Director: Peter C. Spencer, Josiah Spencer
Cast: Mimi Sagadin, David Thomas Jenkins, John Rhys-Davies
Release Date: May 23, 2014
Chappie is a strange film. I’m not referring to its subject matter (which is quirky, viagra sale to say the least) but to the way the script’s level of intelligence rises and falls throughout the film’s 120-minute running time.
If you focus too much on the details and some of the character’s decisions (especially the decisions that the robotics designer makes) it’s hard to see the film’s intellectual strength. But if you look at the movie’s ideas, it’s hard to deny that strength.
This is, above all, a film about the future. It may be set in the near future but the plot’s focus on technological advancement makes it feel very contemporary. Because electronic devices are counted on more and more every day, it seems plausible that a city would accept an all-robotic police force. In the film, it’s a South African city that accepts the idea and the CEO of the publicly-traded company that develops them (played by an under-utilized Sigourney Weaver) is all too serve the community.
She wants to make a profit, the city’s political officials want it to be safer, and using an all-robotic police force keeps police officers away from injury. It seems like a solid solution until, of course, there’s a glitch in the system.
To his great credit, director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp doesn’t use the same glitch that other movies have so often utilized. The robots don’t simply go off the grid and start attacking humans. Here, it’s engineering genius Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who goes off the grid by creating a robot that develops real relationships and beliefs like humans do (much is made of the robot’s childlike impulses when he starts functioning).
Deon is starting to teach his new robot when two thieves (played by musician Yo-landi Visser and the rapper Ninja) kidnap him hoping to shut down the robotic police force. Their plan changes when they discover Deon’s invention– the robot they nickname Chappie and hope to use as their accomplice.
Chappie’s growth and the underlying themes about parenthood (his parental influences change his philosophy of right and wrong) and the dangers of technological advancement are clear here. Instead of obvious pandering to the audiences, the director tries to offer something different by showing the development of Chappie under the tutelage of the thieves who kidnapped him. Some of the “robot uses slang” humor is overdone but as a whole, the comedic idea of a technological wonder surrounded by dimwitted dirt-bags worked for me.
That being said, there are a few character decisions here that make no sense and that undercut the story’s potential. Deon’s character, for one, is supposed to be an incredible genius (and that’s undeniable, considering his work) but he continually makes terrible decisions. He inexplicably starts trusting the thugs who kidnapped him and who are trying to use Chappie for their own purposes. When they let him go but keep Chappie, Deon keeps visiting them as if he doesn’t know what they are capable of. He never even tells the authorities or his boss about the criminals.
It’s here that Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a military professional who distrusts the robots, comes into play. He wants to destroy Deon’s work to advance his own technological ideas and he discovers Deon’s invention.
There’s a great triangle here of conflicted personalities (the CEO, the technological genius and the military man) but the script (written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell) doesn’t really engage in that debate. The film puts the differing viewpoints out there but never fully develops them. With that wasted potential in mind and the fact that the film goes twenty minutes longer than it should, it’s definitely hard to love Chappie. I did appreciate it though, in spite of the characters that kept getting in the way of the film’s ideas.
Return to the Hiding Place is not a film about World War II. In fact, order
there are few battle sequences to speak of. What the movie offers instead is a thoughtful look at young revolutionaries in Holland who rightly saw and questioned the power of the burgeoning Nazi Party and decided to do something about it.
When the story begins in the early 1940s, events in Holland are only foreshadowing the horrors that will soon arise. Hans Poley (David Thomas Jenkins) is only a young student at that time— more interested in studies and girls than in saving lives. He’s not a soldier or a hero yet. At an assembly in front of his school, he stands in the crowd as a normal teenager but that changes soon enough.
Nazi soldiers call him up and privately meet with him, believing that he’s a representative of his fellow students. They privately compel him to pledge support to Hitler by noting that his sister is currently being held hostage nearby. His decision could end her life if he goes against their wishes.
A few moments later, Hans stands in front of the crowd, ashamed to be presented in this way. His classmates don’t know about his sister and are only looking at Hans as their friend— a reliable ally they have known for years. He stands proudly and refuses to do the Nazis’ bidding. He stands athwart their growing empire and transforms from being a normal teen to being a powerful young revolutionary.
Hans eventually becomes the first person sheltered by the Holland watchmaker Corrie ten Boom (Mimi Sagadin), a woman who helped save hundreds of lives during the Holocaust.
As the film powerfully shows, Hans and Corrie were not born revolutionaries. They became them because they were forced into an untenable situation. Both were Christian and both knew that the Nazis stood for something atrocious. What they didn’t know (at first) is what the Nazis were capable of and one of the feature’s great strengths is that it shows how their early naivety about the Nazi Party (they knew the Nazis were corrupt but they didn’t realize how atrocious their actions would be) eventually dissolved and led them to realizing how horrible the Nazis would become.
As they continue their fight to protect the Jewish people from the Nazis, they find that they are not only revolting against a “perceived threat.” They are revolting against an undeniably real threat that seemingly grows more powerful every day.
Directors Peter C. Spencer and Josiah Spencer focus much of their attention on the religious debates that undoubtedly occurred behind the scenes as believers questioned their decisions. In one provocative scene, some of the Christians working with Corrie question their own actions. In their own lies to government officials, they note, they are also “bearing false witness” and breaking one of the Ten Commandments. As people of great faith, they wonder if they are making the right decision. It’s a seemingly naïve discussion, to say the least, but one that doubtless occurred among religious people and the movie proudly takes its time to portray such a discussion.
Hans wisely notes though that “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
Because of its budget, Return to the Hiding Place does feature some superficial flaws including some editing issues and a few acting miscues. Above that though, its heart and ambition is in the right place and it tells an undeniably compelling story with a strong moral compass. It’s a follow-up of sorts to The Hiding Place (1975)— both films prominently feature the real-life heroics of Corrie ten Boom— but this film, more so than the previous one, focuses more on the young revolutionaries who stood up against the Nazis and how their views of the Nazi party slowly changed as Hitler’s army proved to be as heinous and ugly as we all now recognize it was.
Review by: John Hanlon