September 2010

Robin Hood  •  Babvies  •  Get Him to the Greek
Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


Robin Hood

The legend of Robin Hood has become thoroughly fantastical over the centuries, especially once Hollywood got hold of it. From Errol Flynn's light-hearted swashbuckling to Kevin Costner's SoCal sensitivity, the populist thief of Sherwood Forest has lost whatever gritty social realities he may have had at his inception.

Ridley Scott aims to change that with the latest Robin Hood, which places its hero squarely in the context of the Crusades and the upheaval they caused in England. Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard the Lionheart's army, returning home after a grueling, dispiriting campaign. Taking on the identity of a slain soldier, Robin enters the life of the man's widow (Cate Blanchett) and father (Max von Sydow).  Meanwhile, political battles are brewing, and Robin is called upon to defend his country from both the invading French and its own duped, corrupt leaders.

This sounds like an interesting way to tell a well-known story, offering a history lesson wrapped up in winking humor and gritty action scenes. And it is interesting, at least for the first 45 minutes or so. Crowe looks constipated most of the time, but he's a formidable badass, which gets him through some of the awkward dramatic moments.

Scott loses control of the movie completely as the climactic showdown approaches, a baffling fumble for a director of his skill and experience.  Every stupid cliché is trotted out, right down to the trendy chaotic editing and cheesy sequel set-up. It's fine for the Robin Hood story to be realistic — even a little grim — but it should never be this dull.

Extras: A director's cut provides about 15 additional minutes of character and plot development; deleted scenes; a lengthy making-of featurette; the Blu-Ray has extensive looks at the film's visuals and a pop-up "Director's Notebook" feature.  (PG-13/Unrated)  Rating: 2.5 —LL


Babies

Because of the inherent adorability of the four stars of this French documentary, it’s easy to forgive it for not delivering as much as it should. Director Thomas Balmès follows a quartet of infants as they spend their first year. The tots hail from around the world. Ponijao hails from the wilds of Namibia, Mari is from Japan, Bayar lives on the steppes of Mongolia, and Hattie grows up with her New Age-y parents in San Francisco (what a shocker!).

Balmès offers no voiceover, and the parents don’t sit for talking head interviews. For the most part, this hands-off approach is wise and occasionally leads to some delightfully unguarded moments. Ponijao’s tussle with one of her numerous older siblings is hilarious and has a precision timing that most professional comics would envy. Hattie’s parents are so non-traditional that they almost seem like the embodiment of what outsiders imagine Golden State residents to be.

It’s also refreshing to see the residents of places like Namibia and Mongolia treated in a manner that isn’t condescending. Ponijao’s family may live a life that’s austere, and she may constantly play in the dirt, but she and her siblings seem perfectly content.

At the same time, the film seems rambling and in need of a point of view. At times, it’s like watching home video of children who aren’t related to you. Yes, the tots sure are cute, but not every moment of their lives merits recording. At times, it’s easy to wish that the four of them would just hurry up and take their first steps and get over with it. Still, it seems pointless to complain when one of the stars flashes an adorably gap-toothed grin at the camera.

Extras: Footage of some sweepstakes winner who got to have their own offspring’s infancy preserved on the DVD and new footage of the youngsters. (PG) Rating 3.5 —DL


Get Him to the Greek

Russell Brand, the party-monster British comedian, stole the 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so writer-director Nicholas Stoller did the logical thing — he gave Brand's character his own movie. As perpetually inebriated rock star Aldous Snow, Brand struts and stumbles his way around Get Him to the Greek in a performance that should be convincing enough to get Brand a recording contract.

The plot is utterly simple, with record company lackey Aaron (Jonah Hill) escorting Snow from London to Los Angeles for a major concert. Of course, Snow is impossible to control, and he drags the hapless Aaron from one bacchanalia to the next. Stoller slips a few sweet emotional moments in, a la Judd Apatow, but mostly he plays to the strengths of his cast. Hill is a perfect straight man to Brand's crazy force of nature, and several peripheral actors shine as well (especially Sean Combs as Hill's boss).

The filthy, gross-out humor backs up some wicked satire on celebrity culture, and Stoller balances the two styles well enough to keep viewers of all sensibilities laughing steadily. Get Him to the Greek is hardly classic cinema, and no individual gag really stands out, so don't expect to be sharing the best scenes with your friends the next day. Like Aldous, you'll probably forget everything you just experienced right after it's over. But you'll have a great time while it's happening.

Extras: The unrated version adds a few minutes of footage; commentary by Stoller, Brand, Hill, producer Rodney Rothman and co-stars Rose Byrne and Elisabeth Moss; deleted, alternate and extended scenes; videos and concert performances; behind-the-scenes docs; gag reels and bonus footage; the Blu-Ray has additional bonus and making-of material, including karaoke! (R/Unrated) Rating: 3.5 —LL


Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain

Americans spend $60 billion dollars a year in an attempt to look as if time has no effect on them. Some people will even skip a house payment or a visit to their regular doctor in order to get another shot of botulism injected into their faces. It’s easy to poke fun at individuals who appear to be so vain that they want to rest of the world to be as in denial of biological reality as they are.

What’s oddly refreshing about Make Me Young is that director Mitch McCabe approaches the subject with a refreshingly compassionate perspective. This might have something to do with the fact that her father was a plastic surgeon who died in a traffic accident and that she herself has always been unsatisfied with her looks and is understandably worried about what Father Time has in store for her.

Despite his profession, McCabe’s father (seen through what must be hours of home movies and videos) was compassionate but geeky sort of fellow who used his skills primarily to help accident victims or cancer survivors face the world. His experiences as a combat surgeon in Vietnam may have had something to do with his choice in livelihoods. It’s hard to imagine him putting people under the knife merely to make a fellow with too much money look a bit like Jack Nicholson. Yes, there is a guy in this film who does just that, and he winds up getting extra money because of his new looks.

In other cases, the operations and other procedures seem horribly wasteful. Seeing attractive young people getting work done is eerie and downright infuriating. It’s one thing to get a cleft palette fixed. It’s another to get rid of freckles or smile lines when they do little or nothing to mar the looks of the patient.

Some of McCabe’s subjects risk their health and eagerly shell out five to six figures a pop for work that does little or nothing to improve their faces. The film also reveals that fewer medical students are becoming general practitioners because cosmetic work makes more money, and that some “treatments” only succeed in lightening a patient’s wallet.

Extras: A behind-the-scenes featurette, filmmaker commentary, extended interviews and deleted scenes. (N/R) Rating: 3.5 —DL


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.