Chappie


Viewed – 21 July 2015  Blu-ray

I must admit I’m becoming quite an admirer of South African director Neill Blomkamp’s brand of sci-fi action thrillers.  His debut, the acclaimed District 9 certainly impressed, and his follow up the underrated Elysium was one of my favourite movies of recent years.  So sitting down to this latest, albeit somewhat more personal effort I’ll admit I was excited.

Chappie

A robotics scientist at a company that builds and runs an android police force, creates the first true artificial intelligence and installs it in a test robot fresh off the battle field.  However on-route home to do more tests, the robot is stolen by a group of desperate thugs who subsequently adopt it and name it Chappie.

Set in a near-future Johannesburg, Blomkamp’s movie stars Slum Dog Millionaire’s Dev Patel as the scientist, Hugh Jackman as a rival scientist and Sigourney Weaver as the head of the company.  Playing against type, Jackman is good fair and seems to be loving time out from Wolverine.  Weaver on the other hand get’s a rather limited, thankless role considering her Sci-Fi credentials, so it’s left up to Patel who is very good and a bunch of lesser-known but intriguing co-stars to carry the movie around a brilliant creation.  Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley (The A-Team, Maleficent) does a stellar job voicing the robot, instilling a naivety and energy to the character that really brings it to life.  We follow Chappie’s exploits from frightened child to becoming a hanging-with-the-homies gangster, whilst all the time being manipulated by gang leader Ninja and befriended by surrogate mother ‘Yo-Landi’.

YolandiThink a cross between eighties classic Short Circuit (Number Five is alive!) and genre favourite RoboCop (not the lacklustre remake) with some blatant borrowing of that movie’s key ideas even down to an Ed 209 look-a-like.  The story’s most fascinating aspect however; Chappie’s learning felt rushed, for a robot who has to pretty much grow up before our eyes (…how’d he know lying?), and the clichéd thugs / locales were straight out of the post-apocalyptic handbook.  Yet Blomkamp threw in enough stylish action and energy to keep this viewer smiling and entertained throughout – and that ending was sheer class.

On this evidence, I can’t wait to see what he does with Alien.

Verdict:  4 /5

Rampart


Viewed – 13 July 2012 Blu-ray

Woody Harrelson isn’t one of those actors that normally guarantee box office glory.  He’s always been a bit sidelined and often appears in more indie or cult movies than mainstream Hollywood.  Yet here he unusually takes top-billing.  He’s one of my favourite actors, even if he never seems to be in much I’d want to see.  Thankfully this isn’t one of those movies.

He plays Dave Brown, a cop who lives by his own rules and deals out his own brand of justice, even if it means beating a man half to death on CCTV and attracting a lot of bad press and the interest of his superiors.  Juggling his commitment to the job and that of a dysfunctional family who increasingly want to see the back of him … Dave spends his time either doing shady deals with shady people, talking his way out of being forced into retirement, or sleeping around with any woman who offers even a passing interest.  His life is gradually falling apart.

This may not be entirely cheery stuff, but with a very strong performance from Harrelson who manages to make a very unlikable character sympathetic, and with good support from Sigourney Weaver, Ned Beatty and Robin Wright – this was a gritty but believable drama that left me with plenty to think about and admire.  The intelligent direction from Oren Moverman is part fly on a wall documentary, part art house movie with lots of eye-catching, experimental camera work and perfectly chosen moody music.  It reminded me of the excellent Nicholas Cage drama Leaving Las Vegas, although not as bleak.  And that’s quite a compliment in my book.

Verdict: 4 /5

Avatar


Viewed – 22 December 2009  Cinema

It has to be said, the wait for director James Cameron’s next film has been waaaaaay too long.  Having swept the boards at the Oscars with Titanic, and more importantly being responsible for arguably the best sci-fi action movie ever made – Terminator 2: Judgement Day, I went into this with high expectations.  Sort of a throw back to the likes of Aliens and the aforementioned Terminator franchise, but given a personality and story very much its own, this epic fantasy / sci-fi movie places us on the forest world of Pandora, where tall, lithe blue beings known as the Na’Vi inhabit a world full of strange creatures, danger and spirituality.  Then comes along mankind in its usual bull in a china shop way, hell bent of mining the planet for its resources, and to hell with whoever lives there.  Yet thankfully, in amongst the army of gung-ho marines are a bunch of scientists who have developed a technology to artificially grow their own Na’vi, where they can transport the consciousness of a human volunteer, enabling he or she to walk amongst the tribe as one of them.

Sam Worthington plays paraplegic marine Jake Sully, who is drafted into the Avatar programme after his own twin brother is killed in action.  Soon he becomes a Na’vi and his goal is to befriend the tribe and persuade them to move village before the military arrive, whilst at the same time learn about their behaviour for scientific research.  Worthington is joined by Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez, as well as Steven Lang as a trigger happy Colonel.  Worthington carries the film well, but lacks a little presence (especially considering that mostly he’s a big, tall blue dude with a dawky grin), and Weaver is her usual, dependable self.  Yet it’s the performance of Zoe Zaldana as female Na’vi Neytiri who steals the show, and her personality brings the story to life. 

The world of Pandora is so beautifully realised, that it no longer feels like an effects film; the emotion on display from mostly computer generated people is astonishing, and their similarly CGI’d surroundings an incredible achievement, with every minute detail stunningly crafted and breathing with life.  Thankfully Cameron backs up the lush visuals with a decent story full of emotion and substance, but also doesn’t falter on the action, delivering some amazing sequences that made me want to shout out with delite.  It was also interesting to see a movie where we, the humans are the alien invaders, the change in perspective refreshing, and certainly got me thinking about the ruthlessness of mankind.  

So yes, it’s long, your arse will be numb as hell, but I assure you, you won’t be bored for a minute.  The concept alone is worthy of your ticket price, and it’s probably the best looking movie to come out this year – with a professional touch as expected from a director of such acclaim.  So welcome back James Cameron.  You have been missed.

Verdict:  5 /5

Vantage Point


Viewed – 23 July 2009  Blu-ray

This nifty little thriller has a very simple but highly effective premise.  During a Presidential visit to a Spanish city, witnessed by members of the public, a news team reporting on the event,  secret service agents and a Spanish police officer, amongst others, an assassination attempt takes place.  What follows is a classic case of who dunnit and how, as events are repeated several times from the perspective of different individuals, leading up to a big reveal in the closing moments.  Heading the cast is Dennis Quaid, definitely one of the under used classic actors that never really escaped the eighties, but is suitably supported by TVs LOST leading man Matthew Fox as well as the always dependable Forest Whitaker as a tourest who gets caught up in the chaos.

Exciting and thought provoking given the shadow of global terrorism we live in, and the gimmick of repeating events never gets old thanks to a fresh and unique spin on things every time.  Which all leads brilliantly to a stunning car chase that got me thoroughly perched on the edge of my seat.  Sigourney Weaver crops up as a TV anchor woman but is painfully under-used for such a heavy weight talent, although this is more about the story and the situation than some starry name on the credits.  I will add though that I was left a little puzzled over why the assassination attempt takes place and what the culprits were ultimatly trying to achieve … but perhaps we could say that about real terrorism?

So if you’re after a fast and thrilling movie that will keep you guessing, this is definitely worth a look.

Verdict:  4 /5

Alien


Viewed – 17 May 2009  DVD

Director’s Cut

In 1979, following George Lucas’ crowd-pleasing space opera Star Wars two year’s previous, Ridley Scott unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences the complete polar opposite to that film’s feel-good showmanship – a dark, claustrophobic sci-fi horror that went on to become a classic.  Spawning 3 sequels of varying quality, with James Cameron’s epic ALIENS the obvious high point, this smaller, gentler paced film had an intelligence and realism that was fresh, exciting, and genuinely terrifying.

AlienPic2

Viewed today with much more jaded eyes, as a horror fan burned out on the torture-porn of Saw, Hostel and their like … the subtle qualities of Scott’s film are somewhat subdued, but I still admire it as a lesson in slow-burning shocks, that many have imitated but few have got quite as right as this.  Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley, a character that has become an icon in sci-fi horror and probably her finest role to date, who is surprisingly, to anyone more familiar with the sequels, more of a secondary cast member with at the time Tom Skerritt and John Hurt taking top-billing.  The premise is simple – the crew of a mining ship is awakened from sleep by a distress call, and so they have to investigate and unwittingly bring on board an alien life form, that soon begins to pick off the crew one by one.  Classic horror set up, a cliché by almost anyone’s standards, granted, but as with any classic film the concept is not necessary what makes it work – more how the story plays out and the skill of the director and cast to suck you in and make you grip that seat.  Ridley Scott is at the top of his game here with expert camera work, some stunning set design and alien make-up effects inspired by artist H R Giger’s weird paintings, and perfectly timed shocks that should still make you jump even after your umpteenth viewing.  That’s not to say this film is perfect, as theres some shocking moments of character stupidy, and one plot hole involving the sudden huge size of the alien that is never satisfyingly explained.

Unfamiliar am I with the differences here between the director’s cut and the original, apart from the fact this version is six minutes shorter than the original, but what I have sat through remains tight, atmospheric and gripping cinema … that is easy to recommend.

Verdict:  4 /5