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“Robin Hood” and “Looking For Eric”

“Robin Hood” and “Looking For Eric” (photo)

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There are two kinds of bad films: actively bad and passively bad.

Actively bad movies are engaging. They’re technically competent but utterly nonsensical (and/or offensive), or else so astoundingly inept in every conceivable way that they’re mesmerizing. The greatest actively bad films think they’re masterpieces and carry themselves with an unearned aura of importance. But whatever subgroup of active badness a film falls into, it’s fun. It grabs you. It has personality, attitude, a sense of life.

The passively bad film offers no such compensations. It’s jumbled, tangled, sluggish, with different impulses working at cross-purposes and canceling each other out. It never gets a handle on what it wants to say or why it wants to say it, and it has a tendency to pander. Watching a passively bad film is like trying to swim through Jell-O. It wears you out and saps your spirit. By the end, you feel deflated and defeated, as if you’ve spent several hours coolly waiting in line at a bus station or doctor’s office or the DMV only to have the functionary behind the glass put up a “Closed” sign and tell you to try again tomorrow.

Passive badness, thy name is “Robin Hood.”

05122010_robinhood3-1.jpgDirected by Ridley Scott and written by Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”), this “Robin” wants to be a gritty historical epic laden with Wikipedia factoids, “Godfather”-style intrigue, and people with oily hair and bad teeth (when this film’s Robin Hood gets invited to a nice dinner, he’s asked to take a bath first because he smells). At the same time, it wants to be a popcorn movie stocked with bawdy humor, gym-chiseled hunks and “crowdpleasing” moments (Russell Crowe’s Robin zaps foes with his bow-and-arrow from a half-mile off; Cate Blanchett’s Maid Marion gets pawed by a would-be-rapist soldier and dispatches him with a face kick).

I don’t object to either mode. Nor do I object to a film trying to fuse them; it’s been done before, with varying degrees of success (“The Last of the Mohicans,” “Queen Margot,” “Elizabeth,” “Rob Roy”). Unfortunately, “Robin Hood” fails to reconcile the two modes and can’t commit to either.

Remember in all those other Robin Hood films how Robin would assemble an eccentric band of merry men, steal from the rich and give to the poor, swing on ropes and win archery contests and the like? There’s little of that here. Russell Crowe’s Robin isn’t even the historically familiar Robin character, Robin of Loxley. He’s Robin Longstride, an archer working his way back from the Crusades in the employ of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), a kind man who dies fighting the French. Our Robin assumes the identity of Robin of Loxley, a dying fellow soldier who asks our Robin to carry a sword belonging to his aged, blind father-in-law, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), home to the family’s farm. Our Robin returns to England — helping prevent the dead king’s crown from being filched by Frenchmen in the process — and assumes the other Robin’s identity. This leads to a “Return of Martin Guerre”-type situation wherein our Robin strolls around the community posing as Robin of Loxley and everyone sort of collectively agrees to pretend that he is that Robin, even though, to my knowledge, Sir Walter Loxley is the only blind character in the picture.

05122010_robinhood4-1.jpgMeanwhile, the dead king’s spoiled, selfish brother John (Oscar Isaac) contrives to marry his French mistress, Angouleme (Lea Seydoux), and pay off the nation’s war debts by taxing the hell out of the peasantry. Falling at it does some 40 minutes into the film’s nearly two-and-a-half hour running time, you might expect the king’s treasury-fattening gambit to set up the familiar, appealing tale of Robin Hood as justice-seeking folk hero. But it doesn’t. Every classically Hoodian situation is encrusted with multiple layers of historical parentheses — and the parentheses are what Scott and Helgeland are really interested in. The king’s misuse of his power to tax is treated less as audience provocation than a pretext to show how medieval governments paid for their foreign adventures (not too differently from how modern governments do it, apparently). And when Robin and his men interdict a shipment of the local church’s seed and use it to revive Marion’s fading farm, the event seems less about establishing Robin’s nobility and sense of justice than illustrating the church’s self-interested nature.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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