Action pic 'John Carter' falls flat, jokes bomb in 'A Thousand Words'
Taylor Kitsch is shown in a scene from Disney's 'John Carter.'
Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse
Published Friday, March 9, 2012 7:19AM EST
Richard's Review: 2 stars
Is it possible to be too true to a book? That was the question I asked myself after screening "John Carter," a new mega-budget fantasy film helmed by Pixar founder Andrew Stanton.
Stanton has been very faithful to the source material for his first live-action film. The helmer of "WALL-E" and "Finding Nemo" brings the words of sci-fi legend Edgar Rice Burroughs to life here, but I can't help but wonder if he hasn't been too faithful in this adaptation.
Rice's novels have been studied like textbooks by filmmakers over the decades. George Lucas, for example, brought his own Rice mythology to the screen in the form of Indiana Jones and the other characters created for the film franchise.
But Stanton's laborious recreating of "A Princess of Mars," the film's main inspiration, leaves "John Carter" with a "been there, done that" feel.
Canadian Taylor Kitsch plays the titular character, a world-weary Civil War captain who has been mysterious transported from earth to Mars, or Barsoom as it is called in the movie. There, he uses his soldiering skills and his ability to jump hundreds of feet into the air to put an end to a war between various factions on the planet. That includes a 12-foot tall warrior named Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).
Echoes of Indiana Jones and Jar Jar Binks, as well as films such as "Lord of the Rings," "Dune" and "Avatar," abound in this movie.
From the set and character design to the mix of action and romance "John Carter" feels like a rehash -- and not a particularly interesting one. It looks great and is lavishly designed. It's also filled with fetching-looking people in scanty clothes running and leaping about the screen. But the story feels more like exposition wedged in between the action scenes.
The movie doesn't skimp on the action, but the scenes don't have the intensity they should to truly be exciting. For example, when Carter learns he can leap higher than Superman on spring-loaded loafers, the scenes are played for laughs. Later the battle scenes are amped up, but the CGI blood squirts are still relatively tame.
The film's biggest mistake, however, is in the casting. Far from having the offhand charm of Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, the joie de vivre of his Han Solo or the world weariness of Ford's Rick Deckard, watching Kitsch is like staring into a black hole. There is underplaying a character and then there's performance from Kitsch. John Carter should not only look good in a loincloth, he should also have a pulse.
"John Carter" will likely appeal to fantasy fans, but all others should beware.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"
Richard's Review: 2 1/2 stars
As tittles go, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a mouthful. It's quirky enough to catch your eye and it isn't a cute metaphor for something else. This movie is about salmon fishing in the Yemen, but it's also about faith as much as fishing.
Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, a rigid scientist at the British government department of fisheries. He studies the spawning habits of fish, writes scientific papers and lives a life of quiet desperation. When he is approached by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a consultant for Yemeni Sheikh Mohammed (Amr Waked), to create a fly fishing reserve in the Yemen, he balks at the idea. But soon he dives headfirst into the project, which lays the groundwork for this light romantic comedy.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" should do for fly fishing what "The Big Year" did for bird watching -- not much. The mix of romance, science and faith -- fishing is a mystical past time, apparently -- has some charm. That is mostly due to the engaging performances from McGregor, Blunt and Waked. Other plot threads, however, such as an assassination attempt feel forced and out of place.
Popping in and out of the story is Kristin Scott Thomas as the aggressive spokesperson for the Prime Minister. She's used for comedic relief and pulls off the part with aplomb. If the rest of the film had her spark we might have been better able to forgive its plot transgressions.
"Friends with Kids"
Richard's Review: 3 1/2 stars
In "Friends with Kids" a platonic couple is forced to examine the true nature of their relationship after they decide to have a child. This they do with no strings attached. The premise sounds familiar, but much like 2011's "Bridesmaids" "Friends with Kids" takes a tired premise in a tired genre and breathes new life into it.
Writer/director Jenifer Westfeldt also stars as Julie, a hip New Yorker. She, like her best friend Jason ("Parks and Recreations" star Adam Scott) looks at their married-with-kids- friends with a mixture of amusement and disgust. From their point of view their pals have traded freedom for lives of quiet desperation. Worse still, when their babies came along these pals moved to Brooklyn -- a seventy-dollar cab ride away.
One night, after shots of expensive tequila, Julie and Jason decide that they could still beat the system and have a baby "without all the problems that come with marriage." Their social experiment bears fruit, so to speak, with the birth of their son. They successfully co-parent until jealousies and the possibility of true love rear their heads.
"Friends with Kids" is rescued from a sitcom premise by an engaging cast who keep the laughs coming. These stars can also delve into drama when necessary.
Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd play the disheveled Leslie and Alex to snarky perfection, while Jon Hamm (Westfeldt's longtime partner) and Kristin Wiig provide most of the film's edge.
It's all fun and games until Hamm gets drunk at a dinner party and lets his true feelings about his friends' parenting arrangement be known.
Moments like this give the movie some depth. The raw emotion on display here is uncommon for rom-coms, but it works. Unfortunately, it's mostly downhill from there.
The film's final 20 minutes reverts to a sitcom-rom-com formula, ending with the absolute worst seduction speech in the history of cinema.
It's not enough to ruin the movie, but it's a shame to see its earlier charm, wit and insight be squandered before the credits roll.
"A Thousand Words"
Richard's Review: 0 stars
"A Thousand Words" is billed as a comedy, but I see it as something else entirely. I see it as a tragedy –a tragic waste of Eddie Murphy's talent.
Murphy is in virtually every scene, but his wide-eyed mugging for the camera isn't funny, it's annoying.
Reteaming with "Norbit" director Brian Robbins, Eddie Murphy plays Jack McCall, a fast-talking literary agent who doesn't read and who double-crosses new age guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) on a book deal. Soon after, a magical Bodhi tree erupts through the ground in Jack's backyard. The tree sheds one leaf for every word McCall says. After 1,000 leaves have fallen, the true nature of the tree's curse is revealed.
"A Thousand Words" is such an unpleasant experience – even the loud fire alarm that rang intermittently in the theatre during the screening was a welcome relief. At least the fire alarm had some element of urgency to it, unlike this movie. Sadly, Robbins seemed to think that watching Murphy pull faces at the camera for 90 minutes was enough to flesh out the story.
When the best joke in the movie is "I'm going to the ashram and ram this up his a**," you begin to understand why "A Thousand Words" has been sitting on a shelf for four years awaiting a release date.
I can sum up my thoughts on this flick in five words: Don't go. Save your money.