What does $250 million buy you in Hollywood these days? Not that much if John Carter is anything to go by. Based on a once-popular fantasy series by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs, Carter’s eponymous hero is an embittered Civil War captain from Virginia who, quite fantastically, gets teleported to Mars and drawn into a bloody civil war on that planet — one made even more complex by the schemes of a shape-shifting being from outside the solar system who is manipulating events for his own benefit. The combatants include two human-seeming tribes as well as a separate race of nine-foot-tall, four-armed creatures whose heads are reminiscent of a rhinoceros beetle with a Jar Jar Binks-style face.
Despite having been just a cavalry officer back on Earth, the courageous and resourceful Carter somehow proves to be a swashbuckling swordsman of astonishing skill. Add to that his newfound strength and ability to leap vast distances (credit going, rather improbably, to the slightly reduced gravitational pull of Mars) and our hero is well positioned to become Lawrence of Arabia on a dusty red planet. Of course he first has to fall in love with a gorgeous Martian princess (of the human, not beetle, persuasion) and forsake his angry and selfish ways.
This would-be epic is in some ways an able pastiche of rousingly old-fashioned tales of bravery and good humoured derring-do. The fantasy elements occasionally strike a note of wonderment and a few of the supporting actors (Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds) bring some juice to their roles. But the plot and pacing tend to lumber, while its pumped-up hero (B.C.-born Taylor Kitsch) comes up short on charisma. Although clearly designed to be the beginning of a lucrative movie franchise, this mission to Mars has “abort” written all over it. M
John Carter ★ ★
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins
PG-13 – 139 minutes
Continues at the Capitol, SilverCity & Westshore
And now we teleport from Mars to the equally amazing planet of Rom-Com, where strange creatures that look exactly like humans do crazy things. Friends With Kids opens with six long-time buddies — including two married couples and a guy-gal platonic pair who are wonderfully compatible but have no romantic chemistry — having dinner in a fancy New York restaurant. One of the couples announces that they are pregnant and the action jumps ahead four years.
Both couples are now knee-deep in nappies and plastic toys, and cartoonishly overwhelmed by the challenges of parenthood. Which leaves Julia (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) feeling left out. So they promptly go insane and decide to maintain their platonic, separate-apartment status while having a baby together — thereby somehow leaving themselves “free” to have low-stress romantic entanglements with others while also enjoying the joys of parenthood. Needless to say the last hour of the film becomes a painful, logic-stretching exercise in watching these two fall in love.
Kids has a fine cast (including Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph) and some good one-liners. But the script often seems tossed off, while the tone sometimes shifts weirdly from sit-commish exaggeration to a few scenes of bleak realism. And even though Scott and Westfeldt have some chemistry, their trash-talking characters deserve a stupidity award. M
Friends With Kids ★ ★
Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott
R – 100 minutes
Continues at the Odeon
After 150 minutes on the arid surface of Mars, it’s time for a beer! One of my favourites, good on its own or with everything from a burger to an East Indian curry, is Victoria’s own Phillips “Longboat” Double Chocolate Porter. Less heavy than a stout but loaded with savoury flavours of cocoa, coffee, and toasty caramel malt, well-balanced Longboat is widely available in both 650ml bottles and on tap.