John Carter Review (Grade: C+)
In 1912 the character of John Carter was created by famed novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of Tarzan. The hero, a Civil War veteran transported to the planet Mars, has inspired everything from Superman to Buck Rogers to Star Wars. Modern audiences who have no knowledge of the character will find that this new Disney film feels more like a cocktail of Avatar, Stargate, and the better elements of Attack of the Clones. If all of this sounds weird, it is. While John Carter‘s characterizations and storytelling are not strong enough to transcend the sci-fi/fantasy genre and thus will not appeal to “non-geeks,” those who enjoy this sort of thing will find it to be good fun. Taylor Kitsch, resembling Joshua Steed from the Work and the Glory movies, brings decent charisma to the lead role. Lynn Collins (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) finds some humanity, fierceness, and intelligence as a feisty space princess who seems to have inspired Star Wars’ Leia (and her gold bikini, so heads up, parents).
The visual effects are solid, but less awe-inspiring than one would expect from a $250 million budget and the visionary director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo. Similarly Michael Giancchino’s score is good, but he rarely gets the chance to cut loose here and show his full potential. Also, I tire of seeing Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Green Lantern, Robin Hood) repeatedly cast as similar one-note villains. Attempts at eliciting laughs and tears from the audience are hit and miss. The film works best when it milks the leads’ considerable romantic chemistry or provides grand spectacle, like Carter bounding across the planet or facing down giant monsters in a gladiator arena. In those moments Kitsch emerges as a dashing rogue with a heart of gold, an epic hero in the classic Hollywood style. The bookends of the tale are highly satisfying, so the movie begins and ends strongly. Though flawed, John Carter has plenty to offer science fiction/ fantasy fans.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Though it carries the “family friendly” Disney label, John Carter follows the studio’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Prince of Persia into PG-13 territory. It has comparable levels of action violence and menace, along with a one moderate and a few mild uses of profanity. The attractive lead characters wear skimpy loincloth clothing similar to Tarzan or Xena: Warrior Princess.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Compassion is not weakness, brutality is not strength (John 8:3-11). Warfare is justified if it’s for the cause of defending the innocent and preventing tyranny (Alma 43: 45-47). Each of us has incredible potential (Acts 17:29).
The Lorax Review (Grade: B+)
Featuring the vocal talents of Danny Devito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, and Betty White, The Lorax is a bubbly and engaging piece of family entertainment. Based on the book by Dr. Suess, the film follows a young man from a plantless community as he learns the value of nature. The characters and animation are well-realized, the jokes hit their marks, the forest creatures are adorably hilarious, and the song and dance numbers are absolutely delightful. As an adult viewer, my one qualm with the film is its oversimplification of a complex issue: environmentalism is portrayed as “all good” while entrepreneurship is “all bad.” As someone who both reveres nature and who has friends adversely affected by the shutting down of a logging company, I believe there must be a balance between caring for the environment and taking care of the employed. But that’s a minor quibble as far as the film is concerned. Parents can decide how and if they discuss it with their children, and certainly the notion of appreciating and taking care of the planet is a good one. Plus, there’s lots of fun to be had.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Lorax is rated PG, though it probably should have been G. It has some slapstick violence and mild peril, but nothing else.
Jonathan Decker is a marriage and family therapist and family life educator. He has performed in independent films and stage comedy. For more film reviews as well as funny videos, please visit www.mormonmovieguy.com