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.



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 »

Get Out Review

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

get-out-2017-2Written by Daniel Simpson

What’s the deal with comedians directing horror movies lately? Kevin Smith, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Joe Swanberg have all dipped their toes in the water, and the team of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are in charge of the next Halloween film. Of course, there hasn’t really been enough for this to be considered a movement and the results have not exactly been promising. Obviously, we don’t know how Halloween will turn out, but these other horror efforts have not been impressive. Red State has some defenders, but Smith’s subsequent follow-ups are seen as the low-points of his cinematic career and Goldthwait’s Willow Creek was largely panned. The newest filmmaker in this trend is Jordan Peele, best known for sketch comedy show “Key and Peele”, whose racially conscious horror film Get Out has broke box-office records and has received rave reviews.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young black man living in New York City dating white woman Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). The two are heading to Rose’s parents’ house in the country for the weekend, a prospect which is worrisome for Chris given that Rose has not told her parents that her boyfriend is black. Upon arrival, Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) seem like liberal leaning and progressively minded whites, though ones not above dropping occasionally condescending comments like clarifying they would have voted for Obama for a third time. There are other such micro-aggressions, but things really start to go awry when Chris suspects something more sinister may in fact be at play. These suspicions are prompted by the Armitage’s black servants, a groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson) and a maid (Betty Gabriel), who both seem a little…off. Read the rest of this entry »

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)


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 »