2015 / Directors. Mark Burton & Richard Starzak.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE is the best thing that Aardman have produced to date. For the uninitiated they are the stop-motion animation studio behind titles like CHICKEN RUN, WALLACE & GROMMIT and FLUSHED AWAY. They have produced a large amount of television and this is their sixth feature length film. It begins with the regular formula of the TV series, which is set on a farm where the sheep are mischievous. Within a matter of minutes it is given the big screen treatment with an adventure that sees the old flock (and Blitzer the dog) travel to the city to rescue their beloved farmer. Of course along the way they find themselves in all manners of scrapes and escapades as they dodge a tenacious animal catcher and bluff their way as humans. It is a truly hilarious film and brilliantly conceived. Every single gag hits its mark and for a film without a single word of dialogue, it moves at a cracking pace. Stop motion is the most charming of all the types of animations and SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE is up there with the best. It is as family-friendly as they get and despite being pitched to a preschool audience it is as equally appealing to adults. At the screening I was at the grown-ups were laughing just as much as the kids. A particularly amusing restaurant scene was written so well and shot meticulously... the soundtrack is delightful and the characters, both new and old, are completely endearing. This is a movie for the young at heart and it will put the biggest smile on your face. If you walk away with it unamused then you cannot be human. Go out and see it.... rent a kid if you must (or see it alone like I did). It's fantastic.
2015 / Kenneth Branagh.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I have no problems with Disney adapting their classic animated films into live action. In fact I've enjoyed what they've offered so far with MALEFICENT being particularly enchanting. Disney's live-action output over the last several years has been exceptional and they are venturing into a new era with these larger than life adaptations. Their latest is CINDERELLA, which beautifully captures the romance of the 1950 animated film as well as suggesting influence from earlier versions of the story. We all know the story and so detailing the synopsis is a waste of time. The film follows the narrative astutely and makes a few minor diversions and liberties to help the transition from cartoon to live action appear seamless. A lot of the toony elements to the 1950 film have been removed, such as the talking mice and the musical numbers. Those things were fundamental to the original film's success, however, would have been out of place and distracting in a live-action environment. The film was directed by Kenneth Branagh who has ditched his newfound action-thriller stylings and returned to the costume-period films that made him famous. When watching CINDERELLA it's clear that he is was perfectly assigned the job. He brings experience with elaborate costumes and classic storytelling. He also brings actor Derek Jacobi to the table as the aging king... and what is a Branagh film without Jacobi? The rest of the cast is also solid with Cate Blanchett relishing every moment of her deliciously malevolent performance as the evil stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter adds a nice touch of magic as the fairy godmother. There is also a great little scene with Rob Brydon as the royal artist. It's a bit part but he injects a much needed portion of comedy to break up the ongoing melodrama. The star of the film is actress Lily James (Downton Abbey). She is perfectly cast and brings a natural beauty to the character without being too "princessy" and superficial. Her own transition from a dishevelled housekeeper to a stunning young lady is breathtaking. Lily James reminds me of a young Nancy Travis. She's gorgeous. I have no doubt that some purists will take exception to some of the liberties taken in this new CINDERELLA adaptation but then again those purists were going to take issue regardless. I was swept up by the whole majesty of it and let every detail wash over me. It's lovely.
2014 / Director. Ben Falcone.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
TAMMY is a bunch of ideas thrown into a jumble and assembled into a vague narrative. Melissa McCarthy plays the film's title character. She's a down-on-her-luck woman who hits a deer with her car, loses her job and discovers her husband cheating... all in the one day. She packs her shit up and hits the road in her grandmother's car (with her grandmother onboard) and heads north without a plan. And so the movie plays out as a road trip with the two women encountering an assortment of characters along the way. As a feature length film it's not very good at all, but some of the ideas and routines are genuinely good. I like McCarthy's presence on screen. She has a wonderful ability to alternate between obnoxious, crass and sweet in the blink of an eye and she undoubtedly has a natural comedic talent. She co-wrote the film with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed it. The film feels like it began as a conversation on the sofa one night while watching late night tv. With a bunch of scenes that feel like sketches, the story is loosely stitched together and a whole lot of Hollywood talent have had favours called upon. The support cast is impressive and includes Susan, Sarandon, Toni Collette, Dan Aykroyd, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Kathy Bates, Nat Faxon, Allison Janney and Sandra Oh... most of whom share little more than five minutes of screen time. It's not movie I can say is very good at all but I can honestly tell you that I had a fun time watching it. Melissa McCarthey has been criticised for exploiting her limited range with an ever growing list of movies, which have her doing the same schtick. Yes it's true that she's on to a bankable routine but isn't she entitled that? The great generational comedic performers always did. She's great at what she does and the audience love her. Besides she has already shown her range in a few smaller films and will no doubt transform into a substantial and respected performer in due time. Jim Carrey did it. Steve Carell did it. Will Ferrell did it. Melissa McCarthy will do it too. TAMMY is a string of amusing bits woven into a lacklustre narrative. It's peculiar but fun.
2015 / Director. Tim Burton.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
"Lovely" would be an appropriate word to describe Tim Burton's new film BIG EYES. It tells the true story of artist Margaret Keane, whose work took the world by storm in the 1950's & 60s. Her quaint and expressionist paintings of children with big eyes became a pop culture phenomenon, making millions of dollars and generating an industry-like demand. The tragedy of it all was that her husband claimed the credit and assumed ownership. During an era when women were still widely suppressed, few people would question the true artistry of the work and for over a decade she slaved away under lock and key to produce thousands of original paintings while her husband reaped the spoils. I have heard a lot of people comment that BIG EYES is not a "typical" Tim Burton film and it bothers me that this would be their first mode of attack. Firstly I don't think that it is far removed from his previous work at all. In fact BIG EYES actually embodies a lot of style and techniques that he has already played with in films like PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, ED WOOD and BIG FISH. He has captured the 1950's era beautifully, as he did in those aforementioned films. As a timepiece it never feels forced or hammy and I suppose the point of comparison most of those critics are making is that it lacks fantasy. That is true but he has managed to put his Burton-touch on a few appropriate moments that reflect the art within the context of the story. To Burton's credit he has held back on his trademark quirkiness and allowed the eccentricities of Keane's art to elevate the story on its own. The film is perfectly cast with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz giving wonderful performances. Waltz is as charismatic as ever, albeit slightly too feigned. There are also a few nice support roles that more or less amount to cameos from people such as Jason Schwartzman, Danny Huston and Terence Stamp. The final act of the film does become rather farcical as certain characters descent into madness and while the performances are great, the storyline suffers. It's not a huge beef to bare because such events did unfold in real life and the resolution is predictably satisfying. Its great to see Tim Burton step away from the gloss of big-budget Hollywood fare and make something that reminds us that he is still creatively relevant and able to surprise. BIG EYES feels personal and I have no doubt that Keane's art has influenced him greatly over the years. He has told her story respectfully and its a lovely film.
2014 / Director. Viic Armstrong.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
This review is written from an atheist's point of view and I find it hilarious that I feel compelled to make such a disclaimer when the same respect is rarely afforded in return. Nevertheless I appreciate that people hold a multitude of beliefs and I have no interest in upsetting anyone for no reason. LEFT BEHIND is based on a series of Christian novels, which have previously been adapted into a direct-to-video franchise starring Kirk Cameron. Nicholas Cage is on the record stating that he refuses to discuss religion to the media as he doesn't want it to obscure his work. So what in the name of God is he doing in this LEFT BEHIND reboot? He has truly sunk to an all new low, which is astonishing when you consider the shit he has churned out over the past decade. The story is about the Rapture and Cage plays a pilot en-route to London from New York when the Rapture hits. People (presumedly those pure of heart) simply vanish into thin air. The entire planet has been struck and multiples of million of people are gone. Left behind are those not worthy enough to ascend to heaven and they're left to endure seven years of darkness. Ignoring the Christian context of the film is easy enough... heck, cinema is all about fantasy and what greater fantasy than the Bible? But LEFT BEHIND is so poorly made that I wonder how many Christians would also be offended by it? Is the film made for believers or nonbelievers because it sure as Hell won't convert anyone and the characters of faith are portrayed as crazy nutters. So not only is the story and its message conflicted but everything else about it is terrible. The performances are hammy and half-arsed and the set design is cheap and flimsy. I felt like I was watching a cross between an Asylum movie and a Hallmark film of the week. Nicolas Cage spends the majority of the film sitting in a cockpit that looks as though it were built in someone's garage with a green screen behind it. Watching him trying to act amongst so much shoddiness made me wonder how bad his personal finances really were? Why on Earth did he sign on for this? The film's female lead (Ashley Tisdale) spends most of the film refuting religion. She asks the regular Atheist questions such as what sort of God would create such a horrible world? What kind of God would let Children die of starvation and famine... and so on. And yet her questions go unanswered and the resolution is as simple as "God is great" and despite half of humanity ascending to the heavens, she DOES end up believing in God but she doesn't think any more highly of him. Look, I don't mind that Christian films exist. It's all fantasy to me but if I were religious then I would be rightfully pissed off that films made for people like myself were consistently terrible. --- SPOILER ALERT. HIGHLIGHT BLANK TEXT TO REVEAL --- There is one saving grace, however, which involves a midget being thrown from the place. Boy can those little guys bounce!!!
LEFT BEHIND IS HILARIOUSLY BAD!
2015 / Director. The Wachowskis.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
What's with all the hate? The reason it took me a few weeks to see JUPITER ASCENDING is because I gave credence to the negativity and general criticisms that have hammered it. Perhaps the bad word-of-mouth helped keep my expectations low and maybe I was determine to make sense of it when so many people had reported it to be incomprehensible. I am fascinated by The Wachowski's as filmmakers. They have autonomy over their films and it's all owed to THE MATRIX. It's incredible that one film can lead to such freedoms within the Hollywood system. Since THE MATRIX they have continued to suffer an unreasonable amount of hate. While their subsequent work hasn't been completely inspiring, all of it has been bold and audacious nonetheless. I was a huge fan of SPEED RACER and wrote highly of CLOUD ATLAS (despite not making much sense of it). And so their latest film is JUPITER ASCENDING, which is a spectacular, high-concept, science fiction, fantasy adventure. It tells the story of a girl named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who discovers that her life on Earth has a greater purpose beyond the bounds of the solar system. An otherworldly warrior character (Channing Tatum) sweeps into rescue her when a group of aliens attempt to kill her. Suddenly she is whisked away to another planet where the true nature of Earth and the universe, as well as her own destiny, is revealed. The Wachowski's describe the film as a space opera and that's an important detail. The film insists that the audience suspend their disbelief and surrender themselves to the fantasy. To lose yourself to this strange and wonderful world is to be swept up in an epic adventure that plays out like a blending of STAR WARS, ENDER'S GAME and FARSCAPE. In true space opera fashion the story is highly melodramatic, romantic and full of conflict... It feels classic. The film is mostly cast well with Kunis and Tatum holding their own amongst a special FX driven world that otherwise dominates the screen. I did take exception to Eddie Redmayne playing the central antagonist, but that's a personal criticism. I think he is highly overrated and his performance in JUPITER ASCENDING is irritating and contrived. Fortunately his screen time is minimal and I was able to fully immerse myself in the film's wonder. Kick Curry is also an odd addition to the cast and it's obviously due to his history with the Wachowskis. He fails epically at an American accent. But again, he's a small player in a bigger story. Considering that the entire film is shot against green screen with fully digital composites and landscapes, I can also overlook the few instances of atrocious chromakey. They stick out like a sore thumb, however the bulk of the film is well conceived and wonderfully executed. I had a tonne of fun with this one and recommend it to anyone willing to give themselves over to the fantasy.
2000 / Director. Robert Shallcross.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I love family films as much as I love horror films. I've had BORED SILLY sitting in my collection for years but I have never gotten around to watching it until now. It's the type of title you find at the bottom of retail bargain bins for $1 and would dismiss it based on its cover art. It tells the story of three best friends who get up to mischief during their summer break to cure their boredom. From building a forte to fishing in the lake and being attacked by bees... it's a film filled with nostalgia, made by a man who clearly has fond memories of his childhood. That man is Robert Shallcross who made a living in advertising writing commercials. He then cut his Hollywood teeth as the writer of the Amblin film LITTLE GIANTS before making his directorial debut on this charming little story. It's an independent film made on a modest budget with a simple script. It looks great and plays out like THE LITTLE RASCALS meets DENNIS THE MENACE. The three lead kids carry the film with ease and have a great a great rapport with each other. This is clearly a movie for kids and so you need to watch it from a kid's perspective. I really tapped into this one as it conjured memories of my own childhood when my friends and I would get up to the same sorts of hijinks. If you've got kids under the age of 10 then BORED SILLY is likely to amuse them. If only more attention had been given to the poster art then the movie's reach might have been greater. The poster does not do it any justice at all. I had a great time watching this and recommend digging it up from the basement bargain bin if you ever stumble upon it.
2015 / Director. Alexandre Aja.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Alexandre Aja is a director who creates vivid, twisted and beautifully sinister worlds. His is a horror visionary who pushes through Hollywood's restraints to create violent textures and eye-popping imagery. His films HAUTE TENSION and THE HILLS HAVE EYES wowed audiences and cemented his place in the horror world. I was even a massive fan of his underappreciated PIRANHA 3D. His latest film is HORNS, starring Daniel Radcliffe as a man accused of his girlfriend's rape & murder. He wakes one morning to find horns growing from his forehead and suddenly everyone he comes into contact with reveals their inner most feelings and desires to him. He has found himself with an unnatural power and has the ability to control whoever he crosses... with potentially ghastly consequences. With his new abilities he begins to unravel the mystery of his girlfriend's murder. This is a wonderful little film that is soaked with atmosphere. By taking this unusual (ludicrous) concept and shrouding it with a vibrant and damp ambience, Aja has created a unique horror love story that is as equally heartfelt as it is violent. Daniel Radcliffe fully embraces the character and does such a good job of it that I couldn't imagine anyone else leading the film. The story moves back and forth in time to tell a story that spans over a decade. The flashback scenes depict the characters as children, which plays out similarly to films like STAND BY ME and IT and with the film shot in the Vancouver area the dense mountainous small-town setting is perfectly captured. The location feels like a character unto itself and wherever the script might meander at times, it is compensated with the wonderful cinematography and set design. HORNS is something different that is sure to be divisive. Fans of surreal and textured horror will surely lap it up.
2014 / Director. Brad Anderson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I have been fascinated with director Brad Anderson ever since I saw his incredible breakthrough film SESSION 9, which was about an abandoned mental asylum. He had previously made two other films but neither resonated. He then made THE MACHINIST, which really put him on the map and established him as a big-game player with a huge future in front of him. His work since has been hit & miss and his edgy reputation took a hit. Such films include TRANSSIBERIAN, THE VANISHING ON 7TH STREET and THE CALL (as well as a heap of tv work). His latest film sees him return to the lunatic asylum with an impressive star-studded cast including Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, David Thewlis and Jim Sturgess. STONEHEARST ASYLUM is a dramatic thriller based on a novel by Edgar Allen Poe. Set in a remote, mountainous sanitarium it follows a young medical grad who arrives to observe the staff and their methods. Ben Kingsley plays the superintendent who takes the rookie doctor under his wing and demonstrates the new and unconventional treatments that he's been experimenting with. When one of the patients (Beckinsale) urges the young doctor to leave it becomes apparent that something more sinister is going on and leaving is not an option. The plot thickens and the story takes all kinds of twists and turns and keeps the viewer on their toes. At times predictable, the film then throws new unexpected revelations at the audience and proves to be a well orchestrated mystery. STONEHEARST ASYLUM is an atmospheric and beautifully gothic period piece with a nicely paced script that is careful not to trip itself up in the detail. With a complex set of events unfolding throughout the film, Anderson is careful in presenting his revelations. I fell victim to his tricks early on when I became complacent and predicted a few of the twists... but I suspect that's precisely what he wanted from the viewer. The film's biggest letdown is definitely its marketing. There are a lot of spoilers in the press releases and key art, which were obviously decisions made at a distribution level. Audiences will get more out of STONEHEARST ASYLUM if they go into it blindly, as I did. To research it beforehand would be to diminish your own experience. Certain spoilers would be the difference between enjoying the film and loathing it. You decide.
2015 / Director. Jaume Collet-Serra.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
"You can't win 'em all". Those were the words going through my mind when leaving the cinema. The trailer for RUN ALL NIGHT played really well and promised a stylish, fast-paced action thriller... sadly the film doesn't deliver and it is more of an uninspired, bland and lackluster movie masquerading as a hard-edged nail-biter. Set amongst the seedy underworld of Brooklyn, Liam Neeson and Ed Harris play two mobsters. Harris is a highly respected mob-boss (turned legitimate businessman) while Neeson is his childhood friend and former hitman. Their friendship takes a sudden turn when Neeson is forced to shoot and kill Harris's son. Naturally things heat up and the streets become a war zone of retribution. The film put me off side from the get go with its stupid scene transitions, which see the camera zoom across the city, in and out of streets, from one scene to another. These dumb interludes feel forced and desperate, as though the final cut of the film fell flat in post production and they needed a quick fix to spruce it up. Liam Neeson appears on screen with the suggestion of something a little different in terms of performance, however when the action kicks in he resorts to his regular schtick. If you've seen him in TAKEN, NON-STOP, UNKNOWN or any of his other recent action movies then you will know exactly what to expect from him. The action itself is fairly mundane and the performances reflect their surroundings. Despite an impressive cast which also features Vincent D'onofrio, they all phone it in. What irritated me the most is that despite all of these criticisms I might have found some entertainment value from it with at least one likable character. Instead they're all as equally loathsome as each other. Even the good guys are smarmy and arrogant with absolutely no inkling of charm or charisma. I wasn't able to relate to any of them and I felt disconnected from the entire film. I suppose I will give it another lash when it reaches home entertainment to see if I get more out of it... but for now I will banish it to Turdtown.
2015 / Director. Matthew Vaughn.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I'll cut to the chase. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is fantastic! Buzz had already spread by the time I saw it and it was the "Matthew Vaughn" factor that held my attention. Once again he has dived head-first into the world of comic books and delivered a film that leaps off the page and assaults our senses at every turn. KINGSMAN is a top secret spy organisation, which operates above and beyond the capabilities of MI and the Secret Service. The film chronicles the training of a new recruit whose father had served the organisation honorably and given his life for the cause. Colin Firth plays the highly skilled, sophisticated and gentlemanly agent with the task of guiding a reckless and troubled cockney lad from the Eastend of London. When the entire world is on the brink of a human-cleansing at the hands of an urban tech-genius (Samuel L Jackson) it's up to Firth and his new recruits to take him down. The result is a fast-paced, action-fuelled comedy that plays out like James Bond Jr. The cast is perfectly aligned with Michael Caine and Mark Strong lending some stellar support. The characters are beautifully conceived as has the world they occupy. The film is laced with tongue-in-cheek nods to Ian Fleming and James Bond and while it probably overplays that card at times, it's also necessary for them to let the audience know that they're paying homage. The soundtrack is also fantastic with a mix of new and old pop songs helping to deliver the action. From Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird to Dizzle Rascal's Bonkers... the music pumps while the action is gratuitous and surprisingly graphic... damn it's a fun movie. It's also important to be aware of the film's classification. Parents definitely need to respect the rating on this one because while the poster treatment and overall concept suggests a fun family-friendly adventure, the film is actually laced with foul language and grotesquely explicit violence. I had a ball with KINGSMAN and it embodies the reason we go to the cinema in the first place. Pure escapism and a "jolly good time".
2014 / Director. Anthony Mir.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
When Australian stand-up comedians make the leap to the big screen they usually land flat on their arses. Few have made the transition gracefully and we are left with a legacy of ocker idiotic and stodgy comedies that fester in a marsh of movies best left forgotten. Carl Barron is a stand-up comedian whose comedy is typically ocker, and the notion of him leading a feature length film definitely conjures reluctance... the film is MANNY LEWIS. It is a romantic comedy that follows a painfully contrived formula with a storyline that you'd find in any comedy section at any video store (or streaming service. hehe). The beauty of the film, however, is how understated it plays out and how casual it all feels. Carl Barron plays a fictitious version of himself. He's a famous comedian with a legion of fans (many dimwitted) who adore him. On stage he's a legend but in reality he's miserable. When he finds himself with a few months off from touring he gets caught in a sad and lonely state on the verge of depression. In a moment of weakness is calls a fantasy hotline and forms a bond with the girl on the other end. He also meets a woman in a cafe and begins a casual relationship with her. Things are looking up for Manny, aside from the fact that both women are the same person - cue the formulaic narrative. If it wasn't for the film's charm and modesty I would have fallen asleep, but Carl Barron delivers a sincere and candid performance, which feels as though he is baring his soul for the world to see. His commentary on the life of a high profile comedian is personal and an obvious reflection of his own. It's these insights and observations that break past the film's laborious structure and offer something unique and unexpectedly heartwarming. It's not a film looking for accolades and it casually glides under most radars. The fact that it hit screens so discretely and will arrive on home entertainment the same way makes it a real sleeper. I can see it gathering an audience over time and perhaps that's also part of its charm. In the end it won me over.
2014 / Director. Chris Rock.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The poster art for TOP FIVE is fairly uninspiring. It's a boring photo and doesn't serve the film well at all (and the alternative posters are as equally bland). Fortunately the trailer plays really well and hopefully that is enough to suck people in... and this IS the type of film people should see. Chris Rock is an under appreciated talent outside of his target demographic and he has made films in an attempt to break free of that mould (WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING, 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK etc). This, his latest film, is his third directorial effort following HEAD OF STATE and I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE and it is his most mature and personal project to date. He plays a fictionalised version of himself and the film follows his life during one single evening. With a reporter at his side he hesitantly recalls instrumental moments in his career, which have lead him to sobriety and a serious state of insecurity. His glory days of stand-up comedy are long gone and a series of puerile blockbuster comedies robbed him of credibility. With a new poorly-received historical drama to promote he finds himself at a crossroads where he is reevaluating his life and uncertain about his career. This is obviously a personal film and there is no question that much of it is semi-autobiographical (or at least influenced by first hand knowledge) but I can't help but think that TOP FIVE is his own personal outreach of encouragement. Of course I can only speculate but many of the antics, stories and career choices depicted in the film are lifted straight out of the Eddie Murphy career-guide. Is TOP FIVE Chris Rock's way of appealing to his mentor? Is this his way of pleading with Murphy? I'm gunna say that that's EXACTLY what TOP FIVE is all about... but I digress. Chris Rock has proven himself to be a competent writer (knew it already) and a capable director. He has cleverly presented the film in an almost sketch form structure with his stories interlacing his characters narrative. It has moments of true hilarity but many movie goers will be surprised (perhaps disappointed) to discover just how emotionally charged it is too. The comedy plays out on various levels and I found myself laughing at a lot of industry jokes when the rest of the audience fell silent. I also overheard people in the foyer discussing the racial humour and they were unsure how to process it (seriously? ... pfft. honkies). Chris Rock's heart is on his sleeve and he lets us into a state of mind that few comedic performers would allow. It's also jam packed with support performances from the likes of Rosario Dawson, Cedric The Entertainer, Tracy Morgan and JB Smoove... there are also some great cameos, which I will let you discover for yourself. TOP FIVE is the best that Chris Rock has been in over 20 years and he pulls it off effortlessly. A great script. Excellent performances and a fitting soundtrack make it a wonderful film. Do yourself the favour and check it out. Solid.
2013 / Director. Denis Hennelly.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The poster for GOODBYE WORLD caught my attention but I knew nothing about it. I took a peek at the synopsis and was intrigued by its premise. And so with absolutely no expectations I went ahead and watched it... and I was impressed. A young family who live off the grid, hidden away in their luxurious eco homestead invite friends to stay with them. At the very same time a cyber attack is launched on America and the country collapses. With their self-sufficient lifestyle and sustainable stockpile the group of friends bunker down as the world around them implodes. At first it all seems novel and fun but as the reality of a new order sinks in they find their remote security threatened by those outside who are desperate. The film plays out like THE BIG CHILL crossed with THE TRIGGER EFFECT (and a bunch of apocalyptic survivalist films). The dynamics amongst these friends shifts and skews throughout the story and tension builds when secrets are revealed. Taking on the whole BIG CHILL homecoming type of set-up is an interesting way to tell an apocalypse story. It's a smart approach and allows big events to unfold in a modest, low budget way. That's not to say that the film's low budget is to its detriment. To the contrary actually. Director Denis Hennelly has done a great job. The cinematography is stunning and the constant feeling of dread over-looms heavily. The early scenes of the initial cyber attack and its pulse are truly eerie and the tone of the film is established effectively. The cast is all good and the characters are well conceived. Some are irritating while others are endearing and as mentioned earlier, those dynamics switch at various points. I suppose it would be easy to criticise the simplicity of the story but taking that approach would be misguided. The film's simplicity is what sells it. It has its preachy moments and does hold a mirror up to the world we live in... but it doesn't take a political stance and above all of that it is a story about how people of conflicting ideologies deal with crisis. Pretty cool stuff.
2014 / Director. Neill Blomkamp.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Following a series of highly ambitious and stylised short films director Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene with his fantastic feature length debut, DISTRICT 9. He had announced himself as a new visionary, the likes of which we haven't seen since James Cameron blew us away with TERMINATOR. Following that film he bit off more than he could chew with ELYSIUM, a high-concept sci-fi that took his DISTRICT 9 aesthetic and injected multiples of millions of dollars more into it. The result was a bit of a wreck... enjoyable, but overly ambitious. CHAPPiE is his third film and he has stripped things back and toned down the visceral. It is still incredible high in terms of concept but it benefits from a simpler story and a basic emotional core. Being a child of the 80s Blomkamp's influences are obvious. CHIPPiE presents itself as a clear combination of SHORT CIRCUIT and ROBOCOP and the story has been placed in Johannesburg, which is where Blompkamp hails from and is most familiar with. The story revolves around a robot, Chippie, which is the first with absolute consciousness. He is born (activated) with an infant's mind and must learn as an infant would. The story sees him end up in hands of three low life criminals and he is conflicted with the moral code instilled in him by his creator and the thug life as demanded of him by his new owners. The two lead thugs are played by the South African rap duo Die Antwoord. If I wasn't already a huge fan of their I would have had difficulty accepting them as leads in a film like this, but I AM a fan and so I totally bought into it. Their grungy, industrial punk style and attitude plays well in this environment and rapper Ninja provides a particularly unique and humorous nuance. They play fictitious versions of themselves and fans would completely understand their act and how they're playing it... but people who don't know them will struggle. Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver also star but they are relegated to secondary roles, which I thought gave the film extra strength. And of course the star of the film is Chappie... and what a creation. This is a character full of heart, innocence and integrity. To instil this robot character with so much personality and to evoke a such strong emotional response from the audience (well me anyway) is a job done well... and then some. The FX are incredible and the action is excellent. Blomkamp has imagined, realised and executed his vision in a stunning fashion and he gets full kudos from me. Hans Zimmer provides another excellent score and his music is complimented by Die Antwood's own music. It all gels together nicely. CHIPPiE definitely overstays its welcome and would benefit with 20 minutes removed but I wouldn't let such a small qualm override what I consider to be an excellent film.