Search form

Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD (1952) (**)

Certainly not one of the pinnacle of Abbott and Costello's career for sure. When it came to them meeting fictional characters, they should have stuck to monsters. This pirate spoof does little to skewer the genre. The pirate theme serves only as a new dressing for their old routines.

Bud Abbott plays Rocky Stonebridge and Lou Costello is Puddin' Head, a duo of tavern workers. On the way to work, Lady Jane (Fran Warren) gives them a love letter to give to the tavern singer Bruce Martingale (Bill Shirley, I DREAM OF JEANIE). Dinning at the tavern that evening are notorious pirates Captain Kidd (Charles Laughton, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY) and Captain Bonney (Hillary Brooke, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) and Puddin' inadvertently switches the letter for a treasure map. Captain Kidd spends the remainder of the film trying to get the map back.

Blogs HANNA (2011) (***1/2)

There are a bunch of movies that this thriller brings to mind. It's like THE PROFESSIONAL crossed with the BOURNE series and a touch of KICK-ASS. The first and last of those films because of the young female protagonist and the middle one for its reality grounded action. But then you get a dose of fairy tale woven in as well.

Blogs HANNA (2011) (***1/2)

There are a bunch of movies that this thriller brings to mind. It's like THE PROFESSIONAL crossed with the BOURNE series and a touch of KICK-ASS. The first and last of those films because of the young female protagonist and the middle one for its reality grounded action. But then you get a dose of fairy tale woven in as well.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, THE LOVELY BONES) is 16 and has been living in the frozen woods with her father virtually her whole life. He is Erik (Eric Bana, HULK), a rogue CIA agent who has trained his daughter to be a ruthless killer. She is a smart girl who speaks multiple languages and can best her dad in a physical fight. He has prepared her for the inevitable day when Marissa, known as The Witch (Cate Blanchett, INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL), finds them. His motto is "adapt or die."

Blogs SOURCE CODE (2011) (***)

Duncan Jones follows up his ingenious "ideas" sci-fier, MOON, with this more conventional sci-fi thriller. That said I'm not saying that film is mindless in the least. It actually has lots of ideas, maybe too many. It's like watching GROUNDHOG DAY filtered through Hitchcock and 12 MONKEYS.

Solider Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, DONNIE DARKO) wakes up on a train. Christina (Michelle Monaghan, GONE BABY GONE) sits across from him and keeps calling him Sean. He thinks he's going crazy. The last thing he remembers is flying helicopter missions in Afghanistan. Then a bomb blows up on the train.

Stevens now finds himself in a capsule. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, UP IN THE AIR), a soldier, talks to him over a screen. He demands to know what is happening to him. Scientist Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright, MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) explains that he is part of a new technology that can send his consciousness into the last eight minutes of someone who recently died. His mission is to discover who planted the bomb on the train before the terrorist can act again. But Stevens still believes they are keeping something from him and so do we.

Blogs Blu-ray: BLACK SWAN (2010)

Fox's AVC-encoded transfer of Darren Aronofsky's dark ballet thriller is true to its source. Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique used a combination of 16mm film and digital cameras. For a relatively low-budget production, the smaller cameras were easier to move around and give the filmmakers a documentary feel. The 1080p Blu-ray is mixed bag of scenes with heavy grain and sharper digital imagery. So the noise to be found in the darker scenes, could be from the digital source. Despite these issues, the presentation provides nice detail in the brighter scenes. Note Nina's pink bedroom. That serves as a good transition into the transfers best quality. While the palette is mostly white, black and gray, those tones are represented in perfect contrast and inky black levels. As for any digital anomolies, I found none.

Blogs Blu-ray: BLACK SWAN (2010)

Read my review of BLACK SWAN.

Fox's AVC-encoded transfer of Darren Aronofsky's dark ballet thriller is true to its source. Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique used a combination of 16mm film and digital cameras. For a relatively low-budget production, the smaller cameras were easier to move around and give the filmmakers a documentary feel. The 1080p Blu-ray is mixed bag of scenes with heavy grain and sharper digital imagery. So the noise to be found in the darker scenes, could be from the digital source. Despite these issues, the presentation provides nice detail in the brighter scenes. Note Nina's pink bedroom. That serves as a good transition into the transfers best quality. While the palette is mostly white, black and gray, those tones are represented in perfect contrast and inky black levels. As for any digital anomolies, I found none.

Blogs THE EXPENDABLES (2010) (**1/2)

What can I say about Sylvester Stallone's THE EXPENDABLES other than it gives you what you expect? Aging action stars. Explosions. Soldiers of fortune. Explosions. Lots of fisticuffs. Explosions. Snarky dialogue. Oh, did I mention explosions. For some that will be plenty, but for most it won't be enough.

Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader of a group of soldiers of fortune. The film opens with the men on a mission in Africa where tensions boil between teammates Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren, ROCKY 4) and Yin Yang (Jet Li, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA) over hanging one of the Somali pirates. Later Ross meets with the secretive Mr. Church (Bruce Willis, DIE HARD), who offers his team a job to overthrow the dictator on the island of Vilena named General Garza (David Zayas, TV's DEXTER). Once there he discovers that he's been commissioned by the general's own daughter Sandra (Gisele Itie). Turns out, her father is just a puppet for ruthless ex-CIA agent James Munrow (Eric Roberts, THE DARK KNIGHT).

Blogs MOTHER AND CHILD (2010) (***)

Director Rodrigo Garcia has history of making hyperlink films where the lives of various characters overlap. MOTHER AND CHILD actually focuses on less characters than his NINE LIVES or THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER. With a touch of poetry, the film is a character piece about what it means to be a mother and have a mother.

Karen (Annette Bening, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT) is a nurse, who is caring for her ailing mother Nora (Eileen Ryan, MAGNOLIA). Though it happened more than 35 years ago, the dying woman won't let her daughter live down a teen pregnancy. That child was given up for adoption and later named Elizabeth (Naomi Watts, KING KONG). Now she's a ruthless businesswoman whose determination impresses her new boss Paul (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION). And turns him on. Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) is struggling with her inability to get pregnant and decides to adopt with husband Joseph (David Ramsey, CON AIR).

Blogs GIALLO (2010) (*1/2)

Dario Argento is known for making giallos (bloody Italian thrillers). So one expects something special when you go into an Argento film titled GIALLO. But nothing could be further from the case here. Of all this film's I've seen, this is by far his worst. It's so amateurish it seems like it was a hack trying to make an Argento-esque film.

Giallo (Byron Deidra) is a serial killer using an unlicensed taxicab to abduct young woman, photograph his torture of them then once he's done dispose of their corpse. Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner, FRANTIC) is a flight attendant who has come to Turin, Italy to visit her model sister Celine (Elsa Pataky, SNAKES ON A PLANE). Celine is snatched by Giallo. Linda frantically goes to the police where she meets Inspector Enzo Avolfi, an Italian-American detective, who is feverishly working on the serial killer case out of a basement office at the station.

Blogs AFTER.LIFE (2010) (**)

This is a thriller that tries to keep us guessing. The central premise is whether the main character is alive or actually dead. The problem with this scenario is that the story can't hold it up for the length of the film. We feel like we're being jerked around in order to keep the secret going.

Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci, MERMAIDS) is this character in limbo. She's been suffering from depression, which makes her mood erratic. She gets in a fight with her boyfriend Paul Coleman (Justin Long, HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU) where she speeds off in her car. Consumed with emotion, she gets in a car accident. When she wakes, she's on the table at a funeral parlor. The director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER'S LIST) tells her she is dead, but just doesn't know it yet.

Blogs JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (2010) (***)

In a case of full disclosure, Joan Rivers makes my skin crawl. For me she represents everything that is awful and shallow about the entertainment business. In many ways, this documentary didn't change one bit of that opinion. But to its credit, it made me respect her more. And that's an accomplishment considering I had none for her before. That's because I only knew her for the parody her life has become.

Rivers was truly the first female stand-up comedian star. In the 1960s, she made a name for herself for women-themed humor that was cutting edge. She talked about things in public that many people didn't talk about in private. Johnny Carson took her under his wing and groomed her as his replacement on THE TONIGHT SHOW. But when she left the show for her own late-night talk program, Carson was furious that she was becoming his competition and virtual had her black balled. Once her show was cancelled, her career was devastated, which led to her husband Edgar Rosenberg (a producer on her show as well) to commit suicide. Can you blame the guy he was married to Joan Rivers?

Blogs MORNING GLORY (2010) (***)

NOTTING HILL director Roger Michell's comedy is an often hilarious look at morning shows. It reminded me of BROADCAST NEWS, only frothier like its subject matter. At some point a character observes that since the beginning of TV there has been a battle between entertainment and the news and entertainment won a long time ago. Entertainment certainly wins here.

That character is Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams, THE NOTEBOOK), a constantly working producer for a local New Jersey morning show, who dreams of producing TODAY someday. That's when she is laid off. She interviews with Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum, THE FLY), an exec at IBS, whose morning show is the lowest rated on network television. He begrudgingly hires her because he's desperate. The kid can't make it worse, can she?

Blogs I'M STILL HERE (2010) (**1/2)

The conceit of this Andy Kaufman-style faux documentary never fooled me for once. It didn't fool a lot of people; some of the doubters in the press are featured in the film. The premise has Joaquin Phoenix slipping into drugs and alcohol abuse while he quits acting to start a rap career. The idea never fooled me because of one major reason — director Casey Affleck. Affleck is Phoenix's brother-in-law and to think that his wife would be fine with him filming the downward spiral of her brother after her other brother died of a drug overdose seemed very unlikely.

So what are we left with, especially now that Phoenix and Affleck have come clean? Phoenix gives a remarkable performance as "Joaquin Phoenix," a pretentious hipster actor who wants greater control over his art so he's going to become a rapper. We watch as "Phoenix" parties hard and abuses his assistant. His erratic behavior extends to his interactions with his friends and those worried about his career. He arrives late for a big meeting with P Diddy, who seems upset that this actor just thinks he can walk into the music business and succeed.

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

Before seeing the film, I thought the title was weak. Now having seen it I think it's perfect. Those that have complained that this monster movie doesn't have enough monsters they're missing the point. Sci-fi has been used for decades to make social commentaries and this low budget flick has something to say.

A probe from Jupiter's moon Europa brings aliens to Earth. A section of Mexico right below the U.S. border has been ruled an infected zone where the aliens reside. Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy, IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS) is an American photojournalist working in Mexico. He is given the task of escorting Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able, UNEARTHED), the daughter of the head of the magazine, back to the U.S. When they miss the ferry, they are left with the option of being stranded in Mexico for months or pay thousands of dollars to be escorted illegally across the infected zone.

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

One actor. One coffin. Director Rodrigo Cortes (THE CONTESTANT) and writer Chris Sparling (upcoming FALLING SLOWLY) have created an amazingly tense thriller with these simple elements. The camera never leaves star Ryan Reynolds and we never see anyone other than him. It starts and ends in the coffin. There is no escape for the audience.

Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver for a contractor in Iraq. His convoy was attacked and he was taken hostage. He awakes buried alive. His captors have supplied him with a cell phone. They call him and demand millions for his release. Conroy calls his wife, 911, the FBI, and his work. If you thought being put on hold was bad enough, try it when you're six feet under ground.

Blogs THAT EVENING SUN (2010) (***1/2)

Hal Holbrook's career stretches back to the 1950s. Prior to his Oscar nomination for his touching performance in INTO THE WILD, he was an Emmy winner and a stage veteran. With that Oscar nod, he has become in more demand for movies and that is good for us all. He is the heart and soul of Scott Teems feature film debut, an adaptation of William Gay's I HATE TO SEE THAT EVENING SUN GO DOWN. Old curmudgeons are not new to film, but Holbrook puts us into one's shoes.

Abner Meecham (Holbrook) is an aging Tennessee farmer who has moved into a nursing home after an aliment. It's not for him so he just up and goes home. When he arrives at his house, he finds a family has moved in. Turns out his lawyer son Paul (Walton Goggins, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) has sold the farm out from under him. Making matters worse is that he's sold it to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon, THE BLIND SIDE), a notorious ne'er do well from the town who Abner believes is trash. Choat lives there with his wife Ludie (Carrie Preston, TV's TRUE BLOOD) and teen daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT). Abner subsequently conducts a campaign of civil disobedience by moving into the slave quarters near the house.

Blogs LEAVES OF GRASS (2010) (***1/2)

Most film fans will know Tim Blake Nelson as an actor, particularly from the Coen Brothers' O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, THE GOOD GIRL or THE INCREDIBLE HULK. As a director he made the harrowing Holocaust film THE GREY ZONE and the teen rendition of OTHELLO, O. Now he combines the comedy of his acting roles to the smarts of his directing work. Few drug-themed comedies contain philosophical interludes about the nature of life and God and fewer yet are named after Walt Whitman poems. So you can expect something different going in.

Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) is a philosophy professor at Brown, who lecturers his students on the nature of randomness in life. The problem is that he doesn't practice what he preaches. He has everything planned out. But plans never work out the way they were planned… as we know. While he's wrapped up in a sex scandal with a student, he is called back to his home in Oklahoma with the news that his twin brother Brady (also Norton) has died. Bill hasn't been home in years.

Blogs MARS NEEDS MOMS (2011) (**1/2)

The real conflict in this film isn't between the humans and Martians, but between the cliché and the generally humorous and touching. Weak pop culture jokes are pitted against heartwarming scenes between mothers and sons. Action out of the action device handbook pulls down some good character development. It's a battle till the very end.

Blogs MARS NEEDS MOMS (2011) (**1/2)

The real conflict in this film isn't between the humans and Martians, but between the cliché and the generally humorous and touching. Weak pop culture jokes are pitted against heartwarming scenes between mothers and sons. Action out of the action device handbook pulls down some good character development. It's a battle till the very end.

Our players are as follows. Milo (Seth Green, AUSTIN POWERS) is the broccoli-hating hero who wishes that his Mom (Joan Cusack, WORKING GIRL) wasn't his mom after she bars him from watching his favorite zombie movie on TV as punishment for feeding the cat the aforementioned vegetable. As a result, the Martian Supervisor (Mindy Sterling, AUSTIN POWERS) rules her a perfect candidate to use as a brain donor for their Nanny Bots, the robots that raise all Martian female babies. The male Martians are too touchy feely so they are thrown into the garbage.

Blogs INSIDE JOB (2010) (****)

Charles Ferguson, a former senior fellow at The Brookings Institute, turned to documentary filmmaking with NO END IN SIGHT, one of the premiere films chronicling the terrible beginnings of the Iraq War. The same extensively researched and clearly executed approach he brought to that Oscar nominated film he brings to this Oscar winning film. Upon accepting his Oscar, he commented that it’s was wrong that no financial exec has gone to prison for the fraud that led to the economic meltdown and it’s hard to disagree with him after watching the film.

Ferguson begins with a prologue to the greater financial crisis by looking at Iceland. Since 2000, the nation’s government has deregulated, which has led to multinational corporations moving in for the country’s resources and the privatization of its three largest banks. It’s a microcosm of what extensive deregulation can do. Bank execs borrowed billions and started paying salaries and bonuses that mirrored Wall Street. Stock and house prices skyrocketed. But it was all built on a house of cards. In five years, the banks had borrowed 10 times Iceland’s economy. Meanwhile, rating agencies were rating Iceland AAA. When the banks went bust in 2008, unemployment tripled and many lost their savings.

Blogs THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) (***1/2)

Fate or chance, which rules our lives? Is there a higher power that is guiding our path or is everything just a series of random choices that lead us through our lives. Is it a combination of the two? The big moments are charted out, while we have the illusion of free will in the smaller choices. Is there some cosmic force that would stop us if we wandered off the path? These are some of the questions presented in this romantic fantasy thriller.

Blogs THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) (***1/2)

Fate or chance, which rules our lives? Is there a higher power that is guiding our path or is everything just a series of random choices that lead us through our lives. Is it a combination of the two? The big moments are charted out, while we have the illusion of free will in the smaller choices. Is there some cosmic force that would stop us if we wandered off the path? These are some of the questions presented in this romantic fantasy thriller.

David Norris (Matt Damon, GREEN ZONE) was the youngest man ever elected to the House of Representatives. He's a heavy favorite for the senate, but an immature prank tanks his campaign. In the hotel bathroom, working on his concession speech, he meets dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA), who is hiding out from security because she crashed a wedding at the hotel. They have an instant connection. He gets her number. They share a passionate kiss. But the men in hats are going to intervene.

Blogs RANGO (2011) (***)

I've been mulling over what to say about Gore Verbinski's first foray into feature animation. Like it's main character it has so many dual identities. Its photoreal animation is a truly original, while its script seems cobbled together from dozens of at right angle sources. The film has adult ideas that few American animated films ever have, but it seems lost at what audience it's really targeting. It's a Western. It's a comedy. It's an existential examination.

Blogs RANGO (2011) (***)

I've been mulling over what to say about Gore Verbinski's first foray into feature animation. Like it's main character it has so many dual identities. Its photoreal animation is a truly original, while its script seems cobbled together from dozens of at right angle sources. The film has adult ideas that few American animated films ever have, but it seems lost at what audience it's really targeting. It's a Western. It's a comedy. It's an existential examination.

A chameleon with no name, who sounds like Johnny Depp doing Don Knotts, is trying to find his muse in a Beckett-esque performance for himself in his terrarium. Then he hits a bump along the road, literally. His tank is thrust out of the back of his owner's car along a desert highway. A squished mystic armadillo called Roadkill (Alfred Molina, SPIDER-MAN 2) tells him to go out into the desert and that everyone needs to cross the road at some point.

Pages

randomness