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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) – Review

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain is the first of the Lex Barker Tarzan movies after Johnny Weissmuller retired from the role. Weissmuller had portrayed the Ape Man for twelve films so it’s not surprising he would get tired of it, Maureen O’Sullivan who portrayed Jane left the series four films earlier and was replaced by Brenda Joyce who also plays Jane in this film but who in turn was then replaced by Vanessa Brown in Tarzan and the Slave Girl a year later.

It’s not easy being Jane.

Produced by Sol Lesser these films are much in keeping with the Weissmuller films as they rely almost completely on studio backlot sets, stock footage and a formulaic script. This isn’t to say they are bad films, it’s just something one has to adjust to when sitting down to watch one of these movies.

Tarzan Magic Fountain Poster

In this outing we start with Cheeta and her ape pals finding an old cigarette case that piques Jane’s curiosity and has her sending them back into the jungle to where they found it. They find the remains of a crashed airplane and its skeletonized pilot as well as a journal belonging to a famous aviatrix named Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) who went missing over twenty years ago. The journal reveals that the plane had run into bad weather and was icing up badly (icing up over the jungles of Africa?) and Gloria had decided to bail out while her co-pilot decided to take his chances with the plane.

Someone made the wrong call.

Jane wants Tarzan to take the journal to the nearest outpost so that it can be sent back to England, but Tarzan is reluctant to do this. He doesn’t tell Jane why he feels this is a bad idea, but later when he discovers that a man named Douglas Jessup (Alan Napier) has been rotting in jail for twenty years, and that Gloria James is the one person that can prove his innocence, he moves into action.

He journeys across several really nice matte paintings.

It turns out that Gloria is far from dead and has been living all this time in Blue Valley, a hidden city which consists of a lost people who have discovered a fountain of youth. Because a man’s freedom is at stake the High Elder agrees to let Tarzan guide Gloria out of the mountain valley. Jane is quite surprised when Tarzan brings home the missing aviatrix who hasn’t seemed to have aged a day in her twenty lost years in the jungle. Tarzan keeps mum on the subject but when two traders Mr. Trask (Albert Dekker) and Mr. Dodd (Charles Drake) see the impossibly young Gloria the wheels in their head spin toward dreams of fortune and glory. Trask hires a local bully, one who Tarzan beats up routinely, to take a safari into the jungle and find the secret of her youthful appearance.

Things don’t go well for him.

Seems that the residents on the Blue Valley are not keen on visitors and Tarzan’s silence on the matter has to do with his promise never to reveal the location of the valley to outsiders. The way in is guarded by locals armed with a large crossbow that fires flaming arrows, and only people approved by the High Elder are allowed passage. Amongst the Blue Valley residents is a hothead who thinks Tarzan has betrayed them and wants to kill the Ape Man.  Of course we know Tarzan would never do such a thing, but the evidence is certainly against him. Tthis begs the question, “How then did this bozo and his safari ever find their way to the valley entrance?” Trask somehow managed to point his henchman in exactly the right direction with absolutely no evidence as to where Gloria came from other than “Somewhere in the jungle...that a-way.

Says here, turn left at stock footage of an elephant.”

That this movie is blatantly ripping off elements from the movie Lost Horizons is one thing, but what is worse is that they never bother to develop what they steal. The people of Shangri-La…sorry I mean Blue Valley have no more personality than the flora and fauna that Tarzan and Jane traipse passed. They are nice enough to let Gloria leave to help a wronged man and then when being away ages her rapidly they allow her and her new hubby Jessup to return and get rejuvenated, but aside from the couple of malcontents that want to burn Tarzan’s eyes out they just seem to stand around being immortal with no thought to motivations.

Old Faithful Plot Device.

The movie does have some fun moments; the aforementioned repeated casual beatings of the local jerk, a flash flood in a ravine that almost drowns Jane and friends, and Cheeta saving the day by causing an avalanche to kill Tarzan’s enemies. I’ll say this it’s usually Cheeta the chimpanzee stuff that annoys me the most in these films but in this outing I actually found the very well trained chimps to be effectively funny. Though the ending "stinger" is rather lame where Cheeta drinks some of the magic water from the fountain and is turned into a baby, but of a completely different species…with a tail!
Maybe Charles Darwin was wrong?

First time director Lee Sholem does a serviceable job and Lex Barker as Tarzan does find in what is a fairly thankless part as the whole “Secret of the Valley” thing keeps him out of the way for too much of the films running time. I do like Brenda Joyce as Jane and it’s a shame she didn’t continue on. I do have a problem with the title as it’s not Tarzan’s Magic Fountain for he does not own it, the film should have been titled Tarzan and the Magic Fountain, or to be more honest Tarzan Goes to Shangri-La.  On the plus side, such magical youth giving elixirs is more in keeping with the fantasy elements from the Burroughs books than what we ever saw in the Johnny Weissmuller movies.

Friday, May 29, 2015

San Andreas (2015) - Review

This latest disaster epic once again pushes the theory that the surest way to patch up any relationship is to wait for an earthquake, twister or some other natural disaster and then bingo-bango-bongo all your problems will be solved, and then you can walk off into the sunset together. Of course countless other lives may be destroyed in the process but you know you can’t make an omelette without breaking a tectonic plate.

san andreas poster

San Andreas, by director Brad Peyton, presents the theory that if you are going to be in a massive earthquake your best bet to survive is to have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as your dad, or at least be dating his daughter. We are introduced to our hero Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a search and rescue helicopter pilot, as he and his team save a woman trapped in a car that was swept off the mountain road by a rockslide. Because this is the world of disaster movies when our hero takes insane risks that jeopardize the aircraft and all onboard it all turns out fine, while if this had been the real world he most likely would have been fired.  Or more likely, dead.

It’s all good, I’ve read ahead in the script.

Now one can’t hang much of a plot on a natural disaster so it’s important to weave in human drama, this is where the “estranged couple” trope fits in, and this film plops it in amongst the destruction like a week old rotting fish. Ray isn’t happy that his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has found a new boyfriend and filed for a divorce. It gets worse when it turns out that said boyfriend is construction tycoon Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), a complete one percenter asshat. To prove he isn’t worthy of Ray’s wife when the crisis kicks in he abandons Ray and Emma’s daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to certain doom when his building starts falling apart. Lucky for Blake she ran into a couple of brothers in the lobby of Daniel’s office building; Ben (Hugo Johnson-Burt) and his kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), who are able to get Blake out of a trapped car before the parking garage collapses. The adventures with Blake, Ben and Ollie, as they wind their way through a city crumbling makes up for most of the interesting drama in this movie, and all three actors give nice credible performances. The key to a good disaster film is creating characters that we actually care for and hope for them to escape. Films like Armageddon, Volcano, and Twister seem to forget this.

San Andreas trio 
We need a bigger plot.

Now you can’t have a disaster film without at least one scientist who can spout off scientific gibberish while pointing at a computer graph, and filling that role today is seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti). This character is useless. Not only does Lawrence have almost no effect on the “plot” but at one point he goes on the air and claims that they have discovered a way to predict earthquakes but his warnings were ignored. This is a complete fabrication on his part, that or those scenes of him being ignored are on the cutting room floor. Either way his “doom saying” usually comes minutes before the quakes hit so I’m not sure what the authorities could do with that kind of "advance" warning.
I don’t think this role is going to land me that Oscar.

Of course the star of this kind of movie is not the actors but the visual effects, and in that this film delivers in spades. The earth tears up, buildings topple, and seas rush in all to give us a rollercoaster of action, but never to the goofy levels reached by the film 2012 but in a somewhat more believable manner.  For the most part I found myself at the edge of my seat as our heroes scrambled from one horrific disaster moment after another (and there are a lot of them, Murphy’s Law must really hate these people), and even though in my head I knew they were all going to be fine, all except that jerk Daniel who we all knew he was going to die, the suspense was still there.

San andreas lovers

When Ray and Emma drove a boat up the face of a tsunami I was too busy laughing to be in suspense, but overall the script by Carlton Cuse kept me invested in the characters and what was going on. Could it have been a bit shorter? Sure, and it could have easily have jettisoned the whole backstory of Ray and Emma’s youngest daughter whose death is what tore their relationship apart, but as it still manages to be under two hours (something many “epics” need to try) I’ll cut it some slack there.

San Andreas wave 
Who cares about a long dead kid when that’s coming at you?

So if you come into this movie expecting to see amazing visual effects showing San Andreas tearing apart San Francisco you will not be disappointed. If you came to see nuanced family drama you possibly wandered into the wrong theater. In conclusion, this is a fun disaster film much in the vein of the Irwin Allen films of the 70s only with modern CGI allowing even greater excess in destruction. So sit back, eat your popcorn, and watch Dwayne Johnson and friends run for their lives. It’s a hoot.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hooper (1978) – Review

This movie is about Sonny Hooper "The Greatest Stuntman Alive" and though this character is fictional he is clearly based on events and people from former stuntman, now turned director, Hal Needham’s life. There have been many movies about the world of filmmaking, and even a few about stuntmen, but Hooper is not so much a movie about stuntmen as it is a love letter to them.


Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds) is a veteran stuntman who is entering the twilight of his career as years of being “The Greatest Stuntman Alive” has taken a severe toll on his body. His best friend and fellow stuntie Cully (James Best) is concerned for his Hooper’s health all the while reluctantly feeding him Percocets to ease his pain. His long-time girlfriend Gwen (Sally Field) wants to settle down but hopefully with a non-paralyzed Hooper. New on the scene is a hotshot kid Delmore "Ski" Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent) who is of the new breed of stuntmen that are replacing the old guard.

Jan-Michael Vincent 
A very handsome and dashing breed.

Now, the paragraph above may make Hooper out to be some kind of an introspective look at one of the most interesting aspects of the film industry, it’s not. Hal Needham and his cronies have got together to a have a blast and show off their skills, and any drama this movie put forth is almost by accident. After the huge success with Smokey and the Bandit Needham and Reynolds almost had carte blanche when it came to their next project, and it shows, as Hooper is basically a collection of stunt gags with barely a plot to hold them together. Watching the film I got the impression that they all were just sitting around a bar asking questions like, “What’s the world’s record for highest freefall without a parachute?

Hooper High Fall 
Damn, that's pretty high.

In Smokey and the Bandit they had the great Jackie Gleason as the main antagonist Sheriff Buford T. Justice and he was brilliant, while in Hooper we have Robert Klein as prima donna director Roger Deal who is a thinly veiled send-up of director Peter Bogdanovich. Sadly, he is neither very funny or all that interesting of a character, nor is his sidekick Tony (Alfie Wise) who is around for the sole purpose of short jokes.

Hooper and dog 
Short people got no reason to live.

At one point an officer from the Humane Society is on set to ensure that a dog will not be used during a high fall stunt. He is reassured that a fake dog will be making the fall with Hooper, but because the fake dog looks terrible Tony tells Hooper to do it with the real one. What is hilarious is that because the makers of Hooper can’t use a real dog Burt Reynolds is seen holding what is clearly a stuffed dog.  Totally ruin the movies “reality.”

The plot, if you can call it a plot, is about a mad director Roger Deal making a huge James Bond type film starring Adam West called The Spy Who Laughed at Danger, and how he keeps upping the stakes to the point where there is a good chance someone is going to die in the process. Will Hooper agree to do the dangerous rocket-car jump for the end of the movie, or will he walk away while he can still walk?

the big jump Hooper 
Yeah, that really was never in question.

The film is chock full of some amazing stunts but for me the truly interesting thing they do here is make the character of Ski likable and not a villainous rival. That Burt Reynolds and Jan-Michael Vincent have better on screen charisma together than Burt has with real-life girlfriend Sally Field in this movie is odd but at least it makes for a better movie. I really wish they’d retire the clichéd disapproving girlfriend that threatens to leave her man unless he quits. It’s certainly not needed in a movie about car chases, bar brawls and explosions.

Adam, I’ll do the stunt if you marry Sally Fields."

Don’t get it wrong, this is a fun film and if you like big action set pieces this movie ends with a doozy, and Burt Reynolds has clearly embraced his charmingly smug persona that made him a star. I just wish that a film directed by a former stuntman would have been a bit more accurate on how stunt work actually functions on set instead of the silly Hollywood version we get here.

 Trivia: The title character "Hooper" is a reference to the name "Hooker" as in Buddy Joe Hooker who is one of the best stuntmen in the business and who also worked on this film. The character of Hooper though is mostly based on the Jock Mahoney, one of the greatest stuntmen of all time and stepfather to Sally Field.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Seventh Son (2014) – Review

The Seventh Son is the bi-product of the success of the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy as studios scramble to find a new successful franchise. So how do you make a new fantasy film series? Well the first thing you need is a popular book series that has enough entries to ensure several films. Do you need to actually follow the source material? Of course not, getting the fans of the books pissed off is half the fun! This movie is based on The Spook's Apprentice by English author Joseph Delaney and is the first part of “The Wardstone Chronicles” and aside from name dropping the characters from the book this movie bears little resemblance to the source material. Guaranteed sure fire hit…right?

Seventh Son movie poster 
The film opens with Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a knight of the order of Spooks, imprisoning the evil witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) inside a nasty pit. Now, both the movie and the North American release of the book The Spook’s Apprentice changed the title because of the derogatory historical nature of the word spook but for some reason the filmmakers decided to keep the name in the script which resulted in me cringing every time someone called Jeff Bridges a spook.

Jeff Bridges 
You’ll change everything else from the book but not that?”

We flash forward a couple of decades to find Master Gregory getting drunk at a local tavern but his libations are interrupted by his apprentice Mr. Bradley (Kit Harrington) who informs his master that a young girl is possessed and needs their help. Because Gregory is a drunken asshat he ignores his apprentice and continues to drink. A soldier is offended by Gregory’s callous behavior and tries to intervene but even drunk Gregory is a badass fighter and completely humiliates the soldier. Just when we are wondering who is supposed to be the hero of this film the church bells ring out which apparently means that a spook is required and Gregory must answer the call. So exactly what was the point of Gregory beating up a random soldier whose sole crime was in wanting Gregory to do his bloody job?

He didn’t say please.”

Gregory and Jon Snow I mean Mr. Bradley head to the local church to find a young girl chained to the baptismal font. Turns out the young lass is possessed by Mother Malkin who has escaped due to the rising Blood Moon that increases her evil powers or some such nonsense. Gregory doesn’t seem to have much trouble exorcising Malkin from the girl, but when the witch turns into a dragon things get a bit dicier.

I’m getting too old for this shit.”

They manage to trap Malkin in an iron cage, but sadly she is able to pull poor Mr. Bradley in with her and Gregory is forced to burn them both. Even worse is that this completely fails to kill Mother Malkin who bursts out of the burning cage in full dragon glory. We later learn that Gregory has had several apprentices over the years and they are all dead. So not only is Master Gregory a drunken jerk he’s also bad at his job. Of course Gregory doesn’t blame himself he just needs better apprentices so he decides to find the seventh son of a seventh son as they are apparently super powerful.

Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son and assistant pig-keeper.

Master Gregory pays a bag of gold for Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) whose family doesn’t seem to have any qualms about letting their son run off with a man whose track record with apprentices is quite terrible. Tom’s mom (Olivia Williams) does give her son a mysterious pendant that one assumes will turn out to be useful but is really just a stupid MacGuffin for the heroes and villains to squabble over.

Pretty and all but not as cool as a lightsabre.

So this is the time when we’d normally get the master/apprentice training sequence but instead of a montage of months or years of training poor Tom finds out they have a week to stop Mother Malkin even though the previous apprentices who had ten years of training are all dead. So Gregory is really banking on this whole seventh son thing which makes one wonder why he went with anything else in the past. I’m assuming the seventh son of a seventh son has got to be rare but Gregory found one within about five minutes of looking. Gregory takes young Tom to a nearby city to get supplies and this is one of your typical medieval/fantasy cities that could not economically survive. It’s plopped down on a barren rocky peninsula in the middle of a wasteland with no signs of any type of agriculture that could support the populace. It’s a cool visual but makes no logical sense.

So do they simply import everything?

It’s while wandering this logistical wonder of a city that Tom runs into Alice (Alicia Vikander) who is this film’s love interest and who is in danger of being burned as a witch by the local mob. Tom informs the mob that he is an apprentice to a spook and that he will take care of the witch. The mob hands her over to Tom and then they just mosey off opposed to wanting to hang around and watch the spook kill a witch as one would think angry mobs are want to do. Maybe the town is suffering under some kind of ennui spell?
She turned me into a newt.”

The reason for Tom’s intervention is that Alice is a girl from one of his visions (Yes he has visions, just go with it). I myself would not have needed supernatural visions to make me want to rescue a girl from an angry mob, but what is most interesting is that Alice actually is a witch. Her mother is Bony Lizzie (Antje Traue) a notorious witch and sister to Mother Malkin. Now this is the kind of thing that bothered me in the Nicholas Cage film Season of the Witch where you have people trying to burn witches, now as we live in enlightened times we look back at these people as ignorant assholes but in the universe of this movie there are witches and most of them really deserve a good burning. Sure, it turns out that Alice is not an evil witch like Malkin but she is in league with them so you can’t really blame the mob for wanting her dead. A film that makes me sympathize with witch burners has made a drastic misstep.

So Tom’s mother-in-law to be is actually a witch, but she’s hot so that’s cool.

The rest of the movie is your typical fantasy road picture where Gregory and Tom will encounter various monsters and witches until we get the final showdown with Mother Malkin. Director Sergey Bodrov has assembled quite the good cast for his movie but most of them are either phoning it in or going over the top. I’m not sure what Jeff Bridges was going for here as his Master Gregory is not only completely unlikable but he gives him a voice that is a cross between his Rooster Cogburn and Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s laughably bad. Ben Barnes is so bland throughout the films running time all one can think of is how much better it would have been if Kit Harrington hadn’t died at the beginning of the film. Julianne Moore is swinging for the fences in her portrayal of the evil Mother Malkin and is beyond cartoonish. Speaking of cartoonish, most of the movies visual effects are of course CGI and range from bad to decent.

Looking to fight Lou Ferigno’s Sinbad.

As I mentioned before, this movie is based on a popular book series, but pretty much everything but the names were changed. In the book Tom Ward is a twelve year old. Mother Malkin doesn’t escape her imprisonment because of any Blood Moon, she tricks young Tom into letting her out. Tom does not save Alice from a mob but actually the other way around as she saves him from a group of bullies. I’m not saying that sticking with the book more closely would have resulted in a better movie but it certainly would have been a more interesting one. As is for most of its 102 minute running time you just have to grin and bear it.


This was a box office bomb that surprised no one. The first warnings we had was the fact that its release date kept getting pushed back, which is never a good sign, and then the final result slipped in and out of theatres with barely a ripple. So I can safely say we are in no danger of this franchise taking off.
Julliane moore 
"Could someone get my agent on the phone?"

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Land of Hidden Men: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

Land of Hidden MenThe Land of Hidden Men (also known as The Jungle Girl) is a classic Burroughs “lost world” story where the protagonist will stumble upon a lost civilization and the dangers within and eventually find true love. This is of course is all done in the way only Edgar Rice Burroughs can do it.

Gordon King, a young American doctor, visits Cambodia to study exotic diseases, and while there decides to take some time off to explore the Khmer ruins of Angkor. His local guide only takes him to the edge of the jungle and will go no further as he fears “the ghosts of my ancestors” and that anyone who has entered this jungle has never returned. Gordon King, being an enlightened man of the Twentieth Century, has no use for silly superstitions and decides to on alone. Shortly after, he is completely and utterly lost.

What makes Gordon King standout from other Burroughs heroes is that even though he is naïve outsider, who doubts his own senses when confronted with the impossible, he remains likable and not like a boorish American tourist as at first one suspects him to be. When lost, starving and suffering from fever, he encounters a procession of warriors and elephants that look to have stepped out of the history books. He immediately chocks them up to fever dreams. He later saves a strange yellow bearded man holding a red parasol in the jungle from a tiger which he assumes to be part of his delusion, but in fact he just so happened to have rescued Vay Thon, high priest of the temple of Siva in the city of Lodidhapura.

Rescuing important personages is nothing new to Burroughs as that is probably his most used trope, but Gordon King isn’t your standard Burroughs hero, with only his college athleticism keeping him alive, that and his ability with the spear due to his process from his javelin throwing days. It’s his strong right arm throw that saves the life of the lovely slave girl Fou-tan when he sends a spear deep into the heart of an attacking tiger just as it is about to make a meal of her.

the princess

The relationship between Gordon and the beautiful Fou-tan is also unique for a Burroughs’ story, as they quickly fall in love with each other without the standard cultural misunderstandings that plague many of his other characters. There is never a “will they won’t they” aspect of their relationship, their happy ever after is only delayed when her true position in a neighbouring kingdom is revealed and her duties will not allow her to marry for love.

The Land of the Hidden Men also contains one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s most despicable villains in the form of Lodivarman, The Leper King, a repulsive and vile individual who blames his leprosy on a woman, so he has been trying his best to infect beautiful slave-girls with his condition. The reason he fails at this despicable act leads to our hero turning the tables on his situation when captured.

The Jungle Girl

This is one of my favorite Burroughs book, and sadly not very well known. It has fantastic villains as well as nail biting action, not to mention an intelligent, cool headed hero. The love story between Gordon and Fou-tan is easily one of the best written by Burroughs, as you truly feel for each of these characters as they are torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Plus One (2013) – Review

In the movies Earth has been invaded by alien forces so often that one must wonder if there is a “Must Visit” brochure at some intergalactic Denny’s out there, that or the Earth has a Giant “Kick Me” sign plastered on it that can only be seen from space. Now in Dennis Iliadis's +1 aka Plus One we get “visitors” of quite a different sort.

plus 1 movie poster

The movie starts pretty much like your traditional teen sex comedy as we are introduced to our main cast characters; David (Rhys Wakefield) who makes a surprise visit to his girlfriend Jill’s (Ashley Hinshaw) college campus to watch her in a fencing tournament only to be later caught kissing the girl who beat her in the competition, and then there is Teddy (Logan Miller) who is David’s comic relief friend and whose sole goal is to get laid.

And no I don’t care if they're human or not.”

What makes +1 stand apart from other alien visitation movies is how ambiguous the threat level is. These aliens aren’t blowing up national monuments a la Independence Day or slowly taking over mankind from the shadows as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in fact their agenda is never made clear, which worked for me but I could see it leaving some people who want a cut and dried villainous alien a bit perturbed. The aliens themselves are also not clearly defined; a glowing meteorite craters in this well-to-do neighbourhood, and white glowing energy creeps up into the power line that cause periodic power outages. Beyond that we only see the effect of this visitation, but not the how or why.

Not even one Martian death ray.

The rest of the movie takes place at this extravagant house party where David hopes to run into Jill and patch up their shattered relationship while Teddy on the other hand miraculously finds himself in the blissful arms of the beautiful blonde Melanie (Natalie Hall). When he finds himself in the company of two Melanies... well, that is when the shit begins to hit the fan. It seems the alien energies trigger a power outage that results in all the party goers being duplicated, but not in the evil “take over your life” variety, as these duplicates are exact copies in every facet, even to the point that they don’t even know they are duplicates.

See, totally unaware.

For a good part of the film it’s just David, Teddy and outsider Allison (Colleen Dengel & Suzanne Dengel) who realize what has happened and discover that the duplicates seem to be repeating the events of ten minutes ago. This goes unnoticed by most as the bulk of the original partiers are out in the backyard watching a stripper act while the duplicates currently occupy the house. David uses this opportunity to pull a Groundhog Day with the duplicate of Jill as he can now counter her earlier arguments perfectly because he now knows them even before she does. This is where I thought I’d figured the film out and where it was going; wild party, alien duplicate, time displacement, hijinks ensue, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

terrifed partiers 
"Are you going out there?  I'm not going out there."

Director Dennis Iliadis blends the teen-comedy/angst film with a dark and creepy sci-fi story that quickly descends into some seriously dark territory. The dread and fear of being replaced is the key theme in this movie. Jill’s main reason for breaking up with David was because he made her feel replaceable, but with this alien force at work this could be a more horrifyingly accurate than Jill could even possibly imagine. How quick the partiers turns to violence is probably the weakest element of the film as I doubt drunken idiots could get that motivated that fast even against a perceived threat, but this is a small quibble in an otherwise excellent and original flick. I never heard of this film until I caught the trailer for it on the Bluray for Dracula 3D, so I’m guessing it never got a wide release, which is a crime as I really enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it.

girl on self 
If hot duplicates making out is wrong I don't want to be right.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chappie (2015) – Review

Neill Blomkamp was tapped by Peter Jackson to direct a Halo movie, but when that fell through he was given money to produce his own pet project; District 9. That film was a critical and financial success and we as an audience have been paying for it ever since. Even M. Night Shyamalan managed to pop out a couple of good movies before turning into one of the worst directors out there, while Blomkamp is breaking speed records on his journey from critical darling to walking punchline. So today we will look at his latest film Chappie which deals with the heady subject of artificial intelligence but will not use any intelligence of its own.

chappie poster 
*Spoilers Ahead*

In the year 2016 Johannesburg, South Africa has turned into the Old Detroit of Robocop fame, and with its crime rate soaring, the only option the government has is to buy a shit ton of robot police with Peter Weller’s voice. The wunderkind behind these robotic police officers is Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who, though a brilliant engineer and programmer, is a moron in every other respect. He works for Tetravaal, a weapons manufacturer run by CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), and though most of the world seems rather impressed by these state-of-the-art armour-plated attack robots Deon believes there’s room for improvement. You see, he’s been tinkering with a more advanced A.I. in his spare time, and when he finally cracks it he goes to his boss and explains how he can turn her army of killing machines into painters and poets.

Im a poet. 
"I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree."

Strangely enough the CEO of a weapons manufacturer doesn’t see the upside in having robots with emotions, opinions and the ability to write poetry, and she turns down his proposal to test it on a damaged robot. This leaves him no option other than to steal a damaged bot and the “guard key” that allows one to reprogram them. Now, a little bit about this “guard key” thingamajig. The idea of someone hacking these lethal robots is terrifying, so Tetravaal created a bulletproof system that only allows them to update software on the robots. And only someone with top security clearance has access to the “guard key” chip that allows reprogramming, and of course Deon is one such lucky individual. Though after stealing it all he gets is a call from security saying if he doesn’t bring it back they’ll tell on him. Yep, that is some bulletproof system.

I’m a geek thus completely harmless, trust me on this.”

Not everyone at Tetravaal loves Deon and his work, because before these police robots called Scouts were designed there was a bigger, badder brother in the works called MOOSE. This robot has no A.I. but relies on a human interface which its designer, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), believes is a more humane solution than having autonomous killing machines running around. In most movies this guy would be the hero, standing up against the company on the moral high ground, but that is not this movie. Moore here is portrayed as an evil ex-military jackass who is jealous of the Scout program and will do anything to take down Deon and his Scouts. Though it will be a long two hours before we get that final showdown.

The Moose 
MOOSE, the totally not ED-209 police enforcement machine.

Enter this movie's gang of lovable misfits; Ninja, Yolandi and Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a trio of drug dealers that owe 20 million rand to a more powerful gangster called Hippo (Brandon Auret). To get this money they decide to pull off a major heist, but to do so within a city full of these Scout robots is suicide. Thus they come up with the brilliant plan of kidnapping Deon so that he can switch off the Scouts.

Ninja and Yolandi, combined IQ of 55.

What this group lacks in brains they make up in extreme luckiness. They kidnap Deon just as he’s leaving Tetravaal with the stolen droid and “guard key” and are able to force him to patch up the broken bot and reprogram it with his new A.I. so that they can train it to be a gangster. They then let Deon go but only after they promise to let him come back and help teach the newly named Chappie. I’ll give you a second to let your mind wrap around that one.

Let him go, he seems like an honest nerd.

So this gang of drug dealers kidnap a man so they can pull of a heist without robot interference, and then they let him go because there’s no way he’d just immediately run to the authorities and bring a rain of fiery death on them. Strangely enough he doesn’t go to the police and continues to return to this gang in the hopes of teaching Chappie to not be a gangsta. The level of stupid this movie reaches at this point is stratospheric. And yet that isn’t even the most annoying thing about this scene, the birth of this new A.I. is one huge storytelling WTF. For some reason Deon created an A.I. that when switched on would know as much as a newborn baby. Chappie cannot even understand English. Did that bit of coding cost extra? I can see no logical reason for writing an A.I. that has no built in language subroutines. It’s just moronic and all so we can have scenes of a skittish robot hiding under a table where it has to be coaxed out by three criminals and its idiot creator.

Targeting morons: Accessing kill sub routines.

The bulk of the rest of the movie is the tug-of-war between Ninja’s need to turn Chappie into a badass killing machine and Deon’s desire for the exact opposite. Which once again begs the question, why hasn’t Ninja shot Deon in the face? Well for some reason Yolandi’s maternal instincts have gone into overdrive as she becomes Chappie’s mommy, so she’s cool with Deon stopping by to teach her little robot boy to paint. Deon does manage to get Chappie to promise not to commit crimes but that only means we have to sit through painful scenes of Ninja tricking the idiot robot into committing crimes. All of which could have been avoided if they’d shot Deon in the face at the outset.

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Ninja tries to teach Chappie to shoot gangsta style and fails.

Meanwhile, Vincent is still pissed that his funding for MOOSE is getting cut and starts to get suspicious of Deon when he notices him looking up on the internet on how to teach babies to speak. (Note: The movie continues to hit us over the head with how dumb it would be to create an A.I. with no basic knowledge). Chappie doesn’t even have Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. If Deon had at least done that much he wouldn’t have had to worry about Ninja turning his creation into a super criminal. This is the key problem with the script for as each scene unfolds, the viewer is constantly questioning the logic behind the characters actions but there is none. The only reasoning behind anything that goes on in this movie is because it was “in the script”. There is no other reason. Vincent’s brilliant plan of stealing the “guard key” from Chappie so he can shut down all of the Scout droids, thus throwing the city into chaos so that his MOOSE robot can ride in and save the day is just plain stupid. Two minutes of computer forensics would have landed him in jail. Worse is that Deon discovers what Vincent has done and instead of informing the authorities, or even his boss, he runs off to handle it himself.

We at least finally get a good action sequence out of this moment of dumb.

The film tries for a little drama with the fact that Chappie’s battery life is only good for five days, and for some reason his advanced A.I. cannot be just swapped over into a new body, but because I have only found Chappie to be a completely annoying and senseless character there is no suspense there. The solution and surprise ending that Neill Blomkamp comes up with isn’t just vastly insulting of the audience’s intelligence but not even structurally satisfying.

I will give the film credit for having some decent effects work here. The opening sequences of the Scout droids taking out criminal after criminal looks just great, and at least it’s not as dull as the Robocop remake, but unfortunately the treacly performance by Sharlto Copley as Chappie makes one appreciate the motion capture work of Andy Serkis all the more. This is a painfully bad movie and such a waste of resources that should have been put towards a better script, instead we got a rather lame Short Circuit 3.
Scout droid 
Johnny Five, is alive!

Note: The film's tagline is "Humanity's last hope isn't human." Great line but makes no bloody sense in context with this film.  Humanity is not in danger at any point in this movie, unless street gangs in Johannesburg are a bigger threat than I imagined.