FlixChatter Review – 21 Bridges (2019)

Before the superhero genre dominated the box office, super cop action thrillers were the blockbusters of the 80s and most of the 90s. Films such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop spawned several sequels and earned millions back in the days. 21 Bridges tried to bring that genre back to the big screen and it starred the late Chadwick Boseman as the action super cop.

The story takes place in one night in NYC as two low level criminals Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephen James) decided to steal some cocaine from a local mob restaurant. Things didn’t go as planned when the cops showed up and a shootout ensued. Ray ended up killing several cops at the scene and he and Michael was able to escape. Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) is furious and wants justice for the fallen officers, so he called in Detective Andre (Chadwick Boseman) to track down the two criminals. Andre is forced to partner up with another cop named Frankie (Sienna Miller).

Knowing that Ray and Michael are still in Manhattan somewhere, Andre order all of the 21 bridges in the island to be closed. As the night progresses, it’s a cat and mouse game between Andre his new partner Frankie and the two criminals. To anyone who’ve seen this kind of genre before, the story is pretty simple and most the audience will figure out what’s really going before the hero does.

Stephen James & Taylor Kitsch

The screenplay by Adam Mervis and Mathew Michael Carnahan started out pretty well, it has the potential to be a great action thriller with the real time chase element. But as the story progresses, they couldn’t help but to bring in eye-rolling clichés that’s been done in several cop action thrillers of the past. Also, not helping was how the climatic sequence was written, it’s basically something out of a Steven Seagal’s films of the 80s and 90s. My guess is that the scene was probably a reshoot after test audience didn’t like the original ending.

Director Brian Kirk did a decent job with keeping the story moving along with some good action sequences and didn’t try to make it into some super serious action thriller that plagued too many action films in the last decade.

Being that the script was kind of weak, Boseman was good as the action hero even though he didn’t really have much to do except to chase the criminals. Same can be said of Sienna Miller’s Frankie, although her NY accent was pretty bad. As for the rest of cast, they played their part well but nothing spectacular.

This is a good example of a film that has good ideas, but the execution just wasn’t there. Probably another round of rewrites of the script would help. I think with a better talented group behind the scenes, it could’ve been a really good suspense and thrilling action film.

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So have you seen 21 BRIDGES? Well, what did you think?

Spotlight on ‘American Assassin’ – Interview with lead actor Dylan O’Brien and author Kyle Mills at its Minnesota premiere

Welcome to another edition of FlixChatter Interview! Thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing for the opportunity to be a part of the red carpet interview on Friday night on September 8.

Because the late author of the original Mitch Rapp series, Vince Flynn, was born in St. Paul, it was nice to see the studio held the premiere in his hometown. Well it was Roseville, MN, but close enough.  Mr Flynn had died back in June of 2013 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer, but his widow Lysa Flynn was there, along with Dylan O’Brien, the star of the film, as well as Kyle Mills, the author continuing Mitch Rapp book series and the film’s producer Lorenzo Di Bonventura.

It was lovely that I got a chance to chat with Lysa Flynn. I asked her if there was any special memory of her late husband as he was writing the Mitch Rapp books. She said that Vince Flynn was always very organized about his writing. He’d make little recipe cards that were color coordinated. He’d put things together carefully for weeks before he actually started writing. She’s beyond proud and happy how the film turned out and loved Dylan O’Brien in the lead role.

Above are photos I took with my own iPhone. 

Author Kyle Mills and Dylan O’Brien posed with Lysa Flynn on September 8, 2017
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for CBS Films)


AMERICAN ASSASSIN follows the rise of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), a CIA black ops recruit under the instruction of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The pair is then enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets. Together the three discover a pattern in the violence leading them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop a mysterious operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a World War.

 

DIRECTED BY: Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger)
PRODUCED BY: Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers), Nick Wechsler (Under the Skin, The Road)
CAST: Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar


Quest review of the movie
by Vitali Gueron

Thanks Vitali for keeping me company as I waiting for everyone to show up. I wasn’t able to stay for the screening itself so I asked him to review the film for me.

The pairing of Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien as Stan Hurley and Mitch Rapp in American Assassin makes for a near-perfect duo in this action-packed thriller. After Rapp is recruited to join an elite, but secret anti-terrorism unit headed by Hurley, he must prove his worth as an spy/assassin. When things don’t go according to plans, Rapp disobeys Hurley’s direct orders so he can track down the mission’s target on his own. Thankfully, Rapp is on his way to becoming a master spy/assassin and he goes on to gain the resect of his trainer. And to our relief, by the end of the movie, Rapp makes a choice to listen to Hurley and follow his direction, just in the nick of time when an armed nuclear bomb risks the lives of thousands of Americans.

While most of the main plot points in American Assassin have been done before in other spy thrillers, the combination of O’Brien and Keaton works because they are codependent on each other. That is, each one is primarily dependent on the other person’s dependence on them. Hurley has to depend on Rapp to carry out the mission and stay alive while Rapp has to rely on Hurley to find their targets and communicate with the CIA to coordinate their efforts in order to stop the madman Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). Neither Hurley nor Rapp could accomplish the tasks on their own.

This American Assassin action thriller is here to stay, as evident from the final few shots in the movie as well as the fact that Vince Flynn had written an entire series of novels with the character of Mitch Rapp, the American Assassin. I, for one am looking forward to the next partnership of Hurley and Rapp, as well as the next onscreen performance of both Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien.

 

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After over an hour waiting for the talents to show up, my patience was rewarded as I did get to talk to ALL of them who came to the premiere. I am only posting my interviews with Dylan and Kyle below.

Q&A with Dylan O’Brien

My friend Vitali snapped this right in the middle of our interview 😛

I have to admit I didn’t expect I would actually get a chance to meet Dylan O’Brien given how many press people were waiting, most of whom were from big local news companies like KARE11, Star Tribune, WCCO, etc. Plus they seemed to be running behind and the talents had to get inside the theatre to introduce the screening. But suddenly he started making his way closer to me and his publicist said to me I’d be his last interview of the night. So yeah, it was cool to be able to chat with him for a total of two-and-a-half minutes 🙂

I have never seen Dylan in anything before, but I knew he was in The Maze Runner franchise and Teen Wolf series. I also read a couple of years ago about his massive on-set injury last year that shut down production of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Glad to see him looking well and in good spirits. He seemed genuinely cordial, sweet and professional. No movie star pretense at all despite his success as a young actor. Even though the place was loud and so many people wanted to get his attention, he was attentive to whomever he was speaking to. I enjoyed meeting him and wish him all the success in his career!

Listen below on my Q&A with the talented young actor:

Are you a big fan of the Vince Flynn books?

How did your training for this movie have to be changed due to your recovery from your injury

What was it like working alongside Michael Keaton?

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Q&A with Kyle Mills

The first person from the American Assassin‘s team I got to talk to is Kyle Mills. He’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who has written plenty of thriller novels in a similar vein as Vince Flynn’s books. He told me his father was an FBI agent for 25 years so he felt like he grew up surrounded by characters like Mitch Rapp. That made him the perfect choice to continue Mr. Flynn’s books, plus he’s also written books that were originally created by Robert Ludlum.

I made a playlist of my convo with Mr. Mills. Here are my three questions…

Q1: How hard is it taking over a book series you didn’t create?

Q2: What did you think of Dylan O’Brien’s casting?

Q2: Are you thrilled by how the film turned out?


Have you seen American Assassin? Feel free to share your thoughts about the film and/or the interviews.

MSPIFF14 Reviews: Breathe In & The Grand Seduction

MSPIFF_Reviews

Breathe In

BreatheInPosterI have to admit I’m usually not into films about infidelity as it often gets glamorized on film and those getting cheated on often appear as if they deserve what happen to them. Luckily that’s not the case here. It’s more of a character study on temptation and the fragility of people who are deeply disillusioned with their lives.

The film opens with a seemingly happy family in an idyllic suburbs in upstate NY. The dad Keith (Guy Pearce) is a music teacher who is an aspiring orchestra cellist, the mother Megan (Amy Ryan), is a housewife who sells cookie jars on the side. Their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) is a swimming champion, blond and vivacious. They were all anticipating the arrival of Sophie, an exchange student from Britain who’s coming to stay w/ them. That part reminds me of an exchange student from Denmark who came to live with us when I was in high school. Fortunately there was no such drama like what happens to this family. But then again, the student at our house was not in the form of an attractive girl like Felicity Jones and there was no married male in my household.

The attraction between Keith and Sophie is inevitable and palpable. As soon as Keith helped her with her luggage at the airport, exchanging quick glances in the car or at dinnertime, all the seemingly innocent acts have an electric undercurrent.

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The naturalistic style of Drake Doremus‘ direction lends itself to an atmospheric and intimate setting, as well as an authentic performance from the actors. Not that their behavior is excusable in any way, but neither Keith or Sophie seems powerless to stop their attraction from getting the best of them. In Keith’s part though, it seems that it’s more about him chasing his dream of a Bohemian life, something he felt he gave up when he took on the job and move out of Manhattan. There’s no real friction between him and his wife other than the fact that she sees his aspiring career as a concert cellist as a mere hobby. Keith’s motivation in the whole affair seemed more visible, for a lack of a better word, whilst Sophie’s much more of an enigma. And that to me, felt like a crux that prevents this film from being truly compelling. The way Lauren and her teenage friends is depicted here seems rather simplistic and generalized, it certainly puts teen life in a very unflattering light.

What I do appreciate is the lack of sensational & unnecessary sex scenes which I think would cheapen the story. As my friend Ashley astutely pointed out in her comment, anyone can grind and moan but to create a real sexual tension with just the touch of a hand or even a look across the room is far more challenging. As I’ve mentioned briefly in this piano moment post, there’s not one but two memorable piano scene brimming with sexual tension. Pearce and Jones certainly have a scorching chemistry despite their 16 age gap and the build up to their first moment together was almost as tense as a suspense thriller! Pearce is one of today’s finest actors and this performance further cements his amazing versatility. Even at 30, Jones still looks believable enough as a teen, and her character is supposed to be much more mature than her age. Having seen Like Crazy, I feel like I have seen Jones in a similar role as a girl who recklessly puts desire and passion above reason.

BreatheIn_Stills2

I have to give props to Amy Ryan for delivering a memorable supporting role to a thankless role as Keith’s wife. She somehow makes her character sympathetic and I’m glad the film didn’t turn her into nothing but *scornful wife* here. There’s also a droll, albeit creepy, scene with Kyle MacLachlan pointing out the elephant in the room to Pearce’s character.

I think people might call this film tedious or underwhelming as there’s barely anything happening. I can see where they’re coming from, and for me, if it weren’t for the excellent performances I’d probably think the same way. I do think the script is so sparse and the vague finale barely give us anything to grasp on. What happened to Sophie in the end? Is the family beyond repair at this point? There are gaps that seem to be intentionally left open here which can be frustrating. All the exquisitely shot and breathless moments are memorable in and of itself, but ultimately the film itself feels too indulgent and even morose for its own good. One thing for sure though, it’s quite a sobering picture of infidelity that temptation may be sweet but remorse never is.

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GrandSeductionPosterThe Grand Seduction

I almost missed seeing this as I couldn’t get an extra ticket for my hubby on Friday night. Fortunately there’s a second screening on Sunday night and I’m glad I made it! This is one of the most delightful and sweet comedies I’ve seen in a long while.

The tiny Newfoundland harbor called Tickle Cove was once a thriving fishing village. But now that they’re prohibited from fishing to make a living, the community is living off welfare check. So when there is an opportunity that might land a contract with a big oil corporation to build a factory, a petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility to be exact, the town realize this is an opportunity of a lifetime to save their town from complete financial ruin. What’s the catch? In order to have the factory built on their premises, the contract specifies that the town needs a permanent doctor. And that’s where the grand seduction comes in.

At first I was wondering why they choose such a sensational title but once I see the movie it perfectly makes sense! The doctor in question is a young, cricket-loving Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), is only assigned in that town for a month. And so the new mayor Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) gets the entire harbor community to seduce the doctor to stay. The length to their seduction is the heart of the story and it lends itself to grand hilarity! I think the funniest bits are when the hockey-loving town has to learn the game of cricket, from creating the uniform & paddles, building the cricket field AND of course learning the rule of the game. As soon as Dr. Lewis arrives in town, he’s welcomed by practically the entire male population in a [faux] game of cricket. That’s just a fraction of the other schemes the entire town is in on Dr. Lewis, who’s so deliriously oblivious I feel like he deserves being pranked in this way.

TheGrandSeductionStills

I LOVE comedies that aren’t gross, foul-mouthed or just plain silly and this movie fits that description. As director Don McKellar said during the Q&A after the film, he’s drawn to the project as it’s the kind of social comedy that has a certain dignity, a certain respect for the people being depicted. There is a purpose to every gag, down to even the smallest comic scene is not a waste. There’s an obvious ethical issue with what the town is doing, I mean they’re tapping his phone and stuff, the NSA has nothing on them, ahah. Yet it’s not done in a mean-spirited kind of way and you can’t help but root for the town as well as for the young doctor.

The name of the harbor town is perfectly appropriate as it tickles your funny bone. There are plenty of gut-busting, thigh-slapping hilarity to be had from start to finish and having real life townsfolk definitely makes it feel authentic. Gleeson and Kitsch seem like an odd match and it is, but that’s kind of the point and it’s played to great effect here. Both of them are the only two actors who aren’t from easternmost province of Canada. Gleeson is Irish (which fits perfectly to the town’s Irish heritage) and Kitsch grew up in Vancouver. Gleeson is such a great actor, but I really like him in comedies [he’s much softer here though than his character in The Guard which I saw recently]. He’s is joined by Newfoundland’s most famous celebrity Gordon Pinsent (Away From Her), and the rest of the supporting cast, including comedian Mark Critch are from the area as well. All of them are so hilarious and by the end of it I fell in love with the Tickle Cove community!

TheGrandSeduction_Gleeson_Kitsch

The ending is pretty predictable but in no way that it lessens the charm of the story. In fact, I don’t mind it at all that it ends on a hopeful and cheery note. I’m still gleeful just thinking about some of the funniest bits from this movie. Not only is it delightfully funny, it’s also heartwarming and beautiful to look at, it could practically doubles as a tourism video for Newfoundland. I definitely will watch it again as soon as it’s available on dvd or streaming.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Have you seen either one of these movies? I’d love to hear what you think!

Ted’s Picks of Worst Films of the Year so far

Just yesterday I saw this info-graphic that Hollywood’s creativity is waning. I mean, zero original movie in 2011?? WOW! I wonder how 2012 fares, but there sure are a bazillion remakes, sequels, prequels, what have you, and that trend isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Well, Rodney at Fernby Films are currently doing Worst Film Week series, so it seems fitting that Ted takes the time to share the worst of what he’s seen this year.

I just realized that I’ve seen more films this year than I did at the same time a year ago and even though none of them I would consider great, some are quite entertaining. Of course I also saw some really bad ones along the way. I read that many film bloggers and critics dubbed this year as the year of disappointments and I think I have agree with that statement.

Below are my top 4.5 worst films I’ve seen so far this year.

4.5. John Carter 

I don’t know if I should even put 4.5 for this movie since I only watched about 45 minutes of it. I had to turn it off because there’s nothing in the film that interests me, Taylor Kitsch has zero screen charisma and I have no desire to see him in any other films from now on. The film was such a box office failure that Disney actually had to tell their share holders that they lost money on it, ouch!
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4. The Bourne Legacy

I was really looking forward to seeing this film, a new leading man and director behind the cameras so I was hoping to see a new take on the franchise, sadly that was not the case. I like Jeremy Renner as an actor but I don’t think he’s the leading man quality that Hollywood is pushing him hard to be. I thought he did a descent job as the new “Jason Bourne” in this film so he’s not the reason why this film failed. I blame all of the mishaps on the film’s writer and director, Tony Gilroy. True that Gilroy also wrote the first three Bourne films but the directors of those films brought in a few writers to tweak his script. But now he’s totally in charge of the fourth film, he only brought in his brother to help him write the it. I understood what the Gilroys were trying to do with this new chapter of the Bourne franchise but I think had they brought in another writer or two to tighten up the script, it could’ve been a good movie.

Directing wise, Gilroy loves to have scenes with long dialogue (for example Michael Clayton), that’s fine as long as what the characters were saying are interesting but unfortunately in this film, none of the dialogues were interesting nor do we care what they were talking about. Since this is an action film, we the audience expects to see action, well Gilroy failed on delivering that part too. Although I did enjoy the shootout scene at the big house but the big motorcycle chase near the end of the film just went on too long and most of time we couldn’t see what the hell was going on the screen. Also, where was the big hand-to-hand combat? The first three films had a huge fight scene and I expected to see the same in this one.

Apparently Universal will continue to make another Bourne film even though this one will be the least successful at the box office. I just hope they hire a new director and have a better script, I think Tony Gilroy might be a one hit wonder when it comes to directing. I love Michael Clayton and I thought for sure Gilroy will make more great films; sadly Duplicity and this film were dreadful. Check out my full review of this movie here.
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3. Red Tails

A friend of mine got some free passes to an early screening of this film and invited me to see it with him, I decided to check out back in January. Well I wish I hadn’t, if not for the many war veterans who were at the attendance and a free pass from my friend, I would’ve walked out half hour into the film. This was such a shame because The Tuskegee Airmen deserves a better film to tell their story. This film was filled with so many bad clichés that my eyes hurt from rolling them throughout the film. Shame on George Lucas for making this Star Wars mixed in with Top Gun turkey, instead of giving us a great story of one of the finest US fighter groups in WW2. If you really want to see a better film about this group of men, I urge you to see the 1995 movie The Tuskegee Airmen. It’s 10 times better than this awful film.
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2. Total Recall (2012)

This film may have been the most unoriginal remake since the remake of The Getaway back in 1994; I know it’s sounds weird since it’s a remake but at least most remakes tried to bring something new to table. Not this film, it’s a great example of lazy writing and lack of creativity by the filmmakers. Yes, the film looks great but if we don’t care about the story or any of the characters, then what’s the point? If you’ve never seen the original, please see that version and skip this one. If you like, you can read my full review here.

1. Safe House

Speaking of lazy and unoriginal filmmaking, this film is a great example of that. Not only did director Daniel Espinosa copied the look and feel of Greengrass’s two Bourne films, he even hired cinematographer Oliver Wood to shoot the film for him as Wood shot the first three Bourne films. Seriously, watch Greengrass’s Bourne films, particularly The Bourne Supremacy and then watch this film and you’ll see how similar they are to one another (except The Bourne Supremacy was great and this one’s awful).

I read an interview with screenwriter David Guggenheim who said he wrote an original script and wanted to tell a great espionage story just like films of the 70s. I had to laugh at that because there’s nothing original about his script. Now he may have written an “original” story and the producers may have hired more writers to tweak his original script but still, to come out and say that his script was so original after the film came out with a straight face was comical to me.

The unoriginal script was bad enough but the direction by Espinosa was even worst. Seriously, does this man even know how to shoot a film? Now I’ve never seen his other films so I don’t know much about his work but after seeing this movie, I have no interest in seeing his upcoming films or his earlier ones. I wrote a piece about how I wish action directors would stop shooting action scenes with that hand held/fast editing style and this film is a great example of how bad action scenes look when not staging them well and just shake the cameras. I can forgive directors for shooting bad action scenes if I was involved in the story (Batman Begins for example, bad action scenes but I love the story). Well unfortunately, I didn’t care about the plot here, in fact I figured out who the real bad guy was in just a half an hour into it. Espinosa also doesn’t seem to know how to create or build up tension leading up to action scenes.

I haven’t even talked about the two leading men yet and you know what, there’s not much to talk about. Washington looked bored, he’s basically playing another version of Alonso from Training Day, except here he’s the “good” guy. Ryan Reynolds, well he’s playing Ryan Reynolds. I don’t buy him as an action hero and he didn’t do much to convince me in this one. Don’t waste your time and money on this film.

– post by Ted S.


Well those are some bad films I saw so far this year, I’m pretty sure I’ll see more bad ones in the next three months so I may have to tweak the list comes January. Feel free to list your worst films so far this year in the comments section.

Weekend Viewing Roundup and Battleship (2012) guest review

Hello folks, hope you all had a lovely weekend. I skipped the cinema again this weekend, as there’s nothing that interest me. Besides, I just want to catch up with more of BBC’s Sherlock. This time it’s The Blind Banker episode which is another awesome episode. I still like the first episode The Study in Pink better though, but I LOVE both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s rapport, the casting is what makes the movie work for me, and of course, the sharp script!

Just a quick box-office summary from Box Office Mojo: Hunger Games is still on top for the fourth weekend in a row with $21.5 mil. Wow, it’s the first movie since Avatar three years ago to achieve such a feat and that one also has a strong female character in the lead. See a trend here Hollywood? 😀 Can’t imagine people would want to see The Three Stooges movie, but somehow it managed to pull in over $17 mil for 2nd place [scratch head]. The horror flick with Thor, er Chris Hemsworth finished third with nearly $15 mil.

Well, this weekend I also caught up with a thriller by Michel Mann called Manhunter and a re-watch of The Incredible Hulk as part of our Avengers‘ countdown. It’s the third viewing of the Hulk movie since my hubby and I saw it on the big screen back in 2008, and we still loved it. Ed Norton is excellent as the big green hero, and he adds a convincing layer of humanity as the tormented scientist Bruce Banner. I also love Liv Tyler’s performance here, she’s appropriately sweet and caring, which totally made you believe she’s the only person who can calm Hulk down. It’s definitely an improvement over Ang Lee’s Hulk which has too much psychological mambo-jumbo that drags the movie down, not too mention Nick Nolte’s overacting. It’s too bad as Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly were both good.

My review of Manhunter will be up tomorrow, but in the meantime, check out this review below from my Indonesian friend Cecilia who’ve agreed to become a regular FlixChatter reviewer from now on, yay! She did a review of The Raid a few weeks ago.

Battleship (2012)

It is clear that the idea about alien has been used on films a lot. I personally put my high appreciation on District 9, the so called low-budget movie which could create such a strong storyline and entertaining action scenes too. But when I was watching Battleship at the cinema, the first film that cross my mind is absolutely Battle: Los Angeles (see Ted’s review). Alien invasion, army, and some similar approaches on the dialog and acting.
Battleship involves this army team where Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) need to team up with his brother, Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) and his fiance’s father, Shane (Liam Neeson) to defeat the alien armada. They were trapped into a gigantic dome and there was no available access in or out of the dome. The gigantic dome practically reminds me of The Simpsons Movie.
Audiences might have been bored with alien-versus-army cliche all over again. Battleship actually did not offer much different essence. Patriotic army team with tense action scenes completed with a little romance. I personally feel entertained with the action scenes on the water. Explosions, cannons, and tactical war. Massive fights on the water is kind of refreshment after sinking with Titanic 3D a week ago. Moreover, Rihanna managed to attract audience’s attention for her role in the movie. For a singer doing her first film, I think she was doing good with her tomboy-ish style.
The grand scoring pretty much supports the tense action scenes. I see that Battleship and Transformers movies are having the same composer, Steve Jablonsky. And I was pretty much disappointed that while I was watching Battleship, I actually felt that they were using exactly the same score for both movies. More disappointment come out when I saw this one yellow alien looks like a mini Bumblebee.
Despite all the factors we might have seen on the previous alien invasion movies, I still feel that Battleship is the kind of popcorn movie which entertains me. When you do see it, stay on your seats when the movie is over for a post-credit scene.
– review by Cecilia Rusli
Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


So what did you see this weekend, folks? Anything good?

FlixChatter Review: John Carter (2012)

This is one of those movies I just didn’t really care for from the first time I heard about it, and the trailer didn’t really convince me otherwise. But my hubby really wanted to see it and I must admit I became more curious after reading some positive reviews, such as this one from my pal Terrence.

Just as I enjoyed Hunger Games more having read the book, perhaps it would’ve helped me understand the film better if I had done the same here. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure novel was apparently massively popular and the story has inspired many filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. I heard some reviews that says the movie is ripping off Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Avatar, etc., when in fact, it’s really the other way around. Even the filmmakers themselves, even the creator of Superman, admitted that they were inspired by Burroughs’ work. Why they didn’t leverage that point in the film’s marketing is beyond me. This article even cited George Lucas describing described his Star Wars story as being set “in the grand tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.” 

It’s the kind of review where I have to turn to Wikipedia to make sure I get the details right. The story takes place in the late 1800. Former Civil War captain John Carter somehow ended up in a cave of gold whilst on the run from a group of Cavalry officers and Apache Indians. It’s there that he encountered a strange figure whose medallion accidentally teleported him all the way to Mars. In the intro, it’s explained that Mars (called Barsoom by the inhabitants) is not a “dead planet”, but rather a dying one inhabited by warring civilizations with great airships.

The various ethnic groups of Mars

There are the four-armed green Martians called the Tharks, a White Martian called Therns and the two Red Martians cities Helium and Zodangas whose natives are akin to the Elves in The Lord of the Rings in that they’re full of beautiful people (hello James Purefoy!), except they’ve got a natural tan. So basically John goes from one civil war on earth, to another epic one in a distant planet.

In the book, apparently John Carter is described as an immortal being. I can’t remember the movie depicting him that way but for sure he’s got some great powers due to his high bone density and the planet’s low gravity (not sure how the science works out but hey, it’s a fantasy film so certain suspension of disbelief comes with the territory). What I didn’t realize from the trailer laden with strange-looking creatures like the great white apes etc., is that John Carter has got a love story at the heart of it. John Carter meets Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a stunning but rebellious Princess of Helium who’s apparently also a scientist (take that Dr. Christmas Jones!) It’s utterly predictable that they both would fall in love, though of course they still have to banter with each other first (a la Princess Leia and Han Solo and Na’vi Princess Neytiri and Jake Sully in Avatar).

This movie was declared a major box office bomb even by Disney itself. I think having seen it now, I gather that poor marketing was largely to blame for it. Sure, the reviews weren’t stellar, but it’s not terrible either with about 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are far, far worse films have made way more money than this, just look at those Transformer flicks! So perhaps it’s just really poor timing that this movie came out after 50 years of similarly-themed sci-fi movies have been released, which makes it ironically derivative.

In any case, I actually quite enjoyed this film. Actor Dominic West (who played Zodangas’ leader) told BBC  that “… the story sometimes difficult to follow, but I don’t think it was boring.” I think I’d agree with him. Though there are some slow parts and the pacing could be much improved, there are a lot to appreciate here. The movie kept me engaged for the most part, and the action scenes with all the weird-looking creatures actually don’t dominate the movie the way the trailers make it out to be. The visuals are marvelous to look at, what with all the meticulously-crafted spaceships and other flying objects.The action sequences are pretty fun to watch, though very reminiscent of The Phantom Menace especially in the pod-racer scenes.

I’d guess that a lot of the $250-million budget goes to the set pieces as there isn’t any big-name actors in the movie. The world that director Andrew Stanton built are a dazzling technical achievement, but the main problem for me is the pacing, just like any piece of music relies on good rhythm. It’s too bad because the story itself is quite engaging, and no surprise there considering Stanton has written and directed Pixar’s masterpieces like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall*E.

Lastly, the cast turns out to be a pleasant surprise. I was quite harsh on Taylor Kitsch initially as I was unimpressed with his performance in Wolverine, but he actually makes for a pretty convincing lead here. He’s got the looks (and a nice, deep voice), as well as confidence to pull off a heroic role. Another Wolverine alum Lynn Collins is all right as the Princess, she’s obviously beautiful but can also be pretty bad ass in the action sequences. Both of them are not as experienced as the rest of the supporting cast but they’re more than serviceable I think.

The rest of the supporting cast are largely British except for the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston as the leader of the Cavalry that pursued Carter. Both Mark Strong and Dominic West are in familiar territory playing unsympathetic characters, but at least they do it well. Interesting to see James Purefoy and Ciarán Hinds revisiting their Julius Caesar and Mark Antony roles in HBO’s Rome as their characters remind me so much of the historical duo. Purefoy seems to have the most fun here, I just wish he had a bigger role in the movie.

Final Thoughts: I’m glad I was able to catch this movie on the big screen before its last week of its theatrical run. I do think it looks marvelous visually and overall a pretty entertaining fare that’s worth at least a matinee price. Definitely check this out if you’re a fan of the fantasy sci-fi genre. I skipped the 3D though, and I don’t think it’ll add that much to the movie.
four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts about this movie? Do you have a theory why it flopped at the box office?