Disclaimer: The Cynical Optimist is an opinion column filled with, you guessed it, opinions of a very cynical, critical nature.
This Week’s Reviews : “Chronicle”, “Woman in Black”, “The Grey”
Presented as found footage film from multiple cameras, “Chronicle” stars Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell as a group of Seattle friends who gain powerful superhuman abilities and use them for mischief and personal gain until one of them utilizes his power for darker purposes.
In an attempt to document his own inadequacies, high school teenager Andrew Detmer (DeHaan) starts videotaping his life. At home, his mother, Karen (Bo Petersen), is dying from cancer and his alcoholic father, Richard (Michael Kelly), berates and abuses him. At school, Andrew is unpopular and bullied constantly – of course walking around with a busted old camcorder doesn’t help his cause much.
Andrew’s cousin, Matt (Russell), invites him to a rave to help him meet people but Andrew’s insistence on filming the rave leaves him even further disconnected from his peers. Approached by Steve (Jordan), the school’s popular star quarterback, Andrew is pressured to join him and Matt and document something extraordinary the two discovered in the woods nearby — a hole in the ground that emits a loud, strange noise. The three enter the cave and discover a massive, blue, glowing, crystalline object, pulsating with a frightening intensity.
Weeks after the encounter, Andrew Matt, and Steve begin to display telekinetic abilities; much like their comic book brethren, they are able to move objects with their minds. When they overexert their newfound ‘muscle,’ the trio suffers nosebleeds – a small price to pay for the ability to crush cars and [eventually] soar through the skies like Superman.
I won’t spoil what happens next, but I will say that “Chronicle” succeeds in doing what NBC’s “Heroes” couldn’t. It shows a realistic portrayal of what happens to regular people who gain superhuman abilities – specifically how a good person is corrupted by power and becomes a villain. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the meteoric fall of one of these three teenagers is one of the best portrayals of comic book villainy on film ever.
You will truly sympathize with the villain and understand why he did what he did and how he ultimately became this vengeful symbol of rage and unlimited power. Directed by Josh Trank (editor of “Big Fan”) and written by Max Landis (son of director John Landis), “Chronicle” is a terrific real-life superhero movie crafted by people who obviously love and understand comic books and superhero mythology.
Final Thought: Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Trank’s found footage film is the exciting way he finds to move the camera around. Being as these characters have telekinesis, they begin moving the camera with their mind to free up their hands. The result is some very interesting camera moves including close-ups, pans and crane shots that put you in the middle of the action without inducing Blair Witch-esque motion sickness.
See this film and witness the beginning of Max Landis’ career. This kid’s DNA is hardwired for genre storytelling – and I’ve got a feeling “Chronicle” is only the beginning.
From director James Watkins (“Eden Lake”) and screenwriter Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”), “The Woman in Black” is adapted from the 1983 gothic horror novel by Susan Hill. Produced by Hammer Films, the film features Daniel Radcliffe as widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps, who travels to a small village to finalize the estate of a recently deceased woman.
Arriving at her forsaken mansion on a perilous causeway, Arthur is introduced to The Woman in Black, a malevolent spirit who haunts the property, seeking revenge on those who wronged her by taking the town’s children.
“The Woman in Black” is an ornate, expertly-crafted ghost story that conjures up old-fashioned thrills. The atmospheric nature of this creaky old gothic yarn is palpable. Ancient cobwebs, overgrown cemeteries complete with crooked crosses and tombstones, and the occasional creepy doll tea party.
While technically Daniel Radcliffe is the lead, the real star of “The Woman in Black” is the production design – from the sets to the haunting locations, everything in this film feels truly authentic, not just to the gothic period it portrays but the ‘70s esthetic of Hammer Horror.
Radcliffe could easily be a young Peter Cushing, investigating crypts and viscid marshes for clues to a ghostly mystery that haunts an entire village. In an age where the horror genre has become a celebration of watered-down derivative torture porn it’s nice to see a film where atmosphere and character trumps blood and gore.
Final Thought: While Radcliffe does a great job in Watkin’s film, he’s still got a long way to go before people see him as anything other than Harry Potter. Even in this film, when I see Radcliffe boarding a train I assume he’s going to Hogwarts – or when he opens a trunk I expect to find his school books and wand. Even the end of the film feels like an ethereal King’s Cross moment. In any case, he’s a talented kid and I’m sure he’ll beat it – but for now, Five Points to Gryffindor!
Now to “The Grey” starring Liam Neeson…
John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works in Alaska killing the wolves that threaten oil drilling teams as they encroach on the animals’ natural habitat. Before you ask, no there isn’t a cameo of Sarah Palin sniping majestic creatures from a helicopter. I know, I was just as disappointed as you no doubt are.
Anyways, on his last day on the job, Ottway writes a goodbye letter to his wife Ana and sets out to commit suicide. While holding the gun to his mouth, Ottway hears the howl of a wolf, which forces him to shoot the approaching animal instead of himself.
After completing the job, the oil drillers and Ottway embark on a plane headed home during an icy blizzard. The plane cannot withstand the chaotic storm and crashes in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
After doing a post-crash assessment of who’s left, Ottway stumbles upon a survivor being eaten alive by an enormous gray wolf. Ottway and his banged-up gang of roughnecks are stranded in a wolf pack’s territory. These aren’t cute, cuddly Siberian huskies either.
These things are massive, snarling man-eaters – monsters with glowing eyes and slick black fur matted with dried blood. They’re closer to the beasties from “Attack the Block” than “White Fang.”
To repurpose Samuel L. Jackson’s immortal dialogue from 2006’s “Snakes on a Plane,” Liam Neeson has had it with these motherf*cking wolves in this motherf*cking Alaskan wilderness!
Needless to say, crotchety old wolf-killer Neeson takes matters into his own hands and tries to lead the survivors to safety while being stalked by the alpha male and his pack. With no guns, there’s a lot of hardcore Rambo business going down as Neeson creates boomsticks (sharp branches with shotgun shells fixed to the ends) to stab the wolves with.
One particularly “Movies For Guys Who Like Movies” moment involves a man stabbing a wolf to death and then shoving a stick up its ass to roast over an open flame. After eating the greasy wolf meat, one of the survivors cuts the wolf’s head off and howls to the rest of the pack, tossing it into the forest as a way of saying “Don’t f*ck with us!”
The wolves’ response: a series of horrifying howls, their hot breath rising in the air from the darkness of the forest, their eyes glowing – waiting for the men to let their guard down so they can dismember them and re-claim their territory.
“The Grey” is a brutal, bleak film where man (without technology or weaponry) is left to fight one of nature’s true apex predators. It’s like “Predator” with a dash of National Geographic – or “Gran Torino” if, instead of fighting Asians and Blacks, Clint Eastwood’s character beat the shit out of wolves.