‘Robin Hood’ Review: A Fascinating Misfire That’s Still a Lot of Fun

So I’m posting this on my personal blog because there’s no outlet right now that’s saying, “Please, tell us about 2018’s Robin Hood.” Even in 2018, no one was like “Please tell us about 2018’s Robin Hood,” which is probably why the movie made less than $100 million worldwide even though it cost $100 million to make (to the director’s credit, the film does look expensive with its big practical sets). Even Summit, the studio behind the film, didn’t seem to care that much as they didn’t bother to screen it for critics, which is why I’m just seeing the movie now.

And it’s kind of…good? It reminds me of another much-maligned public domain action movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Both were intended to be the start of cinematic universes until that idea fizzled and they just became very stylish retellings that attempt to make the medieval setting seem cool. For King Arthur, it dives into the fantasy weirdness, but Robin Hood is a different animal.

The concept behind Robin Hood seems to be “make it modern but also make it medieval.” And director Otto Bathurst took that mandate literally. The mashup doesn’t really work because the medieval stuff hangs like an albatross around the picture that seems like it would be more comfortable in the present day. So instead of making Robin Hood a rich kid who goes to the Iraq War, witnesses injustices, and becomes like a hacker or something to steal from the rich, he’s still an archer and he has to contend with enemies who have bazookas but the bazookas are filled with arrows. He has to take out a machine gunner but instead of firing bullets, it fires arrows. It’s so weird.

And yet I’d rather see a movie that takes big, weird swings than something rote and predictable (thankfully, we have 2010’s Robin Hood as a basis for comparison). But every creative choice in Robin Hood strains against something conventional. The film wants to get into interesting issues of wealth and war, but also Robin of Loxley has to do a Bruce Wayne/Batman thing. The film wants to talk about wealth distribution, but there needs to be a heist element. And it’s not like Robin Hood is opposed to these choices, but they feel conventional in a film that through its attitude and visuals looks like it wants to be different.

Despite this ambivalence, the movie still manages to be a lot of fun. No one seems like they’re phoning it in, which I’m sure may have been tempting at the prospect of a blockbuster Robin Hood movie that wants to play like Batman. Taron Egerton is particularly game (he’s a very charming actor) and Ben Mendelsohn treats the villainy with the same glee and devotion as he did in Rogue One. There are also some scenes that are genuinely great like when the Sheriff of Nottingham psychologically torments John during an interrogation.

I also like that the script is unafraid to make changes to the myth (another similarity to King Arthur). They drop characters who aren’t necessary (like King John) and make big changes to others like having Marian and Little John be activists. And Bathurst is bold enough to channel the imagery of war and rebellion to his purposes without it feeling cynical or exploitative.

If you passed on Robin Hood because you thought it looked dumb, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it’s consistently interesting, entertaining, and a different take on well-worn material.

Rating: B

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 criticism, movies No Comments

My Best Features of 2018

I’m trying to learn how to push my own work, so apologies if this comes off as arrogant or self-centered. These were the articles I was most proud of in 2018:

In Defense of Physical Media: Why You Should Keep Buying Blu-rays and DVDs

Annihilation Explained: Unpacking Alex Garland’s Brilliant, Trippy Sci-Fi Horror Film

Good Movies Are Overrated

Love, Simon and the Necessary Death of the “Nice Guy”

‘God of War’ and Why Fans Don’t Always Know What’s Best

Why ‘Westworld’ Doesn’t Earn Its Cynical View of Humanity

‘The Fugitive’ at 25: Hollywood Doesn’t Make This Kind of Movie Anymore, and That’s a Shame

The Differences between the Four Versions of ‘A Star Is Born’, Explained

Netflix Should Push Kathryn Hahn for a Best Actress Oscar Nomination for ‘Private Life’

No, You Don’t “Need” to See ‘ROMA’ in a Theater

‘Green Book’ and the Importance of Feeling Bad

‘Green Book’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and Why It’s Important Who Tells Your Story

How ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Misses the Spirit of the Original

The Mid-Credits Scene of ‘Vice’ Is the Film’s Raison D’être


Monday, December 31st, 2018 criticism, movies, television No Comments

Why I Don’t Like ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Before I begin, let me be clear: I don’t think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a bad game. I can appreciate the care, effort, and most importantly, appeal it presents. But it also kind of clarified the kind of gamer I am and the kind of games I enjoy. I play games to unwind, and unwinding for me is not having to put a lot of thought into anything. It’s why I like building LEGO from the instruction manual. Here’s the manual, here are the steps, and it’s relaxing to just follow those steps and get a nice little set at the end.

Breath of the Wild is all about exploration and daunting challenges. It relishes in frustrating the player and then, for those willing to weather those frustrations, they’ll be rewarded. So if you fight through a lot of tough enemies, figure out how to get to the tower, fight even more enemies, survive the terrain, figure out how to climb to the tower, survive more enemies, and then finally climb the tower, you’ll be rewarded with climbing the tower. You set the goal, you choose the way to figure it out, and punishing as it may be along the way, you’re theoretically rewarded at the end.

For me, I just like more guidance in my games. I like knowing where to go next and a clear path to get there. I’m not opposed to challenge per say, but I do get frustrated with ridiculous levels of difficulty that require me to “work” at getting better (which is why I’ve never bothered to defeat the Valkyrie Queen in God of War). I don’t want to have to work to get good at a video game just like I don’t want to have to dump hours of my life figuring out how to climb a tower. I enjoy the simple pleasures of a game, and becoming invested in my character’s journey. But what Breath of the Wild is selling, I’m not buying. I can understand why it’s popular, but after spending time with the game, I can tell it’s not for me.

Friday, June 29th, 2018 criticism, videogames No Comments

Fox News Doesn’t Shape Viewers; Viewers Shape Fox News

I listen to Pod Save America on a frequent basis.  It’s a good show, and it separates itself from the average punditocracy because its participants were recently in a functional White House.  They know how things are supposed to work (as opposed to whomever CNN wants on a panel because they worked in the Clinton White House twenty years ago), and they’ve got good insights.

However, in their most recent episode, “Turd in the GOP Punchbowl”, they spend some time taking aim at Fox News, crying out that so many of our ills come from Fox News feeding a steady stream of bullshit to 40% of the populace.  If only Fox News wasn’t there, they speculate, the scales would be lifted from the eyes of Trump’s base, and they would see him for the corrupt, tinpot tyrant he truly is.

Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t follow.

You may recall that at the first GOP debate, which was hosted on Fox News, the network came down on him in a surprisingly harsh way.  Vox reports that this was part of a concerted effort by Rupert Murdoch to get Trump out of the race because Murdoch disliked Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  However, when Fox News viewers pushed back, Murdoch and Trump made up and Fox News’ coverage of Trump has been positive ever since.

There’s this notion that Fox News viewers are victims.  They’re hapless Americans who have been brainwashed into believing a horrible agenda, and while that may be true for some, for the most part, you have to have a moral compass where Fox News already appeals to you.  It’s not brainwashing; it’s confirmation bias.  If you believe that immigrants are ruining the country, that Democrats are coming to take your guns, and that Obama and the Clintons are the devil, you have a channel that tells you “You’re right!” on a consistent basis.

And I get that.  I listen to Pod Save America because they’re in tune with my liberal viewpoints.  But, as this post shows, I don’t swallow everything they sell me.  The only time Fox News viewers pushed back is when Fox News wasn’t hateful enough.  They wanted Trump.

And that’s a tougher thing to reckon with, so I can understand why Pod Save America would rather turn the blame onto a corporate entity like Fox News rather than the American citizens who comprise Fox News’ viewership.  But if you want to be honest with your listeners, you might need to confront the fact that Fox News isn’t the root of the problem.  They’re a horrible network, bu they’re also profiting off a problem that would exist whether they were around or not.

Friday, July 14th, 2017 criticism, politics No Comments

You Can Care About More Than One Thing (And You’re Going to Have To)

So liberal Twitter today got into an internecine spat about Trump’s comments over Mike Pence being politely addressed by the cast at last night’s showing of Hamilton.  Pence was booed by the audience, and then after the show, actor Brandon Dixon addressed the VP-Elect in a serious but respectful manner.  The following morning, Trump, incensed that anyone would chastise a powerful white guy, said the cast was rude and that they should apologize.  It was Trump being Trump, but it was worth noting his hypocrisy, weakness, and inability to let any slight go by unnoticed.

Or was it?  There was then a counter uproar saying that people who cared about the Hamilton incident were being distracted from the Trump University fraud settlement and that Trump is getting richer by having foreign diplomats stay in his Washington, D.C. hotel.  Trump was using social media as a distraction so people wouldn’t call him on settling the Trump U scandal even after he had previously promised he would never settle (Trump lied! It’s true!).

So we have liberals chastising liberals over the proper way to respond to which scandals, and saying that this is Trump’s genius strategy: throw so many problems at people that they can’t focus, and he can get away with everything.  There are just a few problems with this.

1) If “Trump Wins by Being on Twitter” was true, then why did his staff force him off of it in the final weeks of the campaign?  “Aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away the Twitter account that he used to colorfully — and often counterproductively — savage his rivals,” wrote the New York Times on November 6th.  The more Trump opens his mouth, the more opportunities people have to attack him, and during the campaign, his aides were smart enough to realize that if he could just shut the fuck up for more than two weeks, the news cycle would consume Hillary Clinton.  (This, by the way, is not the sole reason Clinton lost)

2) Trump may have a lot of issues, but it’s not your place to tell people what they can and can’t care about. People are scared and hurting right now, and trying to police that outrage is sanctimonious and counter-productive.  Let’s go back to the campaign, and assume that if all liberals had just focused on one issue to the neglect of all others, then Trump would have lost.  So what issue should it have been?  His sexist comments?  His racist comments? His lack of political experience? His dealings with Russia?  The Trump University fraud?  Who gets to decide what’s important to everyone?  Do you want to be the one who tells a woman who was sexually assaulted, “Hey, it’s rough, but we’ve got to keep the focus on his ties to Russia.”  Do you want to tell the Muslim man, “I know he wants to criminalize being Muslim, but we can only care about his sexual assault charges.”

Trump does pose a unique problem in that he is a non-stop (to borrow one of his few and favorite words) disaster.  It is difficult to pin him down to any one thing, but that makes it more important for all of us to care about all of it.  And I know that’s exhausting.  I know that in the last 10 days, it’s been nightmarish, and it’s not going to get any easier.  Life is going to be hard, and it’s going to suck for a while, but telling people what they can and can’t care about isn’t a solution.  Every day is going to be a struggle, and there’s no saying, “You are only allowed to care about these things.”  It’s incumbent on all of us to hold Trump and his administration accountable 24/7.  If that means today we rail against him for chastising artists, wiggling out of a fraud trial, filling his cabinet with racists, and profiting off foreign diplomats staying at his hotel, then that’s what the day calls for.  It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fun, and there is no alternative.

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 criticism, politics No Comments

Historical and Cultural Musings on DEATH WISH and CHRISTMAS VACATION


Last night, I had an odd double feature of Death Wish and Christmas Vacation.  It was my first viewing for both films, and while I found Death Wish the more entertaining of the two, both movies left me with some thoughts regarding their cultural commentary and the historical context that commentary was made.  I posted my thoughts on Letterboxd (a fantastic site for keeping a movie journal), but in case those comments were to vanish for some reason, I wanted to keep them here as well (my site is indestructible).  Keep in mind that these are not reviews but simply a collection of disorganized thoughts that I wanted to put down before I went to bed.

[Note: minor spoilers ahead]

Death Wish

An absolutely fascinating film. If the Bernie Getz shooting hadn’t happened 10 years later, I could have sworn it would be the influence for Death Wish. The film is borderline unapologetic in its values, although there is an awkward moment where a background character has to explain why Paul Kerney (Charles Bronson) is killing so many black people isn’t racist (she has a fair point, although it ignores the larger social issues, which falls in line with the rest of the movie).

Death Wish is an angry fantasy for anyone who has ever been a victim of a violent crime or known the victim of a violent crime. It reaches deep into the futility having crime seep into our safe worlds and show us how powerless we truly are. And the only solution comes not from the police, but down the barrel of a gun. It also helps that in the world of Death Wish, most criminals carry switchblades and not guns.

Oddly enough, the police aren’t seen as ineffective as much as allied against the individual rather than supporting the community. An entire department seems to mass around stopping Kerney, but they shrug their shoulders when his wife was murdered and his daughter was raped. There’s media sensationalism to the vigilante, but no character ever brings up the point that the cops are now investigating the murder of a criminals rather than the murder of an innocent women.

Of course, this all plays into the notion of the One Man Against the World fantasy Death Wish (winkingly?) embraces. The movie makes sure to position Kersey not as the outlaw, but as the noble gunslinger. He’s always looking for trouble, but he’s righting the wrongs the law can’t or won’t stop.

It’s also strange that the criminals gravitate towards Kersey; in one scene, a couple punks go through multiple train cars just to get to him even though there are other people on the train and he’s just some guy reading the newspaper. Bronson may not be intimidating (although we see at the beginning of the film that he’s absolutely ripped), but he’s also doesn’t convey weakness. Why would criminals target him as a victim?

It’s tough to tell if director Michael Winner is playing it straight, but either way, it’s a damn interesting and entertaining film. It’s heavy-handed as hell, and I honestly don’t know if it’s satire or preaching. Personally, I would like to see it as satire since I think that makes it a smarter movie. Then again, the film could also be played as a tragedy. Kersey is an honest, hardworking man and violence consumes his life and becomes his addiction. At the end, rather than give up his gun, he gives up on his family and moves away so he can kill more street punks.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Billed as a “Christmas classic”, I was a little underwhelmed by Christmas Vacation. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped it would be, nor was it particularly memorable. The family dynamic felt like The Ref but with all the hard edges rounded off to a PG-13 rating. More often than not, the movie relies on slapstick and rarely finds a satisfying build-up and pay-off to its farcical elements. The best moments are when the Griswolds continue to unintentionally ruin their neighbors’ lives.

Where Christmas Vacation caught my attention wasn’t so much in its comedy, but in its values. Coming out a year after the Reagan administration, it’s a movie that champions the pursuit of the middle-class becoming the upper-middle class while still retaining good, old-fashioned American values. The Christmas miracle isn’t getting to keep the house. It’s getting to keep the house AND get a swimming pool. If your house has a swimming pool that not inflatable, then congratulations: you’re upper-middle class.

Meanwhile, Uncle Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his brood are the disgusting poor. They’re not necessarily bad people, but they’re uncouth, dumb, and most importantly, they mooch off the goodwill of the Griswold clan. Uncle Eddie may be good for kidnapping the wealthy, but he’s also the guy who expects you to open your wallet and pay for his kids’ toys because he’s too lazy to get a job.

Meanwhile, the film also doesn’t want to alienate the aspiring middle class by saying the wealthy (Clark’s boss) are inherently good. But they’re certainly not bad. They’re just misguided, and if they could only see how much a middle class family like the Griswolds appreciate Christmas, then the rich folks would realize that maybe they shouldn’t slash the bonuses of hardworking Americans. This dream scenario would truly be a Christmas miracle.

It’s also important that the Griswolds are a very specific kind middle class family. They live next door to the Chesters–a horrible, selfish couple who may be in the same income bracket, but they’re not REAL Americans. They don’t have kids, they don’t celebrate Christmas, they’re not friendly, and they simply don’t share the Griswolds values.

While I would like to give screenwriter John Hughes credit for crafting a ridiculously subtle satire of the American dream, his screenplay for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off shares the same kind of me-first values of the Reagan era. When the characters sing the National Anthem at the end, it’s not ironic. It’s taking national possession of the holiday. It’s not “Happy” Christmas, you British bastards. It’s “Merry” Christmas. If you don’t like it, you can get out.

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 criticism, movies No Comments

I’m Positive I’m Not Negative

I’m going to put this to bed once and for all:

I’m not a negative person.

That seems to have become my reputation.  I know part of that comes from what I say about upcoming movies and my comments on trailers, posters, and other aspects of a marketing campaign.  My coverage of movie news is part-mockery and part-criticism.  I can’t go back through every single news story I wrote in 2011, but people get defensive over minor things.  The trailer for The Dark Knight Rises didn’t change my life and I made fun of the collapsing football field because it’s funny.  I don’t think the movie will be bad.  It’s a criticism of a trailer that shows a football player who doesn’t realize that everyone behind him has fallen into a pit and died.  Also, the quake ended when he scored a touchdown, so it worked out well.

But I also get excited by good trailers.  I do a Top 10 list at the end of the year to prove it.  And most importantly, I don’t let any piece of marketing lock in my opinion.  Marketing on major movies is a non-stop assault, and I can’t avoid it, but I can try to stay objective before being subjective.

However, I can go back through my reviews and try to empirically prove that I’m not negative.  I’ve come to the point where I almost want to stop using a letter grade.  The reason I keep using them is because hopefully it will serve as a hook.  Readers will scroll down to the bottom, see the letter grade, and then read the review to see why I gave that grade.  Sadly, the rating tends to dominates the content.  We’re in the Rotten Tomatoes age where people want to see a percentage and take that as the final word on the film’s quality.  Keep in mind that RT works on a binary-system.  A film is either “fresh” or “rotten”, so a B- has the same weight as an A+.  Even as a shorthand, Rotten Tomatoes is imprecise.

But since people are so fixated on grades, and then they want to turn around and say that I’m negative, I’ve provided the following chart, which breaks down how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs I gave out in 2011:


As you can see, the highest percentage of my reviews were either a B+, B, or B- (the exact number was 56).  “B” means “good”.  “A” means excellent.  I have seen enough movies to understand the difference.  Hollywood and even indie films don’t hit a grand slam every time they go to bat.  “A” is a high standard and when a movie meets that high standard, it should mean something.

The next highest percentage was “C”, which means “mediocre”.  I hate to say it, but there’s plenty of mediocrity in the world.  Not everyone is a superstar and a lot of movies just get by.  They’re forgettable or they’re a wasted opportunity.  I don’t hate these movies.  I just don’t get much out of them.

Perhaps this disconnect is that my critics want my film criticism to be “one higher”.  Cs should Bs, and Bs should be As.  But I demand more from my movies.  I see the flaws not because I’m “negative” but because criticism is my business and it’s my job to break down movies and see how they work and how they don’t.  I don’t “turn off my brain” nor would I want to.  It seems ungrateful considering it got me to where I am today.  I don’t like subjecting it to Sucker Punch, but we’re in it together.

There’s no agenda for me.  There are movies I look forward to and movies I dread, but I give them all a fair shake.  And if you don’t think I do, then look past the letter grade and read the actual review.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 criticism, movies, personal No Comments

Final 2011 Reviews and Year-End Lists

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Rating: B-)

Young Adult (Rating: A-)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Rating: B)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Rating: A)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Rating: C+)

The Adventures of Tintin (Rating: C)

We Bought a Zoo (Rating: C)

War Horse (Rating: C-)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Rating: B)

Top 10 Posters of 2011

Top 10 Trailers of 2011

Best Performances, Directing, and other Miscellany of 2011

Worst 5 of 2011

Top 10 of 2011

Sunday, January 1st, 2012 criticism, movies No Comments