Harrison Ford attempts to battle an alien invasion in Sci-Fi adventure Ender’s Game
ENDER’S GAME (12A)
Parents who have spent countless hours admonishing their children for playing videogames rather than studying hard may want to give Ender’s Game a wide berth.
The unlikely heroes of Gavin Hood’s slick sci-fi drama, who are fated to save mankind from alien invaders, aren’t the brightest minds of the scientific community who have pored over textbooks and deduced brilliant new theorems.
No, the saviours of an imperilled human race are socially awkward and emotionally volatile teenagers, who display brilliant tactical minds while playing hour upon hour of state-of-the-art videogames.
This generation of handheld and touchscreen champions is called into action after a hostile alien race called the Formics invades our home and is repelled at the last minute by International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Sir Ben Kingsley), who sacrifices his life to bring down the extra-terrestrial mothership.
The International Military prepares for the next attack by scouring the globe for the best young minds and bringing together raw recruits at Battle School where their talents can be honed.
Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one hopeful, determined to succeed where his older brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) failed, and impress highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford).
“He’s the one,” Graff tells second-in-command, Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), impressed by Ender’s progress.
“That’s what you said about his brother,” retorts Anderson warily.
At Battle School, Ender distinguishes himself and he is transferred to the Salamanders squad managed by a bully called Bonzo (Moises Arias), who won’t allow anyone to outshine him in front of the colonel.
Thankfully, Ender’s kindness and selflessness wins many friends including Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), Bean (Aramis Knight) and Bernard (Conor Carroll).
Endless simulations sort the wheat from the chaff, hoping to identify one brilliant child capable of leading the resistance when the Formics return.
Based on the books by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game is a stirring tale of heroism aimed at young adults, following the lead of The Hunger Games by casting award-winning actors in pivotal roles.
Butterfield, who impressed in Martin Scorsese’s fantasy Hugo, demonstrates an impressive emotional range as a loner, desperate to justify his existence in a futuristic world where parents are only sanctioned to bear two children.
“I’m a third. I should never have been born,” he reflects tearfully.
The London-born actor galvanises winning screen chemistry with Oscar nominee Steinfeld while Ford barks and grimaces as a warmonger, who will sacrifice everything, including his charges, to quash the alien threat for good.
South African filmmaker Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) directs at a brisk pace, integrating a miasma of digital effects with the live action to ensure his sharp-shooting adventure packs plenty of thrills to complement the tears and heartbreak.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (U)
Fast food will kill you – literally tear you limb from limb – in Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn’s computer-animated sequel.
Luckily, the marauding cheeseburgers and tacos are consigned to a faraway island. Let us be thankful their sesame seed buns and corn tortilla shells turn to mush in brine.
While the first film, released in 2009, was loosely based on Judi and Ron Barrett’s children’s book of the same name, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 is an original concept.
However, the three scriptwriters are clearly big fans of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 box office behemoth Jurassic Park.
The scene in which Sam Neill and the children attempt to out run a herd of Gallimimus is created here with a stampede of food-animal hybrids called Bananostriches.
The iconic image of ripples on the surface of a glass of water heralding the arrival of T-Rex here becomes the rippling fat of a supporting character’s generously proportioned belly to signal the entrance of the monstrous Tacodile.
Thankfully, some of the wildlife is friendly, including Shrimpanzees, Buffaloafs and dark green Watermelophants. It gives a whole new meaning to playing with your food.
When we last met inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), he had reluctantly destroyed his malfunctioning creation, the FLDSMDFR, which transformed water into delicious treats.
Flint excitedly goes to work for his idol, Chester V (Will Forte), CEO of Live Corp in San Franjose, and prepares to dazzle his colleagues with his Party-In-A-Box, aided by omnipresent sidekick Steve The Monkey.
Unfortunately, Flint’s invention misfires and he becomes a laughing stock.
Chester V offers Flint a shot at redemption by embarking on a top secret mission back to Swallow Falls.
It transpires that the FLDSMDFR has continued to produce gargantuan foodstuffs and the Bacon Cheese Spiders are learning to swim.
In a short time, the edible predators will reach the mainland and wreak havoc.
Flint heads for the island in the company of his meteorologist girlfriend, Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) and father Tim (James Caan), plus a few old friends: her cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), mascot Brent McHale (Andy Samberg) and police officer Earl Devereaux (Terry Crews). Meanwhile, Chester V and his orang-utan assistant called Barb (Kristen Schaal) monitor Flint’s progress closely from Live Corp HQ.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 boasts some decent laughs and a flimsy plot that doesn’t tarry too long on logic.
Vocal performances are as lively as the rollicking action sequences, while Schaal’s plucky heroine emphasises the underlying theme about man’s destruction of the natural world when she asserts: “We should be studying the food animals not killing them!”
The 3D version doesn’t have much to dazzle the retinas so avoid premium ticket prices and opt for colour-saturated 2D instead.
ONE CHANCE (12A)
The story of an overweight, accident-prone, opera obsessive might not read as silver screen magic, but it looks like the team behind One Chance has struck gold in depicting the tale of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts.
James Corden dons the gnarly teeth to play Potts, a shy, bumbling man, who has spent years being bullied and lives with his parents in Port Talbot.
He earns his living working in Carphone Warehouse with his best mate (Mackenzie Crook) but dreams of becoming an opera singer and listens to classical music every moment he can, something his mother (Julie Walters) encourages and his dad (Colm Meaney) bemoans.
After meeting Julie-Ann (Alexandra Roach,) a girl he’s been chatting to for a year online, she persuades him to take his first tentative steps towards realising his ambition by taking part in a local talent show.
After silencing a heckling crowd with his stunning voice, Paul uses the winnings to enrol on a course in Venice.
There he meets the beautiful singer Alessandra (Valeria Bilello) and earns the opportunity to sing in front of Pavarotti.
But when it comes to the big day, nerves get the better of him, he chokes and the big man tells him he’ll never make it.
So Potts returns to Wales, wins over Julie-Ann who he’s neglected, and plods along in life, overcoming a host of obstacles (mainly health-related) before applying to take part in Simon Cowell’s talent show.
The movie is not without faults.
There are predictably saccharine moments, although these are kept to a minimum in the hands of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley And Me director David Frankel.
For instance, the film doesn’t end with Potts being voted the Britain’s Got Talent winner, those scenes (which interweave the original footage of the judges with Corden standing on stage) simply play out as part of the bigger story.
There are strong performances, particularly Corden, who refrains from gurning his way through the film, and an endearing Roach, who came to prominence as the young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
The film isn’t life-changing but it is feel-good, even if you do fill a little cheated of enjoying a big finale like Billy Elliot and The Full Monty managed.
Just as the sceptics among us wrongly judged Potts, they should be mindful of doing the same with this movie.
After all, it’s the story of a championing underdog and that’s always something to applaud.
JACKASS PRESENTS BAD GRANDPA (15)
The Jackass pranksters led by clown extraordinaire Johnny Knoxville take their wince-inducing brand of tomfoolery to the next level in Bad Grandpa.
They hang the usual daredevil stunts and bad-taste humour on a gossamer thin narrative that is by turns touchingly sweet and eye-rollingly preposterous.
A couple of people involved in this freewheeling mayhem are actors but largely, innocent passers-by are caught in the comedic crossfire and their stunned reactions – captured on hidden cameras – are hilarious.
Knoxville endures hours in the make-up chair to metamorphose into his signature character, badly behaved 86-year-old Irving Zisman, who starts the film in a hospital waiting room.
A female doctor (Kamber Hejlik) approaches nervously.
“Your wife passed,” the medic says solemnly.
A woman sitting next to Irving offers her condolences.
“I thought she’d never die!” he cackles, confiding that Ellie denied him sex and is now in a better place.
At the subsequent funeral attended by unsuspecting mourners, Irving’s heartfelt eulogy is interrupted by his pot-smoking daughter, Kimmy (Georgina Cates), who is heading to prison and needs her cranky father to look after her eight-year-old son, Billy (Jackson Nicholl).
“I’m a free man for the first time in 46 years and I can’t be saddled with him!” growls Irving, as the stunned congregation overhears every word.
Thus Irving finds himself on a road trip to North Carolina to deliver the boy to his estranged father.
En route, the unlikely double-act terrorises unsuspecting members of the public including a gaggle of women attending a male stripper show.
In a sequence reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, Irving dresses Billy as a girl so he can take part in the Carolina Cutie Beauty Pageant and stun the three judges with an X-rated dance routine.
Gags in the film hit more than they miss, and some victim responses are priceless, like two women in a courier delivery store, who can’t decide whether they can let Irving send Billy through the mail.
Or a woman at Irving’s garage sale, who is left shaken when his electric bed malfunctions and the old man is almost crushed to death.
“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she whimpers.
“Let’s not make this all about you, honey,” deadpans Irving.
The relationship between Knoxville and Nicholl is lovely and the youngster scene-steals with aplomb, ad-libbing like a pro to the point that he makes his older co-star corpse.
Not all of the set-ups work though.
A fishing scene by a golf course is ridiculous and stunts which involve Irving exposing his nether regions go on far too long.
Yet there are some huge, rip-snorting laughs in Jeff Tremaine’s film, and on that most primal and puerile level, Bad Grandpa is rather good.