Film Studies: This Week At The Movies

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In Focus: Chronicle

If there was any question that the found-footage genre wasn’t completely played out, last month’s release of the abysmal exorcism thriller The Devil Inside was a confident reminder that the genre has jumped about a dozen sharks (and there’s probably some first-hand footage of it just dying to be unearthed). But while The Devil Inside—which if you didn’t see it, was the cinematic equivalent of a cheap kick to the groin—left critics and audiences alike with a resounding “ugh,” the superhero sci-fi flick Chronicle breathes new life into the genre.
 
Though the film doesn’t strictly adhere to the “found-footage” format, it sidesteps such narrative restrictions in lieu of a rich story that combines elements of superhero origin stories, angsty high school coming-of-age drama, and surprisingly tragic family drama. This produces a highly entertaining, well-scripted action film that won’t leave your head pounding from shaky-cam syndrome.
 
Directed by first-timer Josh Trank from a script by Max Landis (son of famed cult comedy director John Landis), Chronicle stars Dane DeHaan as Andrew, a troubled outcast at his local high school who decides to buy a video camera to document his life—including his abusive alcoholic father and terminally ill mother. Each morning Andrew’s “popular” cousin Matt (Alex Russell) picks him up for school, and hopelessly tries to get Andrew to be more sociable in his class. But, bringing an over-sized video camera to school each day and taping all of your classmates isn’t exactly the best way to prove that you’re not a creep.
 
One night, Matt convinces Andrew to go with him to a rave at an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town, and the pair—along with another classmate: the universally beloved class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan, of The Wire)—discover a mysterious crater out in the woods. They crawl into the cavernous hole and find a mysterious, glowing rock that eventually gives them super powers after near-fatal contact with it. As the three teens work in secrecy to develop and strengthen their powers, things get worse for Andrew at home. His mother slips closer to death, while his father becomes more intrusive and aggressive, and eventually his growing power only serves to heighten his emotional instability until all hell breaks loose in the film’s explosive final act.
 
A cross between Cloverfield and a much darker version of Hancock, Chronicle is a surprisingly fun and harrowing addition to the superhero genre. For a considerably low-budget film, it delivers great special effects (that is: it’s not in 3-D), and while director Josh Trank sort of abandons the whole found-footage first-person narrative for an inexplicable vérité midway through the film, it still manages to be infinitely more effective than most found-footage films of recent years.
 


Also Opening:

Big Miracle:
“You have whales in trouble, and you didn’t call me?!” says Drew Barrymore in the trailer for the newest save-the-whales film that isn’t Free Willy. The Washington Post called it a “sweetly beguiling” family film, but without a Michael Jackson-penned theme song, we’re skeptical.

Recommended for: Free Willy nostalgists, Green Peace Street Team members, whales of all cadence and creed.


The Woman in Black:
Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe stars in this British horror film based off of a British novel and play that takes an exceedingly British look at a house in a small British town haunted by some sort of menacing British ghost. Can Radcliffe’s “Patronus” charm can save this film? The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan doesn’t think so.

Recommended for: Harry Potter mourners, the exceedingly British.


Pina:
Director Wim Wender’s made a 3-D documentary about famed choreographer Pina Bausch? As Washington City Paper’s Tricia Olszewski points out, “it’s blasphemous to even consider but: Perhaps Pina works better in 3-D”. A whole bunch of Academy Awards voters seemed to agree and nominated it for “Best Documentary”.

Recommended for: Dancers, dreamers, and purveyors of three dimensions.


Local Pick of the Week: The Innkeepers

From writer/director Ti West, The Innkeepers is a classic yet refreshing old-school ghost tale surrounding the hauntings of a quaint and kitschy old hotel during its last weekend open before it gets torn down. After a highly successful run in the film festival circuit, this much-buzzed about film makes its DC premiere at the West End Cinema this weekend.

Click here for tickets and showtimes