The Revenant Review

Posted: January 11, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the revenantWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Alejandro González Iñárritu made a case for himself as one of the most promising filmmakers of the 2000s with the films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, a collection known as his “Death Trilogy”. Given the name, you can guess the films were not exactly fun affairs. All three films were realist dramas focusing on damaged people and each presented a very bleak world view. Personally, I found all of the aforementioned films to be highly powerful and provocative works, but I do get why they may not be for everyone. After his 2010 effort Biutiful was met with general indifference, Iñárritu struck out with Birdman, a film vastly different from what Iñárritu had built his name on. While the film certainly had some dark streaks, Birdman was much more comedic and high energy and it seems that change of pace was exactly what Iñárritu needed. Birdman was a critical and financial success which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar and Iñárritu also won for Best Director. I loved the film and given how different it was from the rest of Iñárritu’s filmography, I was really curious to what he would make next. As it turns out, his next film is yet another turn. That film is The Revenant, and while it is very different from Iñárritu’s early work, it certainly does embrace the dark tone of the “Death Trilogy”.

The Revenant is set in the 1820s in frontier America and follows a group of hunters in the process of collecting pelts. As the film begins, the group is attacked by a tribe of Native Americans who wipe out most of the hunting party, with the exception of a handful of survivors who escape by boat. With dwindling numbers and still at risk, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) advises the group abandon the boat and their pelts and instead chart a new path on foot to avoid further attacks. This decision places great animosity between Glass and fellow hunter John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Shortly after, Glass is mauled in a brutal bear attack leaving him unable to walk or speak and very near death. Given the group cannot risk carrying Glass back, Captain Andrew Harry (Domhnall Gleeson) leaves Glass in the care of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), young hunter Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and the aforementioned Fitzgerald until help can arrive. Fitzgerald however, has other plans. After attacking Glass, Fitzgerald murders Hawk and buries Glass alive. Glass lives on though, and begins to crawl his way through the wilderness with the singular goal of finding and killing Fitzgerald. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 30 Best Non-2015 Films I Saw for the First Time in 2015

Posted: January 7, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

I’m probably living in a golden age of my own film viewing. Going into 2015, I had already seen dozens of major classics as well as some less appreciated gems which I found to be tremendous works all the same. At the same time, there was enough awesome stuff that I hadn’t seen, to the point where I can compile a list of 30 great films watched for the first time last year and still have to make some hard cuts. Like the last list I posted, the list will not consider films released in 2015, nor will it consider 2014 films I only caught in their theatrical run in 2015. So, without further ado, my top 30 films viewed for the first time in 2015 that were not released in 2015.

30. A Tale of Two Cities (1935) (Watched September 27th)A_Tale_of_Two_Cities_1935_film

I’ve made it a personal goal to see every film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and it’s been something of a mixed journey. The 1930s in particular feature nominees of varying quality, but every so often I’ll come across something special. This adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities is certainly among the better nominees of the decade. The film has a really epic scope, large production value, some great scenes, and it actually handles it’s themes with surprising maturity and grace. It’s not exactly a perfect film, the ending doesn’t quite hit the tone as well as it could have for example, but for the most part this is a fine example of Hollywood production standards being applied to a story with genuine weight.

“It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

29. Chimes at Midnight (Watched May 18th)51xSUCON3xL._SY300_

In the summer, TCM ran a monthly spotlight on the work of Orson Welles and I was able to catch on some of the man’s less famous directorial efforts. I saw some cool stuff, but Chimes at Midnight was far and away the best of all the films I saw. The film actually borrows from five different Shakespeare plays, but instead focuses on minor character John Falstaff. Welles himself stars as Falstaff, and he excels in the role of the overweight and crude knight. As a director, Welles really skillfully works around the budgetary limitations, creating a film which has a suitably epic scale, but also a very gritty feel. This is best emphasized in the film’s most famous scene; a large scale battle with effectively portrays brutal violence. It’s certainly a dramatic film, but it can also be highly comedic and is in fact the funniest Shakespeare film I’ve seen.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

28. All That Heaven Allows (Watched November 9th)ATHA01

All That Heaven Allows would be a good film with just its surface details. It’s an engaging melodrama with some strong acting (particularly from Jane Wyman), beautiful music, and really vivid colour cinematography. But what propels the film to greatness is the subtext. The film is not just a doomed romance, but really about 50s suburbia and sexism. The conflicts which befall Jane Wyman’s character all tie into societal pressures and expectations, some explicitly said (i.e. a middle-aged widow shouldn’t marry a younger man), and some merely implied (i.e. a woman’s place is in the home). Douglas Sirk does an excellent job incorporating these elements into the film and it’s sad just how many of these pressures and sexist thoughts still prevail in modern society. I do think the film leans a bit close to Hollywood conventions in the third act and away from the thematic resonance, but the film remains an accomplishment.

“No, Cary, you’re the one who made it a question of choosing, and now you’ll have to choose.” Read the rest of this entry »

Top 20 Worst Non-2015 Films I First Watched in 2015

Posted: January 3, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

I’ve been keeping record of my movie watching since I was a teenager and in recent years have taken to commemorating the best and worst in list form. This year is no exception. It’s important to note going in I am specifically avoiding films actually released in 2015 (there will be a series of awards posts honouring last year specifically), and I also won’t be catching 2014 films I caught up with theatrically in early 2015. These lists are all about older films I saw for the first time in 2015 that I might not get a chance to write about otherwise. First things first, the worst films I saw all year.

It should be noted that I don’t make a habit of seeking out truly awful films, nor do I watch a lot of “so bad they’re good” movies. As a result, the list skews more towards the obscure or forgotten than it does the hilariously awful.

20. The Ten Commandments (1923) (Watched June 14th)ten commandments

I actually feel a little guilty listing this one since the first half of the film is actually pretty impressive, at least on a technical level. These are the moments which actually depict the biblical story of Moses freeing the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. The story is very rushed, but there’s some really awesome production and cutting edge special effects. Then the film jumps forward to contemporary America and tells a story of how breaking the Ten Commandments will lead to punishment and suffering. It’s a corny message that the film tells in the silliest and most blunt way possible. In 1956, Cecil B. DeMille would learn from his mistakes and remake the film, this time focusing on the spectacle and the story of Moses. See that film and skip this preachy slog. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hateful Eight Review

Posted: January 2, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the-hateful-eight-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The golden age of Westerns is often defined as the 1930s through the 1950s. This was a time where Westerns were some of the most popular and profitable films being made, with many classics being produced such as Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, High Noon, Shane, The Searchers, and Rio Bravo, among many others. One might also argue this golden age continued through the 60s, with the Spaghetti Westerns popularized by Sergio Leone, as well as revisionist films like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Wild Bunch. From the 70s on, Westerns fell into a decline, though through the years many greats have come forth. Recently though, I’ve began to wonder if we aren’t seeing a new golden age for westerns now. In the last ten years, films like The Proposition, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, True Grit, Rango, and Django Unchained have all been released to great success critically and often financially as well. 2015 may in fact have been the apex year for this golden age as the year is climaxing with two prestige Westerns; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. For Tarantino, The Hateful Eight is the latest in what has been a remarkably consistent filmography, and specifically is following his first Western, the aforementioned Django Unchained. Not only does The Hateful Eight match Tarantino’s standard of excellence, but is in fact wholly superior to his first Western.

Set a few years after the Civil War, The Hateful Eight opens with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) travelling by stagecoach to the town of Red Rock, where he plans to collect his bounty on his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth is riding in the mountains against a coming blizzard, and in his travels come across fellow bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Ruth reluctantly agrees to let Warren ride with him, and the two are quickly joined by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the son of a famed Confederate General. Given that Warren fought in the Civil War as a Union soldier, this understandably creates some tension. All three find themselves oppressed by the storm and must seek refuge in a lodge called Minnie’s Haberdashery. There, they share lodging with some colourful guests; former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks), and acting owner Bob (Demián Bichir). However things seem peculiar, to the point that Ruth and Warren begin to suspect one of these men is in league with Domergue. Read the rest of this entry »

Joy Review

Posted: December 31, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Joy-PosterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The David O. Russell comeback has been defined by one success after another. The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook were both much loved Oscar winning films, and while a backlash has developed against American Hustle, that film was still nominated for a ton of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. I’m a fan of all of these films, particularly Silver Linings Playbook, and couldn’t wait to see what he would do after American Hustle. I was pretty disappointed when I read that his next project would be a film about the woman who invented the miracle mop. I can’t say the story seemed like one that needed to be told, nor did I have any personal interest in the tale. Still, O. Russell is too talented a filmmaker to ignore, and with his usual cast returning, Joy remained a must-see.

As a child, Joy Mangano was full of creativity and ambition, however the dysfunctionality and overbearing presence of her mother and father (Virginia Madsen and Robert De Niro, respectively) have led to Joy’s own life largely stagnating. As an adult, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a single mother trying to raise two kids while allowing her parents to love with her, along with her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez), who is living in the basement. Frightened by the personal trap she sees herself falling into, Joy vows to find greater success in life. Her first step on this path is the Miracle Mop, an invention of hers which allows for greater flexibility than other mops and is also self-wringing. On her path to make the miracle mop a success, Joy must contend with financial setbacks, personal difficulty, and her own family’s meddling. Read the rest of this entry »

Trainwreck Review

Posted: December 27, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

trainwreckWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2011, a little comedy called Bridesmaids was met with a rapturous response from critics and audiences, launched a few careers, and started a trend of R-rated comedies driven by women instead of men. It should be noted however that while most of the comedies Bridesmaids inspired where modest successes, none of them really had the enduring popularity as that film. I’m not sure if the female driven comedies of 2015 have that popularity either, but they’ve certainly left more of an impression than the likes of Identity Thief or Tammy. The action-comedy Spy garnered Melissa McCarthy’s most enthusiastic response since Bridesmaids, while romantic comedy Trainwreck helped solidify Amy Schumer has one of comedy’s most important voices (while also being something of a comeback for director Judd Apatow). From my perspective, neither of these movies seemed all that appealing, mostly due to what I found to be very unfunny trailers. However both films were really well-received so it would only be fair to give them a chance. And to my pleasant surprise, both films have turned out to actually be pretty solid.

At a young age, Amy Townsend witnessed the divorce of her parents and learned a valuable lesson; monogamy is for chumps. As an adult, Amy (Amy Schumer) embraces a lifestyle of hook-ups, one night stands, and partying. It should be noted that her life is not one of complete debauchery; Amy isn’t totally careless in who she has sex with or with the substances she chooses to use. Amy also has a pretty good job for a men’s lifestyle magazine. One day, Amy is assigned to write a piece on sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Amy has no interest in sports, but the two hit it off which leads to a one-night stand. Aaron however wishes to pursue the relationship beyond one night, something which challenges Amy’s typical lifestyle. The two do begin dating though, and the film follows their struggles as they figure out their relationships. Read the rest of this entry »

Spotlight Review

Posted: December 23, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

spotlightWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In the early 2000s, a team of journalists from the Boston Globe exposed the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, not just in Boston, but in the country (and even beyond that). This story was probably one of the most important news events of our life time, and yet it isn’t one I was ever really appreciate. I was around seven years old when all of this started to break out and did not grow up in a Catholic environment. As such, the whole scandal was really beyond my own cognitive awareness. By the time I was aware of such injustice, the sexual abuse of children by priests was common knowledge to the point of cliché. It just seemed like that had always been the way things were. Now, Tom McCarthy and his film Spotlight have come to remind everyone that, while the abuse has a long history, the knowledge of it is only possible thanks to some dedicated journalists.

In 2001, Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the leader of an investigative team known as Spotlight for the Boston Globe. The team specializes in long term investigation of major stories and cover-ups. The Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) directs Robinson’s attention to a story of a priest’s abuse and suggests Spotlight looks further into it. Robinson is hesitant at first, but tentatively starts an investigation. He sends his reporters, Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) to follow up with a victim, which begins to unravel a far larger history of abuse and cover-ups by the church. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Posted: December 20, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

*This review doesn’t contain any major spoilers, but if you want to go into the film completely blind, this is not the review for you.
star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

To call Star Wars: The Force Awakens the most anticipated film of 2015 does not really encapsulate just how huge the film is. Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in October of 2012, fans have been obsessing over the future of the Star Wars saga. What films would be made? Who would be directing? When would they be set? Would the original cast be returning? Eventually, it became known that Disney would create a series of Anthology films, as well as a new trilogy continuing after the original classics. The first film to launch this new era of Star Wars was subtitled The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams was announced as the director, and the original cast was set to return. Since then, every piece of news has been scrutinized and endlessly pontificated upon, from trailers to concept art. Personally, I was very excited for the film. The trailers were excellent and many of the cast and crew seemed to carry the passion for the project, but I also made an effort to keep my expectations in check. I kept telling myself that Disney didn’t spend $4.05 billion for Lucasfilm in order to tell an artistic story. It was a business move and thus, to some extent, The Force Awakens is an investment. That doesn’t mean the film couldn’t also be great, but I thought it was important to keep that in mind.

It has been thirty years since the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, but the galaxy has not become a paragon of peace and stability. Conflict is still abundant; out of the ashes of the Empire the First Order has risen to find and kill Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has gone into exile following a failed attempt to revive the Jedi order. The Order is led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), a mysterious background figure who mainly acts through his subordinates, namely aspiring Sith lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Combatting the Order is the Resistance (formerly the Rebel Alliance) who have vital information regarding the location of Skywalker. Such data is first entrusted to pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) before eventually coming to a small droid named BB-8. This droid eventually comes into contact with a poor scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a former Stormtrooper disillusioned with the First Order named Finn (John Boyega). The pair’s efforts to help the droid lead them to Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the group become embroiled in the Resistance’s efforts to defeat The First Order. Read the rest of this entry »

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this little independent movie coming out called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In case you didn’t know, it’s actually the seventh in this huge sci-fi fantasy franchise that began way back in 1977. Still lost? Well, that’s where I’m here to help, because I’ve taken it upon myself to go back through the first six before seeing The Force Awakens, and you’re welcome to join me on this journey if you so choose.

We begin, unfortunately, with the three prequels … Read the rest of this entry »

Love and Mercy Review

Posted: December 16, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

love and mercyWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2004, a musical biopic of Ray Charles, simply titled Ray, became a huge critical and financial hit, was nominated for Best Picture, and won an Oscar for leading man Jamie Foxx. Looking back, it’s not a particularly strong film, but the impact of it’s success has been felt in the waning years. Musical biopics may have existed previously, but the mid-2000s saw a far greater surge with the likes of Walk the LineDreamgirlsLa Vie en RoseNotorious, and I’m Not There. While some of these films are pretty unique (particularly I’m Not There), these films tend to be formulaic and predictable affairs, to the point that there’s been something of a backlash against them. And yet, two of the summers most well-reviewed films were of said genre. NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton proved to be well-reviewed and enthralling story that also did extremely well at the box-office. A few months before Straight Outta Compton, Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson was also subject of a motion picture; Love and Mercy. While that film did not open to the rapturous audience response, the film was a humble success, making respectable business and achieving very strong reviews.

The film is set in two key periods in Wilson’s life. In the mid-1960s, Brian (played in these sections by Paul Dano) is working on the now revered Pet Sounds album, arguing about artistic decisions with the rest of his band, and dealing with a slowly deteriorating mental health. This material is crosscut with Brian’s life in the 1980s (where he is played by John Cusack). Brian is in a more fragile state, and seems to be being taken advantage of by his therapist, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Brian does find some solace in a relationship he forms with a woman named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). Read the rest of this entry »