The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The post where I declare my love for Chronicle and make a revelation

with 22 comments

Do you think movie bloggers carry a secret wanna-be-dream about getting a job in the film industry? Do we write about movies instead of making them ourselves since we lack the right talent and dedication?

Normally my answer would be a decided “NO”. If you’re foolish enough to spend hours each day blogging for no other reward than possibly a comment once in a while and some virtual hugging, you’re not doing it because you think it will award you a ticket into the business. You do it because you’re in love with writing, in love with the world of cinema and probably also because you’re a little bit of an exhibitionist (even though you’d rather die than admit it).

But there are exceptions. Once in a while I stumble upon a movie that fills me with so much love and amazement over the infinite possibilities of the film medium that the thought crosses my mind: “I want to do this too!”

This was what happened when I watched the recent science fiction movie Chronicle.

Enchanted smile
I went into it with barely any previous knowledge at all, apart from that it was a “found footage” film about some teenagers who gained super powers in some mysterious way and tried them out, not necessarily to save the world like a traditional super hero, but for more egotistical reasons.

My expectations weren’t overly high to be honest. Thor and X-men: First class were both among my lowest rated movies in 2011. I just don’t seem to mix very well with film about people with super powers. Admittedly I eagerly await the return of the Dark Knight, but he doesn’t count, does he? Isn’t he more of a talented guy with good equipment than like someone with unearthly abilities?

In any case, Chronicle won me over. When I went out from the theatre 1 hour and 20 minutes later (yep, they still do movies as short as that), I had a childish, happy, enchanted smile on my face. And I sent a tweet: “Do you think they’ll accept a 44 yr old at film school”? I wasn’t entirely serious about the question, but I immediately received a number of encouraging replies from tweeting film bloggers claiming my chances were good. Of course it was a lie, but a sweet one.

What I liked
I don’t want to go too much into the story because I think this is the kind of film that gains from not knowing too much about it on beforehand

But here are a few examples of what I liked about it:

1. The focus
In a standard movie on this theme, you would expect a scientist to turn up sooner or later, going into some quasi scientific explanations about why they got the abilities and how they work. In a standard movie you’d also spend a lot of time following how society responds, throwing in some plot that included boring adults in the form of police or military who would try to either stop or take advantage of the kids.

But this isn’t a standard movie and it makes nothing of this. It focuses on what’s going on with the teenagers, on their everyday ordinary life, on where they’re coming from, on how the abilities mix into this and about what happens in the group as they develop. This focus makes it far more engaging than it otherwise would have been and brings it to a different level.

2. The characters
The main characters aren’t altogether “good” people. They have flaws. But unlike in the case of Attack the Block I found myself sympathising with them, caring about their wellbeing and future.

3. The found footage theme
Yes, you read me right. I like found footage! I know others complain about it being done and over with but I don’t mind as long as it’s well done and I think it is in Chronicle. I rather enjoyed how the film makers challenged themselves to make every shot make sense. Apart from the filming of one of the boys who just has gotten a camera of his own, they’re using a multitude of different sources such as surveillance cameras and various people’s cell phones. This brings a bit of variety. I would even go as far as to say that there are scenes where the shaky hand camera approach adds a bit of atmosphere. Especially in the scenes where they’re testing out certain abilities it gives a feeling of urgency and “this is happening for real”.

4. The visuals
Considering the fairly modest budget for being a movie in this genre (12 million dollars) I think it’s quite good from a visual standpoint. There’s no shortage of special effects and a couple of scenes are even a bit jaw dropping.

Didn’t drop the ball
So don’t I have anything negative to say? Well, I suppose that would be the ending, which maybe didn’t hold quite the same class as the rest of the movie. It contained elements that were… well… I don’t know how to put it without spoiling stuff. Kind of cheesy you could say. I hesitated for a moment but then I decided to go for it and just accept it. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t so bad that they ruined the film. They didn’t drop the ball.

I predict that Chronicles will be a strong contender for the category “best debut feature” as we’ll be making our summaries for 2012. The director Josh Trank and the screenwriter Max Landis are both in their mid 20s. They really couldn’t have started their careers in a better way.

Chronicle (Josh Trank, US, 2012) My rating: 4/5

PS FYI: Yes, as you realize by this post, I’m on Twitter and No, I haven’t told you about it since I’m not sure of what I’m doing there or if it will be long lasting. But the address isn’t a secret, so if you want to a not overly active tweeter, you’ll find me at @Thevelvetcafe.

Written by Jessica

March 6, 2012 at 1:00 am

22 Responses

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  1. Yay! I love that you loved this. It’s such a fun time (also, kinda sad). Does some cool things with the found footage format and is quite well acted. All around solid film.

    Alex Thompson

    March 6, 2012 at 5:16 am

    • Yes, I suppose it’s a little bit sad but as you say – a solid film, making the very best out of the small format. I really enjoy that as opposed to movies that go big and just drop it.


      March 6, 2012 at 7:22 am

  2. Good film, glad you liked it! To think the director is only 26 and he’s already making a film like this is somewhere between completely depressing and utterly awe-inspiring! Loved all the switching between cameras at the climax!


    March 6, 2012 at 8:25 am

    • I thought to myself when I learned that the director was 26: wow, I must have matured in some way after all those years. I didn’t feel the slightest stroke of envy as I probably would have at 25 or 30. I was just happy that such talent pops up and gets the opportunity to flourish. It doesn’t take away anything from my life after all. it just adds enjoyment.


      March 6, 2012 at 8:35 am

  3. Chronicle is a really good film, but I think the comparison to Attack the Block in terms of characters is unfair. Chronicle presents kids who don’t enter the picture by mugging a woman (which was a really bold and obviously risky move in Attack the Block). They’re also older, and more identifiably adult, thus easier to relate to on that level for most adults. But the characters themselves are no more or less developed.

    I find that likeability says a lot more about the viewer than it does about the characters. I didn’t really “like” either of the main characters in Chronicle and I wouldn’t want to hang out with them under any circumstances, but I found them interesting and engaging in the way they were developed. The most likeable one to me was the popular kid played by Michael B. Jordan, and he was easily the least developed of the three friends. Then again, maybe I liked him more because I already like the actor from his work on The Wire and Friday Night Lights. Or maybe I’m just won over by his ability to charm with a smile.

    Compare that to Attack the Block, where maybe I wouldn’t want to hang out with those kids, and certainly not now as an adult, but I did find them clever and their dialogue funny, and I recognized that though they acted like thugs, they were too young to really be thugs. It always felt more like a bunch of naive young kids trying to be cool in the wrong way. That made them interesting characters to me regardless of whether I “liked” them or approved of their behaviour. In your Attack the Block review you basically said you didn’t care if the monsters killed the kids, but don’t you think that says something about your inability to forgive kids for being idiots as kids often are? Boys will be boys, as they say, and over the course of the film they certainly show themselves to be more than just “thugs” deserving of punishment.

    In the case of Chronicle, the film plays as something more of a situational character study than an action film. What we’re given is a character who doesn’t fit in well with others and has an abusive parent. He’s got a difficult life and is then given powers that bring meaning to his life and also brings friendship. The film explores how a teenager might deal with that sudden change, and how they might interpret their new status, how they might question their new friends’ motivations. What made Chronicle work so well was not the novelty of the style or the superpowers plot itself, but the fact that the main character actually went through an interesting and believable arc. And it’s a tragic arc, which makes it stand out all the more from other similar films. I don’t think it’s a perfect film, and sometimes it really does play along conventional lines in an annoying way (what the hell happens with that girlfriend?), but overall it’s a refreshingly good piece of work in a generally stale genre.

    Corey Atad

    March 6, 2012 at 8:25 am

    • That’s a very well put comment Corey! I think you explain the core in the movie, the character development, the tragic arc, in a way better way than I manage in my post. Also I think you hit the note very well on why I couldn’t connect at all to Attack the Blog. I think the mugging of the more adult woman in the beginning is unforgivable. I can’t tell the difference between a misguided kid and a “real” villain. In that situation they’re just the same and they’d freak me out completely. I instantly took a dislike for them and they couldn’t win me over by any means. Perhaps my age is a bit of a disadvantage here. i would believe so.


      March 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

      • Yeah, it’s actually funny to note that in a way you weren’t far off from the woman in Attack the Block. She was also entirely unable to forgive them or treat them as anything other than terrible people until the very end when she was able to see Moses in a more human light. I suspect that you had the same reaction she did, which was that what they did was so horrible you didn’t even care to consider that they might be people too. Attack the Block purposely puts the characters out there in such a way for you to have a preconceived notion about them and then tries to break that preconception by developing them as complex characters. For some people, yourself included, that immediate preconception might just be too strong for the film to break and so it doesn’t end up working.

        I think another interesting thing Chronicle does is it shows compassion for the two other leads in a realistic way. The popular kid might be popular, but he seems to genuinely be a nice guy. Even at that point where he goes into that room with the camera, it was a stupid thing to do, and kind of mean, but he wasn’t trying to be mean. He was just playfully teasing his new friend a bit, but he happened to do it at a tender moment and that caused problems. The cousin is also similarly presented. Like I said earlier, he’s the kind of guy I would never have cared to hang around with in high school. He’s smug and douchey, but the film also shows how he’s that way mostly because of a sense of insecurity. He’s attractive and reasonably popular, but he’s practically as insecure as the main character. He just happens to express that insecurity in a less violent way. Clearly the people who made the film had a sense of compassion for their characters. They’re not just there to be plot points; they’re there to be human beings. Most mainstream movies these days can’t really claim that, and neither can many independent films for that matter.

        Corey Atad

        March 6, 2012 at 8:56 am

  4. I’m hoping to catch this on dvd when it becomes available.


    March 6, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    • I think this movie will work fine on dvd as well. It’s not the kind of movie that you “have” to watch in a theatre.


      March 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm

  5. I thought Chronicle was pretty great both as something different in the superhero genre and as something different in the found footage genre (if you want to call it that). The best part of the movie is that it felt like it was something that hadn’t been done hundreds of times over again in slightly different ways. It might not be earthshatteringly differenty, but it felt pretty unique to me in a Hollywood world of remakes, reboots, and sequels. But then of course, they’ll have to make a sequel of it.


    March 6, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    • Exactly. I sincerely hope they won’t make a sequel though but let it remain as it is.


      March 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

  6. Ahh another tip from you I must check out! I´ve seen the trailer and it looks geat!

    And…you´re in my twitterfeed now! 🙂


    March 9, 2012 at 9:03 am

    • As you’ll see I’m not all that much of a tweeter. But we’ll see. Perhaps I’ll get going after a while.


      March 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm

  7. I have never had that urge, partly because I still live in some unteneble wish of not having my illusions dashed. I want to be immersed in movies, not think about how they are filmed out of sequence and each scene probably reshot to the n:th degree.

    Still, this sounds like a nice movie, so thanks for the tip!


    March 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    • I think you should check it out when it comes on DVD (knowing you don’t have much of cinemas where you live.)


      March 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm

  8. I never got round to seeing Chronicle when it was out here; I wanted to, there were just other things I wanted to see. It sounds like a neat idea, and it’ll be going on my LOVEFiLM list as soon as possible.

    FlimsrRuss (@FilmsrRuss)

    March 16, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    • Go ahead! I think it will be perfectly OK to watch on a small screen at home.


      March 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  9. Excellent post Jessica. Your introductions are always so spot on! You echoes my thoughts exactly. I do my my blog because I like to write about film’s but I have to admit to being tempted at trying to make one. That’s the beauty of the recent fad of Shakey-cam movies. It gives us hope (if you so desire it) and allows us to at least think of how we’d do it ourselves.

    Once again we agree on our ratings and opinions. This was great little film. I went into it open minded and came out thoroughly impressed.

    Mark Walker

    June 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    • Thank you Mark! It’s almost silly how the two of us echo each other most of the time.

      I was glad to be reminded about this film in your review. Coming half way through the year, this film is on my top 10 list of movies I’ve seen in a theatre or at least very near it. You know, sometimes those little low budget gems are better than the huge blockbuster specacles.


      June 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      • I think when it comes to science fiction, it’s ultimately the idea or material that works best. The visuals are always welcome but come secondary for me. This film was an example of that. The visuals were very impressive but where it succeeded was in its execution.

        (and yes, great minds think alike Jessica)

        Mark Walker

        June 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm

  10. […] Jess over at The Velvet Cafe loved it too: “Once in a while I stumble upon a movie that fills me with so much love and amazement over the… […]

  11. […] 9 Chronicle You would think that people with superpowers as well as found footage were worn out concepts, but Chronicle managed to make something fresh and fun out of both. Spectacular compared to the budget. I wanted to become a filmmaker myself after watching this. […]

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