Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just Cause or "jus' cuz"

2010 saw two new entries in what I might call the "pre-gunpowder conflict" genre. Centurion (2010) is one of those all-CGI-all-the-time epics that allows one to gouge and maim characters with mad abandon and without angering the actors' unions. The real problem is that if you like this sort of thing, you can get it right in the comfort of your own home torture chamber and abbatoir, courtesy of the Spartacus series on Starz (also on DVD and Netflix streaming).

But aside from its lack of uniqueness (coupled with lack of originality or quality performance, either in technical or non-technical categories), the truly fatal aspect of Centurion is that it tries to make Roman centurions into heroes.

William Goldman says nobody knows anything and there may not be any rules in art, but still I say: UNWANTED INVADERS ARE NEVER THE HEROES. Not even if all their friends are killed, not even if they're helpless and unarmed and turned into quarry for an implacable killing machine, who is part of the native troops. Natives = good; invaders = bad. Maybe this wasn't true back in the 1930s and 1940s when we thought the British Empire was cool, but those days are long gone. I don't care if the invaders are played by the offspring of George Clooney and Brad Pitt -- Invaders Are Bad. So when the Picts pronounce a death sentence on the Romans, we don't say, "Oh goodness, how will those poor Romans get out of there?" We say, "Good, die you miserable arrogant Romans." And don't forget, Romans were played by snooty English actors all through the 50s and 60s while Americans played the denizens of Palestine or whatever the local area was, so we were conditioned -- Romans are cruel, greedy and jerks. And when they're invading -- Hey, remember when the British tried to invade in 1775-6? Remember how much we liked that? And nowadays Brits don't even like Brits.

Centurion was doomed before the first camera turned. A terrible idea terribly executed.

Robin Hood (2010) was dead on arrival, but for slightly different reasons. It's not a bad movie, but it's Not A Robin Hood Movie. What's a Robin Hood movie? Oh, you know -- trickery, derring-do, thumbing the nose and cocking a snoot at entrenched power. Robin Hood is the proto-American Tax Rebel. He is clever, he is crafty. He tricks the Sheriff and his foolish henchmen, woos the Maid Marian, uses disguises, subterfuges and generally outwits power. What's more, he uses what he gets to help people who really need it -- honest, hard-working folk who have been sucked dry by the powers that be and need a little leg-up to keep their heads above water. What red-blooded Murkin doesn't love that story? I think this is an area where most of us can agree -- the guy who Sticks It To The Man and Does Justice is Awesome.

But somebody let a bunch of Brits and Ozzies make a Robin Hood movie and They Don't Get It. This is particularly appalling in the case of the Ozzie in Question, as he is Mr. Rebel, the Gladiator Who Will Not Take Crap From Anybody, Russell Crowe. I assume he did this picture because he owed somebody money. Maybe it was a tax problem. (That would be appropriate. But NOT ironic, OK?)

Because 3/4s of this movie is an attempt at an origin story, and an establishment-oriented one at that. First, our hero is an archer for the king, then things go wrong, he assumes the identity of some nobleman, pretends to be married to Cate Blanchett and all the time everyone is running around with big crossbows and swords and maces and nobody is hiding in a tree, ambushing a nobleman, pulling off some big switcheroo. It's all big battle scenes and something about some traitor who's working for France, so the big climactic battle is all about defending England against France, and like I say, where are the people rebelling against the nobility? That's Robin Hood!

Look, you make all the medieval strategy and battle movies you want, but DON'T CALL THEM "ROBIN HOOD." Honestly, I find it impossible to critique this movie -- it's the usual Ridley Scott, the CGI has gotten a lot better since Gladiator and if you like movies where guys wear armor, have greasy beards and say "Aye" a lot, this is the picture for you.

But me, I'm sticking with Douglas Fairbanks and Erroll Flynn. Heck, they know how to have fun, which Russell Crowe NEVER does.

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