Neill Blomkamp’s latest movie is a mess, but it is still head-and-shoulders above the rest of this week’s DVD releases.
Chappie (Sony Pictures) is the latest movie from South African sci-fi maverick Neill Blomkamp, whose previous credits include District 9 and Elysium.
In near future Johannesburg the authorities have invested in armour-plated artificial intelligence attack robots, and the crime-ravaged city is patrolled by this new, mechanised police force. However, when one droid, Chappie, is stolen by a posse of criminals (played by Ninja and Yolandi Visser of South African band Die Antwoord, and Jose Pablo Cantillo of Sons of Anarchy) and re-programmed, he develops the ability to think and feel for himself. Chappie’s creator, British engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) is desperate to rehabilitate the innocent, childlike robot, while the hoodlums seek to repurpose him for their own dubious ends. Complicating matters further is Australian soldier-turned-engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, X-Men) who plans to undermine the government programme with his own competing weaponry.
Chappie, which is based on Blomkamp’s short film Tetra Vaal, is chock-a-block with colourful characters and overflowing with half-baked ideas, but the surplus of material is ultimately what undermines the narrative. Blomkamp’s go-to-guy Sharlto Copley is excellent (via motion-capture) as Chappie, but the presence of Ninja and Yolandi feels self-indulgent, and Sigourney Weaver is frittered away in a minor supporting role. Sadly, for the most part, the director re-treads old ground, albeit in a far less satisfactory manner than with the awesome District 9. The earlier film’s nimble narrative and coruscating social commentary has been replaced by a hotch-potch blend of glib comedic scenes and reheated Hollywood action clichés. The end-result feels clunky, cluttered and sometimes clueless.
Despite a few critical dents, and the suggestion that his career is already in a downward spiral, Blomkamp’s reputation is still more-or-less intact. That said, with three South African films done and dusted, it seems like a smart move for Blomkamp to move out of his comfort zone and have a crack at resurrecting the Alien franchise, as has recently been confirmed. Chappie is fun in places, but ultimately proof that you can have too much of a good thing.
In The Voices (Arrow Films) Ryan Reynolds (Safe House) stars as Jerry, an unhinged factory worker driven to murder by his talking pets – a psychopathic cat called Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, his amiable, dog (both voiced by Reynolds). After accidentally killing co-worker Fiona (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) after a night out, Jerry hastily covers his tracks, acting at the behest of the subversive Mr. Whiskers. Meanwhile, things are looking similarly bleak for Fiona’s fellow co-worker Lisa (Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air) who has also taken a shine to oddball Jerry.
Somewhat improbably, The Voices was directed by Marjane Satrapi, who came to prominence in 2007 when her acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis was turned into a well-received animated movie. Neither funny enough to be classified as a comedy, nor deranged enough to rank as a full-on horror movie, The Voices is a genuinely weird film, and one that is difficult to enjoy on its own terms. While it is likely to prove too awkward for mainstream consumption, it definitely represents a welcome change of pace for the versatile Reynolds after vacuous blockbusters such as The Green Lantern and RIPD. Patchily enjoyable.
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For anyone who was wondering what Harvey Keitel gets up to in between making insurance adverts, Two Men In Town (Signature) is the answer. Will Garnett (Forest Whitaker, The Crying Game) is determined to go straight, after serving 18 years in prison for the murder of a cop. With the help of an idealistic parole agent (Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies) and his new-found Islamic faith, Garnett tries to rebuild his life, only to find himself on a collision course with vengeful local Sheriff, Bill Agati (Harvey Keitel, Mean Streets), who is determined to put the ex-con back behind bars. Director Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory 2006 and London River, 2009) has shown a willingness to explore complex moral territory in the past, but Two Men In Town is weirdly clunky and ultimately misjudged. Desperately average.
Set in Queens, New York City in the 1980s, Revenge of the Green Dragons (eOne) is the violent true story of one of the most notorious gangs that the NYPD ever came up against. It is also the first film that Andrew Lau Wai-Keung and Martin Scorsese have officially collaborated on – after Lau’s Infernal Affairs (2002) inspired Marty’s The Departed (2006). That prospect may sound exciting on paper, but after a gruelling gang initiation in the early stages the movie quickly loses its way, and degenerates into an undemanding gangland thriller with little to recommend it. Don’t be fooled by the off-camera talent attached to the film – nor the picture of bit-part player Ray Liotta on the cover artwork – this is very poor.
The English language debut from Japanese auteur Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern) should be a cause for celebration, but Last Knights (Signature) is deeply underwhelming. The sluggish plot follows Raiden (Clive Owen, Children of Men), a fallen warrior who must rise up against a corrupt and sadistic ruler to avenge Bartok (Morgan Freeman, Se7en), his dishonoured master. The striking visuals and eclectic supporting cast – also including Ayelet Zurer (Hostages) and Aksel Hennie (Headhunters) – can’t conceal the lazy, uneventful sub-Game of Thrones plot, which gets awfully boring, awfully quickly. Dreary.