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Movie Review: Pronoia


Pronoia is a haunting, eerie and atmospheric mystery sci-fi drama short film written and directed by Nick Efteriades, starring Stelio Savante, Hannah Jane McMurray, Catherine Chadwick and Lou Mastantuono. A man (Savante) and woman (McMurray) wait out a rainstorm in a hotel bar somewhere between '"here and nowhere.' When the TV news reports the disappearance of a high-ranking Pentagon official, neither he nor she know of the ramifications it will have on their brief, seductive encounter.

The intriguing title, Pronoia, refers to a state of mind and polar opposite to paranoia, describing the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to secretly benefit people. The Shining's influences are present in the hotel corridors, ghostly patrons and lobby as a curious dialogue plays out between a couple, whose alienated standpoint creates palpable tension. We're thrown in the deep end, as this dark, cold and sleek film plays out with minimalist precision. From the graceful camera movement, we get a suave look at what seems like an excerpt from a much broader work.

We're entranced by the mysterious man at the centre of Pronoia, played by South Africa's very own Stelio Savante. Surrounded by question marks, we try to get a better understanding of him as Savante's mercurial performance keeps us guessing, unsettled and on edge, waiting for him to explode with answers. He's supported by Hannah Jane McMurray, who heightens the intrigue with her exquisite features, an otherworldly disposition and a deer-in-the-headlights vulnerability.

The story seeps out in moments as we piece together a puzzle, which is obscured to layer further tension. Pronoia swathes itself in atmosphere and style in a similar fashion to the work of Anton Corbijn. While beautiful, the jagged storytelling leaves one feeling alienated and muddled, feeding on scraps and falling back on the eerie atmosphere and pensive mood. While somewhat incoherent as a short film, one gets a good taster of what to anticipate from a full feature.

 
Movie Review: Free Fire


Free Fire is a crime thriller and dark comedy caper from Ben Wheatley, who seems to have been heavily influenced by stylish action directors, Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. The film is set in a Boston warehouse in 1978 as a meeting between two gangs turns into a bloody shootout and a game of survival. While never short on ammunition, he's armour-plated this single location vehicle with an ensemble including the likes of our very own Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor and Armie Hammer. Some of the coolest cats in Hollywood enter the fray of a gangster's playground to get the money, the guns or both.

Free Fire is aimed squarely at fans of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, essentially blending American Hustle with Reservoir Dogs and b-movies of the '70s. This dusty minimalist ensemble crime thriller takes place at a warehouse and is there to stay as a deal goes horribly wrong. Bad language and gunfire pepper the film as some rather amusing dark comedy plays out between a hotch-potch of surly characters. With very little dialogue, lots of shouting and ricocheting bullets, it's a pretty dark, gritty and violent flick.

Ben Wheatley laces it with style in the quick draw editing and wardrobe department, even making some space for the nostalgic and peaceful music of John Denver to usher in a refreshingly sombre Deer Hunter mood. Unfortunately, while amusing and stylish, it lacks substance... and nothing, even Sharlto Copley's outrageous South African accent and ad-libbed "lekker" and "boet" can refurbish the bullet-riddled target. While the off-the-cuff dialogue, fresh cinematography and paintball style camaraderie make it entertaining - it never rises above it pulpy comic book actioner status.

Free Fire

"Boys, I guess we'll never have Boston."

The character performances from the underdog crew keep it on-track as relational discord is established and plays out in the body count. Copley is a lynch pin acting like a kingpin, playing into his South African heritage with great gusto and off-handed charm as a wild card. Brie Larson holds fort as the sole actress, wrangling her way into the picture against some cringe-worthy chauvinist barbs. Sam Riley is slithery as a low-life scumbag, Cillian Murphy keeps his composure as the dark horse, Michael Smiley is reminiscent of Peter Stormare, Jack Reynor lands some good laughs while Armie Hammer plays Big Daddy Cool.

Quite amazingly, despite its quick unraveling, it holds together, but could have benefited from more dark comedy in the vein of Monty Python or the unscripted comedy genius of Christopher Guest films. With so many wounded gangsters crawling around and trying their hand at chin-up bravado, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for great comedy went to waste. It's still pretty funny, especially with Copley's outrageous character trying to call the shots and opening the floodgate, yet one gets the impression Wheatley was trying to keep a lid on the potboiler to maintain some level of reality and prevent it from drawing direct comparisons with Anchorman.

If you prefer films with a bit more meat and a story that doesn't just skip the car chase onto the third act showdown, Free Fire may not be your blood-smeared cup of tea. However, if you've enjoyed single location films before and can handle a barrage of urban artillery and f-bombs with tongue-sticking-through-cheek humour, you may just like it!

The bottom line: Off-the-wall


 
Movie Review: Warehoused


An estimated 12 million people are living in refugee camps with only 0.1% being re-integrated into normal society. Directors, Asher Emmanuel and Vincent Vittorio, seek to address this problem through Warehoused: The Forgotten Refugees of Dadaab, an earnest documentary dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of refugees and their need for basic human rights like education, safety, shelter and clean water.

While the film takes a global stance on the issue of refugees, it focuses on those living in the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. The film-makers get up close and personal with several of the reported 500-600k refugees, investigating their situation within the camp and exploring some of the issues surrounding their protracted confinement and seeding in other countries around the world.

Much like God Grew Tired of Us, we're dealing with a group of individuals who have been displaced by the political, social or wartime circumstances affecting their homeland. In a similar vein, the film-makers travel to Willmar in the United States, one of the resettlement towns where a refugee family have been transplanted. While the repatriation is touching and the cultural immersion is fascinating, the encampment is the main focus in Warehoused, identifying intricate issues such as: food being used as a commodity, unchecked crime within the encampment, problems relating to the host country and the sporadic population growth of these long-serving camps.

Warehoused documentary

"What is home?"

Through experts, authors and industry specialists, the filmmakers get a broader understanding of the issues facing the organisations that support these camps and the inner turmoil caused by the growing need for these centres for the displaced. As wars continue, the camps multiply creating a generation of alienated people who are born into a suspended state of captivity. Frustrated by the long waiting lists for resettlement and stunted by the cold hard facts of the situation, some try to escape, finding themselves vulnerable and at the mercy of nationals.

The documentary is a tapestry of real-life accounts, talking heads and on-the-ground footage with simple animation to connect the dots. Warehoused: The Forgotten Refugees of Dadaab is successful in its mission to create awareness around Dadaab and the on-going global crisis. Instead of manipulating the audience, the film-makers take the time to get a practical snapshot of the situation, humanising the affected and delivering the facts with as little distortion as possible. While a little scattershot, it's an eye-opening and important account of life within the camps, resettlement and the hunt for a solution to reverse the rapid growth of refugee camps around the world.

The bottom line: Earnest


 
Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)


Tom Cruise has come a long way since he converted to Scientology and stopped aging. He may have found the fountain of youth, trail-blazed a comeback and reinstated himself as a Hollywood legend, but as tall as he is on that pedestal... he's far from perfect as evidenced in his latest film, The Mummy. One thing that's missing from Tom's repertoire of talent is comedy... the elusive genre that many actors turn to as they age, maybe it's just Bob De Niro. While he was memorable as Les Grossman in the war spoof Tropical Thunder, he was playing it straight just like he did in Risky Business, Knight and Day, Rock of Ages and Edge of Tomorrow.

"Straight with ice" is his thing, which he plays off quite masterfully in some action vehicles with most of his comedic appeal coming from poking fun at him. Ironically, it took killing Tom Cruise over and over again in Groundhog Day style for people to laugh in Edge of Tomorrow. He's the epitome of steely-eyed determination, making us admire him but never truly warming hearts if you count Jerry Maguire as a fluke. All of this is to say he's been miscast in The Mummy, a big budget reboot, which appears to have been written for Chris Pratt.

So you've caught yourself a big name star like Tom Cruise, a Hollywood tiger who can sell your movie based on his name alone. How do you make him fit? Well, you ensure there's plenty of action recalling the airplane disaster from Edge of Tomorrow and the underwater scene from Mission Impossible... cast a co-lead actress to try emulate the chemistry he had with Emily Blunt and then add a superfluous sidekick for a stab at buddy movie charm. While Cruise is sheer perseverance and managed to sell himself as Jack Reacher, this role as Nick Morton in The Mummy is out of reach.

In much the same way as X-Men: Apocalypse, a long-dormant all-powerful ancient evil is resurrected and terrorises the earth. In this story, the evil embodied by an Egyptian princess inadvertently swipes right on our dear friend Nick, who becomes integral to her fulfilling her dark mission. Through a slow-burning seduction, he becomes locked into a deadly love triangle between Jenny, his archaeologist crush, and Ahmanet, a grown up and tattooed version of The Ring's Samara.

The Mummy 2017

"Nick I want you to know I would've settled for the last Rolo..."

The Mummy series starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz was characterised by a charming, fun-loving blend of treasure hunting romance and epic adventure similar to Jewel of the Nile - supersized by CGI and ancient Egypt horror. In an attempt to be refreshingly different, the latest The Mummy is trying to capture the tricky dark cult comic adventure tone of Army of Darkness. Unfortunately, they don't have Bruce Campbell, his boomstick or the twisted horror comedy balancing act that is Sam Raimi. The script flat lines, veering unexpectedly into the strange territory of Cabin in the Woods and failing to tap into the dark cult comedy of films like Shaun of the Dead and Reanimator.

It's as if they're trying to snare the indie spirit of a low budget horror comedy with a blockbuster budget and 13 rating. The result is devastating. Alex Kurtzman may have a rich history of producing blockbusters, but much like the live-action pantomime, Maleficent, a director transplant can result in serious complications.

The first of these is the miscast lead, Tom Cruise, who seems too dignified and street smart for this dumb tongue-in-cheek role. The second is a lack of chemistry with his picture perfect yet flat co-lead, Annabelle Wallis, who comes across like a bland hybridisation of Emily Blunt and Rosamund Pike. The third bent nail in the sarcophagus is the film's tone, which wavers from stoney-faced action thriller to ridiculous horror comedy on the hunt for epic adventure. What starts like American Sniper Lite turns into a wacky Tomb Raider misadventure that should have been gifted to the more adept genre-benders, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Much like The Mummy 2, the latest The Mummy is overloaded with special effects, which range from epic to irritating. While the preamble to the title is promising, connecting Crusade knight tombs and Egytian mythology as if it was gearing up to become a rip-roaring National Treasure style yarn, it simply begins to crumble. The pacing and eye candy is good enough to keep a cat mildly entertained as you switch your brain to standby mode. Unfortunately, this is where you remain as Russell Crowe talks about being in the business of evil and cheesier one-liners punctuate the dead air.

Going into The Mummy expecting a turkey will soften the blow, but the film's tonal shifts make it bizarre, mustering up a half-wink to signal we're in on the joke only for us to realise it's not winking, it's died. You'd do well to watch the original The Mummy or Romancing the Stone again rather than immersing yourself into this chasm of unfunny and cheesy mayhem that is The Mummy. This is big budget Uwe Boll when they really needed a film-maker like Sam Raimi and a cheeky star like Chris Pratt to truly excavate its true potential.

The bottom line: DOA


 
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