Supposedly the character of John Carter, a post-American Civil War adventurer, has resonance for some people. If you are one of them, please step forward and make yourself known. You might be able to explain the mess that is the motion picture made from Carter's exploits.
Everything wrong with big studio moviemaking today can be found in the new fantasy saga "John Carter." The film is bloated, laughable, poorly written, directed as if by a robot, sent into theaters in fake 3D, and features main characters who wear little, if any clothing. And yes, effective immediately, when a movie is not actually shot in 3D but is presented in 3D, I'm going to call the process fake. "John Carter" has been released in something called Disney Digital 3D.
For the uninitiated among you, fake means the 3D effects were created after the picture was made, in some sort of cinematic version of Frankenstein's laboratory using computers and who knows what else.
What's "real 3D"? Well, that would be making a motion picture using 3D cameras, as with Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and James Cameron's "Avatar."
And, to add insult to injury, because movie exhibition chains and the studios want to rip you off, most of the showings will be in 3D, which means a higher ticket price for you. Oh sure, a multiplex might have a 2D presentation in one of its lesser theaters, but the start times won't be conducive to most people's moviegoing schedules. Try only one show 4 p.m. at one complex, or perhaps only at 6:30 and 9:30 at another.
American moviegoers are being played for suckers.
I have no complaints if a 3D film is worth the extra box office cost, as with the aforementioned "Avatar" and "Hugo." But, believe me, "John Carter" isn't worth the price of a 2D movie.
The film is based on a novel entitled "A Princess Of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the celebrated Tarzan series. The book was originally published as a magazine serial. Back in the early 1900s, readers were fascinated by all things Martian. Burroughs was inspired by the theoretical work of astronomer Percival Lowell, who wrote that Mars was a stark planet comprised of a desolate environment.
These kinds of pulp fiction books captivated readers. The idea of a planet that was a foreboding red desert but which might sustain grotesque creatures and even some kind of human race was exciting to folks. Imaginations ran wild. The movie captures none of the thrill of this kind of discovery.
John Carter is a Confederate Civil War veteran who has gone west to find a new life for himself. Thanks to a kind of Native American trickery, because you know, in movies, Indians of the Old West were always up to trickery, Carter, searching for gold, enters a cave that contains a teleportation system. He ends up on Mars, which is here called Barsoom.
Well, it turns out that this planet is having its own civil war. Two groups of inhabitants are battling each other. When he isn't leaping like a deranged lizard because of Barsoom's gravitational components, Carter becomes enamored of a beautiful princess who is supposed to marry someone not of her tribe or species or mountaintop or whatever you want to call him. Carter then jumps into the political mayhem like a locust on steroids. He wants to be with the princess and live happily ever after on Barsoom. That's the story, and yes, it's as thin as it sounds.
The movie is directed by Andrew Stanton as if he believes cluttering the frame with scantily clad people and weird creatures and oddball automatons (or whatever they are) moving hither and yon at a breathless pace is what directing is all about.
The film's central love story has the emotional heft of two turnips mooning over each other on a supermarket shelf. Stanton, who had success with "Toy Story" and "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo," has trouble directly flesh-and-blood people.
The trite and infantile screenplay is written by Stanton, Mark Andrews, and novelist Michael Chabon, of all people. Too many scenes do not advance the plot.
Of course, everything is hampered by the fellow who plays Carter. The actor is Taylor Kitsch. Remember that name well, because he will soon be nothing more than a trivia question on "Jeopardy."
Kitsch acts solely with his muscles, which are in constant view because he stomps around the movie wearing a loin cloth and little else. Truth be told, Kitsch needs to spend less time at the gym and more time at a Tom Todoroff acting seminar.
Lynn Collins, who plays Princess Dejah, has little to do except be a siren and a spitfire. She's not too believable at it. For some, even cliches are tough to do. Occasionally, she strains to look as if she wants to cast a spell, but it comes across as nothing more than silly Dejah voodoo.
For what little it delivers, "John Carter" is far too long at two and a quarter hours. On every level, it looks cheesy. Furry creatures are furry creatures be they Muppets or motorized screaming machines. A roar is still just a roar. And here's a shocker, the announced budget of the film is $250,000,000. Word is that it went much higher. Where on earth did the money go? There are a few shiny and interesting visual elements here and there, but the seemingly endless onslaught of angry, dreary and markedly superficial four-legged people or six-legged people or eight-legged people -- I lost count -- wears you out. Even monsters need to project a little sincerity.
In 2006, we had "Friends With Money." Last year, we had "Friends With Benefits." Now we've got "Friends With Kids," and these kids are going to cost a lot of money and might not be beneficial if they decide to turn against their parents one sullen afternoon. In a by-now tiresome yuppie wonderland, three couples share a friendship that includes visits to each other in their respective -- and charming -- Manhattan and Brooklyn apartments.
Two of the couples are married with children. The other couple discusses having a child to share, but without actually getting wed to each other. The kid will be treated like a cup of sugar. The partners will each borrow the child for a day or two.
If this sounds like a lame excuse to have a baby, you are smarter than the woman behind this lightly comic, but hardly fresh or invigorating movie. She's Jennifer Westfeldt, and she produced, directed, wrote and acts in "Friends With Kids."
I admire her determination to make her film as she wanted to. The problem is that once you get past the introduction of the characters, there's not much else going on.
The married folks are Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig, as well as Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd. Westfeldt herself is the woman connected to the unmarried duo. The guy is played by Adam Scott.
Overall, the acting is fine, the direction OK, and the story innocuous. There are no surprises. And, memo to Ms. Westfeldt: Do you really think that in 2012, explosive diarrhea in a diaper is going to surprise anyone? "Three Men And A Baby," anyone? Everyone?
Seriously, that tired cinematic canard just points out how unoriginal your creativity is. It's not only a prime example of "been there, done that." It's in the Hall Of Fame.
"Pina" is a superb feature about Pina Bausch, the celebrated modern dance choreographer from Germany. The movie was directed by Wim Wenders in true 3D and features the dancers of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, which is comprised of colleagues of Bausch, who died in 2009 just a few days before production on the film was to begin. The work was to be a collaboration between Wenders and Bausch.
Wenders is brilliant at capturing Bausch's spirit and at combining documentary and fictional elements as the dancers recreate some of Bausch's striking dance pieces.
Visually, the movie is stunning. Some of the dances are performed in unusual, out-of-the-way places. The words of the dancers, as they talk about their mentor, are emotional, uplifting, and sometimes surprising.
After Bausch died, Wenders was going to cancel the project. The members of her troupe of dancers convinced him to make the film. Her philosophy of life is compressed into the movie's tag-line: "Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost."
"Pina" was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary at the recent Academy Awards. It deserved the honor.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 13 2012|