Chappie review

Director:
Neill Blomkamp
Cast:
Sharlto Copley
Dev Patel
Ninja
Yo-Landi Visser
Jose Pablo Cantillo
Hugh Jackman
Sigourney Weaver
Rated: R

“Chappie,” like Director Neill Blomkamp’s first film “District 9,” takes place in the South African city of Johannesburg. The city is over run with crime and gangs seem to be everywhere. Because of this problem, a large weapons manufacturing company develops a new droid humanoid robot to add to the police force.

This is where we enter one of the film’s protagonists, a software developer for the robots named Deon (Patel). Deon has his sights set on creating the first artificial intelligence and pulls off the feat and uploads the program to a damaged police robot. Problems arise, though, when the robot ends up in the hands of a trio of gangsters (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Cantillo) who begin teaching the impressionable droid criminal acts.

This creates a dilemma for Deon, as he has to worry about the robot, who eventually is named Chappie (Copley), as well as the company he works for, where there is a former military man named Vincent (Jackman) who has his own robot that he wants to activate and use.

“Chappie” is a film that suffers heavily due to its story-telling and pacing. Blomkamp puts too much of the film’s focus on the wrong spots with the wrong characters and doesn’t properly show a good evolution with the main character Chappie. Instead of seeing Chappie learn about the world, society, the meaning of artificial intelligence and other interesting topics, we see him be taught how to walk and act like a gangster, how to hold a gun sideways and how to steal cars.

I understand that the movie was showing the corruption of an impressionable character, however, it was simply handled wrong. Chappie always seems satisfied with learning about how to be cool and doesn’t appear to have any sense of wonder at what he is or what moral dilemmas there are. This is a real disappointment when compared to other, similar characters like Sonny from “I, Robot” and Leeloo from “The Fifth Element.”

In Blomkamp’s other two films, social commentary was made and the subjects were fairly well explored. That wasn’t really the case in “Chappie.” Despite being about a police robot, the issue of police brutality is never brought up.

Neither is the issue of artificial intelligence. What are the ethics behind this new technology, how should it be applied, where should it be applied, should there be any protocols. None of this is ever heavily discussed. There is a point made toward the end of the picture about what conscience is, however, it comes across more as a deus ex machina than an actual dilemma of social morality.

The worst part of the movie, though, is the acting, mainly from the three gangsters played by Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser and Cantillo. The biggest issue is that Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser are both members of a rap group and not actual actors to begin with. Since so much of the movie revolves around these characters, many of the scenes come off as unbelievable.

Not only is the acting poor, though, these characters are also heavily unlikable. These characters aren’t just petty pick-pockets who are scraping by, these three characters are violent offenders who are unafraid to brutally hurt others. The biggest issue with them is that instead of Chappie changing them into better people through his charm and wonder, they end up changing Chappie.

This whole concept could maybe have worked if the characters had been more like Han Solo from “Star Wars,” a bad boy, an outlaw, a person who doesn’t always agree with law enforcement, but ultimately a guy with a heart of gold. Instead, all Chappie has to learn from is three characters who are simply mean spirited criminals.

The more veteran actors don’t get a pass, either. Sigourney Weaver, Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman are all talented performers and have proved so in other movies. In this film, though, the characters come across as too clichéd and their dialogue isn’t very good. Jackman plays a typical hardened military character, who has no real motivation, Weaver is the basic greedy CEO, similar to the character Giovanni Ribisi played in “Avatar” and Patel is simply a scientist with hardly any deeper characteristics.

The main character, Chappie himself was alright, and the film crew did a great job using motion capture technology to bring him to life. Sharlto Copley was the one who portrayed Chappie and did a fine job in the role and like the other actors, was held back more due to the writing than anything else.

One would hope that at the very least, Blomkamp would be able to deliver in the action and special effects department, but the result comes off as hit or miss. There are some well shot action sequences here and the special effects are all well integrated.

The problem is that a lot of the tech has been seen before. Many other viewers who have also watched “Chappie” have stated that one of the bigger robots looks similar to the ED 209 from “Robocop,” and they are right. The thing looks almost the same, just with a new coat of paint. That being said, the action is enough to keep things exciting.

That excitement can only go so far, though. The thing about action moments is that the viewer has to be connected to the characters in question, and that’s very difficult to do in “Chappie.”

With all of the other issues the film has, it makes the whole experience very disappointing. Blomkamp was allowed a sophomore slump with “Elysium,” however, with his new film “Chappie,” his rank on the director chart is starting to move down. For spectacle alone, this one scrapes by at a low 2 out of 5.

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Cinderella review

Director:
Kenneth Branagh
Cast:
Cate Blanchett
Lily James
Richard Madden
Helena Bonham Carter
Rated: PG

If you’ve seen the original animated “Cinderella,” or any of the other adaptions of the fairy tale, this will be very familiar territory. This live action version starts off with Cinderella(James) as a young girl and the movie introduces the audience to both her mother and father.

The film goes into the upbringing of Cinderella and shows how her mother died, how her father found a new wife and how life was like after her father passed away. From there, it works like the other adaptions, Stepmother (Blanchett) comes into the picture, forces Cinderella to do work, a ball comes up and the two stepsisters are brats.

The biggest issue with “Cinderella” is not with the filmmaking itself, it’s simply that there isn’t much depth or substance in the plot to actually make a full length feature into a compelling picture.

There’s no doubt that Director Kenneth Branagh knew what he was doing and to be fair, the crew on this flick did attempt to add a little more meat to the bones of the plot. For example, we do get more information on Cinderella’s parents and a better understanding of the prince’s personality and goals in life.

That being said, there were still many moments that felt like filler in which the movie was being stretched a bit too thin.

The acting in the film was probably the strongest point. Led by two time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, the cast nails what they’re given with each role. Blanchett is menacing as the stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter is perfectly whimsical as the Fairy Godmother.

The actors playing younger characters did a good job in their parts, too. Both Lily James as Cinderella and Richard Madden as the prince both bring energy and life into the characters they play and are likable in the roles.

Once again, the only real issue with any of the characters is that the personalities from the original story are a bit dry. Cinderella is a bit too flawless, the Stepmother is simply bad with no real motivations and the step sisters are bratty and ditzy with no other characteristics. Surprisingly, the only character who had some good depth to explore was the Prince who was a bit unsure about becoming a king.

From a technical standpoint, though, the film does work. As stated before, Branagh is a guy who knows what he’s doing and it shows here. The special effects makes things come to life well, the costume design is well done which results in a good spectacle and makes the movie very watchable.

Overall, the 2015 “Cinderella” is a fine adaption. The acting and effects make it worth checking out for any Disney fan, however, the flaws of the original story still shine through at points due to the movie’s longer run time (the original animated was 74 min while this is 105 min). 3 out of 5.

Run All Night review

Director:
Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast:
Liam Neeson
Ed Harris
Joel Kinnaman
Boyd Holbrook
Rated: R

“Run All Night” follows former mob hit man Jimmy (Neeson) who doesn’t exactly have the best luck in life. Jimmy is an alcoholic, poor and is estranged from his own son. The only person in the world who even gives him the time of day is his former boss and friend Shawn (Harris).

Problems increase for Jimmy, though when Shawn’s son gets involved in some bad crime and ends up killing another drug dealer. Jimmy’s son Mike ends up seeing the killing while on duty as a limo driver. This sets in motion a plot where Mike is on the run from Shawn’s cronies and needs the help of his father if he has any hopes of surviving.

At first glance, “Run All Night” appeared to be another action flick in the Liam Neeson genre which has been going on since “Taken” was released. However, while this film does have its share of action moments, the movie also succeeds at being a gritty, urban crime thriller with plenty of suspense.

There are depths that the story goes into which are a welcome change of pace and they help give a more compelling edge to the action scenes. The movie explores the relationship between Jimmy and his son as well as the honor code that Jimmy and Shawn had growing up.

The characters are written well, too. All of the motives are fleshed out and none of the lead characters come off as being too cliche. For example, Shawn could have easily been a classic crime boss, however, he was written to actually be sympathetic in some parts and really understandable. The movie shows that he has regrets in life and that he probably wishes some things were different.

The same can be said for Neeson’s character Jimmy. He has a past that he can’t escape from and its evident from both Neeson’s portrayal and the way the character was written that it has taken a toll on him both physically and mentally.
The younger actors did well in the film, too. Especially Joel Kinnaman. His portrayal of Mike, who was a hardworking family man who wasn’t perfect but was trying to get through life, was honest and believable.

Even some of the more cliche minor characters were pretty good. For example, there was a fairly standard detective character who was played pretty well by Vincent D’Onofrio.

The only weak character in the film was a hit man named Andrew played by Common. Andrew is more or less an unstoppable killing machine and at certain points felt a bit out of place in a film that had done a good job at setting up its other characters.

The action was exciting, though, and it earns the R rating with some gritty moments.

“Run All Night” could have been a much more average movie but it was thankfully picked up by some good performances and competent writing. It’s nothing award worthy and not an instant classic, but its definitely worth a matinee watch. High 3 out of 5.

Insurgent review

Director:
Robert Schwentke
Cast:
Kate Winslet
Shailene Woodley
Theo James
Miles Teller
Rated: PG-13

I certainly wasn’t expecting the second movie in the “Divergent” series to be a chore to sit through, but it was.

In the sequel to last year’s mediocre “Divergent,” “Insurgent” picks up not long after the first film ended. Tris, played by Shailene Woodley, and Four, played by Theo James, are on the run from the main factions of the city and are seeking out any kind of shelter.

Unfortunately, they have to stay on the run through many parts of the film. This problem increases when Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet, decides to search for Tris as she may be the one who can unlock secrets of the city.

“Insurgent” suffers from many things, one of which is its plot. Instead of flowing with a traditional three-act structure, the movie feels more like a video game. Level 1, survive the peaceful village. Level 2, get on the train, etc.

On top of that, the movie is far too convoluted. The film tries to add too many different plot lines to make things more interesting. However, the problem is there is no depth to these points. The movie introduces relationships with new or returning characters, yet makes no attempt to explore these relationships.

Besides not exploring the relationships of these characters, the movie also skips over an opportunity to make points of social commentary or morality.

What we’re left with is a flick with a lot of things happening, but no real depth behind it. This makes the film much less compelling.

In terms of acting, the best highlight of the movie and maybe the only thing that the movie can get praise for, is Woodley’s performance. There are quite a few scenes where Woodley has to show a real flare in her character and it works. She is a talented actress and is able to make Tris at least likable and sympathetic.

The same can not be said about Academy Award winner Winslet, though. Unlike President Snow played by Donald Sutherland in “The Hunger Games,” Winslet’s character Jeanine has no menacing charm. Being the villain, one would hope she could at least have some fun with the role or bring some level of energy to make it more interesting. Instead, all Winslet does through the film is use the same stoic facial expression and tone.

The same can be said about James, who is a rather dull co-protagonist with little to no personality. Along with his boring character, James has practically zero chemistry with Woodley on screen and it makes the whole romance seem very forced.

The entire time both Winslet and James were on screen, I was asking myself, “Where’s the passion?” “Where’s the emotion?” “Show something humanistic!”
It’s not entirely the cast’s fault, though, since the dialogue is more or less putrid from beginning to end and offers no real substance. The only person who has any good lines and delivers them well is Miles Teller as Peter. However, Teller’s screen time is limited and the character seems underused.

Because of the boring story and characters, it makes it difficult to care about any of the on-screen action. Sure, there’s some spectacle to see with special effects, but that doesn’t hide the film’s flaws.

“Insurgent” has almost nothing to offer. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen, but it committed a cardinal sin of film: It wasted my time. 1 out of 5.

The Gunman review

Director:
Pierre Morel
Cast:
Sean Penn
Jasmine Trinca
Javier Bardem
Idris Elba
Rated: R

In “The Gunman,” Sean Penn plays Terrier, a mercenary for hire who is nearing the completion of a current mission. After Terrier completes said mission, he decides to retire and leave his current business behind him. Eight years later, though, it appears that the sins of his past have come back to haunt him as he becomes the target of an assassination.

Now Terrier is on the run and has to try and figure out just why someone wants him dead.

One would figure that “The Gunman” would be an exhilarating feature, as most ‘men on the run’ type stories are. Yet, the film turned out to be entirely dull and the entire runtime it felt as though the movie was plodding along.

One reason for this slow feel to the movie is that there aren’t enough times that Penn’s character seems to be in danger. While he is targeted in a few attacks, they are surprisingly few and far in between. The movie instead puts too much focus on a rather lazy romantic subplot that didn’t seem necessary in this story of a man on the run.

What’s worse is that this rather forgettable romantic drama is given more attention than the relationships between the characters who were actually part of the mission.

The biggest problem, though is that the film couldn’t seem to find a good balance with its tone. The slow moving plot works better for an espionage thriller/drama while the little action that does show up, which gets over the top at some points, fits better in a standard shoot em up movie. The film tried doing a little bit of both and it didn’t work.

As for the actors, the film wastes two of the biggest names on the poster. Both Idris Elba and Javier Bardem are both talented actors, yet they are really not given enough to do here. Elba has hardly any screen time and Bardem’s character is straight up cartoonish at points and doesn’t get enough of a background to his character. I couldn’t take Bardem’s character seriously and it made the movie much less compelling.

Academy Award winner Penn is alright in the lead role of Terrier. As a talented actor, Penn certainly gives the character at least a likable personality, however, he is rather limited by the script. Terrier just simply isn’t that interesting of a character, he had hardly any personality and for most of the film was just dull.

The film also seemed to waste a plot point of Terrier having a case of severe head trauma. This could have been an interesting point, yet it only showed up in the film toward the end, and even when it did show up, it acted more like bad headache for Terrier.

It could have been much more interesting if his brain problems led to some sort of memory loss which he would have to overcome. This type of situation was actually done very well in the 2007 movie “The Lookout” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Unfortunately, “The Gunman” didn’t really know what to do with the idea.

Jasmine Trinca as Annie had no real character at all. She was more or less reduced to a simple damsel in distress for about 80 percent of the flick and offered nothing more than to be the love interest.

“The Gunman” doesn’t particularly do anything well. It wastes some nice acting talent, the script isn’t anything special, it’s romance is uninteresting and the villain’s plot is completely cliche.

At its core, the movie suffers most because of its inability to be an exciting picture. There were no moments where I was on the edge of my seat and all of the combat had a ‘been there, done that’ feel to them. 1 out of 5.

Get Hard review

Director:
Etan Cohen
Cast:
Will Ferrell
Kevin Hart
T.I.
Craig T. Nelson
Rated: R

In “Get Hard” Will Ferrell plays James, a rich business man who seems to have a perfect life for himself. This changes suddenly when he is charged with a white collar crime and has to go to prison.

In the process, James mistakes Kevin Hart’s character Darnell as a man who went to prison and hires him to teach him how to survive in the slammer. Despite never having been to prison, Darnell agrees and decides to teach James how to stand up for himself.

If you’re looking for an unpredictable comedy where you have no idea where the next joke is going to come from, “Get Hard” probably isn’t for you. The film, from beginning to end, is entirely predictable, both in terms of story and its jokes. It’s easy to figure out who the villain is, it’s easy to tell what’s going to happen and the humor is never a surprise.

Looking at the comedy further, a majority of the jokes and gags fall into two categories. The first is prison rape/gay jokes and the second is racial stereotypes. These two types of jokes dominate the entire film, and unfortunately the writing in the movie is very hit or miss, and not in a good way. For every gag in the movie that is actually somewhat funny, there are three more that aren’t.

Will Ferrell plays the lead role similar to his other films. He’s more or less the same as some of the other foolish characters he’s played in the past, except this time he happens to be rich. Fortunately, Ferrell is at least a good comedic actor and makes some of the material work OK. He also has good chemistry with Hart.

Speaking of Hart, he is really likable in this film. In other movies, such as “Think Like a Man” and “Ride Along,” Hart was really loud and started to get annoying. Not the case here, Hart is much more toned down in this movie and it works.

The supporting cast is forgettable, though. Craig T. Nelson doesn’t offer much as James’ boss, for example.

“Get Hard” is a forgettable comedy that doesn’t provide a lot of big laughs. Some of the material is funny, but for the most part, one can skip this flick. 2 out of 5.

Home review

Director:
Tim Johnson
Cast:
Jim Parsons
Rihanna
Steve Martin
Jennifer Lopez
Rated: PG

In the latest Dreamworks animated feature, Jim Parsons lends the voice to the character Oh. Oh is a member of an alien race that is on the run from a intergalactic threat and is trying to find a new home where they will be safe. They end up coming to Earth and decide to make the planet their own. After moving the human population to a single location, the alien race takes over Earth.

Things seem to be going fine until Oh, being the mistake maker that he happens to be, ends up accidentally notifying the threat about where his race is. As he goes on the run from his own people, he meets Tip (Rihanna), a young girl who is searching for her mother. The two end up making an unlikely pair and have to go on adventure to set things right.

Unlike some of Dreamworks’ other recent films, the sequels to “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda,” for example, “Home” doesn’t have much going for it. The story, which meanders around for most of the runtime, ends up being entirely predictable and there’s never any real surprises that are thrown out there.

Because of this, the movie ends up feeling longer than it actually is, and that’s not a good thing for a 94 minute flick. On top of that, despite what’s going on, the movie really lacks a sense of urgency around the whole thing. In animation, a medium where you can do so many things, it’s a shame when a film ends up not being exciting.

Probably the biggest flaw of the picture are the characters, especially Oh. I think Jim Parsons is a good actor, yet all he does with the character is play the same person he does in “The Big Bang Theory.” It gets old fast, especially since the film keeps using the same joke, which is the alien race talking in broken English.

The other protagonist, Tip is actually OK in the movie, and Rihanna did fine in her voice acting role. Unfortunately, a few of the good scenes with her were usually ruined by Oh doing something obnoxious.

The animation in the movie left a lot to be desired. It was colorful, sure, but compared to some of the other animated films over the last few years, it doesn’t hold up. Nothing is eye-popping or fascinating to watch, which is too bad considering this is in the sci-fi genre.

Another aspect of the film was the over use of Rihanna music from beginning to end. It’s not like I have an issue with the music itself, however, it was just so noticeable that it takes a viewer out of the movie.

“Home” is a really simple kids film. It might entertain really young children, but it’s not something that is all too memorable for an entire family. It’s a movie that doesn’t really get anything right and can’t hold any weight against some of the other great animated flicks out there. 1 out of 5.