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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

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 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 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 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 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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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)

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 127 HOURS (2010) (***1/2)

This true-life survival story makes you wonder how you would handle the same situation. If you were trapped in a remote canyon could you cut off your own arm with a dull blade? Danny Boyle's film puts the viewer in that situation with all its physical and mental challenges. This is the rare thriller with an existential thread.

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

For this film, 80-year-old Clint Eastwood looks at death. Based on a script from Peter Morgan (FROST/NIXON), the film weaves together three different experiences with death — a near death experience, the loss of a loved one and a metaphysical look at the issue. Each is told on a haunting emotional level. No matter what your own personal beliefs are about the afterlife, this film actually reinforces the most important part of life.

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