Reel Critics: 'Ender's Game' is kids' stuff

Asa Butterfield is the starry-eyed young actor who played the lead role in the Oscar-nominated "Hugo." He jumps up several levels to play Ender Wiggin, a pre-teen of the future called upon to save Earth from attack by insect-like alien invaders.

Based on the popular novel "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, this film will probably please readers of the book with its faithful rendering of the story.

For those not familiar with the novel, the movie version leaves much to be desired. The idea that a bunch of 12- to 14-year-old boys could become a military force with intergalactic power strains credibility even for fantasy films. The flimsy parodies of "Full Metal Jacket" boot camp don't ring true with scrawny kids as the target of the drill instructor's wrath.

The special effects are dazzling and worth the ticket price for fans of big-time space epics. A-list actors Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford and Viola Davis try to make it all believable. But you have to wonder why these adult combat veterans training the kids can't run the military operation themselves.

—John Depko


'Lost' and profound

In "All Is Lost," Robert Redford is heard saying "I'm sorry" in an eloquent farewell to his family. Listen closely, for these are pretty much the only words he will utter.

Flashback to eight days earlier and somewhere on the Indian Ocean, Our Man, as he is called in the credits, is alone on his yacht when it is seriously damaged. Wordlessly, capably he goes about removing the hazard and repairing his craft: just another day for a solitary sailor.

This sets the tone for the entire film — no dialogue, no other actors, no back story. No voice-over or wild tiger to talk to. It's a risky premise, but in the masterful hands of Redford and writer-director J.C. Chandor, the film grips you in its spell.

Redford has always been a solid character actor, subtly conveying thoughts and emotions across that movie-star face with natural ease. Weather-beaten yet still handsome with his trademark golden locks, he holds the screen (and, at 77, does many of his own stunts) as he is pitted against one disaster after another. And we hold our breath hoping for him to prevail.

Writing his goodbyes, heard in the opening, is a remarkable scene as we watch Redford search for a way to convey his soul's regrets. It's the high-water mark of a long and illustrious career.

The final moments of "All Is Lost" are equally poignant. You may accept them at face value or as a metaphor for something more spiritual, thus allowing us to choose this man's fate.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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