….hmmm, seems there was a lot of that going around in the Persian royal court. In order to mitigate the issue, the decent Tus offers to marry Tamina in order to…well, politics was never my strong suit.

King Sharaman, upon hearing that his sons have disobeyed direct orders, comes to Alumet to celebrate. He is promptly poisoned and Dastan blamed. He escapes with the aid of Tamina. It turns out that an elaborate dagger, which appears to be purely ceremonial in nature, is the weapon of mass destruction that Dick Chaney was looking for after all.

This dagger can cause time to rewind a few minutes, with only the wielder of the dagger aware of the change. It can only go back a few minutes because that’s all the sands of time that the dagger can hold. There is an unlimited supply of the stuff underneath the city of Alumet, but in order to obtain enough to send the dagger-wielder back in time for any length of time, Armageddon would have to be unleashed but that little drawback doesn’t stop the villain of the piece from wanting to do just that.

The villain – oh, you know who it is, don’t you? – has also hired a secret society of assassins (try saying that five times fast) – to retrieve the dagger and eliminate the pesky prince and princess. They escape into the desert, on their way to the funeral of King Sharaman to warn…well, the bad guy because….oh my head hurts.

In any case, on the way they run into a wacky sheikh (Molina) who makes his fortune on rigged ostrich races and bad mouths any sort or form of taxation (he’s the original Tea Bagger) while keeping a taciturn knife-throwing expert (Toussaint) from Namibia (or some such place). This makes complete sense. The sheikh means to collect the hefty reward that is out on Dastan’s head but they escape by…ummm…causing a riot at an ostrich race by opening a crate of scimitars and…ummm…okay I’m done with the plot.

Okay, you’re not going to go to see a movie based on a videogame because of its intricate plot. You’re probably not going to go to see it because of its acting performances either. No, you’re going to go see it because of the eye candy and the action. On both scores, Prince of Persia gets high marks, particularly the former. The cities of ancient Persia, rendered digitally, look marvelous with the practical sets resembling the hinterlands depicted in Gladiator and Hidalgo pretty much.

Gyllenhaal probably wouldn’t have been my first choice to play Dastan, but he acquits himself nicely. Dastan is an athletic sort who combines parkour-like moves with some nifty sword work. It all works out to a pretty good approximation of The Thief of Baghdad, the granddaddy of this kind of film. Gyllenhaal is no Errol Flynn, but he carries enough offbeat charm to make the character memorable. Arterton delivers a performance from the feisty princess school of acting. It’s not groundbreaking, nor is her chemistry with Gyllenhaal particularly sizzling; she’s insanely easy to look at however and at least comes by her British accent honestly. Gyllenhaal effects one and it isn’t too bad, but it gets distracting now and again when it comes out strained.

Molina is one of the most reliable actors in the business and brings a light touch to the picture. Whenever he’s onscreen, he makes a mark and improves the movie. Kingsley lends gravitas – it’s not often you get an actor of his calibre in a videogame adaptation – and adds subtleties to his performance that you wouldn’t expect to find at a movie like this. That may go completely ignored by the average moviegoer, but I found it refreshing and surprising.

Given the political situation there now, it’s hard sometimes to remember that the Middle East was considered a romantic place, full of adventure going back to the days of Rudolph Valentino. Prince of Persia resurrects that romance, adding some surprising political jabs on both sides of the aisle (finally, a movie that both Bill Maher and Glenn Beck can both love). It’s mindless, its fun and everything you could want from a summer movie.

REASONS TO GO: Magnificent production design, from the ancient cities to the intricate weapons. Action sequences are exciting and frenetic.

REASONS TO STAY: Gyllenhaal’s faux English accent is distracting at times.  

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect from a videogame adaptation, there is a great deal of action and violence, but nothing the average teen hasn’t seen in videogames and television. If you’re okay with them playing the videogame, there should be no problem with them seeing the movie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Other than the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this is the only PG-13 rated movie Disney has ever released under its Disney banner.

HOME OR THEATER: Big screen, without a doubt. The fantastic vistas have to be seen on as big a medium as possible.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Winter’s Bone