FlixChatter Review: CHAPPIE (2015)

TedSaydalavongBanner

ChappiePoster

Neill Blomkamp burst into Hollywood fame with his film debut District 9, a film that was well-received by both critics and audiences alike; although I’m not a fan of it myself. Then he hit a sophomore slump with Elysium, it wasn’t a great movie but I enjoyed it more than District 9. For his newest outing, he went back to his hometown and made a smaller scale sci-fi action thriller. Unfortunately it’s one of worst movies I’ve seen this year so far.

Set in just a year from now, the city of Johannesburg is control by robotic police force known as Scouts. An opening that’s similar to District 9, a news TV crew is interviewing people at a company that build these robots. One of them is the designer of the Scouts, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), he’s a very smart engineer who wants to make these robots into more than just policing the streets. He wants to make them more human, after cracking codes on how this could be achieved; he pitched the idea to his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). She didn’t think it would benefit the company’s interests and refused to finance it. We also get to know Wilson’s rival at the company, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, sporting an awful mullet from the 80s). He’s been trying to get funding for his own robot project but Bradley wouldn’t give him the money because the Scouts are doing fine protecting the city. Later we see the Scouts in action; they got into a shootout with some thugs, two of them turned out to be the main human leads of the movie, South African rappers Ninja and Yolandi. The two thugs and one of their crew members Yankie (Jose Cantillo) were able to escape and we learned that they owe the city’s crime lord lots of money. They came up with a plan of kidnapping the Scouts’ designer Wilson and force him to “turn off” the robots so they can commit their crimes and pay back the crime lord Hippo (the very over acting Brandon Auret).

Chappie_Still1

Wilson is still upset from the news that his boss won’t finance his new pitch to her, decided to steal one of the Scouts that was inline for decommissioned and take it home to build his more human robot. However on his way home, Ninja’s gang ambushed him. They saw the robot in his van and ordered him to build them a Scout that would help them commit crimes. Wilson agreed but warned them that this new robot is not like the others and it needs to learn things before it can function normally, it’s basically a child and they named it CHAPPIE. For most of the movie, we had to sit through excruciating scenes of Yolandi and Ninja teaching Chappie to become human and act like a thug, I’m not kidding you. The promos for this movie made it appear that it’s about Chappie becoming some sort of savior for the human race but that never happened in the movie.

Chappie_Still2

I’ve never heard of rappers Ninja and Yolandi (Die Antwoord) and I assume they’re quite popular in South Africa and Europe. Now the only reason why Blomkamp decided to cast them as leads was maybe because he’s a big fan of them, that’s my assumption anyway. They cannot act and I cringed every time they’re on the screen teaching Chappie how to be human. Apparently we’re supposed to care about these thugs even though their plan is to commit crimes in order to pay off their debts. The rival between Wilson and Moore became a subplot and I just don’t care about any of these characters. Sigourney Weaver has now become that once-famous actress whom director will only use sparingly and she’s on the screen for maybe 5 minutes. The main star of course is Chappie, voiced by Sharley Copley and unfortunately he’s quite annoying. We’re supposed to care about his growth of becoming more human but I just didn’t care for any of that.

Chappie_Still3

The script by Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell was amateurish. They came up with some good ideas but threw all that away by focusing story on thugs teaching Chappie to be human and included too many clichés that we’ve seen many times before. There’s no doubt that Blomkamp knows how to shoot movies, his previous two pictures looked great and this one is no exception. It’s a good example of how good digitally-shot movie could look. But his storytelling skill is questionable, he tried to juggle so many things in this movie and they all just fell flat. I actually wanted to walk out halfway through but I didn’t because I knew there’s going to be a big action scene at the end. Well he delivered in that department, the climatic shootout was well-staged and very exciting but by then I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted the movie to end. The only other positive thing I can say about the movie was Hans Zimmer’s pulse-pounding score. As usual his music shines, especially in action scenes. But scores alone can’t save a crappy movie.

I didn’t have any expectations going into this movie because I don’t think Blomkamp is as talented as Hollywood thinks he is and here’s a proof of it. The movie feels like it’s a film student project that he somehow conned a big studio to finance it. It’s a trifecta of bad acting, writing and directing.

1Reel
TedS_post


Have you seen Chappie? Well, what did you think?

Rental Picks: A Separation and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Happy Friday!

What will you be watching today, folks? Are you going to the cinema to see the latest of the Disney animated feature Wreck-It Ralph (check out my pal Terrence’s review), the Kung-fu movie The Man with the Iron Fists or Denzel Washington’s Flight? Well, if you decide to rent something, here are a couple you might want to check out if you haven’t already:

A Separation (2011)

The first Iranian film which wins an Oscar. Yes that sentence is enough to catch my attention to see A Separation at the cinema. The film tells the story of a married couple Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) which have to live separately because of their differing decisions either to move out of the country for the sake of their child or to stay in Iran to take care of their dad suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Parent vs. child. It’s never an easy choice.
It all started with various daily things which need to be done after Simin move out from the house to live separately. Then Nader hires a caregiver to take care his father. The film shows in a matter-of-fact way what a separation could possibly bring to a family. The writer/director Asghar Farhadi managed to build more and more conflicts from the beginning until the very end of the movie.
The film was playing on my emotions a lot. Curious, sad, angry, sympathy. As the audience, I don’t even know on which sides they are actually on. The way this movie reveal the facts practically reminds me of Nothing But the Truth. I can’t stop questioning which fact of the movie is true. It’s a drama that turns out to be a thriller, too. Not only did the film make me think, A Separation has a great cast which really support the dramatic parts. Every main character plays a strong role to tell the whole story. One of my favorite scenes would be when Nader teaches her daughter some lessons for her school. I could see a very strong bond of how a father wants her daughter to be smart and mature.
In the end, A Separation delivers their targeted message very well. A beautiful conclusion which will let the audiences have their own thoughts about a marital separation.

– Review by Cecilia R.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

As I’ve alluded to in my review of Quartet, I LOVE films about older people’s adventure. Perhaps because I grew up with my grandmother for years, I’m not sure. Now the main draw for me to see this British dramedy is the stellar cast! It also marks Judi Dench’s third collaboration with director John Madden — the first two earned her an Oscar nomination and win for Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare In Love, respectively.

The title refers to a hotel in Jaipur, India which is advertised as a newly-restored “for the elderly and beautiful.” Well, after a lengthy and exhausting journey, all seven of the British retirees want to do is relax in their luxurious lodging, only to find the place to be well, less sumptuous than what they had in mind. The hotel turns out to be a run-down place run by a young man who dreams of restoring his family business to its pristine condition.

Each of the characters deal with this unpleasant surprise in multiple different ways, just as each of them have their own reasons to come to the country in the first place. Some of the multiple storylines work better than others. I don’t know if I’d call the direction uneven but certainly there are parts of the movie I just don’t care for.

For me, my favorite parts involve the two Dames, Judi Dench (Evelyn) and Maggie Smith (Muriel), and also Tom Wilkinson’s character who attempts to fulfill his lifelong wish to reunite with someone from his past he cares deeply about. I think Muriel has the biggest personal growth of them all, as she overcomes her own prejudice out of her encounter with a hotel’s employee who can’t even speak English. Evelyn who’s a widow not only become accustomed with the culture, she also finds a job and perhaps a second chance at love. The elderly Brits’ stories are inter-weaved with the hotel manager Sunny (Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel) whose buoyant spirit lives up to his name. He deeply clashes with his mother’s career aspiration for him, as well as the cultural expectation of arranged marriage as he’s in love with a girl who works at Evelyn’s call center.

There’s plenty of humor for sure, but the story also has some poignant moments that are pretty affecting. There are themes of cultural taboo and also outright racism that make you wince at times, but overall the spirit of the film is pretty light and colorful, just like the vibrant India setting. It’s not a flawless movie however, the pace at the beginning could be much improved, and the relationship between Dench and Bill Nighy just wasn’t handled as well as I expected. There are also some cringe-worthy moments of Ronald Pickup’s character that I don’t find it particularly amusing. But despite all that, this is quite a lovely movie and I’m definitely not disappointed by my favorite cast here, especially Dame Judi. I always enjoy watching her act and she looks particularly radiant here.

‘Everything will be alright in the end’ that’s the motto Sunny tells his guests when they’re disappointed. It’s an uplifting motto we could all take to heart.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did you think?

DVD Picks: Slumdog Millionaire & August Rush

I wrote these reviews before I decided on the Britastic blog series, but they work just fine because they’re both British-related. Slumdog Millionaire is directed by talented British director Danny Boyle, and Freddie Highmore who plays the title role in August Rush was born in London. They both also share a similar fairy-tale element in the storyline, but obviously these are two very different films.

Slumdog Millionaire

I finally got a chance to view the 2009 Best Picture Winner, and I’m glad to say that this one does live up to the hype. British director Danny Boyle paints a compelling and heart-wrenching rags-to-riches story that tugs at your heart right from the start.

The film centers on an unlikely teen, Jamal Malik, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. He somehow defies all the odds to win the highest prize of the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and the story of how he got there and knew all the answers is told in flashbacks as he’s being interrogated on suspicion of cheating.

Though the one of the endorsements on the dvd cover says, ‘The feel-good film of the decade,” Slumdog Millionaire is actually tough to watch at times. Boyle doesn’t pull any punches in presenting the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots, and it’s fascinating to see how movie stars there are worshiped as if they’re immortal gods. The length Jamal took to get an autograph from one of them — who arrives on the slum via a chopper no less — is bizarre and devastating at the same time. There’s also scenes of unimaginable tragedy that these two boys have to endure that force that to survive on their own.

Dev Patel & Frieda Pinto

The heart of this fairy-tale is an unfaltering love story between Jamal and Latika, who also manages to escape the massacre in their village. Somewhere along the way they get separated, but Jamal refuses to give up on his long-lost love up no matter what the cost.

Played by three different actors, all of them portray Jamal with such heart and charm, though the older they get the lesser the resemblance between the two brothers (tricky casting I presume). Dev Patel as the older Jamal captures the essence of a young man who’s seen too much too soon, yet somehow retains that seemingly-uncrushable buoyant spirit. Gorgeous Frieda Pinto is enchanting as Latika, and the two share a believable chemistry even with so little words spoken to each other.

On top of all the great points I’ve mentioned above, this movie looks and sounds good as well. The cinematography is exuberant and colorful, and the music by A.R. Rahman compliments the urban realism nicely with its high energy and edgy beat. Kudos to Boyle for creating such an extraordinary film. His versatility is quite impressive, but whether he’s tackling a zombie thriller flick (28 Days Later) or sci-fi adventure (Sunshine), he rarely disappoints.

….

August Rush

“I believe in music like some people believe in fairy tales,” Evan Taylor tells us in the beginning of the movie.

From the time the movie opens in the lush wheat field, it sets the fairy-tale tone of the movie. This is the kind of movie cynics need not bother, as it insists that you simply surrender to its sweet energy and let it touch your heart. Really, once the music starts playing, whether it’s a refined symphony or the ‘music’ of the hustle and bustle of every day life, I was ready to be swept away. Predictable? Yes. But the journey is worthwhile to watch.

The story basically revolves around Evan Taylor, an outcast in an orphanage who never stops believing that somehow, somewhere, his parents miss him as much as he misses them. That dream and the music around him keeps the lonely boy company and helps him cope with the harsh reality. The movie is none too subtle in revealing that the young dreamer’s got an extraordinary musical gift, and he knew it’s the key to finding his parents.

Highmore and Robin Williams as 'Wizard'

The rest of the movie goes back and forth between Evan’s journey to New York — which also reveals the significance of the title August Rush — and the flashback story of how music is definitely in his genes. Throughout the movie, music plays an integral part, the blending of classical, hard rock and ‘street’-music was phenomenal. In fact, the music is a tremendous factor in what make the movie so enjoyable. So clearly the filmmaker is as passionate about the music as Evan does.

Freddie Highmore — one of the best young actors working today — first caught my eye in Finding Neverland. As the title role, the 18-year-old actor who was 15 at the time looks believable enough as an 11 year old, and he is affecting with his wide-eyed tenacity and sincere longings, even without much words spoken. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Kerri Russell as the estranged parents have a nice chemistry together, though is it just me or does Rhys-Meyers looks like he’s about to cry in every single scene? Robin Williams as ‘Wizard’ is not as over-the-top as he usually is, though his character isn’t fully developed and we never really know what his real motive is.

Beautiful parents: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers & Keri Russell

This movie is a real tearjerker so have a bunch of Kleenex handy as it was hard keeping my eyes dry throughout the movie. I find this movie far more touching than another musical-themed movie The Soloist, for sure this one is far less tedious. The cinematography of places like Central Park and close-up shots of instruments being played are beautiful, though in some of the close-up shots of the Evan playing the guitar, it’s clear that it’s a mature adult’s hands, ooops!

If you appreciate music of any kind and don’t mind a little schmaltzy-ness and grand happy endings, this is a movie for you.