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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

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

There have been many documentary films made about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. None of them put the viewer into the war from such a first-hand perspective as this one. American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington embedded themselves with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team for an entire 15-month deployment. They went on missions with the soldiers in the Korengal valley, which was called the deadliest place on Earth.

The film's title comes from PFC Juan S. Restrepo, a Colombian-born naturalized American soldier who was killed early in the deployment. One of the goals of the deployment was to build an advanced outpost, which the soldiers named OP Restrepo. For a year and a quarter, these soldiers are under fire on a daily basis. They're official mission is to clear the area of insurgents and build relationships with the locals. But it's clear that the individual soldiers have a different mission — do their job and get out alive.

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

This Oscar-nominated foreign language film from Greece is a tale of home schooling to the extreme. I felt like I was watching a Todd Solondz film crossed with Lars von Trier. I'm surprised that the Academy recognized something so odd and uncompromising. When it's all said and done, you know one thing for sure — you've never seen anything quite like it before.

With the existential touch, none of the central family is given names. A father (Christos Stergioglou, HARD GOODBYES: MY FATHER) and mother (Michele Valley, ALEXANDRIA) live in complete isolation from the outside world with their three grown children. The father leaves their house, which is cordoned off by a tall wall, in his car to go to work at his manufacturing business each day. He brings home a female security guard named Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) to fulfill the sexual needs of his son (Hristos Passalis, BLACK FIELD). The systematic way they go about it is like he's doing a chore. I guess that's why he has the most stickers on his headboard, rewards from father for a job well done. The older sister (Aggeliki Papoulia, ALEXANDRIA) is the most rebellious of the three and is violently reprimanded for it. The younger sister (Mary Tsoni, EVIL) follows her older siblings lead and comes up with new games for passing the time, like putting their fingers under the hot tap and the last one to pull away wins.

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

Read my review of NEVER LET ME GO.

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.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is respectful for the quiet film. Good for a dialogue oriented production, the voices are clear throughout. Volume of the dialogue, music and sound effects is mixed well. The soundscape however relies on the front speaker predominantly.

Blogs NOWHERE BOY (2010) (***1/2)

Director Sam Taylor-Wood isn’t afraid to tackle an iconic tale for her first feature film. Working from Matt Greenhalgh’s adaptation of Julia Baird’s memoir, the film tells the originals of The Beatles. For many fans it would sacrilegious to mess up this story. Taylor-Wood takes a classical straight-forward biopic approach, which benefits from a great cast, which includes a standout performance from KICK-ASS’ Aaron Johnson as John Lennon.

Baird was John’s sister, so the story is told from his point of view. As a young boy he went to live with his aunt and uncle. Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, THE ENGLISH PATIENT) was the straight-upper-lipped task master, while his uncle George (David Threlfall, HOT FUZZ) was a jokester and a drinker. When his beloved uncle died, John was heartbroken and sought out his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS), who had remarried and had two daughters.

Blogs Blu-ray: SECRETARIAT (2010)

Disney's transfer of their latest inspirational sports movie isn't an inspiration, but nowhere near a loser either. The 1080p Blu-ray has a running issue with softness and noise. In darker lit scenes, the picture ranges from muddy to fuzzy. These same scenes don't have the same lush color palette as the rest of the disc. But like its namesake, the disc excels where it needs to -- the race scenes are gorgeous. Details are crisp and the colors are luscious. Even the lower grade cameras used for the horse mounted shots look great.

Blogs SECRETARIAT (2010) (***)

It's hard to not think of the Oscar-nominated SEABISCUIT when thinking about this film. The comparison doesn't help this film about the 1970s Triple Crown winner. It has less ambition than the film about the Depression era underdog. But it does fit nicely into the canon of Disney's inspirational sports films.

Blogs Blu-ray: SECRETARIAT (2010)

Read my review of SECRETARIAT.

Disney's transfer of their latest inspirational sports movie isn't an inspiration, but nowhere near a loser either. The 1080p Blu-ray has a running issue with softness and noise. In darker lit scenes, the picture ranges from muddy to fuzzy. These same scenes don't have the same lush color palette as the rest of the disc. But like its namesake, the disc excels where it needs to -- the race scenes are gorgeous. Details are crisp and the colors are luscious. Even the lower grade cameras used for the horse mounted shots look great.

The disc really makes good its potential with its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The sounds of the horses racing washes over the soundscape and puts the viewer in the race. The LFE track is used so effectively in this instance to create a real sense of the power of these animals. Likewise, ambiance is nicely done in crowd scenes, putting us in the middle of the enthusiastic fans. Directionality is quite immersive. Voices and sound effects come from the speakers as if we are sitting in the camera's seat.

Blogs SECRETARIAT (2010) (***)

It's hard to not think of the Oscar-nominated SEABISCUIT when thinking about this film. The comparison doesn't help this film about the 1970s Triple Crown winner. It has less ambition than the film about the Depression era underdog. But it does fit nicely into the canon of Disney's inspirational sports films.

Penny Chenery (Diane Lane, THE PERFECT STORM) was a housewife before inheriting the  horse farm of her father Chris (Scott Glenn, THE RIGHT STUFF). She was determined to honor her dad's legacy by racing their latest filly to the Triple Crown. Going against the wishes of her husband Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh, TV's NIP/TUCK) and brother Hollis (Dylan Baker, HAPPINESS), she risked everything on Secretariat, a horse that critics didn't think had the stamina to win the longer races.

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

I'm new to the work of Johnnie To, the prolific Chinese action director, who made ELECTION, EXILED and RUNNING OUT OF TIME. This film played at Cannes when Quentin Tarantino was on the jury. He's of course a huge fan. It's a conventional thriller that does things in unconventional ways. We've seen lots of films where father goes out to avenge an attack on his daughter, but not like this one.

Johnny Hallyday, known as the French Elvis who starred as an aging hitman in Patrice Leconte's wonderful MAN ON A TRAIN, is Costello, the avenging father, who travels from France to China after his daughter Irene (Sylvie Testud, LA VIE EN ROSE) was mortally wounded and her husband and sons killed by gunmen that stormed their home. Serendipitously, he stumbles upon hired killers Kwai (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, INFERNAL AFFAIRS), Chu (Ka Tung Lam, ELECTION) and Fat Lok (Suet Lam, KUNG FU HUSTLE) and enlists them to hunt down those responsible. All signs point to crime boss George Fung (Simon Yam, IP MAN). Unfortunately, Fung is the trio of killers' sometime boss and Costello is losing his memory.

Blogs Blu-ray: ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

Read my review of ANIMAL KINGDOM.

This Australian crime drama gets a wonderful true-to-the-source transfer to 1080p. The gritty 35mm look is presented with film grain in tact, but not so much that the image loses detail. The color palette is subdued, which is fitting for the dark underworld tale. The colors are natural, which helps sell the believability of the world. Blacks are especially given deep character on the screen. There were some fleeting moments of film scratches but that was all I saw.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is used as best as it can for the limited soundscape. The dialog heavy film features clear voices. For music and sound effects, the soundscape is weighted toward the front. The only stand out is the LFE track during some key violent moments where shotgun blast boom, making an impression on the viewer.

Blogs ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010) (***1/2)

This best of 2010 reminded of another one of the best films of 2010 -- WINTER'S BONE. Both films are crime dramas set in working class families. Teens are at the center of both tales, living in worlds of violence that they cannot escape from. They have to learn to cope and maneuver through it. There is no one they can trust, so they're on their own.

Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville) is 17 and his mother has an overdose. Now he has to go live with her family in Melbourne; the family she left behind for his sake. His grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK) is the sweet matriarch of a family of criminals. J describes his uncle Andrew, aka Pope, (Ben Mendelsohn, THE NEW WORLD) as the one he is most scared of, and rightfully so. He has an intense, intimidating stare and a knack for getting people to do things they don't really want to do. Pope is the leader of a robbery gang with his best friend Barry "Baz" Brown (Joel Edgerton, THE SQUARE). When the levelheaded and kind Baz wants out, Pope becomes lost and begins to spiral out of control.

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

The plot is simple. A pimp hunts down a serial killer who has been murdering his girls. What first-time director Hong-jin Na creates out of this premise is an edge of your seat thriller that is always one step ahead of our expectations. It made be think about how painfully conventional most thrillers really are.

Joong-ho Eom (Yun-seok Kim, RUNNING WILD) is a former cop who has went into the more lucrative pimp game. However, he's still drowning in debt and his girls are disappearing on him, believing a client is kidnapping them and selling them as sex slaves. He gets a call from a client and sends out Mi-jin Kim (Yeong-hie Seo, BEDEVILLED), who is sick and must leave her young daughter Eun-ji (Yoo-jeong Kim) at home alone. Joong-ho starts looking into this client and discovers he was the last person to call for the missing girls. He starts to fear that he has sent out Mi-jin to meet the serial killer Young-min Jee (Jung-woo Ha, TIME).

Blogs THE GREEN HORNET (2011) (***)

One of the reasons why recent superhero flicks have succeeded where BATMAN & ROBIN failed is because they played the material straight and avoided too many post-modern flashes. Now we get a new superhero adaptation that attempts to find the balance between post-modern and a straight superhero story. Diehard Green Hornet purists might find the film too juvenile, but the character seems the right one for this kind of treatment.

Blogs THE GREEN HORNET (2011) (***)

One of the reasons why recent superhero flicks have succeeded where BATMAN & ROBIN failed is because they played the material straight and avoided too many post-modern flashes. Now we get a new superhero adaptation that attempts to find the balance between post-modern and a straight superhero story. Diehard Green Hornet purists might find the film too juvenile, but the character seems the right one for this kind of treatment.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen, FUNNY PEOPLE) is a party boy, living off the millions of his father James (Tom Wilkinson, MICHAEL CLAYTON), the owner and editor-in-chief of The Daily Sentinel. Their relationship isn't warm; James has always been very hard on his son. But when James suddenly dies, Britt inherits the paper. He meets his father's mechanic Kato (Jay Chou, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER), a brilliant inventor and martial arts master. He agrees with Britt that his father was a jerk, so they go out to steal the head off James' statue and in the process thwart a mugging. This spurs Britt to decide they need to become superheroes, but make everyone believe their criminals in order to keep the bad guys guessing.

Blogs EASY A (2010) (***1/2)

This high school comedy was inspired by THE SCARLET LETTER. It's certainly not surprising to see a classic being adapted for modern teens. What is surprising is that it took this long for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic to be given this kind of teen treatment. The best surprise is how funny and smartly it was done.

Olive (Emma Stone, SUPERBAD) tells an innocent lie, which gets her in a great deal of indecent trouble. She wants to avoid a weekend away with her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka, TV's PHIL OF THE FUTURE) and her crazy hippie parents, so she tells her that she has a date with a college guy. When Rhiannon asks her about the date on Monday, she ends up getting trapped into admitting that she lost her virginity to cover up her weekend in her room singing greeting card songs. As these things go, the news travels fast and Olive develops a new reputation quick.

Blogs I AM LOVE (2010) (***1/2)

This tragic tale of an elite family doesn't blaze new dramatic territory that similar films like THE LEOPARD have done before. But the quiet direction of Luca Guadagnino and subtle performance of Tilda Swinton make many moments truly special. Unexpected moments take on the intensity of a Hitchcock thriller and when you think that sex scenes have become rote, this film makes them erotic again.

Emma (Swinton, MICHAEL CLAYTON) is the Russian bride of Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), the next in line to take over the Recchi family textile business. At his birthday party, patriarch Edoardo Recchi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti, L'AVVENTURA) reveals that he is stepping down and putting not only Tancredi in charge, but also his grandson Edoardo Jr. (Flavio Parenti). The ill, old man knows that his grandson has respect for tradition and that Tancredi plans to simply cash in and sell the company.

Blogs Getting Buzzed - RFP’s 15 Most Anticipated Winter/Spring Films

Well the new year is here and it's time to start getting excited for what 2011 will have in store for us movie-wise. As always, we have to endure the winter dumping ground and the summer sequel parade for the serious fall films. This spring already has some intriguing films for us. Here's hoping that this is better than the last.

Honorable Mentions (Some are just curiosities at best)
THE GREEN HORNET (Jan. 14), BARNEY'S VERSION (Jan. 14), THE COMPANY MEN (Jan. 21), THE RITE (Jan. 28), THE MECHANIC (Jan. 28), SANCTUM (Feb. 4), FRANKIE & ALICE (Feb. 4), THE EAGLE (Feb. 11), GNOMEO AND JULIET (Feb. 11), I AM NUMBER FOUR (Feb. 18), OF GODS AND MEN (Feb. 25), APOLLO 18 (March 4), BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (March 11), MARS NEEDS MOMS (March 11), RED RIDING HOOD (March 11), LIMITLESS (March 18), THE LINCOLN LAWYER (March 18), HOP (Apr. 1), INSIDIOUS (Apr. 1) and ARTHUR (Apr. 8).

Blogs Rick's Top 25 Films of 2010 (As It Stands on January 1, 2011)

In 2010, were docs real or just a street artist prank? Did catfish swim in fiction or was it honest and frank? Audiences friended the Facebook flick and Lisbeth Salander was one badass… I shouldn’t call her that. An Arab teen ruled the thugs and the Pat Tillman debacle got swept under the rug. Dream thieves blew our minds and a poor teen was stuck in a cold bind. A mother fought to save her son from jail and clones lived in a world that’s pale.

Sadly, 2010 was not a stellar year for films. Over the past few years, I’ve been awarding four stars at least 20 films. This year only 13 films received a four star rating. Many years I have to make tough choices on what stays on the top 25 and what falls off. This year it wasn’t too difficult. As every year there were a bunch of films that I wish I could have seen in the year. Some like LET ME IN, INSIDE JOB and CARLOS I really wish I could have seen. Here’s a list of some others.

Blogs ANOTHER YEAR (2010) (***1/2)

The title of this film can either be positive or negative depending on the character you're seeing the film through. For the couple who hosts the get-togethers the film revolves around another year represents another year of joy and landmark events to add to their memories. For their single middle-aged friends another year is JUST another year.

Tom (Jim Broadbent, MOULIN ROUGE) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen, ALL OR NOTHING) have been happily married for decades. They tend a small community garden together and throw little get-togethers with their friends and family. Mary (Lesley Manville, SECRETS & LIES) is Gerri's friend from work; a desperately single woman who drinks to forget. Her life is a mess. Ken (Peter Wight, BABEL) is Tom's friend from his youth; a desperately single man who drinks to forget. His mess of a life makes Mary's life look stable. He's the kind of good hearted guy who could make a woman very happy, but can never get his foot in the door because he's fat, drunk and a slob.

Blogs MOTHER (2010) (****)

Director Joon-ho Bong first came to my attention, as well as to most U.S. viewers, for his eco-statement monster movie THE HOST. In certain circles it was highly praised, I found it muddled and pointlessly depressing, especially when dealing with questionable parenting. Now he deals with parenting, both questionable and dedicated, in this film, a remarkable thriller that never fails to keep surprising us up until the end.

A mother (Hye-ja Kim, LATE AUTUMN), known as nothing more than that, is very protective of her mentally challenged 20-something son Do-joon (Bin Won, TAE GUK GI: BROTHERHOOD OF WAR). Early on he gets clipped by a car because he was standing in the street. Along with his bad influence friend Jin-tae (Ku Jin, A BITTERSWEET LIFE), they head out to seek revenge. This incident leads to Do-joon being arrested, interrogated and confessing to the murder of a teenage girl.

Blogs TRUE GRIT (2010) (***1/2)

For a Coen Brothers film, this Western is pretty straight forward. A young girl’s father is murdered. She seeks revenge. Her determination is undaunted. And yet this is a Coen Brothers’ film. The siblings love of language and dark humor color this compelling character study.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld, TV’s SUMMER CAMP) was 14 when her father was gunned down by his worker Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). She goes to settle her father’s affairs, which includes hiring a U.S. marshal to hunt down his killer. She wants to enlist Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, THE BIG LEBOWSKI), because he is the most ruthless. But Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, THE INFORMANT!) has been tracking Chaney for killing a Texas state senator. Neither of the two men is interested in taking a young girl out to hunt down Chaney, who has taken up with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA) and his gang.

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

This animated feature from Sylvain Chomet, the director of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, is an unsettling experience. To understand why I say this there is some background that must be known. It is based on an unfilmed script from famed comedian Jacques Tati animated in the French icon’s style. When I think of Tati, I think of the charming Mr. Hulot, a hapless Buster Keaton-like everyman. I think of sly humor in a light comedy. The sly humor is there, but there is nothing light about it.

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

This animated feature from Sylvain Chomet, the director of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, is an unsettling experience. To understand why I say this there is some background that must be known. It is based on an unfilmed script from famed comedian Jacques Tati animated in the French icon’s style. When I think of Tati, I think of the charming Mr. Hulot, a hapless Buster Keaton-like everyman. I think of sly humor in a light comedy. The sly humor is there, but there is nothing light about it.

Known to us only as The Illusionist (Jean-Claude Donda, THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE), the main character is a vaudeville magician trying to continue performing his art well into the 1960s. Rock ‘n roll has replaced his kind of entertainment in the minds of the people. He gets a gig at a bar in a way off village where he meets the young maid Alice (Eilidh Rankin), who is captivated with his magic. He sees that the poor girl’s shoes are much worn, so he kindly buys her a new pair. When he leaves, she follows him back to Edinburgh. So what is this man supposed to do with this girl?

Blogs EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (2010) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 11:59am

The best way of looking at this documentary is to look at this credit — A Banksy film. So what does that imply? Street art for one. Provocative cultural commentary. A rebellious spirit. This film is all of those and possibly more. It is a work of art in and of itself.

The best way to start is to look at the story on the surface level. Thierry Guetta is a French transplant to L.A. where he made his money selling vintage clothes to hipsters. He was obsessed with his videocamera and recorded everything. Upon visiting France, he began recording his cousin, a street artist known as Space Invader, who pasted mosaics of SPACE INVADERS characters all over the city. Thierry formed a new obsession with street art and began making friends with the cutting edge artists in the field through his cousin. He began following Shepard Fairey, who is famous for the Andre the Giant/ Obey stencils that lined the streets of L.A. and then the iconic red, white and blue campaign image for Barack Obama. By following these artists, we get a great sense of the art form and how repetition and volume create importance in addition to the strategic placement of the art, which takes on meaning in context with its placement.

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