Monday, July 9, 2012

John's Woman in Wrath

     Reviewing as many foreign language, documentary, and little bitty indie films as I have been in the last few weeks has been a little like subsisting on a diet of dried fruit and salad. I love it and it's really good for me, but after a while I require some cinematic junk food. we are reviewing a classic sci-fi adaptation, the sequel to a fairly undeserving remake, and a very British ghost story.  Let's begin with...

John Carter - Author Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known as the creator of the Tarzan mythos, but his OTHER popular series of books was about a man named John Carter and his adventures on Mars.  As I was watching the Disney adaptation of the first book in that series, my viewing companion kept saying, "Oh, they stole that from this, and this from that."
     I would reply, "Actually, this film's source material was probably the original inspiration for this or that thing that you remember in this or that other movie."  The quality point, however, was his.  The average movie goer is not going to know or care about the history of the source material.  All they know is that the high speed desert chases with aliens remind them of Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace and that's that.  The John Carter series of books spent almost a century in existence before they were translated to film and in that time the story has become dated, its elements dissected and disseminated to a dozen other sci-fi franchises, and we're left with a film that feels like its been done before.
     Director Andrew Stanton is best known for his work on Pixar's animated films, and this does play a little like a live action cartoon.  It's full of cliched pronouncements, and sweeping blasts of the original score that is a little too obvious in its emotional intent.  The film's basic story is still a good one, however, and this kept John Carter watchable.  Available on DVD.  2 1/2 of 5*
     (At this point, Dakota, my movie dog, would like to say that he liked the movie much more than I did.  He says that if you just want to see some action, weird creatures, and the occasional explosion, you should find John Carter extremely gratifying:  4 of 4 paws.)

The Woman in Black - So, no matter what quality level this movie turned out to be, it was always doomed to be remembered as Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Potter film.  Fortunately for him, it turned out to be a better than average horror flick.  Writer Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Kick Ass) turns in a script that actually relies on mystery and suspense more than gore or shock value (although the movie does have a few quality shocks and starts), and director James Watkins (Eden Lake) translates these qualities to the screen admirably.
     As for Radcliffe, he was definately able to embody the role of Arthur Kipps effectively enough that you are not left thinking, "Oh, look at Harry Potter, all dressed like a grown up", which he had no choice but to make the main goal of this performance.  He plays sullen and melancholy very well, and it was refreshing to see him playing his own real age for the first time since The Sorceror's Stone.  He is supported ably by Ciaran Hinds as the stiff-upper-lipped cynic who doesn't believe in all this nonsense, and recent Oscar nominee (for Albert Nobbs) Janet McTeer, as his addled wife who definitely does believe.
     Overall, Woman in Black is not destined to become a classic of its genre, but it is a much more adult movie than its niche usually produces.  You actually think a bit trying to figure it all out.  It should make perfectly sufficient viewing for a dark and stormy night, or a date where you want your companion to sit really close.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

Wrath of the Titans - Well, this is certainly going to date me, but I saw the original Clash of the Titans in the theater as a child, and it really excited my imagination.  I credit it largely with inspiring my life long interest in mythology, inaccurate as some of its details were (the clockwork owl, for instance).  Still, it was close enough in spirit to the original source material to create a hunger to actually learn about and appreciate another culture, long dead.
     Then came the remake in 2010, and I couldn't help but be excited.  It had a fantastic cast, and radically updated special effects, yet (for me) only a fraction of the wonder that the original film contained.  Still, at least it told a story firmly based upon the actual myths of Greece that might still incite some inspiration in minds less jaded by age (and nostalgia) than my own.
     Now we have Wrath of the Titans, which was...just silly, and owing more in source material to the "Death of the Gods" season on Xena: Warrior Princess than to the myths that spawned the characters.  Or most of the characters.  I can only assume that the demi-god Argenon was based on the mythological figure Agenon, but as far as I can tell he and Perseus had nothing to do with each other.  Perseus also had nothing to do with most of the foes that he pilfers from the myths of other Greek heroes:  The Minotaur (Theseus), Cyclops (Odysseus), etc. 
     I was going to give this film 1 1/2 stars out of pure righteous indignation, but Dakota, the Movie Dog (who gave this one another 4 of 4 paws rating) reminded me that I had obviously enjoyed some of the action sequences, and I needed to stop being such an insufferable snob.  Available on DVD.  2 of 5*

     Well, we're finally moving into the films of 2012 in our DVD reviews, but so far the popcorn seems a little stale.  I will try to find something a little more satisfying for my next set of reviews.

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