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Review – John Carter (2012) by Jamie

John Carter has one of the most troubled histories in all of cinema. It’s long and storied past began all the way back in 1931 when Bob Clampett, a director of Looney Tunes, approached then still alive author Edgar Rice Burroughs with a proposition to turn his book ‘A Princess of Mars’ into an animated feature. Unfortunately test footage of this adaptation proved unfulfilling to a nation and MGM decided to make live action Flash Gordon serials instead. Throughout the decades the rights to the book would pass to Disney and Paramount with each attempt at an adaptation proving unsuccessful until Disney finally began filming in 2010. So yes, nearly 80 years of development hell is quite an achievement.

John Carter’s problems were far from over however. In 2011 Disney lost a lot of money on a film called ‘Mars Needs Moms’ and seemed to decide that the problem with that film was the inclusion of the word Mars in the title never stopping to think that a film titled Unidentified Planet Needs Moms would probably have done even worse. So the originally proposed title for the film John Carter of Mars was truncated to simply John Carter, a title which, if you knew nothing of the history of the project or its source material, would leave you thinking you were going to see a film about a man with a decidedly average name and nothing else. Marketing! The film was finally released in the early spring of 2012 and, according to some reports, lost Disney somewhere in the region of 160 million dollars.

So how was it that a film based on source material that inspired everything from Flash Gordon to Star Wars could be such a massive flop? Let’s take a look.

The story concerns one John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former confederate soldier who has taken to prospecting since the end of the civil war. Whilst trying to escape the US cavalry who want a man of his experience to help them fight Apaches, he gets in a fight with a mysterious man with a mysterious medallion and said mysterious medallion whisks him away to a planet that the natives call Barsoom but which we know as Mars. It is a dying planet were disparate city-states (and half the cast of BBC/HBO’s Rome) fight each other for domination. There are the red skinned, human-like cities of Helium and Zodanga, Helium being the good but losing side and the Zodanga the evil but winning side thanks to there Jeddak (leader) Sab Than (Dominic West) mysteriously attaining a powerful weapon. There are also the four-armed, green skinned Tharks led by Jeddak Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), who I guess are the noble savages who seem to remain as neutral as possible during this civil war. Because it’s an allegory, you see.

On Mars, John Carter has incredible strength and leaping abilities because of his anatomy and the gravitational differences between the two planets and so, whilst really just wanting to get home, he eventually gets embroiled in the conflict when the Princess of Helium (Because apparently they have a special word for king or leader but not Princess) Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) runs away after her father promises her in marriage to Sab Than in an effort to end the war. All the while the progress and outcome of the war is being place by a mystical race of space-faring immortals called the Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who gave Sab Than his mysterious weapon and prevented Helium from discovering the same technology for themselves. Oh, and the whole plot is book ended with the story being told to Edgar Rice Burroughs as he reads his Uncle John Carter’s diary.

As you may be able to see from that synopsis, the plot is a bit bloated and convoluted. I mean it’s not Star Wars prequels with endless scenes of political maneuvering bad but it’s a little flabby around the waist. It seems as though there’s a pretty simple plot in there but it’s overly complicated which work to the films detriment because it seems as though it never really knows who it’s target audience is. There will be moments of comedy involving Carter discovering his amazing leaping abilities or a really fast stubby penis-dog (that is seriously the only way I can describe the character of Woola) or an action scene involving John Carter fighting four-armed, white furred King Kongs in an arena but then there’s also long scenes involving the religion of Mars or the weird technology called the ninth ray. Add these things all together and you get a bit of a disjointed mess that may work well in a book which can take as long as it wants to explain things but in a two hour film you need decide where to trim or your left with things which seem important but are never really satisfactorily explained. To be fair, I’m sure some of the hanging threads in this film would have been explored in sequels but, well, that’s not going to happen now.

Now, I should take a moment here to say that the movie itself isn’t actually terrible. It kept me decently entertained and it looks very, very pretty with some great special effects. The main problem with the film is the source material. As I said earlier, Burroughs’ Mars books have been massively influential on pretty much the entirety of science fiction that came after them. As a result the film seems a bit unoriginal. There’s not much here that we haven’t seem before which is a shame since the books were probably the originator of some of these tropes. We’ve seen an alien out of his element with increased strength and jumping abilities fight to save his adopted planet before. We’ve seen an evil emperor with devastatingly destructive technology before. We’ve seen space princesses, four armed aliens and people fighting for their lives against alien beasts in arenas before. The sad truth is that everything that John Carter sets out to do has been done in film time and time again because the books influenced those very films.

Still, as I say, it’s a decently entertaining film of waste a couple of hours two and perhaps the thing that annoyed me most was the framing device of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sticking him in there isn’t going to make me believe that the books are an actual history of events that actually took place Disney. It worked with Bilbo writing his story in The Lord of the Rings because it just did for some reason. Weirdly it doesn’t work as well in The Hobbit. Can’t adaptations of books just be that without throwing in all this meta-bullshit? I can’t help but feel as though it’s some kind of reverence for the age of books as we progress further and further into a digital world but the reason Burroughs’ books should be revered is because they’re good and because they influenced an entire genre of humanity’s collected fiction not because they tell a secret history of events that actually transpired.

So John Carter is, in the end, a watchable film that does nothing particularly new but isn’t as stupendously awful as it’s box office failure would have you believe. I honestly think that removing Mars from the title was a reason for it‘s failure because who wants to see a film called John Carter? It could be about an accountant or a mechanic or a tramp or anything.Anyway 2.5 out of 5. Laterz and let’s just hope Disney doesn’t plan on releasing any other space opera films with princesses and warring factions and decide that the sci-fi element isn’t what will sell it… Oh. Damn. Well, I guess we can all look forward to Wars: Episode VII in 2015!

johncarter

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Review: Green Lantern by Jamie

In the interest of keeping this thing spoiler-free, this will be a short review. However, if you‘ve seen the film or don‘t care about spoilers then I recommend this site for a pretty damn funny summary which concisely lists every criticism I have as well.

I’ve come pretty late to the whole Green Lantern thing. In general I find Marvel’s Universe far more interesting and the only DC character I’ve had a really strong interest in has been Batman because he’s fucking Batman. Green Lantern always seemed, well, kinda lame to me. Didn’t really understand a great deal about the character except that he had a magical ring and he didn’t like the colour yellow. Still I decided it was time to rectify that situation and so I read the Sinestro Corps Wars and the war between all the colours that followed as well as a little bit of Blackest Night and I was quite surprised by the whole thing. I liked the concept of the whole ‘space cops’ thing and the emotional spectrum (although willpower is absolutely in no way an emotion).

So I had a little bit of background and some understanding of the Green Lantern universe when I went in to see the film starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond and Mark Strong as Sinestro, the most subtlely named character in the history of fiction until the Decepticons came along. And let me tell you right now, I am glad I had that slight bit of background because I honestly don’t know how you’d have a fucking clue as to what’s going on in this film if you didn’t. The films opens with a short bit about how and why the Lantern Corps were formed and after that things are just pretty much shown or stated to be a certain way and you just kinda have to accept it. I’m not saying the film should stop and explain in excruciating detail why things are the way they are in the Green Lantern universe but not just being thrown into the deep end would probably be nice.

Now, when I first saw the movie, I didn’t think it was really deserved the critical nut shot it seemed to be getting. Sure, the film was flawed but not nearly as flawed as people said and I originally chalked this up to people perhaps not having the little bit of background that I had gone into the film with but since that time I’ve kind of rethought a few things and, whilst I still don’t think it’s as terrible as has been reported, I do think it’s a more flawed film than I originally did.

For one, the best part of the film was probably the stuff on Oa and I was certainly pissed off with how little of that stuff there was. Hal’s training seems to consist of three lessons which I suppose is all it takes to understand how to responsibly use a weapon with practically limitless destructive power. Compare the way that “Thor” balanced the scenes of Earth and Asgard to the way this film did things and you’ll see why Thor is a much more highly regarded film.

Also, considering this film is supposed to be about a superhero, Hal isn’t particularly heroic. There are scenes where he does nothing to help anyone until the girl he wants to fuck’s life is in danger, scenes where he’s hanging around waiting to stop the villain whilst the villain tortures and kills people and in the scene where he first discovers his power, he isn’t trying to save a baby from traffic or an elderly woman from a terrible fall, no he’s fighting outside a bar with men who he got fired earlier that day due to his own reckless actions. Sure the guys started on him and the first giant emerald fist he generated was accidental but still, to continue beating up these guys with your magical space ring considering you ruined their lives is the height of douchiness.

Ok, I can already feel myself wanting to get into spoilers. In fact, I‘ll give one here but in white text so it will be unreadable if you don‘t highlight it. Why does Sinestro take the yellow ring at the end of the film? I understand that it’s to set up the sequel but at no point during the film did he ever seem anything but an honourable, upstanding member of the Green Lantern Corps. Maybe a hint that something else was going on with Sinestro would have been good but no. Instead we just get a completely 180 degree character turn for no reason other than the need to set up a sequel. Terrible. At the end of the day, Green Lantern is an interesting concept that should have been handled far, far better than it was. I was expecting a film about a group of space cops, defending the universe with as little time spent on Earth as was necessary. Instead what I got felt a kind of crappy, bog standard superhero film. The scenes on Oa almost felt like they were an afterthought, something that the filmmakers felt they had to put in to appease fans and in order to set up their sequel. In the end, Green Lantern gets 2.5 pints out of 5

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Review: Kick Ass by Jamie

Every once in a while a film comes along that defines where we are as a shared culture in the Western world. ‘Kick Ass’ is not that film. ‘The Dark Knight’ possibly is. A grim, pessimistic comic book film about a terrorist loose in a major city and the heroes who seem almost powerless to stop him. Though ‘Kick Ass’ is not that film, it is still fucking awesome.

There, I’ve pretty much shot my load already and revealed exactly what I thought about this film. Go see it and thanks for stopping by… No, I suppose we should get further into it. Ok, so ‘Kick Ass’ is about a guy who thinks the same thing that I’m sure most superhero fans have thought throughout their lives, why is it that no one has decided to dress up and just be a superhero? Unfortunately the sad fact is that people have already decided to do that and I’ll let you judge just how ‘super’ they are from this news clip:

Despite that the premise is still solid. Dave Lipetsk (Aaron Johnson) is the character who has this thought and, one wetsuit purchase from eBay later, becomes the titular superhero Kick Ass. He doesn’t have any superpowers to speak of, just his disguise, a couple of clubs and an ambition to help those in need. Naturally things don’t go well and, on his first attempt at stopping crime, he is stabbed and hit by a car landing him with six weeks in hospital, metal reinforcements to his skeleton and damaged nerve endings which allow him to take beatings a little better. He also makes the medics who take him in to promise not to tell anyone about his costume leading to people believing he was found naked which then leads to a rumour being spread around his high school that he is gay. Sounds bad but it actually allows him to get closer to the girl he’s always had a crush on, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), who has always wanted a gay friend.

As the film goes on Kick Ass really becomes more of a secondary character and the plot focuses more on Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year old daughter Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) who take on the personas of costumed vigilantes Big Daddy and Hit-Girl in order to take violent revenge on Mafia Boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). And by violent revenge I do mean violent. Limbs fly, shotguns are fired directly into heads at point blank range and all manner of other marvellously over the top deaths are portrayed on screen. Make no mistake, Big Daddy and Hit-Girl make this fucking film.

I’m not gonna go much further into plot for fear of spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it. So let’s just focus on a few of the details, performances and even the controversies surrounding this film. Let’s begin with that man I’ve certainly had my fair share of problems with in the past, Nicolas Cage. Nicolas Cage is really doing annoyingly well these days and fair play to him. It’s annoying because it makes continuing on with my video series ‘Cage Rage’ talking about how terrible Cage is really difficult. That’s two films now that Cage has been awesome in lately, this and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Seriously Nic, what the fuck? You’re the only actor I know who does better films when he’s desperate for money.

So what of his actual performance, I hear you ask. Well, let’s just say that he manages to make you believe that he is a character who is clearly abusing his child through the way he is bringing her up in order to be a lethal, tiny assassin and yet he really, truly loves her. It’s just that his world view has been so warped by the events that have occurred that the only way he really knows how to express his love is by raising his daughter in this fashion. Also when in costume he does a brilliant Adam West-esque voice that is a joy to sit back and watch. Also I can see myself quoting the line ‘Oh Child, you always knock me for a loop!’ for some time.

Now to the most controversial character in the film, Hit-Girl as played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Yes she’s an eleven year old, yes she slices and dices villains with incredible ease and yes she utters the word ‘Cunt.’ Now a certain film reviewer in a certain British newspaper (Christopher Tookey of The Daily Mail) has also made certain claims that the film sexualises this 11 year old. Frankly I can help but be somewhat concerned about Mr Tookey if he was in anyway sexually aroused by this little girl in the least sexual superhero costume I’ve ever seen on a female character from comics. He also mentions that the girl also appears dressed in a school girl outfit with pig-tails. Dear God! Someone of a school going age wearing a school girl outfit! Someone alert the people who deal with this sort of thing!

He also mentions the mental abuse that Hit Girl goes through at the hands of her father. Well, Mr. Tookey, might I point out some examples of Superhero’s doing this sort of thing to younger sidekicks throughout the entire history of comics. Green Arrow and Speedy, Captain America and Bucky and perhaps the most popular superhero duo who have been gracing the comics since 1940, Batman and Robin. You’re really going to tell me that Bruce Wayne taking the freshly traumatised Dick Grayson under his leather wing and putting him in harms way on a regular basis isn’t tantamount to some kind of child abuse. Kick Ass is just as much a commentary on that stalwart of the genre as it is an entertaining action flick.

It manages to pastiche and reference the world of comics throughout it’s running time which makes sense given the nature of the film. When Kick Ass first begins training for his new role as a crime fighter there are several direct references to the first ‘Spider-man’ film where Peter Parker is first experimenting with his powers. One scene in particular stands out. Remember that scene where Tobey Maguire becomes a weird computer game character and begins leaping from roof-top from roof-top? Well, Kick Ass is about to do the same thing, running right up to the edge of the roof before stopping and deciding not to go through with it. There’s even references to ‘Scarface’ and the original Tim Burton ‘Batman’ film. It’s a geeks dream.

It is most important to remember though that the characters in ‘Kick Ass’ aren’t just carbon copies of characters we’ve seen in other comic book films. This isn’t ‘Superhero Movie 2’. The characters are actually well-rounded, well written and each have genuinely engaging and believable motivations for the actions they take. It’s kind of a spoof of the comic book genre in the same way that ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ was a spoof of the zombie genre. Yes it’s taking a few pot-shots at the genre but it’s lovingly done and with an actual story and actual characters. And that’s why you should go an see it. Four and A Half Pints out of Five. Laterz.




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