Stuff I Like - The Avengers

It is Friday, which means I am doing a Friday Flop. Tonight, let us discuss The Avengers. No, not those Avengers. These ones.

Why? That's... that's a good question. The Avengers is not a good film. The thing of it is, you can sort of see where it could have been good. If you squint. According to the IMDB trivia, after a test screening went badly, the studio executives decided to chop almost half an hour out of the film and release it in August. The reasoning there is... flawed. "The audience didn't like the movie! Quick! Shorten it so we can squeeze in more screenings!"

As it is, the film is frustrating but fascinating. For instance, here is the theme to the original TV series.

Sprightly, isn't it? Puts some pep in your step! Gets you energized for whatever's about to happen! Now, here's how the film starts...

...huh? Sorry, I nodded off, what was I talking ab--oh, The Avengers, right.

The finished product is just so odd. You can see the places where an amusing comedy tries to shine through. And there is unparalleled weirdness in the sight of Ralph Fiennes as a smiling, forthright action hero.

I think mostly I'm writing about this film because I have so many questions. Why would you cast Eddie Izzard as a character who doesn't talk, when that guy is so very good at talking? Was it embarassing when Diana Rigg said "Yeahhh, I've got other things to do that day: when they asked her to film a cameo? You guys had a chance to cast Emma Thompson and didn't take it? And what the hell is this?!

Poor Sean Connery. Turned down Gandalf in The Lord of the RIngs, turned down Morpheus in The Matrix... said yes to this. But hey, at least one of those teddy bear suits found a good home on another Jeremiah Chechik project... The Middleman!

Like a circle in a circle, like a wheel within a wheel.

My point, insofar as I do have one, is that while The Avengers isn't a good movie, it is an eminently watchable one. Check it out the next time it rolls around on cable, it'll scratch that Flash Gordon/Street Fighter itch. And hey, Warner Brothers, you've got the Warner Archive for a reason. Let Chechik put his cut back together and throw it up for download. I'll buy it.

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.