Whiplash Review

Posted: November 19, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

whiplash_poster_1Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Last year saw a wave of coming of age films depicting awkward teens/young men discovering their identities in ways that fused drama and comedy. Of course, there have always been films like this, but they seemed especially prominent last year with films like The Way, Way Back, The Spectacular Now, and The Kings of Summer. It was a movement I had no interest in and was fairly annoyed by it by year’s end. This year’s movie Whiplash might seem to be cut from the same cloth on paper. It premiered at Sundance, focused on a young upper middle class white guy’s struggle, and even starred The Spectacular Now’s Miles Teller. However all one had to do was look at the trailer to see that while there may be some superficial similarities, Whiplash is an entirely different animal.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a freshman at Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in the United States. Neiman is a drummer and catches the eye of Shaffer’s Jazz conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who places Neiman in his band. Though this is a great honour, it becomes clear that it’s also an arduous experience as Fletcher is abusive, both physically and psychologically, to his students in order to inspire the best of them. This causes Neiman to really push himself to his limits in order to go as far as one can. Read the rest of this entry »

Birdman Review

Posted: November 15, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

birdman-clickWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Every so often, an actor will seem so perfectly suited for a character that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. This goes beyond giving an amazing performance; there’s some other, meta force that makes said actor the only real choice. One of the best examples of this in recent memory was Mickey Rourke’s turn in The Wrestler. Great performance, but it was the parallel comebacks for both the character and the actor which made it seem even more poignant. This year, we have a comparable case of an 80’s actor making a comeback in a role that seems no one else but he could play. That man is Michael Keaton, famous for playing a superhero in the 80s and 90s, plays an actor famous for doing just that in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film Birdman.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed up Hollywood actor who made his name in the early 90s playing the superhero Birdman in a trilogy of films. He left the hit franchise, and his career floundered as Hollywood moved on, finding new superhero franchises to turn out. In an effort to find relevance once again, Riggan decides to write, direct, and star in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. In doing so, Riggan will need to deal with volatile and prima donna actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), as well as critics and audiences who resent him for trying to make a name on their stage. Additionally, the production brings out other issues with Riggan’s estranged wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), his mistress (Andrea Riseborough), and his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone). All of these issues come to a boiling point in the week leading up to the show’s opening night. Read the rest of this entry »

Interstellar Review

Posted: November 12, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

*There are no overt spoilers in this review, but this is the kind of film that is best gone into blind. interstellar-teaserposter-fullWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I’m generally not too fond of the question, “What’s your favourite film genre?” It’s not that I don’t enjoy genres, the problem is I don’t like only selecting one, or limiting films to a type of classification. I’ve seen great films from all kinds of genres, and great films which either can be classified as one thing, or have trouble being classified at all. However when people ask, I tend to answer science-fiction. This is in part because “sci-fi” can be such a broad label. Alien and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, are both science-fiction films, but they have little in common. More importantly, science fiction films have the potential to really explore deep ideas, and there can be a great sense of wonder to these types of films. From the get go, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar seemed like a film of such ambition. All of the marketing was able to generate awe, and what little I read spoke to the grand goals of the film. Now Interstellar has finally arrived to much hype and anticipation.

In the near future, the Earth begins to lose its ability to sustain human life. Food has become scarce has fewer crops are able to grow and dust storms have become a common problem. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot who is now a farmer, and is a widower and father of two young children. His main goal in life is to provide for them. Through a strange anomaly, Cooper discovers a message giving co-ordinates to a secret facility. This facility turns out to be the remnants of NASA. Led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), they have a plan to travel through a wormhole near Saturn and explore potentially habitable worlds. That way the human race can survive beyond Earth. Feeling he was led there for a reason, it is decided Cooper should be the one to pilot this mission, accompanying several other scientists including Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Cooper is reluctant to go as it means leaving his children, but he is convinced that this is humanity’s last shot at survival. He agrees to leave, which causes great strain on his young daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Read the rest of this entry »

Interstellar Review

Posted: November 9, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

The opening shot of director Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi epic Interstellar is of toy models of rocket ships gathering dust as they lay forgotten on bookshelves, relics of a time when there was more hope in the world, and it’s a shot that subtly grabs you while also being rather telling. Not only do those dust-coated rockets foreshadow the civilization in this film that’s had its dreams and future crushed by the crippling reality of nature and/or destiny, it’s not hard to conclude that the somber image also maybe represents the mostly forgotten ideals of Hollywood to push boundaries and go to new places. With Interstellar, Nolan — who has become one of the best modern day film directors — intends to reawaken that desire for discovery, and his appropriately-themed film does just that in spades. It’s experiences like the one I had while watching Interstellar that remind me exactly why I love movies in the first place. It’s about wanting to be transported somewhere exciting, to feel like you’re going on a journey to somewhere incredible that you don’t want to leave, and Interstellar is a film equally powerful enough in both scope and pure, raw feeling that it accomplishes that feat.

The setting is a future where a blight has put our species on a path for extinction. Unrelenting dust storms have gradually depleted our natural resources to the point where the human race is barely getting by as it is. Food is the last remaining commodity, and even that is dwindling fast, with corn being the only remaining thing in that regard, but not for much longer. A rural, widowed farmer named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), also a former NASA pilot, can sense the end coming but chooses to remain as hopeful as he can for the benefit of his two children and father-in-law (John Lithgow). That sense of hope is renewed aplenty, however, after Cooper gets his hands on a mysteriously-downed surveillance drone, which sets off a small chain of events that leads him and his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) to an underground facility, but not just any underground facility: NASA. There, Cooper encounters Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a former colleague who reveals to Cooper the existence of a wormhole located in the vicinity of Saturn, as well as the plan to mobilize a crew to travel through it and search the uncharted territory on the other side for viable options to relocate the human race. Brand convinces Cooper to pilot the mission, traveling with the professor’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and physicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley). Cooper’s decision to go — for years, as the journey takes the crew to unknown new planets — causes he and Murph to part on bad terms, and it’s a decision that hangs heavy over both their heads, especially years later on Earth when Murph has grown into an adult (Jessica Chastain) and is trying to follow in her father’s footsteps.

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The Sacrament Review

Posted: November 9, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

sacramentWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s been a disappointing year for mainstream horror movies. While there are some titles I’m interested in checking out, most of what’s played in multiplexes has just looked uninteresting, uninspired, thoroughly panned by critics, or some combination of the three. However there have been some decent rumblings in the world of indie horror. Specifically, up and coming filmmaker Ti West’s film The Sacrament. While it hasn’t received the positive reception of West’s first two films, it had received enough positive buzz that I found myself interested.

The film opens with fictional footage from web series Vice, focusing on photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) who’s sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) has recently joined a strange religious commune called Eden Parish. Said sister has invited her brother to visit, so two Vice journalists Sam and Jake (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) decide to go with him in order to gain some understanding about what this cult is like. Upon arriving, Patrick reunites with his sister, while Sam and Jake tour the community and interview some of the townsfolk. They find that Eden Parish is in many ways the paradise it’s been described as. But as they spend more time, they start to see signs that all may not be well, and they become more aware of Eden Parish’s seemingly well-meaning figure, Father (Gene Jones).

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The Immigrant Review

Posted: November 8, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the-immigrant-2013.14703Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I remember early in the summer hearing about a little film called The Immigrant and being shocked to see it starred Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner. How had this film just slipped by me? Looking into it, that seemed typical for director James Gray. Gray has directed a number of films which all seem to be fairly regarded, but none have caused a true sensation. And so it was with The Immigrant, which received strong reviews, if not overly enthusiastic. Still, given the amount of talent in the cast, I had a feeling The Immigrant was not to be missed. I must say, I’m quite impressed.

In the early 1920s, immigrant sisters Ewa and Magda (Marion Cotillard and Angela Sarafyan) arrive at Ellis Island from Poland. Magda is quickly declared sick and taken to the infirmary, while Ewa is decided to have a deportation hearing. There, Ewa is discovered by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) a successful business man who is able to get Ewa off the island and into New York City. However Ewa quickly realizes Bruno is not an ideal saviour, but a pimp who uses his burlesque shows with foreign women as a way to attract clients. Ewa has serious problems with the work Bruno coaxes her into doing, but she has no other option as it is the only way she can make the money to get her sister off of Ellis Island.

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3 Days to Kill Review

Posted: November 7, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

three_days_to_killWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Luc Besson started his career as a very exciting action director with films like La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional. These films were very well put together, and they also had a European oddness that helped them stand out. But at some point or another, Besson’s directing career collapsed. He still makes films, but his never been able to return to the glory days of the 90s. Besson has become better known for writing and producing a number of action films ranging from mediocre to bad. 3 Days to Kill looked like just another of these films, though it had one edge; Kevin Costner. I’d never describe Costner as a great actor, but he does have a screen presence and has been on something of a decent streak. It is for this reason I decided to give 3 Days a Kill a chance.

Ethan (Kevin Costner) is a veteran CIA field agent. As the film opens, he and other operatives trying to take down international criminals The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis) and The Wolf (Richard Sammel). Ethan comes very close to bringing down The Albino, but begins to feel ill and passes out. He wakes up some time later in the hospital where he is told he has a rare disease and only a few months to live. Ethan realizes he has wasted most of his life and decides to reach out to his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and estranged teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). However a former CIA contact (Amber Heard) offers Ethan an experimental drug that could cure him. All he needs to do is kill The Albino and The Wolf. Ethan must than juggle his mission with quality time with his family.

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Snowpiercer Review

Posted: November 6, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

snowpiercerWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

There was a lot of talk in the summer about Snowpiercer’s release strategy. After the film was acquired by the Weinstein Company, Harvey allegedly demanded director Bong Joon-ho make several cuts to the film and add a prologue and epilogue. Joon-ho refused, so Harvey responded by dumping the film into a limited theatrical release while simultaneously releasing it on VOD. This caused quite a stir, but I’m starting to wonder if the whole thing wasn’t just some ingenious plot by the Weinstein’s to get people’s attention. Snowpiercer became one of the most critically praised films of the year with damn near critic who saw it offering up praise. The theaters in my area didn’t get Snowpiercer and I wasn’t about to watch it via VOD. Instead, I’ve patiently waited and I’m ready to join the discussion.

In the near future, climate change grows out of control. With such desperate times, humanity devises a weather solution which intends to cool the earth to sustainable levels. Turns out their device goes too far and freezes the Earth, leaving it unstable to sustain life. The last remnants on humanity live on a train called “The Snowpiercer”. Created by an eccentric billionaire, The Snowpiercer runs on a perpetual motion engine on a track that spans the globe. There is a strict class system aboard the train. The upper class live in luxury near the front of the train, while the lower class live in the slums of the tail, where they are abused by guards daily. One of these lower class citizens is Curtis (Chris Evans) and he’s grown tired of their situation. With the help of others such as Tanya (Octavia Spencer), Gilliam (John Hurt), and Edgar (Jamie Bell), Curtis plans a revolt. The band together and release security specialist Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and begin their mission to overtake the train from the wealthy.

The plot description makes the film’s social agenda pretty clear. This is a future where the classes are literally divided, with a minority living extremely comfortably, while the majority live in appalling conditions. The social consciousness is a nice touch, but it’s mostly a background detail. The actual story is a pretty straight-forward action movie plot; the people at the back of the train need to fight their way to the front. The characters are all basic archetypes and while there are some twists, for the most part the plot is fairly simple. What makes Snowpiercer a unique film is the execution, though I can’t say I can get behind all of Joon-ho’s decisions.

The most interesting aspect of Snowpiercer is definitely the world it creates. The concept of an anti-climate change device going wrong is pretty neat, but it’s the visuals of the train itself which are the real highlight. The tail-end slums feel gritty and authentic, and as Curtis’ crew moves through the train the audience is treated to all sorts of visual splendor including an aquarium car, a garden car, and a leisure car. The overall design is very detailed and feels lived in. You really buy into the setting. On the downside, the film is plagued by some very poor CGI which does take you out of the world. This isn’t too big a deal early on, but as the film goes and the CGI becomes more prominent, it becomes distracting.

The film also has a very bizarre tone. Early scenes are bleak and brutal, reflecting the harsh future created. However this is offset by moments of bizarre comedy which feel really out of place. Nowhere is this more pronounced than Tilda Swinton’s performance. While most of the cast plays their roles in a subdued manner, Swinton gives an insanely over the top performance. It’s baffling and, given the circumstances of everything else, terrible. The film adds other odd details, such as psychic character, which aren’t really explored and just sit awkwardly. I found myself so distracted by the tone and these odd details that the film’s dramatic moments and twists left no impact on me.

Despite the general inconsistency, Snowpiercer does have some really strong scenes. A highlight for example is a scene in a school car where an enthusiastic teacher (Alison Pill) instills propaganda into the children of the elite. It’s an over the top scene, but it works in the context of the film. There’s also a number of strong action set-pieces. A brawl through a dark tunnel is a lot of fun and there is a really intense shootout midway through. It should also be noted that the action is punctuated by some brutal violence. It’s not as graphic as something like The Raid 2, but it’s got an edge all the same.

Snowpiercer is definitely a mixed bag, so much so that the near unanimous praise kind of shocks me. I can’t help but wonder if the film being released so close to commercial garbage like Transformers: Age of Extinction made critics more willing to embrace something with clear artistic value, even if it has some serious problems. In any event, I’m glad I saw Snowpiercer, and I’d recommend it to the open-minded viewer. It’s not perfect, but it is unique and has a handful of really strong scenes.

B-

Nightcrawler Review

Posted: November 4, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

nightcrawler-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Jake Gyllenhaal’s star has risen pretty steadily over the years. His big breakthrough came in with 2001’s cult hit Donnie Darko. Since then, Gyllanhaal has consistently been solid in serious dramas like Brokeback Mountain and more Hollywood roles like Love and Other Drugs. Recently, he seems to have turned his attentions to smaller, more offbeat projects. I haven’t loved all of these films, but he’s been picking films which are at least interesting if nothing else. It is with that in mind that I had great interest in Nightcrawler. It may be the work of a first time filmmaker, but Gyllenhaal had enough faith in the project to co-produce it himself, and the trailers made it look like quite the performance.

Here, Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, an ambitious young man trying to find a career for himself. Bloom is a hard worker, but he’s also a kleptomaniac and it’s made clear early on that the man is mentally disturbed. Because of this, he has a hard time holding a steady job. One night, Louis stumbles across a car accident and notices the cameramen rushing to the scene, grabbing some footage, and riding off for another job. Inspired, Bloom buys his own camera and a police scanner with the intentions of finding accidents or the results of violent crimes, capturing them on video, and selling them to News stations. After a few trial runs, Louis attracts the attention of a news director named Nina (Rene Russo) and begins supplying her station with footage focusing on graphic imagery as he attempts to rise to prominence in the video journalism field.

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The Judge Review

Posted: October 20, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

It’s that time of year again. Around every October begins a slew of “prestige movies” hoping to gain some popularity points with Oscar voters in some form or another. Maybe half of them actually end up living to those lofty expectations, while the other half fall awkwardly into that “trying too hard” category, where they’re destined to mostly be forgotten by the time January rolls around. Unfortunately, David Dobkin’s The Judge is part of the latter. You’d think a great, or at least very good movie would be delivered here with such a promising premise and cast, but while The Judge certainly has its strong moments and two equally powerful lead performances to help it along, this is a movie that’s too preoccupied with following the “Oscar Bait Handbook,” that said predisposition overshadows the rest of the movie.

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, an infamous “big city” defense attorney with an intimidating reputation in the courtroom. One day, Hank receives word that his mother has passed away, prompting him to hop on a flight home to Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral. Almost immediately upon arriving, Hank is bombarded with reminders of the life he left behind, the most painful of which being the crusty, old-fashioned Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), a.k.a. Daddy Dearest. To say that Hank and The Judge (yes, that’s what most people in the film call him) have a troubled relationship would be an understatement; these two can’t be around each other for five minutes without one or the other being insulted. After the funeral, Hank practically already has one foot on the plane, but is forced to stay when his father is hauled into the police station on suspicion of murder. The evidence isn’t exactly doing him any favors, and before either father or son know it, Hank has taken up the case to clear his dad’s name, going up against a determined prosecutor named Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). I know what you’re thinking, and yeah, that name’s a bit too on-the-nose, isn’t it? Meanwhile, Hank has to put up with pressure from his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), as well as deal with the affections of an old high school girlfriend, Samantha (Vera Farmiga). In more ways than one, this is the case of Hank’s life.

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