Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chronicle

I really have a thing for the modern handcam fad in cinema and I truly do believe that when done well, can result in some of the most engrossing film experiences imaginable. Cinematography is a crucial ingredient in all films and one that is all too often overlooked and under-appreciated. While the documentary style doesn't appeal to all movie goers, I surprised myself when I realised how many of my favourite films of all time make use of this experimental filming technique: Blair Witch project, Paranormal activity, Session 9, Cloverfield and Children of men.

I now have another handcam entry to add to this growing list of mine - Introducing the prolific and super intense, Chronicle. On the surface, there doesn't seem to be anything special about this 'teen movie for adults': The premise is noticeably overused, the actors noticeably unfamiliar and the plot noticeably predictable. But as apparent as these shortcomings might seem, so evident is the film's amazing use of cinematography that elevates all of the film's mediocre elements into the realm of unadulterated awesomeness. With the apology of coming over as a bit of a handcam acolyte made beforehand, I do firmly suggest that everyone sees this film as an outstanding example of experimental cinematography done exceptionally well.

"But as apparent as these shortcomings might seem, so evident is the film's amazing use of cinematography that elevates all of the film's mediocre elements into the realm of unadulterated awesomeness."

And it's not just a mere rehash of what has been done in similar feeling handcam style films like Cloverfield. The film uses the style in a multitude of creative and daring ways that for the most part, pays off in the form of astonishing movie brilliance. The handcam technique enhances the film's more light moments with a great sense of whimsicalness, but at the same time, imbues the film's darker moments with a painfully unsettling sense of immediacy, dread and above all, believability.

Film goers not used to the movie style might find it difficult to get into the film from the get-go, but director Josh Trank really has taken the utmost care to try and orientate his audience as much as possible, without subtracting from the film's crucial sense of realism.

You'll surely be gasping for air in more than a few of the film's action sequences and the experience of these moments alone makes it worth the price of admission. Be warned however that the film can be very unforgiving at times and you might be shocked quite greatly by some of the film's more graphic and intense scenes.

With all the handcam prejudice put aside, Chronicle is a wonderful mishmash of teen adventure comedy, moving drama, Hollywood action cheese and very creepy indie goodness that everyone should experience. Oh, and there's also a nice chewy piece of social commentary to be enjoyed, but it's really secondary to all the visual awesomeness that awaits your senses.

Much like a very scary rollercoaster, Chronicle is a rough ride, but one you will be delighted you took. 
Highlight: There could be a few, but there's one specific scene of graphic violence that I just can't seem to get out of my skull. Beautifully dark stuff.



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

J. Edgar

Highly factual and historically correct films is a difficult feat to pull off, but when I heard that Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Invictus, Changeling) was behind the  complex story of a very enigmatic FBI agent, I felt a sense of relief that things would pan out for the best. But sadly, J. Edgar is a very flawed gem with some parts brilliant, some parts average and some parts downright boring.

Let’s start with the good stuff, which I can easily condense into the name of one single actor: Leonardo Dicaprio. J. Edgar definitely wasn’t a simple man and Eastwood at least had the insight to know that he would have to use an actor with an amazing capacity for a dynamic role that would require many ups and downs of emotion. Even though I’m not sure how accurate Dicaprio’s performance is, he definitely manages to create a very interesting character that is at times infuriating, loveable and even extremely funny. Eastwood is known for the strong emotional connection to his films and whilst it takes a bit longer than you would expect it to, Eastwood does manage to give his film a nice chewy emotional centre.

"...a very interesting character that is at times infuriating, loveable and even extremely funny."

And then there’s the bad: For some reason, the film struggles painfully to get into a proper rhythm. Most of the story is told as a sort of recollection of Edgar’s career, but a lack of proper exposition throughout the film make it quite hard to keep track of what is happening. It’s almost as if the film should have come with a short bio on Edgar’s life as Eastwood doesn’t take nearly enough time to properly explain most of the film’s more important plot events.

 This becomes very ironic when you take into account the film’s extremely long runtime – It’s not as if there wasn’t enough time to properly explain certain plot developments better, but instead of guiding the viewer a bit, Eastwood tries to cram in too much of Edgar’s life. Personally I think the movie would have been much better without many of the laborious case discussions that appear later in the film and rather more scenes of emotional profoundness between Edgar and the few important people in his life. A revision of the final screenplay would have helped...

Also, it seems that there is a lot of unnecessary time lapsing in this film with Eastwood abusing time constraints to jump between the young Dicaprio and a gross wrinkly version enough times to make you a bit seasick. While some scenes of the older Edgar are very poignant, some just don’t seem to add to the story at all and only serve for some awkward moments of unintentional humour.

So while this does seem like a complete Eastwood bashing, I should add that the film’s cinematography is noticeably effective, that the ensemble cast (Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench) are outstanding and that the minimalistic use of a striking score adds a lot to the film’s more intense moments.  The degree to which you will enjoy Eastwood’s latest all depends on how forgiving you are of its flaws and whilst it’s certainly not Eastwood’s best, he does manage to tell his story with great detail and commitment.

Highlight: I’m not much of a dresser, but I must admit that Dicaprio looks fabulous in a blue dress with a stunning matching necklace. Oh, and it’s also the most powerful scene in the film. 

Old and perplexed... not a good combination. Nice suit though.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Drive

When a movie reminds you of another, then it could either be because of unoriginality or hopefully rather because it intentionally pays homage to a specific time in movies. In the case of Drive, it quickly becomes clear that the film consciously borrows from action films from a bygone era, but in such a way that it comes over as surprisingly clever instead of cheesily over used.

The key to Drive's success in this regard is the inclusion of small touches of nostalgia every here and there that, when experienced as a whole, plays out very satisfyingly. Clear examples of this to look out for are an amazing retro soundtrack, uncomplicated dialogue and an unusual dash of pink (as in the colour) every here and there.

A huge part of the movie's appeal however has nothing to do with old movie references but a lot with a very interesting protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling. Gosling plays the role with a noticeable sense of stillness and clam, but still manages to lend an immense amount of emotional poignancy to the film's more serious moments. But as the film's plot starts to kick into high gear, there's a clear change in Gosling's character, signalling the very intentional split between the film's first and second part. Long conversational scenes are now replaced with very graphic, but artistic action sequences that might leave more squeamish movie goers a bit unsettled.

"Long conversational scenes are now replaced with very graphic, but well realised action sequences that might leave more squeamish movie goers a bit unsettled."

A great ensemble cast that includes the very capable Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad fame manages to highlight the lighter side of Gosling's character, whilst a gang of corrupt baddies including Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman help to bring out Gosling's more aggressive personality.

With all the cheesy action film references aside, Drive feels like a very honest film as director Nicolas Winding Refn allows the story to be told in a very blunt manner. Best of all, it’s one of those films that will appeal to both casual movie goers and die-hard critics, due its highly layered demeanour that includes both a simple love story and an in-depth character study. Don't expect any rosy endings and you’re sure to appreciate this amazing 'soon-to-be a cult classic' throwback to a simpler age in movie making. 

Bad assness personified. 
Highlight: It would have been easy to choose one of the very awesome and graphic action sequences, but to be honest, I prefer the emotional intensity of Mulligan and Gosling’s scenes.