Ender’s Game (2013)

Ender's GameReleased: November 1, 2013. Directed by: Gavin Hood. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld. Runtime: 114 min.

Ender is conveniently named because he is called upon to lead the war against the genocidal species the Formics after they nearly annihilated the human race in an earlier invasion. He must end it all, in a film where war tactics are prominent and intriguing. You just can’t win one battle, you have to win the war; keep \kicking the enemy, and it will send a message. It will make them never attack again.

Many of these ideas are enforced by an intense Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), a generally unlikeable but important character. Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), one who focuses on the psychological status of the young students recruited by the International, is there to balance out Graff’s intensity. At least, that’s how I see her. I am afraid if this character wasn’t present Graff would be completely intolerable. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is the perfect choice to lead this battle because he’s smart, and has a near-perfect balance of compassion and violence. That is ideal for a war leader, at least in the International’s eyes.

Ender is the third child to go through this sort-of training, after his brother and sister. His brother, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak), couldn’t get very far because he resorted too quickly to violence. His sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin), made it further into the training, but couldn’t advance because she was too compassionate, which is a believable trait for a character portrayed by Breslin. (She just seems kind and genuine, if you ask me.) Her character plays a much bigger role in Ender’s development than Peter. I find it interesting in this world that the parents have to file a government request in order to produce a third child. It seems to me that this might be put in order so the population doesn’t get out of control – in case the Formics attack again and they don’t kill as many humans? That’s my theory.

I am not sure how faithful this is to Orson Scott Card’s book of the same name, but I like many aspects of the film and I think Ender is a compelling character, a smart and emotional one with strong morals. He also sees many troubles of having this pressure weighing on his shoulder, because he is relied on to be a new leader. Everyone needs a leader. These war tactics are thought-provoking, and I think that’s why I prefer the first two thirds of the film over the third act. The third act has some good moments but the actual battle is lackluster. But the visuals are good, and I enjoy the set-up of this familiar science fiction flick. It’s a movie with good action scenes, a good cast and interesting aspects, but the fact that the whole movie leads up to an unrewarding battle is disappointing.

There’s some great battle training sessions that are entertaining. It’s like an anti-gravity laser tag, and it looks like a fun sport that I’ll probably never play because I don’t like heights. Haha. Ender makes a few enemies during his training, mainly Bonzo (Moises Arias in his third film of the year) who is a little man with a big Napoleon complex. He treats everyone like crap if he gets shown up. Well, he treats everyone like crap all the time. I’m liking Arias more and more though; even in an unlikeable role. Ender makes a friend, too, in Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), but it’s never crystal clear if they’re romantically involved or just friends. One more thing: There’s a really cool video game sequence that reveals Ender’s mental state to Viola Davis’ character and it’s just beautifully animated. I think this film would make a great video game – but as a movie, it leaves a bit to be desired as an sci-fi action flick.

Score63/100

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The Kings of Summer (2013)

Kings of SummerRelease Date: June 7, 2013Director: Jordan Vogt-RobertsStars: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises AriasRuntime: 95 min.

Coming-of-age movies are such a commonplace in cinema, so it’s a good thing I enjoy them. These types of films are usually great, like most of John Hughes’ filmography, or “The Perks of Being A Wallflower“. These types of movies usually have an indie charm about them, and “The Kings of Summer” is more than charming.

Films like this only have so many things to rely on: acting, characters, story, how well the genre is executed; so that is one thing that sets this apart from something like a movie with a huge budget. “Kings” hits all of those aspects on the head, and then some.

The story follows Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), a fifteen year-old who is suffocated because his father (Nick Offerman) is a big ole jerk who isn’t easy to be around. His best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) feels so overwhelmed by his parents’ overbearing tendencies, that he is actually getting hives. The two of them, along with Biaggio (Moises Arias), decide to spend their summer in the woods building a house and living off the land, in the ultimate act of independence. Here, they are able to make their own rules and be free.

The messages in this film are strong. It shows that their lives are going to change soon whether they like it or not, as they take on more responsibility. It’s not a step, or rite of passage, that is easy to take. grow up. These kids are so willing to grow up, because they want to taste independence and be the so-called kings of their own lives; but little do they know, being a kid rocks and being an adult is going to suck.

It also expresses that family and friendship isn’t one thing someone should ignore. The family bond and loyalty lies deep, and even though one’s parents might either seem like miserable jerks (Offerman) or crazy overbearing kooks (Patrick’s parents, Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) they love you deep down and they’re only trying their best. They might not be doing the best job, but kids should go easier on parents. And since Offerman’s Frank is a widow, he has to try much harder – it would deem difficult.

The happiest of crew families.

The happiest of crew families.

The ways the writer, newcomer Chris Galletta, tests the bond of friendship between the three boys is smart and experienced. These pivotal moments aren’t forced and they feel natural in the way they happen. It is also the moment where Robinson and Basso show some real talent. The emotional punch might not be enough to make the audience cry, but it’s powerful.

Since the story is so unique, it makes the experience feel fresh. There’s enough heart warming moments, charm and hilarity to make this a worthwhile watch. An over-the-top fantasy sequence is one of the movie’s funniest moments, and there’s witty humour throughout. Offerman shines with his sarcastic comic delivery. Even in the most serious of situations, he isn’t afraid to make a joke. Alison Brie has a forgettable supporting role. Erin Moriarty (“The Watch“) has some fun with the guys.

This directorial debut from Jordan Vogt-Roberts is one for the record books, as he creates a fantastic tone and some visually compelling scenes, so kudos to cinematographer Ross Riege, as well. Some songs fit what’s going on in the film like a glove, in amusing ways.

Arias is hysterical as the film’s scene-stealing Biaggio. He is eccentric and so unpredictable that it makes for one of the funniest characters of the year. The loyalty of the character brings me to believe that he would be a great friend to have. He’s insane, but so amusing. Arias experiences one heck of a break-out role, much like Christopher Mintz-Plasse of “Superbad”. I never thought I’d see the day where Moises Arias, Rico from TV’s “Hannah Montana”, would be the best part of a great comedy. But he is, and it just shows that the right character can make an actor shine.

There is little wrong with the film, at least in a major way. Maybe it’s too short. Maybe Robinson’s beard looks weird. But there’s a lot of high-quality content going on-screen; from the witty humour (among many other things) to the set design. The house built out of stolen goods and material from the woods is the stuff of a fifteen year-old boy’s imagination. Many young teens think about making an awesome house like that, but these boys actually do it. No rent; no rules. Count me in.

Score83/100

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me 2Released: July 3, 2013. Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt. Runtime: 98 min.

I don’t remember some of the first movies I’ve ever seen. At least the first one I saw at the theatre… I’ve been trying to remember, but I haven’t come up with the answer yet. I blame my memory and my Mom and Dad’s poor memory. Thanks a lot, parents! (Just kidding. You’re great.) Anyway, my point is, “Despicable Me 2” is a perfect choice for your weekend’s family-friendly entertainment. If your kids haven’t been to the theater to see a movie in their lives yet, even better. It will be a memorable first experience. Just make sure your tyke is five or six years old (as there is one intense-ish scare that could spook your little ones, as a child at the screening I attended, who looked about four years old, started crying; but more on that later), and they’ll have a great time. This film is endearing, charming, fitfully funny and a whole lot of other flattering adjectives.

“DM2” is a remarkably well-written tale of a bad guy who isn’t exactly a bad guy any more. Gru (Steve Carell) has hung up most of his awesome gadgets and weapons and he is trying to kickstart a business selling jellies (and maybe jams, but he’s undecided on that). Things begin to go awry when a new super-villain steals a serum that turns innocent little bunny rabbits into crazy purple beasts who will eat anything in their path. The Anti-Villain League, led by Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), recruits Gru to take down this super-villain, because he thinks like one. Gru and super agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) go undercover to take down the baddies, and hit things off in the process.

“DM2” struggles to repeat the magic of its predecessor in some aspects (with its antagonist), while it improves on it in others (with its elevated slapstick humour). The new villain is inferior to Vector of the first movie, but he produces a few laughs. He also receives an appealing back-story, and he’s particularly evil. He just isn’t the most amazing villain you’ll ever see, but the voicework enlivens him a bit. I won’t say the name of the villain, because the marketing campaign has done a good job at keeping the villain a secret from the movie-going public; but anyone over the age of five or six, will be able to see who the villain is before the “reveal”. The antagonist may be the movie’s weakest aspect, but it is strong in so many other ways.

DM2It has great heart, appealing themes of family and love, and well-written characters. Carell truly brings it again as Gru, and the character is given new layers as he struggles with over-protective fatherly instincts over his eldest daughter, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), who is attracted to Antonio (Moises Arias), the son of a restaurant owner, Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), who is suspected of stealing the serum. Gru’s mission also gets blinded by his growing attraction to Lucy. You’ll fall in love with Gru all over again, even if he isn’t yet above blasting someone with his trusty freeze ray. The unicorn-loving Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), the youngest daughter, is growing up very well, but she still maintains all of her signature cuteness. She also seems to be more mature than the middle child, Edith (Dana Gaier), who never feels more than a petite supporting role. Eduardo is amusing, but he is practically every Mexican stereotype shoved into one character. Kristen Wiig is just being herself to great effect as Lucy Wilde, an improvement over the cruel Miss Hattie (Wiig’s character in the first movie). Thankfully, this super agent isn’t super annoying; she turns out to be an endearing presence, and one can easily open up to her cuckoo for cocoa puffs kinda personality.

Despicable Me 2wsgg

And of course, there are the minions. They are as funny as ever with just the right amount of screen presence. They will help you watch this with a gleeful smile on your face, as they deal out slapstick humour, talk in their made-up gibberish language of Minion-ese, and sing renditions of All 4 One’s “I Swear” and Village People’s “YMCA”. (It’s seriously laugh-out-loud hilarious; and you won’t be able to stop laughing when you hear these songs in the future.) All of these characters help enrich 2013’s funniest animated film.

I think animated movies have quite a magic about them. They make me feel like a kid again (even though I just turned eighteen in December), but I still do view them with a mature eye. I see this movie as both an animated movie with lots of endearing characters and kiddish humour the little tykes will enjoy; but I also see it as a great family film with some AWESOME super-hero/super-villain action sequences and some hysterical slapstick humour, that adults will enjoy. They won’t feel the need to steal their kids’ Twizzlers and use it to strangle themselves.

Some scenes in animated movies are intense nowadays, at least for kids. “Monsters University” even has a sequence that plays out like an ode to horror movies. This film has an intense scene that could spook the hell out of kids. (So, please don’t bring any kids under the age of four or five, in case it makes them cry. In which case, it will make the 18-year-old film critic sitting in the fourth row want to knock someone the f*ck out.) All of these somewhat intense scenes have me thinking some studio should make an animated horror flick. (Oh please! It worked well with 2006’s “Monster House”…) Now that will give more adults something to feast on.

I give you... Samuel L. Jackson as a Minion. The resemblance is uncanny!

I give you… Samuel L. Jackson as a Minion. The resemblance is uncanny! (It’s been pointed out that this minion is a nod to Ted Lange in Love Boat; but this was the best picture I could find that’s closest to Jackson; I’m 95% certain there was a taller minion that looked more like S. L. Jackson…)

“Despicable Me 2” has a great atmosphere and it’s rivaled by its predecessor and Pixar’s “The Incredibles” as best animated super hero (super villain?) movie. This is the hardest I’ve fallen in love with an animated universe, that wasn’t created by Pixar. This might not make you bawl like a Pixar movie, but it will warm your heart a heck of a lot. It’s sure to entertain and make you laugh, if you have a measurable sense of humour. This movie brings a huge smile to my face, and I hope it has that effect on you. This original movie doesn’t have to be as good as “The Incredibles” or any other Pixar movie really, because this isn’t Pixar. This is Illumination Entertainment. They have created a movie with an amazing attention to detail (like making so many minions different, and even making one minion that looks a lot like Samuel L. Jackson as Jules in “Pulp Fiction”), and a spectacular universe. The music chosen by Pharrell Williams is quite possibly better this time around. I love this studio making movies, because they’re entertaining, charming and heartfelt. Illumination Entertainment is here to stay.

This movie also has cool cars, adorable minions, jokes you’ll be laughing about long after, and Steve Carell giving us an instantly recognizable Eastern European accent, that is the voice of Gru. That is my idea of a great time at the movies. In the words of Gru, “That’s what *I’m* talking, about!”

Score88/100