Chappie is, well, you know…

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I can see it now. Director Neil Blomkamp, still full of hope and promise after District 9 and only slightly tarnished from Elysium, goes into a meeting to pitch his next project, Chappie

“I have a vision for a movie about a robot. It’s a mashup of Short Circuit and Robocop. It’ll be great! And to ensure that we get the young adult crowd, we’ll give it a hard R rating!! Whattayasay???”

Investors are still unconvinced and so he continues on:

“Look, I’ve got a stellar cast lined up. We’ll have Sharito Copley do the motion capture for Chappie, my buddy Dev Patel will be the scientist/creator, Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja will be the criminals you can’t help but love, Sigourney Weaver will be the clueless CEO and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman will be our villain!! Heck, I’ll even get Hans Zimmer to do the music It can’t miss!!! Whattayasay?????”

Of course, the movie gets greenlit. It does sound great! Unfortunately, the reality is far removed from the vision.

Chappie depicts a world in the not too distant future where Robots are being used as the main force in augmenting the abilities of the local police to combat crime. They are called Scout Drones and are the creation of  Deon Wilson (Patel). His main rival is Vincent Moore (Jackman), who has created another type of robot called MOOSE that is the mother of all overkill in modern weapons. Moose is big, has machine guns, as well as Cluster bombs.

Wackiness ensues when Deon, who is ready to test a program that will make artificial intelligence sentient, uses the new program on a Scout that is scheduled to be scrapped. Through a series of events, Vincent discovers what Deon has done and plots to use the situation to discredit Deon and gain support for his MOOSE program. Things are complicated when the now sentient robot, called CHAPPIE, winds up being “raised” by a group of criminals that want to use him to pull off one big heist. He winds up talking like the gangsters that are raising them and even emulates their body language. 

Chappie excels in the integration of the motion capture work of Sharito Copley to bring the sentient robot to life. The cinematography is exceptional and creates a believable atmosphere of squalor coupled with technological achievement. The scenes where Chappie is abandoned and experiences the cruelty of man firsthand can be jarring and echoes incidents of abuse that are all too often parts of our reality.

The film breaks down with incredibly huge, gaping holes in its internal logic. Chappie has the intelligence of a newborn when he first awakens. However, without explanation, he matures mentally to a young teenager. I can accept that the AI can develop more quickly than a human, but there is no context to show how fast he learns or how he gains the knowledge to use the skills he demonstrates. He also makes an unexplained leap from the mind of a child with no experience regarding computer science, programming or computation to being able to develop a way to transfer a consciousness from one body to another.

I could ignore these potholes and chock it up to editing, however there is one major plot point upon which the movie turns, that is unforgivable. Chappie possesses a CPU that acts as a “key”. It connects him to the rest of the Scout drone network.  In a particularly disturbing scene, Vincent captures Chappie and removes the key so that he can disable the network and create a situation that can only be resolved by deploying the MOOSE unit. The plan is put into effect and the network is shut down. INCLUDING CHAPPIE. HUH? He’s not connected to the network anymore so how is this possible? Later in the movie, Chappie is able to accomplish a major plot point by entering the network, BUT HE STILL DOESN’T HAVE THE KEY! 

In my opinion, gaping lapses in story logic is an unforgivable sin that ruins  my ability to enjoy a film.

Ultimately, Chappie is a disappointment because no matter how well intended the allegory, if you don’t follow the rules you set up in your story, your message doesn’t matter.

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Project Almanac Fails

 

 

 

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Project Almanac is a sci-fi film done in the quasi documentary/lost footage/shaky camera style made popular by much better films such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Chronicle. It is directed by Dean Israelite and stars Jeremy Weston as David Raskin, Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie Pierce, Sam Lerner as Quinn Goldberg , Allen Evangelista as Adam Le and Amy Landecker as Kathy Raskin. This is the first full length film to be directed by Mr. Israelite and although his intentions are good, the result  is a film that travels down familiar roads, doesn’t add anything new or different to time travel tropes and has significant problems with its pacing.

David Raskin is a brilliant high school senior that hopes to get admitted to MIT. His project proposal,while impressive, gains him admission but not a high enough scholarship to make his dream affordable. David prowls around in the attic, looking for inspiration from his father’s notes and projects. (It’s not really made clear if David’s dad is missing or dead.) He discovers an old video recorder and starts looking at footage of his birthday party when he turned 7. David discovers his reflection in a mirror at the party.

David continues searching through his dad’s things and discovers plans for the construction of a time machine (Ta-da!). Naturally, he starts building  the machine and enlists the aid of his closest friends and his sister. Along the way David meets Jessie and develops a crush on her and thereby hangs the conflict that drives the last 1/3 of the film.

Naturally, the time machine works (who knew all you needed was a few car batteries and some hydrogen from the high school locker room to power a time machine!) The time machine works and with a few modifications, our fantastic five are ready to make some history! 

Wackiness ensues in the form of getting payback on a bully, winning the lottery, retaking a test ad nauseum and the longest sequence involves the gang spending the day at Lollapalooza. It is during this scene that David blows a chance to develop a relationship with Jessie but he solves it by going back in time by himself and responding differently so that they become a couple.

Eventually the gang discovers the ripple effect of their actions and decide that they need to undo the things that they have done so that things are put back, yada yada yada. However, David doesn’t want to do this because he doesn’t want to undo his relationship with Jessie (the guy is actually having sex now, so what do you think is more important to a teenager?)  David tries to undo some things and leave others alone, but each action makes things worse, until he finally decides that he must travel back to his 7th birthday party and talk his dad into destroying the machine and its plans so that it is never built. 

Don’t worry there’s a little epilogue that give David and Jessie a happy ending (hooray for teenage love!).

This film suffers from several problems. The manner it which it was filmed is not logical. Supposedly David’s sister is the one who records and chronicles everything. However, there are plenty of scenes filmed in the same manner that don’t fall into this premise. We also have plenty of quick shots to give the (presumably) male members of the audience a gander at cleavage, legs or just a lingering look of the female form. And why would you cut your footage into a long musical montage????

The script suffers from similar lapses in logic. There is a scene where all 5 friends travel back to the same point in time to allow one of them to retake a test. However, there is no explanation as to why they don’t run into their previous past selves who were doing the same thing. Things occur for the sake of convenience and with the hope that the viewer won’t ask questions.

The actors are all quite serviceable in their roles and do the best they can with this stuff. I hope they are able to move onto to better projects in the future. 

Project Almanac is one of the worst films I’ve seen in quite some time. If you want to watch a good time travel movie, watch Looper or 12 Monkeys. If you want a good lost footage film then watch one of the 3 I referenced at the beginning of this article. Just don’t watch Project Almanac.

 

I give Project Almanac a grade of D.

 

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