Chappie Review

Posted: August 15, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

chappie_ver2Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2009, a little film called District 9 was released in August and left a big impact. This was an original IP made in a unique setting which had tremendous political undertones. It was a huge breath of fresh air which made enough waves to even nab an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It also really launched the career of director Neil Blomkamp, who previously had nothing but shorts under his belt. His follow-up, Elysium arrived to high expectations but was seen as something of a disappointment. Personally, I quite enjoyed Elysium, but it is certainly a flawed work and a step down from District 9. Still, while that film was at least expected with enthusiasm, the same cannot be said for Blomkamp’s third effort, Chappie. The film generally had look warm receptions from the trailers, its release was met with near immediate critical dismissal. I didn’t have enough interest in the film to justify a trip to the multiplex, but I’m still curious about Blomkamp so I decided to give it a shot at home.

The film is set in a near future where a robotic police force has proven highly effective in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. The engineer behind these robots is Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), whose real passion is developing an artificial intelligence. However his boss (Sigourney Weaver) sees no practical end in such research. Thus, Deon steals one of the defective police robots and installs his new A.I. programming. This robot will come to be known as Chappie (Sharlto Copley). Things are complicated when Chappie is kidnapped by a group of gangsters who want to use the robot to perform a heist. However Chappie’s brain is very much like an infant’s. He is still learning about everything, and thus he finds himself torn by the influence of his creator and the gangsters who stole him. Read the rest of this entry »

Mr. Holmes Review

Posted: August 12, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

mr-holmes-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Sherlock Holmes has historically been one of the most famous characters in popular fiction. Even those who have never read one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories or seen any of the adaptations can probably describe a few characteristics of the famous sleuth. Today, Holmes’ popularity is as strong as ever with several successful adaptations. The best example of this is almost certainly the highly acclaimed BBC series Sherlock, which has made stars out of its two leads. There’s also the American series Elementary which has also been well-received. And then of course we had the Guy Ritchie directed films starring Robert Downey Jr. just a few years back. Each of these adaptations (particularly the British ones) I’ve been aimed at a young and hip demographic. Such as not the case for the newest take on the world’s most famous detective; Mr. Holmes, which looks at the titular character’s twilight years.

The film opens in 1947, with a retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) living in his secluded country home in Sussex. Holmes as become a legend due to the stories written by his friend and colleague Dr. John Watson, however these stories paint a fairly inaccurate picture of the real Sherlock. This is especially true of Watson’s last story which depicted Holmes’ final case; the one which forced him to retire. Holmes as decided to set the record straight and rewrite the story, but the trouble is his failing memory makes it difficult for Holmes to recall what did actually happen. He is however aided by his housekeeper’s young son Roger (Milo Parker). Read the rest of this entry »

Clouds of Sils Maria Review

Posted: August 11, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Clouds_of_Sils_Maria_poster-e1427734333561Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

As a cinephile, the early months of the year can be frustrating. I don’t hate studio movies or big blockbusters, in fact I love them when they’re done well, but it can be a bit exhausting when that is all is released week after week. It usually isn’t until September that we start to get the artful, quieter releases. We have been lucky this year though with fairly large releases for indie films It Follows and Ex Machina. Both good films I was very happy to see, but one of the biggest independent films that I never got was Clouds of Sils Maria. Unlike the aforementioned indie releases which had certain genre elements to help attract a crowd (horror and science-fiction, respectively), Clouds of Sils Maria is more of a straight-up drama, which likely made it hard to break through to larger groups. It did however receive some high praise for critics and I had a good feeling this would be something special.

Famous international actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a middle-aged actress who got her start as a young actress in a play called Maloja Snake, in which she played a young woman who has an affair with older woman which ultimately destroys the former. The role helped launch Maria into super stardom, starring in everything from plays, to prestige dramas, to big-budget Hollywood fare. As the film starts, Maria is travelling to Switzerland with her assistant Val (Kristen Stewart) to accept an award on behalf of the playwright behind Maloja Snake. However this ceremony takes a darker path when said playwright unexpectedly dies. It is during this emotional time that Maria is approached by stage director Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger), who wishes for Maria to star in a revival of Maloja Snake, this time playing the elderly woman while popular teen actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes on Maria’s old role. Maria is reluctant, in part due to her own anxieties about ageing, but eventually accepts. Read the rest of this entry »

Raging Bull Review

Posted: July 30, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

raging-bull-poster-6Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I haven’t written a full review for a non-contemporary film in quite a while. I used to do at least one non-modern review a day, but I gradually stopped years ago and I’ve never really returned to it. Part of this is because of the role of the website Letterboxd in my life. For anyone who doesn’t know, the site is basically a social media hub for film geeks to review and discuss films. As such, I’ve had less incentive to write full reviews for non-contemporary stuff here. However a recent rewatch of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, the story of boxer Jake La Motta’s (Robert De Niro) rise and fall in the 1940s and 50s, inspired me to write a lot more than the typical Letterboxd review. However this won’t follow the same format as most of my other reviews here either. I won’t spend too much time discussing the craft of the film, what I liked, and what I disliked. These things will come up here and there, but Raging Bull is widely considered a masterpiece that has been praised endlessly. As such, I don’t feel they need to really dwell on how good the filmmaking is. Instead, I’ll be focusing more on meaning and new insights which come to me on this viewing. As such, this will be a spoiler filled review, one I wouldn’t recommend reading unless you’ve seen the film.

I’ve seen Raging Bull many times now, and yet the movie still sits heavy with me after every viewing. This is a raw, powerful, and challenging film which does not hold back at all. I don’t know if there’s ever been a dramatic protagonist as openly unlikable as Jake La Motta. The man is so vicious and obsessed that he destroys everything around him. He should be easy to hate, but it isn’t as simple as that. Scorsese and De Niro present the character in a way that is…maybe not totally sympathetic, but perhaps understandable. Beneath some of the monstrous things Jake does are real human feelings which Scorsese and De Niro tap into. I think everyone has felt jealousy, self-loathing, anger, and obsession at varying levels and at various points in their lives. Most of us may not act on these feelings the way Jake does, but we still have them all the same. It is these emotions which influence Jake throughout the film. Read the rest of this entry »

While We’re Young Review

Posted: July 26, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

while we're young posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Hipster film fans may have accepted Wes Anderson as their filmmaking god, but the real director who has continually spoke to the American hipster experience is Noah Baumbach. Not only does Baumbach make stripped down, low-key dramas which the hipster audience gravitates towards, but films like Frances Ha actively depict hipster lifestyle. The thing is, Baumbach is actually a man in his forties; not exactly among the demographic his films often depict. I would think this contrast would be a key influence on his newest film, While We’re Young, which attempts to comment on the relationship between hip twenty somethings and middle-aged adults who don’t realize they’re ageing.

Josh Schrebnick (Ben Stiller) is a college lecturer and semi-failed documentary filmmaker comfortably married to his long time wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts). The couple had tried to have a baby earlier, but it never quite worked out. They act like it doesn’t bother them, but recently one of their couple friends have had a baby and the change has had an impact on Josh and Cornelia. However the two find themselves re-invigorated by younger couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is an aspiring documentary filmmaker and a fan of Josh’s. The two couples strike up a friendship, as Josh and Cornelia find themselves drawn to how the younger couple spend their time. However as more time goes by, the pair moves from merely spending time together, to collaborating on a documentary together. Read the rest of this entry »

Ant-Man Review

Posted: July 22, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

antmanWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Though Marvel has been very successful with their cinematic universe, they have not been above criticism. One of the most common criticisms is that Marvel’s films don’t really give the directors much room to breathe or express themselves creatively. Each film seems to have the same look, tone, and structure regardless of who’s behind the camera, giving the films an assembly line feel. There was however hope when it came to light that Edgar Wright would be co-writing and directing a film based on one of Marvel’s lesser known characters; Ant-Man. Wright is not only a good director, but he has a distinctive voice and visual style which permeates through all of his films. If anyone could give the Marvel Cinematic Universe a more unique outing, it was him. And then it was announced that Wright had left the project due to creative “differences” with Marvel. Though no one has officially announced the exact details, the jist of it seemed to be Marvel wanted to force Wright into doing things with Ant-Man he didn’t want to, so they fired him. To make matters worse, Marvel’s choice of replacement director was Peyton Reed, whose most noteworthy film is probably the early Kirsten Dunst vehicle Bring It On. Clearly this was not an auteur with something to say, but a workman who would comply with the studio’s wishes. Wright and Joe Cornish screenplay was also rewritten by frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay. Even if all of these behind the scenes shenanigans didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, all the evidence pointed to Marvel making a broader, less interesting movie that would follow their formula. I did consider boycotting the film, but ultimately I’m a bit too invested into the MCU at this point and wanted to remain up to date in the continuity. Plus, nothing really interesting has come to my theater since Inside Out and I was kind of just itching to go see a movie.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a former thief being released from prison as the story starts. Scott is determined not to fall back into a life of crime, instead wanting to be there for his young daughter. However his burglary skills attract the attention of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who invented a suit which can shrink to the size of an ant many years ago. Pym is kept his breakthrough a secret since its creation as he fears the damage his technology can cause. Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is on the verge of discovering the secret on his own. Pym can’t have this, and so he entrusts Scott with his suit and powers in order to infiltrate Cross’ base and steal his technology. Scott rises to the challenge and attempts to become the Ant-Man. Read the rest of this entry »

Inside Out Review

Posted: June 22, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Inside OutWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

If one were to discuss the film landscape in the last twenty years or so, the subject of Pixar Animation studios is inevitable. Pixar made its first splash in 1995 with Toy Story, a film which has become a modern classic. In the following years, Pixar proved their debut was no fluke with a series of highly regarded films like Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up. These films were beloved by children, but also by adults due to their clever writing, creativity, smart comedy, and emotionally resonant stories. 15 years after Toy Story, Pixar brought a close to the trilogy with Toy Story 3, an excellent film and one of 2010’s best. However the film also marked the end of Pixar’s golden era. The next film from the studio would be Cars 2, a sequel to Pixar’s most uninspired film to begin with and an all-around terrible movie. Next was Brave, which came and went to little fanfare, and a Monsters Inc. prequel which wasn’t bad, but was also quickly forgotten. Pixar also have a plethora of sequels in the works, including Finding Dory, Cars 3, and Toy Story 4. All pointed to signs that the classic Pixar which took ambitious risks with new ideas and well-rounded films would be giving way to a more safe and conventional animation studio. There was however a ray of hope; Inside Out, an original IP with an enticing high concept which promised to explore emotions and the human mind. Early reviews indicated this was indeed a grand comeback for the studio. I had some reservations based on the trailer, but I still went into the film with the utmost optimism.

Inside Out follows Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a young girl who lives with her loving family in Minnesota. Like most kids, Riley is governed in large part by her emotions, which in this film are personified as characters which live inside of her head, operating a control room influencing her actions. These emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). For most of Riley’s life, Joy has been the dominant emotion, but this is challenged when Riley’s family are forced to move to San Francisco. Struggling with the move and leaving her old friends, Sadness begins to take a more prominent role in Riley’s life. Joy attempts to resist this, and such a struggle threatens to throw all of Riley’s emotions into chaos. Read the rest of this entry »

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

Posted: June 21, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Kingsman-The-Secret-Service-2014Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s been interesting to watch Matthew Vaughn’s directorial career grow over the last few years. His debut film Layer Cake may have been a pretty obvious riff on the Tarantino crime film, but one of the better examples of the subgenre. I was less fond of his fantasy follow-up Stardust, but his subversive superhero film Kick Ass proved a lot of fun despite some major flaws. Vaughn’s best work, and breakthrough as a major talent is almost certainly X-Men: First Class, a film which harnessed Vaughn’s stylistic abilities and combined them with a mature and emotionally resonant story. I couldn’t wait to see what Vaughn would do next, and a spy film based on a Mark Millar comic seemed a promising project. However the trailers for Kingsman: The Secret Service struck me as incredibly dumb, and a massive step back for the director. The early release date also scared me off. However the film opened to very positive reviews and I found myself curious to eventually catch up with Kingsman at home.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a young man from a low income family in London. He shows a lot of potential physically and mentally, but has fallen into a life of petty crime. After Eggsy is arrested, he finds himself saved by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a well-dressed middle-aged man claiming to be a tailor. However Harry actually belongs to an organization known as the Kingsmen, a group of highly trained spies who operate above government and nationality. The group is looking for a replacement after one of their members has been killed, and Hart has put forth Eggsy as his candidate, in part due to guilt over Harry’s relationship with Eggsy’s father 17 years earlier. Simultaneously, internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has launched a secret plot which involves kidnapping famous and wealthy individuals, while Harry investigates. Read the rest of this entry »

Jurassic World Review

Posted: June 18, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

jurassic-world-poster-mosasaurusWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

A few weeks ago saw the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, a return to a much loved franchise. Of course, the franchise part is a bit misleading in that it isn’t really the series loved so much as one specific film; Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The original Mad Max is more of an admirable “little movie that could”, while Beyond Thunderdome is a neutered mess no one really cares for. And yet, in spite of an only 1/3 ratio, fans were tremendously hyped for Fury Road. A similar, more extreme version of this is occurring now with an even bigger blockbuster; Jurassic World. While Steven Spielberg’s original film is much beloved and a modern classic, the sequels haven’t fared as well. The Lost World: Jurassic Park is generally seen as dumb, and a pointless sequel, while Jurassic Park III is completely subpar and forgettable. While all of the films have been financially successful, each grossed last than the previous film. The third in particular may have been a respectable hit, but not gargantuan production previous entries were. And yet, in spite of this underwhelming history, Jurassic World has been one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, to the point of shattering box-office records. Could we finally have the first good Jurassic Park sequel?

The film ignores the events of the sequels and instead just uses the original as a building block. In the years since John Hammond developed the technology to recreate long extinct dinosaurs, the island of Isla Nublar has been repurposed as an amusement park of sorts where people come to see real dinosaurs. The island is popular, but as the years have gone by, the masses have become accustom to dinosaurs. In an effort to maintain public excitement, scientists have taken to creating new dinosaurs which never previously existed. The newest addition is the Indominus rex, a hybrid of several dinosaurs meant to be big, loud, scary, and profitable. However said creation comes back to bite them when it breaks loose and begins causing chaos in the park. Much of the responsibility falls on Jurassic World’s park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is doubly concerned as her young nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are out in the park on their own. She finds an ally however in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a park employee who aids Claire in saving her nephews and finding a solution to their mutual problem. Read the rest of this entry »

Poltergeist (2015) Review

Posted: June 8, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

poltergeist_1sht_vera1_largeWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The horror film landscape is almost always dominated by various trends. In the last few years, the haunted house films have become exceedingly profitable and popular between the Paranormal Activity series, The Woman in Black, the Insidious series, Sinister, and The Conjuring being some of the most well-known. Though the subgenre has existed since the early days of cinema, the modern haunted house movies all owe a certain date to Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film Poltergeist, which saw an average family afflicted by spirits from their home while paranormal experts attempt to save the family. I can’t say I love the film as much as some, but it is a very good movie which has rightfully earned a place in pop culture. Given how successful drawing the recent haunted house movies have been, it really isn’t surprising that Hollywood has decided to cut out the middle man of being inspired by Poltergeist and just straight up remake it instead.

The film opens with Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) meeting with a Real Estate agent to look at potential properties. Eric has recently been laid off and is looking for a cheaper home to accommodate his family. The couple find such a home, and move their three children in quickly. The teenage Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is angry at having to a move, while young Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is frightened by most everything in the home. The only child who seems at peace is the youngest; Madison (Kennedi Clements).However shortly after moving in, odd things begin to occur. Inanimate objects move on their own, animals behave erratically, and the family’s electrical devices go haywire. The parents initially chock most of this up to freak occurrences and young Griffin’s fearful nature, but they come to realise a supernatural presence is at work when the children are attacked and young Madison is taken into the spirit world. Read the rest of this entry »