REVIEW: “Ender’s Game”

Enders game Poster

It would be easy to lump “Ender’s Game” in with the current trend of science-fiction films centered around young people. These movies seem to be popular now and modern Hollywood has shown it will milk popular trends dry. But while “Ender’s Game” has several elements that puts it in this category, it also does somethings that sets it apart. It is a movie with a thinly-veiled message, but it’s also a fun bit of science fiction that doesn’t always feel original but still works as a whole.

Asa Butterfield, who I loved as the wide-eyed title character in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”, plays a young prodigy named Andrew “Ender” Wiggin. After months of observation, he is sent to an advanced battle school by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). The school is the first step in preparing the kids for war with an alien species known as the Formics. 50 years earlier the Formics attacked Earth but were finally repelled by the heroic and sacrificial acts of a now iconic soldier named Mazer Rackham. The military believes another alien attack is inevitable so they plan to strike before the aliens do.

ENDERS2

The film follows Ender and a number of other kids through various stages of Battle School. You see apparently these video game savvy youth have acquired a better skill set for the video game-like combat of the future. As Ender advances he encounters an assortment of new kids, some of which are characters we’ve seen in movies a hundred times before. For example, there is an adolescent “Top Gun” rivalry that was just too corny to buy into. All of this is going on under the watchful eye of the cold, businesslike Colonel Graff and his counterpoint Major Anderson (Viola Davis) who is more interested in the children’s emotional well-being.

The story builds and builds towards the seemingly inevitable war to come. Ender develops a few close relationships with fellow cadets including an outgoing girl named Petra. She’s played by Hailee Steinfeld, one of my favorite young actresses in Hollywood. Ben Kingsley also pops up in the second half of the film with an interesting role and a face full of tattoos. The performances from all who I’ve mentioned are solid. I’m really impressed with Butterfield and Steinfeld, both of whom know how to handle themselves in front of the camera. Some of the other young actors, not so much.

ENDERS1

While I liked the story of “Ender’s Game” as a whole it does run into a wall about two-thirds of the way through. It begins to feel as if it is repeating itself (with slight advancements of the plot) at certain junctures. I eventually found myself ready to move past Ender’s training and get to the big finale. It certainly does come with some big special effects and a few rather disorienting twists that took a minute or two to soak in. Some interesting ramifications and personal conflicts follow which I thought was a neat way to end the story.

Maybe I shouldn’t say “end the story” because “Ender’s Game” is clearly set up with a franchise in mind. The final scene leaves no doubt about that. I would check out another chapter of this story although I’m not sure how compelling the new direction might be. As for this first installment, it is a fairly satisfying bit of science fiction that walks the tricky line of trying to appeal to youth and adults alike. For the most part it succeeds. It’s not a movie I would rush to see again, but it is a film I can appreciate.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

REVIEW: “3 Days to Kill”

3-Days-to-Kill-Movie-Poster

Kevin Costner’s 2014 reemergence campaign reaches phase two with the release of “3 Days to Kill”. It’s an action/thriller/comedy/family drama (and an assortment of other things) from director McG. The consonant-loving director isn’t one who automatically excited me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would get a movie akin to “Terminator Salvation” (which I actually liked) or crap like his “Charlie’s Angels” flicks or the even worse “This Means War”. The inclusion of the sketchy Luc Beeson as co-writer added yet another line of uncertainty. But “3 Days to Kill” had one essential draw for me – the resplendent Kevin Costner.

Beeson is no stranger to taking an aging actor and making him an action movie star. Liam Neeson’s wallet is a lot heavier thanks to Mr. Luc. That’s what he does here with Costner although this story is an overloaded hodgepodge of action and dramatic storylines. Beeson and co-writer Adi Hasak try to take this story in a number of different directions but they never take the time to stop and commit to any of them. There are also frequent clashes in tone between the film’s curious split-personality. Toss in some corny melodrama and lazy shortcuts and you have a messy film but not one completely devoid of entertainment.

3DAYS1

Costner plays a grizzled CIA field agent named Ethan Renner who gets a bit of bad news. He finds out he has brain cancer and only a few months to live. He heads to Paris to find his ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and teenaged daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld). His dedication to his work cost him his family and due to his illness he hopes to make amends in the short time he has left. But wouldn’t you know it, work comes a calling. Ethan is approached by a beautiful CIA handler named Vivi (Amber Heard) who wants him to pull that ‘one last job’ in exchange for an experimental drug that may save his life.

Vivi morphs from a CIA agent to a femme fatale with a penchant for leather, stiletto heels, and a wacky assortment of hairstyles. She is one of the weirdest, most cartoonish character, and while Heard is certainly lovely, I have no idea what the movie is trying to do with her. Vivi wants Ethan to hunt down a couple of German arms dealers ominously known as The Albino and The Wolf. Yes, that is honestly their names. He romps all over Paris, from Montmartre to Saint-Germain, shooting, punching, and driving cars really fast. Whenever he does something good, Vivi rewards him with a syringe of meds big enough to kill a cow.

3DAYS3

At the same time he’s reconnecting with his daughter who is suddenly entrusted to his care so her mom can take a three-day trip to London (you tell me who the worst parent is). There are so many preposterous and head-scratching moments that make Ethan and his wife look like blundering idiots. I know the film tries to develop believable relationships and sincere family drama, but it ends up tripping all over itself.

There are a number of other examples of how the dopey writing hurts the movie. For example, I don’t know how many times his sickness kicks in just as he’s about to catch The Wolf or The Albino. And I’m talking about within 10 feet of them. He suddenly gets blurry vision, disoriented, and then unconscious. Oh so close! And Parisien law enforcement must of been on strike. You never see one police car or policeman despite all of the shootouts and car chases in public areas. Then there is the ending which uses one of the lamest and most contrived “twists” in order to wrap things up. I could go on but you get the point.

3DAYS2

So considering all I have said this should be a horrible movie, right? Well not necessarily. It’s not as bad as it has every right to be and that’s mainly because of Costner. I love the guy and he makes things look effortless. Regardless of how absurd the scene may be, he is still a ton of fun to watch. He’s basically doing his Crash Davis from “Bull Durham” except he replaces baseballs and bats with pistols and explosives. I also really like Hailee Steinfeld. She’s not always able to rise above the material like Costner, but she’s still a talented young actress.

“3 Days to Kill” also features some cool actions sequences that Costner falls right into including a fantastic car chase through the beautiful yet busy Paris streets. There are also several gags that are actually very funny (in many ways also thanks to Costner). But these things can only cover up so much. Unfortunately the poor writing and McG’s lackluster direction leaves us with a sloppy movie that wastes a lot of potential. It still has its moments of fun and Costner almost saves it. But ultimately its a mediocre action picture that never anchors itself enough to tell a competent story.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS