Friday Flicks: Can John Carter Justify Its Rumored $250 Million Price Tag?

Grab some popcorn! TIME's Glen Levy brings you the movies you should check out (or avoid) this weekend.

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John Carter

Tagline: Lost In Our World, Found In Another.

Imagine if you were read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ epic 11-volume A Princess Of Mars (he was probably best known for being behind Tarzan) and wanted nothing more than to see a movie adaptation. Well, even the biggest optimist would surely have conceded defeat after a century of near misses. But Andrew Stanton, the Oscar-winning director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E (he was also involved in Toy Story), was beyond keen to see this film get made. The difference between him and us? Stanton got the job done by directing this rumored $250 million film which sees him take charge of live action for the first time in his storied career.

Of course, without submitting fully to what’s going on, the plot of John Carter (they dropped the Of Mars because they thought it would hurt box office) comes across as ever so slightly ridiculous: Civil War vet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, best known for Friday Night Lights and surely having a breakout 2012) finds himself transported from a cave to the planet of Barsoom, where he tips the balance of a war between the Zodangans and the Heliumites by rescuing a princess (Lynn Collins), which does not go down well with Matai Shang (Mark Strong). If you can picture, say, a Star Trek fan reciting this back at you, it’s easy to see why sci-fi gets such a tough rap at times.

But if there are comparisons to be made, it’s with Avatar (which, to be fair, was reportedly inspired by Burroughs’ original text). Stanton has employed the voices of such talented actors as Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morto, and with a script co-written by the quite brilliant Michael Chabon, there’s a chance the film might not just break even but could even make for quite the diverting watch. “Just about every sci-fi/fantasy/superhero adventure you ever loved is in here somewhere,” writes Empire. “A handsome new sci-fi adventure that feels rather familiar. Enjoyable enough while it lasts, John Carter is big on ambition and disappointingly short on action,” is the verdict of Total Film. But SFX is more upbeat, commenting that it’s “an oddly underblown epic, which at least makes a nice change from the overblown bombast that normally parades itself as the sci-fi blockbuster.” Yet for some reason, the feeling persists that John Carter won’t be going down in sci-fi folk lore.

LIST: 10 Ways Star Wars Changed the Movie Industry

A Thousand Words

Tagline: Make Every Word Count

Hey, Eddie Murphy fans! Still sad that he didn’t end up hosting the Oscars? Help is at hand in the form of his new film, A Thousand Words, released a mere two weeks after he would have hosted.

Murphy plays Jack McCall, a fast-talking literary agent. (Though when it comes to the movies, is there any other kind?) McCall calls upon the New Age guru Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis) for his own selfish purposes, but the Doc sees him coming from a mile away, and Jack’s life falls apart after a magical tree appears in his backyard (don’t overthink this, it just happens). Now we have a situation where, with each word he utters, a leaf falls from the tree. When the last one falls, both he and the tree are done for. Can McCall stop talking and figure out a clever way to get his message across?

The obvious link must be with his one-time Oscar producer, Brett Ratner, putting his foot in his mouth last year, which led to them both stepping down from the awards show gig. Perhaps the reviewers will reference it but, at the time of writing, no write-ups were available. Being speechless may be an intrinsic part of the movie but it’s hard to see such an attitude helping the all-important word-of-mouth.

MORE: Eddie Murphy Quits the Oscars

Friends with Kids

Tagline: Family doesn’t always go according to plan.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you — that really is pretty much the Bridesmaids cast teaming up for Jennifer Westfeldt’s film, Friends with Kids (which sounds like the ideal title for a potential Bridesmaids sequel). And Westfeldt is certainly invested in her movie, considering that she wrote it in addition to directing it and starring in it.

She plays Julie, a single, childless woman whose social life falls apart when her non-single friends begin families. What to do? She and her platonic friend Jason (Adam Scott) decide to get it on, for the express purpose of bringing up baby as buddies. Can it work? What will their pals make of it? And will we get a vomit scene? (Possibly, not much and not on your life are the best answers to those questions.)

In relative terms, it’s been a fair while since Westfeldt broke out in the cult indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, so it can’t hurt that her real-life beau, Jon Hamm, may have been helped pull together the in-demand Bridesmaids alumni of Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd as well as himself. And there sure seems a lot of love for Westfeldt: “Her intensity feels just right — better than in any film I’ve seen in years,” raves New York magazine. “Friends with Kids still works as a decent romantic dramedy, even if the suspicion of a vanity project lingers like dirty [diaper] odour,” is the slightly more critical opinion of the Guardian. But the Hollywood Reporter arguably finds the best balance, noting that it’s “a romantic comedy that takes time to find its groove but steadily accumulates heart and humor.”

MORE: Friday Flicks on Bridesmaids

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

When Ewan McGregor made his thrilling entry into the world of movies all those years ago, appearing in such vital slices of British cinema as Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, he wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told him that one day he’d be playing his nation’s leading fisheries expert. His Dr. Alfred Jones is approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to help realize a sheikh’s (Amr Waked) vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert. It’s a far cry from diving into a toilet in a pub in Scotland to retrieve some drugs, but what both have in common is that they’re surely absurd and unachievable objectives.

In Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (and if ever a title could kill buzz, it’s this one), the Prime Minister’s press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) jumps on the project as a “good will” story, setting in motion an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible possible. And it’s difficult to be too much of a curmudgeon when you consider the safe hands in front of the camera, and behind it, in the shape of director Lasse Hallström, who can knock these features out for fun and still be back home in time for dinner.

And no less a publication than the Los Angeles Times has given its approval: “By the time the film is done with us, it’s hard not to feel there is hope for romance, the possibility of peace and even a little patience for politics.” Reel Film Reviews keeps it, well, real by noting that “the movie, which generally unfolds exactly as one might’ve anticipated, boasts an easygoing narrative that’s been peppered with cute bits of humor and romcom shenanigans.” But Time Out New York takes no prisoners: “Simply hokum designed to land overly sentimental suckers hook, line and sinker.” As Trainspotting‘s Renton would have advised: Choose life.

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: In the biggest week of releases of 2012 to date, Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends with Kids is the standout offering.

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