Video Verdict: ‘Prince of Persia,’ ‘Letters to Juliet,’ ‘Just Wright,’ ‘Glee’

Jake Gyllenhaal is armed and dangerous in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."

Romance must be in the air, as two of this week’s high-profile video releases are love stories. But don’t worry if you’re not into the mushy stuff. We’re also getting a big-budget action film starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Disney
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Movies based on video games have a pretty bad track record, at least when judged on worthy criteria … like quality. That makes it a pleasant surprise when a film bucks that trend.

Enter “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a swashbuckling adventure that was inspired by a videogame franchise but stands on its own. Give the credit to director Mike Newell, a solid team of screenwriters and a cast that would be at home working on much more serious material.

The movie is set in ancient Persia and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan, an orphan who is adopted by the Persian king and raised as one of his sons. As Dastan ages, he becomes a trusted member of the royal family … until he is betrayed and forced into exile alongside a beautiful princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton).

While on the run, Dastan learns that luck – or perhaps fate – has entrusted him with a mystical dagger with the power to turn back time, a minute or so at a time. He doesn’t much care about the weapon, though. All he really wants is his old life back.

The plotting, which is usually a weak point in videogame films, is surprisingly compelling, and Gyllenhaal and his co-stars, including Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina, sell the material with gusto. Add in some of the best stunt sequences of 2010, and you have a videogame movie that puts the joy back in joystick.

“Prince of Persia” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Extra features vary.

Letters to Juliet
1 star
Rated PG for some rude behavior and sensual images, some language and incidental smoking
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

It would be possible to build a good movie around the Casa di Giulietta, a building in Verona, Italy, where visitors leave love notes addressed to William Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet. Someday a creative director will make that film, and he or she will likely look at director Gary Winick’s “Letters to Juliet” as a lesson on what not to do.

In the film, Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie, a budding journalist who travels to Verona on a pre-honeymoon vacation with her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal). To her dismay, Victor sees the journey as a work trip (he’s opening an Italian restaurant in New York and needs to meet vendors), so she is left to tour Verona alone. While doing so, she stumbles upon members of the Club di Giulietta, a group devoted to answering all the mail that makes its way to the Casa di Giulietta.

Sophie is welcomed into the club’s fold and even given the opportunity to answer a love letter – one that was secretly hidden at the Casa decades ago. Against all likelihood, Sophie’s note strikes a chord with an elderly woman named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) who left her lover in Verona when she was quite young. Claire is so moved by Sophie’s words that she goes in search of her long-lost man.

Claire’s grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), isn’t happy about the quest and he lets Claire know that. Still, he sticks by his grandmother’s side, even when she agrees to let Sophie document their adventures for a news story.

“Letters to Juliet” may sound sweet but as executed by Winick it becomes a soulless slog. Of course, Claire has a hard time finding her lover, meaning viewers are treated to a seemingly endless string of sequences where she meets “Mr. Wrong.” In the meantime, Charlie and Sophie bicker, which can mean only one thing in a romantic comedy.

“Letters to Juliet” is painfully predictable and the relationships portrayed never seem fully formed or believable. Add the fact that everybody in the Italian-set movie speaks English and you have a good idea of the craftsmanship that went into the picture. If Shakespeare had been so careless, there wouldn’t be tourist attractions named after his characters.

The movie is available as a standard DVD with no extra features or as a DVD/Blu-ray combo disc with deleted and extended scenes, a making-of featurette and an audio commentary by Winick and Seyfried.

Just Wright
2½ stars
Rated PG for some suggestive material and brief language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Queen Latifah is such a natural performer that she’s capable of making good movies great and average movies better than they should be. Since “Just Wright” falls into the latter category, director Sanaa Hamri owes her leading lady a big debt.

Latifah doesn’t save the film but she makes it a lot easier to overlook the flaws, the main one being a relentlessly predictable Michael Elliot script.

The action centers on Leslie Wright (Latifah), a single physical therapist and devoted New Jersey Nets fan (yes, there are a few of them out there). She gets the thrill of her lifetime when, after a game, she runs into the Nets’ star player, a down-to-Earth guy named Scott McKnight (the rapper Common). The two chat, hit it off, and he invites Leslie to his upcoming birthday party. Then, Leslie makes the mistake of inviting her gold digging cousin Morgan (Paula Patton) to tag along.

Morgan is self-centered, manipulative and eternally on the hunt for a man who will better her station in life, so it doesn’t take long for her to set her sites on Scott. And, predictably, he falls into her trap.

Things get complicated, however, when Scott suffers a major injury midway through the season. With his career in doubt, he turns to Leslie to nurse him back to health and that sets the stage for romantic tension.

Latifah is believable and truly likeable in the starring role and Common and Patton pull their weight. If Elliot’s script had been more inventive, “Just Wright” could have become one of 2010’s better romantic comedies. But movies and sports are full of “what ifs,” and meditating on them doesn’t do any good at all.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of featurettes and a gag reel.

Glee: The Complete First Season
3½ stars
Unrated
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“Glee” was one of the breakout hits of the 2009-2010 television season for good reason. The writing is clever, the performances are strong and the music is just plain great.

The show centers on the members of a show choir at a fictional Ohio high school, and the first season follows their efforts to keep their always-struggling program afloat long enough to win at sectionals. Key players include choir director Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison); his star performer, Rachel Berry (Lea Michele); jock-turned-singer Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith); and Finn’s girlfriend, Quinn (Dianna Agron). Also playing an important role is Jayne Lynch, a wonderful comedian who gets to ham it up as the pompous school cheerleading coach.

Each episode of season one features a handful of beautifully orchestrated songs (generally pop tunes arranged for choir), and a number of them became hits on iTunes. If the music and cast don’t win you over, the storytelling might because “Glee” is filled with oddball characters and the type of wacky plotting that always keeps viewers guessing. No wonder fans are proud to call themselves Gleeks.

The Complete First Season is available as part of a seven-DVD or four-Blu-ray set, and extra features include extended episodes, sing-along karaoke and never-aired scenes.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“America – The Story of Us”: Twelve-part series that takes an in-depth look at the history of the United States. The program, which originally aired on History, uses a variety of techniques – including computer-generated graphics and dramatic recreations – to tell our nation’s story. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

“Boogie Woogie”: Set in London, this dark comedy is centered on an eclectic group of artists, collectors and art dealers who will stop at nothing to serve their own interests. Gillian Anderson, Heather Graham, Alan Cumming, Christopher Lee, Danny Huston and Amanda Seyfried star.

“Two Tickets to Paradise”: Three aging guys reunite for a road trip to the College Football Championship and a shot at regaining some of the glory they had in high school. John C. McGinley, D.B. Sweeny, Moira Kelly and Ed Harris star.

“Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare”: New animated movie in which Scooby and the gang are having a grand time at camp until the creepy creatures from campfire stories start coming to life.

“Barbie – A Fashion Fairytale”: In this animated film, Barbie learns that her aunt’s fashion house is going out of business. So, she enlists the help of three magical fairies and comes up with a plan to save the day.

StudioCanal Blu-ray releases: Lionsgate is rolling out Blu-ray editions of two award-winning films as part of its StudioCanal Collection. On tap are “The Third Man” and “Delicatessen.” The latter is a 1991 French movie set in a post-apocalyptic world. Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it was nominated for 10 Cesar Awards, and won best editing, best first work, best production design and best writing. “The Third Man” is a much-loved 1949 thriller that was included on the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies list. The film was directed by Carol Reed, and it stars Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard and Alida Valli.

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications.

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5 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

5 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Prince of Persia,’ ‘Letters to Juliet,’ ‘Just Wright,’ ‘Glee’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    Maybe it is a sign of how bad the romantic comedies have been this year but I really liked Just Wright. I thought the chemistry was good and I appreciated it was clean- only PG.
    Yes, its predictable- but aren’t all rom coms?

    Like

  2. You’re right that most are predictable. But there are a few — “Say Anything” is a nice example — that exceed expectations.

    I certainly like the cast of “Just Wright.” I just didn’t like knowing exactly what was going to happen from the start.

    Like

  3. i am a certified Gleek and i really love the TV Show GLEE. Diana is very pretty ~;.

    Like

  4. I’m with you. “Glee” is great. Thanks for dropping by my site.

    Like

  5. Pingback: 2010 in review |

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