Ender and the White Queen
Owls Head — Ender's Game (Summit, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 113 min.). Overall, this is a successful adaptation of the first book in Orson Scott Card's science fiction series. Earth has been attacked by an alien race called the Formic and barely defeated the insect-like species. Now 50 years later, Earth's military leaders are training children to lead an invasion to crush the Formic.
Youngsters are used because they are used to playing war video games, which heighten their tactical abilities and intuition, which should speed up their reactions in the heat of real battle. One such cadet is Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), whose older brother has already washed out of the program for being too hot-headed and whose sister also failed to make the grade. (Ender's parents had to obtain permission to have him, as he is a third child.) The head cadet trainer, Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford), feels Ender is the leader he has been looking for, but first that leadership has to be developed by placing Ender in as many difficult situations as possible. While entertaining with the unusual settings of Battle School and it's weightless conflict arena, Ender's development and advancement at the school are formulaic. Only late in the film does Ender raise the question that the genocide planned by the military may be wrong, that the fact that the Formic have not come back to attack in 50 years might mean they have learned their lesson and may never attack again. The film also features Ben Kingsley.
Exclusive to Blu-ray are the 45-minute, eight-part making-of feature and a look at the motion capture process used to create the games Ender plays on his tablet (3:50). The other extras are on both versions of the film and include two audio commentaries, one by director Gavin Hood (he was a soldier at age 17 in South Africa) and the other by producers Gigi Pritzker and Bob Orci. There also are almost 11 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hood. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.5 stars
Carrie (MGM/Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 99 min.). This is the second version of Stephen King's 1974 novel to hit the big screen, and if you have seen director Brian De Palma's very good 1976 film (which helped John Travolta make the move from television to film roles, by the way), you may have wondered why those responsible bothered with a remake. Well, one reason is today's special effects can accomplish so much more; however, here the destruction is over the top at the end.
This version, directed by Kimberly Peirce, has a Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz, who is very pretty) who revels in her newfound telekinesis powers, once she discovers she has them after her humiliating episode of panic, when having her first period in the school locker room. This being modern times, the bloody episode, including the extreme cruelty of her classmates, is filmed and sent to everyone in the school. That leads to the poster (Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen) being banned from the upcoming prom. Chris' revenge leads to the classic pig's blood scene.
Julianne Moore gets to act all crazy as Carrie's overly-religious mother (and a very disturbing birth scene opens the film). This is a lesser effort by Moore. Gabriella Wilde plays the one student who regrets joining in Carrie's humiliation. She tries to make amends by urging her popular boyfriend (Ansel Elgort) to ask Carrie to the prom. What the film lacks is any suspense. The viewer really has little empathy for Carrie -- or anyone for that matter -- and so the film feels hollow.
The Blu-ray version contains an alternate ending, which can be watched as part of a second version of the film. In all, there are more than an hour of extras, including nine deleted or alternate scenes (about 10 minutes) with optional director's commentary; and brief looks at making the film, doing a person-on-fire stunt with real fire and how telekinesis is portrayed in the film. There also is audio commentary by director Hood. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars
The White Queen (Anchor Bay, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 580 min.). This 10-part miniseries was produced by the Starz pay-cable network, which broadcast it, and the BBC, which showed a less-sexy version overseas. Set against the backdrop of 15th century England's War of the Roses, the series is adapted from three novels in Philippa Gregory''s Cousins' War series. The war pitted two houses, the Lancasters and the Yorks, against each other for control of the throne of England.
The series is filled with intrigue, changing alliances, romance (the sex scenes are not for younger viewers) and even a little witchcraft (Queen Elizabeth and her mother were, in fact, charged with witchcraft). The series centers on three women who are vying to control the throne. They are Elizabeth Woodville (the beautiful Rebecca Ferguson, who recalls Ingrid Bergman -- Ferguson is Swedish, but her parents are British), who marries King Edward (a very appealing Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy Irons) and becomes Queen Elizabeth; Margaret Beaufort (an overly stern Amanda Hale), the mother of the future King Henry Tudor; and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), the kingmaker's daughter who marries King Edward's brother, Richard (Aneurin Barndard), who briefly also becomes king. The kingmaker is the duplicitous Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (James Frain), King Edward's cousin, who switches sides more than once. Woodville was a widowed commoner; Neville is with the house of Lancaster; and Neville is with York.
The series begins in 1464, nine years into the War of the Roses. Young Edward IV has deposed his cousin Henry VI and taken the throne by force. In episode one, widow Woodville takes her two sons down to a crossing so she will be noticed by the passing King Edward. It works, ultimately leading to a secret marriage to the smitten king. Lord Warwick is against her from that original meeting. The conflict between the two cousins grows as the King acknowledges his marriage to Elizabeth, rather than accepting the arranged marriage to a French princess. By episode three, the Earl of Warwick is plotting with the King's brother George in a rebellion, and in episode four, he aligns with the Lancasters. Later, he even aligns with the French.
The acting, in general, is terrific, and the series, filmed in Flanders, looks very good. There is telling of real, intriguing history here, plus, of course, the character and event embellishments that make for good drama. The BBC has been quoted as saying there will not be a second season, but Starz reportedly is trying to create a follow-up season. There are 11 short extras, including a look at the role of women at the time. Grade: miniseries 3.5 stars; extras 2.25 stars
Killing Kennedy (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 87 min.). This National Geographic telefilm is an adaptation of Fox News' Bill O'Reily's book of the same name. There really is not much new here as the film follows the lives of President John F. Kennedy (an okay performance by Rob Lowe) and his accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (a more than decent job by Will Rothhaar) up until that fateful Nov. 22, 1963 crossing of paths in Dallas.
For such a short film (even the extended version is less than three minutes longer), it is surprising to see JFK's womanizing hinted at, and poor Ginnifer Goodwin is given almost nothing to do as Jacqueline Kennedy until her grief scenes. By far, the best acting here portrays the Oswalds, with Michelle Trachtenberg very good as Oswald's Russian wife Marina. Real-life news footage of the time is used in the film, including the segments on the Bay of Pigs failed invasion of Cuba, the Cuban Missle Crisis (the capitalization is justified because we really felt World War III might have broken out at the time) and the assassination itself.
DVD extras include a making-of feature, an interview with O'Reilly and a look at the Kennedy mystique. They are all rather routine as well. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 1 star