This Week at the Movies

'John Carter' and 'Silent House' miss the mark, but 'Footnote' is a clever film on academia and family dynamics.

It’s taken nearly eight decades, but “John Carter” has finally made it to the big screen.

The picture, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s series of novels, was originally pitched as an animated movie to MGM in the 1930s.

So, it would seem fitting that Andrew Stanton, who directed the marvelous “WALL-E” and “Finding Nemo,” is the filmmaker to bring this story to the screen.

And yet, something is curiously missing. “John Carter” is difficult to distinguish from most Hollywood summer fare – loaded with special effects, loud and expensive looking.

In the picture, Taylor Kitsch is the titular character, a rowdy Civil War veteran who frequently finds himself on the wrong side of the law.

During a search for treasure in a cave, Carter is mysteriously transported to Mars, where he becomes embroiled in a civil war, of sorts, between two human cities, one of which is being manipulated by a small band of wizard-like beings. Also thrown into the mix is an alien race that appear to have walked off the set of a “Star Wars” film.

This is a story that relies heavily on special effects and therein lies the problem. The picture does not feature any particularly spectacular set pieces and many of the visual effects are the standard shots of humans flying through the air as stuff explodes behind them.

Considering the talent behind the camera on this film, I admit to having expected more.

Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s “Silent House” is slightly more compelling, but only moderately more successful.

The film is reportedly one continuous shot, but I have my doubts.

Unspooling in something resembling real time, the horror picture is a spooky house story with a darker, underlying theme that is only slowly revealed.

Elizabeth Olsen, who impressed last year with her performance in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” carries the picture as a young woman who has shown up with her father and uncle to pack up and clean out her family’s summer home.

From the start, something is amiss and it is obvious there is some sort of tension between the three characters.

For much of the film, Olsen is left to wander through the dark house on her own as creaky noises and occasional bumps in the night are heard.

Then, her father is attacked by someone or something. Olsen flees the house, finds her uncle and the two of them go back to investigate. It is difficult to describe much more without giving away the movie’s big reveal.

Olsen is convincing and the film’s directors, who previously shot “Open Water,” manage to draw a few genuinely scary sequences from the material.

But “Silent House” would have likely worked better as a 20-minute short than a feature film. Much of the picture feels like the filmmaker’s are killing time and scenes quickly become repetitive.

The week’s best selection is Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” an Israeli film that was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

The film makes use of Wallace Sayre’s comment that “academic politics are vicious because the stakes are so low.”

We are introduced to Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba), a philologist who has closely studied manuscripts in his competitive Talmudic studies department for nearly 40 years.

His son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), is a rising star in the field and the author of numerous books.

Eliezer has become bitter not only due to his son’s success, but also because Israel’s top prize in the arts and sciences has eluded him for decades.

But one day, Eliezer gets a call and is told he has won the prize. As it turns out, a mistake has been made: Uriel has been selected as the winner.

Cedar milks some acerbic humor – including a great sequence in which Uriel meets with the prize’s nominating committee to convince them to give the prize to his father – and tense drama from the film’s simple storyline.

Although its central plot is small in scope, “Footnote” touches on themes of familial loyalty, resentment and the quest for success. It’s a solid example of how less can be more.


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