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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Comedy 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.

Comedy 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.

Comedy 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

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

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

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.

Comedy 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.

Animation 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.

Comedy 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.

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.

Jack Black is back as Po, who is still in awe of the fact that he gets to hang with kung fu legends, the Furious Five. He begins having flashbacks to his youth and goes to his father Mr. Ping (James Hong, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) to learn more about where he came from. Turns out he was adopted. I would have thought the fact that his father is a goose would have clued him in much earlier. What Po doesn't know is that the evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, HARRY POTTER) has something to do with why he was not raised by his panda parents.

Blogs

THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) (****)

Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE filled me with joy. It’s an affirmation of life and a reminder that film is still an artform. When so many films today seem to be done by people who do not even understand the basics of the filmic language, here is a film that reminds us how elegant and transformative it can be when spoken so fluently. Malick communicates so much in a single image where some films would only dare to convey something so deep in their entirety. Malick isn’t shy to take on the big issues and here he takes on the biggest issue of all – life. And I’m talking about life on a cosmic level.

Blogs

THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) (****)

Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE filled me with joy. It’s an affirmation of life and a reminder that film is still an artform. When so many films today seem to be done by people who do not even understand the basics of the filmic language, here is a film that reminds us how elegant and transformative it can be when spoken so fluently. Malick communicates so much in a single image where some films would only dare to convey something so deep in their entirety. Malick isn’t shy to take on the big issues and here he takes on the biggest issue of all – life. And I’m talking about life on a cosmic level.

Malick begins his film about life with the revelation of a death. Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS) and Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain, THE DEBT) receive word that their son has died. They struggle with the news and go through the stages of grief as everyone does. Malick intercuts this with how the death has affected their oldest son Jack (Sean Penn, DEAD MAN WALKING), who is now a successful businessman, but is lost in his life.

Blogs

Blu-ray: PLATOON (1986)

Read my review of PLATOON.

The Oscar winner gets a true to source rendition in this AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to Blu-ray. Originally shot on a low budget, the picture retains the film grain, but also captures a great deal of clarity as well. The jungle scenes show the detail of the foliage. The colors are rich especially in the greens of the fields, while the black are sold in the flare lit scenes at the end and skin tones are natural.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack adds atmosphere to the production. Jungle sounds surround the audience putting them into the action. The work is more subtle than what one might expect from a war film. Directionality is good, but nothing is blow-you-away fantastic. The dialogue is clear throughout and the score plays a dynamic part and is well balanced with the soundscapes other elements.

Comedy Blogs

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2011) (***)

Following the bloated first two sequels in the PIRATES franchise, the fourth installment puts the ship back on course. The story rightfully puts Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm. The story throws many of the unneeded characters overboard and adds the right new shipmates to the crew. Penelope Cruz is the first mate the series needed for sure.

Blogs

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2011) (***)

Following the bloated first two sequels in the PIRATES franchise, the fourth installment puts the ship back on course. The story rightfully puts Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm. The story throws many of the unneeded characters overboard and adds the right new shipmates to the crew. Penelope Cruz is the first mate the series needed for sure.

Rumors are spreading across London that Captain Jack is putting together a crew in search of the Fountain of Youth. Turns out that it’s an imposter, but Captain Jack actually does have a map to the famed waters. He’s not the only one in search. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, THE KING’S SPEECH) is now working for the crown and is sans one leg. Jack’s old flame Angelica (Cruz, VANILLA SKY) wants to find the healing waters in order to save her father, the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane, TV’s DEADWOOD). There is also the Spaniard (Oscar Jaenada, THE LOSERS) who has his own agenda.

Blogs

LOUDER THAN A BOMB (2011) (***1/2)

If you haven't heard poetry slam before, stop reading this review and watch the trailer for this film. Now that you've got a taste, how could you not want to see this film? These kids are some of the brightest, competing against hundreds of other equally bright kids. And this documentary only chronicles the Louder than a Bomb poetry slam in Chicago. Think about how many kids like these are in the rest of the country. It gives you hope.

Directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel (nephew of Gene Siskel) followed a selection of competitors over the 2007-08 season. We watch as they prepare for the slam. We see their home lives, some are good and others have their challenges. We watch as they start in the quarterfinals and root for their success. But soon the competition becomes secondary to the human stories.

Blogs

Blu-ray: THE ILLUSIONIST (2010)

Sony isn't new to conjuring up magical transfers to Blu-ray and THE ILLUSIONIST is no exception. This 1080p presentation exquisitely captures Sylvain Chomet's moody animated ode to French comedian extraordinare Jacques Tati. The flawless visual dimension of this title gives the animation added depth and nuance. For instance, the fog and smoke effects come off natural, not smudges moving across the screen. The digital color palette, while muted, is crisp and clean. One can see the lines of the original hand-drawn artwork clearly. I found no digital anomalies at all in the release. It's pretty much perfect.

Blogs

Blu-ray: THE ILLUSIONIST (2010)

Read my review of THE ILLUSIONIST

Sony isn't new to conjuring up magical transfers to Blu-ray and THE ILLUSIONIST is no exception. This 1080p presentation exquisitely captures Sylvain Chomet's moody animated ode to French comedian extraordinaire Jacques Tati. The flawless visual dimension of this title gives the animation added depth and nuance. For instance, the fog and smoke effects come off natural, not smudges moving across the screen. The digital color palette, while muted, is crisp and clean. One can see the lines of the original hand-drawn artwork clearly. I found no digital anomalies at all in the release. It's pretty much perfect.

Blogs

FOUR LIONS (2010) (***)

Four British jihadists plot a suicide bombing. These men are true believers. They make video memorials. They stockpile bomb-making materials. Their plot is to maximize causalities and ensure the recruitment of other Muslims to their cause. Did I mention this was a comedy?

Omar (Riz Ahmed, CENTURION) is the de facto leader of the terrorist cell only because he's the least imbecilic. Barry (Nigel Lindsay, TV's ROME) is an Islamic convert, who overcompensates for being the only white man in the group by being ultra jihadist. Waj (Kayvan Novak, SYRIANA) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar, TRAITOR) would make a great duo for a remake of DUMB AND DUMBER. Omar and Waj are best friends and they decide to get some training in Pakistan, which makes Barry jealous, so he recruits the young troublemaker Hassan (Arsher Ali). The training goes poorly, so when Omar returns to Britain he's determined to make amends for his mistakes.

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