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Monday, 31 December 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Chronicle

Directed by: Josh Trank

Produced by: John Davis
Adam Schroeder

Screenplay by: Max Landis

Story: Max Landis
Josh Trank

Starring: Dane DeHaan
Alex Russel
Michael B. Jordan
Michael Kelly
Ashley Hinshaw

Cinematography by: Matthew Jensen

Editing by: Elliot Greenberg

Studio: Davis Entertainment

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): February 1, 2012 (United Kingdom)
February 3, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 83 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $12 million

Box office revenue: $126, 636, 097

Hey there folks, me again (duh, you're reading the blog, aren't you?), just being my usual self, procrastinating and putting of my university work, nursing a hangover and shooting the ahem! Yesterday, I finished Kafka's wonderful Metamorphosis again, and I'm thinking that somewhere down the line, our paths will cross once more, as I would love to adapt that and In The Penal Colony in the future. Kafka is one of the very few writers who is a genuine original lacking anything that could connect his work with someone else. The only writer similar is Albert Camus, who is far more philosophically inclined and channels his readers in a certain direction, as opposed to Kafka's blank canvas. So, in between my digressions which lead to forget this is a film reviewing blog, you might just get the odd review, so keep your eyes posted!

Right, so today's (and possibly tomorrow's)(now today's!) film for review is Chronicle, the debut feature film of Josh Trank, whose most notable work in the past was as an editor, writer and director of the Spike television series The Kill Point. Written by Max Landis, Chronicle follows teenager Andrew (Dane DeHaan), who starts videotaping his life, which we see involves a trouble domestic situation, and his being bullied regularly in school. Invited to a party by his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), they are persuaded by popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan) to climb down a hole in the ground that he finds in the woods. They discover a large object, and after a disturbance find themselves bonded together on account of the fact that they develop telekinetic abilities. Frankly, I must say that the last thing I (and the film industry) needed was another found footage film, especially after last month's wretched The Devil Inside, but I've heard nothing but good things about this, so I was certainly willing to give Chronicle a chance. Shall we dance?

To start with the good, I have to mention the found footage gimmick, because this is the third found footage movie I have seen in as many months, and I have for a number of years been quite tired of it. However, while this year's Project X and The Devil Inside were real stinkers, Chronicle actually does something new and interesting with a central format that I thought had long run its course. Trank and Landis in their respective positions as director and writer work in such a way that the found footage concept is central to the story, as all the information we get is through Andrew's camera, but in conjunction with the telekinetic powers the three get new avenues are opened for it. Matthew Jensen's cinematography is terrific, appropriately sticking to the concept but also opening new doors and possibilities as to how this type of a movie is shot. This is a movie in which all the various elements add up, the sum of which is greater than the separate parts, and the cinematography could not be as good without the flawless editing by Elliot Greenberg. It must have been a hard job to pull off, but it was obviously well worth it, because the transitions between Andrew physically holding the camera and using his telekinesis to wield it are seamless. There are obviously cuts being made, but the fact that you can't tell where and when is quite a credit to the fluidity of the editing. Also, when Andrew's camera is eschewed for the climax of the film, the editing is done in such an ingenious way that it doesn't feel like the filmmakers are cheating, and as we are hopping from various cameras, we stay with the picture, as opposed to getting lost in the shuffle. Furthermore, as mentioned, it elevates the cinematography, meaning that we are able to appreciate the found footage format in a different perspective to what we have been granted before. Ultimately, it comes down to the inventiveness of the script, which is mostly solid. It's an interesting idea to have three teenagers get these powers and just use them to do silly stuff. Not one mention of the word 'superhero,' they are doing what anyone would do with superpowers, and that is to goof around and wind people up. As such, although not designed that way, this is one of the funniest films of the year. Landis is no slouch, and his script has lots of interesting ideas, but above and beyond the 'gimmicks,' he knows that plot and characters are what makes a film work at it's basest level. The three main characters are all well-written, in as much that we all get a sense of who they are and their respective personality's, and unlike the three in Project X, none of them are annoying because they feel like legitimately real people. Also, Andrew's arc in the film is fascinating to watch, as this bullied kid gets powers beyond his wildest dreams. As such, while Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan are believable and engaging in their respective supporting parts, it's Dane DeHaan who is most fascinating in the lead role. Quiet and reserved at the start of the film, you can see quite literally before your eyes the growth of confidence and the various different emotions that DeHaan has to take Andrew  though. Also, his acting has given the character a fascinating collection of facial expression, in that while Andrew is a teenager, he looks at times like a weather-beaten old man who's been to hell and back and is just about to explode. DeHaan hits every note that his character has to go through just right, and you never once start scoffing, because Andrew is developed from the outset, both in script and acting terms as a wholly three-dimensional and sympathetic character. At risk of sounding poxy, I see a tremendous potential future for DeHaan. Finally, this a very strong directorial debut from Josh Trank. As I've said about many other movies, Chronicle is one of those ones that really could have been handled differently, and not in a good way, because there are so many little gimmicks that could have overwhelmed the audience. However, Trank maintains control over the proceedings, and has not only managed to make a great film, but also place his own directorial stamp on the movie, which I think is prevalent in the pacing of the movie. It's only eighty-three minutes long, but it flies in and leaves you wanting more, and I think that Chronicle, which at it's best moments invokes Akira (which I feel is one of the ten greatest films ever made) yet manages to be distinct and unique, is a very strong powerhouse of a movie.

So, yeah, I liked Chronicle, put it that way. However, while it may indeed be a great movie, it's unfortunately not a masterpiece, and I put it down to a collection of minor problems, as opposed to one big gaping hole. The first of these problems, but by no means the worst, is the flying effects. Now, it looks fine during the night shoots, where the darkness can hide some of the hokiness, but when the three are flying through the clouds, it has a look reminiscent to the old car sets and back projection, with the crane rigs and green screen effects making it look really dodgy at times. Also, while it's a powerhouse of a movie that sinks in quickly, I think that Max Landis' denouement, particularly the epilogue, is both misjudged and rushed. It's misjudged in that although it ties in with the rest of the movie, it's too sudden a departure and rushed because the audience is not given enough time to register what has happened. Furthermore, there is no genuine sense of conclusiveness, which is really a disappointment given how solid the rest of the movie is. Finally, Ashley Hinshaw's character Casey suffers from a severe lack of development. Given how her character is also a filmmaker (she shoots videos for her online blog), there is so much more that could have been done, particularly with the way her dynamic fits with Matt and Andrew, and I feel that not only did they not give this character enough screen time, but she wasn't developed enough to get past being two-dimensional. Minor problems, but enough to be a couple o' 'la thorns in my side.

These issues with character, ending and special effects aside, Chronicle is a great movie. Bringing new life to a well-trodden, borderline redundant format, the invention that Landis and Trank bring to the table ensures that the found footage gimmick never hampers the narrative, but in fact elevates it. It's very well shot and excellently edited, Landis' script is solid enough, features a star-making turn from Dane DeHaan and proves that Josh Trank is a director with pace and energy that should bring something interesting to the plate in the movie industry. Chronicle is a low-budget powerhouse of a film that at it's best moments brings to mind Katsuhiro Otomo's landmark Akira, and contain enough inventiveness and wit to keep the viewer engaged throughout.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Amped (New Year's party's: booyakasha!)

Chronicle Trailer          

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