Top Five Remakes Worth Watching

Posted: September 20, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

There are a few dominant trends in modern cinema. Superhero movies, young adult adaptations, live-action fairy tales, haunted house movies, and of course, remakes. Remakes in particular have often been cited as an example of modern Hollywood’s lack of creativity and vision. A remake itself is not exactly a new concept, it’s more the amount that have been released in the last decade coupled with the general blandness of them. Prominent examples of such films include Robocop (2014), Total Recall (2012), Conan the Barbarian (2011), Straw Dogs (2011), Red Dawn (2011), and Point Break (2015), just to name a few. This trend doesn’t seem to be dying at all either. This Friday marks the release of The Magnificent Seven, a remake of John Sturgess’ 1960 film, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai, and this year has also given us The Jungle Book, Alice Through the Looking Glass (sequel to the Alice in Wonderland remake), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Legend of Tarzan, Ghostbusters, Pete’s Dragon, Mechanic: Resurrection (sequel to the Mechanic remake), and Ben-Hur. A lot of the mentioned films have a bad reputation, but the fact is not all remakes are soulless hack jobs. Some in fact, are quite good, and today we’re looking at five of the best. As a rule, I’m only listing remakes were I’ve also seen the original so I can provide some comparison.

5. True Grit (2010)True_Grit_Poster

One of the best ways to go about remaking something is to pick a film wherein the original is nothing special and do a better version and that’s basically what the Coen Brothers did with their remake of True Grit. While John Wayne’s Oscar win might suggest the original is something exceptional, that isn’t really the case. In fact the original film is a dated movie which was tired even when released and Wayne’s Oscar was clearly more for his collective body of work. The film has its moments but there isn’t much to say about it. The Coen Brothers remake on the other hand is bursting with style, superbly crafted, and features some great performances from Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. The film is also shot beautifully, has some great old-school action, and the Coens underlying humour. The third act also reveals to be surprisingly poignant. It’s a film that serves as a way more fun romp than the original and a deeper work too. Read the rest of this entry »

Snowden Review

Posted: September 19, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

snowden-movie-2016-poster.jpgWritten by Daniel Simpson

Like any decade, the 2010s have been defined by a series of contested and controversial trends and events. From Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to Brexit; all passionately debated topics of great ethical and social concern. One of the most highly contested topics has been Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks, which revealed the depth and reach of the NSA’s surveillance practices on both foreign parties and American citizens. Such a reveal has re-invigorated public debate regarding mass surveillance, whether it is a justifiable path to security or an unnecessary violation of privacy. And what of Snowden himself? Is he an outlaw who jeopardized American intelligence or a hero who risked his life in order to reveal horrific truths to the world? A new film from Oliver Stone, simply titled Snowden, has arrived to weigh in on the debate. Stone has been in something of a filmmaking rut for a long time but given the highly incentive nature of the subject matter, I had hopes Snowden might act as a comeback for the once great auteur.

The film is framed around the interviews Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gave to journalists Glen Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) depicted in her film Citizenfour. It is to these journalists that Snowden disclosed secret NSA documents and who in turn published this information. From there, the film flashes back to 2004 following Snowden as an aspiring army recruit. When a pair of broken legs end that career, Snowden instead gets a job working on intelligence gathering for the CIA. The film then depicts Snowden’s life as he moves around the intelligence community, continually bearing witness to more invasive mass surveillance measures which will ultimately lead to his leaks. Running parallel to Snowden’s career advancement is his budding romance with a young amateur photographer named Lindsay Ellis (Shailene Woodley). Read the rest of this entry »

Blair Witch Reivew

Posted: September 18, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the-woods-2016-poster-3Written by Daniel Simpson

I remember seeing a trailer for this horror movie called The Woods a while back and thinking, “Wow, that looks a lot like The Blair Witch Project”. Cut to a few months later when the film played at the San Diego Comic Con and surprise surprise, the film is actually a sequel to The Blair Witch Project simply titled, Blair Witch. Well fancy that. I never really had much interest in returning to the world of The Blair Witch Project, and I didn’t think the world was really clamoring for a sequel either, but the announcement did seem to generate a substantial amount of buzz and was enough to pull me in.

The film follows James Donahue (James Allen McCune), whose older sister, Heather (protagonist of The Blair Witch Project) disappeared in the Black Hills Forest in Maryland over fifteen years go. James receives a video suggesting that Heather might still be alive. Searching for closure, James and a group of friends decide to venture into the Black Hills Forest with those who sent James the footage in an effort to find Heather, or at least find what happened. This experience is being documented by film student Lisa Alrington (Callie Hernandez). However after spending a night in the forest, the group begin to be plagued by ominous forces. At first they seem to be strange oddities, perhaps even some sort of trick, but it soon becomes clear that a supernatural presence is at work. Read the rest of this entry »

The Light Between Oceans Review

Posted: September 17, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the-light-between-oceans-1-600x891Written by Daniel Simpson

In 2010, Derek Cianfrance made a bold breakthrough as a filmmaker with the heart-wrenching work Blue Valentine. Though that film was seldom seen by the general public (due in large part to a nonsensical NC-17 rating over “controversial” subject matter), the film did make a big impression with critics, film buffs, and those in the business. Cianfrance’s follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines, opened to wider audiences, but to considerably less acclaim. Critics seemed to mostly like it, but the response was a lot more muted and the film seemed to slip from memory pretty quickly. I did not share this perspective. I found The Place Beyond the Pines to be a quietly stirring work which has stuck with me since first viewing. The film made my top ten movies of 2013 that year and if I made the list again today it would still hold a prominent spot. As such, I’ve been optimistically looking forward to Cianfrance’s next effort. That effort has turned out to be his most mainstream set; a melodramatic romance set on an island called The Light Between Oceans. The film has received Cianfrance’s weakest reviews yet but I have faith in the man and thus went to the theater undeterred.

The film begins after the First World War and follows Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a veteran shaken by the horrors he has witnessed as well as survivor’s guilt. Tom takes a job as a light house operator on a small island of the coast of Australia, looking for isolation. On the job however, Tom quickly meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander) a young woman who lost her brothers in war. The two start a courtship which soon leads to a blissful and happy marriage. This happiness comes to be threatened by the couple’s attempts to have a child, which repeatedly end in miscarriages. Their fates change however when a boat washes up on their shores carrying a frightened infant and a young dead man. Tom wishes to report the incident, but is convinced by Isabel to take the child in as their own. The consequences of this choice will ripple through for years and change their lives forever. Read the rest of this entry »

Captain Fantastic Review

Posted: September 16, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

captain-fantasticWritten by Daniel Simpson

Even if I didn’t love him as an actor, I think I’d still really admire Viggo Mortensen. After years of bit parts, Mortensen got a major break playing Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s not hard to imagine Mortensen making a major star turn following the massive success and exposure after LOTR, but the man has walked a different path. He’s taken a lot of smaller, more challenging roles, including an awesome trio of films with the great David Cronenberg and a powerful turn in the underrated Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. It’s rewarding to see him take on more unique roles, and it’s rewarding in Captain Fantastic too, even if the movie itself doesn’t work.

The film follows Ben (Mortensen), a father of six who has been raising his children in the wilderness. Ben teaches his children survival tactics while also teaching history, politics, philosophy, and art. The unit is shaken when their mother, who is in the hospital for bipolar disorder, commits suicide. Ben is barred from the funeral by his father-in-law (Frank Langella), who disapproves of Ben’s lifestyle. Initially, Ben accepts this, but his children convince him that the family deserve to be there and ensure their mother get the service she wanted. The group lets up the bus and sets off on a road trip which will introduce the kids to elements of the average American life while also testing the family’s strength and resolve. Read the rest of this entry »

Top Five Films About Surveillance

Posted: September 13, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Oliver Stone’s Snowden biopic is coming this Friday, but it’s far from the first film to explore surveillance. There’s actually a deep history of surveillance in cinema and now seems as good a time as any to look at some of the best. I won’t be looking at documentaries, so something like Citizenfour won’t be eligible. Rather, the focus here is on fiction films which explore some aspect of surveillance, though surveillance doesn’t necessarily have to be the main focus.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldiercaptain-america-the-winter-soldier-imax-poster

Alright, there are certainly better movies I could have put in this slot, but I think it’s important to have at least one movie made and released in a post-Snowden NSA leak world. In the film, it is revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D (the fictional government organisation of the Marvel Universe) is secretly controlled by an evil organization which is consistently spying on American citizens for nefarious purposes under the guise of such efforts being for security. The film unambiguously portrays such actions and villainous, Captain America’s own disillusionment with government reflects the growing mistrust of government and surveillance practices many North American citizens have come to feel. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Breathe Review

Posted: September 12, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

don-t-breathe-poster01Written by Daniel Simpson

A few years ago, horror icon Sam Raimi handpicked an aspiring young director named Fede Alvarez to direct a remake of Raimi’s beloved Evil Dead. A lot of people dismissed that film, presumably out of a loyalty to the original films, but it was actually a pretty strong movie. I wouldn’t call the film a triumph or a modern classic, but it was a really strong horror film that made a great case for the talents of Alvarez. Three years later and Alvarez has returned with another horror film, this time an original IP called Don’t Breathe. The film once again shows off Alvarez handle on tone and his ability to craft compelling set-pieces, and without the chip of being a remake on its shoulders the film has been praised by critics and horror fans alike.

Set in modern day Detroit, the film follows Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), three young people who have taken to robbing houses in order to get by. The trio have a system and are modestly successful, but need a bigger score if they ever want to escape their impoverished conditions fully. That chance comes with their newest mark; a blind veteran (Stephen Lang) living alone in a woefully under populated neighborhood who has recently inherited a $300,000 settlement. The three break in one night, but soon learn that their supposed victim is much more formidable and dangerous than they ever suspected. Read the rest of this entry »

Knight of Cups Review

Posted: September 7, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

knight-of-cups-poster1Written by Daniel Simpson

They say absence makes the heart grow stronger. I’m not sure if that’s true in relationships, but it might be true when it comes to artists. Case in point; filmmaker Terrence Malick. For most of his career, Malick has moved at a very slow pace, most famously emphasized by the 20 year hiatus between sophomore effort Days of Heaven and his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. However things have changed in the current decade, with Malick producing films at a way faster rate than before. In the last five years, Malick has already directed three feature films, a documentary, has another film due next year, and is working on yet another film with a thus far unknown release date. This accelerated pace has seemed to come at a price though as the critical reception to his work this decade has become increasingly frustrated. 2011’s The Tree of Life may have been declared a masterpiece by many, but his follow-up, 2013’s To the Wonder, was met with disappointment and indifference. Given Malick’s abstract style, he and his work have often been a little divisive, but To the Wonder marked the first time any of his films had been met with downright negative reviews. A similarly fate befell Malick’s newest film, Knight of Cups earlier this year and while I can understand the divided response, one thing we should not be doing is taking this film for granted.

Knight of Cups set in modern day Los Angeles and follows Rick (Christian Bale), a successful screenwriter who none the less finds himself disillusioned and unsatisfied with his life. Rick tries to fill his life with earthly pleasures, particularly women, but is constantly disconnected from the world him. The film explores this by depicting his relationships with a few key individuals, notably his ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett), his brother Barry and father Joseph (Wes Bentley and Brian Dennehy) a model (Freida Pinto), a stripper (Teresa Palmer), an eccentric playboy (Antonio Banderas), and a woman whom he had an affair with (Natalie Portman), among others. Read the rest of this entry »

Top Five Films of Summer 2016

Posted: September 6, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

It was not a very good summer for movies. There was a lot of crap and I don’t think any film really rose above as something significant like Mad Max: Fury Road did last year, but there were still a handful of solid films, and these are the best I saw. For the purposes of this list, I’m counting any films released in theaters between May and August.

5. Jason Bournejason-bourne-movie-poster

Most critics dismissed Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass’ return to the series that made them super stars, and in truth it isn’t a film that has stuck with me as much as I’d hoped, but I still think this is a great execution of the Bourne formula. The stylistic hallmarks which define the series are used well here, there are some great action set-pieces, and it’s refreshing to see a summer movie that commits to a serious tone.

Original review here. Read the rest of this entry »

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

Posted: September 3, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

kuboWritten by Daniel Simpson

Laika is an animation company I’ve observed with a sort of detached respect for the last few years. Their debut film, Coraline, is a great little film with some impressive animation, a dark edge, and a certain cinematic ambition. I skipped ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, mostly because I was bogged down with other stuff, but I still felt a certain admiration for their commitment to stop-motion animation and their refusal to produce the bland animated fare that typically bombards children in multiplexes. In short, these were movies that seemed to have a real identity and passion behind them. All of this is also true of their newest effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, but this time I actually made the effort to see the film in theaters. What’s different this time? Well, it certainly helps that the film is receiving the best reviews of Laika’s history, but more than anything I was really pulled in by the trailers, which featured some pretty stunning imagery and a certain sense of ambition that really drew me in.

Set in ancient Japan, the film follows the titular Kubo (voiced Art Parkinson), a young boy and a gifted storyteller who was saved from evil forces by his mother when he was still an infant. The attack left Kubo with only one eye and without a father, but since then he has lived in peace and happiness. However that all changes one night when Kubo stays out after dark and the forces which plagued him at birth return. Kubo finds himself hunted by a pair of witches (both voiced by Rooney Mara) for reasons he does not understand. Kubo however does find an ally in a talking monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) brought to life by Kubo’s mother’s magic. Monkey is a fierce warrior, and the two are also joined by an amnesiac talking beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who is also a samurai. The three embark on a quest to find a mythical samurai armor set and sword, the only items which can help Kubo fend off the evil which seeks him. Read the rest of this entry »