Sunday, May 20, 2012

With Great Mental Power Comes Great Teen Angst

Spider-Man Meets Carrie By Way Of The Blair Witch Project might serve to sum up Chronicle, a new film in the found footage genre but the first to feature superhero powers.

Three high school kids - the popular Steve, Matt and Matt's shy cousin Andrew (ably played by Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell and Dane DeHaan, respectively) - are exposed to something they find underground after discovering a hole in the forest floor.  That something is never explained or seen again (it looks a bit like Superman's crystal ship from Superman: The Movie).

The boys soon start to develop nosebleeds and then telekinetic powers.  They move Lego blocks around and skip stones over the water with just the power of their minds.  Soon they are doing much, much more than that.

At the center of the movie is Andrew who is bullied both at school and at home by his alcoholic father.  His dad lost his firefighter's job and stays home taking care of Andrew's terminally ill mother (when he isn't out drinking).  The father constantly takes his frustrations out on Andrew both verbally and physically.  When Andrew gets his powers he decides to do something about the abuse.

Chronicle - written by Max Landis, based on a story by Landis and director Josh Trank - feels right.  The actors all give terrific performances and the mid-20s Trank and Landis still recall the high school experience well.  Soon after getting their abilities, the guys do, well, guy stuff:  throwing baseballs at each other's faces,  using an unmanned leaf blower to blow up the skirts of some girls, goofing off in a parking lot where they move a woman's car into another parking spot 30 feet from where she parked.

At 84 minutes long, the movie does not overstay its welcome like so many of the overlong blockbusters of the last several years.  For example, there's no unnecessary love story - as in the bloated mess that was Green Lantern - to slow things down.  Chronicle is lean and the story is well-told with no waste or filler.

The visual effects are first rate - the climactic battle at the end recalls Superman II and in some ways puts the Avengers movie's similar final battle to shame.  Between Chronicle and District 9 - the former with a budget of $15 million, the latter at $30 million - you wonder where and what the $200 million for these big budget effects movies goes into.

The only real quibble is with the found footage aspect.  This movie would have played just as well without that now-tired and overused method.  We start with Andrew's single camera, then a bit later Matt's lady friend comes in shooting video for her blog, so we have a second camera's pov, but then we move on to police dashboard cams, ATM cameras, hospital CCTs, bystander's iPhones and such.  It really just got silly trying to maintain the found footage illusion.  Simply shooting the film in a documentary format with lots of handheld camerawork would have do the job just as well.

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