At The Movies

Robin Hood

Directed by Ridley Scott
The Robin Hood story has persisted for hundreds of years in multiple forms. At its heart, it has an appealing message of the championing of the rights of the common people in the face of tyrannical laws and taxes. It’s a message that can be co-opted by those on both sides of the aisle, whether they be fans of welfare programs for the socio-economically disadvantaged, or for Tea Party demonstrations and tax protests.

However, the details of the character are unclear, including whether or not a man of that name or disposition ever existed. Similarly, the jury is out on whether or not, if he did exist, he was a commoner or a member of the landed gentry, and in what period and area he may have lived.

In this version of “Robin Hood,” Director Ridley Scott re-teams with his “Gladiator” lead actor Russell Crowe for a tale that feels very similar. It’s a huge mash-up of assorted Robin Hood legends and a blend of historical fact and historical misinformation. Many of the classic interpretations of the story have Hood as an outlaw in the time of Prince John’s rule, while Richard the Lionheart was on the crusades or otherwise abroad. This time, Robin Longstride is an archer in Richard’s army, with the story picking up with that army on a long march home from the Middle East.

That’s fine as a variation on a theme, but the movie changes death scenarios and dances inaccurately around the topic of an uprising of English Lords and Barons against John in what, historically, resulted in the Magna Carta, the agreement that still shapes laws and legal concepts such as habeus corpus and due process. It also manages to blend general imagery that seems pleasantly authentic, with small agrarian villages rather than teaming cities, with the casual covering of vast distances on horseback and a battle scene that seems much like a wooden boat remake of a reverse Normandy Invasion, like “Saving Private Robin Hood.” It looks fairly good but feels exceptionally muddled.  

Another problem is one of expectations. If you’re looking for a story of green-clad men jumping out of trees and holding up wealthy travelers at arrow-point, then this isn’t the film for you. It might just as well have been entitled “Merry Men Origins: Robin Hood” as it has a distinct “prequel” or backstory feel to it, which is fine if that’s what you want, but probably not what is evoked for most people by the simple title.

To some extent, it might actually play better if you approached it as more of a fantasy action story in a fantasy world, rather than trying to reconcile these disparate and legendary themes with an earful of historical sound bites. But it never quite lets you distance yourself entirely from history, as it relies on a figure like William Marshall, who in reality served Richard and John’s father Henry II, as well as both Richard and John, and John’s son Henry III, and who was heavily involved with the Magna Carta.

At its best, “Robin Hood” is a fun romp through quasi-history, with neat action scenes and a significant degree of wit. But at its worst, it also manages to be a complicated attempt to infuse that history into already confused legend, while ending up feeling like a glorified and muddled prologue to an otherwise more familiar story, albeit probably an equally inaccurate one.

A Town Called Panic

Written & Directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar
“A Town Called panic” debuted almost exactly a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a fairly wacky stop-motion animation that looks a little like something that might show up as a short film on Adult Swim. Instead, it’s a 75-minute feature length story about Cowboy and Indian roommates (in Lucy and Desi style twin beds) and their talking, newspaper reading, cap collecting, car driving, and inexpert piano playing housemate Horse. (Cowboy, Indian and Horse are both descriptions and the characters’ names, with Cowboy and Horse voiced by the writer/director partners.)

The story centers around a series of misadventures that begin when Cowboy and Indian realize at the last moment that they have forgotten Horse’s birthday. In a hurry to solve the problem, the twosome inadvertently messes up their online order. If you’ve ever accidentally jammed a key on your keyboard and ended up with a screen covered in a long string of a single letter, then you’ll appreciate their error.

After a beginning that seems surreal enough, with characters that are modeled to look like children’s toys, the film becomes truly bizarre and manages to combine a journey towards the center of the Earth, with fish monsters, a giant mechanical snowball-throwing penguin, and parachuting cows. Yes, really. It’s compellingly fascinating to watch, at least initially, and would probably play best in a movie theater that doubled as a medical marijuana dispensary. If you enjoy unusual animation styles and/or films that make your friends scratch their heads in utter disbelief, this one might be for you.

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