Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trying To Put The Surge In Insurgent

Another teenage girl threatening to save us all? Say it isn’t so! 


ARTH VADER (AV): Following in the foot-steps of the first in the series installment, Divergent, Insurgent furthers the tale of super-special super kid, Tris who’s out to save the world (wonder if her room is clean). I get the sense these days that having a successful movie means establishing a franchise then hammering the idea of the movie over and over and over until moviegoers cry ‘uncle’ and just go. This is the distribution tactic that drives Insurgent. What did you think, Ponty? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): When talking about a film adapted from a novel, there will always seem to be continuity issues Vader. This film is no exception as it took several liberties in retelling events in the book, from making major characters minor to leaving characters from the books out of the film altogether. Despite the many changes from that page to the screen, some might even say outright departure from the literary source, this film managed to get where it was going.


AV: The cast from Divergent returns to Insurgent (Duh). Shailene “Tris” Woodly and Theo “Four” James reprise their roles and B-Listers Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Ashley Judd, Mekhi Phifer and Zoe Kravitz all come back as the story blunders in a society divided by walls, mistrust and deceit based on the division of the five virtues. The idea is ok but the execution is kind of hoo-hum. Neil Burger’s direction is compelling and the film is a joy to watch cinematographically. 

TP: Shailene Woodley and Theo James return to their roles as Tris and Four and deliver what was expected of them as the story progresses along with their relationship. There was no surprise, or disappointment. Kate Winslet continued to be the film’s villain and I thought she was very.…villainous, in the role. The roles of Jai Courtney and Mekhi Phifer were little more than cameo’s this go round and there really isn’t much to say about the few glances the film took in their direction. Overall, the film rolled right along and didn’t get bogged down with a lot of filler.


AV: With no shortage of visual effects to try and amaze the audience, Insurgent is a good looking movie that puts you in the thick of this selectively post-apocalyptic future-gone-wrong city of Chicago. Sure it looks great but nothing we haven’t seen before, Pontificator. Sci-Fi effects, as we have discussed in other reviews, has matured to an impressive standard and these flicks all look good. Really good actually, but that said, these rocking visual effects are so good, we are desensitized to their awesomeness. But what does that say about visual effects–and a movie–that is just this side of forgettable almost as soon as I leave the theater? 

TP: The special effects were very good in this film. As is my custom, I always see a film in IMAX 3D when available and such a decision usually only enhances the special effects and moviegoing experience. This film took advantage of the medium, especially during the simulation sequences where there was a lot more latitude to use them. Overall, the effects enhanced the film and while nothing ground breaking was done, they didn’t drop the ball either.


AV: Hard to know when us movie-goers will get to see a decent original story in our beloved sci-fi and fantasy space but until then, we have these franchise money grabs. I am not qualified to proclaim the legitimacy of this films and their place in the cultural tapestry. I am qualified to let you know if I like them or not. I don’t. While I do hold a special place in my fan boy heart for all things Sci-fi and fantasy, these do not count among them. This is not an example of the hero’s journey that is particularly interesting or inspiring in any way. 

TP: Well.…the plot of this film could have used a little more attention. It didn’t make much sense that nobody else in the Erudite faction thought to even question the motivations and decisions of Jeanine given they didn’t always seem logical or the intellectual thing to do. It also didn’t make sense that the box that was supposed to reveal the true purpose of their society killed the very people it deemed most important if they failed to open it. It would have made more sense for Jeanine to simply kill the failures and anyone else that questioned her (after having someone question her) to both make sense and really drive home how villainous and driven Jeanine really was.


AV:  I am sure the story of how Tris “saves us all” needs to be wrapped up with a pretty little CGI bow and brought to conclusion. We need that, we want it and dozens of vaguely compelled teenage girls are clamoring (somewhat) for it. So by all means Hollywood, give us more. 

TP: Well… if the box office numbers are large enough, we will likely see a film adaption of the third novel in the trilogy, Allegiant. I do, however, like how that this film ended in such a way that if a third film is not coming, the story can stand as is.


ARTH VADER rates Insurgent: In all fairness, I didn’t hate this flick (I know, its not like you’d ever know it by my crit), but the disingenuous story, grossly overacted characterizations and safe and predictable screenplay didn’t suck all the life out of what could have been an incredible story but it didn’t do anything to help it either. This franchise feels like a great CW (tv) series waiting to happen. With that, I grab my Divergent buddies and bust five (5) Busted Blocks for Insurgent in glass-shattering slow-motion. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Insurgent: A good film to fill a Saturday morning, I found it entertaining and fun, even if it didn’t blow me away with it’s storytelling or effects. Everything about this film was just “good” and thus busted six (6) blocks on it’s way to remake society.

Divergent – 5.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chappie Is Choppy

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. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Science fiction has been inundated with the story of robots becoming self-aware. Artificial intelligence has been a staple of the genre since I have been watching it. The trick these days is to make a film that presents this in a unique and moving way. I think the filmmakers understood that and actively attempted to give a unique look at an old subject.


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.


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.


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.

Chappie – 7 / 10 Busted Blocks