Movie Review: “Chappie”

Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo
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: “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle
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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The Light from the TV Shows: HBO’s “The Newsroom” is unabashedly Sorkin-esque…which is a good thing

It’s arguably the laziest possible comparison to suggest that Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” comes across like “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” fused with “The West Wing.”

With that said, however, it’s also hard to deny the inherent accuracy of such a statement, given that it’s a series that takes place behind the scenes of a television program, except rather than sports or comedy, the predominant thrust of the program is politics. Plus, it’s full of bombastic speeches, rapid patter, romantic comedy, and – oh, yes – more than a few walk-and-talks.

In a nutshell, “The Newsroom” is about as Sorkin-esque as anyone could possibly hope for his return to television to be. This, of course, opens a whole other can of worms…but we’ll get to that.

“The Newsroom” begins by introducing newsman Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, as he sits on a political discussion panel in a college auditorium, and although it’s basically a blind introduction which offers us nothing about his career, we can already tell from his responses that whatever talents he once had as a newsman have been supplanted by a desire to play it safe. It’s also a bit of a given that, in short order, he’s going to give an answer that causes him to break out of his rut, but it’s a testament to Sorkin’s writing and directing that, when it does finally happen, it still manages to feel pretty damned inspirational.

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