YA on screen with Ender’s Game and How I Live Now

Both of my filmgoing ventures this week centered around young adult novels coming to the screen, in an unplanned coincidence. Unfortunately I can’t comment on these films’ efforts bringing their literary source material to the big screen, but it has raised my interest to seek out their original written forms, especially in the case of the latter film.

On Monday I took in a showing of Ender’s Game, once again venturing over to the Quality 16. I found the film to be an entertaining throwback, in some ways, to a simpler time in moviegoing that was focused on the experience of the story and less about quick cuts and overblown visuals that seem to be widespread in typical fast-paced commercial fare these days. In his review, my friend Gabe noted a directorial flatness at times in this film, and I found in retrospect that I have to agree with that – scenes and the storyline were engaging, but didn’t pop in a directly relatable, immediate way. However, by the time the surprise ending appeared (suddenly, but not unpredictably, where the finale is staged in a “you know this must be the finale” style), I was appreciative that the film chose to close on a more philosophical and contemplative note than your typical adventure film. It was good to see now-senior actors Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley taking mentor-type roles with the younger actors, although Viola Davis felt underused as another leader figure. The younger actors were serviceable if not outstanding; I was the most surprised to see onetime young ingenue Abigail Breslin in an older teen role and definitely looking moved on from her Little Miss Sunshine days.

Time will tell if a follow up appears to Ender, likely determined by financial receipts of the film though the possibility is left wide open at the end of this initial movie.

This afternoon I ventured back to the State Theatre for How I Live Nowwhich I might have only heard about just last week but wanted to catch based on my love of British films and the fact that this was its last day showing at the State. On a side note, I learned on returning home that the film is available for iTunes instant streaming/downloading, which I still have never taken advantage of as I greatly prefer the in -the-theatre viewing experience…

This film made for a great pair with All Is Lost in mirroring intensity and drama of story! In contrast to Ender, there were consistent and vivid directorial and cinematographic touches that enlivened the material throughout the film. Not that it needed to be boosted, as it featured a (mostly) strong through line in the story, but those choices took it to another level. The director (Kevin MacDonald) and his work caught my eye a decade ago with Touching the Void, an extremely intense docudrama, and he later went on to film The Last King of Scotland, which I did not see.

The narrative was expertly carried by young actress Saoirse Ronan, whom I’ve found intriguing ever since seeing her break out in Atonement almost exactly six years ago. (I had the privilege of seeing that film in London in November 2007 shortly before it took the USA by storm.) In fact, some segments of this film could easily serve as a sequel to her role in Hanna two years ago, as Ronan (looking more adult and mature than ever) once again powers through the great unknown of open landscapes and absent parental figures. There was a similar and slightly odd parallel with young British actor Tom Holland, whom I saw in The Impossible earlier this year (released last year), who also found himself again in a  “searching for parents after a disaster” role, though with a few distinct twists.

How I Live Now benefitted from a compelling storyline – how would I/we react to society in a time of crisis, and how far might we go for those we love – that has admittedly been told before but seemed to find just enough quirks, alongside the aforementioned visual flourishes and a very present musical score, to keep it fresh. Some ambiguity is allowed in the conclusion here as well (as with Ender) although I’m sure it’s less likely the story would be picked up again later.

I feel that the adage of “the book is better than the movie” is probably still true with these two films, but found them both to be appealing works of cinema, and a good taster for me of a (YA to film) market I haven’t paid much attention to in recent years.


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