Daily Archives: March 15, 2015

Chappie – movie review

Chappie is a movie about a robot that becomes self-aware and therefore “alive”. This is a common theme in science fiction (just think of Skynet in Terminator). In fact, the literary  theme of an inanimate object  becoming alive has excited even before the genre of science fiction. After all, Pinocchio was one such object.

Despite the fact that the basic concept has been used many times, Chappie is a movie worth seeing since it is so excellently done. Every member of the cast performs wonderfully, and the action sequences are exciting.

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However, the reason we liked this film so much was not for the action, but for the character development.  It takes place in South Africa, where the police force is using robot police officers to patrol the dangerous neighborhoods. The engineer who created these robots (played by Devon Patel) believes they are capable of much more.

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Devon takes a discarded robot and installs  it with  true artificial intelligence. However, his plans go awry when he is kidnapped by a group of criminals who want to use the robot to help them commit crimes.

The most interesting characters in the film are the members of the criminal gang, who are all played by South African actors unfamiliar to most American Audiences.  We were particularly impressed with Yolandi Visser, who the robot thinks is its “mommie”. Since the robot’s mind is brand new, it has the characteristics of a child, despite its great strength and intelligence.  Although she has a tough exterior, Yolandi cannot help but return Chappie’s love. In fact, she is the one who give the robot its name.

What makes her performance even more impressive  is the fact that she is not actually an actor. Yolandi Visser is the lead vocalist for a South African rap group called Die Antwoed.

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Chappie also picks a “daddy”, from the gang, who is played by Watkin Tudor Jones. He wants to teach Chappie about fighting. He wants to turn Chappie into a real gangster to help the gang. At the same time,  “daddy” is more complex than he originally appears.  He wants Chappie to understand why it is necessary to know how to fight. He shows Chappie the brutal realities of the word and what happens to creatures that don’t know how to protect themselves.

The movie also has Sigorney Weaver as the head of the company that makes the police robots, and Hugh Jackman as a somewhat crazy engineer, who is willing to sabotage the company to get his own project funded. As always, these two veteran actors put in stellar performances.

The trailer for this movie does not really get across how good a film it is. We definitely recommend Chappie.

We give this film Four Stars ****

The Boys In The Boat – book review

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown is the true story of nine young men from the University of Washington and their struggle to qualify for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The boys are the Crew in the sport of rowing.

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I have to admit that I knew nothing about this sport before I read this fascinating book. the first thing I learned was that in the 1920s & 1930s this was an immensely popular sport, with thousands of people attending the races. It was far more popular in America than football, and almost as popular as baseball.

The premier even in the sport of rowing is the 9 man shell. This is a long thin delicate vessel rowed by 8 large men and guided by 1 small man. Anyone who reads this book will come away with immense respect for the athletes who choose this incredibly demanding sport.

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The one thing I thought about the sport turned out to be wrong. The small man in the boat is the coxswain. I always thought he must have it easy; just sitting there shouting “row-row” while the big men did all the work.

It turns out that the coxswain is, in effect,  the captain of the boat and in many ways responsible for the win or loss. The coxswain has to set the pace and there is a complex strategy to a race.   Setting a fast pace early in the race can put your boat in the lead temporarily, but the men might burn out early and end up losing the race. However, if you hold back to save the rowers strength you could find yourself not being able to catch up to the other boats later on.  All of these decisions fall on the small shoulders of the coxswain, who usually weighs only  about 120 pounds.

In addition to their grueling athletic training, these Washington University students had immense challenges to face in their personal lives.  This was the middle of the Great Depression, and none of these boys came from wealthy families. They had to work outside jobs during school and all summer long just to be able to afford to go to college. Some of them even had trouble getting enough to eat. And given their athletic training, these boys had to eat a lot.

They were not getting athletic scholarships, and they got no under the table payments for anything. In addition they were true students taking difficult courses in Engineering, pre-Law.  and pre-Med. There were no free rides for any of them.

So why did they do it? After all, despite the popularity of the sport, there was no professional version of it. The top ranking members of college crew could not “turn pro” after their college careers. They did this to test them selves and to strive to be the best in the World at a sport as an end in itself. The sense of discipline and teamwork and pride were things that lasted for these boys throughout their entire lives.

At the same time the boys in Washington State were preparing, there was another group preparing in Germany. Hitler was planning to produce the greatest Olympics the World had seen. However, his goal had nothing to do with sportsmanship.  Hitler and the Nazi Party were going to use the Olympics as a stage from which they could fool the World into believing that Nazi Germany was not such a bad place after all.

This is a beautifully written and well documented book, which I highly recommend. The author lets us get to know each of the athletes and coaches personally. At the same time he adds many facts about that time period which were new to me. For example one of the impacts of the Great Depression was that there were large packs of wild dogs.

As people moved away from failing farms and businesses they often left their dogs behind. The people could barely find enough food for themselves, much less a dog.  The dogs left behind began to revert to the wild and joined up in packs to survive. It is touches like that, which make a reader realize that very few of us in modern America can truly understand just how bad things were in those days.

Despite the physical strain of the sport, the boys in the boat come to develop an almost Zen type of peacefulness when they finally begin to row in perfect unison as one entity. The boat is their escape from the Depression,  their family troubles, and their academic pressures. There were times when all of them wished they could just stay in the sanctuary of the boat forever.