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“I’m Chappie. Baymax is a fuck-mother.”
Chappie is getting torn apart and it’s mostly undeserved. This is not a movie that altogether works, but it has so much personality that the real question isn’t whether it’s any good but whether or not you find that personality obnoxious. I won’t lie, a lot of whether you like Chappie or not is going to depend on how you take Die Antwoord, for whom this movie is basically a kind of elaborate fictive celebration. To illustrate where my biases are, I will tell you that I don’t care about Die Antwoord one way or the other. I don’t listen to their music, and I knew who they were only vaguely before Chappie was announced. This has not really changed. Chappie didn’t turn me into a fan, but it did affirm that they can act which is good enough for the purposes of this film. More on them later, but for now just understand that they are central to the movie and that probably has a lot to do with the beating that its taking.
Chappie is really all about its titular robotic character. And Chappie, as a character, is a winner. Not only is he a totally believable CG creation, which is starting to become so commonplace it’s not really a big deal anymore, but Sharlto Copley infuses him with such innocence, charm, enthusiasm, and chaotic energy that you can’t help but love him. This is where the movie won me over, making me love it a little in spite of some truly flawed and half-assed writing. None of the writing for Chappie himself is half-assed, it’s the other stuff: the tacked on villains and ancillary plot lines. He’s a full-fledged character, functioning as a kind of mix between Johnny-5 and E.T. with a little Robocop thrown in for fun. Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Teri Tatchell use the character and those surrounding him to craft a bona fide trans/post-humanist narrative that plays a lot better to the underlying concepts than most other movies that exploit those concepts. This is not a “science is bad, mmmk?” movie. In fact, the movie takes the same shots at the corrupting influences on science (self-serving commerce and self-righteous morality) that Big Hero 6 did and I’d say that Chappie, in many ways, feels like a punk rock (or outsider hip-hop), R rated take on some of the same themes. Read the rest of this entry »
Roger Deakins, eat your heart out.
Prisoners feels like the closest thing to a genuine Alan Moore movie that I’ve ever seen. It may seem cheapening to the work screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski did (stellar work, by the way) to say that, but I mean it as an utmost compliment. While Prisoners will make its way into the world on its strengths as a thriller featuring great performances, unpredictability, and moral ambiguity, there are layers within layers of symbolism, allegory, and inquiry being performed within what appears to be an eccentric, but straightforward kidnapping film. Alan Moore is a touchstone for me because of his penchant for layering symbolism in his narratives, attaching occult elements or bits of weird history into his stories. From Hell, the graphic novel, is what immediately comes to mind as I think back on this film.
I can’t think of a recent mystery thriller more surprising than Prisoners. This will probably be one of the things that leaves the biggest impression on audiences. Because the film takes its time (it’s 153 minutes long) and is very selective about what it shows and tells, it’s very difficult to predict the twists and turns. There’s a flirtation and subsequent abandoning of the conventions of the genre. It starts out feeling more formulaic, only to steadily layer uncertainty even on the level of its structure, which rolls out into the narrative and characterizations.
Prisoners is a very intelligent film. A lot of its merit will be lost on people who go into it only willing to engage with the surface. That said, it’s laudable that the movie works entirely on that surface level. It’s not perfect. There is a bit of bloat here, and there are scenes and moments that are not easily clarified in the context of the story nor its thematic significance. This can be confusing and unsatisfying as some of the lingering questions after the film aren’t the good kind.
This is a film you DON’T want spoiled. Do not read this review if you care about that and/or you’re planning to see the film. Read the rest of this entry »
Believe it or not, this bit works a lot better in context than it did in the trailers.
The Wolverine isn’t just the best X-Men movie (First Class has not aged well), it is also nuanced and focused in a way that most comic book superhero movies just aren’t. This makes it feel more like a “real movie” than Origins or even First Class ever did. This is because pandering is kept lower key, characters don’t get thrown in for no reason or just to be cute, and most everything is foreshadowed, setup, justified, and paid off. There is way less “and then” storytelling going on in The Wolverine than has become typical for superhero movies, let alone Hollywood’s foundering big budget output.
Though the third act is clunky and full of bad contrivances that threaten to derail the movie, it’s also the only part where The Wolverine fully indulges its comic book origin. This is going to work for some and be a dealbreaker for others. For me it was a mild mess. I’ll go into more detail later, but for now be satisfied that it’s the third act problems that keep The Wolverine from being legitimately great. It seems like we have to wait a bit longer for a superhero solo outing to be truly awe-inspiring (Man of Steel comes so close), but in the broader context of these types of movies it is hard to be cynical about the satisfaction level that The Wolverine reaches rather handily. Read the rest of this entry »
Real Steel is the kind of stupid high concept that shouldn’t make for a good movie but somehow does. In a year full of genre films that shouldn’t suck but do, Real Steel feels like a kind of answer to the trend of expensive middle-of-the-road spectacle movies that take shortcuts on everything but. Not only a good kids’ movie, Real Steel has a sense of honesty about the slipshod path of adulthood that is mostly lacking in contemporary family films. Usually you have to go back to the 80’s, the stuff I was raised on, to see movies that have really shitty adults who really fuck up their kids. That element makes the themes of redemption that run through the film’s underdog story a lot more significant, giving it a depth that strengthens what is basically Rock’em-Sock’em Robots: The Movie.
There’s an honesty behind the characterization of Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) that takes the sting out of the boxing-movie pantomime dialogue that sometimes mars the performances. He’s a total fucking asshole, in other words. However, Jackman is the right man for the job as he gives the character the full force of his charisma as an actor, making him just watchable enough to keep the audience from rejecting the character until he starts to grow up and into a better person. Without Dakota Goya, who couldn’t look less like Hugh Jackman if he were an Arctic Seal, it would have ultimately wound up being the kind of decent performance that great actors throw into family movies every now and then. I imagine as a form of penance. Goya, as Charlie’s estranged son Max, is pretty much awesome though and holds up his end of their dynamic with Haley-Joel Osmont level of kid-actor goodness. Read the rest of this entry »