Sunday, January 17, 2016

Band of Robbers

Hey, it looks like Apple Cinemas picked a good one this time around, both in terms of quality and getting an audience out. They've occasionally been willing to book small movies that are also playing on demand (or be booked for them - I'm never sure whether these are mostly vanity bookings so that the distributor can say it played X amount of screens in certain cities), and usually they're not very good and/or I'm the only one who has purchased a ticket. Honestly, when I saw a good crowd, I just assumed that there was a filmmaker present and I hadn't heard because I never hear about these things when they happen at Fresh Pond. Nope, just a good crowd.

I mention in the review, but it's kind of surprising that we haven't seen more public domain characters like this modernized in the wake of Sherlock Holmes's success. Of course, I gather that this is half of Universal's plan with their rebooted "Monsters Universe", with the Dracula and Frankenstein characters likely serving as cornerstones. I suspect Huckleberry Finn would make people a lot more nervous, though - it is, after all, about something important, and for many kids the first time they encounter the idea that a book can be controversial.

Of course, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are also Exhibit A in how lackluster new material does not, in fact, ruin great originals. I suspect that very few people recall that Tom Sawyer, Detective and Tom Sawyer Abroad exist, and fewer still hold their status as Mark Twain's lesser works against either the classic children's story or the great American novel disguised as a children's story that they follow. Even if most people have less fondness for Band of Robbers than I do,it's not going to do any harm to the reputation of the characters.

Band of Robbers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2016 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #7 (first-run, digital)

Truth be told, I'm kind of surprised we haven't seen more things like Band of Robbers since various Sherlock Holmes projects showed that audiences would go for beloved nineteenth-century characters reinvented for the modern age, if only because producers would find public domain properties very affordable. Sure, you run the risk of being accused of desecrating something beloved, but this take on some of Mark Twain's most popular characters turned out a lot better than one might have expected.

It presents Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) and Huckleberry Finn (Kyle Gallner) as contemporary adults in their twenties. Huck is a small-time crook just released from prison; Tom a beat cop whose head is nevertheless full of schemes that he tries to sell Huck and his friends Joe Harper (Matthew Gary Gubler), Ben Rogers (Hannibal Buress), and Tommy Barnes (Johnny Pemberton). The latest involves the long-sought Murrell's Treasure, which has supposedly been found by Injun Joe (Stephen Lang) and stashed in a local pawn shop. To be frank, though, Tom's plan is terrible, and that is before Lieutenant Polly (Lee Garlington) sticks Tom with new partner Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist) or Jorge Jiminez (Daniel Edward Mora), the gardener at the halfway house where Huck is staying, gets dragged in.

In addition to playing Tom, Adam Nee wrote, directed, and edited the film along with his brother Aaron, and they're probably wise to keep closer to the structure and tone of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer than the potentially heavier material in Huckleberry Finn, although some of that sneaks through in ways one might not expect. It makes for a fun, lightweight caper movie, although the fact that the plans and goals are straight out of children's adventures of an earlier era gives the film a paradoxical maturity. Tom's a little more arrested, Huck's a little more mature, and when it turns out that there is something to Tom's plans, the world seems a little more exciting for it and dangerous because of how monsters like Injun Joe don't necessarily play nice.

Full review on EFC.

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