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Today, as you're reading this, a new "found footage" film titled "Chronicle" is playing at your local theater. But there's something that makes "Chronicle" slightly more interesting than past entries in this genre: It's not a horror movie. "Chronicle" is the tale of three high school students -- Andrew, the shy loner; Matt, Andrew's slightly more outgoing cousin; and Steve, the popular star athlete -- who develop mysterious powers after an encounter with an unexplained, underground orb-like object. "Chronicle" is an interesting movie. So interesting, in fact, that Jordan Hoffman (from Next Movie, /Film and formerly UGO's movies editor) and myself decided that an Obsessive Chat was necessary. (Spoilers ahead, obviously.)
Mike: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the actor who plays Steve, who was also on "The Wire," is named Michael Jordan. That has to be tough. Or great. I can't decide. Jordan: Yeah, he was very good. He's got miles of charisma. So: "Chronicle." I can't deny that I enjoyed it. Well, there is a big fat infuriating thing right at the heart of "Chronicle" I'd like to get off my chest. Mike: What's that? Jordan: OK: Andrew has all sorts of super powers. In fact, both he and we, the audience, never quite know the limits of his powers. And not once does he think that maybe he can aid his dying mother with his interplanetary prowess? Mike: That crossed my mind, too. Jordan: Like, zap whatever tumors are causing her to die slowly and painfully? No, he won't do that. He'll move the covers around from the next room, sure, but cure her? He won't even bother. Luckily, this can almost be explained away with one of "Chronicle"'s actual charming aspects -- it reminds us that teen boys are idiots. Mike: I mean, he learned how to perform dental surgery with his powers. Though, to defend Andrew: pulling teeth is probably easier than removing cancer.
Jordan And it can be done without a referral.
Mike Exactly. And the seriousness of his mother's cancer is never explained. But if it's widespread, how does he remove the cancer without ripping it through her body? He couldn't even remove the school bully's teeth properly.
Jordan: Actually, I don't even think the film explicitly says cancer, but, and forgive me if I'm giving "Chronicle" too much credit, perhaps the scenes where he's up in the bedroom taking glamour photos of himself with a floating HD camera as he hears her suffering downstairs is meant as some commentary on the selfishness of youth? Mike: See, I found that really odd. So was Andrew's father correct? I mean, I don't condone violence against children, but perhaps his father was at a breaking point with Andrew that we don't get to see. Years and years of build-up.
Jordan: I don't know if Andrew's father was correct -- but he was prescient. Andrew ultimately became the dickbag that the dad was accusing him of being. Just because Andrew was a loner and had a rough family life didn't mean he had to become a villain. Bruce Wayne had some serious scars and look what happened to him.
Mike: And Matt Murdock. In that final scene between Andrew and his father, I thought the father made some good points: That he wasn't there for his wife when she died because he was looking for Andrew who was out robbing a gas station. Then Andrew responds to that by blowing up a hospital. OK?
Jordan: Well, what kind of retired firefighter has such poor insurance coverage he can't afford meds for his wife?
Mike: When Andrew's family didn't have enough money for his mother's medication, why rob a gas station for cash?
Jordan: Because teen boys are idiots. He could have just yanked the pills from the shelf and crushed the security camera. And then gone home to watch "Zapped" on Netflix Instant. Mike: Well, to be fair, the pharmacist did say they needed to be delivered. So the medication wasn't there. Jordan: Right, so he was stealing in advance so he'd have all the money ready so he wouldn't have to ... steal? There's more to this story that we're not seeing.
Mike: We are only seeing what the person who found this footage found. I would like to see a movie about a guy who finds footage. This seems to happen quite frequently. And it's always interesting footage. Not just of a birthday party, or something. And how does this person go from finding footage to getting it put in movie theaters.
Jordan: Ah -- this brings me to the other thing that I admired about the film, but also infuriated me. "Chronicle" wisely gets rid of the "cheap" camera about 15 minutes in and replaces it with a camera that looks good. But, magically, all of the scenes are professionally lit and the audio levels are perfect. Also: who "cut" this found footage. Because all of the points of views are from within-the-world cameras -- someone is cutting between them. And doing so with traditional Hollywood coverage!
Mike: Right. It cuts from Andrew's footage to the female blogger's footage to security camera footage.
Jordan: So it's not just found footage -- it is assembled footage.
Mike: Perhaps Andrew has the power of great sound-mixing.
Jordan: No, that would be the nice cousin who did that, naturally. It took me a while to realize that I was watching the origin story of a villain. Did you catch on to that from the beginning? Mike: I knew it was about super powers, but I didn't know that one would become the villain. And I kind of liked Andrew at first. Jordan: Yeah, same here. But most villain origin stories have a level of sympathy. I definitely think the creators of "Chronicle" know their comics, at least from a character point of view. It was a little odd that there was no further "government" angle -- like what exactly was the hole in the ground? Mike: And it's never addressed again. What was that thing? I mean, it kind of looked like Kal-El's spacecraft from the first "Superman." At least, that's what I wrote down in my notes. Jordan: It did not bug me that it wasn't explained (I mean, "Super 8" was explained and look where that got us), but there were "agents" there when they returned to the hole. And the kids never got harassed again, even though there had to have been reports of weird things flying around the mall and strange objects in the sky. Mike: Remember that commercial airliner that almost hit Steve? Wouldn't that have been reported to the FAA? "I almost hit a flying teenager that was playing football in the clouds." Jordan: And if the government was already hip to an odd glowy blue thing near a teenage rave party, they'd be on that. Then again, the governement can't even pass a budget agreement, so maybe we're giving them too much credit. Mike: The government always gets too much credit in these types of movies. Perhaps that's the most realistic thing about "Chronicle." Jordan: Here's something for you: I watched the trailer after I saw the movie and there's a shot in there of the female blogger with her top off. That is not in the movie. Mike: I assume this was a ratings issue? Jordan: Perhaps -- it may also explain why there's really only one "Zapped" moment in the film. Mike: Do you wish we would have seen the three kids discovering their powers? We go straight from "spooky underground thing" to "three weeks later we have powers and it doesn't seem to shock us."
Jordan: It was a little weird that they weren't more freaked the hell out with their powers. Like, not going to the ER screaming their heads off. But not as weird as only one "Zapped" moment.
Mike: OK, last thing: Did you like "Chronicle"? I sort of did -- I just wish there were fewer scenes that were unintentionally funny. I mean, when a bus ran over Matt on top of the Space Needle, people laughed. Reading that sentence back makes me laugh.
Jordan: Huh? Oh, sorry, was looking at screencaps from "Zapped." Um, "Chronicle." Yeah, I liked it because it took the found-footage thing and the superhero thing -- both incredibly old-hat by now -- and found a way to be creative with both. By and large the acting was good and the development of the characters was believable by Hollywood conventions. And for a reported budget of $15 million, it looked pretty good. The ending is too long and the whole Hulk-out thing got absurd, but as a comic-book fan, I dug it.
Mike: How many more years will the "found footage" era last? Or is it here forever? Jordan: I was ready to put a fork in it, but "Chronicle" is the first to successfully take it out of "horror" and put it into a different mainstream genre. We're going to see a found-footage rom-com soon (actually, there already is one from the '90s called "Shooting Lily" that no one saw). Found-footage historical fiction. Found-footage biopic... Mike: Found-footage Pixar film. Found-footage Star Wars in 3D movie. Jordan: If we have a found-footage film about a Brooklyn slacker filmmaker making a mock doc, the Universe will implode.
Jordan Hoffman is a regular contributor to NextMovie, /Film, IFC, io9 and StarTrek.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter