Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Oh England, My Lionheart

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

No Robin Hood movie can dream of even coming close to the perfection that is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ranks as my 2nd favourite movie about the famed English outlaw. If the 1938 Robin Hood is one extreme of a bright, colourful, tight wearing, saccharine induced fantasy and the Ridley Scott Robin Hood is the opposite extreme of an unnecessarily dark, gritty and overly mature version of the tale, then Prince of Thieves is the middle ground.

Is the all American Kevin Costner miscast as Robin Hood? Yes. But do I care? No, not really. Costner’s enthusiasm does come through in his performance and shows he has what it takes to be an action hero. Most people won’t think of Costner as a screen presence, but to me he is. Likewise, realism is beside the point with a movie like this.

The movie opens unexpectedly in Jerusalem showing that this is a Robin Hood movie which does thing a bit different, largely with the character of Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a black man in medieval England. Azeem represents positive representation of an Arab as well as the Arab world. He holds more progressive views on women and in one of the movie’s pivotal scenes in which he hands Robin a rudimentary telescope (very similar to a paralleling scene in Dances with Wolves) which isn’t recorded to have been invented until the 17th century. However, the notion that an individual or individuals from the Arab world might have known about such technology isn’t a too “out there” idea due to the Middle East being far more advanced society during the middle ages. I assume it’s unlikely we’ll see a character like Azeem in the post 911 world in which the Middle East is no longer portrayed in media as an exotic fantasy land rather than a haven for terrorists. Costner and Morgan Freeman make for a fun duo; who wouldn’t want to have Morgan Freeman always by your side giving you winsomely knowledge? After all what other actor embodies dignity more than Freeman? Yes, there is a big gaping plot hole when Azeem saves Robin’s life as soon as they arrive in England. But do I care? No, not really.

The film’s message of equality between race and gender isn’t shoved down your throat and doesn’t come off as overt political correctness. Likewise Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s (try saying that name three times) Lady Marian is a woman in medieval England who has a sense of self and is not subservient to anyone; not historically accurate but progressive. Plus I do love a girl in armour.

However, it’s Alan Rickman who steals the show as the twitchy, scenery-chewing madman that is the Sherriff of Nottingham. His performance is full of little things which feel like they were improvised and his many outbursts are music to my ears. Is it just me or do classically trained actors often make the most memorable villains? Sean Connery’s appearance, on the other hand, is one of the better uses of a celebrity cameo in a film. Just like how the characters are surprised to see Richard the Lionheart we as the audience are surprised to see Sean Connery; plus he’s perfect in these kinds of roles.

How can that score by Michael Kamen not evoke the adventurer in you? The music is so good that it appears Disney has been using it on their own logo. Likewise, I guess I’m also the only person in the world who isn’t sick to death of Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You; I still jam to it now and then. Ah the days when the pop song tie-in was as big, if not bigger than the movie itself.

Prince of Thieves is good old fashioned swashbuckling action. The action on display has a sense of weight and physicality with the impressive large-scale action sequences with even the out there moment with Robin and Azeem being fired over a wall with a catapult still feeling believable, and not a computer generated effect in sight; all practical glory.

The movie does the English landscape justice; even in the drab winter weather, there is still a beauty to it. Prince of Thieves features some breathtaking money shots, such as that of Robin firing an arrow with an explosion behind him filmed at 300 frames per second; or perhaps my favourite shot in the film, the romantic elevator with the sun in the background splitting the trees. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a film with its faults but I’m so engaged with the world and it’s aesthetic that I can look past them, a world in which everything feels used and lived in, one beaming with personality.

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Dances with Wolves (1990)

Writes With a Keyboard

It’s more than apparent that Kevin Costner has such love and reverence for the western, continuing the long tradition of epic Hollywood filmmaking with Dances with Wolves. In this revisionist western the Indians are the good guys and white men are the villains with Costner playing a character that likely would have been played by Gary Cooper 40 years earlier. The white man is shown killing mass amounts of Buffalo only for their horns, throwing their trash on the ground and polluting the water. The Native American mentality conflicts with the white man’s use of resources much like America’s carbon footprint today. I can’t say if Dances with Wolves is a movie intended to carry an environmental message but that is an impression I get from it. John Dunbar’s desire to see the western frontier before it disappears is comparable to the Arctic and Antarctica being the last great frontiers today which are apparently on the risk of eventually disappearing. John Dunbar doesn’t want to take advantage of the land but to admire and bask in it.

I find it refreshing to see westerns which include the Indian point of view. The insight in Dances with Wolves into the Sioux culture and lifestyle as well as hearing a not often heard language is fascinating. The Indians in Dances with Wolves are humanised with moments such as when Dunbar sees Kicking Bird having sex in the tipi, a relatable awkward moment or with the Indian children of the tribe having the desire to be grown up and act older than they are. The Indians, however, are not saintified ether; some members of the tribe are vicious killers and display prejudice against the white man. The movie presents both douches and more noble individuals on both sides. The passage of time in which Dunbar very slowly over the course of a four-hour movie becomes assimilated into this culture and learns the language represents an astounding piece of storytelling. Unfortunately, social justice warriors will look upon a movie like Dances with Wolves and decry it as offensive for its display of so-called “cultural appropriation” because apparently, the embracing of other cultures doesn’t represent unity between races but thievery of one culture’s ways by another.

Although not many people share the fondness I have for Kevin Costner dismissing him as a dull, monotone actor. I point to Dances with Wolves as a showcase that the man is a great screen presence; a four-hour long movie which he carries on his shoulders with no dialogue for long spaces of time while at other times he is exuberating his commanding narration voice. The scene in which Dunbar is being held by US soldiers as they assault him, denying him to return to his new found way of life as well as killing Two Socks and using his diary as toilet paper is so painful to watch. I’ve become so attached to the character at this point that I can’t bear to watch everything he has worked towards being destroyed.

Who needs CGI when there’s a world of scenic and natural beauty out there to capture on film? Simply look at the majestic landscapes of the badlands accompanied by John Barry’s score evokes a real sense of wonder. “Why go out to a location when you can just create it on a computer. Isn’t that so much easier?” Sigh. Likewise, the famous buffalo hunt scene is the real deal. How do you recreate a buffalo hunt? Why get huge herds of buffalo of course. Like the chariot race in Ben-Hur, history is brought back to life with buffalo as far as the eye can see with stuntmen on horseback right in the middle of it all; pulling off something as huge as this and retaining continuity is astounding.

Dances with Wolves doesn’t come off as cold, callous Oscar bait but sadly it is another movie in which its Best Picture win has hurt its reputation; “Dances with Wolves is just that movie which beat Goodfellas”.

JFK (1991)

No Stone Unturned

I’m aware in modern times conspiracy theories have become detrimental in discovering the actual truth (largely thanks to the internet) but I can’t deny that I just love this sort of stuff. JFK requires your utmost attention and at a runtime of three hours, it feels like the movie leaves no stone upturned (pardon the pun) in its examination and deconstruction of the Kennedy assassination. Admittedly the first time I watched JFK I didn’t understand much of what is discussed in the film. It’s a lot to digest in a single viewing but there are more intriguing theories here than an entire season of Ancient Aliens (minus the bad haircuts and awkward line delivery); but I can happily watch JFK multiple times to further understand it and eat up every single word of dialogue. I doubt we will ever need another film made about the Kennedy assassination; what highly talented filmmaker could be more passionate about the subject matter? I also highly recommend watching the director’s cut for even more conspiracy goodness to evoke the paranoia in you.

JFK is one of those movies which makes you most appreciate the art of editing, incorporating many layers of time and reels of stock footage; no scene during the movie’s three hours is edited in a standard fashion. The editing help make the film’s exposition exciting; a character may be describing an event as the scene cuts to just that in an obscured or dreamlike manner. The Mr. X sequence with Donald Sutherland is a perfect example of how to pull of engrossing exposition; plus is there a more classic cold war, spy movie type scene than meeting a suited man in the park to receive classified information. Likewise, John Williams’ theme for JFK evokes my inner patriotic American, even if I’m not American. The militaristic and at other times conspiratorial nature of the score helps make the movie as compelling as it is. The black & white scenes such as those featuring the military feel reminiscent of Seven Days In May with shades throughout of the John Frankenheimer style. I’m sure Stone must have also taken some pointers from the first movie about the Kennedy assassination, 1973’s Executive Action.

JFK continues the tradition of films such as The Longest Day in which a large ensemble cast of familiar faces and great screen presences to help guide us through the story. It’s amazing seeing different generations of actors doing some of the best work their careers and utilizing their screen personas to full effect even if many of them are only on screen for short spaces of time. Some of the figures in the story strike me as too bizarre to have been real-life people, especially David Ferrie and Claw Shaw.

I’ve always been in defense of Kevin Costner against criticisms of being a dull actor. Granted his career did go downhill in mid 90’s and has never fully recovered but in his heyday of the late 1980’s/early 90’s he was such a hot streak of films. Casting him in the role of Jim Garrison couldn’t be more perfect as Costner is much like a modern-day classic movie actor in the vein of everymen like James Stewart, Henry Fonda or Gary Cooper. He’s been most commonly compared to Cooper (the courtroom section of the film is reminiscent of Cooper’s role in The Fountainhead) although with his southern demeanor I would compare him to being a modern-day Henry Fonda. I would defy anyone to call Costner a bad actor after watching the film’s courtroom scene. Talking almost non-stop for 40 minutes and never losing my attention while exuding a stern, emotional and towards the end of the speech, a fragile voice; with his final conclusion bringing a tear to my eye.

I find Jim Garrison’s family life interesting itself, mostly from the relationship with his wife. What does he see in her? She does not support his endeavors, despite his noble cause and unlike her husband, she is susceptible to believing what the media tells her. Here is a man who spends the movie questioning and fighting the system yet has a wife with a conformist personality. I can’t say for certain what they were like in real life but the in film I grew to dislike her character.

JFK  draws no conclusions, it doesn’t prove who assassinated Kennedy and allows the viewer to make up their own mind. Stone may be often criticized for his use of a dramatist’s license but as I say with many films based on historical events; this can make for a more compelling story. Even if there are untruths present, the film can act as a gateway to wanting to discover the real story. The movie did leave me a feeling of (good) anger and is one of the films I can credit with helping to influence the way I think.

“Dedicated to the young in whose the spirit the search for truth marches on.”