Three movies reviewed

Valentine’s Day

Uh oh. I should have suspected trouble since this movie was directed by Garry Marshall, the famous producer of such popular but dubious TV shows as Laverne and Shirley and Mork & Mindy. Marshall has made a career of producing and sometimes directing not just TV shows but also movies that you can usually tell merely from the title will never end up on anyone’s A list. In fact, most won’t end up on anyone’s B list. In that sense, Valentine’s Day is true to form.

You don’t have to watch more than ten minutes of Valentine’s Day before you realize that Marshall is either deliberately or subconsciously imitating a much better multi-relationship love move, Love Actually. In Love Actually we have the frame of Heathrow Airport and one character that is tangentially related to all the other love relationships that the movie explores. In Valentine’s Day we have the frame of the Hallmark holiday and a florist named Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher) who because of the holiday is oh so frantically busy delivering flowers. At least thinks he is starting the day off right by proposing to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba). Morley was apparently caught up in the moment because she accepts. However, she soon realizes (like her part in this movie) it was a mistake, but not before Reed has broadcast the news. This actually sets the tone rather well for the rest of the movie because neither Reed nor the various supposedly lovesick people he interacts with all day seem particularly lovesick. In fact there is a lot of bubble gum love in this movie but virtually nothing you would recognize as the real thing. Not surprisingly, since it was directed by a guy known for sitcoms, it feels like a 125 minute sitcom, which in fact it is, just minus the laugh track. Unfortunately, some got suckered into paying $10 or more per ticket to see this movie.

Marshall does attract some surprising talent, including Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah and Julia Roberts, all cast in bit rolls in a movie rife with them. I have to wonder if Julia Roberts’ career has peaked given that she accepted a role in this mediocrity. Even Shirley MacLaine gets a part in his movie. In Love Actually it all somehow worked. Here it all falls flat and makes you feel kind of embarrassed even watching. In short, this movie will be an excellent candidate for the 2010 Razzies.  Avoid it unless, like me, you are on a four hour flight and there is nothing else to do. However, trust me, you should still avoid it. Do the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine instead. It will be a better use of your time. Oh, and if you haven’t seen Love Actually, go rent it.

2.4 on my 4-point scale.

Robin Hood

There is a lot to like about Ridley’s Scott’s interpretation of Robin Hood. I am not necessarily talking about Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, both excellent actors. I am talking about how well Scott rendered the 12th century. It matches well with my understanding of the times. There is lots of grime, mud, horses, swords, halberds and armor. The ships look period. London looks like what it should look like in the 12th century: a shadow of its current self and probably not the sort of place you would want to visit. Nottingham is nothing special, just a village in arrears to King John with Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) the local nobleman, patron and something like a mayor.

What doesn’t work? Well, as usual in order to make the movie more marketable, a lot of history was rewritten or stretched. It is true that King John ascended to the throne upon the death of King Richard the Lionhearted, which is depicted early in the movie. Our understanding of history back then is necessarily fragmented. As for Robin Longstride, a.k.a. Robin Hood (played by Russell Crowe), he is mostly likely a myth. So perhaps it is okay to suggest that Robin Longstride became the adopted son of Sir Walter Loxley and he slipped unnoticed by the villagers into the role of Marion’s husband. (Marion is portrayed by Cate Blanchett.) To make the movie more interesting, Robin has to interact with King John personally and let him hear his populist heresy. In this movie, Robin becomes something of a personal thorn in King John’s side.

Are there problems with the movie? Yes, but they tend to be minor. Overall, the film is well cast, well realized and engaging. Russell Crowe is a great actor, but I am not sure he is the best fit for Robin Longstride. Being in their forties, given the times portrayed both he and Cate Blanchett seem old for their parts. Granted, people aged a lot more quickly back then. In 12th century England, famine, disease, poor nutrition and lack of dental hygiene killed most people before their forties. Also, the epic battle on the beach at the end of the movie is a bit too melodramatic, with an Eowyn-like scene right out of The Lord of the Rings. However, should Crowe and Blanchett wish to do more Robin Hood movies, the movie does set them up well, because we get only one scene of Robin and his merry men stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

While Crowe may not be perfect for the movie, he is competent. It is Blanchett who, as usual, shines brilliantly and rescues Crowe and perhaps the movie altogether. In short, Robin Hood is a good movie to enjoy in spite of some minor flaws.

3.2 on my 4-point scale.

Children of Heaven (1997)

You probably won’t be able to see the obscure movie Children of Heaven unless you did what I did: rent it from Netflix. I would have never known or watched it had my sister not added it to her Netflix queue and gave it a thumbs up. Filmed in Iran, this makes it an exotic movie by American standards. No one bothered to create English voiceovers (although curiously there is a French voiceover), but at least there are English subtitles available.

I am not sure why it got a thumbs up from my sister. The story is very simple: a poor Iranian family living in what I assume is the working class area of Tehran are in arrears. They rent a small one room apartment. The mother is having a difficult pregnancy, which makes the father short tempered. They have two children, Ali (the older) and his sister Zahra, both in grade school. Zahra’s shoes are inadvertently lost by Ali. Since their father is abusive, Ali is too scared to tell him. Since they have no money to buy Zahra new shoes, they make do with a complex arrangement wherein she wears Ali’s sneakers to school in the morning, and he wears them in the afternoon when his school starts. This often makes Ali late for school.

Salvation is hoped for in the form of a race that Ali enters. The third place prize includes a new pair of sneakers. Feeling desperate, Ali doggedly decides that he will come in third despite by wearing his largely shot sneakers and hundreds of other contestants. I won’t tell you whether he succeeds or not. I will say that it is interesting as a depiction of Muslim life in Iran, where the religion and culture may be a lot different but the problems are largely the same as everywhere else.

As for why Ali and Zahra are called children of heaven, perhaps I need to consult a Muslim or an Iranian because I am clueless. They struck me as ordinary children. They certainly are obedient and for child actors both do better than most. If there is some larger message in the movie, it was lost on me. It is a very simple story with no larger meaning that I could discern. Since it is neither bad nor good, I will leave it unrated.

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