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Blogs TRON: LEGACY (2010) (**1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 4:13pm

It has been nearly thirty years since the original TRON made waves with its then groundbreaking visual effects. Visual effects have caught up with the visionary ideas of the digital world of the original, making the sequel a visual treat. Unfortunately, the story is less compelling.

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) idolized his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges, THE BIG LEBOWSKI), a brilliant computer programming who dreamed of creating a perfect world inside the computer. He called this world The Grid and promised to show it to Sam one day, but then he disappeared. Sam has grown despising what ENCOM, the company his father ran. Each year he plays a prank on the company to get under their skin. Then his father's old partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, TV's BABYLON 5) comes to him with news that he's received a page from his father's old office. When Sam goes to investigate, he stumbles across his father's work and inadvertently gets transported into The Grid.

Blogs THE KING'S SPEECH (2010) (***1/2)

Albert was not born with a stammer, but developed one around four or five. He was born a prince. The former creates a great problem for the latter when public speaking is key to the job he was born to do. Making matters worse, he was prince during the boom of wireless radio and disturbing times with an older brother that had little interest in being king. He would become King George VI.

Blogs THE KING'S SPEECH (2010) (***1/2)

Albert was not born with a stammer, but developed one around four or five. He was born a prince. The former creates a great problem for the latter when public speaking is key to the job he was born to do. Making matters worse, he was prince during the boom of wireless radio and disturbing times with an older brother that had little interest in being king. He would become King George VI.

Colin Firth plays Albert, or Bertie as his family knew him. Inside Bertie was very capable of being a great king, but the stutter made him sound like a fool. His father King George V (Michael Gambon, HARRY POTTER) lorded over him with an iron fist and had no time for his "problems." His brother Edward (Guy Pearce, MEMENTO) was a globetrotting party boy right up until the moment his father died. He was not capable of being a great king. He wanted what he wanted and gave up the crown to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best, TV's NURSE BETTY). Now Bertie wasn't just a stammering prince, but a stammering king, the only king to ever take the throne with the previous king still alive and well. This kind of pressure didn't help his stutter.

Blogs GOING THE DISTANCE (2010) (**1/2)

This is a romantic comedy in search of comedy. So many of its romantic and dramatic pieces work well, but they are at odds with the humor. An R-rated comedy doesn’t have to be a raunchy comedy. When WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… talked about orgasms it was funny because it was the characters sparing with each other. Here talk of dry humping seems solely based on the term dry humping making the crew giggle.

Erin (Drew Barrymore, WHIP IT) is summer interning at a newspaper in New York City. She is finishing up her graduate degree at Sanford after having taken off some time to follow a boy. In NYC, she meets Garrett (Justin Long, DRAG ME TO HELL), a low-level record company employee. They hit it off over the six weeks Erin has left on her internship and try to keep up a long distance relationship, but this is much more difficult than they imagined it to be.

Blogs Blu-ray: GOING THE DISTANCE (2010)

Read my review of GOING THE DISTANCE.

It's a rom-com, so one knows going in that the visuals and sound aren't going to explode your home entertainment system. Warner Bros.' 1080p transfer is fairly true to its source. Digital problems are absent. The color palette is natural in the way a documentary looks, so nothing really pops. Some scenes actually look like they were filmed using a different camera from others. As for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, it’s weighted to the front speakers. The soundscape is moderately immersive giving some ambiance during bars scenes, etc. The dialogue and music are clear.

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

I've read a lot of reviews of Rob Reiner's latest family film calling it nostalgic sap. Have we become so cynical that we have forgotten what it was like to be a kid developing a first crush? Can we only look at a coming of age story through the prism of our adult disappointments? I'd like to hear what a junior high kid thinks of this film. I bet they'd say they could relate.

Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe, upcoming I AM NUMBER FOUR) moved across the street from Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll, SWING VOTE) when he was in the second grade. She developed an instant attraction to him, while he an instant revulsion. I mean she likes to smell him; she's kind of weird. But that's only his point of view. Juli has hers, as well, and the film gives us both with each character narrating their own take on events.

Blogs THE FIGHTER (2010) (****)

Of all the sports to grace the screen, boxing has easily inspired the greatest films. Now director David O. Russell has added another to the ranks of RAGING BULL, ROCKY and MILLION DOLLAR BABY. But like all of those films, the reason this film is great is not because it’s a boxing movie. This is a story of family and how for some they can either help them raise their arms in victory or punch them below the belt.

Blogs THE FIGHTER (2010) (****)

Of all the sports to grace the screen, boxing has easily inspired the greatest films. Now director David O. Russell has added another to the ranks of RAGING BULL, ROCKY and MILLION DOLLAR BABY. But like all of those films, the reason this film is great is not because it’s a boxing movie. This is a story of family and how for some they can either help them raise their arms in victory or punch them below the belt.

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED) has been a promising boxer for years, but always staying at the promising level. Some have started to believe he’s simply a stepping stone for other boxers to fight in order to move up the ranks. He learned everything he knows about boxing from his older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale, THE MACHINIST), who at one time knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Now he’s an unpredictable crack addict. Micky’s career has always been a family affair. His mother Alice (Melissa Leo, FROZEN RIVER) is his manager, but Micky begins to wonder if they have his best interests in mind after they put him up against a boxer 20 pounds heavier.

Blogs THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (2010) (***)

In the most overtly allegorical of C.S. Lewis' NARNIA series, the heroes battle the demons inside rather than white witches or evil kings. While director Michael Apted never mentions any one religion, the Christian undertones of this installment are more apparent than any of the other films. Vanity, jealousy, greed and pride are the villains here.

Blogs THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (2010) (***)

In the most overtly allegorical of C.S. Lewis' NARNIA series, the heroes battle the demons inside rather than white witches or evil kings. While director Michael Apted never mentions any one religion, the Christian undertones of this installment are more apparent than any of the other films. Vanity, jealousy, greed and pride are the villains here.

Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) dream of returning to Narnia where they were a queen and king. In England, they are stuck as simple teens living with their aunt and uncle during World War II. Instead of battling mythical creatures, they're stuck fighting with their stuffy cousin Eustace (Will Poulter, SON OF RAMBOW). Then one day a painting in their room comes to life and transports them back to Narnia and onto the sailing vessel of King Caspian (Ben Barnes). At first they are unsure why they have been called back, but soon learn of the evil pull of Dark Island, which has been trapping people in its seductive green mist.

Blogs DESTINO (2003) (***1/2)

Sensual is not a word often thought of when one thinks of a Disney animated film. But this Disney short flows with it. But this isn't just any Disney short, it originated as a collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. A seemingly unlikely pair of artists to work together. Disney wanted to experiment with the animation form and Dali saw animation as a perfect way to explore surrealism on film. The project started in the 1940s with Dali drawing dozens of images, but the film never came to be. Following the production of FANTASIA/2000, Roy E. Disney championed its completion using original storyboards and journals.

Blogs DESTINO (2003) (***1/2)

Sensual is not a word often thought of when one thinks of a Disney animated film. But this Disney short flows with it. But this isn't just any Disney short, it originated as a collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. A seemingly unlikely pair of artists to work together. Disney wanted to experiment with the animation form and Dali saw animation as a perfect way to explore surrealism on film. The project started in the 1940s with Dali drawing dozens of images, but the film never came to be. Following the production of FANTASIA/2000, Roy E. Disney championed its completion using original storyboards and journals.

Like a Dali painting, the film is a dance through an absurd dreamscape. The film begins with a beautiful naked woman walking across the desert. Naked woman in a Disney film?! Gasp! Trust me, the real naughty bits are unseen. The images are driven by an original 1940s recording from Mexican composer Armando Dominguez and singer Dora Luz, which gives the blend of 2D and CG animation another level of surrealism. The animation style does so as well. The strobe-like movement of the woman is like watching flashes from a dream.

Blogs FANTASIA/2000 (2000) (***1/2)

While in many ways FANTASIA/2000 tries to catch lightning in a bottle and doesn't catch a full bolt, but it does catch a great deal of sparks. The film works as an homage to the 1940 masterpiece rather than a companion. Many of the sequences seem to be a reflection of one from the original. While it doesn't feel as revolutionary as FANTASIA, the follow-up touches on the same animation magic.

Blogs FANTASIA/2000 (2000) (***1/2)

While in many ways FANTASIA/2000 tries to catch lightning in a bottle and doesn't catch a full bolt, but it does catch a great deal of sparks. The film works as an homage to the 1940 masterpiece rather than a companion. Many of the sequences seem to be a reflection of one from the original. While it doesn't feel as revolutionary as FANTASIA, the follow-up touches on the same animation magic.

Like the original, this film begins with an abstract piece; this time set to Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5 in C minor-I. Allegro con brio." Shapes similar to butterflies and bats represent the battle between light and dark or good versus evil. The lofty themes are presented in a complexly animated way.

Blogs Blu-ray: FANTASIA (1940) and FANTASIA/2000 (2000)

For any film fan this release needs to be on your holiday wish list. Visually, both films are presented flawlessly in 1080p. In FANTASIA, the live-action sequences have never looks so rich. The silhouetted musicians are more dynamic because the blacks are so deep. As for the animated sequences, they look marvelous. There isn’t a hint of dirt or dust to be found. And unlike some restorations of Disney animated films, the cel painted frames retain their handmade quality. The landmark visual effects particularly stood out to me. The glow of the fairies in the “Nutcracker Suite” section felt more luminous than in previous presentations. The colors are rich and the true achievement of the film’s artistry has never been so crystal clear in a home entertainment release. The only slight issue is some color bleeding in the live-action sequences, but I’d argue that was from the negative.

Blogs Blu-ray: FANTASIA (1940) and FANTASIA/2000 (2000)

Read my review of FANTASIA.

For any film fan this release needs to be on your holiday wish list. Visually, both films are presented flawlessly in 1080p. In FANTASIA, the live-action sequences have never looks so rich. The silhouetted musicians are more dynamic because the blacks are so deep. As for the animated sequences, they look marvelous. There isn’t a hint of dirt or dust to be found. And unlike some restorations of Disney animated films, the cel painted frames retain their handmade quality. The landmark visual effects particularly stood out to me. The glow of the fairies in the “Nutcracker Suite” section felt more luminous than in previous presentations. The colors are rich and the true achievement of the film’s artistry has never been so crystal clear in a home entertainment release. The only slight issue is some color bleeding in the live-action sequences, but I’d argue that was from the negative.

Blogs BLACK SWAN (2010) (***1/2)

Darren Aronofsky has made a darker version of THE RED SHOES. From a screenplay by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin, he takes the basic premise of the famed ballet Swan Lake and brings it to this psychological thriller. In trying to become the White Swan, a ballerina becomes the Black Swan.

Blogs BLACK SWAN (2010) (***1/2)

Darren Aronofsky has made a darker version of THE RED SHOES. From a screenplay by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin, he takes the basic premise of the famed ballet Swan Lake and brings it to this psychological thriller. In trying to become the White Swan, a ballerina becomes the Black Swan.

That ballerina is Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman, CLOSER), a naive and insecure dancer who dances with perfection, but lacks that passionate spark. Her company's impresario Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, READ MY LIPS) is casting a new version of Swan Lake and is looking to replace the aging prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS). Nina desperately wants the role, but Thomas doesn't think she has what it takes to play the sensual side of the Black Swan. Could that be the new tattooed tough girl Lily (Mila Kunis, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL)?

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

I heard Akira Kurasawa attributed as saying that he spent his entire career remaking the same movie in different ways. Noah Baumbach seems on the way to doing the same thing. Starting with THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and continuing in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, he seems drawn to neurotic intellectuals, who are trapped by their own high opinion of themselves. In his first film, we related to the push and pull of the children of the neurotic intellectuals. MARGOT was more difficult to love because the characters were too neurotic for use to care about. This film seems to be a reevaluation of the same themes of MARGOT, but gives us likable characters to experience it all through.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller, ZERO EFFECT) is the neurotic de jour for Baumbach's third film. He's recently had a nervous breakdown and has been invited to stay at his brother's home in Los Angeles while he and his family are away on an extended vacation. Unable to really take care of himself, his brother's assistant Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) helps him out. They end up striking up an affair despite a large age difference and the fact that Roger is a pretentious prick.

Blogs TANGLED (2010) (***)

Disney's 50th animated feature has a bit of everything that one might think of when one thinks of a Disney animated film. For the classic touch, there is a princess rescued by a dashing male hero, a wicked mother, animal sidekicks, musical numbers and magic. For the modern touch, there are irreverent splashes and gags galore. The former parts work much better than latter and in the end traditional storytelling wins the day.

Blogs TANGLED (2010) (***)

Disney's 50th animated feature has a bit of everything that one might think of when one thinks of a Disney animated film. For the classic touch, there is a princess rescued by a dashing male hero, a wicked mother, animal sidekicks, musical numbers and magic. For the modern touch, there are irreverent splashes and gags galore. The former parts work much better than latter and in the end traditional storytelling wins the day.

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore, SAVED!) was saved from death as a child by a magic flower that gave her hair magical healing properties. Gothel (Donna Murphy, SPIDER-MAN 2) had been using said flower for years to turn back the effects of time, so she decides to kidnap the baby princess and raise her as her own, keeping her locked away in a tower in the forest. The devious woman tells the girl that the world is evil and that she is safer hidden away. But the now 18 year old girl wants to venture out and see firsthand the lanterns that happen to rise in the distance on her birthday.

Blogs THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE (2010) (***)

When so many movies are about nothing, TREKKIES director Roger Nygard makes a film about the biggest questions. Why are we here? Does God exist? What is our purpose in life? He travels the world and asks these questions of people of all walks of life. With a light, but respectful touch, he creates a charming film that answers all those questions and doesn't answer any of them at the same time.

He gives equal time for both the religious and scientific point of view and all that lies in between. Some of the big names interviewed include Indian holy man Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, renowned evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, Islamic scholar Dr. Zakir Naik, 24th generation Taoist Master Zhang Chengda, co-discoverer of string theory Leonard Susskind, Mormon novelist Orson Scott Card, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK director Irvin Kershner, comedian Julia Sweeney and Carl Sagan's widow Ann Druyan.

Blogs HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 (2010) (***)

This is the least rewarding of the cinematic HARRY POTTER experiences mainly because it doesn't satisfyingly work as a film on its own. Unlike the LORD OF THE RINGS series, each film worked as a solo film, while setting up the continuing journey. DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 tries to find its EMPIRE STRIKE BACK moment to end on, but without making Voldemort declare he is Harry's father, this film left me wanting more, but not in a good way. And yet I want more.

Blogs HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 (2010) (***)

This is the least rewarding of the cinematic HARRY POTTER experiences mainly because it doesn't satisfyingly work as a film on its own. Unlike the LORD OF THE RINGS series, each film worked as a solo film, while setting up the continuing journey. DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 tries to find its EMPIRE STRIKE BACK moment to end on, but without making Voldemort declare he is Harry's father, this film left me wanting more, but not in a good way. And yet I want more.

This PART 1, PART 2 nonsense will mean nothing after July 2011. After that DEATHLY HALLOWS can be enjoyed on DVD or Blu-ray or whatever comes next in home entertainment as one complete film. But because I am not clairvoyant I can't comment on the complete DEATHLY HALLOWS, because I have only seen half the film. PART 1 is kind of like the equivalent of tantric sex; all build up and no climax. But for POTTER fans, it's still sex… unless they're kids, because it's a family franchise, right?

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