captain-america-the-winter-soldier-imax-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I have a somewhat frustrating relationship with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve enjoyed more of them then I haven’t, and there’s only one in the series I’d call straight-up bad and even it has some redeeming elements. Still, I find myself often annoyed with Marvel. This is in large part because I think their films tend to play things really safe, have weak elements which can’t be overlooked, and just the sheer amount of films Marvel releases every year. It doesn’t help that the last MCU film, Thor: The Dark World, is by far the weakest entry they’ve put forth yet. Still, Marvel has a pretty strong record, and the buzz for Captain America: The Winter Soldier was and is very strong. Sure enough, not only is The Winter Soldier a return to form, but a step-up for the entire series.

The film opens two years following the events of The Avengers and Captain America (Chris Evans) has been an active S.H.I.E.L.D agent during this time. On a seemingly routine mission, he and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) begin to uncover shades of a larger conspiracy. This leads to internal conflict within S.H.I.E.L.D which quickly results in Captain America and Black  Widow going rogue and being pursued by senior S.H.I.E.L.D official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). The duo’s attempts at uncovering what exactly is going on is complicated by the presence of The Winter Soldier, a former KGB agent and assassin who is now targeting Captain America and Black Widow.

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Divergent Review

Posted: April 17, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

Divergent-poster

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

If franchises like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are examples of young adult franchises at their best, and ones like Twilight represent them at their worst, then it’s a film like Divergent that’s a shining — or in this case, dull — example of the genre when the success of certain predecessors tries to be replicated, but not with as much conviction. That isn’t to say that this latest blend of action, a dystopian future and hormonal teenage romance is awful, but for a movie built around the idea of society being broken up into separate factions based on personality, Divergent shows a surprising lack of personality itself. If these movie studios want to avoid groans of, “Not another teen franchise,” every time trailers for one pop up, then the effort put into them needs to be stepped up. A movie can’t be deemed “the next Hunger Games,” simply because of a similar premise; it also needs to exhibit signs of both confidence in its material and a respect for any non-book readers in the audience. And judging by this first film, the people in charge of adapting Veronica Roth’s series have some ground to make up.

See if you can spot the various similarities to other young adult series: Divergent is set in a distant future, after war has ravaged most of the world, prompting what’s left of society to be cut off from the rest of what’s left “out there.” In Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each based on personality traits: Abnegation (the Selfless), Amity (the Peaceful), Candor (the Truthful), Erudite (the Intelligent) and Dauntless (the Brave). Our young heroine is Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), the daughter of two high-ranking Abnegation members about to participate in the time-honored rite of passage: choosing which faction to permanently be a part of. Tris has always harbored desires of wanting to get away from the Abnegation clan, but the initial test which is meant to say which faction any one person in the society should belong to comes back with the rare result of Divergent, which means that said person exhibits signs of possessing all five traits, rather than just one; it’s also extremely rare. Being a Divergent is dangerous business, because it means that person can’t be controlled, and Tris doesn’t exactly do herself any favors when she chooses to be part of Dauntless. There, she’s trained to be the ultimate warrior, because Dauntless is the “police force” of the society, and her main training officer is Four (Theo James) — yes, his name really is Four — who begins to “see something” in Tris the more he trains her. Could these two eventually become romantic foils? Need I remind you what genre this is? But Four isn’t the only one whose watchful eye Tris catches. She also attracts the attention of Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who might just be up to something behind the scenes.

By this point, there are so many of these young adult series out there, the fact that these newer ones borrow elements from previous ones isn’t all that surprising. The basic world of Divergent isn’t far off from that of The Hunger Games, and the ceremony in which the teens are separated into the different factions is not unlike the Sorting Ceremony that new students at Hogwarts endure in Harry Potter. But cobbling together a few already-used elements isn’t really Divergent’s main problem; it’s the fact that the film itself never really seems to care about its own world and the inherent mythology. And if the movie never demonstrates any conviction about anything that’s happening on-screen, then why should anybody who’s watching it? Divergent very much has the feeling of a paint-by-the-numbers production, where the screenplay is more of a checklist of required genre elements. Dystopian future? Check. Main character with something about them that makes them special? Check. That something special eventually becoming the thing meant to make them the one to take down the opposition? Check. An antagonistic bully character who constantly squares off against our hero? Check. An attractive love interest? Double-check, especially going by the heated whispers from the teen girls sitting in the row in front of me when I saw this. Little reason to actually get invested in any of this? Triple-check. You know, I’d actually like to see a movie like this one day that changes up this formula somehow.

But Divergent isn’t without its positives, and its main positive is Shailene Woodley. Like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, Woodley has definite acting chops, and she brings them to this role. The character of Tris as-written actually isn’t a badass right away, and instead she has to transform into a more hardened soldier as the film goes along, and Woodley does a very solid job of capturing that. There’s a certain vulnerability in her performance that makes the character interesting, and whereas most other stories like this might feel the need to already have their main character be the fearless hero, I liked that Divergent takes the time to get Tris there over the course of the film. Building off the strength of her character, the relationship that develops between Tris and Four … actually isn’t that bad. Again, other movies seem to have the mentality of, “Get them together ASAP!” but this movie takes its time there, too. Plus, Tris actually expresses the desire to take things slow once they do hook up (spoiler alert? Come on.) and I think that’s a decent thing to show, compared to Twilight’s message of, “Get in bed ASAP!” I also appreciated the world-building in Divergent, as the central idea of personality-based society factions really is interesting.

The execution though, as I’ve already said, leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is there a lack of a desire to make us care in the screenwriting by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, there’s also a tendency to fall back on action movie tropes. There’s of course all of the training-for-combat clichés, but in the Third Act especially, Divergent becomes just another action movie where characters run around and shoot at each other. It’s almost like this movie gets less and less interesting with each of its three acts. Which is a shame, because I loved director Neil Burger’s The Illusionist, but he can only do so much here, given the material; at least he visualizes everything fairly well.

Probably the most disappointing thing about Divergent, though, is its truly wasted potential. The elements are certainly here for a decent movie, but they never really come together that way. What we get instead is a movie that’s ultimately a bit too undefined, and despite some solid attributes on display, Divergent could take a lesson from its characters and find a suitable personality.

**/****

Noah Review

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

noah-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Darren Aronofsky is one of the best and most important filmmakers of the modern era. I’m a huge fan of several of his films and generally look forward to anything he puts out. That said, I’m also fairly skeptical when I hear him associated with various projects. Aronofsky has sort of built a reputation for being linked to projects and eventually backing out, including Batman, Wolverine, RoboCop, and a few concepts which haven’t seen the light of day sense. He’s still no Guillermo del Toro, but he’s backed out of enough projects that when I heard he was developing a movie based on the biblical story of Noah, I didn’t think it would ever come to fruition, or if it did someone else would direct. However as the months went by, it became clear that Aronofsky would follow through on this. Now that film, simply titled Noah, has arrived to controversy and divisive reviews.

The film begins with a brief prologue explaining the history of Adam and Eve, as well as their sons Abel, Cain, and Seth. We then cut to many years later to a young Noah, the most recent in Seth’s lineage. Noah watches his father murdered by Cain’s descendant Tubal for his land, however Noah escapes. The film cuts yet again to Noah as an adult (Russell Crowe), who is now married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and the two have three kids. The family lives in harmony with nature, however their lives are interrupted when Noah receives visions of a great flood. After consulting his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah decides to build an arc where he can save one of every animal for the future of the species. However he’ll find himself plagued by both internal doubt, as well as enemies such as Tubal (Ray Winstone).

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By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

Almost six years after first taking off from the station, the Marvel Studios train is showing no signs of slowing down, but there is one question to ask by this point: is this whole enterprise starting to lose steam? And Captain America: The Winter Soldier feels like a good movie to use to ask said question, but the answer, at least from my perspective, isn’t so clear-cut. However, what is clear-cut about this star-spangled sequel is that this is not just another movie whose main purpose for existing is to mainly help bridge the gap to the next Avengers film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fully functioning solo outing which does a perfectly respectable job of both telling its own story while also advancing this whole over-arching multi-movie plot that spans everything that Marvel Studios puts out. And it does it well, I might add.

Fitting into the MCU timeline two years after The Avengers, The Winter Soldier sees Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) fully entrenched in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s active operations while also still acclimating to a world very different from the one he was forced to leave behind in the 1940′s. But there’s one thing Rogers can’t get used to, and that’s the shift in political climate of the modern world, and how he sees it affecting the freedom he fought so hard to achieve. The questionable motivations behind S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sending Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a team of agents on a supposed rescue mission of captured S.H.I.E.L.D. agents onboard a vessel seized by Algerian pirates are only the tip of the iceberg, however. Soon after that very mission, S.H.I.E.L.D. finds itself under serious attack, and the only face they have to put to all this chaos is a lone operative with the codename “The Winter Soldier.” And trust me, this guy gives new meaning to the phrase “one man army.” Pretty soon, Rogers and Black Widow find themselves on their own and off the grid, pursued by senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), as they try to piece together who exactly the Winter Soldier is taking orders from and what the endgame behind an all-out assault on S.H.I.E.L.D. is. Along the way, they forge an alliance with former Pararescue war veteran Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who may just be the only person Rogers and Black Widow can trust in a world that’s proving to be more and more dangerous with each passing minute.

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Enemy Review

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

enemy-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In September of 2013, French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve made his English language debut with Prisoners. The film was certainly well-made and well-acted, but I had a lot of problems with the story and was overall disappointed. Since, I’ve seen Villeneuve’s Oscar nominated Incendies and it gave me a much greater appreciation for the man’s talent. I’ve come to see Villeneuve as a significant rising talent and a director whose work I look forward to. I was particularly excited for Villeneuve’s newest film, Enemy. Rather than follow up his break through film with another studio project, Enemy is a low-budget Canadian film with a small cast and a very cerebral plot.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history professor living in Toronto. Quiet and meek, his life is made up of a routine of lecturing his students about the same things, drinking wine, and having unfulfilling sex with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). One day, a co-worker asks if he watches movies and recommends one. While watching, Adam notices an extra in the background who looks exactly like he does. After some research, Adam learns that the actor is named Anthony St. Claire (also played by Jake Gyllenaal) and that the two not only look identical, but sound identical as well. Adam finds himself excited by this, but after approaching his double, both Anthony and his wife (Sarah Gadon) are very alarmed.

 

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After a long wait, the No Refunds podcast is back. In this episode, HT and I begin the first in a (hopefully) returning series of James Bond themed episodes. This time around, we look at the first three entries in the series; Dr. NoFrom Russia with Love, and Goldfinger.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review

Posted: March 30, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

o-GRAND-BUDAPEST-HOTEL-POSTER-570Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In June of 2012, I went to my local multiplex and saw a movie called Moonrise Kingdom, from director Wes Anderson. At the time, I had never seen any of Anderson’s other films, but Moonrise Kingdom looked too awesome to ignore. Sure enough, I loved the film and it ended up being one of my favourites that year. We now come to March of 2014 and circumstances are quite different. While I haven’t seen all of Anderson’s films now, I have seen most and the man is one of my favourite contemporary filmmakers thanks to his unique style, sense of humour, stories, and characters. A new Anderson film is an exciting thing, and this was especially true of The Grand Budapest Hotel thanks to its hilarious trailers and enormous cast.

The bulk of the plot takes place during the 1930s in the fictional European country of Zubrowka. Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) is the owner and manager of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a luxurious hotel which features strict rules for employees but the utmost service for clients. Gustave has a reputation for the affairs he has with the elderly women who stay at the hotel. One of these women is Madame D (Tilda Swinton), who after leaving the hotel suffers a suspicious death shortly after. Gustave and his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) travel to the deceased’s home to pay their respects. However they quickly discover Gustave has been added Madame’s will, making him an enemy to Madame’s family, particularly her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody). Dimitri makes it his goal to bring Gustave down, whether that means framing him for Madame’s murder, or by having his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) take Gustave out permanently.

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The Past Review

Posted: March 26, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

ThePastPosterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In recent years, Hollywood has shied away from dramas as a genre. Most Hollywood films have various levels of drama incorporated within them, but it has become rare to see a Hollywood produced film which doesn’t fall into a pre-established genre. Audiences looking for dramas without genre elements have had to turn to the independent scene and foreign films. One such foreign drama, the 2011 Iranian film A Separation, was not only one of the best dramas of the last few years, but one of the best films period. The film also established writer/director Asghar Farhadi as a bold new talent worth watching. Any follow-up Farhadi would put forth would be judged with considerable scrutiny. That follow-up is The Past, another domestic drama, and I’m happy to report the film lives up to the high standards Farhadi set for himself.

The Past opens with a middle-aged man named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arriving at an airport in Paris. There, he is met by Marie (Bérénice Bejo) who we eventually learn is his wife. Ahmad has been living in Iran for the last four years, and has returned to grant Marie’s divorce request. Ahmad is surprised to learn that Marie has been romantically involved with a man named Samir (Tahar Rahim) for the last few months, and is living with Samir and his son. Marie’s eldest Lucie (Pauline Burlet) does not approve of her mother seeing Samir, which Ahmad attributes to typical teen anxiety. However as Ahmad spends more time in Paris, he begins to learn that things are far more complicated than they initially appear.

 

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Non-Stop Review

Posted: March 13, 2014 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

non-stop-poster

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

We all know what the first rule of any Liam Neeson thriller is, right?  If there are any of you out there who might not be aware of that first rule, then allow me to enlighten you.  The first rule of any Liam Neeson thriller is simply: you don’t fuck with Liam Neeson!  And yet, all the bad guys in these different movies clearly didn’t do their homework, because they keep on breaking that first simple rule.  And given that repetition, such a formula has dried itself out by this point — and in my opinion, it wasn’t all that enjoyable to begin with when looking at the first Taken.  But now, along comes Non-Stop, a legitimately tense thriller that’s able to live up to its title.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. federal Air Marshal haunted by a past tragedy who prefers to drown his sorrows in alcohol whenever he can, as is the norm for every main character like Marks in these types of movies.  Marks has just boarded a non-stop flight from New York to London, with all indications of it being a routine flight.  But not long after take-off, Marks starts to receive mysterious texts on his phone from an unknown person … an unknown person who’s threatening to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if they aren’t paid $150 million to a specific bank account.  Such a threat sobers Marks up enough to be on the lookout for suspicious activity, and he even enlists the aid of his seatmate (Julianne Moore) and a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) to help identify potential suspects.  But it’s not enough, because precisely at the first 20 minute mark, the first murder occurs (in a fashion I won’t spoil), and suddenly, the stakes are raised even higher.  And Marks’ superiors are no help, because they all think he’s the one orchestrating the whole situation, which leaves Marks to make use of whatever resources available to him on the plane to stop the killer and figure out if there’s a deeper purpose at play rather than just a simple murder spree.  To make matters even worse, Marks must also contend with a crew of passengers becoming increasingly paranoid at his behavior.  Boy, Liam Neeson just can’t catch a break!

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The Lego Movie Review

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

the-lego-movie-poster-chris-pratt-emmetWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Hollywood has been increasingly criticized in the last few years for its transparent lack of creativity. It seems as though almost everything released is a remake, reboot, sequel, prequel, or adaptation of another property. It’s gotten so bad that board games are being turned into big budget spectacles like Battleship. The Lego Movie just seemed like another in a long line of bland and uninspired cash grabs. The stellar cast didn’t exactly help either since most animated films manage to pull in A-listers regardless of quality. The film did however have one silver lining in the form of writers/directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the duo behind 2012’s 21 Jump Street. 21 Jump Street was a property that seemed destined to suck, however Miller and Lord were able to make a very funny and clever film. My hope was they could so the same with The Lego Movie, and I’m happy to say the pair have succeeded yet again.

The Lego Movie takes place in a world made entirely out of Lego pieces, with the citizens who inhabit it being Lego men and women. The plot follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary construction worker who does his best to conform to societal expectations in a seemingly perfect world. Unknown to him, the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) is planning to use a super weapon known as the Kragle to end the world. All that can stop this from happening is the Super, the one prophesized to stop Lord Business by using an object known as The Piece of Resistance. After an ordinary work day, Emmet stumbles across Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a woman searching for The Piece. Emmet follows her and ends up finding The Piece himself. He receives a vision that he is The Super, destined to stop Lord Business. Despite not seeming like anything special, Wyldstyle recruits Emmet for The Master Builders, a collection of Legos resisting Lord Business which includes the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and Batman (Will Arnett).

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