Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Robin Hood, who is about 700, is one of the most filmed char­ac­ters of the hu­man imag­i­na­tion. There are far more English lan­guage movies about Robin of Lox­ley than about Je­sus of Nazareth, who is even older. I sup­pose they have a thing or two in com­mon.

Dou­glas Fair­banks pulled on the green tights back in 1922 and his Tas­ma­nian suc­ces­sor Er­rol Flynn fol­lowed suit in 1938. In the decades since some A-list names have gal­li­vanted into Sher­wood For­est, in­clud­ing Sean Con­nery, Kevin Cost­ner and Rus­sell Crowe.

I don’t think any ac­tor has been both Robin Hood and the son of God. Only Monty Python and Mel Brooks are up to that level of shapeshift­ing. The Pythons did it with Time Ban­dits (John Cleese as RH) and Life of Brian (Ken­neth Col­ley as JC) and Brooks did it with Men in Tights (Carey El­wes as RH) and His­tory of the World, Part I (John Hurt as JC).

This vast, in­no­va­tive and some­times er­ratic Robin Hood screen his­tory came to mind as I pre­pared for the lat­est in­stal­ment, Robin Hood, di­rected by Bri­tish film­maker Otto Bathurst and star­ring Welsh ac­tor Taron Eger­ton.

The sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion was height­ened by Bathurst’s work in tele­vi­sion. He won a BAFTA for kick­ing off Peaky Blin­ders. But it was his work on the open­ing episode of Black Mir­ror, the one where a ter­ror­ist forces the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter to have tele­vised sex with a pig, that made me think any­thing was pos­si­ble in his big screen de­but. Black Mir­ror is a mind-blow­ing show, but that first episode is un­matched.

“For­get what you think you know,’’ we are told at the open­ing of Robin Hood. “This is not a bed­time story.” That’s partly right. The story Robin Hood (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease The Grinch (G) Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day that un­folds is sim­i­lar to the one we know, about the folk­loric hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but it branches off into strange and in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tions. Here are some movies that came to mind as I watched: Oliver Stone’s Pla­toon, William Wyler’s BenHur and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

In the end, this is an over­acted, over-styled com­edy, and there­fore quite en­joy­able. The ac­tion scenes are spec­tac­u­lar, turn­ing the bow and ar­row into a modern weapon, and there is lots of vi­o­lence but, like the Kings­man movies that made Eger­ton a star, it’s all done for laughs.

The story opens with Robin and Mar­ian (Ir­ish ac­tress Eve Hew­son, who is Bono’s daugh­ter) meet­ing and fall­ing in love. It all goes well un­til “the cold hand of fate reached out for them”. That hand be­longs to Ben Men­del­sohn, the Sher­iff of Not­ting­ham. In cos­tume and de­meanour, he looks as if he has walked straight off the set of the Star Wars movie Rogue One.

Robin’s toffy life is turned up­side down. There’s a war in Ara­bia to be fought. The long se­quence that fol­lows is rivet­ing. Jamie Foxx is the bat­tle-scarred Moor who be­comes Robin’s men­tor (and takes on the name John).

Back home, Robin as­sumes a new life. His train­ing regime with John, whose ad­vice runs from archery to fash­ion, is laugh-out-loud funny. The hood, by the way, is at­tached to Robin’s black jacket. The com­mon­ers make copies and pin them to the walls. The hood be­comes a sym­bol of re­sis­tance to wealth and power, echo­ing the Oc­cupy move­ment.

An­other mod­erni­sa­tion is that Friar Tuck has an Aussie ac­cent (he’s Tim Minchin, and when he talks to Men­del­sohn about the seal of the con­fes­sional it is price­less). There is an­other scene where the sher­iff re­calls his abused child­hood. In it, Men­del­sohn shows us he is in a class of his own. And this is why the Robin Hood story con­tin­ues to be told. It’s still rel­e­vant. Cru­sades against in­fi­dels, abu­sive priests, the rich get­ting richer … not much has changed. The Grinch is younger than Robin Hood and Je­sus, hav­ing been brought into the world by Dr Seuss in 1957. There was an an­i­mated TV movie in 1966 with Boris Karloff voic­ing the lead role and a live-ac­tion fea­ture in 2000 with Jim Car­rey. A shorter back­list, but that doesn’t mean Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch doesn’t have a bit to live up to in The Grinch, a 3-D an­i­mated movie di­rected by Scott Mosier and Yar­row Ch­eney.

Cum­ber­batch, who I think de­liv­ered the per- for­mance of his life in the re­cent TV se­ries Patrick Mel­rose, does not let us down. It didn’t take long, watch­ing this grumpy green Christ­mashater, for me to see Cum­ber­batch’s face merg­ing with the char­ac­ter’s. The 3-D an­i­ma­tion is ex­cel­lent, down to the wind ruf­fling green whiskers, but it’s also in the voice. The scene where he won­ders how much “emo­tional eat­ing” he has done lately is hi­lar­i­ous.

We all know the story of the Grinch. He lives in a moun­tain­ous cave, only his loyal dog-ser­vant Max for com­pany. The mo­ment where Max imag­ines what he’d like to do to­day is also very funny. The Grinch is 53 (as was Seuss when he pub­lished the book) and he loathes Christ­mas and de­spises all the cheer­ful, carol-singing souls in the town be­low his cave, Whoville. He de­cides to steal Christ­mas.

This movie suc­ceeds on a cou­ple of lev­els. First, it is not back­ward about show­ing how mean the Grinch can be. A se­quence where he goes into a su­per­mar­ket is won­der­fully wicked. Sec­ond, it builds his back­story slowly and com­pas­sion­ately. He didn’t al­ways have a heart “two sizes too small”. By the end, I won­dered, al­beit briefly, if I should be­come less grinchy. Fi­nally, two new char­ac­ters, a ro­tund rein­deer and a gar­ru­lous goat, are scene-steal­ers.

I saw this with my 13-year-old son and his best mate. They deigned to see an an­i­mated movie be­cause the main song is per­formed by some­one called Tyler, The Cre­ator. Well, it is a bril­liant song that quirk­ily tells us what it’s like to be the Grinch. Which suit to wear to­day? Per­haps the Very Mis­er­able one. But here’s the sur­pris­ing bit: that song is done and dusted in the open­ing min­utes and the two teens both loved the whole movie, from be­gin­ning to end.

Taron Eger­ton as Robin Hood; Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch voices Grinch, be­low The

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