Screened Out: Grim fairy tales

Screened Out: Grim fairy tales

StephenMillerHeadshot_560873495.jpgShrek Forever After
(Voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohrn)
Once upon a time, there was a funny animated film repeated four times over with only minor variations. Thankfully, this 3D version is the last Shrek movie. It’s a good thing the first one had such humor and plot, or they’d never get away with being this reductive.

Papa Shrek (Myers) is again tired of being king of the castle. Especially now that he’s changing three little monsters’ diapers, he misses his days of being a single ogre. Along comes a mystical elf named Rumpelstiltskin (Dohrn) who promises Shrek one day of bachelorhood. Of course, there’s a catch: Rumpelstiltskin wants the kingdom for himself. Under his evil magic spell, everyone—including Princess Fiona (Diaz)—forgets Shrek. Puss (Banderas) is a fat lap cat, but Donkey (Murphy) is still an aimless idiot. There’s a major rebellion led by the Princess to clutter things up. Shrek only has this day to reclaim his love and his place on the throne.

SOShrek_204566150.jpgIt’s basically Shrek meets It’s a Wonderful Life.

Despite this lack of imagination, the action is still frenetic, and the voices are still entertaining. The jokey cultural references are also still hilarious.

However, no one—kid or adult—wants to see Shrek suffering from male monster menopause. At some point in the creative process, there was probably some mention of how many married men like Shrek long for their bachelor days; there are probably better ways of exploring that than borrowing so heavily from a Christmas classic.

Just Wright

(Starring Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Phylicia Rashad, Dwight Howard)
SOLatifah_584470113.jpgWe’ve had The Basketball Diaries; now we have The Basketball Drearies.

This sports-related romance commits a couple major fouls. The first problem is that the basic story is so infuriatingly pedestrian; you can tell who wins this game of love within the first ten minutes. The second violation is more heinous; very little mention is made of two female cousins fighting for and sleeping with the same man.

What a forward-thinking view of the modern woman!

Queen Latifah is a gold-hearted physical trainer and basketball fan. Pretty Patton (who was so wonderful in Precious) is her gold-digging cousin who wants to hook a rich basketball player. Common is the charming, confused all-star in between, attracted to beautiful, vapid Patton but emotionally connecting to sweet homegirl Latifah.

Can you already guess that Common gets injured? Now guess who comes to save the day.

Latifah phones it in. Common stares with a moony, stalker-like stare. Patton is frustratingly trite and shallow. Common’s poor mommy Rashad (of The Cosby Show) is left to walk around and toss off particularly boring bon mots. Minor characters—including Orlando Magic player Dwight Howard—are thrown in merely to provide exposition.

I’ll say it: everything here sucks. Just Wright is just wrong. It’s like watching a juvenile game of pick-up played with a ball that’s almost completely flat.

Robin Hood
(Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Danny Huston, Oscar Isaac)
Remember the swashbuckling handsomeness of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood? Wasn’t the insouciant way he tossed his ebony locks both sexy and joyous?

None of that exuberance exists anymore. It’s all gone, dead. Apparently this medieval hero can no longer be fun—he must be gritty and realistic and bloody and deep. Director Ridley Scott has tried to transplant the formula of his Oscar-winning Gladiator—again using grim, stoic Russell Crowe—within Sherwood Forest. The problem is Robin and his Merry Men are anything but merry. Instead, they are brave, violent, serious, and a little dull.

Crowe’s Robin is coming back from the Crusades, mourning his dead leader (Huston). After diminutive King John (Isaac) takes over, Crowe starts to balk at the turn in his country’s politics. He asks for help from the widow Maid Marion (Blanchett), who is not shy or sexy at all—she’s a bit of a bitter ball buster, really.

Director Scott certainly has a way with imagery: a battle against the French is notably epic. The problem is: you’ll be impressed, but you won’t be entertained.

It’s an interesting idea, meeting Robin before he becomes a legend. But after seeing Crowe’s emotionally tortured take, you’ll wonder why anyone would’ve joined his mirthless cause.


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