Film Reviews: American Drone, Or Krotoa Homecoming

October 28, 2022

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Krotoa / Directed by Roberta Durrant / 16DL

The Whale Caller / Directed by Zola Maseko / 16DL

Drone / Directed by Jason Bourque / 13DLV

American Made / Directed by Doug Liman / 16DLSV

Porneia: A Global Tragedy / Brad Huddleston / 16S

Spider-Man: Homecoming / Directed by Jon Watts / PGLV

 

Krotoa is a dramatisation of a key period in South African history and specifically, the life of a woman, Krotoa, also known as Eva (Crystal-Donna Roberts) who became the liaison between the early Dutch settlers, led by Jan Van Riebeeck (Armand Aucamp) and the Goringhaicona people – her family – who were inhabiting the area around Cape Town before the city was formally established. Krotoa was an historical figure, but not too much is known about her, though it is fairly certain that she struggled immensely with the pressure she was put under in her double-agent role and the abuse inflicted on her from both sides, finding solace in alcohol and other negative behaviours. Director Roberta Durrant creates a rich visual milieu and an exciting sense – particularly for South African audiences – of what the landscape must have looked like at the time, and the challenges all the different population groups must have faced. But nobody comes out of this story well – even with its softened edges relative to the historical narrative – bar perhaps the Danish surgeon Pieter van Meerhof (a gentle Jacques Bessenger), who marries Krotoa and takes on her considerable baggage, Again, this is the scriptwriter’s version rather than necessarily historical fact, but it does allow the audience to feel at least some hope on the title character’s behalf. Perhaps useful as a teaching tool, this film was clearly made with good intentions. But whatever the intended message wasis not entirely clear.

 

Zakes Mda’s novel The Whale Caller is a strange but lyrical magical realism story that describes the fortunes of an introverted loner named the Whale Caller (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube), who feels a powerful connection to one of the whales that inhabits the waters around his hometown, Hermanus. He treats the creature like most would a potential paramour, causing (reasonably enough) many raised eyebrows. A local woman, Saluni (Amrain Ismail-Essop) has designs on the man, but problematically, she is not only an extremely loud extrovert but also a well-known lush, whose drinking adds to her unpredictability. The story is an odd concoction of allegory, twisted romance and local mythology that’s relatively difficult to buy into in the first place. This on-screen version sees the issues with believability intensified. The flow is stilted and the chemistry between the leads mediocre at best. Neither of the protagonists is either inspiring or particularly likeable either, meaning that interest in the outcome of their respective or shared journeys is difficult to sustain.

 

A low-budget, low-concept thriller in which a terrorist threat creates the link to current affairs that makes the piece easily relatable, Drone is an unsubtle but effective critique of perspectives that place the rights of one group of people above another. Sean Bean plays Neil, a contractor working for the CIA who pilots drones that target individuals in far-off countries who are, according to the briefs he is given, threats to the security of the USA. Firing missiles from the comfort of a facility halfway across the world, he has no idea of the real collateral damage of his actions. Innocent people die, yes, but there is also the constant picking at the fabric of a society in which there may be somne dangerous elements, but where everyone else would like to live in peace and safety. Imir (Patrick Sabongui), a man who lost loved ones in a drone attack, has come to the US to confront the person he can reasonably say is his enemy – Neil pressed the launch button on the missile, after all, without knowing all the facts about those he killed – and he is confronted by the attitudes, in ordinary Americans, that will ensure that prejudice remains a constant rather than a diminishing factor in international affairs, and that poisonous perspectives will ensure that hate continues to be fostered and that wisdom in dealing with conflict takes a back seat to posing and pride. It’s a simple, direct moral tale that points out how messy things are rather than offering solutions, and as such, it’s a touch short on charisma. But it’ll make you think. And possible despair.

 

With the creation of series like Netflix’s Narcos and its various offshoots, standalone films dealing with the same sort of subject matter – the drug trade and the greed and violence that are its inevitable offshoots – must work hard to have the same sort of impact on viewers with a considerably shorter running time. American Made fully embraces the genre’s label, with its protagonist, Barry Seal (a real-life individual, played with his trademark ardour by Tom Cruise) hardly stopping for a second in his efforts to meet the requirements placed on him by dangerous employers, and to enjoy the more or less permanent adrenaline rush that comes with going along for the ride. The context involves the CIA’s ever better documented follies in getting involved in drug trafficking, with the fearless – and reckless – Seal generally stuck between a rock and a hard place as he tries to keep contacts from both sides friendly. The film offers a cynical perspective on the whole enterprise while – equally cynically – playing the scenarios involved for maximum thrills. Director Doug Liman and Cruise should be commended for not letting the darkness in the whole scheme be ignored, though, with the piece’s ending leaving viewers in little doubt as to the long-term damage Seal and his colleagues – all the way up to government level – did to all the nations in the supply chain (including the US) with their irresponsible, avaricious behaviour during this era.

 

Brad Huddleston is a Christian speaker, teacher and author with a focus on technology and its effect on culture. In this series of filmed presentations, he focuses on the negative impacts of pornography on users. Stylistically, Porneia could use work, but this is first and foremost a ministry tool; the sort of thing someone might watch if they’d missed a sermon and needed to catch up on the content. In that context, the revision of content discussed earlier makes sense, but if you’re watching all the sessions consecutively, it’s a little irritating. Huddleston is a serious, conscientious researcher, and draws on both recent scientific evidence and the teachings of the Bible to explain the effects, physical and emotional, of addiction in general and addiction to pornography in particular. It’s obvious that Christian viewers will likely see this topic as a bigger issue than secular audiences might, but it would be foolish to overlook that impact that the compulsion to view such material has on many marriages and relationships regardless of belief systems. It’s possible that you might feel that Huddleston repeats himself once too often on some points, but it’s worth watching the bulk of his presentations to get a good sense of what his research has to say.

 

Mere viewers are not privy to the long-term marketing decisions that drive studios to insert particular movies into franchises at different points, and it’s fair to say that a large segment of the superhero film-watching audience wasn’t terribly convinced that another Spider-Man film was completely necessary, even after the character was thrust into the Avengers spotlight in Captain America: Civil War. Happily, though, this piece is not a simple retread of what’s come before, with Tom Holland in the title role being a very different proposition to his predecessors in the role – especially Toby Maguire, whose Spidey was a far more dour, introspective sort. Holland’s version is a kid who is incredibly excited by the powers he discovers he has and the company (Iron Man, et al) he’s beginning to keep. That makes sense; there’s no reason to write in some long, detailed exposition explaining his demeanour. Equally, it’s inevitable that the duties and responsibility of a superhero will soon start to take their toll, providing some gravitas to go with all the goofy grinning. The rest of the plot works well enough without being mind-blowingly memorable, and the film ends in positive territory – a fine standalone chapter in the Spider-Man saga and a gap-filling chapter in the expanding Avengers universe.

 

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