Popcorn War: The great robot divide

2015-03-15 14:30

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HATED IT: S'thembile Cele

You would think that a South African would try to get the context of the country right for a movie he’s made, but you’d be mistaken.

Chappie, Neill Blomkamp’s third feature, is a mixed bag of confusing accents and insulting representations of the city of Johannesburg, where the film is set.

So the idea is that Jozi is this crime-ridden city in 2016 on the verge of absolute anarchy. The police force acquires a bunch of robots to make life more manageable. The creator of the robots, however, is obsessed with the idea of a robot that has the emotional intelligence of a human being.

It can paint and compose poetry, and tell the difference between right and wrong.

Someone decided that the best people to represent hoodlums in South Africa would be controversial rappers Die Antwoord – so there they are, playing themselves in all of their ridiculous glory. To their credit, they didn’t do the worst job, but how hard can it be to play yourself?

There are some hard-core, epic, guns-blazing, bomb-wielding, hip-hop-pumping moments that will get you amped up.

That said, you need to get past the gangster warlord Hippo, played by accomplished South African actor Brandon Auret.

Appearing in the opening scenes of the film, he looks like someone who has lived in the Amazon jungle for too long and he uses a “black” South African accent in the patronising way some white South Africans speak to black South Africans.

It is so confusing that the film even provided subtitles.

As for the rest of the cast, British actor Dev Patel plays the genius behind the robots, American actress Sigourney Weaver plays the head of the whole robot-making operation and Australian actor Hugh Jackman is thrown in as a villain.

While the crime angle is realistic, it will undoubtedly fuel the notion that South Africa is increasingly dysfunctional and incapacitated by crime.

Blomkamp should spend some time in the city he used to call home and get a better understanding of what folks here sound like before he makes another movie set in Jozi.

LOVED IT: Grethe Koen

Film critics from the US hated Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi, Chappie. They really hated it.

“One of the most miserable movie experiences of my life,” said Annlee Ellingson from LA Biz.

And there, shrewdly hidden in their opinions, was the outright xenophobia about what they probably see as a “grimy South African product”.

Brian Viner from the UK’s Daily Mail said: “As I listened to all this, and periodically checked how much time was left, I couldn’t help reflecting that where I come from, Chappie is a dog’s dinner.” Really Brian, where you come from?

Look, Chappie is not a perfect film. Its title robot’s character development is jumpy, and zef-rap rave crew Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord aren’t the greatest actors. Blomkamp himself stumbles on to some political land mines.

There are representation issues and casting Isidingo’s Brandon Auret as a white thug with a “black” accent was a really offensive move.

But beneath all the rough edges, we’ve got something truly authentic and highly entertaining. Stylistically, Chappie achieves the same dirty, gritty, beautiful lucidity that Blomkamp achieved in his breakthrough feature District 9.

While violence and crime seem to be the movie’s focus, the underlying theme is that compassion is the most important thing.

Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley) might have been tricked into crime by his gangster comrades, but beneath his titanium exterior, he’s a true friend focused on loyalty, love and doing the right thing.

While I fell out of love with Die Antwoord a few years ago, seeing them badly try to hold their own among a cast of A-list actors really endeared them to me again.

I have to laud Dev Patel, who plays scientist Deon Wilson. He is a thoroughly likeable character in a mire of some offensively violent thugs and he goes a long way to make up for Die Antwoord’s bad acting.

There are even some moments that will have you whooping out loud with glee (Chappie’s robot painting and when he calls manic pixie

Yo-Landi “mummy”).

There are some truly epic cinematic moments here.

And even if you absolutely hated Chappie, you’re still going to love seeing Joburg’s skyline towering above you in a big blockbuster like this.

That, and Hugh Jackman’s mullet.

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