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The Martian (2015)
The Martian Is A Trip Well Worth Taking
For the crew of the Ares III, their mission to Mars is the stuff of legend. Not only have them successfully landed on Mars but have established a pre-fab community for the Astronauts to live and work during a 30 day mission to the Red Planet. Their mission is cut short when a severe storm appears suddenly and forces the crew to abandon their base for their escape vehicle as they cannot afford to have their only way home toppled in a storm. While preparing for their rapid departure, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck with a piece of debris and left for dead by his crew when his monitors fail to show any signs of life. Despite their best efforts, the low visibility and severe storm, compounded with the lack of vitals or ability to find his body, the crew reluctantly lifts off leaving Mark's remains on the surface. Mark however has survived, as the debris destroyed his monitors and left him injured, but very much alive and alone on the surface of Mars. Since he was struck by the radio dish, he has no way to contact N.A.SA. and his crew to inform them he is alive. Mark sets out to address how to grow food on the planet and to make sure he has enough air, water, and food to last until the next manned mission is due in a few years. The fact that the landing site for the mission is a longer distance than his vehicle is capable is a problem Mark figures he will have time to address, as is his need to contact those on Earth. What follows is a visually stunning, well-paced, and very well performed film with a terrific ensemble cast. The real star is Damon as he has to carry large parts of the film by himself and is utterly compelling at every step. Director Ridley Scott clearly is inspired by the source material based on the book of the same name, and never lets his impressive visuals overshadow the human drama of the film and the very real characters. I was very impressed by the film, enough so to say that "The Martian" is one of the best films of the year and may indeed be a candidate for the Oscars. Check out this film, you will not be disappointed. 4.5 stars out of 5.
Second Film Review: 'The Martian' By Sasha Glenn
Based on the novel by Andy Weir, "The Martian" tells the story of a man who becomes stranded in desolation on Mars and his ensuing battle to stay alive. After a storm breaks out on Mars, a NASA mission is forced to abort. In the chaos of escape, crew member Watney (Matt Damon) is believed to be dead and gets left behind. With just enough supplies to begin the task of survival, Watney embarks on an impossible seeming mission. The psychological aspects of the film are a mixed bag, at times seeming a bit unrealistic. A calm and logical scientist, Watney begins tackling one problem at a time. Slightly unsettling is the delay, or complete lack of "space madness." He doesn't really go into a panic the way one would imagine a person alone on an alien planet with no escape route would. It's possible this lends itself to creating a more realistic image of such a scenario, rather than playing into expectations previously set in film. However, Watney even goes so far as to make light of the situation in his video logs. The comedy element is really enjoyable, but it's a bit odd that he has so much humor while in peril. At times the scenes are slow moving and tend to drag on a bit. This element of monotony actually falls in line with what the lone crew member is experiencing. It is a well-balanced film, with just enough moments of action and suspense. It spares the audience of the drama which normally accompanies films about missions into space. It isn't full of sappy tear jerking scenes. Nothing is sensationalized. Even the soundtrack is very well done and not overbearing. The graphics are absolutely stunning, but what really makes this a great sci-fi is the immense amount of thought that was put into scientific accuracy. Weir and Director Ridley Scott worked collaboratively with James L. Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA to strive for a realistic depiction of survival on Mars. A long awaited for quality sci-fi, fans of the genre will breathe a sigh of relief. I give "The Martian" 4.5 out of 5 stars.
This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
A great date movie for the beginning of the fall season.
Skewed and Reviewed's own Joseph Saulnier gives his take on This is Where I Leave You over at sknr.net.
This is Where I Leave You focuses on Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) and his relationships with the many personalities in his family. We open the film with Judd walking in on his wife in bed with his boss. We flash forward about 3 months to find Judd feeling pretty miserable still, only to find out that his father passed away. And his father's last wish is that his family sit Shiva (a Jewish tradition of mourning where the close relatives of the deceased sit for 7-days in the same house, as friends and family come by to offer their condolences. (There's more to it than this, but it's the general idea). Over the 7-days following the funeral, a roller-coaster of emotions, excitement and tragedy pass.
for more, visit: http://sknr.net/2014/09/19/leave/
The Maze Runner (2014)
The Maze Runner, Skewed and Reviewed
Skewed and Reviewed's Sasha Glenn gives thoughts on The Maze Runner and how it compares to The Hunger Games over at sknr.net.
The Maze Runner is 20th Century Fox's attempt at the current trend in Hollywood to cash in on Young Adult-themed science fiction in a dystopian setting. Coming off the heels of hits like The Hunger Games and Divergent, The Maze Runner is the first story in the trilogy of novels by James Dashner. As such, I thought I would use this review space to compare this first film in the trilogy to another. The Maze Runner versus The Hunger Games (self-titled, not Catching Fire) sorry Divergent, I haven't seen you.
DIRECTORS The Maze Runner's Wes Ball vs. The Hunger Games' Garry Ross
The Maze Runner is Wes Balls first major motion picture, but you wouldn't know it because the visuals and pacing are fantastic.
Garry Ross, on the other hand, directed both Pleasantville and Seabiscuit prior to The Hunger Games. Both great movies, however this slow thoughtful style I feel was not the best choice for the action-paced-with-thought story of the hunger games. Guess that's why he was replaced for Catching Fire, which is a superior film.
Advantage: The Maze Runner
for more, visit: http://sknr.net/2014/09/19/maze-runner/
A Solid Film From Pixar
The digital wizards at Pixar have an incredible dossier of Academy award-winning animated films. Their latest film "Brave", is a prime example of the bold new direction for the company behind such classics as "Finding Nemo", "Toy Story", "The Incredible's", and "Monsters, Inc." just to name a few. This time out Scotland provides the setting for the animation masters to weave their magic, and they do in a splendid 3-D feast of sight, sound, and color that captures the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
For Princess Merida (Kelly Madonald), life is filled with joy and frustration. As the daughter to King Fergus (Billy Connolly), and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), she has to walk a fine line between the duties and expectation of her mother and her freewheeling lifestyle of daring and adventure. The young Princess is content to ride through the countryside astride her horse Angus, and perfect her already admirable archery skills.
When Merida learns that her parents have summoned the other major clans so that a worthy suitor can be chosen, Merida rebels openly at their plan and causes great embarrassment to her family during a competition. In a fit of rebellious anger, Merida rides into the woods, and comes upon a witch who promises to create for the young princess a spell that will forever change her destiny. Although not done out of malice, the spell has some on expected consequences that threatens the future of the kingdom as well as the safety of Merida's family.
The film has some outstanding performances, not the least of which is Connolly, who was an absolute delight whenever his character was on screen. Supporting work by Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane complement the leads well. Since my mother is a Scot, I am all-too-familiar with not only the history but culture of Scotland. I had been concerned when I first heard the project that it would play up on certain stereotypes and miss the true complexity and splendor of Scotland and its people, as well as it's extremely rich history which is filled with numerous technical and literary achievements over the centuries.
Thankfully my concerns were allayed very early in the film not simply because of the amazing visual detail of the movie but also because of the lovable but quirky characters. The writers and animators managed to capture the very nature of the people and the culture, which is no easy thing in an animated film. Kudos for the casting of the mostly Scottish cast who played their roles with relish. I can honestly say hearing King Fergus address the clans brought to mind my aunts, uncles and cousins thanks to the distinct Scottish brogue. I especially liked the fact that when conflict erupted (of course) amongst even the best of friends, there are some very clever ways that laughs were gained without turning the characters into buffoons or being overly cute.
While the film plays it fairly safe with the story, Pixar's first female heroine gives us a very fun and enjoyable tale that offers something for the entire family without talking down to the audience or having to resort to crude humor. A few scenes may be a bit intense for youngsters and while it will not be cited for any technological breakthroughs Brave, nonetheless, is highly entertaining.
4 stars out of 5
That's My Boy (2012)
Review from Skewed and Reviewed
Adam Sandler movies have often been a mixed bag. For every "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates" there are several forgettable offerings like "Little Nicky", "I Now Prounounce You Chuck and Larry", and "8 Crazy Nights". To be fair there've also been several guilty pleasures such as "Happy Gilmore" and "The Waterboy" along the way. Sadly, his recent offerings, culminating in the disastrous "Jack and Jill", have given me very low expectations for his new film "That's My Boy" which pairs Sandler with former Saturday Night Live star Andy Samberg.
Sandler stars as Donny, a down-on his luck former celebrity who gained notoriety after impregnating his teacher at 13. While the teacher (Eva Amurri Martino) went on to a 30-year prison sentence, Donny used his notoriety to become a pop culture sensation. Unfortunately for Donny fame was fleeting and he wasted the money he had accumulated along the way. We soon learn Donny faces a prison sentence unless he comes up with $45,000 to pay back taxes.
Desperate, he turns to his estranged son Todd (Andy Samberg), who has pretty much disowned his father and does not even go by is given birth name. Todd is about to marry a socialite named Jamie (Leighton Meester), and since he is a numbers genius with an extremely bright future with a partnership pending, the arrival of his crude, drunken father, is a disaster in the making. Passing himself off as long-lost friend, Donny attempts to reconnect with his son and naturally this happens over some very vulgar and awkward moments, not all of which are limited to bachelor party scenes.
Of course anybody who has seen any of Sandler's films will know the formula that follows: crude situations followed by conflict, mixed with celebrity cameos and an '80s soundtrack tossed in with a few laughs along the way towards a tidy ending. To say that there is a definite formula to his films would be an understatement and Sandler gives the impression that he's making up many of the scenes as he goes along, all the while sporting a hybrid Boston/Little Nicky accent.
What ultimately sells the film is the energy and effort that the cast puts into their performances. While the plot can be charitably described as disjointed, there are several scenes that are LOL-inducing, especially those with James Caan as an angry priest and with Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges lampooning their faded glory.
While the film is a bit cruder than most of Sandler's usual fare it is, for the most part, good-natured and lighthearted. Obviously nobody is expected to take the film seriously. Samberg does a good job playing the restrained uptight Todd, and in the scenes where he lets loose, shows solid working chemistry with Sandler.
While it is not a great cinematic comedy it certainly has more than its fair share of laughs along the way, just as long as you're willing to overlook the lackluster plot and uneven pacing of the film.
2.5 stars out of 5
Tons of Issues Sink "Battleship"
Hollywood turned its eyes on children's toys for inspiration. With the successful Transformers series, Hasbro has been targeted for their very popular line of board games as source material for future movies.
First out of the box is "Battleship", director Peter Berg's big-budget adaptation of the timeless naval strategy game that has been enjoyed for decades by players young and old. Since this is the era of video games, the simplistic style of the board game needed to be tweaked in order to make it appealing for the summer movie masses.
Gone is the classic strategy of the game and in its place, a loud and brash cast of 20-somethings, over-the-top special effects, and a plot riddled with more holes than the classic grids in the game that spawned the film.
Taylor Kitsch follows up his role in John Carter by playing Alex Hopper, a ne'er-do-well who despite the mentoring of his successful naval officer brother (Alexander Skarsgard), never seems to run out of ways to get himself in trouble. His latest efforts to impress a girl he met in a bar, land him in hot water with the authorities and his brother lays down the law and insists that Alex join the Navy and make something of his life.
The film jumps into the future where Alex is now dating the very attractive girl from the bar, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), and trying to get enough courage together to ask her father for permission to marry his daughter. The fact that her father is Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), only complicates the matter.
Despite holding the rank of an officer, Alex is still extremely headstrong and prone to getting himself in trouble. What what was supposed to be a friendly soccer match during allied naval exercises escalates, and Alex finds himself facing an ignominious exit from the Navy. He's given a temporary reprieve as the ships in his fleet are suddenly faced with the threat of extraterrestrial origins.
Approximately around the same time Alex entered the Navy, scientists developed a way to amplify radio signals and directed them toward planets they believed could possibly support life. The signals were answered in the form of a hostile force that arrives on Earth only to cut a swath of destruction across the world as well as the naval fleet it encounters. Cut off from the rest of the fleet and reinforcements by an energy field, Alex is forced into command and must confront the deadly enemy at all cost to save the world.
What follows is a series of elaborate special effects that, while visually appealing, fail to pack much punch as the plot and characters are so underwhelming.
I understand that for films this type, especially given the source material, one must give a certain amount of leeway and accept, even grudgingly, the inconsistencies and impracticalities. That being said, not only are the characters about as thin and one-dimensional as they possibly could be, they are for the most part utterly devoid of any interesting qualities nor are they given much in the way of back story that makes us care for their outcomes. R&B star Rihanna spends a good chunk of her time looking tough and menacing, but isn't given much more to do than occasionally fire a gun.
Kitsch is so utterly bland and unsympathetic that there's just really no redeeming value to his character. Battleship is supposed to be a story of redemption but instead it's a story of inconsistencies. Many times throughout the film common sense much less standard military procedures seems to go out the window.
For example, standard rules of engagement tactics were not used early in the film, but yet were readily deployed during the so-called big finale to the film with success. One has to wonder how more seasoned officers with far more resources at their disposal failed to utilize such tactics or have success with the methods that they employed. Yet ironically, this young lieutenant on his first command is able to out-maneuver these aliens when he decides to take to the offensive and lull the enemy into a fairly passive mode where they don't do much more than watch.
The aliens, while interesting, are given precious little to do other than occasionally destroy or blow something up. We have no idea why they are on earth and to be honest, why they arrived in such small force. If the idea was to conquer Earth, it was poorly planned. Yet if proper procedures were followed, their incursion could have been dealt with very early and easily with the resources at hand. But that would've made for a short movie.
What I found puzzling was how surprisingly light on action the movie was. Yes there were firefights but they were spread sparingly throughout the film. You do not have one grand epic battle against overwhelming odds, you do not have legions of enemy troops for the Navy to wade through. It was pretty much a here-it-is-take-it-or-leave it, ho-hum finale.
The film does have some good points with Hawaii as its main backdrop. I did like the fact that there were a lot of active and retired soldiers and sailors used in the filming of the picture. It is clear that the filmmakers wanted to honor the soldiers who have so gallantly served our nation. I just wish they could've given them a much better showcase, because truthfully you'll find far more thrills and enjoyment busting out the actual Battleship game than sitting through the film.
There is a scene post-credits that does hint at possible future installments, but I kept asking myself one question, "Why?" 2 stars out of 5
Something Borrowed and Something Not New
In the later part of the 21st-century the worst criminals the planet has to offer are kept safely away from public in stasis aboard an orbiting prison known as MS: One. Although it is never explained in the film, it does not take a rocket scientist to guess that "MS" stands for Maximum Security and much like the rest of the movie "Lockout", this is a film that does not aspire to be more than the sum of its heavily borrowed parts.
The film stars Guy Pearce as Snow, a special agent who has been wrongly accused in the killing of a high-ranking operative. Railroaded through the system, Snow is looking at a lengthy sentence.
At the same time, the presidents daughter Emily (Maggie Grace), has visited MS: One on a goodwill tour. One of her special causes is to confirm the truth that long-term stasis has damaging psychological and neurological effects for the prisoners. Since the prison is funded by a deep space research development she definitely sees conflict of interest in how prisoners are being treated.
Things take a turn for the worse when a violent prisoner goes off during his interview and proceeds to release pent-up inmate population and take the crew hostage. The prisoners run amok and for the time being are unaware that they had president's daughter in their midst. Snow was given an ultimatum that the successful retrieval of the first daughter will help him avoid becoming a future resident of the orbiting prison.
Despite his misgivings, Snow accepts the assignment as he learns that one of his friends is incarcerated on board. This friend holds valuable information that can exonerates Snow from his charges. Once on board the station, Snow must battle mobs of psychopaths as he attempts to locate and rescue Emily.
While one would think this premise would hold plenty of excitement, thrills, and suspense, the film is essentially undone by its inability to sustain any real momentum for any developed and real tension.
While the prisoners do a great job of appearing menacing, torturing and killing the hostages, we really never learn of their true objective. At no time do they really make any serious demands for freedom, material goods, and so on which basically leaves them vulnerable to an all-out attack from the amassing forces around the prison.
One would think they would've asked for something as simple as pardons but they seem more interested in glaring threats to the president and the authorities via videoconference, not truly grasping the magnitude of their situation.
Pearce does a good job as the gruff Snow but sadly the script gives him very little to do other than smug one-liners and occasionally shoot the bad guys. Smith does show some spark and personality in her performance but she is given little to do aside from playing the damsel in distress although she doesn infuse the role with some strength and humor.
What really surprised me about the movie was even though it borrowed very heavily from Fortress 1 & 2 as well as an escape from New York, and have surprisingly little new to offer. It was clear that the intention was to create a die-hard style film in space but unfortunately it fell relatively flat.
This was a huge surprise to me as one would think that Luc Besson and many of the creative talents that made "Taken" such a thrilling smash would have been able to come up with a better action film.
This is not to say that "Lockout" is a bad film more than it is a disappointment considering the premise, cast, and the potential that it had going for it.
I can certainly overlook plot holes, thinly crafted stock characters, and run-of-the-mill action sequences in my action films as long as they can get me some solid entertainment.
Sadly this is not the case and it plays out more like a direct to DVD release that's certainly would be extremely welcome us and Netflix are red box rental but for my taste thanks to the lo-res and dated special effects did not warrant a major theatrical release.
2.5 stars out of
American Reunion (2012)
A Very Enjoyable Slice of American Pie
It has often been said that you cannot turn back the hands of time, but thankfully Hollywood is a place where magical things happen. In the case of the gang from American Pie and the creative talents of writer directors Jon Hurwitz Hayden Schlossberg, the gang is back, better than ever, for another slice if pie. Hurwitz and Schlossberg are the creative team behind the " Harold and Kumar" series and have been entrusted by Universal to carry on the American Pie series which had recently been relegated to four direct-to-DVD releases.
The new film reunites the entire cast from the original three films and centers around the gang's 13 year high school reunion. Life has definitely taken them all in some unexpected directions. Jim (Jason Biggs) is married to Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), and are now parents to a little boy and enjoying a comfortable, if a tad uneventful, suburban lifestyle.
Oz (Chris Klein), is a successful Los Angeles sportscaster as well as a recent contestant on a popular national dance show. He spends his time mixing with celebrities and indulging a girlfriend who loves to party just a bit too much. Meanwhile, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), is happily married but needs an escape from a domestic routine that includes watching reality shows with his wife.
Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) fancies himself a nomadic spirit who wanders the globe from one esoteric adventure to another, still looking for his true love while Stiffler (Seann William Scott), works at a prestigious firm and remains the guy who never misses an opportunity to wisecrack or sexually harass any female who crosses his path.
As reunion-type movies go, there are the expected moments of awkwardness and hilarity. And of course, it wouldn't be an American Pie movie without moments of ridiculously crude antics, mainly from Stifler. What separates the film from the bevy of raunchy comedies that flooded the market after the success of the initial film, is that there is some maturity amongst the mayhem.
In between the outrageous antics, the various characters are forced to take deep examinations of their lives since graduation and in some cases grow up for the first time in their lives. Oz must comes to grips with his feelings for his former girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari), as does Kevin when his former flame Vicky (Tara Reid), returns to town for the reunion. Jim and Michelle have to find a way to bring some sexual spark back into their lives while Finch needs to accept the mundane reality of his. And Stifler. Well, let's just say he needs to find his true calling.
What really sold the film for me was not just the great chemistry between the cast but the way the script deftly moved the raunchy comedy along while combining character development and depth that is not normally found in films of this type. As I watched, I found that I had really missed this crew of unlikely friends, and really enjoyed catching up with them even when they were not extricating themselves from one over-the-top situation after another.
While the film did drag a bit slightly there was always an outrageous moment right around the corner that had the theater errupting in laughter or shrieking in disbelief. This film is rated R for good reason. The cast worked really great together and it was especially nice to see Klein back in the mix, as he had been noticeably absent from the last film in no small part due to his offscreen issues.
Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler's mom) have some absolutely hysterical moments in film especially when Mr. Levenstein, widowed now for three years, decides to cut loose at a party and we get to see has wild side. I would also encourage viewers to make sure to stay through the credits as there is more comedy from this pair that must not be missed.
The supporting characters from the previous films were all given their moments to shine even if it is just in a small cameo. Shannon Elizabeth, Natasha Lyonne, John Cho, and of course, the Sherminator were all given a chance to bring back some memories, making this film is welcome and enjoyably nostalgic trip. It proves that there's still some life and good times left in the series, and if the creative talents can keep quality to this level I, for one, would certainly welcome another slice of pie in the future.
3.5 stars out of 5
21 Jump Street (2012)
Plenty of Bounce Left in Jump Street
Back in 1987, the fledgling Fox Network debuted, offering entertainment on Saturday and Sunday evenings aimed at a younger audience. One of the network's first breakout shows was a police drama with young cops and plenty of action, a show named 21 Jump Street. The show featured a cast of largely unknowns who quickly bolted to overnight notoriety, most notably its star Johnny Depp who, much to his chagrin, became a pinup boy and sex symbol for the show.
The show mixed humor, action, and romance. It followed a team of young officers who were part of a special undercover unit that infiltrated high schools and colleges where they posed as students to solve various campus crimes. Johnny Depp left the show after the fourth season, wanting to be taken seriously as a legitimate actor. The show soon ended one year later. Despite having run only five seasons and having a short-lived spin off series for star Richard Grieco, "21 Jump Street" remained a pop-culture hit 25 years later.
As such, I had a lot of skepticism when I first heard that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum would be bringing an updated, raunchier version to the big screen that was heavy on laughs and would definitely aim for an R-rated. This theatrical version stars Hill as Officer Schmidt and Tatum as Officer Jenko, two young officers who met while in high school and, despite being on opposite ends of the social spectrum, bonded and became close friends during their time at the police academy years after graduation. When the duo find their lives as bike cops not as exciting as they had hoped and after they bungle their first chance at a significant arrest, the duo find themselves reassigned to the revived Jump Street project.
Schmidt, in spite of his misgivings, decides to face his fear of the horror that was high school decides to give it another chance. Jenko is soon horrified to see that the social structure that he dominated back in his day has clearly turned upside down. Jocks are no longer the big men on campus, replaced by sensitive New Age types. Nerds that he preyed upon are now the cool kids in school.
After the death of a student who took a new designer drug he bought at school, Schmidt and Jenko are assigned to find the dealers, infiltrate the gang and get to the bottom of the drug distribution ring and stop it at all costs. This proves to be easier said than done, especially for Schmidt. He begins to really relish his new found popularity in school and he starts to live the high school experience that he only dreamed about back in his day. Further complicating matters is Molly (Brie Larson), an attractive high school senior who quickly catches Schmidt's attention and becomes a focal point of his day-to-day activities.
Jenko, on the other hand, finds himself struggling as the former high school kingpin now finds himself a social outcast, spending much of his time with the chemistry nerds trying to find a way to work the social structure to get to the bottom of the school's drug trade.
Now what would be a simple assignment for two seasoned cops becomes completely unhinged for the to raw recruits who become more obsessed with social status than their mission and take extreme measures to ingratiate themselves with their new classmates. This all comes at a cost as their bond becomes strained due to Schmidt's rapidly ascending social status and their continued inability to crack the case.
Now this is a premise that has been done countless times in numerous cop films. "21 Jump Street" has a bold and fresh formula that deftly mixes elements of the gross-out teen comedy with an action-adventure film. While the film drags a bit in the middle, there are some incredibly funny jokes throughout the film. The action in the film is solid and fits well with the story rather than trying to spice things up with random explosions.
I loved how the film, based on a story co-written by Jonah Hill, and produced by both Hill and Tatum, took a fresh approach to the subject matter but also respectfully made fun of the source material, banking on nostalgia while updating it for a younger audience.
I can easily say this was probably Jonah Hill's best comedy to date as they were numerous laugh out loud moments in the film and he and Tatum make a fantastic duo, playing extremely well off one another. There are also several cameos in the film and strong supporting work from Ice Cube, who plays the extremely agitated captain of the inept cops placed under his command. The film sets up very well for a sequel and I understand that there's already preparation underway should this one do well at the box office.
"21 Jump Street" is easily the funniest movie I've seen this year. I have not laughed this much, for all the right reasons, in quite a long time. Hip and fresh again, there's plenty of bounce left in "21 Jump Street."
3.5 stars out 5
John Carter (2012)
John Carter is an Enjoyable Action Film and a Nice Surprise
Edgar Rice Burroughs is famous for literary creations that have inspired countless generations and given birth to numerous film and television projects. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody not familiar with Tarzan, one of Burrough's great series. John Carter of Mars is another one, and at long last has finally made it to the big screen.
The film is based on the first book of eleven, a series that began in 1911 and ran through 1964 when the last book was published posthumously. John Carter stars Tylor Kitsch as the title character, a bitter Civil War veteran who, despite an accomplished service record, no longer wants anything to do with the military. Instead he is fixated upon finding a cave of gold.
Despite the fact that he served for the Confederacy, John Carter draws the attention of the U.S. Cavalry whose leader is anxious to recruit an officer of Carter's skills and experience to aid them in their skirmishes with the Apache tribes. No longer willing to fight or get involved, Carter declines the offer but soon finds himself caught in the middle of an unplanned battle between both sides. As he attempts to find shelter for himself and a wounded officer, Carter accidentally stumbles upon the cave of gold he was seeking.
Carter's surprise soon turns to shock when he's attacked by a mysterious individual who presses a glowing amulet in his hand and utters a phrase that transports John Carter instantly to the planet Mars. Of course, Carter at first has no idea where he is but soon realizes that he has incredible leaping abilities due to the lower gravity of the planet.
Shortly after his arrival he gains the attention of Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), the chief of a race of tall, skinny, four armed alien warriors. At first intrigued by Carter, Tarkas and his people become divided over what to do with the new arrival. This becomes further complicated when airships arrive and begin a massive gunbattle. Carter immediately leaps into action with his newfound ability which quickly gains the attention of Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), princess of the city of Helium.
It is learned that Princess Dejah is being forced to marry an evil warlord who possesses an awesome destructive ability and is using it to subjugate all those he encounters. Desperate to save their city, the princess is offered up to appease the warlord. Naturally this does not sit well with the free-spirited and feisty princess and before long she and John Carter find themselves united in their quest to save Helium. Despite his reluctance to get involved and fight, Carter realizes the princess may be his only way to get home.
A stranger in a strange land, with danger all around him, John Carter takes his audience on an epic adventure. Despite having little star power, the movie works exceptionally well with amazing special effects. The CGI used to create the various alien characters infuses them with personality and vitality rarely seen in artificially created characters. The film is visually spectacular from the legions of aliens locked in combat, to the stark splendor of the planet and its inhabitants.
Even though the film was presented in converted 3-D which, as many of you will know has long been a very touchy subject with me, the final product was actually better than most conversions. While it was nowhere near the quality of films shot in 3-D, it nonetheless offered an immersive quality to epic battle scenes and did not rely on the gimmicky trick of trying to make things pop out of the screen in order to sell the film.
Kitsch does a great job handling the action of the film and manages to interact with his CGI costars in a believable enough manner to establish as much chemistry with them as he did with the flesh and blood Collins. Although some moments of the film drag, it does have enough action to sustain the nearly two-hour runtime with a touch of humor and romance thrown in for good measure.
I first became aware of the film a year ago at the D23 Expo when Disney showed a few clips and had Kitsch, Collins and Dafoeon hand to promote the pending release. While intriguing, I did not see anything that really made the film stand out as a must-see. I am very happy to say that upon seeing the completed film, the scenes that were shown to us not only had even greater effects in the finished product but were also much more entertaining and dynamic once shown within the full context of the story line.
Director Andrew Stanton, who has made a name for himself with his animated films at Pixar, skillfully blends live-action and CGI to create a very energetic and enjoyable action-adventure film that was a very pleasant surprise.
While the acting, character development, and plot are nothing spectacular in and of themselves, they combined well and set the stage effectively for what should be a series of John Carter films in the future.
3.5 stars out of 5