Sunday, May 30, 2010

In The Hood

Just a solitary post in over one month is, quite frankly, a poor showing, I know. I could blame the researching and writing I’m still happily ploughing through or the wild adventures with the Luminous Beauty for eating up all my time, but there have been stray pockets here and there where it would have been easy to cobble together something. The only problem is that since I’m enjoying both of the above so much I can’t find anything in life to really growl about.

At any other time just the sight of those godawful 2012 Olympic mascots would have had me blowing a plug, but I figured that since so much money had already been spunked on the utterly horrendous logo that it seemed only fitting that a whole lot more was further flushed away on this pair of animated idiots. As for the poor bozos playing dress–up in the life–sized suits, you can only hope that they’re getting their Equity card or some such handsome reward for fannying about in the costumes in public.

Then recently I saw a post from the little twerp in Los Angeles trying to make it as a screenwriter who couldn’t make head nor tail of The Eagle Has Landed. This time she was asking folk what their favourite movie car chases were. When someone mentioned the famous chase between the car and elevated train through Brooklyn in Billy Friedkin’s The French Connection, her response was, “Does French Connection have a car chase?” What can you really say to that, other than suggest she gives up the writing and gets a job working the checkout at her local Ralphs.

So if I haven’t got any major gripes and I’m now finding it easy to ignore the sheer stupidity of youngsters when there’s opportunities to make merry, what the hell am I doing here? There are still things that rankle and are worth making a fuss about, although some are so damned horrific it’s difficult to even talk about. A few months back, attempting to get back into the habit of making regular trips to the cinema I set out to see a double bill of The Princess and the Frog and Ponyo. If I had seen both I’m sure it would have been a great evening, except I got the times mixed up. So excited to catch the new traditionally drawn Disney picture, I saw it first rather than second, and when I got back to the box office after sneaking out for a welcome gasper I discovered the new Miyazaki film shared a screen with some other movie and was being shown any more that day.

Perhaps it would have been best to shrug it off and head back home, but since I was there I figured I could find something else to watch. I knew it was a big mistake going in but I plumped for the film version of Edge of Darkness simply because I was intrigued by how badly they would screw it up. I know I could have waited until now, when it’s coming out on shiny disc, but I figured it was better, and less expensive, to just make a scene in the auditorium if I started screaming uncontrollably rather than put a foot through the television and throw the DVD player out the window at home. In fact when it became apparent that the political machinations were simply being replaced by repeated mentions to the Massachusetts gun laws I probably would have torched the whole apartment.

Instead on burning myself alive I sat through pretty much the whole thing slack–jawed and incapable of making any sound amazed by how they had taken that spectacular BBC serial and turned it into the noxious, easily forgettable, ill–conceived pile of dog toffee. If there was any doubt about how great an actor the late and much lamented Bob Peck was, all you have to do is compare his marvellously nuanced performance as Ronnie Craven in the original to Mel Gibson’s bug-eyed and empty turn in the film version. Finally stumbling out of the cinema and tottering home, I’d meant to post about how utterly wretched and traumatizing the experience was but whenever I sat down to write my mind just blotted it out and I’d draw a complete blank every time.

Although that was months ago, a couple weeks back I’d been trying to fit another double bill into my schedule, this time Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood. Obviously not paying attention, I’d forgotten that the summer movies are arriving sooner and sooner. Give it a couple more years and no doubt they’ll be tripping over each other to reach the screens just as soon as we’ve recovered from the New Year celebrations. And now that the films big holiday movies are starting to come out thick and fast there’s only a small window of opportunity to catch them on the bigger screens of the average plastic multiplex.

At one point, just for a few brief days, it looked like everything was going to work out, except that I couldn’t find a way to watch both movies. Even though the pair were playing on two screens apiece, wanting to see them on the larger screens rather than in one of the pokier little theaters – which would be not much bigger than watching them at home – with their running times constantly overlapping I couldn’t work out to way to see them without there being quite a long time lag between the screenings. In the end I was just too late and the arrival of Prince of Persia put paid to any plans I had. Having to ditch Iron Man 2 and await its arrival on shiny disc, I went to see Robin Hood.

On numerous occasions in the past I’ve stated that for me Robin Hood starts with Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, ends with Dick Lester’s elegiac Robin and Marian, with just enough space between them to squeeze in the Disney version. I was too young to have watched Richard Greene in ITC’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, written by many of the fellow travellers who came to these shores to escape the hectoring of the HUAC, and couldn’t really be having with Robin of Sherwood, Richard Carpenter’s 1980’s take on the legend that leant heavily on the Green Man mythos, or the BBC’s recent sullen hoodie version. Unluckily I was in the generation who got Rocket Robin Hood as a kiddie, so any take on the legend on television pretty much put me off.

Except from now on I’ll have to revise that opening statement to include this new Ridley Scott version because, quite frankly, I bloody loved it. I suppose that puts me in the minority. After some initial good reviews everyone then seemed to start in on Russell Crowe’s wavering English accent. Even though I had already listened to his confrontational interview with Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row by the time I was settled in with my bucket of popcorn and cup of fizzy pop, I can’t say that I really noticed or even cared.

For all its perceived faults – and to be honest I wasn’t too keen on the yellow subtitling – the script, rewritten by Brian Helgeland during the course of development, was a whole lot better than the original, written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris. As I mentioned back in January, their script Nottingham started a bidding war between the studios and was initially described as a revisionist take on the legend with the newly appointed Sheriff of Nottingham the benevolent character and Robin of Loxley the real outlaw. Except after reading it back then, and discovering that Loxley appeared in only a handful of brief scenes at most, ultimately it seemed utterly pointless.

Much in the same way that Christopher Nolan delved into the origins of Bob Kane’s Batman years after the quartet of awfully overblown pantomimes directed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, this version of the Sherwood Forest legend could have easily been dubbed Robin Begins. There’s always a danger when Hollywood messes with our folklore – when Touchstone Pictures removed the lyricism of Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur from the 2004 King Arthur the results were woeful and dull – but I thought that replacing the familiar romanticism of men in tights with a more grounded reality actually worked in this instance, especially with the suggestion that the northern barons were responsible for the origins of the Charter of the Forest. And it just looked sumptuous.

If I had any problem with the experience it was with the damn multiplex. It probably didn’t help that I unwittingly chose to see the film at a time when a massive shipment of popcorn had just arrived. So that meant the box office was closed up so two young staffers could lark about as they put the huge popcorn bags, which looked about the size of a flattened hay bale, in storage. To get a ticket I had to queue at the Ben & Jerry’s counter, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the lone kid didn’t have to deal with an elderly European couple, for whom English probably wasn’t even their third language, as they kept changing their minds over which goddamn flavour to go with. With the minutes ticking away I asked them if they could just make their minds up. The people queued between them and me heartily agreed, but then they weren’t the ones who got the stink eye.

Worse, in these plastic palaces the projectionists never seem to take any due care and attention with the prints. When I saw Robin Hood the film was only a week old, if that, yet from start to finish the print had been badly scratched leaving short horizontal marks that started at the top of the left hand side of the frame, bounced their way down to the bottom of the screen over the course of a quarter of a minute and then jumped back to the top to start out all over again.

Obviously something in the projector had nicked the emulsion from the get go and was simply made worse with each screening. No wonder dear old Stanley K used to send his assistants out to cinemas to check that the prints were looked after and the films were shown in the correct aspect ratio. Although a distraction on occasion, it was still better than having to watch the film in 3D.


At 11:37 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

I saw IRON MAN 2 in Culver City. It's not as good as IRON MAN, which I reely reely liked, but as sequels go it's a high-end pleaser with wit and a lightish touch.

All the Nick Fury stuff and the attempts to tie it into a wider commercial Marvel universe work to its detriment, though. Scarlett Johansen's character is in there for no fathomable story reason, and structurally the effect is like that of a vehicle fixed up with a bunch of wrong parts.

At 1:22 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

I thought the first film was a real cracker. It got the balance between character and action, comedy and drama just right and, as I remember, was a whole lot better than The Dark Knight, which kept banging on and on about having to make difficult choices for so long that I just wanted to get out and go home.

The problem with any sequel is that feel this need to make it bigger and better, forgetting what made it so charming in the first place. I heard that Nick Fury and Black Widow were pretty much shoehorned in to introduce the characters in the run up to the Avengers movie – although the nerd in me wants to call it the Ultimates movie given that Samuel L Jackson plays Fury and was the inspiration behind Bryan Hitch’s artwork. (Sad!)

If that’s the case it does sound like it was put together in an east LA chop shop rather than an Avid suite. Still, when it comes out on disc I’ll be grabbing a copy.


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