Larry H's Movie Reviews for 2009 (65)
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I am not a big fan of Foreign Films because I'm intimidated by subtitles; afraid I won't get it. And I was not going to watch this one but some of my new-found film critic friends shamed me into it. Allegedly, a real film critic watches foreign films. Well, we all know that I'm not a real film critic; I just play one on the internet.
This movie was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it from start to finish. It is a very simple story of gang violence and young love but told in a loving, suspenseful manner.
El Casper is in love with Martha Marlene but keeps it a secret from his Honduran gang for fear of harm to his brash lover. Casper participates in a violent initiation of a young boy who the gang names El Smiley. The leader of the gang, Lil Mago, accidently kills Martha and casually tells Casper that he can get another girlfriend. Casper is devastated but cannot show his emotions in front of the gang.
Meanwhile, the audience is introduced to a Honduran family that is riding the train with other immigrants who are in search of the good life in the US. Casper in on the run from the gang and ends up on the train with the immigrants and becomes inadvertently involved with a beautiful naïve teenager named Sayra.
This is a low-budget movie that cooks. In spite of limited resources, Writer/Director Cary Fukunaga demonstrates that he has the skill to make a movie that communicates those elusive feelings of compassion, fear, desperation, violence, hope, and love. I watched this movie on a screener DVD and stayed up until 1:00 a.m., so it had to be a pretty darn good movie in order to keep me up that late. Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.
The bones were not lovely. "I was murdered on December 6, 1973," is the explanation by the precious 14 year old Susie Salmon (Saoirse "Atonement" Ronan). The screenplay is adapted from the book by Alice Sebold and it is set in a quiet town in Pennsylvania before lost children's "faces appeared on milk cartons."
Much of the movie is from Susie's perspective from heaven or more appropriately the "Blue Horizon". As she watched her murderer continue with his life next door to her parents and brother and sister, did she influence the earthly events? Or did she merely suffer from her memories and anxiety of her terrible grief. And the grief by her parents was gut-wrenching.
Susie is brutally murdered on the way home from school by the creepy next door neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Tucci's makeup and costume disguised his well-known face and features and will cause some to fail to identify him. However, I knew the despicable character was Stanley Tucci and still could relate to him because Tucci's performance was off-the-chart good. He is one of my frontrunners for Best Supporting Actor.
The movie is riveting and intriguing but Director "The Hobbit" Jackson took me down too many paths that I did not want to go. I don't care if he followed the book or not; I did not enjoy the movie on any plane other than witnessing evil in a spooky presentation. I give Jackson high marks for movie-making but the entertainment level of movies is all about me and I was not entertained.
The highlight was the acting. Tucci set the bar high, but Susie's parents Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz were up for the task as was Grandma Lynn played by Susan Sarandon. But as I've said many times, "great acting" can not save a story that does not equally support the characters. Perhaps I should not go to these kinds of movies; and perhaps you should not go to these kinds of movies, either. And I will never watch it again.
Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 84. Larry H.
I saw this movie at a screening at AMC Studio 30 on November 30th and had very high hopes since this is the Oscar buzz season and there is much jockeying for position because even a nomination equates to millions much less an actual Oscar. And this is yet another George Clooney movie and I just saw his character voiceover in "Fantastic Mr. Fox." I've heard that famous Clooney baritone so much lately that I'm hearing it in my sleep.
But I'm ahead of myself. Since I saw this flick on a Monday night and being the romantic that I am, I decided that this would be date night and took the lovely Monique H. Before we arrived at the movie, I took her to dinner at Chick-fil-A and made sure that she had a three course meal. I like for my date to be satisfied and fully engaged in the evening so I did not want to spare any expense.
Upon arriving at the theatre, I broke with tradition and ordered a Sprite and not Mr. Pibb. And popcorn. Now here comes the rub: I'd had a head cold and some might think I was still contagious and Monique H. was one of those doubting my health status, so instead of sharing popcorn as we've done for 28 years, she wanted her own container to prevent eating popcorn that I had touched. I offered to buy her a separate small bag, but she preferred a cup. Being the loving date that I was, I requested an empty drink cup and we sprinkled some popcorn into her cup to ensure good hygiene. This is a sign of a good marriage; I think.
"Up in the Air" stars Clooney as Ryan Bingham who fires people for a living. Since the economy is down, his company's business is booming. He spends 270 days a year on the road and likes it. Going back to his one-room apartment in Omaha, Nebraska, is misery to him. He's never been married and has no kids and little contact with his two sisters who are his only family.
He is a very skilled traveler and has all the credit cards and customer upgrades that allows him to cut in airport lines and move efficiently to the next place of doom where he expertly delivers the bad news that "your job is no longer required...all the answers to your questions are in this packet."
Clooney's character is proud of his work and refers to it as an "industry."
Enter the young college graduate (Anna Kendrick) who convinces the company that the cost of travel is too expensive and should be replaced with video firings over the internet. Ryan Bingham is not happy about this new method so his boss (Jason Bateman) sends him on the road with Kendrick. Kendrick is also busy this year as she is Jessica in the "Twilight" series.
Bingham has no apparent meaningful relationships except an occasional one night stand with Alex (Vera Farmiga) who lives out of a suitcase, too, and has almost as many frequent flyer miles as Bingham. Who is Vera Farmiga? When you see her, you will say "oh yeah, I know her" but not sure where you've seen her. After this movie, you will have seen more of her than you've seen in the past unless you've seen her in the nude. Alex and Ryan seem to have an understanding that their relationship is merely a casual convenience.
Director/Screenwriter Jason Reitman fumbled the ball in the first half of this movie and then made a comeback in the second half by keeping the ball and Clooney "Up in the Air." It is unusual for a movie to have such a slow, labored start and finish strong but that's what happened for me. And while Clooney turned in one of his routinely accomplished performances, this is no Oscar feat. The big winner is Ms. Farmiga and to a lesser extent Ms.
Kendrick who performed admirably outside of her vampire gig.
Monique H. and I had a good time and isn't that what's important? Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 89. Larry H.
This is a Coen Brothers film so it is by definition worth seeing, but it is no "Fargo" or "No Country for Old Men." It is a black comedy set in 1967.
The main character is a Midwestern college professor named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbard) who is decidedly simple and frumpy. And his life is a mess. He even wears "high-water pants." How come the goofy guys are named Larry? Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 81. Larry H.
This movie opened Friday December 4, 2009, at local theatres, but I could not attend due to a new rule: Never, ever go to a movie while it is snowing in the Texas Gulf Coast in December. I was mesmerized by the falling snow yesterday and spent a lot of time gazing outside and did not want to sit in a theatre and miss one of nature's great shows.
I got up before breakfast this sunny Saturday morning and was ready to make the 10:45 am showing of "Brothers" at AMC First Colony. As I sauntered out of the parking lot, I noticed there was still snow on the concrete benches near the fountain. We've had more snow so far this fall than Chicago; now that's whack.
Two brothers: Toby "Spider-Man" Maguire is Captain Sam Cahill who is about to deploy to Afghanistan and Jake "Brokeback Mountain" Gyllenhaal plays Tommy Cahill who has just been released from prison. Captain Sam is married to the beautiful Natalie Portman and they have two kids.
Jake/Tommy takes his shirt off while the opening credits are still rolling.
While the hero, perfect child Marine Captain Sam is in Afghanistan, things go badly for him over there and his wife and family are informed that he is dead. Brother Tommy steps in to help his brother's wife remodel the kitchen and lovingly plays with the kids. Tommy even makes amends to a victim of one of his crimes. Uh oh, this is not going well for Captain Sam.
All three of the stars performed superbly and Director Jim Sheridan produced a solid story which was interesting and heart-felt. Is this a great movie?
No, but it is entertaining and was a treat for a Saturday morning. You should go see this movie, but the competition is tough since the big guns are coming out for the Christmas crowd and the Oscar buzz.
This film is not for kids and I am giving this warning because I saw a woman with three small children at this movie and I wanted to ask her if she was insane. I have to go now because there are great football games on TV today and I think I'm getting sleepy. Rock 'n Roll
Grade 89. Larry H.
Note: I've seen "Invictus" and will be emailing my review soon.
Clint has hit a grand slam. This film is another work of art by 79 year old Director Clint Eastwood. Some of his greats: "Unforgiven" "The Bridges of Madison County" "Mystic River" "Million Dollar Baby" "Flags of Our Fathers" "Gran Torino" and now we can add "Invictus."
Will "Invictus" win Best Picture? Probably, maybe, well let's wait until we've seen all the movies. But an early bet on the story of Nelson Mandela's first term as President of South Africa in the early 90's should be a safe bet.
The backdrop is apartheid that left South Africa badly torn between races but somehow managed to survive long enough to democratically elect Nelson Mandela as President of the government that had imprisoned him for 27 years.
The movie begins on February 11, 1990, which was the day of his release from prison.
When Clint was in the early stages of developing this project, one of his first major decisions had to be the choice of actor to play Mandela. I suspect it took him a nanosecond to choose Morgan Freeman. Freeman and Eastwood have had enormous success in collaborations in the past including "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby." In those two movies, Freeman was second banana to Clint, but this time he is the big dog. And he looks uncannily like Mandela.
But looking like Mandela is not the thing that will earn him a nomination and frontrunner to win Best Actor. It's his acting; plain and simple. Freeman was born for this part. We've known for a long time that Morgan Freeman was an accomplished actor, but now he will have the gold to prove it. His speech pattern, mannerisms, and presidential presence were stupendous. This is a remarkable movie in large part because of Freeman's memorable performance.
In the movie which appears to be historically accurate, Mandela took office at a time when the racial tension and distrust were extreme. As great leaders sometimes do in tough times, he looked for an "out-of-the-box" approach to mend decades of hurt. He found the answer in the South African rugby team which was dominated by white players and despised by most blacks. The team was led by its captain Francois Pienaar played masterfully by Matt Damon. Damon has an outside shot at Best Supporting Actor but is overshadowed by Freeman.
In 1995, South Africa was the host of the Rugby World Cup. I know rugby is not football but much of the world is fanatical about its rugby team and it is huge in South Africa. The South Africa National Rugby Union team is the Springboks and you will see guys in the stands with "Bokke" painted on their chests. Don't be misled by the use of one of the team's nicknames.
Part of Clint's genius in storytelling is his employ of dynamic camera angles and dramatic editing to increase suspense and to make a point. My interest never waivered. The movie is 134 minutes and left me wanting more.
And there will be other accolades for Adapted Screenplay by Anthony Peckham based on the book "Playing the Enemy" by John Carlin; Best Original Score by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens, and Best Original Song "Colorblind."
So, what about the title "Invictus" which is Latin for "unconquered?" The title is taken from a short poem by William Ernest Henley first published in 1875. The poem is quoted my Mandela: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." And my quote is: Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 94. Larry H. This movie was screened by Larry H. on Dec 4, 2009
This is a very powerful movie about a dramatically overweight, illiterate teenage girl (Precious) who lives in Harlem and is pregnant with her second child. Her life is defined by abuse, poverty, hatred, rape, sadness, bewilderment, humiliation, and hope.
The actual title of the movie is "Precious: Novel based on Push by Sapphire." The title character is played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe who was remarkable and believable. The cast of Paula Patton, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and a gang of talented teenage classmates was marvelous.
I had difficulty watching the film because it is so gut-wrenchingly sad at times yet I had empathy and understanding for all the main characters. Young Ms. Sidibe might get a nomination, but Mo'Nique as Precious' abusive mother and Paula Patton as her loving teacher were my favorites and hopefully will be nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
Kudos to Director Lee Daniels who took a seemingly simple story and created a work of art that will be one of the memorable films of 2009. Daniels and the movie should also garner a nomination. I tried not to see this movie because I just didn't want to engage the obvious sadness depicted in the trailers, but I'm glad I took the plunge; it's an important movie. Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 92. Larry H.
Animation these days are not cartoons of old. This movie by Director/writer Wes Anderson is beautifully produced and extremely well written. Anderson adapted the screenplay from the novel by Brit Roald Dahl who once flew for the R.A.F. in WWII.
My repeated reaction while watching Mr. Fox was: "wow, this is really clever...and well done." I was not familiar with the novel so the story was new to me. Mr. Fox (George Clooney's voice) gets in trouble with some of the local farmers because he steals their chickens even though he had promised his wife (Meryl Streep's voice) many years ago that he would stop such dangerous behavior. These farmers were very serious and attacked with guns, bombs, and bulldozers.
I saw this jewel on an early Saturday evening and the crowd was lively and had a fair amount of kids who all needed Daddy to take them to bathroom. But the audience laughed and giggled throughout. Example of cleverness: no bad words were uttered instead the dialogue went something like this - "get the cuss back or that scared the cuss out of me." I am assuming that Fighter Pilot Dahl came up with the unique method of "cussing" but Anderson capitalized on it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 87 minutes at the flicks and you will, too. This is not just for kids. Do yourself a favor in the midst of these gloom and doom movies and go see how fantastic Mr. Fox is. Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 89. Larry H.
It's the day before Thanksgiving and I'm sitting at my desk having just finished watching "The Messenger" on my office DVD player. I'm beginning to like watching current movies for free in the comfort of my home/office. But I have no popcorn or Mr. Pibb. I have some Dr. Pepper.
This movie is a must see; currently it is showing at the Angelika. If you don't have time to go downtown, be patient as it will be in the 'burbs soon. Meanwhile, don't forget about it because come Oscar time, you will wish you had seen it.
Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) has recently returned from duty in Iraq as a wounded war hero. He only has three months left on his tour of duty with the Army, but instead of being able to coast through his last days, he is assigned to be a casualty notification agent. He is partnered with the more experienced and senior Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson.)
I've read several reviews about this movie and many of them miss the point in my humble opinion. And my opinions are rarely humble. The powerful and electric chemistry between Harrelson and Foster creates an ideal on-screen joint venture that garners Oscar nominations. Most of this movie has a 90+ rating but first time director Oren Moverman allows the extended character development to become a distraction. This is a rare problem in movie-making.
Moverman falls into the trap of allowing these two complicated characters to also have a life separate from each other, such as Staff Sergeant Montgomery's conflicted love life, but these dalliances merely detract from the emotional entertainment of the sparks of Woody and Ben. Normally, I criticize directors for failure to fully develop a role and the background story but the performances of these two are so commanding and dominant that any scenes without them fall flat.
Woody has once again demonstrated the breadth of his talent with the role of Captain Tony Stone; it is his best. He is now one of my favorites for Best Actor. Problem: what do we do about the performance of Foster? I'm not sure as he received top billing which makes him the "star." And I guess that makes Woody Best Supporting Actor.
And now for the story. These two soldiers are tasked with the responsibility to notify the NOK (Nest of Kin) that their loved one has been killed in action. Captain Stone explains to the untrained SGT Montgomery that we don't tell the girlfriend or the next door neighbor and we never come in contact or touch the NOK. And don't say anything like "he's expired or he's no longer with us...just say that on behalf of the Secretary of the Army we inform you...."
This heart-breaking scene is repeated 5-6 times and each time it happened slightly different, but the family, the two soldiers, and I were grief stricken on each occasion. I was stunned and riveted to the screen. This is not a Happy Thanksgiving delight so this might be another movie to pass on until you are spiritually fit and fully digested all the turkey trimmings. Harrelson, Foster and Moverman are all big winners in this small budget film. Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.
Note: I saw this movie on November 9, 2009, at a special screening at the Marq*E theatre on I-10 near Silber. Since I've become a member of the Houston Film Critics Society, I have begun attending screenings. I still prefer my Friday afternoon pilgrimage, but sometimes the screenings are convenient and fun. And they serve popcorn and Mr. Pibb and the ticket is free! "The Road" will open on Wednesday, November 25th.
Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to Cormac's world; Cormac McCarthy wrote the Pulitzer Prize novel "The Road" and the screenplay was adapted by Joe Penhall. You probably recall that McCarthy wrote the novel "No Country for Old Men" that became the Best Picture by the Coen Boys in 2007. Can lightning strike twice?
You will soon hear that this movie is very dark, depressing, and discouraging. All of those adjectives are accurate. The setting is life on earth after an unknown apocalyptic event that has left human existence in a dark, gray state; literally and figuratively. Trees have no leaves and no apparent animal life. I was amazed that the cinematography was consistently without color yet the sets were true to the story. There is much that is amazing about this film.
Director John Hillcoat, originally from Australia, has created a masterpiece that will be the "talk of the town" as soon as the masses have an opportunity to see it and spread the word.
Viggo Mortensen stars as The Man who struggles to survive with his young son, The Boy, (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they trudge South with only the clothes on their back and a shopping cart. And a revolver with two bullets. The relationship between these two characters is the centerpiece of the storyline.
Along The Road, the two main characters encounter Bad Guys and bad events that are terrifying and treacherous. This movie is full of metaphors for hope, God, salvation, fear, love, tenderness, mysteries of life, and the human experience of failure and survivability. The editing and photography is truly remarkable and will take you on a ride that will haunt you in such a way that at times you will not want to look at the screen yet you are scared to look away.
The acting by Viggo and The Boy were memorable as the bond between them is the thing of Greek myths. Other outstanding performances were by Robert Duvall as Old Man and Cherlize Theron as Wife. When you see this movie, it is significant that the characters have universal names such as The Man rather than your typically clever Hollywood name. Only Old Man is called by a name - Eli, which is Hebrew and the traditional meaning is God or ascend from God. But count the actual references to God in this movie.
There were many aspects of this excellent movie that pulled on my heart strings, but the one that got me the most was the love and devotion of the father and son. I spent much time during the movie thinking about my fatherhood and how would I handle this tragic situation if I was dirty and starving to death yet it was my responsibility to take care of my son. And I had a pistol with only two bullets and I was scared and overmatched.
This film has Academy Award nominations written all over it and surely it will make the Top 10 for Best Picture. As a reminder, for the first time this year there will be ten nominations for Best Picture
Many of us will interpret this movie differently; hence the talk of the town. McCarthy is known for pushing the emotional envelope in his books and Hillcoat sticks pretty close to the novel. This is not a fun movie and if you need more time to digest your turkey, then wait a week or so before you tackle this holiday behemoth. Rock 'n Roll.
Grade 93. Larry H.