Tag Archives: james cameron

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (2012) – Michael D. Sellers

Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

This book was offered as a free Kindle download several months ago on Amazon.com. When a friend of mine shared the link with me, I thought it sounded interesting, so I downloaded it and let it sit on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago…and found it incredibly interesting.

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood goes into the details of the history and struggle of Disney’s John Carter film (my review), based on the 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, A Princess of Mars (my review), and why it failed the way it did at the box office. We learn about how the author initially came to create John Carter and how the first story became an 11-book series that inspired the likes of Ray Bradbury, Joe Shuster/Jerry Siegel, George Lucas, and James Cameron, among others. The author also tells us of Burroughs’ early efforts to get the books adapted for film which all failed.

I wasn’t terribly interested until Sellers got to the main topic, the Disney film, where he reveals all of the issues faced by the film in terms of creative control, marketing, and company interests, and other problems that all came together in a perfect storm, resulting in the bomb it ended up being for Disney. I wasn’t able to put the book down, reading several chapters every time I sat down with it. The amount of research done by Sellers, his obvious passion for the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, and his involvement with the film’s marketing and desire for it to do well is obvious, drawing me into the book even more.

I had just a couple of issues with Sellers’ writing, the first being the number of mistakes present in the Kindle edition of the book. These mistakes range from extra commas to improper formatting to word omissions to spelling errors and are actually quite numerous, but I am not sure if they are present in the paperback edition of the book as well. The other issue is with the overuse of rhetorical questions and leading questions. Oftentimes, these questions were questions that I was already thinking or otherwise did not need to be asked, so they were occasionally pretty obnoxious.

However, these problems were quickly forgotten the deeper I got into the book and the world of John Carter. Before I was even halfway through this book, I was looking forward to reading Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and subsequently watching the film. Sellers’ research is thorough, and, in addition to telling the story of the film, he provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look into the world of film-making that is also fascinating. If you are at all interested in John Carter or even just in filmmaking, this book should interest you.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

-Chad

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Titanic (1997)

Despite the fact that the wreck of the RMS Titanic fascinated me as a child, James Cameron’s Titanic is a movie that I never bothered to see. My parents never spoke of it, we didn’t own it, and we never watched it when it came on TV, but I read about the Titanic itself at every opportunity I got; I recently found a book about the discovery of the wreck that I had bought at a book fair back in elementary school. In case you didn’t know, the 100th anniversary of the disaster was on April 14/15 of this year (2012), and James Cameron re-released Titanic in 3D to commemorate the anniversary. I decided that it was about time that I finally saw it, so I watched it for the first time 100 years to the day after the sinking of the ship…and I was astounded at how good it was.

While most of the talk about this film focuses on Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet), where Titanic succeeds the most is in its historical context and accurate (at the time it was made) representation of the disaster. Cameron even recreated famous pictures onscreen, such as the following picture of a boy playing with a spinning top and the subsequent still from the movie:

It’s little details like this that make me so appreciative a film that is otherwise considered a romance. Cameron does a fantastic job with highlighting the contempt between social classes on board, both before the disaster and during the sinking. We witness both the best and the worst of the rich, with some, such as Cal Hockley, assuming that his social status endows him with certain privileges, and others, such as Isador and Ida Strauss, dying together in bed so that they may stay with each other and so that others may take their spots in the lifeboats. We see the remorse that Thomas Andrews feels because he “didn’t build…a stronger ship,” and the regret felt by Captain Edward Smith at not having been more cautious. The most poignant moment in the film is when the musicians play “Nearer My God to Thee” as we see destruction, hopelessness, and death occurring in the ship’s final moments.

I know that some may argue that Jack and Rose are the focus of this film, and I won’t disagree that their story is key to its success. Leonardo DiCaprio’s charisma as Jack is engrossing, and it’s his performance that drives much of the film. I sympathize with Rose in her situation with her mother and her fiance, and by the end of the film I am emotionally invested in the relationship between her and Jack. Through this unlikely pair we are given several life lessons: to “make each day count” and that love transcends money and social classes.

This is a film that I fully expected to dislike, but seeing it on the big screen for the first time is an experience that I will never forget. It’s an engaging historical drama and a passionate romance film, mixed with outstanding visuals and a gorgeous score by James Horner. Judge me all you want, but Titanic is one of my all-time favorites.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language


Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi is one of those movies that caught me off-guard; I had never read the book, and, while I had seen a trailer or two before other films I’ve seen this year, the buzz on it seemed pretty minimal. As a result, when it was released to critical acclaim nearly across the board, it sparked my interest. I debated whether or not I should read the original book by Yann Martel first, but I ended up going to see the film anyway, and…wow.

I absolutely loved the way that the story was told in the context of the film: an author visits the home of an adult Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short, who begins to tell him a story from his teenage years, a tale that he claims “will make you believe in God.” The first half of this film is presented as a flashback, with the story returning to the perspective of the older Pi every now and again, but the flashback eventually becomes continuous to the end of the film. To me, it almost felt like someone was reading me a book that I was simultaneously watching unfold in front of me, much like the 1987 film The Princess Bride, which was also based on a book. This method of storytelling was compelling and had me wanting more; I enjoyed both the flashbacks and the present-day scenes, but I was constantly thirsting for more information.

The story itself is a sort of combination between Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, and the Book of Job from the Hebrew Bible. Much like Job, Pi has everything taken away from him as a test of faith, and, like Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away, he is stranded without any human companion and must learn to survive in less-than-ideal conditions. Throughout the film, Pi talks about his faith in God despite all that has happened to him, and he remains thankful no matter what. It is a testament to his faith that Pi doesn’t become atheist due to all of his struggles, and it made me look inward at my own faith in God…would I remain this loyal to Him in that kind of hardship?

Life of Pi, in addition to having strong roots in religion, is also a visual treat. This is the best use of 3D I have seen since James Cameron’s Avatar was released back in 2009; in fact, this is one of the few films that I would actually recommend seeing in the 3D format. This is a rare instance of 3D absorbing the viewer into the world of the film, allowing us to experience what Pi is experiencing, without becoming a gimmick like so many 3D films fall victim to. With a wonderful performance from first-time film actor Suraj Sharma to go along with the fantastic script and beautiful landscapes presented in the film, Life of Pi is another film worth seeing on the big screen.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril