“The LEGO Movie” – The early front runner for 2014‘s Best Animated Feature Oscar is a joyful, visually dazzling and subversively witty film with all-ages appeal. Co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street,” “Cloudy With a Chances of Meatballs”) have done it again. “Everything is Awesome” indeed! (A).
“Vampire Academy” – Clumsy and generally mirthless attempt at spoofing the “Twilight”/”Harry Potter” franchises (among others), it’s hard to believe this YA-pandering dud was written and directed by the same guys responsible for such teen-movie classics as “Heathers” and “Mean Girls.” (D).
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“All is Lost” – Robert Redford is the whole show in this “man-aboard-a-sinking-ship” drama. The former Sundance Kid’s performance is a career high point, but the film surrounding him is ponderous and frequently dull. Director J.C. Chandor’s show-offy minimalism is so self-indulgently and self-consciously zen that it nearly borders on ascetic porn. (C).
“The Best Man Holiday” – Malcolm D. Lee’s belated follow-up to his minor 1999 hit is an ungainly mix of off color sex jokes and Christian proselytizing. It’s like an upscale Tyler Perry joint with better actors and glossier production values. At two hours-plus, it also overstays its welcome by a good 30 minutes. Yet because the cast is so good (Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Nia Long, et al), you’re willing to cut it some slack. (C+).
“The Counselor” – How could a movie with such an illustrious pedigree (director Ridley Scott; an original screenplay by esteemed author Cormac McCarthy; a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz) be so completely, utterly negligible? The first half is borderline incoherent, and McCarthy’s willfully opaque, well-nigh impenetrable dialogue (nobody talks that way in real life!) deserves the lion’s share of the blame. Once the fog clears, it quickly becomes evident that it’s just another pulpy, drug-deal-gone-bad Tarantino/Coen Brothers mash-up. The waste of talent on such fatally flawed (and ultimately pedestrian) material is well-nigh obscene. (C-).
“Ender’s Game” – Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and “Hugo” star Asa Butterfield bring much-needed gravitas to Oscar-winning director Gavin (“Tsotsi”) Hood’s not-bad adaptation of homophobic sci-fi author Orson Scott Card’s shamelessly derivative 1985 cult novel. They’re so good, in fact, you’d (almost) think there was something more at stake than a possible new YA franchise for Summit/Lionsgate. (C+).