Flynn he ain’t: Crowe in Robin Hood.
Flash or Dash
by Ridley Scott
The latest Robin Hood—this one by Ridley Scott—originated
from a script titled Nottingham. Though Nottingham,
with all its cinematic and historical connotations, might
have been rife with drama, what appears onscreen is a laborious
concoction of quasi-history concerning the failure of King
Richard’s final crusade, the less-than-noble ascension of
King John, and heavy taxation that pushes Merry Old England
into rebellious ferment. And, not so incidentally, the legend
of an obscure archer who will eventually be known as Robin
Hood. It’s a long slog that even history buffs might have
trouble following, but at least Scott knows how to choreograph
a battle scene, which is more than can be said for the silliness
of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
It helps that in Scott’s relentlessly overcast but picturesque
England, one of the impoverished landowners is Cate Blanchett
as Marion Loxley. Whilst fending off the opportunistic Sheriff
of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen), Marion is reunited with
a childhood neighbor in a plot twist lifted from Sommersby.
That neighbor grew up to be Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe),
an archer in King Richard’s army who returns from the crusade
disillusioned with religious zealotry. Upon his return home,
he becomes disgruntled by the divine right of monarchy. But
that’s after he witnesses the ignoble death of Richard the
Lionheart (Danny Huston) while sacking a castle in France.
Robin retrieves the king’s crown, escapes the machinations
of Prince John’s henchman Godfrey (Mark Strong), and assumes
the persona of a dead noble who entrusted him with his father’s
sword. (As in Scott’s Gladiator, which this film resembles
too closely, deep-seated father-son issues add more murk than
modernity). Sword, rather than bow, in hand, Robin sails to
England aboard a royal ship as Sir Loxley. Identity theft
was Robin’s first steal from the rich? Who knew?
Due to Scott’s expertise with action sequences, the long opening
build-up is exciting and intriguing, and establishes some
historical authenticity despite the clunky dialogue (“I don’t
care who he is, he knows too much!” fumes Godfrey after Robin’s
escape). Returning the sword to its owner in Nottingham, Robin
is accepted as a prodigal son by the elder Loxley (Max von
Sydow, who doesn’t quite dignify a ridiculous role), and slyly
woos Marion, who has been a war widow for most of her youth.
Despite the fact that Robin Longstride could be more accurately
referred to as Robin Longtooth, Crowe and Blanchett have a
wonderful rapport that the direction doesn’t give enough attention
Though Nottingham is where the action is, the film cuts frequently
to John’s domestic turmoil. There, John’s formidable mother
Eleanor (Eileen Atkins), and a wise advisor (William Hurt),
are interfering with both his affair with a French princess
and his determination to raise taxes even higher. Every time
the plot heats up—the Northern nobles rebel, Phillip of France
secretly lands an army—it’s slowed with righteous blather
about freedom and liberty from Robin (with the encouragement
of old Loxley, who knows the truth of Robin’s paternity).
Perhaps this is meant to draw parallels to the war-economy
taxation of today, but in the context of 12th-century skullduggery,
it just comes off as grandstanding.
The flummoxing script, by historical schlocker Brian Helgeland
(A Knight’s Tale), manages to work in Robin’s
band of bawdy peasant soldiers, with Little John (Kevin Durand)
being the only who actually adds some humor to Robin’s paternally
appointed quest of saving England from corruption. And the
climactic turf war is as gorgeously furious as any medieval
battle since Braveheart. King John, however, is not
impressed, and neither will those audiences who prefer Robin
Hood as a dashing outlaw rather than the unsung instigator
of the Magna Carta.
by Sanaa Hamri
Undoubtedly, there are aspects of Queen Latifah’s new feature,
Just Wright, that are refreshing even as they hark
back to a different cinematic day. Our favorite plus-size
celebrity plays Leslie Wright, a successful physical therapist
and first-time homeowner who, at 35, is begrudgingly realistic
about her chances at being anything other than some guy’s
top homegirl. Director Sanaa Hamri actually shows us scenes
in which Lesley is—hold tight now—on the job and interacting
with her coworkers. There are also scenes that enhance the
fact that Leslie is a good daughter and a good friend, especially
to the vapid and needy Morgan (Paula Patton), who dresses
up for a Nets basketball game. Determined to become the wife
of an NBA superstar, Morgan quickly outdistances Leslie when
it comes to charming the debonair Nets hoopster Scott McKnight
(Common), even though he and Leslie had “met cute” and obviously
have the love of the game in, er, common. When injury threatens
to devastate McKnight’s career, Morgan convinces Leslie to
become his in-house trainer, cheerleader and all around, well,
homegirl, resulting in a deepened friendship and some miscommunications.
With energetic basketball sequences and an infectious soundtrack,
plus the overt appeal of its two stars, Just Wright
is a movie you want to like. But it’s also one hot mess. The
filmmakers can’t seem to decide which approach—comedy? drama?
soap?—they want to take, let alone what mood they wish to
evoke. Leslie’s dilemma, being an unvalued gem, is compelling,
and it would have been interesting to delve more deeply into
the way in which men respond more readily to the obvious charms
of a Morgan, or how peer and societal pressure might compel
even a success story like Scott into denying his attraction
to Leslie. One thread that was damningly left dangling was
that of Scott’s mother (Phylicia Rashad) and her relationship
not just to him, but to the two new women in her son’s life.
At one point, she proclaims that she likes Leslie, but a few
scenes later, thinking that Leslie had knowingly wronged him,
she changes her opinion.
The movie chugs on to its inevitable happy ending, and allows
us some sophisticated scenes between Latifah and Common, but
ultimately this is a glass half-empty.
by Gary Winick
Gary Winick’s career as a motion-picture director continues
its looping spiral into irrelevancy with this regrettable
romance set among the splendors of the Italian countryside.
The story is a fairy tale, brought to the screen with but
a few glimmers of magic. This is inexplicable: With this scenery
and these stars—Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave—a reasonably
competent roomful of monkeys, armed with megaphones and sporting
monocles, would have brought forth a better result.
Sophie (Seyfried), an ace fact-checker at The New Yorker,
is engaged to chef Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) at the outset,
so it is reasonable to assume that they will not be together
at the end. However, it is not reasonable to make the doomed
relationship so transparently ridiculous as to make the star’s
character seem like a complete dolt.
Sophie and her soon-to-be hubby jet off to Verona for a pre-wedding
honeymoon. Victor spends all his time sniffing out the best
cheeses to supply his restaurant, so Sophie, bored, starts
sniffing around Verona for a story that will elevate her from
fact-checker to writer.
Are you bored yet? I was.
She ends up at Juliet’s house—or, specifically, the house
that is claimed as the house of the fictional Capulets in
Shakespeare’s tragedy. Miserable, pretty girls from around
the world flock there to leave letters asking advice of “Juliet.”
She follows the woman who collects these letters at day’s
end back to the office where a group of women, Juliet’s helpers,
answer the letters.
Still not bored? When they find out Sophie is a journalist,
they’re delighted. This is even less credible than
the Sophie-Victor engagement.
Through a series of clumsily presented fairy-tale plot twists,
Sophie falls in with Claire (Redgrave), a grandmother who
failed to pursue her great love, a dashing Italian fellow,
50 years ago, and Charlie (Christopher Egan), Claire’s classic-English-prig
grandson. Most of the picture is the three of them driving
around Italy tracking down Claire’s love while Charlie and
Sophie bicker their way into each other’s hearts.
It plays better than it reads because Seyfried and Redgrave
and Italy are luminous. But it’s still dumb and emotionally
deflating. There’s one brief shining moment, though, when
Claire and her true love meet after 50 years, but only because
it’s Redgrave and Franco Nero reuniting 43 years after their
pairing in Camelot.
Now, Camelot isn’t a very good movie, but I’d take
its three hours over Letters to Juliet’s 93 minutes
any afternoon. And Camelot’s director, Joshua Logan,
made a lot of problematic movies, but he’s a cinematic genius
compared to Winick.