Stuff I Like - John Carter

I'm going to do a little series within a series here. Fridays in June will be dedicated to flops. Now, a flop is not necessarily a bad movie, but it usually means it's a flawed one. I aim to talk about the ones that I think deserve a second look.

Today, our subject is John Carter, the doomed, doomed, dooooooomed 2012 adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. People get irrational about this movie; Owen Glieberman, the film critic for Entertainment Weekly, called it the worst film of 2012. Come now. John Carter isn't even the worst Taylor Kitsch movie that came out in 2012, not in a world where Battleship was something that happened. (The aliens shot the battleships with pegs. They used pegs.)

Someone could write a book about all the ways the marketing of this film was screwed up; and hey, someone has. But we're not here to talk about the marketing. Or the title. (Though calling this movie just plain John Carter is like taking Raiders of the Lost Ark and calling it Henry Jones, Junior instead.) I want to talk about what's good about this movie.

...this trailer is not one of those things. (Nice use of Peter Gabriel, though.)

To be honest, it takes a while. I'm going to throw it out there that if you need to perform an infodump at the outset of your movie, it's better that it come from Lynn Collins and not heavily accented CGI Martian Willem Dafoe. The first 45 minutes are kind of a mess. Dominic West is bad! Mark Strong is more ambiguously bad! John Carter hates everyone! What the hell is Bryan Cranston doing there? But it starts to come together when John and Dejah meet up; Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins have a certain chemistry, and when he rescues her and she immediately rescues him back, it feels like the film's starting to get it together.

It really wakes up during this sequence, in which John takes on an army of Green Martians. The action is intercut with a flashback to John's life on Earth, where he buries his family. The editing here is really well done, and reminds me of some of the transitions from Watchmen; John thrusting his sword into an enemy becomes him plunging a shovel into the ground, digging a grave, and John kneeling by that same grave becomes him being buried by a horde of the Green Martians.

From there, the film's energy level doesn't flag, and the love story between John and Dejah is as compelling as the action sequences. I particularly enjoyed James Purefoy's performance as Kantos; we could have used more of him. For me, a big selling point is the score by Michael Giacchino; it's a big, sweeping thing, probably one of my favorites of his.

So, if you haven't seen it, give John Carter another look.

Stuff I Like - The Works of Jim Steinman

Let's begin with this: I don't know how to write about music. I don't have the vocabulary for it. I can't tell you anything about leitmotifs or bridges or anything, and I'm not 100 percent sure those are even music terms. If writing about music is dancing about architecture, this is gonna be a guy clumsily doing the cabbage patch because that's the only move he knows.

Having said that, let us discuss Jim Steinman.

Jim Steinman is a composer, lyricist, and producer. If you recognize the name, it's probably because you've seen it on the cover of a Meat Loaf album; Steinman made his name writing all the songs for Bat Out of Hell. Since then, he's written and/or produced any number of hit songs, all of which share one deciding factor; they are so far over the top they defy gravity.

I mean, come on.

There are a few things you can usually expect from a Jim Steinman song. It will usually be about young love, doomed love, or a combination of the two. Chances are there will be a choir. And it will almost certainly be longer than the average single, usually longer than 4 minutes, often longer than 5. The version of "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" on Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell is twelve, that's twelve, minutes long.

There's a reason Michael Bay was the director for the video. (Sidebar: I always wondered if David Fincher got pissed when Bay blatantly lifted all those shots from the "Jamie's Got A Gun" video.)

A Jim Steinman song has its lyrics in all capitals, italicized and in bold font, with three exclamation points at the end of every line. Every song sounds like it could be used as the soundtrack to a superhero movie, which is what happened when "Original Sin" became the theme to The Shadow.

It's not for nothing that at one point, Steinman was working on a Batman musical. Nor that the covers of his albums are done by artists like Richard Corben and Boris Vallejo; that's what he does, creating music that is more epic than epic, turned up as loud as it can go. (Look, I told you I was bad at writing about music.) All I can say is, I like it. I like it a lot.

My personal favorite has gotta be "Nowhere Fast" from the Streets of Fire soundtrack; it starts off with that badass beat and just builds and builds, and I love the lyrics. "And I don't know where I ever got the bright idea that I was cool, so alone and independent, but I'm dependin' on you now." Awesome.

("Holding Out for a Hero" was a close second.)

Apparently in fall 2015 the team supreme is reuniting for Meat Loaf's Braver Than We Are; I'm already looking forward to it.