Captain Fantastic Review

Posted: September 16, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

captain-fantasticWritten by Daniel Simpson

Even if I didn’t love him as an actor, I think I’d still really admire Viggo Mortensen. After years of bit parts, Mortensen got a major break playing Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s not hard to imagine Mortensen making a major star turn following the massive success and exposure after LOTR, but the man has walked a different path. He’s taken a lot of smaller, more challenging roles, including an awesome trio of films with the great David Cronenberg and a powerful turn in the underrated Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. It’s rewarding to see him take on more unique roles, and it’s rewarding in Captain Fantastic too, even if the movie itself doesn’t work.

The film follows Ben (Mortensen), a father of six who has been raising his children in the wilderness. Ben teaches his children survival tactics while also teaching history, politics, philosophy, and art. The unit is shaken when their mother, who is in the hospital for bipolar disorder, commits suicide. Ben is barred from the funeral by his father-in-law (Frank Langella), who disapproves of Ben’s lifestyle. Initially, Ben accepts this, but his children convince him that the family deserve to be there and ensure their mother get the service she wanted. The group lets up the bus and sets off on a road trip which will introduce the kids to elements of the average American life while also testing the family’s strength and resolve. Read the rest of this entry »

Top Five Films About Surveillance

Posted: September 13, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Oliver Stone’s Snowden biopic is coming this Friday, but it’s far from the first film to explore surveillance. There’s actually a deep history of surveillance in cinema and now seems as good a time as any to look at some of the best. I won’t be looking at documentaries, so something like Citizenfour won’t be eligible. Rather, the focus here is on fiction films which explore some aspect of surveillance, though surveillance doesn’t necessarily have to be the main focus.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldiercaptain-america-the-winter-soldier-imax-poster

Alright, there are certainly better movies I could have put in this slot, but I think it’s important to have at least one movie made and released in a post-Snowden NSA leak world. In the film, it is revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D (the fictional government organisation of the Marvel Universe) is secretly controlled by an evil organization which is consistently spying on American citizens for nefarious purposes under the guise of such efforts being for security. The film unambiguously portrays such actions and villainous, Captain America’s own disillusionment with government reflects the growing mistrust of government and surveillance practices many North American citizens have come to feel. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Breathe Review

Posted: September 12, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

don-t-breathe-poster01Written by Daniel Simpson

A few years ago, horror icon Sam Raimi handpicked an aspiring young director named Fede Alvarez to direct a remake of Raimi’s beloved Evil Dead. A lot of people dismissed that film, presumably out of a loyalty to the original films, but it was actually a pretty strong movie. I wouldn’t call the film a triumph or a modern classic, but it was a really strong horror film that made a great case for the talents of Alvarez. Three years later and Alvarez has returned with another horror film, this time an original IP called Don’t Breathe. The film once again shows off Alvarez handle on tone and his ability to craft compelling set-pieces, and without the chip of being a remake on its shoulders the film has been praised by critics and horror fans alike.

Set in modern day Detroit, the film follows Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), three young people who have taken to robbing houses in order to get by. The trio have a system and are modestly successful, but need a bigger score if they ever want to escape their impoverished conditions fully. That chance comes with their newest mark; a blind veteran (Stephen Lang) living alone in a woefully under populated neighborhood who has recently inherited a $300,000 settlement. The three break in one night, but soon learn that their supposed victim is much more formidable and dangerous than they ever suspected. Read the rest of this entry »

Knight of Cups Review

Posted: September 7, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

knight-of-cups-poster1Written by Daniel Simpson

They say absence makes the heart grow stronger. I’m not sure if that’s true in relationships, but it might be true when it comes to artists. Case in point; filmmaker Terrence Malick. For most of his career, Malick has moved at a very slow pace, most famously emphasized by the 20 year hiatus between sophomore effort Days of Heaven and his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. However things have changed in the current decade, with Malick producing films at a way faster rate than before. In the last five years, Malick has already directed three feature films, a documentary, has another film due next year, and is working on yet another film with a thus far unknown release date. This accelerated pace has seemed to come at a price though as the critical reception to his work this decade has become increasingly frustrated. 2011’s The Tree of Life may have been declared a masterpiece by many, but his follow-up, 2013’s To the Wonder, was met with disappointment and indifference. Given Malick’s abstract style, he and his work have often been a little divisive, but To the Wonder marked the first time any of his films had been met with downright negative reviews. A similarly fate befell Malick’s newest film, Knight of Cups earlier this year and while I can understand the divided response, one thing we should not be doing is taking this film for granted.

Knight of Cups set in modern day Los Angeles and follows Rick (Christian Bale), a successful screenwriter who none the less finds himself disillusioned and unsatisfied with his life. Rick tries to fill his life with earthly pleasures, particularly women, but is constantly disconnected from the world him. The film explores this by depicting his relationships with a few key individuals, notably his ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett), his brother Barry and father Joseph (Wes Bentley and Brian Dennehy) a model (Freida Pinto), a stripper (Teresa Palmer), an eccentric playboy (Antonio Banderas), and a woman whom he had an affair with (Natalie Portman), among others. Read the rest of this entry »

Top Five Films of Summer 2016

Posted: September 6, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

It was not a very good summer for movies. There was a lot of crap and I don’t think any film really rose above as something significant like Mad Max: Fury Road did last year, but there were still a handful of solid films, and these are the best I saw. For the purposes of this list, I’m counting any films released in theaters between May and August.

5. Jason Bournejason-bourne-movie-poster

Most critics dismissed Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass’ return to the series that made them super stars, and in truth it isn’t a film that has stuck with me as much as I’d hoped, but I still think this is a great execution of the Bourne formula. The stylistic hallmarks which define the series are used well here, there are some great action set-pieces, and it’s refreshing to see a summer movie that commits to a serious tone.

Original review here. Read the rest of this entry »

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

Posted: September 3, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

kuboWritten by Daniel Simpson

Laika is an animation company I’ve observed with a sort of detached respect for the last few years. Their debut film, Coraline, is a great little film with some impressive animation, a dark edge, and a certain cinematic ambition. I skipped ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, mostly because I was bogged down with other stuff, but I still felt a certain admiration for their commitment to stop-motion animation and their refusal to produce the bland animated fare that typically bombards children in multiplexes. In short, these were movies that seemed to have a real identity and passion behind them. All of this is also true of their newest effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, but this time I actually made the effort to see the film in theaters. What’s different this time? Well, it certainly helps that the film is receiving the best reviews of Laika’s history, but more than anything I was really pulled in by the trailers, which featured some pretty stunning imagery and a certain sense of ambition that really drew me in.

Set in ancient Japan, the film follows the titular Kubo (voiced Art Parkinson), a young boy and a gifted storyteller who was saved from evil forces by his mother when he was still an infant. The attack left Kubo with only one eye and without a father, but since then he has lived in peace and happiness. However that all changes one night when Kubo stays out after dark and the forces which plagued him at birth return. Kubo finds himself hunted by a pair of witches (both voiced by Rooney Mara) for reasons he does not understand. Kubo however does find an ally in a talking monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) brought to life by Kubo’s mother’s magic. Monkey is a fierce warrior, and the two are also joined by an amnesiac talking beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who is also a samurai. The three embark on a quest to find a mythical samurai armor set and sword, the only items which can help Kubo fend off the evil which seeks him. Read the rest of this entry »

Ghostbusters (2016) Review

Posted: August 30, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

ghostbusters_ver6_xlg-1Written by Daniel Simpson

It’s probably impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without talking about the online shitstorm which has been brewing for months. There was controversy from the moment the new Ghostbusters film was announced to be a reboot but it wasn’t until the film’s trailer hit that things really got out of hand. The trailer went on to become the most “disliked” of any movie trailer in Youtube history and received a ton of negative flack. It was here that the narrative began that most of the haters were angry, sexist fanboys who just couldn’t get over the idea of women busting ghosts. That attitude certainly does exist in certain circles. Anyone looking for misogynistic comments regarding the film can find them pretty easily and the recent attacks against film star Leslie Jones are certainly appalling. Having said that, I also think that internet culture was far too quick to simplify the backlash and draw extremes. Hollywood’s obsession with remakes has been criticised heavily in the past decade and the fact that the original in this case is one of the most beloved comedies of an entire generation only makes it worse. More to the point, the initial trailer was indeed pretty awful and all subsequent marketing did little to make up for that.

Again, I’m not trying to dismiss the accusations of sexism which have been made toward the film’s haters and in many cases I do think it was apt, but there are a lot of other factors which influenced the negative reaction to the new Ghostbusters and that nuance should be noted. The controversy has been so great that the film itself hardly seems to matter and has been almost totally overshadowed. That’s been frustrating for me, but it was also the primary reason I eventually went out to a theater to see the new film. I am one of the many who think that the marketing for Ghostbusters has been awful and was content to skip Ghostbusters’ theatrical run entirely. I might have seen it at home if the film garnered strong word of mouth, but this wasn’t anything I felt I needed to rush out to see. However as the film has become such a staple of film discussion this year, I felt like as a critic, even an amateur one, I had a certain responsibility to comment on the film too. And so, here we are. Read the rest of this entry »

Sausage Party Review

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

sausage_party_ver2Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

R-rated animated comedies are not exactly unheard of and there is a ton of animated content for adults on television, but it’s still somewhat rare to see millions of dollars invested into an animated comedy which is completely aimed at adults. That alone helps Sausage Party stand out from the annual crop of raunchy comedies, but the film is further set apart from other R-rated animated comedies by the fact that the film is deliberately emulating the Pixar model, wherein a group of inanimate objects/animals/feelings are personified and their setting is translated to a world which somewhat resembles are own. The film’s trailer plays into this, with the fact that’s actually a film for adults being something of a twist. It would be easy to see this trailer and awesome Sausage Party be nothing more than an R-rated spoof of Pixar films, but there’s actually much more going on here.

The film takes place primarily in a grocery store called Shopwell’s where all of the food items are personified, though they’re talking and walking around goes unnoticed by the human characters. These food items believe the various shoppers are Gods who take them to “The Great Beyond”, an act the food look to with tremendous excitement. The sausage Frank (Seth Rogen) is even more excited as it means you can finally enter his girlfriend; the hotdog bun Brenda (Kirsten Wig). One fateful day, both Frank and Brenda’s packages are chosen by the same woman. However an accident prevents Frank and Brenda from joining their packages in “The Great Beyond”, and in fact sets Frank on a path of learning that everything he’s been brought up to believe could be false. Read the rest of this entry »

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review

Posted: August 26, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Whiskey_Tango_Foxtrot_posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a film which didn’t make much of a splash with critics or audiences when it was released in theaters back in March, but it’s a surprisingly solid film that’s worthy of your time. The film tells the true story of Kim Barker (Tina Fey), a low-level TV journalist who took a correspondence job in Afghanistan in 2004. Isolated and not fully prepared for her situation, Kim quickly strikes up friendships with her Afghan partner Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) and BBC correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie). After some time though, Kim begins to adjust to her situation and even excel at her work, slowly earning the respect of Marine General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thorton) while also slowly developing a relationship with Scottish photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).

That plot description isn’t exactly the most exciting, and to some extent the story here is the weakest aspect of the film. Kim’s character arc is fairly predictable from the outset; she starts off in something of a rut but finds new purpose when placed in an extreme setting. We’ve seen that character arc before and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t do too much to shake things up. Around the second half, the film does start to suggest that Kim might become dependent on putting herself in dangerous situations, but this material is basically just a lighter version of the main character arc in The Hurt Locker. In spite of these shortcomings, I do think the story here works pretty well, mostly due to the low-key honesty with which it is presented. The screenplay, based on the real Barker’s memoir, avoids overdramatizing Kim’s story and accepts it as the humble little tale it is. As such, it is rewarding to see Kim better herself just a little bit. Also crucial to this arc working so well is Tina Fey, who does a very good job creating a likable presence you want to see succeed and she also handles the subtleties of the arc well. Read the rest of this entry »

Suicide Squad Review

Posted: August 17, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

suicide-squad-movie-2016-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s been pretty obvious for a while now that DC has been trying to catch up to Marvel in regards to building a shared superhero cinematic universe. Man of Steel would serve as their Iron Man, a self-contained story that works as our first glimpse into their universe. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is their Iron Man 2, an over-bloated effort more concerned with cramming as many characters and universe connecting elements into the film than actually telling a coherent story. After Iron Man 2, Marvel made solo films for Thor and Captain America before slowly building to their Phase One climax; The Avengers. DC on the other hand has decided to skip all that entirely, at least for now, and go straight to their version of Guardians of the Galaxy. Like Marvel’s off-beat success, Suicide Squad is all about an eccentric team of misfits forced to come together and defeat a greater threat. The main difference being that with Suicide Squad the team’s members are not just misfits, but full on murderers and supervillains.

The film picks up shortly after the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. With Superman “dead” there is concern over who can protect the world from other super powered threats. With that in mind, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has decided to assemble a team of convicted super villains as a sort of “Dirty Dozen” for black ops missions. The team includes the master assassin and marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), the insane former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Australian bank robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyro technique former gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the mutated Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), American soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), and the extra-dimensional witch The Enchantress (Carla Delevingne). Things quickly go awry when The Enchantress escapes Waller’s control and hatches a plot to destroy mankind, prompting the “Suicide Squad” to come together and bring her down. This is however complicated by the group’s general villainy, and the fact that Harley’s boyfriend, a fella named The Joker (Jared Leto), is trying to take her back. Read the rest of this entry »