Friday, February 3, 2012

Chronicle [2012]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Chronicle (directed by Josh Trank, screenplay by Max Landis) is a well conceived, well executed film of the faux "amateur video log" genre popularized by movies like the Blair Witch Project [1999] and the Paranormal Activity [2007, 2010, 2012] series.  These kind of films have become increasingly common with the proliferation all kinds of inexpensive video capturing/recording technologies (from Camcorders, to FlipCams to webcams) and socialmedia websites like YouTube and Facebook where one can share one's "captured moments" with the world. 

The phenomenon was discussed already in when Time Magazine picked "You" ("Us") as The Person of the Year in 2006, noting that already in 1991 famed Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola expressed the hope at the end of the documentary Hearts of Darkness [1991] on the making of his blockbuster/megaproduction/hit Apocalypse Now [1979] that the increasing availability of quality but inexpensive camcorders would democratize film-making making it accessible to a far larger pool of talented individuals than in the past and thus make film-making far more of an art-form and far-less of a commercial enterprise than in the past.

Indeed over the years, a substantial part of Francis Ford Coppola's prediction has come to pass as there is an ever increasing number of "indie films" being produced as well as an increasing popularity of film-festivals world-wide catering to or show-casing "low budget"/"independent" productions.  In the United States, the annual Sundance and Telluride film-festivals are perhaps the best known.  However, pretty much every major city and/or region of the country now offers similar film festivals during the course of the year.

Followers of this blog will note that I have a special place in my heart for low-budget/independent insurgent productions, posting in the past year reviews of such low-budget, indie projects as Another Earth [2011], Elite [2011], A Love Affair of Sorts [2011], Rid of Me [2011], The Future [2011], and a YouTube compilation sponsored in part by Ridley Scott called Life in a Day [2011].

Still one gets the sense that the best productions are those that are story-driven, utilize the low-tech equipment when appropriate but are also unafraid (and able...) to bring in higher-quality special-effects and editing equipment when needed as well.  Such a mix was apparently used in the making of the film Like Crazy [2011] (shot with off the shelf / consumer available video equipment, but then edited very, very well) A similar approach appears to have been used in the making of the current film, Chronicle, as well. The film-makers again made use primarily of off-the-shelf consumer available video equipment.  However, they proved also unafraid (and able...) to shell-out some money for reasonably high-quality special effects to effectively tell the increasingly harrowing story.

Wonderful, so what then is Chronicle about?  Chronicle's about Andrew Detmer (played by Dane DeHaan), a quiet teenager from a troubled home, his more outgoing and jockish cousin Matt Garetty (played by Alex Russell) and Matt's definitely gregarious and star-athlete best friend Steve Montgomery (played by Michael B. Jordan).  They're all apparently upper-classmen in a suburban high-school in the Seattle, Washington metropolitan area.  Andrew's mother, Karen (played by Bo Petersen), is very ill, needing oxygen to breath.  Andrew's father, Richard (played by Michael Kelly) is a former firefighter on forced disability, clearly unhappy with his circumstances.

At the beginning of the film, Andrew buys himself a (large) old, used video camera to "chronicle" his days with (that is to play).  A nerd already and from a family with not a lot of money, the contraption he buys does not exactly help him in his social standing:  The camera is by today's standards huge, awkward to use, and only makes him the butt of jokes when he takes it with him to school to chronicle his day.  The "douche bags" on the street that already picked on him, do so some more.  At school, the other students make fun of the unwieldy thing as he walks with it in the hallways (forcing them break stride to not hit him as he carries it on his shoulder).  As a final straw, a cheerleader approaches him as he sits in the bleachers after school filming them (as well as the football team going through drills) and asks him to "turn the camera off" because she found his filming them "really, really creepy."  Not a particularly great day ...

That evening, his cousin Matt drags Andrew to a party that Andrew didn't particularly want to attend, but now with the camera decides to go in order to film it.  On the way to the party, Matt tells Andrew what kind of a drag Andrew has been over the years.  Apparently, they've had this conversation before as Andrew doesn't really react to it, just films it.

At the party, however, things begin to look-up as Andrew runs into a girl, Casey (played by Ashley Hinshaw), far more popular than he (and a girl that apparently Matt has some interest in) who's at the party _also_ with her camera filming it "for her blog."  She finds it kinda cool that Andrew has a camera as well.  Indeed, when Matt sneers at the two sharing the joys of their hobby, he comes to realize that his attitude is actually pissing Casey off.  Hmm, maybe Andrew's not a complete loser after all...

Later in the evening, Andrew, having long-since spent pretty much all the little social grace that his nerdy self had, finds himself outside where the popular jock Steve runs into him.  He calls Andrew over.  He and Matt had found something "really cool" in the field/ravine below the house where the party was being held and thought it might be cool to actually video tape.

What Matt and Steve had found was a strange hole the size of an underground passage in the middle of that field, and when they entered it they came face to face with this strange, glowing (otherworldly?) crystalline structure.  As they come close to it, Andrew videotaping it all, the crystalline structure suddenly starts changing colors and making noise.  It gets louder and brighter, louder and brighter and suddenly everything goes black.

The movie resumes three weeks later.  Andrew has a new camera (apparently the old one was broken in that strange encounter) and the three teens find that they've been effected in a strange way ... they find that they are able to move first light objects and as the days/weeks go by progressively heavier objects with only their minds, something called telekenesis.  How utterly, utterly COOL!  Much ensues ...

But part of what ensues has to do with Andrew, a teen clearly damaged already by life at home and at school.  Can Andrew handle this new superpower that he and his two friends have acquired?  Can the damage of one's past be "cured" by a single, sudden, unexpected dose of AWESOME COOLNESS?  Or does one's past eventually re-emerge and make one even worse-off than before?

I found the movie fascinating, certainly one that most teenagers could appreciate.  In particular, I found the teenage dialogue in this film outstanding, almost exactly how one would imagine teens would talk in the situation(s) that they found themselves in.  And, yes, the film could be used to help young people appreciate the damage that they could cause by picking-on (bullying) others, as well as help troubled, previously picked-on teenagers realize the importance to getting help before those past experiences end-up consuming them.

My hat-off to the makers of this film: What a great, well acted and surprisingly "realistic" film they made!  And congrats to all the actors and actresses as well!

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  1. Great review! I am seeing this tomorrow and I am quite looking forward to it.

  2. It's fascinating to me that this film / review is getting so many hits. Any suggestions as to why? I thought the movie was okay and the review also basically okay. Just wonder why this movie / review is getting so much attention ;-). Again, suggestions are welcome ;-)