“Cop Car”

Would you steal a presumably abandoned cop car filled with loaded guns? What if you knew it belonged to a mustached, morally ambiguous sheriff? “Cop Car” is a clear warning to not mess with cop cars.

“Cop Car” is Jon Watts’s (our new “Spider-Man” reboot director) second film and opens with two friends, Travis and Harrison, wondering in a field and cursing loudly. We learn through dialogue that they’re running away from home and they come across an abandoned cop car. In an extreme case of “boys will be boys”, these naive kids take the car for a joy ride, crossing paths with a dangerous mustached sheriff (the great Kevin Bacon) in the process.

The main appeal for “Cop Car” is Bacon’s menacing and darkly funny performance as Sheriff Kretzler. He’s a unique villain because he thinks he’s smarter than he is. Kretlzer is lucky due to his law enforcement background and much younger adversaries.

Harrison (Hays Welford) and Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) are perhaps two of the most realistic child characters portrayed in film since “Stand By Me” (1986). In fact, they have a darkly funny moment involving an arsenal guns that’s very reminiscent of a particular gun scene in “Stand By Me”. As much as I liked these young knuckleheads, I wondered why are they running away?

I often had questions in the last ten minutes of “Cop Car”. The main one though, who was the villain? It definitely didn’t feel like the sheriff after a while.

SPOILER ALERT

We’re introduced to an unnamed bruised man (Shea Wigham) halfway through the movie who becomes a greater danger to the boys than Kretzler. They find this man in the trunk and we’re then uncertain of who the true villain is in the film’s climax. This is because we never learn about Kretzler’s background story or his shady side business.

“Cop Car” is a good coming-of-age thriller, but it could have easily been better without the over-reliance on ambiguity, especially with its maddeningly open conclusion.

Grade: B

“The Gift”

What makes Joel Edgerton’s (“Warrior” (2011)) directorial debut so admirable is his subtle development and revelation of horrific secrets. It’s also the film with this year’s most polarizing ending.

Edgerton writes, directs, and co-stars in “The Gift” as Gordo, A seemingly friendly loner who runs into an old acquaintance named Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), and offers his friendship. He sends them a bottle of wine, some goldfish, and window cleaner, but Simon is immediately unnerved and tells Gordo to leave them alone. He regrets it when Gordo subtly makes his life a living hell while Robyn starts to question her husband as a person.

“The Gift” is a twisted tale of revenge and karma that defies all the stalker thriller’s cliches and audiences’ expectations. It remains distinct from other thrillers because the focus isn’t on the creeper’s agenda, but on seeing Simon and Robyn’s true colors. Gordo is merely an instigator in tearing apart Simon and Robyn’s marriage. The more harm Gordo does, the more we learn how morally corrupt Simon is and how unhappy Robyn is.

Hall and Bateman carry “The Gift” and add some emotional punches to this movie. Hall is very believable as the fragile and troubled Robyn while Bateman disappears into his role as Simon, a corporate sociopath. Through shots of their facial expressions and their realistic delivery, I completely bought into their troubled relationship.

SPOILER ALERT (Seriously, this will ruin the movie if you haven’t seen it).

Edgerton is very restrained and unsettling as Gordo. While his vengeful actions are satisfying at first, I found his video involving Robyn was an insult to injury for Simon and plain disgusting; especially if you believe Gordo did what he implied (though, I personally don’t)!

Putting the uncharacteristically ending aside, “The Gift” is an otherwise brilliant mumblecore thriller featuring Bateman and Hall’s best work. They’re the stars here and seeing the story primarily from Robyn’s perspective is a breath of fresh air.

Grade: N/A

“Fant4stic”

You stylize a title as cheesy as “Fant4stic”, you bet I’m going to refer the movie by that title. The one thing I learned watching “Fant4stic” is that director Josh Trank (“Chronicle” (2012)) is better with less money in his budget.

The premise of “Fant4stic” is simple; five genius kids in either high school or college are enlisted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey from TV’s “Oz” and “House of Cards”) to research teleportation, discovering another planet in the process. You have high school genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Storm’s rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordon) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Storm’s eccentric and arrogant protege Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel).

The team are all exposed to the other planet’s fuels, mutating them in the process, which leads them against Victor on Planet Zero. There’s the premise in a nutshell!

What’s irritating about the narrative in “Fant4stic” is that there’s no development or lesson learned by the end of the movie! Ben resents Reed after their mutations, Ben and Johnny form a rivalry, Reed and Sue take a romantic interest in each other, and Reed and Johnny are clearly friends, but none of this is developed or resolved. With a running time of 100 minutes, I wonder if Trank was forced to edit the film and cut out all of the development and back story.

The small amount of development is some of the most half-assed writing in recent memory. Ben and Reed are respectively the brain and heart duo trying to change the world, Victor wants to destroy Earth and go back to Planet Zero because he feels we’re killing Earth (though not wrong there, but that’s a different conversation), and the kids get their powers due to a drunken mishap? Maybe the message of the movie was don’t drink.

As far as acting goes, Miles Teller and Kate Mara both look bored, Jamie Bell overacts as the inept and street smart muscle, Michael B Jordon and Toby Kebbel are good sports on screen, and Reg E. Cathey works well with what he has.

Trank envisioned “Fant4stic” being a blend of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” movies, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014), and David Cronenberg’s body horror classics “The Fly” (1986) and “Scanners” (1981). Ambitious idea, yeah, but like I said in my “True Detective” review, execution matters! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather rewatch the 2005 and 2007 “Fantastic 4” films before I watch “Fant4stic” again.

Grade: F

“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

“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+