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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

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.

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.

Blogs MADE IN DAGENHAM (2010) (***1/2)

Rita O'Grady wasn't looking to become a leader of the equal pay for women movement. In director Nigel Cole's film, she is presented as a strong woman who found herself thrust into a leadership role because there was no one else. Many will be reminded of NORMA RAE and DAGENHAM star Sally Hawkins gives a performance equal to Oscar winner Sally Fields.

Hawkins plays O'Grady, a seamstress at the Dagenham Ford Motor Company plant. She is part of the team that hand sews the seat upholstery. The 100 plus women who work at the planet get paid less than the male skilled laborers. Ford doesn't consider them skilled. So the women go on strike for themselves. Their union reluctantly supports them, but the company will not budge. If they give these women equal pay they'll have to do it everywhere.

Blogs A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) (*1/2)

Exec #1: Hey lets remake an iconic ‘80s horror movie. Exec #2: Sounds great, kids these days don’t want anything new; they just want to see the same story with more blood and shock. Exec #3: You’re right… and this way we really don’t need to hire screenwriters. Exec #4: We can just string all the best kills from the other films together with CG. Exec #5: Yeah, kids like CG. Exec #6: What’s for lunch?

That’s what you get in this pitiful excuse for a horror film. The story throws us right into a “creepy” dream with no character development. The first half of the film proceeds to be one kid falling into a dream where Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley, LITTLE CHILDREN) kills them. It literally goes from killing the first victim (Kellan Lutz, TWILIGHT series) to the blonde girl (Katie Cassidy, TAKEN) to her ex-boyfriend (Thomas Dekker, THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES) before we even get to know the main character other than she’s a loner waitress (Rooney Mara, THE SOCIAL NETWORK).

Blogs MARWENCOL (2010) (****)

On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was in a bar, which was a common occurrence for him at the time. He says the wrong thing to a group of young men. They follow him outside and beat him in the head savagely. When he comes out of a coma, he remembers nothing of his old life. So in an effort to make sense of the new world he has been thrust into, he creates his own world in his backyard using 1/6th scale World War II soldiers and Barbies.

The world, Marwencol, Hogancamp creates is detailed and elaborate. There is an on-going story where Hogancamp casts himself as a bar owner/soldier in a Belgian town. For the entertainment of the boys, the women stage fake cat fights. The Nazis are always looming around trying to ruin the fun. Hogancamp creates characters in Marwencol based on people from his real life. A married neighbor who he crushes on is his girlfriend in the world. He can't control the real world, but nothing happens in Marwencol that he doesn't control.

Blogs SEX AND THE CITY 2 (2010) (*)

This film is everything I thought the first SEX AND THE CITY movie was going to be, but wasn't. The crass worship of excessive consumerism. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed the original film. That film turned out to be more than its sitcom roots. This one is a bad sitcom let loose with an enormous budget, gorging itself on every self indulgent wish possible.

Now Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, L.A. STORY) is married to Mr. Big (Chris North, TV's LAW & ORDER), who just wants to silently watch old movies at night. She on the other hand wants to talk, but what does she have to talk about? Nothing remotely interesting comes out of her mouth the entire film. And she's a successful writer?

Blogs THOR (2011) (***)

Thor always seemed like he should be a DC comics character instead of a Marvel character. Now only the true geek might understand what I mean. DC characters, outside of Batman, were all all-powerful god-like heroes. Marvel’s characters were more human and thus flawed. With hammer in hand, Thor is virtually unstoppable. The battles of gods are less compelling than the struggles of humans. So I was delighted that Kenneth Branagh’s feature adaptation of the character brings humanity to both the drama of the gods and humans.

Blogs HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011) (*1/2)

Jason Eisener won Robert Rodriguez’s SXSW Grindhouse trailer contest for his fake trailer HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, which was featured in Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE. Unlike that film and Rodriguez’s fake trailer turned feature film MACHETE, this film is simply an exploitation flick. The film has little purpose other than being violent and bloody.

Blogs THOR (2011) (***)

Thor always seemed like he should be a DC comics character instead of a Marvel character. Now only the true geek might understand what I mean. DC characters, outside of Batman, were all all-powerful god-like heroes. Marvel’s characters were more human and thus flawed. With hammer in hand, Thor is virtually unstoppable. The battles of gods are less compelling than the struggles of humans. So I was delighted that Kenneth Branagh’s feature adaptation of the character brings humanity to both the drama of the gods and humans.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth, STAR TREK) is the arrogant son of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, BEOWULF) of Asgard. When ice giants sneak into the castle to steal a powerful treasure, Thor seeks revenge, threatening the longstanding peace between Odin and ice giant king Laufey (Colm Feore, CHICAGO). Due to his ego, Thor is cast out, sent to Earth, where he is discovered by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, BLACK SWAN) and her colleagues Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN).

Blogs HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011) (*1/2)

Jason Eisener won Robert Rodriguez’s SXSW Grindhouse trailer contest for his fake trailer HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, which was featured in Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE. Unlike that film and Rodriguez’s fake trailer turned feature film MACHETE, this film is simply an exploitation flick. The film has little purpose other than being violent and bloody.

Here, the Hobo is played by Rutger Hauer. It is a testament to his professionalism that he gives a real performance within this muck. He’s a homeless vet looking to save enough money to buy a lawnmower so he can make an honest living. He comes to Hope Town, which is like a cross between Detroit in ROBOCOP and some punk run town in MAD MAX. Why he thinks this is a good spot to beg is unknown? I would have picked the suburbs before panhandling in a place where the town’s welcome sign is spray painted over to read Scum Town.

Blogs Getting Buzzed - RFP’s 30 Most Anticipated Summer Films

No yammering this year. Just heading to the list. Enjoy.
30) Winnie the Pooh (July 15)
Trailer
It seems like a strange film to be releasing in the summer, especially due to the fact that the film is done and was released in Europe in the spring. Films that skew this young just don't do well at the box office anymore. But that doesn't mean the film won't be good. It takes four previous un-adapted Pooh stories from A.A. Milne and brings them to the screen. This could also be the last hand-drawn Disney film for the foreseeable future, so to see it on the big screen is a must.

29) Horrible Bosses (July 8)
This is the one of the only two films on the list that doesn't have a trailer yet. The story follows three friends who plot to murder their horrible bosses. I like dark comedies and director Seth Gordon made the awesome doc THE KING OF KONG. But then he also made the stinker comedy FOUR CHRISTMASES. So we'll see. But wait, check out this cast — Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland and Kevin Spacey (who knows a thing or two about playing a horrible boss, just think SWIMMING WITH SHARKS). Can we hope that it's as good as SHARKS?

Blogs WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011) (***1/2)

Director Francis Lawrence (I AM LEGEND) and writer Richard LaGravenese (THE FISHER KING) do a rare cinematic achievement when having a book as the source material — they make the story better. They made all the right choices in what to cut, keep and change. The changes make the film more dramatic, but not in a maudlin way. Everything that happens is more immediate. The Depression-era setting only reminds us of the melodramas of that age, which this film fits in with surprisingly well.

Blogs WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011) (***1/2)

Director Francis Lawrence (I AM LEGEND) and writer Richard LaGravenese (THE FISHER KING) do a rare cinematic achievement when having a book as the source material — they make the story better. They made all the right choices in what to cut, keep and change. The changes make the film more dramatic, but not in a maudlin way. Everything that happens is more immediate. The Depression-era setting only reminds us of the melodramas of that age, which this film fits in with surprisingly well.

Jacob (Robert Pattinson, TWILIGHT) was taking his last final in veterinary sciences at Cornell when he gets word that his parents have died in a car accident. They had mortgaged their house and business to pay for his education, so the bank takes everything. Now orphaned, he decides to jump a train. Luckily, he ends up on a circus train in the car of Camel (Jim Norton, STRAW DOGS), a friendly, drunk roustabout who helps him get work. When it’s found that he is an Ivy League vet, he is taken before the boss, August (Christoph Waltz, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), an intimidating man who isn’t unfamiliar with violence as a way of making people do what he wants.

Blogs ALL GOOD THINGS (2010) (***1/2)

Director Andrew Jarecki seems drawn to crime stories where the guilt of the accused is in question. He made the remarkable documentary, CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, which told the tale of a father and his son who were both charged with child molestation. Now he steps into a fictional tale, but one based on true life. Those who watch ID or read true crime books will know this as a veiled version of the bizarre case of Robert Durst, whose wife Kathleen McCormack mysterious disappeared one day without a trace.

In this film, the "Robert Durst" character is named David Marks (Ryan Gosling, THE NOTEBOOK), the son of a wealthy land owner in NYC named Sanford Marks (Frank Langella, FROST/NIXON). Sanford wants his son to follow in the family business, which includes the ownership of strip clubs and peep shows on 42nd Street. David has other plans. The young man meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst, SPIDER-MAN) when his father is too cheap to send a plumber over to one of his buildings to check out a leaky sink. She's from a working class family, which is exactly the kind of girl that will adequately piss off his father.

Blogs AGORA (2010) (***1/2)

Over the history of cinema, the oppression of Christians by Romans has been well documented in sword and scandal epics. This historical film moves forward in time from those tales to a time when the Roman empire was well in decline and Christianity had begun to take hold. It argues that oppression isn't the sole flaw of any given belief system, but a result of fundamentalism fueled by power.

The story purposes the work of Hypatia (Rachel Weisz, THE CONSTANT GARDENER), and I say purposes because none of her work remains and details about her are sketchy at best. What is fairly established is that she was a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer, who taught in 4th century Roman Egypt. She was the daughter of Theon Alexandricus (Michael Lonsdale, MUNICH), the last librarian of the Alexandria Library in the Museum of Alexandria. She was been created as the inventor of the hydrometer, which is used to determine the relative density and gravity of liquids, and along with her father, the astrolabe.

Blogs RIO (2011) (***)

The latest animated feature from Blue Sky Studios is like a Disney film circa OLIVER AND COMPANY. It's safe entertainment that skews for the younger crowd. And there isn't anything wrong with making a film for a specific audience. I certainly don't miss the crass pandering to the older viewers. It's replaced with the joy of love and song.

Blogs RIO (2011) (***)

The latest animated feature from Blue Sky Studios is like a Disney film circa OLIVER AND COMPANY. It's safe entertainment that skews for the younger crowd. And there isn't anything wrong with making a film for a specific audience. I certainly don't miss the crass pandering to the older viewers. It's replaced with the joy of love and song.

The story follows a blue macaw who ends up in Minnesota. He is adopted by Linda (Leslie Mann, KNOCKED UP), who names him Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, THE SOCIAL NETWORK). They live a comfortable, conservative life running a small bookstore. But they are challenged one day to step out of their comfort zone when Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro, 300) shows up and informs them that Blu is the last male of his species. The Brazilian scientist wants to try and mate Blu with the last female blue macaw named Jewel (Anne Hathaway, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED).

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