"John Carter" arrives in theaters today, after what seems like forever (at least to The Cricket, who's been reporting on this movie for two years).
The space epic, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' influential pulp novels, is a fun ride, grand in scale and loaded with otherworldly sights and rousing action. It's also got a fine cast, led by Taylor Kitsch as the rugged Earth man transplanted to Mars; Lynn Collins as the alluring Martian princess Dejah Thoris; Dominic West as the ruthless warlord Sab Than; Mark Strong as the meddling shapeshifter Matai Chang; and Willem Dafoe providing voice and motion to the computer-generated Tars Tarkas, leader of the nine-foot-tall green Tharks. Director Andrew Stanton creates a complex and original vision, while evoking the classics of science fiction ("Flash Gordon," "Star Wars," "Avatar") that descended from Burroughs' tales.
This weekend's other studio movies -- the Eddie Murphy comedy "A Thousand Words" and the haunted-house thriller "Silent House" -- were not screened for Utah critics. (Look for The Cricket's reviews online late this afternoon.)
The best of the art-house slate is the French drama "Declaration of War," a joyously energetic film about a young couple (Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm) who learn their 18-month-old baby boy has a brain tumor. The film (directed by Donzelli, which she co-wrote with Elkaîm and based on their experience with their own son) illuminates with passion and wit how the couple mobilized, and found new energy, to fight against their son's cancer.
"Rampart" is a dark, hard-to-watch drama, but it boasts a stunning performance by Woody Harrelson as a corrupt cop whose life is falling to pieces. Director Oren Moverman ("The Messenger"), co-writing with James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential"), paints a stark portrait of an old-school L.A. cop who can't change when his department's sins are brought to light.
Lastly, there's "Friends With Kids," a relationship comedy that should be better than it is, given its pedigree. It's written and directed by its star, Jennifer Westfeldt, who also co-wrote and starred in the charming "Kissing Jessica Stein." This time, Westfeldt plays Julie, a single New Yorker who decides, with her best friend Jason (Adam Scott), to have a baby together while remaining platonic friends. The central relationship has little chemistry, and their arc is tediously predictable. Where the movie gets good is when the couple connect with their married-with-kids friends -- couples played by Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd, and Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm, all alumni of "Bridesmaids" -- who are funnier and more authentic than Julie and Jason.