30 March 2012

Movie Review: Wrath of the Titans

Wrath of the Titans (2012) 
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Starring Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Danny Huston, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Well, that was trivial.

A sequel nobody demanded from a re-make nobody cared about. There’s no John Carter of Mars “never gonna see a sequel” bitterness here at all.

But there is some Ray Harryhausen gloating. While watching Wrath of the Titans, I constantly thought of reverse-engineering the movie to create the Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer original from which it was re-made. I came up with a pretty entertaining film; not as good as Jason and the Argonauts or The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, but right on the level of Mysterious Island, although lacking a Bernard Herrmann score. The scene of Perseus fighting the Minotaur in the labyrinth is one of Harryhausen’s most suspenseful an atmospheric stop-motion creations. In the re-make, the scene is sloppily tossed into the action without any tension, and then fought through without a moment of genuine excitement.

19 March 2012

Movie Review: Hercules in the Haunted World

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)
Directed by Mario Bava. Starring Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, Giorgio Ardisson, Ida Galli, Marisa Belli.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

My most popular post I’ve written for Black Gate takes on one of the goofiest fantasy films of the ‘80s, the Lou Ferrigno Hercules. Two-and-a-half years later, I feel I should give the on-screen Hercules another shot with one of the better films to carry his name. Plus, I just pondered the news that a new Hercules film is on the way. Or maybe I’m just trying to repeat the search-engine magic of the name “Hercules.” So let’s leap back twenty-two years from the science-fiction cheesy glitz of Ferrigno’s film and take a kaleidoscopic trip to Hell on a shoestring budget with Mario Bava.

12 March 2012

John Carter of Mars Post-Game: Six Reasons to Feel Better

 Cross-posted to Black Gate.

John Carter of Mars (yes, I have chosen to flat-out call the film by that name going forward, as per its end title card) drew in approximately $30.6 million in domestic box-office over the weekend according to online tracker Box Office Mojo. This is better than some of the gloomier Cassandra predictions, and even superior to the lowered tracking numbers from the days right before the film’s release that pegged it at $25 million.

But I won’t sugarcoat this for fans or lie based on my long experience tracking box-office results: these numbers do not augur well. (If you want to hear a more objective—and therefore grimmer—analysis, read Box Office Mojo’s take on this. It isn’t pretty.) The new film couldn’t even best last week’s #1 film, The Lorax, which held over to take the top spot despite a standard 44% drop in attendance. It performed $5 million less than last year’s Battle: Los Angeles, a more modest film that cost a third of John Carter of Mars’s $250 million budget.

09 March 2012

John Carter [of Mars] Is a Perfect Edgar Rice Burroughs Movie

John Carter (2012)
Directed by Andrew Stanton. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, James Purefoy, Darryl Sabara.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

[This is a review from the POV of an unapologetic Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. You need to know this from the start, and much of what I say here relates directly to ERB. Since much of his great early work is in the public domain, and free to download for e-readers at Project Gutenberg, you too can start being an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan right now!]

Don’t expect the brackets in my post title John Carter [of Mars] to endure. People who have already seen John Carter will know what I mean: Walt Disney Pictures could not stop director Andrew Stanton from making John Carter of Mars the true title of his adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s century-old classic A Princess of Mars. Stanton, a fan of the Martian novels since he was a child, has given the perfect fan treatment to the material. If you’re a fan as well, then John Carter will carry you from the beginning until the end on a wave of childhood joy until you choke up at the final title cards.

If you’ve been reading my reviews of the Martian novels, then you already know my bias; I am also an Edgar Rice Burroughs fanatic from a young age. As with Captain America: The First Avenger, I am inclined to love this film more than most viewers. But, as with Captain America, I feel confident that the majority of viewers will enjoy this film, with a few caveats. Burroughs fans, however, may purchase with rock solid confidence.

08 March 2012

Get Ready for John Carter: My Quick Guide to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars

It floated there in space, fourth from the giant sun, slowly turning on its axis. Its rolling hills and blue waters were silent and empty. On that entire world only one spot pulsed with the mysterious spark of life. It was in the Valley Dor, and the stirring was within the Great Tree of Life.

All this was some twenty-three million years ago, when Dor lay across the equator.

A millennia passed.


—John Flint Roy, A Guide to Barsoom

Kaor! Tomorrow, John Carter [of Mars] opens across the country. (My review.) Most of you know how I feel about this, and my blogger-level fight to make it a hit. You may also know I’ve been reviewing all of the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s an important day for me tomorrow, and you can expect to see a review of the movie on the website by the afternoon. I plan to do a video review as well, which is a first for me.

For many viewers, going to see John Carter [of Mars] will be their first encounter with the Mars that Edgar Rice Burroughs first created exactly a hundred years ago in the novel A Princess of Mars, the source novel for the movie. (Based on what I’ve seen in the promotional material, the film will also contain elements of The Gods of Mars, the second novel.) I’ve provided below a short guide to what audiences may expect to see in the film: no spoilers; and of course and I’m guessing at some of this, since I only know what I’ve seen in the trailers and heard from interviews.

These are some of key races, creatures, and terms you will probably encounter in John Carter [of Mars], and I hope many of you enjoy having a bit of a “cheat sheet” on ERB’s amazing Martian world. I’ve included the names of the actors playing the various parts in parentheses.

Update: Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’ve added a few terms germane to what is on screen.

06 March 2012

It Is Up to Us: We Must Make John Carter [of Mars] a Hit

Update: Yes, I have seen it now! Read the review.

Update II: We tried, we tried . . . but the film did not hit like we hoped. But here are some reasons to feel better.

Friends, Heliumites, Martians. . . .

I am here before you now with possibly distressing news. This Friday, John Carter [of Mars] premieres in theaters nationwide. (Read about the novel!) This is the first “event film” of 2012. Early reviews and reports from viewers who saw sneaks of it are enthusiastic: “good” to “great” is the word from almost everyone. Yet tracking shows the film on its way toward a soft opening: $25–$30 million. The marketing machine from Disney has mishandled this film, and it may very well founder at the box-office despite the positive reviews and word-of-mouth.

Readers, we cannot allow this to happen. We must make this movie a hit. It has taken a hundred years to get to this point, the realization of one of the foundational science-fiction works from one of the genre’s towering authors. We must not only see the film (this weekend, if possible) but we must convince friends, relatives, co-workers, casual acquaintances, Starbucks baristas, and the other person standing at the crosswalk that they should see this film. We must become evangelicals for Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom.

Normally, I would never push people to see a movie that I haven’t seen myself. I won’t see John Carter [of Mars] until it opens on Friday morning. In the past, I haven’t pushed for people to go see movies like Tron: Legacy despite my hopes for a hit. In the case of Tron: Legacy, it was getting poor reviews and I couldn’t in good conscience advise people to see something they probably wouldn’t like. Besides, I had the original Tron, whatever else might happen.

05 March 2012

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Play Hercules and Probably Kill a Lot of Stuff

I shall be briefer than usual for a Tuesday, since I plan to put up another post on Black Gate and this website this coming Friday: a review of the film John Carter [of Mars]. If I’m doing an overview of all of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Martian novels to coincide with the release of this movie over a hundred years in the making (and in development hell since the mid-1930s, I jest not) then I certainly owe my readers a review of the movie delivered on the day of its release. I’ve already scored my ticket for the Friday morning IMAX screening at the Howard Hughes Center, a genuine six-story screen, not one of those false ones that have popped up around the country that are only squarer and a bit taller than a regular screen.

For today I planned to write a review of one of the old Italian Hercules movies as a long-delayed follow-up to the most popular post I’ve ever done at Black Gate, a joking review of the 1983 Hercules starring Lou Ferrigno. But right as I was planning to explore Hercules in the Haunted World, a piece of important movie news broke, and so I’ll delay my old Herc review to talk about this mythological tidbit from Tinseltown:

According to Variety, MGM is lining up a new live-action Heracles film. Ah, I mean Hercules film.