Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler May 12-18: Can a guy in green tights take down Iron Man?

In theaters

Probably the best thing opening this week is Vincere, which starts Friday at the Carolina and the review for which is in this week’s Xpress. I won’t say more here except to note that it’s remarkable. The big deal in terms of mainstream releases, however, is Robin Hood—and the question of whether he can go best two falls out of three with Iron Man. Personally, I’m skeptical.

I’m sure there are people out there who are absolutely primed to see Russell Crowe as Robin Hood in a new interpretation from director Ridley Scott. Somehow, I’m not among them, and I don’t seem to actually know any of them. Of course, there’s the vibe left over from the Crowe-Scott teaming on Gladiator (2000) (assuming no one remembers A Good Year (2006)). And there’s no denying that Robin Hood boasts an impressive cast: Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins. No expense has been spared. And this version is apparently quite different from previous Robin Hood movies, but Justin Chang’s Variety review keeps plaguing me: “often seems devoted to stifling whatever pleasure audiences may have derived from the popular legend.” Friday will reveal all, of course.

There’s also Gary Winick’s Letters to Juliet with Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Gael García Bernal and Franco Nero. Even overlooking the fact that Winick’s last movie was Bride Wars (2009)—and that’s a lot to overlook—it’s hard to ignore that the movie’s admittedly small number of reviews have not been good. It’s harder still to ignore that the film’s trailer appears to give away the entire story in two-and-a-half glossy minutes, leaving you with a sense of having already seen the movie. The acting may help, and it’s always nice to see Redgrave in a movie. But unless it turns out that her lost love turns out to be a serial killer with dozens of bodies buried in his vineyards (and while the idea kind of appeals to me, I think it unlikely), this looks like it’ll be short on surprises.

I’m not expecting surprises from the Queen Latifah romantic comedy Just Wright either, though I’m hoping for some freshness from director Sanaa Hamri (Something New). This is pretty obviously formula stuff, but it looks rather agreeably done—and the trailer doesn’t give it all away, though the genre conventions probably do. Bad signs? Well, its early reviews aren’t looking good—and it’s not widely booked. I haven’t seen all the area listings yet, but it’s not playing at all the venues it might be. That usually means something less than good news. Then again, Queen Latifah can make me forgive much—except Taxi (2004) and The Cookout (2004).

The Fine Arts brings in the critically acclaimed Italian film Mid-August Lunch. I actually have a screener on this one, but I haven’t had time to watch it yet. Since it’s a small film—and a small film with subtitles—it’s being split with Greenberg and is only playing matinees this coming week.

Otherwise, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still with us (Fine Arts), as is Greenberg (Fine Arts), but with fewer shows. The Ghost Writer is still kicking (Carolina) as is Mother (Carolina), butNorth Face and Chloe (both at the Carolina) are leaving us by Friday. Alice in Wonderland is still holding matinee slots at the Beaucatcher. And Asheville Pizza and Brewing is bringing back Fantastic Mr. Fox for matinees and opening Shutter Island in their evening slots. Now that is noteworthy booking.

On DVD

Well, Daybreakers was surprisingly decent (and seemed even more so because of the New Moon twist on the vampire movie that did only so-so at the box office). Here’s hoping it finds a wider audience on DVD. Edge of Darkness and Legion also come out this week. Rarely have the words “don’t bother” seemed more appropriate.

If you don’t already have them, there’s a bargain-priced set of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies coming out this week. Spy Kids (2001) is an essential. Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002) is a worthy addition. The less said about Spy Kids 3: Game Over (2003) the better. All of this, of course, is to prep you for Spy Kids 4, which comes out in August of 2011—in 3-D, of course.

Notable TV screenings

Horse Feathers 9 a.m. , Saturday, May 15, TCM
I go back and forth over which is my favorite Paramount Marx Brothers movie—after Duck Soup (1933)—but Horse Feathers (1932) is a strong contender. And since I saw it not that long ago with an appreciative audience made up of first-timers, I’m leaning toward it these days. (Comedies really are better with an audience—so long as the comedy is working, of course.) This one—which probably has more flashes of surrealism than any of the others—finds Groucho taking over as dean of Huxley College. Naturally, he insults everyone from the onset and manages to turn the staff of very grave, black-robed professors into a chorus line for his musical number “I’m Against It.” That pretty much sets the tone for the entire film, which involves romancing a lady of dubious virtue referred to as “the college widow” (Thelma Todd) by all four brothers—all of whom perform variations of the song “Everyone Says I Love You” for her—and trying to put together a football team to beat rival Darwin College. It’s completely inspired nonsense, though why it’s on at the unMarxly hour of 9 a.m. is beyond me.

Hail the Conquering Hero 8 p.m., Sunday, May 16, TCM
Preston Sturges’ final film for Paramount Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) is a mixed bag and far from his best work—though it’s probably better if you like Eddie Bracken, whom most of you probably know as Roy Walley of Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). I confess my Bracken tolerance is not high. Most of Sturges’ stock company of supporting players show up—William Demarest, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Al Bridge, Jimmy Conlin, Frank Moran, Robert Warwick—if only as passersby or background. (Sturges viewed these boys as good luck charms.) The story is really a wartime variant on Sturges’ Christmas in July (1940), with a perennial loser making good because people think he’s something he’s not. In this case, some Marines pass Bracken off as a returning war hero in his home town. It works well enough as comedy, but Bracken isn’t sufficiently sympathetic to really make the more serious parts resonate as they need to. However, it’s a virtual textbook of Sturges’ style with its beautifully orchestrated chaos, outbursts of slapstick and those long, long tracking shots that serve to integrate his characters with their surroundings. Not great Sturges, but certainly worth a look.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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18 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler May 12-18: Can a guy in green tights take down Iron Man?

  1. Horse Feathers was the first Marx Brothers picture I saw. I remember thinking that this must have been where they got the idea for Bugs Bunny. I walked around the playground at school singing ‘I’m Against It’ for days afterward.

    The new Robin Hood movie looks absolutely no fun – another attempt to take the romance out of a piece of romantic folklore, ala the Clive Owen King Arfuh. I just don’t really see the point of that. It’s not like there’s an historical Robin Hood whose real story has yet to be told. I think I’ll track down a copy of the Errol Flynn version instead.

  2. Me

    TCM is also showing Tokyo Story and Whats Up Tiger Lily? over the weekend.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I walked around the playground at school singing ‘I’m Against It’ for days afterward

    I can think of much worse things you could have sung.

    The new Robin Hood movie looks absolutely no fun – another attempt to take the romance out of a piece of romantic folklore, ala the Clive Owen King Arfuh

    I’m hoping it’s at least better than that.

  4. brianpaige

    Oh, not only does this new Robin Hood look like it won’t be any fun, it looks flat out terrible. The sight of Maid Marian in battle armor alone makes me wonder what Ridley Scott was thinking. Actually I know what he was thinking about, namely the King Arthur where Keira Knightley was a warrior style Guinevere. But guess what…that movie sucked too.

    Is there an uncut version of Horse Feathers? The whole bedroom scene seems like it was edited with a chainsaw.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Actually I know what he was thinking about, namely the King Arthur where Keira Knightley was a warrior style Guinevere. But guess what…that movie sucked too

    If memory serves, King Arfur was a financial disaster, too. I can’t imagine why you’d want to emulate it. Then again, Scott’s last big budget period actioner, Kingdom of Heaven, was an even bigger flop at the box office.

    Is there an uncut version of Horse Feathers? The whole bedroom scene seems like it was edited with a chainsaw

    The whole print we have today looks like crap. It’s sharper than parts of The Cocoanuts, but it’s very scratchy and worn. I don’t remember it looking this bad back in the early 70s. There appears to have been a complete print in Britain at least in the 1960s, since Alan Eyles describes the footage he refers to as “missing from some prints” in his book on Marx Bros.

  6. Dionysis

    “Oh, not only does this new Robin Hood look like it won’t be any fun, it looks flat out terrible.”

    Last night there was a special on The History Channel titled ‘The Real Robin Hood’. It was largely a promo for the new film, with comments by Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and a number of historians. According to the historians, it is ‘unknown’ if there was a real Robin Hood, but he (or someone like him) would have lived in the early part of the 12th century (tales of Robin Hood have him living during that period). It was also stated that ‘maid Marion’ didn’t appear in any tales of Robin Hood until 1592. In addition, this version of Robin Hood is moved up a century to the early 13th century, with Robin around during the signing of the Magna Carta.

    Robin Hood was, according again to the historians, a ‘yeoman’, the class of peasants that enjoyed the rule of common law and that begat a real middle class. As for ‘taking from the rich and giving to the poor’, that was interpeted to mean not the taking and giving of money or material things, but the taking of freedoms from the landed aristocracy and giving them to the poor (the suppressed).

    The movie may not be as ‘fun’ as previous versions, including the almost comical Errol Flynn version, but it may more accurately depict the grimy reality of Europe at that time (time shifting excepted). Since Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett are among my favorite actors working today, I’ll see the film if for no other reason than they’re in it.

  7. Ken Hanke

    The movie may not be as ‘fun’ as previous versions, including the almost comical Errol Flynn version, but it may more accurately depict the grimy reality of Europe at that time (time shifting excepted).

    The question isn’t so much whether it will more accurately depict that as it is whether that’s necessarily desirable. I have yet to encounter one of these de-mythifying efforts — King Arthur or Tristan + Isolde or Troy — that ultimately didn’t strike me as more preposterous than their mythical forebearers. Say what you will about the Flynn version, but it’s still got an audience 72 years after the fact.

    I’ve nothing against Russell Crowe — and when I see him I always understand his reputation as a compelling actor all over again — but I’m waiting to be persuaded that a 140 minutes of a more serious Robin Hood is a good idea. That’s up to the movie, though.

  8. Dionysis

    “Say what you will about the Flynn version, but it’s still got an audience 72 years after the fact.”

    That wasn’t a slam against the Flynn version; I watched it recently on TCM, and have it one DVD (and I re-watch it every couple of years). Although it does have a lot more comedic aspects than other versions I’ve seen, it is still hugely entertaining without a doubt.

    I’m just not ready to pre-judge a film I haven’t seen yet based upon a few minutes of footage and some (what I think are) premature negative comments. It may be a bigger disaster (and less fun) than the Kevin Costner version; I’ll just have to see for myself.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I’m just not ready to pre-judge a film I haven’t seen yet based upon a few minutes of footage and some (what I think are) premature negative comments.

    I’m not suggesting you should. I haven’t judged it myself, merely stated my reservations based on what I’ve seen and read — and my past experiences with Ridley Scott movies and Brian Helgeland screenplays. I’ve read many negative things about movies in the past that have braced me for a bad experience — and then loved the film when I saw it for myself. We’ll see.

  10. Dionysis

    “past experiences with Ridley Scott movies”

    I understand the concern; if it’s even close to Kingdom of Heaven (a movie that I actually stopped watching before the end, it was so awful), then it will be time squandered. And with the cost of movie-going these days, I sure hope I don’t leave the theatre feeling that way.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Kingdom of Heaven

    Now, that was a moose fellation party of some note.

    And with the cost of movie-going these days, I sure hope I don’t leave the theatre feeling that way.

    Even seeing it for free and getting paid to write about it, I still don’t want to leave the theater feeling that way.

  12. Dionysis

    “…a moose fellation party…”

    Now I’ll have that image indelibly etched in my brain. I can see it now…

    Boss: ‘What are you so preoccupied with?”
    Me: ‘Visions of moose fellatio, what else?”

  13. Ken Hanke

    Now I’ll have that image indelibly etched in my brain. I can see it now…

    Boss: ‘What are you so preoccupied with?”
    Me: ‘Visions of moose fellatio, what else?”

    Unless you can convey that this image causes you no joy, you might consider keeping that to yourself.

  14. Dionysis

    “Unless you can convey that this image causes you no joy, you might consider keeping that to yourself.”

    Yeah, I guess I’d prefer to remain employed.

  15. DrSerizawa

    Not to rain on anyone’s parade but it’s most likely that Robin Hood was just a murdering thug who preyed on travelers. Some bard embellished a story to entertain the commoners by assigning noble intentions to a particularly successful thief. It’s not like we don’t have more modern re-inventions like this. Jesse James anyone? Another murderer rehabilitated by invention. Makes a nice story though.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Not to rain on anyone’s parade but it’s most likely that Robin Hood was just a murdering thug who preyed on travelers. Some bard embellished a story to entertain the commoners by assigning noble intentions to a particularly successful thief.

    Very probably, but be prepared to find a generation who believe the new movie is actual history — at least if this is successful.

  17. Ken Hanke

    I have seen Robin Hood. I will say this much — Danny Huston with flowing curls as King Richard looks alarmingly like Chip Kaufmann’s avatar.

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