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Chronicle

Virgins are dangerous.

 

Take Andrew (Dane DeHaan) from the new science-fiction film Chronicle. An anonymous teenaged wallflower from a dysfunctional home, Andrew is suddenly given extraordinary powers after he and two buddies brush against something supernatural in a cave. Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) are happy to fly around and control objects with their minds, but Andrew has to go all Godzilla on the world because he’s never been to first base.

 

Sure, things begin innocently enough. Andrew seems more precocious than his friends, is able to manipulate Legos better than Matt, who can’t seem to master anything but attracting women, and takes to flying with little or no effort at all when Steve seems to have been practicing forever.

 

When the boys discuss flying to another corner of the world, Andrew demands Tibet . I suppose running away to a monastery is one way of defusing anxiety around members of the opposite sex, but you would hope superman wouldn’t be such a wuss.

 

But let’s face it: Andrew is weird. Take his need to film everything. Sure, it began by videotaping his abusive father breaking down his door (the film’s nod to recent news stories of the like), but when you film yourself eating a hard-boiled egg in the bleachers alone while you ogle the cheerleaders… Well, it’s ok to wonder if you’re just not right.

 

The camera also mediates our understanding of Andrew, Matt and Steve. Because Andrew controls the eye of the camera, we are told the story he wants us to know until that narrative is broken by other videos that inexplicably find themselves woven into the film. I can accept that this “found-footage” movie is actually a video diary Andrew made to document the extraordinary events, but I don’t know how or why I should be able to see the footage of a young female podcaster, TV news reports, or YouTube-style videos spliced in between Andrew’s footage.

 

The shaky found-footage technique is less obtrusive than you might think, however, partially because it breaks with the realistic mode of a Blair Witch by cheating and allowing other perspectives, but also because as Andrew’s powers grow, he gains more control over the camera so that it in effect becomes the omniscient eye of the director. The other characters notice and mention the flying camera that circles them, but in many ways the device becomes invisible.

 

In a way, the omitted scenes are at least as important as those that are included. For example, Andrew’s terminally ill mother’s final scenes go undocumented. (Mom is the only woman who will ever love the poor nerd.) The climatic moment that would resolve Andrew’s sexual dilemma happens off screen. What we do see about the event is strikingly vague and confusing, although the failed outcome is obvious.

 

Matt and Steve can’t understand Andrew’s problem. Steve has already used his telekinetic powers to augment his arsenal of sexual skills and for Matt it’s only a matter of time. He’s already involved in an off-screen / on-screen romance with the podcaster. They do not need the magic powers they’ve gained to impress the ladies. They have other, more natural tools at their disposal.

 

As Steve and Matt peel off in pursuit of satisfying sexual unions, Andrew can do nothing but brood over his non-existent love life. The competition over controlling Lego towers forgotten, he spirals out of control. If he can’t have love, he can at least embrace his new-found strength. If he can’t be a lover, he can at least adopt the pose of the hunter, proving that there’s nothing worse than a Geek with a macho complex.

 

The virgin exchanges violence for intimacy. Had the boy become a man and realized the satisfaction of love, who knows how the film would have ended? Maybe Andrew was only one successful sexual encounter away from true greatness.

 

But one thing is certain, according to logic of this film: if civilization is to survive, the virgins must be stopped!

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 

The Maytag Man would excel as a spy if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is any indication of the job requirements.

 

I remember the old duff sitting at the ready, waiting like a teenager by the phone for the one call that would somehow tie up his lost ends. Like George Smiley (Gary Oldman) in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, my Maytag Man was an action hero without much action.

 

Based on a novel by John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is complex, subtle and as impenetrable as last year’s fruit cake. To use the word “dense” to describe this two-hour-and-eight-minute film would be a disservice to other dense objects (a brick of Aunt Doris’ old fruitcake, for example, could be made into useful, understandable things like birdbaths and paperweights.)

 

Unless you are an avid spy buff, you will get lost during Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This will happen despite the fact that this is the slowest moving film in recent memory, a film that never makes a misstep. This marriage of density and dullness is designed into the movie and it’s a tossup whether you’ll give up because you can’t follow the plot or because you’ve fallen asleep.

 

This is not to say there isn’t something to like about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is a very attractive film, capturing the feel of the burgundy, browns, and terrible oranges of the early 1970s perfectly. (And this might be the last opportunity to show your grandchildren what a pay phone looked like!)

 

The Cold War tensions are palpable and Oldman, in particular, shines as an example of espionage in decline. Smiley is an anachronism, even in the 1970s. His generation of spies, men who had known each other during World War II, are relics of an earlier age when ideological divisions were easier to uphold. Locked in battle with the soviets, the old guard at the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) lived in a world of bright contrast.

 

Smiley rose to the top in this environment, a company man and product of the polarity between capitalism and communism. Although he has the corner office at MI-6, both he and his boss (referred to only as “Control” and played by John Hurt) are sent packing after a botched mission in Hungry leaves an agent in enemy hands.

 

For Smiley, retirement is a series of empty gestures. He boils water for tea, buys new glasses, swims, gets his hair cut. Friendless and alone, cut loose from the job that gave his life meaning, it’s impossible to mistake him for a hero as he shuffles around in his slippers or floats in a public pool with the other geriatrics.

 

Luckily for him (and us, too), the government calls him in for one last mission. There’s a mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service and Smiley is brought out of mothballs to secretly investigate his old team at MI-6’s headquarters, codenamed “The Circus.” Good old Smiley assembles a team to infiltrate the Circus and restore the good name and reputation of his Cold-War generation.

 

This is where things slow down and congeal. A top-secret project intended to funnel information back from Russia called “Witchcraft” may (or may not) be a front for double espionage, Smiley’s archenemy may (or may not) be controlling things from behind the iron curtain, and his girl may (or may not) be having an affair with fellow MI-6 superspy Bill Haydon (Colin Firth).

 

Smiley seems impassive throughout the film and Oldman is so subtle that it is possible miss his performance all together. This is the fundamental problem with nailing a character that’s not interesting to begin with: If you succeed, you capture a zero and if you fail only that failure is interesting.

 

And that’s the problem with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: There’s a lot of nothing going on. It slouches on, minute after minute, its plot moving in intricate, fundamentally uninteresting or impenetrable circles until you just give up and focus on Oldman playing this putz.

 

Here is the greatest living actor, playing a guy I wouldn’t want to share a bagel with, you say. This guy could play a dust mite down to a “t,” but it still wouldn’t be interesting.

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