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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs HOODWINKED TOO!: HOOD VS. EVIL (2011) (*1/2)

Narratively the original HOODWINKED was a mess, but there were moments of general inspiration within cliché and tired routines. The sequel is just cliché and tired routines. The original was done independently on the cheap and looked it, but this one feels cheaper because it has no purpose other than to cash in on the surprise success of the original.

Unlike the mysterious RASHOMON-like plot of the first film, this picture is pretty straight forward. It’s perfectly structured as a “good” screenplay is supposed to be structured, but leaves no surprises along the way. Red (Hayden Panettiere, TV’s HEROES) is off training with the Sisters of the Hood, while Wolf (Patrick Warburton, TV’s SEINFELD) is manning the spy agency they now work for. After Red’s Granny (Glenn Close, FATAL ATTRACTION) is kidnapped by Verushka the witch (Joan Cusack, WORKING GIRL), Red is called back to investigate.

Blogs THE HELP (2011) (****)

What if simply telling the truth could get you fired, hurt or even killed? What if you went to work and your employer made you go out in a tornado just to use the alternative bathroom? What if you had to raise other people's children while someone else was raising yours? When would you ever feel free?

Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis, DOUBT) lives under these conditions in the early '60s in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the maid of Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly, NANCY DREW), a housewife who does no house work. Like so many in her circle, she is more interested in impressing Mrs. Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard, SPIDER-MAN 3), a cruel bully who is pushing for an initiative to require homes with black help to have a separate bathroom for them. "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.) has been friends with these women since grade school, but instead of leaving high school and getting married like so many of them, she went to college to study journalism. Now she wants to write something important.

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

Writer/director Mike Mills based this drama on his own experiences with his father. That touch of authenticity washes over this sad and funny film. The story takes place over three time periods. The main character's interactions with his mother when he was a child, a few months after the death of his father and the years proceeding his father's death starting with his announcement that he is gay.

Ewan McGregor (MOULIN ROUGE!) plays Oliver, an artist who wants to create the history of sadness for a band's album cover when all they asked for was portraits in his signature style. The death of his parents has hit him hard and exaggerated his feelings of failure, which extend to his relationships. His father Hal (Christopher Plummer, THE LAST STATION) on the other hand didn't die sad at all. When this man came out, he came out. He posted personal ads for sex, he joined several gay clubs and activist groups, he went to dance clubs and learned what house music was, and he fell in love with Andy (Goran Visnjic, TV's E.R.).

Blogs RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) (***1/2)

This reboot of the venerable sci-fi franchise doesn't try to remake the original classic like the Tim Burton film tried. It takes a page from CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and starts the story with the rebellion of the apes against man, only without the time paradox element. The last part of that statement is for fans of the series, who will find great joy in this new installment. Like the original this is a film based around characters and ideas.

Blogs RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) (***1/2)

This reboot of the venerable sci-fi franchise doesn't try to remake the original classic like the Tim Burton film tried. It takes a page from CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and starts the story with the rebellion of the apes against man, only without the time paradox element. The last part of that statement is for fans of the series, who will find great joy in this new installment. Like the original this is a film based around characters and ideas.

The film is the story of two characters -- one human and one ape. Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 HOURS) is a scientist working on a gene therapy that could cure scores of brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's. It's a personal cause for him because his father Charles (John Lithgow, TV's 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN) is suffering from senility disease. As part of his work, Will tests on chimps. After a disaster at the lab, he smuggles an infant chimp home. The young ape quickly shows signs of increased intelligence as a result of the drug his mother was given. Charles names him Caesar (Andy Serkis, KING KONG).

Blogs THE GRADUATE (1967) (****)

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" If you haven't seen Mike Nichols' classic, you still know that line. Coming at the end of '60s, the comedic ode to disillusionment embodied the growing resentment toward the status quo. Mrs. Robinson proposition to the new college grad Benjamin Braddock is not just a proposition for sex, but also an invitation to join the hypocrisy of the American ideal.

Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin as filled with uncertainty about everything. He's done everything that his parents have ever asked on him. He excelled at school in both academics and sports. His privileged life has always been planned out for him, but he's burned out and doesn't want to play the game anymore. The real problem though is he doesn't know any of this. His parents, played by William Daniels (TV's ST. ELSEWHERE) and Elizabeth Wilson (THE BIRDS), are drowning him, so he runs to the best option he sees in front of him — sex.

Blogs STARSHIP TROOPER (1997) (***)

Paul Verhoeven's adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's celebrated young adult sci-fi novel is a curious production. Like Verhoeven did with ROBOCOP, he weaves dark satire and extreme violence into the story. In the way he portrays the gung-ho soldiers and the government they serve he is essentially making us root for the Nazis. For the most part it works, but is it fair?

Set in the distant future, humans have colonized planets across the universe. They are having great difficulty putting down the Arachnids species living on the planet of Klendathu. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien, SLEEPY HOLLOW), his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH) and best friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris, TV's HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) are privileged teens living in Buenos Aires, who want to earn their citizenship. The only way to do so is to contribute to society or join the military. The threesome chooses the latter. The only problem is that Johnny doesn't score high enough to become a pilot like Carmen or the military intelligence like Carl, so he is relegated to mobile infantry and sent to the front lines to slaughter The Bugs or be slaughtered by The Bugs.

Blogs Blu-ray: RIO (2011)

Whatever your opinion of the film is, there is no doubt the quality of this Blu-ray release. I liked the film in its theatrical release, but this AVC encoded 1080p transfer made me appreciate it a bit more. The vibrant color palette just radiates. The picture is gorgeous with detail and no signs anywhere of digital compression issues of any sort. You can make out the individual feathers on these CG birds. No aliasing, even in lively action sequences in lush jungles, was witnessed by me. I was thoroughly impressed.

Blogs Blu-ray: RIO (2011)

Read my review of RIO.

Whatever your opinion of the film is, there is no doubt the quality of this Blu-ray release. I liked the film in its theatrical release, but this AVC encoded 1080p transfer made me appreciate it a bit more. The vibrant color palette just radiates. The picture is gorgeous with detail and no signs anywhere of digital compression issues of any sort. You can make out the individual feathers on these CG birds. No aliasing, even in lively action sequences in lush jungles, was witnessed by me. I was thoroughly impressed.

The picture quality is matched by the soundtrack. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack puts the viewer on an audio tour of Rio whether it’s the subtle ambience of the jungle or the lively music and crowds of Carnivale. Sound moves across the soundscape precisely. All the audio elements are balanced perfectly. Dialogue is clear, the music is sensational and the sound effects are natural when they need to be and dynamic when that is call for. Again I was thoroughly impressed.

Blogs THE SMURFS (2011) (**)

I watched the animated SMURFS TV series religiously as a child. I was like many kids who grew up in the 1980s. Outside of the general facts – they’re blue, they’re names match their personalities, there is only one girl in the whole village – I don’t remember their adventures at all. For this live-action/animation feature, I wasn't expecting much going in and I didn't get much coming out. Like the TV series, I won't remember much about this film either.

Blogs THE SMURFS (2011) (**)

I watched the animated SMURFS TV series religiously as a child. I was like many kids who grew up in the 1980s. Outside of the general facts – they’re blue, they’re names match their personalities, there is only one girl in the whole village – I don’t remember their adventures at all. For this live-action/animation feature, I wasn't expecting much going in and I didn't get much coming out. Like the TV series, I won't remember much about this film either.

The Smurfs live an idyllic life in their magically protected village. The wicked wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, MYSTERY MEN) wants to steal their essence in order to increase his magic powers. Clumsy Smurf (who looks a lot like Dopey Dwarf) is left out of the Blue Moon festivities being planned because of what his name implies. In trying to help out, Clumsy (Anton Yelchin, STAR TREK) inadvertently leads Gargamel and his cat Azrael right to their village. On the run, Clumsy and four other Smurfs end up getting sucked through a vortex and land in New York City.

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

I'm not the first person to draw the parallel between this Israeli film and the German classic DAS BOOT. Instead of a submarine, the story takes place inside a tank. The claustrophobic environment creates tension by limiting our view of the horrors going on outside. While its use is more as a gimmick than DAS BOOT, it certainly makes for an engaging experience.

Shmulik (Yoav Donat) is the new gunner brought into the tank. It's his first taste of combat and he is scared out of his mind. Assi (Itay Tiran, BEAUFORT) is the commanding officer in the tank, but he is weak and his nerves are rattled. Hertzel (Oshri Cohen, AGORA) is the loader who questions every decision that Assi makes and only thinks about getting out of the war. Yigal (Michael Moshonov, LATE MARRIAGE) is the young driver who just wants his mother to know he is okay. Riding them every chance he gets is the commanding officer on the ground Jamil (Zohar Shtrauss, BEAUFORT), who makes it abundantly clear that the lives of the ground troupes are in the hands of the tank crew.

Blogs WILD GRASS (2010) (***)

Alain Resnais has always been an enigmatic filmmaker. This film is him whether you love it or hate it. The criticisms of his work, even his most acclaimed work like LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, call his films style without substance and lacking real human emotion. Same could be said about this film. His films are more philosophy, especially the philosophy of cinema. While I became more and more baffled by this film as it went along, I still found myself captivated.

Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azema, SAME OLD SONG) goes shopping for a particular pair of shoes. On the way out of the store, her purse is snatched. Georges Palet (Andre Dussollier, AMIELE) finds her wallet in the parking lot. He takes it to the police and leaves his number for Marguerite to call if she wants to. When she calls he is rude to her and then he becomes obsessed with her, writing and calling constantly.

Blogs RABBIT HOLE (2010) (***1/2)

Based on David Lindsay-Abaire's award-winning play, the story deals with a couple following the death of their four-year-old child. From that description, you might have certain expectations going in. This film from John Cameron Mitchell (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) will challenge those expectations at every turn. While it has a somber tone, the story finds a lot of humor in human behavior.

Nicole Kidman received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Becca, a woman trying to move on from her grief. Her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart, ERIN BROCKOVICH) wants to move on too, but he's afraid his wife is trying to erase their son from memory. Though it's been eight months, their friends and family tread lightly around them. Becca's sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard, THE GOOD SHEPHERD) is pregnant, but she doesn't tell her. Becca's mother Nat (Dianne Wiest, LOST BOYS) tries to relate to her daughter with her own experiences losing a son, but Becca resents the comparison between her innocent four-year-old chasing a dog into traffic and getting hit to a 30-year-old drug addict who ODed.

Blogs COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) (***1/2)

In all honesty it's surprising this wasn't been done sooner. Beginning with STAR WARS, the sci-fi genre has been borrowing Western motifs. Jon Favreau's comic book adaptation puts sci-fi smack dab into a Western. Even the sci-fi has a Western tingle to it. The heart of this film is in the Wild West and most importantly with its characters.

Blogs COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) (***1/2)

In all honesty it's surprising this wasn't done sooner. Beginning with STAR WARS, the sci-fi genre has been borrowing Western motifs. Jon Favreau's comic book adaptation puts sci-fi smack dab into a Western. Even the sci-fi has a Western tingle to it. The heart of this film is in the Wild West and most importantly with its characters.

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, CASINO ROYALE) wakes up in the Arizona desert without a memory of who he is or how he got there. A strange metal bracket is locked on his wrist. Outlaws stumble upon him and with the violent way he handles them, we know that the black hat he puts on suits him well. He comes to a small town to take care of the wound in his side. Due to a wanted poster and a band of deputies, he discovers he is a man on the run. He is arrested and handed over to the marshal, but he doesn't get taken very far because aliens attack and lasso citizens, taking them hostage. Turns out, Jake's mysterious bracelet has the power to blast an alien spaceship out of the sky.

Blogs THE FUTURE (2011) (****)

Miranda July makes a sophomore film that stands up well to her inspiring debut film ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW. Where her first film could be qualified as quirky romantic comedy, her new film is more surreal and sad. It could be called a romance. It could be called a comedy. But not a romantic comedy.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater, TV's THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE) have found a stray cat. When they first take it to the vet, they are told that it only has six months to live. They believe they can handle that amount of commitment. But when they go back to pick Paw Paw up, the new vet says the cat needs to stay there for another month and could live for another five years if they take good care of her. Sophie panics. They won't be able to go out anymore. A cat is like having a baby for them. If Paw Paw lives for five years, they will be 40 by then and their lives will be over.

Blogs CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. (2011) (***)

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directors of the Jim Carrey comedy I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, have tackled an ambitious romantic comedy for their second directional effort. The story attempts three multigenerational love stories. Because of it, the film never delves deep under the surface. What the story lacks in depth, though, Dan Fogelman's script certainly makes up for in craft. How all the pieces come together is crazy.

Blogs CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. (2011) (***)

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directors of the Jim Carrey comedy I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, have tackled an ambitious romantic comedy for their second directional effort. The story attempts three multigenerational love stories. Because of it, the film never delves deep under the surface. What the story lacks in depth, though, Dan Fogelman's script certainly makes up for in craft. How all the pieces come together is crazy.

The story wastes no time getting right into it. Cal (Steve Carell, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) is having dinner with his wife Emily (Julianne Moore, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT) and while they are deciding what to have for dessert, she decides to serve him up a divorce. Cal, your Average Joe accountant, is devastated. After he moves out, he starts frequenting a bar, where he tells everyone in earshot about his woes. Jacob (Ryan Gosling, THE NOTEBOOK), a 20-something, immaculately dressed, rich lady's man, takes pity on him and decides to help Cal fix his look.

Blogs ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) (****)

Joe Cornish's film begins with a group of teens, predominately black, mugging a white woman. Then they witness something fall from the sky and when they go to investigate are attacked by a horrible alien creature. In a lesser film like this one, those black kids would be dead before the title card popped up. But that's not what happens in Cornish's spitfire horror sci-fi comedy. You know right from the start that this film is working on a different level.

Blogs ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) (****)

Joe Cornish's film begins with a group of teens, predominately black, mugging a white woman. Then they witness something fall from the sky and when they go to investigate are attacked by a horrible alien creature. In a lesser film like this one, those black kids would be dead before the title card popped up. But that's not what happens in Cornish's spitfire horror sci-fi comedy. You know right from the start that this film is working on a different level.

Moses (John Boyega) is the de facto leader of this gang. An intimidating looking 15-year-old who looks a lot older than he is. The woman they rob is Sam (Jodie Whittaker, VENUS), a nurse who lives in the same poor neighborhood as the boys. During this fateful night, it will not be the only time their paths cross. More aliens are coming and the teens decide they need to defend their block.

Blogs GAME 6 (2006) (**1/2)

The script for this film comes from acclaimed writer Don DeLillo, the author of WHITE NOISE, UNDERWORLD and COSMOPOLIS. This is his first screenplay produced, having had several plays produced before. His experience shines through here in literate dialogue, but there is a level of artifice here that works better on the stage than on the screen.

Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING) describes himself as a craftsman rather than a playwright. Rogan's latest play is about to open, but it's also game six of the 1986 World Series and he is a long-suffering Red Sox fan. He has a pessimistic outlook on both the game and the reaction to his play by the notoriously harsh critic Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr., IRON MAN). Rogen's friend and fellow playwright Elliot Litvak (Griffin Dunne, AFTER HOURS) says that he once opened a one-night one-act play about fishmongers in a fish market and Schwimmer found it and trashed it. He believes die-hardly the critic ruined his life. By his disheveled appearance you believe him.

Blogs CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) (***)

Steve Rogers is a 90 lbs weakling, but he has the heart and guts of a warrior. He keeps getting rejected at recruitment centers trying to join the fight in World War II. Chris Evans, who has experience playing superheroes, as he was the Human Torch in the FANTASTIC FOUR films, is an excellent choice to play this hero in the making before and after a super serum is injected into his veins to turn him into Captain America.

Blogs CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) (***)

Steve Rogers is a 90 lbs weakling, but he has the heart and guts of a warrior. He keeps getting rejected at recruitment centers trying to join the fight in World War II. Chris Evans, who has experience playing superheroes, as he was the Human Torch in the FANTASTIC FOUR films, is an excellent choice to play this hero in the making before and after a super serum is injected into his veins to turn him into Captain America.

Evans is made the bullied Steve Rodgers through some remarkable visual effects. His heart and passion is what attracts the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, THE LOVELY BONES), who is working on the U.S.'s super soldier program with Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, MEN IN BLACK) and investor/entrepreneur Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, MAMMA MIA!). But instead of going to the frontlines, he is used as a propaganda tool to sell war bonds. But on an USO tour, he discovers that his best friend James "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan, BLACK SWAN) has been taken prisoner and goes it alone to save him.

Blogs MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT (2009) (***)

Michael Jackson announced that he was going to do one last tour. Sadly he never got that far. The "This Is It" tour had just finished prepping when the King of Pop died. This documentary was culled from behind-the-scenes footage of the rehearsals. The film provides a compelling look at a dedicated performer working out his latest, and unexpectedly last, spectacle.

So what does the film say about Michael Jackson? He was a perfectionist, who was the artistic drive behind the epic show. He would rerun parts over and over until they were just right. While doing it, he comes off as patient and grateful of the people working with him. And in turn they seem happy to be working with and learning from him. But first and foremost, he is presented as an amazing performer. He knows music and what he wants. And he can certainly dance, keeping up with the back-up dancers that are half his age. If this is a 50-year-old drug addict, he's on some amazing stuff.

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