Tuesday 11 May 2010

Review: Robin Hood

Year: 2010
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blancett, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Oscar Issac,

Much has been said about this radical departure from the classical English tale of Robin Hood. I say bollocks. A true radical change would have been to call it Robin Hoodie. I could see it now as a band of chavs BMX bike around Westminster nicking from Tory MP's to give to single mothers. No offence to our new government and PM of course, I merely like my bizarre idea.

With this said Ridley Scott has gone against the grain with his movie, placing the fictional story of robin hood within an even more "realistic" construct than before. What we get is Robin Hood Begins. A rough and ready origin story, which also (due to the script delays) has come out with a slight topical edge. This Robin Hood isn't so much about robbing to the rich to give to the poor (although he does a little), but trying to spread the idea of liberty and fairness to every man; in a government which has done much to demoralize it's people. It's a nice concept for the man in the hood and it works well.

Starting with a weary Maid Marian (Blanchett) doing her best to drive away the youth. The younglings have become mini outlaws themselves, due to their fathers being away due to Richard the Lionheart's crusade. Scott sets this film up almost like a medieval broken Britain. We have a broken Britain with misguided children due to absent fathers, a broke country and spirit broken due to war (I bet someone is shouting Labour somewhere). Much like Gladiator, this beginning does have a feeling of familiarity, particularity in the films first battle: a storming of a french castle. The words and players may be a different but the message is the same; the nation is at a pivotal point and correct guidance is needed. To ask if it does would be a huge spoiler so lets get on with how I felt about it eh?

Well this is all solid stuff. It does feel like Scott's previous historical works, but this isn't a bad thing. It's been ten years since his Roman endeavor and this feels like a well thought out hundred plus year progression. The battles are brutal (not gory however) and the narrative while at first feels a little unwieldy slowly knits itself into something quite compelling. The film is also quite witty with many of the characters having some surprisingly sharp moments of humor. The patriotic and political subtext may arouse some interesting after film talk with the film (which to me has a quite conservative view on things) coming out a day after the reign of Cameron begins.

Performance wise, the film is yet again quite dependable; with Russell Crowe bringing down to earth humbleness and roughish charm to the role of Robin. Cate Blancett gives Maid Marion a well rounded feel but doesn't set any scene alight, while Mark Strong once again put in yet another imposing villain performance. Oscar Issac has some choice moments as Prince John however William Hurt doesn't appear to be too bothered about the proceedings. Nice casting touches also appear in the forms of Danny Huston as Richard and Max Von Sydow as Marion's father. Mark Addy and Matthew Macfadyen also provide amusement alongside the three merry men of Alan Doyle, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes.

Coming off the back of the brighter more youth friendly Iron Man 2, Robin Hood provides a healthy alternative. You do feel the length of the movie a little and you can be sure that Scott will most probably bring out a directors cut filled with more back story. But while it's not your Granddads Robin Hood, it is however; an entertaining, more adult blockbuster than usual.

Review: Four Lions

Year: 2010
Director: Chris Morris
Screenplay: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Preeya Kalidas, Arshal Ali, Adeel Akhtar

Dealing with atrocity is a difficult thing, especially in artistic mediums such as film making. Despite being able to obtain information so easily these days, like like to stick to what we know. Black is black and white is white. Grey areas should not be acknowledged because they challenge us in ways we hate to be challenged in. So when you hear that Chris Morris (controversial creator of Brass Eye, Jam and the like) has decided to make a British comedy that makes light of Jihads and Muslim extremism...I'm not surprised that film bookers bulked at having his movie played in certain cinemas.

The thing is, Chris Morris works within that area that many hate to even think about. He tagged his movie Four Lions as the Dad Army side to terrorism and while it was all good fun to laugh at Mr Mannerings and his squad, it's important to release that until a certain point the home guard were poorly equipped and badly trained. Imagine the amount of mistakes and human error if the planned attack was to go forth. However, it didn't...and we laugh. Morris sees such absurdity and uses to push through the message that to repress, restrict and dread our fears only makes them stronger, to laugh at them may help us in the long run.

For me, Morris' film is one of the funniest films to come from this isle in years. It is paralysing funny, gleefully absurd and surprisingly tragic. Here our terrorist leads are humanised but we constantly shown that their plans and banal drivel are ludicrous. They are extremists that have no idea what they are being extreme about. Angry at the west and capitalism and yet they revel in what it brings. Only a film like this could have a wannabe jihadist yelling that he's a "paki-rambo" or have have our lead character the seemingly "level headed" Omar (a wonderfully, despairing Riz Ahmed) trying to explain his plan to his son (!) by using the Lion King (Disney, geddit?). It's a film that releases that despite the idea of one kamikazing themselves is a troubling one, it is also something in today's society that profoundly stupid. The characters while disarmingly human, are much like dogs who bark at themselves in mirrors. You just want to pet them on the head and show that life's not all bad.

Morris' film reminded me of this another film I loved this year: Extract. It's a another film that deals with how a lack of communication and misused information can create problems of absurdest proportions. Much like his Jam sketch about hiring stupid people for arguments because they're too idiotic to lose, Four Lions gives us empty headed vessels who are running head first into a wall due to bad guidance and confusion. But interestingly enough it also helps bring about reasons on why young men seem so willing to do something so drastic. They have no real idea about what they're supposedly fighting for and yet do so for pride, fame, peer pressure and for the thrill of it all. Morris' film directed in a very matter of fact visual style plays on the characters nativity and makes the films climax feel all the more poignant.

To help drive these idea home, Morris with Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain write a script featuring dialogue that I found as quotable as Withnail and I. Carefully parodying fundamentalism and never the religion, the writers give the film a bizarre feeling of familiarity and abstractness. One scene has Barry (the brilliantly ignorant Nigel Lindsay) blaming his car breaking down due "jewish sparkplugs designed to control global traffic". You know you've heard similar right wing nonsense down the pub but still....sparkplugs?!? The film is full such moments of verbal diarrhoea that Morris has been so remembered for.

This is Morris at his best, warping the hysterical and sensitive into something that not only darkly comic, but more thoughtful than one would think. In the same way The Day Today makes it hard for you to take the news seriously any more, the same happens here, particularly in the films climax which chillingly lampoons the police's participation with the death of Jean Charles de Meneze ("It must be the target, I shot it"). When fully observed it's an amusing aside (is the honey monster a bear?) and yet one that once again stems from lack of knowledge, miscommunication and hasty aggression.

Four Lions (neatly knocking England's footballing pride) is defiantly not for everyone. Relatives from the 7/7 bombings have called for the film to be boycotted and it's very understandable on their emotions are running high. But Morris' film isn't one that trivialises their tragedy, it heightens our awareness and also makes us laugh. For some it's a tough watch but for those who are fans of one of Britain's top satirists you'll laugh or else you'll cry.