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.
S11E10: Now that the pressure of makeshift performances on group night and solo night is finally clear, the 70 remaining American Idol contestants are whisked away to Las Vegas to form groups once more. This time, they’ll put together costumes and work with vocal coaches to perform assigned 1950s and 1960s songs. Ryan informs us as dramatically as possible that this time, they’ll get immediate results on stage – as if it’s different than every other episode apart from Solo Night.
The wonderful thing about Vegas performances is that they tend to be colorful, theatrical and fun. We see outfits inspired by USO shows and Elvis performances, but dress-up is more fun when you aren’t sent packing in your fuchsia Diana Ross dress. And while 50s and 60s music seems like an easy task because we all know the words and the notes are clean and simple, but these harmonies and melodies are so tight, it’s terribly obvious when they’re not completely pristine.
Luckily, Idol spares us the uglier performances, delivering only the best of them. We’re also seeing the contestants quickly fall into two groups – even within the ones chosen to stay. There are your average contestants with pretty voices, decent ranges, cute faces, etc., but then you’ve got the people who – as cheesy as it sounds – have music in their souls. The split divides the backstreet boys from the people who seem to view music not as a meal ticket or a means of fame, but as part of their identities.
Cari Quoyeser, Colton Dixon, Chase Likens, Skylar Laine
Before this group takes the stage, Skylar worries her trouble with harmonies will hurt her group – yes, we found an Idol hopeful who’s actually worried about someone other than herself. The group kicks off Day 1 with “Dedicated to the One I Love” and the group was easily split into two groups: the talented ones and the other ones. Colton, despite the praise he gets from the judges time and again, just doesn’t do it for me. He’s a boring combination of 1990s Justin Timberlake and Jason Mraz. Snooze. He’s not bad, he’s just not a stand-out other than the fact that the show continues to highlight him. Chase and Skylar blow their cohorts out of the water despite putting their country voices into unfamiliar territory. Lastly, Cari was a bit “shaky” as Jennifer put it – though I have to agree – and she was the first contestant sent home.
David Leathers, Jr, Gabi Carrubba, Jeremy Rosado, Ariel Sprague
One fourth of the next group, contestant Gabi Carrubba, somehow treads an impossible line between diva and sweetheart, complaining that she doesn’t have a decent enough solo while still maintaining respect for her friends and fellow singers. But when it comes time to sing “Rockin’ Robin” she gets to rock a big note at the end. That sounds like the perfect place to show off if you ask me. As usual, David and Jeremy are incredible – no surprise there. The perfectly average Ariel comes out of the gate with a much bigger game this time – she really does belong up there. Despite their middle school glee club choreography, the judges send them all through – which is good because they’re friends and that could get awkward.
Angie Zeiderman, Erika Van Pelt, Adam Brock, Shelby Tweeten
Another split performance comes from this foursome, who spit out “Great Balls of Fire.” It’s no wonder that Adam shined as he sang and plinked away at the piano and Erika found the overboard sweet spot – the dynamic elements of the song suited her tendency to over perform. Angie is having fun and she’s fully committed, but she’s a little sharp and it’s clear she’s not the same caliber singer as her teammates. Shelby is cute and decent singer, but I’ve yet to find her engaging. They all go through, though Randy leaves poor Angie in limbo for what feels like 45 seconds.
Schyler Dixon, Brielle Von Hugel, Molly Hunt
Colton Dixon’s sister Schyler, didn’t fare as well in her routine as her brother did in his. The girls sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” in reimagined (see: skimpy) army costumes and Steven says he used to make out to this song, reminding us just how old he really is. The performance is over the top, and Schyler, especially, slides to and from notes too much. Brielle is obnoxious, but strong. They must have cut out Molly’s solo, because we have no evidence of her “weak” performance before she is cut. Jennifer adds that Molly is such a sweetheart. Yes, it hurts to send home the nice girl while the one who terrifies her own mother gets to continue.
Haley Johnson, Elise Testone, Eben Franckewitz, Reed Grimm
This unlikely quartet has “modernized” their song, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and while I’m sure they have an official group name, they should probably change it to The Reed Show. Reed dominates the performance, and whether or not you find his personality obnoxious, his clear talent is unavoidable. Elise is fairly solid – though her voice does crack once – and Haley does alright, but her voice is remarkably vanilla. Eben is cute and sweet, but he’s not as remarkable as he once seemed to be, but at the end, he joins the group in scatting and beat boxing, proving that they’re not just singers, they’re truly musical. They carry it, even if their individual voices aren’t that spectacular. All four are moving on.
Richie Law, Jermaine Jones
After MIT kicked Richie out, the two deep-voiced singers couldn’t find groups. But even when they find each other, they have trouble syncing up. Richie once again thinks he’s couldn’t possibly be wrong and blames his vocal coach’s arrangement. Richie’s annoying qualities aside, they managed to pull it together for their performance. Jermaine sings honestly and sweetly and Richie sings like a Kermit the Frog sound-alike who’s watched too many Tim McGraw and Josh Groban videos. The judges love every bit of it – perhaps they were lulled into a happy place but Jermaine’s voice, because Richie sure didn’t have a pleasant effect on me.
Candice Glover, Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick
The trio sings “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and first up, Jessica, overdoes her performance with overdone vibrato, but she does prove to have a decent set of pipes. Deandre’s falcetto is a little hard to hear at first, but it’s lovely. It would lovelier without that mop, though. Candice is solid and acts as the final piece sending the whole group through to the next round.
But they can’t show every performance, so we learn of a few keepers and departures in rapid fire montaged. Strong singers Hallie Day, Baylie Brown, and Chelsea Sorrell will stick around for another day, while Wayne Wilson, Ashley Robles, Stephanie Renae, Aubrey Deickmeyer, Tonya Torrez, and Janelle Arthur are all sent home. But the Day 1 folks learn that at the end of Day 2, they’ll all be brought in for a second round of sudden cuts. Get ready for tears.
Scott Dangerfield, Clayton Farhat, Adam Lee Decker, Curtis Cray
These guys were a lot of fun, in their matching little “Jailhouse Rock” 50s ne’er-do-well get-ups, but it was obvious that the talent wasn’t even across the board. Clayton had fun by the was a little thin and Scott and Adam are the strongest. Curtis was sharp, Jennifer points out that he didn’t make use of dynamics. Curtis is out and while they’re nice as a group, none of them really stand out, vocally or personality-wise.
Jessica Phillips, Brittnee Kellogg, Courtney Williams
These over-confident ladies don’t practice with the band or vocal coaches because they sing for a living, so they don’t “need” the help. They delve into “Keep Me Hanging On” and immediately, Courtney has irregular switches between falcetto and vibrato. Jessica attempts a similar feat but with less risk. Randy calls it “A little much” – and that’s putting it lightly. The judges say both Courtney and Jessica took risks that didn’t pay off. I think that’s more true for Courtney than Jessica. Brittnee and Courtney make it through by some miracle and Jessica is sent home. I’m sorry but were we listening to the same thing? Courtney should be on the road right now. But Jessica is a poor loser, saying that she’s a real artist and calling out people who aren’t real artists, bashes the TV show saying she doesn’t care about it, she only cares about a recording contract. We loved Jessica and felt for her story, but unsportsmanlike behavior is not helping us feel badly for her.
Lauren Gray, Mathenee Treco, Wendy Taylor
This trio clashes hard with their vocal coach, causing her to make a reference to A League of Their Own which seems to do little more than confuse everyone. Lauren is losing her voice, the vocal coach is merciless, but that’s probably for the best. They sing “Will You Still Love Me” and Lauren does well, though it certainly sounds like she’s sick. Mathenee is good, but why are all of his solos in falcetto? That’s not a good way to show off. They cut Mathenee.
Jairon Jackson, Neco Starr, Phil Phillips, Heejun Han
Some Idol genius paired Heejun with Peggy Blue, but she’s actually sweet with him. Their little tete-a-tete is the best part of the coaching bits. “You were scary last year, what’s up with that?” “You’re sweet.” “You’re sweet too…now.” Isn’t that just adorable? And the reason Peggy was so nice is because the group just clicked. Neco’s performance is lovely. Heejun delivers a nice solo, but lacks his usual fire. And Phil actually has to sing sweetly – something he never really does, but he pulls it off. And it’s likable. Peggy actually gets a shout out – what planet is this? Randy messes with them, calls them forward one by one and then phrases the final verdict as if they’re cut. But duh, they all make it through. My favorite jokester lives to see another day.
Nick Boddington, Jen Hirsch, Creighton Fraker, Aaron Marcellus
The foursome is still coping with the loss of their old teammate, Reed Grimm, but they still whip out a rousing rendition of “Sealed With a Kiss.” And it would see my opinion of Creighton Fraker is pretty sealed. I liked him a bit more after “What a Wonderful World” but this week he’s back to delivering his voice as 10 shades of overkill. Jen Hirsch once again blows our minds – where has that voice been hiding? And Aaron is consistent as always. Nick is the only one who can’t really compare to the others and he’s sent home. And to be fair, if he’s overshadowed here, he’ll be overshadowed in the bigger competition too.
Also making it through are Caleb Johnson, Joshua Sanders, Joshua Ledet and Shannon Magrane.
Finally, they bring all the contestants on stage to humiliate them. They stand with groups and are eliminated or kept right then and there. It’s so cruel, but they need to get to 40 (they only make it to 42, but next week they have to get down to 24). And the major cuts are: Gabi Carrubba, Schyler Dixon (whose brother made it after JLo forced him to audition), Angie Zeiderman, Candice Glover, Johnny Keyser, Jairson Jackson, and Britnee Kellogg. But how they can keep a subpar singer like Richie around, in light of those cuts, is beyond me.
Next week, it’s the last chance before the top 24 are chosen. Who do you think will make it?
As the opening song belts out fast cars champagne and caviar are what professional basketball player Jamal Jeffries (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) is all about. In fact Jeffries is so taken by his own success that he doesn't sign autographs but uses a stamp. His Dennis Rodman-style antics however reach a breaking point when he strips during a game in front of millions of fans and flings his jock strap into the seats. The stunt gets him thrown out of the league and before he can say "slam-dunk " Jeffries loses his house his cars and his girlfriend. Desperate to work again at the one thing he does best Jeffries comes up with the mother of all schemes: He shaves his legs dabs on mascara and tries out for the women's league--and it works. But as he builds friendships and gains the trust of the women on his team he feels torn between his obligation to his team the Banshees and his need to return to a normal life. If you've seen the 1982 comedy Tootsie you know exactly how this film plays out. Surprisingly Juwanna Mann is not crammed with bad slapstick humor but is an entertaining twist on an old classic with a delightfully sweet storyline.
Nunez (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) not only pulls off the Jamal/Juwanna character with ease but he pretty much steals the show here. His character comes off as endearing rather than obnoxious because he takes his role as a woman seriously and is never condescending about playing in the women's league. Nunez also delivers some great one-liners the best being when he is fighting off advances from the gold-toothed Puff Smokey Smoke. Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) plays Michelle a fellow player whom Jeffries develops feelings for. Although it's hard to buy the sweet and almost delicate Fox in such an athletic role she pulls it off--but there is not all that much chemistry between her and Nunez. As Jeffries' crass sports agent Lorne Daniels Kevin Pollak (3000 Miles to Graceland) is seedy with just the right touch of humanity so his character is not completely despicable. The most cartoonish and unlikable character is Tommy Davidson's (Bamboozled) Puff Smokey Smoke. He has some funny lines but is too far-fetched to be believable.
Jesse Vaughan who directed a season of In Living Color makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann. Judging from the trailer I thought the film would be a low-brow comedy with a lot of overdone men-in-heels humor. I was instead pleasantly surprised by the film's storyline which--although it is a complete take on Tootsie--is short sweet and non-offensive. While some characters like Puff Smokey Smoke are a bit over the top Nunez's Jamal/Juwanna character is never clownish and well developed enough that you can't help but feel for his/her predicament. Some scenes appear to have a Klumps influence like the scene in which Jeffries is playing cards with his aunt and a gang of her senior friends but the overall effect is a moderately funny film peppered with some slightly funnier moments. Newcomer Bradley Allenstein had the sense to deliver a sweet comedy screenplay that was short enough and knew when to quit.