Robin Hood

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone”)
While the comparisons are obvious, director Ridley Scott’s version of “Robin Hood” is nothing like his first collaboration with actor Russell Crowe in the good but slightly overrated 2000 film “Gladiator.” Amazing production value aside, “Robin Hood” is a high-end production with lofty ideas and a convoluted screenplay begging for some major editing.
In his fifth film with Scott, Crowe isn’t the same Robin Hood most would expect from the dozens of versions that have come before (the best is still Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood”). Instead, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have jerry-built a chaotic prequel based on the legendary tale of an English outlaw from Sherwood Forest who robs from the rich to give to the poor.
To begin, Crowe is not actually Robin Hood, but Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, who sets off with his own band of followers (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle) after the king is killed by French forces. When Robin and his men get their hands on King Richard’s crown, they return it to London where John (Oscar Isaac) is ready to take over the throne from his slain brother and impose heavy taxes on his people. He appoints Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is secretly working for the French, as his tax collector, but is unaware of his ulterior motives.
Godfrey wants to help France invade England. Robin, who acquires a new identity from a dying knight with a last request, connects with the knight’s father (Max Von Sydow) and his widow Lady Marion of Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and helps them save their land by posing as the deceased son and husband. If that’s not complicated enough, 13th century politics play a major role in the ill-conceived script as Scott takes all the adventure out of the myth through longwinded speeches and conventional storytelling.

Sure, it might feel like we’re somewhere in Nottingham simply for the terrific art direction and costume design, but the technical aspects are skin deep. This “Robin Hood” is void of any real emotion or awe-inspiring heroics that the iconic literary character has built his name on for the past few centuries.

Green Zone

March 13, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs
Directed by: Paul Greengrass (“United 93”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River”)

While there are plenty of thrilling moments in this political war game, director Paul Greengrass does something he didn’t come close to doing in his masterpiece that was “United 93” – he preaches up a storm. It’s unfortunate that Greengrass can’t play the film down the middle. With a pulse-pounding performance by Matt Damon, “Green Zone” could have been so much more than just some time behind the political pulpit.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

October 28, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: John C. Reilly, Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson
Directed by: Paul Weitz (“American Dreamz”)
Written by: Paul Weitz (“American Dreamz”) and Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River”)

Part fantasy, part parody, “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” fails to introduce us to enough interesting characters to keep the story interesting. It’s unfortunate since the script is co-written by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) and directed by Paul Weitz, who helmed the first “American Pie” and a great film in “About a Boy.” Here, the vampire narrative feel second rate in an era where everyone is trying to cash in on the folklore. Based on a series of books by Darren Shan, there’s really no reason to continue the vampire tween saga and try to outperform (at least in box office revenue) something as obsessively followed as “Twilight.”

The Taking of Pelham 123

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro
Directed by: Tony Scott (“Déjà Vu”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Man on Fire”)

Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott reunite for a fourth time in the remake of the 1974 film “The Taking of Pelham 123,” an underground action flick that proves to be more than screenwriter Brian Helgeland can manage when it comes to adding a little common sense to the original script.

In “Pelham,” the workday starts of like any other for Walter Garber (Washington) at the New York City Rail Control Center. Things begin to get nerve-wracking, however, when he notices some odd occurrences happening on the subway system monitors. One of the rails has come to a halt in the middle of its route. The premature stop is caused by a group of hijackers led by a man who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta).

“What is the going rate for a New York City hostage,” he tells Walter after taking control of the rail and before asking for $10 million in ransom. Setting a one-hour deadline to get him the money before he starts plugging passengers, Walter relinquishes his hot seat to hostage negotiator Det. Carmonetti (John Turturro) who immediately informs the mayor (James Gandolfini) about what is happening under his city.

Ryder, however, doesn’t want to consult with anyone but Walter. During their short time together on the phone, he has come to feel comfortable enough to execute his master plan – which in itself doesn’t even have a rational exit strategy – through the one person with the least power in the entire room.

Nevertheless, with a gun in his hand, Ryder is calling the shots and Walter is whisked back into the fray in an unrealistic plot to transport the money inside the dark tunnel before time runs out. During the waiting game, Carmonetti begins to wonder if Walter is part of the heist himself. Why else would Ryder be so adamant about pulling the heist off on Walter’s watch? When Walter’s co-workers supply information about a recent demotion and suspension for something he irrefutably denies, thing begin to get testy at the control center. All the while, Ryder and Walter continue to play a cliché game of mental chess (Ryder says “checkmate” a few time to push the issue) as the passenger cower under their seats.

And since Washington (who gives a very good performance) and Travolta never come face to face with each other, director Scott is forced into a predicament. Where will he find the “action” in his action movie? With the clock literally ticking, Scott forces the action during the scenes when the money is being delivered to Ryder. He turns the transfer into thoughtless mayhem by tossing in car crashes and other odd speed bumps to boost effect.

In the end, “The Taking of Pelham 123” is irrelevant. It’s the type of movie that keeps you awake more than it keeps you truly entertained.