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Movie Reviews
Movie Review: Krotoa


One of the most written about women in South African history, Krotoa has become the subject of a documentary, a play, a poem and now a film by Roberta Durrant. Krotoa is a South African historical drama based on a young Khoi woman, who was removed from her tribe to serve Jan van Riebeeck and assimilate the Dutch language and culture in the mid 17th century. Based on historical facts, the screenwriters have essentially adapted and dramatised a historical overview of the influential interpreter and mediator, who experienced many challenges adapting to life between the Goringhaicona tribe and the household of the first Governor of the Cape Colony.

Largely ignored for more than two centuries, scholars now regard Krotoa (also known as Eva) as a woman who shows a universality in terms of her treatment under the colonial system worldwide. The renewed interest in her story, an international focus on race relations and a resurgence in female-led films made this seem like the perfect time for this drama biopic to emerge. While important and underwritten by good intentions, Krotoa struggles to leverage powerful themes and compel itself as a drama. Laden with contentious topics such as colonialism, culture, environment, gender, politics, race, rape... you'd expect a powder keg of a drama. Yet, the film-makers have opted for a safer journey, extrapolating a history lesson in the form of a docile character portrait.

The film's stellar cast includes: Crystal-Donna Roberts as Krotoa, Armand Aucamp as Jan van Riebeeck, Roeline Daneel as Maria van Riebeeck, Brendon Daniels as Autshumato, Jacques Bessenger as Pieter Van Meerhof, Marcel van Heerden as Wagenaar and Deon Lotz as Roelof de Man. Roberts gives an earnest and impassioned performance that sets the tone for the rest of the talented ensemble, who chime in with a sense of trepidation or uncertainty.

While fictional, this paradise turned imperial conquest has been criticised for its simplistic representation of the Khoi people. Much like any historical recreation, the onus is on the film-makers to endeavour to capture an accurate and respectable representation of people, places and events. While "based on historical facts" gives some creative freedom, it doesn't necessarily guarantee documentary realism or nuance. Durrant's made a concerted effort to effect an authentic picture of the Cape of Good Hope during this time. Shooting on-location, using naked landscapes and natural lighting, she's maintained a lush feeling and a pioneering spirit. Shells, beads and traditional animal hide garments juxtapose against the jauntier fabrics and hats of the Dutch, giving Krotoa a diverse pageantry. There's a valiant attempt to use the traditional dialect of the Khoisan, while the Dutch contingent speak a modernised version of Afrikaans.

Krotoa

"..."

The culture clash, sweeping landscapes, arrival of horses and wide-brimmed hats give Krotoa a Western vibration. While at first, the regal dress sense and pomp give it a camp quality, this mostly dissipates as Krotoa becomes more accustomed to the foreign culture. While this low budget film stands firm, its lack of depth makes it comparable with Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman for quality when it was probably aspiring for the pensive grandeur of a film like Silence. A lack of perceived character development, tension and nuance make it dramatically inert against some beautifully photographed visuals. With little camera movement, the film stagnates even further, dramatising chapters from Krotoa's "cursed" life as if transposing oil paintings.

There's such a keen awareness around capturing authentic visuals that the storytelling and subtext becomes secondary, an afterthought obscured by contrivances. This element is best exhibited by the choice to re-enact a famous Charles Davidson Bell painting of van Riebeeck's arrival. It's further evidenced as a commander comes to the rescue from nowhere, a woman interrupts a conversation as if eavesdropping and a companion happens to be a doctor. This is to the detriment of the dramatic sensibility, struggling to realise the dormant power of scenes and giving Krotoa a stale air. Without much nuance, it becomes a simplistic and dull retelling - diffused by earnest performances from a solid cast and an eclectic, magical and indigenous soundtrack.

It's encouraging to see this chapter of South African history inspiring film-makers and there's so much thematic material, it could easily warrant a TV series. Krotoa demonstrates, much like a pilot, that there's scope for this story to be adapted for television. Taking this angle would allow more time to explore Krotoa's unique experiences in more biographical detail, give the writers room to explore the ethics, morality and multitude of curious characters on both sides, and even siphon more thematic staying power from the historical retrospective.

Durrant's ambitious undertaking shows great potential, but with so many moving parts, there's only so much you can roll into one film. Krotoa features a solid cast, earnest performances, sweeping landscapes, rich historical detail, an eclectic soundtrack, poetic sentiment and the story remains important as ever. Unfortunately, it struggles to entrench the illusion - lacking nuance, story focus, an immersive environment, compelling characters and heartfelt drama.

The bottom line: Dormant

 
Movie Review: The Hitman's Bodyguard


The Hitman's Bodyguard is a buddy movie from Patrick Hughes, the director who brought us Red Hill and The Expendables 3. Loosely based on the same dynamic as Midnight Run, we are quickly introduced to prolific hitman, Darius Kincaid, who is paired with an elite bodyguard, Michael Bryce, commissioned to get his new client to a trial at the International Court of Justice. Fresh from Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds has repositioned his star alongside the action genre, allowing him to headline a hard actioner opposite screen veteran and Tarantino regular, Samuel L. Jackson.

While their chemistry is far from magical, their constant bickering and one-upmanship forms the core of the film's intrinsic entertainment value. Trading on these two established stars, The Hitman's Bodyguard leverages much of their trademark style with a smooth-talking Reynolds and a straight-talking Jackson. While it's the sort of movie terrain you'd expect to see Jackie Chan flexing his mix of martial arts and incredible stunt work in, we are relegated to watching two big shots mouth off. To their credit, Reynolds and Jackson tap into previous roles to add texture, trying to inject charm and spruce up some pretty generic and egotistical characters.

While it aims to get by on action and comedy, the tone is rickety and the comedy isn't polished, leaving a lot of responsibility on the action component. The Hitman's Bodyguard's biggest challenge is its struggle to determine whether it's a tongue-in-cheek or dead serious action film. The intense violence and strong use of language is frequent enough to suggest we are bearing witness to a fierce action movie, yet the situational comedy, flippant attitude, constant tussling and silly scenarios say otherwise. As a result, it's difficult to get in on the joke or feel the full weight of the suspense, making this a mixed bag in terms of entertainment value.

"Say Double Team 2 again. We double dare ya."

We coast on the star quality of the co-leads and supporting character actors, Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek. Oldman is okay as a hellbent Eastern European war criminal in Vladislav Dukhovich while Hayek gets tough (and kinda icky) as the no-nonsense Sonia. Reynolds is Mr. Wisecrack again, while Jackson covers his age well with a little help from a bullet. While almost any movie would be lucky to have this ensemble, it just feels lacklustre with each of the stars delivering average performances. Perhaps the film's generic quality lent itself to middling performances, yet despite their attempts to engender passion and genuine sparkle – it just falls flat. The egomania parade makes it difficult to identify with the characters, making it a fairly alienating series of stand-offs.

The Hitman's Bodyguard is a competently filmed actioner, yet struggles to justify the inclusion of its stellar cast. The seesawing tone leaves the film dangling in an uncomfortable middle ground and diminishes the overall impact. The snarky characters are softened by the actors, but are ultimately difficult to get behind. The frequent violence and bad language isn't justified, cheapening the final product and offsetting the comedy. Then, the film is generic and struggles to distinguish itself from a slew of better action comedy buddy movies... making it more of the same.

The bottom line: Forgettable

 
Movie Review: Baby Driver


Edgar Wright is the British director behind cult classics such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. His ambitious, colourful, quirky, playful and imaginative films are geared towards laughs and thrills and Baby Driver is no different. Always unpredictable, fun and visually-compelling, Wright has added a heist thriller to his growing list of shiny, wonderful films. The title Baby Driver, probably should have been Baby, Driver but that would have made too much sense when you consider his appetite for quirkiness.

We follow the journey of Baby, a young getaway driver, who finds himself in too deep after being coerced into doing one last job for a crime boss. Ansel Elgort did a great job in The Fault in Our Stars, turning in a sweet, suave and instantly likable former basketball player. Instead of being an amputee, he's got another impairment that forces him to listen to music continuously. While the earbuds remain firmly planted in his ears, this affinity to music is a driving force in Baby Driver as it becomes infused with every aspect from the film. The music weaves itself into the film as editing and sound merge seamlessly to create a fresh, zippy atmosphere similar to the anything's possible mood of La La Land but with fast cars and thugs.

Elgort's performance makes him a James Dean for the here and now. He's not as enigmatic or windswept, but oozes cool in his demeanor and go-his-own-way attitude. An unassuming and likable lead, he also imbues a natural warmth. He's the frontman of a strong ensemble including: Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Lily James and Kevin Spacey. Hamm and González play off one another as a sex-fueled Bonnie & Clyde, Foxx is the resident tough guy, James is a sweet waitress with a heart of pure gold while Spacey gets to take his Horrible Bosses character underground.

Baby Driver

"Yeah, sure... I was named after the Bieber song."

Baby Driver is a heist movie with action, thrills and style... generating heat through beautifully choreographed car chases, tense drama and a living soundtrack. While it generally goes from 0-60 in seconds flat, there's room for cruise control when it comes to exploring Baby's closest ties. His relationship with his foster father is always a charming detour as we get a feel for his childhood, while the budding '50s style romance gives the film a naive undertone. The nostalgic music is reminiscent of the mix tape from Guardians of the Galaxy, but it has a much more inextricable quality.

Edgar Wright has unfurled yet another suave and masterful tapestry of sound, visuals and dialogue. As a crime thriller it moves with a swagger and furious spirit, which is largely redeemed by the starry-eyed romance at its core. Baby Driver's full of free wheelin' moxie and jam-packed with wink-wink fun, adding a fresh dimension to the "one last job" heist movie and making its experimental sound design and editing techniques seem effortless. Edgar Wright fans will appreciate this funky new genre blend, while new initiates will be impressed by the dynamic visuals and swirling blend of music styles that manage to stay on-point.

Baby Driver does go into overdrive as the third act turns into a stairway of climactic highs. While peppered with violence, the intensity is allayed by Wright's tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. It does have a few lulls, but these are smoothed over by the film's varied overriding qualities. If you want to see something cool, punchy and fresh, look no further than Baby Driver.

The bottom line: Wonderful


 
Movie Review: Dunkirk


Christopher Nolan's trademark style is brooding, clinical, dark, heavy, elegant and powerful. The acclaimed filmmaker has become a household name, adding a crest of brilliant films to his credit over the last two decades. A visionary director, he's become respected not only for his output but his method, getting the most from his cast and crew by adopting a businesslike mentality. Film is entertainment, but Nolan realises that in order to turn a profit and get the best results, creating a clinical and focused atmosphere on set helps the team do their best work. While his style is recognisable, it seems that every film he creates is an attempt to be the quintessential film within that genre. His outlook is quite traditional, opposing 3D format, the Netflix model and even the use of cell phones on set, yet he seems to give the industry a shakeup with each new film. The much anticipated arrival of Christopher Nolan movies have made these new releases a cinematic event and Dunkirk is no different.

Instead of an invasion, attack or deadly mission, we are dealing with a rescue operation. Rather than zooming into the risky extraction of one soldier, like in Saving Private Ryan, the filmmaker has decided to stage the mass evacuation of British and French Allied troops from Dunkirk. Spielberg's World War II landing sequences were praised for their authenticity as a visceral 15 minute re-enactment brought tears to the eyes of veterans who were there. While this brilliant war scene set in motion an excellent war film, it never managed to rekindle the same intensity. In Dunkirk, Nolan flips this around, so that the driving intensity only offers 15 minutes of respite.

In attempting to make the ultimate war film, Nolan takes three strands of the story from a minute, an hour and a day. Broaching the Dunkirk evacuation from three different perspectives, he manages to encompass the experience from air, sea and land. From the air, we encounter the bravery of a courageous pilot. From the sea, we follow a boat of civilians on an unauthorised rescue mission. From the land, we get an idea of the waiting game as a soldier does his best to board a rescue vessel to safety. Each of these strands weave together into a taut rope as ticking time-bomb tension mounts and the game of survival becomes more critical. Jumping between the subplots, he manages to extract the most intense moments, maintaining breathless pacing and suspense.

Dunkirk Movie

"Dear God, please take me home."

Using thousands of extras, Nolan has ensured that the film has a strong sense of being there. The authentic audiovisuals make for a vicarious and visceral war experience as we barrel in a fighter plane, become submerged underwater and shudder with the sharp clank of bullets piercing metal. It's a full-scale assault on the senses as Nolan crafts a film that employs multi-sensory and psychological devices. Leveraging fear he concocts a survival war drama thriller that is both unsettling and titanic. It's riddled with breathtaking moments of despair, panic and sheer relief using Hans Zimmer's pulsating and relentless score to add depth and drive tension.

While this stirring war drama will be sure to engender British patriotism and renewed interest in World War II, the intense thrill ride of survival plays out against a fairly anonymous enemy. The film has universal themes, which makes sense on an allegorical as well as a historical level. This relative anonymity is carried through into the casting of name stars like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Cillian Murphy. Fionn Whitehead takes on the "lead" role, but this large and relatively unknown cast make it a real team effort, downplaying and equalising the name stars for the sake of authenticity. Ego is an afterthought as the film plays out on a macro level, leaving an effective blueprint for future war and even disaster films in the process.

Dunkirk is sparsely scripted, not giving us much time to explore characters, allowing their actions and expressions to do the talking. The constant barrage of emotional stress and authentic recreation makes the experience very real and breathes life into famous black and white pictures from the historic event, which were used as a strong reference point. While imbued with Nolan's trademark approach and tone, this doesn't leave much room for the lighter side of the human condition. This grave seriousness makes this prestige film foreboding, yet something must be said for the "stiff upper lip" and a propensity for people to use humour to cope with fairly hopeless predicaments.

While Dunkirk is more of a director's film, it overcomes its shades of disconnectedness with quick pacing, relentless suspense and first-class production values, in essence making the evacuation mission the lead character. With an imminent sense of danger and channel-flipping between intense situations, Dunkirk demands your attention and earns it through masterful direction, experiential entertainment, thought-provoking moments and its selfless sentiment. It may not have the characterisation to make it the greatest war movie ever made, but it lands among them with aplomb.

The bottom line: Intense


 
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