Friday Film Reviews: Chappie, Unfinished Business and Still Alice

Friday Film Reviews: Chappie, Unfinished Business and Still Alice

Still Alice

Friday Film Reviews: Chappie, Unfinished Business and Still Alice

Julianne Moore delivers an Oscar-winning performance as a 40-something mother faced with an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s heartfelt drama.

Based on the novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice simply, yet powerfully, conveys the emotional devastation for the central character and the ripple effect for her family.

Anchored by Moore’s spellbinding work, Still Alice is a modern family portrait that will strike an unsettling chord.

Alec Baldwin tugs our heartstrings and Kristen Stewart offers strident support as the youngest member of the clan, who moves back home to reconnect with her mother while there is still time.

“I wish I had cancer,” Alice tells John. “I wouldn’t feel so ashamed. When people have cancer they wear pink ribbons for you and go on long walks and raise money.”

Still Alice feels no shame or cloying self-pity.

Writer-directors Glatzer and Westmoreland treat characters with sensitivity, touching lightly on the frustrations and blind terror that will become more frequent for Alice and her inner circle as the disease progresses.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 90%

Chappie

Friday Film Reviews: Chappie, Unfinished Business and Still Alice

Expanded by South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp from his 2004 short film Tetra Vaal, Chappie is a futuristic thriller, which hardwires the heavy-armoured brutality of RoboCop with the childlike wonder of Short Circuit.

It’s an unlikely mechanised hybrid and the script, co-written by Terri Tatchell, suffers abrupt shifts in tone within an episodic narrative that poses but doesn’t answer unsettling questions about artificial intelligence and our rush to supplant human imperfection with clinical robot precision.

The delicious irony of Blomkamp’s endeavour is obvious: the eponymous police droid wouldn’t exist on the big screen without digital trickery, replacing Sharlto Copley’s on-set performance, frame by frame, with a battery-powered doppelganger.

Beneath Chappie’s battle-scarred titanium shell beats a very vulnerable, human heart.

Blomkamp remains in his native South Africa, where he made his mark with the Oscar-nominated District 9, and sets the film’s murky moral quandaries against a vibrant backdrop of inner-city hustle and bustle and ramshackle shanty towns.

He bolts on an array of home-grown actors plus international talent using native accents: English, American, Australian and subtitled Afrikaans.

Punctuated by propulsive action sequences, Chappie bears obvious similarities to RoboCop.

The design of the war-mongering Moose robot owes a small debt to the lumbering ED-209 from Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 blockbuster, albeit with rocket thrusters and a dizzying arsenal of weaponry.

Copley elegantly conveys the inquisitiveness of the new born hero and Hugh Jackman growls and grimaces as a swarthy villain, who exploits Chappie’s unethical creation for personal gain... even if that means reducing half of the city to rubble.

Sigourney Weaver is shamefully underused but is hopefully just warming up for her return to the Alien franchise with Blomkamp at the helm.

That’s a sci-fi adventure to really get your hard drive whirring.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 32%

Unfinished Business

Vince Vaughn’s career has been in a nosedive since the glory days of Wedding Crashers and Mr & Mrs Smith in 2005.

A leading role in the second series of the gritty TV crime drama True Detective later this year should help him regain altitude, but in the meantime, we have to suffer another bumpy comedy ride as passengers on this ham-fisted road movie.

Directed by Ken Scott, who helmed Vaughn in Delivery Man, Unfinished Business is a preposterous story of a family man, who risks everything – including his dignity – to close a business deal.

Scriptwriter Steve Conrad addresses issues of learning disability, teenage cyber-bullying and homosexuality with all of the finesse of a carpenter shaping wood with a pneumatic drill.

One crass and offensive set-piece at a gay fetish night lazily peddles stereotypes, while another pivotal scene in a sauna tackles nudity and prudishness with the sniggering and leering of a hormone-crazed schoolboy.

Amid the bad taste interludes, Conrad attempts to deliver poignant sermons on the power of friendship and family unity to overcome adversity.

His clumsy words fall on deaf ears.

Unfinished Business is a catastrophe.

Jokes fall uncomfortably flat and half-hearted attempts to empower Dave Franco’s sweet, trusting character are constantly undermined by mean-spirited jibes at his expense that leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Vaughn, Franco and Tom Wilkinson catalyse lukewarm screen chemistry while Nick Frost may never recover from the indignities afforded him.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 8%

In selected cinemas…

Kill The Messenger

A crusading journalist faces a barrage of personal attacks as he uncovers links between the CIA and Nicaraguan Contras in this taut thriller, based on the rise and fall of a real-life investigative reporter.

Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) works for the San Jose Mercury News and publishes an eye-catching article about the DEA and drug trafficking, which leads to a meeting with Coral Baca (Paz Vega).

She provides Gary with explosive information about an undercover DEA operation to bring down drugs kingpin Ricky Ross (Michael K Williams) with help from one-time Nicaraguan trafficker Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez).

Gary becomes ensnared in the lies and intrigue and faces a relentless smear campaign against his journalistic integrity.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 77%

White Bird in a Blizzard

Based on the novel of the same title by Laura Kasischke, White Bird In A Blizzard is a slow-burning murder mystery centred on a young woman who is abandoned by her mother.

Wild child Eve (Eva Green) marries Brock Connors (Christopher Meloni) and curbs her self-destructive old habits to play the doting mother and housewife.

However, she yearns to recapture the excitement of her youth and flirts with dim-witted neighbour Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), a schoolmate of her 17-year-old daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley).

Without a word or explanation, Eve vanishes. Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane) investigates, but Eve’s whereabouts remains a mystery.

Three years later, Kat returns from college to visit her father and she learns from Scieziesciez that Phil is the prime suspect for her mother’s murder.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 53%

Hyena

A corrupt cop gets his comeuppance in Gerard Johnson’s gritty crime thriller set on the mean streets of modern-day London.

Michael Logan (Peter Ferdinando) is the authority-flouting leader of a task force responsible for dismantling organized crime in the capital.

A rival Albanian outfit brings death and bloodshed to London, and threatens everything that Michael has worked hard to build.

While internal affairs headed by Taylor (Richard Dormer) probes Michael’s unconventional tactics and threatens to uncover his endless transgressions, the law-breaking officer resolves to protect himself by bringing down the Albanians.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 76%

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