Act of Valor (2012) PASS
The Grey (2012) PASS
John Carter (2012) PICK
Red Tails (2012) PICK
Yellow Submarine (1968) PICK
A lackluster crop of home-video releases includes an array of okay action movies and one extraordinary animated film. Yellow Submarine is an inexplicable animated classic, a whimsical, surreal blend of great music and inspired visuals in a plot that may not make any sense, but who cares? The Fab Four sail the Seven Seas to Pepperland under the sea, confront the Blue Meanies and celebrate the power of love and imagination. It’s possibly the only animated musical since Fantasia to invite comparison to that film without feeling like an afterthought.
Possibly the best bet among the action movies is Pixar director Andrew Stanton’s expensive flop John Carter, based on the pioneering science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The story of a Civil War vet transported to Mars, the film is replete with images and themes long since familiar from countless derivative works, and the dense political back story is pretty impenetrable to newcomers. Still, it feels fresh despite the familiarity and holds together well enough.
Also worth catching is Red Tails, producer George Lucas’ homage to the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black fighter pilots. An old-fashioned, cornball patriotic cartoon, it’s got fantastic aerial combat sequences and some nice moments on the ground, though the heroes succeed so handily that there’s little tension. Disappointingly, what would otherwise make ideal viewing with kids is marred by mild but gratuitous sexual content.
Act of Valor I’m calling a near miss. Its strengths include a celebration of honor, discipline and heroism among Navy Seals and possibly the most accurate big-screen depiction of military techniques ever, considering the heroes are played by actual active-duty Seals. Its drawbacks include a complete lack of nuance, unnecessarily rough language and bizarrely PC plotting involving Chechen and Filipino terrorists assisted by a Jewish smuggler named Christo (!).
Another near miss, The Grey is a bleak but thoughtful Jack London-esque survival tale pitting a crew of roughnecks in the Alaskan tundra against a pack of almost supernatural wolves. The movie raises questions about God and seems “angry with him for not existing” (C.S. Lewis). Despite oppressively foul language, it’s possible to see a ray of grace; still, the movie sets its sights further than its firepower takes it.
Content Advisory: John Carter: Stylized violence; limited profanity and bad language; female characters in scanty attire; brief urination. Teens and up. Red Tails: Intense aerial combat and some wartime injuries; profanity and lots of cursing; a racial epithet; brief sensuality and a premarital affair (no nudity). Might be okay for older teens. Yellow Submarine: Mildly distressing sequences; veiled drug references. Still fine family viewing.