Geoff Cox’s DVDs: The Butler, Ender’s Game

Fact-based drama THE BUTLER (12: Entertainment In Video) has an all-star cast, but the film would probably have worked better as a small-screen mini-series.

The Butler
The Butler

There’s an underlying TV-movie ambience to the story of Cecil Gaines, whose position at the White House lasted 30 years.

Director Lee Daniels picked up a best screenplay Oscar in 2010 for Precious, although his next film, steamy thriller The Paperboy, was less well received.

He would appear to be on safer ground with this ‘inspired by a true story’ tale covering Gaines’ service to seven US presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

But it’s a sprawling, soapy affair with Forest Whitaker portraying the butler as a Forrest Gump-like figure, standing stock-still while significant moments of 20th century history (the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, the Vietnam War) swirl past him.

On the plus side, there’s a certain pleasure to be gained from the casting of Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines, Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon and Alan Rickman as Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Nancy).

>The special effects dazzle throughout in sci-fi adventure ENDER’S GAME (12: Entertainment One), which has the ring of Harry Potter in space about it.

The action takes place in a future where Earth is under threat from alien attacks and the military grooms genius children with exceptional computer gaming skills to man interplanetary weapons.

Recruiting colonel Harrison Ford discovers wunderkind Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield). But do his clashes with authority and fellow cadets mean he’s too sensitive to lead a team of his peers into life-or-death battle?

Ford and veteran soldier Ben Kingsley add gravitas, but the assured Butterfield is the true star as the reluctant teen who carries the survival of humankind on his shoulders.

> Crime thriller BAD COUNTRY (15: Sony) tells the tale of Louisiana detective Bud Carter (Willem Dafoe) who busts contract killer Jesse Weiland (Matt Dillon).

He convinces Jesse to become an informant and rat out the South’s most powerful crime ring. So when the syndicate orders Carter’s death and Weiland is identified as a snitch, the two team up to take down the mob and the crime boss (Tom Berenger) who ordered the assassination.

Set in 1983, there’s a hit list, a body count and a number of exploding cars.

Bad Country was the directorial debut of Chris Brinker, who died suddenly in February 2013 at the age of 42 while the movie was in post-production. With its mysterious plot, shifting allegiances, moody music and moustachioed men with agendas, it’s a fitting tribute to late 1970s and early 1980s-era cop flicks.

> Box office bomb PARANOIA (12: Momentum) was universally panned by critics on its cinema release and I can understand why. A man fired from a technology corporation is caught still using his company credit card and faces being charged with fraud. His former boss offers to ignore the crime if he will infiltrate a firm run by a rival tycoon and steal secret information.

Starring Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford, it’s cliched, unoriginal and lacking in thrills.