Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

We had a good stretch there, with Prisoner, Rush, and Captain Phillips, but I'm afraid the ride is over. Ender's Game is not good. The book is fantastic, and I would highly recommend it (buy a used copy, Orson Scott Card doesn't deserve your money), but the movie isn't just a poor adaptation; it sucks.

Ender is a genius child who is selected to attend military school with the hope of him developing into the next Caesar, humanity's greatest commander and best hope against the Formics (you'll know them as 'buggers' in the books), an alien race that was previously defeated in an assault on earth, and that could return at any time. Presumably.

Story: 2/5 - I can't support this adaptation based on the pacing. Having to condense a novel is not an excuse; if it can't be done, don't do the movie. Alternatively, Peter Jackson seems to be doing just fine. We absolutely fly through the book, hitting a few highlights, and hey, Ender is at the climax of the film. Also, don't expect to find out why we call him Ender or the significance of the nickname, he's just Andrew Ender Wiggin. Worse, a number of the scenes that were adapted from the novel were turned on their head and stripped of significance. In one fight scene, where Ender reveals part of his character by being particularly violent in the novel, in the movie the opponent just kind of falls and dies, so Ender's emotional turmoil is kind of meaningless.

Writing: 1/5 - You can't just take portions of the dialogue from the book, there have to be changes; especially because the book is so sparse on dialogue. Nothing is original or creative, there are no jokes, and everything is so ham-handed. Don't have each character tell me what they're feeling.

Acting: 3/5 - I really wanted to give this a 1/5. Asa Butterfield (Ender) is hot and cold, and Harrison Ford (mentor Colonel Graff (by the way, the relationship between Ender and Graff is totally ignored)) is bordering on senility. Does he need the money this badly? Still, both Butterfield and Ford showed their chops at some points in the movie, and I look forward to Butterfield's career, and hope that Ford can get one more decent role. Hailee Standield (True Grit) is only a minor character, but we already know how good she is.

Aesthetics: 2/5 - There are a few neat shots, but everything is brief, with insufficient setup. These scenes are sprawling and confusing, and the way they are shot makes them impossibly devoid of connection or suspense.

The highlight of the movie, by the way, is a confrontation between Graff and Ender in which you can clearly see a large crumb or smudge of something on Harrison Ford's lip. I can't believe a film gets made with this little attention.

Final Score: 40%

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Film Review: Captain Phillips

To start, I will put it plainly: Captain Phillips is a very good movie; but not a great one. The film has generated Oscar buzz, not entirely undeserved, and it has something close to a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes, but the film is quite one-dimensional and if it weren't for one actor and a couple of scenes, the movie would be entirely forgettable.

Tom Hanks is merchant Captain Richard Phillips, the real-life hero of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijaking. That's really all you need to know about the plot.

Story: 4/5 - The story was good, and according to Richard Phillips himself, very accurate. The film suffers a couple of drawbacks: due to the nature of the tale, we have to jump right in, with very little setup. Director Paul Greengrass (Bourne series, United 93) does a good job of giving us everything we need (here's Captain Phillips wiping his shoes before entering the ship, here he is inspecting the boarding cages, here he is accosting his crew for taking too long on coffee break, here are some Somali pirate headlines) before jumping in head first. The other drawback is that we know how the story ends. I won't take that away from the filmmakers, but this is where we can get creative with the narrative, and writer Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) doesn't even really try.

Writing: 5/5 - The writing was entirely natural, and really serves to put you in the movie. This is what these people would say. This is a movie that leans hard on one actor, but nobody in the cast is left out to dry with this script. Even when Hanks is daring enough to talk to the pirates (and when you think, 'Why would anybody be talking?!'), he does so cautiously, with believable comments. It's very immersive, and frankly refreshing.

Acting: 5/5 - Tom Hanks absolutely deserves an Academy Award for this role. As the film wound down, I found myself underwhelmed and disappointed after all of the reviews. The payoff comes after Hanks is rescued and is being evaluated by doctors. I don't think I've ever seen utter shock conveyed so well on-screen. The last movie I saw before this was Escape Plan, in which approximately 2000 men were killed. As a result, it can be difficult to make us care when a couple of pirates are shot. In this day and age of cinema, you almost expect Hanks to do a fist pump and utter a quip. But his reaction in the last ten minutes of the movie really makes you believe that he has been through a harrowing ordeal that should not be made light. Some of the pirates are generating Oscar talk, but I didn't consider anybody but Hanks deserving of mention.

Aesthetics: 3/5 - Where was Oliver Wood? Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd had a few shining moments, but I felt oddly free and un-claustrophobic for a movie that takes place either in the halls of a ship or in an enclosed lifeboat.

Final Score: 85%