When “Chronicle” came to theaters earlier this year, it instantly drew comparisons to Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark anime film, “Akira.”
Despite their deeper cultural differences, both films invite comparison, as each of them features an unstable character who is bestowed with incredible powers, but the inner rage these characters experience consumes them, leading to widespread death and destruction, leaving it up to their best friends to stop them.
There has been talk of the unfortunate prospect of a live-action Hollywood remake of “Akira” since 2002, leading to on-again, off-again rumors and speculation as it periodically has emerged from, and descended back into development hell. While the very idea of Hollywood remaking a classic film as thematically Japanese as “Akira” is an insulting prospect, even if it were to happen with the most potent pedigree of talent behind it, there is no way it could possibly be as good as “Chronicle.”
Directed by Josh Trank, and written by Max Landis (son of John Landis), “Chronicle” is one of those “found footage” movies a la “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield,” having more in common with the destructive mayhem of the latter. It’s a method of storytelling with roots in horror, but it’s recently been employed to explore other genres such as “Project X” (the teen comedy) and this film, which is a quasi-superhero movie.
It starts off when a troubled Seattle teenager named Andrew (Dane DeHaan), whose troubled home life and pariah social status at school leads him to begin filming his life, providing a barrier between himself and reality. When his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) invites him to a party, they find themselves exploring a bizarre cave in the woods nearby with the school’s star athlete, Steve (Michael B. Jordan). Within the cave, they discover a strange glowing object that imbues them with telekinetic powers. Andrew, Matt and Steve subsequently use their powers to experiment and play pranks, becoming best friends in the process.
But when Andrew’s home life and social inadequacies overwhelm him, he begins to exhibit dangerous behavior that make his powers a menace to those around him. Things get worse from there.
The “found footage” method is often written off as a gimmick, but it can be a powerful tool in the right hands. “Blair Witch,” a film that is both adored and reviled, succeeds because the eye of the camera shows you just enough to let our overactive imaginations run wild with the frightening possibilities its haunting and cryptic images hint at.
“Cloverfield” is a cleverly constructed first-person roller coaster, a theme park ride for people who grew up on a diet of Godzilla and disaster movies. What we have with “Chronicle,” is a genre-busting superhero film that uses this method effectively, providing both potent drama and breathtaking action.
To label “Chronicle” as a superhero film, though, doesn’t seem entirely accurate. It features characters with superpowers, but that’s about as far as it gets in terms of similarities with comic book heroes. Hence the”Akira” comparisons, as even though the mayhem is big and chaotic, the struggle between the characters is on a personal level that doesn’t quite jive with, say, the massive costumed scope of “The Avengers.” What’s exciting is that “Chronicle” hints at bigger possibilities for its potential universe, and news that a sequel is in the works is tantalizing.
The DVD is skinny on the extras, all it’s got going for it is a pre-viz clip that shows what are basically living storyboards for the big effects shots, as well as a camera test and a trailer. Certainly nothing that really enhances the appreciation of the film the way good supplements ought to. The Blu-ray edition has a bit more to offer, as it has a deleted scene, as well as a “director’s cut,” but alternate cuts are more often than not marketing gimmicks (I was given the DVD, so I can’t comment on whether or not the alternate cut is superior). It’s a shame that such a fun film doesn’t have a meatier release, but if the movie’s good, that’s all that matters.
Other Noteworthy Releases
The Grey: The advertisements for this return-to-form for Smokin’ Joe Carnahan made it look like “Liam Neeson IS…Wolf Puncher!” The reality is that Carnahan delivered a film about a group of men staring certain death in the face, and the manner in which they choose to deal with it, even if that means punching death in the face with broken glass bottles taped between your fingers.
One for the Money: Given the popularity of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, attempting to start a fast food movie franchise out of them makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is casting the America’s least-favorite supposed sweetheart, Katherine Heigl in the role of Plum, hence the failure to launch. It’s doubtful we’ll be seeing Plum on the case again at the cinema any time soon, not that anyone cares.
Albert Nobbs: While I’m sure Glenn Close is great in the movie and all that stuff, “Albert Nobbs” looked too painfully British to be bothered with.
Rampart: Oren Moverman’s cop drama starring Woody Harrelson and co-written by the great James Ellroy has divided audiences that have experienced it, which makes it something that seems worth checking out.
The Devil Inside: Another found-footage cheapie that sniffed out a quick buck at the box office, this one being another exorcism movie a la “The Last Exorcism.” The cover proclaims that “this is the film the Vatican doesn’t want you to see,” which just goes to show what astute film critics the Vatican has in its employ.
1900: Bernardo Bertolucci’s boring, bloated love letter to communism gets a Blu-ray release. It features terrible lead performances from Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu, and an unbearable running time that nearly clocks in at five hours of pain. And yet, the scene where Donald Sutherland’s mustache-twirling black shirt gang leader headbutts a cat is unintentionally hilarious enough to barely justify its existence.
New York Stories: An anthology film featuring segments by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. Anthologies rarely turn out to be anything special, and “Stories” is no exception despite the impressive pedigree of talent. Allen’s segment, “Oedipus Wrecks,” is amusing, beyond that, this one is for the die-hard devotees of these directors.
Available on Blu-ray
Being John Malkovich: Words fail to describe just how truly bizarre this film from Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman is.
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench