Top Five Live Action Fairy-Tales

Posted: March 14, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

One of the growing trends in modern cinema is the live-action fairy tale, with Disney currently leading the charge. We’ve already got Cinderella and Maleficent, adaptations like The Little Mermaid and Snow White are on the way, and of course, this Friday sees the release of a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Little of this trend has done much for me and I think the aforementioned Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont adaptation coming later this week looks pretty lame. Still, there have been some exciting live-action fairy tales throughout cinema and it’s a good time to take a look at some of the best. Fair warning, I’m taking a pretty broad approach to the term “fairy-tale” that differs pretty hard from the princess-centric image of the fairy-tale that Disney has helped solidify.

 5. The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Thief_Of_Bagdad_(1940)

Though it is technically only based on the original silent film of the same name, The Thief of Bagdad draws heavily from Arabian Nights. Arabian Nights does of course differ from the standard definition of a fairy-tale (which are usually from Europe), but the texts has been acknowledged as a “fairy-tale” in its own right and The Thief of Bagdad came to inform much of Disney’s Aladdin. The film spots some beautiful colour cinematography, ground-breaking special effects, and brings to life a wonderful adventure. It certainly isn’t the most sophisticated movie and it doesn’t have some of the morals fairy-tales tend to preach, but it’s good fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Logan Review

Posted: March 6, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

loganimaxposterWritten by Daniel Simpson

I’ve long been a champion of the X-Men franchise, but if the filmmakers have had one consistent shortcoming it’s been their inability to make compelling Wolverine movies, despite trying twice. Wolverine and Hugh Jackman’s performance have been one of the best aspects of the series, but when it comes to making spin-off films, neither have really worked. Conventional wisdom suggests that Wolverine alone just isn’t very interesting and he needs the team to stand out, but I find that to be nonsense. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is just an embarrassment on all levels while The Wolverine struggled between being a grounded character study and goofy action schlock. Point being the core issues of each were not rooted in the character himself and I’ve maintained hope that a great Wolverine film could be made. That film has finally come. The simply titled Logan promises to be a farewell to everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant and the film pushes the X-Men franchise, a series which has often leaned more mature than most superhero contemporaries, into its most adult territory yet.

In 2029, Mutant kind is on its last legs. Most of the mutant population is gone and there hasn’t been a mutant birth in decades. One of the few remnants of the X-Men remaining is an ageing Logan (Hugh Jackman), formerly known as Wolverine, now working as a limo driver in Texas while helping an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) south of the border. Both legendary mutants are in poor health, with Logan’s healing factor in decline while Xavier suffers from a neurodegenerative disease, which when coupled with his telepathic powers has led to violent seizures which hurt those around him. Along with the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), the trio live a quiet, under the radar existence, one which is uprooted when a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) chased by mysterious agents enters their lives. Logan reluctantly agrees to help the girl find a believed sanctuary for mutants despite the dangerous forces which pursue them. Read the rest of this entry »

Top Ten Films of 2016

Posted: February 21, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

So as some of you may have noticed, this year I did not opt to do my annual series of awards posts celebrating the best of the year in cinema. There were a few reasons for this, but what it came down to is simply finding the time while also contending with school, work, a social life, and all the other BS that comes with living. Still, that shouldn’t suggest I haven’t been keeping up with the movies all year because I certainly have. The general consensus is that 2016 was a weak year but I don’t really agree with that. Rather, I think it was a weak year for big-budget Hollywood entertainment, but there were plenty of smaller films to adore. I actually had to make some tough cuts for my top ten list, but all told I’m pretty happy with the films I’ve collected here. Let it be known however that I was unfortunately not able to see Silence. Scorsese’s new religious drama has yet to open where I go to school and I doubt I’ll be able to get a crack at it until March. With that of the way, let’s dive in!

10. Knight of Cupsknight-of-cups-poster1

Full review here.

I had a lot of films competing for this final slot but I ultimately decided to go for Terrence Malick’s much maligned newest feature. The film’s divisive status certainly influenced its placement, but more than anything Knight of Cups has proven to be one of the most memorable and unique cinematic experiences I had all year. Eschewing a traditional narrative, the film consists of a series of vignettes following a disillusioned screenwriter (Christian Bale) as he navigates a series of relationships, affairs, events, and family drama. Malick’s films have grown increasingly plotless in recent memory and that reaches something of an apex with Knight of Cups. Despite some heavy levels of abstraction, I do think the film pretty clearly dwells on themes of failed relationships and how the death of a loved one can affect a person later in life. In that sense, the film is very much a continuation of the themes explored in The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, and I suspect these themes are quite personal to Malick (I doubt it’s a coincidence that the main character here is also a Hollywood outsider searching for meaning).

Still, one need not be caught up in trying to decipher what Malick’s intentions are to appreciate the cinematic journey crafted here. The weightless cinematography captures both the beauty of the natural world and that of humanity while Hanan Townshend’s score is absorbing. Individual moments are so well-crafted that one finds themselves completely enthralled even with the plot feeling so distant. Knight of Cups is certainly not a perfect film (it never closes out its protagonist’s arc), but its meditation on trying to find meaning in life still resonates heavily. I for one am intrigued by what yet waits in Malick’s career. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lego Batman Movie Review

Posted: February 15, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

lego-batman-movieWritten by Daniel Simpson

I doubt anyone would disagree that of all the superheroes out there, Batman has had the most interesting cinematic legacy. Perhaps it is because much of the character’s inspiration is rooted in cinema, but Batman has had an incredibly diverse series of films, including some of the best films of the superhero genre, as well as some of the worst. Just focusing on theatrically released movies, there have been 13 (debatably 14) Batman films so far with more on the way, and that isn’t including dozens of direct to video films. With so many different interpretations, it’s inevitable that some be a little strange. One of the most atypical was the animated spoof version presented in 2014’s surprise hit The Lego Movie. As with anything that is successful, Hollywood is happy to run it into the ground and so that version of the Dark Knight has been given his own film with The Lego Batman Movie.

Set in a world of Lego, The Lego Batman Movie sees Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) at the height of his crime-fighting career. The opening action sequence sees Batman thwarting a plot of The Joker (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) which incorporates many of Batman’s most dangerous rogues, as well as the not so dangerous like Calendar Man and the Condiment King. Despite Batman’s success in crime-fighting and general ego, is personal life is empty and unfulfilling. Batman is forced to face this loneliness when the new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) strives to create a Gotham City which doesn’t need Batman. Simultaneously, Batman happens to take in young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Batman initially has no use for the kid, but faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) urges Batman to take on a father role and soon the boy dons the Robin costume. Meanwhile, The Joker, feeling neglected by Batman, hatches a sinister to plot to prove once and for all that he is the caped crusader’s greatest foe. Read the rest of this entry »

The Great 2016 Last Minute Round-Up

Posted: February 14, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists, PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpson

Before moving on with 2016 in the form of my top ten list, I wanted to take a minute to highlight some of the films I caught with in early 2017. I didn’t think there would be enough demand for them to warrant their own reviews at this point, so I’ve opted to combine a handful of shorter reviews here. So here is my last minute round-up of 2016 films.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

hunt_for_the_wilderpeople_ver3 Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie Review

Posted: February 12, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

jackie-poster-1Written by Daniel Simpson

Biopics are the bread and butter of awards season and it’s all too easy to look on them cynically and without excitement. Every so often though one comes along that actually tells a gripping story and explores its content cinematically. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is such a film. The film begins about a week after the assassination of President Kennedy when a journalist (Billy Crudup) has been sent to interview Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman). This interview will come to serve as a framing device as the film plays in non-chronological order. The bulk of the film centers on Jackie trying to react in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s death while also trying to solidify the Kennedy legacy amidst confusion and the opinions of other powerful people like Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Lyndon B. Johnson (John Caroll Lynch). During this time, Jackie also has to process her own grief and does so by trying to raise her children, working with close friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), and talking with a priest (John Hurt). Much of this is also intercut with Jackie’s famous “Tour of the White House” made-for-TV special from 1961.

The non-linear structure might be a shock to audiences seeking a more conventional biopic and indeed Jackie is a lot more challenging than it might seem on paper. The film is very interested in exploring the “Camelot” myth associated with Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy and addressing how true this myth really is. In many ways, these themes necessitate the non-linear structure as the inter-cutting of the interview, the “Tour of the White House” special, and Jackie’s decisions regarding JFK’s funeral procession all directly address myth-making and image shaking. In each instance, we see examples of Jackie trying to craft the perception people have of her and her husband and how these perceptions will come to inform the greater legacies of both. These also come to the front in Jackie’s more intimate conversations with people like Nancy or the Priest. In these moments, Jackie is at her most vulnerable and possibly her most honest. In these scenes we see some of her facade slip away, but we also see strong moral conviction and a genuine sense of loss which suggests there might well be a lot of truth to the Camelot myth. The last part of that statement can be applied to the film as a whole. While it is clear that Larrain and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim are interested in exploring the truth of the Camelot myth, they aren’t out to expose it. Read the rest of this entry »

The 2016 Best Picture Line-Up Ranked

Posted: February 7, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpson

As has been the case every year since I’ve been reviewing movies, the Oscar nominees are a bit of a mixed bag. Though there are no films nominated for the coveted prize this year I would call straight up bad, there are a few that are mediocre and unworthy of a nomination. Then there are a handful of films that are maybe not quite what I consider “best of the year” material, but are nonetheless pretty good and I don’t really object to their nominations. Finally, there are a few films which I genuinely love. And so, I present these feelings in this ranked list of 2016’s Best Picture line-up, starting from the worst, and ending with the best. This list is based purely on my own opinions.

9. Hidden Figureshidden_figures

Much as I’m happy that Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson have finally received their much deserved credit for their accomplishments and work with NASA, the actual film that tells these stories is highly mediocre. Hidden Figures embraces all of the clichés and melodrama that define Oscar-bait “inspiring” tales based on true stories. Additionally, the narrative is so overstuffed that few elements really resonate. The strong trio of performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe go a long way in making Hidden Figures watchable and the film is never boring, but a well-researched documentary could have been a lot more informative and dignified.

Full review here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lion/Hidden Figures Review

Posted: February 2, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

lionhidden_figures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Daniel Simpson

Every awards season, the phrase “Oscar bait” gets thrown around a lot. It essentially refers to a film which seems tailor made to be nominated for/win awards. These films are almost always dramas, often based on true stories, sometimes period pieces, and generally are inspiring tales of underdogs who succeed. Personally, I find the phrase to be rather limiting and condescending (there are all sorts of films that get the “Oscar bait” label when they don’t deserve it), but all the same I do agree with the sentiment. For as long as I’ve been reviewing films, there are always a handful of movies released during the awards season rush which I skip due to a general whiff of “Oscar baitness” before eventually giving them a go after they get a Best Picture nomination. The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Brooklyn, and Dallas Buyers Club are just some of the recent films to match this description. There are certainly differences in those films, in terms of both content and quality (Brooklyn for example is actually pretty good), but each one struck me as something which seemed rather minor and not really worth a theater trip when faced with more inspired and interesting competition.

I bring all this up because once again, I find myself seeking out two dramas I had initially dismissed after they were recognized by the Academy with a Best Picture nod. Those films are Lion and Hidden Figures. Broadly speaking, both match a lot of the criteria above: inspirational true stories that cinematically looked fairly conventional. On closer examination, however, my reasons for skipping both are a bit different. In the case of Lion, I actually missed most of the marketing and what little I saw didn’t strike me as too compelling. Comparatively, I saw the trailer for Hidden Figures quite a few times and knew it was about a collection of black women who performed crucial duties at NASA which were largely ignored by history. I was very happy to see these women finally given the credit they were due, but the movie itself looked very clichéd and simplistic. Both were films I might have checked out had they come out at a less busy time of year or would have caught up with at home, but Best Picture nominations shot them to the top of my to-see list. Given that I’m approaching both from a similar perspective, I thought it be efficient, and an interesting experiment, to review both films at once. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 30 Best Non 2016 Films Watched in 2016

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

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)

closer

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 »

Fences Review

Posted: January 9, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

fencesWritten 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 »