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Movies: 'Last Vegas,' 'Ender's Game' & 'Free Birds'

Published 3:33 pm, Friday, November 15, 2013

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  • The new movie, "Last Vegas," is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    The new movie, "Last Vegas," is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"LAST VEGAS"

Combining the talents of Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, this senior citizen comedy reunites the Flatbush Four, best friends since growing up together in Brooklyn. The occasion is a bachelor party for wealthy, womanizing Malibu playboy Billy (Douglas), who's set to marry his gorgeous, 30-something girlfriend.

That rouses interest from Sam (Kline), who's terminally bored at a Florida retirement community and encouraged to re-awaken his libido by his supportive spouse (Joanna Gleason); Archie (Freeman), who, recovering from a stroke, is being held under constant surveillance by his overly protective son (Michael Ealy), and grieving widower Paddy (DeNiro), who has refused to leave his New York apartment. Problem is: cranky curmudgeon Paddy is harboring a serious grudge against Billy.

In Sin City, the geezer quartet gloms onto Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a charmingly sassy lounge singer who's searching for life's second act. Forced to spend time in the casino until they can get rooms at the Aria, Sam befriends a drag queen (Roger Bart), while Archie's blackjack winnings catapult them into a palatial penthouse suite that's suddenly available now that 50 Cent has canceled his weekend reservation. That becomes the site for one of the wildest party Vegas has ever seen and a place for the foursome to work out their respective emotional issues.

Predictably, episodically scripted by Dan Fogelman ("The Guilt Trip," "Crazy, Stupid, Love") and amiably directed by Jon Turteltaub ("National Treasure" franchise), it's chock full of good-humored one-liners -- like when Archie tries Red Bull vodka, describing it as "getting drunk and electrocuted at the same time" -- and they judge a pool-side bikini contest.

Since the four accomplished actors genuinely seem to be having a ball, the unpretentious fun is contagious. FYI: When Billy and Diana take that scary rooftop ride, it's real! It was filmed on the Stratosphere Hotel's X-Scream.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Last Vegas" is a disarmingly slick 'n' spicy 7, aimed specifically at the 76 million baby boomers, who have tremendous spending power and are becoming increasingly important to Hollywood.

"ENDER'S GAME"

Set in the future, Earth is still recovering from an alien invasion 50 years earlier, when giant, ant-like creatures called Formics attacked.

After a daring aerial maneuver by a heroic Maori pilot, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), the Formics retreated to their home colony, but Earthlings still fear their return. To combat that eventuality, the International Fleet has developed Battle School, situated in an orbiting space station. It's a program in which Earth's brightest and most gifted children are trained to fight the Formics. As Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) repeatedly insists to Maj. Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), a coldly calculating lad named Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) shows the most promise as a future commander -- but first he must prove himself.

Based on Orson Scott Card's 1985 coming-of-age novel, it's dutifully adapted and humorlessly directed by South Africa's Gavin Hood ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), who divides Ender's story into two parts: his rigorous training and the climactic battle. The CGI zero-gravity exercises, pitting one student squad against another, demonstrate Ender's strategic cleverness, but he's emotionally torn between ruthlessness and compassion, as he's befriended by fellow Cadet Petra Arakian (Hailee Steinfeld) and brutally bullied by Cadet Officer Bonzo Madrid (Moises Arias).

While in the novel, Ender ages from 6 to 12, Hood has compressed the timeline into one year, so teenage Butterfield ("Hugo") can make the transition convincingly, indicating the intelligent adolescent's crucial crisis of conscience. Credit should go to production designers Sean Haworth and Ben Proctor ("Tron: Legacy"), along with cinematographer Don McAlpine, Digital Domain, and composer Steve Jablonsky ("Transformers").

What makes this different from most sci-fi movies is the provocative question of defensive genocide, and Hood offers no easy answers. Hopefully, viewers will debate this relevant geopolitical issue, along with the use of pre-emptive strikes, child soldiers and drone warfare -- long after the screen goes dark.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Ender's Game" is a shallow, simulated 6, demonstrating the importance of tolerance, compassion and empathy, a worthy message despite Card's virulent anti-gay statements.

"FREE BIRDS"

This is an animated, autumnal, buddy caper about time-traveling turkeys that are determined to change history and keep themselves and their kinfolk off the Pilgrims' menu on their first Thanksgiving in the New World.

When astute Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) tries to warn his free-range flock what's in store for them, they shun him as "anti-corn" yet, when they discover he's right, he's tossed out of the coop. Then he's rescued by the plucky daughter of the president of the United States, who designates Reggie as this year's "pardoned turkey."

While devouring delivery pizza and cable TV at Camp David, Reggie is kidnapped by renegade Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson) and convinced that it's their destiny to use S.T.E.V.E, an egg-shaped, government-built time machine (voiced by "Star Trek" vet George Takei), for a Turkey Freedom Front trip back to the Plymouth Colony, November 1621.

Upon landing, the roosters confront gun-toting colonists, but they're saved from the Harvest Feast by Jenny (voiced by Amy Poehler), the sassy daughter of Wild Turkey Chief Broadbeak (voice by Keith David), leading to a daring raid on the settlers' weapons and the arrival of Chuck E. Cheese pizza.

Pixar animator-turned-director Jimmy Howard ("Horton Hears a Who!") devises admirable camera work in his fast-paced, meticulously choreographed action sequences. But the shallow script by Howard with producer Scott Mosier is stuffed with cranberry-sauced humor and gentle jabs against factory farming -- plus nods

to "Back to the Future" and "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Problem is: it lacks the inherent cleverness and fun of similarly fowl-themed "Chicken Run." Nevertheless, the vocals are superb and composer Dominic Lewis skillfully uses electric guitar and pit bass, along with ethnic instrumentation.

FYI: Farm Sanctuary, the largest farm animal rescue and protection organization in the United States, has designated Reggie and Jake as "spokesturkeys" for its annual Adopt-A-Turkey Project. To learn more, visit adoptaturkey.org or call 1-888-SPONSOR.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Free Birds" is a fancifully festive yet flavorless 5, providing perfunctory amusement for very young viewers.