Edgar Rice Burrough’s 1912 tale of a Civil War veteran who travels to Mars is, according to just about every analysis, the template for practically every pulpy science-fiction yarn to come afterward. As such, John Carter, based on the first installment in Burrough’s series A Princess of Mars, feels all-too familiar. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) leaves his nephew (Daryl Sabara playing a young Burroughs) his estate, including a journal recounting his adventures on Mars, known to the locals as Barsoom. There’s an enemy leader (Dominic West), a mysterious god of sorts (Mark Strong), a warrior princess (Lynn Collins), and a group of big, green men led by Tars Tarkas (voice of Willem Dafoe). The movie is technically accomplished and offers the feeling of a Saturday matinee serial, but it’s also too caught up in its strange lexicon and a multitude of undercooked subplots. My review is here. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D.
A sequel no one asked for is actually better than its predecessor. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island actually has fun with its Jules Verne-inspired trip to a strange land, where little things are big, big things are little, and a giant volcano threatens to send the titular island to the bottom of the ocean, where it’s better known as Atlantis. It’s silly stuff (perhaps too much so at points), but at least the cast, led by that good sport Dwayne Johnson and aided by Michael Caine, seems to recognize it. Sean (Josh Hutcherson) travels to Verne’s legendary island with his stepfather (Johnson) to find his grandfather (Caine), and they have lots of adventures. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, DVD/Blu-ray Combo, and Blu-ray 3D.
Here is a movie as generic as its title. Safe House stars Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington as a CIA analyst and an infamous CIA turncoat respectively. Tobin Frost (Washington) is notorious for selling top secret information to the highest bidder, and he has something embarrassing on the market. After he’s apprehended and freed from a CIA safe house in Cape Town, Matt Weston (Reynolds) has to protect his charge. There is a lot of incomprehensible shaky, quick-cutting style in the action sequences, and the number of times people reveal that someone in the CIA must be involved in the whole mess becomes an unintentional running joke. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Machine Gun Preacher (How’s that for a title?) ends with archival photos and video footage of it real-life participants, and it’s another instance where we imagine a documentary on the subject would be beneficial, especially compared to the fictional account. Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) was a criminal and drug user until he found religion and a purpose in Sudan, where he works to protect the locals from a murderous warlord, at first through peaceful and then in increasingly violent ways. This raises many questions about the man but mostly his methods, but don’t expect the movie to get into them. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Act of Valor stars active duty Navy SEALs and then treats them like broad, nonspecific character types that are only of slightly more interest to directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh than the assorted vehicles that show up during missions. It’s a wholly generic action movie with nary but the smallest trace of genuine humanity, technical proficiency, clear storytelling, or stylistic competence. Some have called it propaganda or a recruitment video; it’s neither, if only because the movie is too dull to be effective as either. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.