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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs Blu-ray: DUMBO (1941)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 5:09pm

This restoration of the Disney classic is brought to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer exquisitely. Unlike some restorations, this one doesn't turn the hand drawn feature into something that looks like TV animation. The subtleties remain, especially in the watercolor backgrounds, where the artists' touch really pops in hi-def. Color is a huge element in this film and the range is kept under control in that nothing seems unnaturally bright. Black levels are inky. Digital anomalies are absent from the release as far as I saw, but others have pointed out some ringing.

Blogs Blu-ray: DUMBO (1941)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 4:56pm

This restoration of the Disney classic is brought to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer exquisitely. Unlike some restorations, this one doesn't turn the hand drawn feature into something that looks like TV animation. The subtleties remain, especially in the watercolor backgrounds, where the artists' touch really pops in hi-def. Color is a huge element in this film and the range is kept under control in that nothing seems unnaturally bright. Black levels are inky. Digital anomalies are absent from the release as far as I saw, but others have pointed out some ringing.

The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. This surround mix doesn't over do it. The rear speakers are used sparingly, especially noticeable in the storm and elephant tower sequences. Dialogue is clear and balanced well with the music and sound effects. The songs and score have a tinny quality but that is a source issue not something wrong with this transfer. For purists, the disc also has a nicely restored 320kbps Mono track as well.

Blogs 50/50 (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 1:10am

A 27-year-old man is out jogging early in the morning. He stops for a traffic light. There are no cars in sight. Another runner races past him and crosses the intersection against the hand. The young man waits. He doesn’t drive or smoke or drink. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would get a rare form of spine cancer.

Blogs 50/50 (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 12:56am

A 27-year-old man is out jogging early in the morning. He stops for a traffic light. There are no cars in sight. Another runner races past him and crosses the intersection against the hand. The young man waits. He doesn’t drive or smoke or drink. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would get a rare form of spine cancer.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, INCEPTION) is this young man. Jonathan Levine’s film opens in this seemingly innocuous way, but it says a lot about Adam who doesn’t speak about how he feels about having a 50/50 chance of survival. He doesn’t really like to be consoled or coddled or even touched… at least by strangers. When asked how he is feeling he usually replies that he is okay.

Blogs TAKE SHELTER (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 12:43am

What if you couldn’t trust your own thoughts? Curtis begins to believe this might be the case. He is starting to have dreams so vivid that he doesn’t know what is real and what was just in his head. Mental illness runs in his family. He seeks help, but is it enough to make him aware of the line between reality and his delusions?

Blogs TAKE SHELTER (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 12:29am

What if you couldn’t trust your own thoughts? Curtis begins to believe this might be the case. He is starting to have dreams so vivid that he doesn’t know what is real and what was just in his head. Mental illness runs in his family. He seeks help, but is it enough to make him aware of the line between reality and his delusions?

The actor who plays Curtis is the go to actor for mentally off roles   Michael Shannon. Unlike his Oscar nominated role in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD or the horror flick BUG, he is fighting against and even trying to hide his possible problems. The reason is because he has a lot to lose. He is married to Samantha (Jessica Chastain, THE TREE OF LIFE) and their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) needs a surgery to repair her damaged hearing. If his work finds out he is mentally off, will they still let him work his construction job? If he loses his job he loses his health insurance.

Blogs ME AND ORSON WELLES (2009) (***1/2)

High school student Richard Samuels dreams of being an actor on the stage. He idolizes Orson Welles and shows up at the Mercury Theatre with the slimmest of hopes to be part of their first production, JULIUS CAESAR set in Mussolini 's Italy. By chance he amuses the players and lands a small part. He's actually going to act with Orson Welles. But the legend is different from the reality.

Richard Linklater's film cuts to the core of the ruthless politics, often fueled by enormous egos, that rule the theater world. At the Mercury Theatre, Welles is the sun and the rest of the company is the planets circling him. A great deal of time they are simply waiting for the man to arrive. When he arrives he is often short with those that his vision does not come so easily to. But when he needs or wants something from you (or is just showing off) he can make you feel like you are a superstar.

Blogs MEEK'S CUTOFF (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 2:01am

When your hear wagon train probably dozens of images from countless Westerns come to mind. You hear the call, "Circle the wagons! Indian attack!" The legend has been well established. Kelly Reichardt's quiet rumination of the travels of pioneers tries to break down that legend and present something closer to the real experience.

In 1845, three families pay mountain man Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood, STAR TREK) to guide them along the Oregon Trail through the Cascade Mountains. As the film begins, we quickly realize they are lost. Meek has talked big about his exploits, but it seems like he is driving these people forward with the hope that the way will be found as the go along.

Blogs MONEYBALL (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 5:29pm

How can you not be romantic about baseball? That's what Brad Pitt's Billy Beane says in this great baseball movie, which is more about the business of baseball than the game. And that said the film still does stir the desire to grab some peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack and head out to the ole ball game.

Blogs MONEYBALL (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 5:17pm

How can you not be romantic about baseball? That's what Brad Pitt's Billy Beane says in this great baseball movie, which is more about the business of baseball than the game. And that said the film still does stir the desire to grab some peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack and head out to the ole ball game.

The story follows Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's, as he is forced to rebuild his team after losing three key players to other clubs. The dirty little secret in baseball, that anyone who knows baseball knows, is that the playing field is not level. As Beane says, there are rich teams and there are poor teams and there is 50 feet of crap and then there is the A's. When a trip to visit the Indians' GM about player trades goes badly, he seeks out the quiet guy by the door who seems to make the others listen to him. That guy is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, CYRUS), an Ivy League economics grad who believes that professional baseball has it all wrong when it comes to staffing teams.

Blogs DUMBO (1941) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 9:29am

The economy of storytelling is the most impressive element of this slight animated feature. Following the poor performances of PINOCCHIO, BAMBI and FANTASIA, the lavish production values were toned down. Less spectacle but not less character. This story of an elephant with jumbo ears fills the big top with emotion in only 64 minutes.

Blogs DUMBO (1941) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 9:16am

The economy of storytelling is the most impressive element of this slight animated feature. Following the poor performances of PINOCCHIO, BAMBI and FANTASIA, the lavish production values were toned down. Less spectacle but not less character. This story of an elephant with jumbo ears fills the big top with emotion in only 64 minutes.

When the stork delivers Mrs. Jumbo's baby son, her fellow elephants label him with the name Dumbo, because of his giant ears. The ridicule he receives only makes the shy little pachyderm even more bashful. Like any good mother, Mrs. Jumbo defends her child from tormentors, but her actions are not taken favorably by the circus management. Dumbo, whose real name in Jumbo Jr., is now left to fend for himself as the circus decides to put the silly looking animal in the clown act, so people can laugh at him more.

Blogs JANE EYRE (2011) (***1/2)

Having recently seen Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 version of the Charlotte Bronte tale, it's hard not to compare the two. It's easy though to be impressed with what director Cary Fukunaga has accomplished with this new version of the much-adapted romance. He brings new tension and artistry.

The film begins with an extremely effective foreshadowing. We see the older Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska, ALICE IN WONDERLAND) fleeing from Thornfield Hall, across a rocky field. She is exhausted. Seeing a house distant she makes her way there and collapses on the doorstep where she is saved by preacher St John Rivers (Jamie Bell, BILLY ELLIOTT). He and his sisters nurse her back to health and find her employment at a charity school. She says she is content because for the first time in her life, she is not subordinate to anyone.

Blogs JANE EYRE (1996) (***)

Franco Zeffirelli's rendition of Charlotte Bronte's gothic romance seems quaint now 15 years after its release. The director known for his lavish period dramas, especially his classic 1968 version of ROMEO AND JULIET, gives this story a quality "Masterpiece Theater" approach.

Young Jane Eyre (Anna Paquin, THE PIANO) is an orphan whose aunt Mrs. Reed (Fiona Shaw, HARRY POTTER) sends her off to the oppressive religious boarding school, run by the sadists Mr. Brocklehurst (John Wood, WARGAMES) and Miss Scatcherd (Geraldine Chaplin, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS). It's a very Dickensian start to her life. After suffering under the school's rule, she (played as a young woman by Charlotte Gainsbourg (ANTI-CHRIST)) is hired on as a governess at the estate of Edward Rochester (William Hurt, ACCIDENTIAL TOURIST) where she is to care for his French ward Adele (Josephine Serre). The house is run by the pleasant Mrs. Fairfax (Joan Plowright, ENCHANTED APRIL), who describes her master as a man who is hard to read. He is an unhappy man, she says.

Blogs 13 ASSASSINS (2011) (***1/2)

With this film, Takashi Miike has made his most accessible movie to date. I'd argue it is his best because it is tighter and less obsessed with shock than any of his previous work. Some might say this ode to the samurai genre, especially the work of Akira Kurasawa, is his least daring, but his daring sometimes doesn't make for a compelling story. This is an actioner done the right way.

Set in 1844 when the reign of the samurai was coming to an end, a samurai commits seppuku in protest of the political advancement of Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki, SAIMIN), the son of the former shogun and the brother of the current one. He is a ruthless sadist, who enjoys murder, torture and rape as a form of control over the peasants. Top official Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira, SWORD OF THE BEAST) makes the decision to have Naritsugu assassinated and calls on veteran samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Takusho, SHALL WE DANCE?), who when found is fishing on a ladder in the ocean. Shinzaemon is eager to take the job. He shakes at the thought of having a noble death.

As is a staple of the genre, he seeks out some of the last remaining samurai to recruit them for the virtual suicide mission to ambush Lord Naritsugu's convoy. He can only find 13 to go against 70. When the epic battle begins, the 13 will be facing 200. But these are distinguished samurai and they have tricks up their sleeves.

Like any good samurai flick, Miike takes his time establishing his characters, so that when the action starts we are captivated with how their personalities come out in battle. Shinzaemon's right hand man is Kuranaga (Hiroki Matsukata, SHOGUN'S SAMURAI), who shows that age hasn't slowed his skills with the sword. When Shinzaemon finds his nephew Shimada (Takayuki Yamada, THE CAT RETURNS) he is gambling in a whorehouse. Fans of the genre might expect that his character is the one that legend Toshiro Mifune would have played, but he's not. Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA) is the quiet killer much like Kyuzo in SEVEN SAMURAI. Kiga Koyata (Yusuke Iseya, CASSHERN) is the mysterious thirteenth assassin who the others meet in the forest. He is the kind of rough and unpredictable character that Mifune would have played. But he might not be human.

The other samurai are the stalwarts of the genre. Mitsuhashi (Ikki Sawamura, STEAMBOY) is the scout. Otake (Seiji Rokkaku) is the heavy-set samurai that serves as comic relief. Hioki (Sosuke Takaoka, BATTLE ROYALE) is the devoted follower of Kuranaga. Higuchi (Yuma Ishigaki, AZUMI) and Horii (Koen Kondo, LINDA LINDA LINDA) are the explosives experts. Sahara (Arata Furuta, HANA) is the oldest samurai who prefers a spear to a sword. Ogura (Masataka Kubota) is the young samurai with little experience, but a lot of heart.

Leading the army set to protect Lord Naritsugu is Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura, FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN), a former school rival of Shinzaemon, who knows that no matter how many men they bring, if his old classmate is involved, there will be a great deal of bloodshed. He even goes to warn Shinzaemon that the effort is futile and that the time of the samurai is over. Shinzaemon is not persuaded. Lord Naritsugu is perverting the code of the samurai and he does not fear death in defending it.

The siege on the village at the end presents some implausible elements when it comes to the time the 13 samurai have to set their traps, but it's too fun to mind. By then you are too wrapped up in the story. Miike handles his bloody action with a visceral flare, but never loses his characters in the swordplay. For 40 minutes, we get to see how these warriors handle battle in choreography that we actually get to watch because Miike doesn't try to hide it with fancy camera work.

Naritsugu is the perfect villain to tell this story with. In a signature Miike moment, we meet one of his victims a naked, starved woman who has had her arms cut off. This is the aloof monster that we want Shinzaemon to take down. He represents the corrupt government that ruled following the nobler reign of the samurai. Shinzaemon knows that the time of the samurai has come to an end. What he can't stand is that the future is in the hands of men like Naritsugu. He knows he might not succeed, but he will show him what the samurai are all about. One of them will have a noble death for sure.


Blogs I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (2010) (***1/2)

When Steven Russell meets Phillip Morris in prison he catches a terminal cancer called love. He is consumed with giving Phillip the world. To do so he pays off guards, poses as a lawyer to get Phillip released early and scams millions out of a health care company in order to fund their lavish lifestyle. Oh what a guy won't do for love.

Jim Carrey plays Steve Russell, who at the start of the film is a married cop who plays the organ at church every week, which he attends with his June Cleaver wife Debbie (Leslie Mann, KNOCKED UP). As a child, he was adopted through some not so legal means. He uses his access at work to locate his real mother to find out why she sold him. After that doesn't work out too well, he moves his family away. Following a car accident, he declares that he has been living a lie and boldly comes out as gay.

Blogs ROLLER BOOGIE (1979) (*1/2)

ROLLER BOOGIE is from the long Hollywood tradition of trying to cash in on youth trends. This little confection tried to capture the roller skating culture of Venice Beach. It casts a 20-year-old Linda Blair in the lead and a roller skating champion with no acting experience as her love interest. They're just kids having fun, but it's the stuffy adults that always have to come and ruin their vibe.

Blair (THE EXORCIST) plays Terry Barkley, a rich girl from Bel-Air whose parents want her to be a concert flutist. She wants to be a roller skating champion. As an adult myself, it's hard to 100% root for her life decisions there. Bobby James (Jim Bray) is an amateur roller skating champ, who works at a skate rental stand on the boardwalk. They met up at the local roller rink where his friends bet him that he can't get her to skate with him, because there is no way a girl driving a million dollar car would ever skate with a beach bum. As you can guess, she not only skates with him, but also asks him to teach her to skate like him.

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

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 2:01am

Actor David Schwimmer has directed an R-rated film that every 13 year old should see. If some parents are skittish about this they should see it for themselves. It might scare them into reconsidering. With a frank approach, the intense drama deals with sexual predators on the Internet. It understands how teens use new media to communicate. It understands how pedophiles use new media to exploit them.

Annie (Liana Liberato, TRESPASS) is 14. She hasn't had a boyfriend yet and even feels awkward around other girls who talk openly about sex. She meets a boy from California on the Internet named Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey, THE INTERNATIONAL). He plays volleyball like her and really gets her. They text, chat and talk on the phone constantly. At first he says he is 15 then in college then he is a grad student. She asks him why he keeps lying to her and he always has the right answer. When they finally meet, she is brought to tears when it is clear that he is well into his 30s. But he says, "I'm still Charlie."

Blogs BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 3:06pm

Bill Cunningham is a man of integrity. Despite being a legendary photographer in the fashion world, he lives in a tiny, rent-controlled apartment in Carnegie Hall. His room is filled with file cabinets with decades of negatives and a bed. The bathroom is in the hall. For much of his work, he refused to take money, because he didn't want anyone to own him or his work. He won't even take a free glass of water at the events he covers. His work is his life and he won't compromise that.

During the film, Cunningham celebrates his 80th birthday. He has been taking pictures of New Yorkers and what they wear for decades. The film features a who's whos list of editors from the top fashion magazines who follow is work because he has a keen eye for catching trends that are growing out of the streets. In covering fashion shows, he has a keen eye for when a designer is copying something done before and has no qualms pointing it out. He loves fashion, which he describes as our armor to go out into the world.

Blogs DRIVE (2011) (****)

Albert Brooks' character was once a movie producer. He describes his films as action-filled and sexy. Once a critic described them as European, he says. I'd call this intense actioner European as well, but not for the same reasons. The action is precisely planned in bursts in an otherwise quiet film. The tone never shifts but depending on what is going on it can be ominous or romantic. It's artful and bloody. It's visceral and elegant.

Blogs DRIVE (2011) (****)

Albert Brooks' character was once a movie producer. He describes his films as action-filled and sexy. Once a critic described them as European, he says. I'd call this intense actioner European as well, but not for the same reasons. The action is precisely planned in bursts in an otherwise quiet film. The tone never shifts but depending on what is going on it can be ominous or romantic. It's artful and bloody. It's visceral and elegant.

In an existential move harkening back to car movies of the 1970s like TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, the protagonist is simply known as Driver (Ryan Gosling, CRAZY. STUPID. LOVE.). He works for Shannon (Bryan Cranston, TV's BREAKING BAD) as a mechanic at his auto shop and part time as a stunt driver for the movies. Shannon wants to start racing cars and asks shady business man Bernie Rose (Brooks, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE) and Nino (Ron Perlman, HELLBOY) to invest in the young man. Moonlighting, Driver drives get away cars for criminals. He gives the thieves the same deal. A five-minute window, he doesn't carry a gun and he doesn't get involved.

Blogs INCENDIES (2011) (****)

What if upon your mother's death you learned that your father was still alive and that you had a brother you never knew about? Then you were asked to find them. Through the process you learn shocking details of your mother's past. What if the woman that always seemed a little weird was actually a legend in her native country?

Blogs Blu-ray: INCENDIES (2011)

Mostly filmed using natural light, this Oscar nominated film benefits greatly from the detail of this 1080p transfer. Andre Turpin's cinematography could have come off dim and murky in a bad transfer or heaven forbid DVD, but this first rate job has keep its visual integrity. The color palette is natural and the black levels are solid. The natural lighting does dampen the crispness of the image, but that doesn’t mean details don’t pop.

Blogs INCENDIES (2011) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 12:56am

What if upon your mother's death you learned that your father was still alive and that you had a brother you never knew about? Then you were asked to find them. Through the process you learn shocking details of your mother's past. What if the woman that always seemed a little weird was actually a legend in her native country?

Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, TAKING THE PLUNGE) and Simon Marwan (Maxim Gaudette, CHEECH) are faced with these questions when their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal, PARADISE NOW) passes away suddenly. He doesn't want anything to do with his mother's surprising last request, but Jeanne knows that she will be haunted by it if she doesn't go looking for her father. As details, she will pull her brother into the search, simply because it is too emotional to do it on her own.

Blogs Blu-ray: INCENDIES (2011)

By Rick DeMott | Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 12:54am

Read my review of INCENDIES

Mostly filmed using natural light, this Oscar nominated film benefits greatly from the detail of this 1080p transfer. Andre Turpin's cinematography could have come off dim and murky in a bad transfer or heaven forbid DVD, but this first rate job has keep its visual integrity. The color palette is natural and the black levels are solid. The natural lighting does dampen the crispness of the image, but that doesn’t mean details don’t pop.

The soundtrack is presented in French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film is a dialogue driven film, but there are moments where war takes over the soundspace. Gunfire whizzes across the sound field. A burning bus rages in the back speakers. Street scenes bring an immersive quality to the scenes. For the most part, the elements are balanced nicely. The Radiohead song used seems to be overpowering at times though.

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