Tag Archives: Michael Chabon

John Carter

John Carter (2012) (IMAX 3D)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directed by Andrew Stanton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

John Carter combines elements from the first two books of Burroughs’ Mars series with a bunch of new material. It keeps the basic story of how Confederate officer John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), mining for gold in the Arizona territory after the Civil War, finds himself magically transported to Mars, known as Barsoom to its natives. One of the major improvements the film makes to the story is an explanation of exactly how Carter travels between Earth and Mars, which was never adequately explained in the books. In fact, this becomes a major plot point driving much of the action in the film.

Carter’s Earth muscles and anatomy enables him to leap great distances and do other feats of strength. These abilities help him escape the many fights and tight scrapes he gets into. The beings of Barsoom are roughly divided into two races: the six-limbed warrior Tharks led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the red-skinned “humans” of Helium and Zodanga who are at war with each other.

Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), princess of Helium, has been betrothed to Sab Than (Dominic West) of Zodanga to end the war. However, Sab Than is being manipulated by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), and his shape-shifting, immortal race of Therns. These political machinations are consistent with what Burroughs wrote, although in a much different form. It provides consistent and plausible motivations for the characters. You do have to pay attention, though, or you’ll get lost in the details, but it is a good thing to have something besides mindless battles in a movie like this.

A huge improvement is that Dejah Thoris is a much more nuanced and important character, not just the damsel in distress she is in the books. Here she is not only a beautiful princess, but a renowned scientist and quite handy with a sword. Collins does an excellent job giving strength and dignity to her role.

The special effects are well done, as you would expect from a director who comes from an animation background. There were a couple of traveling matte shots that were slightly off, but for the most part all of the exotic Martians looked and moved realistically. We got to see not only Tharks, but white apes, banths, thoats, and Woola, John Carter’s faithful calot.

Some liberties were taken with Burroughs’ descriptions. For example, John Carter is described as having short hair, and in the movie he has long hair. Kitsch is well muscled, but no real person could ever be as musclebound as Frank Frazetta or other favorite Burroughs’ artists have portrayed him. The red Martians (as well as the Tharks) are oviparous (reproducing by laying eggs), yet Dejah has a belly button. These are really minor quibbles, though. The vast majority of changes, such as Carter’s motivation for not wanting to fight Apaches (or Tharks or Zodangans), are logical improvements.

If there is anything to gripe about, it is the first 20 minutes on Earth which are a little slow getting things set up for Carter’s journey to Mars. Those who have not read the books may also be a bit confused about the importance of the relationship of Sola (Samantha Morton) to Tars Tarkas, which is hastily revealed early in the film rather than dramatically at the end of A Princess of Mars. I also think that the 3D did not add much to the film.

The marketing campaign did not do justice to the film. This is an intelligent, action-packed adventure. Whether you are a Burroughs fan or just want to see an entertaining movie, go see it!


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon handily won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2008. As an alternate history, it gets lumped in with science fiction and fantasy, although there is a quasi-fantasy element that surfaces in the latter part of the book. As one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner, Chabon is an excellent writer who knows how to evoke mood and emotion. The story is a detective noir (more along the lines of Chinatown than The Maltese Falcon) set in Sitka, Alaska, where the Jews settled in 1948 and are now, sixty years later, in danger of being expelled when the land reverts to Alaskan control. Homicide detective Meyer Landsman begins what looks like a fairly routine murder investigation only to be drawn into a circle of intrigue, deception, and conspiracy. Along the way he must face his personal demons in the forms of his estranged wife, who is now his boss, and the mysteries of his sister’s death in an airplane accident years ago. Weaving colorful characters and settings together, Chabon paints a fascinating picture of what might have been, while keeping us enthralled with mystery and action. Chabon’s use of Yiddish, Yiddish-derivatives, and even Esperanto words and phrases may turn off some readers, but most of the words are contextually self-evident, and there is a glossary in the back of the book. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a marvelous feat of world building and linguistics.

The Upcoming Year in Movies

2012 looks to be an amazing year for science fiction and animated movies. What will be the hits? Here are some of my predictions, but I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises in store.


Fullmetal Alchemist : The Sacred Star of Milos – This feature-length sequel to the hit anime series looks like it will take place somewhere in the middle of the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood storyline. The release is limited, but hopefully it will come to a theater near you. Click here for U.S. theater/Canadian theater listings in your area.


Chronicle – The movie dead zone of February starts with this story of high school students who gain superpowers. Go watch reruns of Heroes instead.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – The February movie wasteland continues with an inane adaptation that would make Jules Verne weep.

Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace 3-D – will George Lucas ever stop tinkering with his movies? And nothing could add dimension to the flat characters of Episode I.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – a sequel nobody but Nicolas Cage demanded.

The Secret World of Arrietty – from Studio Ghibli, an adaptation co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (but, alas, not directed by him) of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The trailer looks great; let’s hope the movie is, too.

Dr. Suess’ The Lorax – finally, an animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book that looks like it will be true to its source and actually be funny.


John Carter – a live action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars series by writer/director Andrew Stanton (WALL·E, Finding Nemo) starring a bunch of unknowns. With a screenplay co-written by Michael Chabon, I have high hopes that Stanton will bring his animation magic to this project, just as Brad Bird did with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Mirror Mirror – the first of two retellings of the Snow White fairy tale, this one staring Julia Roberts and Sean Bean.

The Hunger Games – will this be a juggernaut franchise like Harry Potter or a flop like The Golden Compass? A lot is riding on this film, and all signs point to it coming through.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Peter Lord (Chicken Run) of Aardman Animations seemingly can do no wrong, and the trailer is hilarious. I have high expectations for this animated film.

Wrath of the Titans – Another underwhelming special-effects laden quest of Perseus doing the gods’ bidding.


Iron Sky – You had me at “Nazi lunar base.” This indie will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in April. Let’s hope it makes it to the U.S. soon thereafter.

Extracted – Sasha Roiz (Caprica, Warehouse 13, Grimm) stars as a brilliant engineer who invents a device that enables him to enter another’s mind. While testing it on a convict, he gets trapped and must race the clock to find a way out. Debuting at the Austin South by Southwest Festival, this indie could be one to watch for.


The Avengers – Joss Whedon’s take on the iconic Marvel team is the dream movie for comic book fans. I’m not a big fan of Whedon, and my concern is that he won’t be able to corral the egos of his large cast of stars, and the film will veer off into incomprehensibility. Nevertheless, this movie should deliver blockbuster numbers, no matter how good or bad it is.

Dark Shadows – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up once again to revive the 1960’s soap opera about Barnabas Collins and his wacky household of vampires and ghouls. I expect campy fun.

Men in Black 3 – another sequel nobody clamored for, but Will Smith will put butts in seats.

Dorothy of OZ – I saw a preview of this animated musical at San Diego Comic-Con last year, and it looked HORR! I! BLE! Why or why can’t someone just make a successful, straight adaptation of the marvelous source material?

Battleship – very loosely based on the popular board game (coming soon: Candy Land, I kid you not), the trailer is just a mess and a half—lots of explosions and women in bikinis. And it will make a ton of money.


Snow White and the Huntsman – the second Snow White adaptation; this one a bit edgier than the first.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – I have to admit that the first two in the series were lighthearted fun, and I don’t expect them to deviate from the formula.

Prometheus – Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to science fiction as co-written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, this will either be astounding or a big, fat mess. No one seems to know whether this is a prequel to Alien or whether it morphed into something else during filming, but the trailer definitely makes me want to see it.

Jack the Giant Killer – another fairy tale retold, this time “Jack and the Beanstalk” as directed by Bryan Singer.

Brave – Pixar’s big release of 2012, their first starring a female protagonist. The trailer looks amazing, and I expect this will be the animated feature to beat at next year’s Oscars.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – cheesy fun from producer Tim Burton.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation – stars Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson should ensure this will be better than the first G.I. Joe movie, but director Jon M. Chu’s background is from the music and dance world (most notably, the Step Up franchise), so it’s hard to imagine it will be much better.


The Amazing Spider-Man – July will be the battle of the titans: Spider-Man vs. Batman. This reboot of Spider-Man will hopefully reinvigorate the franchise, but I think it will be overshadowed by…

The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan’s final entry into the dark world of Batman. Will Nolan be able to pull off a tour de force without a force of nature like Heath Ledger? Most likely it will be an emphatic “yes.” Here is a clever mash-up trailer for the film using footage from Batman: The Animated Series:

Ice Age: Continental Drift – at least we get to laugh at Scrat try to rescue his acorn, regardless of the other dreck that may be in the movie.


Total Recall – this new Total Recall will supposedly stick close to the original Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” it’s based on.

ParaNorman – this animated fantasy/horror/comedy from the makers of Coraline could be a sleeper hit.


Hotel Transylvania – Director Genndy Tartakovsky (The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack) animates Adam Sandler as Dracula in this Sony Pictures Animation presentation.

Dredd – Karl Urban stars in a new take on the ultra-violent British comic book. Without Sylvester Stallone to muck it up, it might actually turn out ok. Lena Headey co-stars.


Frankenweenie – Tim Burton’s feature-length stop-motion remake of his infamous 1984 short. Will audiences flock to see a black-and-white animated film in 2012? The hip ones will.


Wreck-It Ralph – Disney Animation’s big film for 2012 features the voices of John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer in something to do with video game characters coming to life.

Rise of the Guardians – Dreamworks Animation brings together the voice talents of Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Chris Pine, and Alec Baldwin in a story that has Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost banding together to fight the Bogeyman.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the one every fanboy has been waiting for—Peter Jackson’s long delayed adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved children’s book. My only question is whether it will remain true to its source material or whether it will be Lord of the Rings, Part 4. Either way, it should be awesome.

World War Z – based on Max Brooks’ tongue-in-cheek zombie book, this adaptation co-written by J. Michael Straczynski and staring Brad Pitt could be a surprise hit.


Robot and Frank – A well-reviewed entry at the Sundance Film Festival starring Frank Langella as a burglar who teams up with a robot to commit his crimes. Co-starring James Marsden, Liv Tyler, and Susan Sarandon.

Upside Down – A man searches an alternate universe for a long-lost love from his youth. Stars Kirsten Dunst.

The Prodigies – Warner Bros. Pictures is planning to distribute this French animated superhero movie from 2011 sometime this year; my guess in limited release.