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Schultz reviews: 'Chaos Walking,' 'Crisis' and 'Raya and the Last Dragon'

Schultz reviews: 'Chaos Walking,' 'Crisis' and 'Raya and the Last Dragon'

Carl Schultz



“Chaos Walking”  Distributed by Lionsgate Pictures, 109 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released March 05, 2021:

In Prentisstown, there’s no such thing as an unexpressed thought.

Populated by explorers from another world who established a colony on the planet, all the guys who dwell in Prentisstown are somehow now troubled with an unnatural trait they call “the noise”--even their most innocent or intimate thoughts are revealed to anyone nearby in a sort of loud whisper, accompanied by illustrated clouds which swirl around their head like a soiled nimbus.

Set in the New World in the year 2257, in the new motion picture “Chaos Walking” remote and isolated Prentisstown is inhabited only by men, the result of a raid by natives of the planet who attacked the settlement a generation ago and slaughtered all the least according to the survivors.  Ruled by the brutal and despotic mayor David Prentiss, when a spacecraft from distant Earth crashes on the outskirts of the village and a young woman named Viola (a blonde Daisy Ridley) emerges as the solitary survivor, the residents become surprisingly hostile.

Good thing young Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) is on hand.  Too young to have ever seen or known a woman, young Todd is understandably eager to learn all he can about Viola, so he helps the young woman to escape her confinement in Prentisstown.  And with Mayor Prentiss and his posse in hot pursuit the two begin to cross the unexplored wilderness to the distant Farbranch settlement, where Viola hopes to use a radio to communicate with her people...while Todd seeks to learn the truth about the women of Prentisstown.

It must’ve seemed like a great idea at the time.  Based on author Patrick Ness’ 2008 young adult science fiction novel “The Knife of Never Letting Go” and displaying an uncomfortable resemblance to the superior 2020 movie “Love and Monsters,” “Chaos Walking” quickly becomes a dreary, meandering, and vaguely depressing entry in the dystopian future sweepstakes, notable only for being unworthy of the talented performers appearing in both its leading and supporting roles.

Directed by Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) from a screenplay credited to Christopher Ford and the original novel’s author Patrick Ness, the movie’s not even particularly accurate to the book.  With action scenes that lack action, suspense sequences devoid of suspense and CGI effects which elicit nary an ooh nor an ahh, the movie’s as badly produced as it’s badly written.  Worst of all--it’s just plain dull.  Co-star Tom Holland wrings all the humor he can from the picture’s central conceit of audible thoughts, but when the gimmick grows tiresome the movie has nothing left in its bag of tricks.

And that’s a shame--Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are charismatic and likable performers, and deserve better.  Also shortchanged are Mads Mikkelsen, decked out in a cowboy hat and gorilla suit overcoat as the glowering Mayor Prentiss, pop star Nick Jonas as his thuggish son, and David Oyelowo as the town nut who pops up periodically to stir the intolerance pot (Oyelowo’s thoughts swirl amid dirty orange flames).  Only Demian Bichir and Cynthia Erivo escape with most of their dignity intact as Holland’s dad and the mayor of Farbranch, respectively.

In various stages of production since 2011, the script for “Chaos Walking” reportedly passed through the typewriters of five other writers prior to production...and it shows.  Filmed in Scotland and Iceland in 2017 with extensive reshoots scheduled in Atlanta in 2018 and 2019 after poor test screenings, the movie apparently could also be called Chaos Filming.  Author Ness’s original novel is the first book of a trilogy, so expect sequels if the movie turns a profit...although Ridley and Holland at ages 28 and 24 are getting a little long in the tooth for teenager roles.

“Chaos Walking” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and mild sexuality.

“Crisis”   Distributed by Quiver Distribution, 118 Minutes, Rated R, Released February 26, 2021:

Every generation seems to have a cautionary tale of its own about the tragedy of narcotics abuse.  From the silent “Human Wreckage” in 1923 to “The Poppy Is Also a Flower” in 1966 to “Traffic” in 2000, there’s nothing particularly new about the subject of substance abuse and addiction--only the years and the sheer, astonishing numbers have increased.  Quality varies with the movie and the generation.  Released on February 26, ”Crisis,” is in just about the middle.

Featuring three separate but interrelated plotlines, in “Crisis” a tough, honest undercover cop works to destroy an international narcotics ring and its ruthless kingpin while also supervising the recovery of his addicted sister; a college professor also toiling as a consultant to the FDA learns the new experimental non-addictive pain medication he’s been evaluating might be more lethal than therapeutic; and a suburban mom rehabilitating from addiction learns that her straight-arrow teenage son might be peripherally involved with the drug culture.

“Crisis” turns out to be a fairly involving but overly simplistic police procedural-slash-drama about the international trade in illegal (and legal) narcotics, ostensibly placing the audience on the front lines of the epidemic.  The film’s trio of stars (Armie Hammer, Gary Oldman, and Evangeline Lilly) give the picture everything they’ve got, but the denouement--that the bad guys and the good guys work in tandem to make the world go ‘round--is a real bummer for a viewer expecting a more satisfying resolution...especially after an investment of almost two hours.

Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, the filmmaker behind the 2012 crime drama “Arbitrage,” “Crisis” plays a lot like a two-part episode of any tough and hard-edged TV cop drama, from “NYPD Blue” to “Chicago PD” to “Law and Order” in any of its incarnations.  The movie’s not bad, but it’s no classic either.  Armie Hammer is especially good as the tough, dedicated, and incorruptible undercover cop who’s selflessly trying to juggle his responsibilities to his family and job, even as each are reaching crisis levels.

Actor Gary Oldman also acted as one of the movie’s executive producers.  Hammer’s narcotics-addicted sister is played by Lily-Rose Depp, the 21-year-old daughter of actor Johnny Depp.

Filmed on location in Montreal, Quebec and Detroit, “Crisis” is rated R for violence, language, scenes depicting substance abuse, and some sexuality.

“Raya and the Last Dragon”   Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 114 Minutes, Rated PG, Released March 05, 2021:

The imagineers at the animation department at Walt Disney Studios must’ve been working overtime on the lyrical “Raya and the Last Dragon,” released March 05 to 2045 theaters across the United States and Canada (and streaming for a hefty extra charge for subscribers to the studio’s Disney+ online service). Pointedly not a co-production of Pixar Studios, the movie overcomes a slow start and an overly complicated storyline to join the studio’s heritage of classic family entertainment.

In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” teenage Raya is trained by her father, Chief Benja of the Heart Tribe, to follow in the tradition of guarding the sacred orb created by the dragons to guard the land of Kumandra against the Druun, evil spirits who turn people into stone. 

After the scion of the Fang Tribe during an attempt to steal the orb instead accidentally breaks it into pieces which are taken by Kumandra’s other tribes to their homelands, Raya recruits a small group of colorful outcasts, along with the shape-shifting last remnant of the mythical water dragons, to join her on an odyssey to the remote regions of Kumandra.  Their objective is to recover and repair the broken orb, and use it to banish the Druun forever and restore prosperity to the land.

Brilliantly imaginative and visually stunning, “Raya and the Last Dragon” takes its time to get really warmed up but slowly manages to draw the viewer in.  With a unique blend of drama and comedy combined with the studio’s matchless animation, the picture adds a sweetly optimistic and inspiring message about inclusion and unity to produce a genuine modern classic.  The Disney Magic is as effective as ever, and working at full power in this unexpected gem.

While “Raya and the Last Dragon” might appear at first glance to have been produced for a fairly narrow and specialized audience, whether they’re aficionados of animation or students of oriental culture, this is the one picture in a dozen all audiences should take a chance on.  As heartwarming as any in Disney’s colorful history, the picture quietly takes its place alongside the studio’s best.  Stick with it and the rewards are abundant indeed.

Screenings of “Raya and the Last Dragon” are preceded with the charming “Us Again,” a 9-minute short subject also produced by the Walt Disney Studios’ animation department.  Told without dialogue, the story of an elderly couple who recover their love of dancing--and each other--during a sudden rainstorm, “Us Again” alone is well worth the price of admission.

Directed by Disney veteran Don Hall (“Moana”) and Disney rookie Carlos Lopez Estrada from a screenplay by Qui Nguyen and “Crazy Rich Asians” co-screenwriter Adele Kim, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is rated PG for mild violence and scenes of peril.


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