Taylor Kitsch

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John Carter

Friday, March 9th, 2012

John Carter is a fucking mess. Let me rephrase that: With all due respect to Andrew Stanton, writer and director of Pixar gems such as Finding Nemo and WALL*E, John Carter is a fucking mess.

Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) flatlines as the title character, a military captain in 1881 who somehow gets transported to Mars to battle aliens. (You’d think there couldn’t be anything worse in the comedy/action genre than last summer’s Cowboys & Aliens. You’d be wrong.) But Mars is known as Barsoom, and its territories and its aliens are known by a whole bunch of hard-to-grasp names, and the only thing that’s clear is that Carter can leap like Superman and the aliens look like green, four-armed Jar Jar Binkses. And their leader thinks Carter’s name is Virginia, which is actually where he’s from! It’s not hilarious.

There are also weird, pudgy alien babies whose purpose is unclear, and an alien dog for further comic nonrelief. And a princess — there’s gotta be a princess — named Dejah (Lynn Collins), who wants out of her arranged marriage to…some evil guy. So John fights everyone, with no obvious indication of who’s bad, who’s good, if there’s a civil war going on, or what. Too many unfamiliar names and a murky deluge of a plot will do that to a movie. While watching it, you long for clarity and excitement of The Phantom Menace. (Star Wars was clearly influenced by the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel on which the film is based.)

And audiences willing to shell out extra bucks get the privilege of seeing this all in murky and completely unimpressive 3D! John Carter was converted, not shot in 3D, and it shows. Try taking off those damn glasses. Only a handful of scenes actually have more than two dimensions; the rest are blissfully bright and clear. So: especial waste of money.

Throughout the who-knows-what’s-going-on story is an intrusive score that telegraphs every mood you’re supposed to feel. Wonder! Adventure! Menace! Romance! The music is by Michael Giacchino, who magnificently scored Up, so this overkill is a puzzler. Also head-scratching: That this script was co-written by Stanton and Michael Chabon. (And Mark Andrews, but his track record is unproven.) The clearest dialogue that’s spoken is a line by Kitsch, who at one point mumbles, “Good God, I’m on Mars.” Yes, you are. You don’t know what you’re doing there, neither do we, and chances are sleep will grip us before the movie will.

The Bang Bang Club

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Chaos reigns in The Bang Bang Club, Steven Silver’s based-on-true-events story of four combat photographers that opens with a very detailed explanation of what was going on in South Africa between 1990 and 1994 — and then proceeds to illustrate it with scene after scene of unspecified people yelling and killing each other. The pandemonium serves not to expand on the politics of the era and its attendant tragedies but as a mere noisy backdrop for a group of white show-offs.

The hot-dogging photogs include the initial trio of the so-called “Bang Bang Club,” the arrogant Ken (Frank Oosterbroek), self-destructive Kevin (Taylor Kitsch), and nondescript Joao (Neels Van Jaarsveld), as well as lucky newcomer Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillipe). Greg wins a Pulitzer about a minute after he’s accepted by — i.e. can follow the action with — the club, and his friends are all  jazzed for him, including newspaper photography editor and Greg’s instant new love, Robin (Malin Akerman).

Not everyone’s celebrating, though: The film’s got to have a deeper point, and what better way to express that point than to have one single (and uncredited) character harass Greg repeatedly about his representing all Caucasians who are taking advantage of African grief? There’s also a criminal allegation, though this news is delivered only in a surprising line: “I win this prize and the ANC accuses me of being a state spy?” Uh, it did?

Politics aside, one imagines that the illuminating the dangers of the job was also on Silver’s agenda, a goal that he partially accomplishes. But more often the guys are shown being either frowny-faced at the brutality going on in front of them or, sickeningly, laughing and seemingly getting a high off of their own brushes with death. A shoddy approach to the subject couldn’t have gotten a worse release date, little over a week after the real-life deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, photographers who were killed covering the unrest in Libya.

With barbecues and nightclubs as much a part of this story as the snappers’ work lives, it’s difficult to care about these characters, particularly with B-listers such as Phillipe and Akerman leading a cast of no-names. (At least — shockingly — Philippe’s South African accent is consistent, albeit a bit too British-sounding, as opposed to Akerman’s, which just fades in and out.) Greg isn’t the only lauded photographer of the group; Kevin also wins a Pulitzer seemingly immediately after Greg, but, in line with his one-note characterization, he’s nearly too fucked-up on drugs to understand it.

There are a couple of poignant moments here, including a press conference in which Kevin is asked if he’d helped the starving girl whose photograph nabbed him notoriety. But more often the film’s politically-minded and morally probing framework is marred by its portrayal of veritable frat boys goofing off.