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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs 35 UP (1992) (****)

Starting as a one-off TV special, the UP documentary series transformed into an amazing sociological study and film achievement, thanks to director Michael Apted, who has been on the series from the beginning and has helmed it since 7 PLUS SEVEN. Watching a group of British citizens from various walks of life since they age of seven, the series chronicles the ups and downs of living like no other. For this installment, we aren’t seeing the radical personality shifts that we saw in earlier editions, but change is still evident. In many ways, this installment is the most melancholy thus far.

For this chapter, two more subjects dropped away and one other returns. We don’t get an update on Peter, who at 28, seemed dissatisfied with his job as a teacher and his marriage, dreaming of the days when he played in a band. We also don’t see Simon, the only mixed race participant, who at 28, was content with having a stable job at a meat packing plant, which provided for his family. Charles, who was a producer at 28 and did not participate in the previous film, declined again.

Blogs THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (2012) (***1/2)

What do you get when bringing together Mary Norton's award-winning children's book THE BORROWERS and the talents of animation studio Studio Ghibli — magic. Scripted by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, along with Keiko Niwa, and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the film captures the innocent, wide-eyed passion that many of Miyazaki's directed films do. It's like they borrowed the adventurous spirit of CASTLE IN THE SKY and stitched in the joy present in films like SPIRITED AWAY and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.

Borrowers are tiny beings who live in the walls of normal sized people's homes, borrowing things from the humans that they will not notice such as a lost pin. Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler, TV's GOOD LUCK CHARLIE) is growing up and it is time for her father, Pod (Will Arnett, TV's ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), to take her on her first mission to collect items for their use. Her mother, Homily (Amy Poehler, TV's PARKS AND RECREATION), on the other hand, either oscillates between mild panic and outright terror and believes that her daughter is way too young to be venturing out into the larger house. In the end, the calm levelheadedness of her father wins out. However, what Arrietty has not told them is that she has already been spotted by the sick boy Shawn (David Henrie, TV's WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE), who has come to live in the country home of his great aunt where his mother grew up.

Blogs MARLEY (2012) (***1/2)

What are the words that come to mind when you think of Bob Marley. Reggae. Jamaica. Rastafarian. Dreadlocks. Peace. Political figure. Pot, maybe? Kevin Macdonald's comprehensive documentary captures all these elements of the famed musician and more. Speaking with surviving friends and family and filled with his music, the film chronicles a man who became known worldwide for his music, but became an icon for much more.

In 1945, Marley was born to 18-year-old Cedella and 60-year-old British Royal Marines captain Norval Sinclair Marley. His mixed race status in the impoverished neighborhood of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica defined Marley as an outcast. His father married his mother, sent money, but provided little else. But Marley rose above race and defined himself as a Rastafarian and a Jamaican first.

Blogs RAMPART (2012) (***1/2)

Director Oren Moverman adds another entry into the growing sub-genre of over-the-top corrupt cop films which includes the likes of both BAD LIEUTENANT films and TRAINING DAY. Like Denzel Washington in the latter film, Woody Harrelson gives an Oscar worthy performance as a dirty and brutal cop. The key difference is that Washington's Alonzo Harris has greed as his motivation — Harrelson's David Brown just likes being bad.

Set in 1999 right before the Rampart division scandal broke in Los Angeles, Brown has a long history of violence on the job. His nickname is Date Rape and not for the reasons you might think. As he is trying to dodge his latest excessive force accusation, he finds himself videotaped beating a suspect in the street. This is the one that DA Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN) has been waiting for — the one to make an example of.

Blogs SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) (***)

If you want to redo the Snow White fairytale for modern sensibilities and still stay as true as possible to the original story this is about as good as it gets. All the key elements remain — the innocent Snow White, the evil queen who wants to retain her beauty, the Huntsman tasked with killing the girl, the charming prince, and the dwarves who look after her. Take these elements, add in a bit of female empowerment donned in shining armor and voila!

Like in the fairytale, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, 28 DAYS LATER) remarries Ravenna, the evil queen (Charlize Theron, MONSTER), after the death of his wife. Snow White is a young girl at the time and the new queen is jealous of her beauty. After Ravenna murders the king she imprisoned Snow White (Kristen Stewart, TWILIGHT) in the tower for years. When Snow White comes of age, she escapes and the queen forces the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, THOR) to hunt her down in the forest and cut out her heart. The Huntsman of course has a change of mind and decides to let her go free instead.

Blogs DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) (***)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 10:37pm

DEAD OF NIGHT is considered a horror classic. The anthology film is made up of a series of small stories that have become tropes of the genre. Unlike other classics the stories have since been improved upon imitated, stolen and butchered so many times over the years that they have become cliché. You can see it's influence on shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and movies like MAGIC. One could say that its influence has lasted longer than its impact. However, the one element that hasn't been improved upon is how compelling the framework story is.

The framing story is simple — an architect, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns, A CHRISTMAS CAROL) is called out to a country home on a job. When he arrives the house seems so familiar to him and when he meets the people inside he is struck with the fear that he has been dreaming this situation for years. His fears spur others to share their tales of encounters with the supernatural. Craig is convinced that during the course of the evening he will be driven mad. However, one of the guests is Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk, BAD BLONDE), a skeptical psychiatrist, who sets up the battle of wits to convince Craig that there are not demons lurking in the shadows.

Blogs THE INNKEEPERS (2012) (***1/2)

Ti West's horror film has the same mischievous spirit that made TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS so fun. It certainly has more in common with a film from William Castle, like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, than modern spook fests or gore-atoriums. The plot takes time to look at its characters   less worried about having a scare every few minutes. In doing so it creates suspense that builds to a compelling conclusion.

Legend has it that the Yankee Pedlar Inn is haunted by the ghost of a spurned bride who committed suicide in one of the rooms. Now the once-grand hotel is set to close. The third floor is already shut down to visitors. Claire (Sara Paxton, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) and Luke (Pat Healy, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES) are the final two employees. They live in rooms along with the final few guests. Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis, TOP GUN), an aging actress now on the psychic convention circuit; an angry mother and her young son; and an old man looking to relive his honeymoon are the only paying guests. Luke claims to have seen the ghost and has started a website to cash in on the haunted hotel's notorious reputation. He ropes in the pretty college student into his paranormal investigation, having her take an EVP recording in an effort to capture the things that go bump in the night.

Blogs THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) (***1/2)

What do you expect from a horror movie titled THE CABIN IN THE WOODS? A pretty young virgin? A handsome jock? A dumb blonde bimbo? The token nice guy? The stoner goof-off? Director/writer Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon provide all of these slasher movie clichés. You might expect the characters to be picked off one by one by, say, zombie rednecks. And you wouldn't be all that off. And yet Goddard and Whedon turn the tropes on their ear and provide us with a new meta, modern myth.

The movie doesn't start with the tried-and-true character types mentioned above, but begins in a very sterile-looking government facility. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, THE VISITOR) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford, TV's THE WEST WING) chat about their top-secret project like it is a routine event. We wonder how their work project will affect the college students heading out to a remote cabin in the forest. Why is this agency watching these kids?

Blogs OSLO, AUGUST 31 (2012) (***1/2)

Time and place really matter in this dark drama. The film begins in a documentary style of shots from Oslo with voiceover of people describing their experiences moving and living there. Then we meet Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie, REPRISE) as he is walking through the woods. He comes upon a lake, weighs himself down with rocks and walks into the water to his impending death. This is the start of this original story about a recovering drug addict.

As you might expect Anders does not die in his attempt to end his life. He is finishing up a long stay at a drug rehabilitation center. His counselor speaks positively about his job interview that day. It's his chance to start his life over. Anders gets in a taxi and goes back to Oslo where all the demons of his old life live.

Blogs THE GREY (2012) (***1/2)

Joe Carnahan's thriller is not your typical popcorn fare. It's main character is somber and suicidal. Then it strands that man in the cold Alaskan wilderness where wolves try to hunt him down. Whether or not the film is completely accurate about wolf behavior doesn't matter because it made me believe it was real.

The suicidal man Ottway (Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER'S LIST) is a survivalist who works for the oil companies to hunt down wolves in order to protect the workers from attacks. He boards a plane out of the remote region of the oil fields to head back to Anchorage. When the plane goes down he is forced to think on his feet and continue his job of protecting the workers in a far more extreme arena.

Blogs CHRONICLE (2012) (***1/2)

One could put this fill in the superhero genre, but this is not a tale of men in masks. The premise is simple – what would really happen if a group of teens one day gained superpowers? It takes three common character types of high school boys and looks at how they handle gaining telekinesis. Remember the mantra of teenaged superhero Spider-Man — with great power comes great responsibility. But not all teens are responsible.

Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan, LAWLESS) is an outcast who hides behind his video camera. Between the bullies at school and his alcoholic father at home, he can't cut a break. No wonder he's bitter and angst filled. His cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell, BAIT) tries to include him. And one night when he finds a giant hole in the woods, he brings Andrew along to film them investigating it. The next day they, along with the school's "Mr. Perfect" Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan, HARDBALL), find out they can lift things with their minds.

Blogs THE MASTER (2012) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 11:24am

Paul Thomas Anderson is the master. His films feel epic even when they're essentially dealing with just two characters as he does here. It's because he mines the central theme for all it has to give. On the surface the film is about a cult leader and his latest devotee. But it is also a post war story and can even be extrapolated to the meaning of life. Anderson asks who is your master?

We are introduced to Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, GLADIATOR) during World War II when he is on the beach with his fellow soldiers trying to unwind. He builds a naked woman in the sand, talks about how to get rid of crabs, all the while he guzzles down booze from his flask. He shocks his fellow soldiers and makes a strong impression on the viewer. When he comes home from the war, he is confused, lost and angry. He drifts from being a department store photographer to a day laborer on a cabbage farm until one night he stumbles upon the yacht occupied by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, CAPOTE).

Blogs A SEPARATION (2012) (****)

This Oscar winner is a classic drama. It pits two families against each other. Each of the members have a different role to play in the increasing tension between the characters. The story begins with a simple conflict between a husband and wife. Their decision to divorce is just the start of the story, which unravels in expected ways, leading to a charge of murder. The fact that the film is Iranian is inconsequential and yet works its way into the core of the film.

Simin (Leila Hatami, LEILA) has filed for divorce because her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi, ABOUT ELLY) has decided to stay behind in Iran to take care of his ailing father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) instead of moving abroad with her and their teen daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). She don't see the purpose for him to stay when his father has Alzheimer's and no longer recognizes him, while he sees no other option because he still remembers the past. She moves out of their apartment and in with her mother, secretly wishing her leaving will convince her husband to give in. She doesn't want to get a divorce but doesn't understand her husband's feelings. In turn he does not understand her feelings, for honor means a great deal to him. Their daughter is trapped between the two not knowing which way to go, so she stays with her father because she knows her mother will not leave without her. This story is so universal to many families, in many cultures.

Blogs BERNIE (2012) (***1/2)

Richard Linklater has a wide range of movies on his resume. You have his trippy animated films like WAKING LIFE and A SCANNER DARKLY and his more conventional comedy SCHOOL OF ROCK. BERNIE is a dark comedy that doesn't easily fit into any of the groups of his previous films. However there is something in its core that reminded me of his films SLACKER and DAZED AND CONFUSED. Place and time are key in those films and they also play a role in this one.

Based on the true story Bernie Tiede, the film is the tale of two unique characters coming together. But it is also a tale about the small town of Carthage, Texas. Bernie (Jack Black, HIGH FIDELITY) came to Carthage to serve as the town's assistant funeral director and quickly became the most liked person there. He was a kind gentleman who had a way of easing the grief of those who had just lost a loved one. This made him good at his job, but his smooth talking helped, as well. Bernie could up-sell a customer on a coffin like the employee of the month at McDonald's does with extra large fries. His civic dedication to the town made him even more popular. However his biggest challenge was winning over the widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, THE APARTMENT).

Blogs WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2012) (****)

As a parent, I cannot imagine the depth of conflicting despair one might feel if their child committed an unthinkable act of violence. This reflective film tries to get into the mind of a parent whose son has done something horrible. We watch this morose mother sludge through the wreckage of her former life. Through a series of flashbacks we get glimpses of her memories of her child as if she's obsessing about the details that could explain his actions. There has always seemed to be something wrong with little Kevin.

Tilda Swinton plays the mother Eva in another performance worthy of praise. She was a woman full of life before she accidentally got pregnant with her son. As a baby he never stopped crying until his father Franklin (John C. Reilly, CHICAGO) returned home from work. It seemed this child was trying to drive her crazy. On a walk, the sound of a jackhammer is a welcome break from the wails of her child.

Blogs THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 10:37pm

Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy has come to an end. In many ways it reminds me of another great trilogy's finale — RETURN OF THE JEDI. Not quite up to the grand standards of its predecessors, but a satisfying conclusion to the story of its main characters.

The action takes place eight years after the end of THE DARK KNIGHT. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, AMERICAN PYSCHO) is now living as a recluse in his Wayne Manor, his body broken from years of abuse defending Gotham as the Dark Knight. The city has not seen the Batman since the death of DA Harvey Dent. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, THE PROFESSIONAL) has kept the secret of Harvey Dent's descent into madness from the city. Dent's death, which Batman took the blame, has given the authority the clout to enact tough anti-crime laws that some feel overreach. Because Bruce believes that great power takes great responsibility and can easily be abused, he has decided to shelve a fusion power project, which has the potential to bring cheap power to millions.

Blogs Madagascar 3: The Thought-Out Franchise

DreamWorks' MADAGASCAR series has always been its attempt to bring a Looney Tunes vibe to animated features. In the third installment, the frenetic pace of classic Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck shorts is turned up to 11. While the series has never produced anything truly inspired, it has delivered entertainment and here Alex and friends get into the entertainment business.

Blogs MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED (2012) (***)

DreamWorks' MADAGASCAR series has always been its attempt to bring a Looney Tunes vibe to animated features. In the third installment, the frenetic pace of classic Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck shorts is turned up to 11. While the series has never produced anything truly inspired, it has delivered entertainment and here Alex and friends get into the entertainment business.

Alex the lion (Ben Stiller, TROPIC THUNDER) wants to get back home to the New York zoo. Tired of waiting for the crafty penguins to return from Monte Carlo, he leads Marty the zebra (Chris Rock, DOGMA), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer, TV's FRIENDS) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith, THE MATRIX RELOADED) on a mission to the glitzy gambling city to get the penguins and their monkey companions to fly them to the U.S. Let's just say Monte Carlo doesn't go as planned and the fugitive furry friends get relentless animal control officer Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand, FARGO) on their tails.

Blogs The Real Story on The Avengers - Is It Super?

Marvel has been building to this movie ever since the comics company started bringing their heroes to the big screen on their own. Nothing like this has ever really been attempted before. The build up to this mash up includes IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. Besides the great original IRON MAN, this accumulation is the best of the lot and the best multiple superhero film ever made. For those kinds of films, it has set the new bar much higher.

Blogs THE AVENGERS (2012) (***1/2)

Marvel has been building to this movie ever since the comics company started bringing their heroes to the big screen on their own. Nothing like this has ever really been attempted before. The build up to this mash up includes IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. Besides the great original IRON MAN, this accumulation is the best of the lot and the best multiple superhero film ever made. For those kinds of films, it has set the new bar much higher.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston, WAR HORSE), following his banishment from the mythical realm of Asgard, plots vengeance again his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN). He makes a devilish deal with a mysterious alien race to command their army against Earth, which Thor has dedicated himself to protect. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION) fears a giant interstellar attack and believes, as do the other members of his elite government agency S.H.I.E.L.D., that humanity will need a team of superheroes to win.

Blogs THE WHISTLEBLOWER (2011) (***)

It's frightening that in the 21st century sex trafficking is becoming a bigger issue each year. The reason is simple — it's extremely profitable. Young women are stolen and forced to pay off some imaginary debt that never ends. If they run or talk, they are brutalized. The problem is only worse in the chaos of war zones. But in the early part of the century, the sex trafficking scandal that rocked the U.N. and its contractors was beyond repulsive. Those tasked with protecting the citizens of Bosnia where participating in the rape of them.

Based on the true life scandal, this thriller follows Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz, THE CONSTANT GARDENER), a Nebraska cop who signs on to be a peacekeeper in Bosnia for the big paycheck. When she gets there she discovers that many of her fellow peacekeepers are too there for the paycheck, but nothing else. Her efforts to bring some law and order to the country are noticed by higher up human rights activist Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave, ANONYMOUS). Bolkovac is put in charge of women's issues and soon discovers sex clubs where the "waitresses" have been forced there against their will. At first she is appalled to find that U.N. officers are frequenting these clubs, but it only gets worse the deeper she goes.

Blogs Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale: Comes Down to World Building

Based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling YA series, Gary Ross' screen adaptation has already become a mega hit. The film was supposed to be the next TWILIGHT and it has surpassed it at the box office already. But is it any good? In the categories of story and especially acting, it is certainly better than any of the TWILIGHT films. With its dystopian society and futuristic technology, it tells a compelling sci-fi yarn. But I still have a sneaky feeling that I've seen it before and done better.

Blogs THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) (***)

Based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling YA series, Gary Ross' screen adaptation has already become a mega hit. The film was supposed to be the next TWILIGHT and it has surpassed it at the box office already. But is it any good? In the categories of story and especially acting, it is certainly better than any of the TWILIGHT films. With its dystopian society and futuristic technology, it tells a compelling sci-fi yarn. But I still have a sneaky feeling that I've seen it before and done better.

Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence plays the heroine Katniss Everdeen, a scrappy teen who lives in a future America where the country is split up into 12 districts. Each year a boy and a girl from each district are selected to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death. The solo winner is awarded food and wealth from the State for their home district. On selection day, Katniss's younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is chosen to represent District 12. Katniss instead volunteers to take her place.

Blogs JOHN CARTER (2012) (***)

SUPERMAN, LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR TREK, STAR WARS, AVATAR and dozens of other sci-fi and fantasy tales owe their origins to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series. This new film is based on Burroughs' A PRINCESS OF MARS, a classic of pulp fiction. Now Andrew Stanton, who won Oscars for FINDING NEMO and WALL*E, has brought the world to the screen.

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