NEW THIS WEEK
-- A RICHLY DIVERTING ADAPTATION OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' FANTASTICAL, HEROIC TALES OF AN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR VETERAN ON MARS:
"JOHN CARTER" PG-13 -- This imaginative cinematic take on the now 100-year-old tales by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who wrote the Tarzan books) about a 19th -century American on Mars should transport teens who love all science-fiction and fantastical fables. It's acted with unfussy skill, and the non-humanoid Martian creatures are rendered in gorgeous, well-integrated motion-capture and computer-animation techniques. All this gains subtle depth in 3-D and the result, except for a briefly draggy middle section, is highly entertaining. The saga begins on Earth. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is an embittered Confederate veteran of the Civil War. He escapes capture by U.S. Army officers who want him to help fight the Apache. In a cave, he inadvertently comes upon some sort of amulet that transports him to Mars, or Barsoom, as its inhabitants call it. Suddenly he's able to jump huge heights and distances because of the difference in gravity. Carter is nevertheless captured by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), leader of the tall, green, four-armed Tharks. He learns that a civil war is raging on Mars. He eventually befriends the Tharks, and tries to arrange an alliance with the humanoid Heliumites, led by Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds) and his beautiful daughter, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). But their enemies, the Zodangans, are led by the violent Sab Than (Dominic West), who demands that Dejah Thoris marry him as the price of peace. Carter must save both her and Mars.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The film includes battle scenes and other mayhem, but most involve Martian creatures that bleed in royal blue, which doesn't seem gory. Nor are the lizardish Martian monsters that scary. The fighting does hint nongrahically at severed limbs. Flashbacks to Carter's 19th-century life on Earth imply that his wife burned to death after an attack on their cabin. Really hard-fisted fights take place when he's forcibly conscripted by the U.S. Army. There is mild sexual innuendo.
-- WHEN YOU GUESS THE SECRET OF A GIMMICKY HORROR FILM'S PLOT JUST 20 MINUTES IN, YOU KNOW YOU'RE IN TROUBLE:
"SILENT HOUSE" R -- High-schoolers 16 and older might be gripped by the gimmick behind "Silent House," which is that the entire film was made in one long single tracking shot with no edits. (The story is based on a 2010 Uruguayan film.) The trouble is that the disturbing plot behind the gimmick grows highly predictable early on, so "surprises" at the end aren't surprising at all. But for a while, it is creepily entertaining to watch the young female protagonist Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) weeping and skittering through a boarded-up house with no electricity, trying to understand who is committing violent acts in the shadows. As the film opens, she's relaxing on the waterside rocks next to a rambling old summer house that her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) are cleaning out in order to sell it. Sarah seems distracted. She doesn't recognize Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) who comes over to say "hi," and remind her that they played there together as kids. Once inside, with only flashlights and lanterns, mysterious noises start to freak Sarah out. She tries to hide from the stranger in the house who is committing acts of violence. Moviegoers 16 and older will likely guess what's going on long before it's obvious.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The film shows a lot of blood, but the actual on-screen violence involves more sounds than graphic visuals. Characters use occasional profanity and drink beer. SPOILER ALERT: Although it is never graphic or highly specific, the film implies strongly and in eerie flashbacks a protracted sexual abuse situation involving a pre-adolescent girl and grown-up men taking photos and, one guesses, also molesting her.
-- ROBERT DE NIRO AND PAUL DANO GIVE BRAVURA PERFORMANCES AS A TROUBLED FATHER AND SON IN THIS ADULT MEMOIR:
"BEING FLYNN" R -- College students -- in particular those who love literature and tales of tortured writers -- may find "Being Flynn" utterly engrossing and revelatory, despite the film's dark and depressive tone. It is far too profane and graphic for under-17s. Based on writer/poet Nick Flynn's 2004 memoir "Another Bull ... t Night in Suck City," the movie recounts how, in 1980s Boston, the 20-something Nick (Paul Dano) became reacquainted with his long-estranged father Jonathan (Robert De Niro) while working at a homeless shelter. Jonathan, we learn, served prison time for check forgery, and never returned to his family. Nick grew up with his hardworking single mom Jody (Julianne Moore). His father, encountered as an older man after 18 years of no contact, turns out to be a grandiose, narcissistic blowhard who thinks everything he scribbles is a literary masterpiece. In fact, he is mentally ill and self-medicating with alcohol. When we first see Jonathan, he's driving a cab and supporting himself, but his life spirals downward after he's evicted, loses his driver's license and lands in the shelter where Nick works. Young Nick also struggles with alcohol and drugs and longs to write. Seeing his father and hearing him rant, Nick fears he'll turn into him. Father and son both do some voice-over narration, as if vying for who gets the final word. The acting is fearless, but "Being Flynn" feels heavy and humorless.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Scenes at the homeless shelter depicting drunken, strung-out, sick, lice-infested and sometimes combative men are disturbing and raw. There are a couple of graphic sexual situations and some non-sexual nudity. Characters use steaming profanity. A suicide is strongly implied but not shown. We see thugs beating up homeless men but not graphically.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.