Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"I can fly!" - Chronicle Review

It is rare to find a film that emotionally engages me. It could be because I'm a narcissistic sociopath with no soul to speak of but I'm pretty sure it's because most films churned out by Story Corp. are shallow machinations aimed at making a quick buck which wouldn't be so bad if they still managed to emotionally engage me in something other than sheer contempt for the human race and the film industry. Would it have killed someone to make the Transformers movies something more than a joke about how people will watch anything as long as you insult their intelligence while flashing deafening explosions in their face? Would it have killed James Cameron to come up with an actual plot for Avatar instead of emotionally manipulating the audience with sociopolitical agendas? Would it have killed George Lucas to actually come up with a story for the Star Wars prequels? I ask these questions because it apparently didn't kill director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis, relative newcomers to the film making foray I might add, when they made the film of this review: Chronicle.

When I saw the trailers for this movie I thought to myself: Another found footage movie, just great! The last found footage movie I ever saw was Apollo 18 and it was a piece of shit! Plus this movie's about kids with superpowers. Another superhero movie? Is that all Hollywood cranks out when not crapping out terrible remakes of obscure TV shows like 21 Jump Street (And yes by now it's obscure I didn't know about it and I'm a television addict!). It was bad enough when they were remaking shit we recognized but now this?
To cut a long, insane, thought short, I really didn't think much of this movie. Found footage movies don't work unless they're titled Paranormal Activity, superhero movies have long since passed their expiration date (I haven't seen Captain America or Thor, that's how sick of them I am. I'm not saying they're bad movies, I'm saying I prefer a little variety to my movies), and teen movies piss me off because when was the last teen movie since the Breakfast Club that actually was worth a damn and not full of stereotypes? (So much for cutting a long, insane, thought short!)

However, tonight I just finished watching this film and I have to say it is, so far, one of the best films of the year. The story isn't anything new, it's actually very familiar, yet still manages to feel more original than any movie that was adapted from a Hasbro toy line. What makes this film stand out is how engaging the characters are. They're not stereotypes, they are people with depth and emotions, people you'd actually like in real life (for the most part), and when something happens to them you feel for them and care. This is rare to find in a mainstream film these days. Most other movies I'm wishing the protagonists get killed because that's all I care about seeing by the time the second half of the movie starts because the characters aren't people I'm emotionally invested in, they're just potential fodder to the lackluster film I just paid seven bucks for (if I'm not seeing it in 3-D, which I never do, or in IMAX, which I reserve for Chris Nolan films). But with Chronicle you care and you feel like it's seven bucks well spent (and it is worth it to see this film at full price, I highly recommend it).

To being the non-spoilerish portion of the review I will start with a basic synopsis of the film. Chronicle is about three teenage boys who discover a mysterious object in the forest that grants them telekinetic powers. The boys are: Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan) a reclusive boy who hides behind a camera due to his abusive father and rough high school life, Matt (played by Alex Russell) Andrew's cousin who likes to quote philosophers and is Andrew's only friend, and Steve (played by Michael B. Jordan) a popular student running for class president and somewhat friend of Matt's at the beginning of the film. The three of them discover a strange object buried underground that grants them powers beyond their wildest dreams. You've seen most of the antics they engage in already in the trailers as they play with their abilities by playing pranks on people. However, over the course of the film they develop a strong friendship whilst developing their powers which they soon realize come with great responsibility.
Chronicle isn't about these kids learning to become superheroes, this isn't a superhero movie, it's a tragic tale of a friendship dashed by hardship and corrupting power. If you're looking for a feel-good movie this isn't it. If you are looking for a movie that will engage you emotionally and keep you engaged from beginning to end, then this movie is right up your alley.

Getting into more spoilerish territory I'll move onto the best part about this movie.

The best part about this movie are the three central characters who are played by brilliant young actors. You can't help but love these characters because they are believable, realistic, and have depth to them. This is the first movie in a long time where I actually remember the characters' names. DeHaan performance as Andrew is gripping as his character crackles with intense power fueled by all his repressed emotions. You feel sorry for this kid as he's struggling with an abusive father and sick mother at home while facing the hardships of high school. Russell gives a heartwarming and heartbreaking performance as Andrew's cousin Matt who serves as a sort of "leader" of the group, admittedly Matt is the weakest of the three characters but nonetheless he plays a pivotal role as the moral compass of the group. However, my favorite is undoubtedly Michael B. Jordan, who plays Steve, who really warms up to Andrew and tries to help him come out of his shell. There isn't a single scene where Jordan doesn't come off as charismatic and loveable as Steve. Undoubtedly, he and Andrew form a more tighter bond than with Matt as there are more scenes where both Steve and Andrew discuss things like Andrew's tendency to distance himself through his camera and how Andrew could be more open socially. This fact makes Steve's death later in the film that much more powerful and unlike every other death I've ever seen in a recent film I too felt the loss. My jaw literally dropped to the ground in the theater when the film cuts to Steve's funeral. (To note, the only other time this happened was when I saw Gandalf die in the first Lord of The Rings). You get to know these kids and grow to understand, like, and relate to them. This is because, regardless of the fact that this is a movie about kids with superpowers, this movie feels real (in a way no amount of 3D can recreate).

This is where the found footage aspect manages to help the film, in making what's taking place seem real. The style is used at its best when the boys are playing pranks using their powers. Who wouldn't be playing pranks like this if they could move things with their minds? And who wouldn't want to film it all? I would be posting that crap on youtube every day if I could. This is a logical step teenaged boys would take when they find out they have superpowers, what anybody would do if they had superpowers. Adding to this is the very real emotions that the boys have when they're just hanging out together. They feel like normal kids just chilling together, the only difference is that they're hanging out about a thousand feet in the air. In turn, you begin to develop an attachment to these characters, and that's what makes this movie shine.

Regardless of the fact that every and all shots are "found footage" from Andrew's cameras to the camera the police put inside Andrew's hospital room for "investigative purposes," which detracts from the realism a bit, you manage to stay focused on the story of these friends as their lives spiral out of control. Ironically, like every found footage movie ever made, the style not only helps the film but weakens it as well. All because it's difficult, even in an age where camera phones are in almost every person's pocket, to justify the presence of a camera. Take the aforementioned hosptial scene near the end of the film, the lack of a proper camera in Andrew's hosptial room requires the silly "hand wavy" explanation for a random camera in the room via a "police investigation." This is exacerbated by the resulting scene captured on the camera where Andrew's abusive father attempts to hit his severely injured son in the wake of his wife's death. This makes no sense because people act differently when they know they're being watched, and Andrew's father knew about the camera because the police told him about it. He wouldn't have struck Andrew if the plot hadn't required it. However, I digress, this is only a minor flaw in an otherwise damn good movie. Even the usual justification for cameras, Andrew's coping mechanism, is a better excuse than the usual "somebody has to document this" bullshit. The film is much more deft at justifying cameras for the most part.

The story is simple for the most part. Like I said before the strongest aspect are the characters but that doesn't translate into bad story. It's a tragedy about a group of boys who forge a friendship due to their being bestowed incredible powers which ultimately gets destroyed by Andrew as his repressed feelings brought on by his abusive father and unlucky social life culminate into a rampage that not only costs the life of Steve but Andrew's as well. Andrew isn't even the antagonist, in fact he is more of a tragic protagonist. What happens to him is just a result of his hardships in life and, combined with his almost godlike powers, it drives him to his downfall. To be honest I don't feel like divulging it completely because if you haven't seen the movie you shouldn't be spoiling it for yourself. Go see it. It's worth the money to see it full price. I deserves your money unlike most other films.

Ironically, I couldn't help but notice how Chronicle was like how the Star Wars prequels should've been like. Andrew is a person living a hard life who is granted great power that he eventually abuses which leads him to the dark side. Unlike the prequels, however, Chronicle manages to make the downfall dramatic and engaging.

In conclusion I give Chronicle five floating baseballs out of five for it's emotionally engaging story, memorable trio of characters, and excellent use of the found footage technique regardless of a few minor issues in logic.

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