Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: John Carter of Palm Springs?

Much ink has been spilled in recent weeks over Disney's sci-fi epic John Carter. Seemingly pre-ordained to be a box office flop (the Hollywood Reporter has termed the film's perceived failure "a debacle"), it cost a reported $250 million and has to date grossed less than a fifth of that in the US. However, the movie has raked in nearly $200 million overseas, so the death knells do seem premature to me.

Inspired by a century-old, pre-Tarzan series of stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is over-produced but handsomely so. Relative newcomer Taylor Kitsch is fine as the hunky title character, an anti-social Civil War veteran who one day finds himself transported to Mars courtesy of a mystical amulet. On the Red Planet, he is quickly caught up in political intrigue involving warring tribes, a history-manipulating and shape-shifting trio of psychic baddies, and a beautiful Martian princess (played by Lynn Collins, who is so lovely she could almost turn me straight). Carter, who is amusingly referred to as "Virginia" for most of the movie by aliens who mistake his home state for his name, also discovers that he has been endowed with super strength thanks to Mars' gravity.

The film's otherworldly desert vistas, which were primarily shot in Utah, and barely pronounceable creature names have reminded some of 1984's big-budget disaster Dune. John Carter's battle scenes are also reminiscent of several in the Star Wars saga. One ought to be mindful, though, that Star Wars, Dune, Flash Gordon and their ilk owe more to Burroughs' preexisting stories than today's generation of moviegoers (and, apparently, critics) realizes. I have a feeling John Carter would have at least opened more strongly if Disney's marketing team had played up the source material as the grand-daddy of modern fantasy spectacles.

Much of the blame for the film's alleged failure has been unfairly laid on director Andrew Stanton. While his inexperience with live action shows at times in the movie's uneven pacing and confusing fight sequences, Stanton (who previously directed Pixar's monster hits Finding Nemo and WALL-E) is no slouch when it comes to storytelling. Unlike his previous works, John Carter is overlong and too violent for young children, but it isn't lacking in marvelous special effects, occasional magic and general entertainment value. I'll take it over Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace any day.

A new DVD release transports viewers to an even stranger environ than Mars: Palm Springs, California. The gay mecca plays host to the latest entry in Q. Allan Brocka's seemingly never-ending Eating Out series. Eating Out: The Open Weekend is out todayfrom Ariztical Entertainment.

After an initially obvious but ultimately very funny opening set at a row of bathroom urinals, we follow regulars Zack (Chris Salvatore, who has blossomed into a very appealing actor and sings on the film's soundtrack too), Benji (Aaron Milo) and Casey (the always cute Daniel Skelton) to the Triangle Inn & Resort. As one character describes it, "Picture the entire Manhunt website stuffed into one hotel." Strip tennis, sarong parties and a Harry Potter wand-shaped vibrator ("Time for some Quidditch!") figure into the hijinks.

Some new faces help elevate the now-routine crossed wires and mistaken identities that define the Eating Out movies. Casey hooks up with a hot "pretend boyfriend" played by the easily lovable Michael Vara, and Lilach Mendelovich makes an amusing "hag in training" who also happens to be a virgin. Additionally, trans actress Harmony Santana (Gun Hill Road) reprises her role from the previous film in the series as the hilariously bitchy Lilly. Throw in some political satire in the form of a one-hour window when same-sex weddings will be legal again in California thanks to a newly discovered "Liberace Loophole," and Eating Out: The Open Weekend makes for a pleasant if familiar romp.

Reverend's Ratings:
John Carter: B
Eating Out: The Open Weekend: C+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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