July 8, 2010

Getafilm Gallimaufry: Robin Hood, L'Enfant, Cruise's Curse, Toy Story 3, and The Two Escobars

Robin Hood (B+)

After too many months away from the movies I jumped in with both feet last week, starting with a big spring blockbuster that I didn't want to let get away from me on the big screen. In the last installment of Gallimaufry I declared my love for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as well as the Robin Hood brand as a whole. Out of the loop as I've been from the movies scene in 2010, I completely forgot that Ridley Scott's version was meant to be an introduction to the title character.

You could understand, then, why I was growing restless as the movie went on and on with only minor teases of the charm, wit, humor, and romance that I associated with Robin and his merry men. Ridley's crew was comprised of weathered patriots fighting a ruthless (and inexplicably baldheaded?) villain for the honor of King Richard's crown. Embarrassingly, I was left scratching my head all the way until the finale, after which a title card reminded us that "now the legend begins". Ahhh, that's right! I'm thickheaded like that sometimes.

That confusion aside, I was satisfied with Scott's treatment of the story if only because I could immediately recognize the distinctive traits I associated so many with the characters (especially the whiny Prince John as seen in the animated Disney version). So, chalk it up to good casting or a healthy respect for the origins of this folk hero, but I hereby place my stamp of approval on this franchise reboot. Remember this day because it doesn't happen often.

L'Enfant (A-)

I was first introduced to the Dardenne brothers through Lorna's Silence last year, and I made a mental note that I had to seek out their acclaimed Palme d'Or winner, L'Enfant (The Child). Not surprisingly, I appreciated this film for exactly the same reasons that I listed for Lorna: "something about this kind of puzzle-piece filmmaking gets me every time: no setup, no introduction to the characters, no sense about anything at all. We're just blindly dropped in the middle of the story, with only our critical thinking ability, patience, and focused attention to lead us out."

What I didn't mention then, and what became evident to me while watching L'Enfant, is just how frustrated I become with these characters as they unfailingly dig themselves deeper and deeper into some terrifying holes by making one disastrous decision after another. Of course it's always easier to evaluate your situation in hindsight or from an external perspective, so that viewer frustration is really part of the brilliance of the Dardenne films. We see what they're doing wrong, we know that it's wrong, we know that they can't see how wrong it is, but we're stuck on the other side of the screen. Next up, The Son, which Roger Ebert named one of his 10 favorite films of the last decade, and which I actually thought was The Child until I realized they were two different films as I was writing this. 

Cruise's Curse 

I've always liked Tom Cruise, and frankly I don't know why some minor PR kerfuffles have threatened to destroy his career. Not that I'm in the business of knowing, caring, or judging Hollywood stars based on tabloid fodder and People Magazine covers, but is jumping on a couch because you love your future wife truly a sign of insanity? Is being a Scientologist? What, exactly, has caused this man's career to begin a rather disturbing descent to mediocrity or, worse, meaninglessness?

It's not the quality of his movies. With few exceptions they're all decent to very good, but rarely are they excellent and rarely are they horrible. In other words, nothing that should have jeopardized his career leading into this movie. It's not his range. With few exceptions (most recently Collateral and Tropic Thunder) he's played the same character, devilishly well I might add, in every film going back to Risky Business. In other words, this three-time Oscar nominee pretty much knows what he can and can't do, and doesn't stray too far outside of those norms.

What remains then is either just bad luck or poor marketing, right? Whatever it was, I didn't really care because I was going to give Knight and Day a fair shot. And...I really can't forgive myself for doing so. It's not saying much coming from me this year, but this is quite easily the worst film I've seen in months. It's idiotic, dreadfully dull, frustratingly illogical - just off on so many levels that aren't worth discussing in detail.

But - I don't think Cruise is the problem here! Cameron Diaz is insufferable, the writing is wretched, the CGI looks like a 16-bit video game, and the whole production feels like one of those enclosed virtual ride simulators that you might find at local amusement park. What a disaster. But Cruise...well, he's there, and he's an accessory to the crime, but once again he's not the heart of the problem here. If this is the death knell that it's reported to be on his career, well I just find that unfortunate.


Toy Story 3 (A)

Toy Story 3 was actually the first movie I saw upon our return from our honeymoon (and the first movie we'd seen since Green Zone in early March - wow), so it was a nice and easy entry back into theaters. However, while it was immediately apparent that Toy Story 3 would be another near-guaranteed Best Picture nomination/Best Animated Film win for Pixar, I have to admit I wasn't as bowled over as the masses on this one. As always with Pixar films, it was a visual spectacle that is so brilliantly written it can be appreciated by people of all ages (and, as always with Pixar films, the theater was comprised primarily of adults - go figure).

Have I become spoiled by Pixar's standard of excellence to the point that I'm having an increasingly harder time being wowed by their films? Sounds strange to say so but I'm afraid it may be the case. Ironically, this aligns with the ridiculous pressure weighing on every successive (and successful) Pixar director, as seen in the excellent documentary The Pixar Story. How do you continually top the last film - I mean, look at this?! I don't know who's next in the director's chair, but you better believe they're feeling a bit under the gun...

The Two Escobars (A) 

Finally, The Two Escobars, the latest documentary in ESPN's brilliant "30 for 30" series. In the interest of time I will point you in the direction of Jason Bellamy at The Cooler (who is reviewing every film in the series and once again nails every point in his take on The Two Escobars), but if you foolishly don't take the time to read that, at least take the time to watch the film for yourself, which will air again on July 18 and August 5. At the very least it's the most engrossing installment of the handful of "30 for 30" films I've seen thus far, but I'd go so far to say it's also one of the most captivating documentaries I've seen in a few years. We were so glued to the screen we almost started a fire in the kitchen.

Granted, I am a former soccer player (as in, I played it for a dozen years growing up) and World Cup fanatic who rather vividly remembers hearing the news in 1994 that Andres Escobar had been gunned down mere days after committing that disastrously unlucky own goal. I was entering my teen years at the time and was too young to understand global politics very well (let alone the dirty underside of global politics in drug-producing countries) but suffice to say I knew something was very abnormal and disturbing about a player I had just seen on the field being killed for something that happened on that field. The Two Escobars tells the full story in gripping, frequently graphic detail, and if you are a veteran football fan or a newcomer to the sport during this terrific World Cup season, it is truly must-see TV.


  1. The Two Escobars was fantastic! Haven't seen the others, but 30 for 30 has been a very pleasant surprise for me since I started watching them...

  2. Glad you enjoyed Robin Hood like I did. I can't believe how divisive that movie was, as if one group of moviegoers saw one movie and another group saw a completely different film...

    I don't think Tom Cruise is on the verge of having his career "destroyed". However, he is certainly reaching the end of the line in terms of being one of the most bankable movie stars, at least as far as the North American market is concerned (he is still a major draw overseas). He has always struck me as that guy who so desperately wants to be loved and I think the fact that he plays the same character every single time for the past 2 decades does wear thin, it's just a fact of show-business.

  3. Yeah, the TWO ESCOBARS was amazing. Mesmerizing stuff - what fascinating stuff! So, who do you think's gonna win the World Cup? I think Spain's gonna take it - they've got the better goalkeeper but who knows?

  4. I see I'm not in the minority with the Escobars. I know it's been on the festival circuit and might see a limited release after the TV airing, but award consideration should be in the picture as far as I'm concerned. By the way that was the first time I'd seen Rene Higuita's "scorpion kick" save and it just about blew my mind.

    About Sunday...I am really in a tough spot, J.D. I don't care for the brash flash of the Spanish and David Villa rubs me the wrong way (maybe it's the soul patch?), but then the Dutch aren't the most endearing bunch, either. Both Robben and Sneijder irk me, too. Something about the attitude of elite strikers, I think - you love them if they're on your team and hate them if they're not.

    That said, I find fascinating the historical significance of the colonizing Dutch about to win their first ever Cup on the soil of the country they colonized that is also host of the first ever Cup in Africa. For that reason alone I'm not entirely comfortable with the Dutch winning, but then that has nothing to do with the sport. Just gives you an idea of the big picture perspective I apply to some things...

    Anyway, I've been rooting for underdogs most of the tournament (Ghana's knockout loss was devastating) so I don't really have a dog in this fight. The Dutch seem to have more momentum and offensive firepower, so if they can keep possession I think it's theirs to lose.

    Back to movies, Castor, I missed the Robin Hood reaction entirely in May so now I'll have to go back and read up. My assumption was that the movie had just come and gone without making any mark, so it will be interesting to read the arguments for and against.

    Regarding Cruise, well I don't agree that he's been the guy who so desperately wants to be loved. Everybody keeps on saying that but I don't know where it comes from, especially when something like Collateral is still in the rearview mirror. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding that accusation, but I'd point the finger at somebody like Will Smith if we're talking about only playing "lovable" characters. Either way I still hope Cruise recovers, his upcoming Les Grossman movie notwithstanding. If he would step back from the action/comedy game a little bit and return to dramas I think he could rediscover his acting mojo. Valkyrie was a step in the right direction but that was pretty much ignored.

  5. Tom Cruise is one of my favorite actors, and I disagree with those saying he plays the same character every time. His "Magnolia" character is certainly not the prototypical role for a movie star, and his performances in both "Minority Report" and "The Last Samurai" are Oscar-worthy. I've said this before, but there are very few people who can channel intensity as well as Cruise.

  6. I'm with you on Toy Story 3 all the way, though the one missive to that is that I'm not so sure I'd grant it an A. A solid B+ or so. I watched The Pixar Story as well, and agree that the weight must be getting pretty damn heavy for the future mantle-holders. They might actually need another Cars (not the sequel, but a film of that caliber) just to tone down the expectations a tad.

  7. Welcome back, man. And many thanks for the kind words and the link! Looking forward to seeing you online again.

  8. Now I remember that you were a Cruise fan, Danny - nice. Intensity is one of the best things in his repertoire, as I think it comes from his commitment to his roles. Sure he knows he's "acting", but I really feel like he puts 100% of himself into his roles (whether it be Tropic Thunder, Samurai, Maguire, Fourth of July, etc.). Here's hoping he comes back "home" to drama in the near future.

    Fletch, am I right in remembering that Cars came out right about the time of The Pixar Story? Or at least, I remember that they didn't talk much about it, kind of talked it around and changed the subject in wrapping up the documentary story. In any case they've more than rebounded since then with Ratatouille/Up/TS3 all blowing away critics and audiences. Personally I think the Cars sequel was an odd risk to take, but maybe they're angling for the merchandise on this one. I know my nephew fell hard for the toys/apparel from the first movie.

    Thanks much, Jason. As you know I've enjoyed all of your reviews of those (even the ones I haven't seen) - they stand out in a movie blogosphere that's primarily obsessed with blockbusters and celebrity news.


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