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: “Elysium”

Starring
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Diego Luna
Director
Neill Blomkamp

It’s hard to put down a movie like “Elysium.” Let’s rephrase that: it’s actually quite easy to put down a movie like “Elysium” – it just gives us no pleasure in doing so. It’s a movie that urges people to think of the needs of others, and the satisfaction that comes from helping the less fortunate. A noble cause, to be sure, but in order to make his point, writer/director Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) resorts to painting with an awfully broad brush, and the complex issues of health care and the distribution of wealth that “Elysium” seeks to tackle are marginalized by half. What’s left to enjoy are the visuals and some visceral hand-to-hand combat, which is nice (think “Terminator 2,” with humans), but this is a movie that had bigger fish to fry, and let them off the hook.

Set in the year 2154, Earth has become decimated by overpopulation and depleted natural resources. The wealthiest people have abandoned Earth to live on Elysium, an orbiting space station with the technology to cure any sickness in seconds. Max (Matt Damon) is a former car thief trying to live an honest life working on a factory line. Max is exposed to a fatal dose of radiation on the job, and in return the company gives him pills to manage his pain and sends him on his way. Max, with only days to live, hits up his former crime boss Spider (Wagner Moura) for a chance to jump on one of his bootleg trips to Elysium with the hope that he can heal himself. Spider agrees to help him, but Max must pull a suicide mission first. In doing so, however, they find a way to share Elysium’s technological advances with everyone on Earth; they’ll just have to get past Elysium defense secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her dirtbag sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) first.

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