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Scott Roberts
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:46:54 pm
Last Edited By Scott Roberts on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:48:33 pm

This is my mandatory opening sentence that appears in every Chappie review that says I loved District 9. Next up is my obligatory follow-up sentence talking about how disappointed we all collectively were for Elysium. And of course, the opening paragraph's closing sentence which asks a hopeful question to the readers: "But will Chappie be a return to glory for Neil Blomkamp?" I'm just following Chappie review guidelines here, people.

Anyway, I finally got around to seeing the movie a few days later than I wanted (busy schedule), and I've been excited for it with every new trailer and commercial. I was actually a little surprised that there was so much hate for it going into its release. Why is everyone who hasn't even seen it dumping on it, again? Because Blomkamp keeps making movies in the same poverty porn, mech suit South African universe? Is it because Elysium let you down so much? I don't know. You tell me. I'm capable of forgiving a guy for making a mediocre second movie after a phenomenal first one. I'm at least going to give his third movie a *chance*... But I guess audiences didn't care to try, as we were the only people who even bothered to show up to the movie:

I just meant that pic as an unfair joke, because that was a 10:30 pm Tuesday screening during a weather advisory that told people not to drive their cars that night (we did anyway). BUT the sentiment stays the same, as Chappie only pulled in about $13 million in its opening weekend, which doesn't bode well for people (like me) who like R-rated science fiction movies not based on any specific source material. Sorry that it's not based on a comic book with a built-in fan base... Not everything needs to be. And that's coming from someone who loves comic book movies.

Chappie, if you are unaware, is a film about a South African future where a robot police force has been implemented, and crime has gone down. The creator of the robots, Deon (Dev Patel), has also been working on creating a program that can give a robot fully functional consciousness, and installs it in a broken robot with a five-day battery life against his boss' orders. In the process, he gets hijacked by a bunch of thugs played by South African rap duo Die Antwoord, who have become something of a major talking point for the film.

Putting Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yo-landi [NOT THEIR REAL NAMES]) in the movie was certainly interesting gimmick casting. In all honesty, all of the articles about how terrible of a person Ninja was on set, and how he got written out of the movie, and how they did things their own way kind of *adds* to my experience. It adds an additional layer to the movie as I'm watching it, making me wonder what the process was for making the movie with people as unstable as they were. Also, I kept staring at them because they are the two of the weirdest looking people I've ever seen. There were moments when I was supposed to be watching Chappie doing something, and I was just staring at those two Mad Max looking crazy people, because I just know that that's how they dress in real life, too.

I didn't necessarily think they were bad actors, either. They weren't great, but were you expecting them to be? They probably pulled it off better than some random person on the street could have. Plus, they totally fit into the universe of the movie, and just added another insane element to the whole thing. They are basically South Africa's answer to the Insane Clown Posse, and as I may have mentioned before, I'm sort of obsessed with juggalo culture. The only gimmick casting better than Die Antwoord would have been to put ICP in the Robocop remake last year. Hey, they're both from Detroit.

Chappie's plot, which will probably come under the most scrutiny from the people who dislike the movie (or assume they'll dislike the movie), does admittedly have its holes. There are some major questions as to why certain characters are doing certain things, like why didn't Deon just use his consciousness program on a smaller robot that he built at home or something? I'm sure you could find plenty of stuff like that. But it's also got a lot of genuinely decent philosophical questions about what it means to be human, and what's the point of being alive if you are just going to die?

I'm not 100% sure that any question ever gets answered, especially with the way the film ends, but the fact that it tries at all is better than, like, Transformers has ever done, for example. I mean, even District 9, which gets praised for having deeper social messages within a big science fiction movie, is still *really* pretty much just a movie about an alien trying to build an escape pod and a guy who really doesn't want to turn into a giant space bug. In relation to that, Chappie is about a robot that becomes aware of itself, gets raised to be a criminal, and fights a bunch of gangsters and other robots. Not everything needs to have some deeper meaning, but it is nice when the filmmaker tries, like Blomkamp has. I'll take a splashy romp with a little extra effort at heart like this any day of the week. There's a series of scenes about a third of the way through this that feels like watching a mentally handicapped dude get bullied, or a puppy getting kicked. Depressed the hell out of me. How many times do you feel genuinely sad during your usual robot movies? I think the emotions you feel for the character of Chappie will vary from person to person, but in my case I thought they pulled off the "humanity in a robot" angle pretty well. And there's a bunch of explosions. That's always good with IMAX speakers. Just sayin'.

But I'm sure Blomkamp is getting a ton of crap for the way that this feels like a collection of stolen ideas; mainly (and obviously) from Robocop, Short Circuit, and most of all, his own movie District 9. However, I look at Chappie as an insane 1980's punk rock, almost Troma level movie, but with a $50 million budget and awesome special effects (which were often so amazing that I had trouble deciphering what was CGI and what was practical, if anything was). There's so many great, weird elements in the film, and sometimes all it takes for me to really like a movie is to have a decent collection of weird moments. I'll definitely watch a slightly incoherent movie with awesome moments over a coherent movie with nothing exceptionally crazy about it, but that's just me. And it seemed like Blomkamp was having fun with the strangeness. You don't put things in your movie like a moment when Deon hilariously orders his robot butler to clean his room, without being aware of the silly humor behind it, right? Or having an auxiliary bad guy dressed like he belongs in a post apocalyptic jungle, whose South African accent is so bad he needs subtitles despite the fact that he's speaking English. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that Hugh Jackman is perfect a mulleted Australian weapons engineer with cargo shorts and a huge orange pickup truck. Normally I only get to praise a great cinematic mullet once in a blue moon, but this movie had about five noteworthy mullets. Magnifique!

Listen, I'm not sure how to recommend this movie to people. I liked it plenty, but I could see someone else totally hating it. I think your stance on hating it will be heavily gauged on how stupid you think it looks before you even see it. If you go into the movie with a bad attitude, looking for things to hate because you want it to fail, you'll most certainly find a whole bunch of things to complain about. But if you go in with an open mind and a fun attitude like I did, you'll find a ton of elements that are really great. Some other reviews I've read felt like the author was actively seeking things to hate about it as they watched it, instead of just enjoying it for being fun.

In fact, if you're not already excited to see Chappie before you go, don't even bother to see it. I'll just say it right now, and save you the money. You're just going to nitpick it and ruin it. It's not worth your time. I mean, if you can't get behind a movie about Die Antwoord training a fully intelligent robot to commit crimes while getting chased by Hugh Jackman in cargo shorts, I assume you weren't planning on seeing this anyway.

If you go in with a cynical, negative 'tude: 5 out of 10

If you go in with an oddball, positive 'tude: 8.5 out of 10

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Tim Wilson
Re: Chappie, and The Slightly Incoherent Sci-Fi epic
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:34:09 pm

Awesome, as always. Not having seen the movie rarely stops me from making comments, so, not having seen the movie, here are my comments.

[Scott Roberts] "If you go in with a cynical, negative 'tude"

I'm not sure "cynical" is the right word for anyone who pays for a ticket. Maybe skeptical? As in, "I hope this is good enough to overcome my fear that it might be more 'Elysium' than 'District 9.'"

This is actually not unusual. It's why the best-selling record or most monumental movie is sometimes the one AFTER the good one. I think that Elysium may have benefitted from that (and Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and perhaps the biggest draw for me, William Fichtner).

So really, buying a ticket said, "I have $11.50 worth of hope that this is better than 'Elysium'" -- the OPPOSITE of cynicism.

That said, I totally get what you're saying. Someone sitting arms crossed and scowling, "This better not suck" isn't exactly hopeful.

I was especially intrigued by this:

[Scott Roberts] " I'll definitely watch a slightly incoherent movie with awesome moments over a coherent movie with nothing exceptionally crazy about it, but that's just me."

For you, this is demonstrably true. For the rest of the world, demonstrably untrue. Or at least, in question.

As in, Jupiter Acending, an exceptionally crazy, slightly incoherent, non-sequel, non-reboot, from the makers of a movie more visually arresting than anything made this century. (Can you believe that "The Matrix" came out in 99?)

Nobody accused The Matrix of coherence...but really, what are the original, unhinged hits since then? District 9 of course: $210 millon ww gross on $30 million production. If the opening weekend holds up, we're trending toward half the money this time.

Not that filmmakers should be given too much slack for a great-ish picture followed by a dog or two...but pick your comparison of reboots, sequels, or adaptations in contrast.

The thing is, I think people bitch about those things because it's fun to bitch about the worst of them, while not acknowledging how much they love the best of them. It's like surveys bitching about partisan politics. Nobody cares about non-partisan candidates. Nobody. Turns out that they don't care about YOUR partisan candidate, but they DEMAND that THEIR guy be as partisan as all get-out.

So "ENOUGH WITH THE SEQUELS AND COMIC BOOKS," except I loved Guardians of the Galaxy, Hunger Games, and (god help me) Divergent. (Better books than movies, but still.)

I also think it's all kind of BS, because just as TV has learned from movies that people care about cinematic storytelling, movies are learning from TV that people want to spend with characters whose stories evolve over time.

Or movies where more and more shit gets blown up every time, nb, Transformers.

And the Furious franchise, which has characters with an arc that's actually WORTH more than 100 minutes, AND more and more shit gets blown up every time. I can't believe how awesome it's going to be to see this and the Divergent sequel (Insurgent) two weeks apart.

(Long-timers here know I'm not joking about the Furious movies. Maybe it's only me and Stephen Smith, but I don't have the least bit of guilt at my pleasure in these movies. Genuinely good storytelling, with engaging characters played by charismatic actors, and the aforementioned escalating location carnage. Carnage. See what I did there?

And this time: WITH JASON STATHAM, who is visual shorthand for "escalating location carnage.")

So I'm not saying that ANY Of these was my favorite movie in the years that they came out. I'm just saying that no matter how much I ever say I'm exhausted by movies like this, I love 'em.

While I'm typing this, the original, incoherent sci-fi epic I adored and that made a ton of dough was "Lucy." I still think that not giving Scarlett Johansen more opportunities to wreak havoc in her athletic prime (for men and women alike, roughly 28-35) is a colossal waste. Although frankly, I'd love for her to be the Derek Jeter or Kevin Garnett who extends the definition of "athletic prime" past 40, the age that Geena Davis got to with the original, incoherent "The Long Kiss Goodnight," grossly underrated as both a movie (Samuel Jackson, Brian Cox, and Shane Black firing on all cylinders) and a superlative feat of physicality.

(I put it above any of the Die Hard sequels. Aside from Bruce being only 33 for the original -- the heart of his athletic prime -- did John McClane ever out ice-skate a car? No. Case closed.)

So, assuming that anyone is still reading, what's your take on the issues around original, if slightly incoherent storytelling, and, cynicism about the "people's" lowest common denominator notwithstanding, what it takes to connect audiences to these?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Chappie, and The Slightly Incoherent Sci-Fi epic
on Mar 13, 2015 at 3:07:18 pm

Your question reminds me of something I saw last week, where someone did super-cut edits of the Star Trek movies showing just the space ship shots.

I looked at the run time of these, and except for the first trek movie, where Robert Wise spent seemingly a week on screen looking at various angles of the refit Enterprise in Drydock, the other movies that followed had no more than 20 minutes of these effect shots, and generally less. Wrath Of Khan, arguably the very best Trek movie ever, only has about SEVEN MINUTES of starship effects footage in it. I know, your recollection would suggest it had to be more, with all the dramatic battle scenes, but no, seven minutes' worth is all. The rest, and this is my point here, the rest of the screen time was spent on settings, (really just a handful of sets) characterization, and plot. More "pew-pew-pew" shooting and swooshing fly-by shots do NOT make the movie "better".

From Fifth Element to any version of Bladerunner (sequel in pre-prod now), to The Matrix, the eye candy, luscious as it is, would feel empty, unless it helped frame and connect you to the characters and story line.

Hoping to see Chappie myself this weekend. It would be interesting to compare it to "Automata", starring Antonio Banderas, which is on VOD and Redbox now, as it looks like their themes have a lot of overlap.

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Scott Roberts
Re: Chappie, and The Slightly Incoherent Sci-Fi epic
on Mar 13, 2015 at 3:59:23 pm

[Tim Wilson] "So, assuming that anyone is still reading, what's your take on the issues around original, if slightly incoherent storytelling, and, cynicism about the "people's" lowest common denominator notwithstanding, what it takes to connect audiences to these?"

If I'm reading that sentence correctly, you're asking about wondering what are the roadblocks from getting people to see weird, incoherent storytelling in theaters? I don't know, it seems like a crapshoot. Lucy, for example, on paper might have looked just as bad (or weird, maybe weird is the right word) as Jupiter Ascending or Chappie in the screenplay. But Lucy made a ton of money and the others didn't. I think it might have to do with reviews? Whether it's kind of good (Chappie) or legit bad (Jupiter Ascending), people are reading reviews way more before they see a movie. Or, probably more realistically, they are looking at a skimmed down list of all the reviews with one sentence blurbs, i.e. Rotten Tomatoes. Seeing a 28% on RT not only sways people away from seeing a movie, but if they DO see it after seeing the 28%, they now have low expectations and an already set attitude about the movie. When I personally watch a movie, even if it's bad to everyone else, I can find the silver lining because I tend to like movie things more than disliking them, but on the other hand I've gone into critically praised darlings, like the 84% fresh Tree of Life and thought that was one of the worst movies I've ever seen. That movie was ALL weird without any attempt at telling a real story. But it was super artsy and made by Terrence Malick, so it's "better" than a movie with laser guns, I guess?

I feel like I've just rambled here, and didn't even address your topic probably. But I'm not sure what can make an audience connect to a weird, original movie. I think it might have something to do with their (cinematic) upbringing. If you grew up watching things like 80s horror movies and Repo Man and Troma movies, you're probably more willing to forgive a movie for being a weird, ballsy experiment, than if you grew up watching Fried Green Tomatoes and Pretty Woman. Not that there's anything wrong with those movies. [snaps jewerly box on your fingers]

I don't know, I feel like I've just rolled with whatever thoughts were in my head there, haha. I'm a little tired.

[Mark Suszko] "More "pew-pew-pew" shooting and swooshing fly-by shots do NOT make the movie "better"."

I agree that there is definitely a difference between engaging stories with cool special effects and just having an empty looking 90 minute After Effects reel without characterization.

[Tim Wilson] "I'm not sure "cynical" is the right word for anyone who pays for a ticket. Maybe skeptical? As in, "I hope this is good enough to overcome my fear that it might be more 'Elysium' than 'District 9.'""

I think you're correct on this one. I probably meant skeptical. My take on cynical here was that people would be intentionally hating on Chappie because they wanted it to fail so that they could be "right" about how bad they thought it looked. But that might not be right usage. I don't do words good all the time.

[Tim Wilson] "And this time: WITH JASON STATHAM"

I'm actually kind of excited to see how much more insane they can keep making Fast and Furious movies, it's almost like a challenge to outdo themselves, which is cool; even if I'm not completely, totally sold on the story aspects of it... But eventually, by the time it's 11 Fast 11 Furious, Vin Diesel will drive a car off a ramp into outer space, right? Natural progression.

Oh yeah, but I quoted you there because isn't it kind of crazy that it took 7 movies for Statham to show up in one of these? I feel like he should have been the villain in like the 2nd one.

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Tim Wilson
Re: Chappie, and The Slightly Incoherent Sci-Fi epic
on Mar 13, 2015 at 7:38:10 pm

[Scott Roberts] "isn't it kind of crazy that it took 7 movies for Statham to show up in one of these? I feel like he should have been the villain in like the 2nd one."

My guess is that the Furious Franchise was trying to build its own brand equity, and Jason was trying to get away from driving as his stock in trade. Not that he was always trying TOO hard -- see The Italian Job and the underrated Death Race 2000 for example...but see everything else for the other example. Him plugging into somebody ELSE's driving franchise would have been a sideways step, if not a backwards step.

The year of the second Furious Franchise movie, he did The Italian Job -- where a supporting role, and not even one of the biggest ones -- actually WAS a step forward.

(BTW, can we give another tip of the hat to Luc Besson? Aside from his direction, he WROTE La Femme Nikita, Leon The Professional, Fifth Element, Transporter, Brooklyn Taxi--which wasn't about driving, despite the name-- Taken, Columbiana...and yes, The Transporter and Lucy. Has anyone else written this many pictures in the "crazy, incoherent, pretty entertaining, mostly indie" genre and had so many of them stick the landing?

Yes, some misses in there, but if writing popular action pictures was easy, everybody would do it. I'm not convinced anybody has done it as often, as diversely, without selling out his own idiosyncrasy, as our boy Luc. Putting the crazy in idiosyncrasy if you will.)

So I think his appearance in the Furious Franchise at this point isn't too far off from, say, The Expendables. He can afford to be part of somebody else's franchise even as a punchline because at this point, pretty much everyone knows that he can do pretty much everything...with the added bonus that he has mastered the ninja art of never appearing to do any job just to cash a paycheck. If he's in a movie, he's IN the movie.

THAT's his brand equity. "Come to my movie, know that I'm going to be giving you 100%, and if the movie stinks, it won't be because I didn't care. It's because sometimes movies don't come out as well as you hope."

[Scott Roberts] "I don't know, I feel like I've just rolled with whatever thoughts were in my head there, haha. I'm a little tired.

Hey, that's what I did too. I just think of original, unhinged pictures that work or don't work, and wonder what difference it makes. Some are good, some are bad. Same with franchises and sequels. Flipping into sci-fi mode, anybody here planning to skip the next Star Wars movie on principle, to protest the endless cycle of sequels and reboots?

Of course not. We WANT to revisit old friends, and we WANT those movies to be good. I'm not sure that satisfying sequels aren't often more satisfying than standalone original pictures. Not just in the "the second one was better than the first one" sense, but in the sense of, the LOT of them contribute to the value of EACH of them.

One Star Trek movie in 1966? Not worth much I bet. One Star Trek movie in 1979? DEFINITELY not worth much. But on the whole, who's a more compelling character than Spock, or a more compelling relationship than Kirk and Spock? Maybe Sherlock Holmes? There's just not that many even on the list. For people my age, some of it is because I've spent LITERALLY 49 years as a fan. The Beatles at 51 just passes them, but otherwise, Star Trek is it.

But of course, there's no way Rodenberry said, "Let's launch a franchise that includes movies, sequels, books, comics, cartoons, and theme park rides." He started it to BE original, and he started it to be a TV series...which is one reason I think it lent itself so well to a string of movies. We wanted to watch those characters and stories play out over time.

Part of the problem with The Matrix is that halfway through, you knew everything you needed to know. The rest was icing. I've personally eaten a buuuuuunch of jars of store-bought icing in my life, but I've never eaten more than one at a time. By the end of the first Matrix, I was ready to puke from icing overdose, by the end of the second one, I was so hopped up on icing that I wanted to kill someone, and by the end of the third, I actually DID kill someone.

You may not have actually killed someone, and you might have loved the sequels, but itching for more of them? Waiting to turn into a TV series? Didn't think so.

I still want to see movies that swing for the fences. There's such a thing an honorable failure, every bit as much as a success that doesn't feel entirely earned.

So yeah, just kind of kicking this around with no particular goal. Just chattin'.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Chappie, and The Slightly Incoherent Sci-Fi epic
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:46:00 pm

Okay, saw Chappie this weekend and really liked it a lot.

It looks very much like this early fx demo Blomkamp used to help get money for District 9:

I'm not a fan of Die Antwoord's music, though I was aware of it before the movie. But I actually was greatly impressed by Yolandi's and Ninja's acting. No, it wasn't Shakespeare. But in a future society in a country far different from ours, their speech patterns and manners came across as both alien and familiar, in just the right mix. Seemed very naturalistic and in keeping with their setting and the scripted version of their characters. Watching them change over the length of the film was very rewarding as an audience member. They basically came in as themselves, down to their own hair, makeup and fashions, and all Blomkamp did was sort of curate their performance, the same way strong directors kind of herded Robin Williams in the direction they wanted Robin to go.

I don't think enough has been said about the great mocap work and characterization of Chappie by Blomkamp's friend, Sharlto Copley. I would put some of Sharlto's work up against the best of Andy Serkis. Copley rapidly evolves the droid's character from infant to adolescent in adorable and believable fashion, and makes you care about an inanimate object's feelings and fate.

I will agree that this film is structurally similar to Robocop, in the plot lines having to do with Hugh Jackman's ill-defined character. Sigourney Weaver is likewise mostly wasted, as if Blomkamp didn't know what to do with her, or maybe didn't have the screen time to develop her more fully as the bad executive.

The security of the fictional company at the heart of this story is amazingly bad, and poorly thought-out, in order to advance the plot easily. Blomkamp just has so many plates to spin here, he had to cut corners here and there, I guess. In any case, it's a clearer bit of story-telling than Elysium was.

Even with these minor flaws, Chappie is a must-see for any sci-fi fan, and should entertain more casual movie watchers, as long as they can take the fairly graphic violence.

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