21 May 2010: Robin Hood movie review

Robin Hood
From a video game

After the Citrix Synergy conference in San Francisco ended, I went to Cartoon Art Museum, which had exhibits on Beetle Bailey, Batman, and the art of Ed Hannigan. I later went to the Metreon shopping mall across from Yerba Buena Gardens for a falafel dinner, the “Hollywood Legends” costume exhibit, and the latest Robin Hood movie. Director Ridley Scott and lead actor Russell Crowe do a better job with the legendary English hero than Kevin Costner’s Prince of Thieves, even if the newer film contains almost as many anachronisms.

Scott conflates events including the Norman Conquest of Britain, King Richard the Lionhearted’s return from the Third Crusade and eventual demise, and his brother John’s reluctance to sign the Magna Carta. Robin Hood also shows tactics used in the battles of Crecy and Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War, yet it barely mentions the Saxon-Norman tension common to many versions of the legend, certainly since Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

As with Prince of Thieves (of which I’m not a big fan), castle defenses in the latest Robin Hood are breached with explosives, accents are intermittent, and the villains are underdeveloped stereotypes. The landing craft of the devious French troops is even a visual allusion to D Day, during which English and U.S. troops invaded the coast of Nazi-occupied France during World War II, not the other way around! In many ways, the battles and father-son drama make this movie more of a sequel to Kingdom of
Heaven
than about Robin Hood.

On the other hand, I was glad to see Robin depicted as a yeoman archer, and his supporting cast of brawny Little John, lighthearted Will Scarlet, the bard Alan a Dale, and chubby Friar Tuck was all in place. After some earlier controversy regarding the casting of Maid Marian, I liked Cate Blanchett in the role, which was made more substantial reflecting a modern feminist view of the late addition to Robin Hood‘s tales.

The sheriff of Nottingham, once the same person as the vigilante in an early version of the script, is reduced to a supporting role to the supposedly craven King John. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of wealth redistribution or swashbuckling in this version of Robin Hood.

I did like the cues to England’s Celtic and Roman history no doubt nods to Scott and Crowe’s successful collaboration in the equally ahistorical but atmospheric Gladiator. Like stories of King Arthur, the outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor around Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest has proven to be inspirational, reflective of the present, and resilient for centuries.

My favorite versions of Robin Hood are the classic 1930s Errol Flynn movie, the 1975 British television series, the 1980s neoPagan-flavored Robin of Sherwood, and the Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman film released in the shadow of the Costner debacle. Yes, there’s also the Disney cartoon, Sean Connery in Robin and Marian,
Mel Brook’s Men in Tights, and the recent BBC series, but I find myself going back to the Howard Pyle book (including one edition illustrated by Green Arrow artist Mike Grell).

I’d give the latest Robin Hood movie, which was rated PG-13 for violence, a 7 out of
10, a B-, or three stars.

Coming soon: San Francisco sightseeing and genre television updates!

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10 May 2010: Iron Man 2 review


On Friday, 7 May 2010, Janice and I met Ken G. and his colleague Bill B. to screen Iron Man 2 at the IMAX theater at Jordan’s Furniture in Natick, Massachusetts. We liked the superhero sequel, which had much of the action and witty dialogue of its predecessor and continued building to an eventual Avengers movie.

Disney/Marvel's Iron Man 2
Man of Iron

Robert Downey Jr. brought the same charisma and internal conflict to Tony Stark/Iron Man that he had to the first movie and to Guy Ritchie’s recent Sherlock
Holmes
. Gwyneth Paltrow returned as his “gal Friday” Pepper Potts, and Jon Favreau (who plays chauffeur Happy Hogan) juggled the development of multiple characters better than many sequel directors.

They were joined by newcomers including Scarlett Johansson as Natalia Romanov and Don Cheadle (replacing Terence Howard) as Lt.Col. James Rhodes/War Machine, plus Samuel L. Jackson returning as Nick Fury, director of SHIELD. As usual, Stan “the Man” Lee had a brief cameo. I had worried that an enlarged cast and multiple villains would bog down the plot, but Favreau managed to keep the story moving, and the script had a lot of humor to balance the pyrotechnics.

Mickey Rourke played Ivan Vanko, a composite of the comic book villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, Viggo Mortensen’s tough guy in Eastern Promises, and his own comebacks in The Wrestler and Sin City. While Vanko is a mix of brains and brawn, Sam Rockwell’s military industrialist Justin Hammer (channeling Gary Oldman’s Zorg in The Fifth Element) tries to match Stark’s ego. I also just watched Rockwell in the more quiet science fiction film Moon, which harkened back to 2001: A Space
Odyssey
and Outland.

Without giving away any “spoilers,” the plot of Iron Man 2 follows closely after the origin story. Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark has revealed his identity as the armored vigilante, increasing his fame and ego but also endangering everything he has built by drawing out new rivals.

I liked how the movie portrayed next-generation human-computer interfaces, the role (or lack thereof) of security technology and its social implications, and the use of the World’s Fair grounds in Flushing, Queens, near where I once lived.

Iron Man 2‘s cinematography was pretty good, with the excellent costumes again inspired by Adi Granov’s designs. The chase and fight scenes could have been a bit clearer, though. I understand that setting them at night, in water, or at high speeds
makes the transitions between actors and computer-generated images smoother, but on the large IMAX screen, my eyes didn’t always know where to track. Several
critics have also complained about the movie’s pacing, militarism, and snarky
tone.

On the other hand, as a longtime fan of comic book superheroes, I was pleased to see several “Easter eggs,” or clues to the larger Marvel universe. Favreau stayed true to the history and spirit of the source material. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor will be next, in early 2011. Overall, I’d give Iron Man 2, which was rated PG-13 for language and violence, an 8 out of 10, a B+, or three stars.

The strong box office for Iron Man 2 marked the beginning of the summer movie season. Let’s hope that it’s a good one! I’ll probably see Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood or the video game adaptation Prince of Persia: Sands of Time next.

Coming soon: Travel, genre television, games, and comics!

>>2010 movies

-“Daybreakers” (vampires) ***/B

-“The Secret of Kells” (animated) ***/A-

-“How to Train Your Dragon” (fantasy comedy)
***/B+

-“Clash of the Titans” (fantasy remake) ***/B

-“Iron Man 2” (superheroes) ***/B+