As we (mostly) take collective faltering steps toward the precarious and ever-eroding notion of "normal," with the world changing and remaining the same, and things making less sense the more we think about them, I've found myself retreating, for a couple of evenings, to some semblance of what was.
It induced a not-unpleasant disconnectedness shot through with a surprising nostalgia. It also brought longing for a simpler time, when lockdown provided a justification for hermitude, when the social contract was edited down to its outline and everything was quiet for a while. There are moments when I reminisce on the simple pleasures of going to the movies, of social gatherings in general. I have been vaccinated and when/until the nanobots take over my brain, I will probably return to previous standards of engagement. (Editor's note: There are no nanobots in the vaccines — he's joking! — please don't say you read about vaccine nanobots in the Journal.) For the time being, though, it feels like we still live in a nebulous, opaque space.
I, for one, have been living the same work life I have for nearly two decades (this column ain't it, for anyone wondering), albeit with masks and distance and sneeze guards and hands raw from washing — much like anyone who cannot or does not work remotely. My contact with anyone else, outside of that context, has been severely limited, maybe most pointedly in my movie "going." I haven't been inside a regular theater in more than a year. Eleven months ago I wrote that I didn't really miss it. For the most part, I still don't. As much as I cut my teeth on the experience of movies in that setting, I am also very much a child of the video-store era. In a way, quarantine viewing has been a return to the most fondly remembered part of my cinematic "education."
Still, I found myself drifting back to content that would have felt more normal, more appropriate even, 18 months ago. Both of this week's movies are playing in theaters but are, to varying degrees, remnants of a cultural context that does not and may not ever exist again.
The first of the two, a raucously enjoyable secret-identity actioner, is innocuous enough on its face and I kind of love it. But it is from a perhaps outmoded school of bleach-white, male-centric moviemaking that every day seems more arcane. The second — a dystopian future YA, sci-fi thing that has been on the shelf for something like four years — likewise feels like a product of the past, albeit the more recent one. Part of my sensibility is drawn to what it is used to and I feel obligated to acknowledge that, while it may seem culturally tone-deaf, I am not oblivious to it.
NOBODY. No surprise: The pedigree on this thing reads like a hit-list of dumb stuff I've raved about. Written by Derek Kolstad, who created John Wick and to whom we are thus eternally indebted, directed by Ilya Naishuller, whose previous feature Hardcore Henry (2015) was astonishgly compelling, and starring Bob Odenkirk, whose contained rage I have found charming and hilarious since the days of Mr. Show with Bob and David, it's pure action, a sort of vigilante piece without the nihilism that, in a world of pure cinema, represents simple pleasure.
Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk), a schmoe, lives a life of definitive mundanity. A bookkeeper at his father-in-law's (Michael Ironside) metal fabrication company with a teenaged son (Gage Munroe) who disrespects him, a younger daughter (Paisley Cadorath) to whom he remains a hero, and a wife (Connie Nielsen) who, despite an abiding love, grows increasingly distant, Hutch's life is all rut. But then the family home is invaded, Hutch reigns in an impulse to commit acts of violence and reconnects with a long-concealed aspect of his personality. The Russian mob gets involved, Christopher Lloyd packs a number of shotguns and it's a gleefully bloody good time. R. 92M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, STREAMING.
CHAOS WALKING has been out for a while, but it has been finished (or at least in the works) for much longer, plus the whole time-has-no-meaning era in which we live, so I'm OK with it.
Director Doug Liman (Swingers, 1996; Locked Down, 2021) has a reputation for exactitude and demandingness, which mostly means his movies get very expensive. This can work out in our favor as easily as not and the rumor for some time has been that Chaos Walking would be a Heaven's Gate-style debacle. That's understandable: It's a big-budget, world-building fantasy with a mind-boggling cast that apparently required much reshooting and recutting. I expected it to be abysmal. It isn't, despite some nonsensical aspects and a generally unfinished feeling. I found myself unexpectedly entertained.
A couple centuries in the future, Todd (Tom Holland) lives in an all-male human settlement of a sort of new Earth. He's been shielded from the village's troubling past by his two adopted fathers (Damián Bechir and Kurt Sutter), while also groomed by the messianic mayor (Mads Mikkelsen) to join his cadre. And then a human spacecraft crash lands, a young woman (Daisy Ridley) the only survivor. Oh, I forgot to mention the planet's atmosphere causes males' thoughts to manifest as audio-visual phenomena.
It's maybe a little on the nose as commentary on misogyny and xenophobia, but I'll take it. PG13. 109M. STREAMING.