At The Movies: CHAPPiE

“CHAPPiE” is an odd science fiction movie. This should come as no surprise since it was made by Neill Blomkamp, who gave us the equally odd sci-fi films “District 9″ and “Elysium.”

The story takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the human police force has been replaced by robocops. Only these aren’t cyborgs, they’re 100 percent robot cops.

Chappie_posterThese robots — called scouts — are the invention of Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who works for a company run by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). Wilson’s co-worker Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) isn’t happy with the success of the scouts because it means his project (an even larger robotic monstrosity called The Moose) has been put in mothballs.

Wilson’s latest project is artificial intelligence, but Bradley doesn’t want her totally compliant police force to develop a mind of its own so she rejects the proposal. Wilson then secretly install the A.I. into a damaged scout that had been scheduled for the scrap heap.

And here’s where things get odd. The scout is stolen by a trio of thugs — Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), Yolandi (Yolandi Visser) and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo). Yolandi names the robot Chappie (Sharlto Copley). The childlike robot in turn refers to Ninja and Yolandi as Daddy and Mommy.

Ninja needs Chappie to help with a big heist because he owes a lot of money to a local crime boss. Chappie’s programming won’t let him do anything illegal, so Ninja and Yankie have to be creative in getting Chappie’s help. Meanwhile, the boys are busy teaching Chappie the gangsta lifestyle while Yolandi is really getting into the whole mommy role.

But when Chappie is caught on film helping rob an armored car, Bradley gives Moore the go-ahead to set loose The Moose.

“CHAPPiE” is a big step up from the disappointing “Elysium” and more in the ballpark of “District 9,” which I didn’t love as much as a lot of critics. It had its flaws, especially in the latter half, and that’s true here as well.

Still, the director’s visual style is still unique and the movie has a good helping of humor, action and drama. The story’s full of holes and your enjoyment of it will depend largely on how you feel about the characters. Weaver doesn’t get much to do and Jackman is a one-dimensional villain here but I did enjoy the interplay between Chappie and his thug family.

The ending is a bit odd — par for the course — and I have trouble believing Chappie could pull off what he did. “CHAPPiE” wasn’t anything like what i was expecting and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure it’s that good of a movie but I had fun with it.










At The Comic Book Shop: All New Hawkeye 1

There’s a new Hawkeye title on the stands this week and as usual I’m here to beg you to buy it so that there will be another issue out next month.

All-New_Hawkeye_Vol_1_1_TextlessNow those of you with long memories may be saying, “I thought there was already a Hawkeye comic out and it was doing pretty well and winning awards and getting lots of praise. What happened to it?”

Well, welcome to the world of comic book publishing. It seems the previous volume of “Hawkeye,” by Matt Fraction and David Aja, ran into some scheduling problems oh, about a year ago, and the last issue still hasn’t gone to press. Apparently tired of waiting, Marvel hired a new creative team to put out a new “Hawkeye” comic while we wait for the old one to finish.

Marvel Comics: Professionalism in Meeting Publishing Deadlines is Not Our Superpower.

I’ll say more about this when they finally get around publishing the last issue of the Fraction/Aja “Hawkeye,” but for now let’s deal with the issue at hand.

HAWKEYE2015001-DC41-0fa85“All New Hawkeye” No. 1 is by the all new team of Jeff Lemire (writer) and Ramon Perez (artist). It picks up where the previous volume left off (one assumes, since the previous volume isn’t finished): Clint Barton (Hawkeye) is still getting into trouble with Kate Bishop (Hawkeye) and there is a lot of verbal sparring as they take aim at the hordes of Hydra.

S.H.I.E.L.D. has sent them on a mission to find a secret weapons cache and this opening issue probably has more traditional superhero action than all of the previous volume put together. Meanwhile a separate storyline looks at Clint and his brother Barney when they were young. Apparently they liked to catch frogs.

I’m not really that interested in Clint’s childhood but the current day story looks promising. The dialogue and character work is spot on. Perez draws the flashbacks in a watercolor style while the Hydra story is more cartoonish and slightly reminiscent of Aja.

All in all a promising start to this latest chapter in the Hawkeye saga.

Guardians_Team-Up_Vol_1_1ALSO OF NOTE:  The first issue of “Guardians Team Up” came out this week. It’s a Guardians of the Galaxy team up book, which just shows you how much Marvel thinks they can milk out of the unexpected success of the GOTG movie. A year ago you couldn’t get anyone to buy a Guardians comic and now they’re doing spin-offs.

For their inaugural issue the Guardians have chosen to team up with — who else? — The Avengers. Hawkeye plays a pretty prominent role in the story which is good. There’s a fair amount of humor as you’d expect. It’s written by Brian Michael Bendis but the real draw is artist Art Adams. Adams is one of the great comic book artists working today and he doesn’t do a lot of books so when he does one you’d best pick it up.


Gone: Harry Joe Shrum

Harry Joe Shrum was born in the early part of the 20th century (which is my way of saying I don’t know exactly when he was born). In October of 1941 he married Freda Olive Montgomery and from that moment became an important part of my life. Even though I wouldn’t be born for another 21 years.

Freda, you see, was my mother’s sister. This made Freda my aunt and Harry Joe my uncle, or as I have always referred to them — Aunt Freda and Harry Joe. We didn’t call him uncle that much as I recall…Uncle Harry Joe was just one word too many. And we certainly didn’t call him Uncle Harry.

In 1943 Harry Joe joined the U.S. Army and helped keep the world safe for democracy during the Second World War. He was among the many who stormed the beaches on D-Day. It was something he didn’t talk about much, at least not around me.

Harry Joe was a quiet man. It’s hard to know if that was by choice or because he was married to Aunt Freda. Aunt Freda did enough talking for both of them.

For many years the Montgomery clan would converge on our farm every Fourth of July. Aunt Freda and Harry Joe would always be the first to arrive. I don’t know if that was Harry Joe’s idea but I doubt it. They were often the last to leave and I know that wasn’t Harry Joe’s idea because he’d usually be out in the car with the engine running, waiting for Aunt Freda to finish her goodbyes.

Harry Joe and Judy in Illinois

Harry Joe and Judy in Illinois

Aunt Freda and Harry Joe had a daughter, Cousin Judy (they didn’t name her cousin, we cousins did). Grandchildren and great-grandchildren followed.

Aunt Freda died in 2009 and one assumes she’s been waiting for him at the gates of Heaven ever since. Seems only fair given how often he waited for her.


Zombie Apocalypse: The Final Solution

Like most rational people I go down to the basement on Sunday night and watch ‘The Walking Dead” while The Wife stays upstairs by the fireplace watching “Downton Abbey.”

I enjoy “The Walking Dead” because it’s so downbeat and depressing. Nothing ever goes well for these people — ever. It’s unlike anything else on TV. It’s realistic: Life is a horror movie in which you are constantly on the run from horrible things. Then you die. Then you’re reborn as a brains-hungry zombie.

And like anyone who’s spent much time watching shows about the zombie apocalypse, I’ve given some thought about how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Last week it occurred to me where the best place to go to survive the ZA would be. It was so simple I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before now.

This morning there was an article online titled “Where to hide during the zombie apocalypse.” I clicked the link to see if they would confirm my conclusion. They didn’t.

The geniuses at Cornell University concluded that in the event of a zombie apocalypse you should head north, into the mountains, preferably the Rockies or Alaska.

No. This may be good advice if you’re Jeremiah Johnson, but the average Joe is going to die as soon as winter hits. There are no furnaces in the zombie apocalypse. Starting a fire will just attract them. And if you can hike into the mountains, guess what: So can the zombies.

And if the zombies or the elements don’t get you — the bears will.

Andrew hanging with his zombie buddy

Andrew hanging with his zombie buddy

Meanwhile, on the televised ZA, Rick and company have decided to go to Washington, D.C., thinking that someone at our nation’s capital has all the answers.

Bad decision. Once again, heading north in a world without electricity and central heating is a bad call. Winter is going to be brutal in Washington, D.C. Although, to be fair, you’re probably fairly safe there from zombies given that most of them will have died from starvation due to the lack of available brains.

No, if you want to survive the ZA you need to drive south. I’m thinking the Florida Keys.

All zombies can do is walk. They can’t drive a car or fly a plane or drive a boat. And they can’t swim. So you make your way to the Keys, find a boat and make your way to an island. Establish a beachhead then methodically kill every zombie on the island (this is why I recommend a small island — fewer zombies). Once they’re all dead, there won’t be no more. Then put them on a raft and have a big viking funeral. Spend the rest of your life eating seafood and limes. Sure, you’ll have to deal with the occasional hurricane, but better than the constant threat of zombies.

So there you have it. Find a nice island, the smaller the better, in a warm climate and sit on the beach sucking down coconut milk and laugh at all those people on the mainland fighting the zombie horde.

On Stage: Million Dollar Quartet

One of my favorite shows to hit the Fox Theatre stage in recent years was “Million Dollar Quartet.” So when I heard the show was coming back for a weekend gig I was ready for another rollicking good time.

Does it hold up on second view? Yes. If you haven’t seen it before should you see it now? Absolutely.

The National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

“Million Dollar Quartet” is a highly fictionalized account of the December night in 1956 when music legends Elvis Presley (Jacob Rowley), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), Carl Perkins (Gabe Bowling) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Colte Julian) got together at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn.  The foursome was propelled from obscurity to stardom at Sun Records, run by savvy businessman Sam Phillips (Bryan Langlitz).

In this story by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, each musician has a personal drama to play out over the course of the day’s impromptu jam session. Presley has left Sun for a larger record company and Cash is about to do the same. Perkins is desperate for a comeback hit while Lewis just wants to get his career started. Perkins and Lewis get along like fire and ice.

Phillips is at his own crossroads, career-wise. Presley wants Phillips to join him at RCA but the music guru wants to remain his own boss. He’s hoping to sign Cash to a new contract, unaware that the Man in Black has made other plans.

It all unfolds through a whirlwind 2-hour jam session packed with early country, rockabilly, gospel and rock hits. The quartet are backed by the solid rhythm section of Jay Perkins (Chuck Zayas) on bass and Fluke (Patrick Morrow) on drums. Rounding out the cast is Laura Obenauf as Dyanne, a singer brought to the party by Presley.

The show features 23 classic tunes ranging from Presley’s “Hound Dog” to Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to Perkins’ “Matchbox” to Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” The actors all play their own instruments with Bowling and Julian showing outstanding musical talent.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is a great show and it won’t be here long. Check it out.

“Million Dollar Quartet” runs through Sunday at the Fox Theatre.




At The Movies: Focus

Movies about con men can be difficult to write about.

You don’t want to give away too much of the plot, as that could derail the fun for people who haven’t seen it. But sometimes you really want to talk about the story, and what may or may not be flaws in its structure.

I’m pretty sure there’s a scene in “Focus” that is incompatible with the plot twist at the end. But I’m not sure and I’d have to see it again to confirm my suspicions and I don’t have the time or desire for that. I mean, it’s a fairly entertaining film, but it’s not “The Sting.”

MV5BMTUwODg2OTA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE5MTE4MzE@._V1_SX214_AL_Will Smith stars as Nicky Spurgeon, a professional con man from a family of con artists. One night he has a run in with an amateur whom he decides to take under his wing. Jess (Margot Robbie) has the raw talent but needs to learn to focus. The one thing that can cause Nicky to lose focus is gambling.

The two are reunited at the Super Bowl, where Nicky introduces Jess to his circle of pickpockets and petty thieves. After a very successful weekend and a bizarre gambling incident, Nicky abruptly breaks off with Jess and sends her away.

Three years later, Nicky is working a job in Buenos Aires and his mark is a wealthy race car owner. When Nicky turns out to be the billionaire’s girlfriend, things get complicated.

Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, “Focus” has some elements in its favor, the major one being Will Smith. He’s as charming and captivating here as he usually is on screen. Margot Robbie makes for a decent partner in crime.

It’s a stylish film — the locations are glamorous, the clothing is sharp. The gambling scene at the Super Bowl is tense and compelling, if more than slightly absurd.

But a movie about a scam artist lives or dies on whether or not the audience can follow, and believe, all the twists and turns that take place. And I’m not sure I buy one of the key twists.


Love Is In The Air

Time once again for this year’s super-people making out comic book cover. This one is brought to you by All New X-Men 30, featuring Warren Worthington III, aka the Angel, and Wolverine clone Laura Kinney, aka X-23. I believe the art is by Stuart Immonen.

Warren and Laura are my current favorite super-couple, since the sad breakup of Hawkeye and Spider-Woman. I don’t have a lot of  faith in the long-term future of an Angel/X-23 relationship either, so I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.


Happy Valentine’s Day!