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Film Review: Chappie

Review by Graeme Wood



Neil Blomkamp brings us his third feature following the critically acclaimed audience favourite ‘District 9’ and the less successful Hollywood looking but soulless ‘Elysium’.

In a near future Johannesburg a robot police force are being deployed to clean up the gangster ruled streets of the city. The robots creator Deon Wilson dreams of taking the robots development further and introducing a consciousness, something his finance driven boss Michelle Bradley forbids. Taking matters into his own hands Deon steals a badly damaged robot in an attempt to upload his new software, plans go badly awry however when a criminal gang kidnap him and he is forced to adapt the robot in a plan to make it steal for them. Meanwhile, his rival for funding Vincent Moore, frustrated by the company’s refusal to further develop his altogether less subtle ‘Moose’ law enforcement robot programme, exploits the situation to his own ends.

It’s an intriguing scenario especially with the surrounding South African backdrop providing a different visual feel and the pacy narrative is never less than gripping. The essence of the film is that Chappie_FilmStillonce adapted with a consciousness Chappie, as the robot is named; will quickly develop into something more than human. It’s a familiar theme for movies this year having been explored in ‘Ex-Machina’ and the soon to arrive ‘Avengers-Age of Ultron’. ‘Chappie’ plays as more intelligent version of Robocop but there is also plenty of humour to be had in the scenes of Chappie’s childlike growth and his behaviour when copying the slang and attitudes of his gangsta ‘mother’ Yolandi and ‘father’ Ninja. Yet there is also a certain sadness that he is so easily led into acts of criminality, drawing some parallels with bad parenting skills perhaps. Yet the film never tips over into gimmicky or sentimental overplay, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell ensure matters remain earthy, edgy and never more than a moment away from quite shocking violence.

What is remarkable is how easily we warm to Chappie itself, played using motion capture and voiced by District 9’s Sharlto Copley, the very metal looking robot mimics human body language well enough to covey its awkwardness and emotions with ease. As it develops you can see it moving from curious child through adolescence to gullible adult without it changing appearance accept for an amusing ‘street’ makeover complete with tattoos and bling. Even Chappie’s face somehow manages to convincingly emote while remaining nothing more than a small screen with moving parts and lights.

Visually there is little attempt to glamorise the city itself and it remains a bleak landscape with Blomkamp focusing on its more downtrodden areas. Like his two previous films it is worth noting that save for Dev Patel’s Deon Wilson almost all of the company employees and gangsters are played by Chappiefilm_kushfilms.comwhite actors. A few smaller roles within the police force only are played by black actors. Do Chappie and Deon, persecuted throughout; therefore represent something more than their characters? It’s hard to say as, despite there being plenty of opportunity for racial allegories; the writers do not appear especially interested in delving too deeply into the social aspects of matters. For example, no attempts are made to draw on why people would be so accepting of a robotic police force, though there is a religious sub-plot touched upon when Moore views Chappie’s self-awareness as a god-less abhorrence.

Some may struggle with the first act which is a little too hectic and packed with unlikeable criminals speaking in barely distinguishable South African slang. Oddly the cut I saw had subtitles for a character who was perfectly comprehensible but none for snatches of the Afrikaans dialogue.

Dev Patel is therefore our only identification figure, at least until Chappie is rebooted, and handles the role of benign father with likeability and charm, though any real scientists watching may be wincing at his work methods. Oddly the two least well drawn characters are played by the biggest Chappie_HughJackmannames. Sigourney Weaver gets to scowl a lot in her office but is sorely underused, while Hugh Jackman relishes his casting against type as antagonist Moore whose motivation, while explained becomes unbelievable as he resorts to increasingly melodramatic methods to prove his robot is every bit as good as Deon’s. If this is supposed to represent his inner clash between veteran soldier and the scientist he has become then it merely falls into Alpha Male territory.

Of the other cast both actors who play the robot’s surrogate parents, Ninja (yes that’s his actual name) and Yo-Landi Visser, who are part of a rap group in real life, bring a down to earth and very South African feel to things, Ninja is the least likeable and brings little warmth or presence to his mindless gangsta shtick, both feel ‘too white’ though to have cast black actors would have felt too stereotypical. There characters bear the same names and though shrill and unlikeable they have an interesting arc within the film. The bond they develop with Chappie seems to bring them together as a family unit to the point that both become heroic in the last act. This supports the development of Chappie and draws on the underlying theme of family. Not that it all ends in a cosy finale; after a number of high octane action sequences, delivered by Blomkamp in all their messy glory, the climax is even more visceral. The fact that you’re rooting for two criminals and a robot says much about the way the film draws you into this unusual, flawed but inventive story. There is a hasty epilogue about transferring human consciousness into robot bodies that makes little sense and leaves Chappie an ultimately flawed but very enjoyable film.


New Films In Cinemas and Others Coming to a Cinema Near You Soon


2015 looks like its going to be another bumper year for an array of films including African-American black films. Here is a short list of new films to look out for in cinemas this week and over the next couple of months.

In cinemas now is the Jennifer Aniston, Sam Worthington relationship drama ‘Cake’ the film received mixed reviews on its opening in the US but there has been acclaim for Aniston’s performance, some say she should have been nominated for ‘Best Actress’ at the recent Oscars. The film follows Aniston’s character as she attempts to investigate the suicide of a fellow chronic-pain support group member.

View the trailer:

Kung Fu Killer opened up on the 20th February and is directed by Teddy Chan and stars martial arts legend Donnie Yen; this martial arts epic sees Yen play Hahou a former cop and top martial artiste who turns killer after killing another man in a vicious fight.  He is locked up in prison but when a mysterious killer starts to kill one by one all the top martial art fighters in town he is used by the police to track down the murderer in return for his freedom. The movie premièred at last year’s BFI Film Festival and has good reviews.

View the trailer:

Kevin Hart’s comedy The Wedding Ringer is now on release at UK cinemas following its success in the US, the comedy sees Hart as the owner of Best Man Inc providing friends for grooms, the film also stars the ‘Big Bang Theory’’s Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Josh Gad.

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Another hit from the Sundance and BFI Film Festival is the Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, an erotic and visually arresting drama about a cruel butterfly professor and her maid.
Released on 20th February and in cinemas now.

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This week also sees director and co-writer Daniel Wolfe’s independent hit Catch Me Daddy have a limited UK release, this dark British thriller won over critics at Cannes last year and follows Laila, a girl on the run from her family but pursued by her brother and his gang of thugs.

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Will Smith returns to our screens in Focus; Glenn Ficarra and John Requa direct Smith as he plays a veteran con artist who takes a novice con artiste played by Margot Robbie under his wing. The movie pairing is hotly anticipated and has a simultaneous release with the US on the 27th of February.

Here’s the trailer:

Looking ahead to March first up is Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie a sci-fi fable about a police droid who is secretly given new programming enabling it to feel and think for itself. But there are some who cannot allow this to happen and Chappie becomes a wanted droid who has to learn to fend for itself. The film stars Brit Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman and opens March 6th in UK cinemas.

Watch the trailer:

The Sundance and BFI Film Festival hit Difret from writer/director Zeresenay Mehari also hits UK cinemas March 6th. After she kills her abductor, a 14 year old teenager challenges Ethiopia’s tradition of kidnapping girls and forcing them into marriage.

See trailer here:

Director Gregg Araki’s intriguing thriller White Bird in a Blizzard tells the story of a teenager’s newfound freedom after her disturbed mother vanishes. Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green and Christopher Meloni and based on the novel by Laura Kasischke, the movie opened to mixed reviews in the US but should be worth catching for Green and Woodley’s performances.
Released March 6th

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Opening 13th March is Saul Dibb’s Suite Francaise based on the Irene Nemirovsky novel an epic World War II romantic drama starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoena, Ruth Wilson and Margot Robbie. Set in 1940’s occupied France the story follows a young woman awaiting news of her soldier husband whilst leading a suffocating life with her domineering mother-in-law.

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BBC Films brings Morgan Matthews ‘X + Y” on 13th March, starring Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan. This compelling feel good drama follows an autistic young Yorkshire boy, who has a remarkable gift for Mathematics but is unable to connect with those around him.

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March 20th sees the arrival of the Divergent-Insurgent movie based on the books and the second film in the series, the first movie opened last year and took an impressive $288,747,895 globally at the box office. The futuristic tale of a fractured society and gutsy heroine/saviour that many feared too similar to the Hunger Games to be a success, stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet.

Here’s the Trailer:

Opening the same day and the same week as the US is Pierre Morel’s gritty thriller The Gunman, starring Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba. This high-octane action thriller follows a former Special Forces soldier, played by Penn, on the run to clear his name and reconnect with his long-time lover.

Here’s the Trailer:

The latest Dreamworks animated feature ‘Home’ arrives late March, featuring the voices of Rihanna, Jim Parsons and Jennifer Lopez this should make for good family fun. The plot follows a fugitive alien Oh, voiced by Parsons, as he arrives on Earth following the relocation of the planet’s population by the Boov. Oh meets and makes friends with the only remaining human, a little girl called Tip (Rihanna).

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And finally the end of March brings a British sci-fi action thriller from director and co-writer Jon Wright, ‘Robot Overlords’, The film’s headlining young cast hold their own against the likes of Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley and Steven Mackintosh in this ambitious tale of a Robot invasion of Earth. Shot mostly in the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland the film had modest reviews at the London Film Festival but may be just the thing for Easter!

View the Trailer:


That’s it folks until next time!