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Little Benito 

Plus: Prequel? Sequel? Remake? Who cares -- Ridley's Robin Hood just plumb stinks

Previews

Opening this weekend: Shrek Forever After, the fourth and perhaps final episode in DreamWorks' lovable ogre franchise. The usual crew is back: Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers), Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). The story finds an older but not wiser Shrek mired in domestic life, then taking an It's a Wonderful Life-style trip to an imagined Bizarro World without Shrek, which it turns out is not a nice place. Oh yeah, like all new animated features, it's in 3-D. Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language. Starts Friday at the Broadway, Fortuna (in 3D) and at Mill Creek (2D).

Add MacGruber to the long line of movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches. For those who haven't seen SNL of late, the short bits have Will Forte as an inept MacGruber, parodying the ’80s TV series MacGyver by repeatedly failing to diffuse a life-and-death situation, typically a ticking bomb, thus killing all involved. How does this stretch into a full-length movie? It might not. The plot has MacGruber going after a missing nuclear warhead stolen by a bad guy (Val Kilmer) who was responsible for the death of MacGruber's fiancée (Maya Rudolph). Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Argentine writer-director Juan Jose Campanella took home the "Best Foreign Film" Oscar for The Secret in Their Eyes, a mix of murder mystery and romance. The story follows retired investigator Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), who decides to write a book about a brutal murder case he'd worked on 25 years in the past. His research puts him in touch with Irene (Soledad Villamil), a friend also involved in the case who has since become a judge. Political corruption, missed relationships, obsession and the nature of justice come into play as the complex storyline unwinds. In Spanish with subtitles. Rated R for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language. At the Minor.

Closing out the May film series at the Humboldt County Library celebrating Older Americans Month: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Joan Plowright stars as Mrs. Palfrey, an aging widow who relocates to a senior residence hotel to be closer to her son. He's mostly absent, but she meets a young writer (Rupert Friend) and a slightly Harold and Maude-esque friendship develops. Showtime 6 p.m. at the Eureka branch.

The Arcata Theatre Lounge has a Sunday screening of Steven Spielberg's 1977 UFO tale Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with Richard Dreyfuss as a true believer and François Truffaut as a scientist who has figured out how to talk to the aliens with music.

Then on Wednesday, May 26, it's a special edition of Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night with a double-feature pairing Gorgo, a British variation of the Japanese monster movie, and Ganjasaurus Rex, a 1987 parody of Japanese monster movies made in Southern Humboldt. The plot line has a Godzilla-esque monster stirred by some sort of giant pot plant menacing Garberville. Run! Sure, soon as I take another hit on this bong. Dope growers, CAMP and some familiar faces (Paul Bassis, Howard Phun, Andy Barnett) show up along the way. Director Ursi Reynolds and others from the cast and crew will attend the screening to tell stories and give away Ganjasaurus Rex schwag.

Reviews

ROBIN HOOD: Unlike Roger Ebert, whose whining lament for Robin Hoods past in his recent review of the latest version of the legend, I have no loving memories of Errol Flynn or Sean Connery as Robin or Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian. Even less do I care about the bland Disney versions. I was actually hoping for a more mature version of Robin Hood in this 2010 edition.

Well, director Ridley Scott sort of gave me that in this mess of a mediocre film, but he gave little more. Actually, the most interesting aspect, except for the beginning of the closing credits -- the imaginative peak of this Robin Hood -- is the pairing of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett as Robin and "Maid" Marian. After all, Blanchett is such a wonderfully accomplished film actor while Crowe is just so ... predictable. Particularly when he works with Scott.

Perhaps partly to avoid the cutesy tropes of the legend, this Robin Hood, rather like Coco Before Chanel, is (as others have noted) Robin before the Hood. Indeed, as Robin Longstride is declared an outlaw by the nasty King John (Oscar Isaac) at film's end, a title portentously proclaims "And so the legend begins."

This version of the story begins as we see a jaded King Richard returning from the Crusades (presumably the Third), raising money by ravaging castles along the way. Robin Longstride is a mere archer in Richard's forces, raising his own money by running a shell game until challenged by a drunken Little John (Kevin Durand). After beating each other up, they become fast friends.

And wouldn't you know it, following Richard's death by an arrow shot from a besieged castle wall, Robin ends up with Richard's helmet and a suit of armor, possession of which allows him and his friends passage back to England. After presenting the helmet at court, which assures Prince John's ascension to the crown, he travels to Nottingham to return the sword of the fallen Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge, if anyone cares) to his father, Sir Walter (the long-suffering Max von Sydow).

In Nottingham, the viewer finally comes across an actual actor in the form of Blanchett, who as Marian, Sir Walter's daughter, was wed to Loxley (thus, no "maid," she). Of course, Loxley left for the crusades only a week after the wedding and I'm guessing the honeymoon didn't go too well, sack-wise.

The rest of the film is a combination of a conspiracy involving Godfrey (Mark Strong, great as a villain), the traitorous advisor to John, and the French king. There are opportunities for Robin to show his mettle and a desultory romance.

Iron Man 2 got the summer film season off to a reasonably capable start. Robin Hood returns the genre to its more accustomed muck. Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content. 140m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Minor.

VINCERE: Although this very intriguing and worthwhile film probably won't play more than a week, I'd urge filmgoers to see it. Italian director Marco Bellocchio tells the story of the young Benito Albino (a fine Filippo Timi), who becomes Mussolini, and his affair with Ida Dalser (a wonderful Giovanna Mezzogiorno).

Benito is up-front about being married, but Ida doesn't care. She's in love. They meet when she gives Benito refuge from a marauding mob. Shortly thereafter they fall passionately into bed. As Benito becomes Mussolini, he thinks he can simply shed Ida. Clearly, he completely underestimates the depths of her passion. The fact he sired a son with her doesn't help.

This is Ida's story, although we get glimpses of Italian politics during the time (1907 through the early 1930s) as we watch Mussolini assume power. This is accomplished by an effective use of archival footage and photographs of the actual Il Duce.

For much of the film, Ida is confined to a mental hospital, where she eventually died in 1937. Although Ida is obsessed with Benito, Mezzogiorno brings some very nice shadings to her depiction of the real-life mistress. This is a fine, complex film. In Italian and German with English subtitles. Not rated (but contains some explicit sex). 128m.

Continuing

THE BACK-UP PLAN. Jennifer Lopez decides that waiting for Mr. Right is taking too long and gets artificially inseminated. Rated PG-13. 104m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

DATE NIGHT. Married couple portrayed by Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are reminded why they live in the suburbs, Rated PG-13. 88m. At Broadway and Garberville.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. A Viking teenager has trouble fitting in with his tribe until he gets a dragon. Rated PG. 98m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

IRON MAN 2. Now with twice the iron! Rated PG-13. 124m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Minor.

KICK-ASS. A teenaged comic book fanboy aspires to be a superhero. One problem: No superpowers. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

LETTERS TO JULIET. A young American in Verona joins a team of writers who respond to letters seeking love advice. Rated PG. 105m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Teens with the audacity to believe they can just sleep when they want to are punished. Rated R. 96m. At the Broadway.

OCEANS. Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud utilize the best and newest underwater filming techniques to bring you stunning images of the odd creatures that inhabit the deep. Rated G. 84m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

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