Spotlight Reviews is our monthly recurring feature where our Twitter following are asked to vote for one of four topics suggested by our writers, who would then have to give their best answer to that chosen topic! This week’s topic: Stupid, Fun Adventure. Plus: your answers on Twitter, featured!
Disney’s John Carter
Before we get to the fun, let’s talk about the stupid.
First, the absurd framing of the narrative: the story takes place in the 1880s, where John Carter is dead and his nephew inherits his fortune and his journal, before heading back about twenty years to begin the adventure proper, only to jump forward again by the end in one of the weirdest, most unnecessary narrative-halting reveals of all time: John Carter was never dead! He was simply pretending to be so that he could resolve an issue with the plot that happened only five minutes earlier! Wholly pointless, a set-up for a pay-off that doesn’t do nearly enough to warrant our investment and most audiences will have clean forgot about by the time it comes back around after the whole adventuring to Mars for an hour and a half thing.
Second, the narrative itself: phoney-baloney space politics, a ‘white man tames the natives’ subplot, a mission to save a princess from wrongful marriage, an evil overly-powerful race pulling the strings that must be overthrown because they’re evil, a slap-dash wedding resolution that comes and goes within five minutes of an enormous battle and a bunch of Indiana Jones-ing both on Earth and on Mars for lost caves and ancient treasures and mysteries untold. It’s a mash-up of a lot of ‘been there, done that’ themes and tropes, none of which are explored nearly as well as the movies it wants to be.
Finally, the characters themselves: John Carter is just your average everyday roguishly good looking, impeccably built, deviously witty, strong, noble, tragically-affected bad-ass soldier scoundrel white guy with a heart of gold and a silver tongue. With Princess Dejah, just your average everyday scientist with all the answers, skilled warrior, honour-bound, daddy-defying, can’t be told mostly-white princess with a heart of gold; together they’re an unstoppable force of power fantasies who will fall in love because the plot demands it and they’re also very good looking.
So, understandably John Carter wasn’t a big deal at the box office; some might even call it a modest disaster. But here’s the thing: that was all on marketing, because I defy you not to have a great time watching this stupid, stupid movie.
Low-gravity makes John Carter basically Superman-on-Mars, and he’s got just the right amount of brooding smart-ass in him to make him your proto-typical likeable rogue. As the story winds in, even with all the archetypes and clichés being tossed at you, it’s still a great straight-forward, don’t-think-too-hard adventure that you can watch with a drink in hand or on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There’s a lot packed into the two hours to keep you zipping from location to location without ever getting bored, and there’s surprisingly little sentimentality; it’s all mostly charm and pragmatism, which can’t hurt too badly.
The Princess is just snarky enough to keep along, there’s the sceptic Willem Dafoe alien who is just a lot of fun, Mark Strong competently portrays smug bad-guy over the muscle-bound other bad-guy, the natives have their little side-stories that all help the movie feel like one cohesive big adventure and there’s a super-fast alien dog who is so damn cute you’ll love him he’s awesome.
Add in some genuinely excellent set-pieces like a gladiatorial arena showdown that is both spectacular and resolves so quickly it can only make you laugh, and a solar-powered airship battle that really works, and some ol’ west Civil War-era scrapping that does a damn good job setting up the feel of the movie when we get to Mars and it just all happens to add up to a good time. So much so that when it ends on a cliffhanger, you will likely but utterly outraged this next film will never happen because Disney dropped the ball so hard.
Still, it’s worth the experience. Your brain won’t thank you for it, but your easy-to-please heart will.
You’ll hear Kelly’s Heroes called a war/comedy movie, but not an adventure movie; this is folly! It’s about a ragtag bunch of misfits who decide they’ve had enough of taking orders from a bumbling, hypocritical brass and decide to go AWOL and blast through enemy lines themselves to raid a secret vault of Nazi gold; any more swashbuckling and you’d have ruffled sleeves!
Clint Eastwood is in fine form, playing the eponymous Kelly. He’s joined by Telly Savalas as Master Sgt “Big Joe”, the longsuffering Dad of the group, and Donald Sutherland as Sergeant “Oddball”, the bohemian tank commander whose purpose it is to provide all the best lines in the movie.
The film has a pleasant air of “Ah, screw it!” about it, and it’s refreshing to have a story where all the characters are opportunists explicitly in it for themselves and not have the movie stop at the mid-point to wag its finger at them. War-profiteering and desertion have never been this fun! The heist itself ends on one of the most delightfully sly and oddly-endearing win-wins you’ll see in some time.
That being said, it is still silly enough to justify being my choice. The boorish Major General Colt (played by Carroll O’Connor, in what is a very thinly veiled send-up of Patton) excitedly commentates on mid-battle comms like it’s a baseball match, the lyrics of the main theme of the movie don’t have anything to do with the film’s content, and there’s a spaghetti western scene where our three leads waltz up to an enemy Tiger Tank in plain sight of it and the guy just gets out to see what they want, presumably impressed by their chutzpah.
I mean, Oddball’s tank platoon is filled with beatniks and hippies, in 1944 no less. There’s a guy called Turk; he has a fez, a moustache, and never speaks; and he’s rad as hell.
With them accidentally liberating a French town along the way, the brass are happy to take credit for everything (completely clueless about the gold), and our heroes laughing all the way to the bank, this is a movie where (including the audience), everybody wins.
Honourable Mention: Pacific Rim
I had the pleasure of seeing Pacific Rim for the first time at the IMAX theatre in Universal Studios and I am quite certain it is only out of etiquette and perhaps a little repression that I didn’t go Super Saiyan right there in the audience. Alas, as much as it exemplifies big stupid fun, it is not much of an adventure film, and receives only the honourable mention.
The Blues Brothers
The adventure genre has more than its fair share of great flicks. From the early movie serials that Indiana Jones was based on to Indiana Jones itself. With such a rich vein to choice from this shouldn’t be difficult, right?
Since I’ve mentioned it twice already, Indiana Jones is the big name in adventure movies; Temple of Doom being my personal favourite but it seems a little bit obvious to just pick Indy. Same goes for the whole trilogy (What fourth movie?).
I almost chose an old Swashbuckler adventure movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol “I am the definition of raconteur” Flynn. But, I kept tripping up on one key phrase: “Stupid-fun”. As much as I love both Indy and Robin, neither of them have that off the wall silliness and frivolity that I think the phrase implies. I wanted something exciting but engaging, raucously funny with twists, turns, fun characters and just enjoyable moments.
What I wanted was The Blues Bros.
If for some reason you have not already seen Aykroyd’s greatest work of pop culture then allow me to enlighten you.
Jake Blues has recently been released from prison only to find out from his brother that their Band has all gone their separate ways. Looking for direction from the “kindly” nun that runs their old orphanage they are told to go to church for the answer. Jake is then told by God himself that he needs to save the orphanage from destitution. Getting the old band together for one last gig, they rally round, meeting Blues legends and try to win the money before the orphanage can be closed down. They’re on a mission from God.
My summary cannot do it justice. Truly this is what I think of when stupid fun adventure is mentioned. How can I not? This is the only movie where you’ll see Effete Illinois Nazis, raging rednecks singers with a deathwish, James Brown summon God with the power of the Blues and last but not least, Princess Leia attempting to kill people with guns, flamethrowers and rocket launchers.
Intersperse all of that with a grooving soundtrack with Legends such as Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab FREAKING Calloway and John Lee Hooker and you have a movie that just lights you up inside. Each song is fantastic, setting a great tone with enjoyable and foot tapping dance choreography.
I cannot stress the fun that movie contains for me, it oozes out of the cellulose frame by frame.
So just to reiterate why Blues Brothers is the best “Stupid Fun Adventure Movie”.
- Great Soundtrack
- Homicidal Princess Leia
- Witty dialogue and memorable One-liners
- Blues Legends
- John Candy and his Porno moustache
- Nazis getting their comeuppance
- Rednecks getting their comeuppance
- Got my Cheez-whiz boy?
- The largest (at the time) car pile-up in Movie history
- Destroying a mall with cars
- Requiring the National Guard, the Army and the Chicago Police Force to come after our heroes
- God-sanctified carnage
Need I say more?
The essence of what makes Highlander a great, stupid and fun adventure is easy to state. You’ve got a Scottish actor playing an Egyptian-Spaniard samurai, you’ve got the incredibly French Christopher Lamert playing a Scottish ‘Hi-Lend-eur‘, all to an appropriately inappropriate soundtrack by Queen. If you can’t already see why this film is so fantastic, you never will.
For the rest of us, Highlander is an extremely modern story (if you are reading this in the 80s) about a highlander that discovers he is immortal. Who wants to live forever you may ask? The answer is certainly not Connor Macleod, but watching him transform from a blood-thirsty highland warrior into a blood thirsty highland warrior who runs a museum makes for a fantastic, big, stupid and fun adventure across time.
Amazingly enough, the story for highlander was written by a student (Gregory Wilden), and not only that but a student in a screenwriting class. Now if that isn’t a fantastic endorsement for every kind of seemingly meaningless arts course I don’t know what is. It’s clear from the story of highlander that the problem with arts students is that they are going into these courses hoping to write something transcendent and awe-inspiring, so they start watching David Lynch movies, trying to understand the theory to his madness. Yet, they’ve missed the point entirely, you want transcendent and awe-inspiring? What about a bunch of immortals try to decapitate each other in some of history’s most important historical events, like a 1980s wrestling match, and the Battle for Southeast Argyllshire! Gold!
If you ever feel the need to switch off your brain and just enjoy something for what it is, first off watch Twilight but then watch Highlander. The action is totally over-the-top; I’ve seen dead pigs with less ham than this movie and its casting choices will leave you puzzled for years to come. Still, at its core there’s something really entertaining about a group of people who grow in strength by decapitating the only other entities that could possibly understand what they’re going through.
It asks some pretty interesting yet un-taxing questions like, if you lived forever would you still have relations with your 90-year old partner? Would you still work in a soulless 9-5 job at a museum? Would you save an orphan child only to find you have a strange sexual tension with them as they start to look like they are your age? If you are Connor McCleod the answer is of course ‘Yes’ to all of the above, but for the rest of us it’s not quite that simple.
When it comes to choosing a stupid fun adventure movie to review, “There can only be one!”; my choice will forever be ‘Hi-Lend-eur’.
And here are some of your suggestions on Twitter!
Admittedly, it seems everybody thought the theme of Revenge was going to win, because that’s what we got suggestions for this month!
And that’s it for this month! Check us out on Twitter to take part next time!