Movie Review: “Cop Car”

Starring
Kevin Bacon, Hays Wellford, James Freedson-Jackson, Shea Whigham, Camryn Manheim
Director
Jon Watts

After receiving mostly positive reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Cop Car” is guaranteed to become one of the most talked-about indie releases of the year following the announcement that director Jon Watts has been chosen to helm Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man reboot. Though it’ll be interesting to see how Watts handles a big tentpole movie considering the stripped-down nature of “Cop Car,” his ability to wring suspense out of the simplest moments goes a long way in making the film a lot more engaging than you’d expect. “Cop Car” doesn’t quite rival the classic Coen brothers crime thrillers that have clearly influenced Watts as a filmmaker, but it’s a confident sophomore effort that benefits from a great performance by Kevin Bacon.

Set somewhere in rural Colorado, a pair of 10-year-old boys – cocky instigator Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and meek sidekick Harrison (Hays Wellford) – discover an abandoned cop car in the middle of the woods. After daring each other to touch it, and then mustering the courage to investigate further, the boys find the driver’s side door unlocked and the keys hidden inside, so they decide to take the car for a joy ride. The vehicle belongs to the corrupt Sheriff Kretzer (Bacon), who’s gotten caught up in some kind of criminal activity (the details of which are very sparse) and was off burying a body down the road at the exact time that Travis and Harrison happened upon his car. But unbeknownst to them, there’s another body in the trunk of the car that connects Kretzer to his bad deed, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it back.

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Movie Review: “Ricki and the Flash”

Starring
Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt
Director
Jonathan Demme

It’s been seven long years since director Jonathan Demme’s last narrative feature film, “Rachel Getting Married.” Over the course of his career, Demme has captured a variety of human emotions and experiences, whether in his thrillers, dramas or rock concert documentaries, and he returns to the big screen once again with the deeply human, honest and heartfelt film, “Ricki and the Flash,” written by fellow Oscar winner Diablo Cody (“Juno”).

Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) isn’t exactly living her dream. The once-promising musician, now in her 60s, works in a grocery store while also performing at a half-empty bar at night. She hasn’t let failure stop her, though. Ricki still goes on stage giving everything she’s got, even when the rocker has to sing Lady Gaga for the young crowds. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of her relationship with her three kids, who are all grown up and off living their lives without her. But when her daughter, Julie (real-life daughter Mamie Gummer), hits rock bottom after her husband leaves her for another woman, Ricki – who still sports leather pants and no shortage of jewelry – gets a second chance at being a mother by confronting her past mistakes in an attempt to finally be a part of her childrens’ lives.

This all sounds rather familiar, and it is. “Ricki and the Flash” mostly goes where one expects, but it does so with grace. None of the tropes are clichés; they all feel organic to the story Cody is telling, and the story she’s telling is incredibly sweet. Her scripts have always been sincere, whether you’re talking about her overlooked horror-comedy, “Jennifer’s Body,” or her best work to date, “Young Adult,” which has an incredible amount of empathy for a damaged character. Lately, Cody’s stories have gotten even sweeter, and while that tone didn’t quite work in her directorial debut, “Paradise,” it’s tremendously successful here.

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Movie Review: “Vacation”

Starring
Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Ron Livingston
Director
John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein

There’s been an overwhelming sense of nostalgia at theaters this summer, with films like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Jurassic World” and “Terminator Genisys” all reviving decades-old franchises on the big screen, and “Vacation” continues that trend with the latest installment in the National Lampoon series that began with Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and a rotating door of actors playing their two kids. Though it isn’t technically a reboot, despite sharing its title with the 1983 original, writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein address the issue head-on by conceding that while there are similarities to the first movie, the 2015 edition stands on its own. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case, because it’s basically just a raunchier, less funny rehash of the Harold Ramis/John Hughes classic that lacks its predecessor’s charm and heart.

All grown up and with a family of his own, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) has remained in the Chicago area working as a pilot for a second-rate regional airline so that he can be close to his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). When he realizes that the family’s annual vacation to the same boring cabin in Michigan is in desperate need of a little shakeup, he finds inspiration from his own childhood and plans a cross-country road trip to Walley World in the hope that it’ll bring the family closer together. But just like his vacation to America’s favorite family fun park as a kid, things don’t go exactly as planned, as the Griswolds must contend with thieving rednecks, psychotic truck drivers and their own extended family.

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Movie Review: “Southpaw”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Oona Laurence, Naomie Harris
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Throughout the years, boxing movies have been synonymous with tales of redemption – from “Rocky,” to “Raging Bull,” to “The Fighter” – and Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw” is no different. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in the story that hasn’t already appeared countless times before in other boxing films, but despite the clichéd plot, the movie isn’t without its charms. At the top of that list is star Jake Gyllenhaal, who continues his remarkable career reinvention from pretty-boy leading man to serious actor with yet another fantastic performance. It likely won’t earn him the Oscar nomination he was wrongfully snubbed for last year’s “Nightcrawler,” but it builds upon that transformative role with such mature confidence that it only seems like a matter of time before he’s finally rewarded for his work.

The movie opens with undefeated light heavyweight champion Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) successfully defending his title at Madison Square Garden and cementing his status as one of the best boxers in the sport. Everyone wants their chance to go toe-to-toe with him in the ring, including hotshot fighter Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), but Billy’s levelheaded wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), urges him to make the sensible decision and call it quits while he’s still on top… and before he becomes so punch drunk that he can’t enjoy his success. When Miguel instigates a fight with him at a charity fundraiser and Maureen is shot and killed among the chaos, Billy spirals out of control, landing himself in trouble with the boxing league and losing his house, his possessions, and most importantly, custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Desperate to keep her out of the foster care system where he spent his childhood, Billy seeks help from a gruff, veteran trainer (Forest Whitaker) to get back what he lost.

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Movie Review: “Pixels”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James, Brian Cox, Sean Bean
Director
Chris Columbus

Adam Sandler has said that the goal of “Pixels” was to be a modern-day version of an early-period Amblin Entertainment film (think “The Goonies,” “Gremlins” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), something entertaining but also absolutely bonkers, and plays by its own rules. By that measure, “Pixels” is a smashing success. This movie is ridiculous, but in watching it, you realize that it’s been a long time since a live-action summer movie had the nerve to be ridiculous. It’s been this superhero movie or that graphic novel, and with the exception of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” they’ve all been deathly serious. “Pixels” revels in its silliness, and in the process gives the audience some wildly entertaining battle and chase sequences as a bonus. This is one absurd, but fun, movie. If it had a theme song, it would be “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Dare to Be Stupid.” That’s a compliment, for the record.

When Sam Brenner (Sandler) was a teen (in 1982), his future was impossibly bright. He was the best video gamer in town, but his hopes were crushed when smack-talking Eddie Plant came to town and beat him in a tournament. (Eddie is played by Peter Dinklage, who modeled his look after real-life Donkey Kong champion, and “The King of Kong” supervillain, Billy Mitchell. If you have not yet seen this movie, stop reading this and watch it right now. NOW, damn it.) The footage of that tournament was sent into space, where it was received by an alien race…and interpreted to be a declaration of war.

Thirty-three years later, the aliens arrive, in the form of the 8-bit video game characters that were in the video, destroying a US military base in Guam, and then a major international landmark. Sam now installs high-tech audio and video systems, while his teen years buddy Will Cooper (Kevin James) is the President of the United States. President Cooper, once he realizes what they’re up against, brings in Sam, and their onetime gamer friend-turned-conspiracy theorist Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) to advise the military, much to the military’s chagrin, on how to defeat their enemy. Later, when Sam and Ludlow show that they are better soldiers in this war than the actual soldiers, the government makes a deal with the now-incarcerated Eddie to enlist the help of the self-branded “Fireblaster” (that nickname is so very ‘80s, and so very douchey). They’ve already lost the first two battles, though, so using video game logic, if they lose one more, it’s game over for the planet.

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