Sign in using your account with
Chappie: Blomkamp Delivers Another Flawed Sci-Fi
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, of District 9 fame, you could very well describe Chappie as a quirky mash-up of Robocop and Short Circuit. On paper, it's one of those plots that is so preposterous that it might just work, but a number of underdeveloped ideas and lack of fluidity wane hard onto its charm.
The story is set in a 2016 South Africa where law-enforcing robots - known as Scouts – have replaced the human police on the streets of Johannesburg. The mastermind behind the creation is brilliant robotics engineer, Deon Wilson (Patel) who – under the supervision of his boss and manufacturer, Michelle Bradley (Weaver) – has managed to create a fleet of automated police officers who operate with no human supervision.
Even though the robots have managed to reduce the crime rate to an all-time low – something that doesn't sit well with Deon's competitor, Vincent (Jackman) – a small amount of criminal activity that his robots cannot quite reach. Hoping to break new grounds, Deon wants to make his robots more human-like by providing them with Artificial Intelligence. Despite Michelle's objections, he moves ahead and plans to implant AI into an old robot, though he is kidnapped and made to give up the child-like robot by a gang intent on using him as a weapon of crime.
Blomkamp's third feature film sees the director continue his rich vein of form in creating an enriched sci-fi world through innovative CGI visuals without encroaching on the film's human aspect. However, the film also suffers from a lack of cohesiveness and not as the story develops, various plot strands seem to fade away, without coming together in a unified piece of storytelling.
Patel and Jackman share the limelight and both actors manage to carry the film and maintain audience interest in their characters, though Jackman's inflated Aussie traits are peculiar and occasionally grating. Weaver, meanwhile, is criminally underused and one of the more peculiar casting choices is the inclusion of Yolandi Visser and 'Ninja' Watkin Tudor of South African rave-rap duo, Die Antwoord. Essentially playing versions of themselves, however, the decision has proved to a fruitful one with the twosome's particular brand of eccentricity adds another dimension to what is a relatively flawed but entertaining film.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.