Larry H's Movie Reviews for 2014 (55)
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This movie’s target audience is your child, so I took my inner child. My inner child giggled and had a good time; my old fogey Larry H.; not so much. I attended this movie on a Friday afternoon. The audience was made up of mothers and small children who clapped with glee and respect during the closing credits.
A little history is in order in case you’ve forgotten your Rocky and Bullwinkle related characters by Jay Ward. Mr. Peabody is a small dog who wears big, round glassed and is Einstein-smart and can figure out the answer to any problem and build any gadget including a time machine aka the WABAC. This cute dog is so clever that he adopts a young boy named Sherman. You need to allow your child to explain to you that there is nothing weird about this dog-parent-boy relationship because Mr. Peabody is uncannily intelligent and has the “highest regard” for Sherman. Sherman lovingly calls his father “Mr. Peabody.” Go figure.
Modern Family’s Ty Burrell is the ideal voice for Mr. Peabody and eleven year old Max Charles is outstanding as the seven year old Sherman. The other amusing actors who joined the fun by lending their voices are Stephen Tobolowsky as Principal Purdy, Allison Janney as Ms. Grunion, Stephen Colbert as Paul Peterson, Patrick Warburton as Agamemnon, and Mel Brooks as Albert Einstein.
Much of the credit for the making of this film goes to Director Rob Minkoff and Executive Producer Tiffany Ward, daughter of Jay Ward who died in 1989. Much of Mr. Ward’s legacy, from the 1950’s and 60’s, is the production and character development of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle and Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I loved those cartoons; I mean animations.
A film like this will have a highly skilled and extensive art department, visual effects, and animation department. And Peabody was also blessed to have the inspired music of Danny Elfman. Director Minkoff and his artistic team have made a lovely, energetic movie for our kids. Take a kid and grab some popcorn and Let It Go.
Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 86. Larry H.
This is an extremely patriotic movie based on the real-life story of Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). Cooper allegedly trained daily and ate up to 8,000 calories a day for months to put on the 40 pounds needed to play the part of sniper-hero Kyle. Born in Odessa, Texas, Kyle was a true Texan and Cooper captured the Texas twang and wore the rodeo belt buckle with the appropriate Wrangler-jeans saunter.
The first part of this Clint-Eastwood-directed movie is the childhood, family, and character development of Kyle and the romance of his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller). Eastwood convinces the audience that Kyle was a natural to become an American Sniper who would serve four tours of duty in Iraq and become the most decorated sniper in American history by accomplishing over 160 confirmed kills. He was known as “The Legend.”
There are many close-ups of military rifles and pistols; Clint doesn’t hesitate to show us the business end of these weapons. Almost all of the rifles had scopes and were some version of the classic M-16/M-4. These rifles were beautiful.
“My favorite was a .300 Win. Mag. rifle with an Accuracy International stock. It was a Crane-designed rifle that handled real well and delivered superior accuracy over standard-issue rifles,” as explained by Kyle. “We were issued the SIG P226, but I’m not a fan of 9 mm. On one deployment, I brought my own SIG P220 in .45 ACP. I’m also a huge fan of 1911s…”
The primary source for the screenplay was the book by Chris Kyle entitled “American Sniper” and it was a huge success and New York Times bestseller.
The movie was superbly edited and the cinematography by Clint’s crew was outstanding. If you like modern-day warfare and are a fan of well-done combat scenes, then this Christmas Day movie (limited release) is the movie for you. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 88. Larry H. firstname.lastname@example.org
A “nightcrawler” is a freelance videographer who roams the streets of a big city (L.A.) while monitoring police radios in hopes of gaining the edge and arriving first at a bloody or crime scene to capture exclusive video to be sold to a local TV news agency. A good nightcrawler seems to be most successful when one’s morals are challenged.
With that as a job description, our hero, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps out of the shadows and across the lines of decency to become a news stringer willing to do almost anything to get the story that will pay the big bucks. If Bloom has to manipulate the events in order for his video camera to be front and center, then so be it.
I can’t imagine anyone portraying this character any better than Gyllenhaal; he was absolutely brilliant. His bug-eyed appearance, creepy demeanor, and body language screamed weirdness. Spooky. Gyllenhaal’s Bloom was seemingly legitimate, but was actually more disturbing than George Harvey in “The Lovely Bones” (2009). Gyllenhaal took eerie to a new level. Delusional and demented also come to mind.
Jake’s last nomination was for Best Supporting Actor in “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005, but now it’s his turn for a Best Actor nomination. This movie was spellbinding. Bravo, Jake G.! Rock ‘n Roll
Grade 93. Larry H.
“Whiplash” is the name of a jazz song played by students at a prestigious music school in New York. This is a university for hardcore musicians who live to play music and will cut the throat of the competition in order to achieve perceived greatness even if they have to confront the conductor and break-up with their girlfriend.
At the Shaffer school, the meanest, nastiest professor is Terrence Fletcher played by a baldheaded, bulked-up J. K. Simmons, 59. Conductor Fletcher prefers to push his students as far as humanly and socially possible even if that requires talking about their parent’s abandonment and publicly calling someone gay or a MF. The power of a professor is unique and can be extremely unkind.
The ruthlessness of Simmons’ character was endearing and scary. When the star drummer, Andrew (Miles “Divergent” Teller), cringed while being humiliated in front of the rest of the band, I was holding my breath and looking for a place to hide. The intensity and passion brought to the screen by J. K. Simmons was a thing of beauty. His performance is certainly worthy of a nomination and on my short list to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Footnote: J. K. Simmons has been featured in TV commercials as Professor Nathaniel Burke of the University of Farmers (Farmers Insurance Group) since 2010. Professor?
Miles Teller, 27, as Andrew is the ideal foil for the formidable Fletcher and earns my kudos for providing a balanced playground for the powerful performance by Simmons. You need to see this show in order to fully appreciate the commanding display of fire and torment streaming from the eyes and words of J. K. Simmons’ Professor Fletcher. It is epic.
Let’s not forget the direction and writing by Damien Chazzelle, 29, who graduated from Harvard with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. What kind of a degree is that? Back to the show, this will not be the last time we hear from Mr. Chazzelle. If nothing else, you will see him in a tux on Sunday evening February 22, 2015, when his movie is up for Best Picture. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 93. Larry H.
Reece Witherspoon is a legit actress (Oscar - “Walk the Line” 2005) and she demonstrates again that she’s more than a pretty face. I’ve given her a second team nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in this flick about a grieving young woman who makes the lonesome trek along the 1,000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail. Her backpack weighed more than she did. Her feet were swollen and body bruised while constantly asking herself if she should quit.
The screenplay is based on Strayed’s book about her hike along the PCT and it landed on the New York Times bestseller list and a selection on Oprah’s Book Club 2.0.
Witherspoon delivered a convincing performance. But the story, which relied heavily on flashbacks, was shallow and rocky. The trail was full of challenges: rain, rivers, snow, hundred- degree heat, and an occasional rattle snake. But I hardly cared if she finished this long journey or jumped in a pick-up with one of the interesting characters she met along the way.
Laura Dern, 47, played the positive-thinking mother of Witherspoon, 38. Does that mean that Dern looked old or Reese looked young? I don’t know. Gaby Hoffmann was the friend who lent a sympathetic hear.
I mention Hoffmann, 32, because she is wonderful on the new hit Amazon series “Transparent,” and I recently discovered that she played the young daughter of Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” (1989). Remember when Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster) steps across the baseline to save Ray’s daughter who was choking on a hotdog? Yeah, that little girl grew up to be Gaby Hoffmann.
If you like broken hearts and melancholy, then this Reese is for you. I’ll pass. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 82. Larry H
“THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING”
Watching this movie was too painful for me. I appreciate that the slowly deteriorating life of the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is supposed to be agonizing to watch, but I have enough sorrow in my life. This screenplay by Anthony McCarten is adapted from the book by Mrs. Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones), the first wife of Professor Hawking. I don’t like Jane.
Hawking’s dazzling contributions to the world are well documented; we don’t need another movie about time and the theory of everything. But this is from his wife’s perspective; I get that. I don’t care.
Redmayne’s performance of the tortured Hawking was outstanding and deserves accolades. His contortions and drooling were convincing; painfully so. I suggest placing this movie at the bottom of the Christmas list. Four Golden Globe Nominations and a partridge in a pear tree. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 79. Larry H. Note: this is the third of three movies reviewed today 12-13-14
“THE IMITATION GAME”
London WWII. The Nazis are bombing the Brits whose only defense is to huddle in bomb shelters. Something has got to be done so the British Brass decide to out-think the Germans by assembling a group of alleged geniuses to break the German communication code. Geniuses are odd.
The German code is contained in a contraption known as the “Enigma.” The Germans scheme of successfully planning and executing their war plans are believed to be impenetrable. One of the British masterminds is Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mathematician who claims that he is very good at “solving games.” Uh oh, but can he beat the Enigma? Time is of the essence as the bombs are falling on downtown London.
Cumberbatch as Turing is the central star of “The Imitation Game” and he is perfect for the part which means the writing and his acting were ideal. You might remember that Cumberbatch was “Little Charles” in August: Osage County (2013). Keira Knightley appears as the female prodigy worthy of joining the group of brilliant men who are tasked with a mission that will result in death if revealed. It helps that she’s as cute as Keira Knightley.
Intense and believable. If you like cross-word puzzles, you will have a special affinity for this film. Five Golden Globe Nominations. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 92. Larry H.
In an interview on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart asked guest Steve Carell “…Sir, were you in this movie?” That question was intended to praise Carell because his performance and appearance as John E. du Pont in Foxcatcher is far removed from the bumbling buffoon that we know and love. Carell should be nominated for an Oscar.
The movie is based on a true story. The Olympic Gold Medal winning brothers, David and Mark Schultz, were both triumphant in the 1984 games in LA for wrestling, and were in training for the 1988 Olympics when contacted by the very rich John E. du Pont. The older du Pont was a long-time wrestling fan and wannabe star wrestler who bankrolled the Schultz boys at his private state-of-the-art training facility.
The wrestlers are magnificently played by Channing Tatum (Mark) and Mark Ruffalo (David) and both bulked up for this film; they look chiseled and their body movements told much of the story. “I want to win the gold medal more than anything….” That statement was not uttered by Mark and David, but by “Coach” du Pont. I see red flags! And I see a winning movie. Three Golden Globe Nominations. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 91. Larry H.
“This movie is not for everyone…” as the saying goes, but it was for me. I liked everything about it. Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Tommy Lee Jones paparazzi. He had me at “Lonesome Dove.” Tommy Lee is a mere 68 years old, but he has wrinkles that are 120 and deep. Gives him character.
And he is the starring character in this Glendon Swarthout novel (1988) turned movie via a screenplay by Tommy Lee and two others. So who directed this western about taking three helpless, young women who have lost their marbles and gone cuckoo in 1880’s Nebraska and need to return “across the river to Iowa?” Tommy Lee Jones.
Life was hard and people died in the West, and this film reminds us that women were a big part of the early development of the United States. The spinster Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank) saves George Briggs (Jones) from the wrong end of a rope, and the two of them take on the responsibility of returning the three pitiful souls to Iowa. The five of them attempt a five-week trip heading East in a wagon through “injun” territory during a hard winter to return the three women to a place of safety. That sounded like a really good idea until it was time to start.
Jones’ character is a ne’er do well if ever there was one, and Swank is “plain as a tin pale” and “uncommonly alone.” I thought Mary Bee was kind of cute like Hillary Swank, but the local sodbusters were not impressed; hence no spouse. Tommy Lee’s long, unruly sideburns and scraggly beard were near perfect for Mr. Briggs who asks”…are you an angel? – help me!” “If I cut you loose, then you gotta help me and do what I tell you.” The low-life Briggs agrees until he learns that the deal is that he has to help Miss Cuddy transport these three insane women to Iowa. “That’s more than I bargained for….”
Jones called in his chits for this movie as the cast includes John Lithgow, Barry Corbin, James Spader, and Grace Gummer. And Meryl Streep, who plays a Methodist preacher’s wife, just happens to be the mother of Grace Gummer. Little Meryl is one of the three crazies and is a big winner. Gummer is Julie in the TV series “Extant” starring Hallie Berry.
Originally, the word is that Paul Newman purchased the movie rights to the novel by Swarthout, but was unable to bring it to the big screen until Tommy Lee got involved and things started happening. If you like Tommy Lee and Hillary Swank, then there is enough to this movie that you will probably enjoy the show in spite of this film’s lack of greatness. I liked it more and more as the tender dramas continued to unfold. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.
This film is an outstanding tool for teaching wannabe actors the craft of the big screen, and confirms that “TV Actors” can make the transition to movies. Three of the stars are Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Ty Burrell. Those three certainly became famous because of their work on “Saturday Night Live” and “Modern Family.”
But can they cut it in Hollywood? Yes, thank you very much. Their acting in “The Skeleton Twins” was the bright spot of the movie. If you are talented, apparently the size of the screen does not matter.
Wiig, 41, and Hader, 36, are the twins who have been estranged for ten years, but life’s curves caused a reunion of the siblings. They had been living very sad, confused, lives on separate coasts, and nothing changed when they reunited in the big city on the East Coast. Maggie and Milo (the twins) are a far cry from the frivolity of SNL, but Wiig and Hader will break your heart and twist your emotions by delivering their characters’ deeply unhappy and depressed lives to this story co-written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman. Milo: “…I get depressed and I do stupid things…” and the co-dependent Maggie replies: “…I can’t take this.”
Luke Wilson plays the sweet and loyal husband (Lance) of Maggie, and is so kind (sappy) that he allows his “weird, gay” brother-in-law (Milo) to move into their small Manhattan apartment at a time when “we are trying to have a baby.” Dysfunctional? Need you ask? Craig Johnson also directed his screenplay and rarely allowed the audience to take a deep breath and feel removed from the characters’ incestuous melancholy.
I liked all of the characters, including the sexually-confused Burrell, who was Milo’s high school English teacher. Here comes the “but,” but I didn’t like them very much. I was tired of them behaving like huge screw-ups and wallowing in self-pity. I know those traits are vital to explaining the human condition, but I want to be entertained, not watch a therapy session gone wild. I’m not expecting perfection, just some healthy progress.
Like I said, if you want to watch actors who appreciate their expertise, then this study of family madness is a place to start. The written word still rules and the power of the screenplay is not overrated. Johnson and Heyman became far too enamored with their emphasis on sharing insights into the foolishness of life that they completely forgot about the entertainment factor and story balance. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 78. Larry H.
Footnote: I watched this movie on a DVD at my law office as the movies are rolling in from the studios pitching their films for the awards/Oscars. I became hungry while watching “The Skeleton Twins” and stopped the Blu-ray player and went to Jack in the Box. Say no more