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DID YOU READ

“Prince of Persia” Rules Two Worlds

“Prince of Persia” Rules Two Worlds (photo)

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Movies and video games. Video games and movies. Over the last half-decade, the two have linked to each other in an awkward conceptual waltz, like something out of a junior high school mixer. As game developers and film studios twirl each other around, dreams about attaining cinema’s Aesthetic Legitimacy fill the head of the former. Aesthetic Legitimacy was granted to movies in some shadowy rite long ago and, ever since, no one ever questions whether celluloid creations are art anymore.

Often trumpeted as the future of storytelling, the video game medium pines away for and ofttimes thinks it deserves Aesthetic Legitimacy. Meanwhile, movie producers just want to rub up against video games’ Earning Potential. Feature films have found themselves beset by diminishing box-office returns and look longingly at the blockbuster numbers that games like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and “Grand Theft Auto IV” have racked up.

Both mediums rely on visual tropes and camera work to entertain, so why shouldn’t they dance? Alas, nearly every time games and movies have tried to cut a rug, the result’s been embarrassed flailing that might be initially tantalizing but ultimately fails to turn anybody on.

Games have interactivity as their north pole, where movies operate on delivering spectacle, and there’s been much debate about why concepts that start in one medium have such rough fortunes in the other. For every excellent Chronicles of Riddick game that lets players roam those movies’ bleak sci-fi corridors, there’s been the “Doom” movie or any Uwe Boll endeavor. No formula for success really exists.

05282010_pop2.jpgSo it’s a rare thing that “Prince of Persia” arrives rather successfully on both the movie and game fronts. Disney’s unleashing “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” on multiplexes nationwide after a deafening wave of hype. At a recent screening, more than a few audience members were heard to remark how they’ve played one iteration or another of the swashbuckling action games. And, this comes after last week’s release of “Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands,” a new game clearly meant to capitalize on the film’s big-budget marketing.

The “Prince of Persia” phenomenon started with a 1989 Apple II game singlehandedly written and programmed by Jordan Mechner, then 24 years old. The ingenious game design and smooth, lifelike animation immediately captivated players. The game’s plot concerns a vizier who takes control of ancient Persia while its king is away at war and gives the realm’s princess an hour to marry him or lose her life. With an hourglass progressing in the background, the player controls a visiting prince from a faraway land who’d been locked up by the vizier and must brave deathtraps and swordsmen to rescue the princess.

05282010_pop4.jpgIn an era where the motivations of most games was simply to rack up a high score or get from one end of a room to another, the original “Prince of Persia” won accolades for even having a story. In 2003, Mechner and publisher Ubisoft rebooted the game as “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” The much more powerful technology of the PS2, Xbox and GameCube didn’t change the story-centric approach. The characters were more fleshed out, and the plot was tweaked to introduce mystical elements like the titular sands, which allowed players to rewind or freeze time. “Sands of Time” — which blossomed into a trilogy — combined an “Arabian Nights” influence with Errol Flynn acrobatics, great voicework and a narrative that unfolded itself cleverly.

The film version of “Sands of Time” doesn’t have any of the crippling self-loathing possessed by so many game-adapted movies. In adapting genre source material, it’s a honeyed trap to be slavishly faithful (see Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” as exhibit A). Instead, director Mike Newell takes a game that already had a strong voice and cleverly extrapolates its themes, world and central character.

05282010_pop5.jpgIn the games, the Prince has long been nameless, but the movie dubs him Dastan. He’s a street urchin adopted by the king, who sees the spark of greatness in the orphan. When Dastan — played by a beefed-up Jake Gyllenhaal — and his two brothers grow up, rumors of warmongering send them and an army to the land of Alamut to suss out the supposed weapons massing there.

During the film’s first big action sequence, Dastan acquires the dagger that will later let him turn back time. Betrayals lead to the King’s death, and Dastan gets blamed, whereafter he goes on the run with Tamina (Gemma Atherton), Alamut’s captured princess. As he tries to figure out who framed him, Dastan learns from Tamina that a massive elemental time machine lies beneath Alamut; his uncle Nizam — a vizier stand-in portrayed with restraint and relish by Ben Kingsley — wants control of the Sands of Time to rewrite history and make himself king. Kingsley shines as the movie’s big bad, playing the Iago-like Nizam as simmering and later spiky. The former Gandhi deserves mad props for picking up a sword and going for broke with the much younger Gyllenhaal, too.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.