Reel Reviews

‘John Carter’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Action hero makes his mark on Mars

A risky and on the whole successful venture, “John Carter” (Disney) was adapted from A Princess of Mars, the first of 11 books by Edgar Rice Burroughs that focuses on an ex-Confederate captain who is propelled to the Red Planet, where he becomes embroiled in a war between two city states and falls in love with a comely royal.

Faithful to its source material, the film is crammed with species, plotlines and pseudo-scientific jargon that multiple generations of readers and moviegoers will find familiar. And although it doesn’t hang together logically, its gaps are of the kind that the folks in Hollywood are expert at papering over.

Carter (Taylor Kitsch) arrives on Mars – “Barsoom” to its inhabitants – during a turbulent period in the planet’s history. The ecosystem is rapidly deteriorating and two powers, Helium and Zadonga, are fighting a protracted war. Between them is a race of green, four-armed creatures with tusks called Tharks, one of whom, Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), finds Carter after he’s mysteriously plunked down on a dry lake bed after having gained superhuman powers such as the gravity-defying ability to leap long distances.

Originally from Virginia, Carter is first encountered in New York City in 1881 having amassed a great fortune. He relates his incredible Mars odyssey in a journal read by his nephew and heir, the budding writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara). Marked by the trauma of America’s Civil War, Carter is a precursor to Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and other nobly intrepid protagonists. He’s ever willing to risk his life for others and quick to stand up for the defenseless.

Of the many fascinating creatures and contraptions Carter encounters on Mars, none is more dazzling than Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the princess of Helium, who is being forced to marry the puppet leader of Zadonga to end the fighting and unify the planet. A handful of immortal beings called Therns are manipulating events.

In addition to an unwieldy plot, obstacles to success include a rather bland lead actor, a protracted running time, and less-than-scintillating dialogue used to break up the battle sequences, which are, of course, tailor-made for 3-D. Against all odds, it works. Poised to become the first blockbuster of the season, “John Carter” marries the appeal of a pulp serial with cutting-edge filmmaking techniques.

While there’s relatively little of concern in the picture's content, this feature is likely best for older teens and up.

The film contains considerable, sometimes intense, action violence, scenes of cruelty, fleeting toilet humor, at least one use of profanity (the “g-damn” word) and several instances of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service)

‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’

Audience:
PG-13

 

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“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is about, well, exactly what the mouthful-of-a-title says. There is a strong temptation to review this movie by stringing together a series of fishing puns, so I will simply let my lines fly, and see if you catch my drift.

Ewan McGregor stars as a British fish expert hired by Emily Blunt on behalf of a wealthy sheik to bring sport fishing to the Yemeni desert. The sheik apparently thinks that getting people to fish together will bring a better chance of peace to the troubled Middle East. Worth a try? Well, in any event, I would have liked to have been at the meeting when the topic for this movie was first pitched. No doubt, someone brought a map to show exactly where the Yemen is – on the southwest tip of the Saudi peninsula, just across the Red Sea from East Africa.

The movie itself is deep. There’s a lot of quasi-mystical rhapsodizing about fishing while wading into themes of tolerance and religious harmony. It even swims against the prevailing cultural current by affirming the value of faith. However, it never decides on a genre: light romance or drama, and its salmon ex machina ending is silly. The concept hooked me, but, on an emotional level, this fish tale never reeled me in. The movie has not been classified by the Catholic News Service. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By David DiCerto)