Larry H's Movie Reviews for 2015 (53)
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This is the best movie of 2015. Leonardo DiCaprio is superb and deserves an Oscar nomination. I’ve been a huge fan of Leo’s since “Titanic” when he should have been nominated for his portrayal of Jack Dawson. Without his dynamic Jack Dawson, there is no Rose and an Oscar for Ms. Winslet. Leo’s been nominated four times for an Oscar for his acting but has never won. Will he win this year? Probably not; there’s something about Leo and Academy voters that resembles ignorance and jealously.
His portrayal as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, a mountain man in the 1820’s, is riveting and gut-wrenching. Glass was a real-life character who blazed the western United States with a band of explorers and trappers that were made of hard bark and the right stuff. I know his story is true because I read about him on Wikipedia.
DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass is savagely mauled by a bear and during his desperate attempt to survive, he is abandoned for dead by two of his buddies. The bear attack scenes are movie magic thanks to Director and Co-Writer Alejandro G. Inarritu. What was Inarritu’s last movie? Answer: Birdman. The top movie for 2014 by Larry H.
Inarritu’s genius is still cookin’ so I’m full of anticipation for his next movie, but “The Revenant” and “Birdman” are two of the best back to back movies since Spielberg directed “Jurassic Park” and Schindler’s List” in 1993.
“The Revenant” is emotional and beautiful. The sets and cinematography are spectacular. The storyline has no lulls and the acting is splendid. I’m telling you now: Inarritu is the bomb.
Tom Hardy as the villain also deserves a nomination. He’s a great balance for the strong performance by DiCaprio. Will Coulter as Jim Bridger and Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry were the kind of performances that will get them many more jobs. Remember Coulter as the knucklehead Kenny in “We’re the Millers”?
Speaking of DiCaprio, I thought he should have won an Oscar for at least one of these: Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, J. Edgar, Django Unchained, or Wolf of Wall Street. Is 2015 Leo’s year?
When you are choosing a movie during the Christmas holidays, and you’ve seen Star Wars, go see Leo in “The Revenant.” Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 94. Larry H.
“Concussion” is the film version of the real-life saga of the previously unrecognized damage to the brains of NFL football players. “The autopsy that change the NFL” was performed on NFL All-Pro Center Mike Webster who mysteriously died at age 50 in 2002. During his career from 1974 to 1990, he was known as a tough, hard-hitting offensive lineman for the Pittsburg Steelers. “He was estimated to have had 70,000 violent hits… playing football killed Mike Webster.”
The break-through discovery of CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy was conducted and named by Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a highly accomplished Pittsburgh neurologist from Nigeria who did not know a center from a quarterback. But he specialized in the causes of death through forensic pathology.
Director and co-writer Peter Landesman tackles the controversy of what did the NFL know and when did they know it. The basic story is medically methodic and plodding. Understandable, but not entertaining. The storyline is told, in part, from the perspective of the chaotic and deteriorating lives of former players. The NFL did not like the assertions by Dr. Omalu and accused him of fraud. In a recent interview of Will Smith, he joked that he did not expect any Super Bowl tickets from the NFL this year.
Will Smith fittingly captures the Nigeria accent of his starring role and capably demonstrates the tenacity, energy, and humility of a medical doctor under fire for what he believed to be doing the right thing in spite of intense public pressure and death threats warning him to back off the beloved game of NFL Football. Smith has been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar nom is probable.
For reasons that only Landesman might be able to explain, much of the camera shots are of close-ups of the actors’ faces. Especially of Will Smith. I know more about the pores and defects of Will’s face than I bargained for. These “up-close and personal” framing of the characters emphasizes the personal heart-breaking stories of the increasing pre-mature deaths of NFL players and the pushback from the NFL and its fans.
Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Paul Reiser, and Luke Wilson are an able cast, but David Morse as Mike Webster was outstanding.
If you are an NFL fan, then this movie is for you and will update you on CTE. Remember when use to scream at the TV screen “Great hit!” but now you see that same helmet to helmet hit and shrug “…gee, hope he’s okay.” That’s where we are today; I love watching the NFL and am not happy about the CTE revelations, but ask your favorite quarterback, at any level of competition, if he’s had a concussion, and the unfortunate answer will be “well, heck yes, I’m tough.” Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 86. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com
It’s all good; you Star War fans will enjoy the show and welcome back some old friends. But I was too full of expectations and was slightly disappointed. I wanted a 1977 buzz; I had spent much of the day before the movie reminiscing about the life-changing event the original Star Wars was in the life of movies. That 1977 production and direction by the great George Lucas created a new genre of space adventure with high drama and special effects that blew my mind.
This seventh episode of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is worthy of the franchise and the cinematography (Daniel Mindel) and action were predictably spectacular and having Harrison Ford back as Han Solo and Princess Leia in the form of a 61 year-old Carrie Fisher were pure fun. What about Luke Skywalker? Much of the plot is focused on finding the elusive Skywalker so you will have to buy a ticket to find out if Mark Hamill, 64, is still alive. Harrison Ford is 73 for those of you keeping count.
The new heroes of the Resistance who are fighting the evil First Order are young and talented. Meet Daisy Ridley as Rey; John Boyega as Finn, and my boy Oscar “Inside Llewyn Davis” Isaac as Poe Dameron. None of these new warriors are over thirty five and are ready for many future battles in a galaxy far, far way. All of them will be in “Star Wars Episode VIII” due out in 2017.
Other Star War characters got whoops and hollers when the appeared on the screen: Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2. And personally, I want one of those Stormtrooper outfits. I look good in white. And let’s not forget about 83-year-old John Williams, The Maestro, once again shares his musical genius with us. He’s earned 41 Oscar nominations. Meryl Streep has 19 nominations and Spielberg a mere 12.
The Big Money did not take any chances with this extremely valuable commodity so J.J. Abrams was hired as the director and he co-wrote with the legendary Lawrence Kasdan. Remember Kasdan? He wrote some of my all-time favorites: “The Big Chill”; “Grand Canyon” “Body Heat” and “Return of the Jedi.”
This movies is as solid as a Jedi Knight, but the story was a little tired in spite of the marvelous chemistry and beauty of the George Lucas Universe. This is a must-see movie because it’s Star Wars for pity’s sake, but it does not have the intrigue of 1977; not that there’s anything wrong with that. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 89. Larry H.
Remember in 2008, when your 401k became a 201k? Well, this movie explains what happened and why. Director Adam McKay has created a nifty cross between a documentary and drama from real-life events. Scenes from the street – Wall Street.
The Big Short is billed as “four outsiders” who figured out long before the world knew that the credit and housing mortgage industry would go bust and take much of the world economy with it. McKay chose wisely when he corralled this memorable cast of big stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Gosling, and Melissa Leo.
The ingenious script by McKay and Charles Randolph jumps from one fund manager and his posse of naysayers to the next seemingly money madman who thinks that the Big Banks on Wall Street have told a big lie about the security of mortgage bonds. “There’s nothing more secure than an American home mortgage.”
The banks got “greedy” and “fraud never works.” These simple statements were not believed, but author Michael Lewis’ book about the financial crisis as the basis for this movie, painstakingly breaks it down so an audience member of this movie will sadly understand the very complicated demise of the financial world in the mid 2000’s that shook the international economy.
And it took some of my personal wealth, I might add. Sorry, Monique H., I was not as smart as Michael Burry M.D. (Bale), Jared Vennett (Gosling), Mark Baum (Carell), or Ben Rickert (Pitt) who begrudgingly bet against the American economy by selling short. In other words, these financial wizards predicted that the mortgages were going to cause a financial atomic bomb because of the dishonesty by Wall Street in touting their mortgage bond instruments as financial gold.
Bale and Carell were the dominant characters and had the most screen time. Both were fabulous but the slight edge of brilliance goes to Steve “The Office” Carell. He is way outside his comfort zone of comedy and slap-stick shenanigans with a scowl on his face, disheveled hair, and deep angst as he struggles with the knowledge that the financial world that he loves and hates is about to go down the toilet while he gets rich by investing mightily in the “The Big Short.”
The bespectacled and bearded Brad Pitt is also worthy of his co-starring role as a reluctant participant in the profiting from this American calamity. Pitt supposedly put up some of his money to tell this story as he is credited as a Producer.
This is not a fun movie; it’s important. Assuming that “based on a true story” is accurate, McKay enlightens his audience by depicting the dire account that the taxpayers took in the ear once again. This has Oscar-buzz all over it. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 92. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com
The Good Dinosaur is a good movie. End of review. Just kidding. Disney and Pixar Animation have hit another home run with their latest PG animated adventure with a slice of comedy and suspense. But not too much for the kids. Okay; I admit to tearing up at the end, but I couldn’t help it. Arlo is such a loving dinosaur and yes, I guess he is a “good” dinosaur.
The PR is “an epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Aptosaurus makes an unlikely human friend.” What’s an Aptosaurus? See Arlo. These dinosaurs were not the troublemakers at Jurassic Park. They eat their vegetables and have a nice smile and close family with a Poppa and Momma and siblings named Libby.
Disney and Pixar are selling these dinosaurs as though they were not destroyed by a asteroid 65 million years ago, but instead lived to tell the story of how they developed into farmers and cohesive family units with qualities of honesty, courage, dependability, and love. And fear and loneliness.
They could plow the earth with the brow of their heads and make corn grow and store it up for the winters. These were, need I say it? Good dinosaurs. What’d you expect from Disney; and over $70 million in sales since opening day on November 25th.
This is an extremely beautiful movie. Color and clarity in animation these days are fantastic which is one of the primary reasons animated movies are huge sellers. And Hollywood stars seem to love providing voices to bring alive those cute little animated characters. Arlo is voiced by 14 year-old Raymond Ochoa and his momma is Frances McDormand and Poppa is Jeffrey Wright. When the epic journey takes on a “Western” twang, we meet Butch voiced by Sam Elliott.
The script is fun and appropriately paced for a kids movie: “…our farm is near Claw Tooth Mountain… you gotta make your mark… we’re gonna catch that critter… and we gotta drive this herd outta here.” As the harmonica is humming in the background, there’s a stampede of longhorns. What kind of longhorns? Go see the movie and donate to the coffers of Disney and Pixar who are just trying to scratch out a living.
The mysterious and melodious music by Jeff and Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”) fuels the adventure and dares the audience to feel the emotions of Arlo’s journey. I need to stop now because I’m getting teary-eyed again. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.
She drinks Wild Turkey straight from the bottle. Her favorite cuss word is sh*t; never says the F-word. Jessica wears tight blue jeans, black leather jacket with zippers, her long, dark hair is in various stages of disarray and her face usually has a few cuts with dried blood that are healing without stitches. And did I mention that she’s kind of cute?
Krysten Ritter’s life after Jessica Jones will never be the same. Ritter, 33, is relatively unknown but she will be the latest “overnight” success story even though she had a ten-episode gig on “Breaking Bad.” She is remarkale as the gritty, tenacious private investigator with an office in her New York City Hell’s Kitchen apartment with a front door partially made of cardboard. She has super-strength that enables her to kick, gouge, and toss a man across the room without much effort.
Yet, this Jessica Jones has a haunting past involving a villain named Kilgrave. Let me say that again because it’s one of the all-time cool literary anti-heroes names: Kilgrave.
So, tell us about this Kilgrave guy; can’t do it. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, 53, does not spoon-feed her JJ audience so I will keep her secrets and allow you to have the fun of watching the marvelous character development of a delightfully complicated and mysterious crime-fighter with a big heart. I love this Jessica Jones.
Rosenberg’s script is divine and drives this intriguing story of a new style of heroine as Jessica Jones attempts to overcome her demons while trying to do the next right thing in spite of her sexual philandering, rude demeanor, and tendency to assault others. This screenwriter is not an overnight phenom; she’s credited with much of the writing for the “The Twilight Saga” series as well as Showtime’s “Dexter.”
So, what theatre is showing Jessica Jones? Netflix; and Netflix only. For those of you who are new to the modern presentation of streaming; now is your chance to find out about the uproar involving Amazon Video, Zulu, M-Go, hulu, and king Netflix via the marriage of your TV and internet. Jessica Jones is a 13-episode “movie” that was released all at once (Nov. 20th) so a devoted fan (Eric H.) can binge on the entire series in a day or two or watch over a period of time. With access to Netflix, I binge for a while then take a break and typically finish these 12+ hour projects in a week or so. Another Netflix triumph is “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright; the fourth season will be released in 2016. I can’t wait.
The sophisticated fan will appreciate that Jessica Jones is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a Netflix ensemble with “Daredevil” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist.” These super-hero characters will team up in the future to become The Defenders. Marvel and Super-Hero movies are extremely hot right now. Mike Colter is a stand-out co-star as Luke Cage in this Jessica Jones. Some of you will remember Colter as drug-kingpin Lemond Bishop on “The Good Wife.”
Take the plunge and either hook up with Netflix or go over to a friend’s house and watch streaming of some of the best entertainment available. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 93. Larry H.
This is the fourth installment of “The Hunger Games” movie franchise; there were only three books written by Suzanne Collins which were hugely successful. The third book – “Mockingjay” was too attractive as a money tree so the money boys cut the third book into Part 1 and Part 2.
Somebody understands the allure of The Hunger Games and how to market this golden goose because by my count the first three movies have grossed $1.169 billion. First movie - $408 million then $424 million and $337 million on movies 2 and 3. Now we have movie number four; can it break $500 million in a year?
Here’s a quote from my review of Part 1: “Let’s go back to the beginning and give credit to Suzanne Collins who wrote the highly successful three books that are affectionately known as The Hunger Games. The primary story revolves around the annually televised contest of teenagers fighting to the death for the entertainment of the privileged citizens of the Capitol….The Twelve Districts throughout the country of Panem must each supply a boy and girl for this sadly barbaric event. The residence of the districts are downtrodden and ‘fighting for crumbs’ while the folks who live in the opulent Capitol are mostly worried about their hair color and body tattoos.”
The 12 districts (the rebels) have had enough and are led by their triumphant hero the Mockingjay – Katniss Everdeen; proficiently played by Jennifer Lawrence. The Capitol of Panem wants to hold onto their power and control so they are equally willing to bomb and murder the rebels and especially Katniss.
The cruel, heartless President Snow is exquisitely portrayed by the 80 year-old Donald Sutherland. The 25 year-old Katniss/Jennifer Lawrence wants to shoot an arrow into President Snow and make him “see my eyes when I kill him.” That’s some serious revenge bubbling in her veins.
I’ve been a big fan of the novel and the previous three movies, but count me out on this one, Katniss. And I blame Lawrence; Francis Lawrence not Jennifer Lawrence. Director Francis Lawrence, apparently no relation to Jennifer, has directed movies 2 - 4. My favorite Hunger Game film was the first one and it was directed by Gary Ross.
The story development in Part 2 was agonizingly slow and in an apparent attempt to be frugal by beginning in the middle of book three, the plot and necessary background overly relied on the audience’s memory to appreciate and comprehend characters. That’s lazy, Mr. Lawrence, and not entertaining. The charm and commitment of District 12 were lost on this version of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Such a waste!
Suzanne Collins should demand her money back; I know I wanted mine returned. This is a rip-off. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 69. Larry H. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are claustrophobic, then you need to pass on this movie. But if you enjoy tension and fear, then you might have a winner. Director Patricia Riggen jumps into the action quickly; these 33 miners are buried underground. Deep underground as result of an explosion and the crumbling of a mountain after 100 years of poking around by man in attempt to produce gold and copper.
This tragedy occurred in Chile in 2010 and was an international story. We all knew about it as it unfolded because these men were trapped for so long that the smart money figured they were dead within days and the TV coverage was intense. “They have three days of food.”
The film is based on the book by Hector Tobar entitled “Deep Down Dark.” And from what I remember as a news junkie watching the live feeds of the families waiting outside the mine with huge drilling equipment in the background, this movie was accurate and not overblown.
The trick is to tell a story that most of the audience is familiar with and still entertain. One for the screenwriters. The special effects were outstanding and the characterization and group dynamics were believable. It seems that these cataclysmic events produce a reluctant hero who is willing to step forward during a disastrous situation. Those “heroes” are just regular folks who we can relate to and in this seemingly lost cause, Mario Sepulveda played by Antonio Banderas, was the miner who held the group together when they were ready to kill each other.
I was glad to see Lou Diamond Phillips, as miner Don Lucho, rise to the occasion and excel as the guilt-ridden company man who should have protected his men and prevented the devastation. It’s hard to believe that Phillips starred in his most memorable performance as Ritchie Valens in “La Bamba” 28 years ago in 1987. Welcome back Lou. Not true, he never went anywhere even though I lost track of him. He’s in six movies this year alone. Same goes for Juliette Binoche who co-stars in “The 33”. When was the last big movie for her? The English Patient; she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Hana in 1996. Ok, I stand corrected; Binoche was nominated for Best Actress for “Chocolat” in 2000; never liked that movie.
I knew how long the 33 men were trapped underground and I would have been more scared and bewildered if I had not known. I noticed that many of the plot details are part of the movie’s ads; don’t go there. This movie is best seen on a sleepy Sunday afternoon on cable; not at night – too disturbing. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 82. Larry H. email@example.com
Bond; James Bond. I can clearly hear Sean Connery belting out the name JAMES BOND in that deep baritone voice. But 007 is now played by the 47 year-old Daniel Craig who still looks good without a shirt. His last Bond movie was “Skyfall” in 2012 which had a modicum of success as did his Bond in “Quantum of Solace” (2008).
The Bond of 2015 is having trouble with the home folks who politically are trying to shove the “00” program out the door and into extension. Britain’s MI5 agency led by Max Denbigh, the head of the Centre of National Security, is the new style of agent who believes that Bond is a has-been. Uh-oh, that’s not cool.
We know that our James Bond can climb tall buildings, blow up cities, shoot down a helicopter and my personal favorite: shoot the driver of a speeding car while in a flying helicopter with a Walther PPK. And who’s kissing the beautiful woman? Max Denbigh? I don’t think so.
There are other bad guys. An International group of power brokers who are collecting data on everyone and everything. If you’re doing it, they got a video of you. This sinister group is Spectre. Spectre is led by the mysterious and diabolical 2015 version of Goldfinger – Franz Oberhauser magnificently played by two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. His Oscars were for performances in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012).
Waltz’s Oberhauser is in only 4-5 scenes, but his characterization, charisma, and humor are gigantic. He won’t get another nomination for a Bond film, but the boy can act.
Daniel Craig is adequate and believable as James Bond and is already set to make another Bond movie so give his ripped body and blue eyes some cred. Ralph Fiennes plays M and Judi Dench has a cameo as the former M, but Ben Whishaw as Q and Lea Seydoux as Madeline the love interest are the big new winners.
Director Sam Mendes (Oscar for “American Beauty” 1999) attracted enough big bucks to make this a very large display of fireworks and car chases. There’s nothing special about this Bond movie; it meets the standard for those of us who love the Ian Fleming characters and want to take a fanciful ride with Bond; James Bond. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 87. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com
The “Truth” can set you free, but it’s not necessarily entertaining. And can be boring. This version of the truth is the ongoing news story and challenge to then-President George W. Bush’s honorable service in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS News had been investigating the story in 2004, shortly before the Presidential elections. The times were contentious in 2004 Presidential politics, and Bush supporters had been running the infamous Swift Boat ads in an attempt to discredit contender John Kerry’s service in Vietnam.
“Truth” is based on the book by Mary Mapes who was a 60 Minutes” producer and had teamed with Dan Rather on many stories and was taking the lead in developing the Bush story. Much of the background and investigation by the CBS news team was based on records from 1972-1973 which purportedly revealed that President Bush was “AWOL”. That’s Absent Without Leave . There were other allegations of favoritism and political shenanigans, if true and believed by the voting public, could have been very harmful to a person running for re-election for President.
Cate Blanchett was admirable as Mapes as was her mentor Robert Redford as Dan Rather. But, as I’ve written many times, great acting can’t save weak writing. And a less-than-interesting subject matter makes it nearly impossible for Director-Screenwriter James Vanderbilt to save the film. Nice try Vanderbilt, but no cigar.
This movie doesn’t reveal any new information or conclusions about the allegations about Bush 43, but does regurgitate the same old stories and forged documents; allegedly.
Spoiler alert to those who slept through 2004 and early 2005. Dan Rather stepped down as the CBS anchor and Mary Mapes was fired after an investigation by CBS. I remember this story and the accompanying drama. Let it go.
I felt sorry for Dan Rather’s career ending on such a sour note because he and I had been acquainted since he hunkered down in Galveston in the wake of Hurricane Carla in 1961. Live broadcasts by our local CBS affiliate featured a young Rather bravely riding out that huge storm that landed on top of my 11 year-old life. It was scary for Dan and me.
Noteworthy performances by Bruce Greenwood as the head of CBS and Topher Grace as a member of the news team. Attagirl for Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as Lucy Scott. This movie is another example where big stars such as Blanchett and Redford sign on to do a movie because they believe in the project and guys like me get hooked in because we think big stars are cool. Not all the time. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 76. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com