Tag Archives: Asa Butterfield

Movie Review: Ender’s Game (2013)

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I’ve already put Orson Scott Card’s 1985 award-winning sci-fi novel on my reading list for the year, but I couldn’t help but watch the film adaptation of Ender’s Game in advance. Directed by Gavin Hood (the South African who won a Best Foreign Pic Oscar for Tsotsi and made the first Wolverine film), the film stars Hugo’s rapidly growing Asa Butterfield as the titular Ender, a kid chosen to lead a rebellion against an alien race in the 22nd century. Butterfield is backed up by a superb all-star cast led by Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin.

I’ll be upfront: Ender’s Game starts off as a really intriguing young adult sci-fi thriller that is fairly entertaining and bolstered by solid and creative special effects. But by the end of the film it felt like a wasted opportunity that barely scratched the surface of what it could have been. Not having read the book, I don’t know how much depth Card goes into in terms of exploring this fascinating future world, but the film version is riddled with unexplained mysteries and gaps that make you question the plot’s common sense and logic. It was as though most of the important background to the story was purposely omitted because it would have been too difficult to explain.

The basic premise is this: in 2086, an alien race attacks Earth but some brave military commander sacrifices himself and saves everyone. Fifty years later, the war is still raging and young Ender (Butterfield), who is constantly monitored along with the other kids through a device in their neck, is chosen by Colonel Graff (Ford) to join the International Fleet, where they train kids like him to fight in the war.

The majority of the film’s 114-minute running time takes place at the Battle School, where Ender learns new skills, strategies, and takes part in war games with his fellow recruits. There is a sense of excitement when all of this takes place because you don’t know what to expect, but what makes the viewing entertaining is Ender’s interactions with the other cadets, and seeing how he hones his natural abilities to rise from the crop to become a leader. Yes, it’s yet another one of those “chosen one” stories, but for the most part it was executed effectively.

Asa Butterfield, who I loved in Hugo, is excellent as Ender. He’s rail thin but you can believe his intelligence and toughness, though there is a strange sort of distance about his character (it feels almost psychopathic) that makes him difficult to really like. Harrison Ford is basically an old Han Solo, while Viola Davis is pretty underutilized as his sidekick. Hailee Steinfeld gets a decent chunk of screen time as a fellow cadet and potential love interest, but Abigail Breslin doesn’t get to do much as Ender’s earthbound sister.

The problem I had when watching Ender’s Game was the feeling that I didn’t understand the world Card had built in his book(s). We get hints of some kind of semi-post-apocalyptic world that is dominated by an autocratic government from some of the Earth scenes, but it wasn’t like they were living among the rubble of an annihilated planet. I was curious why the world had become what it became, and how it happened. And why were they recruiting kids to fight an alien war? We know there are still capable adults, and it is said that only “millions”, not “billions” perished in the initial battle. We don’t even know what the status of the war is, except that Earth is obviously still under some kind of threat.

The vagueness extends to the battle games the kids play to train themselves. It’s a visual spectacular, with teams in futuristic space suits shooting laser beams around an obstacle course of sorts in zero gravity conditions. But we have absolutely no idea what the rules are or even what they are doing, which reminded me, very randomly, of when Conan O’Brien tried to provide commentary at some international Wold of Warcraft competition.

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I understand it’s probably all too difficult to explain in a movie, but at least give us something other than the expressions of the actors to at least let us know if they’re winning or losing. And by the way, it’s not clear how any of their training helps them prepare for real battle, which appears to be fought strategically inside space ships anyway! Too much just didn’t make sense, especially the final climax of the movie, which was somewhat predictable but also inexplicably ludicrous (can’t say much more than that without spoilers).

Having said all that, Ender’s Game was still relatively enjoyable to watch as a popcorn flick, particular at the beginning. If you don’t think and just go for the ride along with all the big stars, you might even find it pretty cool. But the holes just kept adding up, and the more you think about it, the more the whole narrative just falls apart. Given that the film has been a box office bomb (barely made back its $110 million budget), it’s unlikely we’ll have the opportunity to understand more of the world depicted in the film in future entries.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Hugo (3D) (2011)

To 3D or not 3D, that is the question.

If you know me or have read some of my reviews, you’ll know I hate 3D films with a passion usually reserved for botched haircuts and cakes with hairs on them.  But I heard there were rumours on the internets that Hugo is the first ever film worth watching in 3D.  The Martin Scorsese directed family film (which is weird enough in itself) apparently utilises the technology wonderfully, so well, in fact, that it actually enhances the film rather than distracts it.

Is it true?  Mmm…that’s a hard one.  I haven’t actually seen the 2D version so it’s hard to make a comparison, but I can’t imagine liking the film any less just because it doesn’t have 3D effects.  To Scorsese’s credit, this is one of the rare 3D films that doesn’t make me squint because the screen gets too dark, since he always ensures that visuals are bright enough, even with the dimming glasses on.  The film also employs some neat tricks with the camera which makes great use of depth, but perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay is that the 3D does not feel like a gimmick.

Anyway, all this discussion about 2D and 3D is ultimately kind of irrelevant because no matter how many Ds Hugo has, it’s still one of the best movies of 2011.  It’s so clever, so magical and has so much heart that I’m struggling to think of another family film that even comes close.

Set in the 1930s, Hugo tells the story of the titular character (played by Asa Butterfield), a lonely 12-year-old boy who lives behind the walls of the Paris train station.  Hugo has a secret project he needs to complete which requires him to steal spare parts from the station’s toy store.  The store’s enigmatic owner is played by a marvellous Ben Kingsley, and Isabelle, his goddaughter, is played by Chloe Grace Moretz. And Sacha Baron Cohen is the crippled station inspector who seems to like nothing more than sending little children to orphanages. I won’t reveal much more than that, and I hope if you haven’t seen it you’ll try to go into the film knowing as little about the plot as possible.

If you love film, chances are you’ll love Hugo.  It’s really a love letter to the origin of motion pictures and the art of filmmaking that ingeniously blends genuine film history with a fictional story that is both beautiful and incredibly moving.  I really enjoyed the feeling of not knowing where the film was heading and not caring — I completely surrendered myself to Scorsese’s masterful storytelling and just let Hugo take me along for the ride.  Sure it was a little long at 128 minutes, and the film takes a while to hit its stride, but eventually I was immersed in Hugo’s world and  I actually found myself wanting more by the end of it.  Simply put, the film was exciting, mysterious, heartfelt, magical and absolutely stunning to look at.

The performances played a big part too.  The kid, Butterfield, was pretty good, as were Moretz and, surprisingly, Cohen (not a hint of Borat). Butterfield’s innocence and romantic ideals made Hugo a very likeable protagonist, and Moretz, after playing a kid assassin (in Kick-Ass) and a vampire (in Let Me In), demonstrated her versatility once again as the lovely Isabelle.  Even Jude Law was excellent in a small but important role.  But the movie truly belonged to Sir Ben Kingsley, who was utterly mesmerising as the heartbroken toymaker — you’d probably have to go as far back as his Oscar winning role as Gandhi to find a performance that rivals this one.  I know Hugo swept the technical awards this year at this Oscars but it’s hard to believe none of the actors even got nominations at any of the major awards.

That’s enough rambling from me. All I can say is that Hugo is not only one of my favourite films of 2011 (I am hoping to be able to get to that list I’ve promised to do…eventually), it is the kind of film that made me fall in love with movies in the first place.

5 stars out of 5!