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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs Blu-ray: 127 HOURS (2010)

Simply gorgeous. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is flawless. Shot digitally on multiple platforms, the detail is remarkable, which is so compelling in the scenes where James Franco's Aron Ralston is trapped in the canyon. The lines on his face, stubble and fabrics of his hat and shirt are impeccably nuanced. The color palette is rich from the deep red of Ralston's blood or the reddish-orange rock walls or the turquoise skies of Utah. Contrast is spot on and the blacks are inky.

Blogs Blu-ray: 127 HOURS (2010)

Read my review of 127 HOURS

Simply gorgeous. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is flawless. Shot digitally on multiple platforms, the detail is remarkable, which is so compelling in the scenes where James Franco's Aron Ralston is trapped in the canyon. The lines on his face, stubble and fabrics of his hat and shirt are impeccably nuanced. The color palette is rich from the deep red of Ralston's blood or the reddish-orange rock walls or the turquoise skies of Utah. Contrast is spot on and the blacks are inky.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track matches the quality of the picture. This is a film where the sound is nuanced, but it's handled extremely well. The rear speakers are used to create subtle atmosphere and wrap the viewer in the wonderful score and music. The LFE track rumbles when Ralston first crashes to the bottom of the canyon. The sound effects combined with the scoring are profoundly handled during the scene where Ralston cuts his arm off. Breaking bones and snapping nerves are what make the audience cringe more than the bloody visuals.

Blogs Winners of the 5th Annual RFP Overlooked Awards

The purpose of this article each year to recognize some of the best films and performances that were missed at the big awards. This year's crop of films is an eclectic mix of indies, foreign language films and documentaries. Many of these film flew under the radar and truly deserve reaching a wider audience.

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Winner: CATFISH
Whether Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's film isn't as non-fiction as some might like, is actually pointless to the final project. The story of the film follows photographer Nev Schulman as he develops an online relationship with Angelia Wesselman and her family. But things aren't as they seem. Whether the filmmakers knew what was up earlier than they let on is really pointless, because they saw a story and made it happen. The film on an emotional level deals with our online lives better than THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Social media has allowed us to be online stars in the comfort of our homes. Many times the anonymity allows us to be more like ourselves even when we're not being like ourselves at all. It's a remarkable and compelling film that says a lot about our modern cyber world.

Blogs Blu-ray: BAMBI (1942)

One of Walt Disney’s masterpieces has arrived on Blu-ray in a gorgeous MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer. The restoration has removed all damage that may have plagued the nearly 70 year old film. The picture literally looks like you are watching the planes moving past you in the multiplane camera. The various planes have never had such delineation in a home entertainment release. These restorations elicit a lot of debate on whether they look too good, because when the cels were filmed originally, the artists knew how they would look when put to film and compensated for that and made cheats knowing it. This particular presentation finds a nice balance between its film origins and high-def digital presentations of the source artwork. The only complaint I have is that black level seemed off at times. Otherwise, the picture is nearly flawless. The beautiful forest paintings pop with vibrant greens and browns. There isn’t a hint of any digital distortion or compression anywhere.

Blogs Blu-ray: BAMBI (1942)

Read my review of BAMBI

One of Walt Disney’s masterpieces has arrived on Blu-ray in a gorgeous MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer. The restoration has removed all damage that may have plagued the nearly 70 year old film. The picture literally looks like you are watching the planes moving past you in the multiplane camera. The various planes have never had such delineation in a home entertainment release. These restorations elicit a lot of debate on whether they look too good, because when the cels were filmed originally, the artists knew how they would look when put to film and compensated for that and made cheats knowing it. This particular presentation finds a nice balance between its film origins and high-def digital presentations of the source artwork. The only complaint I have is that black level seemed off at times. Otherwise, the picture is nearly flawless. The beautiful forest paintings pop with vibrant greens and browns. There isn’t a hint of any digital distortion or compression anywhere.

Blogs Blu-ray: GET LOW (2010)

Read my review of GET LOW

Sony's MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer of Aaron Schneider's folksy tale is about as good as it gets. The detail that is brought out in the picture, while retaining a film look is impressive. From the lines on faces to the depth of the woods everything pops in the crystal clear way that makes own sense depth in the frame. The range of color is captured naturally fitting the film's rustic tone. Blacks are inky and the few flashes of color really look brilliant.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is solid as well. The only real issue is sometimes the clarity of the dialogue is too quiet or bassy. But it was very fleeting. The balance between the music, sound effects and dialogue is nicely done. The film relies on its front speakers mainly, but outdoor scenes with the sounds of the woods and gunshots whizzing from front to back or left to right utilize the soundscape to create ambience.

Blogs GET LOW (2010) (***)

Every neighborhood has their own hermitic legend. As a kid we had Pappy Kratzer. Kids told tales of him firing shotguns off to scare away anyone who got too close to his house. He'd sit on his porch and ridicule kids as they went by about how things were different in his day. But I never knew Mr. Kratzer. Not even his first name. I wish I would have. I'm sure he had a story to tell.

The same can be said of the protagonist in Aaron Schneider's nostalgic drama. Felix Bush (Robert Duvall, THE ROAD) sports a long straggly gray beard and tattered clothes. He lives in a small cabin in the woods, where kids dare each other to pass the sign warning people not to come onto his land. He rarely comes into town and when he does it becomes all the chatter. The rumors say he killed a man once.

Blogs Blu-ray: KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952)

Read my review of KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL

This public domain title arrives in an AVC encoded 1080p edition from Film Chest. It was sourced from a good 35mm print. The restoration process has left the image clean of dirt and damage, while retaining a fairly consistent sharp picture. The black levels are like ink and contrast is balanced well.

The sound comes in Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 options. The non-lossless 5.1 track is not immersive, because the original sound design was in mono. The 2.0 soundtrack is much closer to the original. That said, the dialogue heavy film has all its elements balanced cleanly. The track source is pretty much free of pops or damage and the hiss is not overbearing. The only real noticeable problem would be the highs and lows don't have the perfect range.

Blogs KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952) (***1/2)

Phil Karlson made B-movies from the 1940s through the 1970s. He's probably best known for the Elvis Presley flick KID GALAHAD and 1973's original WALKING TALL. His 1955 THE PHENIX CITY STORY was like many moralizing message movies of the era, but distinguished itself with its unflinching realistic violence. KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, a wronged man tale, is credited as inspiring RESERVOIR DOGS.

Joe Rolfe (John Payne, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) was studying to be an engineer when a gambling debt got him a stint in the pen. Now he's driving a flower delivery truck to get his life on track. In a streak of bad luck, he gets set up as a patsy in a bank robbery. Without a job and 20 years hanging over his head, he sets out to locate the thieves and get his share anyway.

Blogs Blu-ray: THE STRANGER (1946)

Read my review of THE STRANGER

Film Chest has taken this Orson Welles public domain title and brought it to Blu-ray from a 35mm print. The result is mixed, but not bad. The restoration of the image is well done, ridding the image from virtually all damage and decay. However, the process has left the picture soft or washed out at times. Bright sunny outdoor scenes suffer the most. The high contrast suits the shadowy scenes best. Black are as dark as Welles' Nazi-in-hiding character. Details in close-ups during these dark scenes actually show remarkable detail.

There are two soundtracks — Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. The 5.1 track simply relegates Bronislaw Kaper's score to the back speakers. The 2.0 track represents the original sound design better anyway. Without access to source material, the print used is not the best one could hope for. Pops, cracks and synch issues plague the entire film. Additionally, the high and low range seems compressed.

Blogs I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) (**)

So if you're one of nine superpowered aliens from a destroyed world hiding out on Earth when the creatures that wiped out your kind are in hot pursuit, what do you do? If you're John Smith in this film, you stop to develop a roll of film with your Earthling girlfriend. You really can't make this stuff up.

Blogs I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) (**)

So if you're one of nine superpowered aliens from a destroyed world hiding out on Earth when the creatures that wiped out your kind are in hot pursuit, what do you do? If you're John Smith in this film, you stop to develop a roll of film with your Earthling girlfriend. You really can't make this stuff up.

John Smith is played by the up-and-coming hunk Alex Pettyfer (BEASTLY). He is an alien hiding out on Earth with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant, TV's JUSTIFIED), who poses as his father. The evil Mogadorians are hunting the nine superpowered aliens in numerical order. The numbering system is never explained. Number 3 has just been killed and John is Number 4.

After an exposure in their last home, John and Henri move to Paradise, Ohio, which John says should be renamed Ironic. I was surprised to learn that these characters know what irony is. Enrolling himself in high school, John quickly falls for the fledgling photographer Sarah (Dianna Agron, TV's GLEE). This angers her ex-boyfriend and school quarterback Mark (Jake Abel, THE LOVELY BONES). John also finds himself in between Mark and his whipping post Sam (Callan McAuliffe, FLIPPED), an outcast UFO buff.

Blogs THE LEARNING TREE (1969) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 12:26pm

Selected for the National Film Registry in 1989, this drama marked the film time an American-American was hired to direct a major studio production. Renaissance man Gordon Parks helmed the film, based on his screenplay adapted from his novel. It's harder to think of another film under such a singular authorship. The result is a complex coming-of-age tale that defies expectations and resonates with emotional truth.

The story throws us into a tornado. Black teenager Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson, PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW) is lost in the storm. He ends up half delirious in a shack where the prostitute Big Mabel (Carol Lamond, BLACK GIRL) "pops his cherry." In talking with his friends about it later, he doesn't seem to have wanted anything to do with it. He's a sensitive young man who develops a crush on the new girl in town Arcella Jefferson (Mira Waters, THE GREATEST). His family works for the town judge Cavanaugh (Russell Thorson, HANG 'EM HIGH), whose progressive attitudes have rubbed off on his son Chauncey (Zooey Hall, I DISMEMBER MAMA)... somewhat. The young man likes ruffling feathers more than righting social wrongs.

Blogs Blu-ray: UNSTOPPABLE (2010)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 4:34pm

This is one first rate Blu-ray. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p picture captures Tony Scott's unique visual style wonderfully. The deeply saturated colors just pop. The red of the runaway train. The blue of the "good" locomotive. The yellow of Will's jacket. The inky blacks that dominated the highly contrasted image. Details are rich in closeups where pores stand out to wide shots where the fall foliage is defined even when the camera is racing by. Grain levels are not consistent, but I chalked that up to the varying cameras used. To find anything like aliasing or shaky edge definition, one has to be looking for it.

Blogs Blu-ray: UNSTOPPABLE (2010)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 4:30pm

Read my review of UNSTOPPABLE

This is one first rate Blu-ray. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p picture captures Tony Scott's unique visual style wonderfully. The deeply saturated colors just pop. The red of the runaway train. The blue of the "good" locomotive. The yellow of Will's jacket. The inky blacks that dominated the highly contrasted image. Details are rich in closeups where pores stand out to wide shots where the fall foliage is defined even when the camera is racing by. Grain levels are not consistent, but I chalked that up to the varying cameras used. To find anything like aliasing or shaky edge definition, one has to be looking for it.

Blogs THE STRANGER (1946) (***1/2)

Following five years after his groundbreaking CITIZEN KANE, this thriller was Orson Welles only theatrical hit. He was inspired to make the film after seeing documentary footage of the liberation of the concentration camps. He believed reforms in post-War Germany were pointless, because the “putrefaction of the soul” that was Nazi ideology was just waiting to fuel another fire.

In the film, Welles plays Nazi-in-hiding Franz Kindler. The young architect of genocide has become a professor in America under the name of Prof. Charles Rankin. His cover is perfect; he’s about to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young, THE BISHOP’S WIFE), the daughter of Judge Adam Longstreet (Philip Merivale, NOTHING BUT TROUBLE). But he’s about to fall into a trap set by Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson, DOUBLE INDEMNITY), an officer of the United Nations War Crimes Commission. He has let free Kindler’s confident Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne, VERTIGO), who leads him right to Kindler.

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

The best compliment I can pay Tony Scott's film is that it's SPEED on a train. Once the runaway train starts rolling the suspense just keeps climbing to the very end. This is one of Scott's best films for its craftsmanship alone.

Trainer conductor Dewey (Ethan Suplee, MALLRATS) leaves his train thinking the breaks are on, but he was wrong. His expression as the train starts down the track without him tells it all. The nearly half mile long train is in full throttle racing away at over 70 miles per hour headed toward heavily populated areas. Its cargo is highly toxic.

Meanwhile, Frank (Denzel Washington, TRAINING DAY), a veteran engineer, is going about his day, breaking in a rookie conductor named Will (Chris Pine, STAR TREK). After a stop, Frank notices that Will miscounted the number of cars, so they're carrying extra weight. This becomes more than a minor goof when they discover they're on a head on collision course with the runaway.

Blogs Blu-ray: THELMA & LOUISE (1991)

Read my review of THELMA & LOUISE

MGM's 20th anniversary release of THELMA & LOUISE is simply gorgeous looking. Part of what makes Ridley Scott's outlaw classic so good is the rustic painterly cinematography. The deep color palette is captured wonderfully. I so clearly remember watching the film back in the day on VHS and thinking, "this film is too dark and murky looking." Even compared to the DVD, the picture quality is a big step up. Now we get to see in our homes what the filmmakers intended. The picture is rich with texture, balance and detail, while retaining its film quality. I'm not a die-hard "film" purist, but if all films shot on film where like this one I'd say digital has a long way to go. When it comes to digital compression problems, you have to be looking for them.

Blogs THELMA & LOUISE (1991) (****)

Twenty years after its release Ridley Scott's female crime tale has become a part of the pop culture. But upon its release some critics called it as morally bankrupt as Hollywood can get. The film was attacked for being too violent and man bashing. And yet the film emerged as a strong statement on female empowerment.

Thelma (Gina Davis, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST) is an Arkansas housewife and her best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING) is a waitress. They have planned a weekend getaway to the mountains. Louise is trying to put some distance between her and her boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen, KILL BILL) for a bit. Thelma doesn't even ask her husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald, QUIZ SHOW), because she knows the controlling jerk won't let her go anyway.

Blogs LET ME IN (2010) (***1/2)

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, on which this film is based, is one of the best vampire films ever made. Rarely do English language remakes live up to the original. CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves doesn't match the 2008 Swedish original film, but pays it do respect. The film has been Americanized for better and for worse. That said, outside of doing a shot for shot redux in English, I don't see how it could have been done any better than this.

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, THE ROAD) is a tween who is bullied at school by Kenny (Dylan Minette, TV's SAVING GRACE). Owen fantasies about getting even, but doesn't have the courage to fight back. On the jungle gym at his apartment complex one night, he meets the new girl, Abby (Chloe Moretz, KICK-ASS), who tells him straight out that she cannot be his friend. Over time though, she opens up to him and takes a great liking to the strange girl who doesn't wear shoes in the snow.

Blogs SANCTUM (2011) (**)

We are told right from the start that this is inspired by a true story. But we quickly discover that it's not inspired by true characters. It's not surprising that a survival film like this would be populated with stock characters, but there is nothing surprising about anything that happens with them. The filmmakers wanted to make an underwater cave story and that is the only part he gets right.

Blogs SANCTUM (2011) (**)

We are told right from the start that this is inspired by a true story. But we quickly discover that it's not inspired by true characters. It's not surprising that a survival film like this would be populated with stock characters, but there is nothing surprising about anything that happens with them. The filmmakers wanted to make an underwater cave story and that is the only part he gets right.

Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh, MOULIN ROUGE!) is the best cave explorer in the world. He's a cold, no-nonsense taskmaster. His son Josh (Rhys Wakefield, TV's HOME AND AWAY) hates him for it and slacks off on his responsibilities at the latest expedition into a massive cave system that stretches miles into the Earth. The billionaire funder/adventurer Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd, FANTASTIC FOUR) arrives to check out the latest discoveries. He has brought his new girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE), who he met on a climb of Everest. While down in the cave, a freak storm hits and quickly begins to flood the caverns. The crew must follow the water down and hopefully discover its exit to the sea in order to survive.

Blogs SOLITARY MAN (2010) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 11:23am

Michael Douglas has made a career of playing morally reprehensible men. In 2010, he played two. Here and in the WALL STREET sequel, he plays a powerful man who has fallen from great heights and is trying to claw his way back to the top. The main difference is that Ben Kalmen is no Gordon Gekko. Kalmen is his own worst enemy.

Kalmen owned one of the most successful car dealerships in the North East. In his ads, he billed himself as the honest dealer. Turns out he was a crook. Now clear of his legal problems, he is trying to rebuild his reputation. He's finding it impossible to gain another franchise license, because the car manufacturers don't want to be in business with someone who screwed them royally in public.

Blogs Blu-ray: NEVER LET ME GO (2010)

Director Mark Romanek's haunting aesthetic and Adam Kimmel's gorgeous cinematography is masterfully brought to Blu-ray. The muted color palette is brought forth in a crisp image that finds a right balance between film grain and bold detail. The greens of the Hailsham Boarding School yard are deep, while keeping inline with natural look of the entire film. There is some noise in low-lit scenes, notably an early one where Carey Mulligan stands in an observation room at a hospital, but these moments are fleeting.

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