Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs Blu-ray: THE EXORCIST (1973)

This Blu-ray release transfers both the original theatrical cut and the 2000 never before seen cut into 1080p for the first time. For a film from the 1970s, the look is impressive in HD. While wide shots contain noise, many close-ups and medium shots are pristine. Dirt and damage has been cleaned up almost completely. Details pop in things like fabrics. For the most part more details emerge in the brighter lit scenes. The picture problems are fleeting. Black levels are a bit inconsistent and some shots are soft.

Blogs LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE (2010) (***)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 3:38pm

Zack Snyder puts his unique stamp on this animated adventure. Based on Kathryn Lasky's young adult book series, the film is like LORD OF THE RINGS performed by owls via photoreal animation. The straightforward narrative is made more compelling simply through the visual originality.

Blogs NEVER LET ME GO (2010) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 4:23pm

Due to its subject matter, this film should be called sci-fi. But its tone is far closer to a somber period piece. Mark Romanek, whose only other feature film was the sad thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO, has kept the same straightforward tone of the book from Kazuo Ishiguro, whose novel REMAINS OF THE DAY was adapted into a somber film as well. Romanek never sensationalizes the material into some kind of conspiracy thriller. He asks one philosophical question and spends the film answering that question in an emotionally powerful way.

Blogs THE BLACK CAULDRON (1985) (**1/2)

Many critics put this as one of the lowest, if not the lowest point, in Disney Feature Animation history. While it's not as big a failure as a film as so many say, its financial disaster has put an extra pall over its history. Getting crushed by THE CARE BEAR MOVIE at the box office will do that. The straightforward fantasy adventure is undercut by weak characters mainly.

Blogs MACHETE (2010) (***)

I heard a story once about Melvin Van Peebles going to see his SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG on opening day with only one other person in the theater, a Black Panther. He went to a later showing and the house was full. That one Black Panther had come back and brought all this friends, who loved the film. I can see the same scenario playing out with this film, only replacing the Black Panther with an illegal immigrant.

Blogs THE AMERICAN (***)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 3:17pm

This isn't a thriller in the American sense of the term. It certainly has more in common with meticulously paced French thrillers, which were as much character studies as they were genre pieces. Director Anton Corbijn has no intentions of making this film for the ADD crowd accustomed to lightning fast editing and adrenaline-fueled action sequences at regular intervals. He is certainly asking his audience to be patient.

Blogs SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) (***1/2)

Best videogame adaptation ever! Wait, but it's adapted from Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel. This send-up of videogame culture is frantic and funny. It uses videogames as a style with wit and ingenuity. Director Edgar Wright, the maker of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, has taken a simple, quirky love story and blown it out into a grand cinematic spectacle that had me smiling form the moment the 8-bit version of the Universal logo came up on the screen.

Blogs TALES FROM EARTHSEA (2010) (*1/2)

It has been reported that Ursula K. LeGuin granted Studio Ghibli the rights to her EARTHSEA series largely based on her love for Hayao Miyzaki's work. When Miyazaki was not available to direct the film, the studio hired his son Goro instead. Hayao publicly said his son was not ready to write and direct his first feature film. They should have listened to the master.

Blogs THE OTHER GUYS (2010) (***)

I have mixed feelings about this buddy cop comedy. I went in hoping for a satire of outlandish cop flicks. For the most part that's what I got. Then the film hints at something more, dealing with desk cops doing "boring" police work to catch the biggest thieves like Bernie Madoff. I really wish this area had been developed deeper instead of focusing on unconnected and very broad character moments. Then again some of those moments are really funny. But then again some of them aren't.

Blogs Blu-ray: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996)

Henry Selick's children's film is dark in both its tone and look. That is translated over into the new 1080p release from Disney. The color palette is muted, so one doesn't get the pop that animation often brings to Blu-ray. The images don't have the same depth as other animated films on Blu-ray do as well. I believe this is certainly more to do with the source than the transfer. Just looking at the standard definition trailer you can see a huge improvement. The picture is much clearer than the murky DVD transfer. There is noise throughout, especially in the live-action sequences, but no artifacting or banding. I'm not convinced this is the best the film could look, but it's the best available for home viewing to date by far.

Blogs JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996) (***)

Based on the Roald Dahl’s book, director Henry Selick made this project his follow-up to the successful NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Bookended by a live-action opening and closing, this stop-motion feature is generally an episodic adventure following a classic tale of a young boy dreaming beyond his circumstances.

Blogs Blu-ray: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD (2010)

From Warner Bros. Animation comes another beautiful looking HD release. The most memorable element is the vibrant colors. Darkly lit sets often find their way to bright locations whether it be the glow orange ooze bubbling in vats or train stations. Flashbacks to happier times utilize a wider color palette, helped by the presence of Robin’s costume. I say this with every one of these DC Direct titles, but animation looks so good in 1080p and Warner Direct serves it up well. The picture is so crystal clear that it makes for increased engagement. The stormy title sequence looks amazing. Just seeing the episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on the disc one can see the difference high definition makes in picture quality. Now this isn’t a perfect release. There is some banding in backgrounds, but I never noticed artifacts, aliasing, pixelation or noise like I read in other reviews. But the problems are minor in the larger scope of the release.

Blogs INCEPTION (2010) (****)

An idea can change the world. In Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller, big ideas are vulnerable to be stolen within a person's dreams. Powerful businessmen spend millions on setting up projections in their minds to protect them from extractors who are hired by competitors to steal secrets. But what's infinitely more difficult is to put an idea they did not think of in their mind. This is inception.

Blogs THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE (2010) (**)

The NATIONAL TREASURE trio of star Nicolas Cage, director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer come together to try and strike magic again. But with a title SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, the film actually has little magic. There are a lot of pyrotechnics and visual effects, but none of it brings the whimsy or awe that the title suggests.

Blogs DESPICABLE ME (2010) (***)

In this animated world, villainy is a corporate venture. Master criminals live among the average citizens, clearly out in the open. The gothic mansion of baddie Gru sticks out in the same row of suburban family homes. To fund criminal ventures, the villains apply for loans from the Bank of Evil (formerly known as Lehman Brothers).

Blogs THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010) (*1/2)

M. Night Shyamalan can be a good filmmaker. For me, his last three films, including this one, have been disasters. Others would push that number higher. I'll defend THE VILLAGE and SIGNS — they had interesting characters and grand themes that drove their narratives. The same qualities that drove his most successful work, THE SIXTH SENSE. The director seems to have lost those skills. Even with quality source material to work with, he was unable to deliver a coherent, let alone a compelling, story.

Blogs THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (2010) (**1/2)

The third in the TWILIGHT film series is the best. That said, it's nothing groundbreaking, but at least it doesn't take itself too seriously. The original TWILIGHT was made for teenagers who watch soaps. NEW MOON was made for teenagers who never smile. ECLIPSE was made for teenagers with a sense of humor.

Blogs KNIGHT AND DAY (2010) (**1/2)

This action comedy attempts to recreate the globetrotting thrillers like CHARADE and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Innocent people are wrapped up in international espionage. The plot tries to keep us guessing. Romance grows as the leads run from a host of nefarious characters. Casting was a big part of those previous film's successes and this film gets that element right, but the others less so.

Blogs JONAH HEX (2010) (*1/2)

I went into this film knowing only the basics about the title character. Jonah Hex is a severely scarred bounty hunter with some supernatural abilities. His family was murdered. The film didn’t really expand my knowledge and in some ways confused me even more. At 80 some minutes, there were times I thought I was watching a reel of the cut scenes from the JONAH HEX videogame.

Blogs DAY & NIGHT (2010) (****)

This endlessly clever short is one of the best produced by Pixar. Teddy Newton’s film features two 2D characters with a CG world alive in their bodies. One represents day and the other night. When Night sees the beautiful women sunbathing by the pool inside Day, a howl of jealousy bellows from him. He tries to take what day has, but every attempt shows that things that go on in the light are not the same in the dark.

Blogs TOY STORY 3 (2010) (****)

Director Lee Unkrich and the entire Pixar team have found a fitting conclusion to the TOY STORY trilogy. It is worthy to stand by the masterpieces that came before it. The story deals with many of the same issues the previous films did, but extends them organically. The first film was Woody dealing with the possibility of being replaced as owner Andy's favorite. The second film was about what it means to be a toy. Now the third film deals with the existential question of what does it mean to be the toy of a child who has outgrown toys.

Blogs THE A-TEAM (2010) (**)

The original TV series was one of my favorites growing up as a kid. I eagerly tuned in each week to watch what new adventure these soldiers of fortune got themselves wrapped up in. You knew they'd get themselves in deep and need to use whatever they had to get out of a pickle. And who could forget that badass theme song? As the feature began and team leader Hannibal Smith was introduced, I thought I might be getting a cool iconic soldier of fortune flick. Then I got past the first five minutes.

Blogs Blu-ray: SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller comes to Blu-ray in a rich transfer. The color range is quite impressive as muted dank colors mix with vibrant flashes. This is never more evident then when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels first arrives at the prison where the grays of the patients’ uniforms are in stark contrast to the lush greens of the yard and deep purples of the flowers. Likewise, in the dream sequences, the bright colors of Michele Williams’ dress radiate off the screen, spotlighted by the dark ash raining down. The blacks are crisp especially in the scenes in Ward C where Robert Richardson’s shadowy cinematography meets its peak. The clarity of the picture brings out the lines on DiCaprio’s face more fully as he sinks deeper into the labyrinth of the story.

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