Obligatory self-aggrandising film stuff

My baptism of fire into the movie criticism market was complete with a visit to see McCullin last week for TVBomb (a really super-dooper cool website you should totally favourite). A muscular documentary about iconic war photographer Don McCullin, that left me feeling so run down and wrung out I wasn’t able to come through to Glasgae for Los Tentakills latest offering. So I’ll maybe be linking things when I review them in future, I’ll definitely be tweeting about them if you follow me on that confounded thing, and so yeah. On we go. [Incidentally, thank you very much to the staff of Filmhouse Edinburgh who transferred my evening ticket into a matinee without any trouble at all. You guys rule. You’re a credit to service industry people who get so hard a time all the time]. So to cleanse my critical palette, I’d like to write about three films I’ve seen recently, and why they were so good. Take it away, myself.

Chronicle was the most unique of this year’s stupidly large crop of ‘found footage’ movies; which have seen a resurgence in the wake of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity’s storming box office success. Instead of being a horror flick, Chronicle is a superhero film. In that the story revolves around people with superhuman powers. Whether they are heroes would be a spoiler. I’ve never been enamoured with superheroes. I like the concept of power and responsibility and the best superhero stories (Watchmen and Unbreakable) make this centre stage, while most mainstream superhero flicks concern wrestlers punching people, while wearing their pants outside their trousers. Notice also that Watchmen and Unbreakable were both new intellectual property, unsullied by the years of history and clusterfuck continuity that blight established superheroes (note also Marvel’s Avengers gamble only paid off because they sacked the full history of the characters). Chronicle is a new intellectual property, and concerns itself with three teens who discover a buried something which flashes a bright light and gives them telekinetic powers. A bit of brain flexing later and that means crushing, throwing, flying and all manner of preternatural stuff can go down. A good narrative is one where the elements of the plot serve to accentuate the message, rather than muddy it, and the superpowers are all dancing around the broad maypole of the film’s single question. Power in the hands of damaged individuals. Of course, one of the teenagers is the bullied runt of the class, and while the telekinesis is used to amusing effect to prank and win a school magic show, the resultant emotional whiplash of realising his powers have made him more different rather than more accepted leads to a climax which echoes Carrie, but for the post-Columbine world. The film retains emotional believability through its characters. Their choice to use their powers for teenage mischief rather than immediately don the pants and commence the punching thing reflects what many of us would probably end up doing were we to acquire superhuman abilities. It’s an excellent addition to the criminally small area of ‘good superhero films’.

Speaking of ‘good superhero films’, y’know what wasn’t a good superhero film? The Dark Knight Rises. That’s right. I said it. Come and get me. Maybe it was the solidly unremarkable plot. Maybe it was the fact nobody gets a single memorable scene or line or action. Or because half the film takes place in a boring hole. Or because previously flawless action and cinematography guys seemed to have dropped all their quecards. Or because what little substance the movie had in superhero cache of lines, action and gadgets, were solidly underwhelming. Or because the script at a basic level (just like other summer blockbusters Prometheus and Looper) just doesn’t make sense, making it impossible to remember in detail in retrospect. Maybe because it was a bum-numbing bladder-stretching three hours long in addition to what I’ve already said. Maybe it’s because batman was barely in a film about batman. Maybe it’s end of trilogy syndrome, with three filmsworth of plot to neatly tie in a bow. Maybe it was always going to disappoint because reality will always pale in comparison to the things we can imagine. Perhaps Nolan, contractually obligated to make three of these films while knowing he was never going to best Dark Knight, having already told the story he wanted to tell and just waiting for his next big intelligent arthouse blockbuster project, was going through mechanical obligation on a story he wasn’t fussed about telling. Or maybe I’m just sick of watching them. I had a sneaking suspicion crawling over me that after Marvel had surprisingly knocked the Avengers out of the expectations park, I really had grown sick of ‘gritty’ as a description of film style. A film about a multi-millionaire who fills his days by swishing around in a cape and pants should not try to sell me his pain. And that, I think, was the handle; the inevitable bubble-burst of gritty realism over superhero movies in general that made Dark Knight Rises such a tedious and baggy sack of a film.

And finally the triumphant return of Kevin Smith with Red State. A fascinating mess of a film that slingshots around so quickly, and the emotional whiplash of the jarring Linda Blair’s in tone is enough to put almost everyone who might have found something interesting in it from staying with it. A slacker comedy about three extremely annoying teenage boys (the sort of thing Smith used to specialise in) quickly turns into a political horror movie where a thinly-veiled version of the Westboro Baptist Church cunts (don’t google them, don’t even give them the traffic) are murdering gay men and our three horny teenage slacker protagonists. Another big left turn comes when John Goodman’s team of ATF agents stage a mini version of the Waco tragedy. The film is too much of a mess to be called good, but there are two kinds of people in this world; people who think full trainwreaks like Red State are fascinating and worthy of study precisely because they’re trainwreaks, and those who think such things should be relegated to the bin of forgotten B-grade action films. You be the judge.

Written under duress by Steven.

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