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Notes from the back row

Robin Hood stole my time

The big movie opening at the Village 8 this week is Oceans. It's not another Clooney caper, it's a documentary put out by Disney's creatively titled new branch, DisneyNature - the same studio that released that fantastic Earth documentary and this one is even better. Pierce Brosnan narrates as we enter the watery depths to witness everything from swimming with sharks, to platoons of spider crabs going at it Braveheart style, to overhead shots of our filthy rivers pushing sludge and ooze out to sea.

Directed by the team behind 2001's Winged Migration, the filmmakers use cutting edge film technology, patience and luck to capture some of the best nature photography you've ever seen. And while the environmental message is pretty low key it's still important to take your kids to go see Oceans because people who know even one-tenth of all the awesome shit that goes on below the water's surface are less likely to throw the cup in after they finish their Vodka-Grape-Slurpee on the ride out to Ryder's dad's cabin, or wherever.

The other big movie opening, the one trying to bump Iron Man 2 from atop the box office, is Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. The Legend of Robin of the Hood has been around almost a thousand years, making it one of the oldest tales in the English language. Scott, re-teaming with Russell Crowe for the fifth time, can be commended, I suppose, for attempting to put the classic tale into a socio-political context - his Robin gives a lot of speeches and the film climaxes with the signing of the Magna Carta, but all the talking and explaining makes for an uneven, sometimes preachy film.

Robin Hood works because, at heart, it is a guy sticking it to the man and helping those who can't help themselves. He's an impossibly good archer and witty and fun. Or at least he's supposed to be. Scott and Crowe's Robin Hood is more brooding, with father issues (Ridley Scott, at age 73, is still rehashing the old father-figure deathbed scene) and Robin comes across a bit too Braveheart-y.

The costumes and set design are fantastic though, the flick looks as good as any period piece we've seen, and once the action picks up in the second half we're treated to some classic Ridley Scott action sequences with gratuitous close-ups on sweat during hack-slashing battle scenes. Cate Blanchett brings new life to Lady Marian, although the merry men are a bit underused (they sing a lot though, so I guess that is pretty merry).

All in all, the flick is a decent time-killer - 140 minutes long and thankfully no Bryan Adams in the soundtrack, but the script seems to want to go a different direction than Scott's impatient, fixated directing. It's PG-13 so the gore is light (thank god for burning pitch though, to keep the explosions up) but kids should be into Robin Hood anyhow. Kids love sticking it to the man.

Otherwise, if your estrogen valves are leaking like an offshore oil well, the Village 8 is also opening Letters to Juliet about a young blond American girl who inspires an old woman to travel to Italy in search of a long-lost love. Directed by Gary Winick (Bride Wars, Charlotte's Web) this sappy crapfest is overly idealistic, with the standard love triangles and themes of reunification. The setting, Verona, is filmed inspiringly and both Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave perform solidly but in the end the predictable writing bogs it down and a PG-13 rating prohibits Seyfried from taking off any clothes like she did in Chloe. Quel dommage!

Next week, get ready for MacGruber, a Saturday Night Live skit-based actioner that somehow, astonishingly, looks pretty good.