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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Prisoners (2013)

PrisonersReleased: September 20, 2013. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard. Runtime: 153 min.

Thought-provoking and engaging, “Prisoners” represents a type of film that I I love. It asks the question: What would you do if your child was kidnapped? What lengths would you go to get them back?

Thanksgiving for the Dover and Birch families start out like any other, but takes a horrifying turn after dinner. When a young daughter is taken from each family (Anna from the Dover clan, Eliza from the Birches), it is hell on earth. They call the police and, later, the RV their children were playing by is found. After a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is released by police because he has the IQ of a ten year-old, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) must take matters into his own hands. He is convinced this man has kidnapped his daughter and her friend.

Meanwhile, the lead detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is following leads and attempting to find the girls before time runs out. Dover is doing the same, but with a different form of vigilante justice.

As an ethical exploration, “Prisoners” is fascinating. As a kidnapper-revenge crime story, it’s dark and complex; if predictable at times. There are plot twists upon plot twists, but many are “Ooooh, I shoulda known.” It is an enthralling ride, either way.

The ethical questions raised throughout are how far would you go to get your kids back? It’s a story about parental instincts, but the mothers take backseat roles in the film. Viola Davis portays Nancy Birch, who learns of the drastic plan Keller has hatched later on. Maria Bello, who plays Grace Dover, has the smallest amount of screen time out of the primary cast, as she is popping insomnia pills like they are M&M’s throughout the movie.

So, to many, it might seem as if the film is predominantly about fatherly instincts. Hugh Jackman’s character (Keller Dover) represents the desperation of fathers who will be the backbone behind a drastic plan, and wish to see it through to the end as to see his baby girl again. Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch) is the father who is a bit more reluctant to going to these illegal heights at seeing his child again. Most fathers will go through this plan, but he just represents the fathers who will be a bit more heartbroken about it… But won’t stop it. Personally, my fatherly instincts might be a bit more akin towards Howard’s.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Loki is the only main male character who doesn’t have a child. He represents the rational law-man, who’s fighting for what’s right. His heart goes into this case, as well. This situation is intense for him, but it’d be much scarier if he had children. His contribution to the story is leading the case; but Keller thinks he could be doing his job a helluva lot better.

Those of us in the audience without children, can understand the lengths Keller and Franklin would go through to get their children back. It’s unsettling and heartbreakingly shocking. What is a heartbreaking aspect to it is that, even though we might not be the one doing the beating, all humans with a heart will go to these lengths to see their child again. This is what makes these characters so real. The only unrealistic part of the film is the recurring cop cliché of who the hell needs back-up or partners?

The Controversial Oscar Nominee Squad Beating On A Villain (that’s what I like to call them) aspect of the film makes us sympathize with a potential villain. Paul Dano plays the softly-spoken Alex Jones, a suspect in the case – and a character who will keep you guessing on how much he knows about the girls’ disappearance. Another memorable performance is from Alex Jones’ aunt, Holly Jones, portrayed by Melissa Leo in a nearly unrecognisable role.

Writer Aaron Guzikowski knows what solid storytelling is all about, and director Denis Villeneuve knows how to create a intricate and dark atmosphere, coupled with great imagery. It seems as if he’s been taking a tip or two from David Fincher; as this feels as intense as “Zodiac” in more than a few scenes; making me think of this as one of the more suspenseful films of recent memory. Villeneuve also knows how to get incredible performances out of his talented cast.

No matter how small the performances of those involved, they are emotionally involving and, most importantly, believable. Gyllenhaal is great as Detective Loki, relentless and powerful in his pursuit of the girls. He continues to play a believable detective. Jackman’s emotions are believable because many fathers will react the way he does. His mind is focused on seeing his daughter again, and the way he remains strong under this extraordinary pressure, and how he breaks down under his desperation is heartbreaking. He is one of the only people staying strong when others are crumbling. Jackman is phenomenal because he pours his heart and soul into this film. There might just be another Oscar nomination for Jackman on the way.

What is impressive about the movie is its truly emotional impactful story. It’s engaging in so many ways. There’s a lot of power when a movie can be simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking. It’s phenomenal at 153 minutes, but I wonder how much better it would be if it were about ten minutes shorter. It’s a really fascinating puzzle to piece together, that’s certain. Unforgettable and hard to watch; the ethical debates people will have about this film is what cinema is all about.

Score95/100

The Help (2011)

the help

Released: August 10, 2011Director: Tate TaylorStars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia SpencerRuntime: 146 minDid you know? Director Tate Taylor and the author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, were childhood friends in Jackson, Mississippi.

Plot: An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

While the concept of racism may shine too vibrantly and be a little too preachy, its ensemble carries it well. From Viola Davis to Emma Stone, to Bryce Dallas Howard as the wicked bitch of Mississippi, Hilly Holbrook; the performances are stellar. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are both stunning. They mend one of the greatest relationships in the feature. As do Stone’s Miss Skeeter and Davis’ Aibileen Clark. The voice-over narration that Davis offers is often great, and it adds a further meaning to the picture. Her [Clark’s] relationsiop with the children she has taken care of over the years is charming, precious, and sometimes heartbreaking. It is not necessarily surprising to see how the white people treated the black people in these times, so it is accurate. When Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) opens up to Minny (Octavia Spencer) and eats with her, it really displays how skeptical these two races are towards each other – and it makes this period piece have a more touching and compelling impact. Also, one could feel for Miss Skeeter when many of her friends turn their backs on her. It’s equally heartbreaking for the character, and the audience member – at least, if they’re emotionally invested in her. It really is hard not to be emotionally invested in these characters, as the performances given are just so fine. This is a faithful adaptation to the Kathryn Stockett novel of the same name. It’s poignant, surprisingly funny and charming, and brilliantly written and filmed. It is one of the best films of 2011.

Score90/100

Disturbia – A film review by Daniel Prinn – A film kind of reminiscent of Rear Window; bonus review.

Disturbia

Release Date: April 13, 2007

Director: D.J. Caruso

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss

Runtime: 105 min

Tagline: Every killer lives next door to someone.

A lot of people say this flick is like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but when I was watching that film – I didn’t think of this one once. Well, after thinking about it; there are definitely some reminiscent themes, but it does posses new themes as well (like the teen romance thing), and the suspected killer in this film is much more haunting than the suspected killer of Rear Window (as in Rear Window, the suspected killer only has few lines of dialogue). If compared, R.W. is most definitely the more original piece, but for entertainment value I’d say they’re near in the same league, as this has a most interesting modern touch to it. They are both special in their own ways.

After Kale (Shia LaBeouf)  loses his father, he has become emotionally unstable. A year later, when there is an incident at school, it lands Kale under a court-ordered house arrest. When Kale is running out of ideas of things to do, he resorts to spying on the neighbours – and takes a special interest in a neighbour, Robert Turner (David Morse), whom he begins to suspect of being a serial killer.

The originality of the film isn’t the best, as a lot of the things of the film have been done before, but it really is a great thriller. The thrills and scares are big, and it is thoroughly entertaining and too has its fair share of comical moments. The cast really does an incredible job, from the young acting talents to the great performances by David Morse and Carrie-Anne Moss. Also, as occasionally predictable as the film may be, I was still thoroughly entertained by it all.

The film stars Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sarah Roemer, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, and Matt Craven, with Viola Davis.

I might be overselling the film so I guess I’ll say this, it gets predictable at times and the pacing feels off in some areas, so just don’t expect Oscar gold, but I think it’s great for a watch, it’s quality entertainment.

The character development of the film is really grand, and I really like the plot as well. It’s one of my favourite thrillers (well it is definitely one of the films that pop into my head first, as it was my first thriller/horror experience in a theatre); but not for its terms of originality, but for its pure entertainment value.

 90/100