Chaos Walking review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Doug Liman
Cast : Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Kurt Sutter
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 109 min
Opens : 11 March 2021
Rating : PG13

In this Young Adult (YA) sci-fi adventure, the men are thinking out loud, and not in an Ed Sheeran way.

Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) is a boy living in Prentisstown, a settlement on the planet New World. The planet creates a phenomenon whereby every thought a man has is rendered audible and visible as “Noise” – this does not affect women. There are no women left in Prentisstown, so when Todd meets Viola (Daisy Ridley), she is the first woman he’s ever seen. Viola has crash-landed on New World, having lived her whole life on a colony ship. Todd and Viola go on the run and are pursued by Prentisstown mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and the mad preacher Aaron (David Oyelowo).

Chaos Walking is based on Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of Never Letting Go. There are plenty of interesting ideas at play here, and there is the potential for an exploration into the societal roles of gender, and the organisation of societies, that is touched upon if not fully explored. The premise of one’s thoughts being aired out for all to hear is an inherently compelling one, and there is some tension to be mined from that, with characters struggling to mask their thoughts, to suppress their Noise.

The film is solidly cast. Both Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are likeable here, with Holland playing a believably earnest young man, and Ridley as a frightened but resourceful survivor. Their respective characters in this film are not a million miles away from the big franchise characters they’re both best known for portraying.

The supporting cast is strong too, with Mads Mikkelsen cutting an imposing figure, even if his humongous fur coat makes him look like he’s cosplaying as the bear from The Revenant. Demián Bichir is affecting with very little screen time as one of Todd’s two dads, while Cynthia Erivo is a commanding presence as the mayor of a distant settlement. Nick Jonas is suitably petulant as Prentiss’ son, who is jealous of Todd, whom Prentiss seems to favour over him.

While the Noise might work conceptually on the page, the way it’s rendered in the movie is very awkward. Chaos Walking is at once dull and a sensory overload, as if by design. Most of the movie consists of reverb-heavy ADR lines, and it gets annoying after a while. This is the hook of the story, so there’s no getting away from it.

Ironically for a movie about characters’ inner lives, the characters in Chaos Walking all feel kind of flat and standard issue. The most interesting element to Todd is that he struggles with expectations of how masculinity must be performed, and of putting on a tough exterior. Meanwhile, Viola is little more than “the girl”. Both actors do what they can, it isn’t quite enough.

Most of the dialogue is exposition, and there’s a lot of table-setting. Even though this is a movie in which the protagonists are relentlessly pursued, it rarely feels dangerous enough. The stakes are ostensibly high, but the movie doesn’t seem terribly interested in them. While there is some humour to be derived from Todd’s awkwardness around the first woman he’s ever met, the movie is largely self-serious which means several moments – including a scene in which a naked Todd wrestles a snakelike beast in a lake – are unintentionally funny.

Visually, Chaos Walking is patently uninteresting. Mostly filmed in forests in Québec, the movie is going for a frontier-style aesthetic with the horses, log cabins and fur coats. It’s not that this idiom can’t work in a sci-fi setting, but the movie just doesn’t feel sufficiently dynamic or engaging, and it’s easy to forget that New World isn’t just earth.

Anyone who’s followed the news of the movie’s development knows that it’s been a tumultuous process. The movie was announced in 2011, just before the height of the dystopian YA adaptation craze (the first Hunger Games movie opened in 2012), and after multiple writers took a crack at the script, director Doug Liman began principal photography on the movie in 2017. By this time, audiences have largely lost interest in Hunger Games-adjacent properties: the final film in the Divergent series didn’t even get made.

An early cut of Chaos Walking was deemed “unreleasable” by Lionsgate executives, an adjective that is and will continue to be an albatross around this movie’s neck. Ness was brought on board to write the reshoots, but scheduling proved difficult because both Holland and Ridley were busy with other films.

Summary: Chaos Walking benefits from a good cast and is playing with some thought-provoking ideas, but its execution is altogether too dull. It’s far from the outright disaster that the troubled production might indicate but is too generic to revive the flagging dystopian YA adaptation genre.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

American Made

For F*** Magazine

AMERICAN MADE 

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright Olsen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Lara Grice, Jed Rees, Caleb Landry Jones
Genre : Biopic/Comedy/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene And Coarse Language)

As the star of the Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise has performed many daring stunts. In American Made, he plays someone who, by his own admission, leaps before he looks. It is 1978, and TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) is recruited by CIA operative Schaefer (Gleeson) to take surveillance photos of communist rebels in South America. Soon, Seal is tasked with supplying the Nicaraguan Contras with American-supplied arms. Seal is also hired by the Medellín Cartel, transporting shipments of cocaine from Colombia and Panama to the United States. Seal’s wife Lucy (Wright Olsen) and their young children relocate from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Mena, Arkansas. Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport becomes the base of operations for Seal’s burgeoning concern, as Seal rakes in the cash and evades the long arm of the law by becoming a DEA informant and operative. As a player in a game with dizzyingly high stakes, it will take all of Seal’s wits to keep him from crashing and burning.

American Made reteams Cruise with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman, who crafts a free-wheeling retro comedy thriller which is as engaging as it is entertaining. This is based on a true story, and you might know the name ‘Barry Seal’ from films and TV shows like Doublecrossed, The Infiltrator and Narcos. American Made certainly feels like the ‘Hollywood version’ of Seal’s story: despite the twists and turns, the narrative is so straightforward as to feel simplified and streamlined to keep things moving along. This is to say nothing of the fact that Cruise doesn’t resemble the real-life Barry Seal, who was pudgy and balding, in the slightest.

However, the way the film is assembled and the way screenwriter Gary Spinelli structures the plot, it’s easy to get swept up in the proceedings. Much of the comedy is derived from the inherent absurdity of the situations that Seal gets caught up in, and the film open acknowledges how crazy everything is without coming off as too flippant. It’s comparable in tone to 1990’s Air America, which starred Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson as unwitting drug smuggling pilots during the Vietnam War.

Liman has considerable fun with the film’s style: the opening Universal Studios logo is interrupted by the old-school logo from the 70s, and the other production companies get retro-fied logos too. Uruguayan cinematographer César Charlone of City of God fame provides a mix of slick sweeping aerial shots and 70s-style handheld closeups, with the heat of the South American jungles radiating off the screen. The plane pursuit sequences are realistic and hair-raising, but came at a cost. Tragically, stunt pilot Alan D. Purwin and his Venezuelan co-pilot, Carlos Berl, died in a crash caused by foggy weather near Medellin, Colombia.

Barry Seal was a cog in a much larger machine, but this film places him front and centre and the film is Cruise’s to carry the whole way. The embarrassing dud that was this year’s reboot of The Mummy made some feel that Cruise’s star power was starting to wane, but American Made sees him back in top form. As the morally ambiguous charming rogue who’s in over his head but loving it, the Seal character is right in Cruise’s wheelhouse.

Cruise eclipses everyone else in the movie, such that the supporting players barely make an impact. Gleeson affects a convincing American accent as CIA operative Schaefer, who registers as a cipher and a composite character of some kind. Wright Olsen is, as expected from films of this type, relegated to the role of ‘the wife’, fretting over her husband’s questionable activities but eager to enjoy the lifestyle that said activities fund. Caleb Landry Jones visibly enjoys playing Lucy’s troublemaking, ne’er-do-well brother, whose sloppiness puts Seal in danger of being found out. It all revolves around Cruise and the other characters seem incidental, reinforcing the ideal of Seal as a mythic antihero around whom other forces revolve. It’s fine because Cruise’s performance more than anchors the film, but it does remind us that we’re watching a movie, detracting some authenticity from the real story.

American Made is a movie that’s powered by Cruise’s megawatt grin. Because it’s pitched as a comedy, the murky morality never becomes something audiences will think too deeply about. We’re invited to join the antihero on the ride of his life, and Liman spins an engrossing, invigorating yarn. With Cruise in the cockpit, this ride is an eminently enjoyable one.

Summary: A high-spirited biopic that packs in the laughs and thrills, American Made doesn’t delve deeply enough into the political intrigue to be very substantive, but it’s an entertaining, well-made Tom Cruise vehicle all the same.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Wall

For F*** Magazine

THE WALL

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)

You won’t hear any Pink Floyd in this movie, nor will you witness Matt Damon and Jing Tian fighting of hordes of lizard beasts. Instead, The Wall centres on two American soldiers: Sgt. Allen Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) and Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews (Cena). It is 2007, and in the Iraqi desert, sniper Matthews and his spotter Isaac find themselves targeted by an enemy sniper. This is Juba (Nakli), who taunts Isaac over a radio he has taken from one of his victims. Isaac finds himself pinned down with only a crumbling section of wall for cover, as he engages in a game of wits with his unseen tormentor.

Dwain Worrell’s screenplay for The Wall was the first spec script that fledgling Amazon Studios had purchased. The script landed on the 2014 Black List of most-liked unproduced screenplays, and it’s easy to see the appeal of this project on paper. Worrell taps on his experience as a playwright to craft something more akin to a stage play than your average action drama flick.

Unfortunately, like the titular structure, The Wall begins to fall apart. It soon becomes clear that the premise, while clever, is stretched way too thin, unable to sustain a feature-length film. For most of the movie’s duration, the protagonist and antagonist communicate only by radio, and despite director Doug Liman’s best efforts, audiences will start to feel restless. It sure feels longer than its 90 minutes. Liman, having helmed The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Edge of Tomorrow, knows his way around an action sequence, but The Wall serves up precious few moments of action.

Liman does a fine job of placing the audience in the moment – one’s mouth might start to feel a little parched looking at Taylor-Johnson’s and Cena’s faces caked in dust. Viewers who are starting to feel summer movie season fatigue might be drawn to this minimalist action thriller, but The Wall just doesn’t have enough tricks up its sleeve. Contrast this with, say, last year’s The Shallows, in which Blake Lively was essentially being held hostage by a shark. In that film, the obstacles flung at the protagonist were varied enough, the threat visceral enough and the environment deceptively beautiful enough to hold our attention. Despite being wily and lethal, the enemy sniper Juba is no great white shark.

Taylor-Johnson commits to this and does look like he’s being put through absolute hell. Cena plays a supporting role, and not too much is required of him acting-wise. This reviewer thinks Cena’s true calling is comedy, and while there’s some banter between the two, this is mostly serious stuff. Nakli delivers what amounts to a purely vocal performance. Juba is erudite and crafty, quoting Edgar Allan Poe to Isaac while attempting to get under his skin and into his head. While a fun dynamic between tormentor and victim develops, Juba doesn’t feel like a multi-faceted character, even when we learn his requisite tragic back-story. The character is apparently based on an alleged sniper – it is unclear whether ‘Juba’ is a real individual, a pseudonym shared by several snipers, or merely an urban legend cooked up for propaganda purposes.

This reviewer was willing to be strung along by The Wall, even with its lulls and treading water (in the desert no less), provided there was a spectacular payoff. Alas, the ending is a cop-out, and marks the film as an ultimately hollow experience. Despite a competent leading turn from Taylor-Johnson and a convincingly harsh desert milieu, ultimately proves impenetrable.

Summary: a spare, experimental action drama, The Wall’s intriguing premise wears thin all too quickly, leaving viewers grasping at sand.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Edge of Tomorrow

For F*** Magazine

EDGE OF TOMORROW

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Franz Drameh
Genre : Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Opens : 6 June 2014
Rating : PG13

It’s like this: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Major Bill Cage (Cruise) learns this the hard way, forced onto the frontlines against his will. In the near future, Europe has been invaded by a vicious alien species called the Mimics, and former ad man and PR guy Cage hasn’t the first clue how to fight them. He has no idea how to work his Jacket exo-suit and dies in battle, but reawakens, living the whole day over again. Over the course of several “tries”, he realises he is caught in a time loop, and seeks out the help of Rita Vrataski, a seasoned warrior nicknamed “The Angel of Verdun”. Through lots of trial and error and under the tutelage of Rita, Cage starts to get the hang of it, figuring out how to outwit the Mimics in the hopes of winning the war.



            It’s like this: at first glance, Edge of Tomorrow, based on the light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, looks pretty generic. Once you’ve seen one military sci-fi action alien invasion flick, you’ve seen them all, right? Director Doug Liman knows you’re thinking this, he knows his audience will be familiar with all the genre has to offer, and so he deconstructs the clichés and turns them on their heads. Despite superficial evidence to the contrary, Edge of Tomorrow is fresh and inventive, Liman and co. having unearthed new, exciting elements with which to elevate what could have been loud, dumb, derivative blockbuster fare. There’s a propulsive energy combined with just enough self-awareness, the screenplay by Christopher MacQuarrie with sibling team Jez and John-Henry Butterworth an unexpectedly humorous one.

            It’s like this: Edge of Tomorrow looks a lot more conventional than last year’s Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi action movie Oblivion, but it winds up being the more creative and entertaining of the two. We’ve seen soldiers in robotic exoskeleton suits in everything from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to District 9, so that’s not where Edge of Tomorrowstands out design-wise. The look of the Mimics is what gives this film the edge over other alien invasion films in recent memory. Remember how utterly bland the aliens looked in Battleship? Here, we have angry-looking bundles of spiky roots, lashing out and striking with alarming speed and ferocity. These are genuinely scary opponents that are a lot of fun to watch in action. The film’s central beachhead battle is also a refreshing change of locale from the city centres in which such wars are often fought in the movies. From a helicopter crash in a barn to a training arena in which spinning metal blades stand in for the Mimics, the action sequences are consistently terrific and eye-catching.

            It’s like this: Tom Cruise has remained a brand name A-lister for well over 20 years and once again proves why. Instead of being an invincible badass, his Bill Cage starts the movie as a vulnerable, unwilling fighter way out of his depth, someone who tries to charm his way out of combat duty but who is unable to. Just as it was satisfying seeing Bill Murray get better and better at playing the piano or ice carving with every successive February 2nd, it is satisfying seeing Bill Cage gradually grow into a skilled warrior. It seems Cruise has set some of his ego aside, allowing for several amusingly ignominious death scenes early on.

It’s like this: Emily Blunt isn’t who most moviegoers would pin as the next Sigourney Weaver, but darned if she doesn’t kick a whole lot of ass in this movie. The ever-versatile Blunt is able to sell not only Rita’s physical toughness, but her determination and steely demeanour as well. In the interplay between her and Cruise, the Romancing the Stone-style screwball comedy is kept to a suitable level, and the lengths he goes to in order to win her trust and respect are admirable. Bill Paxton does a funny, sly parody of “tough blowhard drill sergeant” types, and Squad J, the group of soldiers Cage is forced to join, are reminiscent of the Colonial Marines from Aliens in the best way possible.

            It’s like this: Edge of Tomorrow takes the time loop, what might be considered a tiresome gimmick, and uses it to give what would already have been a decent sci-fi action flick that extra something. It’s well-paced, it’s well-acted, the action and the spectacle is engaging and immersive and it’s just about the best use of 3D we’ve seen in a live-action feature this year thus far. This puts recent attempts at military-centric alien invasion movies like Battle: Los Angeles and the afore-mentioned Battleship to absolute shame. We didn’t quite expect Edge of Tomorrow to be this clever, this adrenaline-pumping and this much darn fun.
Summary: It’s like this: go see the most invigorating action sci-fi film in recent memory today rather than tomorrow.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong