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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN

Blogs Blu-ray: LIMITLESS (2011)

Neil Burger's smart drug thriller comes to Blu-ray is a sharp AVC encoded 1080p transfer. As the main character goes from loser to genius, the color palette changes and the disc never misses the mark. Whether it's the desaturated world of the character off the drug or the bright vibrant world of him on the drug, the colors are always spot on, even black level stay consistent over the style change. Details pop throughout the film, especially in the "on the drug" moments, which is perfectly suited for the subject matter where the drug enhances the user's perception. Some minor aliasing is the only problem I witnessed, but like I said it was minor and pops up in the usual kinds of places.

Blogs Blu-ray: LIMITLESS (2011)

Check out my LIMITLESS review.

Neil Burger's smart drug thriller comes to Blu-ray is a sharp AVC encoded 1080p transfer. As the main character goes from loser to genius, the color palette changes and the disc never misses the mark. Whether it's the desaturated world of the character off the drug or the bright vibrant world of him on the drug, the colors are always spot on, even black level stay consistent over the style change. Details pop throughout the film, especially in the "on the drug" moments, which is perfectly suited for the subject matter where the drug enhances the user's perception. Some minor aliasing is the only problem I witnessed, but like I said it was minor and pops up in the usual kinds of places.

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

What if you could take a pill and it unlocked the vast potential of your mind? That’s what this film purposes. The problem is that writers not on the drug have a hard time representing what a person with a four digit IQ is really like. I highly doubt that someone that smart would end up in a thriller, but that’s what the film is.

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

What if you could take a pill and it unlocked the vast potential of your mind? That’s what this film purposes. The problem is that writers not on the drug have a hard time representing what a person with a four digit IQ is really like. I highly doubt that someone that smart would end up in a thriller, but that’s what the film is.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper, THE HANGOVER) is a struggling writer who has a book deal, but can’t really deal with writing it. Pretty much at rock bottom, he has a run in with his former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth, EMPIRE RECORDS), who was also is former drug dealer. He’s now pushing NZT, the drug that unlocks your mind’s full potential. But as with any too good to be true venture, there are side effects. Eddie gets addicted to the drug and starts running out of his supply. In the process, he gets mixed up with gangster Gennady (Andrew Howard, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN) and high-stakes investor Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro, RAGING BULL). It’s questionable who is shadier.

Blogs FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (2007) (***)

So what does the Bible say about homosexuality? The verse thrown out most often is Leviticus 20:13 — "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." An abomination that's some strong language. But what else does the Bible call an abomination? Even before homosexuality, Leviticus 11:10-11 says, "But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination." Holy cow, stop the church retreat and clambake!

Blogs BIGGIE & TUPAC (2002) (***1/2)

With so many prisoner confessions concerning the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. surfacing lately, it seemed a good time to check out Nick Broomfield's 2002 documentary on the crimes. The explosive documentary argues that Death Row Records head Suge Knight orchestrated the hits. Broomfield talks to the rap mogul in prison. Broomfield is a ballsy guy.

If you don't know Broomfield he's a British filmmaker who makes documentaries like an investigative journalist. His AILEEN WUORNOS: THE SELLING OF A SERIAL KILLER shows how the subject of the fictional film MONSTER was manipulated by money-grubbing lowlifes to make money off her crimes. His HEIDI FLEISS: HOLLYWOOD MADAM tells the tale not of a notorious sex worker, but a naïve woman manipulated by others. His KURT & COURTNEY made the sensational claims that Courtney Love had something to do with the death of her husband Kurt Cobain.

Blogs RED (2010) (**)

Bruce Willis plays a retired black ops agent who develops a crush on the telephone operator (played by Mary-Louise Parker) that manages his government pension. It's a cute little set up for a romantic spy thriller. He devises an excuse to be in her hometown so they can meet. The only problem is that there are people out to kill him and they come along for the trip. I really liked this part of the film. Now that we got that out of the way, we'll talk about the rest of the film.

Willis plays Frank Moses, who is labeled R.E.D., which stands for Retired: Extremely Dangerous. He knows things that others, like gun smuggler Alexander Dunning (Richard Dreyfuss, JAWS), don't want getting out. He has connections with the government, which sends young agents like William Cooper (Karl Urban, LORD OF THE RINGS) with their high tech ways after the old codger. The new guys don't stand a chance.

Blogs NO STRINGS ATTACHED (2011) (**1/2)

Casual sex in romantic comedies is never just that. There is an inevitability to how things will turn out. Love affairs have to end in love. Is the Hays morality code still in effect? Or is it just that a real story about casual sex would be too difficult to write?

Emma and Adam had a camp crush when they were young. Years later they meet again at a party looking like Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Neither is looking for a committed relationship, but they are ripe sexual specimens and it would be a shame to let that fruit spoil. They have separate reasons for wanting to stay casual. Emma is a medical student and she doesn't want romance to get in the way of her career goals. Adam has just been dumped by his girlfriend Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond, NOWHERE BOY). Making matters worse is that she dumped him for his father Alvin (Kevin Kline, A FISH CALLED WANDA), a fading movie star.

Blogs THE SWITCH (2010) (**)

Jason Bateman is the only reason to watch this film. He is given good moments and he brings them alive with conviction. Even the bad moments he makes enjoyable. The undoing of this romcom is everything else around him. Bateman's honest performance loses credibility when it's surrounded by such fakery.

Bateman plays Wally Mars, a neurotic man who can't seem to find the right girl. Something is always wrong. He's best friends with one of his exes, Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston, THE GOOD GIRL). She's getting to the point in her life that if she doesn't have a baby soon she'll never have one. She wants Wally to help her find a suitable sperm donor. He doesn't like the idea at all.

Blogs HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (2011) (***1/2)

When I reviewed PART 1, I said that it wasn't a complete film and that everyone needed to check back to see how I really liked it when I'd seen the whole film. I'm happy to report that the conclusion of the HARRY POTTER series is epic and ultimately satisfying. And unlike PART 1 it works as a stand-alone film too.

Blogs HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (2011) (***1/2)

When I reviewed PART 1, I said that it wasn't a complete film and that everyone needed to check back to see how I really liked it when I'd seen the whole film. I'm happy to report that the conclusion of the HARRY POTTER series is epic and ultimately satisfying. And unlike PART 1 it works as a stand-alone film too.

The film picks up where the last one left off and the more familiar one is with PART 1 the easier it will be to follow this one. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliff) strikes a deal with the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis, RETURN OF THE JEDI) to sneak into the Gringotts bank to search the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, SWEENEY TODD) for one of the horcruxes, which hold a piece of the soul of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, THE ENGLISH PATIENT). Destroying them is the key to defeating You Know Who.

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

Before this film I had never heard of Joyce McKinney and her bizarre headline grabbing life. It's a fitting statement of her bizarre story, one that grabs attention and fizzles out as the next sensational tale takes hold of the headlines of magazines and newspapers at the check-out line. It's got it all -- a former beauty queen, a Mormon missionary, violence and kinky sex.

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

Before this film I had never heard of Joyce McKinney and her bizarre headline grabbing life. It's a fitting statement of her bizarre story, one that grabs attention and fizzles out as the next sensational tale takes hold of the headlines of magazines and newspapers at the check-out line. It's got it all -- a former beauty queen, a Mormon missionary, violence and kinky sex.

Joyce McKinney was in search of that special guy her whole life. After living in L.A. for a stretch, she moved to Utah where she meets Kirk Anderson. For Joyce it was love at first sight. The problem for Kirk was that he was a Mormon and was expected to marry a nice Mormon girl. Not a former Miss Wyoming. Kirk up and left on his required mission without telling Joyce where he was going. She hired a private investigator to hunt him down, believing he had been kidnapped and brainwashed by a cult.

Blogs WINNIE THE POOH (2011) (***1/2)

This might be the gutsiest release of the summer. Theatrical films geared toward the preschool and slightly above set are rarely made today. They usually dwell in the land of direct-to-video. Pooh is Disney's biggest merchandising producer. Every preschooler has something Pooh related in their room. But once the kid hits school, is Pooh cool? That's why this is a difficult sell. But those who buy a ticket will be transported into a simple timeless production filled with wit and whimsy.

Blogs WINNIE THE POOH (2011) (***1/2)

This might be the gutsiest release of the summer. Theatrical films geared toward the preschool and slightly above set are rarely made today. They usually dwell in the land of direct-to-video. Pooh is Disney's biggest merchandising producer. Every preschooler has something Pooh related in their room. But once the kid hits school, is Pooh cool? That's why this is a difficult sell. But those who buy a ticket will be transported into a simple timeless production filled with wit and whimsy.

John Cleese provides the narration for this tale of Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), the imaginative boy who brings his toys to life in the Hundred Acre Woods. While looking for the lost tail of Eeyore (Bud Luckey, BOUNDIN’), Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) discovers a note at Christopher Robin’s tree house. He takes it to Owl (Craig Ferguson, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON), who misinterprets it as a kidnap note. The veracious beast the Backson (which sounds a lot like Back Soon) has taken the young boy, so it is up to Pooh and friends to set a trap for the monster.

Blogs THE BALLAD OF NESSIE (2011) (***)

This origin story of the Loch Ness monster is a sweet ode to Disney’s Silly Symphonies shorts of the 1940s and ‘50s. Narrated by Billy Connolly, the tale follows Nessie as she is forced out of her cozy pond by a loud mini-golf course developer named MacFroogle. She heads out with her best friend, the rubber duck MacQuack, to find a new home, but it’s not that easy. The whole incident makes her just want to cry, but she’s Scottish and she is supposed to keep a stiff upper lip.

Blogs THE BALLAD OF NESSIE (2011) (***)

This origin story of the Loch Ness monster is a sweet ode to Disney’s Silly Symphonies shorts of the 1940s and ‘50s. Narrated by Billy Connolly, the tale follows Nessie as she is forced out of her cozy pond by a loud mini-golf course developer named MacFroogle. She heads out with her best friend, the rubber duck MacQuack, to find a new home, but it’s not that easy. The whole incident makes her just want to cry, but she’s Scottish and she is supposed to keep a stiff upper lip.

Directors/writers Stevie Wermers and Kevin Deters (HOW TO HOOK UP YOUR HOME THEATER) bring sensitivity to this story. It’s a thin plot but it carries emotional weight. The appealing design of Nessie and her world (loved the plaid mountains), Connolly’s pitch perfect voice over for both the touching and brave face moments and solid character animation attribute to this success.

Blogs LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (2010) (***)

Ed Zwick's tale of a drug rep is good, but I'm not the first person to say that the script was a few drafts short of being great. Many of the elements are there. An interesting topical subject. Good actors in interesting roles. Drama. Comedy. Romance. But should they have been taken together?

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal, BROTHERS) is a born salesman. In his job as an electronics salesman, he could sell a car audio system to a 95 year old grandma. He uses his sales skills in pursuit of women too. The two sales opportunities sometimes cross, which gets him in trouble. After getting fired, he decides to become a drug rep, primarily because it's the only job where a starting salary could be over 100k. Partnered with the veteran Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt, TV' s THE BIG C), he is given the difficult task of pushing anti-depressant Zoloft when all patients are asking for is the name recognized Prozac.

Blogs ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944) (****)

This dark comedy seems very unlike Frank Capra's socially conscious films like MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN or MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. While his films had dark elements before, this one is more in line with the British comedies of the era. Capra brings the same madcap screwball quality he brought to his Oscar winners IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. This Capra-corn is laced.

Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant, A PHILADELPHIA STORY) was a devoted bachelor. He even wrote books about the horrors of matrimony. But that's before he meet the preacher's daughter Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane, SABOTEUR). Before heading off to Niagara Falls for his honeymoon, he drops in on his kindly elderly aunts Abby and Martha (Josephine Hull, HARVEY, & Jean Adair, THE NAKED CITY), who run a boarding house for lonely old men. They look after their crazy nephew Teddy, who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt. Mortimer stumbles over a corpse in the window seat and believes Teddy has done it this time, but as his aunts explain it's another one of their charity cases, but a poor soul out of his misery.

Blogs RIDICULE (1996) (***1/2)

Patrice Laconte is a filmmaker who likes to deal with stories about peculiar relationships. This period piece deals with the peculiar relationships that sprung up during the reign of Louis XVI. Wit ruled the day and was the way to catch the ear of the king. Sincerity was looked down upon. Those best at publicly ridiculing his fellow man were the celebrity du jour. So those who actually had sincere plans needed to hide them under the mask of mockery.

Le Marquis Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling, SUMMER HOURS) is a country nobleman with a grand plan to drain the swamps of Dombes in order to save the people from disease. He decides to travel to Versailles in order to see the king about his idea. He is quickly rejected. Along the road back home, he is mugged and falls under the care of the doctor Le Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort, THE MAN ON THE TRAIN), who takes the young man under his wing and gives him a chance at court. There Gregoire shows off his biting wit. He catches the attention of the rich widow Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant, ELIZABETH) and the current wit champion L'Abbee de Vilecourt (Bernard Giraudau, A MATTER OF TASTE).

While Bellegarde marvels at Gregoire's mental dexterity, the young engineer doesn't particularly like the game he has to play. Meanwhile, Bellegarde's daughter Mathilde (Judith Godreche, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK) is playing a game of her own lining up as the second wife of the ancient nobleman Monsieur Montalieri (Bernard Dheran, DON'T DELIVER US FROM EVIL). They're just waiting for his first wife to die. It is the only way for her to fund her research into diving bells. Gregoire and Mathilde come together in their passion for science, but science needs money to fund it and love doesn't pay the bills.

Two related scenes define the mood of the era. Gregoire and Bellegarde are traveling with the sign language innovator Charles-Michel de l'Epee (Jacques Mathou, DELICATESSEN). He offers to take in Bellegarde's deaf ward, who is viewed as the local idiot. Bellegarde scuttles off the idea to save face. L'Epee's passion of doing good is a social faux pas. Later l'Epee will have a chance to show off his work at court. Few have the guts to commend him, most just make fun of the deaf and dumb patients as if they were dogs dressed up in formal attire to amuse them.

The court, with great snobbery, say they are following the writings of Voltaire, but seem to have no clue what their idol was talking about when it came to social justice. Louis XVI (Urbain Cancelier, AMIELE) is a symbol of this phoniness. The monarch would shun longtime supporters if they weren't witty enough like a teenage coward shuns an old friend because the friend isn't cool enough to be among his new pals. The postscript to the film reminds us of the how the French Revolution dealt with these out of touch privileged elite. They ate cake while laughing about the dying peasants and lost their heads too.

Under Louis XVI, the privileged class mocked the poor. They can't imagine what it is like to be poor, turning their noses up at the retched masses that are just "bleeding the nation dry." The elite of the 18th century kept particular company and threw out anyone who said anything against the prevailing wisdom of the king. Gregoire tries to fit in but he's seen the poor and all the wine and women in Versailles can't make him forget. Some things never change.


Blogs ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) (****)

At first glance at the title, the film seems gimmicky. Universal crammed three of its iconic horror characters into a mass appeal comedy with stars Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Costello was rumored to have said that his five year old could have written a better script. However, he warmed to it once production got under way… and Universal offered him more money. On the page it must have seemed like a lot of scared reactions and running around, but what he might have missed is how it all plays together. It is a simple premise where the pieces build into comic genius.

Chick Young (Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Costello) are railway baggage clerks assigned the task from House of Horrors owner Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson, PEYTON PLACE) to handle crates purportedly filled with the bodies of Dracula (Bela Lugosi, DRACULA) and Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange, HOUSE OF DRACULA). Meanwhile, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr., THE WOLFMAN) calls to stop the guys from delivering the crates, while hiding the secret that he is a werewolf. Moreover, Chick scratches his head at how Wilbur landed his beautiful girlfriend Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER). Well it turns out that she is working for Dracula (posing as Dr. Lahos) to obtain a dimwitted brain to place into the Monster in order to keep him obedient.

Blogs Blu-ray: DAS BOOT (1981)

Read my DAS BOOT review.

This Blu-ray release of Wolfgang Petersen's classic war film gives fans both the 149-minute theatrical cut and the 208-minute director's cut. Both films are put on individual 50G discs. Understandably, the shorter film fares better when it comes compression issues. The theatrical cut, overall, has more sharpness in the fine details compared to the longer version. In both versions, the color palette seems muted at times even for a picture shot on film. Some color banding, less-than-solid black levels and soft and/or grainy images pop up in the release, but are never prevalent. But for a 30-year-old film, it still looks the best it ever has in the home.

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

This film is a director's film. It is a film created from tone and imagery and the way they combine with the characters to form a visual story. It's not a perfect directorial effort for Sophia Coppola, but a fascinating one. She meticulously watches her characters and brings us into their world. It's a world we think we might know, but this is not the glamorized version. It's a Hollywood story told from an insider who does not have Hollywood sensibilities.

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, BLADE) is an international movie star. He lives at the Chateau Marmont, the legendary hotel hideaway of Hollywood stars. He is lonely and lost. He goes to parties. He gets drunk. He breaks his arm. He hires twin strippers to come to his room and perform pole dances. He sleeps with random women. He passes out. It all receives the same blank reaction. The only thing that seems to make him even break a smile is his tweenaged daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, SUPER 8). But then he doesn't really know her at all.

Blogs TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011) (**)

My one and a half star rating for the last TRANSFORMERS film was kind. I'm happy to report that the third film in the series is decidedly better, but when your #2 reminded me of something else called a #2 then "decidedly better" doesn't necessarily mean it's a good film. Hey at least this film has a plot.

Blogs TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011) (**)

My one and a half star rating for the last TRANSFORMERS film was kind. I'm happy to report that the third film in the series is decidedly better, but when your #2 reminded me of something else called a #2 then "decidedly better" doesn't necessarily mean it's a good film. Hey at least this film has a plot.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, HOLES) has saved the Earth twice and even received a medal from President Obama, but he's having a tough time finding a job. Even though he has no income, he lives in an amazing loft in Chicago with his gorgeous British girlfriend Carly (former Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). She works for the egotistical entrepreneur Dylan (Patrick Dempsey, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE). He has a gorgeous car collection and seems to want to add Carly to it as a hood ornament. Sam has no contact with the Autobots anymore because they are now running secret ops for the military, led by Lennox (Josh Duhamel, LIFE AS WE KNOW IT).

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