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May 16, 2010

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood: Wasted Opportunity

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Robin Hood (2010)
2 out of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Ridley Scott. He's both a great and a terrible director, as much in terms of his choices of what to direct as how to direct. He's got one of the most varied careers I've seen ranging from great and interesting sci-fi (Alien) to exciting action (Gladiator) to absolutely atrocious (G I Jane). He's also a clever director. Over the last few years he's tackled some important issues, events and mythologies. To his credit, he tries to expand beyond the usual Hollywood tripe-history and cram cultural, religious and social context into a mytho-historical framework. He never really succeeds in entirety but at least he tries. And even where his films aren't great, they're usually enjoyable. Black Hawk Down was not a great movie. It was clumsy, overtly pro-American and almost racist in its disregard of the killing of hundreds (or thousands) of Somalis, while focusing on the poignant deaths of the American few. But it was a good waste of time. Kingdom of Heaven improved the formula with some great performances (and some muddled and terrible, thank you Orlando Bloom) and an attempt to at least analyse beyond the usual black and white simple expositions.

Something prevalent throughout his career is the feeling that he's made his films under an immense production burden and that he often takes compromises. cf Kindom of Heaven with Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut (or Blade Runner et al). It really is no different here. Robin Hood belongs to nearly everyone's repertoire of favourite myths and fairy tales. It revolves around the perfect and very nearly plausible protagonist of Robin Hood; an aristocrat who is utterly selfless, who loses his wealth and is reduced to a life of subsistence. It's not the perfect story of class-warfare but it is a wonderful dream. And it's been realised as some equally-wonderful movies. Who can forget Errol Flynn's performance in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Disney's even made a version with some lovable characters.


So Ridley Scott's made a version. And he tries ever so hard. And the result sees him stumbling over the elements as he pieces them together. The result is a horrible mish-mash. Russell Crowe is completely miscast and his attempts at effecting an English accent are annoyingly distracting. The first few minutes we hear him he's leaping from a Yorkshire accent to something of a bit more Geordie flavour. A BBC Radio 4 presenter suggested it might have sounded somewhat Irish, prompting a humourless walkout by Crowe (see video/embed) Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion is something we could have almost done without. OK, we get it. You like strong female leads. We like strong female leads. Weaver is wonderful in Alien and though G I Jane is an awful movie, we appreciate the sentiment. But Marion in this film almost destroys the historical cohesion. One minute she's ploughing a field with the peasants, the next she's saving their lives with her drawn sword and then she's riding into battle with a group of children. Is he saying something about the Children's Crusade? Is he nodding to Blanchett's ElizabethI don't know. It's just unlikely, distracting and needlessly lengthening what is already a lengthy story. It also continually attacks any hint of plausibility. 

Even the comic relief is somewhat off. Robin Hood's merry men (in this case  Scarlett, Little John and A'Dayle) hail from Wales, Scotland and Ireland! A United Kingdom? Of course not. Any Welshman out there care to tell me when the Welsh felt happy serving in an English army? Not sure it would have been in the 13th Century. Friar Tuck is out on the sidelines desperate for a little bit of filmtime but relegated to some minor light-hearted bee stings.

Don't get me started on the script. 'Every Englishman's home is his castle'. Really Ridley? Really? Punning on the word 'night'? A million History and English Literature students everywhere  facepalm in unison.

What about the context of the film? Like everything else it's a muddle. Saxon 'Robin Longstride' takes the role of Saxon-sympathising Robin of Loxley when he's killed returning King Richard the Beerheart's crown from France. Deep breath. He then falls in love with Maid Marion who swoons over him while 'Sir Godfrey' is busy rampaging throughout the country to turn the northern barons against the newly-crowned and duplicitous King John in preparation for a French invasion spearheaded at Dover. It's up to Robin to foment English patriotism to rally the people around not so much the King as the country in order to ensure that King John signs the Magna Carta which is more-or-less framed as being the equivalent of the constituion of the United States. It really wasn't, Ridley. I presume this is something thrown in to make sure Americans pay attention for the last half of the movie, but I could be wrong.

So why is it a wasted opportunity? Because it ticks a hell of a lot of boxes. Great cast? Check. Huge budget?  Check. Amazing locations? Check. Great plot/screenplay? Ooh er.

PS - major piece of transition missing just before the end of the film. See if you can spot it! 

I really wanted to like this film. I convinced my friends to come watch it with me, stupidly picking it over the acclaimed Four Lions as our weekend cinematic foray. I came out more disappointed than the other two. I can only hope that if another is made, it's with a much, much better script.  

August 18, 2007

Rush Hour 3

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Rush Hour 3
2 out of 5 stars

2007 has been a great year for enjoyable movies and unexpected treats. Die Hard 4.0 was a lot better than expected as was The Simpsons Movie which proved to be far more than a desperate cash-in after years of bad scripting, lazy voice-acting and declining ratings. Michael Bay managed to avoid stumbling over his cliches with The Transformers and Spiderman 3 was a much better trilogy conclusion than X-Men 3. To top it all off, we can still look forward to The Bourne Ultimatum and Disturbia. Good times, good times.

But what of Rush Hour 3? Well the Rush Hour series was never brilliant but the first two movies were good comedy fun. They were the only decent English Jackie Chan films - Tuxedo anyone? How about Shanghai Noon? Bleh. - and, of course, they featured Chris Tucker. It's a great shame that he has decided not to do more movies, apparently preferring stand-up comedy to acting. Then again, from the plethora of outtakes we can see that he's not exactly one for getting lines spot-on first-time around. It must be painful repeating the same gag ad infinitum.

Is Rush Hour 3 as enjoyable as its two predecessors? No. It's not nearly as good a film as Rush Hour 2 nor is it as good as the first. The plot is terrible, as is the acting in parts. I can almost feel Jackie Chan's embarrassment at having to take at least some of the film seriously. There are quite a few tired gags squeezed for all they're worth and it's quite clear that much of the funnier stuff was toned down to get a money-making rating. Without Chris Tucker and a few well-scripted turns, it would just about make a passable straight-to-dvd release. If you can't spot the baddie in the first few minutes you'll have to reconsider whether a degree is the best thing for you.

Jackie Chan is clearly aging. You'll recognise all of the old chair-rolling, table-flipping kung fu comedy and feel that it's no longer as good as it once was and Jackie agrees. The schtick's certainly not as good as it was in his Hong Kong heydays. Chris Tucker's getting on a bit too. You can't call him fat, but he's definitely a lot rounder in the face. And, somehow, it makes him seem less funny.

If you're desperate to watch something in the cinema after all of the Summer's great films, then you might enjoy this if you were a fan of the other two. It's probably best to wait 'til it crops up on terrestrial TV and spend your money buying Rush Hour 2 on the internet instead.  

As much as I like Tucker & Chan, here's what they had to say in a promotional interview:

.Q: What made you finally decide to do "Rush Hour 3"?

CHRIS: The script had to really work, and I wanted it to be believable.

Q: Is it true you hate doing "Rush Hour" films?

JACKIE: Not hate.  I hate the American system.  I didn't understand how Americans do films or why they like films: dialogue five days, action one day.  But after the first one did so well, I decided to make "Rush Hour 2" for the money and "Rush Hour 3" was for the audience. 

And Another:

.Jackie Chan: I just do the basic, basic things with the things around me, table, chair, same thing actually. Nothing really special. I think the audience right now just sees, "Wow, Jackie still can do something, eh?" Not like the old days, "Wow, look at the amazing stunts. Amazing movements. So quick!" Now they say, "Wow, Jackie still can move." It’s a different thought.


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