Tag Archive | Mark Strong

Bidula’s Last Word: Robin Hood

Not too long ago, I wrote about the social significance of Robin Hood movies and how the attitude of the current decade can be reflected in the casting and the variations on the story.

This may be true of the new Ridley Scott Robin Hood for many reasons. The main one being that, this past decade, we’ve been settling for the same old crap being recycled and regurgitated by Hollywood in ways which are, ultimately, disappointing.

The differences are clear. Scott, trying to be a bit more historical with his interpretation of King Richard, offs the historic crusader within the opening salvo in a mostly accurate depiction of his death (some poetic license, of course). This is what sparks the departure of Robin Longstride (Russel Crowe) and his band of friends (Alan A’dale, Will Scarlett, and Little John) from the ranks of King Richard’s Army to book home for England as quickly as possible.
On their way to meet a channel ferry out of France, the troupe comes across a group of French mercenaries ambushing a convoy sent to deliver the Crown to a ship awaiting the King’s return. Robin and company interrupt the post-squabble looting, killing all of le evil French interlopers.

Robin, seeking fortune and glory for himself and his compatriots, resumes the looting where the bandits let off once they realize everyone is already dead. He comes up with the idea that they can disguise themselves as knights, deliver Richard’s crown, and have free and safe passage back to England. The obligatory hitch comes when a nearly-dead Sir Robert Loxsley, Richard’s right hand man, makes Robin swear an oath to deliver his father’s sword back to Nottingham.
After delivering the crown and witnessing the first dickheaded moments of King John’s reign, Robin sets off with his pack to Nottingham. Upon completing his quest and meeting a cordial, blind Lord Loxsley and the wife of Sir Robert, Marion (Cate Blanchette), it is decided by Lord Loxsley that Robin should impersonate his son in order to retain his home and lands, as without a successor, Loxsley’s lands would likely be lost to the Sheriff upon his death.

The story goes on to completely change everything about Robin Hood that anyone knows. No Sherwood Forest, no real banditry save for one sequence, no real influence or even anything more than a cameo by the Sheriff of Nottingham, and even King John doesn’t become anything more than a bratty dickhead until the very end of the movie.
It takes a different route entirely, focusing on France’s Philip II trying to take over England through his proxy and spy, Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) who the writers claim is based on Guy of Gisbourne but doesn’t really seem to be. Godfrey hopes to make the country collapse by stirring up rebellion to unfair taxation in the northern territories while France invades from the south and takes a weakened London as its prize.
Of course, Robin and the heroes catch wind of this and are put in motion to put an end to it. Robin allies himself with King John, provided John signs a little piece of paper not truly named in the movie but known to the world as the Magna-freaking-Carta. John agrees in a sly, you-know-he’s-not-going-to-do-it way, a grand army is assembled, the French are routed, and the day is saved.
In spite of what Robin did, King John burns the Magna Carta and defies the lords to whom he promised their rights. He declares Robin an outlaw and here, I suppose, is where the actual story begins.

Should you brace for the sequel? Hell no.

While I can accept changes in the story, I cannot accept the loose plot points and true stretches of medieval technology.
There was a whole weird undeveloped sub-plot about a group of feral little children who wind up fighting in the final battle behind an uncharacteristically armor-clad Marion, whose character was strong and defiant, but really not shown as any sort of battle-ready warrior. No development whatsoever here.
The French had landing craft. Like, D-Day style, flat-bottomed, amphibious landing craft. In the 13th Century. We’re meant to think that they crossed the entire English Channel in these things and actually made it to Dover in one piece. Ok, Ridley, fine. It’s dramatic. But, you made the entire final battle look like Saving Private Ryan being reenacted at the Renn Faire complete with arrows slicing through the water like bullets and entire transports of troops being peppered full of holes before their feet even touched the sand.

The themes I’d thought would be there within the social commentary were not. They did switch things around in the characterization to make things more palatable for the modern audience by turning Robin from a lithe and light-hearted thief into a gruff con-man-of-action with a heart of gold. They also strongly emphasized the brattish and bumbling-asshole aspects of King John, leaving the real evil-doing to Sir Godfrey.

All in all, a disappointment. Sure, there was some awesome archer-tastic action, but still not a movie I’d recommend. Russel Crowe is Maximus in a different outfit, Cate Blanchette does what she does best and plays a strong woman, and Mark Strong mails in another sword-fighting bad guy performance. Lackluster at best.

Also, I wanted to mention that the more I thought about this movie, the more I allowed my opinion to develop, the less I thought of it. Leaving the theater last Tuesday and writing a review on it a week later was warranted. I had to let it fester before I could give a true opinion. I didn’t want to believe that a Robin Hood movie could be so… meh.

Bidula’s Last Word – 4.5/10

Ridley Scott, why have you forsaken me?

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Bidula’s Last Word: Sherlock Holmes

Initially, I had planned to brush up on my Arthur Conan Doyle before heading out to the theater to see Sherlock Holmes. I have read a few Holmes tales here and there, as well as Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen whose first story arch is mired heavily in the Holmes Mythos.

Turns out that this was actually more than enough knowledge to appreciate this movie.

Sherlock Holmes is, for all intents and purposes, set up for beginners. Though it isn’t an origin story, as you’re left to assume that many of Holmes and Watson’s adventures have occurred, it resembles other franchise-invigorating new offerings. Though it’s not technically a reboot, as there have been many versions of the Holmes franchise made into film (mostly made for TV), this certainly gives new life to an old and very popular work and sets the scene for a possible series of sequels.

Holmes is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., now in the second titular franchise role of his grand comeback, with all the sarcasm and wit that one would expect of a super-genius. His performance and the way he plays off of his supporting cast is possibly the most entertaining aspect of the film. If it were anyone else in this role, I’m convinced the movie wouldn’t have been half as fun.
Watson in this offering is played by Jude Law (looking rather un-Jude Law-like) who, along with Guy Ritchie’s direction, brought a fresh look to a character who is classically portrayed as nothing more than a bumbling and easily amazed sidekick. Of course, Watson would still be nothing without Holmes, and vice-versa, but he stands much stronger as a character in this film. He often challenges Holmes and is shown as just as much Holmes’ keeper as Holmes’ friend and partner.
Also along for the ride is Rachael McAdams as Irene Adler, Holmes’ long-time flame and femme fatale. McAdams, though looking quite the part in Victorian garb, could have been easily replaced by any actress. Her performance was lackluster, but was bolstered only by her banter with Downey Jr. I think this would be the effect on any actress in the same scenes, however. I can only thank the director for casting her in the main American role of the Holmes series, as I’m sure her attempt at a Victorian British accent would have been horrifying.
Mark Strong rounds out the main cast as Lord Blackwood; an Alastair Crowley-inspired villain who uses science masked with the occult to achieve his ultimate ends. He has a very sinister way about him and seems to be an ideal casting choice for this sort of role. He sells the “magic” he produces as much as the character itself.

I am very thankful that Guy Ritchie strayed from the prototypical Holmes in this film. No swooping pipe (he uses a standard straight black model), no ridiculous hat, no giant magnifying glass, nothing to make you think that anything about this story is stereotypical of the previous depictions of Sir Doyle’s work. This, like many other big-hero movies, is striving to seem more realistic. Also, unlike many depictions of the detective before this, they clue you in on Holmes’ substance abuse, frequently showing quick cuts of him drinking strange fluid from a non-descript bottle, referenced by Watson in one scene with the line, “Do you realize that you’re drinking something that’s used for eye surgery?” with Holmes offering a dismissive wave afterward.
Very interesting were the slow-motion scenes describing how, exactly, Holmes will dismantle an assailant. This is the most notable Guy Ritchie fingerprint, but is used quite well in this film.

Though the technological aspect is made nearly believable, you’ll still have to suspend your ultimate disbelief in the end to make the entire plot work. Things like “chemical weapon” and “wireless switch” being uttered in the Victorian Era seem more a nod to the modern crowd than a bow to the ever-pressing spirit of industry and pseudo-science typically associated with the time period.

The movie is fun, plain and simple. It’s not Oscar-quality, by any means, but like most Guy Ritchie flicks, it’s fun to watch and you’ll get a few good chuckles in at the expense of some of the lesser characters. For Holmes fans, there’s a tease for a sequel throughout the movie in the form of one shadow-shrouded Napoleon of Crime whose face is never seen. It seems they’ve taken the Joker route and saved the biggest baddie for the second movie. My hat’s off to you. Having this new Holmes universe established before you really throw us into the mythology is smart. It gives time to the average audience to read and possibly catch up on what to expect from the sequel.

The only other observation I have is this: The TV show House, of which I’m a devout viewer, was modeled from Sherlock Holmes. House is Holmes (get it? Get it?) and Wilson is Watson. Never before has this been more evident than watching this movie. At times, the movie plays like a two-hour Victorian Era episode of House with more expensive actors playing the parts. Downey Jr. must have done some of his research by watching Hugh Laurie berate and analyze week after week to get that cynical edge he needed to fully pull off Holmes.
Seriously, if you’ve ever doubted the similarities or if this would be your first experience with Holmes coming off watching House, then you’re going to see it. From the scruffy, scrawny figures to the issues with substance abuse, it’s all in here.

Still, it’s a good watch. Worth the cost of a ticket to see it in the theater. It feels like a long time since I’ve said that.

Bidula’s Last Word: 7.5/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

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