Like The Raid redefined modern martial arts movie, Hardcore seeks to redefine what a POV action movie can be. Russian director Ilya Naishuller, who earned internet stardom for his band’s, Biting Elbow, music video “Bad Motherfucker” (which attracted almost 30 million Youtube views), sought out to make a full-length feature in the same style and with the help of a successful Indiegogo campaign has just unleashed Hardcore unto (mostly) cheering TIFF audiences. Read More
Chappie star Yolandi Vizzer said of the “Zef” movement that defines Cape Town rave-rap group Die Antwoord, “It’s associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy, you’re sexy, you’ve got style.” Her home-on-the-Afrikaans-range expressionist sentiments on Zef appropriately sum up Chappie, a mouthy sci-fi lark that manages to exist in the schizophrenic space between philosophy class and the thug lyfe. Narcotic in design, Chappie has the ability to be thoughtful, sardonic, batty, stupid, far-fetched, irreverent, intoxicated and absurd in the same sentence. To get a feel for what’s in store, imagine Chappie grabbing his robot junk, slouching like a gangster and wiping at his nonexistent nose before rapping on the heady notions of psychological impermanence and the potential of conscious transference. Those of lesser imaginative are damned to misunderstand the intent in such a film, a “how did this even get made” kind of product whose deranged sensibilities are delirious by design, but that’s their problem. In the “in” circles, they pity such handicapped imaginations. So hollers the hip-hopper handbook, haters gonna hate.
Much like Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer worked in tandem on Interstellar – Nolan gave Zimmer “feelings and themes” he wanted the film to communicate without ever revealing to Zimmer the genre of Interstellar. Zimmer then cooked up the backbone of a score and his work went on to influence Nolan’s developing script, etc. etc. – Chappie and Die Antwoord are intrinsically unified. They’re brothers from another mother. Droogs of the same breed. To drawn a line in the sand between the perfectly ironic poppiness of Die Antwoord’s counter-culture movement and the Hollywood blockbuster construct of Chappie is a hopeless exercise that I don’t seek to understand. Basing estimations of Chappie on existing models and traditions of big-budget (Chappie‘s was apparently 50 million) filmmaking is impossible since those models and traditions have been promptly, purposefully rocketed into space like they’re Ellen Ripley at the tail end of Alien. Neill Blomkamp‘s screenplay for Chappie talks about evolution and, ironically, it sails so much in the face of traditional movie-making models that it in itself is a kind of a quasi-evolution of the movie-making game. It’s so f*cking meta.
The Antwoord duo preserves their stage names in Chappie because why not? Ninja (played by Ninja) sports his customary military mullet – a hairstyle that came to him in a dream – and slurs his way through chunky Afrikaan slang not too far off from the head-scratching lexicon of Clockwork Orange or, more recently, Attack the Block. Expect a BuzzFeed article titled “What the What Do These 21 Chappie Phrases Mean?” Female-half Yolandi rocks the same violently pink “Who Wants Tits?” belly shirt she does in Antwoord’s deliciously off-color “Baby’s On Fire” music video. A later wardrobe change has her sporting a “CHAPPiE” crop top. Even robo-Chappie himself has got a not-so-subtly spraypainted “ZEF” tramp stamp. Blomkamp’s movie self-promotes both itself and Die Antwoord like a hungry hip-hop artist. It’s so f*cking metal.
We’ve rapped about Chappie as counter culture in film form but in the same vein, it’s also very much Blomkamp’s attempt to define a foreign zeitgeist in a very specific place and time. His efforts to justify, or rather rationalize, South African’s prominent underground civilization to the world appears lost on many and I would like to assume that that’s also part of the point. Not everyone’s going to get it but no worries here. Good riddance. In that line of thinking, Chappie is an intentional affront to good taste. Where we expect our hero robot to zag, he zigs. We expect him to mature out of a pubescent state but he’s too busy twisting up zig-zags. What Mad Max did for dystopian MCs, Chappie does for punk-samurai robots. What Star Wars achieved for flowy robes, Chappie pulls off for in-your-face neon. If you boiled down the guttural madness of the Matrix Reloaded rave scene, dosed it with some golden-toothed slang and outfitted its doltishness with automatic weapons, you’d have something resembling Chappie. “Radical” attempts to describes it but I think only “Zef” can properly sum it up.
But what the hell is Chappie about, Matt? Well anyone who’s heard the electronic mumblings of “I am Chappie” through their radio waves know that Blomkamp’s third features a robot. Anyone who’s seen a Chappie poster knows that said robot sports bling bling. Peeps who be trolling the trailers are probz aware that Hugh Jackman‘s skull sprouted a maybe-mullet for the film and he’s basically the heavy here, though very much not in the way you might at first have thunk. What you don’t know is that Chappie is not in the least bit the film you expect it to be. Especially if you’ve tapped into the overwhelming negative reception of the film. Chappie is way more weird, way more bonkers, way more gaga than you would anticipate of a movie with this kind of budget and backing. Were Chappie to meet ET, he’d ask him to politely bite the curb. If he paired up with Mac, he’d put his deformed visage gently “to sleep.” If you thought Matt Damon in a mech suit was wackadoo, wait until you get a load of Chappie. He’s so f*cking manic.
And that’s really what it comes down to, Chappie as a character is worth the price of admission alone. With Sharlto Copley voicing the character, he’s got more grit to him than a offroader’s fender and is far from the innocent robot the promotional material paints him as. Sure, he initially wields paintbrushes instead of PPKs but his jive-talking mannerisms arrive with a limited learning curve and soon enough he’s parroting the gangbangin’ verbiage of his too-so-Kosher mommy and daddy. Comedy cometh.
In an age that is so obnoxiously focused on franchise world-building, Blomkamp excels in the thematically exacting specificity of his future-set pasquinades. He’s clearly having fun but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have an agenda. In District 9, we got a taste for an “inventive” history of South Africa in Blomkamp’s straight-faced satirical portrait of refuges. Camps thick with burned trash and thin on food rubbed up against legal boundaries blurred by racist governmental ordinances. Blomkamp recently ousted himself for “f*cking up Elysium” though I’m not willing to dismiss that work just yet as it provided one of the more provocative pictures of the institutional evils of bureaucracy. And (did I mention??) had Matt Damon in a mech-suit. Chappie gets to ideas of bankrupt corporate morality and existential crises that also stops to ask how we can live with the knowledge that we will die? I’m…intrigued? It also features a kind of ED-209, appropriately named the Moose, stomping on a character and pulling him gorily in half. It’s about something until it’s not. It’s self-involved and batshit until it’s genuinely provocative. It’s that improbably rare, inimitable kinda “WTF was that?!” movie.
Look, I’m not here to convince you that you’re going to like Chappie because in earnest, this is not a movie with the masses in mind. It’s the kind of “hey, welcome to the party” film that attempts to ask big questions but winds up with concepts infinitely more silly – a la how many Playstation 4s does it take to house a person’s consciousness – but that doesn’t derail the intrigue that exists there in the first place. At least not for me. We cannot dismiss the stoner without at least hearing him out. Sometimes, he has a hell of a point. Occasional narrative poverty gives way to a much more important feeling of style, expressionism and innovation – the “gold and shit” – in what is most assuredly a one-of-a-kind, totally berserk robot gangster misadventure for the anals of f*cking history. On the coolness/acclaim axis, Chappie‘s lightning in a bottle existence gangsta leans towards being impenetrably hip and so be it. My mom doesn’t understand hip hop and that’s ok with me. I don’t bother trying to convince her because that’s missing the point. If you’re not in on the whole shebang, that’s your problem.
Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie‘s cheekbones and Elle Fanning‘s bleach blonde mop and shit-eating smile, is a movie designed for young, dim-witted children who fancy bright lights and high pitched voices and don’t yet understand the word “story”. It’s a retelling by way of obliteration, with debut director Robert Stromberg taking sledgehammer swings when he would have benefited so much more from the nuance of a scalpel. From the very first minute, it’s a total slog, a tonal nightmare. There wasn’t one moment where I wasn’t waiting for it to just end.
Up until Maleficent, Stromberg was a viz effects guy with a whopping 94 credits to his name. No wonder this is more spectacle than substance. Taking a page from the book of George Lucas, everything in front of us feels green-screened through and through. It’s FX prequel effect at its most barbarous and boring. Watch people act against CGI, on CGI sound stages with CGI effects. You can just feel the lifelessness waft over you.
With credits like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Hunger Games to his name, Stromberg may know how to paint a pretty picture, but he has no idea how to tell a story. In the comic world, there are artists and there are writers. Knowing your place is key. Stromberg has no idea of his and Maleficent is the 200 million dollar proof.
The story starts in the most precocious of ways with a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy), horned and winged, fluttering around an entirely computer animated set. She’s a “stop to smell the roses” kind of girl but somehow she’s also in charge of things around these fairy parts. Called upon by Ent-like creatures, she encounters the equally pubescent human Stefan (Michael Higgins), an ambitious peasant, and quickly harbors an unlikely friendship with him. For you see, humans and fairies are totally not cool with each other. Because the king is a dick, or something.
The long and short of it is Stefan (now Sharlto Copley) – in a Lord of the Rings, “all men are corruptible” sort of way – also turns out to be a grade-A toolbag and slices and dices Maleficent’s wings Benihana-style in order to take succession as the new king. Why the old king was willing to trade his throne for a pair of wings (meant to prove Maleficent is dead) is beyond me, as is the fact that no-one seemed to question the legitimacy of Stefan’s claim once Maleficent – soon after – pops back into the picture. It’s like everyone involved has a short term memory of about 17 seconds. A telling sign of Linda Woolverton‘s lifeless scripting skills.
Blah blah blah, Maleficent curses baby Aurora (Fanning), King Stefan goes into uber-depressive vengeance state, sends daughter off to the woods to live with rebel fairies to skirt spindle-charged curse. Because no one uses spinning wheels in the woods, duh. The turn though is that Maleficent watches young Aurora grow, harboring untold affection towards the child she has already doomed.
Earlier live action adaptations of similar style have used the “untold” preamble to attempt to flesh out characters that we know little about – see Oz or Huntsman (which themselves are almost – but not quite – as bad as this). Maleficent pulls from a very different page, contradicting the source material at every clunky, heinously predictable turn. Maleficent herself – played by a Jolie who sorely needs to eat a pizza – isn’t a complex character, she’s just another naive woman wronged by a douchey dude. Welcome to Disney 101.
In a way, Maleficent could have been a worthy successor to Frozen, in that it shares a similar shift away from an ideology in which a woman’s only savior can be the man. But it’s done so poorly here, and telegraphed with the cheapest, cheesiest brand of phoning it in that you’ve left hanging your head if not throwing your worthless 3D glasses at the screen. There are no characters here, there’s no story. It’s nothing but a 90 minute cash grab…in TECHNICOLOR! The only magical spell it casts is making an hour and a half feel like three hours. The only curse, having to sit through it.
It’s so far from the Sleeping Beauty that we know that when Aurora inevitably does go down for the count, she’s more Napping Beauty than Sleeping Beauty. Seriously, bitch dozes for about a scene and a half. And when Jolie strips down to a leather-mama Michelle Pfeifer Catwoman get-up, y’all know it’s go time. As in, just get up and leave the theater. There’s nothing to see here.
In a movie where every single character is a moron and everything feels like a chew toy, there is nothing of worth to be found. It’s like a bowl of porridge with no raisins or brown sugar. Just lumpy, cold, and pathetic. And what may be the worst crime is just how low the bar seemed to be for this project. There were no aspirations here that they failed to reach. It wasn’t a swing and a miss. Just a lazy bunt. It’s just blah; purified, sparkly blah. It’s like having the nerve to go on Iron Chef and bake up the blandest form of yellowcake adorned with rainbow sprinkles. You have literally the biggest resource in the world right in front of you and you aim for nothing. What a joke.
In the trailer for Open Grave, Sharlto Copley (District 9) wakes up in a pile of bodies matching the likes of Ben’s Dharma hole in Lost. Stripped of memories and surrounded by unknown people also suffering sudden amnesia, he doesn’t know if he the author of this mass grave or if it’s one of his new acquaintances. Talk about hell in a hand basket.
Coming out of nowhere, this independent horror/thriller looks to capitalize on our thirst for suspense and blood lust. Starring a host of unknowns like Joseph Morgan, Thomas Kretschmann, Josie Ho, and Erin Richards, Open Graves is the second film from Gonzalo López-Gallego, who previously made the found-footage-in-space film Apollo 18. However unfavorably that film was received, this looks to be a step in a better direction.
The official synopsis for Open Grave reads:
A man (Sharlto Copley, DISTRICT 9, ELYSIUM) wakes up in a pit of dead bodies with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Fleeing the scene, he breaks into a nearby house and is met at gunpoint by a group of terrified strangers, all suffering from memory loss. Suspicion gives way to violence as the group starts to piece together clues about their identities, but when they uncover a threat that’s more vicious—and hungry—than each other, they are forced to figure out what brought them all together—before it’s too late.
Open Grave is directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego and stars Sharlto Copley, Thomas Kretschmann, Josie Ho, Joseph Morgan, Erin Richards and Max Wrottesley. It hits VOD on December 24 before opening in theaters on January 3, 2014.