REVIEW: Robin Hood

29 05 2010

I almost gave up hope on “Robin Hood,” but I’m glad I didn’t allow myself to become entirely disengaged. I’ll get right to the point: the first 45 minutes are absolutely brutal. They are boring and they seem completely pointless. They don’t do much to develop a story, yet as we see later, they are more like a prologue, providing crucial information to prop up the rest of the film.

But out of nowhere, the movie reverses the slump and becomes genuinely entertaining. Everything suddenly clicks: the story begins to make sense; the pace picks up; and Russell Crowe begins acting. It takes him a while to kick his performance in gear, like he’s finally fought off the hangover that plagued him at the beginning. He’s pretty good when he decides to act. When Crowe doesn’t, he lifelessly walks through the motions and mumbles every line, rendering them incoherent.

But maybe it’s not all his fault. The character in this movie is tough because it’s Robin Hood before he was Robin Hood. Have no doubt about it: this is not the Robin Hood we have come to know, and it’s not the one I anticipated. I wasn’t expecting the jolly fox in the green suit, but I was expecting a little more of the “steal from the rich and give to the needy” spirit that we most often associate with the character.

I assume we will see this aspect played up if a sequel is made, yet at the moment, the character is awkwardly undefined. In this movie, Crowe’s purpose is to establish the roots of the legendary defender of the weak. He doesn’t explore where this commitment is derived from so much as he gives us a Maximus rehash with a little more discretion. He’s chomping at the bit to be the legend that we see very little of the man.

Where Crowe has issues, co-star Cate Blanchett has none. Strangely, the movie only seems to reach its full vitality when Blanchett is on screen. She picks up on whatever tiny nuances the script has, and her acting always hits precisely the right tone. Blanchett has graced the screen with many of the preeminent male actors of our generation (DiCaprio, Pitt, Damon), so her history alone makes it impossible to say that her chemistry with Crowe ranks among her best. However, the two do make a great pair, and their scenes are easily the movie’s most memorable that don’t involve the impaling of bodies by arrows.

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Oscar Moment: “Robin Hood”

18 04 2010

The lineup for the prestigious Cannes Film Festival was announced on Thursday, but we have known for several weeks now that “Robin Hood” would open the festival. While screening out of competition, it still deserves serious talk as an Oscar contender.

If “The Dark Knight” was part of the reason that the Oscars moved to ten nominees, then they are still looking for that popcorn flick with enough brain to atone for their horrifying omission.  “Robin Hood” could be that movie.

It’s directed by someone who has plenty of respect in the filmmaking community, Ridley Scott.  He has been nominated three times for Best Director and has helmed a movie that won Best Picture, “Gladiator.”  It’s hard not to take a look at “Robin Hood” and see a few similarities.

It clocks in at just under two and a half hours – big, long movies have scored with the Academy in the past.  The length lends it that sweeping epic feel that the Oscars tend to love.  Then again, so did “Kingdom of Heaven,” Scott’s 2005 drama about the Crusades that had huge expectations and failed to meet any of them.  In fact, since his last nomination for Best Director with “Black Hawk Down” in 2001, all of his movies have been considered Oscar contenders – and flopped.  “Body of Lies.”  “American Gangster.”  “A Good Year.”  Is “Robin Hood” the movie to put Scott back on the Oscar track or veer him further off of it?

He has certainly teamed up with Academy Award winner Russell Crowe enough times to know how to direct the star; keep in mind that Scott directed Crowe to his Oscar win.  And this cast is filled with plenty of other extraordinary acting talents, namely Cate Blanchett (winner of the 2004 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The Aviator”) as Robin Hood’s female companion, Lady Marian.  He also has winner William Hurt and nominee Max Von Sydow in his arsenal – but is that enough?

For a blockbuster to be nominated for Best Picture, it has to be extremely well-written.  The screenwriter of “Robin Hood” is Brian Helgeland, who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1997 for his work on “LA Confidential.”  He also wrote the adaptation of “Mystic River” and received another nomination.  But he has also written some duds, including “The Postman” which won him a Razzie for Worst Screenplay.  It’s hard to draw conclusions from such a polar career.  What will we be getting with his latest?

I have to quote Sasha Stone from Awards Daily here because she put it so eloquently: “…’Robin Hood’ is going to be a movie for right now. Wall Street catastrophes and corporate-owned health care – it has never seemed more like a divided country between rich and poor. And, as history has shown us again and again, that never works very well for very long. The people can’t really tolerate it.”  And Universal is really playing this angle up, recognizing “real-life Robin Hoods” who selflessly give back to the community.  Anyone can nominate one of these people, and that person can win up to $10,000.

But I’m just not feeling the buzz around “Robin Hood,” something that I think it really needs.  Otherwise, it seems doomed to underwhelm – critically, financially, and in respect to awards.  I think the only certainty is contention in the technical categories; we’ll just have to wait another month to see what happens with the bigger categories.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing/Editing

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director (Ridley Scott), Best Actor (Russell Crowe), Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Original Screenplay

So, do you think “Robin Hood” is going to go the path of “Gladiator” or “Kingdom of Heaven?”  Are we looking at a potential Best Picture nominee or merely another summer popcorn blockbuster?





“Baby Mama” and “Pineapple Express”: Still Laughin’

3 08 2009

Identify the movie quote: “What we do in this life echoes in eternity.”

Did you immediately think of Russell Crowe as the hulking Maximus in “Gladiator?”  If you did, you’re only half right.  At around 11:45 P.M. last night, I discovered with a little help from Starz that it is hardly the most memorable utterance of the quote.  In “Pineapple Express,” as Danny McBride’s scene-stealing dealer Red mercilessly beats James Franco’s Saul with common household items, he quotes “Gladiator” completely out of context (at 0:44 in the YouTube video, if you like to take my links).  And the best part about it: I had seen “Pineapple Express” about 10 times and never noticed that line.

Earlier that day, I found myself entranced on Cinemax by “Baby Mama,” another uproarious comedy from 2008.  Just like later that evening, I was surprised by a line I hadn’t caught the first few times.  Infertile career-woman Kate and her white-trash surrogate mother Angie (played by “SNL” alums Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, respectively) are in counseling at the surrogate agency, and the much more advanced in years Chaffee Bicknell (played by Sigourney Weaver) announces that she is expecting.  Angie retorts, “Expecting what?  A social security check?”

Thanks to channels like Starz and Cinemax, I can flip through the channels and find these movies on about every 3 hours.  So to any of you with these very nice stations, or anyone looking for a good comedy, here’s why I recommend these two:

  1. I’m still laughing. One of my tests for a really good comedy is if I still laugh after multiple viewings.  I howled when I saw “Pineapple Express” for the first time, and it still delivers countless belly laughs.  And while I giggled more than cracked up the first time I saw “Baby Mama,” countless subsequent viewings have really made me appreciate the sophisticated humor.  A common thread between the two movies is that they pack so much humor into a fairly small running time that I still haven’t caught it all.
  2. I can quote most of the movie. My favorite kind of comedy is one that relies on the spoken word to be funny; in other words, it needs to be infinitely quotable.  “Baby Mama” features clever and witty one-liners like “I don’t want to be dramatic, but I would literally rather be shot in the face than eat this stupid food.”  On the other hand, “Pineapple Express” offers a little bit more ridiculous lines, such as, “If you’re a man and act heroic, you’ll come back as a dragon … or Jude Law.”  But its absurdity makes it no less quotable.  I can rattle off lines from both of these movies for days.
  3. They both get the comic man-straight man routine. If you read my review of “Funny People,” I gave it quite harsh criticism for not executing the comic man-straight man routine.   The straight man is supposed to be funny, mainly in their reactions to the the zany comic man.  In “Pineapple Express,” Saul often suggests ridiculous ideas, and Dale Denton’s (Seth Rogen) best reaction is when he states, “You know, when you say things like that, I’m really flabbergasted” (to which Saul replies, “Really?  Thanks, man”).  And in “Baby Mama,” Kate constantly has to put up with Angie’s lack inability to act her age.  The most hilarious example is when Angie cannot open the protective child lock on the toilet and pees in the sink; Angie claims that she didn’t know that was against the rules, and Kate shoots back, “Isn’t peeing in the sink against everyone’s rules?!?”
  4. They have a cast of hilarious supporting characters. The most hilarious scenes in “Pineapple Express” come whenever Danny McBride’s Red is on screen, who says such profound things as “I’m not going to wake up murdered tomorrow!”  But the movie also features hilarious antics from a dysfunctional team of hitmen, Mathison and Budlofsky, who constantly accuse each other of going soft.  “Baby Mama” also has great turns from its supporting cast, including Steve Martin as the quirky CEO of Kate’s company who rewards her with 5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact, Greg Kinnear (“As Good As It Gets”)  as Kate’s love interest who operates a smoothie store, Maura Tierney (TV’s “ER”) as Kate’s sister who has kids of her own, and Holland Taylor as Kate’s mother who is frustrated by Angelina and Madonna showing off their adopted babies.
  5. The overarching messages are good ones. Many people are probably wondering, “How can a movie about a bunch of potheads have a good message?”  To those people, I say that “Pineapple Express” to me portrays marijuana in a negative light, showing all the trouble that smoking it can bring.  It shares with “Baby Mama” the theme of friendship and how one can form between the most unlikely of people in the most unlikely of circumstances.  I find it refreshing to see the “opposites attract” concept (which has become so trite in romantic comedies) featured in movies that promote it as a positive aspect in friendships among the same gender.

So, if you’re in a mood to laugh, flip your TV over to Starz for “Pineapple Express” and Cinemax for “Baby Mama” (although it will switch to HBO soon) or get in the car and go to your nearest Blockbuster.  Either will provide nonstop fun and entertainment – even if you’ve seen them before.