Saturday, March 07, 2015


Man, to think that I haven't been bothering with the Thursday night first shows in order to avoid crowds, but this is the second week in a row where they've been fairly thin. I wonder if doing this for every movie rather than just the highly anticipated ones has diminished the excitement. On the other hand, the two I've gone to see early were A la Mala and Chappie.

It thinned out by the end, but less because people didn't like it than because of this:

Right during the climax! The lights come up, the movie stops, and we're herded into the lobby, where it does, to be fair, smell like something has burnt. It's cold out there, though, and if you're not loving the move, or already figure that it's near the end, I can see an argument for heading home rather than waiting around for who knows how long. It turned out to be no more than fifteen minutes, but it was fifteen minutes after that to get us back in our seats and the movie started up again. Heck of a momentum-killer.

When re-seating us, they said they'd take care of us on the way out, but I, at least, wasn't handed any sort of free pass, maybe because I stuck around to watch the credits, as I do, and thus wasn't with the crowd leaving. No big deal, as I used MoviePass (heading to Assembly Row because the app wasn't showing Fenway; apparently they couldn't distinguish the regular and RPX screenings happening at the same time). Funny night for them to send me an email survey about my experience, though.

I've got a few thoughts about the end, which are at the bottom after the review.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2015 in AMC Assembly Row #11 (first-run, DCP)

When descriptions of "Chappie" (both the film and the character) started coming out a couple years ago, it sounded like Neill Blomkamp was making a high-concept comedy, making the earnest and heroic tone of the previews confusing and potentially disappointing. There are enough uninspired moments to cause concern, but there's enough anarchic madness to it to make up for that and then some.

It pairs a future where the Johannesburg police department is greatly augmented by autonomous robotic "scouts", although their creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) has, in his off-hours, moved on to building what he believes is a true artificial intelligence. When his boss at Tetravaal, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), refuses to allow him to use company resources to test it, he swipes a scout scheduled for demolition to use as a test bed, only to be kidnapped himself by some not-so-bright punks (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo) who think he's got a remote control that can turn the cops off while they perform a heist that will clear all their debts. That's the environment in which Wilson's AI awakens; it's soon calling itself "Chappie" (voice of Sharlto Copley) and rapidly incorporating a very different set of influences than its maker intended.

There's also a rival designer at Tetravaal played by Hugh Jackman, and he tends to feel like something jammed in because the studio wanted a more digestible plot and to introduce one element needed later on. His project - the bulky, human-operated "Moose" - seems like a step back from the scouts, and also makes the plot hinge on the idea that urban police departments would see it (or anything) as overkill. Blomkamp could not have foreseen the Ferguson situation, exactly, when making his movie a year ago in South Africa, but the here are moments when the movie veers close enough to the topic of the militarization of police forces that sharper satire seems required.

Full review on EFC


I am not sure what I think of the end at all. I was absolutely expecting the moment when Chappie figured out how to transfer consciousness to go the more expected route where he discovers that the actual soul couldn't be grasped, but instead he did something crazy-advanced that certainly lives up to Deon's idea that AI could surpass humans, and appears to manage it. I can't say I buy into this much at all, and the fact that he wound up restoring Yolandi from a backup implies that he hasn't really done this at all - that Deon 2.0 and Yolandi 2.0 are mere simulations, despite the fact that Deon slumped like his life force had been removed during the transfer.

On the other hand, even if I find the cavalier nature with which Blomkamp handled it truly frustrating - this is the basis for an entire second movie given very short shrift in the last ten minutes, and it's hard to smile at "CONSCIOUSNESS.DAT" as a filename after the movie goes here - I kind of like what it represents. Humanity creating its potential successors would be incredibly disruptive, more so than just robots going out of control, and there's no doubt that this is the case when the movie ends. It is a big deal that will change the world profoundly.

It does, as I mention in the review, feel a lot like District 9, with Chappie & Deon 2.0 retreating into the wild parts of Johannesburg much like a transforming Wikus did in that movie, and as much as the scenes feeling so similar grates a bit, I am kind of fascinated by how it is revealing Blomkamp's science-fictional interests: Wikus becomes an alien in District 9, Max becomes a cyborg in Elysium, Deon and Yolandi are resurrected as robots here. Blomkamp seems to be saying that humanity's future isn't necessarily as humanity, that we'll need to become other things and accept becoming them in order to survive. I haven't examined his Alien 5 concept work much, but what I've seen certainly seems to imply that he'll be carrying some of the ideas Whedon, Jeunet, and Caro were working with in Alien Resurrection, if not the actual story.


It's interesting that Blomkamp will be doing an Alien sequel next, both because it would seem to continue the franchise's tendency to choose people who will make their own movie without trying to match what came before too closely (although he has been saying he'd hew closer to the first two than the next two) and because I think Chappie will not be the same sort of hit District 9 was and he would probably have to do some work-for-hire in order to regain the industry's trust if that's the case. He wound up being proactive about it, and now genre fans are going to talk about him doing that rather than two disappointments in the wake of a much-liked debut.

Also, this comes roughly a month after the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending, which was also enjoyably weird for me but which didn't capture the imagination of a mainstream audience. I hope this isn't a last gasp of studios being willing to risk money on big sci-fi projects by ambitious filmmakers. As much as I'm down for a Blomkamp Alien and whatever the Wachowskis wind up doing next if a studio project is necessary (them doing Inhumans would be a classic Marvel buy-low move), I find that as much as I enjoy good people adding to franchises I like, these movies where the filmmakers are going for something big, nuts, and new are more exciting, even when they become a mess.

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