Monday, May 17, 2010

Robin Hood

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott are a great Director/Actor combo no question. Recently that combo has come under fire for, frankly, firing blanks. Although American Gangster seemed to have made it through unscathed, A Good Year and Body of Lies however completely tanked at the box office. When I first heard the two were gearing up for a shot at Sherwood Forest I kind of rolled my eyes and shrugged, "who the hell cares." When I heard they were contemplating doing a revisionist take where Russell would play both the Sheriff and Robin as well as show a slightly different take where the Sheriff may not have been evil just misunderstood, my curiosity was piqued. Of course that all was shattered when the reports came in that they were just going back to telling the same Robin Hood tale except this one, as the ads put it, was supposed to be the story that created the legend that apparently has never been told.Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is a tough archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) as they trek back to England after the failed Crusades. With him are his loyal friends and merry men Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle) and of course Little John (Kevin Durand). After the King is killed Robin takes on the guise of the King's friend and confidant Locksley so he may return the crown back to England and ensure Locksley's sword to the fallen aide's father. Robin, as good as his word, returns the crown to that arrogant jerk King John (Oscar Isaac). Robin finds himself continuing to pretend he is the son of Locksley, only this time at the behest of Sir Walter Locksley himself (Max von Sydow). Which means he gets the luxury of pretending to be married to the widow Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett).There is quite a lot of plot here as we follow Robin back to England to find his country in turmoil and he seems to have enemies on all sides. He's got the jerk Prince, I mean King John trying to collect his taxes not to mention the invading French hordes, led by Godfrey (Mark Strong) the turncoat, burning and sacking every town in jolly old England. I honestly loved this story and the actors and the beautiful scenery this is a Class A production. The only problem is why the hell is it called Robin Hood? As much as I enjoyed this thing the names just distracted me. Robin Hood is a myth about a legendary thief with a heart of gold who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. It should be fun with bows and arrows and swashbuckling and daring do. If this is what you were hoping for please look somewhere else. There is none of that here. This is a gritty realistic drama that takes place in the 11th Century and is really more about the origin of the Magna Carta then it is about Robin Hood. And I'm telling you I ain't complaining but again I ask the question, what the hell does any of this have to do with Robin Hood? You see this is supposed to be an origin story of Robin and his merry men and why he became an outlaw--so it took about 25 minutes in the Kevin Costner Prince of Thieves to establish that Robin of the Hood is an outlaw. In this flick it takes almost three hours and then, as you've seen from the trailers, our hero is finally dubbed an Outlawwwwww!There are so many problems with Russell Crowe being Robin Hood especially Robin Hood in a pre-quel one important note would have to be his age. I mean ole Russ is pushing 50 and this is when Robin gets started? Not to mention it's hard for this guy to be sarcastic and chatty. Although he did do a great job of that in 3:10 to Yuma. Yes, that's it he should have played his Robin exactly like his Ben Wade, without the evil. This is also a story that has technically been told poorly ever since Errol Flynn kicked the Sheriff's ass in 1938. I actually think one of the best so far is the Disney version of Robin Hood. It's everything you want in a Robin Hood story and it's great for kids. Now there were glimmers of hope, as I mentioned before, Prince of Thieves was pretty darn great except for Robin himself. Costner was kind of a joke to put it mildly. But the movie was fun and it really tried to swing for the fences. Again I ask, why the hell didn't Ridley do something like that? For a Robin Hood tale this one is so heavy handed with the speeches and the philosophy. I want to see Robin unleashed with the bow and kicking ass, with clever traps in Sherwood. Nope, that kind of stuff is a no show. It's not to say Robin Hood has to be dumbed down but it certainly should be fun. This film is so damn serious it's hard to imagine anyone having any fun. In fact the few moments of fun in the film get cut to shreds mostly dealing with Robin's buds and the always humorous Friar Tuck (Mark Addy). Those guys were really great and brought so much more to the film. I've always been a fan of Addy especially from a Knight's Tale and it would have been nice to see a few more scenes with him.As I said I'm totally conflicted about this movie. On one hand I really enjoyed it but as a Robin Hood movie it just wasn't right at all. So it's your call folks honestly I'm going to have to break down the Bucket system this time for the first time ever. Either way I recommend you see this flick it's well written, by the always great Brian Helgeland and say what you want about Ridley but it's hard for this guy to make a bad film. I'll put it this way if you enjoyed Kingdom of Heaven, which I did, then you should enjoy this movie too. Just keep reminding yourself that this isn't really a Robin Hood story and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Grades: Movie about the 11th Century: 3 and half buckets

Robin Hood flick: 2 buckets

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Iron Man 2

When last we left Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) two years ago he had defeated his former friend and business partner Obediah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and in a press conference declared himself to be Iron Man. Fast forward to today (about 6 months, Iron Man time), Tony Stark/Iron Man is back and he's bringing some major muscle with him back to the Box Office. The first film should always be viewed as the blueprint for success for any superhero story. It's a character driven story that is funny, smart and entertaining as hell. The second is truly no different in that respect. Where the first film dealt with the origin of Iron Man and the humanizing of Tony Stark. The second film is deceptively darker as Tony, after he outed himself as Iron Man, has bitten off way more than he can chew.Tony Stark is enjoying life as the sole protector of the planet Earth. But he's got some problems heading his way. First the electromagnet protecting his heart is now poisoning his blood stream and slowly killing him. The Government wants him to hand over the Iron Man gear , and no does not seem to be a suitable answer. Which forces them to bring out the big guns in smart ass Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) and rival business Mogul and current weapons manufacturer for the U.S., Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). They even try to use Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Stark's best friend, against him. He's also being hounded by S.H.I.E.L.D and Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) to man up and join the Avengers. And to make matters worse he's got a brilliant but crazy Russian name Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) gunning for him. What is a rich Billionaire Industrialist to do?I really enjoyed this sequel I can't say that it's better than the first one but it certainly progresses the character of Tony Stark and plops him into a new world from the one he inhabited in the first one. Tony tries to be a good guy superhero but he really struggles with it. He's so arrogant and self-righteous it's hard sometimes, at least in the beginning, to see who the audience should truly root for. It was also great to watch him verbally spar back in forth with his right hand lady Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). They are like an old married couple, classic. Now to some this may be a spoiler so I just want to alert you now if you haven't seen the film to gloss over this part but-- SPOILER!!!!One of my favorite scenes of the film is when Tony, drunk on his own power literally and figuratively decides to don his Iron Man armor and blow stuff up for laughs at one of his parties. On first glance it seems goofy as he stumbles around the room wearing his armor but the subtext is unavoidable, it's like a drunk behind the wheel of a tank. So of course his responsible friend Rhodey has to suit up in a spare Iron Man outfit and put him down before he hurts somebody. This is truly what makes Iron Man/Tony Stark different from any of the other Marvel heroes. No matter how many villains you throw at the guy he will always be his own worst enemy. This scene has shades of one of the more popular episodes of the Iron Man comic where Tony Stark battles alcoholism in Demon in a Bottle. They don't come right out and say it but it is clear that this kind of behavior is not behind him but looking him squarely in the eye. Perhaps in Iron Man 3.What a great group of actors and characters they threw into this flick. Sam Rockwell was hilarious and a little sad as the, not so smart used car salesman, version of Tony Stark. It was also nice to see Nick Fury get a little arc that proves to get even bigger as the series continues ramping up to an Avengers film. I know some people were annoyed with the references to the big Avengers flick that should take place in a few years, but I thought it fit in well. Speaking of which there are a ton of Easter Eggs in this one, so all I'll say is pay attention to the surroundings when Tony is talking with Nick Fury in the bunker. Also there is some stuff when he's getting a verbal smack down from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). So keep your eyes peeled. I also enjoyed watching Scarlett Johansson flip around in tight spandex as the Black Widow. I wasn't sure if she could handle a bad ass role like this but she proved she ain't no Jinx (Halle Berry). What can I say watching Don Cheadle suit up as War Machine kicking ass side by side with Iron Man was pretty frickin sweet. Also I was surprisingly satisfied with Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko. Personally he would not have been my first choice for the film, I'm not a Mickey hater but I'm not a fan either, what's the deal with the cockatoo Mick? Birds aside, he really brought some layers to his performance and brought some true menace and Khan like rage to amp up the action. Although I have to admit I had some mixed feelings about the over the top action sequence at the Monaco racetrack. It was cool to watch even though it went above and beyond any semblance of reality.So, if you haven't seen it yet go out and see it now. It's a really fun, well written summer blockbuster. Yes I understand the haters cry that there still aren't enough scenes with Iron Man blowing shit up. If you want a stupid giant robot blowing things up go rent Transformers . But if you want some great characters with depth telling a non-traditional comic book story with some great action pieces, then Iron Man 2 is your cup of tea. Oh, and one more thing AC/DC rocks the house.

Grade 4 Buckets