“True Detective” – Season 2

DISCLAIMER – I mainly review movies, but I make an exception for mini-series such as “True Detective” since they’re essentially longer movies.

I wish I could say “True Detective” was as brilliant this year as last year. If you guys haven’t seen season one, it featured Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Southern detectives investigating a ritualistic murder in the backwoods of Louisiana. It was unpredictable, artistic, innovative, and featured the best work from both Harrelson and McConaughey.

This season trades in mythical Louisiana swamps and backwoods for an industrial and deteriorating city outside Los Angeles. Colin Farrell is the corrupt alcoholic detective, Ray Velcoro, Rachel MacAdams is the debauched Sheriff’s Department investigator, Ani Bezzerides, and Taylor Kitsch is the traumatized ex-soldier Highway Patrolman, Paul Woodraugh. They’re assembled together to investigate the murder of a businessman linked to European gangsters and a reformed criminal-turned-businessman named Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn).

Each of the detectives are in the case for different reasons. Ray is pressured by his more crooked superiors and Frank (Ray is Frank’s enforcer) to solve the murder and cover up his department’s involvement, Ani is put in charge due to rank, and Paul is enlisted to avoid a scandal involving a young actress. Trust issues ensue among the four characters as they uncover shady business deals, a mob-hosted sex party, and the truth behind a rare bag of diamonds.

Let’s start with the positives of “True Detective” this season – Rachel MacAdams delivers a raw and badass performance, Taylor Kitsch proves he’s one of the most dedicated actors of his generation, and the soundtrack packs a deeper narrative.

Singer Lera Lynn wrote and performed several songs for this season and each song tells us something about the characters and the world they’re in. T-Bone Burnett returns as head composer with a synthesizer-heavy score that emphasizes the Neo-Noir style.

This season also features some of the craziest and bloody gunfights I’ve seen in any TV show or movie, including one in episode 4 that’s strongly reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995). However, this is where criticisms come in. The shootouts escalate out of nowhere and seem like Pizzolatto’s trying to outdo season 1’s craziest moments.

Let’s talk Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn here – they’re both clearly trying to deliver this season and both actors have some solid moments this season, but they’re both given the show’s worst dialogue that’s on par with “Star Wars: Episode I” level of quality. “Don’t do anything out of hunger, even eat.” –Vince Vaughn as Frank.

“Twelve years old my ass… fuck you.” –Colin Farrell as Ray.

Yeah, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are. The show also suffers from several genre cliches, pacing issues, and uncertainties with direction. The pacing and direction is likely attributed to the show having several different directors this season, as opposed to last (Cary Fukanaga directed all of season one).

The cliches are all painful and overdone with Ray as the cop who’s embraced corruption (like Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey in “LA Confidential (1997)) and Ani portrayed as a sexually troubled cop with a dysfunctional family (this has been seen with too many female detective characters to name).

SPOILER ALERT – It was no shock that these two would somehow fall for each other abruptly by the end.

MORE SPOILERS

The way Pizzolatto portrays women and homosexuals is tasteless and amateur here. Ani and her sister are both kinky due to a traumatic encounter in their childhood? Paul is a closeted homosexual with an incestuous mother? Frank’s wife does nothing but act concern for him? This all looks like Pizzolatto read half a page of a human sexuality textbook and wrote his few notes into the script.

The biggest disappointment though is the ending. The revelation of the killer isn’t epic or shocking, but rather anti-climactic and quickly resolved before turning back to the corruption story. I wanted to know more about the killer, dammit!

I mean, I’m all for trying something new with anthologies, but execution matters. This just wasn’t well executed as it could have been.

Grade: C

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

Tom Cruise is a maniac. Does he have a death wish when he swims under water for several minutes with no oxygen tank? Is he trying to gain attention by hanging on the side of a flying cargo plane? All I know is I respect the crap out of him for his commitment to his work; especially in the “Mission: Impossible” movies.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is the fifth installment in the “M:I” franchise and has Cruise returning as Ethan Hunt, alongside Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, Simon Pegg’s Benji, and Ving Rhames’s Luther. The plot is fairly similar to the first and fourth installments since Hunt and his team are evading officials while tracking down a terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.

I’m a big fan of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise and grew up watching these movies. I watched “Mission: Impossible” (1996) several times when I was a kid, “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000) is a stupid-yet-enjoyable sequel, “Mission: Impossible III” (2006) is the best revenge spy thriller since “License to Kill” (1989), and “Ghost Protocol” (2011) is a brilliant spectacle piece that had audiences taking Tom Cruise seriously again. Cruise once again proves in “Rogue Nation” why he’s one of the best action stars of all time.

Cruise keeps us on the edge of our seats between his aerobics, stunt driving, fight sequences, and his motorcycle chase. We all know about that now iconic plane stunt from the trailers, but the best part is, that’s not even the BEST action sequence! I won’t tell you what is because it’s too hard to choose!

The film is also suspenseful without action sequences and at times feels like the first “M:I” movie as characters betray each other, and bypass high-tech security systems. Remember that scene in this year’s spy tribute “Kingsman” where Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson discuss spy movies? Where Firth says the old spy movies had sillier far-fetched plots while the newer ones are more serious? “Rogue Nation” is equally measured in silliness and intensity.

We also get dramatic scene-stealing work from Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson is the strongest female character we’ve gotten in this series as a femme-fatale rogue operative, and Sean Harris (one of the dummies who gets killed in the cave scene in “Prometheus” (2012)) plays a subtle and menacing villain.

I recommend everyone should see “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” if they like action-packed sequels that nearly outdo their predecessors.

Grade: A

“Ant-Man”

I wish the brilliant Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead” (2004) and “Hot Fuzz” (2007)) stuck around to direct his version of “Ant-Man”. Given that Simon Pegg and Joss Whedon both called Wright’s screenplay one of the best Marvel scripts they ever read, I wonder what that version would have been like, compared to the final product.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an ex-con who finds himself in a predicament when he steals a suit that can shrink the person wearing it into the size of an ant. He’s then approached by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas returning to form) to use that suit to, “break into a place and steal some shit,” though Scott wants to go straight. But this heist is for the greater good and Scott is an expendable choice, much to Hank’s daughter Hope’s (Evangeline Lilly) chagrin.

The best moments in “Ant-Man” are the comedic moments. This movie is perhaps the funniest movie Marvel’s produced to date (yes, funnier than “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Rudd delivers a charming performance packed with deadpan delivery. The best performances in “Ant-Man” go to Michael Pena (“End of Watch” (2012), “Shooter” (2007)) as Scott’s crime partner and Douglas. Pena is brilliant comedic relief while Douglas brings fierce attitude and sharp humor to Pym.

The action sequences get a tad redundant after a while, as Ant-Man shrinks, punches, shrinks again, and punches again, but there are some amazing ones involving an enlarged Thomas train and a fight inside a briefcase thrown out a helicopter. These wacky and innovative sequences must have been Wright’s!

And this is where “Ant-Man” is flawed; there are four credited screenwriters here. We have Wright, Rudd, Joe Cornish (2011’s awesome “Attack the Block”), and Adam McKay (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)). Wright and Cornish wrote the original script while McKay and Rudd heavily rewrote it before production.

Wright and Cornish’s genius shows in certain action sequences and comedic moments (particularly Pena’s narration scenes). However, it seems the script relies a lot on the superhero origin formula and heist movie cliches. How many times do we need to see a heist movie with the, “We can’t do this! Yes we can,” banter? Makes me believe these moments were McKay and Rudd’s.

Look, I’m not saying “Ant-Man” is a bad movie. I enjoyed it overall and would recommend it. It’s just not Marvel’s best and the rewrites in this movie are clearly visible. Maybe Rudd and McKay will grow as they work on “Ant-Man 2”.

Grade: B

“Trainwreck”

Amy Schumer’s Amy is the best on-screen hot mess I’ve seen in years. What makes her so likable is her brutal honesty and complex, self-aware nature.

“Trainwreck” is Judd Apatow’s (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”) fifth film and it’s about Amy. She’s a woman raised by a jackass father (played by the underrated Colin Quinn) to believe monogamy isn’t realistic. She sleeps with several men (and women), drinks like a fish, and smokes her fair share of weed. Amy also works for a men’s magazine called “S’nuff” where she’s assigned to profile Bill Hader’s sports doctor, Aaron Conners. Could he be the guy to convince Amy monogamy is possible?

Once again, I have to applaud Schumer for her brilliant and raw sense of humor. Schumer wrote the film’s screenplay, which contains dirty talking instructions, a comparison between a woman’s period and the infamous “Red Wedding” scene from “Game of Thrones”, and an extended “walk of shame” sequence. This is comedy gold, people!

WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

A lot of times, we see romantic comedies where the woman is at fault for the relationship’s demise, but here, it’s a two-way street between Amy and Aaron. You know your relationship will have bumpy roads when you have a trainwreck and an uptight inexperienced person learning each other’s flaws the hard way.

It’s not just the humor or the fresh perspective in romantic comedies that sell “Trainwreck;” it’s the cast. You have Brie Larson (“21 Jump Street”, “Short Term 12”) as Amy’s estranged foil of a sister, WWE’s John Cena as Amy’s clueless and closeted boyfriend, Ezra Miller (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) as an awkward intern, NBA’s Lebron James as a fictionalized version of himself, and the great Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”, “Snowpiercer”) as Amy’s narcissistic boss.

With all Apatow movies, you can expect some drawn out scenes and a few too many subplots, but I can forgive those minor flaws thanks to the genius of Amy Schumer.

Grade: A-

“Terminator Genisys”

Well, I guess all I can say about “Terminator Genisys” is thank god Arnold Schwarzenegger is back!

“Terminator Genisys” is part sequel, prequel, remake, and reboot of the “Terminator” franchise, featuring a new timeline. The talented Jason Clarke (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)) is now the fifth actor to play John Connor and the film begins with him defeating Skynet. However, he still needs to send Kyle Reese (played by a very whiny Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” fame). When Reese arrives, he discovers that Sarah is now the strong warrior she’ll later become in “T2” (1991) and she has a T800 (Schwarzenegger) nicknamed “Pops” by her side. They assemble Reese to change the future, but Reese discovers there’s a potential new result of Judgment Day in 2017 instead of 1997 (the date of Judgment Day in “T2”).

You know? I didn’t like “Terminator Genisys”. It’s not a bad movie, but like “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) and “Terminator Salvation” (2009), it wasn’t needed. “Genisys” isn’t redundant stupidity like “T3” or uninspired like “Salvation”, but it suffers due to poor casting choices and unnecessary complications.

NO SPOILERS, GUYS!

Jai Courtney is unbearable as Kyle Reese, delivering an uninspired and clueless performance; he clearly went into this movie without researching Kyle Reese or Michael Biehn’s portrayal of him. Jason Clarke is a solid actor, he gives a very mixed performance as John. He overdoes the cliched philosophical warrior in the first half of the movie before going bonkers in the second half. Emilia Clarke is good as Sarah Connor, but she doesn’t have any chemistry with any of the other cast members here. Not sure if it’s her fault or not.

Remember when I said it’s complicated? I’m not kidding. “Terminator Genisys” tries the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) play by erasing the flaws with a new timeline and misfires! The new timeline is incredibly confusing and features a very unnecessary and bizarre remake of “The Terminator’s” (1984) opening ten minutes, a theory that time travel can create memories of your unforeseen future, and an unresolved subplot involving Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”).

I can forgive some of these flaws due to Schwarzenegger giving the Terminator a touch of protective father and badass old man. He also remains incredibly funny throughout a majority of the film, which was refreshing. Speaking of funny, the wonderful JK Simmons kills it as a bumbling detective caught in the middle of the plot.

The action and visual effects are exciting, as well, though will never compare to “T2’s” epic action sequences. I mean, if you’re a fan of the “Terminator” franchise, you might be entertained, but ultimately, it’s another missed opportunity.

Grade: C-

“Inside Out”

Forget about “Cars” (2006), “Monster’s University” (2013), or the painfully mediocre “Brave” (2012). Pixar has now returned to form.

“Inside Out” follows a twelve-year-old girl named Riley, who moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents. She’s very cheerful, outgoing, and loves hockey, which is attributed to her emotions’ leader, Joy. Alongside Joy are Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger; they all politically manage Riley’s emotions and behavior with Joy often bringing the best out of Riley. However, when Sadness clumsily ruins some of Riley’s happiest memories, Riley shuts down and grows confused and anxious like twelve-year-olds do. Disgust, Fear, and Anger don’t help as they constantly screw up Riley’s activities more-so while Joy and Sadness work together to correct this mess.

Short and sweet, “Inside Out” is a total gem. Director Pete Docter (“Monster’s Inc.” (2001) and  “Up” (2009)) continues his masterful talent by combining a genre film with an emotional story empowered by beautiful animation. Remember how “Monster’s Inc.” was essentially a kid’s Dystopian Sci-fi story? “Inside Out” is a kid’s disaster movie, but inside the kid’s head! No, this is NOT an animated version of “Inception” (2010).

The highlights of “Inside Out” include a very trippy abstract sequence in “Imagination Land,” a witty montage where you see the emotions operating Riley’s parents’ brains, and a clever and hilarious sequence where Sadness and Joy attempt to trigger a nightmare in Joy’s head to wake her up.

Like all of Pixar’s greatest works, the story is emotional and very bittersweet. Joy spends most of her time micromanaging Sadness’s moves, feeling she brings nothing but chaos and destruction to Riley’s life. To be fair, Joy’s not wrong, but their relationship is a strong metaphor of happiness and sadness balancing each other out.

I’m not going into further detail here but I’ll let you know that “Inside Out” is worth every penny. Please, go see this movie!

Grade: A+

“Jurassic World”

Twenty-two years ago, I sat in front of the boob tube wowed by the Brontosaurus. Eighteen years ago,  I was an annoying screaming kid watching the T-Rex destroy San Diego. Oh, some good memories (I’m forgetting being disappointed fourteen years ago by a certain threequel). And yet, “Jurassic World” was a pleasant treat and a new memory.

SPOILER ALERT – I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH!

“Jurassic World” is part reboot and part fourth installment to the “Jurassic Park” franchise directed by Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and focuses on the now highly successful dinosaur-filled park. When Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) decides the park needs a new attraction, her head geneticist Wu (BD Wong reprising his role from “Jurassic Park”) creates the Indominous Rex (boy, my word editor’s going nuts with the “Indominous” word through this review), a hybrid of several dinosaurs.

Chris Pratt’s character Owen predicts the Indominous will be uncontrollable since it hasn’t socialized with other dinosaurs. And he’s right when the Indominous breaks loose, kills several park employees and prisoners, and even instigates an air attack from a pack of pterosaurs. Claire and Owen then race against time to save the park and Claire’s nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson).

So, I can tell this review’s gonna be a controversial one since “Jurassic World” is a very polarizing installment. Putting it simply, I really liked the movie. “Jurassic World” is a fun and ridiculous adventure loaded with thrills, heart, and just enough brains that made the first installment so damn fun to watch.

There isn’t much you can do with a dinosaur movie. So, how do you keep it fresh? Have Owen train raptors with a mindset of treating them respectfully like a person would with their dogs. This looked silly in the trailers, but it makes sense after seeing the final product.

The raptor training nearly backfires in the climax when the Indominous communicates with the raptors, turning them against Owen, making it far more suspenseful. I only saw “Jurassic World” for the climax because I knew there would be a treat hidden for the end, which there definitely was. A T-Rex fight, anyone? Yes, it was done in “Jurassic Park III” for twenty seconds, but this was a far more satisfying and epic dino brawl.

Now I know I’m raving about this movie and coming off like a fanboy, but there are some flaws, as well. For starters, there’s a subplot involving Claire’s nephews coping with their parents’ divorce that goes nowhere, the dialogue isn’t always witty, and the Indominous loses its menacing qualities after the first hour or so. There’s even a confusing subplot involving an inGen head (Vincent D’Onofrio) trying to militarize the raptors!

But the movie’s redeeming qualities and nostalgia factor will leave you endorsed within “Jurassic World’s” opening shot.

Verdict – B+