Michael Arbeiter
Staff editor Michael Arbeiter’s natural state of being can best be described as “mild panic attack.” His earliest memories of growing up in Queens, New York, involve nighttime conversations with a voice from his bedroom wall (the jury’s still out on what that was all about) and a love for classic television that spawned from the very first time he was allowed to watch “The Munsters.” Attending college at SUNY Binghamton, a 20-year-old Michael learned two things: that he could center his future on this love for TV and movies, and that dragons never actually existed — he was kind of late in the game on that one.
  • Ranking 'The Hunger Games' Wildlife in Order of Danger!
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 07, 2013 10:51am EST
    The Hunger Games/YouTube MOCKINGJAYSFor those who don't know: An unintended hybrid of natural mocking birds and the government's genetically engineered jabberjays. They serve no harm to the human race and, instead, prove as a symbol of rebellion for those who oppose the Capitol.Danger rating: Friends of the common man! A rare non-dangerous animal in Panem. (1) STINGING BUTTERFLIESFor those who don't know: They are genetically engineered butterflies with sharp, potentially lethal stingers.Danger rating: Yes, they can kill you... but come on, you can handle a butterfly. They flutter, for goodness' sake! Just walk briskly and you're fine. (3) JABBERJAYSFor those who don't know: They are a special breed of mimicking bird engineered to spy on Hunger Games competitors and report their actions and conversations back to the Capitol. Not physically dangerous, but quite a hazard for anyone who values his or her privacy against a tyrannical, murderous government.Danger rating: If you know how to outsmart one, you're in the clear. But if you don't have a keen eye, these birds might be your undoing. (4) CANDY PINK BIRDSFor those who don't know: They are sharp-billed descendants of the flamingo with a knack for piercing the epidermis.Danger rating: They don't show up too much in the Hunger Games, but when they do, it's not a particularly pleasant ordeal. (4.5) GOLDEN SQUIRRELSFor those who don't know: They are carnivorous tree rodents who'll devour a Hunger Games tribute alive.Danger rating: Don't let the fluffiness fool you! (5) WOLF MUTTSFor those who don't know: They're wolves. Wolves with the DNA (and eyes!) of dead people. That's just disturbing.Danger rating: They're gigantic, vindictive, and potentially haunted by the restless souls of the dead. So... bad news. (7) FLESH-EATING RATSFor those who don't know: They're a pretty nasty breed of zombie rodent that infests the streets of Panem.Danger rating: In truth, they might not be as big a threat as the wolf mutts. But tack the phrase "flesh-eating" on something and it automatically bumps it up a few degrees of terror. (7.5) SWARMING INSECTSFor those who don't know: They're above and beyond your ordinary pesky mosquito, overtaking and feasting on their victims in a buzzing, petrifying cloud.Danger rating: Death by bugs? That's a plague-worthy horror. (8) MONKEY MUTTSFor those who don't know: They're monkeys. Wrathful monkeys with sharp talons that can induce internal bleeding. So, not the fun kind (like Marcel from Friends). The bad kind (like Mighty Joe Young, or Marcel from Friends in that episode where he wouldn't listen to Ross).Danger rating: Internal bleeding is, far and away, the worst kind of bleeding. Way worse than external bleeding. (8.5) LIZARD MUTTSFor those who don't know: They're humanoid reptiles with the ability to scuttle along on all fours or walk upright, attacking with brute force and deadly venom anyone who gets in their way. Danger rating: The cold blood that courses through their mutated veins makes them an even more treacherous force than their simian brethren. (9) THE BEASTFor those who don't know: We're not even sure what this thing is, but Katniss watched it take down a fellow tribute.Danger rating: The Sasquatch factor gives it a point boost. Also, its proclivity for murder. (9.5) TRACKER JACKERSFor those who don't know: They're the worst. Vindictive bees with a sting that is not only lethal, but that also induces traumatic hallucinations.  Danger rating: If you consider the degradation of the living mind even more horrifying than death (which we do), then we give these pests the top rating. (10) Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'New Girl' Recap: The Return of Coach!
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 06, 2013 11:07am EST
    Adam Taylor/FOX Since the second episode of the first season of New Girl, we have been waiting patiently for the return of Coach. More of a "character" in his single half-hour onscreen than Winston has managed to be in two and a half seasons, the hypermasculine, stringently monikered meathead left a gaping hole in the show when he parted ways with the loft boys to head into Chicago for his stay on Happy Endings. And yes, Damon Wayans Jr. was immaculate as the dapper, effeminate Brad Williams on the short-lived ABC sitcom, but at the cost of New Girl's thematic symmetry. When Jess entered the lives of Nick, Schmidt, and Coach back in the pilot, she did so as a unique institution of strong, substantial womanhood. Each of the three represented the downfalls of their adherence to gender norm restrictions: Nick was insistently closed off to emotional growth. Schmidt was a diabolical "womanizer." And Coach represented the abrasive, athletically-obsessed alpha male bravado as Jess' ultimate foil. But then he left, transformed into Brad, lost that show, and returned. So how was it? Was Damon Wayans Jr.'s performance Brad-caliber?Anyone who did tune into Happy Endings knows that this young comedian is far and away the funniest performer in his highly successful family. Although Happy Endings met a sour fate, I'm glad that Wayans spent his time on that show as opposed to on New Girl, as it gave him the chance to try out a more original character than what Coach was setting up to be, and one perfectly condusive to his talents for squeals and twirling. As Coach, Wayans is still funny... but he is inherently less funny spouting his bravado than he is eliciting tears of giddiness. Is this the Coach we once knew?We barely got to know the character in the first place, but we got a taste of him with one defining scene in which he admitted to Jess that he doesn't "know how to talk to women." This abject standoffishness derived from his obsession with all things manly, thus leaving him clueless in the pursuit of female attention (which, really, is probably why he went all out in being so "manly" in the first place). Although he's still nowhere close to a gentleman, Coach seems to have adopted more of a Schmidt-like persona than we might have expected. He returns to the loft after a long, highly invested romantic relationship, he "schmoozes" strippers to ease his heartbreak. He's still a jackass, but a slightly different sort of jackass. Will he be here to stay?Wayans doesn't have a regular gig since Happy Endings went off the air; additionally, Schmidt has moved across the hall to the vacant apartment (that was not too long ago occupied by 23-year-olds). So there's plenty of room for Wayans on New Girl. But will this be a regular ordeal, or just a one-time thing? The way the material's quality has been in decline lately, we wouldn't mind mixing up the formula with a new character. Also, other stuff happened.Nick acted like a jag to impress Coach. Jess got mad. Nick got mad. Nick went to a strip club. Jess flirted with Taye Diggs. They made up. Jess and Nick, not Jess and Taye Diggs. Taye Diggs got punched in the face and placed in an elevator, naked, which was a little unsettling. But that's it.Technically, Schmidt and Winston were in this episode. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • A Neo-Nazi Metal Musician Was Arrested for Flushing Oranges Down the Toilet in an Attempt to Cause Mayhem in France
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 05, 2013 1:12pm EST
    abdul-yunir/Flickr Take a minute to peruse this comprehensive list of Pinky and the Brain episode premises, if you haven't already today. You will find schemes ranging from "Pinky and the Brain travel to the Hubble Telescope in an attempt to melt the ice caps and flood the Earth," to "Brain grows an army of giant, animated vegetables to take over the world," to "The mice become baseball players and lead their team to victory so that Brain can release a special perfume on the pitcher's mound at the right time to enslave the human race." They're all more or less of that ilk, as is the recently revealed plan of black metal icon and neo-Nazi Varg Vikernes, who spent his weekend trying to overthrow France. By flushing oranges down the toilet. No, you're not really missing anything. That's it. That's the plan. See, the 40-year-old, Norway-born Vikernes — holed up at Paris' L'Hotel Aisselle — came up with this airtight ploy that flushing oranges down his toilet would disrupt the plumbing, result in some flooding, and unleash mayhem unto the French city and thus result in widespread panic and a governmental overthrow. I'd repeat that for you, but I fear that writing it twice would actually result in a deterioration of brain matter. As a result of this diabolical scam, Vikernes was apprehended by hotel staff, arrested by French police, and detained for 47 hours, during which time he revealed his brainchild to the authorities. While the city crumbled under the weight of a citrus-clogged toilet, Vikernes would oversee the rise of a proto-fascist black metal dictatorship! All, as Vikernes would declare, "in the name of Odin!" So... how's everybody else's day going? Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • This Creepy Robotic Baby Almost Made 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2' the Scariest Horror Movie of All Time
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 05, 2013 11:41am EST
    Yahoo! Movies "A film franchise about vampires and werewolves? I am in!" Back in the fall of 2008, many a hopeful horror buff became dejected over the revelation that The Twilight Saga would be anything but scary. Sure, it has its share of chills, intensity, and character-driven gasps. But Stephenie Meyers' creation falls comfortably in the territory of romantic fantasy, not horror. At least, it wouldn't until the fifth and final movie in the series, Breaking Dawn - Part 2. "What are you talking about?" And no, this isn't the same speaker of the above quote  — this is someone firmly on board with the Twilight movies as we know them. "I saw Breaking Dawn - Part 2," (see?) "and sure, it has adventure, but it ain't no horror!" That's because the film you saw subbed out its most disturbing element for a more... palatable replacement. We're talking about Renesmee.  Bella's preternatural mudblood baby was played by a number of young human actresses, most notably Mackenzie Foy. But in the original incarnation of the film, producers hoped for the character to embody an eerier feel. So they brought in a robot baby. The most treacherously horrifying robot baby in the history of time. The unholiest abomination of our great planet to drag its dastardly appendages into the sorrowful light of day. The most sickeningly unforgivable piece of monster vomit that has sprung from the most tragic corners of the human imagination. And so we present to you, courtesy of Yahoo, the original animatronic demon that played the role of Renesmee... just start shuddering now. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • 'How I Met Your Mother' Recap: In What Way Is a Lighthouse Like 'Traveling Back in Time'?! (Season 9, Episode 8)
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 05, 2013 10:35am EST
    CBS Finally, after that long dry spell to follow her sharing train cookies with Lily, we get some mileage out of Cristin Milioti. It's post-narrative flash-forward mileage, but at least it's something. The well has run dry on character development for Ted. At this point, all he is is... waiting. Waiting to believe in love again (or does he believe in it wholeheartedly this week? It kind of ebbs and flows with whatever the episode calls for), and waiting for that love to come his way. Now that we have a face attached to the intangible idea of "the Mother," we can get a little bit more excited about his melodramatic groans. But even more exciting than whatshername's meeting with Ted is her meeting with everyone else. We know, thanks to extra-curricular research, that she'll meet every other member of the group prior to Teddy Westside. Her initial encounter with Lily was fine at best, but Lily's the "sane" one. Milioti coming into contact with Barney, Marshall, and Robin (probably in that chronological order, if we want to think about this stream with accelerating significance) is bound to be a lot of laughs. And speaking of the rest of the troupe, "Lighthouse" deals with moreover interesting material involving longstanding psychological problems. More prominently, we have Robin, whose parental traumas are so deeply rooted that the mere mention of her mother — before even the Future Ted interjection spelling out just how weird a phenomenon this is — feels like a weird phenomenon. For the past few weeks, Robin has been feuding with Barney's mom Loretta, and tosses a jab her way in regards to her world famous scrambled eggs, asserting that her own mother makes better eggs. Just as the inception of the Robin-Loretta warfare might have proved an appropriate venue to really dig into Miss Scherbatsky's piercing mommy/daddy issues, "Lighthouse" presents the opportunity and snatches it away from us. Robin's mother, at the very last minute, phones her daughter to reveal that she won't be at the wedding. The show uses the canon of Robin's mom being afraid to fly as the reason, although this does seem like a cop-out. There are plenty of Scherbatsky fissues to offer a more substantial, more painful reason for Robin's mom not making it to the ceremony. But instead of treating this as a window into Robin's festering pains, the show just uses it to bridge the gap between Robin and Loretta, the latter kicking on her maternal instincts to comfort her new daughter-in-law in her time of need. But there is one piece of noteworthy character development in this episode, and not a particularly favorable one: at the behest of Daphne, Marshall drops his longstanding "nice guy" identity, stranding Ted's step-father Clint (who hitched a ride with the two of them after Marshall and Daphne stopped at Ted's mom's house in Cleveland to grab a meal and an embarrassing childhood picture of Ted) in the woods and seizing control of the trip. Now, we've often commended Marshall as being the only halfway decent human being among the troupe. But if Daphne's words really got through to him, if he's really now the sort of a**hole who would abandon a family friend in the middle of nowhere without so much as a warning, then we might have to bid adieu to the last speck of humanity in this show. At least we got a callback to the "I Wanna Be" gag though, which, while predictable, was quite funny. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Watch Spike Jonze and Greta Gerwig Get Wonderfully Goofy with Arcade Fire's New 'Afterlife' Video
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2013 3:34pm EST
    YouTube Spotlight/YouTube Did you see Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are — a feature length adaptation of a 300-word children's book, wherein pre-teen Max retreats to the fantastical realms of his imagination and rules a kingdom of behemoth monster friends? Did you see Greta Gerwig's breakout vehicle Frances Ha — a ballad about the destructive tendencies of a 27-year-old Brooklynite who couch surfs, spends money she doesn't have, commits to a career in dance, and can't figure out why things aren't sticking together for her? Admittedly, both sound kind of... goofy. And that might also be the word that springs to mind when you watch Gerwig jerking sporadically to the reverbs of Arcade Fire's "Afterlife" in the below music video for the song, directed by filmmaker Jonze. Negative connotations aside, there's a time and a place for goofy. Goofy finds itself fitting snugly in the mind of a dejected young boy who seeks hospice in imaginary creatures when he feels rejected by his mom, sister, and self. Goofy can't help but seep from the pores of a pushing-30 dreamer cemented in her adolescent ideas of possibility and friendship. And goofy is, and very well should be, a sentiment called to mind when a young woman enduring some semblance of romantic heartbreak explodes into choreographed mania through the hallways of her apartment building, the snowy woodlands of a Narnia-like fantasy land, and the stage of an awards show. That's practically the capital of goofy. So you can shrug off Jonze's Wild Things, Gerwig's Frances Ha, or this new "Afterlife" video from the both of them and artist Arcade Fire for their veneer of goofiness. But you'll be missing something altogether earnest, temperate, and fun in each of these sparkling projects. Enjoy the video — and never be afraid to go full on goofy. (Okay, I'll stop saying that word now.) Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Your Friend From Brooklyn Probably Already Told You, But NPR Released the 'Inside Llewyn Davis' Soundtrack
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2013 1:43pm EST
    CBS Films Ever since the first Inside Llewyn Davis trailer was released earlier this year, we've all taken to brownstone porches and subway platforms with a nonstop recording of Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac's "Fare Thee Well" cover and a checkered pocket full of somber contemplation. The latest Coen Bros picture has the makings to be the best music movie in ages, owing both to its tale of a trembling New York folk musician facing the aching realities of the toughest industry on the planet, and to its beard's worth of actual great music. We've only gotten a taste of the latter so far — the aforementioned ditty by star Isaac (who plays the titular Llewyn Davis) and Mumford & Sons' lead singer and guitarist standing out — but through the good graces of National Public Radio, we are now treated to the full soundtrack. A number of the movie's actors, in addition to Isaac, have a place on the album: Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver, Stark Sands, and Nancy Blake among them. The soundtrack also employs the musical talents of artists like Brooklyn- and Queens-based folk musicians John Cohen, Dave Van Ronk, the Punch Brothers, and Bob Dylan. The Coens have done wonders with many colorful corners of the United States: Los Angeles, the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Deep South... but this could very well be their iconic stab at New York City. Not the same New York they channeled in The Hudsucker Proxy, but the one vastly overshadowed — the folksier, slushier New York that has seen resurgence in the wake of this decade's upswing in Brooklyn counterculture. We look forward with excitement to Inside Llewyn Davis as a great music film and a great New York film. In the meantime, we enjoy the lovely tunes the Coens, their players, and NPR have treated us to. Inside Llewyn Davis Soundtrack1. "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" — Oscar Isaac2. "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)" — Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford3. "The Last Thing on My Mind" — Stark Sands, with Punch Brothers4. "Five Hundred Miles" — Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands5. "Please Mr. Kennedy" — Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver6. "Green, Green Rocky Road" — Oscar Isaac7. "The Death of Queen Jane" — Oscar Isaac8. "The Roving Gambler" — John Cohen, with the Down Hill Strugglers9. "The Shoals of Herring" — Oscar Isaac, with the Punch Brothers10. "The Auld Triangle" — Chris Thile, Chris Eldridge, Marcus Mumford, Justin Timberlake, and Gabe Witcher11. The Storms Are on the Ocean" — Nancy Blake12. "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song") — Oscar Isaac13. "Farewell" — Bob Dylan14. "Green, Green Rocky Road" — Dave Van Ronk Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • A Tribute to Our Favorite 'The Walking Dead' Character: Carol
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 04, 2013 11:37am EST
    AMC In lieu of our weekly recap of The Walking Dead, we find it more appropriate after "Indifference" to hone in on the thematic epicenter of the episode, and our favorite character on the AMC horror-drama: Carol Peletier. Played with expert temperance by Melissa McBride, Carol has ascended (far beyond the constraints of her comic book source material) from the platform of consistently silent background camper to one of the series' most dynamic heroes... and, after these past two weeks, villains. Yes, we can't sign off on Carol's decision to murder Karen and David, although we can qualify her utilitarian intentions as "for the good of the people" — it's that "needs of the individual vs. needs of the group" debate coursing so deliberately through this program that leads to Carol's ultimate banishment from the prison this week, courtesy of a tearful, shattered Rick. In case you're reading this without having watched the episode, Carol doesn't die. I know it might seem odd to pen a tribute to a character who is still very much alive, very likely indeed to maintain a presence on The Walking Dead. But Carol's fate is somehow more tragic than death, at least for a character like hers. When we met Carol, she was unique among the group as no stranger to torture. Having endured the wrath of her violent, alcoholic husband Ed — who took his anger and sexual frustration out on their daughter Sophia as well — for so long, Carol was a moreover lifeless fixture of the RV troupe, amounting energy only to make sure her young daughter was fed and protected. After the zombie-induced death of Ed, Carol began (slowly) to reinvent herself. Her shackles were unlocked as her tormentor met his demise, allowing a new brand of self-efficacy to enter Carol's bloodstream. But it wasn't until the far more tragic death (also zombie-induced) of Sophia that we saw Carol achieve the sort of liberty for which she is now known. Bound now by next to nothing, finding fleeting value in anything beyond abject survival, Carol can be seen as one of the "strongest," or at least most self-possessed, human beings on The Walking Dead. While she can marshall compassion and affection for her fellow prison-mates — with Rick and Daryl topping the list — Carol's one remaining love is her resistence to death. She's not caught up in the power struggles that occupy so many of the characters holed up in the penitentiary. In contributing to the safety of the prison, in secretly teaching the children how to take out walkers, in killing Karen and David, Carol affirms her only goal to be practicality. Never is that affirmation more bold than in "Indifference." In a conversation with two wayward travelers, Carol denies ever having children. She locks herself off from them completely, allowing no pity to be taken in her and Rick's decision to welcome them into the prison. But Carol, like all great characters, is full of s**t. People matter to her. And she needs to matter to people. Owning up to that would be a fate worse than death, or banishment, as she associates this kind of deep empathy with what anchored her down to her state as a victim back in the days of Ed. It is fitting that Carol mentions Ed for the first time in entire seasons in this episode. She does so sharply, criticizing herself for staying with him for so long. Carol has taken such a firm stance against everything she once was, chastising pre-teen girls for being too weak to handle their fathers' death. She doesn't want to see her former self anywhere, least of all in her current self. But that delicate heart still beats beneath her hardened surface. And we see this in the back half of "Indifference." We see it when she practically pleads with Rick to acknowledge her murder of Karen and David, to "accept the truth," mere minutes after she told a pair of strangers that she never had a daughter. We see it when she admits her own distaste for the deed but turns around to defend her character by pulling at her connection with Rick. "It's me," she says, desperate for that to have some meaning in the heart of the sheriff. For all the frigidity with which Carol has worked to shroud herself, she remains inside the same human being longing to be loved, approved of, cherished, needed... all the same feelings, we can presume, that kept her bound to Ed through it all. And so, when Rick rejects that, denying her entry back into the jail or into his heart, we see Carol dealt the worst fate we can imagine for her. Once again, as she was with Ed, Carol led to believe she's "not worth it." And to anyone who is as invested in the character as we are, those tears building in Rick's eyes after their final goodbye sure do ring true. Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'Free Birds' Is Just Funny Enough That You Wish It Was Actually Funny (But It's Not)
    By: Michael Arbeiter November 01, 2013 11:40am EST
    Relativity Media Save for its recurring gag about lazy eyes, Free Birds makes it through its 90-minute runtime without so much as a cringe — a rare accomplishment among Hollywood's animated fare lately. Unfortunately, there aren't too many laughs either. The reaction you'll find yourself emitting most often, in fact, will be befuddled gasps. Whatever form of exhalation best represents the question, "What the hell is going on?" This emotion will hit you fast in an introductory 20-minutes jam-packed with hyperactive absurdity. We meet Reggie (Owen Wilson), an intelligent free range turkey who is ostracized by his rafter for shunning the corn gods and vocalizing a distrust of that infallible farmer. But just a few quick cutaways later, he's sitting pretty at Camp David, having been chosen as the "pardoned turkey" by the President of the United States (one in unmistakable Bill Clinton form, complete with accent, thumb gestures, and a joke about his relationship with a female aide). And mere moments after that, Reggie is kidnapped by renegade fowl Jake (Woody Harrelson), a dutiful dimwit whose plan is to utilize the government's top secret time machine to travel back to the first Thanksgiving and get turkeys off the menu forever. It's a bonkers enough plot to elicit interest in the first place, and a harmless enough story (if you can really call it a story) to keep you from falling offended throughout. But in committing so exhaustingly to this mania, you'd imagine Free Birds to muster up some better material. And the line this film toes is actually rather frustrating; the humor is just passable enough that you almost root for it. You wish it was better. There aren't many laughs, but the almost-laughs come in large supply. The rivalry between alpha males Jake and 17th century wild turkey Ranger (director Hayward), himself a brawny dolt hoping to protect his flock from the approaching humans, dissolves into Leslie Nielsen-esque shtick, but without any impressive panache. Reggie's budding romance with Jenny (Amy Poehler) offers a few bits of banter that could have, through a rewrite or two, been funny. Smirks are plentiful. Laughs are few. And maybe this is because the story has no characters. Wilson, Harrelson, Poehler, and their legion of backup players trek along with this harebrained script, spouting nonsense verse as the peculiarities ebb and flow. But there's no evolution for Reggie, who identifies himself as a "lone wolf" but falls hard for Jenny at first sight. There's no true trajectory for Jake, who claims to be haunted by his childhood but is never fleshed out beyond sight gags. There is no lesson to be learned, message to be imparted, or real conclusion to be reached beyond the obvious narrative point to which the turkeys' actions ultimately lead. Free Birds is just a bunch of kooky things going on for an hour and a half, to no real end. But if you want to wean your children into Naked Gun humor, this might be a harmless place to begin. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //
  • Review: 'Ender's Game' Has a Lot of Fun But Barely Keeps Itself Tied Together
    By: Michael Arbeiter October 31, 2013 4:07pm EST
    2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The success of Ender's Game rests on the shoulders of one grand assumption: that everybody in the audience, everybody in the world, wishes they could have gone to space camp. And for the most part, that's true. The idea of space camp was, even to those of us stricken with cloying vertigo, heaven. We all wanted to don astronaut suits and float through anti-gravity rooms, blasting away at each other with lasers and learning the tricks of the extraterrestrial warfare trade. Those dazzling dreams are the principal meat of Gavin Hood's adaptation of the controversial classic — the majority of the time we spend with Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), we're alongside him in battle school. We're watching video footage of a battalion laying waste to an army of invaders, and zipping weightlessly along in high-stakes games of space rugby. So, through these chapters, we're having fun. And it's not entirely untethered fun. Along the way, Ender endures the sort of coming-of-age traumas we've seen in every preteen protagonist from Sean Astin to Daniel Radcliffe. He doesn't fit in. He doesn't know who he is. He doesn't like what he's becoming. It's not difficult material to wrestle with, but it's just enough substance to give us a reason for caring about whether or not he beats the Napoleonic school bully in tactical games, or wins special affection from fellow soldier Hailee Steinfeld. But this story of a growing boy struggling with his intellectual gifts and emotional curses finds itself planted clumsily in the middle of a movie that wants to be about something else. Even if you've read the book, or heard the "big reveal" from loud-mouthed friends of yours who don't revere spoiler etiquette, you'll be surprised by the ending for Ender. Because it comes out of nowhere. The character's emotional journey is bound so tenuously to the narrative around him that you'll be confused at exactly what is going on when the two collide. You'll question whether or not you nodded during a scene that might have tied everything together, or challenge your own capacity for picking up subtle signals. Don't be so hard on yourself; Ender's Game wants to conquer two worlds (one inside its hero, the other outside its spaceships), but doesn't dive far enough into either to make it so. The script only scratches the surface of its science-fiction backdrop, and only the broadest of strokes are painted with Ender — he's not a complex enough character to warrant the psychological suspension of disbelief that the film eventually asks of its viewer. But he doesn't need to be, nor do these tasks really need to be conquered, for Ender's Game to be a good time. With just enough of a sob story to ground the movie, a surprisingly warm performance by the larger-than-life headmaster (Harrison Ford) — that is, when he's not standing up slowly and peering in awe directly through the camera — and, most importantly, all the anti-gravity fun you can ask for, Ender's Game works just fine for anyone looking to float free from the world for two hours. 3/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter // | Follow @Hollywood_com //