Monday, February 27, 2023

Robert the Bruce (2019)

            Most people’s view of Robert the Bruce is from “Braveheart”.  In that movie, he is portrayed as a British lackey who betrays the Scottish hero William Wallace.  Like much of that travesty of a movie, this is bull shit.  But since many get their history from cinema, Robert needed a reappraisal via that medium.  It came with the movie “Robert the Bruce”, which was released 24 years after “Braveheart”.  The movie stars the same actor who portrayed Robert in “Braveheart”, Angus Macfadyen.  Clearly, he is a fan of Robert as he co-wrote the screenplay and produced the film.  We can assume he felt guilty about his previous portrayal.  The movie was filmed mostly in Montana.  Yes, you read that right.

              The movie begins with a voiceover explaining the situation in Scotland in 1306.  The King of Scotland has died with no heir.  Scotland is divided between clans aligned with the British and those Scots who still have the “fire for freedom” stoked by William Wallace.  Robert the Bruce has picked up Wallace’s torch.  That torch is barely flickering as Robert has suffered a series of defeats and is in his “Alfred in the swamps” stage.  He disbands his army and takes refuge with a peasant family.  He bonds with them.  Especially with the widow Morag (Anna Hutchison).  Unfortunately, the Bruce is a wanted man and there are villains on his trail.  Queue the clanging swords and whistling arrows. 

            I was taken by surprise as far as the plot.  I expected a biopic covering the events from the end of “Braveheart” up to the Battle of Bannockburn.  Instead, it covers only the lowest moment in Robert’s career and ends with him just beginning to turn things around.  In fact, it is just as much about Morag’s family.  Sadly, the much more fascinating figure of James Douglas (Diarmaid Murtagh) is given just a small role.  The acting is fine, but Macfadyen (who is normally a fierce actor) is wooden here.  Macfadyn was 25 years older than his character.  I suppose you could imagine that Robert the Bruce would have looked like he aged 25 years between the Battle of Falkirk and the winter of 1306.  Of course, Macfadyen’s acting might have been influenced by a director who must have shouted “more morose!” a lot on set.  I know Robert had good reasons to be depressed during this period.  However, for a national hero of Scotland and the victor at Bannockburn, he comes off as a whiny baby, a quitter, and a poor leader.  I wonder how Scots feel about this portrayal.

            Oddly, the script drops a Western into medieval Scotland.  The wounded, wanted hero is taken in by a family, who nurse him back to health.  But eventually, this idyllic pause ends with him being discovered and pulled back into his violent past.  But he’s not a lone hero any more, he has a family that supports him.  The final clang-out resembles many a cowboy shootout.  Most of this is unrealistic for a movie about an actual historical personage.  But it fits the movie’s disregard for history.  It is not on a level with “Braveheart”, although it might have challenged that if it had been a true biopic, but it is far from a history lesson.  What you will learn about Robert the Bruce is pretty much limited to the introduction and then the post script.

            As far as historical accuracy, Macfadyen chooses the winter of 1306 as the period least likely to rain ridicule from historians on him.  That’s because historians are hazy about those months.  After William Wallace was executed in 1305, Scotland was divided in loyalties between two potential successors of Wallace as leader and John Balliol as king.  John Comyn, Balliol’s nephew, was Bruce’s rival.  They hated each other, but still Comyn agreed to give up his claim in exchange for some of Bruce’s lands.  In 1306, Robert barely escaped from Edward I’s court when he was warned that he was to be arrested.  He returned to Scotland to deal with the betrayal of Comyn.  They met at a chapel and Robert killed Comyn.  The movie has this scene and leaves it unclear as to exactly what happened, reflecting the lack of historical consensus. Robert took the throne (although he was excommunicated for murder at an altar).  Thus began the War of Robert the Bruce.  Things did not go well at first.  He was defeated by Edward at the Battle of Methven.  Robert and just a few of his surviving followers, including James Douglas, carried on.  They went on the lam.  The movie probably overplays the idea that he had given up all hope, but it certainly was a bleak period.  It is unclear where he spent the time covered in the movie.  The best guess is he took refuge in the Hebrides Islands.  Or maybe Ireland.  Regardless, we don’t know what he was doing.  We can be sure he did not spend the winter moping around with a widow and her family.  The following spring he initiated a guerrilla war that got the attention of Edward II.  When Edward invaded Scotland, Robert pulled off one of the most spectacular victories in history at Bannockburn

            As an imagining of what Robert the Bruce was doing during one mysterious winter, “Robert the Bruce” is not ambitious.  It can’t be blamed for gross historical inaccuracies, but it hardly serves as a tutorial on the fascinating Robert.  If you want to see an historical figure put into a time-worn hero on the outs, pursued by evil, and reborn by new friends plot, “Robert the Bruce” is competently done.  If you want to see one of the greatest heroes of Scotland overcome adversity to kick British arse, look elsewhere. 



Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Black Crab (2021)


                “Black Crab” is a recent addition to the ever-expanding post-apocalypse genre.  It is a Swedish film entitled “Svart Krabba”.  There, now you know two words in Swedish.  It is an action thriller directed by Adam Berg.  Berg directed many commercials and music videos before he made his movie debut with this movie.

                Caroline Edh (Noomi Rapace) is separated from her daughter when soldiers attack cars stuck in a tunnel.  This was the beginning of a civil war.  Years later, Edh has joined the military to fight the other side.  It is unclear what the war is all about and which side is right.  We assume it is the side that Edh is fighting for.  She is a killer and a survivor who hopes to be reunited with her daughter.  Edh is tabbed for a secret mission called Operation Black Crab.  She and five heterogeneous soldiers must skate across a frozen water body to deliver some capsules to a base.  These capsules will win the war.  Edh, who has apparently seen movies like this back when people sat around watching movies, believes it is a suicide mission.  Oh, suppose we sweeten the pot by telling you that we will reunite you with your daughter?

                The six set off and if you think they’ll all make it, you have not seen any movies like this.  The only question is how many will survive.  One of them drowns almost immediately.  Edh jumps in to save the capsules.  And then there were five.  The unit consists of Caroline, an officer that she has a past with, a sniper, an Arab, and a weak link.  Naturally, the journey has obstacles, plus they are being chased.  Edh and her rapidly winnowed gang have to fight their way out of ambushes that include helicopter assaults.  In spite of all this, Edh has time to think about what’s in those capsules.  It’s a biological weapon that her side will use because they are losing and are desperate.  Edh still has some humanity in spite of it all, but she is focused on reuniting with her daughter.  If that falls through, watch out

                “Black Crab” relies a lot on Noomi Rapace.  She has become a major star by playing roles like this.  She often plays women who have a troubled past.  Those characters are morose, but they press on.  Edh has psychological problems which is not surprising since she lost her daughter and the world is falling apart.  The rest of the cast is adequate in stereotypical roles.  Like most suicide mission movies, the squad is a mixture of personalities and abilities.  The mission is typical of the subgenre.  They have to get something somewhere before something bad happens.  The tweak is putting the mission on ice.  Instead of a mine field, we get thin ice.  You don’t usually see an action hero on ice skates.  I wonder if the cast was told they would be skating.  None of the actors were proficient with skating before the production.

                “Black Crab” is an average action thriller.  It would be better if there actually was a black crab in it, but it’s entertaining enough as it is.  Since some people believe the apocalypse is coming, you might get some tips from it.  Maybe learn to ice skate.  And don’t trust anyone.  But you already knew that.  The film is currently streaming on Netflix.

GRADE  =  C 

Friday, February 17, 2023



1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What picture is the quote from?

Otto: You know we don't stand a chance. Why not surrender?
Capt.: You know what would happen if we do.
Otto: Do we deserve any better?
Capt. : Otto, I'm not a Nazi.
Otto: No, you're worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

3.  What movie is this?

 It is based on the novel by Richard McKenna.  He had been a chief machinist mate for 22 years in the Navy. The novel was a bestseller.  He sold the rights for $300,000.  It is set in China in 1926 during the civil war between Jiang’s Nationalists and Mao’s Communists.  The area around Shanghai is “ravaged by corrupt warlords”.  It was filmed in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  It was a financial and critical success, nominated for eight Academy Awards:  Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Film Editing, Sound, and Original Music (Jerry Goldsmith).