Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Neill Blomkamp’s ambitious efforts to make Chappie an endearing A.I. falls just short of a tall order
ARTH VADER (AV): Sci-fi wunderkind director Neil Blomkamp brings a another A.I./Singularity/Robot Evolution storyline to the big screen in Chappie. One glaring point of continuity is Blomkamp’s love affair with South Africa. Apparently, all science-fiction; A.I. enlightenment, alien invasions, and new technologies gone wrong all occur in South Africa. In keeping with popular Singularity stories, Chappie is the story of A.I. becomes self-aware.
CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTING
AV: What would a Blomkamp movie be without a starring role for Sharlto “District 9 & Elysium” Copley? Copley does the V.O. for Chappie and its palatable but no great insight there. Dev “Slumdog” Patel is sub-par in his role as programmer Deon Wilson (so not the name of someone he could portray). Perhaps the weirdest casting from Chappie comes from Hugh “Snikt!” Jackman, who plays the role of mercenary Vincent Moore. I honestly have NO IDEA why he was in this film, P-Man. He was fine but someone of his (Hollywood) status seemed far out-of-place in the role and added close to nothing to the experience. What were your thoughts, old friend?
TP: This film has the same “feel” as “District 9” and “Elysium” and it’s no surprise as all of them were done by Neill Blomkamp. Using big names may have been a tactic to draw moviegoers in as there didn’t seem to be much depth to Sigourney Weaver’s role, but I dare say it might have worked in the case of casting Hugh Jackman as the villain (a role we don’t normally see him in). Big names aside, I enjoyed the performance of Dev Patel, and Sharlto Copley as Chappie absolutely stole the film.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: Kind of a shoulder shrug when we discuss the visual effects of Chappie. Nothing I hadn’t seen before of sure and while there was general sense of wonder watching the police bots—and later Chappie–walk around amongst people. It did become seamless but major demerits for showing Moore’s ED-209 knock-off tooling around as a walking tank. Honestly, it seemed like it was planted there just to be the robe-antagonist. That said, while the visual effects were mediocre, the film is good–looking and the end fight scene is particularly well done–visually speaking.
TP: The effects were absolutely awesome here Vader. What was CGI? What was real? I don’t know. It all meshed together seamlessly and in the final analysis, that is exactly what you want from your effects in a film. You want the effects to advance the story and become a part of the film, which will have the effect of setting the film apart from other films. The effects of this film accomplished that and the fact I saw it in IMAX was just icing on the cake.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: As much of a fan as I have been of Neill Blomkamp’s work (District 9, Elysium, and lest we not forget he was Spielberg’s choice for the never-saw-the-light-of-day Halo film), I am getting quite tired of every Blomkamp sci-fi film being set in South Africa. Even though Neill and District 9/Elysium co-writer Terri Tatchell produced Chappie’s original script, his storytelling is growing stale. The bloom is definitely off the rose and we are in a place of stagnancy with his work. Neill needs to break himself out of these familiar places. His ideas are strong but the execution is waning fast.
As for Chappie, the name is bogus and sinks the film with its potential audiences. American audiences need things dumbed down to the point where the tile is either something familiar or completely descriptive. Chappie is neither of these and that accounts for a tailspin at the box office that jeopardizes future indie sci-fi flicks as well.
TP: If you don’t like that “South African” feel, then this was a tough film for you to watch. I don’t mind it at all and was able to fully enjoy and appreciate this film. As I said before, artificial intelligence has been done numerous times before, but this film has managed to make an emotional connection through the innocence and victimization of Chappie. I was amazed at this considering that when you really look at Chappie, he does not resemble a human in his features, but exudes humanity in his experiences. Seeking the acceptance of his parents, brutalized by bullies, tricked into nefarious actions, coming to terms with mortality… these are all real-life situations easily identifiable by anyone that has been a child, and I think this was the real appeal and energy of Chappie.
AV: Strictly speaking for myself here, I was tired of this film by the 3rd act and was fast moving toward being impartial to the characters and the plot. Personally I see no need for a follow-up and would be really disenchanted at the prospect of seeing another. P-Man?
TP: The door has been left wide open for a sequel Vader, however this is one of those films that doesn’t need to continue as it is a masterpiece in itself. Sometimes leaving the audience to imagine their own continuation is what makes the film that much more special.
ARTH VADER rates Chappie: Neill Blomkamp remains a science fiction visionary, merging popular sci-fi story arcs and mythos with engaging, human-driven plots and stories. Chappie comes close but doesn’t quite get us there. With a slew of visual effects and an ambitious screenplay, Chappie still falls short of impressive and ends up being a forgettable ‘swing-and-a-miss’ film. Chappie is not a bad film but its just not particularly good. A film barely worthy of the movie-going experience, Chappie fails to ignite the imagination we have come to love from Blomkamp and delivers–in my humble opinion-six (6) busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Chappie: I really enjoyed this film and thought it was truly a masterpiece to be able to tell a story of humanity through the experiences of a robot. It wasn’t just a story of artificial intelligence, but a story of the human experience and easily brought eight (8) busted blocks to life.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Time travel—and a boring screenplay–have their consequences in the painfully amateurish Project Almanac.
ARTH VADER (AV): An original screenplay that–at least on paper—showcases the ‘what if’ prospect of time travel at the hands of some pretty smart teens. The movie did a decent job of considering not just the complications of time travel but the consequences and even implications of temporal displacement. Time travel is a huge favorite topic in sci-fi to be sure but is rarely handled well. Project Almanac has an interesting take on the topic and enters the realm of asking ’what are the consequences?’ Time travel could have massive repercussions in the lives of ourselves and our world.
CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTING
AV: With a cast of relative acting newcomers, Project Almanac is filled with a bunch of beautiful, fresh-faced white kids. The acting was mediocre at best–thats for sure, but the camera work was particularly atrocious as the entire film was shot in that ‘Cloverfield-esque’ handy-cam stye. While it may have helped the film’s authenticity, Ponty, I did not love it. In truth there wasn’t much to love. It did fit (somewhat) with the film’s messaging and storytelling style but those weren’t great, either. Thoughts?
TP: Well Vader, using a relatively unknown cast (for me anyway) was a good move and probably economically viable. I really got into the characters and applaud the acting of these kids to draw me into the story. Jonny Weston was believable and carried the story well. Sofia Black-D’Elia played her role well enough, but ultimately was just very pleasing to look at and added the right element to be a catalyst for the poor decision making of Weston’s character.
AV: Any second-semester computer graphics student at Full-Sail University can generate lightening effects and swirling leaves. Nothing knocked my socks off in the effects realm in Project Almanac. The film’s visual effects weren’t terrible, just mundane. P-Man?
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: I think I am getting to the point in my movie-going journey that trailers are becoming an easy way to decipher a film’s quality or experience. I rolled my eyes like pizza dough when I first watched this film’s trailer. The movie’s choppy, particularly uninteresting storytelling style didn’t help. While all the ‘kids’ were portraying their respective roles to their best capacity, I couldn’t help but keep looking at my watch wondering when this all would start wrapping up. As early as 20 minutes in! The film offered an interesting take on Time Travel but not 106 minutes worth of interesting. (sigh). So Pontificator, how’d you really feel about Project Almanac?
AV: This film had little story to tell and while the ending was compelling, I don’t EVER need to see anymore of this tom-foolery.
ARTH VADER rates Project Almanac: Lacking the polish and storytelling finesse of most Hollywood flicks, this movie is significantly under-imagined, especially for an original property. No viable plot, vapid, empty-headed characters and cinematography that is almost painful to watch, Project Almanac gives me very little to talk about positively, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, Project Almanac is a film that offers a great idea, but no points for grit, style or story integrity. It’s best to put away your Dad’s schematics and head back to class with no more than two (2) busted blocks.
Project Almanac – 3.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Monday, March 30, 2015
Parkour, Evil Babes On Blade Stilts, Secret Gadgets and Even Samuel Jackson With A Lisp, The New-Age Comic Spy Flick Kingsman: The Secret Service Has Everything.
ARTH VADER (AV): Based heavily on the comic book series, Kingsman: The Secret Service is officially listed as a “spy/action/comedy/film”. A film with a sense of humor and sense of itself, the movie ingrains itself to the audience as a smart, almost self-aware film. At more than one point in the film, actors in the film proclaim how “this ain’t that kind of film.” A spawn of the new age of comic-inspired story-telling in cinema, Kingman is fast, fun, and clever, quite like the comics published by Icon.
CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTING
AV: With a strong, veteran cast, Kingsman is solid entertainment. Colin Firth as Galahad is just stellar and Mark Strong as Merlin was terrific. And mad props to sci-fi super-fan-boy favorite, Mark “I am a Jedi, like my father before me” Hamill as Professor Arnold. These three gentlemen came together to deliver a solid performance and brought the caliber of a well-crafted film and a superb screenplay to a level of awesome few films get to enjoy. Director Matthew “X-Men: First Class” Vaughn’s visual storytelling compliments the film’s try and genre magnificently. Excellent cinematic endeavor wouldn’t you say, Pontificator?
TP: This film was well cast and well acted for what it was meant to represent Vader…namely a comic adaption of a spoof on the James Bond genre. Colin Firth played an excellent role as the emotionally invested mentor of Lee (Jonno Davies in his first major film role). Mark Strong was great in his supporting role as was the well established Michael Caine and beautiful Sofia Boutella. I think Samuel L. Jackson was just added for star power, but you really can’t go wrong with him…despite the shallowness of his role.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: A very smart array of visual effects helps make this movie even cooler than it’s idea. This movie did something I have NEVER seen before, and to me, that is the earmark of greatness—success or failure. The in-church fight scene is so action-packed, so infused with choreographed fighting with mind-bending cinematography, you have to take a deep breath after the scene ends. Really. It is that good. When visual effects make me say “…wow that was cool” to myself, well… thats the definition of good effects. To put the cherry on top, it is possible to watch this whole film and not truly even notice the effects they are so seamlessly integrated into the storytelling. That, my friend, is the right stuff.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: Graphic novel adaptations have a checkered past in hollywood. Whether we’re talking the Men in Black franchise, Watchmen, Kick Ass or R.I.P.D., the graphic novel/comic book adaptation is a money making prospect for studios but hit-or-miss for content. Kingsman is a breed apart and can be considered as good as one of the best graphic novel adaptations. It shows how an action/comedy/adventure/spy thriller can entertain, delight and leave us wanting more. Gritty, senses-gripping action makes this film exciting. The characters and screenplay make it a must-watch. My only pause was the mousey or subservient nature of every single female character in the film. This of course, gives us the opportunity to do a more engaging female arc in coming films. Regardless, Kingsman is by far the best film I have seen so far this year. Ponty?
TP: Heh… the year is still young Vader. This film was an obvious spoof on the James Bond series of films although the comic books never felt like that when reading them. Despite the insanely over-the-top gore in the effects, I found myself having extreme fun while watching it. I imagine many people that saw this film were not accustomed to the thick British accents throughout the film, but being an avid watcher of BBC America…I was right at home. I think if there was a template for a super spy spoof film that didn’t take itself too seriously, but still delivered some serious fun, this film fits that mold perfectly.
AV: If there’s more in the store for Kingsman, I’m buying. This movie was solid entertainment, with a screenplay as smart as it was quirky. I could sit through a new Kingsman film every 20-24 months and enjoy it MUCH more than a Fast & Furious flick. Seriously. Action, adventure, comedy, social commentary and visual effects like a boss? Hell’s yeah, sign this brother up for 10 more just like it.
ARTH VADER rates Kingsman: The Secret Service: Truly a great film for action and spy flick lovers. If you like your films fun, your script witty and your action non-stop then I have no idea why you are still in your seat. Kingsman: The Secret Service is the type of movie Hollywood–and audiences–desperately need more of. It sets the pace for the genre and delivers an experience we have all too little of in films these days… a good one. So Kingsman: The Secret Service suits up with nine (9) very well-groomed and deviously-outfitted busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Kingsman: The Secret Service: Knowing the source material well, I was happy to see how successfully it transitioned to the silver screen. I think the effects being extremely graphic while the acting being a bit campy was the perfect blend of fun and entertainment... killing eight (8) busted blocks for King and country.
Kingsman: The Secret Service – 8.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Elf ears, hyper–fantastic alien technology and even Sean Bean can’t deliver the Wachowski’s latest flick from the planet ‘meh’.
ARTH VADER (AV): Jupiter Ascending is an original IP (Intellectual Property) crafted by Lana and Andy Wachowski. One their first original collaborations. The Wachowskis certainly know how to make decent films though they can’t seem to develop a proper screenplay to save their lives. Even the Matrix was someone else’s idea and the first one was stellar. Wikipedia identifies this flick as a “Space Opera” and I am at a real loss as to why, Pontificator. What were your thoughts?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): An “original” film, I am not aware of any previous renditions of this story, which either says it is really an original piece of work, or not really worth the time to think up. I must confess that it actually may be a mixture of both. I thought the plot that the Earth was seeded purely as a future resource was interesting, but the execution of the plot was severely lacking. If by “Opera” you mean it nearly put me to sleep Vader… then yeah, pretty much.
CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTING
AV: I tried Ponty, I really did. I searched high, I looked low I just couldn’t find any evidence of acting anywhere in this flick. It’s like it just wasn’t there. No emotion, no emoting, no magic, no panache and certainly no vested motivation of any kind… anywhere. Someone also fell asleep at the wheel on the casting as Mila “Remember me from TED” Kunis dialed in her performance as 'Jupiter' from a satellite phone. Channing “21 Jump Street” Tatum was so busy posing and trying to look intimidating he forgot to bring any depth whatsoever to the role of the wolf-like Caine Wise (Wise Canine? Really). The saving grace for the category is certainly the direction which chose to use effects to tell the story then characters. But more on that in a moment, P-Man.
TP: There is really only so much a cast, any cast, can do… given the material they are tasked with bringing to the silver screen. In this case, with the plot and script being what it was, I have to extend some slack to the cast for doing the best they could. Channing Tatum is a capable enough actor and having him constantly in motion was probably the best he could hope for in this film. Mila Kunis was actually a bit refreshing given the script as was Eddie Redmayne's over-the-top performance. I am a Sean Bean fan and was disappointed there was nothing of substance for him to sink his acting chops into.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: Ah, now on to the tune value-added element(s) of Jupiter Ascending. The visual effects are other-worldly (see what I did there?). Fantastic technology and stunningly arresting visual and sound effects really are the stuff that help make Jupiter Ascending shine. I can truly say that the intergalactic sailing ships were breathtaking and the sound effects, ships and battle scenes were all top notch. Well done visual effects in Hollywood are the stuff of dreams which is perfect since this movie damn-near puts the viewer to sleep so at least the visual effects are the stuff of dreams. Ponty?
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: The Wachowskis somehow get their hands on really terrific screenplays in Hollywood and do (it seems) everything they can to make them sub par. Now, I know, that is not deliberate, but it is the end result. The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas to name just a few are all properties they get their hands on and flub up. Jupiter Ascending is just one more but when will Hollywood wise up and not give them screenplays that do not give them a massive visual effects budget? This film suffers from a lot of things and one of the glaring ones is a lack of vision. Show me all the pretty graphics you like, but this film is a two hour and seven minute yawner that breaks your will to watch way more than it breaks new ground.
TP: This film had a great idea and somewhere along the way, went mindless with it. The idea that the Earth was really seeded to be harvested later to keep other people immortal is some great science-fiction. Not getting more in-depth with the larger community where all this seems to be normal left me lost. Constantly showing a different alien (or not so alien) species with every new camera shot didn’t help advance the story. It was like watching four years worth of “Star Trek” episodes in two hours….cramming every alien you can make up, but never explaining who or what they are…and expecting me to buy into it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the necessary funds.
AV: No thank you.
ARTH VADER Rates Jupiter Ascending: The New York Post stated it best; "Jupiter Ascending is so bad it's almost good'. As much as I have kicked this film in the shins, this is by far NOT the worst movie I have seen, That said, with the high levels of bile used to make this film and the fact that this film just doesn’t matter, means you can likely rent, buy on video or altogether blow off. Let’s face it, if you miss this one, no points lost. Regardless, I slapped on a pair of elf ears, tossed on my air-glider boots ascended to give Jupiter Ascending three (3) out of 10 Busted Blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Jupiter Ascending: With a great idea and great special effects, this film could have been a lot better than what it was… if it also had a great script and something tangible for good actors to work with. Unfortunately it didn’t have that and was only able to ascend five (5) busted blocks… and got nowhere near Jupiter.
Jupiter Ascending 4 / 10 Busted Blocks
Monday, March 2, 2015
Once again, a mystical youngster is poised to save the world in the perplexing fantasy romp, The Seventh Son.
ARTH VADER (AV): While this oddly named fantasy film owes its original story arc to a book called “The Spooks Apprentice” by author Joseph Delaney (an equally off-putting title if you ask me), the story chronicles the coming-of-age tale of the seventh son of the seventh son (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and quickly morphs into a poor man’s Van Helsing–type ride through the lore of monsters, witches-turned-dragons and all kind of other super-natural thingies. Mind you, dear reader, I have not read the book but the premise, from the other reading I have done to validate it, is that the screenplay is pretty darn close to the source material. Did you read the book, Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I did not read the book Vader, but the idea is as old as time…the world (being represented by a very small actually area) is besieged by witches and demons and the aging lone hero must train a successor to take his place and keep the world safe. Been there, done that…so the only thing that really makes this unique are the actor’s approach to the material.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: The household Hollywood names like Julianne “I just won an Oscar” Moore and Jeff “Anything’s Better than R.I.P.D.” Bridges, delivers that much sought-after star power bump to a film that might otherwise succumb to its own mediocrity. The direction–for me–was all over the place, camera work was deliberately methodical. Talking heads, to side angle, to (unnecessary) helicopter shots the story-telling and the imagery was a hot mess. The acting was a solid “meh” save for the performances from Moore and Bridges. There won’t be any Oscar noms for this one unfortunately, Pontificator.
AV: The effects in the Seventh Son are ‘Ok’ at best. Mostly clean, the effects are good at first but the sky shots of the city were clearly hurried CGI work and the monsters appear onscreen in varying levels of polish. Its hard to create a fantasy film these days without serving up a healthy dose of visual effects but movies these days need more. The visual effects need to help tell the story, not carry it. Unfortunately, films like The 7th Son are not about telling a quality story, regardless of the source material, but rather it hopes to wow us away from the fact that all too often, the story is FUBAR. Thoughts, P-Man?
TP: There was no new ground broken here, although it was very fun to watch this film in IMAX 3D. I don’t think the film utilized the medium to the fullest, even though there were moments when the action seemed to pop off the screen. With such a sparse script and acting, more effects could have certainly been used to help elevate the film.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: To be fair, I didn’t hate this movie (makes you want to run right out and see it now, right?). I went in with the lowest of low expectations, and was mildly entertained. This movie makes little connection and even less sense. Even its title is barely addressed in the film. While the dragons, witches and other supernatural adversaries look great, they fail to elevate the story or the experience. There was a reason this movie was supposed to debut over a year ago and didn’t. Whatever the problem they identified either wasn’t fixed or was so big it trumped other issues like poor acting and shoddy storytelling. And poor storytelling should be the cardinal sin of any film. Seventh Son simply rambles on in a world of McGuffins that are so uninteresting, we simply accept it and move on.
AV: This movie ended with the pretense ‘this is just the beginning’. The narrative pretends like this is all just getting started and to that I say… whatever. The film’s climax left me totally indifferent and while I would entertain returning to another installment, if this film or series is never heard from again, well, let’s just say there won’t be a whole lot of tears shed.
TP: They could certainly do another film…but Ben Barnes is not capable of carrying it. Having Bridge’s character ride off into retirement pretty much spells the end of this story for me…unless they bring him back, and then we are right back where we started…and there is really no need for that.
ARTH VADER rates The Seventh Son: Given the breadth of films due to release in the coming months, this film is, at best, small potatoes. Even blockbuster A-Listers can’t save this dull fantasy romp from itself. The non-sensical story, thin plot, plastic characters and yawn-inducing acting make this movie ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon watch when you simply don’t want to get up from the couch. That said, Seventh Son is granted only three (3) busted blocks in the grand old ‘swing-and-a-miss’ Hollywood money-grab style.
The Seventh Son: 4 / 10 Busted Block