Movie Reviews: John Carter, and Pina

John Carter directed by Andrew Stanton

When discussing the most anticipated geek-friendly films of 2012, there’s some pretty obvious talking points: Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, Spidey, Prometheus, etc. And while I’m definitely excited about all of those, there’s one more on the list that I’ve been looking forward to as much, if not more, than the rest: John Carter.

Why? Because in a lot of ways, a strong case could be argued that without Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom books, those other films might not even exist. While H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley preceded Burrough’s novels by decades,  the influence of A Princess Of Mars is still keenly obvious in modern works like works like Avatar, or Star Wars. In a lot of ways, Princess (written in 1912) was the first science fiction epic.

And now, a century later, its a gazillion dollar movie made by the guy that directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Anticipation high, yes?

John Carter (played by B.C. actor Taylor Kitsch, who I had never heard of before but have been informed by my wife that he starred in Friday Night Lights, which apparently is a TV show about football that isn’t as horrible as it sounds like it would be) is a retired Civil War infantryman, just trying to make his fortune. The guy from Breaking Bad tries to get him back into the Confederate army, but Carter isn’t having any of it. He escapes, ends up in the desert, finds a magic amulet, gets transported to Mars, and discovers that while he’s there that he has gained the super power of being able to magically repel clothing from his body, since he spends the rest of the movie half-naked. He also has super strength and can jump pretty high.

He then gets kidnapped by Ewoks (in this movie Ewoks are green, 9 feet tall, and have 4 arms. But they’re Ewoks nonetheless), and then stumbles into the middle of a huge Martian civil war;  and by stumbles I mean he lets his dick lead him around for the rest of the film in as he chases after a Martian princess who seems to be as clothing-averse as he is, and who gets kidnapped a lot.

There’s a lot to recommend about this movie, but I can’t say that it’s the fantasy masterpiece that Stanton was obviously going for. It’s fun, with a solid script, and a decent cast. It’s got some great special effects, and the CGI is relatively clean. It’s also quite clunky, and tries to cram about 4 hours of plot into half that time. As a result, the film feels extremely rushed, and we never really get to learn much about any of the characters other than: Bad Guy or Good Guy. Now, that’s in keeping with the tone of the original novel. Not a lot of character subtlety going on there. But because we’re not given a lot of background on these Martians, it’s hard for us to figure out why John Carter ends up caring so much about them (other than the obvious answer that he really wants to plow the Martian crap out of one of them.)

But it’s entertaining as hell, with some amazing action scenes, and an easily accessible story. It’s a fun space fantasy a la Avatar, but it a) doesn’t take itself as nearly as that film did, and as a result, b) ends up being twice as fun.

Rating: B+

Pina directed by Wim Wenders

I know as much about modern dance as Republican women seem to know about trans-vaginal ultrasounds. But just like their ignorance about the basics of the human body doesn’t get in the way of their trying to regulate what medical procedures be done in the name of religion, my lack of knowledge about the intricacies of the world of modern dance didn’t get in the way of me enjoying this captivating tribute to the works of the famed choreographer and dancer, Pina Bausch.

Usually one’s interest in a documentary rests and falls on one’s passion for the thing that movie is about. It’s a rare documentary that transcends its subject matter, and that makes you care deeply about something you barely knew existed 5 minutes before the movie began. Pina is one such documentary. And that’s probably because it’s not really a documentary at all.

It’s a collection of dance pieces, planned well ahead of Bauch’s untimely death in 2009. The film cuts between said pieces, and the recollections of her dancers, reminiscing about their years with her troupe. These interviews aren’t so much about imparting information as they are about imparting emotional response, and those that are looking for a Behind The Music-style dish session should look elsewhere. This isn’t gossip, it’s creators missing a collaborator.

But it’s the dance pieces themselves that are the real story here, and Wenders manages to one-up Werner Hertzog’s beautiful Cave Of Forgotten Dreams with how effortlessly he uses 3D to capture the dancers performance. He’s not filming a dance performance here; this is a fully realized film, and his camera use and judicious editing manage to create something new out of already beautiful pieces of work.

If it sounds like I’m gushing a bit, it’s because I am. Pina is a truly beautiful movie, and one that must be watched by anyone interested in where 3D technology is taking film. But it’s also a loving tribute to a true artist, one that left her medium a better place than than when she found it.

Rating: A

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