Larry H's Movie Reviews for 2013 (41)
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Drugs, drunkenness, and debauchery. That pretty much wraps it up for Jordan Belfort (Leo DiCaprio) who was actually known at The Wolf of Wall Street; I agree with that description if this film is anything close to the truth. The screenplay is based on the book written by Jordan Belfort so some it must be true.
I’ve been a staunch supporter of Leo and believe that he has been overlooked for past performances. Does he have a chance for another nomination which would make four? Yes, but the academy is wildly unpredictable in the category of Best Actor, so stay tuned for the morning of January 16th when the Oscar nominations will be announced.
Leo becomes Jordan Belfort and will leave a lasting impression on you because you, too, will be conflicted by your empathy for such a despicable and amoral person. Leo takes this character down a very steep and treacherous journey that ends up….
That’s enough of the Belfort story, but just understand that he was kind-hearted and insanely rich by being willing to say or do anything to make a stock sale. He was also extremely successful at an early age in convincing others to throw caution to the wind and “follow me.” Matthew McConaughey’s character explains to a young Belfort that this (Wall Street) is all “fairy dust.” By the age of 26, Belfort was disappointed that he only made 49 million dollars that year. He asks “….is all this legal?...absolutely not!”
Director Martin Scorsese (ten nominations) kept the focus on a fast-paced story and the meteoric rise of Belfort who took Quaaludes like they were candy and snorted cocaine to regain his balance from the Quaaludes. His right-hand man and trusted friend who could almost match his drug use and sales skill was Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Hill was absolutely marvelous as the curly-headed senior partner in Belfort’s shenanigans.
Our friend, Kyle Chandler, was the FBI agent that hounded Belfort; the two of them have a memorable scene on Belfort’s 170 feet yacht parked near downtown Long Island. Chandler stood toe to toe with DiCaprio. The other stockbrokers and players in Belfort’s company, Stratton Oakmont, during the 1980’s and 90’s made the movie believable and at the same time over-the-top funny and clever. Surprisingly, I belly laughed more than once which contributed to my emotional conflict because the subject matter remained grounded in depravity and corruption and use of the F Bomb as though the actors were being paid by the curse word. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 92. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com
Emma Thompson plays Mrs. P.L. Travers who wrote “Mary Poppins.” According to this script, Tom Hanks as Walt Disney tried for 20 years to get Mrs. “don’t call me Pam” Travers to agree to allow Disney Productions to turn her novel into a musical. Walt explains to Mrs. Travers “...do not call me 'Mr. Disney,' that’s my father.” Travers counters with "...and do not ever refer to her as just 'Mary;' it’s always “Mary Poppins.” Seems like these two would bump heads, and they did often.
I think the word we use for people like Mrs. Travers is a curmudgeon. Or perhaps wet blanket is more appropriate. I don’t like a killjoy either. That’s all the nouns I know that fit this fascinating character. At least Emma Thompson did an outstanding portrayal of the cantankerous Mrs. Travers who hailed from Australia. Cantankerous is an adjective.
Thompson did such a good job of playing this sourpuss that she made the movie unenjoyable until the end. I’ve always loved Walt Disney (Disney and Hanks); his fatherly face and warm nature was the exact opposite of the grumpy Pam Travers. Please don’t tell Mrs. Travers that I called her “Pam.” I’m scared of her. And the Disney staff was also afraid of Thompson's character. What a tribute to Emma Thompson!
Co-writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith begin their script in Australia circa 1906 when Mrs. Travers was a child. Her father is Travers Goff (Colin Farrell); he kept a flask of whiskey in his coat pocket for a little pick-me-up. There are constant flashbacks between Hollywood and Travers’ childhood in Australia and her misunderstood inner child. Mrs. Travers reminiscing of that childhood explains her melancholy.
This is a well-made movie and the production quality is high, but my grade is lowered in spite of it making the Top Ten (# 9) of the Houston Film Critics Society. What do they know? There are many excellent movies now showing during the Christmas season, but if you think you'll like a sweet story about one of the classic Disney movies starring Thompson and Hanks who both deserve nomination consideration, then buy a ticket. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 87. Larry H.
The setting of American Hustle begins In the Plaza Hotel in New York, on April 28, 1978, with the introduction of an extraordinary cast led by Director/Co-Writer David O. “Silver Linings Playbook/The Fighter” Russell. Yes, that David O. Russell; one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. Those two movies debuted in 2013 and 2010 and were directed by Russell; Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for Best Actress in Silver Linings and Christian Bale won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “The Fighter.” Both of them will return Russell’s phone call.
It is important to understand that Russell was able to round up this outstanding ensemble cast for “American Hustle” because of his recent successes: Amy Adams and Christian Bale in “The Fighter” and Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
The power and supremacy of “American Hustle” starts and finishes with the cast of Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro. Throw in Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito and Louis C.K. as an FBI supervisor and you have one of the most notable collection of actors ever assembled.
Bale plays con-man, Irving Rosenfeld, who teams up with his British squeeze, Sydney Prosser (Adams). They form a business front called London Associates and capitalize on the English accent and allure of Adams’ alias Edith Greensley. Are you confused? These two lovebirds are manipulated by over-enthusiastic FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) to participate in a corrupt political sting. Let the fun begin.
And the entire movie has a humorous, tongue-in-cheek undertone that is mixed with Russell’s stylized editing and a quirky, lively atmosphere that allows the plot to be unfettered with characters of every-man-for-himself. Irving the con artist not only has Amy Adams as a passionate lover, but Jennifer Lawrence is his wife. Now that’s being a pig, Irving.
The story is not near as important as the characters and the movie readily admits that “some of this actually happened.” See ABSCAM. The costumes of the 70’s were fun as was Bale’s wig/comb-over; it’s a hoot. See also Cooper’s curls.
Danny Elfman is credited with the music; Elfman has been nominated four times for Oscars – Milk, Big Fish, Men in Black, and Good Will Hunting. He was also the score producer for Silver Linings Playbook. Huge fan of Elfman; he is second only to John Williams.
If you don’t mind an inane plot coupled with great acting, then you might appreciate David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 89. Larry H.
I am not a Hobbit fanatic, but I know greatness when I see it; and this film is beautiful and bold. This creation under the direction of Peter “The Lord of the Rings” Jackson is fun and fanciful even if you’ve never heard of The Hobbit. But of course, you have heard of The Hobbit as it is a part of the American culture and is a delight to see the trilogy brought to life in the movies.
How bold? “…if you awaken that beast, it will destroy us all…” And “…you have no right to enter that mountain…I have the only right….” Jackson and three others are given writing credits for a film that must provide a script with integrity in order to satisfy its most ardent fans. (See Karl B. below.) No need for apologies; the words spoken by these wonderful characters meets the Hobbit standards.
The studio claims the storyline as: “The dwarves, along and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and Gandalf the Grey, (Ian MeKellen) continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug….” I cannot improve on that description, but I know someone who could recite each verse and was my rare companion at a movie screening. With that, here is my brother-in-law Karl B:
The Hobbit December 4, 2013, Edwards Marq*E Stadium 23 @ 1:00 PM
I had a unique opportunity today to tag along with Larry H, movie critic extraordinaire, to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 3-D. Thanks again Larry for such a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity.
Larry and a small cadre of similar film aficionados who all knew each other were at the theater today to do business: watch the Hobbit. As many fans of Larry H’s reviews will note, there is a certain decorum observed in watching films. Today was no different – Larry had an aisle seat with his popcorn and Mr. Pibb; a seat separated us.
It was amazing watching the master(s) at work – both Larry and Peter Jackson. I think Larry said it best when walking out of the theater – “Peter the Great” has returned.
Peter Jackson (and yes, there’s a very obvious cameo near the beginning of the film) has crafted an excellent sequel. Never mind that there are subplots and characters added well outside the boundary of the actual book; this movie flows along well for its 180 minutes without few hitches or lulls. The ending of this particular segment of the trilogy came upon us with stealth and surprise. It leaves the gentle viewer ready to see the third movie out next month instead of this time next year.
For the fans of beloved characters and actors of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ian McKellen does his usual superb job as Gandalf. In this film we see a great deal of a younger and feistier Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Well done, Brother-in-Law. Rock ‘n Roll.
Score – 95. Karl B.
Grade 90. Larry H.
This is a sneaky movie; it sneaked up on me and made me care about the characters and the story. In the beginning, I was convinced that my experience was going to be a bust and a waste of time. Don’t be so impatient “Hollywood Breath!” I didn’t walk out, so give me a break. For the first half of the film, I was confused and felt like I didn’t have a dog in the hunt because I wasn’t sure I understood the director’s angle, and I surely didn’t relate to any of the characters. (Don’t call me Surely.) It’s been a long day.
Then sometime during the last third of the movie, I’m guessing, I finally got it. Director and Screenwriter Scott Cooper had made a uniquely entertaining and engaging movie. Maybe the bloody brutality, drugs and intense sadness lulled me into thinking too much. The story is simple: two brothers trying to get through a difficult life and find their way. A big stumbling block in their tangled web was the lollipop-sucking, crazed Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). You know anybody named “Harlan DeGroat” is a bad hombre. I saw Woody on a talk show recently say that “…this character is the meanest, worse one I’ve ever played.” That’s saying a lot.
Director Cooper provides very little information other than the development of the characters; very slow development. I’m still not confident of the setting. I think it was in New Jersey, but also in the Appalachian Mountains. Go figure. Cooper frequently jumped back and forth using flashbacks and scene-jumping that makes sense in retrospect, but I found Cooper’s editing method to be disconcerting and perplexing. I’d like to see this film again. Uh oh, that’s the highest compliment in my toolbox. That surprises me.
Maybe, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I really liked this film and think Cooper deserves much of the credit. Leo DiCaprio must have seen something worthwhile about this project as he is listed as one of the producers which means he put up some of his “Titanic” money.
Harlan DeGroat and his band of mountain inbreeds operated a drug business and fixed betting on “open knuckle” fist fighting. They dealt in such a long list of drugs that if you understood their street names, you must be kin to Rob Ford.
Cooper also attracted a superb cast. The troubled brothers – Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) – were dynamite. Woody Harrelson was scary and tough as a bloody nose and a bullet; in other words Woody was spot-on. Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Defoe, and Forest Whitaker rounded out a brilliant supporting cast. If you are patient and not a deep thinker; don’t mind blood, nastiness, and cruelty, then you might like this movie. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.
This is yet another movie with a story set with the “Winds of War” gusting in pre-war Nazism. It’s 1938 and a young girl (Liesel) is frantically adopted by two non-Jew Germans who have no children and barely scratching out an existence; soup is the primary meal. If this German couple had the revered, Aryan blood, what’s the problem? This film by Director Brian Percival attempts to peel back the façade of the common citizens in Nazi Germany who were caught in Hitler’s oppressive world that operated on strict authority and intimidation.
“It’s not too late to join the party…” The was the warning given to Papa/Hans (Geoffrey Rush – age 62) and Mama/Rosa (Emily Watson – age 47). This brave and scared husband and wife were not only willing to raise Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), but they secretly hid a young Jewish man in their basement. Their house was on the street in the middle of a typical, German neighborhood where everybody knew your name. And all of your business. If you didn’t fly the Swastika flag, then you were not a good German, and bad things could happen. Hans and Rosa displayed the flag.
The narrator of the film is also known as “Death” so that gives you some idea of the atmosphere of this story. Young Liesel is very sad and misses her mother even though she attempts to be a good child for the sake of her new parents; especially her “Papa.” The child learns to read rapidly and courageously rescues a book after a book-burning in the town square. Her Papa supports her loved of books and fosters her reading. The basement dweller, Max (Ben Schnetzer), also helps Liesel see the world “…as though your eyes were talking.” She has an obvious gift for literature.
But all of this love and support for each other is also subject to the cruelty and unfairness of war and a dictatorship. The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Markus Zusak. This screenplay is by Michael Petroni who also wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I have not read Zusak’s novel, but I suspect that it must have been more entertaining than this picture. I’m not sure if the director or screenwriter dropped the ball or both, but I did not enjoy this movie. It was not fun, barely interesting, and at times boring. How do you botch-up such a sweet, intriguing story about Liesel and Nazism?
The acting was shockingly good; Emily Watson as the complicated and multi-layered Rosa was my favorite. Ms. Watson has been nominated twice for Best Actress in the 1990’s, but she still has the luster. Geoffrey Rush’s Papa was charming, terrified, meek and valiant. Not bad for a kid from Queensland, Australia, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of David Helfgott in “Shine” (1996). There are a lot of hot movies in theatres now, so I’d choose this one if you are a big fan of one of the actors and/or of War World II. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 79. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com
Before we get started, I think we should review what took place in the first of the three novels/movies written by Suzanne Collins when the title was simply “The Hunger Games.” Director Francis Lawrence is new to the franchise (“The Hunger Games” was directed by Gary Ross), but he does not spoon feed the audience, so if you have not read the trilogy, then I reason that some will have a hard time catching up on “ Catching Fire.”
Since Larry H. is always thinking of you, here is the introduction to the review written by me in March 2012:
“Katniss Rules! Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer “Winter Bone” Lawrence) is a 16 year old girl who lives in District 12 in what is left of a not-too-distant futuristic country that is the remains of North America. The capitol of Panem is opulent and wealthy, and the rest of the country consists of 12 districts that are varying degrees of poverty and subservience brought about by drought, famine, fire and war.
And because of a previous rebellion by the districts, the capitol holds The Hunger Games annually to remind the districts that they should never rebel again and following the rules of the totalitarian government is the only way. By random drawing, two children (one boy and one girl) ages 12-18 from each district must participate in a televised contest that requires the 24 children to come to the capitol to fight to the death until there is one “victor.” All citizens are required to watch this televised brutal and intimidating show; the capitol loves the spectacle and the districts loathe it. The residents of the capitol place bets on the possible winners.”
The story began for us in the 74th Hunger Games and now in “Catching Fire,” the same heartless, dystopia led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has special plans to celebrate the 75th Hunger Games. The Twelve Districts are growing restless and tiring of public floggings and executions. Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are required to take a victory lap via the super train to all the districts and President Snow warns Katniss to show her support for Panem or her family will suffer. To keep the ruse alive, she begrudgingly agrees to continue her story-book love affair with Peeta in spite of her deep feelings for hunting buddy Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
The genius of these movies/novels is the gut-wrenching premise of forcing young people to fight until the death for the enjoyment of the despised central government. Novelist Suzanne Collins is also credited as a co-writer, and she was smart enough to take a piece of the action as Executive Producer. This franchise grossed $407 million domestic for the first movie and I predict that “Catching Fire” will have sales north of $500 million. The returning cast is fabulous.
And Jennifer “Jen” Lawrence is perfect, again, as Katniss, and she and Director Lawrence are working on Movies #3 and #4 - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Let me try to put the career of Ms. Jen, age 23, into perspective. She was spectacular in her first portrayal of Katniss in 2012, and received rave reviews for her raw beauty, pudgy cheeks, and archery prowess, but she actually won a 2012 Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” when she co-starred as Tiffany opposite Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. Did I mention that she has another movie, “American Hustle” coming out on December 18th also starring Cooper, De Niro, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams?
J. Lawrence is in the conversation for biggest star in Hollywood at the tender age of 23. Can she stay out of jail and rehab? I’m pulling for her because she is not lucky; she’s good. If you like the first Hunger Games, then this is a must-see. If you are interested in a well-made movie and understand my refresher course, then buy a ticket and enjoy your turkey. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 91. Larry H.
I’m starting to write this review only minutes after watching the Houston Texans lose for the eighth time in a row; this time to the Oakland Raiders. Will I ever learn? Please Lord, let us end this season and move on to the Houston Rockets. Can I get an Amen?
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a tribute to Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Ron Woodroof who was diagnosed with HIV+ in the 1980’s. That was a time when such a diagnosis was one part death sentence and one part social pariah. Woodroof was a hard drinker, smoker, and cocaine user. And a tough cowboy who had the guts to participate in rodeo bull riding. His first reaction to the diagnosis was denial because only “faggots” had HIV and he was too much of a lady’s man.
Woodroof’s friends excluded him, his health rapidly deteriorated, and his world came crashing down. Pretty Boy McConaughey lost a lot weight for this part. I was mesmerized by his body language and mannerisms in his interpretation of the troubled and complicated Woodroof. When McConaughey was on the screen, which is almost every scene, I found myself captivated by his performance which was a huge stretch from the idealist young lawyer (Jake Brigance) in “A Time to Kill” (1996). This is a part for a big boy and McConaughey, at age 44, shows that he is ready for the big time. Will he earn a nomination? He’s got a shot.
Much of the story derives from the 1980’s controversy of the FDA’s involvement in drugs such as AZT for use in combatting HIV which is the pre-cursor to AIDS. Ron Woodroof overcame his denial stage and went to work researching his medical options. There were not many in the United States. As an audience, we take the trip with Woodroof to Mexico and his ongoing fight with the Feds for possession and the sale of illegal medicine to his fellow HIV/AIDS patients. This script understood the plight of these people who were desperate for a cure and were willing to stand in line at a seedy hotel to buy the needed drugs. Most of this movie is sad and depressing, but very well done.
I’ve written enough about my admiration of McConaughey, but Jared Leto was also outstanding as Rayon, the transgender activist who helped the bull rider cope with reality and run his drug operation affectionately known as the Dallas Buyers Club. Jennifer Garner, as Dr. Eve Saks, was perfectly cast and demonstrated her ability to deliver in a part that did not emphasize her cutie sex appeal. There are a lot of great movies coming our way during the holiday season which is extremely exciting, so choose wisely, as you probably have not yet seen the Best Picture or Best Actor/Actress. I’ll keep you posted. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 89. Larry H.
I hope this is the last time we have to see any version of “Last Vegas.” Whenever Hollywood smells anything close to success, the money boys jump on it and we have to endure a sequel. I admit that this film has four of my boys; well three out of four. Never been a big fan of Michael Douglas even though I acknowledge that he’s done some good work. But I really like Bobby De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.
These four play childhood friends from Flatbush - Billy, Paddy, Archie, and Sam respectively. Kline is the youngest at 66 and Freeman is the oldest at 76. (Douglas-69; Di Niro-70). And all four of them have won Oscars. Not to be outdone, young Mary “Ted Danson” Steenburgen (age 60), who is the love interest, won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in “Melvin and Howard” (1980). That’s a lot of talent on one screen. And Director Jon Turteltaub knowing and understanding this talent pool, merely threw up the ball and let them run with it.
The problems was the dull script by Dan Fogelman who also wrote “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011). The Executive Producers must have thought that this combo could not miss. And they’re right. The Medicare Crowd (f.k.a. Baby Boomers) alone will make this movie profitable. The gray and blue hairs were out in full force for my 2:05 P.M. showing of Last Vegas.
Here’s the seemingly sweet story: Billy is getting married for the first time so the boys are meeting in Las Vegas for a bachelor party; they pack up their meds and take off from different parts of the country. Mary S. is singing in a sleazy bar and the boys are smitten. Can’t miss. Hmmm?
I almost walked out, but I felt like the rest of the audience were not even going to the bathroom (and I know they needed to go) so they would not fully appreciate me leaving with popcorn in hand. If you want to see these old farts whoop it up in Las Vegas, then by all means, give it a shot. There’s nothing special here. You’ve been warned. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 78. Larry H.
This is an agonizingly difficult movie; it’s gruesome. It is a true story of a free black man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841. The film is based on the book by Solomon Northup who spent 12 brutal years as a slave while his family had no idea where he was or what had happened to him. As a slave, he couldn’t even acknowledge that he could read and write and mailing letters and communicating with the outside world was forbidden. Breaking the rules of slavery resulted in ruthless lashes to the backside while tied to a post or tree.
Director Steve McQueen does not back off from the evils of human bondage. He brings it to life and challenges the audience to endure the heartless whippings and inhumane treatment of slaves in America. Trying to remember my feelings and emotions of the movie, causes sadness and melancholy. I knew I was watching a brilliantly made movie, but I was tired and drained at movie’s end. I wanted to leave the theatre.
I’m having trouble writing this review because the experience was incredibly tangible and visceral; it was not fun. There was zero comic relief. McQueen just kept hitting the subject matter head-on and did not let up.
I’ve known McQueen was an accomplished director (even though he’s a Brit) because he made “Shame” which was one of my top movies for 2011 starring Michael Fassbender. Often we see a director reaching out to actors who have worked on a previous film of the director. Fassbender is magnificent as the cruel, misguided slave owner is this movie. He and Adepero Oduye deserve serious consideration for Best Supporting Actors and, of course, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup will surely earn a nomination for Best Actor.
Realism and the shock factor were obvious goals of McQueen, so I warn you now that if you are offended and/or can’t stand to watch unfathomable violence and vindictiveness, then you should pass on this film. One particularly harsh flogging of one of the female slaves, with her hands tied above her head, hanging lifelessly, remains carved into my psyche; not good. Wish you the best in deciding if this movie is for you.
Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 92. Larry H.