This is a little late, and for good reason. I really wanted to let the movie marinate with me and also let all the negative reviews fester a little.
John Carter tells the story of an ex-Confederate captain in the late 1800s who is transported to mars and becomes the savior of the red planet. May not sound super interesting, but keep in mind the book was written in 1912! Edgar Rice Burroughs, of Tarzan fame, was the prolific author of A Princess of Mars, which is what the film is based on. In most cases I am very loyal to the books and find them almost always better. In the 1930s, the first film adaptation for John Carter came up, and Burroughs actually suggested giving a new or revised story because it would need to resonate with new audiences. Therefore, 99% of the changes were fine by me.
I am not going to try and argue with the critics here, I know more about John Carter then them. Also, I feel like a lot of them have forgotten how to have fun at the movies. This movie was the most fun I have had at the movies in a while. The movie packs in action and story and technology and back story and so on. What’s interesting is that the book hardly explains any of that. This isn’t Lord of the Rings or Dune where there is this rich depth of detail and landscape. Mars is a wasteland and the technology works because it isn’t earth, the movie answers to the modern need to have things explained.
People need to think of this as big picture. This is the first story in a long line of tales. You meet the characters here; learn a little bit about them. You need at least one other movie before you really feel the love and romance of John and Dejah Thoris. You need another film to realize the warrior-brother bound of John and Tars Tarkus. This could have been a three hour movie, easy. It wasn’t for good reason.
Andrew Stanton of Pixar loved these books and had a passion for the story. I think it shows and that’s what makes this movie so charming and loveable. You get top rate special effects, great acting, witty dialogue, guys and girls with little clothing; you also get Woola, the Martian dog that had to inspire R2-D2 and Chewbacca. It literally has something for everyone. I know that is really cliché, but it is absolutely true.
The books are the perfect romance novel guys, John’s only motivation is the girl. In the movie he actually had more depth and it makes him more interesting. You still get a scene where he is swinging his sword and mauling hundreds of Warhoon Tharks with their blue bloodied bodies piling up around him, but then you get him kissing a princess. So cool!
I think this is the best live action Disney movie I have seen since 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I don’t care how much it; I don’t care how much it makes. It was a movie that reminded me of why I love the cinema.
The first part of this inaugural 3-part series is Top 5 Performances by actors (actresses) in 2010.
5. Jeff Bridges is suddenly very popular. Again. Most people who have recent memory of Bridges think of him as “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski, a masterpiece by the Coen Brothers. This year, after winning an Academy Award, he returns as the great-great-great grandfather of the dude, Rooster Cogburn. Another Coen Brothers film, True Grit is more an adaptation of the novel by Charles Portis, then a remake of the John Wayne classic. In the film a young girl is out for revenge for her father’s murder and she hires Marshal Cogburn to help her in this, despite is unkempt appearance, foul attitude, and willingness to bend to rules, he is a man with “True Grit”. While the character is from a novel and not an original, Bridges makes it feel new and add that to the dialogue, pace, and tone of the Joel and Ethan Coen, you get a wonderfully true performance. This is what Jeff Bridges does best, honest and heartfelt acting, true to form; he nails nearly every performance he ever does. This is no exception.
I will also mention his performance in Tron: Legacy, a perfect sequel to the Disney classic. In this movie Bridges returns as the hero, Flynn, who is now stuck in digital frontier he helped create. His son must come to his rescue some 20 years later. The moment you realize that Bridges gives his all is in the end when you see his face and his pain and love are perfectly mixed as he must save his son and destroy his creation. Even in this “popcorn” movie, Bridges goes all out.
4. Jesse Eisenberg has been in three movies I have seen. These are Adventureland, Zombieland, and The Social Network. Except for the last one, he was easily written off, good, funny, and not memorable by any means. Then this year we waited for yet another David Fincher film that would touch a nerve. The Social Network did just that, being part of a generation who barely remembers before we could check a girl’s “relationship status”, it was amazing to see where that very idea was born. This film, which takes many liberties with the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the birth of Facebook, seems the most modern of films in recent memory. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg with a pace and tone of the genius that he obviously is. While the attitude may be a bit contrived, I believed every second of story, from being broken up with and blogging about it, to the lack of interest in breaking one million users. You never hate the character, you barely feel sorry for him either, you simply understand him, somewhat, and because you have Facebook and you now appreciate how it came to be. Eisenberg will not win an Academy Award, but being cast in a Fincher film is a major step in the right direction. I applaud his performance, and continue to watch this movie over and over again.
3. Hailee Steinfeld came out of nowhere. Of all the performances this year, this one was unexpected. In True Grit, Mattie Ross is narrator, heroine, and driving force behind the chase for justice. This 14 year old girl fits perfectly into this western world of Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory; she stands her ground with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. As good as Bridges is in the film, Steinfeld is better. Having read the book a week before seeing this film, she embodies what Portis wrote. She is not whining, but determined and driven to get the revenge that will not satisfy her after her father’s death. Steinfeld has a bright future and like so many of the young actors this year, she has benefited from working with great directors and will hopefully continue to do so.
2. Colin Firth is King George VI. Having little knowledge of the British monarchy during World War II, I found this piece of historical fiction both entertaining and very interesting. Firth is the Duke of York, second son of King George V, he has a severe speech impediment which has embarrassed him most of his life. In an age of radio broadcasts across the country and the world, the prince is at a great disadvantage when it comes to public speaking. His old brother abdicates the thrown due to marrying a divorced woman, and Albert (his birth name) is forced to be crowned King of England. Firth plays this out smoothly, as do his peers Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush, this film shows a modern king who is in the shadow of his father and brother and who’s only friend is an eccentric linguist, Firth embodies this king and shows his humanity. He is funny, noble, brave, and angry and you believe Firth has a real fear of speaking and has a hard time handling emotions of any sort. By far the best performance by any actor in a leading role, obviously the critics and the Hollywood Foreign Press agree.
1. Natalie Portman has dedication and heart, so much so, it is scary in Black Swan. Portman portrays a young ballerina who competes to be the swan princess, her white swan is clean and perfect, and it is her black swan that is not sensual, devious, and dark enough. The greatest performance by any actor is when you completely forget that they are acting and you believe you are seeing something completely different. This is nearly impossible to do, but Portman does it so flawlessly. We believe she is insecure, obsessive, and that she is going crazy. Darren Aronofsky sets the tone, the lighting, the angle, and Portman takes you into the psyche of young woman who will give everything for the greatest performance of her life. It is apparent that Portman will win all the awards, and I rightly agree. Her performance is the best performance by any actor, male or female.
One of my favorite films, and novels, is High Fidelity. So in accordance with the game played in that story, I will be doing “Top 5” lists and reviews over the next few days for the past year.