Brief Film Thoughts: Chappie

I am a cinema sage with a great number of friends. So I’m often asked for film recommendations. If I suggest Chappie, they’ll ask what it’s about. These ‘friends’, however, simply cannot match my genius. Recognising their inferior intellect, I give the reductionist answer: “It’s Short Circuit meets Robocop”.

While watching, I tried to ignore my Robocopian thoughts. Then I saw the Moose, which is a straight-up copy of Robocop’s Ed-209. There’s being overt with your inspirations. Then there’s letting others do the hard work.

I edited these notes weeks after seeing the film, so I might have some plot points wrong. But did Moore (Jackman) really think that causing one model of his company’s robots to fail would make his model more attractive to their customers? If I bought a PC from Dell and it exploded and burnt down my house, I wouldn’t phone Dell to place another order for a different computer

My favourite part was when Chappie was ‘born’. His body language perfectly conveyed recognisable child-like fear*. If someone whispered to him, he’d whisper back, which is what a kid would do. I also loved that his ears fell back when he was scared

* Chappie was ‘played’ by Sharlto Copley, star of District 9. At least according to Wiki (I’m too lazy to look elsewhere), Copley acted in scenes and was used as a reference by the animators, though he wasn’t actually motion-captured

Many films can get away with tonal disparity. Yet after all the comedy moments throughout, it was difficult to get involved in a serious, dramatic shootout at the end. And was I supposed to feel for Ninja, who’d done nothing but bad things throughout the film?

Great set design for Ninja and Yolandi’s home. Totally over the top

Would Ninja and Yolandi really allow Deon to go home? They’ve just got this police superweapon, but they’re happy to let it’s creator go about his business, even though he could rat them out at any time?

Briefer Film Thoughts: The Martian,

Space spoilers ahead

Brilliant film, although the ending was the least interesting part. My viewing of The Martian got interrupted, so I ended up watching the final few scenes two days after watching the rest. I wonder if that’s why I was less engaged. I’d been tense about Watney heading into orbit, even thinking about his chances of survival throughout my day. I really thought there was a possibility that, after all he’d gone through to survive, he might still fail at the very end. But when I actually witnessed his salvation, I wasn’t hugely engaged, despite being so into the film earlier.

The intentionally shitty soundtrack worked and fitted really well. I’m not sure what that says about films

The book this film is based on was first released for free on the author’s site. It feels like an internet book, if that makes any sense. I haven’t checked if they’re in the book or just the screenplay, but quotes like “space pirate” and “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this” seem very much like the kind of thing you’d read online

Eric Weinstein was spot on in calling The Martian ‘the ultimate high-agency movie’. Many protagonists have a puzzle to solve, but few have as many, and as many practical ones, as Watney did

Friday Links (Elon Musk Edition), 16th September


The Prisoner’s Dilemma, by William Poundstone
We Learn Nothing, by Tim Kreider
And some Standard Grade maths book that’s harder than I expected

I’m all about the Musk of Elon right now, so:’s tremendous four-part series in Musk (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4)
WBW again, this time on the Hyperloop


Musk (surprise) interviewed at The Code Conference


Master storyteller Cal Fussman on the Tim Ferriss Podcast

Film Thoughts: Jason Bourne

Spoilers for Jason Bourne (and the entire franchise. And your fat Auntie Maureen)

On Metacritic, this film averages 58%, significantly lower than any of the other Damon films of the series (and even 3% lower than the Damon-less Bourne Legacy, a film I haven’t seen). Yet I thought it was just as good as the others. That said, I do wonder how much watching in the cinema was a factor, and how enjoyable a second viewing at home on a small screen would be.

I haven’t read the reviews (I know, I should before mentioning them). I can imagine one criticism is how much it feels like the others (for example, another hyper-edited car chase). But the Bourne franchise gets a pass that others wouldn’t. In this world, Mr Bourne works within narrow parameters. He exists to either be hunted by the CIA or to damage them. We don’t want to see him do anything else

Continue reading “Film Thoughts: Jason Bourne”

Film Thoughts: Midnight Special

I’m not informed enough to have an opinion on whether modern films dumb down for their audiences. But Midnight Special is the first film I’ve seen in a while that throws its audience into the thick of things and expects them to catch up. Like Inception, there’s exposition, but it comes later, once you’re onboard (or not). A more conventional approach might’ve began with the cult on their ranch. We’d see them worship Alton. Then we’d see Roy sneak him out. Midnight instead adheres to the storytelling maxim of ‘get in late’, and picked up when it needed to, no earlier. Efficient storytelling

I have a great many friends. A number of them see me as a cinema sage. They’ll ask me for recommendations. I’ll suggest Midnight Special. But, because they’re simple people, they’ll ask for a plot summary. “Like ET but with a boy instead of that weird, long-fingered monster” is what I’ll say.

The film’s inspirations are clear: ET, Akira, maybe Looper at a stretch, But ‘inspiration’ is the right word, Midnight never feels derivative.

Roy’s face shows up on the news. I thought ‘Well, his hair is quite different, maybe people won’t recognise him’. Then I remembered, that’s Michael Shannon and his granite face. Babies, blind people, and dogs could see that face once and recognise it half a mile away. In the dark.

Film Thoughts: Steve Jobs

To avoid confusion, any mention of SJ refers to the film in question. ‘Steve Jobs’ refers to the man himself. No one thinks of the bloggers when they title movies, do they?

SJ is proof that, in the right hands, many subjects can be interesting. Ignore who the main character is, and imagine you’re pitching this idea to a studio executive:

“What’s it about?”
“A guy who makes computers”
“And what else?”
“Not much”
“Okay, so it’s succcess story. We see him make a fortune, right?”
“He’s already rich”
“Okay, so where does this all happen?”
“At keynote speeches that he gives”
“Okay. Are the speeches good?”
“Yes. But that doesn’t matter. Because they won’t be in the film”

Yet, Aaron Sorkin’s capable hands, which also made Facebook’s origin interesting in The Social Network, delivered an engaging script that became an impressive film.

Going from writing a story about Facebook to one about Steve Jobs suggests that Sorkin has an increasing interest in tech. I instead like to think of it as Sorkin inflating his ego, challenging himself to mine entertaining stories from relatively mundane topics

Don’t get me wrong, I think both Jobs’ and Facebook’s stories are worth telling. I just didn’t think either was well-suited to a visual medium like cinema. As usual, I was wrong. Mad wrong

“John was John because he wrote Ticket to Ride” is the whitest/Sorkinest line in recent times

One signpost of a Sorkin script is characters repeating each other’s lines. If you removed that repetition, how much shorter would his scripts be?

Contrast Michael Stuhlbarg’s slick, debonair Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire with his messy Andy Hertzfeld here. I spent so long trying to figure out how I recognised the Hertzfeld that I was getting distracted from the film

Every actor gave a solid performance here, particularly Kate Winslett. While that’s impressive, it’s slightly less so when you consider how small the cast is. There are really only six characters: Jobs, Winslett, Woz, Andy, Daniels, and Lisa

Lately I’ve been batting around a theory: nowadays, audiences don’t care about or relate to rich people unless their wealth is played down. I believed it at the time I watched this film. When it finished, I realised I’d been repeatedly told that SJ was worth $441 million. Yet I still cared that he cared about which shark photo was used

One scene is overly loaded with bombast: Scully’s confrontation with Jobs. I’m sure it was a tough time for both of them, but with the film’s tone hear you’d think it was world-ending, not Jobs getting fired from his own company.