Solo: A Star Wars Story

Release: Friday, May 25, 2018

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Written by: Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan

Directed by: Ron Howard

Though Ron Howard is among my favorite directors I wouldn’t have pegged him as a candidate to helm a Star Wars movie, even a spinoff. But this is good news people — no longer do you have to suffer through The Dilemma to find Howard trying something new. While he has been into space before, sacrificing full autonomy in the franchise setting is unfamiliar territory for this director. His entry into the Star Wars universe may not bear any essential canon material and it isn’t his best work but his reliable craftsmanship ensures this new chapter is both entertaining and worthwhile.

In a plot twist no one saw coming the stand-alone Solo film details the coming-of-age of Han Solo. Specifically, this is the part where you get to see your favorite space smuggler learning how to space smuggle in under 12 parsecs, coming into contact for the first time with some of the iconic personalities and essential gadgetry that have helped identify franchise creator George Lucas as someone doing financially better than you. And yes, much of Solo is unabashedly just for you, the fan. Or at least it was supposed to be. The experience is less contingent upon the strength of its narrative than its sister spinoff Rogue Onewhich detailed the Rebels’ desperate last-bid attempt to recover the Death Star schematic. Of course, that 2016 film also had great timing and was every bit the beneficiary of resurgent new energy created in the big bang that was Episode VII, the long-awaited return of Star Wars to the big screen the year prior.

By comparison, the major developments in Solo feel less urgent and aren’t as concept-driven. Don’t mistake a lack of originality for a lack of excitement or intrigue however. Solo is technically a heist film, the great tilting train robbery and later the harrowing Kessel Run arguably its most distinguished features — with the latter sequence in particular acting as a crucial test of character (or is that of ego?). The narrative develops episodically, stitched together as a series of not-so-chance encounters and mischievous escapes that never feel universe-shaking but are plenty entertaining on the virtue of the surprisingly solid performances and undeniable team chemistry.

On the shipbuilding world of Corellia, orphans like Han (Alden Ehrenreich) are kept in line by the very wormlike Lady Proxima (voice of Linda Hunt). In exchange for shelter, food and protection the various inhabitants of this miserable planet are forced into a life of crime. Han has a plan to escape once and for all, but when his beloved Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) gets captured he is forced into a Plan B that finds him joining the Imperial Army, anxious to become a pilot and for the next opportunity to return for what he has left behind.

Yes, I forgot to mention this is also a grand romantic drama, one made all the more romantic by the various inconveniences Han must endure en route to fulfilling what he believes to be his destiny. He gets expelled from the Academy for insubordination, finds himself temporarily on the wrong side of a raging Wookie — thank goodness for Han being bilingual — to eventually link up with a group of criminals posing as soldiers in a war zone led by Woody Harrelson‘s Tobias Beckett. He hopes to curry favor by offering to help on a mission transporting some precious cargo to the ruthless crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bethany). Oh, the things we do in the name of love (or, perhaps, out of misplaced faith).

This brings us to another set of revelations — and yeah, okay, maybe ‘revelations’ is too strong a word to throw around here given that we not only have experienced these things before (and if not these exact elements/characters then variations thereof) but we anticipate the pieces fitting into this puzzle. Because coaxium — a rare kind of fuel that enables ships to jump to hyper speed — makes driving down the galactic interstate rather complicated, the crew, which includes Tobias’ wife Val (Thandie Newton) and the alien Rio Durant (Jon Favreau), need a ship that can get them from Point A (Kessel) to Point B (Savareen) very quickly, not to mention the pilot that can navigate cosmic storms the size of the Milky Way. The Millennium Falcon would do nicely, but Han must negotiate with one Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the keys first.

Howard, who was brought in to replace original directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord who were let go over “creative differences,” has always considered himself a fan of history with successes behind him like the survival drama Apollo 13 and the American political scandal detailed in Frost/Nixon. His inclusion in the Star Wars fraternity has given him the opportunity to play a role in the history of one of the most famous cinematic franchises. Solo isn’t exactly cutting-edge stuff, and he didn’t write the script. That job was wisely left to Lawrence Kasdan, a Star Wars veteran (joined by his son Jonathan). Despite all that and more besides, this proves an accessible film for viewers like me. Viewers who find it best to enjoy it as a product of Ron Howard rather than the soulless cash grab many are no doubt viewing it as.

Going for a Kessel Jog

Recommendation: As a Ron Howard apologist, I took flight with Solo in a way that was exciting and unexpected. Disregarding all the fan service, I found Alden Ehrenreich a solid and stoic revelation and even if he doesn’t have the gravitas of a Harrison Ford, he proves he has certainly more range than a heartbroken cowboy. And when it comes to the romance, if you’re looking for a typical damsel-in-distress story you’re better off looking elsewhere. This is Emilia Clarke we’re talking about after all. She’s better than that. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 135 mins.

Quoted: “If you come with us, you’re in this life for good.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Blade Runner 2049

Release: Friday, October 6, 2017

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Written by: Hampton Fancher; Michael Green

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve proves himself a worthy heir to Ridley Scott with his hauntingly beautiful and poetically told Blade Runner 2049, a narratively and emotionally satisfying expansion of Scott’s 1982 classic. It proposes an even darker version of an already grim future reality in which a potential war between humans and an advanced race of A.I. known as replicants could break out after an unlikely discovery is made on the property of a farmer.

Over the better part of the last decade Villeneuve has enjoyed something of a meteoric rise to prominence resulting from a string of blockbuster-level successes. From his award-winning debut film curiously titled August 32nd on Earth in the late ’90s to last year’s awe-inspiring Arrival, the Québécois has been riding a wave of momentum à la Britain’s very own Christopher Nolan, delivering consecutive heavy-hitters in Incendies (2011), Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015). Villeneuve has entered a point in his career where he just might have forgotten how to truly disappoint an audience. The man has a knack for detailing heavy, sometimes profound stories with genuine humanity. Which brings us to the Blade Runner sequel.

It went virtually unnoticed at the box office, taking in roughly the same amount as The Emoji Movie in the U.S. — thus confirming reality is far more depressing than any dystopian future, even one imagined by Philip K. Dick. Yet there’s no denying Blade Runner 2049 is a seismic sequel, one that not only justifies the ambition but all those years spent waiting (or not waiting). Hampton Fancher returns to screenwriting duties and is joined by Logan scribe Michael Green on an original collaboration that expounds upon key themes and introduces a few compelling new characters. Fortunately at this point in the calendar I’m somewhat less terrified of possibly revealing spoilers so it’s also time to mention how a big part of the experience is the way in which Harrison Ford returns like a childhood memory — though, if you’re like me and it took the news of a sequel being developed just to see the original, maybe it’s more of an implanted memory.

We are returned to a rotting carcass of a planet that, through the lens of acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, suffocates under blood orange skies dripping their silver acid down upon the lonely and the damned. The Los Angeles of 2049 continues to play host to a claustrophobic theater of misery, its streets crammed to the curb with imposing edifice and huge holograms. Away from the über-metropolis we have turned to worm farming as a source of protein — it’s important to maintain a sense of nutrition even post-apocalypse — and it’s over these mechanical monstrosities of desperate agriculture we initially swoop in, to arrive at a critical point in the saga.

A few important details first: In the interim, the job of the blade runner (or LAPD officer of the future, if you prefer that vernacular) has been updated. There’s a new level of discretion being applied to targeting suspects as the majority of the replicant population has been integrated into the rest of society and given “purpose” as slaves and servants. These updated Nexus models are the scientifically and aesthetically perfected products of new-sheriff-in-hell Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who seeks a way of expanding intergalactic colonization. This new sinister figure has of course risen out of the ashes of the fallen Tyrell Corporation.

Meanwhile, a young blade runner named ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is preparing to interrogate a Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista in a fantastically nuanced performance), one of the last remaining old-model replicants who have apparently gone rogue in the aftermath of a nuclear blast some time in the 2030s. There on Morton’s worm farm he finds the remains of a female replicant who apparently had died during childbirth, and after some digging learns that the child is in fact still alive. His commanding officer Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), fearing an all-out war between the two factions, orders K to destroy all evidence and find a bullet-shaped solution to the problem. Will he succeed, or will an even more interested party get there first?

Blade Runner 2049 is nothing if not itself a beneficiary of major technological advancements. This is a much sleeker, sexier presentation that feels somehow more lavishly detailed than its predecessor. We may have lost the scrappier, more primal aesthetic of old, but this is nevertheless the Sistine Chapel of modern science fiction cinema. Villeneuve also is afforded a longer leash than most when it comes to introducing computer-generated graphics — in part because they are so convincingly integrated into their environment but more importantly because they have purpose and are sparingly used.

None are more the beneficiary of that kind of movie magic than Ana de Armas portraying Officer K’s live-in girlfriend, the attractive product of a mathematical algorithm designed to keep citizens from feeling quite so hopeless. The Wallace Corporation has manufactured entire lines of robots suited to meet your every need. The Cuban actress may be confined to a supporting part, but her fleeting performance does more to advance the plot than her official movie credit would suggest. Her warmth offers dramatic contrast against an otherwise bleak landscape. De Armas has described her character as something of a cheerleader for Gosling’s beleaguered blade runner. I see her avatar as something more: a spirit guide for those who roam seemingly without purpose.

In taking over the reigns from Sir Ridley Scott, Villeneuve digs further into the fascia of what makes us who and what we are. In Blade Runner 2049 we are beyond the days of primitive experiments like the Voigt-Kampff Test. They are no longer helpful in separating the flesh from the synthetic. The facsimile has in fact become so convincing we hire real people as surrogate vessels (like Mackenzie Davis‘ Mariette) to live out our fantasies. The question is no longer “what makes you believe you are real?” It is now: “what reality makes you feel less alone?” As K inches ever closer to an understanding of his role in the larger scheme of things, Gosling increasingly appears to inhabit the soul of his wizened co-star. His enigmatic qualities suit this role perfectly, while the trajectory he fulfills offers a compelling new wrinkle in the narrative.

“You’ve never seen a miracle,” Sapper Morton sighs before succumbing to the inevitable. I’d beg to differ Mr. Rogue Replicant, sir, because Blade Runner 2049 is something of a miracle for those of us who carried in a healthy skepticism of sequels, both as a rule and specifically when it comes to updating a veritable classic. While some of that fear is actually confirmed in the sequel — for all the ambition, Villeneuve’s predicative never quite strikes the emotional depths of what was offered more than three decades ago, particularly in the closing moments on that rooftop in the rain — this is a logical next step that proves there’s much more story to tell. Indeed, I have seen things in this movie you people wouldn’t believe.

Recommendation: A science fiction sequel that does the brand justice. Packed to the gills with visuals that will haunt you for days and a star-studded team of accomplished actors wholly devoted to the cause, Blade Runner 2049 does the almost unthinkable in becoming not only a worthy spiritual and physical successor but as well suggesting that perhaps the greatest hurdles still lie ahead. An exciting-in-the-extreme entry for lovers of smart sci fi.   

Rated: R

Running Time: 164 mins.

Quoted: “I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Release: Friday, December 18, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: J.J. Abrams; Lawrence Kasdan; Michael Arndt

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

It’s admittedly difficult to resist feeling giddy when the familiar yellow text starts scrolling into the distance against a background strewn with stars. As John Williams’ iconic score trumpets the arrival of a new era in perhaps the only franchise that seems to matter, excitement slowly gives way to anticipation; anticipation to expectation; expectation to . . . well, this is where the path surely divides.

J.J. Abrams has found success on multiple fronts with his helming of George Lucas’ most lucrative creation. Never mind the fact he managed a dubious transition between both Star-themed universes. His film manifests as a surprisingly efficient blend of fan service and sound judgment. As canon-expanding as it is reverential but without indulging so much it becomes impenetrable to the outsider looking in. The Force Awakens also benefits from the work of a casting director who knows how to put the right pieces in place. On a project of this scale no aspect is unworthy of mention.

POE AND THE MAPQUEST MAGUFFIN 

The Force Awakens grafts nicely together with the story arcs presented in the original trilogy. Set approximately three decades into the future the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, has gone missing following a failed attempt to rebuild Jedi forces that ended in death and destruction thanks to dark warrior Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver, for some reason).

The shadows of its predecessors are never far behind, though much to the franchise’s credit, there’s a lot of comfort in familiarity.

Rising out of the ashes of Darth Vader and his Death Star comes Ren and The First Order, suitably villainous nomenclature for the second coming of the Galactic Empire. Resistance Forces, into which Oscar Isaac’s skilled pilot Poe Dameron fits like a Skywalker into cinemythology, carry on the burden of the fallen Republic. There are hauntingly beautiful shots of alien sunrises, strange-looking-people montages, and compulsory (but still pulse-quickening) light saber duels. There’s even a repurposed AT-AT.

Early on Poe comes into possession of a digital map detailing the whereabouts of the apparently self-exiled Jedi. In an effort to keep the secret from falling into the wrong hands, he hides the file in his droid BB-8. Call him the R2-D2 of 2015. After a few close encounters and a chance run-in with defecting Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) that ends in Poe’s crashing back into the very planet he was trying to escape, the bot proves to be an indispensable asset. BB-8 becomes the target of both the Resistance and the First Order, and the task of protecting it at all costs falls to Finn (née Stormtrooper FN-2187) and the orphan Rey (Daisy Ridley), who represents another of the year’s resilient, beguiling, tough leading ladies.

The trio eventually encounter an aging Han Solo and his co-pilot Chewie, whose loudly applauded first appearances surely won’t prove to be unique to my screening. They meet after crashing a ship following an escape from heavy Stormtrooper fire on the planet Jakku; a ship that turns out to be none other than the Millennium Falcon. Once Solo learns of the precious information the others are sitting on, he volunteers assistance all while Finn is still trying to escape to an entirely different star system, fearing the repercussions of his actions. And he wants to take Rey with him, but she has her heart set on returning home.

YOU AND YOUR SHINY NEW TOY

There’s nothing wholly original about the Abrams/Kasdan-revised script (originally written by Michael Arndt) but above average turns from newcomers Ridley and Boyega make the film easily accessible and a great deal more fun. They’re also unburdened with any sense of forced-awkward intimacy that, if things were different, could’ve earned Lucas a possible Golden Raspberry nomination.

Little time for that though, when you’re trying to take the production (and yourself) a little more seriously. Pride is most definitely at stake here. There’s an unshakable sense Abrams feels compelled to stay to a safe and conventional narrative arc, one that is largely predictable from beginning to end; that he knows and is quite possibly intimidated by how much is at stake with this production. But Episode VII doesn’t play out mechanically or with a sense of cautious restraint. There is restraint being exercised — imagining forty-five minutes having been cut from the opening action sequences and a few other significant confrontations isn’t very hard to do — but if anything the slightly more somber and straight-faced approach suits the drama.

I’ve never been able to categorize any of the installments as drama and yet, for the first time, there is a kind of gravity to proceedings that not only demands but earns attention. That’s not to say the film completely lacks humor, though. And I’ll spare details about what looms in the shadows but I will say this: unfortunately this film hasn’t been immune to Weak Villain syndrome. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you’re to get to the heart and soul of a body soon to be excoriated by dissenters.

Rather the reason, any reason to care about what happens rests upon the shoulders of the embattled Finn and Rey, the newcomers to a saga that clearly has territory left to be explored. Ridley might be the most impressive of the lot, optimizing her natural beauty with a strong, confident persona that betrays her apparently tragic past and fairly impoverished life on Jakku. She also might be the most compelling character. Boyega maintains an easy charm throughout, affording a humanity to the iconic, conformist Stormtroopers that will never be looked at the same way again.

And Lupita Nyong’o receives a sweet supporting role as Maz Kanata, an inquisitive but kind-hearted alien who proves helpful in protecting BB-8 from the First Order. Completely rendered in CGI I didn’t even realize it was Nyong’o until credits rolled, yet she offers a character that will be as difficult to forget as some of the main players.

At times it’s painfully obvious how much Star Wars relies on recognizability rather than its content. It will be interesting to see how many repeat viewings a select few character introductions will hold up to before they start feeling a little too protracted. A little too flashy. And the admittedly imposing Kylo Ren bears more than a passing resemblance to the series’ arguably most familiar character. That ain’t coincidence, all familial backstory accounted for and acknowledged. But let’s be honest, the flashiness can’t be avoided; it’s a new chapter in a major story spanning decades, and everything feels new and shiny again. Perhaps more importantly for me than for others: the new toy isn’t all shine and gloss. It has real functionality, too.

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Recommendation: Once again a fairly redundant section of the page here; The Force Awakens doesn’t exactly need my endorsement but for what it’s worth, as a decided non-fan of the series, I really had a good time with this movie. More entertaining and diverting than something I can take really seriously, I was expecting to not like the film. So . . . that is . . . that is kind of neat. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 135 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not how the Force works!”

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Photo credits: http://www.business2community.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Age of Adaline

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Release: Friday, April 24, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: J. Mills Goodloe; Salvador Paskowitz

Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger

I’m a sucker for romance done right. Call me old-fashioned, laugh at my sentimentality, but The Age of Adaline fits the description, bookmarking itself as one of the first true surprises of the year.

At first glance Lee Toland Krieger’s premise promises not much beyond a good-looking actress adorned by a thick coat of hokum. Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), who survives a most unusual car accident and is rendered unable to age beyond 29 — because, lightning and ice cold water and stuff — discovers that perpetual youth is indeed a curse. Doomed to look beautiful for the rest of her days (woe as her), there actually are practical considerations, and thanks to solid writing and terrific performances, such complications garner our sympathy.

Not only will Adaline be unable to maintain a relationship with anyone as no one is likely to share her gift of presumed immortality, but she fears that her condition will make her a target of scientific experiments. It’s a fear that’s not unfounded as one evening she is forced into a car by FBI agents that she manages to escape from quickly. From here on out she vows to take her life on the road, avoiding commitment to others and even her own identify for longer than a decade. Oh, ageless Adaline, I feel like there ought to be a song dedicated to your predicament.

Or at least your wardrobe.

A valid argument could be made in dismissing all of this as an excuse to dress up the star in a variety of get-ups dating back to the early days of the 20th Century. Seriously, the woman evolves from flapper fashionista to ’50s bombshell, perpetually enticing the camera to her stunning natural beauty revitalized by costume designer Angus Strathie’s exquisite sense of style and time. Vanity would be a legitimate complaint if this were all Krieger et al cared about, but glamour belies their calculated, collective effort.

At the heart of the film is a sublime performance from Lively who effortlessly exudes charm and loneliness. Her ability to transcend time may be due in part to the work done behind the curtains but she is equally responsible for convincing us Adaline is a woman shackled by circumstances rather than liberated by them. When she meets a dapper gentleman named Ellis Jones (Michael Huisman) at a New Year’s party Adaline rejects his many advances with a nonchalance only a woman on her way to gaining 107 years’ worth of life experience can afford. It’s one in a series of moments where Lively’s having fun with the role is palpable.

Heisman introduces a vulnerability to a story that perhaps doesn’t need any more. And despite herself, Adaline can’t help but be drawn to his genuineness. There is of course an air of predictability and sentimentality to the developments but that doesn’t detract from the overriding sense of relief we feel. Added to the supporting cast we are treated to another limited albeit touching Ellen Burstyn performance as Adaline’s daughter; Harrison Ford chimes in with a pivotal role late in the third act, giving The Age of Adaline a needed dose of gravitas. In a period where the film was starting to run out of steam, the unification feels less natural as it does necessary, but even still the moment serves as a testament to how deeply empathetic this cast, these characters are.

At the risk of sensationalizing my experience, The Age of Adaline compares favorably to the likes of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In that way, both films absorb through the virtue of their length, more so the latter than the former; disarming in their lead performances (though, again, Brad Pitt perhaps being more the heartbreaker not just because of his looks); both films transporting audiences to times we can now only visit in cinema or for some in their memories. The Age of Adaline won’t be an Oscar contender for much outside its costume design and if it’s lucky a nod to production design, but that’s no small feat for a film hailing from a genre that time and again fails to produce something as rich and rewarding as Krieger’s multiple-period piece.

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3-5Recommendation: Blake Lively turns in her best work to date in the titular role of Adaline Bowman. This is a character and a performer who is difficult not to like, even despite Lively’s past role choices being. . .eh. . .less than stellar. In fact the only thing I can personally recall enjoying her in was 2006’s Accepted. That’s a film far removed from this in terms of enjoyment and maturity. It’s nice to see her rise to the occasion. And as far as romantic dramas go, you can do so much worse than the admittedly schmaltzy and scientifically questionable The Age of Adaline. A very nice surprise.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “Let go.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Ender’s Game

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013

[Theater]

This reviewer deliberately avoided familiarizing himself with Orson Scott Card’s words before seeing the film adaptation, fearing that the movie would somehow disappoint — as these things often do. The result was a highly enjoyable experience from start to finish, one that remained free of any bias, complaint or comparison that would inevitably surface through different scenes, had I read the original material. Therefore, this is me putting a huge asterisk at the top of this review.

On its own, Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (TsotsiX-Men Origins: Wolverine), is a competent action/sci-fi adventure that captures the scope and beauty of the universe as well as the complex workings of the human mind. An especially gifted child, named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is taken suddenly out of his school on Earth and placed into an international fleet of kids of a similar age who are receiving specific military training to fight off humanity’s greatest threat — extraterrestrial beings known as the Formics.

Recognized as something of a prodigy, the Neo of ten-year-olds, Ender instantly earns the attention of the highly-respected Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), and for the same reason, finds himself the pariah of his class. Constantly picked on because he has a mind of his own, which is principally what attracts his higher-ups’ attention, Ender doesn’t have the luxury of friends. It seems like it’s going to be hell away from Earth in this orbiting space station.

But as Ender becomes more integrated into his training and the military life in space, his strongest assets — an ability to remain calm, think rationally and strategically, and perhaps most interestingly of all, his wanting to question authority (his clashes with the nasty Bonzo Madrid, played by The Kings of Summer‘s Moises Arias serve as some of the better moments) — begin to garner the respect of his peers. Graff is perpetually reminded of what a good choice he made with this kid.

Unbeknownst to Ender, though, Graff’s breeding him for something much larger than simply taking orders on a daily basis. His ultimate plan is to have Ender, as strong-minded as he is, lead an entire fleet of ships in a final confrontation with the Formics — an effort which hopefully would wipe out this race of invaders permanently, and ultimately bring peace to humanity. To get to this stage Graff has Major Anderson draft a series of simulations and ‘training’ programs to prepare the youngster for the real battle. Indeed, it’s not so much the end game that’s kept a secret from Ender; everyone tells him — not the least of which being Colonel Graff — how special he is, and his intelligence affords him the realization that he’s not there to be just another young military personnel. It’s how he is conned into being the greatest pawn that ultimately will bring Ender to his knees, making him doubt the validity of everything that has ever been taught to him. Will he be mentally tough enough to handle this day, when (not if) it comes?

There is a decidedly relaxed atmosphere to the proceedings that makes Ender’s Game a very fun watch, even if the film doesn’t quite blast off for thrilling territory. Gavin Hood’s adaptation is very much your standard exposition-heavy film until a gigantic CGI climax puts the finishing touches upon everything we’ve been shown. But even this event — the battle — is relatively low-key in its dramatic appeal.

When it comes to looking at the pacing of the film, this is where not having read the book really becomes an advantage. The film is enjoyable in its own right, though its far from being devoid of weaknesses.

There are many moments that linger simply far too long, the edits of which would help make the film flow more evenly and make particular scenes more meaningful. With all of this said, though, the rest of the film really is quite something. It’s visually dazzling and the performances brought on by Ford, Butterfield and Ben Kingsley (who plays Mazer Rackham, regarded as one of humanity’s best odds of having a savior given his heroic actions in the past) are all a great deal of fun to experience. The tattoos obscure Kingsley’s face enough to make you forget he was at one point the Mandarin, so that’s a success in itself.

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3-5Recommendation: Ender’s Game is more often than not compelling viewing, made more so if you go in without having preconceived notions of how the central characters are meant to act, feel or look like; of how the tone and atmosphere are established; of how we face down the enemy. All of these things could wind up being some level of inaccurate in the adaptation otherwise, and fortunately I was spared this extra complication by not even so much as knowing about the book until a few weeks before this release. I give the director at least this credit: if I wasn’t entirely interested in the book before this film, I most definitely am now. I will be picking up a copy in the very near future.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “I’ll do everything I can to win this war.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Paranoia

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Release: Thursday, August 15, 2013

[Theater]

I’d like to plead the fifth to any questions raised concerning whether I just went to see this for Amber Heard. I mean, come on guys. It’s also got Liam Hemsworth in it — you know, that strapping gentleman from The Hunger Games, real-life brother of Thor, hello? And this movie also features huge A-listers in Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. Why anyone would ask me whether she was the reason I saw Paranoia is actually pretty logical, though. There are scant reasons to see this aside from her. To be delicate, this movie leaves only nine other spots on a theoretical list I’m making of the Ten Worst Films I’ve Ever Seen. The script for this supposed crime-drama is that bad, it really is.

As always, I got ahead of myself and checked the status of the upcoming movie on Rotten Tomatoes before going in and what I saw really shocked me. As limited as the marketing was backing up Luketic’s new project, the trailers had me believing we would be getting a cool new action thriller. Oldman in another sinister role, awesome. How the film would qualify for my “list of ten worst films” considering the disappointing little you get from a cast as good as this. It is stunning how terrible the dialogue is for much of the movie, and a lot of the time the plot doesn’t make sense. While there are moments that invite your eyes to widen a little bit as if you’re ready to change facial expressions, the vast majority of Paranoia is utterly, utterly flat and boring.

(I’m actually patting myself on the back for not walking out on this.)

But yet, there was some. . .quality to this film remaining that managed to keep me there, along with, I guess, the other six people who were in my theater. Despite director Robert Luketic’s seeming incompetence to provide anything but cliches to fill the time, the presence of Oldman, Ford and to a lesser degree, Hemsworth, were a bit compelling.

Some semblance of a plot is as follows:

Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth) is a bright, hard-working 27-year old fighting in the corporate world to get ahead and earn a job that will finally pay him his dues. His status and work ethic suggest advancement but his boss, the insufferable Nick Wyatt (Oldman), insists he’s nothing special. He proves it by firing him along with his team of brainiac friends after a presentation Adam was giving failed to impress a distracted Mr. Wyatt. Adam then takes his friends out for drinks as an apology for his pushiness which led to their firings, but he also uses the leftover allowance on his corporate credit card to pay for the night. Win-win, or so he thinks.

Wyatt bargains with him when he discovers $16k has been spent the night of his dismissal, and during one of the only good scenes in this entire yawn-a-thon, Oldman’s menacing temperament is shown. He tells Adam he is going to work for his rival company — Eikon, run by his former partner, Jock Goddard (Ford) — and gain valuable inside information for Wyatt’s personal gain. Even if the plot is unremarkable in that regard, there wasn’t much of a chance to enjoy the development since Luketic insisted the movie be dumbed down as possible.

It was like a spelling bee First Round, where the words are very easy and simple and everyone gets it correctly — that’s how this script passed by editors, got approval. Inexplicably, the likes of Ford, Oldman and Hemsworth, and even Amber Heard as the potential love interest for Adam, a very on-again/off-again Emma Jennings, who didn’t have much to say but what she did have to say was utterly bland — all these people agreed to what they read! It is tough to understand unless you watch this, but that’s a thing that I absolutely insist you do not do.

As Adam receives a “make-over” of sorts from a couple of Wyatt’s corporate malefactors, Dr. Bolton (Embeth Davidtz) and “Meechum” (Julian McMahon) — this is an attempt to integrate Adam into the image that would attract Eikon to hire him which really is mostly just unbelievable — he is erstwhile attempting to look more divided about the situation he is in. Hemsworth does his best in expressing it, but his character is a dumb dog following its commands. In moments he’s meant to be expressing his ehem paranoia . . . he ends up just looking confused or annoyed. Not his fault, though. There’s really nothing to react to most of the time.

The plan is to get a hold of an advanced phone technology being developed by the genius but selfish Goddard, and Wyatt uses Adam to physically steal the next-level device from its heavily-protected chamber on the 38th floor of the building. Yes, all that familiar rigamarole. Insisting Adam’s services have been sufficiently provided and that he will not continue doing his former boss’ dirty work, he tells Wyatt that he’s done, he’s out. Unfortunately, more bad movie ensues.

Half-heartedly acted, poorly edited and with simply nothing at all to distinguish itself from the ranks of other crime-drama thrillers revolving around technological one-upmanship, Paranoia is a kick to the stomach thinking about the wasted potential. Perhaps there were things going on behind the scenes that contributed to the film’s rather hushed promotion and subsequent release, and which may explain possible on-set awkwardness that allowed the film to come out as clumsy as it has. Mere speculation on my part, but I just hope there’s something else besides Luketic simply producing a complete and total misfire here.

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1-5Recommendation: Stay away. A complete let-down, even for me as I sat down thinking how much fun this is going to be to try and defy the odds of it being grossly under appreciated in the initial reviews. Even with fake expectations, I came out still. . . disappointed.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

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