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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs Blu-ray: DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2011)

Read my review of DETECTIVE DEE

This transfer of Hark Tsui's epic fantasy is gorgeous. The MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray has colors so rich that they actually took me aback, especially in the film's elaborate vfx sequences. Because of the detailed clarity, some of the wide matte-painted backgrounds look strikingly realistic. It shows off the impressive quality of Korean vfx firm AZ Works and their partners' work. The rich golds and reds of lavish costuming pop and the detail even reveals threads. When the film descends into the underground Phantom City, the contrast of shadow is represented nicely without any noticeable crush. Grain is practically nonexistent in daylight scenes, but does creep up in lower lit sequences. Digital anomalies like banding, aliasing or pixelization were not evident to me.

Blogs Blu-ray: DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2011)

This transfer of Hark Tsui's epic fantasy is gorgeous. The MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray has colors so rich that they actually took me aback, especially in the film's elaborate vfx sequences. Because of the detailed clarity, some of the wide matte-painted backgrounds look strikingly realistic. It shows off the impressive quality of Korean vfx firm AZ Works and their partners' work. The rich golds and reds of lavish costuming pop and the detail even reveals threads. When the film descends into the underground Phantom City, the contrast of shadow is represented nicely without any noticeable crush. Grain is practically nonexistent in daylight scenes, but does creep up in lower lit sequences. Digital anomalies like banding, aliasing or pixelization were not evident to me.

Blogs YOUNG ADULT (2011) (***1/2)

Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody last collaborated on the Oscar nominated JUNO. Cody won the Oscar for her screenplay, her first produced script. Some thought she was a one hit wonder following her entertaining, but not all that original, horror flick JENNIFER’S BODY. YOUNG ADULT proves them wrong.

Blogs YOUNG ADULT (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 11:10pm

Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody last collaborated on the Oscar nominated JUNO. Cody won the Oscar for her screenplay, her first produced script. Some thought she was a one hit wonder following her entertaining, but not all that original, horror flick JENNIFER'S BODY. YOUNG ADULT proves them wrong.

This dark comedy follows Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron, MONSTER), a ghost writer for a popular tween girl book series. Her life is at a low point with the recent end of her marriage and the close of the book series. Everything seems even worse when she gets a birth announcement from Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson, LITTLE CHILDREN), her old high school flame. So she gets the great idea of going back to her small hometown and break up his marriage.

Blogs TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011) (***1/2)

Tomas Alfredson, who directed the wonderful Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, adapts John le Carre's classic spy novel into a slow burn thriller. His film is as laconic as his central character, played with great reserve by Gary Oldman. From its Cold War setting to its visual style, the film at times conjures up memories of Hitchcock's latter day thrillers.

Blogs TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011) (***1/2)

Tomas Alfredson, who directed the wonderful Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, adapts John le Carre's classic spy novel into a slow burn thriller. His film is as laconic as his central character, played with great reserve by Gary Oldman. From its Cold War setting to its visual style, the film at times conjures up memories of Hitchcock's latter day thrillers.

George Smiley (Oldman, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL) was a top spy for MI6 before being forced into retirement after a botched mission left fellow agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong, STARDUST) shot in the street. The incident also took down his boss Control (John Hurt, THE ELEPHANT MAN), who has long believed that there is a Russian mole in the highest ranks of the "Circus." When top official Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) gets a tip about the mole, he calls in Smiley to work outside the agency in order to root out the double agent.

Blogs Blu-ray: THE HELP (2011)

Read my review of THE HELP

This MPEG-4 AVC 1080p release is a lush Blu-ray. The color palette glistens. The vibrant colors of the 1960s come out in the clothing and interior design, as well as Hilly's bright red hair and her emerald green lawn, which fit her faux bright character very well. Black levels are solid and consistent too. Clarity is first rate throughout the disc, giving the visuals added depth. Lines and contours of the actresses' faces pop out. Digital anomalies are to a minimum. I noticed a little crush during darker scenes and some scenes were a slightly soft. Film grain levels were pretty light throughout.

Blogs LIFE, ABOVE ALL (2011) (***1/2)

This is not the first AIDS message film to come out of Africa and it probably won't be that last. It touches on many of the issues that the Oscar nominated African film YESTERDAY tackled. But what makes this film different is its perspective. The innocent children of the pandemic are at the center. It's tale of struggle and sacrifice works on the audience slowly reaching a power crescendo.

In the first scene, tweenaged Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka) is buying a coffin for her dead infant sister. Her mother Lillian (Lerato Mvelase) is too grief stricken to leave the house. Her stepfather Jonah (Aubrey Poolo) is passed out drunk at a bar with another woman. He has taken all the family's money so Chandra has to go recover it in order to pay for the funeral. Lillian's friend Mrs. Tafa (Harriet Lenabe, HOTEL RWANDA) reminds Chanda that the baby died of influenza so no one will talk. No one shall dare say what they think it really was.

Blogs Blu-ray: LIFE, ABOVE ALL (2011)

Read my review of LIFE, ABOVE ALL

This 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer of Oliver Schmitz's South African film is rich with detail. The color palette glows with earthly tones from the golden brown dirt streets to clay buildings of the towns. Black levels are solid. African skin tones are so often either too shadowed or blown out, but here they come through beautifully natural. The clarity of the image allows for details to pop whether it be the contours of the actors' faces or the fabrics of the clothing. The picture is so clear that one gets the sense of added depth in the frame. As for digital anomalies, they are nonexistent.

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

In so many ways this film reminded me of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE – it has a fascinating, unique central character that needs a better movie around him. Hesher and Napoleon are both slightly unlikable, but compelling misfits, but in completely opposite ways. Napoleon is the quintessential nerd, while Hesher is the quintessential anarchist. He really doesn't give a…

Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50) meets the film's young protagonist T.J. (Devin Brochu, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH) when the boy inadvertently alerts the cops to the long-haired metal head crashing at a house under construction. As a result, this 20-something loner decides to haunt this young boy day and night. He comes to his house and moves right in. He follows him to school. If T.J. tries to tell him to go away, Hesher threatens very seriously all sorts of violence on him. Covered in tattoos including a giant middle finger on his back and a stick figure blowing out his brains on his chest, Hesher is a force of nature.

Blogs THE ARTIST (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 11:11pm

Michel Hazanavicius' effortlessly charming dramedy is really like discovering a lost film from the silent age. The director of the popular French OSS 117 spy spoof series recreates every aspect of a black and white silent film of the 1920s. From the classic 1.37:1 aspect ratio to the title cards to the dramatic pitch, he gets all the details right. His performers nail the acting style, which is a key to the film's success. But it's not just a gimmick. It's a reminder that sometimes words get in the way of visual storytelling.

Blogs THE ARTIST (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 10:44pm

Michel Hazanavicius' effortlessly charming dramedy is really like discovering a lost film from the silent age. The director of the popular French OSS 117 spy spoof series recreates every aspect of a black and white silent film of the 1920s. From the classic 1.37:1 aspect ratio to the title cards to the dramatic pitch, he gets all the details right. His performers nail the acting style, which is a key to the film's success. But it's not just a gimmick. It's a reminder that sometimes words get in the way of visual storytelling.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES) is the biggest silent movie star. During the red carpet for his latest international action film, he bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, A KNIGHT'S TALE), a pretty young fan looking for an autograph. Embarrassed at first, soon she's posing for the cameras along with Valentin. The next day she goes to the studio looking to get a job as an extra and lands a role in Valentin's next picture. He is so charmed by the young woman that he flubs scenes just so he can dance with her over and over again.

Blogs CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 1:36pm

Along the Ardeche River in France, archeologists discovered a vast cave system that had been sealed off for tens of thousands of years. Inside they found pristine cave paintings that seem as if they were created yesterday. The drawings of animals display artistry and imagination. Multiple legs represent movement. One strange drawing shows a bison embracing a naked woman. What were our ancient ancestors thinking? Filmmaker Werner Herzog tries to delve into the question and what it means to us today.

Herzog, who seems fascinated with extreme locations as evident in his Antarctic doc ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, talks with scientists and scholars and discovers things the cave drawings have revealed, such as the lions of the time did not have manes, which was previously unknown. Since being sealed up nearly 25,000 years ago, skulls such as cave bears have been covered in calcification, making it resemble an ivory statute. We also learn something about the artistic intentions of the people. Herzog films in 3-D to try and capture how the ancient artists even used the contours of the walls in how they approached their paintings.

Blogs SHAME (2011) (****)

It's been given the dreaded NC-17 rating. But how could an honest film about sex addiction be otherwise? Director Steve McQueen pushes his actor Michael Fassbender to the edge like they did in the IRA hunger strike drama HUNGER. This time Fassbender does things on screen you might not do at home with your spouse or girlfriend. But this is far from pornography.

Fassbender gives his best performance to date as Brandon Sullivan, a hot exec at a web firm who has terrible sex addiction. His mind is consumed with sexual impulses to the point where he has cut off his family and is getting into work later and later each day. Sex for him is just one extreme fantasy or fetish du jour. He hires prostitutes, buys volumes of porn videos and mags and is a steady customer to online sex cams. But his routine of anonymous sexual acts is disrupted when his troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan, AN EDUCATION) shows up at his door needing a place to crash after another relationship has crashed and burned.

Blogs Blu-ray: ANOTHER EARTH (2011)

Your appreciation of this AVC transfer relies heavily on knowing the source of this indie sci-fi drama. Filmed with a 720p camera on a next to nothing budget, the picture contains a great deal of grain that increases exponentially under low lighting conditions. One scene in the snow at night really highlights its digital origins. Banding and aliasing often creep up in higher contrasted scenes. Color are muted and natural, which fits the cool mood. But when compared to the DVD version, clarity is greatly increased with the grain issue minimized. All things considered this 1080p release is about as good as this material can look.

Blogs Blu-ray: ANOTHER EARTH (2011)

Read my review of ANOTHER EARTH

Your appreciation of this AVC transfer relies heavily on knowing the source of this indie sci-fi drama. Filmed with a 720p camera on a next to nothing budget, the picture contains a great deal of grain that increases exponentially under low lighting conditions. One scene in the snow at night really highlights its digital origins. Banding and aliasing often creep up in higher contrasted scenes. Color are muted and natural, which fits the cool mood. But when compared to the DVD version, clarity is greatly increased with the grain issue minimized. All things considered this 1080p release is about as good as this material can look.

Blogs ANOTHER EARTH (2011) (***1/2)

Here is a unique use of sci-fi. For the most part this film is a drama regarding recovering from a tragic event that fundamentally transforms one's life over night. The concept of a doppelganger planet is used as metaphor for how decisions we make create new lives and even selves.

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, upcoming THE COMPANY YOU KEEP) is a high school student who has just gotten into MIT. After a night of drinking, she makes the mistake of driving home and along the way hits another car putting college professor John Burroughs (William Mapother, TV's LOST) into a coma and killing his pregnant wife and young son. In an instant, she transforms from a promising future astrophysicist into a convict who must serve four years in prison.

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

This Norwegian fantasy thriller is Norwegian at its core and that is the best thing about it. On its surface, the film takes from found footage pictures such as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. A group of students set out to make a film and get more than they wished for. But in this case there aren't witches, but trolls.

The students originally set out to chronicle bear poaching. They follow the gruff mountain man Hans (Otto Jespersen), whose Land Rover looks like it's had a few run ins with some big "bears." But the filmmakers find out quickly that Hans isn't after bears, but trolls. He's part of a secret government agency set out to keep the existence of the giant creatures secret. With incidents getting deadlier and more frequent, he decides to bring the students along with him to get the truth out.

Blogs THE WAY BACK (2011) (***)

The film claims to be based on a true story. Indeed it is based on Slavomir Rawicz's novel THE LONG WALK, but since its publication the BBC has discredited its account. Some critics have used this to attack the film's faithfulness to the book, which has a great deal of surviving and little interpersonal conflict that makes survival stories really compelling. While I agree that ramped up drama helps, but I found the lack of it here refreshing.

Janusz (Jim Sturgess, ONE DAY) has been sent to a gulag for crimes against the state in which his wife was forced to rat him out. The first person he meets in prison is Khabarov (Mark Strong, STARDUST), who tells him of his plan to escape, which fills Janusz with hope. However, the American Mr. Smith (Ed Harris, APOLLO 13) tells him that Khabarov is a fraud and tells the same story to all newbies as way to parasitically live off their optimism. But Janusz isn't interested in living off dreams and decides to go through with the seemingly impossible escape.

Blogs A LITTLE HELP (2011) (***)

This dramedy frustrated and delighted me in equal measure. Writer/director Michael J. Weithorn (THE KING OF QUEENS) proves himself an observant chronicler of human nature and a sitcom gag craftsman. He develops rich comedic scenarios and weaves them together, but leaves us hanging at times. All of it is held together by the wonderful performance of THE OFFICE's Jenna Fischer.

Fischer plays Laura, a dental hygienist, who suspects that her husband Bob (Chris O'Donnell, BATMAN & ROBIN) is cheating on her. He denies it, which finds a way of costing him his life. Now Laura, who was drinking a bit too much before becoming a widow, is left to care for her son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), who has a way with coming up with massive lies to win friends.

Blogs HUGO (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 6:13pm

What could a 3-D family film from Martin Scorsese be like? With HUGO now as an example, the answer is magical. And it's a magic that Scorsese is best suited to bring to life — the magic of the movies. At one point, a young boy visits a movie studio and the director leans down to him and tells him if he's ever wondered where his dreams come from this is where they are made.

Blogs HUGO (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 5:48pm

What could a 3-D family film from Martin Scorsese be like? With HUGO now as an example, the answer is magical. And it's a magic that Scorsese is best suited to bring to life — the magic of the movies. At one point, a young boy visits a movie studio and the director leans down to him and tells him if he's ever wondered where his dreams come from this is where they are made.

Based on Brian Selznick's celebrated illustrated novel THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, the story follows its title character (Asa Butterfield, THE BOY WITH THE STRIPED PAJAMAS) as he survives as an orphan in the clockworks of a Paris train station. After his father (Jude Law, A.I.), a clock maker, died, he has been trying to finish a project they were working on together — fixing an automaton. This mechanical human is a complex one that seems to be designed to write something and Hugo believes it will give him a message from his dad. But the boy loses his notebook filled with calculations to Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley, GANDHI) after the toyshop owner catches him trying to steal. What Hugo doesn't know is that Georges is Georges Melies, the once famed filmmaker who is best known for A TRIP TO THE MOON, where a rocket sticks into the eye of the man on the moon.

Blogs ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011) (***1/2)

The holidays have different meanings to everyone. For better or worse it's usually a time for family. Now from Aardman Animations, the creator of WALLACE & GROMIT, comes a modern look at Santa and his family. What we find out is that even good ole Saint Nick has a dysfunctional family.

Being the big guy in the red suit is a Claus family tradition that has been passed down for generations. The current Santa (Jim Broadbent, IRIS), however, is more of a figurehead these days. The one-night present delivery enterprise has been streamlined by his heir apparent, his oldest son Steve (Hugh Lurie, TV's HOUSE), a military type hunk with a Christmas-tree-shaped goatee. Steve has the elves working like special ops soldiers who can get a package in and under the tree in a matter of seconds.

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