John Carter Review
Review # 146
Director – Andrew Stanton
Cast – Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Cirian Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, James Purefoy
After Brad Bird’s excellent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the bar was set for Andrew Stanton. Another prominent Pixar director who was making the switch to live action, Stanton had found success with his Finding Nemo and Wall-E, two little films you just may have heard of. His entry to the live action realm is John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic sci-fi book A Princess of Mars. Featuring a Civil War veteran mysteriously transported to Mars, the book is a widely loved and admired piece of work. It is a pity that the movie is set to be anything but. Critics have been lukewarm at best towards it, and it has been savaged by the industry for its alleged massive budget. I doesn’t look to be gaining much of it back, either. Even comparisons to Ishtar have been made. Ouch.
Maybe the whole situation was just made worse by Bird’s excellent film preceding this by mere months. It built up expectations that in the end just couldn’t pay off. While Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was witty, fast, and delivered exactly what it promised, John Carter is dry, derivative, and dull. Very, very dull.
The key issue is the writing, frankly. It’s expositional, stiff, and all about plot. We can’t get good characterization if every line is “We must get over there!”, or “The good guys have the blue flag, the bad guys the red!”. Several different Mars factions are shown, from humanoids to 9-feet tall four armed aliens. None of their motivations are extremely clear. Mark Strong heads one group, so they must be the bad guys. Poor Mark Strong, you do something well and that’s all they’ll hire you to do…
It doesn’t help that Taylor Kitcsh is miscast as the titular character, and growls out every line as if imitating Christian Bale’s Batman voice. “I am JOHN CARTER!” The strange voices aren’t limited to him though; Lilly Collins has an affected British accent that comes and goes with every other line. James Purefoy and Dominic West come out unscathed, as do the special effects team. In fact the special effects are excellent. The production design and the effects are without a doubt the best thing in the movie. The 3D is pointless though. Even Stanton has said he didn’t really want it or like it.
John Carter is dull, muddled, and at least half an hour too long. Characterization is flat and uninteresting, and while it does have a couple laughs and half way interesting moments (the sequence near the beginning where John is repeatedly arrested is a sign of where the movie could have gone), the rest of the movie is dry as dust. Not recommended for any but sci-fi addicts.
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The Iron Lady Review
Director – Phyllida Lloyd
Cast – Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Iain Glen, Olivia Colman, Anthony Head, Nicholas Farrell, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Michael Pennington
The Iron Lady features Meryl Streep in an Academy Award winning role as the legendary (and to some, infamous) British Prime Minister. Streep is excellent. So is her makeup. And that’s all that works, really.
If I was feeling vicious I might say the movie is ridiculous, and that a dull pencil has more of a point. If I was feeling generous I might say that the movie lacks focus. As it is, I will just say that I was by turns bored, frustrated, and bored again.
In attempting to follow Thatcher’s life, we jump back and forth from the present (where, in a shockingly insensitive plot device, she constantly hallucinates images of her dead husband), to the past, where we get a bare thumbnail sketch of what made her the woman she became; and what we are given is composed of very broad strokes, I must add. Her father was politically conscious and a Conservative, so of course we see him addressing a group of similar feeling folk with a speech straight out of Torie 101. We constantly hear his face over the film in these sections… “Be Strong, Margaret,” “Be yourself, Margaret.” The platitudes do not let up as we continue, either.
Once we reach the stage in her flashbacks when she is prime minster, the movie falls into a rut of scenes in the past alternating between crushing political defeats and uplifting Great Moments (you know what I mean, the moments from which trailers can cherry pick to their heart’s content), to Margaret hobbling around her small flat, hallucinating that her old hubby is still around, charming her with his eccentricities. There really is no point, nor is one ever implied. I found myself yearning for something resembling a through line, but there is nothing, not amongst the plot, the films comments on Thatcher, her governing style, the era, nothing. The Iron Lady is essentially the emotional equivalent of a Transformers film; while the latter may bore us with repetitive and dull action scenes, the former hits us over the head with one dry, manipulative, and dull Emotional Moment after another.
How is Meryl Streep so good, yet is so rarely able to choose projects worthy good as her talents? This film, a period drama biopic, was for some reason helmed by Phyllia Lloyd, the same person as Mamma Mia. Mamma Mia… the ABBA musical. The ABBA musical that also somehow managed to be dry as dust and absolutely pointless. Are we supposed to like Margaret Thatcher? To hate her? To see her as just a human being? I don’t think the movie knows or cares, and by the last of the sugar-coated Great Moments, our teeth are numb, we feel listless, and we don’t care either.
The Iron Lady is frustratingly inept, but has a commanding performance by Meryl Streep. Actually, most of the actors acquit themselves well, but a lame duck of a script and muddled direction stop the movie from becoming anything. It is mainly frustrating because the motives behind the movie are so obviously pure. I can really only recommend this to Streep purists.
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The Train Robbers
Director – Burt Kennedy
Cast – John Wayne, Ann-Margaret, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson, Ricardo Montalban
I didn’t realize how late in life John Wayne kept making westerns; apparently he kept right on going right up to a couple of years before his death. I guess the John Wayne western movie was such an American institution he couldn’t stop making them any more than Old Faithful could stop gushing.
In The Train Robbers, a tired and derivative movie, he plays a gritty and authoritative man who recruits some old friends to hunt down stolen gold, which belongs to a woman whose husband was shot keeping the hiding place secret. These old and tired men stroll through a few miles of the American West to find the case of gold, “pursued” by a band of 20 men who aim to steal it from Wayne and Co. once it is discovered. This results in a gunfight or two (actually, I think literally just two), by which time we find the indomitable American hero at a train station, where he dynamites three buildings to take care of 4 or 5 straggling baddies.
It is a strange thing, but this final sequence is probably the best in the whole movie, and the final scene (in which a nice little twist is revealed) is actually wonderful. It’s a pity that the rest of the movie is so bland, boring, and just plain dull. I haven’t seen a movie this empty of vim and vigour in ages. It is as if the aging John Wayne (he was 66 at the time of filming) sapped the whole production of all energy. Quite frankly, the role (and even this type of movie) was quite unsuited to John Wayne by this point in his life. Did he continue with the same type of roles because that was all he knew? Probably.
What makes it worse is that there is nothing blatantly wrong with the story as is. It could have been fairly interesting; perhaps with some more focus on the tension between Wayne and his friends, or with more focus on Ricardo Montalban’s mysterious character, who follows both groups through the western sands. The movie just doesn’t have an iota of dramatic energy, and we merely end up with a bland feeling of vague disinterest. If only some chances were taken here, any chances at all to make it more interesting or give it a sense of urgency. Some better editing would have gone a long way. How do you have the legendary Duke in a gunfight over $50,000 in gold against 4 to 1 odds and have it be boring?
The Train Robbers has a decent movie buried inside it, but is smothered by an aging star who is unfit for the role, and by a total lack of urgency and suspense. Perhaps I am biased, as I’m not known for loving westerns, but I couldn’t get into this movie in the least. Maybe someone accustomed to the genre would have better luck. Maybe.
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Director – Scott Charles Stewart
Cast – Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh,Tyrese Gibson, Willa Holland, Charles S. Dutton, Kevin Durand, Adrianne Palicki, Jon Tenney, Doug Jones
This particular story follows a group of people stuck in a roadside diner during the apocalypse. Not just any apocalypse, this is The Apocalypse. God has decided that Mankind has once again fallen from a position of grace, and He must wipe them out, ala The Great Flood. But no natural disaster will do this time (perhaps God has had enough of Roland Emmerich films too), and he decides to take us all out with zombies; and yes, God hates slow zombies too.
An infected sinner may expect to find their teeth rapidly sharpen, their eyes look like a stoner’s, and may even find they can walk up walls and onto the ceiling. An outside wall appears to be a different matter however, especially if there is a main character on the roof. Apparently they can only walk up walls on the inside of a house. It’s all in the fine print.
But there is hope! The child of one of the embattled survivors is… is… well, it’s actually never said what he is, but we are told over and over again that he is the “Only Hope”, that he “wasn’t meant to be born”. This is explained to us by an ex-angel (Paul Bettany) who was told to kill the baby, but disagreed with God and now fights with the survivors. For defying God he has lost his wings, but we know he is good because he wears a white trench coat, instead of the black ones worn by the other angels. Yet we never know who or what the child is… it’s kind of annoying.
The ending could not be more open-ended, but the problem here is that we have so many questions about the movie we just saw that to promise another is ridiculous. We want questions answered now, not in the next movie. I don’t know whether they were actually planning a sequel, but it felt like it. Frankly, we all like seeing Paul Bettany get some work, but a sequel to this wouldn’t be worth it.
I will give Legion brownie points for trying. There is no campiness here; everything is treated with the utmost sincerity. Unfortunately, that approach led to the other extreme. We have numerous boring monologue scenes that do nothing towards advancing the plot or, it could be argued, enriching the characters; we have a tone that starts at depressingly dingy and gets consistently worse; and we have angels that dress like fetish enthusiasts and apparently attend marksmanship and martial arts courses.
If I have to mention some good things about the movie, I would say that one particular sequence involving an ambush at some gas pumps was actually fairly exciting, until the incident with the child, which crossed a line for me. Those who have seen the movie will know what I mean; those who don’t may be able to guess at what type of thing I am referring. Dennis Quaid is quite good here, playing a role that would be expected of a lesser known character actor, and Charles S. Dutton is very likable as a hook handed cook.
Paul Bettany seems to be heading into B-movie territory, which is a huge pity, because he is a talented man. He was great in those two Russell Crowe movies Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and A Beautiful Mind, and more than hold his won against his forceful co-star. I wish his star had risen a bit higher to be honest. He deserves more than this kind of thing.
Legion is a dingy, dark, and joyless action/horror movie. Its cast may be much better than the movie deserves, but even they can only do so much. Too many questions are left unanswered, and the many boring monologue scenes stop the movie dead in its tracks. I can’t really think of anyone I would recommend this to.
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Director – Mel Brooks
Cast – Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga
I had always heard of Spaceballs as one of those movies that, while not exactly critically well received, had a great cult fan base. With quotable lines, the trademark Mel Brooks sense of humour, and a shameless willingness to parody, lampoon, and generally mock the great science fiction epics, it is supposedly tailor-made for a nerds love.
Now, I consider myself a nerd. I have seen most, if not all, of the movies referenced in this movie. I like many of Mel Brooks movies. I love Blazing Saddles, and even the musical version of The Producers. Having said all that, I have to say Spaceballs is one of the most distressingly unfunny movies I have ever seen. It has a couple funny bits, I suppose, but nothing on par with the absurdist “Telegram for Mongo!”, or the satire of “Springtime for Hitler”. Heck, it doesn’t even have anything on par with the Blazing Saddles farting scene…
This movie mainly relies on what I call the “Sound-alike Joke”. An example of this dreaded beast is when we see an oozing mass of melted cheese and pepperoni slide into frame and announce himself as “Pizza the Hutt”… or when Lord Dark Helmet says he is a Master of The Schwartz. I suppose we are meant to laugh because Pizza the Hutt sounds like Jabba the Hutt, and The Schwartz like The Force… well, it’s supposed to be funny.
I did find a couple of scenes mildly funny I guess… John Hurt’s chest-burster scene was nice, and there was a fairly well done scene where the bad guys located the good guys by bringing out their own VHS copy of Spaceballs and fast forwarding it to the correct part; and anytime spent riffing on Princess Vespa’s (Leia’s) hair is well spent.
John Candy and Rick Moranis appear, apparently because it’s the 90’s and, well, future archeologists have to be able to date it somehow. Bill Pullman (Paxton? Something like that…) is there as well. Joan Rivers does the voice of Dot Matrix (C-3P0), and this is a blessing; mainly because if you didn’t see her in the credits you might not think of sullying her reputation with this.
Mel Brooks, where have ye gone!? Oh, there you are; walking out on your knees in green face paint and floppy ears, proclaiming yourself to be the great and wise Yogurt…
To put it bluntly I found Spaceballs to be lazy, reliant almost entirely on tired jokes, and it just felt bland and dry. Brooks seems to have lost his energy, his impeccable timing, and apparently his sense of humour. Well, at least we still have The Producers!
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Director – David Mamet
Cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emily Mortimer, Tim Allen, Alice Braga
Redbelt is one of those martial movies which preaches respect, a code of honor, and peaceful solutions, and then climaxes with the main character beating the shit out of someone. Except in this movie after Ejiofor (playing Mike Terry, a Jiu Jitsu black belt) beats the shit out of his opponent (offstage, in the aisle to the arena, in a fight he started) the grand master of Jui Jitsu comes over to him and awards him with a red belt on the spot. This left me… well, perplexed. Actually, I yelled out “What the hell.” Thankfully I saw it at home on DVD, not in a theater.
Actually, come to think of it I bought it for a dollar. So thank God I didn’t spend much money on it.
To get to this point (where Mike beats up several security guards to start a fight and win the heart of a grandmaster), we have to sit through an hour and a half of coincidence, manipulation, and contrivance. The plot is a twisted mess of coincidences that all add up (allegedly) to Mike’s inner turmoil. Mamet (who wrote and directed the movie) throws in everything against Mike; he is faced with a desperate wife, debts piling up, a dishonest and greedy attorney, a corporation stealing Mike’s tournament handicap idea, a friend and pupil committing suicide (seemingly just because the plot required him to leave a bitchy widow)… it just doesn’t stop. We then spend most of the movie waiting for something, anything, to go somewhere.
Nothing does, until it is suggested to Mike that he can end all of his problems by entering a huge Mixed Martial Arts tournament. He does so. That’s the story pretty much. I’d say sweet and simple, but it wasn’t really sweet…
The script, written by such a respected writer as David Mamet, comes across as hackneyed and boring. It turns out that Mamet had been training in Jiu Jitsu for several years before making the movie, and had been suggesting to friends they should do a “Jiu Jitsu movie” for ages. This comes across as a bit egotistical, and would explain the lackluster nature of the whole thing.
Redbelt comes across as not much more than a vanity project. It is overly complicated and full of contrived plot turns that are reminiscent of soap operas. Chiwetel Ejiofor is probably the only person to come out of this unscathed. His characterization is practically the only thing that keeps the movie going. Some of the other actors are just awful. Tim Allen skated through his role, and Ricky Jay sounds like a high school drama student. This is the great Mamet???
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Fantastic Four: Extended Cut REVIEW
Director – Tim Story
Cast – Ioan Gruffund, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon
Fantastic Four starts out well. That’s pretty much the best I can say about it.
The beginning had me interested; it was snappy, fun, and was all about the fun and awe that a superhero comic book may have given. Chris Evans perfectly embodied the brash hot shot who becomes the Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis was deserving of our sympathy as The Thing. After that… if you’ve ever wondered what a superhero soap opera would look like, this is it.
The movie focuses on the characters, not action, which in theory is admirable. Too many movies, especially superhero movies, focus on action over content.
However while this movie does have some interesting points, it treats its emotions with cliche and all the subtelty of a sledgehammer. And it’s BORING. This is coming from a guy who puts 2001: A Space Odyssey ( an extremely slow-paced 2 hr 20 min) and Lawrence of Arabia (3.5 hours) as being two of the best movies ever made. How does a movie about a stretchy man, a human flying fireball, an invisible woman, and a troll-like rock of a man end up boring? By helming a superhero movie with the same director as Taxi (Tomatometer of 11%), that’s how.
To put it simply, throughout the whole movie I was dying for an action scene. But when we are served up an action scene or two it is either over too fast, full of bad CG (as in whenever Mr. Fantastic stretches), or just, again, boring.
Fantastic Four tried to do a good thing by focusing on its characters, but in the end its heavy handed treatment of such drags the whole thing down. While its opening is snappy and fun, all energy is quickly lost. Add in a cookie cutter visual design and villian, and this movie is sunk.
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Director – Guy Hamilton
Cast – Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee
— follows From Russia With Love
— followed by Thunderball
James Bond returns in the third of the series. Goldfinger features the villianous Auric Goldfinger, a gold collector, who plans to rob Fort Knox itself. (Or does he?) He is a large British man who speaks with a German accent and wears yellow clothes. And has a yellow gun. And car. You get the picture, he’s obsessed with gold. He is brouht to Bond’s attention by the CIA, who suspect him of smuggling gold from country to country in an effort to raise its value. (Or something. It’s not very clear.) Bond follows him around many exotic locales and beds a couple women (all in a days work; not bloody likely) and logically discovers that Auric Goldfinger is up to his gold tipped collar in treasonous and diabolical plots. You’d think the name would have given him a clue that something was up….
There are 2 thinks I liked about this movie.
1) The famous scene where Auric Goldfinger straps Bond to a table and points a laser at his crotch. This scene is remarkably tense and riveting(despite the innumerable parodies that have come in between) and the effects work is top notch. Keep in mind they actually had to physically accomplish the effect of a laser cutting through metal. There was a documentary included on the DVD which explained it and it’s quite fascinating. Sean Connery’s face throughout is priceless. We see a suave spy, yes; but a suave spy who will soon be childless at the very least.
Which brings me to # 2. There is a shot (a single shot) which shows Bond’s car whipping through a factory. It was shot ( I believe) from a camera car directly in front of Bond’s car. I think they may have sped the frame rate up; but if they did it is practically the only time I have ever seen that effect used without looking ghastly. It is a great shot, reminiscent of the car chases in Ronin or The Bourne Identity. It is years ahead of its time and it quite shocked me when I saw it.
The rest is… well, awful. Sean Connery looks just plain bored, and the film is slow, ridiculous, and horribly edited. How can we expect to be thrilled when Bond spends half the movie sitting and amicably chatting with the villian? That might have worked in another movie, but not here. This movie has almost no drive whatsoever.
The amateur mistakes are shocking. There is one scene, for example, when Bond is in his car and a baddie has a gun to his head. He speeds up rapidly, does a quick turn to face in the other direction, and then fires off the ejector seat that Mr. Baddie is sitting in. This takes literally 3 or 4 seconds of screen time, yet the bad guy not only does nothing the whole time, but we are specifically shown him sitting there and do nothing!
The special effects are awful; and while I know we’re supposed to just “go along for the ride”, and while I know that they didn’t have the special or physical effects available to us now, there is a point where a bad movie is just a bad movie. If they couldn’t do a shot well with their limited special effects work, they should have written something else to happen. For example From Russia With Love (the previous movie in the series) gave us plenty of tension and action without resorting to ridiculously cheap-looking rear projection and effects. Why couldn’t they have done that here?
Goldfinger is a bored and tired affair, with a tired and bored villian to match. There are a couple iconic moments scattered throughout, but they are not worth the long wait and awful special effects to get to them. Only Bond completists would want to re-watch this, goodness knows I won’t.
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