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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

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.

Animation 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.

Comedy 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.

Comedy 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?

Blogs

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (2007) (***)

Noah Baumbach continues his examination of the neurotic, intellectual and familial in his second film. This time he uses the often-used conceit of a big event to bring together characters that have not seen each other in ages and we watch as the fireworks explode. But with a person like Margot around throwing fire the explosions can be huge.

Margot (Nicole Kidman, THE HOURS) is a writer who never sees her husband Jim (John Turturro, DO THE RIGHT THING). She's having an affair with fellow writer Dick (Ciaran Hinds, MUNICH), who is married. She treats her young son Claude (Zane Pais) like a confidant instead of her child. Her and Claude have been invited to the wedding of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Lee, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY), who lives a modest life in the old family home.

Blogs

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009) (***)

Since the beginning of cinema there have been adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday ghost tale. Many think of the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. I have a soft spot for A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL for its great humor. Director Robert Zemeckis makes his version with puppets as well, only digital puppets. Performance capture has allowed him to do anything with the tale.

Jim Carrey brings to life Scrooge, who here is sickly thin and more vulture-like than ever before. With the performance capture technology, Carrey is able to play the three ghosts as well. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a flicker of fire, who speaks with an ethereal tone. The closest to Dickens’ description I’ve ever seen. The Ghost of Christmas Present is as he has been portrayed before as a large jolly fellow. But I really like his haunting transformation as the hour chimes and he chuckles as he turns to bones. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is often just a shadow creeping on the wall and pointing a skeletal finger.

Animation Blogs

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009) (***)

Since the beginning of cinema there have been adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday ghost tale. Many think of the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. I have a soft spot for A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL for its great humor. Director Robert Zemeckis makes his version with puppets as well, only digital puppets. Performance capture has allowed him to do anything with the tale.

Blogs

Blu-ray: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009)

Read my review of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Whether you hate performance capture or like it, this Blu-ray release will only support your opinion no matter what it is. That’s because the crystal clear presentation shows off everything. The color palette is rich with festive reds and golds in the cheery moments. The darker scenes are balanced wonderfully as well. Blacks are bold and there is no digital problems as characters emerge from the dark into light. Overall the picture shows no signs of aliasing, banding or any other kind of digital distortion.

The audio equals the picture very well. The soundscape utilizes the more action filled moments well. In one screen Scrooge is overwhelmed with chimes and clocks and we understand his feelings. Directionality flows nicely across speakers as characters move across the environment. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless.

Blogs

Blu-ray: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009)

Whether you hate performance capture or like it, this Blu-ray release will only support your opinion no matter what it is. That’s because the crystal clear presentation shows off everything. The color palette is rich with festive reds and golds in the cheery moments. The darker scenes are balanced wonderfully as well. Blacks are bold and there is no digital problems as characters emerge from the dark into light. Overall the picture shows no signs of aliasing, banding or any other kind of digital distortion.

Blogs

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2010) (***1/2)

Before this Argentine film was released in the U.S., it surprised many by beating out frontrunners A PROPHET and THE WHITE RIBBON, both remarkable films. While I think those films are more accomplished than this police procedural meets romance, I can see why Academy members gave their votes to this film. It’s conventional in the way quality films use to be made. It also has an ending that comes to define the entire film, because it’s so unexpected.

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin, NINE QUEENS) is a legal counselor who is now retired and writing a novel based on a case that has consumed him for 25 years. What has also consumed him is his boss, Irene (Soledad Villamil), who was involved in the case he is writing about. The case is that of Lilana Coloto (Carla Quevedo), a beautiful schoolteacher who has brutally raped and murdered. Two day laborers were arrested, beaten, confessed and imprisoned in that order. Esposito can’t bear to tell her husband Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) that he believes the real killer is his wife’s childhood friend Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino, DECEPTION).

Blogs

THE SQUARE (2010) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 2:24pm

When your mistress asks you to steal the money her husband stole in a bloody armed robbery and then burn down their house to cover up the theft, you know you're in trouble. This neo-noir from Australia uses this scenario and piles on the complications. Raymond Yale doesn't know which bad decision is the one that's going to get him in the end.

Raymond (David Roberts, THE MATRIX RELOADED) has promised to leave his wife Martha (Lucy Bell, OSCAR AND LUCINDA) and run away with the young hairdresser Carla (Claire van der Boom). Raymond keeps saying he wants to save enough to make a decent life for them elsewhere. He's overseeing the construction of a new resort built around a central square. In contracting the cement supplier, he takes a kickback. But when Carla spots her husband Smithy (Anthony Hayes, RABBIT-PROOF FENCE) hiding a bag full of cash in the attic, she devises a much quicker way to get they money they need to escape.

Blogs

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (2010) (***1/2)

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is one of the absolute best films of the year. Its sequel is not nearly as good, but that's only because part of the joy of the first film was meeting the characters. The pull of the second installment is what do these characters do next. And just how badass can Lisbeth Salander get?

The film takes place a year after the events of the first film. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the gothed out superior hacker with the photographic memory, returns to Sweden after living aboard, giving time for the criminal heat that she's involved in to cool off. Her ally, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), has been trying to contact her to make sure she is safe. He knows Lisbeth Salander, so one wonders why he worries. She has a few reunions upon returning. She hooks up with her longtime lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) and visits her court-appointed guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), a sadistic man who Lisbeth has the upper hand on.

Blogs

WINTER'S BONE (2010) (****)

This film reminds me so much of FROZEN RIVER, the great indie thriller from 2008. Both films follow poor women wrapped up in illegal activities. The wooded settings in winter add to the desperate tone of the narrative. Both follow resilient women and both were directed by women. And most importantly they're one of the best films of their respective years.

All the characters in this tale seem vaguely related. But family is invoked when you need something from someone and that doesn't guarantee anything. One character won't even go and talk to her grandfather because she's scared of him. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence,  TV's THE BILL ENGVALL SHOW) though takes family deadly serious. She's 17 and has had to drop out of high school so she can care for her mentally broken mother and two younger siblings. They live off the land eating squirrels and chopping wood from their timber land in the Ozarks. Her father is a meth dealer who just takes off for stretches of time. But now he's been arrested and he's put up his property for his bond. Sheriff Baskin (Garrett Dillahunt, TV's THE 4400) comes by the house saying their dad is nowhere to be found and if he doesn't make his court date they'll lose it all.

Blogs

THE CHANGELING (1980) (***1/2)

Martin Scorsese called this film one of the 11 scariest films ever made. I wouldn’t put it there, but it's one of the best haunted house films. Director Peter Medak (SPECIES II) sets up his environment and utilizes it well in subtly unnerving ways. Common objects become frightening. And the ghost haunting the residents has as strong a motivation as any character.

In a devastating opening, composer John Russell (George C. Scott, PATTON) loses his wife and daughter. While he's consumed with sorrow, he decides to take a job as a guest lecturer at a university in Seattle. Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere, THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN) of the Seattle Historical Society offers him a legendary vacant mansion to rent for nearly nothing. The gorgeous Victorian home has been unoccupied for years, as the historical society worker Minnie Huxley (Ruth Springford, 5 CARD STUD) says, because the house doesn’t want people. The house has a dark past, which leads to Senator Joe Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas, THE OLD DARK HOUSE).

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