CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CHRONICLE (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
MA: What is that guy’s problem?
LS: Maybe he’s reacting to our bumper sticker.
MA: What? “Honk three times for Cinema Knife Fight?”
LS: No. The other one.
MA: “If you’re close enough to read this you’re a horse’s ass”?
LS: That’s the one.
MA: Yeah, that might be it.
LS: I’ll fix him.
MA: You’re not going to do that waving-the-arms telekinesis bit you used during our Coming Attractions column last week, are you?
LS: That’s so passé. Keep up with the times. (Rolls down window, sticks his head out, and makes a face at the driver. The driver shrieks and loses control of his vehicle, which crashes off the side of the road.)
MA: Sometimes I forget just how scary you can be.
LS: Well, one of us has to be scary around here, and it’s certainly not you!
MA: Shouldn’t we go back and see if that guy needs help?
LS: Nah! We’ve got a movie to review. Speaking of which, why don’t you start since I’m driving?
MA: Wait a minute. Do you even have a license?
MA: Er…okay. Well, welcome, folks, to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. This week we’re reviewing CHRONICLE (2012) the new movie that examines what happens when three high schoolers suddenly find themselves with telekinetic super powers.
That’s right. One night at a party, three high school friends, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan, who some people might recognize from the show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) discover a mysterious tunnel out in the woods, which they decide to check out just for kicks. Inside this tunnel they come across a strange object— is it alien? a secret government project? —who knows? The movie doesn’t make this clear, and that’s okay. All we need to know is the day after coming into contact with this weird phenomenon, the three teens discover they have telekinetic abilities, which means they can move objects just by using their minds. Later, they attempt to return to the tunnel in search of answers, but find it has conveniently been filled up.
LS: Actually they’re not really friends when the movie begins. Steve and Matt are friends. Andrew is one of those shy loners that everyone else picks on. Matt is his only friend, that’s mostly because they’re cousins. Steve wouldn’t even normally notice Andrew is even alive—he’s an athlete and a popular kid running for class president – but he needs Andrew and his camera to film the weird tunnel as evidence. Of course, after the three of them discover their powers and bond through this, they become real friends, and Andrew starts to come out of his shell.
As for what’s inside the tunnel—yeah, we never really know. The smoothness of the walls makes it appear that the tunnel was “carved out” through the use of some kind of technology. And the strange object – it involves a lot of weird, bright lights. But you’re right – it’s good this is never explained. It adds to the mystery of it all.
MA: At first, they use their new powers for fun, which is what most high schoolers would do. They make girl’s skirts go up; they go into a store and make Teddy bears float scaring a little girl; and they move a parked car in a parking lot. But when Andrew angrily uses his power to force a tailgating vehicle off the road, nearly killing its driver, they come up with some rules, including not using their powers on people, not using them in public, and most importantly, not using them when they’re angry.
But Andrew is a very troubled youth, and rightly so. His mom is bedridden, sick and dying, and his drunken dad, a former firefighter who’s now out of work collecting meager disability checks, is constantly hounding Andrew and worse yet beating him. Andrew is also regularly bullied at school. Eventually, he snaps, and when he does, look out world.
CHRONICLE was one of those movies I feared would cross over into “mediocre land” becoming another variation of last year’s I AM NUMBER FOUR (2010), but I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case. CHRONICLE played above my expectations, and as a result, I liked it a lot. I found it watchable throughout, a very entertaining and well-written movie, well-paced, and after a fun ride, it becomes insane for its final 10 minutes. I have to say, I really liked the ending.
Why was this one so good? Well, like most good movies, it starts with the script. Max Landis wrote the screenplay. Landis is the son of John Landis, and I think he’s inherited some of his father’s humor. A lot of the humor in this movie reminded me of the work of John Landis, in such films as ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).
The scenes where Andrew, Matt, and Steve “play” with their powers are laugh-out-loud funny. I had seen most of these scenes in the film’s trailer, yet they were still comical. Part of the reason the humor works is it all seemed so real. If I had their powers at their age, I’d probably be doing the same things and laughing at it the same way.
LS: Hell, I’d be doing the same things now, if I suddenly got super powers. It looked like they were having fun. I almost wish this part had lasted longer.
MA: It also looks real. The special effects are great.
In CHRONICLE, Landis creates likeable characters who deal with their new abilities in realistic ways. The majority of the movie is light and amusing, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
But the undercurrent of darkness is always there because the central character of the story is Andrew, and his life is rough. His dad never leaves him alone, his mom’s dying, and he’s bullied regularly at school. The fact that he develops a close relationship with his camera (it’s the one thing he connects to) makes perfect sense and sets the stage for the documentary style of this movie, since Andrew films everything. More on that style in a moment.
One of the things I liked about CHRONICLE was I wasn’t sure which direction the story would take. While it was all fun and games for a while, I knew things wouldn’t stay this way. Would this become more of a “superhero” story where these teens would use their powers for good, like Superman’s story in SMALLVILLE? Would they be hunted down by aliens jealous that they had stolen this power, similar to I AM NUMBER FOUR? Or would the story take a more sinister turn?
(SUPERMAN flies overhead).
SUPERMAN: Will it be a movie about folks like me?
(A teen with a “Number 4” Jersey sprints along next to them.)
NUMBER 4: Or about teens like me?
LS: Neither! Now beat it, you jerks!
MA: You didn’t even have to show your face this time.
LS: Sometimes reputation alone is good enough.
MA: Still, that’s pretty impressive scaring away Superman!
LS: Well— the Kryptonite I keep in the trunk might have helped.
MA: Why would you keep—? Never mind. Getting back to CHRONICLE, as we learn more about Andrew, we realize that this kid isn’t escaping from his demons, and so, the direction the story ultimately takes is natural and satisfying.
Getting back to the film’s documentary style: yes, CHRONICLE is another of those documentary style movies where everything we see is the result of “found footage” from cameras in the movie. We’ve seen this in movies like CLOVERFIELD (2008), THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and APOLLO 18 (2011).
LS: And don’t forget THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies (2007 – 2011), and this year’s THE DEVIL INSIDE.
MA: Here, director Josh Trank throws in the additional gimmick of not using just one camera. Sure, most of the movie is filmed with Andrew’s camera, since he’s obsessed with filming everything that happens in his life, but in this movie, any time there’s a camera around, we see the action through the eyes of that camera. This includes the camera owned by Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), who eventually becomes Matt’s girlfriend, and who’s constantly filming for her blog, as well as security cameras in stores, at traffic lights, bystanders – pretty much anywhere there’s a camera, and in this day and age, it’s hard to be somewhere there’s NOT a camera. For the most part, this gimmick works.
LS: Yeah, I was riveted throughout.
MA: The cast is fine. Nobody’s going to win an Oscar here, but they made me like their characters. Dane DeHaan is very good as Andrew. I didn’t want to see him go down the road he eventually takes, but the cards are so stacked against him it’s almost inevitable. DeHaan succeeded in making me feel bad for his character while still liking him, and later, when his life goes down the toilet, he made me believe his darker side was genuine.
Alex Russell was also likeable as Matt, the friend who becomes more responsible as the movie goes on. At first, it seemed as if Matt might be a jerk, but he isn’t and grows more likeable as the story plays out.
Michael B. Jordan is also very good as Steve, the most popular of the trio, and his character is the most fun of the three to watch. Ashley Hinshaw as Matt’s love interest Casey, is cute and adorable in her brief screen time.
LS: Yeah, the three lead characters were great. Andrew is easily the most dramatic role, but Matt and Steve were solid characters, too. I actually wish the movie had given us more of Matt and Steve’s personal lives, but I guess that wouldn’t make sense, since Andrew has the camera.
MA: And, as Andrew’s dad Richard, Michael Kelly does a nice job playing a jerk, and he doesn’t evoke any sympathy, even though he’s a former firefighter now out of a job due to injury. He plays the role as a complete monster, and you’re not sorry when he gets what’s coming to him.
LS: I also really liked the big battle toward the end, where super-powered guys duked it out, destroying buildings and cars in the process. It looked like the way a super-powered battle would look. MESSY! And very destructive. Without all the glamorous costumes and fancy banter you usually see in superhero movies.
Too bad WE can’t have a big telekinetic battle in the middle of the city.
MA: Don’t get any ideas.
I found CHRONICLE to be a most pleasant surprise. Light and funny throughout, this one builds to a dark second half and a thrilling conclusion that is as satisfying as they get. Go out and see this one! I give CHRONICLE three and a half knives.
LS: I liked it a lot, too. I thought the movies that came out early in the year were supposed to be stinkers, but both this one and last week’s THE GREY were pretty solid. I give this one three and a half knives, too.
My only gripe with the movie is its title. CHRONICLE is a horrible name for a movie about three kids with telekinetic super powers. It’s bland and tell us nothing about the movie. I really didn’t like it. But the movie itself was really good.
MA: I agree. I thought the title was lame. It sounds like a news magazine. So, now that we’re done with the review, how about we take the next exit and pick up a pizza?
LS: Why not bring the pizza to us?
(LS lets go of the steering wheel and waves his arms about. Several pizza boxes fly through the air towards them. MA rolls down the window, and the boxes land gently in his arms.)
LS: Now that’s the way to use telekinesis. Hand me a slice.
(MA opens box, and suddenly pizza flies up into his face, slapping him.)
LS (laughing): And that’s another way!
(MA fires a slice that hits LS in the face. Blinded, LS loses control of the car and they veer off the road towards a tree. Screaming, both LS & MA frantically wave their arms, and at the last second, the car flies above the tree.)
LS: Way to go, blinding the driver, you goober!
MA: Hey, we’re alive aren’t we, so be quiet! Let’s land this flying car and eat some pizza. Okay, folks, while we’re looking for a place to land, we’ll say so long, and we’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives CHRONICLE ~ THREE AND A HALF knives!
LL Soares gives CHRONICLE ~ THREE AND A HALF knives.