In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ender's Game

Alameda Theatre and Cineplex

(Previously reviewed)

One nice thing about it getting dark earlier now is that there's more time to enjoy the Alameda's vertical blade, glowing red in the night sky. Depending on my vantage point, I can see it from several blocks away peaking above buildings. If I'm walking home at night, I like to take Oak Street, so I can cross Santa Clara Ave. and see the sign glowing off to my right, with its promise of romance and adventure.

The theater's classic movie series continues with their fall schedule. Still to look forward to are Blade Runner (a favorite of my friend Eli; I'm not a fan), Cleopatra (1963), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Despite its thematic appropriateness, I cannot recommend Polar Express (2004).

I had never really noticed before tonight the wavy neon signs above the auditorium entrances.


The Alameda Theatre reopened in 2008. Its on-screen trivia is copy written 2006. Having visited the theater twenty-five times so far this year, I'm finding the trivia a bit stale. (a) Which was Paul Newman's last performance? (b) Which animated movie was the first to be nominated for Best Picture? (c) How old was Shirley Temple when she starred in her first movie? Earlier this year, when the trivia asked which movie marked the debut of Josh Brolin, two young children behind me shouted, Goonies! When children younger than the questions themselves have memorized the answers, it's time to change the trivia. (a: Cars. b: Beauty & the Beast. c: 6.)

One thing the theater has changed is part of its intro (animated by Michael Parks). For years, the Movie Treat Team (Franklin, Kernel Pop, Candy, Rush, Cherry, Nacho, and an army of popcorn kernels) have told us where to get snacks, how to buy gift certificates, and to turn off our cell phones (Nacho is a ninja at thwarting annoying ringtones). Earlier this year the theater added a prologue to its Movie Treat Team segment, one devoted entirely to the theater's recycling program (oddly, a flopping fish was deemed garbage instead of compostable). Candy (a talking box of gobstoppers) told us to pick up our own trash because, "Remember, your mom doesn't work here". That always annoyed me a bit, with the suggestion that if I were a kid at home, it would be okay to leave my trash around because my mom would clean it up for me. Apparently I'm not the only one. A few months ago, the intro was re-edited, combining elements from the original and the new recycling segment. Most notable, Candy's line has been edited out; now Pop (a talking kernel of popcorn) says, "Everybody do your share." That's the spirit.

Most of the original intro was cribbed from a longer documentary Michael Parks animated for the theater. The revision includes new footage. Kernel Pop is less featured, with one of his Pop minions teaming up with Franklin in his place to discuss various policies. My favorite addition is a shot of the projection booth, complete with sci-fi submarine sound effects. The theater claims to have the world's brightest projector, which I took to mean the brightest. More accurately, the theater has installed a Barco DP 32B-3D projector (source), and Guinness recognized one such projector in Belgium in 2010 as the brightest on record. It's not quite as impressive when a record breaker can be mass produced, but suffice it to say, the Alameda's screen will not be dim.


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Trailer 3 - Marathon)

Catching Fire has such great visuals and dramatic posturing to draw from, it can't deliver a boring trailer. This new trailer advertises The Alameda Theatre's 'marathon' showing of the original and this sequel back-to-back on November 21st. I enjoyed the new footage, but not only would I prefer to have had nothing of the movie spoiled, but this trailer has the marathon dates plastered across the bottom of the screen in large type for the duration, distracting from the otherwise stunning shots.

47 Ronin (Trailer 1)

Keanu Reeves is a "half-breed banished from our land" (for The Matrix Revolutions, no doubt), sought after by forty-seven masterless samurai to help them fight off an invasion. Guest stars a cave troll from The Fellowship of the Ring, one of those arena creatures from Attack of the Clones, and the green serpent from Dragon Wars. Mindless predictable action, with some cool mythological effects.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Trailer 2)

Our band of adventurers presses onward toward the Misty Mountains to reclaim their mountainous lair from the dragon Smaug. Departing even more from the book than did the previous film, this installment features Legolas and Evangeline Lilly as an invented elf. With more action to spread around, this movie should be less boring than the first. I appreciate, with this trilogy coming second, the care being invested in leading up to The Lord of the Rings, with dark tiding of Sauron and the corrupting influence of the One Ring that was absent from the book.

I, Frankenstein (Trailer 1)

Aaron Eckhart is Frankenstein's monster, a spurned creature with supernatural power, enticed by an army of shapeshifting angel/gargoyles to help protect the world from an invasion of his own kind. Senselessly violent and probably a boring movie, but great visuals for a trailer. We live in an age where screenwriters sit around at parties, pulling two nouns out of a hat and competing to see who can make the results into the silliest movie. Frankenstein's Monster + Demon Hunter. Abraham Lincoln + Vampire Hunter. Hansel & Gretal + Witch Hunter. Confederate Soldier + Martian Hunter. Donkey Kong + Lollipop Hunter. Eckhart is a great actor; I expect him to infuse his monster with the conflicted pathos we know from the Shelly's novel, but also an indignation that he, like the X-Men, is being asked to protect those who hate him.

Ender's Game

A generation after humanity narrowly repels an alien invasion, an elite group of children are trained as tactical commandoes, using their creative young minds to solve problems in ways the military’s veteran ranks cannot. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one such cadet, prized by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) as humanity’s best chance to lead an offensive against the alien home world, to ensure they never make a second attempt for Earth. Graff, always obsessed with the final victory, wants to cultivate in Ender the perfect balance of empathy and violence: the boy must understand his enemy just well enough to destroy them. Major Anderson (Viola Davis), Graff's right hand, is presented in supposed contrast, more concerned for Ender's emotional well-being than is her commander. Yet she devises unwinnable games for Ender to see how he reacts to confused failure.

The third child of a military family, Ender was conceived with the express purpose of achieving in the academy what his two older siblings (and father) did not. It's never easy being a kid, but the difficulty is magnified when Graff singles out Ender for praise among his competitive classmates, and promotes him quickly into squadrons of older kids who resent the upstart. The pressure to be humanity's savior might inspire in Ender unprecedented brilliance, or it might simply crush him, as it has so many others before him.

Years ago, when I first heard this film was green lit, I was skeptical it would respect the young ages of the characters in the book. (Movies tend to skew characters, up or down, toward their twenties.) In the book, Ender is six years old; Butterfield was probably fifteen when shooting his scenes. That's a big difference, but one that goes a long way toward populating the movie with talented young actors, instead of small children (my girlfriend, a teacher, informs me that six year olds can hardly sit in a chair, let alone lead an armada). Butterfield, tall but scrawny and with a still-cracking voice, can be timid and awkward, confident, affectionate, dispassionately violent, and remorseful. Among the adult cast, Ford's Colonel Graff is neither the stiff father figure nor the crazed military leader we've seen in so many other films. His uneven cruelty and kindness toward Ender is balanced by his own emotional state of fearing for his people and hoping that Ender can help.

The film's science fiction spectacle is top-notch, with sleek space ships, believable anti-gravity, and stunning vistas of alien worlds. Most impressive are the aliens, as scary and insect like as the creatures in Starship Troopers, yet sympathetic nonetheless. This is that rare sci-fi story that suggests humanity in the monstrously non-human. The story delivers on all its promises, with Ender showing off his brilliance, and space battles worthy of Star Wars; it also leads Ender down a path unlike anything he or Graff could have imagined.


Ender's Game, adapted from the novel by Orson Scott Card, is one of the very, very few movies I've seen where I had already read the book. The book is also distinguished in my best friend's family because at one point it was the only novel that he and his six siblings had all read.

Earlier this year it came to my attention that Card is outspoken against equality for gay couples, and that a boycott of Ender's Game had been organized to prevent money from being funneled toward Card. At the time, with much disappointment, I planned to join the boycott. It's an interesting intersection of liberty, free speech, capitalism, and ethics. Card is entitled to his views, and to express them. I wouldn't want someone denying me work just because they disagree with my personal views, in effect trying to starve me into changing my mind. Neither would I want someone to stifle my expression of those views (on this blog for instance). If I deny someone money hoping to change their beliefs, rather than their actions, that's more discrimination than boycott.

The system becomes more nuanced, though, when the person expressing their beliefs does so on a large scale, and in an influential way. Then we are supporting not just the individual, but a movement. Assuming I had a wide readership in this tiny corner of the blogosphere, someone with views different from my own might conclude that by hiring me to build them a FileMaker database, they were indirectly funding my promotion of veganism, or same-sex marriage, or superheroes. Likewise, if I support Ender's Game, I'm not just enabling Card to put food on the table, but also to be an active member of the National Organization for Marriage, which in turn was influential in passing California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 (ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court and upheld by the Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court of the United States, in a roundabout manner of sorts). Card has a right to have and express his views, and I have a right and an obligation to deny him financial support if my money might be used to undermine my own views. In this case, I would be participating in the boycott not to change Card's beliefs, but to ask him to stop expressing them louder than do most people.

Enter Lionsgate, the studio releasing Ender's Game. In July, Lionsgate released a statement that not only distanced themselves from Card's personal views (if you've seen that disclaimer before your home videos you'll know that studios distance themselves from opinion regardless of the content or source of that opinion), but affirmed their commitment to "same-sex unions and domestic partnerships". Not quite a full-out endorsement of gay marriage, but enough to make me feel comfortable that my money would be going toward pro-LGBTQ spokesperson Lionsgate, rather than toward anti-LGBTQ spokesperson Card.

The above was sufficient to ease my conscience in buying a ticket, but I'm also bolstered today by this article, citing unnamed Lionsgate sources who say Card's contract with Lionsgate is fixed and guaranteed. Having no backend deal or special compensation for his Producer credit on the film, he will "neither gain from its success, nor suffer from its failure." I.e., Card already got his money; my money is going toward Lionsgate. Good news. If Ender's Game is a blockbuster success, Card's other properties (including possible sequels) will get a second look, each with their own contract. So money given to Lionsgate now could lead to money handed over to Card later. That might be the long game. In the short term, I applaud Lionsgate for speaking up for gay rights, and for releasing an excellent movie.

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