REVIEW: JOHN CARTER (2012)

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JOHN CARTER (2012)

As a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian Chronicles, I have been waiting for someone to adapt these nearly 100 year-old pulp sci-fi adventures to film since I was a boy. Now after years in development hell, Disney finally brings the adventures of Earth-man John Carter and his adventures on Mars to life. And it’s not quite the classic epic I was hoping for, but definitely not the bomb it’s sadly labeled.

The simply named John Carter takes a lot of liberties with Burroughs’ stories, too many to list here and in result comes up with a tale that is a bit talky and more plot heavy than needed. Burroughs’ books were short, action packed and to the point. So should have John Carter been. The book based story tells of Confederate Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who is whisked unintentionally by a series of events to the planet Mars, where he finds an ally in four-armed, green warrior Tars Tarkus (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and love with beautiful princess Dejah Thoris , who has now graduated from the damsel in distress in the books to also being a scientist and woman warrior here, played by Lynn Collins.

Adaptation is directed by Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) and is not bad. Stanton may have written a lot of dialog scenes, but when there is action, it is fast moving, epic in scale and exciting and he gets good performances out of all his cast. He does set a good pace for a film with an over-complicated plot and he does capture some of the pulp charm nicely in many scenes as well. It‘s too bad he couldn’t follow Burroughs’ lead and keep John Carter a bit simpler and get to the spectacular action a bit sooner. It’s never boring, but there is a lot of traveling back and forth before the plot really gets moving and Carter, with his enhanced abilities due to Mars‘ thinner atmosphere and lesser gravity, gets to the business of saving Mars and his lady love from the devious Therns, who weren’t even in the first John Carter novel A Princess Of Mars. Plot and character development are obviously important, but I still feel the film’s 132 minutes could have been better managed.

Criticisms aside, the film is sumptuously, though somewhat derivative-ly, designed. The SPFX are flawless and spectacular and there is nice atmosphere from Michael Giacchino‘s (Star Trek 2009, Super 8) beautiful score. Stanton does give the film a lot of charm and charm is what makes those century old books it’s based on still so enjoyable. The enormous budget is on screen and despite it’s flaws, the end had me wanting to see more of Carter’s adventures on Barsoom (their name for Mars) as there are 11 books and now that the central characters have all been introduced, we can get right to the fun. And John Carter wasn’t without fun, it just needed a bit more of it and a little less of the politics and conspiracy elements which fill it.

The film also stars Mark Strong as Matai Sheng, Dominic West as Sab Than, James Purefoy as Kantos Kan and a vocal performance by Thomas Hayden Church as Tars Tarkus’ dangerous rival, Tal Hajus. Despite it’s flaws I like John Carter and it has grown on me even more with repeated viewings and it’s status as a box office bomb gives it a bad reputation that it doesn’t really deserve. It’s a good movie, but just not the great one that the source material warranted. But I still recommend you give it a chance if you haven’t seen it.

3 Woolas!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SOLOMON KANE and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

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SOLOMON KANE  (2009)

Solomon Kane is a 16th century set fantasy adventure based on the works of Conan creator, Robert E. Howard. It is the story of bloodthirsty mercenary Captain Solomon Kane (a perfectly cast James Purefoy) who learns during an encounter with a demon that his soul is damned and the devil himself wishes to claim it. Seeking redemption and God’s forgiveness, Kane vows to never again shed the blood of another. But when the forces of the evil sorcerer, Malachi (Jason Flemyng) murder a kind family that took Kane in and kidnap their daughter, Kane picks up his sword and pistols and vows to bathe his path to hell with the blood of Malachi and his followers. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett knows to take his subject matter seriously, so we do and to keep the tone dark yet, injecting just enough melodrama so that it’s entertaining. He paces the film well but, doesn’t go too fast and he has a really good visual style and knows how to frame a shot. Bassett gets really good performances out of his cast including leading man Purefoy, who is great as the tortured soul/hero and small roles from veterans Alice Krige, Pete Postlethwaite and the great Max Von Sydow. Flemyng drips with malice but, Malachi doesn’t get all that much screen time and we’d wish he did to make him truly effective as the villain. The production value is high and the film looks sumptuous, the score by Klaus Bedelt is strong and atmospheric, there is some decent but, not great CGI but, the rest of the visual FX are fine. The climactic battle with Malachi and a Balrog-ish demon could have been a bit longer but, otherwise Solomon Kane is a very entertaining and atmospheric dark fantasy adventure that should keep fans of fantasy and sword and sorcery in their seats and happily occupied. Not perfect, it does show signs of being edited down to move things along a bit quicker but, it is a fun dark fantasy with a healthy dose of horror. Kane was released here in the US last year on VOD and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray!

A solid 3 swords

Solomon rating

plus

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SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

I have to say this flick was a pleasant surprise as Snow White And The Huntsman proves to be a really entertaining and visual stunning version of the classic fairy tale. As the story is a retelling of Snow White, there is no reason to go over the details except to say it is a dark re-telling and there are scenes played almost like a horror film and that was fine with me. First time feature director Rupert Sanders has a sumptuous visual style that aids the movie in every way. The dark scenes are bathed in spooky imagery and the lighter scenes, especially those in “Sanctuary” are absolutely beautiful. Ridely Scott would be proud as I would be surprised if he’s not an influence. Sanders’ pace is a more moderate one, as compared to the fast paced blockbusters of today, he takes his time setting up and telling the story from Evan Daugherty’s script and there is a lot of story told in the 2 hrs plus. I was never bored and there is plenty of well-staged action mixed throughout this tale to entertain and I actually feel the film benefits from not rushing, as we come to like the characters, even those like the dwarves, who only enter a about half way through but are quite charming. The SPFX are flawless with the before mentioned visuals and a large number of CGI created characters which carry weight and have a nice realism. Some of the Sanctuary characters are breathtaking to behold. What helps make all this blend together and work so well, is the cast. Charlize Theron is dripping with sensual malice as evil queen, Ravenna. For the most part, she knows exactly when to show restraint and exactly when to go over the top a bit and she can be downright scary one minute and sexy the next. She even gives us glimpses of vulnerability and inner sadness to the villainous queen so, I will forgive a few over the top moments where she should have shown a bit of restraint. Chris Hemsworth is charming and noble as The Huntsman, a former soldier who’s lost someone he loves and finds a new purpose in life when he crosses paths with the fugitive princess, Snow White. Hemsworth brings heart and depth to the character as he did in Thor and proves he’s a star in the making. And as for Snow White, Kristen Stewart was the biggest surprise of all. I’m not a fan of her disassociated acting style and was surprised at how lively her performance was, especially when she needs to rally her subjects to fight. Yes, there are still some of the Stewart mannerisms but, the big difference was how much emotion she carried in her usually vacant eyes. She conveyed a lot of feeling when she had no dialog and gave the character some heart and soul. Best thing I’ve ever seen her do so far and I’ve seen all the current Twilight films, The Runaways and Adventureland. And rounding out the cast were some very familiar faces amongst the dwarves and since I’m not sure how well their presence is known, I won’t mention names except to say they do a great job making these guys lovable with a limited screen time. All in all, a really good fantasy adventure and a nice surprise for a movie I had only moderate expectations for.

3 and 1/2 huntsman axes! (A little extra credit for the sumptuous visuals and production design.)

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SOLOMON KANE (2009)

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SOLOMON KANE  (2009)

Solomon Kane is a 16th century fantasy adventure based on the works of Conan creator, Robert E. Howard. It is the story of bloodthirsty mercenary Captain Solomon Kane (a perfectly cast James Purefoy) who learns during an encounter with a demon that his soul is damned and the devil himself wishes to claim it. Seeking redemption and God’s forgiveness, Kane vows to never again shed the blood of another. But when the forces of the evil sorcerer, Malachi (Jason Flemyng) murder a kind family that took Kane in and kidnap their daughter, Kane picks up his sword and pistols and vows to bathe his path to hell with the blood of Malachi and his followers. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett knows to take his subject matter seriously, so we do and to keep the tone dark yet, injecting just enough melodrama so that it’s entertaining. He paces the film well but, doesn’t go too fast and he has a really good visual style and knows how to frame a shot. Bassett gets really good performances out of his cast including leading man Purefoy, who is great as the tortured soul/hero and small roles from veterans Alice Krige, Pete Postlethwaite and the great Max Von Sydow. The production value is high and the film looks sumptuous, the score by Klaus Bedelt is strong and atmospheric, there is some decent but not great CGI but, the rest of the visual FX are fine. The climactic battle with Malachi and a Balrog-ish demon could have been a bit longer but, otherwise Solomon Kane is a very entertaining and atmospheric dark fantasy adventure that should keep fans of fantasy and sword and sorcery in their seats and happily occupied. Kane was released here in the US last year on VOD and will finally be hitting DVD and Blu-Ray  on July 16th!

A solid 3 swords

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