Chronicle (2012). In this faux-documentary sci-fi, three teen boys stumble upon a mysterious crater in the forest containing a crystal-like structure which glows into a white-hot glare and knocks them unconscious. Over the next few weeks, they gradually find that they have telekinetic powers and can move not only other objects but themselves (maybe it should have been called Dude, I Can Fly!). This actually had a lot of promise in the beginning, but it’s undone by the characters being total doofus morons. They acquire extraordinary powers, yet they aren’t too freaked about it affecting their health or psychological well-being. Instead, they go out and film themselves doing Jackass-style stunts. Also, the sensitive kid with the dying mom and abusive dad (or stepdad?) was handled in a predictable, cliché-driven manner. They seemed too blasé about doing their powers out in the open where everyone could see them – or are American teenagers really that stupid? A few decent special effects in the end, but overall not that special.
If I Had My Way (1940). Pleasant but none-too-memorable Bing Crosby musical was the last thing from my Screen Legends DVD set that I haven’t seen. This one was made with Crosby on loan-out to Universal to co-star with that studio’s mini-Deanna Durbin, a pint-sized warbler named Gloria Jean. Crosby plays a construction worker who, along with co-worker El Bendel, decides to take care of Jean when her father dies in an accident. They go to New York to find the girl’s uncle (Allyn Joslyn), but when the man refuses to take care of her (he’s a snob who has something against entertainers) they go to the girl’s ex-vaudevillian great-uncle (Charles Winninger). Needing to give the girl a solid foundation to live on, Crosby and Bendel then decide to renovate an old restaurant into a Gay ’90s-themed eatery so that Winninger and his old showbiz pals will have a place to entertain. So sweet that you have to brush your teeth after reading this, eh? Luckily Glora Jean isn’t quite the diabetes-inducing little moppet that she appears to be on paper, or else this film would be tough sledding. She’s actually quite pert and cute, while Bing does his usual smoothness delivering a bunch of perky songs. I remember being utterly puzzled by Swedish comic El Bendel in Just Imagine (1930), but he’s much more tolerable here (but you’re still wondering, why was he of all people famous?). The climax of this film reportedly contains a lot of cameos from famous vaudeville stars of yore. I suppose one could do better on the corny, nostalgic musical front – this one was just fine, nothing more. The DVD set it comes in is an excellent deal, five vintage Bing musicals currently priced at $7.72 on Amazon.com.
These Amazing Shadows (2011) and Something’s Gonna Live (2010). Two film-related documentaries we saw this week. Currently on Netflix streaming, Those Amazing Shadows details the efforts of the National Film Registry and their ongoing campaign to preserve America’s film heritage by inducting a diverse group of films into their collection every year. At times this film was a pompous puff-piece, coming across as something that might be seen at a stock holders’ meeting. Luckily the boastful aspects make up a minority of the film, since much of it goes into the actual effort of preserving fragile films (fascinating stuff) and the films themselves, the greatness of which are expounded upon by people both puzzling (Zooey Deschanel?) and smart (John Waters!). Sure, they talk about Citizen Kane and the other undisputed classics, but I really dug when the film delved into the shorts, art films, home movies, promotional and other ephemeral films that the N.F.R. periodically accepts. For those of us who dig The House in the Middle (1954) as much as To Kill A Mockingbird, those portions are pure gold. Something’s Gonna Live, by contrast, is a more subdued, contemplative effort. I’m reviewing this for DVD Talk, so a much more detailed writeup is coming soon. This film centers on the esteemed production designer Robert Boyle as, approaching the century mark in age, he looks back on his life and career. It could have been a great doc, but the actual film feels poky-paced and poorly put together. In the end, I was disappointed and more than a little bummed out.
Prometheus (2012). Our little outing to a real cinema, last Wednesday, was to see this modest obscurity which Christopher was all a-twitter over. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) was a solid slab of ’80s sci-fi action. I’m just not as enamored of the franchise as Hollywood apparently is (matter of fact, as soon as something is referred to as a “franchise,” my interest drops precipitously). Having said that, I thought the first 40 minutes or so of this film set up the premise effectively with an attractive cast, an intriguing story and great CGI effects. Once they travel to the alien planet and discover the sinister yet mysterious alien-hatching compound, however, it tailspins into one “dumb people doing dumb things” scene after another. There are a few effective moments, but for the most part it came across like a bloated, illogical mess that never came together. I enjoyed the performances of Noomi Rapace and Idris Elba, Charlize Theron was too one-note and I really don’t understand the appeal of Michael Fassbinder. Liked the supporting characters a lot, too. There is one awe-inspiring moment when Fassbinder’s robot character ventures into the alien control panel and hacks his way into a massive map of the various constellations these creatures planned to conquer (it reminded me of the Avatar scene set in the nighttime jungle, with the glowing creatures wafting around Sam Rockwell’s avatar). Perhaps the inevitable “director’s cut” release will unveil a more focused, entertaining effort, perhaps not.