Review Round-Up: The Lodgers, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and It

Posted: September 25, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpson thelodgersposter-1024x1517

The Lodgers is one of the two TIFF films my partner and I opted to see, somewhat haphazardly after the screening of The Death of Stalin we wanted sold out. There was something exciting about seeing a movie we knew so little about, and it was also cool when after the screening the film’s director, writer, and cast came out for a Q and A. The film itself unfortunately turned to be a little conventional. The film is a ghost story about a pair of siblings trapped in their family mansion in the early 20th century and the supernatural and psychological elements which keep them bound to this location. I was really hoping for some unique twist on the family and the supernatural occurrences at play, but the eventual reveals were exactly what I predicted and to be honest seemed to be apparent from the start. There’s some similarities to The Witch, particularly in how an isolated family can lead to some twisted infatuations, but more than anything I was reminded of Crimson Peak. It might not be cool to prefer the more Hollywood film, but Del Torro’s movie features much more creative visuals and memorable moments. The Lodgers largely follows the spooky house playbook and while it does present some cool visuals at the tail end of the story, it takes a while to get there.

I definitely don’t want to give the impression that The Lodgers is a bad movie because it does a lot of things right. Brian O’Malley and cinematographer Richard Kendrick give the movie a solid look and generally the film carries itself with a lot of dignity. The score also leaves an impression and the lead performance from Charlotte Vega is quite compelling. All told The Lodgers is very watchable in the moment, but it doesn’t take full advantage of its ideas and I don’t think it’ll really stick with me.

C+

 

The Killing of a Sacred Deerkilling of sacred deer

Yorgos Lanthimos seems to have built his career on disproving the idea that there are only a select few of plot templates for creators to explore. The Killing of a Sacred Deer may seem more conventional on the surface than, say, a story about a hotel where single people are turned into animals if they can’t find a partner, but his newest film is every bit as perplexing and bizarre as the likes of The Lobster and Dogtooth. The premise deals with a doctor who’s negligence may have led to the death of a patient and the consequences of this, but the film doesn’t reveal this until fairly late into the runtime and when it finally starts to show it’s hand, things play out in dramatically different fashion than you might expect. What perhaps is most striking is the bizarre dialogue, which is both highly blunt but also somewhat cryptic at times. I almost wonder if Lanthimos is attempting to strip language of its barriers and present what people are really saying in, but I’d need to really pay attention to the dialogue to explore this properly.

In case I haven’t made it clear, this is a confounding movie that I’m sure will lead to dozens of think pieces. Is the movie about struggling with guilt or loss? Is it about modern masculinity and family dynamics? Is it about how we disguise our darker impulses with the veneer of middle-class conformity? All of these elements came to mind while watching the film and I’m not sure to what extent any of these are intended. Either way, the film itself is consistently gripping and unfolds in some really unique ways. I really didn’t know where Lanthimos was going a lot of the time but I was hooked all the same. The film ends up asking some really uncomfortable questions and going to some dark places. And yet, like all of Lanthimos films, this is a dark comedy, and perhaps the funniest film he’s made yet. I actually laughed a lot during the movie and while I definitely wouldn’t recommended as a pure comedy, audiences might be surprised by funny parts of the movie are. The movie also benefits from a great cast led by Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Barry Keoghan in a really fascinating role. All told The Killing of a Sacred Deer is one of the most compelling films I’ve seen all year. It’s not something everyone will enjoy, and I hesitate to assess its greatness until I give it another watch, but it’s certainly worthy of attention and the most have been enamoured by a Lanthimos film since Dogtooth.

A-

 

Itit-teaser-poster

It is a movie that works in spite of itself. As a horror movie, it’s actually pretty fundamentally flawed. Director Andy Muschietti is a little too eager to show off his monster and the horrific things it can do. Within the first ten minutes we already get a pretty good look at Pennywise and we’ve also seen him rip a kid’s arm off. I’m not against that sort of scene in a vacuum but reveling in such horror so early sucks out a lot of the suspense. What’s more, Muscietti frequently goes big in his horror scenes, with large scale, special effects infused set-pieces and blaring sound. This does occasionally result in some neat visuals but the film as a whole isn’t particularly scary.

A horror movie which isn’t suspenseful or scary is usually a pretty big problem, but It still works shockingly well. Why? Well, simply put, the kids in this film are really likable. They’re a well-written group who are likable, fun to follow, and played by a competent cast. None of these characters are particularly deep, but they don’t really have to be. While the horror elements are a little lacking, It excels as a Spielbergian-esque adventure where a group of kids come together to face a fantasy situation. The climax ends up being really moving, not so much for the horror, but for seeing these kids come together and try to overcome their fears.

I should also point out that for as critical as I’ve been of It‘s horror aspects, this is still pretty clearly above the average Hollywood horror film. Bill Skarsgård gives a very memorable turn as Pennywise and the technical execution is generally pretty strong. I don’t think It is any classic, but it is really enjoyable.

B+

Written by Daniel Simpson

War for the Planet of the Apesapesposter

I remember seeing the trailers for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thinking it might be a fun, if unnecessary remake. Boy how far we’ve come. Rise would turn out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of 2011 and it’s sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, held a pretty firm spot in my top ten films for 2014. Somewhat shockingly, the second Planet of the Apes reboot has quietly risen as the most consistent and interesting blockbuster series in recent memory. And so, we come to War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion of the trilogy, which sees Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) faced with the responsibility of protecting his species from human soldiers. This resolve is put to the test when an attack by the humans pushes Caesar to his limits and has him seeking vengeance on the colonel (Woody Harrelson) responsible. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Daniel Simpson

T2 Trainspotting

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Trainspotting is one of the most beloved films of indie 90s cinema and with good reason. The film has a kinetic energy thanks to its editing and soundtrack which still works today, launched the career of director Danny Boyle and a collection of talented young actors, and featured an intriguing voice at it’s center created by fusing Boyle’s energy with the writing of Irvine Welsh. So it’s perhaps a bit odd that when the same creative team dropped a sequel a few months back the film was met with general indifference. Then again, having finally caught up with T2 Trainspotting, I can see why a passive shrug is all most could muster. This is by no means an awful sequel, but it doesn’t exactly offer much either. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Daniel Simpson

Wonder Woman

wonder woman

Wonder Woman opened to an incredibly enthusiastic response about a month ago and having finally caught up with the film I can say I’m largely on board. This is a really solid blockbuster and it’s also exactly the movie DC needed right now. Taking some of the stronger elements from Snyder’s Superman films, namely the gorgeous visuals and the sense of weight, and adding a lighter and more inspiring tone, director Patty Jenkins has made a film that nicely walks the line of fun escapism but still maintains a certain seriousness. The film is set during World War I and while the presentation is still bound by a PG-13 rating, Jenkins does still manage to convey the horror of war in a way which is felt but not overbearing. This is important for the story too, as Wonder Woman’s arc is built largely around a naive outsider who learns of humanity’s potential for cruelty. This also makes the beacon of hope that is Wonder Woman all the more inspiring, precisely because she shines during a period of darkness. Gal Gadot brings the right mix of innocence and compassion, along with a warrior’s sense of purpose and drive. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Daniel Simpson

Reviewing movies on this blog has been a passion of mine for many years know, but as time goes by and I find myself with less time to dedicate to long reviews as real-life obligations grow and new passions develop. The most recent development has been my foray into video making, with video essays like this piece on Night of the Living Dead and this on The Matrix sequels. I’ve been finding video making immensely gratifying and would like to continue in this realm, but this also necessitates a change to my blogging. I’m not going to stop writing reviews, but moving forward I will be writing shorter reviews and including several in one post. I’m still leaving the possibility open for longer  reviews when they really strike me, but choosing to streamline my content should allow me to produce sharper work, and in greater quantity. And so, I present my first review round-up.

John Wick Chapter Two

John Wick 2

I was a little disappointed with John Wick when I first saw it. I’ve been meaning to give it another look, but I found myself really let down with the story despite really admiring the film’s action. I bring this up because, somewhat to my surprise, I quite enjoyed the film’s sequel. The story is in many ways just as simplistic and predictable, but for some reason this one really clicked with me. The fact that they had more of a budget definitely helped. Chapter 2 does have a more polished look and the action remains excellent. Apart from the opener, the first act is mostly relegated to set-up, but once shit hits the fan the pressure doesn’t let up. The film offers an amazing shoot-out starting in a concert which then spirals into a fight scene. From there, Wick becomes a hot target and has to contend with all manner of threat. The threat level is high and it also leads to some badass action. Read the rest of this entry »

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted: May 30, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

pirates 5Written by Daniel Simpson

I’ve never really cared for the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Even the first film in the franchise strikes me more as “pretty good” rather than “amazing” and the sequels sunk pretty quick. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a deliberate effort to put Pirates of the Caribbean back on the right track, continuing story lines from At World’s End and bringing back a similar three-lead character dynamic. However, like On Stranger Tides, this strikes me as another tired sigh from a franchise which is really on its last legs.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is a young man who believes that if he retrieves Poseidon’s mythical trident he will break the curse of his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). To do this, he seeks out the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), whom Henry knows once shared adventures with his father. Jack initially has no interest, but he is in something of a rough patch so does eventually set out for the trident. The two are also joined by Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a woman persecuted as a witch due to her scientific knowledge who seeks the trident as well for personal reasons. Their journey is overshadowed however by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead captain out for vengeance on Jack Sparrow for Salazar’s death decades earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

Alien: Covenant Review

Posted: May 25, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

alien covenantWritten by Daniel Simpson

Contrary to a lot of people, I rather enjoyed Prometheus when it first came out and on a rewatch last year I still found it to be a pretty good movie. It definitely has a lot of script problems, but the visuals are fantastic, there are a handful of excellent set-pieces, and its sheer ambition really wins me over. I like that film’s musings on our place in the universe, but more generally I also respect how Ridley Scott was trying to do something new with this world. This last point is why I had a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for Alien: Covenant, which largely looked to be the pandering Alien prequel Prometheus avoided being. The film, it turns out, is more of a direct continuation of Prometheus than expected, it nonetheless feels to be abandoning any of that films lofty ambitions in favour of a return to formula where a space vessel comes across a mysterios signal leading to face hugging, chest bursting, and xenomorphs chasing their prey to gory ends.

Set ten years after Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows a totally unrelated ship, the titular Covenant, on its mission to colonize a distant planet. The ship however receives signal from a closer planet which also seems to support life and the crew decide to investigate, much to the chagrin of second-in-command Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston), who believes it an unnecessary risk. Her fears are confirmed to be true when the Covenant arrives to the planet and not only find vegetation, water, and a breathable atmosphere, but also a mysterious chemical biohazard causing violent mutations as well as mysterious alien creatures causing all sorts of violent havoc. The crew are temporarily saved however by David (Michael Fassbender), the android who served on the Prometheus. David forms a particular kinship with the android for the Covenant, an upgraded model still of the same make named Walter (also Michael Fassbender). The crew try to contend with the hostile threat on the planet while also trying to make sense of how David got here. Read the rest of this entry »

Night of the Living Dead – Why It Matters

Posted: May 18, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Uncategorized

Hey all! I’ve decided to formally enter the realm of video making, starting with a piece on George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. I take a look at why Night of the Living Dead is important to cinema history. The obvious answer is zombies, but the film also changed horror movies in a more general but highly important way. This is to be the first of many videos and I encourage comments and criticism. And please subscribe! Not only will I be making more videos, but Gambit is full of people with exciting projects in the pipes.

Night of the Living Dead – Why It Matters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqmLzK8JUCg

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Posted: May 11, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpson guardians 2

Guardians of the Galaxy is not the highest grossing film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it might have inspired the most passionate fan-base. Before it was even released, Guardians was celebrated for being something so weird and the film itself was praised for its colourful characters, general sense of fun, and for being unique within the Marvel universe. I was a lot more reserved in my praise. Ultimately, I found the plot a little undercooked and the film adhered a lot closer to the Marvel formula than most would admit. In short, it was yet another Marvel movie where a bland villain seeking an infinitity stone to destroy the world and the heroes overcome by learning to work as a team in an overblown CGI infused climax for the fate of a planet. I liked the characters a lot though, and in my original review I compared the film to a TV pilot where a somewhat boring story is used as an excuse to introduce some fun characters. Because of this, I had hope that future movies would be able to really deliver the goods. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does not reach the highs I had really hoped for, but it is a fun romp that improves on its predecessor in a handful of ways.

Set sometime after the original film, the Guardians of the Galaxy are now working as a mercenary team of sorts, performing odd jobs which involve battling strange creatures for high profile clients. Such actions, coupled with the Guardians’ defeat of Ronan the Accuser has brought the team to the the attention of Ego (Kurt Russell), a strange being with an interest in Guardians leader Peter Quill, aka Starlord (Chris Pratt). The team must also contend however with various powerful groups who they’ve wronged in the past, including an advanced alien race whom Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole from and The Ravagers, another mercenary team led by Peter’s adopted father, Yondu (Michael Rooker).

That plot synopsis perhaps makes the movie seem leaner than it actually is. If the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy was undercooked, then that of Vol. 2 is overcooked. Between the mystery of Ego, the powerful groups pursuing the Guardians, the introduction of new characters, Yondu’s disgrace at the hands of other Ravager captains, Nebula (Karen Gillian) seeking vengeance on her adopted sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the introduction of new characters like Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and the internal issues within the Guardians themselves, the film is a little overstuffed. That isn’t to say that a lot of these elements aren’t enjoyable. The conflicts within the team work well enough and are a natural extension of the characters in the first film. I also really enjoyed the new characters introduced. Mantis brings a nice comedic dynamic and Kurt Russell also does really great work as Ego. I was less fond of Yondu’s backstory, which seemed like a forced attempt to set up future movies. I was happy to see Gamora and Nebula’s story advance, though admittedly this seemed like something which should have been in the first movie.

While these subplots and side stories do have their merit, they also serve to bury the main story for much of the film. For all of the film’s plotting, there doesn’t actually seem to be much of a story driving Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In the third act however, the villain is revealed and proves to be the best of any MCU film. This is meant as a reveal so I will speak vaguely to avoid spoilers, but the character is compelling in a number of ways. On the simplest level, the performance given is both charismatic and contains an appropriate menace, but the character also has an interesting perspective which justifies extremely violent and destructive actions in a calmly rational way and I also think the villain mirrors the inner conflict within the Guardians nicely. And as the cherry on top, there is a clear emotional connection between the character and the Guardians which make these scenes all the more. This is a really great villain, but unfortunately, most of this is reserved for the third act. By the time the character is fully revealed, it’s basically time for the climax. I would have liked the central conflict here to be explored in more depth.

James Gunn returns as a writer and director here and continues to do good work. I’ve long complained about the Marvel movies for their lack of visual imagination, but that isn’t the case with Gunn’s Guardians films. At times, Vol. 2 is straight up beautiful, featuring some dazzling colours, cool alien designs, great make-up effects, and some very confident shots. The film’s sense of humour is also pretty sharp. The general tone is pretty light and there are definitely some good laughs to be found here. At times, I do think the film maybe indulges in humour a little too much, often undercutting potential tension or drama in favour of a laugh, but the execution is stylish and the wit often strong so I can’t complain too much. If there’s one thing I think Gunn could stand to improve on, it’s his action scenes. While the action here is mostly serviceable, they are all too often drowned and CGI to the point of lacking humanity and breaking the rules of reality. As a result, I find myself disconnected from the scene and unable to invest myself. Consider an early scene where the Guardians ship crash lands from space to the surface of a planet with Drax hanging out of the back and landing completely unscathed. I realize this is a comic book movie, and a comedic one at that, but leaps so large break my suspension of disbelief.

This review probably reads pretty harsh and I do think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a very flawed movie, but all the same I definitely enjoyed my time with it. The fact that it has a genuinely great villain and an emotionally charged climax goes a long way. Beyond that, the humour generally works really well and at the end of the day these characters are still a lot of fun. There is room for improvement for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Personally, I’d like to see a leaner story, a stronger balance of humour and drama, and more grounded action sequences. Still, Vol. 2 is definitely a step in the right direction. For whatever problems the movie has, it is indeed a fun film and in its best moments, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 provides some of the best content Marvel has offered so far.

B

 

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Posted: April 3, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

beauty_and_the_beast_ver2Written by Daniel Simpson

It was easy to ignore Disney’s trend of remaking their animated classics in live-action when movies like Cinderella where barely a blip on the radar, but last year’s The Jungle Book was a sign that they were films worth making note of. That film made almost a billion dollars, won an Oscar, and received good reviews too. Personally, I didn’t love Jon Favreau’s movie, but I thought it was a pretty solid adventure film that made some smart deviations from the animated film. Just a year later, Disney has doubled down, presenting a remake of their only film to score a Best Picture nomination; Beauty and the Beast. The film has been hyped as a prime blockbuster and sure enough opened to huge business. My own interest, however, was mute. The movie didn’t seem to be doing anything new to justify a remake and as such I didn’t see much point in the film. Circumstances nonetheless found me at the theater and lo and behold my initial suspicions were on-point.

Anyone familiar with the animated film will not require a plot synopsis here, but for anyone uninitiated, I will provide. Set in a small 18th century French village, the film follows Belle (Emma Watson), a young woman who stands out amidst the women in her village due to her affinity for reading and her lack of interest in the handsome, though selfish and simplistic Gaston (Luke Evans). One day, Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) ventures off on a trip but becomes lost in the forest, eventually finding refuge in a seemingly abandoned castle. Turns out the castle is actually home of a hideous beast (Dan Stevens) who takes the father prisoner. The Beast is himself a former prince, cursed for his vanity and transformed into the terrifying creature, while his servants have been transformed into animated household objects. Belle opts to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. The Beast initially cares nothing for her, but the servants remind him that their curse can be broken if The Beast learns to love, and comes to be loved. What follows is a slow love story which develops between the two. Read the rest of this entry »