A Look At Josh Trank’s Chronicle

Josh Trank’s directorial career is in serious jeopardy since Fantastic Four has not only flopped, but has become an infamous failure, thanks in part to his ill-conceived tweet on the eve of the troubled film’s release that disavowed it as not his work. This added fuel to the fire about his professionalism and merits as a filmmaker. These developments have led many to question if he has the right temperament for the business. It’s too early to tell how this will play out, but one thing that can’t be denied is that with his first film Chronicle he displayed promising talent with a movie that mashed the superhero and found-footage genres. Here is a review.

chronicle poster

 

The “found footage” sub-genre may elicit many groans and complaints from moviegoers. While Chronicle at first didn’t seem all that different from films of this type with its slightly mundane first act when it introduced stereotypical characters, it turned out to be a refreshing viewing experience. Unlike most “found footage” movies, this wasn’t a horror film, but rather about three teenage boys who developed telekinetic powers and how it affected them. Before long the film turned out to be a pleasantly surprising with its plot development and execution.

The main camera used in Chronicle is operated by one of the boys, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a shy, emo type who picks up the hobby of videotaping his life. Andrew clearly doesn’t have a happy life in school or at home. He’s shunned and picked on by bullies, his father’s a violent alcoholic and his mother is dying of cancer. At some point, he goes to a rave party with his outgoing cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), and they run into the ultra-popular Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), who’s running for school president.  The three leave the party and discover a hole in the ground near the party. After hearing strange sounds coming from it they descend into the hole to investigate. Deep down they encounter a crystalline structure of unknown origin that pulses and causes them to have nosebleeds.

The movie jumped ahead in time to where the trio are experimenting with their newly acquired telekinetic powers. They treat it as a fun diversion and bond together while carrying out pranks with their powers. But it soon becomes clear that their powers are increasing and that Andrew’s inner demons causes him to become more and more malicious with his powers.

That was the best twist with the film. We’ve all been expecting to see the lovable shy loser get super powers and then run off to save the world. Sadly, this doesn’t happen with Andrew, he’s clearly not Peter Parker, as he uses his abilities to hurt others. But, the character was so well presented and three dimensional that despite his increasingly violent actions, one can’t help but sympathize with his situation, while fearing him. Andrew thought that the powers would change his life for the better, but they haven’t. He is still unpopular, his father continues berating him and he cannot save his mother.

In the meantime, Matt and Steve defy the popular jock stereotypes and become more sympathetic. Matt soon realizes that they have to be responsible with their powers. This doesn’t mean he wants them to fight crime, only to not use the powers to harm living things. This difference in opinion will ultimately lead to a clash between the two cousins. Kudos goes to the three actors who play the three friends, the bond they share over their secret powers and the joy they have at first is apparent and one can’t help but marvel at their telekinetic displays.

Whereas something as simple as levitating a ball may seem humdrum in an X-Men film, in Chronicle it truly came off as a marvel. With that said the final act of the film was jaw-dropping thanks to its special effects that put more expensive superhero films to shame in the wow factor as a major battle takes place in the skies over Seattle.

Put aside any complaints about Fantastic Four when considering Josh Trank’s debut film. Chronicle is still a well-made production that showed promise and indicated that Josh Trank would have a memorable filmmaking career. Trank should be commended for Chronicle’s execution because the “found footage” technique added to the reality of what moviegoers saw before their eyes. Unfortunately, as terrific as Chronicle was,  Trank suffered the sophomore curse big time with his disjointed Fantastic Four. It is a poorly made film that has clear evidence of studio tampering (as seen by the haphazard third act) and it’s so-called grounded and gritty take of Marvel Comics’ superheroes was misguided from the start. It proves that undertaking a big-scale production was too much for the young director. However, if given another chance to direct a smaller production like Chronicle, Trank might be able to develop his skills and find some redemption.

Lewis T. Grove

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Latest Version Of Fantastic Four Is Doomed

crap poster

After torturing myself from watching Fantastic Four, the new cash grab reboot by 20th Century Fox to hold on to the film rights to Marvel Comics’ legendary superhero team, I’m convinced that the film studio doesn’t know what to do with this franchise. How bad was Fantastic Four? Let’s put it this way, not only does it make the Tim Story Fantastic Four films seem like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy films, but I would rather watch Batman & Robin again than sit through this monstrosity one more time. Seriously, at least those films can be enjoyed on an “it’s so bad, it’s hysterical” level while drunk or high. This dreary, dour film doesn’t even have that guilty pleasure value.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this film is an ff castinsult to the Fantastic Four and to superhero films. It’s obvious that almost everyone involved in this film from director Josh Trank to the actors don’t respect the source material or have a clue as to what made the comic book work. At least, Tim Story had enough sense to pay homage to the comic books and captured many parts of it like the banter, the feeling of family, the sense of fun. All of that is missing here. The cast has no synergy, there isn’t any joy or excitement or even adventure with this reboot. Instead Josh Trank gives us a pretentious and sloppily slapped together mess that is evidence that control of the film was taken away from him in post production. Not that it helped.

richardsThere are half-hearted attempts in the first third to create some character developments, but then they’re dropped. For instance, when Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) is confronting his father Franklin (Reg. E. Cathey, who gives the best performance in this cesspool), there is a hint that he is jealous of his adopted sister Sue (Kate Mara), but it’s never brought up again. Remember how Johnny would always tease Ben Grimm in the comics and earlier films? That only happens once, at the end. That’s right, and it Johnny’s sole attempt at humor came off as being mean-spirited for no good reason. The opening third tries to copy Spielberg’s sense of wonder, but all I got where endless scenes of people looking at blueprints and computer screens and Reed Richards (Miles Teller) wandering around hallways and spouting exposition. It isn’t until forty five minutes into a ninety-minute film that the characters get their powers and basically not do much with them until the end.

Then without warning, Fantastic Four becomes a poor man’s David Cronenberg body horror film, which was kind of intriguing, but undeveloped especially with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). What could’ve been a good showcase for him is a lost opportunity and that’s a @!#$ shame because in this muddle there is a nugget of something that could’ve been stellar. The other attempt at body horror is actually quite laughable. When Reed Richards is first shown all stretched out on an exam table like a Stretch Armstrong doll I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes on how silly he looked.

doomedFinally, Fantastic Four completely goes off the rails in the final third that tries to be an action superhero film, but collapses when the villain Victor Von Doom (Tobey Kebbell) appears. This version of Dr. Doom incredibly redeems the Tim Story version! Doom here just shows up in the last fifteen minutes or so, blows up people’s heads with telekinesis and screams corny lines about the evils of humanity. He doesn’t look menacing but like a stupid combo of the Mummy and a metallic Freddy Krueger. This Doom has none of his comic book counterpart’s bravado and power. The only merciful thing to say about Dr. Doom is that his screen time is so short you can take a bathroom break when he first appears and he’ll gone by the time you return. BTW, most of those clips you’ve seen in the trailers don’t appear in the finished film.

Oh God, I have a headache right now thinking about the film. I’m going to pull out my old Fantastic Four DVDs to wash out the memories of witnessing this summer’s real Trainwreck. I think I’ll also go see Ant-Man again this weekend for good measure. With that let me conclude this review with an open letter to 20th Century Fox:

FF

Dear Fox:

Your company has struck out three times with the Fantastic Four. Each time you tried to improve the film franchise you only dug the grave deeper for the First Family of Marvel superheroes. Now you have released what will be known as one of the worst superhero films. You clearly don’t understand why they launched the Marvel Comics phenomenon and this reboot is a disrespect to the First Family and its fans.

By refusing to let the rights go back to Marvel and making bad films, you’re ruining your reputation and good will. Honestly, I’m questioning if I should bother to pay money to see more X-Men films and their spinoffs.

You’ve tried, but we’re getting diminishing returns here. Be honest with yourself and your shareholders. The bottom line is the dollar, but by continuing to produce these insulting adaptations you are alienating viewers and are putting your future profit at risk.

OK, keep the X-Men franchise, you’ve done good with it for the most part and there’s word that you want to do a TV show based on those mutants. Well, since you need to negotiate with Marvel for the TV rights, why not earn some cred and give the Fantastic Four rights back to Marvel? Don’t be a tool and hold onto the rights for another five or seven years then crank out another piece of crap out of spite. Just let it go.

Waldermann Rivera

 

The Merits & Flaws Of Past Fantastic Four Films

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The Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics’ first superhero team, always had a hard time with its live-action adaptations. The new reboot isn’t an exception. Filmmakers can’t seem to be able to properly translate what worked for this team in the pages of comic books into movies. Still, putting aside what went wrong with the three previous movies, they did get many parts right. It’s just that they missed the mark, sometimes by a mile.

The Fantastic Four (1995)

Bernd Eichinger and his Neue Constantin studio bought the film rights to the Fantastic Four back in the ’80s, but couldn’t raise the funds for the movie. By the next decade in order to prevent losing the rights the studio with Roger Corman’s help produced The Fantastic Four a quick, cheap adaptation.

old ff castOh boy, this movie was a mess, it’s on the level of those Godawful monstrosities made by The Asylum. The acting was hysterically bad, particularly Joseph Culp as Doctor Doom. Talk about hamming up the scenes! Then there were the zero-grade special effects. It’s hard to believe that a million dollars was spent on this fiasco when you see that they used animatics during the one scene that the Human Torch (Jay Underwood) used his full powers. Want a guaranteed laugh? Check out the film’s final scene when Mr. Fantastic (Alex Hyde-White) waves goodbye with an obvious fake arm from the sunroof of his wedding limo!

Yet, as terrible as the film was, it had a certain charm. The production nailed down the team’s look right down to the costumes, even The Thing (Michael Bailey Smith) was impressive. This is amazing considering how far off the mark more professional productions were with their versions of The Thing and Dr. Doom. Never mind the acting, at least they looked like their comic book counterparts!

bad ff

Despite their inexperience, you could tell that the actors and production team were trying their best. They honestly believed this was going to be a big deal, but tragically for them it wasn’t. The cast and crew didn’t know that the film was never intended to be released and it wasn’t. Nor did they expect the film to get its infamous reputation as bootleg copies of the film circulated. Still, while it’s a terrible movie, it warrants a viewing for either fans who want to see a more faithful adaptation or drunks needing a good laugh.

Fantastic Four (2005)

When the superhero movie boom started early last decade, it wasn’t long before the FF got their shot at the limelight. 20th Century Fox released Fantastic Four in 2005, which turned out to be a modest hit, but received mixed reactions.

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Even though Fantastic Four was a more polished and professional film with a $100 million budget (compared to the reboot’s $122 million) it seemed routine and bland at times. doomWhat was worse was that Fantastic Four was hobbled with a poor villain, a vital component of any superhero film. Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) was completely wrong from the casting to his backstory. In this version, he was your typical evil CEO who was part metallic and had electric-based powers. Those kind of changes wouldn’t have bothered people so much if the actor was a good fit. But, McMahon just didn’t have the gravitas that Doom requires because he’s a larger-than-life villain.

Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis) was also altered, but with different results. His look didn’t match the comic books’ version because he was human sized and lacked that famous protruding brow line. Also, his story was altered in that he was married, but his wife (briefly played by Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead) left him after she saw how he was disfigured by the accident that gave him his powers. But these changes weren’t too jarring and more importantly, Chiklis and the production captured Ben Grimm’s essence. Like in the comics he was downtrodden and full of self pity. He quarreled with his teammates, especially Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), who loved pulling pranks on him.

real torch

The other highlight was Johnny himself. Evans channeled the nature of this young superhero brilliantly. He reveled in his powers, he was brash, brave and loved life, which is why he was a good foil for the moody Thing. Evans was so convincing as the happy-go-lucky Human Torch that when he was announced to play Captain America, some people doubted he could portray the more mature and grounded hero. He proved them wrong. Continue reading

Still Skeptical About The Fantastic Four

FF

As I’m getting ready to watch the Super Bowl (mostly for the trailers and commercials, I have no stake in the Patriots or the Seahawks), I keep thinking about the trailer for The Fantastic Four that was recently released.

Twentieth Century Fox released it I think to quiet all the complaining from the genre community about how we didn’t have any info (not even an official image) from the controversial reboot. Seriously, they needed to have done that for the longest time and I think some of the animosity towards the film can be blamed on the lack of marketing.

Anyway, looking around the Internet I keep viewing videos and reading articles stating how good the film looks and how we can all breathe easier knowing that director Josh Trank is going to deliver a superb film with a new take on the Fantastic Four.

Honestly, I wasn’t impressed.

dick miles

When Fox announced the cast last year, I was very skeptical about the film right away from looking at the cast. And I still am. Yes, I do admit that the actors are well regarded like Miles Teller (for his role in Whiplash) and Michael B. Jordan. But as I said in my old post, these actors look too young. It’s undeniable that this reboot is taking its inspiration from the lackluster Ultimate Comics version of the Fantastic Four from last decade. In that version, the team was made up of young prodigies who travel to another dimension and get their powers by doing so. It didn’t work because that family dynamic from the original team was missing. Reed is supposed to be the distant father figure, Ben the grumpy uncle, Sue the mother figure and soul of the team, and Johnny being the young kid brother. I didn’t get that impression from the comic book and I don’t see it in this trailer.

Obviously, something like that can’t be shown in a teaser, but the team is made up of youngsters to attract the Twilight/The Hunger Games crowd and that is a big mistake. Why? This choice to go young undermines a basic core of what made the Fantastic Four work.

crap ff

Another vital aspect missing or at least not shown in the trailer was a sense of wonder and good nature. Another reason why the Fantastic Four worked in the comics was for its light humor, fanciful sci-fi, and adventure. Those were missing in the trailer. Instead we were treated to a grim, dour and generic-looking sci-fi film that looks like it could’ve been directed by David Fincher. In past press releases, the filmmakers kept saying this film is supposed to have a more grounded and gritty approach, but that doesn’t work for the team. It seems like Trank and company wanted to copy the look and feel of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. The film should’ve emulated Guardians of the Galaxy which gave off a fun, adventurous vibe. That would’ve being a better match. Perhaps Fox should’ve offered the film to James Gunn instead. While I’m at it, for all the complaints lodged at Tim Story’s Fantastic Four films at least they captured the essence of the team. It’s just that those films were doomed with bad casting, low budgets and weak scripts.

I’ll admit The Fantastic Four trailer is well shot and doesn’t look like a disaster, but it hit all the wrong buttons for me. I’m not excited about seeing this and I doubt I’ll go to the trouble of seeing it in a theater.

T. Rod Jones

Marvel Comics’ Greatest Moments

marvel 75 logo

Marvel Comics turned 75 this year. As we celebrate Marvel’s 75th anniversary, it’s hard to imagine how long the comic book company has been around. Even though Marvel Comics first debuted in 1939 with Marvel Comics #1 (featuring decidedly different superheroes like the Human Torch, Ka-Zar and Namor), the company truly came to its own in the 1960s when writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko introduced the world to new and dynamic superheroes.

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These masked marvels like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men quickly captured readers’ imaginations. Without exaggeration, Marvel Comics changed the comic book world and left a permanent mark in popular culture and its characters are still vibrant today. Incredibly enough, it can be said that they’re more popular today than when they were first introduced in the 1960s .

While Marvel superheroes have successfully transitioned into other media like films, toys, games and such, let’s not forget that the core of their appeal are with the comic books. Whether they’re just single stories in individual issues or epic mini-series and story arcs, the following are, based on my opinion, the best stories from Marvel’s 75-year history.

age of apAge Of Apocalypse: Spanning several different X-Men titles over several months, this massive storyline was about an altered reality where Professor X’s assassination in the past led to Apocalypse conquering North America, and Magneto leading the X-Men in a desperate attempt to stop him and correct history. Just seeing the alternate takes of our favorite mutants was a joy to read.

Avengers Disassembled: Boasting top avengers disassembledwriters and artists like Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, Robert Kirkman, Steve Epting, Dave Finch and George Perez, this comic book crossover spawned from The Avengers #500-503 into other superhero titles and upended most of the Marvel Universe. The team is literally ripped apart from within by an insane Scarlet Witch. Many heroes are killed and the Avengers were catapulted into new popularity with this controversial story arc.

Born Again: Daredevil has never been lower or a more captivating read than in this classic story arc spanning Daredevil #227-231. That is due to the genius writing of Frank Miller and the art of Dave Mazzucchelli. Daredevil’s worst enemy discovers his secret identity and systematically destroys the blind superhero’s personal world plunging Daredevil into his own worst hell.

The Captain: This underrated Captain America tale by Mark Gruenwald, Tom Morgan and Kieron Dwyer spans Captain America #332-350 and has Steve Rogers abandoning his role as the iconic hero and going underground. Meanwhile, a super patriotic, though unstable, replacement is picked by the U.S. government to take over, but as we see, it’s not easy living up to a legend.

Civil War: Probably the last great mini-series produced by Marvel pits its most iconic heroes against each other. As Iron Man and Captain America took opposite sides against the U.S. government’s superhuman registration act, Marvel Comics was changed forever and the mini-series’ impact is still with us today.

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Deliverance: The famous “Demon in a Bottle” story arc from Iron Man #120-128 bravely introduced the notion of a superhero being truly human and becoming an alcoholic. Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) alcoholism would resurface to even greater effect several issues later after his nemesis Obadiah Stane orchestrates a series of attacks. Stark soon became unable to continue being Iron Man and hit rock bottom culminating in Iron Man #182 when a now-homeless Stark battles not only the cold elements, but his own inner demons.

wolverine kittyDays of Future Past: The greatest X-Men story ever made reflected the height of the historic collaboration of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. In this exciting two-part tale from The Uncanny X-Men #141-142, robotic Sentinels have hunted mutants nearly to extinction in the near future, so one mutant is sent back in time to alter history.

The Death of Captain America: One immediate aftermath of the Civil War mini-series was Ed Brubaker’s gut-wrenching examination of the death of an American legend. Coldly assassinated before standing trial, Captain America’s death led to another hero taking up his mantle and a serpentine plot by Cap’s greatest enemies.

The Death of Gwen Stacy: The two-part gwen stacy deathstory from The Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122 is considered by some as the end of the Silver Age of Comics. This emotional tale about Spider-Man’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, killing his girlfriend  was a gut punch not only for Spider-Man but his many followers who were stunned by the tragedy.

The Doctor Is In: John Byrne wrote and drew some outstanding comic books during his Marvel tenure. Before Deadpool came along, Byrne’s rendition of She-Hulk had her hysterically breaking the fourth wall. In The Sensational She-Hulk #5 story titled “The Doctor Is In” she had to not only contend with Doctor Bong, but with literally walking across comic book pages (ads included). Marvel Comics was rarely funnier than with this particular issue.

The Hulk Vs. The Thing: Marvel is known for how often its superheroes fight each other. This early story from Fantastic Four #25 & #26 is one of the best since its primarily a battle royale between two of Marvel’s strongest titans. The Stan Lee-Jack Kirby classic is at the same time a story about determination and fighting against the odds, in particular with the Thing.

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If This Be My Destiny…!: The story arc from The Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 had Spider-Man run through exhausting trials to gather serum for his dying aunt. His quest culminated in issue #33 with a story titled “The Final Chapter!”.  In the issue, our hero is trapped under tons of steel and rubble and in danger of drowning with the serum just out of reach. Spider-Man has to find the fortitude to free himself and his effort was memorably inspiring.

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