Posted in Blog Posts, Flick Central

Ender’s Game, created by Gavin Hood based on the novel by Orson Scott Card: a Film Review

Synopsis:

Humanity is ready to launch an attack on the Formic home world after the alien species attacked and nearly destroyed Earth fifty years before.  Due to Mazer Rackham’s last minute suicide dive into the mothership of the invasion army at the cost of his life the war was won and there have been fifty years of silence from the insect-like Formics.

The International Fleet has been training children on their space bound Battle School in preparation for the invasion of the Fomic home world.  They are authorized to take any child that shows a gifted potential to turn them into the newest commanders to fight the next war.

This is how Andrew “Ender” Wiggin ends up drawing the attention of Colonel Hyrum Graff at an incredibly young age.

Thrown into Battle School and all the isolation and pain that this entails, Ender eventually excels.  Could he be the hope that the IF is looking for to fight their final war?  Or will the reality of all the lies they are being told break Ender before he is able to finish his graduation – a final simulation of a possible battle on the Formic home world?

General Information:

-Genre: Science-Fiction, Action/Adventure, Military, Coming of Age

-Creator: Gavin Hood based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

-Length: 114 minutes

-Rating: PG-13 (for mild violence and gore, mild profanity and slurs – though these are not any used on earth today, mild frightening and intense scenes)

-Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Buy/Rent), DVD, Blu-Ray, or look for it at your local library

-Main Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin

-Page of Reference in RP1: 62

Review (contains spoilers):

While this movie is not as good as the book in some ways I do think it excels in others. 

For people who enjoy or need a more visual medium to process sotries I do think the film caught the overarching themes and moral dilemmas of the book quite well.  Asa Butterfield’s performance as Ender is a big factor in this…though I do think that his height and stature really do affect how you see the character if you know anything about the book.  Ender is one of the youngest at school and therefore is quite small in comparison to the other students so it is a little odd to see him towering over Bonzo in the scenes they are in together.  But that aside it is truly a beautiful performance especially the end when Ender is told what is actually going on.  The level of slow simmering outrage that Butterfield is able to achieve in this scene is just lovely. 

Having Harrison Ford in the movie isn’t bad either!  While not my favorite of his roles I do think he did well as the Colonel in charge of the Battle School though I don’t think he was quite vicious enough.  Mazer was almost too much.  So, I guess it balanced out in the end.

The visual effects are some of the most stunning I’ve seen in a long time and have held up well over the years considering so much of the film had to be done with CGI effects due to the fact that we haven’t figured out how to live in space at the stage the film needs to be in.  they did update how the simulations look…while I do think they are more realistic and like our video games of today I do think the more simplified almost Pong or Space Invaders level of tech that is described in the book would be a lot easier to convince the kids of being fake…

Which I guess is the whole point and does add to the fact that as an audience we can almost tell its way more real than Ender and his team are told from the beginning. 

So many moral issues that are covered in this book.  But I do love Ender’s come back to his Colonel…because its so true.

“How we win matters.”

And isn’t that the whole point.  So many times we just plow forward in life and don’t take the time to get the other side of the story… we just care about winning.  Not how we do it.

But sometimes…a lot of the time…HOW we win is EXACTLY what matters.

Films and books like this are so important to show to people…because that is the important message.  Not the effects or the costumes or the sets which were all great by the way, but the moral of the story and the performances of the actors sometimes are more important that any beautiful visual we can put together.

I love this story and really do think most preteens and early teens should see this film and have the moral and emotional discussions about what this story is bringing up discussed in depth.  I think it would do a lot of us some good.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Posted in Blog Posts, Read Me

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card: a Novel review

Synopsis:

Earth has been attacked by an insect-like alien species called the Formics.  Having mastered interplanetary spaceflight before the attack, Earth is able to locate a Formic base on an asteroid called Eros… the discovery and original attack turn into an all-out war.  A war that humans narrowly win due to Mazer Rackham making a spectacular hit to the main ship.

To stave off another invasion the peoples of Earth create the International Fleet.  Their mission is to train gifted children to become commanders to fight in the next Formic War.

Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is what the children of Earth call a “Third”.  When most families are only allowed two children due to overpopulation the Wiggin family is granted an option for a third child due to the fact that their first two children showed such promise for Battle School but fell just short of qualification due to other issues (Peter Wiggins has sociopathic tendencies and Valentine is too sympathetic and emotional).  The government hopes that Ender will be different.

And he proves himself at the age of six after his tracking chip is removed.  After an incident with a fellow student the IF Battle School Headmaster Colonel Hyrum Graff comes and collects Ender sending him into Battle School as one of the youngest ever attendees.

Things don’t go well for Ender at Battle School.  Smaller and younger than any of the other students he is bullied and teased just as he was on Earth.  Strategically isolated, Ender’s situation becomes nearly unbearable to the young boy. It is only when he begins to show that he can hold his own that he begins to earn some respect.  When he is unexpectedly promoted to the head of Dragon Army (an army that hasn’t existed in years due to rumors of being “cursed”) Ender must make a choice…

Does he stay and fight like he’s always been taught?  Or does he leave Battle School and the impending war behind him?  What secrets is the International Fleet hiding behind all of the mystery and intrigue…and battle games that are going on at the school?

General Information:

-Genre: Science-Fiction, Coming of Age Story, Military

-Author: Orson Scott Card

-Number of Pages: 324

-Main Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, Peter Wiggin, Valentine Wiggin, Alai, Bean, Dink Meeker, Petra Arkanian, Colonel Hyrum Graff, Mazer Rackham, Major Anderson

-Where to Read: support local booksellers (many can order items that may not be in stock) or look for it at your local library!  If you enjoy audiobooks look for it wherever you get your audiobooks such as Audible or Libby (through your local library)…

-Page of Reference in RP1: 62

Review (contains spoilers):

The author aside…this is one of my favorite science-fiction books.  I’ve read it several times due to the dystopian nature of the novel paired with the moral dilemmas that are presented in the text.

Things like:

Should children be fighting in war?  Should children be trained for war?  How much do you tell your citizens?  Where is the line between someone being a living breathing human…and someone being completely expendable?  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?  And what is the other side of the story?  Is there another side?

So much of this story is so beyond messed up.

Its bad enough that children are being taken at the age of 9 or younger to train to fight in a war that they truly are not to be told anything about.  But then to turn around and not tell them that the simulations are real!  The tests are not just video games…they aren’t just tests.  They are actual battles.  The fleets they are commanding at the age of 12 or 13 are actual real people fighting actual real aliens….and are dying because of it.

Where is the line?

Where does the desire to be protected from an entity (that we find out was just trying to communicate but couldn’t in a way we understood and vise versa) start and end?

Who should be used to protect ourselves?

There is so much to truly think about in the book.

Ender is one of my favorite characters, and not because he is the main one though being able to see how he thinks and functions due to that is a plus.  Its because, no matter how far they push him…how far the go to make him into a robotic machine…he still holds close to his humanity.  He is the ideal candidate for what happens to him, but because he is compassionate and human, he is also most likely to be broken by what occurs.

Bean is a close second.  I’ve been told I will love the Ender’s Shadow series (I’ve never read any of the other books after this one and I’m looking forward to it now).  That series is all about Bean and what he was doing behind the scenes to help out and protect Ender.

Honestly, Card did a great job with the characters.  They all have a depth to them that is hard to achieve when you are dealing with children.  Children often come off as flat or one noted.  But even when one of the kids is mainly mean (Bonzo or Peter for example) there is always something more to them and their story.

I highly recommend this book if you ever get the chance to read it.

If you like audiobooks the Ender’s Game Alive! is the version that I recommend.  It is read by a whole cast instead of a single narrator, so it is like listening to a radio play.  It was one of the best ways to experience this book and is available only on Audible, but it is free with your subscription as an Audible Original.

Review:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Posted in Blog Posts, DC Comics, Flick Central

Shazam!, based on characters from the DC Universe: a Film Review

Synopsis:

Young Thaddeus Sivana, his brother, and his father are on their way to visit his grandfather for Christmas when he is suddenly pulled from the back seat to a strange world – a cave full of status and a strange wizard offering him untold amounts of power.  When he fails the test to gain the wizards powers he is returned to the car.

Over 40 years later, Billy Batson runs away (once again) from his foster family in his quest to find his biological mom.  When he is taken back to Child Services by police he is transferred to a new family…one full of kids and parents who have and are in the system.  After fending off some bullies picking on one of his new foster brothers Billy takes off for the subway where he is transported to the Rock of Eternity.  This time the wizard chooses him to become the new keeper of his powers.  The one and only Shazam!

When Billy returns to Earth he seeks out the help of his foster brother to learn about his new powers.  It isn’t until he is attacked by a demon wielding bad guy that he realizes maybe being on his own isn’t the best way to do things.

General Information:

-Genre: Superhero, Coming of Age, Family

-Creator: based on characters from the DC Universe

-Length: 132 minutes

-Rating: PG-13 (moderate violence and gore, mild profanity, very mild alcohol use, moderate frightening and intense scenes)

-Where to Watch: HBO Max (with subscription), DVD, Blu-Ray, or look for it at your local library

-Main Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

-Page of Reference in RP1: DC Comics is mentioned throughout the book

Review (contains spoilers):

This was a genuinely fun and heartfelt movie.  With this and the Birds of Prey film I finally think that DC is taking a note from MARVEL for its full-length movies – they should be something else first (like a coming of age story) and a superhero film second.

Shazam! Covered this with no problems.  From the heartfelt story of a foster kid learning that not all families are going to betray his trust to the upfront villain’s backstory dealing with a disfunctional family, to the insanely over the top comic book style this film was truly a coming-of-age story for a new generation.

The mythos of Shazam was presented in a way that had the audience laughing along with two teenagers trying to find their place in the world.  It wasn’t overly expositional or pretentious as has happened many times over in the DC Comics film and television universe. 

The fight scenes are fun and have incredibly effective use of cinematic effects like slow motion that are seen throughout superhero films.

The characters and the costumes are age appropriate and fully developed to tell the story, not just of the people and their roles with each other but with glimpses of their pasts. And the actors do an incredible job acting like their younger counterparts even when they are the adult versions of their superhero personas.

And most of all the story of a foster family who wants to build a life with another foster kid…who won’t quit on them…who won’t leave them behind…is something that is so needed today when so many people have felt left out or downtrodden.

This is really a comic book come to life and I cannot wait to see the second movie.  It can’t come out fast enough.

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.