Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

This review is Spoiler-free.

Based on the classic 60's TV show of the same name, this -writ and directed spy caper focuses on the adventures of an American spy () and an Russian one () when they are partnered together to protect a German girl () and catch some evil bad guys who have a nuclear bomb.

I still don't know what U.N.C.L.E. stands for. Probably only because I wasn't paying attention.

Plot really isn't the important part of this movie. It gives way to the movies sense of style, and before you know it 60's glam is permanently in the driver's seat. And credit to where credit is due; it's all quite effectively glamorous. Costumes and cars and cheeky characters lounge around and give off the impression that this is less of a movie and more like a fashion magazine. And eventually the glam turns to glare. I write this a few weeks after seeing the film, and what has stuck with me most is the lack of impression I had concerning almost anything except how the movie looked.

I didn't expect too much from the characters, and got about what I expected to, but the results were turned around a little. I thought Henry Cavill's character would be the most interesting since he was the "main character," but Armie Hammer's character wound up being just as "main" and even more likable and interesting by far -- in spite of the distracting Russian accent. His Illya turned out to be quite a sweetheart with endearing complexities while Cavill's Solo was charming on the surface, but too cool to touch underneath. Vikander's Gaby fell victim to the confusion of an overly-sharp plot twist, and never regained footing back in her character for me after that. was endlessly stoic and elegant, and the most convincingly retro, but her villainous character never strove for anything beyond the surface, in a classic case of style over substance.

Yes, a nap sounds like a nice idea...

The plot never engaged me enough for me to bother to really try and follow it, and by the time I realized that waiting for the action scenes was going to leave me unsatisfied in the end (because action scenes were rather few and far between) it was too late. It was certainly my fault, and thinking back the dramatic scenes were not at all bad, it's just that I was only really engaged in them when they were specifically developing character. And then only really in Illya's case. There were more action scenes at the film's beginning (which in my defense did give me a wrong first impression) and there were only three or four really memorable scenes -- two being a car chase sequence. After the latter car chase, the film puttered off to an end climax based on non-action things -- spy stuff and plot things that I didn't want to pay attention to, and the last "gotcha" moment was just dramatics which, I found, was pretty unfulfilling.

A little romance never hurts, fortunately.

I was hoping this would be a fun and funny caper where I could turn my mind off and enjoy a film that was made to be enjoyed, with no effort required. Unfortunately, the movie didn't have the cotton candy/popcorn flavor that would have found success with me. I knew it wouldn't be a ground breaking feat of the cinema, but it turned out to not be the kind of goofy cheesy spy-flick that turns my head either. Its main goal seemed to be setting up for a sequel that will probably never happen now because they forgot to make the one it had memorable. I simultaneously found it too serious, yet not serious enough; charming, but not drawing, often humorous, but not funny, and dramatic, but not witty. Characters and action stood out, but didn't get enough attention devoted to them to be truly rewarding. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fades away into a brightly colored, jumbled, and hazy ball of not-quite-good-enough.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

How to enjoy 10 Cloverfield Lane -- a step by step guide:
  1. Have a preexisting inclination towards mysterious/psychological/horror/thriller movies -- however slight. 
  2. Do not find out anything more than necessary about the plot beforehand. Don't even watch the trailer. Don't even read this review.
That's it. Simple. But just in case, I'll still keep this review Spoiler-free.

Director jumps straight to level "expert" with his first feature film. And credit to the writers for a detailed and smart story and script.

10 Cloverfield Lane was surprised upon fans with a trailer (and consequential announcement of its existence) a mere two months before the film's release. It is not a sequel of another J.J. Abrams -produced monster-thriller Cloverfield, but it does share a similar flavor and the same universe. Abrams called it a "spiritual successor." I saw and enjoyed the 2008 Cloverfield before watching this one, but it didn't have any effect either way on my understanding or enjoyment of this one.

10 Cloverfield Lane benefits greatly from being such a well-kept secret. The less you know going in the better effect it has, I promise. I knew next to nothing -- and almost wish I had known even less. The movie stars , and as three people who hide in an underground bunker from an undisclosed attack that has left the air toxic; but Michelle's only proof of this is the word of the two men with her, and she doesn't know if she can trust them or not.

If this movie was an evil villain's master plan for world domination instead of a film, it would be unstoppable.

The story uses mystery to its full advantage. Even before you get to the theater the questions and mind games have begun. Then it starts with a palpable sense of dreadful mystery, and the plot is continually building on top of itself from there. Everything -- literally everything -- is constantly increasing. Increasing tension, building urgency, deepening characters, adding question after question while giving out just the right amount of answers to keep you engaged and devouring the next thrilling moment, eyes glued to the screen, wracking your brain for answers but knowing full well you'll never figure it out before you're supposed to. Yet you're never left out of the loop, and every plot point is thought through with careful neatness, so everything makes perfect sense. 

The story is so clean, so simplistic, and every element has a purpose. Every single element both serves to develop character and themes, and is necessary to the plot, all fitting together in the end with the satisfaction of a completed jigsaw puzzle. It's on such a small scale, spending practically all the film in one place, with three characters, and sometimes it edges closer to a drama than a horror/thriller flick. But it establishes itself so well, worming its way deep and permanently into our minds and even eventually our hearts (in true high-quality horror-hero fashion) that by the end it reaches a level of grand magnificence that cannot be topped even by the biggest, loudest superhero blockbuster.

It thrilled me to my core.

Speaking of loud, I loved the way volume was used to startle you out of the usually quiet tension. There was also an unexpected amount of comedy. Black comedy certainly, but genuinely funny. Good thing too -- without the release created by the humor I may have crumpled up into a tiny ball from suspense and the increasing tension. I also want to express my gratitude over this film's clean rating. It could have easily stepped into R-territory, but instead remained PG-13. And you can tell the only things that made it into the movie where things that enhanced the story and furthered the plot. Even violence was shown just enough to get the idea across. The singular dedication to this story is quite impressive, and paid off unarguably well.

The most commonly mentioned critique is that the last stage feels "tacked on" and doesn't fit with the rest of the movie. I feel the complete opposite. For me the endgame was the powerhouse play -- the moments where the impossibly extreme suspense actually pays off to its fullest potential, and the impactful conclusion is delivered with a deafening bang.

I'm giving this film five stars -- it earned every point of each one -- but it's interesting; this is a rare one-and-done five star movie. Most of thrill is held only it the first viewing. Once you see it there's no immediate need to go back in order to understand or pick up on a few more things that you originally missed. Soaking in every last drop the first time is practically guaranteed. But, even though I'm not currently planning my next viewing, it's only been a couple hours since I saw it as I write, and I'm feeling more and more that eventually I won't be able to resist trying to relive the awe-inducing experience of this movie's gripping and exhilarating ending again -- though I doubt it'll be as thoroughly affecting as it was the first time.

I have seriously never, ever seen a film like this before. It's really sticking with me... Yeah, I'm gonna have to see it again.

The performances by all three of the cast members were beautifully nuanced and fantastic. John Goodman was totally brilliant -- he's always good but reached a whole new level here -- and Mary Elizabeth Winstead impressed and won me over exactly as was planned with her resourceful and smart young heroine. Her character journey, to the story's pacing, to tone and technical aspects, right down to the smallest detail was perfect. Yes, truly perfect. Complete and flawless in its storytelling, it totally captivated me, and there isn't one thing I can think of to nit-pick. No tiny plot hole, or irking detail that I'd be happy to ignore. 10 Cloverfield Lane is immaculate, and magnificent. It thrills; it chills; and it confidently fulfills every last one of the mysteriously vague promises it has so cleverly implied are lurking within its dark, windowless walls.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

28 Days Later...

Some Spoilers. Major spoilers are marked.

I always say that I'm not a horror movie person, but I'm finding more and more that zombie movies are almost always an exception. I'd been wanting to watch 28 Days Later for quite a while, and thanks to VidAngel, I was recently enabled to do just that. And it didn't disappoint.

When you wake up from a coma and no one's there... either you have no friends or it's the zombie apocalypse! Either way you have no friends.

Bicycle courier Jim () wakes up from a coma after being hit by a car, to find himself completely alone in a trashed hospital -- in fact, seemingly alone in the entire city of London. Eventually he discovers some very aggressive people with red eyes who act like animals and chase him. He is rescued by Selena () and Mark () who explain the situation to him. People are infected (not technically zombies) with a virus called R.A.G.E. It's in their blood and in their saliva, and if you are bitten, or if even a drop of blood gets in your mouth, you turn within twenty seconds.

The screenplay was Alex Garland's first, and directed, and those two make a great team and some good, memorable movies. The first thing I like about this movie is its zombies and its zombie rules. The infected are fast, malicious, and much smarter than your average zombie. And the ultra-quick turnover time immediately throws out that "Surprise! I was bitten two days ago!" cliche. It's not a bad cliche, but what it's traded in for here is way better: The idea that you might not have time to think before plowing down a loved one who is about to turn.

Great thought, no? Selena's all for it.

This feeds in to one of the movie's themes that, as Selena points out to Jim, living has suddenly become pointless, and the only thing worth anything in the world anymore is survival. How can you truly live if you might have to kill your companions with no warning? But later they throw in with a dad () and his teenage daughter (), and Selena and Jim see that if you have someone to care about, the chaos around you doesn't matter so much.
And these are the reasons why I love the zombie genre. Or rather, they are evidence of the one main reason I love the zombie genre: that the zombies and the chaos and the destruction of civilization automatically and effortlessly creates situation for characters to be put in that you could never find anywhere else. And through that you can develop characters, and explore ideas and truths from a different and heightened viewpoint.

It always comes down to character, doesn't it? This movie is effectively terrifying for plenty of technical reasons, but I'm going to spend most of the time talking about what Jim and his companions go through because ultimately there's no point in a movie being scary if there isn't at least one character involved who's worth rooting for. It doesn't hurt at all the he's played by one of my favorite actors, but Jim is a character that evokes thought and has a realistic kind of reluctant-hero journey that I love.

Why are zombie movies such a good medium for exploring human nature?

He starts out a little bit behind the curve. He's just a bike courier and everyone else he meets has already had 28 days of witnessing and getting used to their lives being turned upside down. Selena was probably a pretty average person before, but she's learned to be cold and detached. Jim is reluctant to become that kind of person. It doesn't even appear to be in his nature; he spends most of the movie tagging along and surviving off the coattails of the others. But he's the hero of this story so it has to happen, and circumstances keep pushing him towards a breaking point until finally he hits an ultimatum; become a full-on hero, or be a bad guy.

So of course he fulfills the heroic role -- and is scary good at it too, and is even cooler and more hardcore at it than Selena -- though that was mostly luck because that last sequence wouldn't have been nearly so cool if it weren't raining and he hadn't lost his shirt. (Zombie movies, right?) He was also pretty lucky to have an opportunity to escape being executed by the villainous rogue soldiers (who were led by ). But seriously, Cillian Murphy is fantastic, and I loved that he got to be not only the hero and main character, but also the good, average nice guy and the scary and volatile type person he's known for playing.

There's no backdrop like a zombie apocalypse for creating complex grey-area heroes.

Ending Spoilers -- next 4 paragraphs. So by the end Mark is long gone and Hannah's father dies at the end of the second act. That brings back the question of living vs. surviving as Jim thinks Hannah will be able to cope without her father, but Selena says she doesn't want her to have to cope, she wants her to be okay. Then the end happens; Jim rescues the girls from the soldiers, (so violently that Selena thinks he's infected but hesitates to kill him, effectively admitting that she cares for him which leads to kissing and an "aw"/"ew" moment). Then he is shot by Eccleston but survives and the three live happily in the country waiting for the infected to starve so they can be rescued. And they seem okay in their makeshift family. They not only survive, but they live. A surprisingly happy end in comparison with the abrasive darkness of the previous two hours maybe, but it wraps up that theme so well that I can't help but love it.

Alternate endings: There are three, and I'm mentioning them because they are included in my enjoyment of this story. Normally I'd ignore alternates but somehow the genre and the story's themes make me open to them in this case. In one, Jim dies from the gunshot wound. The girls try to save him but eventually walk away to an uncertain fate. Jim still becomes a hero (an important point in the film) but it does away with the living theme. In the second we don't see Jim die but he is just not present as the girls wait in the country. That one seems like the worst as it leaves everything a bit too unresolved.

If leading characters are gonna die, it works best if we care about them first.

The third alternate changes the entire third act: Hannah's father Frank turns, but instead of killing him, the three manage to subdue him. They explore a research facility for "the answer to infection" promised in the radio transmission (which in the other story line was a ruse from the soldiers, who are nonexistent here). They find a man behind a locked door and he tells them how to cure an infected. Blood transfusion. Jim's blood is the only match for Frank, giving Jim his hero-ultimatum moment which he passes, sacrificing himself for Hannah and her dad.

The end shows Selena, Hannah, and Frank being admitted into the locked room to await rescue; and Jim infected, strapped to the same table as the ape at the movie's beginning. Story telling wise, this is the most effective alternate. There's a neat full-circle thing going on, a good heroic journey for Jim (not as cool as the one used, but does end tragically), and the family is intact. However there was a huge plot hole that according to the movie's zombie rules, a blood transfusion would only succeed in infecting both people. So they used the right and best ending, but I did enjoy these on the side. I found them (minus the second) on YouTube. The first is filmed, but the third is just a storyboard. End of major Spoilers.

The rainy attack sequence was just too good.

So all that drama, character development, and surprisingly deep themes going on had a lot to do why I like this movie so much, but it's still all going on underneath a whole lot of zombie horror. The two sides find a balance and a harmony and work together to create the whole of what this movie is, and both sides would have been pointless without each other. The crazy zombie plot gave a platform for the drama and characters that then feed back into the action and gave it meaning.

The film's look and style (besides being distinctive to Danny Boyle) is gritty and almost even cheap looking -- while still having precise and artistic camera angles and shots -- giving it all a realistic rough and edgy feel that draws you in. The pacing felt non-stop but never crowded; the script is smart and not constantly filled up with profanity; and the heroes are involving and worth cheering for. Simultaneously defying and establishing modern zombie lore, 28 Days Later is a hard-hitting zombie movie that knows, understands, and boldly executes exactly what makes zombie movies great.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

And Then There Were None

I'll start with a spoiler-free review, and probably add a spoiler section at the end. If you don't know this story it is not one you want to have spoiled -- and in fact I would even recommend reading the book before watching any film adaptations. Because, as we all know, the book is always better. However, this new three-hour BBC miniseries comes magnificently close.

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Ten people are invited to a mansion on a tiny island, where they are then killed off one by one in a manner dictated by a children's poem that hangs in every room. Starring in alphabetical order: , , , , , , , , , and .

The only other film version of this I've seen is the 1945 one, which was really quite disappointing by having neither a tone nor even a plot that was accurate to the novel. This one was the first adaptation in quite a while, and being made in modern times, it was practically guaranteed to have the right amount of darkness in its tone, and also boasts an absolutely fantastic cast. Even the characters that die first have big names to them, and are characterized so well that when they suddenly die you honestly feel like it was before their time.

Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

The run time was around three hours, and in the first half-hour to hour, the film gets off to a very slow start. I was impatient for the murdering to get going, and once it did things picked up pretty well and started a nice slow-build to the end, but before that it didn't sit right. I'm all for movies taking their time to set up properly, but here it felt like the film was actively stalling and trying to wait as long as possible to start the bloodbath. Later, the plodding, smoothly moving pace creates some quite thrilling suspense, but it should have started with more of a beat.

That is one of two problems that actually dampened my watching experience, but the second is spoiler-y, so I'll get to it later. One thing that annoyed me a little but didn't hinder any enjoyment was that any sexuality in the story was amped up and squeezed in because you-know-you-gotta-have-that-stuff! All was kept at a PG-13 level though, and with a quick tap of the remote they were skipped with no harm done. Still, I reserve the right to be annoyed. People just don't seem to understand that Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None was actually one-hundred percent perfect exactly the way it is, and that the best way to adapt it would be to translate it to the different medium as exactly as possible and resist the temptation to add one's own "spin" or anything else.

Eight little Soldier Boys traveling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.

This adaptation ultimately flounders while trying to add its own spin but succeeds in being the best adaptation yet by attempting to add or change the least amount of things. It smartly takes most of its cues from the novel, and expertly plays the chilling terror of this mystery. It is gruesomely violent on occasion and is always giving off a feeling of dread as it slowly and methodically goes through its horrible checklist. The cast delivers spectacularly with many poignant performances, and whenever the script remains in the adaptation area, it does its job beautifully. I almost wish it were shorter, and had less of a "period drama" feel to it, because it takes a little patience and a certain amount of interest to actually watch it, but for me it was easy -- even with the overlong beginning. It's not perfect, but it's flaws you can count on one hand and I am happy to consider it the current (and first) definitive film adaptation of Christie's masterpiece.

Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Spoiler Warning! (From here to the end.)
And now on to some points that involve spoilers. First of all, a little more on the cast: Douglas Booth impressed me with his short-lived character, as did Anna Maxwell Martin in her nearly unrecognizable and creepy role. They, and then Sam Neill, Noah Taylor and Miranda Richarson were the first half to go, and while each of their characters were fully developed, the remaining five were doubly so. Toby Stevens' Doctor and Burn Gorman's Inspector Blore defined their characters so well, while in the book they never stood out to me. The characters that did stand out in the book where Vera (Maeve Dermody) and Lumbard (Aiden Turner) and they were the two I was most excited to see. And another whose performance I was highly anticipating, Charles Dance, did impress effortlessly and coolly -- when he was able that is -- sadly his character was involved this show's worst failing.

Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Turner was Lumbard down to the bone -- ideal casting. Dermody was the only actor in the show I'd never seen before, and she impressed me right along with the rest of them. And I liked that these two were given more attention overall; so we could get even more attached to them before they died. The scene on the beach when they are down to two and Vera shoots Lumbard was my favorite part of the book, and I was thrilled by how it played out here. So intense, terrifying and tragic; it was spot-on perfection, and the highlight of the whole production. After that Vera is supposed to go back to her room, find a noose waiting for her, and willingly hang herself. The book then gave us an epilogue to explain everything. But that's where this adaptation made its biggest blunder.

Here, instead, Justice Wargrave reveals himself to Vera once she's alone and explains his whole plot to her -- villainous monologue style -- effectively bringing the story to a screeching halt mere seconds before the end of the climax. It totally destroys the pacing that was up until then very tight and brilliantly effective, just so that there wouldn't have to be an anticlimax in order to explain everything. After he finishes his monologue the pace isn't able to get up to speed enough before the end and therefore the end doesn't have to power it should have had. Instead it was rather confused and sadly disappointing compared to what I was expecting after the previously mention magnificent highlight on the beach.

Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

That final flaw being so close at the end makes it stick in my mind and put a pretty large damper on the whole production, but when I remember everything else, it's flaws are in such a small percentage of the show that it doesn't seem fair to judge it all only on my disappointed last impression. I want to re-watch it soon, in the hope that my adjusted expectations in some places might help my overall impression be more evenly positive. Right now, I completely adored some of it, and actually despise other parts. The cast was flawless, and the characterization wonderful. The violence level was exactly where I was hoping it would be. And the tone was somberly rich and thrilling, and even legitimately scary. Not cheap horror-jump-scares, but real, chilling fear.

One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

And considering it all, all the flaws I saw where just things that lightened the fear and the darkness, or made the disturbing, sobering side of the story less hard-hitting. I suppose it's hard to create and develop characters so well only to kill them off with no resolution, abruptly and heartlessly. And I suppose that the fact that no one can do it with as much resolve as this story's original creator even making an adaptation speaks quite powerfully to why Agatha Christie is the one who is called the "Queen of Crime." You can rise to some pretty impressive heights and still not even hope to match her.

Friday, March 11, 2016


This review is Spoiler-free.

Memory detectives. They are a special kind of psychic that with the use of special technology and the right formal setting can enter into a subjects memories and witness events they never saw for themselves. In this world, the ability hasn't quite been accepted by the whole world as an absolute way to discover the truth, but it often plays a useful part.

John () was one of the more talented viewers, until his personal memories began to interfere with his work, and puts his life at risk. He goes on leave, but slowly runs and of money and must return. His boss () gives him a job that should be easy -- a rich teenage girl named Anna () is on a hunger strike and her parents hire John to use his skill as a therapeutic way to convince her to eat. But he quickly discovers that this job is nowhere near as simple as it seemed, and the more he gets to know his patient and searches through the brilliant but disturbed girl's memories, the more it seems that something sinister is afoot.

There are four things about this film that make it memorable.

Number one: Mark Strong. I've always enjoyed seeing him in movies. He shows up quite often, and always does a great job, keeping that movie's energy and interest going while it's not focused on the hero -- because he's usually in a supporting role or a villain. Here, he's the lead, and it was really great to see him pull the movie almost singlehandedly, and so effortlessly. He has a fantastic, mesmerizing screen presence (that is perfectly complemented by this film's tone) and his character of John was simultaneously an endearing and hardcore type hero. I totally and thoroughly enjoyed watching him take the leading role and will now be keeping an eye out for more films were he does the same.

Number two: Speaking of mesmerizing -- Taissa Farmiga hits a striking balance of coldness and mysterious depth as Anna. I've never seen her in anything else, and I was impressed by her performance in the very complicated role she had. She played off of Mark Strong very well and their scenes together are quite good. The kind of character Anna is is a hard one to portray on screen; where the character is more in her thoughts than it is in what she says, yet she hides her thoughts, keeping them from surfacing via facial expressions. It's a hard conundrum to get past, and Farmiga handles it well, always coming across the way she's supposed to, and only once or twice reminding me that she was acting.

Number three: The suspense aspect. This movie is one of the more effective and pure-bred suspense films I've seen, and it really worked on me. I spent the whole movie wondering, thrilled, and tensely waiting for the conclusion while the plot glided easily along in a classic slow build-up to the action-based and intense climax. I watched the movie twice (more on that in a second) and while I did still enjoy and appreciate the suspense aspect the second time as well, the not knowing where the plot was building to was what engaged me most the first time. It was the most involving point of the whole film and made for a great viewing experience.

Number four: This is a memorable thing that may not be totally a good thing -- the mystery side of things. This is why I watched the movie again so fast. I had a lot of questions after the first viewing and wanted to see if I could piece the open ends together. I did to my own satisfaction, but I had to use simple opinions and guesswork; the movie leaves a lot of the mystery unexplained. Not that it isn't explainable, just that the film never bothers to. So there are two sides to look at for this. On one hand, loose ends bother me as it seems like laziness, but on the other, the main point of the ending was made clear, and explaining all those side ends may have taken away from the impact and artistry of the film. Plus, it made me think, and that's never a bad thing.

Recommendation-wise, I only have one reservation; that the movie earns its R in one scene with quick flashes of nude photos. Anna is an ideal movie for people who enjoy giving their brains a workout while being entertained, and even more ideal for people who appreciate the subtlety of suspense. Farmiga and Anna's intriguing character add a lot, but ultimately this is Mark Strong's movie. He is both the focus of the film and the thing that hold it all together, with his enigmatically captivating and commanding presence.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


It's the near future, (isn't it always?) and Johannesburg, South Africa is the first city to implement the use of robotics in law enforcement. The police bots are an instant and huge success, but their creator, Deon () is far from satisfied. He's working on an AI program that he hopes, when installed in a bot, will give it a consciousness, and make is just as human as anyone else. Deon's coworker, Vincent () also designed a police bot, but his was rejected, and he's dangerously envious.

Elsewhere there's an outlaw gang who owe an even scarier gangster a lot of money. In an attempt to get a police bot and program it to work for them, they end up kidnapping Deon and a decommissioned bot that he was sneaking away from the facility to test his AI on. He gives them the bot and installs the AI for them in exchange for some visiting privileges so he can run tests.

The result is Chappie.

Chappie () starts out a complete blank slate and as innocent as a baby, but he learns quickly. Deon wants to test his humanity; the gang's leader Ninja () wants to skip the growing up part and get him ready to fight for him; and Yo-Landi () quickly adopts a motherly role toward him. A lot of the film is spent in observing Chappie learn and develop under the influence of these three conflicting teachers. Chappie learns how to make art, how to be a cool gangster, what a promise is, and is read bedtime stories. And you can see so much of Copley behind the character; he moves like him and he sounds like him, and Copley gives a dynamic performance with vigor, portraying child-like naivete, genius smarts, and chill badassery all in due turn. No one does this kind of thing like Sharlto Copley.

And no one directs this kind of thing like Neill Blomkamp. This latest film effort from him feels more District 9 than Elysium, and that does it plenty of favors. Set back in the unique world of sci-fi J-burg again, boasting an intriguing premise, but backing it up with a more convincing heart than Elysium offered, Chappie feels less contrived and more just plain out of the ordinary world. There's no shortage of speculative AI films out there, but this one manages to find a new pathway to tread that I found surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining.

He's just a robot in photos, but on screen he comes alive just as well as a human character can.

I started with low expectations because of the bad rap this movie got. And I see why people may have been disappointed, because Chappie isn't really an action film like it seems to be -- or at least not nearly so much as you might expect. Besides bits and pieces, the movie only ever builds up to one big action sequence at the end, and otherwise spends a questionable amount of time in sentimentality-land. I didn't mind it personally -- I got drawn into the wonder of its themes which were, as wrong as they are in reality, undeniably compelling in fiction. The movie makes sense within itself and is fairly smart as well.

Then whenever we are given action it satisfies and makes up pretty well for anything lacking when Chappie was, say, playing with dolls. Chappie earns its R with confidence and unique style in the violence category (there's also a fair bit of language, and the helpful VidAngel cut out the "brief nudity" bit seamlessly). The movie's action is strikingly intense and its violent imagery makes quite an impact. Plus with the writing slowly building us up to the end, both in plot progression and in character, the slower beginning is forgivable because the movie knew where it wanted to go and got there the way it wanted to. And though you may well complain that it is sometimes silly and sentimental or awkwardly strange, it never fails to get its point across and has plenty of interesting things to say.

"Don't laugh, I'm being cool!" (The true reason I liked this movie: everything sounds better in a South African accent.)

I didn't fall in love with this one like I did District 9, but it certainly didn't leave me feeling disappointed and underwhelmed like Elysium did. I was there to be entertained by the winning Blomkamp and Copley duo, and I was, and got a little to think about afterwards as a bonus. My enjoyment varied and wobbled around a little, but ultimately I found the story involving, the characters neat and unique (and not just Chappie -- but mostly Chappie) and the storytelling stylish and memorable. Chappie is a conditionally winning robot-coming-of-age story.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - March

February was another slow movie month for me. I still want to see P&P&Z, and Hail, Caesar! -- plus Eddie the Eagle which I missed when doing my last Upcoming Movie post, but have taken notice of since -- but I haven't gotten to the theater for any of them, and will probably just end up waiting. But maybe not, because March doesn't have any must-see-in-theater flicks either (as far as I can tell), though it does have quite a few that land in the same "really want to see at some point" category that the previously mentioned three are waiting in.

Which March movies look interesting to you?

London Has Fallen
Mar 4th; R
Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler return as the President of the United Stated and his loyal bodyguard who saved his life in the last film and is gonna do it again. But it London. With higher stakes, I assume. I caught Olympus Has Fallen on TV a while back, and enjoyed it pretty well. Though I thought it was pretty bad, it had a violent, serious appeal, and it was certainly better than White House Down with much more likable leads and its more hardcore vibe. So I wouldn't mind catching this one too someday.

Mar 4th; PG
It's not like I don't want to see this one, but right now I'm super tired of the trailers getting everywhere. Animated Disney movie trailers are seriously the worst things ever. They make this movie look so annoying and are probably giving away all the jokes too. However I have learned to not judge a Disney animation by its trailer, and all the extremely positive reviews coming in are much more convincing that this one may just be a gem. But the sloth jokes are driving me crazy.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant
Mar 18th; PG-13
Uuuuhhhhhh. Is it worth mentioning that Insurgent was so boring that I was basically done with this series as soon as I saw it? First of all, Allegiant was the worst book of the series, and I don't care to see it end on screen. There's no enjoyment for me there, unless some huge changes are made. Secondly, this isn't even the end, because (that's right!) the last book is split into two movies! Yaayyyy... Except no Part1/Part2, now there's an "Ascendant" to look forward to. I'm not saying I'll never see this one or the last one. There is after all, the matter of my curiosity and my favorite character Peter. But seeing it in the theater is a long shot. Almost as a long a shot as this movie breaking the pattern and being a truly good movie!

Midnight Special
Mar 18th; PG-13
I seem to find one every month. One movie that I know noting about but the cast makes me immediately want to see it. This time it's this sci-fi film that want to be like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the interesting cast is Adam Driver and (his great uncle in the Star Wars universe!) Joel Edgerton. And slightly less interestingly, Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst. Plus it has the writer and director of Mud, which I absolutely adored. I love me some sci-fi, so the plot does actually seem intriguing too, and reviews are pretty positive, so I just may be giving this one a watch sometime!

The Little Prince
Mar 18th(limited); PG
This one's been a long time coming, but is finally almost here. This trailer is pretty spectacular, and the cast is large and talented, and I expect it'll be a very well-received movie. It looks great, I'll be very surprised if it isn't, and I'm definitely planning to want to see it for myself.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Mar 25th; PG-13
Do you have any idea of how hard it was for me to not type "Bateman vs. Superbman" just then? It was a struggle. At least I got it out of my system now. So Henry Cavill is back and Zack Snyder is back, and Ben Affleck's Batman is about to get its debut, and I can't decide what I think. Should I laugh? Cry? Shrug and roll my eyes? Forget about his whole thing and wait for a good hero vs. hero movie to come along -- AKA, Civil War? Funny enough, it actually looks like a decent Batman movie at the beginning of this trailer. Then Supes and Drama and Snyder's infamous action style shows up, and I'm back to rolling my eyes. Anyway, I guess I'm done now. Moving on...

I Saw the Light
Mar 25th(limited); R
Tom Hiddleston has faded a little away from the peak of his popularity, but he's still a talented actor and I imagine he does a fantastic job in this role. I don't think I'd mind watching him in anything even if he does trade in his British accent for a country one that sound like what I hear all the time, and he even sings in this movie to make up for it.... But besides that I have absolutely no interest in this movie whatsoever. It does not look good. And as much as I like Hiddleston, he's not going to be enough to get me to watch this. Ho-hum reviews coming in seem to share my opinion.