Directed by Josh Trank
Over the past few years, "found footage" has emerged most fully in the mainstream as a manipulative and tired tool for horror thrills, most effectively used in films like "Paranormal Activity", "Cloverfield", and most especially "The Blair Witch Project". This year in particular seemed to bleed them out of every orifice in the first three months, so much so that the "found footage superhero movie" just felt like another feature to throw in the pile. And so it stood for several months, and then when it was mentioned amongst the top 3 films of the year thus far according to Justin Jagoe and Alex Carlson of Film Misery... well, I didn't have an excuse to moan about how it wasn't worth my time anymore.
What surprised me wasn't merely the fact that it was good, but that it used both the found footage and superhero genres in peak form. From the first moment of the film, you see the role in which the camera plays in these characters' lives, and it's becomes not merely a gimmick. The "Chronicle" of the film's title doesn't merely allude to that single camera, but the abundance of material that's made so publicly available for people to see. In the film's third act the style goes rampantly, exhilaratingly all over the place, jumping from cameras of different quality and purpose, moving freely between them as a jarring document.
All the while this form of filmmaking also encapsulates the form of expression that so many people of the generation in question within this film are devoted to. The same people who upload videos of their daily lives are the fans most adoring of the idea of having superpowers. This film brings a practicality to that, a naturalism as most people of that age would behave the way they do, but also an unflinching attention to emotion and psychology. There is some real abuse going along the surface of these characters, and it only cuts deeper and more painfully as things progress. The editing is tight and ever so insightful to every texture of the peoples' lives. They're not trivialized ideas, but people with genuine aspirations, and it shows how as much as we'd wish for these spectacular things to happen to us, we'd be much happier if left our pathetic selves.
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Seth MacFarlane's R-Rated comedy has been on the bottom of my list of films to see, and mostly ended up emerging from a post-TDKR need for something not totally depressing. Matter of fact, I was really fine with something dumb, ridiculous, and utterly pointless. What Seth MacFarlane gave us with "Ted" was something unexpectedly more, while not shooting out of its own skin. The potty-mouthed teddy bear film remains profane and shallow in its humor, but never once without knowledge of its own stupidity. "It has to have a 'ski at the end of it, otherwise we're just idiots spouting nonsense," states the titular character in a line that sums up the film's brand of humor in a single sentence.
It helps to have such a gung-ho group of actors leading the way, with Mark Wahlberg pretty sweetly enjoyable in that adult-edging-on-boyhood quality that makes him the ideal choice for the lead character of John. Joel McHale stretches his face rubbery and slickly in a way that only he can, which benefits well to the oily douche of his character. The true fireball of this flick is Mila Kunis, who goes through all the most ridiculous, damn close to demeaning gags with vigor and carefully upheld disbelief. All the humor comes through, but what surprises most in the film's third act is a surprise hit of emotion and disturbing pathos that the shallow humor has been tastefully glossing over. Stupid shit like this rarely finds reason or merit to work, but it encouragingly does.
"The Gold Rush"
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
There is nobody past or present who comes anywhere close to the comedic talent in Charlie Chaplin's performances. The man was so spot-on in his movements, with such an awareness of how he looks against the camera within his surroundings, and such wonderful comic timing that each fumble comes across brilliantly and organically. That's something to appreciate abundantly in all his films, though "The Gold Rush" isn't nearly on the same level as "City Lights". That's just a matter of simple comparison, and in no way diminishes the impact or intellect at hand in Chaplin's production. The introduction of this landscape is so massively designed, and yet brimming in its simplicity.
As The Tramp waddles out to the side of a cliff, we get the unexpectedly hilarious scope of his explorations, showing a wanderer who's out there hopelessly looking for love, and making this rush of dreamers to land gold seem spectacularly trivial. The film dispenses delightful gags at every avenue, and they're not without full ripples made across the entire film. When The Tramp eats one his shoes so he won't starve, he continues to operate with a bag on his foot for the rest of the film. He holds his actions on his sleeve, and it makes him affectionate to us, but outcast to the other characters. One stunning shot sums up his hopeless romanticism, with Chaplin standing to the foreground looking into the background of multiple couples dancing with one another.
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
I was assigned this for a class that I honestly neglected heavily and still got a rather positive grade on. I know, I'm a horrible human being, much more for not jumping at the opportunity to discover this gem then instead of now. "Battleship Potemkin" is, for all intents and purposes, the first legitimate action film, mostly for the heavy imposition of cinematic set pieces. The revolution on the ship is an at once horrifying, then exhilarating, then triumphant, and then truly tragic moment that spurs forth the rest of the film. All the events move by in powerful waves that couldn't be at a more perfect pace, neither rampant nor leisurely. The Odessa Steps sequence remains one of the most tightly edited sequences in film history, and rackets up the film to a magnificent conclusion. Sergei Eisenstein paved the way for decades of revolutionary film work to be done.