Entertainment Movies

Monday 27 January 2020

Impressive CGI breathes life into Mars but it lacks soul

Aine O'Connor, Padraic McKiernan and Hilary A White

John Carter

Cert 12A

ON the centenary of his first literary appearance, John Carter -- the hero of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series -- is finally brought to the big screen after some aborted attempts.

The earliest such outing -- in 1935 -- saw test audiences find the premise of a human being landing on Mars a bit much to take. But now, with Walt Disney's megabucks behind it, Burroughs's saga of a US Confederate soldier zapped to Mars to battle monsters and whatnot arrives under a shower of very expensive confetti.

After a breezy intro in the skies over Mars (or Barsoom as the locals call it), we kick off proper in the wild west of Arizona. No longer fighting in the American civil war, the titular hero (Taylor Kitsch) is prospecting for gold when he gets caught up in crossfire between Apaches and soldiers, leaving him huddling in a mysterious cave.

From here, he is teleported to Barsoom -- a lush planet apparently. He is taken captive by four-armed warrior natives known as Tharks. Meanwhile, two kingdoms of human-style Martians are at war, and our hero becomes caught up in this when he rescues the princess (Lynn Collins) of the more virtuous kingdom. Cue lots of clanging swords, derring-do and CGI creatures.

Apart from a heavy hand with the fake tan, it can't be faulted -- on a visual level -- whether we're in the Arizona badlands or a Martian palace, while the CGI is as good as it gets. Kitsch and Collins are ably supported by a fine cast which includes Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West and Mark Strong.

So why then does John Carter feel so... underwhelming? Perhaps it is because all it's doing is pilfering the best bits of Star Wars, Braveheart, The Matrix and Stargate and giving them a snazzy but soulless lick of gloss.

Now showing

The Other Side of Sleep

Cert 15A

Arlene (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) wakes in a forest beside a dead woman. She wakes again at home in a bed full of mud and it looks not to be the first time. This time, however, she has lost her long-dead mother's bracelet. She has a concerned grandmother (Gina Moxley), she gets on with her co-workers in the local factory and she has a social life -- so Arlene's isolation is not exclusion. But it is apparent. Just as her bedsit is in a house on the very edge of her rural Irish town, so too is Arlene.

When a woman's body is discovered in the forest Arlene becomes obsessed -- she befriends the victim's sister (Vicky Joyce) and the chief suspect, the victim's boyfriend (Sam Keeley).

Co-writer and director Rebecca Daly does a nice job of delivering a sense of small-town Ireland. The dream-like aspect is very strongly conveyed; however, a dream is an intensely personal thing and it's difficult to connect with the film or the characters.

There are a few loose ends, a couple of slightly obvious but half-hearted red herrings that merely add to a sense of confusion. Arguably what is not seen through Arlene's eyes doesn't need to be seen through a somnambulant haze -- the affliction is hers and is not general. The effect of making it all a little hazy is to make it feel slow. At times the meaning is hard to grasp.

It won't appeal to everyone but it is a very interesting and original piece of work.

Now showing at the IFI and selected cinemas

In Darkness

Cert 15A

WE are all in the sewer but some of us are looking at the stars. This slight bastardisation of Oscar Wilde's quote, could describe the worldview of the central character in director Agnieszka Holland's big-themed Oscar-nominated Holocaust drama, In Darkness.

With a title such as that, it won't come as a surprise to read that this compelling piece concerns itself with themes related to man's inhumanity to man -- or to be specific, man's inhumanity to the Jewish race.

Set in the Polish city of Lvov, it charts the plight of a group of Jews who were forced to take refuge in the city's underground sewage system, when the German army began exterminating Jews.

While fleeing these graphically depicted horrors, they encounter sewerage inspector and part-time petty thief, Leopold Socha, (the charismatic Polish actor Robert Wieckiewicz). Socha knows this subterranean warren of tunnels and water pipes like the back of his proverbial and, in return for payment, he agrees to provide these refugees with scraps of food and clothing in the hope that they can avoid detection. It's a policy that could cost him his life but, gradually moved by his interactions with these desperate people, what started out as a business arrangement has soon become a labour of love. Can these heroic survivors endure the Stygian gloom and the squalor of their rat-infested surroundings long enough to be saved by the imminent arrival of the liberating Red Army?

The reality that In Darkness is based on a true story, together with the director's unflinching approach to the subject matter combines to deliver a spectacle of almost unremitting bleakness. Let's just say The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas this ain't. Though more credible than that candy-coated depiction of Holocaust related atrocities, it lacks the watchability of, for example, a Schindler's List.

Worthwhile then, but it's 140 minutes of hard work. Both literally and metaphorically, there's very little light at the end of these tunnels.

Now showing at the IFI

21 Jump Street

Cert 15A

WHO says they don't remake

'em like they used to? Well that would be just me right now but with Hollywood's proclivity for reworking old favourites showing no signs of abating, it could be that we're talking a cliche-waiting-to-happen. The latest Eighties franchise to get its new millennium makeover is the action-comedy TV series that gave Johnny Depp his big break, 21 Jump Street.

This time around, it's a case of brain paired with brawn as Superbad's Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum team up as two undercover cops tasked with busting a high-school drugs ring. Their paths first crossed in high-school where the nerdy Schmidt (Hill) had very little in common with the dumb-as-dirt jock Jenko (Tatum). It's a different story five years later at police academy when their contrasting respective assets, both academic and athletic, are pooled in order to graduate.

The hoped-for career as "badass" cops fails to materialise, however, and when they prove themselves incapable of performing the most basic of duties, a reassignment to 21 Jump Street offers a last shot at redemption for this deadbeat duo. The introduction of a highly addictive synthetic drug has already claimed one life in a local high-school and Schmidt and Jenko go undercover to source the supply. Can these super-sized high-school students cut it with the kids? Nah, I didn't care either.

The good news is that we're not supposed to care as under the direction of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the modus operandi adopted here is all about playing it for laughs. Taking aim at the comedy's lowest comedy denominator, it scores a few direct hits but those looking for an extended journey along the ho-ho highway will be disappointed. A slimmed down Hill has his moments but the true revelation is the easy-on-the-eye Channing. The narrowness of his acting range has often been commented upon, but on this evidence, only the haters will deny it extends to a facility for kickass comedy.

Now showing

We Bought a Zoo

Cert PG

SO much for that showbiz adage that warns against working with either children or animals. Brendan Fraser and Steve Martin (the drastic Furry Vengeance and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 pair respectively) are just two of Hollywood's finest who still bear the scars on their credibility from recent attempts to subvert the implications of that saying. The good news to report about Matt Damon's turn in We Bought a Zoo, however, is that he acquits himself admirably in a role that could be described as a perfect storm in this regard -- with extended interaction with both children and animals.

Based on a true story and directed by Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire) this winning family drama stars Damon as, Benjamin Mee, a California-based writer and self-confessed "adventure addict".

For the Mee family, home is where the heartbreak is. The recent death of his beloved wife has left Damon's character bereft and struggling to cope as sole parent to moody pre-teen Dylan (Colin Ford) and his adorable little sis, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).

Prompted by the laconic urgings of his affable brother Duncan, a solid Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), and aided by a family inheritance, Benjamin's efforts to turn over a new leaf, result in a radical rural relocation and the purchase of a dilapidated zoo. The zoo comes with 47 animal species, including tigers and bears and boasts its own team of zoo-keepers led by Scarlett Johansson. But soon, as feared by Ben's brother, this menagerie has morphed into a money pit. Cue a race against time to ensure the zoo passes the inspection that will allow it to open as an economically viable concern.

Damon excels as the put-upon paterfamilias struggling to negotiate a fresh start for his family while a somewhat dressed down Johansson also convinces as the hottie with a heart of gold.

Sigur Ros fatigue sets in on the soundtrack towards the conclusion as tear ducts are unashamedly targeted but this doesn't detract in any major way from a family friendly end-product that bristles with warmth and humanity.

Now showing

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