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Short Film Review: Day Zero


Day Zero is a post-apocalyptic thriller from indie film-maker Stephen Nagel, written by Dean Ravell and starring Nicola Duddy, Megan Alexander, Caelan Curry and Brad Roman. Set years after government, scientists and authorities fail to solve a looming water crisis in Cape Town, a group of survivors must make their way to a safe haven pursued by a vicious hunter. In many cases, independent means shoestring budget or no budget at all as in the case of Day Zero. These passionate film-makers took it upon themselves to craft a short film using limited resources about a limited resource, water.

WARNING: Day Zero trailer features strong language.

The film's teaser trailer does a great job of foreshadowing the context of this thriller and probably would've served well as the film's introduction. In fact, it's recommended viewing if you want to make sense of Day Zero, which drops you in the deep end as a ragtag bunch make their way to an oasis. The plot, setting and styling of Day Zero has been directly influenced by Mad Max: Fury Road down to the hunter's mask as this journey unfolds. At first, appearing to be a wasteland slasher, we get snippets of back story as the hunter joins the hunted.

Day Zero is timely, following months after the #DefeatDayZero campaign, greater worldwide awareness with echoes of people saying the next war will be over water. Using many natural locations and ruins in the Cape metropole, they've managed to give the journey scope and setting it against many varied backdrops gives texture. The make up and wardrobe is fitting, adding some layers to the storytelling and transporting the audience to this post-apocalyptic vision of the future with little to no water.

While promising, it's constrained by its budget... probably not giving the film-makers enough time to develop the screenplay and forcing much of the film to be done on the fly according to availability and resources on the day. While it starts like a hot pursuit slasher, it fizzles out as the two parties converge in a rather disappointing anticlimax. Using flashbacks to create tension, there's just not enough exposition to anchor the characters in this world. The amateur ensemble look the part and seem eager to be involved, but perhaps the call should have been for naturalistic performances.

Inconsistency in editing, foley work and performances keep you at a distance. While there are some good ideas at play with some promising shots, the storytelling is a bit haphazard and choppy. You understand the basic outline and motivations, but Day Zero just seems to be a bit too ambitious for its own good struggling to develop one's interest in the characters or scenario. The passion is there, the film-makers are inspired by some edgy cinema but perhaps delving into their memory banks and confining the film to one or two locations would have given them more depth and control over the final product. The good news is that these film-makers are young and hopefully take the experience they've gleaned from this project into their next.

 
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


 
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