Saturday 4 February 2012

Review: Chronicle

Year: 2012
Director: Josh Trank
Screenplay: Max Landis
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell

Warning: I will not be too specific about certain plot elements, however, spoilers are bound.

Synopsis is here

Chronicle is great fun. In fact at times it's pretty awesome. I mean this in the traditional definition, as opposed to the casual modern trend. The films spectacle actually brought forth a certain amount of amazement. I was in no way expecting it. Particularly from a film, which had only been described to me as "the found footage superhero movie". Such quick branding is correct but almost gives a disservice to a film which confidently melds elements of Superman, Spideman, Cloverfield, and Ginger Snaps (or maybe the breakfast club) into one entertaining mass.

It follows the typical beats of the super hero movie, but it doesn't feel derivative. Far from it. If Cloverfield was to tailor fit Godzilla for the YouTube generation, then Chronicle feels like the extremely snug super hero costume for the same people. Establishing the characters quickly and solidly, the film does well to try and combat the some of the issues that come with the found footage sub-genre. We are given a withdrawn character; Andrew (DeHaan) who decides to place his focus into documenting what he can see, if nothing else for himself. It's clear that it keeps him occupied from all the tragic elements that haunt his life. He states that; it "creates a barrier", between himself and what's happening within him and the other characters. Not only does it help detail the obsession with filming, but you can sense the trouble brewing from such statements.

But before then, we see and sense the fun. As these three fast friends, discover an artefact that given them extraordinary powers, we watch them jerk about with them in a way that only teens would. In a way that we would in the same circumstance. They learn and discover more and we are reminded of that same thrill that Peter Parker had in Spiderman. While it doesn't have the same exhilaration that Tobey Maguire infused, when he first got bitten by that bitch of a spider, it's still in the same ballpark.

Yet, in the same way we would lark about if we had powers (if only I could control gravity), Chronicle realises it's that real life would get in the way just easily. As the trios powers grow, so do their issues. The film cleverly mirrors adolescence and home problems with the increasing abilities. Andrew whose background is already shrouded in darkness (dying mother, booze father) begins to fall into his own egoism.
The philosophical aspects of Schopenhauer, briefly noted in the beginning of the film start to come into play and the tension and spectacle rises. To quote Nietzsche: "If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you." Andrew seems to be staring more intently than Anakin.

The film rolls at a great pace, with deeper characterisation and better story telling than bigger films within the same genre. It's almost embarrassing looking at how effective this movie is in comparison to the likes of The Green Lantern, which could struggled to even establish why we should be watching Ryan Reynolds making huge green fists. The effects are not up to Transformers standard, but the investment of what's going on allows us to overlook this. Chronicle does build to an effective and power crescendo which bypassed my admittedly low expectations and provided something that was really quite thrilling.

It's not without it's flaws. The film, like many found footage features, can't full shake off the restraints of the sub-genre. It's clear to see when the film is providing us with establishing shots that wouldn't be part of the characters concern. The film's final third is greatly entertaining but also forgets at times it's meant to be user utilized content. Also, some of the plot points not only has a distinct smell of the magical negro, but also highlight a small issue with some of the mechanics of the film.

For the most part however, Chronicle sets it's sights as a film that could gain cult status. It plays with superhero story effectively and is solidly entertaining throughout. The makers of all the next generation of upcoming comic adaptations, could do little harm with checking out what this does right.

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Review: 2011 ( U.K release 2012)
Director: Sean Durkin
Screenplay: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olson, John Hawkes

Synopsis is here:

I have all the respect in the world for Sean Durkin, the writer/director of Martha Marcy May Marlene. It's an original screenplay of a premise that you don't see that often. It is a wonderfully accomplished feature d├ębut from a technical standpoint, with some striking photography and match cuts. The central performance from Elizabeth Olson shows that she certainly looks like someone whose career looks worth following. It's not that it's a bad film in any real way. But I kept asking myself, why does it feel so inconsequential?

Personally; I wanted more, and while that's not really the films fault, I did find myself underwhelmed with it all. The films ambiguous ending that should leave chills up the spine only left me cold and limp. The whole day I've asked why is that?

It's not for the films lack of trying. Far from it. In fact there's many aspects of the film I admired. Martha, an unreliable protagonist ebbs in and out of a timeline that is shattered as much as her memory. She has no awareness of the time that's passed and neither do we as we are thrown back and forth through isolated moments, highlighting not only the confusion, but the paranoia of the situation. As the movie unravels and we slowly gain a certain amount of sense as to what happened to this poor girls situation, we realise the danger that the girl is in and how damaged she really is. The fact that Martha cannot fathom the differences between the sexual free for all aspects of the cult and swimming naked around her sisters house (where children maybe present) quietly illustrate how broken down her barriers are in the beginning. 

This is not a film to show Roman Polanski, as the shades of Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murders (as well as aspects of the Children of God) are rampant, even if unintentional. The farm that this new age cult have taken up has that same insidious intent hidden behind incoherent hippie babble and false smiles. The leader; Patrick (John Hawkes), is a master of subtle manipulation. Lovebombing and grooming his followers, Patrick comes across as everything such vulnerable and lost young people would cling to. Once emotionally deteriorated we see hints of what he wishes to mould them into.
I love the idea of all this and I find myself attracted to films like that with such lost characters such as Martha. However, any emotion found in the appears to fade as quickly she remembers them. There are hints at something deeper and more involving, but I just couldn't get past the surface. While we don't need overtly explicit scenes in a film like this, Durkin's film held me at a distance that was a touch too far too investing into anything other than a passing fancy.

The nightmares and tension almost reach a befitting climax, but at the expense of a film that hasn't really built up the pace for them. Hawkes and Olson win out on the strength of their performances and the film generates a troubling aura when the two are together. However, in the end it just doesn't do enough to be as memorable as I felt it could be. It doesn't help that after watching films like Jonestown which documents cults at their very worst, you remember that real life always has a way of reminding you that it's always scarier.