Mini-Reviews: Chronicle, Red Tails, Wanderlust
In an attempt to give readers my feelings on films as I plug away on a number of writing assignments, I’ll provide mini-reviews to give my succinct opinion on films and to give me time to finish my other projects.
Chronicle shows that found-footage filmmaking doesn’t have to be lazy. It can be used in clever ways in the hands of the right filmmakers, such as Josh Trank and writer Max Landis. The gauntlet has been thrown down for 2012 films: your superhero film better have characters this well developed, and your found footage better be a storytelling asset and not a crutch. The story isn’t original, but the angle is– much of the joy I derived from the film comes from its ability to cheat the restrictions of a found footage film. Subplots involving a vlogger drag the film down, but with strong performances, a wicked sense of humor, and an ending that is enormously impressive on a low budget, Chronicle is an early-spring surprise: a genre film with strong execution.
I’d heard little but negative things about Red Tails, George Lucas’ long-delayed dream project about the Tuskegee Airmen. Its January release date made me nervous too– it seems a big action movie merits a summer or at least late-spring release. It’s certainly not perfect, as the first ten minutes are pretty terrible, the abrupt shifts in tone are jarring, and the hand of an interfering editor is felt by the audience from time to time. However, Lucas’ goal of creating a “John Wayne film for African-Americans” is achieved– it’s a patriotic and likable affair, full of performances that transcend the writing (especially David Oyelowo, who in a just world is a big movie star) and several exciting dogfight sequences. The story and characters aren’t new or unpredictable, but the idea of an all-black action movie for teens is new. Red Tails is an affable first installment in a black-action genre that I hope continues to grow.
David Wain’s films are at their best when he gives his talented comic actors a chance to let a scene devolve into a vamp of silliness– the more absurd the scenario, the more his films soar. Wanderlust, his newest outing, definitely has a healthy portion of laugh-out-loud madness. Paul Rudd never seems more comfortable as a lead than he does in Wain’s hands, and many of the supporting crew (Kerri Kenney-Silver, Joe Lo Truglio, Justin Theroux, and Ken Marino) are always funny in every film they’re in, so when they get chances to play off of each other, you feel the magic. Much like Role Models, Wain’s previous feature, Wanderlust begins to stall out when plot machinations are forced into the proceedings– despite the fact that a film needs a story, Wain’s films run far more effectively as character explorations than traditional plot-driven cinema. Too often, the film loses its easygoing demeanor and begins to feel forced, yet as with all of Wain’s films, there are enough blissfully funny moments that it’s still absolutely worth checking out.