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Three Film Reviews: Get Low, Robin Hood and Green Zone
3 film reviews
GET LOW*** (Three Stars out of 5)
GET LOW: The best and worst thing about Get Low is that it’s all about the performances. The plot and the directing are nothing special. The characters seem to be cut-and-paste clichés of past characters who the two lead actors have often portrayed in the past. The only thing that really makes this worth the trip to the theater is the top-notch performances by Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. In this case, that’s just enough.
Director Aaron Schneider was very smart to cast Robert Duvall in the main role. Duvall is one of the most iconic and talented actors working today. He can take even a poorly written role and make it credible. The character of Felix Bush in Get Low needs an actor like Duvall to make it work. Bush is a cross between an old, clichéd movie Hillbilly and some sort of folk tale image like Rip Van Winkle. He is ornery and cantankerous, with a long and tangled beard that would make ZZ Top laugh. Bush shoots at trespassers and his only friend is a mule. He borders on being preposterous. But that doesn’t matter, as long as Duvall is the one playing him. Duvall makes us believe that this outrageous hermit could logically exist somewhere deep in the hills.
The story begins with a big teaser. A house is burning and the soul survivor escapes, running panicked into the woods. Who is this survivor and how does the scene connect to the rest of the film? That’s the hook whereby director Schneider and writers Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell hope to keep us interested. As it turns out, it isn’t enough, but that’s Okay. Duvall and Murray carry the film.
We cut to 40 years later, in depression era Tennessee, where Felix Bush (Duvall) has been living as a semi-legendary backwoods hermit. Lots of stories have sprung up around the mysterious mountain man and none of them are flattering. No one in the nearby town knows much of anything about him but everyone hates him regardless. If they can’t get to know the man, they believe the rumors.
One day, Bush is informed by a minister (Gerald McRaney) that an old friend from his youth has died. After paying a visit to the grave, Bush comes up with an idea. He rides his mule and buggy into town, gathering stares from everyone, and surprises local mortician Frank Quinn (Murray) with his scheme. Bush is preparing to “get low” and wants to have a funeral while he is still alive.
Bush wants his funeral to be a grand send-off and insists that everyone in town come, so they can all tell the stories they have heard about him. He wants to personally listen to all the tall tales that have developed around him before he finally reveals the truth about his self-imposed exile. In order to motivate the townspeople to attend his funeral, he promises to raffle off the vast and valuable acres of land he’s lived alone on for so long.
The mortician’s young assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) is stunned by the proposal but the shrewd and opportunistic Quinn can only see the wad of money which Bush is offering for his services. Quinn has no hesitation about taking the money, despite not being sure he can deliver on all his promises. Buddy is assigned to be Bush’s babysitter, following him around and seeing that Bush has everything he needs to keep him happy. Despite Bush’s loner nature, he begins to like young Buddy and slowly bits of Bush’s past start coming to light. Buddy realizes there is a tragic secret in Bush’s past that he wants to confess for before he dies.
Murray plays Quinn as a comical yet cunning creep, who borders on being unscrupulous but never completely crosses the line into bad guy territory. He has an oily charm that makes his self serving endeavors forgivable. Murray laces Quinn with the same sarcastic wit and unfounded bluster that so many of his previous characters have displayed.
Buddy is a bland character and Black is not a strong enough actor to hold his own on screen with the likes of Duvall. Sissy Spacek has an underwritten role as Mattie, an old flame who comes back into Bush’s life in his last days. The big resolution, when it finally comes, is not all that interesting or shocking. It wasn’t really worth the wait. But never fear. Duvall and Murray are here to entertain us. As the movie goes on, you forget about the story and just enjoy watching a great actor and a great comedian share the screen. They make an otherwise unexceptional film worth watching.
ROBIN HOOD** (Two Stars out of 5)
ROBIN HOOD: We all know that Robin Hood is supposed to rob the rich in order to give to the poor. Well, he doesn't do that here, but if its any consolation, Director Ridley Scott's new film robs the viewers to give money to the studio.
This grim, gray retelling of the classic Robin Hood myth makes all the same mistakes that were made in the Kevin Costner version Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as well as the poorly done King Arthur, starring Clive Owen. It drains all the magic, poetry and pageantry out of a timeless, beloved fable and leaves us with nothing to replace it except the gritty reality of the 12th century.
This wouldn't be so bad if the reality we're shown was actually entertaining. If the movie gave us a cold hard look at the past which was epic and exciting--such as Gladiator, Braveheart or Rob Roy--it would be worth sucking the magic out of the legend. But Robin Hood isn't exciting. There are, in fact, relatively few action sequences. Nor is there much humor or archery or anything else you'd expect from Robin Hood. We just end up with a lot of exposition and a plot which is as historically accurate as something Mel Brooks would have cooked up.
In this version Robert Longstride (Russel Crowe) and two of his Merry Men (not called that here) Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) are yeomen (or "commoners") in King Richard's Holy Crusades. When Richard (Danny Houston) falls, Robert and friends ferry his crown back to England. Along the way, Robert comes upon the aftermath of another battle where nobleman Sir Robin Loxley was slain. Robert takes Robin's identity and decides to take the knight's fallen sword back to his father (Max Von Sydow) in England.
But things get complicated when the semi-grieving father Sir Walter asks Robert/Robin to impersonate his late son, otherwise Walter may lose his land. Part of the masquerade is pretending to be married to the late knight's widow Lady Marion (Played by the wonderful Cate Blanchett, who is wasted in his film.) This sets the supposedly romantic aspects of the film in motion as the couple argue and insult each other, which is movie semaphore for courtship.
After the deceased King's Crown is handed over to his younger, weaker brother John (Oscar Isaac), his ambitious, evil chamberlain Godfrey (A typecast Mark Strong) becomes the power behind the thrown and immediately becomes corrupt, overtaxing the overworked citizens and setting the stage for the Franco-invasion.
Naturally, this sets the heroic Robin into action, along with his two friends, as well as Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and Marion Warrior Princess, who accedes to the PC rules of film-making by putting on armor and going medieval (literally) on the bad guys. The relationship between Robin and Marion is not very well written, rarely rising above a bad Romantic comedy. Crowe and Blanchett have very little chemistry together.
Crowe's Robin has none of the mirth and charm of earlier versions. Ridley Scott tries to turn him into a fighting political activist instead of a rebellious freedom fighter. Robin becomes the guiding force behind the Magna Carta here.
Taking all the nearly fairy tale majesty out of the Robin Hood myth is as foolish a move as when they took the mythology out of the Trojan War in Troy. Scott and Crowe should have learned from Costner's dreadful Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves and left well enough alone. They tried to do for Robin Hood was Christopher Nolan did for Batman (re-imagining it as a grim and gritty, reality based tale of gloom and doom) but they fail, leaving the viewer to feel like he's been robbed at arrow-point.
THE GREEN ZONE***+ (3 & a half stars out of 5)
THE GREEN ZONE: Following on the heels of the Oscar winning the Hurt Locker, director Paul Greengrass gives us another engrossing Iraq war drama. This one is paints on a grander canvass than Hurt Locker, dealing with one of the greatest ever deceptions pulled on the American public. The story covers the Bush administration's fabrication about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The non-existent weapons were invented as an excuse to go to war and the film deals with the administration's efforts to cover it up by any means necessary.
Greengrass' film never claims to be an accurate record of events. This is clearly a stylized cinematic interpretation of a true story, not a reenactment. But it has a point of view as clear and passionate as a Michael Moore film. Greengrass, and writer Brian Helgeland, make the case that America was the aggressor in the Iraq war, not the victim, and planned from the start to put a puppet ruler in place of Saddam Hussein, despite the objections of the Iraqis who want to choose their own ruler to succeed Saddam.
The instrument used to unriddle the cover-up is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), a highly skilled American soldier who has been leading his unit on a series of raids against sites which supposedly house WMDs. In every case, the intelligence is wrong and Miller's team comes away with nothing to show for their trouble but egg on their face. Miller comes to believe that the army's intelligence sources should be considered unreliable. This opinion, however, does not endear him to his superiors or to Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, effectively cast against type) the head of Intelligence in Iraq.
Miller finds an ally in Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) a world weary, veteran CIA operative who is just as suspicious as Miller about the goings on in Iraq. The CIA has been cut out of the loop, in favor of people like Poundstone who were hand picked by the administration. Miller and Brown form an alliance to uncover the truth.
Agent Brown advises Poundstone and the others to appoint influential Iraq General Al Rawi (Igal Naor) as the new Iraqi president because he'll be accepted by the Iraqis, much more so than a US chosen puppet ruler. Miller believes that only Rawi can prevent an Iraq civil war. What Brown doesn't know is that Rawi is on the administration's hit-list because he is supposedly their information source, code-named "Magellan". However, what Rawi really told the US and what the administration wants people to believe is another.
Along the way, Miller meets a newswoman named Laurie Dane (Amy Ryan) who is trying to uncover the identity of the mysterious, "Magellan". She is being spoon-feed information by Poundstone, allegedly from Magellan, that seems to justify the invasion and the reports of WMDs in Iraq. With Miller's help, she comes to realize she is a dupe.
Miller also gets some unexpected help from a one-legged Iraqi civilian who likes to be called Freddy. Freddy begins by giving some information to Miller that pays off, and is rewarded with a job as Miller's interpreter. Freddy's dialogue gives us a patriotic Iraq's view of America and the war.
The film's conceit of one low ranked soldier uncovering the massive scheme is unrealistic, but that's the nature of film, to create an amalgam of detective and moral conscience who goes from the trenches to the upper echelons in his quest for the truth. Another amalgam is Poundstone, who encapsulates all the sins of the Bush administration in one man.
Matt Damon is effective in the leading role, once again playing a man of action who uncovers a conspiracy (Jason Bourne, anyone?) The fighting and chase sequences are sometimes done with a shaky hand-held camera, which is annoying but its a tolerable distraction in an otherwise fine film. Green Zone is sure to press some buttons with Bush supporters, but regardless of that, its still an entertaining combination of political thriller, action film and war drama.