News Column

opening this weekend [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]

November 1, 2013

YellowBrix

"Ender's Game"

Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material." 114 minutes. HH

An anti-bullying allegory writ on the largest possible scale, "Ender's Game" frames an interstellar battle between mankind and pushy ant-like aliens, called Formics, in which Earth's fate hinges on a tiny group of military cadets, most of whom haven't even hit puberty yet.

At face value, the film presents an electrifying star-wars scenario - that rare case where an epic space battle transpires entirely within the span of two hours - while at the same time managing to deliver a higher pedagogical message about tolerance, empathy and coping under pressure.

Against considerable odds, this risky-sounding Orson Scott Card adaptation works, as director Gavin Hood pulls off the sort of teen- targeted franchise starter Summit was hoping for.

"Dallas Buyers Club"

Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use." 133 minutes. HHH

The best parts of "Dallas Buyers Club" are of Matthew McConaughey, as HIV-positive Texas man Ron Woodroof, bucking like a bull in a Dallas hospital he refuses to let hold him.

Woodroof is a self-declared "goddamn rodeo." He's a cowboy hat- wearing, middle finger-flipping trailer park rat who spends his time fornicating, drinking, doing drugs and evading his debtors.

Quebec filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee ("The Young Victoria") directs "Dallas Buyers Club" with a loose naturalism, seedy environs and lively humor that prevents the film from becoming over- sentimentalized.

It's a true story long in the making (screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack) based on Woodroof's remarkable late life.

"Last Vegas"

Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sexual content and language." HH

As creaky as an arthritic hip, "Last Vegas" does for four leading stars of the 1970s and '80s what movies like "Tough Guys" and "Grumpy Old Men" did for survivors of Hollywood's storied Golden Age: It lets them show they can throw a punch, bust a move and get it on, and that they're not quite ready for the Motion Picture Home just yet.

Beyond that, this genteel "Hangover" for the AARP crowd has little to recommend it, though a smattering of funny gags and the nostalgia value of the cast keeps the whole thing more watchable than it has any right to be.

"Diana"

Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking." 113 minutes. H

Let's start with the relatively good news: "Diana," a new biopic about the last two years of Princess Diana's life, is not nearly as horrendous as some of the reviews in her homeland might have led you to believe. ("Car-crash cinema," one British paper opined.)

Now the bad news: It's just not very good.

And that's a shame, in at least three ways. First, the gifted actress Naomi Watts deserves to be in a better movie. Second, Oliver Hirschbiegel, who directed the admired and Oscar-nominated German- language film "Downfall," about Adolf Hitler, somehow, er, falls down here.

Finally, and most unfortunately, an opportunity is lost to dig deeper into a personality that fascinated the world like few others in our modern times - "the most famous woman in the world," as the movie aptly calls her.

other release

"Man of Tai Chi" (R): Keanu Reeves' directorial debut stars the formidable martial arts master Tiger Hu Chen, who is embroiled in an underground - and dangerous - fight club.

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