even more Robin Hood

February 19, 2020

A smattering of Hoods:

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

I finally watched this for the first time in probably 20+ years. I have vivid memories of this thing — it was huge when it came out. Huge. I think it was Costner’s first movie after Dances with Wolves and so got a lot of attention. Partly because it was such a weird thing to follow a critically acclaimed epic. I remember absolutely adoring this film. It came out the year I graduated high school and was on constant rotation in the TV room at the dorm my first year of college. It hit a lot of my teenage fantasy nerd buttons at a time when not a lot did.

Spoiler alert:  It does not hold up.

I think I knew this, which is why it’s taken me so long to watch it again. But it doesn’t hold up in some really interesting ways. Mostly, it’s so very 1980’s. We did not realize in 1991 how much the 80’s would not stand the test of time. Bless our hearts.

The weirdest thing about it, though, is how much it borrowed from Robin of Sherwood. Like, anything remotely interesting in Prince of Thieves? Robin of Sherwood did it first. Saracen character from the Middle East? Weird Satanic witchcraft craziness going on? A comic-relief sadistic black leather clad Sheriff of Nottingham? The Sheriff calls in fur-wearing Celtic mercenaries instead of fur-wearing Welsh mercenaries, but here we are.

This is so weird. I know nothing about the two writers credited here. But I have questions.

And now, bullet points.

  • It’s very dated, and not just because of all the mullets. The costumes are. . .kind of incomprehensible? They’re these 80’s ragamuffin punk things, patchwork cloaks and way too much studded leather. They would have been at home in a Mad Max movie or in any of those elf punk urban fantasy novels.
  • It’s a perfect example of how a movie can strive for diversity out of good intentions and. . .do it wrong. Because yes, it’s wonderful that there’s a black character and that the movie at least thought about making an effort at diversity. But then it hits every single stereotype regarding modern assumptions about medieval Islam. Azeem is 100% stereotype, despite Morgan Freeman’s wry portrayal.  (I don’t think Robin of Sherwood falls into this trap with Nasir. Nasir is exotic, he’s mysterious, but he’s also his own person and we don’t get a checklist of stereotypes.)
  • Is it weird that this is a white savior story when everybody he’s saving is also white? Rich guy savior then.
  • The Bayeux Tapestry in the opening credits really really bugged me because it portrays events that happened 130 years before the movie takes place, but nothing screams High Middle Ages like the Bayeux Tapestry so I guess I can’t argue. This is what comes of mainlining all this research.
  • Bryan Adams “Everything I Do.” The last of the great 80’s movie ballads?
  • Baby Christian Slater. Oh man, I forgot he was in this. And now I’m thinking about Mr. Robot as another version of Robin Hood. Must ponder.
  • Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is so pretty.

Robin Hood (1991)

Did you know there was another Robin Hood movie in 1991? This one starred Patrick Bergin and Uma Therman and was buried in straight-to-video because of the aforementioned Costner version taking up all the oxygen in the room. Well folks, it’s available on Hulu right now and I finally saw it. It’s not bad, I have to say. It’s more traditional, it leans into a lot of the classic Pyle tropes. The staff battle with Little John is fantastic in this one. (“And what do you do?” “I follow him around and bury the people who call him names.”) It also leans real hard into some of the historical tropes (or at least the Hollywood versions of them). Like, everything is covered in dirt. (“He must be the king, he hasn’t got shit all over him.” (that quote isn’t from this movie, just FYI.))

But… this one also isn’t great. It just doesn’t have the charisma and I just kind of didn’t care about the characters? Like, the film tries real real hard to give Marian more to do than look pretty…but it really didn’t sell it and I wasn’t buying. And it couldn’t really avoid the cheese, like when they’re standing there at the end and saying “Normans and Saxons must work together to make England the best country ever and someday England will take over the world!” Like that’s a little on the nose.

But, since I’m becoming a completist, at least I can finally say I’ve seen this one.

Robin Hood (TV, 2006)

Robin Hood, with Gen Y hotties. Only made it one episode. The women are just wearing so much eyeliner I couldn’t take it.

And here are two thoughts about what makes good Robin Hood stories

First, I think the best Robin Hood stories include the Sheriff’s archery contest. I’m starting to think this is actually a requirement:  there must some big formal test of archery. It seems like you ought to be able to tell a Robin Hood story without it — it’s just a plot point, right? But it turns out, all the best Robin Hood stories have the archery contest, and the worst don’t. Prince of Thieves does not have the archery contest. The other 1991 film has a version of the contest that I see quite often — Robin shoots to prove himself to the pre-existing outlaws. And it’s quite nicely done. Seriously, when that film goes full traditional, it’s better than when it doesn’t. Which suggests to me that radical re-imaginings are maybe not always what people are looking for.

Second, Robin Hood stories can’t be totally Robin-centric. Which is to say, the members of his band of outlaws must be just as interesting as he is. The story must have scenes in which they interact with each other, that do not include Robin. We the reader/viewer must believe that the Merry Men/People are competent enough to rescue Robin when he gets in trouble. In Prince of Thieves, Robin is constantly rescuing others and never needs rescuing himself.  Same with the other film, and with a lot of the more recent versions. Turns out, that’s unsatisfying and undermines the idea of a band of outlaws working together against corruption. It undermines the idea that Robin is their equal. I think Robin Hood stories must be about a group of people. A found family. Many of the film versions especially end up being vehicles for the star actor and so fail on this point.

I still have a few more “modern” (i.e. the last 40 years or so) versions of Robin Hood to get through to continue testing my hypothesis. But I believe this is a worthy project and so will continue.

*rides off into the forest*

 

 

Okay, so much to say.

I’m a little pissed off this film got so little promotion — I never saw a trailer for it and thought it was coming out this summer. But I saw it, and I’m conflicted. It’s important to have a big action supervillain film with a woman director and woman writer and woman star and all about grrrl power and multiple scenes of just, like, all women kicking ass and looking out for each other. I loved that. A lot of folks are really, really loving this and the empowerment it espouses, so I hate to punch holes in it. But.

I think there’s 75% of a good movie here. The rest … never have I wanted to re-edit a movie as badly as I want to re-edit this one. And all the re-editing is in the first half. In the first half, it’s trying to do this edgy non-linear thing like Deadpool or Tarantino, and I don’t think it works.  It just ends up repeating itself, stalling out, restarting, and destroying all the tension it ought to be building up to propel us into the second half, which is full of straightforward action and plotting and works great. Seriously, the action scenes are great, the characters are fine, Margot Robbie is clearly having a good time. I would re-edit the entire thing to just give the story a straight through-line with relentless pacing, where the only breaks are Harley pausing to deliver an instant and accurate psychoanalysis of other characters, because those bits are awesome.

Also, kill the voice over. Voice over not needed. It’s explaining things that are clear from just watching the film.

(Yes, yes, I totally get that Harley is crazy and the non-linear cut and the voice over are meant to portray her chaotic thought process and lack of focus and so on. But as I said, I don’t think it works. There are other p.o.v.’s in the film that jolt us out of that framework, so it ends up not being consistent and it frustrated me. Harley’s chaos comes out in plenty of other ways.)

And kill the prologue. This is another one of those times where there’s a long-ass prologue explaining the entire backstory, and then in the middle of the movie the main character stops to explain the backstory again. Repetitive, unnecessary. In fact, it’s actually really hilarious when Harley stops to explain her origin story, the entire plot of Suicide Squad, and everything that happens in the prologue, in twenty seconds of deadpan dialogue. Just do that and cut the prologue because the prologue is boring. I swear to you by all that is holy, no one is going to see this movie who doesn’t already know at least a little something about Harley Quinn. It’s like starting a Batman movie with the Waynes beings shot and the pearls scattering across the pavement. Enough already.

Start the movie with her blowing up the chemical plant. That’s the first scene. Booyah.  This is such a common problem with new writer manuscripts — start the story on page six, the story starts on page six, you think you need all that set up but you really really don’t, start with something actually interesting. It’s so incredibly frustrating when big-budget movies fall into that exact trap.

So, to summarize, I feel like I’m an outlier on this one. I’ve never been a huge fan of Harley Quinn as a character, and I’m wondering if that’s a prerequisite for really wholeheartedly loving this movie, which I didn’t, mostly because it made so many new-writer mistakes with pacing and storytelling.

But I will say I’m really glad this exists, and for the people who do love it — YES. Make this movie yours.

 

state of the brain

February 13, 2020

I’ve been working on copyedits and promotions for this year’s book releases, and I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do all this stuff, since at this time last year I didn’t actually have anything scheduled for release. Like, at all. And now I do. Guess I still know how to hustle?

Anyway, y’all are going to have to help me get the word out on The Immortal Conquistador, The Ghosts of Sherwood, and all that good stuff.

It’s fine, it’s all going to be fine.

Whew.

One of the side-effects of going over edits on the Sherwood stories (The Locksley Chronicles, I think we’re going to call them, and oh my gosh doesn’t that sound so lovely? It’s like I’ll have to write more or something), is my Robin Hood obsession, which had abated somewhat toward the end of the year as I dived into my Neolithic story, has returned with a vengeance and I’m once again reading books on 12th and 13th century English history and debating whether I should binge all of Robin of Sherwood again.

Henry III at age 13 is one of the characters in The Heirs of Locksley, and he’s just fascinating. He was by all accounts a fairly decent human being, which can’t actually be said about many English kings of the period. He’s the only Norman/Plantagenet ruler who might even be said to be nice.

But he was a really terrible godawful politician and administrator. But if he had been any better at being king, England might have turned out very differently. I mean, he was so bad, all the other English nobles got together and created Parliament. I’m not sure he gets enough credit for being, you know, that incompetent.

All this happened much later than any of the stories I want to write about him, but in writing about teenage King Henry, I can’t help but wonder about him and the formative events that made him such a contradiction.

 

snow and sundry

February 11, 2020

Remember when I complained about not getting any snow for two months? Well, we’ve had 10 inches so far in February. Like the skies flipped a switch or something. The thing is, now we’re getting the typical Colorado pattern:  a day of heavy snow, then a day of clear, beautiful blue skies and sunshine. It’s that beautiful winter sun sparkling on all that fresh snow that I’ve been missing. Ahhh…

Some news:  My novella “Gremlin,” a generational saga about a family of pilots and the mysterious creature who adopts them, is a finalist in the Asimov’s Magazine Readers’ Award Poll! Winners won’t be announced for a bit, but to celebrate, the magazine has posted the finalists online, so “Gremlin” is now available to read.

And it’s just one month until the release of The Immortal Conquistador

 

state of the desk

February 6, 2020

I am in desperate need of distracting right now, so I’m going to talk a little bit about work. (I don’t suppose it’s really work when sometimes it’s the thing that makes me feel better? I’m so lucky in this regard.)

I’ve been working on a new novel since November. I passed 60,000 words on it this week. This one’s been a little strange — before this week, I hadn’t hit the wall. I usually hit the wall between 30k and 40k words — this is where the outline falls apart, I don’t know what happens next, I don’t know how to get from point A to point B and I have to stop, brainstorm, outline, make a map, whatever. Well, on this one, I’d been working on it straight for 3 months, which is really unusual.

I shouldn’t have worried, because the wall came last week and I had to take a break. I know basically what the end is — I have a really clear picture of it. But I’m not totally sure how to get there.  At least, I wasn’t. But I took that break, made that outline, and now suddenly ideas are pouring in. Part of why the first half of this went so quickly is I’d been thinking about it for a long time, I’d played out a bunch of the scenes in my mind over and over. But I didn’t really have anything for the second half.

Now I’ve got a map. Now I know where I’m going, and now the scenes are coming together. It feels good.

So, that’s some advice I very often give to people who get stuck. Instead of staring at the blank page, take a break. Take a walk. Bring some scratch paper. Draw a map. Write some notes. Brainstorm. Give your brain a chance to stretch. It’ll feel good.

 

 

Ugh Monday….wait…Tuesday

February 4, 2020

Snow. I have to go shovel snow now.

After a weekend of putting together IKEA furniture and gathering tax documents and realizing I am once again reading four books and writing three projects at the same time, I hit a wall. I am tired.

And now I have to go shovel snow.

UPDATE:  Right when I went outside to get started, a neighbor with a giant snowblower came by and did all the sidewalks. I only ended up having to shovel the driveway, and the snow ended up being so light and fluffy it only took about 15 minutes. I’m calling this an unexpected win for the day.

Now, to drink some tea.

 

Just a couple of announcements!

Dark Divide and Badlands Witch are available on audio from Tantor!  All the relevant links are on the page there.

I sent out an e-newsletter which conveniently has all the available pre-order links for stuff coming out in 2020. So far that’s The Immortal Conquistador, The Ghosts of Sherwood, and The Heirs of Locksley.

Next on the list is to update the events list with upcoming appearances. I’ve got a couple of conventions planned, and bookstore events are starting to line up.

First up will be the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Florida, March 18-21.

Onward ho!