Friday, November 30, 2018

Robin Hood: The Conclusions Part 2

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ROBIN HOOD: THE CONCLUSIONS 
PART 2

I've already given my rankings on what I think are the most important elements of the Robin Hood mythos. Now we're going to touch on other elements, primarily on the secondary characters such as the various Merry Men.

It's a curious thing that while all the Robin Hood films so far have featured Robin, Marian and the Sheriff, a few versions have cut out other characters altogether. Out of the Merry Men only two have appeared in all ten of the versions for this retrospective. Not even monarchy is spared, as some Robin Hood films do not feature either King Richard the Lion-Heart or his villainous brother, Prince John.

However, we're getting ahead of ourselves.  Now, to look at the various Merry Men and Monarchs. As last time they will be ranked from best to worst and the year of their film given.

BEST LITTLE JOHN

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  1. Alan Hale (1922/1938)*
  2. Nicol Williamson (1976)
  3. Nick Brimble (1991)
  4. Phil Harris (1973)
  5. James Robertson Justice (1952)
  6. Leon Greene (1967)
  7. Eric Allan Kramer (1993)
  8. Kevin Durand (2010)
  9. Jamie Foxx (2018)


It seems a bit of a cheat to have Alan Hale be our Best Little John since he played the part not once, not twice, but three times: in the original silent Robin Hood, in The Adventures of Robin Hood and in Rogues of Sherwood Forest in 1950 which I did not watch for this retrospective. He was 30 when he first romped through Sherwood Forest, then 46, then 58: a remarkable run.

However, his three-times-lucky interpretation is not what makes him the best. What gives him this honor is that he really captures the devil-may-care attitude of Little John, a rascal who enjoys a good fight and who is loyal to Robin. Williamson, while not a devil-may-care figure, at least had the loyalty part down. He played an older, more mature Little John, so one can cut him some slack when it comes to romps.

Brimble edges out Harris only in that the former does look more imposing physically, and we also see him as a family man who is less interested in fighting than in defending his home. Harris is hampered by the fact he's basically playing Baloo from The Jungle Book.  It was pleasant and I have nothing negative to say about it, but doing the same character in a different setting does not cut it.

The others I rank only be degree of memorability. I can't remember much from Justice, Greene or Kramer, but I do remember that Durand was basically there. As for Foxx, he has many negatives against him.

First, he is not Little John, but Azeem from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves by another name. Second, he's probably the shortest Little John in film history at 5' 9".  Third, he was not a major part of 2018's Robin Hood. Once he trained the 'not-Batman', he basically disappeared, popping up only when needed. The fact that he had his hand cut off was also a daft decision among many daft decisions.

BEST FRIAR TUCK

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  1. James Hayter (1952/1967)
  2. Eugene Pallette (1938)
  3. Tim Minchin (2018)
  4. Andy Devine (1973)
  5. Mark Addy (2010)
  6. Mike McShane (1991)
  7. Mel Brooks (1993 as Rabbi Tuckman) 
  8. Willard Louis (1922)
  9. Ronnie Baker (1976)


Another case of a slight unfairness in the rankings. James Hayter played our good Friar twice: in 1952's The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men and 1967's A Challenge for Robin Hood. What elevates him beyond just his repeat appearance is that, more than any other Friar Tuck, Hayter balances the idea of the fat, jolly friar and the skilled swordsman. There is a delight, almost a cuddliness to Hayter's Friar, but he is able to be dramatic. We see this when he secretly observes the murder of his patron in A Challenge for Robin Hood.  Hayter for the most part, was a delight as Friar Tuck: a mix of piety and mirth, who could rattle off quips and keep the faith equally.

Pallette comes a very close second as he is an ideal Friar Tuck: rotund, with a fondness for drink and food but with faith, even if he is almost perpetually crabby and not as jolly as he could be. In a surprising turn, Tim Minchin finds himself among the better Friar Tucks and about the only real positive aspect of 2018's Robin Hood. A little too hipster in this oddball reimagining with his knit cap, at least Minchin's Friar had a personality: that of the eager but bumbling cleric. Perhaps I should knock him down for being the least religious of the various friars, but on the whole he did better than everyone else.

Devine was not divine as our badger Friar, but he was probably the more compassionate when it came to tending his flock. Addy edges McShane in that I think he seemed to at least be trying and McShane's Friar just seemed to be there to show 'Christian bigotry' against the Muslim. To his credit he at least recognized when he was wrong but there wasn't much to him.

Brooks' Rabbi Tuckman was a bit of Hebrew humor in the surprisingly unfunny Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and I genuinely do not remember Louis or Baker.

BEST WILL SCARLET

Image result for patrick knowles robin hood

  1. Patrick Knowles (1938)
  2. Bud Geary (1922)
  3. Delholm Elliot (1976)
  4. Scott Grimes (2010)
  5. Douglas Mitchell (1967)
  6. Anthony Forwood (1952)
  7. Christian Slater (1991)
  8. Matthew Porretta (1993 as Will Scarlet O'Hara)
  9. Jamie Dorman (2018)


Will Scarlet is the least disposable of our Disposable Merry Men, appearing in every version seen for this retrospective save the 1973 animated version. I think Scarlet's absence there is due to the focus of the Robin-John relationship to everything else.

Why is Knowles the best Will Scarlet? I put it to the fact he is the one that stood out over the others. My memories on the rascally Scarlet are pretty thin, but I think Geary did more than Grimes, who probably was better than memory holds. Elliott, however, edges Grimes in that his Scarlet seemed to be an actual friend of the ageing Robin even if I find his casting a bit odd.

The 1967 and 1952 versions were neither memorable or horrible, but we then descend to some awful performances. It's amazing that Christian Slater was held as the 'appeal to the youth', and his efforts at an English accent should be more mocked than Costner's failure to even try. However, Poretta ranks lower because he did nothing. He was given this silly name of Will Scarlet O'Hara (who is from Georgia) and then that's pretty much it.

Dornan was just a disaster. He cannot act, or at least I have yet to see him give an actual performance. Granted, I've seen him only in those awful Fifty Shades films, but he is a major reason for why they are so awful. Sure, I suppose he has a nice body though in Robin Hood he can't show it off. He cannot show any emotion and to top that off, for reasons unknown his Will (Scarlet) Tillman is set up to be a villain in the sequel that will never come. It's just cringe-inducing.

BEST KING RICHARD

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  1. Wallace Beery (1922)
  2. Ian Hunter (1938)
  3. Sean Connery (1991)
  4. Peter Ustinov (1973)
  5. Patrick Barr (1952)
  6. Patrick Stewart (1993)
  7. Danny Huston (2010)
  8. Richard Harris (1976)


The 1967 A Challenge for Robin Hood and 2018's Robin Hood are the only versions to exclude King Richard I from the screen. In a surprising turn, Wallace Beery's more merry monarch tops this list, especially since Beery was not known for a jolly manner. His Richard could be harsh, but on the whole he was the noble Lion-Heart we all know and love.

Hunter keeps to this tradition, though he also keeps to the tradition of being a smaller part of the story. Connery and Ustinov essentially made cameos, with the former causing laughter at the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves screening. At least he had a purpose, which Ustinov didn't.

As a side note, Connery is the only actor to appear in two different roles in Robin Hood films: the older Robin in Robin and Marian and King Richard in Prince of Thieves.

I do not remember Barr, and Stewart was just there to spoof Connery. Huston and Harris are from the new tradition of making Richard I a villain, an evil character. We saw this in Robin and Marian where Richard committed war crimes, something that the dark Robin Hood of 2010 kept. Harris however gets voted the worst because he was just so hammy.

BEST PRINCE JOHN

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  1. Claude Rains (1938)
  2. Peter Ustinov (1973)
  3. Sam De Grasse (1922)
  4. Hubert Gregg (1952)
  5. Richard Lewis (1993)
  6. Oscar Isaac (2010)
  7. Ian Holm (1976 as King John)


Our wicked John Lackland has failed to appear on three occasions: 1967's A Challenge for Robin Hood, 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and 2018's Robin Hood. Most often it is because the Sheriff takes on the primary villain role.

However, The Adventures of Robin Hood is perfectly able to balance the three villains (Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisbourne) by giving each distinctive personalities. I don't think there has been a better version than Claude Rains, who remains my favorite actor of all time. He is shrewd and camp at the same time, a bit fey but no less dangerous.

Claude Rains is just the best in anything he does. Take that as a standing recommendation.

Ustinov made Prince John into a totally comic and inept figure, which is what the role required. His hissy fits, his Mommy fixation all work to make Prince John the inept foil to our fox.  De Grasse was more villainous than normal, but without the ability Rains had. I don't remember Gregg and I cut Lewis some slack in that he was meant to be comic.

Poor Isaac was nothing in 2010's Robin Hood and did nothing except scream and show off how fit he was. Holm ranks at the bottom only because he was basically a cameo.

BEST ALAN-A-DALE

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  1. Roger Miller (1973)
  2. Bud Geary (1922)
  3. Eric Flynn (1967)
  4. Alan Doyle (2010)
  5. Elton Hayes (1952)


Our balladeer Alan-a-Dale is the most disposable of our Disposable Merry Men. He has been absent in a record five of the ten Robin Hood films in this retrospective, not appearing in 1938, 1976, 1991, 1993 and the most recent version in 2018.

Out of all his appearances, the best one was done by an animated rooster. It helps when the balladeer is the legendary Roger Miller, who brings his country charms to our kid-friendly version. He also has three songs, all of which are effective. While most love Oo-De-Lally and Whistle Stop (both quite charming), his Not in Nottingham is quite dark and sad, perfect for the mood.

I genuinely cannot remember the others save for Hayes, and I remember him for being so horribly annoying I wanted to smash his lute over his head.

We have come to the end of our Robin Hood Retrospective, at least for now. I may find other Robin Hood films and integrate them later, and despite common sense I figure we'll get another Robin Hood film within my lifetime.

If so, it will dutifully be added, but no matter what I do not see any other version coming close to overtaking 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood as the standard to which all other Robin Hoods are measured.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Gotti (2018): A Review (Review #1143)


GOTTI

In the annals of crime John Gotti will go down as one of the most notorious mobsters in history, someone even mob fans who delight in Goodfellas and The Sopranos don't like.

In the annals of cinema Gotti will go down as one of the most notoriously bad films in history, a film so desperate to be something it isn't that it becomes almost sad to watch and whose ending can be best described as wildly misguided.

Gotti seems to have an overarching story of John Gotti Senior (John Travolta), dying of cancer, trying to persuade his soon-to-be incarcerated son John Gotti Junior (Spencer Lofranco) to not take a plea deal. Junior does not want to spend decades away from his wife and children, but Senior insists that if he gives an inch, they'll take a mile.

I say 'seems to have an overarching story' because here we come to one of Gotti's many bizarre decision. The film is supposed to chronicle Gotti's rise from low-level hood to the head of the Gambino crime family and his successful efforts to thwart the federal government, earning him the nickname 'The Teflon Don'.

Image result for gotti 2018However, director Kevin Connolly (best known as 'E' from Entourage) plays fast-and-loose with narrative structure to where you really have no idea where or when you are. Events happen in seemingly random order, or at least in an order that makes sense to Connolly's fanboy mob fantasies.

Gotti is filled with stories, themes, plot points that have a roulette wheel-type feel, landing whenever and wherever the mood strikes them. It almost delights in being choppy and incoherent, and sometimes just beyond anachronistic.

For example, there's a scene where Gotti is throwing a Fourth of July block party when the police show up. Not only does nothing really happen to Gotti (the police quickly back down and I think you can hear "We'll be back" or "We'll get you") but we meet the future Mrs. John Gotti Junior without getting to know anything about her.

I'm almost sure her name was mentioned, but the only thing we learned is that she is 16 and can't accept Junior's offer of a beer, but a soda would be just fine.

As if to add to the bonkers nature of this one scene, Armando Perez, better known as Pitbull, provides two of his hits (Don't Stop the Party and Fireball) to be played at this Fourth of July block party...even though Gotti himself died in 2002 and Don't Stop the Party was released a decade later (Fireball was released in 2014).

Music plays a big part in Gotti as Connolly clearly thinks he's making his generation's Goodfellas. Like the Scorsese mobster film Gotti tries to use music to underscore the scene.  Unlike Scorsese's mobster film Gotti selects either very curious music or anachronistic songs. I'm not sure why the attempted hit on Gotti via a car bomb had to have Pet Shop Boys' West End Girls. However, while I get the use of Duran Duran's Come Undone to show the fall of Senior, it comes across as laughable.

Image result for gotti 2018We're introduced to characters via on-screen text but honestly apart from Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano they might have just been Connolly's friends and family up there for all the coherence we got.

Moments that are meant to be serious and even heartbreaking, such as when Gotti is forced to 'shelve' a longtime friend to keep the peace, end up being hilarious.

Even all that might be forgiven if not for cowriters Leo Rossi and Lem Dobbs' decision to essentially write a love letter to the Teflon Don, one that essentially suggests that Senior and Junior were victims of the government. The finale after Gotti Senior dies focuses (or focuses as much as the film is able to focus on anything) on Junior's struggles against the government, with closing text almost suggesting that it was a waste of time to have indicted Junior for anything.

It's almost obscene in how Gotti essentially celebrates and whitewashes the mobster.

There are only two performances of worth in this fiasco of a film. Stacey Keach's Neil, mentor to Senior, acts as if he is in a serious drama to where a story about him would have been interesting. Lofranco has some good moments as Junior, though he was hampered by the weird juxtaposition of actual footage of the real John Gotti Junior, where Lofranco looked both too young and too old to be the same person.

Travolta tries with his broad Nuw Yawk accent but it comes across as more Saturday Night Live than The Godfather. His real-life wife Kelly Preston plays Gotti's wife Victoria in a performance that seems a spoof of The Sopranos.

From its pro-mob angle to where you expect to see "A Cosa Nostra Production" on the screen to its incoherent manner, Gotti will be a textbook case of what not to do.

It's not Easy, E.

1940-2002

DECISION: F

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Gospel According to Andre: A Review

Image result for the gospel according to andreTHE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ

One wonders if André Leon Talley, the subject of The Gospel According to André, would be of interest to anyone who didn't care one whit about fashion. He certainly has led a very interesting life, filled with famous people and grand wardrobes. However, while The Gospel According to André was fond of the subject matter, the film does not make as good a case for why the hoi polloi should take time to examine Talley's life.

The film is divided into four 'chapters': Sunday Best, The Debutante, Black Superhero and Precious Memories. Each of them chronicles Talley's life to rise from poor black youth in segregated Durham, North Carolina to the couture houses of Paris and New York, eventually finding a place in 'the chiffon trenches' working at such magazines as Vogue.  

We learn of how he was influenced by the black church, where the women (including his beloved grandmother) wore their most elegant ensembles to present themselves in. He found refuge in the beauty within Vogue, especially whenever a black model was presented. His passion for fashion moved him to New York, where he became the protege of Diana Vreeland, doyenne of Costumes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and former Vogue editor.

Despite his entry to the decadent 1970s and the infamous Studio 54, where he danced alongside such figures as Andy Warhol and Halston, he avoided the drugs and promiscuity of the times. He went to 54 for the dance, not the decadence.

Image result for the gospel according to andreHis rise continued, and he became so focused on his career that he never developed a love of his own, no wife or partner to share his heart or bed. This, however, did not spare him from private humiliations, such as that because he was a black man, he had slept his way to the top among the Parisian fashion houses. He was even accused of being Mrs. Vreeland's lover! This came from the racist idea of being 'a black buck', something he rails against to this day.


The slings and arrows kept coming to him. He recounts with a mix of anger and hurt how one figure at a Parisian couture house called him 'Queen Kong', his massive height of 6' 6" and girth not helping.

Things come full circle as we close The Gospel According to André as he returns to his grandmother's home in Durham, which he has bought and restored, though putting in touches that remind him of his mentor Vreeland.

The Gospel According to André gives us an interesting portrait of a man who comes across as the love child of James Baldwin and The Fabulous Sylvester. However, as I watched Kate Novack's film my one question was would those who would not know a Gucci from a Givenchy, whose idea of couture shopping is Targét, really care about Talley or his life story.

My answer would be 'not really'. We're treated to all these big-names in fashion like Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and the notorious Anna Wintour, but I think most not involved or interested in the pret-a-porter world be slightly puzzled, even a bit lost among the jet set and our guide in his caftans and capes.

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The assertion that Talley is the 'Nelson Mandela of Couture' (said by either Sean "Puffy/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy" Combs or Will.i.am) seems downright jaw-dropping, meant as flattering but sounding almost insulting to Mandela.  We're treated to videos of fashion shows and near-breathless discussions of the fashions presented (some archival footage from Talley's personal collection), but I don't think non-fashion mavens would know what to notice.

Moreover, the closing footage of Talley holding court at the Met Gala where Combs, Rihanna and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Brady gushing about him and themselves has the effect of reminding us just how removed this world is from our own.

The Gospel According to André does not help its case by putting the 2016 election in the background. Talley seems pretty excited for the election, and in this circle we see the confidence of how Hillary Clinton was going to sweep into victory. One of his clients to whom he gives fashion advise to told him on Election Day that her 'Pakistani guru' had told her they had nothing to worry about and thus, they could open the champagne.

We then see him observing the Inauguration of Donald Trump and admitting he would be crucified for complimenting First Lady Melania Trump's look.

As if 'Pakistani guru' wasn't enough to make Talley's circle look pretty bonkers.

Why was he passionate about politics? Did he see this as a continuation against the entrenched bigotry in the fashion world? The lack of African-Americans or other minorities in positions of power at magazines or fashion houses? The continuing struggle for representation on covers and runways?

That would have been interesting to explore, and we get hints of that. The best moments were the ones that revealed Talley the man, such as his joy at seeing an African-American First Lady or the hurt remembering the 'Queen Kong' jab. Listening to him say "I don't live for fashion. I live for beauty and style" are the good moments, ones that would have made The Gospel According to André a fascinating portrait.

Seeing him with Isabella Rossellini and her literal pigs or hearing Tom Brady and Giselle touch on their own greatness is not fascinating but in turns bizarre and narcissistic. 

The Gospel According to André is not a bad film by any stretch. It just does not make a case as to why people should care about this larger-than-life figure. Still, it takes a look at a unique figure in fashion who has something to say.

Born 1949

DECISION: C-

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Boom For Real: A Review

Image result for boom for real the late teenage years of jean-michel basquiatBOOM FOR REAL: THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

To be perfectly honest I do not like the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat. My artistic tastes, with some exceptions, don't go past Guernica, which I think is the last great painting. I have a dim view of modern and post-modern art, and my art teacher once despaired for my soul after I told her I thought Jackson Pollack was just 'a bunch of squiggles'. Boom For Real, the documentary of Basquiat's life from his early emergence in the New York art scene to when he first broke through to general recognition, does a good job in chronicling his world. It informs but is probably geared more for those who are Basquiat fans than those who are not. Still, one leaves with some idea of who he was in this portrait of the artist as a young man.

Using archival footage and interviews specific to Boom For Real, we learn that Jean-Michel started out in New York at a time when the city was on the verge of collapse. The crumbling infrastructure of the Big Apple opened up a new artistic world for the avant-garde that rejected the Establishment. This was the world that embraced people like Jim Jarmusch and The Talking Heads.

Into it came Jean-Michel, first under the nom de artiste Samoo (as in 'Same Old') doing graffiti even though he was not strictly a graffiti artist or someone from that world. Instead, Samoo would include text along with the graffiti, sparking the attention of others.

Soon, he and the underground art scene started embracing street elements such as break-dancing and what would become hip-hop even if Basquiat had a fondness for industrial music himself. He and other artists started creating and blending music into their work.

Image result for boom for real the late teenage years of jean-michel basquiatThere was, however, a dark element into this burgeoning world: heroin. Along with Basquiat's wild productivity and inventiveness, there was the danger this drug introduced.

Some in the avant-garde saw the dangers in heroin. Some did not. Jean-Michel was in the latter group.

Things culminate in the Times Square Show, an exhibition where the first rumblings of this Haitian-Puerto Rican artist start to emerge.

Boom For Real essentially stops after he sold his first piece, I figure in those 'and the rest is history' moments. Those who were interviewed certainly think highly of Jean-Michel Basquiat as an artist. One says that his name will be spoken alongside such figures as Da Vinci, de Kooning, Titian and Jackson Pollack.

I figure that was a compliment, but as I am not a fan of Pollack and don't think much of de Kooning, I am not won over to think Basquiat the artist is someone I should add to my collection. Moreover, I find the comparison to Da Vinci or Titian almost laughable, as I find them to be on another level of artistic brilliance.  It's like trying to convince me Frank Lloyd Wright is on the same level as the architects of the Soviet era.

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Perhaps herein is where I feel a bit removed from Boom For Real. I learn a lot about Jean-Michel Basquiat as an emerging artist and of the creative world he lived in. What I don't think I got much of was Basquiat the person. Those interviewed again had great admiration for him as an artist and as a person. However, director Sara Driver seemed more interested in how he affected them and in the world they shared than in who Basquiat was, what drove him to create, what influences he had.


Jean-Michel Basquiat still seems a bit apart from things, like his paintings something to admire, even hold up as great but still remote and distant from those of us who find it hard to embrace his work.

As a side note, for me, art is something to be enjoyed, something to bring you pleasure. I find many Basquiat paintings do not bring me pleasure. I don't take away from those who do find pleasure in them, but I cannot find myself ever interested in buying any of them even if I had the money to do so. I might reevaluate my views on his artwork, but for the moment, I'm not convinced. Boom For Real did not convince me either.

However, we do get an interesting portrait into this lost world (no pun intended). We see the creativity coming from a world in disarray and despair, where new voices push up to be heard. Boom For Real covers this world slightly more than the subject of Basquiat, and sometimes the mix of regular film and a 16-millimeter style is a bit off-putting.

On the whole though, one does get an interesting look at the light and dark side of creativity, something to encourage.

1960-1988

DECISION: C-

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Quiet Place: A Review (Review #1140)

A QUIET PLACE

A Quiet Place is not strictly speaking a 'silent' film. However, I don't think silence and sound have been as well-used in a film as well as A Quiet Place does in a long time. Keeping within the traditions of a horror and science-fiction film, A Quiet Place draws from the past to create something original: a logical film that brings its frights less through gore than through genuine tension.

We start at Day 89 of a worldwide disaster and quickly find that aliens have invaded Earth, hunting down beings through sound. The Abbott family has managed to survive, in part because of their daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf. As such, they can communicate via American Sign Language.

Tragically, Regan's younger brother Beau (Cade Woodward) has become fascinated with a toy space shuttle. Their father Lee (director/cowriter John Krasinski) denies him the toy while the family scavenges for supplies, signing that it is too loud. Regan, however, quietly gives it to him, along with the batteries. As the family comes close to crossing the bridge back to their isolated farmhouse, Beau turns the toy on, and despite Lee's frantic rush to rescue his son the aliens manage to grab and kill Beau.

It is now Day 472. Lee continues to try and make contact with anyone via Morse code, and the family prepares for a new arrival. Lee's wife Evelyn (Krasinski's real-life wife, Emily Blunt) is pregnant. Lee, Evelyn, Regan and their surviving son Marcus (Noah Jupe) have been preparing a quiet room where she can deliver the child. Regan carries both guilt and anger, constantly frustrated by Lee's failed efforts to create a working implant.

Now on the critical Day 473 everything happens. Regan seems to run away at the worst time. She wanted to go with Lee to learn to hunt and fish, but he'd rather take the more reluctant Marcus, urging Regan to stay with her mother. Evelyn not only goes into labor while Lee and Marcus are off to train for when Lee may not be around but injures herself on an exposed nail. The aliens are coming closer to their homestead, and it becomes a race to save Evelyn and all the children, including the newborn.

Not everyone survives this dark night, but the high-pitch sound Regan's new implant emits has a negative effect on the aliens. With this discovery, Evelyn is now able to finally fight back.

Image result for a quiet placeA Quiet Place, intentionally or not, draws inspiration or at least comparison to such dystopian stories as The Omega Man in the tale of survivors in a hostile world. One of its best moves is in how it handles sound, or the absence of it.

With the lack of sound or voices, the 'jump scares' come from when that silence is broken. We become so immersed in this silent world that when that silence is shattered, we get surprised.

The film is especially good at capturing Regan's total silence, particularly in the beginning where she cannot hear the toy. The total silence juxtaposed to the alarming sound, along with Blunt's inability to scream out either in terror or Krasinski's inability to shout out a warning increases the tension.

Krasinski as a director also allows sound to enhance the story. There is a tender moment in Day 472 when Evelyn puts her iPod headphones to Lee's ear, and Neil Young's Harvest Moon breaks the stillness. This counteracts the potential for fear and makes the scene more tender, romantic and moving. Few films have used sound and silence and Harvest Moon to such beautiful use, telling us the deep love between Lee and Evelyn without having to use words or even sound.

Interestingly, it is not until 36 minutes until we hear actual dialogue spoken, everything communicated by either American Sign Language or facial/body expressions. A Quiet Place has a logical reason for this (louder noises such as the waterfall mask their voices). This allows for some break in the tension and a chance to allow the actors to use their voices.

Krasinski as a director has made a fine film, well-crafted where the visuals and sound (or lack thereof) works to build up the tension. There are some scenes that are visually arresting, such as when the quiet room starts to flood. The image of the crib floating in the water is almost Biblical, an intentional/unintentional call-back to Moses floating down the Nile. I doubt such thoughts were in the minds of Krasinski or his cowriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, but I got that from them.

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He also draws exceptional performances from his small cast (there are only six credited castmembers, all but one a member of the Abbott family, and all the non-Abbott member did was scream to commit suicide-by-alien). Blunt is brilliant as Evelyn, who has to communicate so much with just her face (I think she has maybe one scene with actual dialogue if memory serves correct). Krasinski too holds his own as the paterfamilias, the constant look of worry hanging over him as an intense burden.

His signing of love to Regan and Marcus is a beautiful and heartbreaking moment.

It's a credit to Krasinski as director that he got such strong performances out of his young cast. Simmonds is strong as Regan, the mixture of frustration, regret and fear never failing to elicit a response. Same for Jupe, whose fears are natural in this supernatural world but who has a strong moment with Krasinski, urging his father to tell Regan he loves her and does not blame her for Beau's death.

If there are flaws in A Quiet Place, it is in the overt foreshadowing we get, such as when we see the nail emerge on the staircase. I also did not understand why Lee and Evelyn were so resistant to letting Regan into the basement where Lee had his informal lab. His refusal to let her help him forage for food is slightly more logical but strange given Marcus' reluctance to Regan's eagerness. Finally, the resolution to the alien crisis, while not just 'suddenly discovered', seems slightly convenient.

These are small quibbles in a finely-crafted film that gives us frights and heart. A Quiet Place is more than just an alien invasion story. It's a story about family, about parents who would do everything to protect their children, down to sacrificing themselves. The mixture of intelligence and heart elevates A Quiet Place to being one of the best films of the year, one that both fits into and transcends the horror/sci-fi genre.



DECISION: B+

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Robin Hood: The Conclusions Part 1

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ROBIN HOOD: THE CONCLUSIONS
PART 1

Well, we've come to the end of our Robin Hood retrospective. Ten films, including two previously reviewed Robin Hood films before the latest version came earlier this year. Now it is time to take another look, though perhaps not a final one, at this story of the outlaw who 'robbed from the rich to give to the poor'.

Once again, the films are:

1922: Robin Hood
1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood
1952: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men
1967: A Challenge for Robin Hood
1973: Robin Hood (animated version)
1976: Robin and Marian
1991: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
1993: Robin Hood: Men in Tights
2010: Robin Hood
2018: Robin Hood (originally titled Robin Hood: Origins)

This is a very expansive topic, and perhaps in the future I may revisit it for a more in-depth analysis; for now, let's stick to looking at just my rankings. This section covers the primary characters. In Part 2, I will look at the Merry Men, some of whom do not appear in some Robin Hood films.

They are ranked in order from best to worst, with brief thoughts following. To help sort out who goes where, I've added the year next to the name.

BEST ROBIN HOOD

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  1. Errol Flynn (1938) (29 years old: tied for youngest with Taron Egerton)
  2. Brian Bedford (1973) (38 years old)
  3. Douglas Fairbanks (1922) (39 years old)
  4. Sean Connery (1976) (46 years old: tied for oldest with Russell Crowe)
  5. Cary Elwes (1993) (31 years old)
  6. Kevin Costner (1991) (36 years old)
  7. Richard Todd (1952) (33 years old)
  8. Russell Crowe (2010) (46 years old: tied for oldest with Sean Connery)
  9. Taron Egerton (2018) (29 years old: tied for youngest with Errol Flynn)
  10. Barrie Ingham (1967) (35 years old)


It's been eighty years since The Adventures of Robin Hood premiered, and yet no one has ever been able to dislodge Errol Flynn as the definitive Robin Hood. He really put the 'merry' in the Merry Men, and there's a reason the spoof was called Men in Tights.  Flynn's lusty portrayal of the Saxon nobleman turned outlaw is still what we think of when we think of Robin Hood: the outfit, the swagger, the laughter and charm. No matter how one goes about it, either in embracing the image as the animated version or spoof did, or trying to get away from it as the two most recent versions have, there simply is no getting around Flynn's version.

For good or bad, everyone else save Flynn was out-acted by an animated fox. Bedford's version has Flynn's swagger and devil-may-care manner and more importantly, his charm. He edges out Fairbanks, who today may come across as rather outlandish. However, Douglas edges out Connery only in that Fairbanks was the original to whom Flynn's portrayal owes a great debt to. I also give Fairbanks points for being almost 40 and still being so wildly athletic. Connery's Robin still has that bit of a rascal to him, but he is an older, more mature Robin, one tinged with regret.

Elwes' quip about "unlike other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent" was clearly a dig at Costner, but six out of the ten actors who have played Robin have been British (I figure Egerton would argue he's Welsh and Connery would say Scottish, but why quibble). Two have been Australian (Flynn and Crowe) and two American (Fairbanks and Costner). Fairbanks, however, was in a silent film, so there was no accent to speak of. Elwes ranks higher because he balanced the derring-do with the spoof, showing he could easily play a straight Robin. Costner, accent aside, at least was of a better age than Todd, who despite being 33 looked younger. Also, who really remembers Richard Todd as Robin Hood versus Kevin Costner (accent aside)?

Todd at least was better than the growly, morose and crabby Crowe doing Gladiator: Medieval Times. He was nearing 50, a pretty odd age to start a franchise of seeing him leaping about Sherwood Forest. Once again age plays an issue as we go down the list, as Crowe at least looked like an adult worn down by war versus the youthful Egerton, who made Robin look like a cosplayer. Isn't it interesting that while Flynn and Egerton were the same age when they played Robin, one looked like an adult and one didn't?

Finally, Ingham was my worst because he just gave a bad performance.

BEST MAID MARIAN

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  1. Olivia de Havilland (1938) (22 years old: tied for youngest with Joan Rice)
  2. Audrey Hepburn (1976) (47 years old: oldest Maid Marian)
  3. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (1991) (33 years old)
  4. Amy Yasbeck (1993) (31 years old)
  5. Joan Rice (1952) (22 years old: tied for youngest with Olivia de Havilland)
  6. Monica Evans (1976) (36 years old)
  7. Enid Bennett (1922) (29 years old)
  8. Cate Blanchett (2010) (41 years old)
  9. Eve Hewson (2018) (27 years old)
  10. Gay Hamilton (1967) (24 years old)


It is extraordinary that as of this writing, Dame Olivia de Havilland is still with us at age 102. She really is 'the last movie star', or at least one of the last figures from that so-called "Golden Age of Cinema" still with us.

It was a really tough race to decide between de Havilland and Hepburn, but in the end, I gave the thinnest of edges to de Havilland due to the character's evolution. In The Adventures of Robin Hood, we see her transformation from haughty Norman royal ward to an English rose, one who sees beyond prejudice to help Robin. The passion Marian develops for Robin is in her performance, and you marvel at how youthful and beautiful both Marian and de Havilland are.

Hepburn maintained her great beauty even as she advanced in age, and in Robin and Marian we see a woman filled with love for Robin but who has moved on. As the Mother Abbess she is strong, even independent, but the sight of Robin sparks within her those old feelings of tenderness. Her final speech to a dying Robin are so beautifully rendered.

Mastrantonio deserves credit for developing, or at least pushing, the idea of Maid Marian in a better direction. Less 'damsel-in-distress' and more 'warrior princess', her Marian at least initially started out capable of holding her own. No cinematic version yet has given Marian a stronger persona, but Mastrantonio at least was a step in the right direction. Yasbeck knew that Men in Tights was a spoof but she didn't make Marian into an idiot. In certain ways, she was much smarter than the himbo Robin.

I'm giving Rice a slight edge in that unlike other Marians, she at least did something. Evans was pretty as our vixen, but she disappeared for a lot of Robin Hood to where I forgot she was there. Bennett was a bit too fluttery as Marian.

Dear me but Blanchett was horrendous as Marian, with no enthusiasm and almost a contempt for the whole thing. She at least had some sense, which is more than I can saw for Hewson, who was nothing. Even Hewson's blank performance was better than Hamilton, who was there in body but not in anything else.

BEST SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM

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  1. Alan Rickman (1991)
  2. Melville Cooper (1938)
  3. Robert Shaw (1976)
  4. Pat Buttram (1973)
  5. Peter Finch (1952)
  6. William Lowery (1922)
  7. Roger Rees (1993)
  8. John Arnatt (1952)
  9. Matthew Macfayden (2010)
  10. Ben Mendelsohn (2018)


While the Sheriff of Nottingham has appeared in every Robin Hood story, he is not always the villain curiously enough. We'll look at the antagonists a little later, but for now we're staying with our wicked Sheriff.

There is really only one performer who has made the Sheriff into an iconic role, and that is the late-and-much-missed Rickman as our bonkers Sheriff. His performance is in turns malevolent and almost mirthful, a figure who knows he's evil and makes no apologies for it. He pushes camp without going full-on overboard, someone who is clearly a menace but who is almost childlike in his manner. Whether it's his command to 'cancel Christmas' or his lusting after the Maid Marian, Rickman commands the screen so much he blows everyone away. The film may be Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but it's the Sheriff who leaves a major impression to where he might as well be the star of the film.

Cooper is unique among Sheriffs in that he is clearly comic relief, as far away from Rickman's version as one can get. Actually, he's as far away from any version of the Sheriff. He is clearly an idiot, blustering fool who is of no menace to anyone. However, that's the performance that it was meant to be. Again, unlike other Robin Hood films, his Sheriff was not the antagonist, otherwise it would have been a short film. Cooper manages to be comical without it seeming totally idiotic to think he'd be the Sheriff. It's a great balance and a credit to him as an actor.

Shaw's Sheriff was more calculating, more methodical. He was not the raging, bonkers Rickman or the blustery Cooper. Instead, he was more than willing to bide his time until Robin came to him. He is a confident antagonist, which makes him a more menacing one.  Buttram was just nasty, fitting for a wolf, and his unique voice got some of the humor without losing the meanness of his Sheriff.

We forget Finch was in a Robin Hood film, which is why he ranks somewhere in the middle. He was not bad, but his performance was not in the same level as his later career would be. I don't really remember Lowery, but he ranks higher because Rees' spoof was not as funny as it could have been.

Arnatt was more unintentionally comical, but at least he had a role in A Challenge for Robin Hood.  That's again more than I can say for Macfayden, who was not so much inept as he was unnecessary. He was just there to start up for the hoped-for franchise that did not come. Poor Mendelsohn, like Macfayden, is doomed to be in a film that was meant as a franchise but that will get no sequel. Unlike Macfayden, however, Mendelsohn was in the thick of it, and his performance was just sad: bonkers but pointless.

BEST VILLAIN

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  1. Sir Guy of Gisbourne (1938)
  2. Sheriff of Nottingham (1991)
  3. Sheriff of Nottingham (1976)
  4. Sheriff of Nottingham (1973)
  5. Sheriff of Nottingham (1952)
  6. Prince John (1922)
  7. Sheriff of Rattingham (1993)
  8. Sir Godfrey (2010)
  9. Sir Roger De Courtnay (1967)
  10. Sheriff of Nottingham (2018)


Again, there have been films where Robin's main antagonist is not the Sheriff of Nottingham. Our bad Sheriff has been Robin's primary antagonist, but not his exclusive one.

In all the Robin Hood films, we see one antagonist who really commands our respect and even fear. That is Basil Rathbone as the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne, a character who has appeared in four versions (1922, 1938, 1991 and 2018). Rathbone's Sir Guy is the most dangerous of villains: a smart one. He is unrepentant, unafraid and almost Robin's equal. He is the Moriarty to Robin's Sherlock Holmes, the Master to Robin's The Doctor. His wickedness, his bigotry, his contempt for his hated rival is matched by his skills as a fencer and plotter. He is not to be trifled with, which makes Robin's gleeful trifling all the more grating.

Rickman comes close to matching Rathbone in spirit, his Sheriff clearly malevolent but unlike Rathbone, slightly more aware of the grandness of his malevolence. Shaw has Rathbone's plotting nature but not his rage or antagonism. Buttram's Sheriff is slightly more comical but again with a nasty side.

Again, I cannot recall much of Sam De Grasse's Prince John, but he was not afraid to hang people to get his way. I give Rees the slight edge over the others in that at least it was meant to be funny. The others just ended up funny. Mark Strong's Sir Godfrey was so unimaginative and I don't remember him at all. I remember Blythe's Sir Roger as being camp with a capital C.

As for Mendelsohn, all he did was act as if this were an elaborate dress rehearsal for the next Star Wars film. Really, he ought to try doing a comedy.

BEST VERSION




  1. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  2. Robin Hood (1922)
  3. Robin and Marian (1976)
  4. Robin Hood (1973)
  5. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
  6. The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)
  7. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
  8. Robin Hood (2018)
  9. Robin Hood (2010)
  10. A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967)


As if there were any other choice?

The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of the greatest films ever made. It has action, romance, comedy, a thrilling score, a fast-pace, engaging story and simply perfect performances all around. Every film save the original silent version is in its shadow. It has been spoofed, it has been name-checked in other films (such as The Rocketeer, where an Errol Flynn-type actor was doing a Robin Hood-type movie).

It also is the standard to which all other Robin Hood films are measured against. Even at 80 years, it is still seen and loved.

The silent Robin Hood ranks slightly higher only because in many ways, the Flynn version emulates it: the athleticism, the romance, the danger, the cockiness all come consciously or not from the silent film version. Even as it closes in on the century mark, it still holds up rather well.

Robin and Marion is a beautiful meditation on aging, on regret and love rediscovered. It's a deeper and more moving film that really should be rediscovered. It also has a beautiful John Barry score, which while not as good as Erich Wolfgang Korngold's is still quite a fantastic piece of music.

The animated Robin Hood is by no means perfect. You can see where Disney cut corners, but it has its own charm and is a nice way to introduce children to the story. As much as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is bashed, and with cause, I found myself entertained enough to like it. It also helps that it has Alan Rickman's bravura performance and the introduction of the 'noble Muslim', something that almost all succeeding Robin Hoods have included.

The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men is pleasant enough, though not something I would rush to see again. It's also probably the last good Robin Hood film seen in this retrospective.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights has only the songs and Cary Elwes & Amy Yasbeck's performance to really recommend it. The jokes were obvious and not funny, and it's only to Elwes and Yasbeck's credit that they managed to make it watchable.

The two failed franchise-starters in 2010 and 2018 were awful. The only difference is that 2018 did not take itself as seriously as 2010, not that that's a recommendation. Robin Hood 2018 thinks it's smart. Robin Hood 2010 thinks it's important. Both are dead-wrong.

As for A Challenge for Robin Hood, the challenge as I wrote is to stay awake. Apart from James Hayter's performance as Friar Tuck, the movie is a bore.

Well, there it is, but there is more. I'll look at the Merry Men in the future. I may also give a deeper look at the various films. For now, however, I think we've reached the end of our romp through Sherwood Forest.

At least until the next version comes along...

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Robin Hood (2018): A Review

Image result for robin hood 2018ROBIN HOOD (2018)

Memory is a curious thing. It can make one nostalgic for things that perhaps were not good.  It can also make us quickly forget how soon or long-ago something happened.

Such is the case with Robin Hood.  It has been just eight years since our Chief Merry Man had the cinematic treatment in a failed franchise starter with a very unmerry Russell Crowe as our title character.

Now we turn to Taron Egerton, who at 29 may be the youngest actor to take the role. He's done the action/franchise thing already with the Kingsman films, so why not have another go at a new series? Robin Hood was originally titled Robin Hood: Origins, but perhaps in the only sane decision involving this film, they dropped the obvious signal that this was meant to be the first part of a Sherwood Forest Cinematic Universe.

Robin Hood is not the worst film I've seen this year, but it is perhaps the funniest one...funnier even than Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and that one was meant to be a spoof. Robin Hood 2018 just ended up as one.

Robin, Lord Loxley (Egerton) is a wealthy Englishman who catches a horse thief. Twist: it's a woman named Marian (Eve Hewson). Very quickly an affair begins until the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) drafts him into the Third Crusade.

I mean literally: Robin gets a letter with the words 'DRAFT NOTICE' and that this is the Third Crusade.



At this point, the first thing that popped into my head is when Bugs Bunny is aghast to find that he was drafted, but I digress.

Off to 'Arabia' Robin goes, where he and his fellow Crusaders, in uniforms closer to Desert Storm gear than Crusader clothing, go through a combination Gears of War and Medieval Sniper, leading to the capture of Moors. One of the Moors sees the Crusaders behead his son, though Robin tried to stop the beheading. The only thing saving Robin is that he's a Lord, so he's sent back to England rather than killed outright.

Back in very unmerry England, Robin finds himself declared dead, his properties taken, and Marian married, or at least involved with Will Tillman (Jamie Dornan), who is something of a politician. The Sheriff, having gone full Trump with the "give me money or those invaders will come here" shtick, is bleeding the population dry while they work in the mines.

Robin is astonished to find the Moor in Nottingham, the Moor having stowed away on the ship for three months. He survived undetected because...reasons.  Now going by John (Jamie Foxx), he will train Robin or 'Rob' as he's more often called to thwart the Sheriff and do a little redistribution of wealth. However, Rob has to have a secret identity...the Batman, I mean, the Hood.

Image result for robin hood 2018Rob has to cotton up to the bonkers Sheriff while simultaneously robbing him blind. This is complicated by his continuing desire for Marian and the moderation Will seeks. He does have an ally in Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), who knows something of the inner workings of the Catholic Church, which is also in cahoots with the Sheriff in some really bonkers scheme to play both ends in this war against 'the Christians' and 'the Muslims' and take the throne.

In the end, Rob inspires the people to rise up against their oppressors in Nottingham, especially after the Sheriff has ordered the mines and nearby homes cleared. This leads to an epic street battle between the Sheriff's troops and the population.

We end with Rob, Marian and many other men heading to Sherwood Forest, while the wicked Cardinal (F. Murray Abraham) appoints a new leader. Yes, there literally is a new Sheriff in town...Will Scarlet-Tillman, his transformation into the Dark Ages Two-Face act now complete.

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Political messaging in Robin Hood?
Whatever gave you that idea?
It is apt that Robin Hood was released on this Thanksgiving Day weekend as it is a most delightful turkey. First-time screenwriters Ben Chandler and David James Kelly decided that their Robin Hood was going to be hip, contemporary, brimming with allegory if not downright insightful social commentary. What they accomplished was to both virtue-signal and show themselves to be inept at just about every element.

You can look at how they thought they were being clever by having parallels between the Nottingham peasants (who are curiously multicultural for Tenth Century Britain) and Antifa protesters. You can see the same in Robin's call for 'a distribution of wealth' (his exact words).

You can look at how they thought they were being hip by having almost everyone call our title character 'Rob' as opposed to 'Robin' (as perhaps 'Robin' isn't what the kids look for in a hero). You can see the same in the outfits our characters wear. Robin seems fond of Nehru jackets, the Sheriff wears what appears to be a coat borrowed from the Star Wars films, and with his beanie and long hair one would not be surprised if Friar Tuck played hacky sack between confessions.

You can look at how they thought they were being contemporary with what can be described as a Medieval Rave. At the party where Rob keeps up his 'false identity', the decadent elites in their far-out costumes and casino setting (because roulette tables were routine in this era), I was genuinely surprised they didn't actually have thumping techno music blaring.

I mean that totally sincerely...I was expecting Andy Hunter to be spinning tracks

The only thing Chandler and Kelly showed themselves to be was essentially thieves, ripping off Batman Begins & The Dark Knight in terms of plot, with touches of American Sniper and V for Vendetta at the very least. I don't think the whole 'secret identity' has been the focus or a major part of the Robin Hood mythos, at least not to the degree Robin Hood has had it.

Image result for robin hood 2018Not that first-time film director Otto Bathurst did himself any favors with any non-script ideas. I don't think we've seen such a lousy collection of acting in a film. Egerton is not without talent, but the only thing he offers here is cockiness, and cockiness doth not a hero make. Apart from the obligatory shirtless scene where he shows how much he's worked out this Robin comes across as not really changed all that much from his war experience.

Hewson's Marian similarly has nothing to go with, and worse, the efforts to make her more 'heroic' and 'strong' fall flat when our introduction to her has her disguising everything but her cleavage. She speaks as if she has a faint grasp of English. Dornan continues to show he cannot act, and this time he does not have his body to show off as he did in the Fifty Shades films. His Will makes it hard to imagine anyone would wonder why Marian wavers between the two. And why is he Irish?

Accents are a puzzle, especially with Foxx who slips between vaguely foreign and American. He is so irrelevant as John (and at 5'9" he would be among the smallest Little Johns in film history) that when he disappears for long stretches I genuinely forgot he was even in the film.

Mendelsohn has cornered the market on 'crazed villains' at this point, and he either has embraced the hamminess of it all or just decided Robin Hood was dress rehearsal for the next Star Wars film. The scene between Mendelsohn and Abraham was hilarious in terms of how they seemed to try to out overact the other. Both of them were so over-the-top individually that together they were a laugh riot.

Minchin seems to be the only one who might escape relatively unharmed, his Tuck more a bumbling muddled but well-meaning figure than anything else. I do, however, wonder how he came to own spectacles, but historical details are unimportant in Robin Hood. You can tell by the costumes which were a bit too contemporary for the times and the sets that made Nottingham look like a theme park.

The film sets up a sequel, just like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, another film it cribs from shamelessly. Robin Hood won't earn enough to make a follow-up, and even if it did, with bad acting and a terrible shambles of a story why would or should there be?



DECISION: D-

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Robin Hood: Men in Tights. A Review


ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS

It is not surprising that the legend of Robin Hood, not to mention the various film versions of said legend, were finally sent up in a spoof. Robin Hood: Men in Tights is more a spoof of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (a film that despite my own enjoyment of it already played somewhat like a spoof) than the overall Robin Hood mythos. While the film has a few really funny moments, too many sight gags and obvious set-ups ruin what could have been a fun romp.

Our Robin of Loxley (Cary Elwes) finds that the Crusades aren't all they're cracked out to be. He leads a mass escape with help from Islamic prisoner Asneeze (Isaac Hayes) before returning to England. Asneeze asks Robin to find his son Ahchoo (Dave Chappelle), who according to Asneeze is 'an exchange student'. The eager himbo agrees.

Once back home, he finds his castle literally repossessed, with only the blind servant Blinkin (Mark Blankfield) remaining.

At this point, I wonder where Winkin and Nod went to, but I digress.

Related imageRobin is determined to restore his lands, but he'll have to face against the evil Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees), who is in cahoots with the very neurotic Prince John (Richard Lewis). Robin finds Ahchoo and then builds up more of the Merry Men. There's Little John (Eric Allan Kramer) and master knife fighter Will Scarlet O'Hara (Matthew Poretta), who says he's from Georgia.

That seems to be the height of Men in Tights' wit.

This 'uprising' is a consternation to Rattingham and John, and the latter needs the help of Latrine (Tracy Ullman), who looks like a witch but is really the cook. She's got the hots for Rattingham, who in turn has the hots for Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck). She in turn catches sight of Robin and it's instant love, even if her chastity belt plays havoc with her desires.

Rattingham hires Don Giovanni (Dom DeLuise) to use a hitman to kill Robin at an archery contest, but while that plot goes wrong Robin is still captured. Marian agrees to marry Rattingham in exchange for his life.

Obviously, Rattingham isn't going to keep his end of the bargain, but with a little help from the Merry Men and Marian's lady-in-waiting Broomhilde (Megan Cavanaugh), along with Rabbi Tuckman (co-writer/director Mel Brooks), it will be a final confrontation where our lovebirds end up happily ever after.

Image result for robin hood men in tightsRobin Hood: Men in Tights does have funny moments, but oddly they come from the musical numbers versus the actual story. Both the Sherwood Forest Rap and the title song are hilarious. The song Marian, Marian that Lady Marian sings is surprisingly tender and sweet. It makes one wonder why there hasn't been a straight Robin Hood musical. 

The best performance is that of Elwes as our cocky and somewhat dimwitted Robin, who comes across as an eager young man at times blissfully unaware of his idiocy while maintaining an air of confidence. He is on the joke without overplaying the joke. Elwes' Robin comes across as both funny and earnest, someone who means well but is also clueless.

Yasbeck too plays things with a more deft comic touch, aware that this is a spoof but not being broad. Rees rises above what he's given as Rattingham, especially given that his constant malapropisms soon disappear.

There were funny moments and lines in Men in Tights. Chappelle's nod to Malcolm X was funny, as was DeLouise's dead-on The Godfather imitation. Lewis' crack that Latrine's meal "looks like a Seder at Vincent Price's house" was also amusing.

However, the rest of Men in Tights flounders, primarily due to Brooks and his co-writers Evan Chandler and J. David Shapiro. They consistently call out that 'this is a movie', and while a little meta never hurt anyone, they do it so often that you end up waiting for the next 'oh look we're in a movie' bit to drop. Whether it's when a window is broken to reveal a "crew member" or Dick Van Patten's cameo as a church Abbot hitting the camera with his staff, the film loves to point out itself.

As a side note, the Abbot commenting "I hate that guy" when someone sounding suspiciously like Costello calls out "HEY ABBOT!" is a funny in-joke.

Image result for robin hood men in tights
Men in Tights also seems to call out past Brooks films, and not to its benefit apart from Patrick Stewart's cameo as King Richard (itself a spoofing of Sean Connery's cameo in Prince of Thieves). Any chance to hear Brooks quip "It's good to be the King" is welcome.

Other throwbacks, not too good. Broomhilde's quest to keep Marian pure looks like a throwback to Spaceballs' 'virgin alarm'. Worse was their penchant for signaling the jokes a mile ahead. When, for example, Robin and Little John are fighting with quarter-staffs, I already knew they'd end breaking them again and again. When the heavyset Broomhilde was ready to jump onto her horse, we all knew what would happen next.

Men in Tights is also, curiously, a bit dated. You get Arsenio Hall Show shout-outs and the Atlanta Braves' Chop, which while I found amusing I'm not sure hold up well. Finally, it throws things in and doesn't do anything with them. Will Scarlet O'Hara comes from Georgia, but they never do anything with it. The 'Ahchoo' bit wasn't that funny the first time round, but the response of 'bless you' gets worse until they mercifully stop it.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights has some funny bits and surprisingly good songs. It shows that Cary Elwes could have played a great straight Robin Hood or a comic Robin Hood. However, all that isn't enough to make the unintentionally funny Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves more enjoyable than the allegedly intentionally funny Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

DECISION: D+

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Love, Gilda: A Review

LOVE, GILDA

Gilda Radner was a true comedic genius, a bright, bubbly person both as part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live and on her own. She was taken far too soon at age 42, the enormous talent silenced when it should have been at its apex. Love, Gilda is the chronicle of her life and career, a nice tribute to Radner's gift and a good introduction to those far too young to remember her.

Using a wealth of archival footage from the Radner family, along with her various performances pre-and-post Saturday Night Live and interviews with both costars and current comic stars like Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader, we see Radner's journey. Starting out as the funny and fun-loving daughter in Detroit through her stint at the University of Michigan, Radner follows one of her many boyfriends to Toronto.

There, she feels slightly suffocated until she returns to entertaining. She makes a splash at Second City comedy troupe, which sends her to New York where she has to work hard to get her own voice in.

Then comes Saturday Night Live, where Radner was the first Not Ready for Primetime Players cast. The first few episodes were not a hit, but slowly, thanks in part to her characters such as sweet-but-addled Emily Litella and brash Rosanne Roseannadana made her a star.

Image result for love gildaDespite that, she finds herself paying a heavy price for fame. That price is a sense of isolation both personally and socially. Looking back at old journals and photo albums, her sister and brother remark that Gilda couldn't see Ghostbusters because she had at one point dated the cast members save Rick Moranis. We also hear through Melissa McCarthy's reading of Radner's journals how once, she received the results of urine tests with a note attached. "It was an honor to analyze your urine", the note read in part.

Yes, that is funny, but also indicative of how bizarre her world was.

Then came marriage...and love. She marries G.E. Smith, the guitarist for her band, but then quickly falls in love with Gene Wilder, whom she costarred with in the perhaps appropriately-named Hanky Panky.

Their efforts to be both parents and a new comedy duo led to the discovery that Radner had ovarian cancer. Love, Gilda chronicles her final battle, both her efforts to remain upbeat and her down moments up to the false hope that she had gone into remission.

Love, Gilda has the positive of having Radner's own voice both metaphorically and literally thanks to both her journals and her audio-cassette recordings. Occasionally, Radner's successors in the comedy world such as McCarthy, Rudolph and Amy Poehler narrate her words, even adding some comments (McCarthy is shocked that someone would find urine analysis an honor).

What we get in Love, Gilda is both a chronicle of Radner's extraordinary talent and the struggles professional and personal Radner encounters. What perhaps we don't get is more about said talent and/or struggles. In many ways, Love, Gilda is more a cursory look rather than say how she came about to create her legendary characters or her great love affair with Wilder (who died in 2016).

Curiously, her marriage to Smith and the end of it due to her romance with Wilder is barely touched on. So is the failure of the Radner/Wilder film Haunted Honeymoon specifically and Radner's film career in general. It's not a slam on Love, Gilda, just an observation on the film.

Despite that, even a cursory look at Gilda Radner is welcome, as Radner was a unique talent: funny, charming, talented and a very pleasant person who overcame much but sadly could not overcome her brutal illness. Love, Gilda is a celebration and recognition of this extraordinary comedienne who should not be forgotten.

When it comes to Gilda Radner, we'll never say "Never Mind".

Image result for gilda radner
1946-1989

DECISION: B-

Monday, November 19, 2018

American Beauty (1999): A Review

Image result for american beauty movieAMERICAN BEAUTY

In case you didn't know, Suburbia is Hell and the people who live there live lives of loud desperation, unfulfilled, miserable, empty. I have no idea why this is seen as something original, but American Beauty somehow thinks that this tale of Suburban Malaise is speaking truth to power. American Beauty, after almost twenty years, is more a product of its time than an eternal tale of human misery among the placid and perfectly manicured lawns.

A variation of Lolita with a hint of Spoon River Anthology, American Beauty is narrated from beyond the grave by Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey). Lester has been writing for Media Monthly Magazine for 14 years and may potentially be laid off. Not that Lester actually cares whether he is or not, as he has given up on life. His wife and daughter are no help or comfort and by his own admission consider him a loser.

His wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is obsessed with perfection and projecting a successful career image as a real estate agent. She, however, flounders in her profession and cannot match the success of her rival, Buddy 'King' Kane (Peter Gallagher). Lester and Carolyn's daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is morose and grumpy and hates both of them.

That does make her being part of the cheer squad at her school a puzzling decision. In an effort to 'show support', Lester and Carolyn go to a basketball game where Jane will entertain as part of the 'Spartanettes' dance team. And that's where Lester finds himself reborn.

Image result for american beauty movieThat 'recall to life' comes in the delicious form of Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), the aspiring model and what I would call Jane's frenemy (though the term hadn't been created yet).

Angela is Jane's best friend, but her erotic nature sparks Lester's libido like nothing has. He fantasizes about her in his sleep, dreaming she's enveloped in American Beauty rose petals.

This new spark shocks his wife and daughter, though only Jane knows of Lester's fixation. All Carolyn knows is that Lester has lost his mind.

He quits his job (after blackmailing the company to give him a year's pay), starts smoking pot and working out. He also tells off his wife and daughter while continuing to flirt with Angela, who flirts right back.

New complications come in the form of the Burnhams' neighbors, the Fitts. There's retired USMC Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), his catatonic wife Barbara (Allison Janney) and their son Ricky (Wes Bentley). Ricky loves videotaping the strangest things, such as floating plastic bag that he calls 'the most beautiful thing he's ever seen'. He's started videotaping the Burnhams, especially Jane, much to her initial horror and disgust but who soon warms to things. Ricky also funds his videotaping through pot-selling, which delights Lester as he tokes away while bulking up to seduce Angela.

Things really explode when Lester, now happily flipping burgers, enters the last day of his life. On this fateful day, Carolyn's affair with Buddy is discovered, Jane and Angela have a falling-out over Ricky, Ricky and Frank have a falling-out over a series of misunderstandings leading the virulently homophobic Colonel to think Ricky's gay, Angela reveals she is actually a virgin, and Lester is shot.

Image result for american beauty movie
American Beauty still holds some revered place in the pantheon of film critics, and I cannot say that it was a bad film, let alone badly-made. Director Sam Mendes in his film directing debut brought a beautiful-looking film. Mendes, and screenwriter Alan Ball, did know how to use music as subtext to reveal character. There was Carolyn's belting out Don't Rain on My Parade to lift her mood before finding Lester had grown more self-indulgent. There is also the 'mood music' Carolyn insists on playing at the very unhappy family dinner, where the newly-liberated Lester lets his rage out while Call Me Irresponsible plays on.

I just don't see now what I saw then, even when I 'look closer'.

I oftentimes wondered whether American Beauty was a very dark Saturday Night Live sketch gone bonkers, particularly with Bening's outwardly strong but internally crushed Carolyn. Her 'hysterical' reaction to Lester's blase attitude about quitting his job (and his openness about the circumstances) was broad to the point of infinity.

These were character sketches, not actual human beings to me. The disaffected middle-aged man who dumps his burdens. The shrewish wife. The sullen teen daughter. The teen temptress. The creepy neighbor kid. The homophobic military man who unsurprisingly turns out to be gay himself. Each of them was more a type than a person, all fitting into their own set roles.

Watching the film again, I could not help think that subconsciously or not, Ball drew from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Angela Hayes is not far from Dolores Haze (Lolita's real name). Like our nymphet, Angela has been tempting men sexually since she was twelve, albeit Angela says she knows it and is conscious of it.

As a side note, this is something Humbert would say...that Lolita seduced him rather than he raping her.

Image result for american beauty movieLester Burnham, like Humbert Humbert, is a middle-aged man lusting after a girl who could be his daughter and trapped in a miserable marriage. Like Humbert Humbert, he ends up dead.

Granted, there are differences. Lester for example is more open about his desires than Humbert, and he is the one murdered versus being a murderer. However, I don't think the distance is too far from Lolita to American Beauty.

I saw in the performances people 'acting', perhaps to compensate for these not being real people. From Spacey's 'I don't give a damn' manner to Bentley's 'I'm consciously bizarre' (his Vulcan eyebrows help) to Cooper's 'Look at me raging about gays in awful terms only to reveal myself to be suppressed' and Birch's 'I'm a mopey teenager', each character is one I found rather cartoonish and downright freakish.

Ball's cynicism, nihilism and utter hopelessness flows through all of American Beauty, this sense of the endless despair all these people have. I also have somewhat of a difficulty accepting all the wild coincidences on the day of Lester's death.

In terms of production I can't fault American Beauty. It has a strong score from Thomas Newman and the milieu of this Suburban Nightmare is well-rendered. I also did learn that 'Star 69' is how you dial the telephone number that just called you.

As I look back on American Beauty, I don't see actual people, let alone people I care about or for. I see types. I see almost a spoof of the 'Suburbianites Are Empty, Hollow Shells of Humans' story with overblown caricatures.

Let's not run with the dogs tonight...

           

DECISION: C-

2000 Best Picture Winner: Gladiator