Beautiful Raya, A moving, cautionary tale
Though it does follow the template Disney has cashed in on for years, Raya and the Last Dragon is one of the strongest entries from the Mouse House in many years. Beautiful and moving, it tells the tale of Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a young warrior who sets out to recover the five pieces of the fractured dragon gem, which combats the plague known as the Druun. Unfortunately, a sense of distrust and tribalism has swept the land, so convincing those that have the fragments of the talisman is going to be a bit tricky. A visual stunner from start to finish, it would have been an empty exercise if not for the moving screenplay by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, who inject a sense of urgency to the story, giving it heft and a sense of timeliness. It's no accident that the film's most powerful metaphor is the sight of people who've been turned to stone by the Druun, "a plague born of human discord." Trust, redemption and hope are at the center of Raya, which powerfully reminds us of the danger of living in a broken world. Here's hoping the movie's younger viewers heed its warning and correct the mistakes we've made that have left us dispirited and fractured. In theaters and on Disney+.
Slick Chaos a timely big-budget entertainment
Doug Liman's Chaos Walking benefits greatly from having been delayed from its initial 2017 release date. Once the rage, adaptations of YA dystopian novels quickly overstayed their welcome after a glut of them flooded the market, then disappeared. As a result, Chaos seems fresh, but also benefits greatly from director Doug Liman's slick stylings and pacing, a story that proves constantly surprising. The chemistry is strong between Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, two young people on the run from a mad despot (Mad Mikkelsen) who rules over a colony on a distant planet. The production values are top-notch, the film looking far more expensive than its $125-million-dollar budget, while the scope of the story is tailor-made for the big screen. Perhaps my perspective is skewed from not having seen a movie like this in such a long time, but at times it swept me away in the only way a big-budget Hollywood production can, and having gone so long without seeing films of this size, I welcomed it. In theaters.
Can't look away from Allen v. Farrow
Riveting in a watching a train wreck sorta way, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering's documentary Allen v. Farrow takes a deep dive in examining the charges of child sexual abuse brought against Woody Allen concerning his interactions with his adopted daughter, Dylan. Featuring interviews with Mia Farrow, Dylan, family friends and various film critics, the movie paints a damning picture of Allen, portraying him as a predator who was not above grooming and preying on his lover's adopted children. Of course, these accusations are well-known, but the litany of details provided by Farrow's intimates and Dylan herself seem beyond reproach. Particularly damning is never-before-seen videotapes Farrow made of her daughter recounting her experience days after the alleged abuse occurred. Obviously, only one side of this story is being heard; Allen is present only through selected excerpts from his audio recording of his memoir, Apropos of Nothing, in which he tries to justify his actions. Still, there's something genuine about this high-gloss piece of sensationalism that makes you weep for the victims. On HBO Max.