With the recent big-budget adaptation of ‘John Carter’ now available on Blu-ray, and the stupid-looking revival of ‘The Three Stooges’ about to be shortly, now seems like as good a time as any to check out a couple of smaller-budgeted related features ready to stream on Netflix.
My childhood is littered with memories of watching ‘The Three Stooges’ on television (along with ‘Our Gang’ and ‘The Munsters’), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a major fan of the comic trio. Moe, Larry and Curly played a significant role in shaping my life and my love for the movies. When I read that an adaptation of Michael Fleming’s authorized biography was to premiere on ABC and was executive produced by longtime fan Mel Gibson, I of course sat glued to my television watching. Aside from a few historical discrepancies for dramatic effect, the movie doesn’t disappoint, and the performances of Paul Ben-Victor as Moe and Michael Chiklis as Curly are phenomenal.
Like any typical bio-drama, especially one made for television (which tend to overplay the melodrama), the story follows the careers of the three men, starting with their humble beginnings as a vaudeville supporting act to Ted Healy (Marton Csokas, giving one of his finest portrayals). There’s not much about their personal lives, though. The film is mainly focused on their professional careers, their treatment by studio heads and the strong bond that kept the lifelong friends close. The payoff in the end, which finishes on an emotional high note, is tremendously satisfying. Then again, I’m a sucker for such sappy conclusions. Nonetheless, seeing the story of the Stooges’ lives and comedic talent told so well makes me appreciate these geniuses of physical slapstick all the more. With equally memorable performances from Evan Handler as Larry and John Kassir as the original third Stooge Shemp, this is a great film for ‘Stooges’ fans everywhere.
‘Princess of Mars’
The most surprising thing about this sci-fi fantasy based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name is its production value. Once our war hero John Carter (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), who is here repurposed as a U.S. sniper in Afghanistan to give the story a contemporary appeal, lands on the barren red planet, we quickly surmise that a majority of the budget probably went into set design and makeup. Rather than use a Jar-Jar Binks style of CG animation as Andrew Stanton did in ‘John Carter’, the producers here went with real actors in makeup prosthetics to play Tars Tarkas and all the other Tharks. The rest of the movie (written and directed by Mark Atkins) is complete rubbish, but at least the talented makeup work is impressive and striking.
I have to admit that I also liked the small changes in Carter’s background and history. I suppose that Sabato does a decent job in the role as well, though he often feels more like a background player than a charismatic hero with the power to leap great distances. Even worse is Traci Lords’ portrayal of Dejah Thoris, using the same puffy, pouty face to express a wide range of emotions. Their eventual love story is as detached and unemotional as the two actors are toward one another in real life. The script makes several alterations to the original plot, likely due to production costs, but the filmmakers do what they can, amusingly concluding with a hilarious battle inside an empty refinery. From the independent low-budget company The Asylum, ‘Princess of Mars’ is a laughable mockbuster in every respect.