Movie Review: “Chappie”

Starring
Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Director
Neill Blomkamp

There’s still reason to be hopeful about 20th Century Fox’s decision to hand the reigns of the next “Alien” movie to Neill Blomkamp, but the bloom is likely to be off the rose for a lot of sci-fi fans after they take a gander at “Chappie,” which continues Blomkamp’s series of declining returns after the disappointing “Elysium.”

It is in no way surprising that among the first words uttered by an audience member upon the conclusion of the advance screening of “Chappie” involved the phrase “if ‘Robocop’ and ‘Short Circuit’ had a baby.” After all, the film – co-written by Blomkamp and his wife, Terri Tachell – takes place in the not-too-distant future and revolves around the decision by the city of Johannesburg, South Africa to adopt a partially robotic police force. These aren’t cyborgs, a la the officer formerly known as Alex Murphy: they’re 100% robot, designed by programmer extraordinaire Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). Despite what he’s already achieved in his field, Wilson continues to strive for a greater breakthrough, focusing his sights on the goal of cracking the consciousness code, as it were, and creating the first sentient robot.

As you might expect, Wilson achieves this goal in short order, but his boss (played by Sigourney Weaver) isn’t wooed by his pitch to experiment with his consciousness program on a damaged robot marked for destruction and denies his request. Now, in fairness, his pitch is really, really terrible. Who goes to the head of a company that makes police robots and starts off by mentioning that one of the benefits of sentience is that a robot can judge the merits of art and write its own poetry? But as you might also expect, her denial in no way stops him from deciding to swipe the deactivated robot and do his experiment anyway.

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Movie Review: “Unfinished Business”

Starring
Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, James Marsden
Director
Ken Scott

Ken Scott, the filmmaker behind “Starbuck” and its Hollywood remake, “Delivery Man,” has reunited with Vince Vaughn, the lead from his bland 2013 film, for another project. The idea of the director and star of that comedy teaming up again isn’t exactly enticing, and neither is the final result, because once again, the duo has failed to deliver with “Unfinished Business.”

Vaughn stars as Daniel Trunkman, a salesman who quits his unsatisfying job and goes off to start his own business. What does Trunkman sell for a living? A product so boring that it’s hardly ever mentioned in the film, and when it is, Trunkman only comments on how dull the merchandise is. Trunkman only has two employees, Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), an odd but satisfying pairing responsible for most of the film’s scarce laughs. The small company is in serious need of a sale, so when a financially promising opportunity rises, the boss and his employees will stop at nothing to close the potential deal. Their work brings them to Berlin, where they’ll have to compete against Trunkman’s old boss, Charlie (Sienna Miller), for the sale.

While “Unfinished Business” initially looks to be an ensemble comedy, it mostly rests on the shoulders of its biggest star, which is a shame. Vaughn isn’t an actor that pushes himself to new places. He has a comedic persona which he rarely strays from, often playing straight shooters with a motormouth, and that’s the character he plays once again in Scott’s film. Every comic note Vaughn hits is stale and expected. There’s nothing fresh about his style or approach anymore; it’s tired and outdated. As for Wilkinson and Franco, they’re far more energetic and engaged than their co-star.

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Movie Review: “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Starring
Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle
Director
John Madden

When “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” opened in May 2012, it was viewed as a smart piece of counterprogramming to “The Avengers.” But something strange happened along the way: the senior-targeted dramedy became a box office hit in its own right, earning $136 million worldwide on a modest $10 million budget. Though its success was unexpected, no one could have imagined that it would breed a sequel, and yet here we are, four years later, with the gang reunited for another Indian adventure like some sort of Avengers-style retiree supergroup. Including the words “second best” in the title probably wasn’t intended as a comment on the movie’s quality, but while it’s not as good as its predecessor, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” still skates by on the delightful charm of its ensemble cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been in operation for eight months now, and passionate owner Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) has grand ambitions to expand by purchasing a derelict hotel nearby. Sonny and assistant manager Muriel (Maggie Smith) travel to the U.S. to pitch their business plan to hotel tycoon Ty Burley (David Strathairn), and he agrees to send an inspector to check out the property. So when American tourist Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives at the hotel claiming that he’s there to write his first novel, Sonny believes that he’s actually the inspector in disguise, waiting on him hand and foot instead of attending to his ceremonial duties for his forthcoming marriage to Sunaina (Tena Desae). Meanwhile, Evelyn (Judi Dench) is offered an amazing job opportunity that could affect her budding relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy); Madge (Celia Imrie) is forced to choose between two Indian suitors; and Norman (Ronald Pickup) accidentally puts out a hit on his new girlfriend, Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

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Movie Review: “Everly”

Starring
Salma Hayek, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Akie Kotabe, Laura Cepeda, Aisha Ayamah
Director
Joe Lynch

There’s something oddly appealing about the kind of movie that encourages you to turn off your brain for 90 minutes while a gun-toting badass takes down a bunch of bad guys in extremely violent fashion. Perhaps it’s the 13-year-old boy stowed away in the back of our psyches, giddy at the prospect of an entire film overflowing with blood, boobs and explosions. Some of cinema’s guiltiest pleasures have followed this formula to great success (most recently, the Keanu Reeves actioner “John Wick”), and although director Joe Lynch’s “Everly” desperately wants to join those ranks as the next cult classic shoot-‘em-up, it falls disappointingly short on a number of levels.

After serving as a sex slave for ruthless crime boss Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) for the past five years, Everly (Salma Hayek) has finally had enough, striking a deal with one of the few honest cops in town to place her in witness protection in exchange for her testimony against Taiko. But Everly’s dreams of finally meeting her young daughter, Maisey (Aisha Ayamah), whom she left in the care of her mother (Laura Cepeda) as a baby, are quickly destroyed when Taiko learns of her betrayal, placing a bounty on her head that attracts all sorts of weirdoes to the swanky apartment where she’s holed up. Convinced that she won’t make it through the night alive, Everly instructs her mother to come pick up the getaway money at her apartment instead, inadvertently pulling her family into the conflict as she fends off countless waves of ferocious intruders intent on collecting the reward.

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Movie Review: “Focus”

Starring
Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney
Directors
Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Movies about con artists are almost as difficult to pull off as an actual con. They need to be clever enough to outsmart and entertain the audience without being overly complex or resorting to narrative cheats. “Focus” is definitely entertaining at times, a flashy crime drama highlighted by a pair of movie star performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but it also commits the aforementioned offenses in order to get to its twist ending… by way of several other twists, naturally. That’s not its biggest problem, however, because most con films break those rules at some point. Instead, it’s the fact that “Focus” is basically two movies stitched together by the same connective tissue, and only one of the halves is any good.

The film begins with a gorgeous woman named Jess (Robbie) picking up the charismatic Nicky (Smith) at a hotel bar, eventually taking their soiree upstairs to her room where her angry boyfriend kicks down the door and threatens to shoot Nicky unless he hands over his wallet. It’s a classic con, and one that Nicky knows all too well as a seasoned grifter himself. But Jess shows promise, so Nicky invites her to join his large-scale operation, hitting big events like the Super Bowl that are packed with crowds of easy marks (read: drunks and cheating husbands) for them to rob, swindle and shake down on the streets. After Jess gets burned by Nicky at the end of the job, the two go their separate ways until they cross paths again three years later when Nicky is hired by the wealthy owner (Rodrigo Santoro) of a Formula One racing team to help ruin a fellow competitor using his powers of persuasion. Everything is going according to plan when Nicky discovers that Jess is dating his new employer, and though he wants to make amends after the way he left things, Jess is unable to trust him, convinced that Nicky must to be working some kind of angle. The real question is whether Jess is too.

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