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Sunday, March 11, 2012


By now you may have heard about Disney’s JOHN CARTER movie and how it’s likely to be considered a massive $250,000,000 flop (the actual budgetary figure varies depending on the source). The pre-release buzz tarred the film as looking uninvolving and dull, and upon release it was largely savaged by critics who deemed it, among other pejoratives, “unoriginal” and “derivative” of flicks like STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES and AVATAR. Well lemme tell ya, Bunkie, it’s actually the other way around, so here’s a wee divergence for a short history lesson.

Where it all began.

The first of the John Carter pulp stories, originally issued as UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS and later re-titled A PRINCESS OF MARS when published in book form, appeared in the February 1912 issue of THE ALL-STORY pulp magazine and was the inaugural work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man who less than a year later would earn great wealth, fame and literary/pop culture immortality as the creator of Tarzan of the Apes. Over the course of eleven pulp novels, Burroughs spun fanciful tales of John Carter, a former Confederate officer and master swordsman who through rather weird means finds himself terrestrially displaced to the planet Mars — known to its native inhabitants as Barsoom — where he encounters a number of warlike races, all manner of strange creatures and a cornucopia of advanced-yet-quaint ordnance and sci-fi vehicles. He also wins the hand of a local princess whose beauty is described as “unequaled,” and from there the adventures cover a hell of a lot of old school ground, pretty much inventing many of the tropes that are now part of the DNA of science-fiction/fantasy adventures. If one does even a cursory overview of such stories over the past century, many of the common elements of the genre that we now take for granted or find rote can be traced directly back to the Rosetta Stone of Burroughs imagination. For the most recent example of what I’m talking about, look no further than James Cameron’s “revolutionary” AVATAR (2009), the monster box office hit that I was not alone in considering it to owe a sizable debt to much of what Burroughs came up with in the John Carter tales. The exotic alien world and culture, multi-legged beasties, an Earthman hero who goes native in a big way and marries the locals’ princess… All found in AVATAR and all cribbed from the first John Carter story written a hundred years ago, so don’t come crying to me about JOHN CARTER the movie being “derivative.”

My boyhood wish finally comes true, some thirty-six years after I first encountered the John Carter books.

Disney’s JOHN CARTER is a film I’ve waited for since I first read the initial novel thirty-seven years ago, and though not without some flaws here and there, I enjoyed it very, very much. It’s got all the action, romance, intrigue, cool extra-terrestrials — the awesome Tharks are among my all-time favorite alien characters — and the far-flung exotic planetscape that made Burroughs’ stories irresistible to me when I was between the ages of ten and fourteen (though it was unfortunately inevitable that the novels’ depiction of Barsoom’s culture as that of a planetwide nudist colony would be sanitized for the screen, especially since it’s a Disney film) and it made me feel like I was a kid again, even for the briefest of periods. Simply put, it was exactly what I needed to take me out of my currently miserable and frustrating existence for just over two hours, and I enjoyed it enough to happily pay NYC 3-D movie price to see it twice within twenty-four hours. (NOTE: I admit that I likely enjoyed it as much as I did thanks to having been a lifelong John Carter fan, so your individual mileage may vary.)

John Carter among the Tharks.

The film chronicles John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, who’s not bad in the part but exudes nothing of the Southern gentleman quality found in the novels) having adventures on Mars/Barsoom that drop him into the middle of a conflict between the warring city states of Helium and Zodanga, while he must also navigate surviving among the equally warlike Tharks, towering green warrior tribesmen with four arms. During all of this mayhem, Carter befriends the Thark chief, Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe), and much-abused female slave Sola (Samantha Morton), as well as meeting the spirited and smokin’ hot Heliumite princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), while political machinations from a number of different parties spur the narrative’s finer points.

Boy gets to know girl during a road trip fraught with discovery and ass-kickings

If all of that sounds complicated or convoluted, it isn’t, and it all moves quite briskly while doling out heaping helpings of old-fashioned fun that evokes the sci-fi/fantasy/space opera thrills of yore, which is only appropriate when one recalls that this is the seed from which an entire genre germinated. What we have here is, when boiled down to its simplest descriptor, an old-fashioned pulp adventure yarn brought to vivid, fun life, and that’s really all there is to it. If you’re looking for Dostoyevsky, I politely suggest you look elsewhere.

Among the film’s many fun points, the following elements are the standouts:

  • The Tharks are everything I’d hoped they’d be (if depicted a good deal shorter than the average fifteen feet described in the books), especially Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe, giving voice to an excellent CGI creation) and Sola (Samantha Morton, also voicing a CGI character).
The awesomeness of Tars Tarkas finally hits the screen.

Sola: a much put-upon warrior with a heart of gold.

Tarkas was the main reason I continued reading the books and when I was kid who devoured those works, I often imagined myself in his place in the adventures. He was just that cool. The one problem with Tars Tarkas and Sola in this film — which, let’s face it, is yet another origin story — is that they are not the focus of the narrative. Whenever they’re onscreen, they steal the movie, but John Carter himself is the true and obvious thrust of the tale, so Tars and Sola are understandably given less screen time. More’s the pity…

  • Woola, Carter’s assigned guardian animal — a “calot” in the books, but never identified as such in the film — also steals the movie.

He’s a large-ish, dog-like critter that’s the film’s grossest example of “Disneyfication,” a not unexpected process that altered the beast from the source material’s much more fearsome-looking creature, but even knowing the more visually badassed Woola from the books, I adored the cinematic version. And you and your kids will too.
  • Lynn Collins rocks as Princess Dejah Thoris, the film's best non-CGI character.
The casting of that character was a serious make-or-break element for the film, thanks to a century of her being burned into the pop culture DNA matrix as an impossibly beautiful, exotic woman who could easily and without hesitation dispatch her would-be assailants. Yeah, she was captured and rescued on a number of occasions in the books, but Dejah Thoris was a surprisingly capable heroine for her era and I would argue that she was the direct attitudinal progenitor to the likes of STAR WARS’ Princess Leia.

Lynn Collins, as seen when she's not being all Barsoomian.

Collins turns in a great performance and is very, very easy on the eyes, plus she wields a sword quite impressively. She’s the perfect fantasy female for guys like me, and I find it more than a little amusing to note that technically Dejah Thoris has joined the ranks of the Disney Princesses, what with having been brought to the screen and sanitized from the original iteration. (In her case, her 24/7 nudity obviously had to go).

The latest of the Disney Princesses.
  • The all-too-brief appearances by James Purefoy as Heliumite royal soldier Kantos Kan are terrific and genuinely funny, and I wish we’d had the opportunity to see more of him.

So, there’s a lot to enjoy in JOHN CARTER but Disney did a spectacularly poor job of marketing the film, which I believe is the key element in the film doing shithouse box office domestically. The trailers bit the big one, the posters and logo were the polar opposite of interesting or attention-getting, the words “of mars” were removed from the title shortly before the film’s release (reportedly due to Disney now-fired marketing head determining that the earlier MARS NEEDS MOMS tanked and therefore the word “Mars” was automatic box office poison), thus granting the film the utterly generic title of JOHN CARTER (they may as well have called it JOE BUDIDOWITZ: THE MOVIE, for all that the title imparted about other-worldly adventure, aliens and a hot space-babe) and there was no mention whatsoever of the character being from the same guy who created Tarzan.

The most boring movie poster ever?

In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would swear that the studio was making a concerted effort to sabotage its own release. Most of the critics have also been merciless and I wonder if that’s because they just don’t like this kind of material or they’ve just joined the overwhelming culture of Internet hating on something for months before it even comes out, thus already bearing a head and heart full of vitriol as they enter the screening room.

Whatever the case, the damage has been done and theater attendance on opening weekend was dismal. I saw the film twice, first at a decent multiplex not far from where I live in Brooklyn, and again the following night at Manhattan’s legendary Ziegfeld theater, and I can scarce recall seeing a big-budget sci-fi/action/adventure movie in its first few days where the theaters were so barren that their aisles should have been littered with bison skulls and tumbleweeds. The 4pm show on Friday yielded a turnout of just over twenty people (including me), many of whom were fans of the John Carter novels (a fact gleaned from overhearing their conversations on the way out), and the 7pm show on Saturday night at the Ziegfeld — a showtime that’s virtually always guaranteed to be sold out, almost no matter what movie may be playing there — saw an audience of maybe sixty-five or seventy people, including myself and the four friends who joined me.

Actual shot of the Ziegfeld's auditorium, ten minutes before the lights went down on Saturday night. The crowd did not come anywhere near to filling the theater's capacity of just over 1100.

We all enjoyed it and the majority of folks who’ve written in to comment about it on my Facebook wall shared in the fun, so hopefully positive word of mouth will help turn JOHN CARTER into a “sleeper” hit. Anything can happen and I hope it does well enough to generate a sequel, and I hope the studio stands behind it if it comes to pass.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Tenderloin parody king Axel Braun is back with this lovingly-crafted and insanely visually-accurate porno version of the original STAR WARS (1977), and while I support pornographers' right to do parodies of familiar properties, what I'm not down with is aping the source material to such a degree that the only difference between the original and the porn version (other than considerations such as the budget, decent acting and kickass special effects) is the inclusion of "you are now a gynecologist" closeups of the performers in action. This production is a textbook example of what I'm on about, being practically a scene-for-scene remake featuring different actors in the parts of the space heroes we've known and loved for the past thirty-five years, getting it on in numerous ways.

Opening with the expected text crawl — which amusingly identifies the film as "Episode IV: A NEW HOLE" — the movie retells the entire plot of the 1977 classic, only with rather uninspired hardcore sex shoehorned into the proceedings when possible. The problem with that is that the original film features only four women that I can think of off the top of my head: Princess Leia, Aunt Beru and those two twin sister from the cantina sequence. That's it, and of those only Princess Leia is truly focused on in the narrative, which reduces the possibilities for the porno iteration rather limited, unless the filmmakers have the princess take on every character in the film in what would amount to an Annabel Chong-style one-woman marathon session set in a galaxy far, far away. To remedy this, the XXX version gives us a Tusken raider who is revealed to be a horny and eager woman, the cantina twins re-imagined as lesbians and an assortment of other random females dropped into the cantina from out of nowhere (including a Twi'lek woman straight out of Jabba's palace in RETURN OF THE JEDI), and a pair of very accommodating female stormtroopers. The result is involving only to the most desperate and STAR WARS-obsessed of fanboys.

The classic cantina sequence, now with orgy.

If you've seen the original STAR WARS — I refuse to call it "A NEW HOPE" — there's really no point in me bothering to describe the plot particulars, other than to note a few items of interest:
  • With the exception of the over-the-top flaming C-3P0, all of the characters are performed with an uber-straight delivery that makes their stilted and occasionally clever parodic dialogue and goings-on periodically laugh-out-loud funny. The joke with Threepio is incredibly obvious and it wears out its welcome almost immediately.
  • The film's CGI special effects are quite good and help to place the viewer into a suitable re-creation of the Lucas galaxy.
The classic opening spaceship chase, re-created with very good, relatively low-budget CGI effects.
  • Porn veteran Tom Byron's Obi-Wan Kenobi is a hoot, thanks to him interpreting the character as a dryly-snarky and rather jaded "been there, done that" asshole, and his Alec Guinness impression is spot-on. (I cannot believe Byron, the stalwart of countless tenderloin pieces, is currently fifty years old!)

The venerable Tom Byron as Obi-Wan Kenobi, working the Jedi Mind trick...

...on a formerly-wrapped sand person (Jennifer White) who turns out to be quite attractive, and with whom he immediately gets it on with atop the hood of Luke's landspeeder.
  • Seth Gamble takes Luke Skywalker's dorkiness/quasi-stupidty to new comedic heights and he's very funny in the role.

  • The same cannot be said of Rocco Reed's Han Solo, though some of his efforts are worthy of checking out. His reaction when Luke points out Solo's error in citing a parsec as a measure of time rather than distance is great, but what happens during the re-staging of the Solo/Greedo firefight is hilarious and goes a long way toward making up for the damage done in the so-called "special edition" of STAR WARS.
When Greedo has him at gunpoint, Solo pretends to see something interesting and exclaims "Gods of Alderaan! Look at the tits on that stormtrooper!", which distracts Greedo long enough for Solo to shoot him dead. Solo then walks over to Greedo's corpse, unloads another two blaster shots into it and proclaims, "Shoot first, shoot often!" Following that, Solo ushers Luke and Obi-Wan onto the Millennium Falcon with "Can we get a move on? I just just killed a guy back there and I'll feel a lot better about everything once we're outta here."
  • There is a lengthy three-way beejay scene involving Chewbacca, the beloved Wookie co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, and a pair of very friendly female stormtroopers, and I can't speak for you but I can unequivocally state that I've never once entertained thoughts of Chewie getting it on with anyone, let alone two eager human females. I'm well aware of the concept of "rishathra" — sexual relations outside of one's own species — but this ain't a Larry Niven novel and the sight of Chewie giving the "come and get some of this" sexy face while enticingly gesticulating is full-blown nightmare fuel. That may appeal to the "furries" out there, but what is this doing in what's supposed to be a porn parody geared for the enjoyment of a general porn-lovin' audience?
Everyone's favorite shaggy space alien makes with the "come hither" moves...

..which are well received by a pair of curvy Imperial stormtroopers...

...who swiftly doff much of their armor and grant Chewie a tag-team "chewie" on his all-too-human ween that's guaranteed to be seen in your nightmares for weeks afterward.
  • I rather liked Princess Leia as portrayed by Allie Haze, late of the classic FOOT FUCKERS (2011), who is cute in a normal, girl-next-door kind of way and displays a body refreshingly free of the mammalian augmentation common to today's porn actresses (though she does retain the Barbie-like "smoothie" that has lately supplanted the "landing strip" as the favored style of pubic topiary). She pulls off Carrie Fisher's signature attitude and is right up there with Tom Byron as the best of this cast's actors during the non-explicit portions of the narrative.
That said, the role of the princess poses one of the biggest and most off-putting problems in the film. Since the revelations in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), everyone and their dog knows that Luke and Leia are twin siblings, which has led to over three decades of queasy incest jokes and the endless generation of fanfic and amateur erotica depicting the pair in flagrante delicto. In some corners, incest may fly as spank-fodder but, much like rape and sexual torture fantasies, it's a touchy subject and very much down to the individual's taste when it comes to enjoyment thereof. We know the actors are not really brother and sister but we are nonetheless grossed out by the concept of them taking their relationship and affection into the realm of taboo, so things get really gnarly when that imagined scenario is allowed to play out in a movie whose very point is to depict up close and personal sexual congress. And let us not forget that Darth Vader (here played by impressively-endowed ebony cocksman Lexington Steel) is Luke and Leia's father, so this film's version of Vader's interrogation of Leia in her jail cell on the Death Star becomes especially distasteful as Vader offers to "work out a deal" with his captive daughter. Though she's not explicitly stated to be Vader's little girl, the film does play with the incest angle throughout its running time, relying on the audience's foreknowledge of the genetic connection between the father and children in question to hopefully provide a certain titillating frisson, so it was really rough to endure the sight of the princess sucking the Sith lord's girthy kidney-scraper during a spirited beejay/masturbation sequence that seems to last for a short eternity until the predictable DNA-meets-face denouement. But that bit of nastiness is completely eclipsed at the film's end, when the trio of heroes celebrate after their victory against the Death Star. Yes, it's a three-way with the princess, Luke and Han Solo, and I assure you that it's nothing less than disturbing when one cannot help but recall the sibling element. It's one thing for the scenario to feature three friends enjoying sharing each others' bodies and the pleasures they can provide, but when two of the participants are brother and sister pop cultural icons it's just, well...Yecch.


The bottom line on STAR WARS XXX is that it's clearly one of the most ambitious adult films ever made, especially among those in the now-ubiquitous and largely terrible parody sub-genre, but its attempts at finding the perfect balance between respectful re-creation of a cinema classic, parody and explicit sex just don't mesh into a truly entertaining smut confection. Sure, there are those who will enjoy having one off the wrist while seeing the STAR WARS gang rutting like crazed weasels dosed on a fistful of Stud City animal stimulants, but for most of us that novelty will likely wear off after around ten minutes. I've watched a lot of porn since I was younger than I care to admit, so maybe I'm particularly jaded, but I've seen more enjoyable efforts that were made in the early 1970's for a minute fraction of this film's budget, shot in a basement somewhere and starring two out of shape hippies with dirty feet fucking on a sheetless mattress. I understand what Braun and company were attempting to do, but you can't necessarily hew this close to the source, which, let's face it, was pretty much a wholesome kid's film, and expect it to work well as something with which to facilitate the emptying of the wank-tanks. (Braun's exceptional BATMAN XXX is a rare exception to this rule.) Sadly, I rate STAR WARS XXX as a well-intentioned failure and I'm curious to see if it makes enough money to warrant a skin flick remake of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Aaah, who am I kidding? It totally will, so when it happens I earnestly pray that we are spared the sight of Yoda's wrinkly green nutsack smacking back and forth against some randomly-introduced female character's ass. When all is said and done, the sci-fi classic I would be much more interested in seeing rendered into a full-on porno version is BARBARELLA (1968), which was already pretty much there anyway. Please alert me when that one inevitably happens.