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Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 11:54 p.m.
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HOME MOVIES

By Karen Martin

This article was published February 14, 2014 at 2:02 a.m.

Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood

Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (PG-13, 114 minutes)

The hero of Ender’s Game is a skinny, obnoxious, gifted 12-year-old. The kid is the boss of earth-orbiting Battle School, a position he earned by outsmarting other ultra smart kids competing to be commander of a pint-size military force with the grown-up job of saving our planet from a deadly alien invasion.

This is the premise of Ender’s Game, a futuristic fantasy that stars Asa Butterfield as brilliant thinker-outside-the-box Ender Wiggin and Harrison Ford as Col. Hyrum Graff, a big shot in an international army that’s bent on thwarting an attack by the insect-like Formics, who almost did away with humanity 50 years ago and are sure to come back and try it again.

Technically flashy Ender’s Game is based on a 1985 book of the same name by Orson Scott Card about genius children being recruited by Col. Graff and other brass to help save mankind. Trouble is, Graff is none too transparent in his dealings with the youngsters, whose mad skills don’t make up for their naivete when it comes to believing what adults tell them.

The film’s complex story of children’s natural compassion clashing with the adult-mandated need for decisive power-plays is worthwhile, but it’s almost lost in the dazzling display of video-game prowess that pits teams of kids against each other and dominates most of the screen time.

Eventually the games, which are about the closest thing to fun these kids experience, get real, and the film’s focus changes from serious to deadly. But Hood doesn’t let go of the fantastic light show, which includes amazing animated sequences that may impress even the most avid gamers at the expense of character development.

At its heart, the film’s audience appeal lies in its blinding, beautiful, imaginative and explosive scenes of galactic combat. There’s a strong story in Ender’s Game, but to find it, it’s necessary to turn down the visual volume. With Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin.

All Is Lost (PG-13, 106 minutes) Robert Redford has spent decades carrying movies, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he can carry a film with no supporting cast other than a bad-tempered ocean. In All Is Lost, Our Man (Redford) awakens to find that water is rushing into his small yacht after a floating metal shipping container has rammed a hole into the side of his vessel, with little hope for making it to land. In this terrible predicament, Redford demonstrates a range he seldom gets to show, and manages to convey a convincing sense of alarm despite a nearly nonverbal performance. Director J.C. Chandor creates nearly two hours of convincing tribulations to endure, and Redford’s consistent sense of engagement is contagious.

Austenland (PG-13, 97 minutes) Austenland has moments of hilarity, weirdness, wit and surprises. But there aren’t nearly enough of them to make a successful comedy - although it wants to be just that. Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is an attractive office drone who can’t seem to find Mr. Right. Maybe it’s because of her fascination with author Jane Austen, particularly Austen’s character Mr. Darcy from the novel Pride and Prejudice. Since reality isn’t delivering the relationship she craves, Jane saves up for a vacation to Austenland, a resort on an English country estate that offers its guests the opportunity to live like characters in Austen’s novels - right down to syrupy romance-for-hire.

Upon Jane’s arrival at Austenland, resort owner Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) casts her in the role of an impoverished poor relation; others who buy higher-priced resort packages, like a rich American assigned the identity of Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), get to flounce around in frilly Regency-era ball gowns while interacting with a staff of allegedly smitten actors in period attire.

Among those actors is attractive stable hand Martin (Bret McKenzie) and snobby Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild), who’s as close as the resort gets to serving up Mr. Darcy to guests. Jane finds herself at odds immediately with arrogant Nobley, but that stable boy sure is cute. And he really seems interested in her … doesn’t he?

Based on Shannon Hale’s 2007 novel and directed by Jerusha Hess, Austenland is a good-natured effort with no hint of bad intent. But Russell’s Jane is stuck with too many pratfalls, ornate hairdos, absurd expectations, awkward conversations and predictable outcomes to make it anything more than a mediocre romcom.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 02/14/2014

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