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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs PREDATORS (2010) (**)

Arnold Schwarzenegger faced off against these skilled hunters in the original film and now Oscar-winner Adrien Brody picks up the big gun. Too bad Brody didn't get the better role. This sequel goes back to the essence of the original, but loses all the suspense.

Brody plays Royce, a special ops soldier who is dropped from the sky into a jungle. He doesn't know why he is there. All he remembers is a flash of light. Others start joining him. They're all killers from various locations on Earth and it becomes clear quickly that they are not the hunters in this scenario.

Director Nimrod Antal's film is populated with stereotypes from central casting. Isabelle (Alice Braga, I AM LEGEND) is the woman… and also the most kind of the group. Noland (Lawrence Fishburne, APOCALYPSE NOW) is the kooky survivor who has lasted against the aliens the longest. Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien, FAIR GAME) is a laconic yakuza. How much you want to beat he finds a samurai sword? Stans (Walton Goggins, TV's THE SHIELD) is a cruel Southern serial killer. Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov, NATIONAL TREASURE) is a Chechen rebel whose massive gun is disproportionate to the size of his brain. Cuchillo (Danny Trejo, MACHETE) is a Mexican drug cartel. Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, TV's THE 4400) is an African warlord. Edwin (Topher Grace, TV's THAT '70S SHOW) is a surgeon who seems misplaced with these savages. Seems.

Blogs THE TRIP (2011) (***)

It's kind of like SIDEWAYS crossed with MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. In the former, we have old friends on vacation. In the latter, the two friends do spend a great time talking over dinner. Sounds kind of boring. But wait. The dinner guests are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

Coogan and Brydon play exaggerated versions of the own personas. Coogan has been asked by The Observer to tour fine restaurants in the North and write about the experience. He wanted to take his girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley, HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE), but she has decided to put their relationship on a break. Steve misses her, but that doesn't stop him from bedding hostesses, waitresses and a female photographer.

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

The tag line for the film is that it will do for skiing what JAWS did for swimming. Now in no way is it in the same league as Steven Spielberg's classic, but it's certainly on the same field with films like OPEN WATER, which found a couple left behind in shark-infested water on a scuba trip. The action for this tense horror/thriller moves the action to a ski lift in the sub-freezing cold.

Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore, X-MEN) and Dan Walker (Kevin Zegers, DAWN OF THE DEAD) are best friends who have planned a snowboarding/skiing trip. Joe is upset that Dan has brought along his novice girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell, FINAL DESTINATION 5). Dan is too cheap to pay for lift tickets so he has Parker charm the lift operator to let them on. Big mistake. Tensions were running high from the start and they only come to the breaking point when the threesome is accidentally left on the lift after closing.

Blogs BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011) (***)

Despite having the superhero in the title, this animated feature seems less like the Dark Knight’s story and more like that of James Gordon, who at this time is new to the Gotham police department. Based on what is hailed as a seminal comic series from writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli, the transition from the page to the screen is faithful, but also highlights the differences between mediums.

Blogs Blu-ray: BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011)

Visually this is one of the better looking DC Direct animated titles. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer contains a muted color palette that sets the somber mood. Neon signs pop, while not creating digital interference. Banding issues that have been on all of the DC Direct titles are reduced and are only visible if you're really looking for them. The 2D animation is cleanly presented, but the integration of cel-painted CG does stick out because of the sharpest (and movement). Other digital problems are minor and like I said of the banding, you really have to be looking for it.

Blogs BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011) (***)

Despite having the superhero in the title, this animated feature seems less like the Dark Knight’s story and more like that of James Gordon, who at this time is new to the Gotham police department. Based on what is hailed as a seminal comic series from writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli, the transition from the page to the screen is faithful, but also highlights the differences between mediums.

Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie, TV’s SOUTHLAND) was returned to Gotham from training abroad. He has begun the preparation for becoming the vigilante, but hasn’t found his identity yet. Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston, TV’s BREAKING BAD) is the new lieutenant in town, having been exiled to the most corrupt city after smoking out police corruption in his last post. His wife Barbara (Grey DeLisle, TV’s THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS) is pregnant and he is guilty to bring a new child into this dirty, grim world.

Blogs Blu-ray: BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011)

Read my review of BATMAN: YEAR ONE

Visually this is one of the better looking DC Direct animated titles. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer contains a muted color palette that sets the somber mood. Neon signs pop, while not creating digital interference. Banding issues that have been on all of the DC Direct titles are reduced and are only visible if you're really looking for them. The 2D animation is cleanly presented, but the integration of cel-painted CG does stick out because of the sharpest (and movement). Other digital problems are minor and like I said of the banding, you really have to be looking for it.

Blogs Blu-ray: THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)

Certainly one of the very best films of the year, now is one of the very best Blu-ray releases of 2011. Fox's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer captures every nuance of Emmanuel Lubezki's poetic cinematography. Shot in both 35 and 65mm, the picture has the filmic grain expected for a film that was made with natural light. The noise, however, is light and never dampens details. Colors are are a heightened natural feel, almost painterly. Blacks are deep and rich. The big bang sequence shines with an even richer color palette. The lava explosions glow with rich reds. The CG dinosaurs blend perfectly into the soulful imagery. Digital issues are non-existent.

Blogs Blu-ray: THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)

Read my review of THE TREE OF LIFE

Certainly one of the very best films of the year, now is one of the very best Blu-ray releases of 2011. Fox's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer captures every nuance of Emmanuel Lubezki's poetic cinematography. Shot in both 35 and 65mm, the picture has the filmic grain expected for a film that was made with natural light. The noise, however, is light and never dampens details. Colors are are a heightened natural feel, almost painterly. Blacks are deep and rich. The big bang sequence shines with an even richer color palette. The lava explosions glow with rich reds. The CG dinosaurs blend perfectly into the soulful imagery. Digital issues are non-existent.

Blogs TERRI (2011) (****)

Terri is an overweight high school student who is picked on at school. You might be thinking that you've seen this film or one very much like it before. But I assure you, you haven't. This is a film based on real life not any of those other movies. Director Azazel Jacobs and co-writer Patrick Dewitt have made a quirky comedy that is truthful and not gimmicky. All the pieces just fit.

Speaking of fitting, Terri wears pajamas to school each day because they are the only clothes that actually fit him. He doesn't know where his parents are, having been dumped on his uncle James (Creed Bratton, TV's THE OFFICE), who is slipping in and out of dementia. As a result Terri has been missing a lot of days of school to take care of him. Not that Terri minds all that much because when he goes he is tormented by classmates, who find ways of embarrassing him by getting under his skin in relentlessly annoying ways.

Blogs Blu-ray: TERRI (2011)

Read my review of TERRI

Shot on 35mm, this 1080p/AVC encoded transfer keeps that film quality wonderfully. The color palette is hearty with saturation levels high, but not otherworldly. Contrasts are high and black levels are deep. Details in the character's faces and clothing stand out. Digital problems like heavy noise, branding or artifacts are non-existent.

The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This is a dialogue driven film so the soundscape is limited. Rear speakers are used sparingly for ambience in outdoor locations mainly. I couldn't comment on directionality because there isn't any. The mix between dialogue, music and sound effects is handled cleanly.

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

When the title comes up on the screen it appears next to the dead body of a teenage girl floating in a river. A poetry teacher in the film describes poetry as the search for beauty. The juxtaposition of the tragic and the beautiful is a current that runs through this Korean drama. It seems that sadness and beauty go together in life more than we think.

Mija (Jeong-hie Yun, TWO FLAGS) is a 60-something maid who takes care of her grandson Wook (Da-wit Lee, THE FRONT LINE). Her daughter has dumped him on her and the grandmother doesn't like telling her child anything that might be going wrong. The old woman is feeling tingling in her arm and starting to forget words. Wook is a lazy slob who is running with a bad crowd who get him deep in severe trouble. Mija works for a lecherous old man who has suffered a stroke and needs her to bathe him. She has a hard time dealing with any of these problems directly. Her mind seems completely consumed with the poetry class she is taking at the cultural center.

Blogs THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) (***1/2)

It’s not surprising that George Clooney would make a political film. What might be surprising is how cynical the film is about our political process. For sure Clooney works in liberal ideas, but it’s not the point. His character just happens to be a Democrat. The political policies his character talks about easily be switched to the other side and it wouldn’t change the central theme, which is that politics is completely compromised with flawed humans looking out for themselves.

Blogs THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) (***1/2)

It’s not surprising that George Clooney would make a political film. What might be surprising is how cynical the film is about our political process. For sure Clooney works in liberal ideas, but it’s not the point. His character just happens to be a Democrat. The political policies his character talks about easily be switched to the other side and it wouldn’t change the central theme, which is that politics is completely compromised with flawed humans looking out for themselves.

Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling, DRIVE) is a young campaign operative who has worked on more campaigns at 30 than most people have worked by 40. He’s an idealist who really believes in the presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney). He works under the grizzled operative Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, CAPOTE), who is working behind the scenes to seal a deal with former primary candidate Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright, CASINO ROYALE), whose delegates would put either of the two remaining candidates over the top.

Blogs REAL STEEL (2011) (**1/2)

This film is not based on Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. Now that we got that out of the way, we can find out what this film is really about. One could claim though that this film is based on a dozen previous boxing movies such as ROCKY and THE CHAMP.

Set in a future where robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring because people like the carnage more. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE) is a former boxer who has become involved in the low-rung world of robot boxing. He gets a shock one day when he discovers that the mother of his son Max (Dakota Goyo, THOR) has died and that he needs to work out who will take the child. The 11-year-old's aunt Debra (Hope Davis, AMERICAN SPLENDOR) wants to take him and Charlie sees her rich husband as a chance to make some money out of the situation.

Blogs 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003) (**)

The first THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS was a nice surprise. Engaging characters, nice car stunts made for an enjoyable ride. The second outing suffers from what so many sequels suffer from. It's like comparing a new Mustang with the original. The new version is shiny and glossy and has some of the same elements that made the original good, but there is nothing under the hood.

Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker, PLEASANTVILLE), the undercover cop from the first film, is under suspicion for letting his last target go.  So he decides to take the street racing skills he learned in the first film and move to Miami. After a race he is nabbed by U.S. Customs who knows all about his past. They are working with the FBI to take down Argentinian drug lord Carter Verone (Cole Hauser, PITCH BLACK). Brian is made a deal that his record will be cleared if he goes undercover to nab Verone. Because he needs a partner he recruits his old friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson, BABY BOY), who is doing some time. And because they need a sexy female partner, they are teamed with Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes, GHOST RIDER), who has been posing as Verone's girlfriend for months.

Blogs LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2011) (***1/2)

This dialogue-free Italian production is pure cinema. Director Michael Frammartino shows us images and grips our attention. He tells an epic story of life itself, weaving together tragedy, comedy and suspense. Its protagonists are an elderly shepherd, a young goat, a large tree and charcoal.

The first shot that comes on screen is a large black pile billowing smoke. What is it? It's a tantalizing image. Then we are introduced to the shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda), who has a nasty cough. As he staggers along with his goats and his energetic dog, we fear for his safety. When we witness his home remedy, we fear even more for him.

The title translates as "The Four Times" and encapsulates the lives of its protagonists in separate sections. How the lives of a man, an animal, a plant and a mineral intersect is fascinating. Frammartino has a saint's patience with the pacing and for some it will move too slowly. There is not amped up drama or action, but the pacing creates tension because it forces us to think. We think about the welfare of the old man and how he is carrying on a tradition in his village that has gone on for centuries. We think about the fragility of life as we witness the birth of the baby goat. We contemplate the intersection of humans and the natural environment when we move into the stories of the majestic tree and the birth of the charcoal.

Blogs THE CONSPIRATOR (2011) (***1/2)

It's hard to make a film where the female lead may or may not be a participant in one of the most heinous crimes in American history. Robert Redford's film attempts just that. What level of guilt she does have is not the point. This is a film about ideals and defending them in the most trying times. The story might be almost 150 years old, but it still resonates today.

Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) fought in the Civil War for the Union where he was wounded in battle. After the war, he returned to law. He like so many Americans was shook to his core when President Abraham Lincoln was murdered. Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, MICHAEL CLAYTON), who was key in keeping Maryland from seceding, took accused conspirator Mary Surratt (Robin Wright, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) on as a client out of principle. But he felt as a Southerner, he only hurt the woman's case, so he enlists the reluctant Aiken to take his place.

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

Calling this film the female HANGOVER is easy. Wedding prep theme. Crude humor. Personality conflicts. Comedic mayhem. Both films have all these things in common. But the female part is key. It's what really sets the films apart. Male friendships are vastly different than female friendships and this film knows it.

Annie (Kristen Wiig, TV's SNL) is down on her luck. As she says she was the only person stupid enough to open a bakery during a recession. Following the failure of her business, she lost her longtime boyfriend and has now hooked up with the piggish Ted (Jon Hamm, TV's MAD MEN), who just wants her as his sex buddy. She is so close to being forced to move back in with her recovering alcoholic mother (Jill Clayburgh, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN). Then her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph, AWAY WE GO) makes her the maid of honor in her wedding. This is the start of her descent to rock bottom.

Blogs THE LION KING (1994) (****)

From the moment the sun rises over the savanna and we hear the African chant, THE LION KING grips the audience's attention. Combining fable with Greek tragedy, this film has a serious undertone that many Disney animated features do not have. The studio dealt with the death of a parent before, but not like this. This is a world with real consequences, which is the basis to all classic children's tales and what makes this film not just for the kids.

Blogs Blu-ray: THE LION KING (1994)

This 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray is about as good as it gets. On it's picture and audio alone, it's one of the must-own Blu-rays of the year. From the first moment when the sun rises over the savanna, the richness of color is impressive. Black levels are solid as well. Details really make the artistry of the animation stand out. During the wildebeest stampede, nothing gets lost in the chaos as dust swirls around the air. The fires at the end with their striking reds, yellows and oranges make a powerful impact. The presentation is clean from both dust and digital anomalies.

Blogs THE LION KING (1994) (****)

From the moment the sun rises over the savanna and we hear the African chant, THE LION KING grips the audience's attention. Combining fable with Greek tragedy, this film has a serious undertone that many Disney animated features do not have. The studio dealt with the death of a parent before, but not like this. This is a world with real consequences, which is the basis to all classic children's tales and what makes this film not just for the kids.

The opening calls together all the animals of Pride Rock to witness the presentation of the new male heir of the kingdom — the lion cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as child and Matthew Broderick as adult). His father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, STAR WARS) teaches him to be a just ruler. He explains that the circle of life has the lion eating antelope and when they die they help the grass grow, which new antelope will eat. Simba hasn't learned yet that there are creatures out who would kill for other reasons. This is the case with his scheming uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE), who sees his nephew as the boulder in his way to the throne.

Blogs Blu-ray: THE LION KING (1994)

Read my LION KING review.

This 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray is about as good as it gets. On it's picture and audio alone, it's one of the must-own Blu-rays of the year. From the first moment when the sun rises over the savanna, the richness of color is impressive. Black levels are solid as well. Details really make the artistry of the animation stand out. During the wildebeest stampede, nothing gets lost in the chaos as dust swirls around the air. The fires at the end with their striking reds, yellows and oranges make a powerful impact. The presentation is clean from both dust and digital anomalies.

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

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 4:34pm

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan broke through into film with the screenplay for ANALYZE THIS. He made his directing debut with the outstanding 2000 dramedy YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, which provided breakout roles for Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. In 2005, he began production on his follow-up, which has taken this long to arrive in theaters due to Lonergan's lengthy editing process and two lawsuits. He probably needed more time.

Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin, TV's TRUE BLOOD) is a New York Jewish girl who attends a private school and has a chip on her shoulder. When her teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon, BOURNE IDENTITY) calls her on cheating, she says — it was open book what does it matter if I got the answers from there or another person's test? She gets in heated arguments with her fellow students about terrorism. When speaking to her actress mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME), she gives only curt statements or outright insults. This is a teen who knows everything.

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