Catholic movie reviews - John Carter & Silent House

By  Catholic News Service
  • March 9, 2012

Planning on a trip to the movies this weekend? We have reviews of a the year's first big blockbuster from Disney and a new horror starring Elizabeth Olsen.

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John Carter

By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Thanks in no small measure to the magic of movies, Tarzan is the character most closely associated with author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). Yet it's one of Burroughs' lesser-known heroes -- introduced in his first novel, serially published in 1912 -- that a group of 21st-century filmmakers have chosen to bring to the screen in a mega-budgeted, sci-fi epic.

A risky and on the whole successful venture, "John Carter" (Disney) was adapted from "A Princess of Mars," the first of 11 books Burroughs centered on an ex-Confederate captain who is propelled to the Red Planet where he becomes embroiled in a war between two city states and falls in love with a comely royal.

Faithful to its source material, the film is crammed with species, plotlines and pseudoscientific jargon that multiple generations of readers and moviegoers will find familiar. And although it doesn't hang together logically, its gaps are of the kind that the folks in Hollywood are expert at papering over.

The particulars of this melange of sci-fi tropes are difficult to circumscribe.

Carter (Taylor Kitsch) arrives on Mars -- "Barsoom" to its inhabitants -- during a turbulent period in the planet's history. The ecosystem is rapidly deteriorating and two powers, Helium and Zadonga, are fighting a protracted war. Between them is a race of green, four-armed creatures with tusks called Tharks, one of whom, Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), finds Carter after he's mysteriously plunked down on a dry lakebed having gained superhuman powers such as the gravity-defying ability to leap long distances.

Originally from Virginia, Carter is first encountered in New York City in 1881 having amassed a great fortune. He relates his incredible Mars odyssey in a journal read by his nephew and heir, the budding writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara). Marked by the trauma of America's Civil War, Carter is a precursor to Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and other nobly intrepid protagonists. He's ever willing to risk his life for others and quick to stand up for the defenseless.

Of the many fascinating creatures and contraptions Carter encounters on Mars, none is more dazzling than Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the princess of Helium, who is being forced to marry the puppet leader of Zadonga to end the fighting and unify the planet. A handful of immortal beings called Therns are manipulating events.

Director Andrew Stanton and his team niftily bring the story strands together in the end. Stanton's experience creating animated fare such as "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo" at Pixar clearly benefits his first live-action film. He's accustomed to the challenge of crafting sui generis worlds without the luxury of justifying or explaining their existence.

In addition to an unwieldy plot, obstacles to success include a rather bland lead actor, a protracted running time, and less-than-scintillating dialogue used to break up the battle sequences, which are, of course, tailor-made for 3-D. Against all odds, it works. Poised to become the first blockbuster of the season, "John Carter" marries the appeal of a pulp serial with cutting-edge filmmaking techniques.

While there's relatively little of concern in the picture's content, given the elements listed below, this feature is likely best for older teens and up.

The film contains considerable, sometimes intense, action violence, scenes of cruelty, fleeting toilet humor, at least one use of profanity and several instances of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

 

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Silent House

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Part horror flick, part psychodrama, "Silent House" (Open Road) -- a low-budget remake of a similarly down-market Uruguayan film called "La Casa Muda" -- ends up being an unsatisfying representative of both genres.

There's more style than substance here, and astute viewers are going to figure it all out at least 30 minutes before the ending.

Considering that the film's conceit is that it appears to be shot in a single 88-minute take, what we're left with is less than an hour's worth of modest thrills. They come, predominantly, from the pleasingly claustrophobic effect of a handheld camera prowling around a conveniently dark and boarded-up lake house.

The script by Laura Lau, who also shares directing credit with Christopher Kentis, adds a gritty subtext to the proceedings. While not dealt with explicitly, this element nonetheless renders the picture appropriate fare only for mature adults.

Elizabeth Olsen plays young Sarah, who is helping her father John (Adam Trese) and creepy Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) clean out and pack up their family's summer place in preparation for selling it.

As with all haunted houses, this one holds memories. But the question is -- whose?

Uncle Peter's early leer at Sarah is the first clue, one that's about as subtle as the sledgehammer that later comes into play. And then there are the old Polaroid photos that keep being found.

Every door in the place creaks, and there's a mysterious visit from Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross), who claims to be Sarah's old childhood pal. Figure out who Sophia really is, of course, and you'll be holding the key to this cinematic fixer-upper.

The film contains references to incestuous sexual abuse, some mildly gory images, implied physical violence and fleeting rough and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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