Capsule Review: Robin Hood

1. Robin Hood: Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott together have compiled all the main ingredients for the Robin Hood “stew”. First, you explain how the story with Robin plus his band of Merry Men gets all the way from the Crusades into Sherwood Forest. That takes the better part of one hour. My one big “beef” with this plot was the time it took to get Robin and his crew into the Forest.

Everyone knows that Robin is the Earl of Locksley. This is another vital element. Everyone knows that Richard the Lionhearted is the “good” king and John is the evil brother. There is the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is always up to no-good. And layered over everything is the love story between Robin and Maid Marian.
In this instance, the fleshing out of the story pays off because Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett work together to craft a believable relationship between two strong characters.

The Merry Men are an aside in this instance, giving the usual storyline a nod and a wink. But the main theme of the story is always the fact that Robin is an outlaw and an altruist at heart. Throw in the conceit of Robin as Master Archer and you concoct a fairly plausible story of “Robin Hood.”

It works, in this instance, even if it does take a tad long to get to the “meat” of the storyline. But this Robin may easily overtake the bastardized Kevin Costner version to find a place in the annals of Robin Hood lore. Not a place quite as high as the gold standard of “Robin Hoods” with Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone.

Crowe is not a swashbuckling sort of Robin. This is a man with some humility and has his tongue firmly in cheek. The stuff that dreams are made of is found more in the outlandishly overblown performance from a young Errol Flynn. But as Robin Hood’s go, this makes for a pretty good story.

Capsule Review: The A-Team, Liam Neeson and the state of Summer Movies

Apparently, Liam Neesan is the new “go-to” tough guy. The mantle that was long worn by the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvestor Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery is now being filled by Mr. Neeson.

In the sleeper hit from last year, “Taken” the word of mouth and buzz was generated by Neeson’s measured performance and quiet sense of violent energy. When Neeson was seen in an early film with Dennis Quaid and Cher,( “Suspect”), I remember thinking of this forgettable plot, “The only one really trying to ACT is the mute guy with no lines!” That was Liam Neeson and he has managed to convey the sense of urgent unrest in his greatest roles, such as “Schindler’s List”.

This type of action-pabulum is usually thrown out for audiences who don’t care about minor details like acting and plot points. But in this case, “The A Team” is simply a nice little piece of action-candy. It’s not high theater, but it’s not as low-brow as some might think.

The other actors, notably the Australian actor Sharlto Copley, who was most recently seen in “District 9,” are not always trying to aim for the trees with their acting chops but it makes for a nice relaxing two hours of mindless action theater for those who know the drill. There is nothing wrong with knowing what the basic elements of the plot will be. The audiences in Shakespeare’s day all knew the story line of his plays. The trick is in getting the audiences attention and keeping it.

I have taken solace in the fact that critics have been sitting up and taking notice of the fact that the summer movie season has really been loaded with a bunch of crap. There are bad movies and there are unfortunate re-makes and there are movies that should never have been made.
I am funny about things like this because, the older I get, the more it takes for me to actually GO to the movie to see something. Rarely will I get the urge to go and sit for two hours or more without a compelling urge to see a certain actor or to see some new plot twist or variation.

I guess the older I get, the more I see that there really is not much new under the sun. But it’s no secret that the summer movies have been loaded with nothing. The few exceptions are mentioned here, but it’s been an extraordinarily long summer for fans of GOOD movies.

Capsule Review: The Other Guys

“The Other Guys” is a typical Will Farrell movie in that he is in it to make ‘em laugh. The twist is that this time the movie has some really clever and original moments that will surprise those of us who have come to expect Will Farrell “boiler plate” comedies.

You know that he is going to “out-dumb” the rest of the cast with his quirky sayings. You know that he is going to irritate his partner in fighting crime, Mark Wahlberg, who is perfectly cast as the irritated foil to Farrell’s desk-bound persona.

There is a really funny cameo bit from “The Rock”, Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L Jackson but, as is the case in some great comedies, one of the “second bananas” ends up stealing the show. Cast as the captain presiding over the pair of misfits, Michael Keaton reminds us that he got his start in stand-up. Keaton at one point earnestly points out that his second job at “Bed, Bath & Beyond” is one of the reasons he’s trying so hard to ensure that his department doesn’t step over the line…This is just one of the many asides that are tossed out on the dartboard for the audience to absorb.

The twist in this film is the fact that Will Farrell loves his desk-jockey position in the police department and Wahlberg, as the volatile and trigger-happy partner, is not content to stay in the office. Mayhem ensues and the laughs pile up. This film is a happy follow-up to the quirky piece Farrell did with John C. Reilly, ‘Stepbrothers”, directed by Farrell “go-to” guy, Adam McKay (Mckay also directed the funniest of Farrell films, “Anchorman”.

Capsule Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd are two immensely likeable actors working with at times, an annoying script. The premise is based on an earlier French film, which is problematic from the start. French comedy doesn’t always translate well, and, although I haven’t seen it, I suspect that the comedy was a subtle one whereas in America, we tend to use a sledgehammer to “Jerry Lewis” the comedy out of all situations (i.e…”milk it for all it’s worth!)

In this instance, less probably should be more, but the actors somehow turn in into a bittersweet sort of treatise on the corporate greed and insensitivity of big companies that is a popular mantra these days. The opening is one of the most interesting and creative elements that showcases the quirks and foibles of Carell’s obnoxious character.

There is just enough here to make it interesting to watch and nothing more. I would say that the like-ability factor goes a long way in this case to make the film watchable. But this piece of sugar candy will melt in your brain and fizz away before you leave the theatre.