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Thursday, 27 July 2017

Syns of a Film maker.

My new short Syn has recently been released. It has taken an insane amount of time from inception to release and I wanted to address why and what it has meant which will basically describe my last 3 years of film making.

If you haven't seen it here it is:

We begin maybe five years ago with my first foray into long form script writing Return to Earth
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A pilot for a science fiction show I have had in my head since college which mixes tonnes of my favourite sci fi from Firefly to Cable comics with bits of The Matrix, Terminator and Alien thrown in for good measure. I literally have 90 odd pages but I always knew I didn't want to attempt to make this, I can't. It is beyond me. Whilst I knew that from the start I spent months with a large amount of my imagination in that world so I decided to make a short. It was coming to the end of university, projects were basically all done and I wanted to take advantage of the equipment.

The idea came about as I sat just thinking at night about images I want to shoot. Before long I had a fairly vivid idea of a scene which I drew like a comic. Its rough and nasty but small panels would be short shots and longer panels more important, it translates fairly well. I knew I had to shoot that scene.
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I wrote a quick fairly poor and generic script about a lonely wanderer in the post apocalyptic setting of my R2E universe. I basically wanted to shoot a camera exercise. Whilst at university I barely got a chance to actually direct. I barely got to make 'my' film. I spent the majority of my time as a part of other peoples films and so when this chance came about I wanted a lot of control. So I made props

I cast the film and I prepared to shoot. With just one partner who covered sound. This was a mistake. Whilst I wanted the simplicity of a small shoot I simply had to do too much. Produce, direct, dress sets and actors and operate.
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The result was fairly unclear at the time as I drove off to shoot a music video all over Europe with my brothers band.

I came back and began editing. I wasn't super happy. footage was shakier and darker than I wanted, there were a few shots I missed etc. My first edit was with some nice images and half a tensionless fight scene with an unconvincing villain. Havi pretty bad. It stuck fairly well to script and idea but it was sort of stuck in between. Half an artsy ideang been the main creative force and being a bit lost I stepped back. I edited the video above as well as some other live videos from the tour with the idea of a full hour long tour doc. But it didn't work. There was some nice footage but the fact that I was sort of a last minute add on meant there was no concept for why I was filming at the start of the tour. There was no obligation from me or the band to make a reasonable documentary so the footage basically wasn't there.

So I swam in gigabytes of gig footage for about a month or so to make what was released and make some stuff that still hasn't and I doubt will see the light of day.

At this point my quick pet project is probably six months into production four of which are post. The time away was helpful. I cleaned everything up and had a fine cut of a poor film. I knew I wasn't happy and started to get busy with the idea of making a film company.
Over the next few month I shot some bands and tackled bits of film work here and there. Working at a school and with a theatre company. All of which again gave me time away from Syn. I think with labours of love you go through periods of confidence and doubt. At a time where financially I wasn't in the best place it was difficult to be positive about a film that was taking so long but couldn't really be changed. Without another creative lead to challenge my ideas I had to distance myself and then come back with a scalpel and cut the film to pieces and rebuild it. Which finally happened.

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I did a minor reshoot for a potential different ending and then over the next month or so hammered out a final cut. For an eight minute short that was still a crazy long editing time but I spent a lot of that time on changing shot selection and clipping single frames to get what I was happiest with.

Here comes the first of the delays which were less of my control. Probably about a year into the film now I really wanted a friend to do the colour correction. It's his thing, he is hands down the best person I know at it. But after about a month of trying to get the file to him in different ways, in different formats and over different file sharing sites I had to give up. By this time the pressure to release however was gone. Despite my insistence nobody really knew much about the project and even those in it had pretty much passed it off.

Anyway I got a fine cut and colour corrected myself. My initial sound engineer no longer worked in sound so I looked for someone else to do the sound for me. I gave no deadlines and heard a few drafts over basically a year of back and fourth. That is ridiculous but it was a year in which I started a company, got a business loan, tried to book work, made three ish music videos, shot three or four gigs and worked with a theatre company again. Unfortunately all to fairly low financial gain.

That motivated my more recent decision maybe four months ago to dive full time into my job and put film making on the back burner. So last month when I finally got the master audio back I had the film. I even uploaded it privately to YouTube but I didn't really know what to do with it. Do I hype it up a bit or just release it? I was delaying the release because at this point it doesn't matter when it is released, what's another month?

'A week later (George A Romero) was dead.'

That motivated me. Romero wasn't the greatest film maker ever but damn did he make a few gems. Not only did his films spawn the zombie genre but it was done as a loose adaptation of my favourite book I am Legend. Whilst the films of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg inspired me to make films I think Romero was one of the first directors who showed me that films were political. His political critiques helped shape how I read not only films, not only media but the wider world. On the nose political perhaps but it was eye opening. Since I saw his films I have written essays, made zombie shorts and rewatched his films countless times.

I nearly snap released the film that night. But I decided I wanted to write this. For catharsis and for explanation.

Thank you to anyone who helped make this film. So many people have indirectly helped. Even if I just talked your ear off about it or about something else entirely. This film became almost a cloud hanging over me. It could never live up to the film it should be considering how damn long it took to make. It took a lot for me not to give up on it and ultimately not to give up on film.

I cannot apologise enough to those who have waited and ultimately forgotten about Syn. It took too long, I am sorry.

I'm not sure what I am making next. I have some ideas. It wont be for profit. I'm going to enjoy it. You might be a part of it. Keep your eyes out, now the pressure is off I'm gonna have some fun with it.

Like Romero and his Zombies I won't stay dead.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Outsiders Episode 1 (WMC #2)

New show season is bringing lots of new shows to watch and its hard to decide which to go with, however Outsiders caught my eye by description as Sons of Anarchy crossed with Justified. Whilst I have seen neither, Sons of Anarchy fans still tell me to watch the show so I thought I would try out Outsiders.

The show is based around a family or tribe who live in the mountains near a small town and have done for years. They live off their land and occasionally raid the shops if needed. Their strength and history with the town protects their mystical nature but as a new leader waits to be appointed and eviction notices are served to the tribe trouble spills into both the town and the tribe.

I quite enjoyed it, I found it easy to relate for a very unusual reason that I will touch on in a moment but first a little context. I am a young, working class brit who has very little knowledge of anything any where near this kind of subject matter so it was very alien and unusual and I have to imagine highly fantastical. Which I actually really like. I think the show has the potential to step up where mythological tribe style shows fall down. Look at shows that have a similar plot at their inception like the wave of vampire shows that recently graced the silver screen. I would be sorely disappointed an surprised if Outsiders fell into the same romantic teen drama tropes.

There are a fair few compelling characters, all of which sit in a morally grey area, the history of the world seems deep and enticing and even some of the plain normal characters seem worth following. It's shot and acted as well as most high quality television you expect to see from HBO, FX, Amazon, AMC or Netflix, and David Morse puts in a fantastic performance, even if it is strange seeing him with all that hair...

For now at least Outsiders has caught my attention, it has the potential to be a great show and its refreshingly different enough despite being a little Sons of Anarchy, True Detective and maybe (hopefully not) a little True Blood...

Now to why I feel a little identification with it despite being a keyboard surfing nerd... I currently play a Half Orc in D&D with a group of friends and Outsiders are almost exactly how I would imagine a group of Ocs... but thats just my obsession...

Check out Outsiders!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

X Files Season 10 Ep1&2 (Weapon of Mass Consumption #1)

Welcome to my new series! Weapon of Mass Consumption. Featuring all the television, movies, streams and general media that I consume in a week, its quite a bit...

The Truth Is Out There
Whilst many reviewers have looked to the return of the X Files as a rehash or missed opportunity so far I have to admit I am in strong fanboy mode. Admittedly the return to the X Files has had its clunky moments but in such a convoluted show, and the following movie, there would never be an easy clean way to re introduce the X Files.

And so we get some strong mythology (if not a little rushed) and what is setting up to be a kind of best hits from each type of episode; Mad scientist, monster of the week, comedy etc.

The first two episodes were great, the second shined as it wasn't bogged down with exposition and story set up. Mulder and Scully are back with all the conspiracy tied baggage in the world, every episode seems to hide a gut punch (generally about William), a great scifi centre and the badge/ torch wielding, paranoid madness of the original series.

So why are people complaining so far?

Well it seems to be mainly that in discussion, Chris Carter has discussed how now is the perfect time for X Files' return due to the distrust of government and the prevalence of surveillance, hacking and tracking. It sounded as though Mulder would be in his element theorising about a government that actually exists in the real world. Critics are confused by the immediate jump back to the same kind of paranoias as the original series when so many new things are out there for the show to closely critique.

The only defence I can give the show is that it has never been a specific critique of politics, for sure it has poked a little, and thematically its distrust of government is undeniable but it has shied away from 'real life' government, instead creating myth like bad guys of its men in black and the cigarette smoking man.

Either way I have loved the series so far and its ratings are making a strong case for another series to be made, perhaps when back story and set-up has passed the creative team may be a little morefree to engage in socio political tales. Would you want a more politics focused X Files? Or are you happy with mythology and monsters?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Long Tomorrow (Leigh Brackett)

"I want to learn"
How do you get to a place when simply uttering its name gets you stoned to death? That is the question that challenges Len Colter, a boy who quickly grows tired with the religious repression and barbaric mob mentality of the post apocalyptic world he lives in, where technology is something to be feared and no city may be built for fear of another nuclear war. However there is a myth of a city that still exists in hiding, is Barterstown real? And if it is, can Len and his cousin Esau make it there?

The Long Tomorrow isn't a new book dipping into the post apocalypse trend of the 2010's, published in 1955 it is an early book to tackle so bravely the constraints of religion and mob mentality. Whilst many critics call it "almost great" I see it as a brave masterpiece that is as relevant and thought provoking today as it was sixty years ago.

The biggest success of The Long Tomorrow is its ability to have you as a reader relate so strongly to characters in a surreal world. It mixes who you relate to and ultimately this gives the reader a wider perspective that Len despite a restrictive first person narration. If you are looking for post apocalypse and critique The Long Tomorrow is one of the trendsetters in the genre and a must read!


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Avengers Age of Ultron (2015 Joss Whedon)
Here we all are, with nothing but our wit and our will to save the world! So stand and fight!
The Avengers are back, this time fighting Ultron, a corrupt AI made in part at the hands of Tony Stark. Age of Ultron is a massive spectacle, big action, strong acting and witty comedy to boot. If Avengers Assemble got you going expect more of the same from the second installment of the collaborative Marvel Cinematic Universe's team up.

I'm going to stay well away from spoilers as i expect most people to see the film themselves, all I will say is that all of the changes from comic elements make sense and I have no issue with any of them. My only issue with the film is that Ultron isn't scary, I never feared him and I didn't really feel like the Avengers did either. I think this is because of classic middle movie syndrome, we know Thanos is coming so we are waiting for that madness to ensue, this film just stops us from starving whilst we wait for Infinity War. Not only that but the surprise and awe is gone, it doesn't do more than Avengers Assemble and whilst it is just as impressive it falls a little more flat because it is what you expect.

That being said I did really enjoy the film, I'm just being harsh, the character development that Joss manages to squeeze in is incredible and I cannot wait for more as always. Age of Ultron sticks to the formula of tension relieving comedy amid colossal action whilst bringing about interesting changes in the MCU. Go see Age of Ultron, you cannot be disappointed.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Juxtaposition of ideas and aesthetics an essay on the questions Chappie asks us and how it fits in the context of AI in Hollywood cinema.


In this essay I will analyze the plot of Chappie (Neill Blomkamp) with focus on what Blomkamp refers to as creation via instinct, mixing big ideas with comedy and violence throughout the scenes of the film which simply separates its deep moments from its more superficial but equally enjoyable action. This separation forces audiences to be active and then passive and is uncommon in Hollywood and may be where a large amount of reviewers discomfort comes from however it allows a different kind of consumption and reaction. Thematically Chappie asks its audience to actively consider questions of nature and nurture, violence and innocence, immortality, conscience and aspects of the american dream and atomic family. By interrupting these heavy topics with moments of passive entertainment it keeps the film interesting and fun. Blomkamp chooses not to dwell on topics or tell its audience what to think and rather leaves them with something to think about whilst the violence and comedy washes over them. This juxtaposition of ideas and entertainment will be my main point of discussion although I will also comment on how Chappie's stance on artificial intelligence reflects social issues today.

The third in what has been dubbed a "stylistic trilogy" Chappie opens with a typically Blomkamp world, Johannesburg, the near future, the police struggling to fight the gangs and crime in the city, all conveyed through news footage in a similar way to both District 9 (2009 Blomkamp) and Elysium (2013 Blomkamp). This repeated use of news footage, even using real news readers, is a subtler version of the media saturation satirically presented in science fiction classics Robocop (Paul Verhoeven 1987) and Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven 1997). The media is always a tool, it generally misrepresents the heroes, supports the villains and harasses our main characters. Whilst nothing forces you to draw direct parallels with any specific events in recent history, a forceful and negative news force is something that resonates with audiences. The inelegant exposition is clunky but the sheer amount of plot development throughout the film excuses such an information dump and is conventional in science fiction stories in which such back story needs to be laid out before plot development can begin. 

Right out of the gate we meet Scout 22 soon to be Chappie (Sharlto Copley), he is immediately personified as the dinged up underdog. We are also introduced to our villains, the over the top gangster Hippo (Brandon Auret) and comical "Gaston" (Beauty and the Beast) stlye Vincent (Hugh Jackman). Our unlikely protagonists are playing themselves Yo-landi and Ninja of Die Antwoord after their rap career fades. Architect of the world and of the scouts, robots that assist police and are battling back the crime waves in Johannesburg, is the techno boy genius Dion. After the early exposition the audience need a moment to reflect and let the information sink in, so we cut to a scene of pure video game violence. From the comedy of Ninja with his brightly coloured matching weapons to him trying to speak whilst Hippo's gun's stuck in his mouth in an obvious show of male dominance we know we don't have to take these characters too seriously. As the scouts are dropped in the police break up the deal using the scouts as bullet shield's, efficient tools. This is a moment of pure aesthetic brilliance and passive enjoyment for the audience, it continues to set the scene and once again beat up on Chappie, who takes an RPG to the chest from Hippo.

The bust is a clear victory for weapons company Tetra Vaal, employer of both Vincent and Dion however Vincent's version of robotic crime fighting isn't the same as Dion's it is big cumbersome, expensive and controlled by humans. This brings about one of the biggest issues in Chappie whether robots should be programmed and carry out orders or if they should always be under direct control by humans. The issue doesn't overpower the story this early on, at this point Vincent is just given a "sympathy" call from his boss as his funding continues to dip and his career slips away. Scout 22 is also written off by Dion, at this point the audience recognize him as Chappie and are significantly attached to the beaten up droid and want him saving but to Dion he is just a shell like all the other scouts, he sees them in the same way the rest of the world does. We dig a little closer into the lives of our heroes too, Die Antwoord receive threats from Hippo as we see their lair for the first time, all concrete and graffiti, dicks in bright colours. It is a lived in hideout of a abandoned building and instantly adds character to the group who come up with a Loony Toon scheme to get a "remote" from Dion to turn off the scouts so they can commit "one big job" in a parody of every con/gangster film ever. Clearly an awful idea as no remote exists however this simple minded scheme fits their characters and sets up a wonderful plot, it also once again shows scouts as an appliance like a microwave or television, a thing, an object.

Back at Dion's flat he is greeted by his cute little cleaning bot, who gathers red bull and "activates" the kettle whilst the typical nerd makes his break through. The score by Hans Zimmer is first most evident here, it sounds a little out of place as Dion writes code and almost battle style music plays however this view of technological progress as a battle continues throughout the film and Zimmer's score helps to tie such subtle statements together. Once Dion wins this battle he is essentially won over by AI, he almost immediately becomes its advocate, despite telling the technicians "Don't destroy it" he fights with Tetra Vaal CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) to permit him to give his AI a body and is excited at the idea that he could have created real life capable of independent opinions and thought, the ability to see, create and judge "art" and write "poetry" the irony of pitching poetry to a weapons company isn't lost on Michelle who laughs off and dismisses the idea due to "red tape" and "insurance". Her character throughout isn't villainous as such however her opinions are on the opposite side of Dion's and of technological advancement, she sees and always will see robots as objects for profit. Again we have been introduced to some heavy themes and the plot has thickened considerably, whilst most characters would internally struggle with whether to defy their boss or not for days we have already seen Dion's battle, we know which side of that technological argument he is on and after a quick glance at the comical and emotive "craft life" cat poster, he goes to rescue Chappie. The poster itself is too comical for some however it almost literally tells you what kind of audience Blomkamp is targeting, a young audience who spends most of their time on the internet and saturate their lives with technology and the social tropes of meme's and social networking that goes along with it. Not just cat people. All this technological marvel and excitement is abruptly interrupted by Ninja' knocking Dion and the audience out with a short sharp "This is you getting hijacked my friend. Welcome to Joville" It's not just Dion and Chappie that are kidnapped but the whole plot, the whole concept of the film is this hijacking, a potentially typical "AI learns how to do things" plot literally picked up and dropped in a gangsters world of crime and violence. We are hijacked and welcomed to Blomkamp's Joville inspired by his own childhood in Johannesburg in the 80's-90's during a time of apartheid when gang crime was high.

Aside from this Vincent is meeting with the police to pitch the "Moose" one last time, the officers are over indulgent, comical, offensive and disinterested. It is a mockery of what Vincent has made, they tell him "things are going to have to get a hell of a lot worse for us to even consider" the Moose. Gun holster showing, Vincent stares into a mirror, the prophetic words ring in the ears of the audience and of Vincent and we know he will force things to get worse if he can. Whilst he is yet to become the comical maniacal villain of the film this is clearly his step to villainy, and at this point his opinions on robotics are clear and to some of the audience they are right, whilst his character steps into comical parody his fall to madness casts doubt on his beliefs however the film never outright says that he is wrong, the outcome of the battle between controllable and uncontrollable technology is left for the audience to decide.

As Chappie awakens in the lair of the gangsters his child like demeanor immediately turns the group of gangsters into a bastardization of the atomic family. Despite Dion being Chappie's creator his "right" to fatherhood is overtaken by Yo-Landi's maternal instinct and places Ninja in the fatherhood role, Dion being a creator and Ninja the more present and paternal (through relation with Yo-Landi), this strongly mimics the now broken family that America is more familiar with. Ninja becomes the step-dad who learns to love his child as opposed to Dion who Chappie has a natural link to but less of a nurturing link. In the background of the scene lit in an almost sickly green is the American flag, representing the opinion that this family dynamic is the symptom and the norm in a "sick" America. The maternal instinct overcomes the situation and Dion loses control of Chappie, his attempt to amuse Chappie is with a rubber chicken, a dogs toy, shows that Dion still doesn't understand what he has created and potentially that he isn't the right person to raise Chappie. The family drama on steroids in fast forward is a great examination of familial relationships today, it is a simple challenge to the atomic family that dominated Hollywood and the vision of the American Dream until recently. Some issues with the film have come with this inclusion of unnecessary conflict between Dion and the gangsters, we know Chappie is our eponymous hero and neither side of the conflict really wants to hurt him however the mixture of these two extreme cultures would clearly create conflict. The fact that Ninja only wants to use Chappie is also clearly a reason for conflict and mimics the kind of recruitment that would happen at a later age in normal gangs and introductory members.

The next scene is the epitome of the battle between innocence and violence, it begins with Chappie wondering around the lair, that in daylight is covered with bright graffiti, the mise en scene is littered with nick nacks to fiddle and play with. The graffiti itself varies between colourful and bright characters to penises and writing like "Fuck da world" this highlights the differences between Ninja and Yo-Landi, their parenting techniques and the battle between innocence and violence or corruption. There is however only so much of Chappie learning we can see, he mimics and copies up to this point and on television emulates He-Man which shows his immature state of mind whilst identifying him again as our hero. Ninja interrupts this session of discovery and starts to choose what Chappie should learn, specifically how to be a gangster. Whilst this is clearly one of the moments of passive consumption, and the comedy of how to shoot a gun properly is fantastic, that passivity hides issues that on reflection or a second viewing are central to the film, how to raise a child and that of innocence being corrupted. Whether being a gangster in this world amounts to corruption however is another point of contention for later in the film.

Whilst researching how to help a baby learn, Dion is threatened by Vincent, who wants the key that lets you update software on the Scouts which was left in Chappie's head. On refusing and mocking Victor with the question "Engineer? Weren't you a soldier?" Vincent breaks a little, pinning Dion to the table with a gun to his head and threatening him further, Dion wont back down however and Vincent retreats calling the overt threat a prank. This scene is a little unusual, why does nobody else react? It gives the impression that they are used to Vincent's insane antics and expect it to be a joke making Vincent's character even more tragic. If you consider this as his peak display of dominance so far in the film and nobody takes notice and even the little nerdy kid doesn't bow down to his threats it shows the audience how desperate Vincent really is and how close he is to losing it completely.

Just a day into his life and Chappie is roughly equal to a 7-10 year old, he has been copying the things the gang have taught him, his mannerisms are that of Ninja and America (the character), he has begun to learn. It is at this point Dion sees him again, and he sees the gang's actions as irresponsible and lays down rules for Chappie. Before getting into debates of morality Dion tells Chappie "you must have respect for me, I am your maker", this statement relinquishes Dion's right fatherhood completely he is his "Maker" and he demands respect not love, his language and the majority of his emotions are still closed, his character is emotionally awkward, he still sees Chappie to an extent as an experiment. Dion lays down rules like "don't break the law", that need to be told to children, for a large amount of the plot this rule represents Chappie's ignorance. Only at a young age do you need to be told not to break the law, at an older age you decide whether or not to break the law, when Chappie can make that choice he has grown emotionally past the point of being naive and controllable. Hypocritically Dion also tells Chappie that "people will tell you what to do, you mustn't let them" and in anger at Ninja, Dion shouts "He's mine", whilst now a "he" rather than an "it" Chappie, Scout 22, is still a possession. Art and expression is also under scrutiny, Chappie gets "stories" and paints, the poetic vision that Dion pitched to Michelle Bradley is coming true, however Ninja's view of life is more pro active and simplistic. The fantasy that Dion wanted for Chappie was hijacked earlier in the plot, what Chappie's "potential" is, is one of choice, Dion's struggle is that this choice has been taken out of his hands and given to the "barbaric" "philistines" if Die Antwoord. Unlike Dion who wants a perfect atmosphere for Chappie to grow and be nurtured, out of either anger or wisdom Ninja believes Chappie needs to see the "real world". At this point it seems relevant to bring up a subtle piece of mise en scene, a "reject" sticker on Chappie, pushed away by Ninja and attacked by gang members who fear the police droid "skin" that Chappie wears, he is an unlikely poster boy for racial oppression. Chappie can only repeat "why do you do this?" as he is beaten.

After such an intense injection of themes of art, culture, morality and family we literally get a quiet moment to think, as Chappie sits looking at the City and stroking a dog, this is almost a magical moment of reflection, the audience along with Chappie get to think about what has happened in his short life connecting Chappie to the audience. However whilst Chappie tries to reflect, to passively sit back and digest, Vincent is ready to grab the religious abomination (Chappie) and literally "hold him down and teach him a lesson." Again at this point a kidnapping or hijacking aggressively pulls us, the audience, onto a different plot line, it is jarring and doesn't give us time to fully digest the previous action but this exact thing lets us empathize with Chappie as we share the discomfort of being dragged into Vincent's van. At this point we are Chappie, and Vincent's insistence that Chappie only thinks he is real is wrong, "Chappie is real". Even the use of third person as Chappie makes that statement of defiance makes it feel like it is something that we the audience are saying, are willing onto him like Pinocchio, Chappie is real.

On his return to the lair, battered and broken, Ninja empathizes with Chappie's pain as we have learned to, Ninja becomes willing to be the father of Chappie. When asked what happened Chappie says it was the "Man in the van", this references the common pedophile story of men in vans with sweets, again Chappie's age is subtly told to us as we see him grow through his childhood into adolescence, the whole beating is a kin to bully's at school or predators attacking children.

Lit by a pink glow Yo-Landi teaches Chappie about the soul, about consciousnesses and love. This is in short the simple stance on the "black sheep" on prejudiced and differences between cultures. In the end it is what is inside that matters, it's an old but common morale tale that turns the story in to a fable or fairy tale. Chappie replicates this conversation but not in the way he used to copy things, he has progressed, using a doll shows him as still childlike but perceptive, he understands the concept of the self and others. What follows is another indulgence of passive viewing, as Ninja promises "I'm going to be your Daddy for real" and teaches Chappie how to be "Robot gangster number 1". Despite his growth he can still not break his makers rules, he is still naive and can be controlled, as such he believes that stabbing people will not kill them, only put them to sleep. Chappie get's his "blings" and the wonderfuly comic figure is ready to go out and help his father "get (steal) his cars back". Again the American flag is clear, pasted on Yo-Landi's clothes, she becomes this mothering figure who has lost control of Chappie to the more aggressive and negative force of Ninja, like a stay at home mother who is powerless to change Chappie's fate whilst being content to nurture him when she can. The car stealing is insane, and it's clear that Chappie is loving it, you assume he is happy to be helping his father and wants to make him proud however how absurd the whole idea makes me question if Chappie understands a little more than he is letting on. At this point he is almost ready to do the heist, we are only a few short scenes from his full emotional growth, the question is does it really come in a eureka moment? Or does he already understand some of what he is doing and just continues to impress his father/ gang leader.

The empty shell of the "Vodacom" building serves as the hideout for the king of fences and one of Ninja's bosses. The place clears out when seeing a police droid, Chappie wants to follow but unlike Yo-Landi, Ninja doesn't allow Chappie to follow because of his differences, Chappie has been metaphorically lured in and trainedm like the dogs in the fighting ring of this scene, but is still being used by Ninja. This scene is that scene of Chappie's awakening, and it is his mortality via a faulty battery that puts his life into perspective. Ninja falsely promises a new body via the heist they plan to pull off. Ninja uses Chappie's mortality to turn Dion into the bad guy and to cover his own lies. Now Chappie knows and believes fully that "if he wants to survive, he must fight".

Now an awakened and resentful teenager, Chappie's next meeting with Dion is sour. Dion himself says he is "here to collect (his) creation", again the lack of emotion is clear and upsetting, Chappie now knows that the chicken is a toy, he has grown past the age of toys and past the age of manipulation or control. In a wonderful composition, Chappie on a wall, Dion opposite and Yo'Landi framed in between, Dion tries to take Chappie out of the gangster life he has fallen into, astutely Yo-Landi asks "Why are you trying to control him like this?" it wonderfully brings about the morality behind the gangsters actions and with the word "control", likens Dion's wish to control Chappie with that of Vincent's to control his own robots, only Chappie is alive. Chappie wonderfully asks, "why did you make me so I could die", thank god Blomkamp refrains from the cliche "I made you so you could live" but rather lets Dion realize that he has been making a mistake by trying to control Chappie, he realizes that Chappie has a character, a conscience and essentially a soul, he replies "How was I supposed to know you would become, you?"

Again we are yanked away from a beautiful moment by plot development, not allowed to sit back and think about parenthood or consciousnesses we move onto Vincent's insane plans that are now in action. He shuts down all the droids and as we see the violence it immediately causes Vincent's haunting smiles, he is now as much a villain as Hippo, who shouts "I want everything" and weilding his comically impractical gold AK-47.

The virus Vincent uploaded knocks Chappie out, and Dion takes him back to the workshop at Tetra Vaal to wake him back up. As he does Chappie fully enacts his teenage rebellion, he tells Dion that he will get into the new body that is hanging in the workshop. However Dion doesn't think it will work, he doesn't understand the way consciousnesses works and he isn't brave enough to take a leap of faith. Chappie shouts that "Daddy can get me a new body, Daddy loves me, I hate you". He has grown emotionally and throw off the rules of his creator, he takes the neural helmet for Vincent's Moose, the first crime he commits willingly.

The plot development races forwards from this point, the heist is prepared. Chappie quietly plays with capturing consciousnesses in a scene which mimics the earlier scene in which Dion creates him, this now foreshadows Chappie rescuing Dion as he was rescued and transported into a new body at the start of the film. As the heist is acted out Chappie throws knives at police officers, television footage is brought back in to ground the film and give an outside perspective, as we are reminded that Chappie is actually killing people, he realizes that he is killing people and says a heart wrenching sorry to a bleeding police officer. Vincent uses this to justify the use of the Moose, he calls Chappie a "godless monster" however it is the statement to Michelle that "You don't want this to be your legacy" that finally convinces her to allow the Moose to be used, she tells him almost biblically to "burn it to ash.". Chappie having realized Ninja's betrayal is understandable angry, he is also told there is no body waiting for him, he throws Ninja around the van. Ninja's only defense is that "at the time you were different", but it isn't enough, as they arrive back at their lair Chappie says "I'm gone Mommy". He accepts his mortality as Dion comes to tell the whole crew that the Moose is coming.

For the final climactic action event all the films villains come to play their part in the showdown, Hippo and his group of gangsters and Vincent via the Moose. It is Hippo that shoots Dion and Ninja but the most horrific death is America's, he is ripped in two by the Moose. The whole scene is intercut with Vincent's control of the Moose, his laughter his enjoyment, he is maniacal, the joystick he clutches between his legs is a kin to masturbation and the Moose the ultimate symbol of power.

It isn't enough however, as Chappie see's his family die he realizes its not just his own mortality he has to fight for and he batters the Moose to near death whilst getting the neural helmet equipment in an attempt to save Dion who is fatally wounded. Ninja prepares to sacrifice himself for them to escape. Vincent almost narrates the scene, saying "look at you, you think your the hero"which beautifully punctuates the action whilst laughing at the classic Hollywood conventions, Ninja fails to be the hero, and Yo-Landi is killed. Throughout this scene she is wearing a Chappie T-shirt, this serves both the narrative, they have worn T-shirts of themselves throughout and Chappie is now part of them, as well as reminding the audience of the weird line between reality and fantasy that the film sits.

Chappie takes Dion back to the workshop to save him via the neural helmet, whilst there he confronts Vincent. The beating that follows is probably the most brutal in the film, Chappie shouts "I'm gonna teach you a lesson" as the whole office screams at Chappie throwing Vincent through walls and desks into roofs and beats him within an inch of his life. As a viewer the sadistic pleasure in this vengeance quickly turns to horror, the fact that Chappie doesn't just quickly kill Vincent and rather bloodily beats him makes you question for a moment again what Chappie has become and the morality of his short upbringing as a gangster. On the other hand Yo's death was only a few minutes ago and Chappie ends the beating by saying "Now I forgive you bad man". As though he himself as a biblical eye for an eye understanding of justice.

Chappie goes back to the workshop to save Dion, to put his consciousness into a robotic body, we get to see how he is the product of Dion, Ninja and Yo. Dion tells him "For christs sake Chappie save yourself" but Dion tells him "you gotta be tough". With the technological side of Dion, the belief and faith of Yo-Landi and the toughness of Ninja, Chappie saves Dion's mind whilst his body dies. Dion says "I'm alive, I don't know what this means", Chappie replies "it means you will live forever" which opens a whole other side of philosophical questioning about immortality which is simply too big to question within Chappie. Dion returns the favor an puts Chappie into a new body as well. It is interesting to see two perfectly animated robots managing to deliver emotion so well and hold a scene despite not having the majority of human facial features.

The film ends with Yo-Landi's funeral and a little USB stick which holds her consciousness, Chappie tells her "It's just a temporary body, you don't have to go to the next place". Mixed with news footage and set to a Die Antwoord track we see the creation of a new robot in the Tetra Vaal factory, it is more advanced than the scouts and has a human like face resembling Yo-Landi's. Chappie says "Now we're both black sheep Mommy". Credits. This final scene, whilst being a little sickly and convenient opens Chappie up to potential sequels and brings about a few more interesting questions of robots creating robots and after death experiences. Again this scene splits audiences, in some cases it is the last straw in believably but others left such mundane ideas of reality at the door and fully embrace the insane possibility of the future for the characters. The news footage labels Chappie as a criminal and all of a sudden you have the ultimate robot badass gangster number one there on the screen for you. But you understand his journey towards becoming the person he is.

As far as the discussion on artificial intelligence in Hollywood cinema and how AI is represented is concerned, Chappie has mixed messages, the struggle comes down to the technological battle between Vincent and Dion, should robots be controlled? And can AI, true AI even be controlled? Even more so through it's ending it asks what is consciousness? Is Dion now an AI, a person or a robot? All of these questions enrich the conversation about Artificial Intelligence but if you look at the film as a whole, nobody would hesitate to call Chappie a protagonist and a morale one at that. His hero status and his likening to that of a child growing, urges the audience to accept AI and Chappie's overall outlook on AI is positive.

At times Chappie resembles a fun music video, computer game violence and comic insanity but under all of that playful aesthetic hides an incredibly deep film with fable like properties. Unlike the majority of films it doesn't lead you by the nose into the correct answer, many times throughout the film it brings up a massive issue and before it has a chance to tell you what to think, before you can decide for yourself, your attention and the plot is ingeniously hijacked. Blomkamp brings you into his visceral world of Joberg and if you allow him he pushes the boundaries of Hollywood entertainment in an unashamed mix of an "art film" and a block buster. Unlike a lot of experimental or art cinema it doesn't forget plot, it is cleverly structured and its jumps from plot point to plot point serve both story and meaning as the audience's passive viewership is questioned but not removed. Chappie can be enjoyed by all, it is the mixture of instinctual art and processed thought provoking ideas that allows both active and passive consumption. Those viewers (like myself) that sit somewhere in between active and passive may be a little confused at first but that gives the film immense replay value and on a second viewing there is clearly a lot to dig into. Whilst quite heavily criticized for its unique style Chappie has done fairly well overseas and has so far earned 83million compared to Blomkamp's previous films Elysium 93million and District 9 115million. I believe as the audience it is targeted at grows and the film ages a little receiving second viewings like my own Chappie is bound to become a cult classic and should be revered for its brave step into a new kind of blockbuster, high concept, beautiful, fast paced and questioning.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Chappie (2015 Neill Blomkamp)

"I'm consciousness. I'm alive. I'm Chappie."
This week Neill Blomkamp's Chappie has split the opinion of cinema goers, some see underdeveloped ideas and over the top violence mixed with character stereotypes and confused ideas. I think, they are wrong! I will be doing a longer more academic spoilery review but I will keep this one light on the spoilers.

Chappie is straight up the cutest robot ever, so human so innocent and gullible, his growth from child to teen is beautiful and funny to watch whilst Blomkamp throws incredible big ideas at the audience but doesn't fall into slow boring overintellectual hipsterage. Instead Chappie reminds you exactly what you are watching, a hilarious coming of age story about a ninja gangsta robot.

The art style is simply stunning, described by Blomkamp as "the third in a stylistic trilogy" with District 9 and Elysium, the world feels similarly dirty and pessimistic with only one beacon of light, technology, growth and Chappie.

It may have a lot of audiences a little confused but that is because the film asks you to be an active audience, questioning among others, the big issues of consciousnesses and morality however it doesn't proceed to tell you all of the answers, it doesn't force you through the narrative to explore these issues, it lets you sit with them whilst you watch the most meta of casts fight it out with brightly coloured guns and Chappie T-shirts.

In my eyes Chappie is a clear success and a unique on at that, I am only worried that with this and Jupiter Ascending getting bad reviews I am going to spend a lot of the next few years arguing about what I consider to be great science fiction. Go see it and judge for yourself if you think Chappie deserves the snub its getting from critics.

A more thorough academic spoilericous review is on the way as part of AI SEASON!