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 »

La La Land Review

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

la-la-landWritten 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 »

Top 20 Worst Non-2016 Films Viewed in 2016

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)

kings-row

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 »

Embrace of the Serpent Review

Posted: December 31, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

embrace-of-the-serpent-posterWritten 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 »

Love and Friendship Review

Posted: December 28, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

love_and_friendshipWritten 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 »