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May 16, 2010
Ridley Scott's Robin Hood: Wasted Opportunity
Writing about web page http://www.robinhoodthemovie.com
- Robin Hood (2010)
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 Elizabeth. I 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.
December 23, 2009
Review: James Cameron's 'Avatar'
Writing about web page http://tieyourcamel.co.uk/movies/review-james-camerons-avatar
About four months ago I was invited to watch a long preview of James Cameron's hugely expensive'Avatar'</a>. I predicted it would be 'Pocahontas in Space'. I continued:
Civilised-but-crippled (just physically?) white man gets out of his depth in an alien world, has his life saved by a native woman (with a strange accent!), slowly assimilates into their culture and way of living managing inexplicably to better the natives at their own way of life before, for some reason, the white civilised culture (with token ethnic characters) tries to 'save' or attempts to eradicate the native population.
It turns out I was exactly right. If you're looking for a highly-original plot, Avatar's not the film for you. But then Cameron's speciality isn't really originality; it's the ability to take a cliche and make it fun, exciting and interesting. And I have to admit that I was misguided in my expectations. I thought the film would be terrible. I was wrong. It's an awesome cliched monster of a film that is best enjoyed in a cinema with a big screen.
So what is it really all about? A former marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), gets roped into working with the 'Avatar Program' on an alien world ('Pandora' - what will happen when we open up this box I wonder!). The program's a corporate-bought scientific exploration into the planet's native flora, fauna and 'indigenous'. Sully's role? To replace his brother (and save the company money regrowing an 'Avatar') and to use his marine expertise to safeguard the science crews. He also has another mission: to spy on the indigenes to find a way to remove them from their central home-place; a giant tree called 'the Mother Tree'. In this he's enlisted by a hard-ass Patton-type character, Colonol Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and Mr Big Corporate Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi).
Nothing original here. Cold-hearted Sully, uncaring cog in the colonial machine lives with the indigenes for a while and 'goes native'. He realises how awesome their way of life is and does all he can to protect it. He bests the natives at their own game and becomes a demi-God/chieftain in the process. We've seen it all before: Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai etc.
The dialogue is not great and at times it's pretty atrocious. The actors manage to lift the film above its hideous script and the awkwardness sometimes becomes more convincing when delivered by any of the 'Na'vi' or Sam Worthington. Subtlety isn't really present in this film's themes. The indigenes are more in tune with the environment than the colonisers who view them as savages? Well I never! I have expected the characters to burst into 'Colors of the Wind'. There are even some Ferngully-esque bulldozers romping around.
The CG, however, is top-notch - monumental even. But then again what did we expect from a Cameron film? He's gone beyond the CG and created an entire eco-system. Although the Biological Internet and hair connections aren't very convincing, he's at least consistent. Most of the animals have six legs, suggesting a common ancestry. The flora is lush and varied.
This is not really a film - it's a spectacle. I doubt it would be as interesting on the small screen (yes, even in HD on our large HD Televisions). It needs a large, clear screen, a set of 3D glasses and a throbbing sound from high-quality speakers. You don't want to over-analyse it; just enjoy the ride. Go watch it while it's still available!
NB - I would have rated this film more highly had it had something resembling decent dialogue. As it stands it's really good fun but not much more. It should make an excellent game but, apparently, the tie-in they've licensed is predictably terrible (tie-in curse). Perhaps an MMORPG will some day be in the works?
December 22, 2009
Watch Godard's '2 or 3 Things I Know About Her' free today.
Follow-up to Watch Resnais' 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour' free today! from The Story of Hamid-o
The Auteurs has decided to gift us with another French classic today, just in time for Christmas! This time it really is the last day to catch it and they're ending on a high note: Jean-Luc Godard's '2 or 3 Things I Know About Her'. This is the last film of the Stella Artois 'Recyclage de Luxe' film festival on the Auteurs. Watch it here, today, for free in the UK only: The Auteurs(18+)
December 21, 2009
Watch Resnais' 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour' free today!
Follow-up to Watch Marker's 'La Jetée' free on The Auteurs today (subtitled) from The Story of Hamid-o
Today's the last day of the Stella Artois 'Recyclage de Luxe' film festival on the Auteurs. They're today showcasing Resnais' 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour' (subtitled). It's been the end of a great week for we film-lovers and I've learned a lot. Enjoy here: http://www.theauteurs.com/stellaartois (18+, UK Only)
December 20, 2009
Watch Marker's 'La Jetée' free on The Auteurs today (subtitled)
Follow-up to Godard's 'Vivre Sa Vie' from The Story of Hamid-o
If you're interested in the work of 'nouvelle vague' director Chris Marker, you mustn't miss the chance to catch his classic film 'La Jetée' on The Auteurs today. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/tasrd(18+, UK Only). It was the inspiration behind Gilliam's great 'Twleve Monkeys'.
December 19, 2009
Godard's 'Vivre Sa Vie'
Follow-up to Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' – watch free today! from The Story of Hamid-o
If you're interested in the work of 'nouvelle vague' director Jean-Luc Godard, you mustn't miss the chance to catch his classic film 'Vivre Sa Vie' on The Auteurs today. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/tasrd(18+, UK Only)
December 16, 2009
Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' – watch free today!
Follow-up to 7 classic French films in 7 days @ The Auteurs from The Story of Hamid-o
I'm often sceptical when it comes to classic French cinema - I tend to be more a fan of German/Weimar pre-war films and then (guilty I know!) American post-war cinema. I do, however, have respect for many of the French films I've seen (Le Petit Soldatsprings to mind).
I'd been meaning to watch more New Wave cinema for quite some time and then I had the opportunity to do it with The Auteur's Stella Artois online film festival (18+, UK Only). I didn't regret it. Its cinematography, story and performances are completely spot-on. Excellent.
If you want to watch it today (for free) then head on to: www.theauteurs.com/stellaartois