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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010) (***)

The absurdity of the title is just part of the fun of this very funny comedy. Time travel comedies are nothing new and the same can be said about raunchy laughers. But few raunchy time travel comedies have John Cusack in them. Who else would be better suited to a spoof of the 1980s?

Cusack plays Adam, who has just been dumped again. His friend Lou (Rob Corddry, THE DAILY SHOW) is one of those guys who parties like he is still in college, which, of course, makes him look pathetic. Nick (Craig Robinson, ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO) works at a dog spa where he dreams of the days when he thought he was going to be a rock star. He also fears that his wife Courtney (Kellee Stewart, GUESS WHO) is cheating on him. When Lou passes out in his car in the garage and his friends think he was trying to commit suicide, Adam and Nick decide to take him on a vacation to their old winter escape. Along for the trip is Jacob (Clark Duke, KICK-ASS), Adam's videogame-obsessed nephew who lives in his basement.

Blogs BLUE VALENTINE (2010) (***1/2)

Perspective is the key to why this film is so captivating. The story begs the question -- should we judge others until we know the whole story? Director Derek Cianfrance jumps from the start of a relationship to its bitter future. We form opinions of the characters and then new information is revealed that makes us flip those opinions. By the end we understand both motivations of the central characters and amazingly care for both of them to get what they want, despite the fact that one has to fail in order for the other to succeed.

Dean (Ryan Gosling, THE NOTEBOOK) relocates to the city and gets a job at a moving company. At a nursing home, he meets Cindy (Michelle Williams, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN), who is there caring for her grandmother. Though their meeting was brief, he remembers her and goes back to find her. When he does run into her again, he breaks down her defenses with his charm.

Blogs CARS 2 (2011) (***)

John Lasseter's follow-up to his ode to car culture is the least like any other Pixar film. The spy spoof is an unabashed genre flick. WALL*E was sci-fi, but had a compelling love story at its core. Where the original CARS had an aww-shucks charm in its tale of finding pleasure in the simple side of life, this part two sets that aside for international intrigue, mistaken identities and fish out of water tomfoolery. It's of course done at the high performance quality level that Pixar has set since 1995.

Blogs HAWAIIAN VACATION (2011) (***)

TOY STORY's story is not over. Pixar has decided to extend the franchise in a series of shorts, this one being the first. Woody and the gang are preparing for some R&R as their new owner Bonnie is headed off on a Hawaiian family vacation over the winter break. Stowed away in the little girl's backpack are Ken and Barbie, who are extremely disappointed when they discover they're at Bonnie's house and not a luau on the beach. So in order to rescue the couple's first vacation together, the rest of the toys team up to bring paradise to a preschooler's bedroom.

Blogs CARS 2 (2011) (***)

John Lasseter's follow-up to his ode to car culture is the least like any other Pixar film. The spy spoof is an unabashed genre flick. WALL*E was sci-fi, but had a compelling love story at its core. Where the original CARS had an aww-shucks charm in its tale of finding pleasure in the simple side of life, this part two sets that aside for international intrigue, mistaken identities and fish out of water tomfoolery. It's of course done at the high performance quality level that Pixar has set since 1995.

The new adventure puts well meaning, but unsophisticated, Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy, WITLESS PROTECTION) at the center of the story. He is eagerly awaiting his best friend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, THE ROYAL TENEBAUMS) to return to Radiator Springs after the racing season is finished. Lightning has turned down an invitation to compete in the first World Grand Prix in order to spend some time with his friends. But when the arrogant Italian Formula One car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro, THE BIG LEBOWSKI) insults Lightning on TV, Mater calls in and pretty much leaves Lightning with no other option than to compete.

Blogs HAWAIIAN VACATION (2011) (***)

TOY STORY's story is not over. Pixar has decided to extend the franchise in a series of shorts, this one being the first. Woody and the gang are preparing for some R&R as their new owner Bonnie is headed off on a Hawaiian family vacation over the winter break. Stowed away in the little girl's backpack are Ken and Barbie, who are extremely disappointed when they discover they're at Bonnie's house and not a luau on the beach. So in order to rescue the couple's first vacation together, the rest of the toys team up to bring paradise to a preschooler's bedroom.

Director Gary Rydstrom, who received an Oscar nod for his hilarious Pixar short LIFTED, brings his great timing to this film as well. While his other short relied on pitch perfect physical comedy, he brings the same sensibility to this talkier piece. Even though the script for this short has a lot more dialogue, the jokes are many sight gags. He knows exactly how to lay the joke out to maximize the laugh. Even when a joke is expected, he knows how to give it a twist in order to elicit a chuckle.

Blogs DIARY OF THE WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (2011) (***)

Jeff Kinney, the author of the books that make up these films, prides himself in making the books lesson free. That doesn’t work very well in feature films. At least not emotionally satisfying ones. The first film found a way to take Kinney’s comic vignettes and made a pretty compelling coming of age story that dealt with the pressures of going to middle school and being loyal to a friend. This film also finds a compelling premise to build its story around. The unique relationship of brothers.

Blogs Blu-ray: DIARY OF THE WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (2011)

This family comedy comes to Blu-ray in a MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer. The true to source transfer retains the film grain, which does dampen some of the crispness and detail of the picture. The color is pretty natural and consistent throughout. Black levels are solid. I only noticed in one scene in Greg’s bedroom where the skin tones seems a tad too yellow. Digital anomalies like banding, aliasing or artifacting are not a problem.

Blogs DIARY OF THE WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (2011) (***)

Jeff Kinney, the author of the books that make up these films, prides himself in making the books lesson free. That doesn’t work very well in feature films. At least not emotionally satisfying ones. The first film found a way to take Kinney’s comic vignettes and made a pretty compelling coming of age story that dealt with the pressures of going to middle school and being loyal to a friend. This film also finds a compelling premise to build its story around. The unique relationship of brothers.

Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon, THE BROTHERS BLOOM) starts out the film wishing he could sell his brothers, especially his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick, SAW VI), who tries to humiliate him at every turn. Their mother Susan (Rachael Harris, THE HANGOVER) devises ways to force the two to spend time together. She says that she will give them one mom buck (board game money) for every hour they spend together without fighting. She starts them off with five mom bucks. Rodrick cashes in right away. Their father Frank (Steve Zahn, HAPPY, TEXAS) just stands back and smiles.

Blogs Blu-ray: DIARY OF THE WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (2011)

Read my review of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES

This family comedy comes to Blu-ray in a MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer. The true to source transfer retains the film grain, which does dampen some of the crispness and detail of the picture. The color is pretty natural and consistent throughout. Black levels are solid. I only noticed in one scene in Greg’s bedroom where the skin tones seems a tad too yellow. Digital anomalies like banding, aliasing or artifacting are not a problem.

The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack seems like overkill. The film has a front speaker soundscape, but this seems to be due to the nature of the film and not poor sound mixing. The dialogue is clear. Directionality isn’t utilized to be noticeably off or on. For scenes with crowds, the soundscape develops a suitable ambiance. When music plays a role, the mix between dialogue and tunes is handled where one never overpowers the other.

Blogs GREEN LANTERN (2011) (***)

This is a movie for fans of Green Lantern… for better or worse. It's loaded with Green Lantern Corps mythos. It's loaded with the many characters of the world. To clarify I'm not the greatly Green Lantern fan, but my knowledge of the world has been informed by the DC Direct animated films GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT and GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS. In context, my suspension of disbelief seems to be higher than many who have been trashing the film, because I knew what to expect and knew how it could have gone far worse.

Blogs GREEN LANTERN (2011) (***)

This is a movie for fans of Green Lantern… for better or worse. It's loaded with Green Lantern Corps mythos. It's loaded with the many characters of the world. To clarify I'm not the greatly Green Lantern fan, but my knowledge of the world has been informed by the DC Direct animated films GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT and GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS. In context, my suspension of disbelief seems to be higher than many who have been trashing the film, because I knew what to expect and knew how it could have gone far worse.

In this origin story, we learn that the immortal guardians of the universe have sectioned off the universe and assigned a protector of each sector. These protectors make up the Green Lantern Corps, which wield green rings that channel the power of will. Now an ancient evil named Parallax (Clancy Brown, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), who is powered by the yellow energy of fear, has been set free. The Green Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison, STAR WARS prequels) once defeated the creature, but it has only gotten stronger and mortally wounds the legendary warrior. Abin Sur heads to the closest planet, Earth, to let his ring choose a worthy successor. That turns out to be cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Renyolds, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE).

Blogs Blu-ray: AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (2011)

For fans of the cult comic Bill Hicks, this disc is a goldmine. Presented in MPEG-4 AVC 1080i, this documentary looks as sharp as one could hope for. For its photo animated sequences, the filmmakers used vibrant colors and they pop in this Blu-ray. Black levels are mixed, but that is certainly due to the varying sources of the photos and video footage comes from. The few talking head interviews toward the end are crystal clear with skin tones perfect. I didn’t notice any digital anomalies at all.

Blogs Blu-ray: AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (2011)

For fans of the cult comic Bill Hicks, this disc is a goldmine. Presented in MPEG-4 AVC 1080i, this documentary looks as sharp as one could hope for. For its photo animated sequences, the filmmakers used vibrant colors and they pop in this Blu-ray. Black levels are mixed, but that is certainly due to the varying sources of the photos and video footage comes from. The few talking head interviews toward the end are crystal clear with skin tones perfect. I didn’t notice any digital anomalies at all.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is front heavy, but that can be very expected due to the nature of the project. Even in rough VHS quality video footage, the filmmakers bring out the audio as clearly as possible.

Blogs SUPER 8 (2011) (***1/2)

J.J. Abrams sets out to make an ode to the 1970s-80s films of Stephen Spielberg. He does so without making overt references to the creator of E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but captures the feel and style. With its young protagonists, patient pacing in developing its characters and the crafty camera work, the film is like discovering a missing Spielberg production that somehow got lost in 1984 and is now being released with "special edition" visual effects.

Blogs SUPER 8 (2011) (***1/2)

J.J. Abrams sets out to make an ode to the 1970s-80s films of Stephen Spielberg. He does so without making overt references to the creator of E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but captures the feel and style. With its young protagonists, patient pacing in developing its characters and the crafty camera work, the film is like discovering a missing Spielberg production that somehow got lost in 1984 and is now being released with "special edition" visual effects.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is a teen that has just lost his mom in a steel mill accident. He's trying to cope by continuing his life. Part of doing this is helping his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish his 8mm zombie film for a local film festival. Joe's father, Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler, TV's FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), however, wants him to go to baseball camp for the summer in order to meet normal kids. The depressed widower says its what both his son and he needs.

Blogs AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (2011) (***1/2)

I became a fan of comedian Bill Hicks when I caught one of his old HBO specials on late at night. I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this angry hilarious and provocative performer before, so I went to the Internet and looked him up. Turns out he has a highly influential comedian of the early ‘90s who on the cusp of breaking into the big time in the U.S. died at the age of 32. Now British filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have brought his story to film in this innovative documentary that combines archive footage and animation to bring Hicks’ story to life.

Blogs GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS (2011) (***)

Working as a companion to the live-action feature GREEN LANTERN, this animated anthology feature focuses its stories on the lesser known Green Lantern Corps members. One overarching tale links the five vignettes, which are origin stories of sorts for five characters. It’s like a primer for the Green Lantern world.

Blogs Blu-ray: GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS (2011)

This 1080p/AVC-encoded disc is a handsome effort by Warner Premiere. One problem plagues the release though and that is color banding. Sadly the issue doesn’t just appear in backgrounds and lighting. Some can be seen on characters as well. But as is the case with these DC Direct titles, the colors are spectacularly vibrant. The balance is perfect and the blacks are inky. Outside of the banding, the Blu-ray doesn’t display any other digital anomalies.

Blogs AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (2011) (***1/2)

I became a fan of comedian Bill Hicks when I caught one of his old HBO specials on late at night. I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this angry hilarious and provocative performer before, so I went to the Internet and looked him up. Turns out he has a highly influential comedian of the early ‘90s who on the cusp of breaking into the big time in the U.S. died at the age of 32. Now British filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have brought his story to film in this innovative documentary that combines archive footage and animation to bring Hicks’ story to life.

Bill Hicks started his career as a comedian while in high school. He and his friend Dwight Slade snuck out of their houses to audition for the new comedy club in Houston, Texas. By the time he moved to L.A. after graduating, he was already a veteran. At 19, he was playing the famed Comedy Store and was getting meetings with agents to pitch comedy scripts. But for the eager artist success wasn’t coming fast enough and the City of Angels wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be, so he returned to Houston, where he made a name for himself not only as a comedian, but as a man living on the edge.

Blogs GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS (2011) (***)

Working as a companion to the live-action feature GREEN LANTERN, this animated anthology feature focuses its stories on the lesser known Green Lantern Corps members. One overarching tale links the five vignettes, which are origin stories of sorts for five characters. It’s like a primer for the Green Lantern world.

The conceit for the film is that Green Lantern Hal Jordan (Nathan Fillion, TV’s FIREFLY) is showing a new recruit named Arisia (Elisabeth Moss, TV’s MAD MEN) the ropes. Meanwhile an epic threat is forming that will need all the Green Lantern Corps to work as a team.

As her introduction to the Corps, Jordan tells her the story of the first lanterns. The guardians of the universe have created powerful rings to award to the greatest warriors in the universe. They are to serve as the police in outer space. The rings select many of the great warriors, but lastly choose Avra, the guardians’ meager scribe. Through their patrols, Avra discovers the true potential of the rings.

Blogs Blu-ray: GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS (2011)

Read my review of GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS

This 1080p/AVC-encoded disc is a handsome effort by Warner Premiere. One problem plagues the release though and that is color banding. Sadly the issue doesn’t just appear in backgrounds and lighting. Some can be seen on characters as well. But as is the case with these DC Direct titles, the colors are spectacularly vibrant. The balance is perfect and the blacks are inky. Outside of the banding, the Blu-ray doesn’t display any other digital anomalies.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track has the solid treatment that has come to signify these DC Direct titles. In the sound effects department, the film is first rate. From the rings powering up to the booming bass during fight sequences the soundscape erupts with action. For the most part the elements are balanced nicely and the directionality is well done. Once or twice I did notice the sounds lagging behind the fast images, but it was minor. The dialogue scenes are simply just that clear front heavy speech.

Blogs X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) (***1/2)

Class is the key word in the title of this film. The series is back in the same class as the first two. The inherent issue with bringing the X-Men to the screen is the amount of characters. This film simplifies what has been addressed in the previous films by putting Professor X and Magneto at the forefront.

Blogs X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) (***1/2)

Class is the key word in the title of this film. The series is back in the same class as the first two. The inherent issue with bringing the X-Men to the screen is the amount of characters. This film simplifies what has been addressed in the previous films by putting Professor X and Magneto at the forefront.

The story begins in the '40s. Erik Lehnsherr is a young Jew taken from his parents and forced by Nazi scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, FLATLINERS) to use his mutant powers to control metal objects with his mind. Meanwhile, a young Charles Xavier lives a privileged life in New England, which allows him to nurture his telepathic abilities. One night he finds his mother in the kitchen, but it turns out that it's not really his mother, but a blue shape-shifting mutant girl named Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER'S BONE). Charles takes in the mutant as a kid sister.

Blogs KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011) (***)

This follow-up does what all follow-ups should do and that is to extend the story instead of simply trying to replicate it. In the original, Po the Panda, the greatest kung fu fanboy of all time, was astonishingly chosen as the legendary dragon warrior, the hero destined to save kung fu. In this chapter, with him finding his kung fu groove, he must save kung fu from a new weapon and its wielder, a vindictive peacock determined to take over China. Po must find inner peace to overcome this awesome threat.

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