Posted: January 10, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists
Before I begin honouring the best films of 2016 I want to take a moment and look at the best first time watches I had for films not released in 2016. A huge chunk of my time is spent watching older films and they’re just as important to my cinematic education as new releases are. Here are the 30 best first time watches I had in 2016. I hope anyone who’s a fan of anything I listed will share their enthusiasm and I hope that if you haven’t seen some of these films, you give em a chance.
30. The Killers (1946) (Watched May 8th)
The Killers is a classic noir which takes a Citizen Kane-esque approach wherein the main character is murdered in the first ten minutes while the rest of the film unravels who the man was and why he was killed. The framing story proves an effective means of telling the story and while the mystery which unravels is a little obvious it nonetheless is interesting. The film is also really well-crafted, the performances work, and generally speaking is a fine example of how to make a film noir.
“If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s a double-crossing dame.”
29. Closer (Watched February 9th)
One of the final films from the great Mike Nichols, Closer is a low-key drama which looks at four young people and their various sexual relationships with each other over the course of a few years. The film is based on a play and it does feel it, but that hardly matters when one considers the top-notch performances. Jude Law, Julie Roberts, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen are all excellent and they’re also given some really killer dialogue to work with. The film does have its issues and I get why it isn’t considered a modern classic, but it’s stirring stuff all the same and well worth a look.
“Lying’s the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off – but it’s better if you do.” Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: January 9, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
Hollywood has a surprisingly large history of movie-stars turning into successful directors. It is not surprising that big name actors would be attracted to these roles given they’re already use to having a lot of control and the job promises more, but what is surprising is how many of these transitions are handled successfully. Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck are among the most prominent examples of movie-stars who were able to build a reputation has good directors in their own right. Not all of these directors are equal, but all are major talents and it could also be argued that each of the aforementioned are a better director than they are an actor. Denzel Washington is another movie-star who has dabbled in directing, but while his early efforts were considered respectable, neither really broke out as major works. With his newest effort, however, Denzel may have solidified himself as a formidable director. That film is Fences, an intimate drama based on an August Wilson play that has already earned Denzel much acclaim on stage.
Fences is set in 1950s Pittsburgh and focuses on Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) a middle-aged black man working as a garbage collector. Troy is described as once being a highly skilled baseball player, but a combination of racism and Troy’s age kept him from pursuing this as a career. Instead, Troy lives with his second wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Like his father, Cory also has athletic prowess. His talents have led to Cory being selected for a football scholarship, something Troy objects to on the grounds that sports never served Troy well. The two conflict over the issue and the family is beset by other problems brought on by Troy and his choices. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: January 6, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
Though people are often very critical about how rooted in nostalgia modern blockbusters are (think Rogue One or Jurassic World), less has been said about the influence of nostalgia on the seemingly more adult prestige pictures of the current decade. Take 2011, when three of the biggest players in the awards race, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, and The Artist, were all built around nostalgia for bygone areas in art history. None of these films were sequels, nor were they specifically aping on the exact iconography of earlier films, but all were trying to evoke a certain mood which reminded its audience of the art of yesteryear. This is especially prominent of The Artist, a film celebrating the silent cinema of escapist Hollywood which was itself made with those same techniques and generally drenched in nostalgia. The film touched a chord with a certain audience, winning a slew of Oscars including Best Picture. I bring all this up because five years later we have a new film which is in many ways comparable to The Artist. That film is La La Land, a musical which is set in modern day, but is unabashedly a throw back to the escapist musicals of Old Hollywood.
The film is set in modern Los Angeles focusing on a pair of dreamers trying to make it in the entertainment industry. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who spends her days working as a barista, while Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist working in various sub par acts as he tries to accomplish his dream of opening a Jazz club where only traditional Jazz music will be played. The two cross paths a few times, but they don’t start to really hit it off until around meeting three. From there, they start a burgeoning friendship which quickly blossoms into an idyllic romance, but they’ll come to learn that pursuing love while pursuing their dreams is easier said than done. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: January 3, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists
The start of a new year marks a horde of film critics and bloggers posting their best and worst lists of the year. I’m no exception, but when it comes to 2016, I still have a few titles to scratch off my list before I put anything in writing. I am however ready to look back on all the films I saw in 2016 that were not released in 2016 and am starting things off with the worst first time viewings. I’ll note write from the start that I generally don’t seek out bad movies, but none the less I did find twenty stinkers which earned my scorn.
20. King’s Row (Watched February 16th)
This story of small town melodrama is actually kind of amusing in how over the top it is (not to mention because Ronald Reagan has a lead role), but as a film it’s pretty dumb. This is an extremely basic movie with simplistic characters and morals. The corniness is further enhanced by director Sam Wood, who leans into schmaltz fully. Fairly watchable, but highly laughable. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 31, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
One of the more frustrating aspects of being a film buff not living in a major urban center is reading about new releases that I know don’t have a prayer of opening where I live. Limited releases for titles like La La Land are bad enough, but at least I know those movies will eventually open in my city. There are however a fair portion of films which never get a chance at the multiplexes where I live, which is doubly frustrating when the film in question receives a ton of high praise. Such was the case earlier this year when the Colombian drama Embrace of the Serpent finally got a North American release and received with open arms, all while I had to want on the sidelines like a chump. I’ve been patiently waiting for a chance to finally catch up with film and my patience has finally been rewarded.
It very quickly becomes apparent that the film is split between two different stories and time periods connected by an Amazonian shaman named Karamakate. In 1909, Karamakate (played in this section by Nilbio Torres) is approached by Theo von Maritus (Jan Bijvoet), a German scientist suffering from ailments seeking a rare sacred plant to heal him. Karamakate is distrustful of whites and initially reacts with anger, but does eventually relent and serves as a guide for Theo. Thirty years later, an elderly Karamakate (now played by Antonio Bolivar) is once again approached by a white scientist seeking that same plant. This scientist is named Evan (Brionne Davis) and claims he wishes to finish Theo’s work. Though Karamakate largely feels defeated and has forgotten much of his own culture, but he nonetheless agrees to serve as a guide. Throughout both journeys, the consequences of colonial action in the Amazon are encountered and the motivations of each scientist is unravelled. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 28, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
2016 saw not one, but two (relatively) major Jane Austen film adaptations that also diverged from your typical Austen film. The most obviously different would of course be Pride and Prejudices and Zombies, a film I skipped on the grounds that it looked like stupid trash and also because zombies are played out. Comparatively, Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s lesser known novel Lady Susan seems pretty conventional. There are no flesh eating monsters after all, and Stillman also stays true to the source’s period setting and characters. That said, this is also a much more humorous adaptation of Austen’s work and that seems to have helped the film stand out. While the film is perhaps only a modest success in the grand scheme of things, Love and Friendship has received some very strong reviews and was one of the more interesting fixtures of many mid-year best of lists.
The film is set in the 1790s and focuses on Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a sophisticated woman who is essentially part of the upper class, but does find her financial situation in jeopardized following the death of her husband. Wanting to secure wealth, Lady Susan begins to seek a wealthy suitor for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), as well as a rich husband for herself. She soon comes to Churchhill estate and begins scheming various relationship plans involving the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin), the young and handsome Sir Reginald DeCourcy (James Fleet), and the dimwitted Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). Though her exact plan is unclear, some insight can be found in her frequent meetings with fellow widow and schemer Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny). Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 25, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
Back in the summer of 2013, James Wan’s The Conjuring was something of an event horror film. It had the veneer of something more sophisticated than your average horror film, it was a big hit, and it even received some really strong reviews. It was in this environment that the film ultimately let me down. It was a well-made movie, but ultimately one that did nothing new with the haunted house formula and also featured some very dull characters. This summer, Wan’s sequel The Conjuring 2 opened to even greater worldwide box-office, but made a little less domestically than its predecessor and the reviews, while still positive, were notably less enthusiastic than the critical praise for the original. I’d say I skipped The Conjuring 2 in theaters, but in actual fact, I sort of didn’t realize it was even in theaters until it was already gone. Now I’ve caught up with it at home and I feel like I could just copy and paste my review for the original The Conjuring because I more or less feel the exact same way about the sequel.
The film is set in the mid-1970s and once again follows the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), based on the real life paranormal investigators. After a particularly draining experience at the Amityville house, Loraine Warren finds herself feeling particularly drained and fearful for her family. She advocates they take a break, but the pair soon finds themselves drawn to another haunting, this one involving the Hodgson family in London who begin to experience strange occurrences. It soon seems to be the case that the ghost of a former occupant is haunting the current family. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 21, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
They say less is more, but I’m not sure people really believe that when it comes to cinema. For better or worse, the films which are celebrated tend to be the more showy pieces, the ones with the bold styles, long tracking shots, and the grandiose performances. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that style of filmmaking as there is definitely a place for it, but there is also a place for more subtle explorations of the human condition. A lot of these films get rave reviews, but they also have trouble breaking through to a wider audience or receiving significant awards intention. It is for this reason that much of Richard Linklater’s work has been overlooked by the greater film community despite many of these films being brilliant and possessing a passionate audience. There’s a lot of insight that can be gleamed from these smaller scale works. We saw that earlier this year with Barry Jenkins’ astute character study Moonlight and we’re seeing it now with Kenneth Lonergan’s excellent new drama Manchester by the Sea.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor living a solitary life in Quincy, Massachusetts. His life consists mostly of work and basic routine, he doesn’t seem to have any close friends, and he lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. One morning, Lee receives a call informing him that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is in the hospital due to his severe heart condition. Lee goes to the hospital as fast as possible, but by the time he arrives Joe has already passed away. With Joe’s ex-wife’s (Gretchen Moll) location unknown, Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) without a guardian. Lee is shocked to learn that Joe named Lee as Patrick’s guardian in his will. This is distressing as it will involve Lee moving back to his hometown (the strangely named) Manchester-by-the-Sea, where his ex-wife and lots of painful memories reside. The bulk of the narrative comes to focus on how Lee and Patrick process their grief while also slowly rebuilding their relationship to each other. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 19, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
I think it’s fair to say Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a massive success for Disney. I wouldn’t call The Force Awakens a masterpiece, I wouldn’t even call it a great movie, but it did successfully show that the franchise was in good hands and indicated a positive future for the main storyline. And of course, it also made a billion dollars. For all that success though, Disney still has some other tests to pass. In addition to making new episodes in the main Star Wars narrative, Disney has also opted to make spin-off films in the years between films that tell other stories on the universe. On one hand, this could lead to some really cool and unique stories that don’t quite fit in the main narrative but nonetheless offers some interesting stories worth telling. On the other hand, one can’t help but be suspicious that these spin-offs just offered a way for Disney to make a quick buck while maintaining brand loyalty between the “real” Star Wars movies. Because of this, a lot of responsibility falls on the first of these spin-offs, titled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The film is set very shortly before the events of the original Star Wars at the tail end of the construction of the Death Star. The chief architect of the project (Mads Mikellsen) was coerced into working with the empire following threats against his family. His young daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has become a petty criminal who is in captivity when the movie starts. Given her close connection to the Death Star, the Rebellion sees fit to bust Jyn out in an effort to get close to her father. She’s partnered with rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and the two begin a mission that will culminate with efforts to seize the blueprints to the Death Star. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 18, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews
Written by Daniel Simpson
Ever since it was announced, I’ve watched from a distance as much of my generation has clamoured in excitement for Finding Dory. I was especially surprised by comments along the lines of, “we’ve been waiting thirteen years for this” as if Finding Nemo had ended on some cliffhanger. Really though, my detachment stemmed largely from the fact that I’ve never been big on Finding Nemo. Even as a kid, the movie always seemed like more of a “baby” movie than a lot of Pixar’s other films. It’s also important to consider that nine year old me was very much into action movies at the time. In 2003 I remember having my mind blown by stuff like X-Men 2, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In that company, a cutesy movie about some talking fish just seemed lame. I did revisit Finding Nemo over the summer and my feelings on it are still pretty average. The father-son bond is really strong, but the humor is really lame and the film feels a lot more like a kid’s movie to me than Pixar’s better work. Needless to say, I was not going in to Finding Dory with much expectations, but to my shock this is actually a pretty enjoyable movie.
The film is set one year after the events of Finding Nemo and our three central fish of Marlin (Albert Brooks), Nemo (Hayden Rolence), and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) are all living comfortably. However a chance incident sparks a memory of Dory’s family, whom she was separated from as a child. This puts Dory on a quest to find where she comes. This journey soon leads her, Marlin, and Nemo to a Marine Life Institute. There, Dory soon meets a disgruntled octopus by the name of Hank (Ed O’Neil), who has his own goals, but is willing to meet with Dory if it means he can get what he wants. Read the rest of this entry »