Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top 25 Prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft begins exactly five weeks tonight in Chicago, Illinois. While I'm still in the process of watching tape and scouting the prospects, I figured I'd post my early picks for the 25 best player available in this year's draft. Stay tuned to this page over the next month for weekly mock drafts and an updated list of best available prospects once I'm fully evaluating this year's draft class. 

Notable Prospects I haven't assessed yet: Eddie Goldman, Tevin Coleman, Bryce Petty, Jay Ajayl, Phillip Dorsett, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, Devin Funchess, Tyler Lockett, Maxx Williams, Michael Bennett, Jordan Phillips, Carl Davis, Eric Kendricks, Shaq Thompson, Kevin Johnson, P.J. Williams, Byron Jones, Ronald Darby, D.J. Humphries, Laken Tomlinson, Andrus Pleat, Tre' Jackson

1.Leonard Williams, defensive end/tackle (USC)
2.Dante Fowler Jr., outside linebacker/defensive end (Florida)
3.Kevin White, wide receiver (West Virginia)
4.Vic Beasley, outside linebacker (Clemson)
5.Bud Dupree, outside linebacker/defensive end (Kentucky)
6.Shane Ray, outside linebacker/defensive end (Missouri)
7.Amari Cooper, wide receiver (Alabama)
8.Brandon Scherff, guard/center (Iowa)
9.Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver (Missouri)
10.Trae Wayans, cornerback (Michigan State)
11.Jaelen Strong, wide receiver (Arizona State)
12.Danny Shelton, nose tackle (Washington)
13.Todd Gurley, running back (Georgia)
14.Landon Collins, safety (Alabama)
15.Malcom Brown, defensive tackle (Texas)
16.La'el Collins, tackle (LSU)
17.Denzel Perryman, inside linebacker (Miami)
18.Randy Gregory, outside linebacker (Nebraska)
19.Beandrick McKinney, inside linebacker (Mississippi State)
20.Marcus Peters, cornerback (Washington)
21.Ameer Abdullah, running back (Nebraska)
22.Jameis Winston, quarterback (Florida State)
23.Paul Dawson, inside linebacker (TCU)
24.Bershad Perriman, wide receiver (Central Florida)
25.DeVante Parker, wide receiver (Louisville)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Album Review: Action Bronson-Mr. Wonderful

Aside from perhaps Los Angeles, there is not a more prolific city in the world for hip-hop than New York City. Everyone from pioneering icons like Notorious B.I.G. and Nas to modern stars like Joey Bada$$ and Flatbush Zombies have risen from various neighborhoods in the city to achieve greatness in the genre. Of the Big Apple's latest wave of hip-hop stars, there's none finer than Action Bronson, who hails from the Flushing neighborhood in Queens. Bronson's gritty flow, amusing lyrics and frequent collaborations with top-flight producers have made one of the consistently exciting rappers in the game since he arrived on the scene in 2011. Bronson's long-awaited major label debut, Mr. Wonderful, sees him expanding his musical cannon a bit without forgoing any of the quirkiness he's known for.

For about 75% of Mr. Wonderful, Bronson is just doing what he does best: drop abstract verses over oft-kilter, sample-heavy beats. With his choice to bring in a majority of the producers (The Alchemist, Party Supplies, Statik Selektah) that have worked on his mixtapes over the years to produce over half of Mr. Wonderful, it's clear that Bronson wanted to emulate his past success on his first high-profile project. This decision proves to be quite successful as all of the tracks he record with his longtime collaborators are killer. Tracks like the jazzy "Terry", psychedelic-guitar driven "Easy Rider" and the intense yet rousing "The Rising" are amongst the best material Bronson has ever dropped. Bronson is still dropping a plethora of oddball lines with pop-culture references that most people will need to Google to understand and occasionally stumbling over his lines, it just sounds a bit more polished and professional than his previous material. After making a name for himself on nothing but self-released, independent projects, it's great to see that Bronson is still himself now that he has a big record label to answer to.

Bronson sticking to his guns and crafting another batch of highly entertaining songs on Mr. Wonderful isn't surprising in the slightest. Where Mr. Wonderful deviates substantially from the script is on the the three song, blues-inspired rock opera that appears in the middle of the record. Even for someone as notoriously odd as Bronson, putting a full-blown rock opera amongst a bunch of hip-hop songs is a seemingly bonkers decision. As odd as it sounds on paper, these tracks end up being pretty solid on the whole. The completely clean-sung "City Boy Blues" backfires due to way too heavy of a reliance on Bronson's rough singing voice, but the latter two track in the suite, "A Light in the Addict" and "Baby Blue", manage to deliver. "A Light in the Addict" features shockingly subdued rapping from Bronson and a beautiful extended blues guitar solo while "Baby Blue"- a breakup ballad produced by Mark Ronson of "Uptown Funk" fame- is able to overcome a slightly annoying hook with excellent verses from both Bronson and Chance the Rapper, who is early contender for guest verse of the year with his hilarious turn here. While this rock opera is a completely unexpected curveball that will certainly piss off and/or confuse the hell out of some of his fans, it's a well-constructed detour that brings a bit of dynamism to Bronson's traditional formula.

Mr. Wonderful certainly won't win over any of Bronson's detractors, but anyone who's previously enjoyed the abstract ramblings of Bronsolino should find a lot to like here. Bronson is the perfect antithesis to the Kendrick Lamar's and J. Cole's of the world. His music doesn't try to be anything more than unique, clever and fun, and he's almost always successful in achieving that goal. Bronson is exactly the type of bold, unabashedly strange voice hip-hop needs right now, and Mr. Wonderful is some of his finest work to-date.

4/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
2.The Rising

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar-To Pimp a Butterfly

In 2012, Kendrick Lamar went from underground hip-hop favorite to mainstream superstar seemingly overnight with the release of his major label debut good kid m.A.A.d city. The album was dubbed an instant classic by critics and fans all over the globe, and went on to become the rare modern album to get a platinum certification (1 million copies sold) from the Recording Industry Association of America. On his hotly-anticipated third LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar proves that good kid's success was no fluke by delivering another instant classic that will be forever treasured by hip-hop fans.

To say To Pimp a Butterfly is a complex body of work would be a strong understatement. All of Lamar's prior releases have been richly detailed concept albums, but he's never made anything with as wide-spanning of a scope as this record. Using his African-American heritage, Compton, California upbringing and personal observations as inspiration, To Pimp a Butterfly sees Lamar examine how he became the man he is today. Given the concept of the record, this could've easily been an obnoxious egotrip filled with nothing but self-praise and banal brags about success. Instead, Lamar gives the listener an honest, thoughtful look into what makes him tick and the steep change in lifestyle he's expereinced since becoming famous.

Behind production that draws heavily from jazz, funk and soul as well as traditional hip-hop, To Pimp a Butterfly's narrative features a serious of heartfelt reflections from Lamar on everything from his inability to believe in himself despite all his success ("u") to the parallels in trivial, immature conflicts that plagued his neighborhood growing up to those that exist in the hip-hop community ("Hood Politics") to the music industry's trend of setting up black artists who came from nothing to fail by giving them access to millions of dollars for the first time in their lives ("Wesley's Theory"). The subjects covered may be all over the map, but each one plays an essential role in Lamar's vision for this record. Lamar does a phenomenal job of articulating how these social/internal struggles and personal experiences have defined and continue to define him as a person. The clarity and ambition of To Pimp a Butterfly's narrative is staggering and only further verifies Lamar's status as one of the most sharpest minds in the history of hip-hop.   

Because of the album's strong messages and dynamic musical arrangements, the strength of the rapping itself is being unfairly glossed over. Lamar is rapping with more confidence and taking more risks with his delivery than ever before, and it results in his finest performance on the mic to date. Over the course of the album's 16 tracks, Lamar raps in everything from impassioned screams ("The Blacker the Berry") to high-pitched squawks ("Alright") to calm near-whispers ("How Much a Dollar Cost"). No matter how intense, melancholy or comical a song gets, Lamar deliver consistently memorable performances driven by genuine emotion that fits whatever the given song's tone is perfectly.

While Lamar's range of vocal deliveries are impressive, they wouldn't mean anything if it wasn't for his strong lyricism. Lamar is a masterful storyteller who loads each one of his songs with soul-bearing honesty, clever wordplay and cryptic messages that takes numerous listens to decode. Lamar breaks a lot of new ground as an artist on To Pimp a Butterfly, but the depth and intelligence of his lyrics remain the most intriguing aspect of his music.

It may sound hyperbolic, but I will not be at all surprised if To Pimp a Butterfly is brought up along side the likes of Nas' Illmatic, Wu Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton in the greatest hip-hop album of all-time conversation. From the moment you press play to the moment it finishes, To Pimp a Butterfly takes you on a journey that is poignant, triumphant, tragic, insightful and beautiful. It's one of the rare albums that remains embedded in your brain long after you've finished listening and can not be shaken under any circumstances. If that's not the definition of a classic, I don't know what is.

4.5/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
1.Wesley's Theory
2.How Much a Dollar Cost
3.The Blacker the Berry

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers

Since the free agency period started on March 10th, a vast amount of moves have made that could potentially shift the balance of power in the NFL for the 2015 season. Now that a majority of the big names that hit the open market are off the board, it's time to reflect on what teams haven gotten better, what teams didn't make enough moves and what teams handed-out ill-advised contracts in a desperate attempt to improve over the past nine days. Here are my picks for winners and losers for the 2015 NFL Free Agency period.
Best individual move: Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins:
Yes, the Dolphins threw an absurd amount of money at Ndamukong Suh (six years/$114 million/$60 mil guaranteed). Yes, they're perhaps relying a little too heavily on this one move to make them a contender and gloss over their other deficiencies as a team. That being said, Suh is the undisputed best defensive tackle in the NFL and he should prove to be well worth his mega contract. Suh gives the Dolphins an immediate solution to the run defense woes that plagued their team a year ago while also adding a skilled interior pass-rusher to complement their pass-rushing specialist defensive ends Cameron Wake and Oliver Vernon. Aside from J.J. Watt, there's not a more dominant defensive lineman in the NFL than Suh and putting him alongside the Dolphins established defensive playmakers (Wake, Vernon, cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Reshad Jones) is bound to get this team one step closer to their goal of stopping the New England Patriots' reign of terror on the AFC East.  
Honorable Mentions: Mike Iupati to the Arizona Cardinals, Darrelle Revis to the Jets, Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, Jeremy Maclin to the Chiefs

Worst individual move: Brian Orakpo to the Tennessee Titans
There's no question that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo can play. He's finished the regular season with at least eight sacks four times and been to three Pro Bowls in his six-year career in the NFL. The problem is that Orakpo is an injury-prone player (he's torn his pectoral muscle three times since entering the league in 2009) and is turning 29 before the 2015 season starts. With his status as a high risk/high reward player, Orakpo seemed like the perfect contender for a one-year "prove it deal" teams like to hand out to gifted players with lengthy injury histories. The Titans apparently haven't heard of these low-risk deals (which is really ironic because Orakpo's most recent pectoral tear came in a game against them last season), and proceeded to hand the frequently injured ex-Redskins star a four-year/$32 million contract. I understand that the Titans have a talent-barren roster and they want to turn things around as soon as possible, but handing an injury-prone player like Orakpo a multi-year deal worth a solid amount of money is a move that could backfire majorly.
Dishonorable Mentions: Dwayne Harris to the Giants, Charles Clay to the Bills, C.J. Spiller to the Saints, Josh McCown to the Browns   

Winners of free agency: St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams have drafted a number of very gifted players since head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived in 2012, but it hasn't been enough to get them to the promised land of the playoffs. This offseason the Rams strayed from their strictly "draft and develop young talent" model and went out and grabbed some veteran talent to complement the talented young nucleus they've assembled over the past few years. The Rams went out and traded long-time (and frequently injured) starting quarterback Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for promising up-and-coming gunslinger Nick Foles on the first day of free agency then added even more pieces to their already loaded defensive front by adding defensive tackle Nick Fairley- who's one of the best defensive tackles in the league when he's on- and highly underrated outside linebacker Akeem Ayers to their ranks late last week. With their aggressive, savvy moves in free agency, the Rams appear to be set to make the leap from a team that's on the cusp of making the playoffs to legitimate playoff contenders in 2015.    
Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks 

Losers of free agency: San Francisco 49ers
This offseason has been nothing short of a nightmare for the 49ers. Not only has the team endured the surprise retirements of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland- who appeared to be the future of this defense after an excellent rookie campaign in 2014, they've also lost key contributors such as running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati, cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, and outside linebacker Dan Skuta in free agency. The blow of those losses has been somewhat softened by the signings of underrated wideout Torrey Smith and versatile albeit oft-injured veteran running back Reggie Bush, but even the signings of these gifted players can't detract from how much worse the 49ers have gotten as team in just a couple of weeks. New head coach Jim Tomsula is going to need to make a Herculean effort to stop the bleeding and extinguish the dumpster fire the 49ers have suddenly become after appearing in three NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl from 2011-13.
 Dishonorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants

Most surprising trade/signing: Jimmy Graham traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Seattle Seahawks
There's a been lot of "OH MY GOD DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN?" moves this offseason, but none incited more genuine shock in me than the Saints decision to deal their elite tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks. Graham just signed an extension with the Saints last season and has been the longtime favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees in their pass-heavy system. Making the move that much more shocking is the fact that the Saints don't have anyone on their roster to replace Graham's role as the offense's top vertical threat and they traded him to the Seahawks, who are the team the Saints and the rest of the NFC are trying to knock off the throne right now after winning two straight conference titles. I highly doubt the epic shock levels this move caused will die down until the season starts.
Honorable Mentions: Haloti Ngata traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Detroit Lions, LeSean McCoy traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso, Nick Foles traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford

Most surprising release: Brandon Browner from the New England Patriots
It was pretty much a lock that Darrelle Revis was not going to have his $20 million option picked up by the Patriots for the 2015 season. However, the Patriots decision to not exercise the $5 million option on Brandon Browner, their other starting cornerback in 2014, is downright shocking. Browner seemed to be good graces with the organization all season long, had an uncontested job as a starter and was beloved by the fanbase for the physicality he brought to the secondary. The timing of Browner's release made this even more surprising, as he was let go by the Patriots less than 24 hours after Revis signed with the Jets. Now that Revis and Browner are both out of the picture, the Patriots secondary is going to be entering a mysterious and potentially shaky new chapter in the upcoming season.   
Honorable Mention: Andre Johnson from the Houston Texans 

Best player left on the market: Michael Crabtree, wide receiver
In an offseason where wide receivers have been coming off the board at seemingly record pace, Michael Crabtree has had no serious suitors. While he's coming off a very disappointing 2014 campaign with the 49ers, Crabtree was quite productive in 2012 and 2013 and is a top-notch possession receiver when healthy. Any team with a gap in their receiver depth chart would be wise to take a gamble on him.
Honorable Mentions: Stefen Wisnewski, center,  Stevan Ridley, running back, Brandon Spikes, inside linebacker, Mason Foster, inside linebacker

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 NFL Mock Draft 2.0 (Update 3/18-1 Week Into Free Agency)

1.Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Leonard Williams, defensive tackle/end (USC)
2.Tennessee Titans-Jameis Winston, quarterback (Florida State)
3.Jacksonville Jaguars-Dante Fowler Jr., outside linebacker/defensive end (Florida)
4.Oakland Raiders-Kevin White, wide receiver (West Virginia)
5.Washington Redskins-Randy Gregory, outside linebacker (Nebraska)
6.New York Jets-Vic Beasley, outside linebacker (Clemson)
7.Chicago Bears-Shane Ray, outside linebacker/defensive end (Missouri)
8.Atlanta Falcons-Bud Dupree, outside linebacker/defensive end (Kentucky)
9.New York Giants-Ereck Flowers, tackle (Miami)
10.St. Louis Rams-Amari Cooper, wide receiver (Alabama)
11.Minnesota Vikings-Brandon Schreff, guard/center (Iowa)
12.Cleveland Browns-Devante Parker, wide receiver (Louisville)
13.New Orleans Saints-La'el Collins, tackle (LSU)
14.San Francisco 49ers-Arik Armstead, defensive tackle (Oregon)
15.Miami Dolphins-Trae Wayans, cornerback (Michigan State)
16.Houston Texans-Jaelen Strong, wide receiver (Arizona State)
17.San Diego Chargers-Melvin Gordon, running back (Wisconsin)
18.Kansas City Chiefs-Cameron Erving, guard/center/tackle (Florida State)
19.Cleveland Browns-Danny Shelton, nose tackle (Washington)
20.Philadelphia Eagles-Marcus Mariota, quarterback (Oregon)
21.Cincinnati Bengals-Eli Harold, outside linebacker/defensive end (Virginia)
22.Pittsburgh Steelers-Marcus Peters, cornerback (Washington)
23.Detroit Lions-Malcolm Brown, defensive tackle (Texas)
24.Arizona Cardinals-Jalen Collins, cornerback (LSU)
25.Carolina Panthers-T.J. Clemmings, tackle (Pittsburgh)
26.Baltimore Ravens-Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver (Missouri)
27.Dallas Cowboys-Todd Gurley, running back (Georgia)
28.Denver Broncos-Eddie Goldman, defensive tackle/end (Florida State)
29.Indianapolis Colts-Landon Collins, safety (Alabama)
30.Green Bay Packers-Beandrick McKinney, inside linebacker (Mississippi State)
31.New Orleans Saints-Maxx Williams, tight end (Minnesota)
32.New England Patriots-Jordan Phillips, nose tackle (Oklahoma)

Concert Review: Dropkick Murphys-- Boston, MA-- March 14th, 2015

Red Sox Baseball. The Marathon on Patriots' Day. Gratuitous Sarcasm. Berating any person in the city who has the gall to admit they're from New York. These are all proud traditions in the city of Boston. Saturday night marked the final night of another proud Boston tradition; the Dropkick Murphys St. Patrick's Day week shows at the House of Blues. And per usual the Murphys delivered a great performance worthy of their legendary billing.

The show got started off with Irish folk punk act Blood or Whiskey. Given that they hail from Dublin, I expected the most authentic and badass Celtic punk imaginable. I couldn't have been more wrong. What I got instead was horribly put together and downright obnoxious music from an act that couldn't decide if they were an old-timey Celtic folk or a sloppy Ramones-esque punk band. Making their jarring sound even worse was their amateurish stage presence. In all my years of seeing live music, I've never seen a signed, touring band that looked so visibly uncomfortable on stage. Everyone besides their singer seemed like they were paralyzed with stage fright and their singer, despite being very talkative, came across as very awkward with his strange mannerisms and overbearingly abrasive crowd interaction that completely clashed with the restrained nature of his bandmates. To put it lightly, Bloody or Whiskey started the showed with a noticeable thud and I hope the hell I never have to suffer through another set from them ever again.

Canada's The Mahones were up next. While they were a noticeable upgrade from Blood or Whiskey, their music just didn't really resonate with me.. The first couple of songs were decent enough, but after that, everything started to bleed together and they became very dull in no time at all. I'd be remiss if I didn't note that my indifference towards The Mahones was far from the consensus. A large portion of the crowd was singing along, moshing and just generally going crazy for a majority of their set. The Mahones are certainly a respectable, polished band, their brand of ska-tinged punk just failed to make an impression of on me.

After the two bad-to-middling openers, it was finally time for the men of the hour to perform. After the haunting intro of “The Foggy Dew” by Sinead O'Connor played over the PA, the curtain dropped and the band launched into “The State of Massachusetts” and the entire venue launched into an all-out frenzy. “The State of Massachusetts” was a rousing opener that served as the perfect start to a high-energy, set. The whole band sounded excellent and didn't seem even remotely worn down after performing two shows earlier that day. I can't even imagine the physical toll performing two full shows and a brief acoustic set in a less than 12 hour period has, so major props to the Murphys for not only being able to do it, but to not have it hinder the quality of their performance at all. Going in, I was very nervous that they were going to load the set with cuts from their mediocre 2013 LP Signed and Sealed in Blood. Thankfully, they only played four tracks from that album, including the only two songs (“Rose Tattoo, “Prisoner's Song”) on the entire record that I consider to be noteworthy. Instead, they played really even balance of older and more recent material with no one album really dominating the setlist. The setlist was generally pretty good (always nice to see them player lesser known older material like “Memories Remain” and “Curse of a Fallen Soul”), but I really wished they played more cuts from Blackout and The Warrior's Code. Hearing a combined total of five songs from those two records (two of which are permanent cornerstones “I'm Shipping Up to Boston” and “Kiss Me I'm Shiftfaced”) during their nearly two hour set was a serious bummer. Setlist nitpicking aside, Dropkick Murphys are a consistently formidable live band that is entirely worthy of the legend status they have in Massachusetts.

Side Notes:
-Dropkick Murphys had fans throws darts to choose the three rarities they'd play. Each section of the board had a different song assigned to it (the songs and their corresponding section of the board were projected on a video screen behind them) and while it took a while for people in the front to actually hit the board, it was definitely one of the coolest things I've ever seen at a show. Additional kudos go to the Murphys for jokingly putting songs like “It's Raining Men” and “Gagnam Style” on the list.
-Unlike the previous two times I'd seen them in 2011 and 2012, there was a TON of inconsiderate assholes at this show. The amount of (mostly intoxicated) people I had fall on, grope, push, etc. me and other people in my vicinity was unreal. It wasn't quite as out of hand as the August Burns Red show I went to at the House of Blues in January, but the general douchiness of many of the attendees put a bit of a damper on the evening.
-Blood or Whiskey's banjo player looked like the bastard offspring of the Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand. My friends and I repeatedly referred to him as Zdeno Marchand for the rest of their set.
-Blood or Whiskey's vocalist sounded like South Park's impression of Russell Crowe in the Season 6 episode The New Terrence and Phillip Movie Trailer  on the show within a show “Fightin 'Round the World with Russell Crowe” when he sang.
-Blood and Whiskey brought out from Spider Stacyt The Pogues to do vocals on a song. She sang was singing this very mellow melody for a majority of the song then for whatever reason at the climax of the song she decided to let out a couple of screams that were reminiscent of Slayer frontman Tom Araya's legendary screech in the intro to “Angel of Death”. It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen and was somehow the most awkward moment in a set with no shortage of awkward moments.

Blood or Whiskey 2.5/10
The Mahones 5/10
Dropkick Murphys 8.5/10

The State of Massachusetts
Famous for Nothing
God Willing 
Going Out in Style
Good Rats
Prisoner’s Song
Jimmy Collins' Wake
Boston Asphalt 
Wheel of Misfortune 
Vengeance (Nipple Erectors cover)
Iron Chin (The Bruisers cover)
Alcohol (Gang Green cover)
Curse of a Fallen Soul
Do or Die (w/original vocalist Mike McColgan) 
Memories Remain (w/original vocalist Mike McColgan) 
Barroom Hero (w/original vocalist Mike McColgan) 
The Auld Triangle
Never Forget
Rose Tattoo (acoustic)
I'm Shipping Up to Boston
Kiss Me, I'm Shitfaced

Worker's Song
Skinhead on the MBTA
Takin' Care of Business (Bachman-Turner Overdrive cover)
We're An American Band (Grand Funk Railroad cover)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Movie Review: Chappie

Sharlto Copley does not get nearly enough credit for his work as an actor. With the exception of a horrid performance in Spike Lee's Oldboy remake, Copley has been consistently excellent in everything he's appeared since his breakthrough role in 2009's District 9. His work as the titular robot in Chappie is one of the most impressive feats of his career to-date. Using just his voice and the magic of motion capture technology, Copley is able to bring a level of innocence and perpetual curiosity to this character that feels very human. The fact that Copley is able to make this character so loveable and emotionally dense without even physically appearing on screen is just remarkable.

Unfortunately outside of the consistently heartwarming and interesting title character, Chappie is an absolute clusterfuck. Writer/director Neil Blookamp's shifts the narrative focus so frequently that it becomes unclear who the main character of the film really is. Chappie, Chappie's creator, a robotics programmer at a large corporation who created the robotic police force that the South African government but really just wants to make a free-thinking robot with unrestricted, human-like emotion (Dev Patel), a pissed-off co-worker of Patel's who wants his massive man-operated drone to replace the robotic police force (a mulleted Hugh Jackman in full overacting mode) and a low-life husband/wife criminal duo who kidnap Chappie and try to turn him into a street-hardened thug (hip-hop duo Die Antwoord, who are the epitome of on-screen poison) all take turns being the center of the film's attention. To say it's exhausting to keep up with all the film's subplots and character arcs would be a vast understatement. As one would probably expect in a film without a true main character, the film shifts tones at the drop of a hat, which gives it a very disjointed, incomplete feel. The implausible ending that somehow doesn't mesh with any of the 6,243,121, tones Bloomkamp explores makes this already scattershot film that much worse. The ending is so hair-brained and insultingly stupid that it makes the rest of the narrative seem competently put together.

Watching an unfocused, half-baked mess like Chappie makes you wonder how the same guy was able to create such a streamlined, original and groundbreaking film like District 9 a mere six years ago. Between this and 2013's good-but-not-spectacular Elysium, it's clear the immense promise Bloomkamp showed on District 9 was a fluke. He needs to scale back on his desire to load his films with half-assed social commentary and convoluted, over-complicated plotlines, and just make a constantly compelling and narratively coherent film that properly showcases the originality and technical competence that made Hollywood take notice of him in the first place. The inept writing and pretty terrible acting from the supporting cast is a huge blow to the overall quality, but Copley's awe-inspiring performance and a few nicely-executed action setpieces prevent Chappie from being a complete failure.

2.5/5 Stars