Thursday, May 13, 2010

Romantic "Letters," Brutal "Robin Hood"

Ah, to be young and in love.
Ah, to be any age and in love…
“Letters to Juliet” is a charming romantic fantasy asserting there is no expiration date on love.
Adorable Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie, an American girl in her 20s engaged to an ambitious young master chef, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal).
In his quest to perfect his Italian cuisine, Victor convinces Sophie to take a pre-honeymoon trip with him to Verona, Italy.
Victor becomes consumed by networking with local foodies while Sophie begins to feel neglected.
Wandering the streets of Verona, the home of Shakespeare’s most famous fictional lovers, Sophie discovers the actual house purported to be Juliet’s house, complete with balcony. Stuffed in cracks of the walls of the house are hundreds of scribbled messages to Juliet, as asking advice in matters of romance. Sophie volunteers as a letter reader and replier.
OK, it’s a pretty hokey setup, and hokier still when Sophie discovers a letter than has been hidden in a crack since 1957.
The letter was written by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), now an elderly widow.
When she was young, Claire visited Verona and fell in love with a young man named Lorenzo.
Lorenzo wanted to marry Claire, but she got cold feet, wrote the fateful letter asking for advice, and returned to England where she met and married another man.
More than 50 years later Sophie writes a letter that lures Claire back to Verona, her handsome grandson Charlie (Chris Egan) in tow.
The best antidote for cloying hokey-ness is humor. Vanessa Redgrave is a brilliant, distinguished actress who knows how to be funny. You see there is more than one Lorenzo in Verona. In fact there is a whole squadron of them.
If you can’t see where all of this is leading, you just don’t know chick flicks. This is a chick flick of a somewhat higher order because it features Redgrave’s true-life love, Franco Nero. Are we swooning yet? If not you are excused.

Robin Hood the Gladiator?

There is nothing very merry about Russell Crowe’s stoic “Robin Hood” and his band of angry men.
My idea of Robin Hood came from a British television series that was shown in America from 1955 to 1950. Robin Hood was played as a lovable rogue “feared by the rich, loved by the poor.” His band of followers were described as “merry men” who were always confounding the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, but “still found plenty of time to sing.”
There is very little merriment in the overly-long new “Robin Hood,” and even less singing.
Director Ridley Scott has re-envisioned the legend of Robin Hood along the lines of his 2000 epic, "Gladiator,” which also starred Russell Crowe.
War is a serious business, and Robin Longstride (Crowe) is a grim survivor of the brutal Crusades, which were lead by King Richard “The Lionheart” (Danny Houston) in a valiant but futile effort to convert the Holy Land to Christianity.
The story begins in the late 12th century with two key deaths: King Richard and Sir Robert Loxley, a Knight and friend of Robin’s. It is Sir Robert’s dying wish that Robin return Loxley’s sword to his father (Max von Sydow).
The death of King Richard has elevated his callow, unscrupulous younger brother John (Oliver Isaac) to King.
John has already upset his mother (Eileen Atkins) by marrying a French noblewoman, Isabella (Lea Seydoux). Now he has caused further distrust by joining forces with Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), a hateful opportunist secretly in league with the French.
So, you got that? England, yay! France, boo!
OK, there is more to it than that, as this movie is about two and a half hours long, building to a climactic battle scene that looks like a Medieval D-Day.
It’s all very violent and manly (Crowe is a convincing archer and swordsman), but I’ll take Robin’s band of merry men any day.