Since Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel A Princess of Mars was published nearly 100 years ago his otherworldly tale story has been subsequently been reworked and riffed on by nearly every sci-fi book or movie to follow. Star Wars Dune Avatar—sift through filmmaker interviews and it's easy to find threads tying their inspiration back to Burroughs. Which makes John Carter the big screen adaptation of Princess of Mars particularly surprising. The film's epic presentation of Martian races colliding in battle could feel stale but instead blossoms with color imagination and fun. Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo Wall-E) has a strong sense of what makes "adventure" adventurous helping John Carter encapsulate everything about a great time at the movies.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) a Civil War veteran with the entire Confederate army on his tail finds himself mysteriously transported via a magic cave (or alien technology? If you get caught up in these details John Carter may not be for you) to smack dab in the middle of a Martian desert. As Carter overcomes the planet's gravity a physical difference that allows him to leap tall structures in a single bound (sound familiar?) he runs into one of Mars' many races: the eight-foot tall four-armed green Tharks. As their prisoner/friend/specimen John Carter takes a back seat to the unique world of the Thark world full of clockwork architecture and airships archaic customs and political strife. The Tharks are in the midst of a 1 000 year battle with the humanoids of Zodanga led by the villainous Sab Than (Dominic West) who is in turn manipulated by the occasionally-invisible shapeshifter Matai Shang (Mark Strong). The Tharks have teamed up with the residents of Helium including the stunning scientist warrior Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) but doom is impending and quickly the Spartacus-esque Thark fighter Tars Tarkas turns to Carter for help.
Unlike Avatar which introduced its fantastical world using the safety net of a simple archetypical story John Carter has no reservations bombarding its audience with plot and intrigue. At times the specifics of the world's complex societies and strifes are complicated and confusing but similarly to info-heavy scripts—think the recent Michael Clayton or Margin Call or heck Shakespeare—Stanton Mark Andrew and Michael Chabon's screenplay feels assured of its own drama confident that no matter your understanding the theatrics will sway you. The human element of John Carter exists behind even the most CG-ified alien creature and that's what keeps us on board.
If there's any misstep it's in the casting of Kitsch a fully capable action hero unconvincing as survivor of the Civil War. Kitsch feels pulled from present day but John Carter needs to be a Confederate soldier in more than name. Kitsch is up to the task of ripping up white apes with giant steel blades or jumping over armies of raging Tharks but in scenes of introspection or humorous back-and-forths he loses footing. The real star is Collins as Dejah Thoris who nails the epic qualities of reciting enjoyably ridiculous Martian-speak. She stands out even in the blinding desert sun and even when decked out in over-the-top boobage costuming manages to deliver a compelling and rousing performance. Doesn't hurt that she knows her way around a swordfight or two.
With John Carter moving at lightning speed investing in the film's handful of characters becomes a difficult task but talented folk like Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton bring zest to characters on par with James Cameron's Avatar creations. And with such a strong background in animation it's no surprise that Woola John Carter's scrappy space dog sidekick is as realized and tangible as the rest of the gang. The scrappy six-legged critter adds humor to John Carter born completely out of the moment. Don't confuse this with the Star Wars prequels—nothing cutesy or ham-fisted here.
A streamlined John Carter would have really popped but as a first live-action effort for Stanton the fill is still something to behold. With breathtaking design sweeping action and a score by Lost Star Trek and Pixar vet Michael Giacchino that finds perfect balance between Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones the film works as an immersive cinematic experience that will have you "ooo-ing" and "aaa-ing." If you step into John Carter you'll likely find yourself transported to another world—it beats trying to find a magic cave.
It was a freaky weekend at the box office this weekend as the horror parody Scary Movie 3 helped moviegoers get into the spirit of Halloween--to the tune of $21.1 million*, making it the No. 1 film for the second consecutive week. But sandwiched between the slasher spoof Scary Movie 3 and the limb hacker pic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which came in third with a gory $10.9 million, was a little animated tale called Brother Bear."Brother Bear totally capitalized on a marketplace devoid of family films," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations told The Associated Press Sunday. "There's always an opportunity where there's a scarcity of product for a particular segment of the audience." The Disney film opened Saturday with a burly $18.4 million, an impressive debut compared to the Mouse House's recent animated features. Although Brother Bear didn't premiere as strongly as the Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios collaboration Finding Nemo, which netted $70.2 million when it hit theaters in May, it surpassed the openings of other Disney pics this year, including Piglet's Big Movie ($6 million) and The Jungle Book 2 ($11.4 million).The lone film to open wide this weekend, Brother Bear was also the only new addition to this week's box office Top Ten. The feel good drama Radio came in fourth with $10.2 million, while the John Grisham thriller Runaway Jury rounded out the Top Five with $6.8 million. The Human Stain, starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, opened in limited release with an impressive $1.2 million, while the re-release of the digitally remastered Alien: The Director's Cut, which boasts six minutes of never-before-seen footage, opened in select cities to the pulsating tune of $ 1 million. THE TOP TENDimension Films' PG-13 rated spoof Scary Movie 3 reigned in the No. 1 spot for the second week with an ESTIMATED $21.1 million (-56%) in 3,505 theaters (unchanged; $6,020 per theater). Its cume is approximately $78.6 million. Directed by David Zucker, it stars Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Simon Rex, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, George Carlin and Leslie Nielsen.Buena Vista's G rated animated film Brother Bear, which opened Saturday, debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $18.5 million in 3,028 theaters with a $6,119 per theater average--the highest of any film playing wide this week.Set against the majestic natural splendor of the Great American Northwest, the film tells the story of a boy whose life takes an unexpected turn when he is transformed into a bear.Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.New Line Cinema's R rated horror remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, slipped from second place to third in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10.9 million (-25%) in 2,970 theaters (-48 theaters; $3,670 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.1 million.Directed by Marcus Nispel, it stars Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Erica Leerhsen and Andrew Bryniarski.Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated drama Radio dropped one notch to fourth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $10.2 million (-23%) in 3,074 theaters (unchanged, $3,318 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.8 million.Directed by Michael Tollin, it stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ed Harris.Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated courtroom thriller Runaway Jury fell one position to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-19%) in 2,736 theaters (-79; $2,507per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.6 million. Directed by Gary Fleder, it stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.Warner Bros.' R rated drama Mystic River fell from its No. 5 position to sixth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-19%) in 1,551 theaters (+58 theaters; $4,046 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.5 million.Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.Miramax Films' R rated gory actioner Kill Bill Vol. 1, held steady in seventh place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (-26%) in 2,429 theaters (-204 theaters, $1,939 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.9 millionDirected by Quentin Tarantino, it stars Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and David Carradine.Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated comedy School of Rock, dropped two positions to No. 8 in its eighth week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-33%) in 2,786 theaters (-165 theaters; $1,579 per theater). Its cume is approximately $69.1 million.Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Black, Joan Cusack and Michael White.Universal Pictures' PG 13 rated romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty held on to its No. 9 position in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-27%) in 1,661 theaters (-629 theaters, $1,600 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32 million.Produced by Ethan Coen and directed by Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.Screen Gems' R rated erotic thriller In the Cut expanded in its second week to place tenth with an ESTIMATED $2.3 million at 825 theaters (+819 theaters, $2,788 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.4 million. In the film, Meg Ryan plays a self-determined NYU professor who, following the brutal murder of a young woman in her neighborhood, tests the limits of her own safety by entering into a risky sexual liaison with a detective. Directed by Jane Campion, it stars Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nick Damici.OTHER OPENINGSMiramax's R rated drama The Human Stain debuted in 160 theaters with an ESTIMATED $1.1 million. Its $7,025 per theater average was the highest of any film playing this week. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as a man who, throughout his life, has been a master of deception and self-reinvention. Years later, when he becomes an esteemed professor, false accusations ruin his career.Directed by Robert Benton, it stars Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and Wentworth Miller.Twentieth Century Fox's R rated sci-fi thriller Alien: The Director's Cut opened in 347 theaters with an ESTIMATED $1 million, with a $2,997 per theater average. In the film, a re-release of director Ridley Scott's 1979 film, seven crewmembers of the commercial ship Nostromo are awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate an S.O.S. distress call from an alien vessel.Directed by Scott, it stars Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto.WEEKEND COMPARISON The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $91.9 million, down 23.16 percent from last weekend's $119.5 million. The Top 12 movies were also down 8.94 percent from this time last year when they took in $100.9 million.Last year, Buena Vista's G rated The Santa Clause 2 debuted in the No. 1 position with $29 million in 3,350 theaters ($8,659 per theater); DreamWorks' R rated thriller The Ring stayed at No. 2 in its third week with $18.1 million in 2,808 theaters ($6,452 per theater); and Sony's PG-13 rated I Spy opened in third with $12.7 million in 3,182 theaters ($4,008 per theater).
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.
There should be a rule stating if a movie has already won the Academy Award for Best Picture it should never EVER be remade at a later time no matter who is involved. Why mess with a good thing? The 1949 All the King's Men based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren starred Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark a 1950s Louisiana politician who uses fiery rhetoric to get the poor folk to elect him as governor but who becomes corrupt in the process and is eventually assassinated. The story is loosely based on the real-life legendary 1930s Louisiana governor Huey P. Long and the original film adaptation was equally brazen and subtle wonderfully executed and won three Oscars including the top prize. But apparently the original wasn’t as authentic as this current incarnation. This time Sean Penn stars as our prime filibuster who tries to keep things lively but gets bogged down by the muddled subplots especially the one involving Stark’s PR guy Jack Burden (Jude Law) and his relationships with his very Southern godfather (Anthony Hopkins) and childhood friends (Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo). Yawn. With a cast like this it’s no wonder King's Men got remade. Penn clearly stands out of course. How could he not? His Willie Stark is the only thing sparking anything close to life in the film. But with the part such as it is Penn also tends to unnecessarily chew up scenery while everyone stands around him in a wilting repose. Law—once again narrating the proceedings (must he do this in ALL his films?)—tries to embody a character who really doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about anything except being Stark’s beck and call boy even after all the horrible things Stark makes him do to the people he supposedly loves. Winslet as Jack’s unrequited childhood love Ruffalo as her put-upon brother and Hopkins as a former judge who stands in Stark’s way to success are all just completely wasted. As is Patricia Clarkson as Stark’s campaign manager and mistress Sadie Burke who was so brilliantly played by the Oscar-winning Mercedes McCambridge in the 1949 original. Whatever happened in translation is surely not Clarkson fault. Come on guys you’ve got a powerhouse crew here. Why fritter them away? Apparently redoing All the King's Men has been a dream project of political pundit James Carville one of the film’s producers for some time. He has dabbled here and there in the entertainment industry especially in the riveting documentary The War Room so periodically through the years Carville would mention to filmmakers in passing how he had a passion for Robert Penn Warren’s novel and how deeply he wanted to see it filmed authentically. Lo and behold someone finally listened and a new King's Men was underway helmed by writer/director Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) with an all-star cast. Filming on location in New Orleans and the outlying areas of Louisiana just before Hurricane Katrina hit Zaillian provides the faithfulness Carville was looking for. But did anyone at any time ask the question “Why are we doing this movie again when it was already done so well?” I repeat it was a Best Picture winner for chrissakes. And now remaking it into a giant snore-fest just ruins the mystique. Sometimes they just don’t get it.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.