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LIFE IN MARS?

This year, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation John Carter Warlord of Mars celebrates its centenary and after decades of waiting, audiences get to see this on the big screen. John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo) is Disney’s adaptation of Burroughs’ pulp creation. Taylor Kitsch plays the eponymous hero, a former Confederate soldier who finds himself on Mars via a mysterious cave in the south of the USA. He is transported to Mars (or Barsoom as the natives call it) and thrown into a planetwide conflagration. He is found initially by the Tharks, giant four-armed warlike creatures, but soon comes into contact with the humans from the city of Helium, led by Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds), who are under siege by Sab Than and his flying ships and mystical weapons. The story of John Carter Warlord of Mars is a classic pulp tale, one that reflects all of the obsessions and fascinations of the day and Stanton and co could have updated it to make it seem more relevant to a modern-day audience. But this would have betrayed the source material, making arbitrary decisions for pure box-office reasons. The makers have thrown in a bit of intertextual plot that involves the author Burroughs himself for a modern audience, which works pretty well. The film isn’t perfect by any means: sometimes the script is a bit dodgy and the dialogue isn’t always spot on. But John Carter mostly works as a Saturday afternoon serial movie, a fun and enjoyable bit of undemanding fluff with some impressive visuals. Stanton and Weta excel here with their creation of the Tharks and the scenes where Carter is captured and eventually freed by them are among the strongest here. Willem Dafoe as the chief of the Tharks, Tars Tarkas, has such a powerful and distinctive voice (the Tharks are computer-generated) that he lends the role real emotion. Taylor Kitsch as Carter does work as an action hero, coming across as a very likeable central character and Lynn Collins as the gorgeous princess Dejah Thoris comes close to bringing Burroughs’ image to life on screen. Mark Strong as the villain of the piece (there’s a surprise) chews the scenery with suitable aplomb and the rest of the mainly British cast acquit themselves decently. John Carter is reminiscent of 1980’s Flash Gordon, which isn’t surprising considering that Gordon and Buck Rogers were influenced by Burroughs and Carter. Despite its flaws, John Carter is an entertaining sci fi yarn with heart and feels faithful to the original material. Hopefully it will do well enough at the tills to ensure a return visit…

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SPOILER WARNING

DETECTIVE WORKS
In 2009, director Guy Ritchie moved away from sometimes questionable gangster films to release Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. The film was a little bit of a revelation so here we are two years later with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Downey Jr and Law are back as Holmes and Watson but this time we are joined by Jared (Mad Men) Harris as Moriarty, Noomi Rapace (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as gypsy Madam Simza and Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes. Moriarty, a respected professor at Cambridge, has a plan to manipulate the world’s powers for his own ends and so it is up to Holmes and Watson with the assistance of Madam Simza to prevent this happening. Watson has decided to take the plunge and marry his sweetheart Mary (Kelly Reilly) but Holmes has endangered both his friend and his new bride by interfering with his evil nemesis’s plans. A Game of Shadows moves Holmes even further away from Doyle’s source material than the first film but the fact is that it just doesn’t matter. Ritchie, with the help of Downey Jr and Law, has created a pulp adventure tale which is fun and entertaining to watch and beautifully shot and edited. Harris is exceptionally sinister as Moriarty although you wish he had a little more to do in this film and the chemistry between Downey Jr and Law is further developed. Fry as Holmes’ eccentric brother provides a few laughs and acquits himself decently. Paul Anderson as Moriarty’s henchman, crackshot Sebastian Moran, works well on screen. There’s no love interest for Holmes here unlike the first film and Rapace as the gypsy whose brother holds the key is very watchable. It is quite refreshing that the script didn’t throw Holmes and her into bed but uses her as another member of the team. The location shooting in Switzerland and France look spectacular on screen and Ritchie with production designer Sarah Greenwood also synthesise a London that looks fresh and yet familiar at the same time. Ritchie tips his hat to Doyle’s end for Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls but leaves things open for a third instalment, which would be welcome if the quality remained as consistent as this. A Game of Shadows is a superior sequel to its progenitor, pure unadulterated fun with a strong cast and a real sense of adventure to it…