Review – Teenagers And Time Travel Don’t Mix (“Project Almanac”)

I can fix this!”   If you’ve ever heard this sentence uttered in a time-travel movie before, you know someone’s in trouble. Once again, you have a rag-tag bunch of smart-ass teens messin’ with stuff they shouldn’t be messin’ with in another “found footage” camcorder-shot movie that shows the perils of science gone terrible wrong when left in the hands of the MTV generation.
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The video footage introduces us to a whip-smart and likeable high school science geek named David Raskin (Jonny Weston) who is trying to get into M.I.T. via his video admission letter concerning a drone he invented that can be controlled merely by hand gestures. His sister, Christina (Virginia Gardner) shoots the video while boyhood pals and fellow schoolmates, super-smart Adam (Allen Evangelista) and lunk-head Quinn (Sam Lerner) help out.
 
Good news: the drone is a success and M.I.T. will accept David! Bad news: They’ll only give him $5K towards his $40K scholarship. In a desperate move, David’s mom (Amy Landecker) puts the house up for sale to get the money, but David won’t stand for that and is convinced he can work things out. While looking for a second M.I.T. project, Christina finds their late dad’s camcorder and old footage of David’s 7th birthday still on it. But what’s this? 16-year-old David appears on the footage in a mirror reflection! WTH?
 
Investigating the video leads to their basement and dear old dad’s workshop where a secret box is discovered and plans to make a ‘temporal displacement portal’. A time machine!? The guys are elated and go to work building the contraption like kids making a Lego Death Star. Meanwhile, David’s would-be girlfriend, Jessie (Sofie Black-D’Elia) arrives and witnesses the initial experiment. It works! David tinkers with it more and, with the help of hydrogen, an X-Box, and his cellphone, he’s able to get the sucker down to a size that will fit into his backpack! Nice!
 
The gang establish time-traveling rules, like never “jump” alone, and pretty soon they’re having way more fun than they ever thought they’d have: winning the Powerball lottery, going to concerts that happened a month ago, getting back at bullies, and passing a test in class. BUT there are consequences to all that fun! David, in an effort to win back the heart of Jessie he lost at the concert, jumps alone and gets her to fall in love with him, but in doing so causes a time-ripple (the Butterfly Effect). Things start going askew with bad events causing other worse events and David starts to go nuts trying to “fix” the timeline AND keep Jessie at the same time.
 
His final solution: go back to his 7th birthday and destroy the notes on how to build the time machine! But if he did that, wouldn’t he. . .? Anyway, the finale is a confusing brush stroke that doesn’t make any sense if you follow the time-travel paradox rule. Look it up.
 
Written by newbie’s Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, this movie looks more like a USC college film project that your Hollywood feature film. Directed by first-time director Dean Israelite, it was shot with camcorders, Go-Pro’s, and all manner of hand-held video units. Although the “found footage” gimmick is okay, but it’s getting old and really deters from this story and could have easily been dropped. Why not just shoot this as a regular feature film and incorporate some of the “found” footage instead? Then you have the lengthy step-up to just getting to and building the time machine which, for all it’s silliness, was at least shown as plausible; something I was not expecting.
 
The young actors were all over the map from your standard Big Bang Theory geeky to comic relief over-the-top bad. You can definitely see who the target audience was with their overacting and their “hey, look! we’re teenagers! we don’t have a care in the world” attitude. Then there’s the whole time-traveling aspect which was fun to watch and imagine, but not fully explained as to the rules or mechanics. . .although they DID show what happens when a ‘future you’ meets a ‘present you’, so it wasn’t all schlocky.
 
Personally, I would have liked more of the science shown, but I guess that took a back seat to showing girls in bikini tops going down waterslides while rock music was playing. Oh, and did I mention that Michael Bay was one of the producers? Yeah, that might have explained it.

Chronicle (2012)

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“I am the apex predator!”, says Seattle teenager Andrew Detmer as he crushes a car with his mind. Teenagers messin’ around with time-travel is one thing, but having the power of telekinesis is another.

In another movie of “found video footage”, this is what happens when three teenagers accidentally stumble upon a mysterious outer space rock that gives them extraterrestrial powers that changes their lives forever. Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHann) is an abused teenager who videotapes his entire life as a chronicle of his abuse at home and the world as he sees it. Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) is Andrew’s cousin and best friend at school who also serves as his sounding board and the voice of reason. And finally there’s jock Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) the resident cut-up and comic relief for the trio.

After leaving a party one night, the three discover a curious hole located in the woods and decide to climb down into it. After being exposed to the alien rock inside, the three experience telekinetic powers and, like kids in a candy store, they have fun using their powers to move cars, toys in a department store, and messing around with other people. Andrew and Steve even show off at a high school talent show with their “magic” act. But once they figure out how to fly like Superman, all bets are off.

But Andrew slowly becomes cynical and aggressive, using his telekinesis turn the tables on his abusive father and then violently robs people to get money for his sick mother. Matt and Steve try to talk him down from his lofty pedestal, but when Steve is accidentally killed by a lightning storm (or was it an accident?), Matt gets worried at what Andrew has become. This ultimately leads to an all-out war between Andrew and Matt in the streets of Seattle that resembles a fight between two superheroes going at it using cars, buses, and anything else that happens to be handy. Finally, Matt has no choice but to kill his best friend and put an end to the mayhem and destruction.

The anticlimactic and dumb finale shows Matt talking to the camera in the Tibetan mountains. Written by Max Landis, son of director John Landis (Blues Brothers, Animal House), the story doesn’t condensed into teen-angst town and ludicrous side-stories, instead it whips along at a nice, steady beat. Directed by Josh Trask with an even hand and some terrific camera moves, the best part about this movie is the fact that actors shown are not as goofy or over-acting as in Project Almanac. They have a realism about them without going over-the-top and the camera work is astounding. Everything about them flying is jaw-dropping. You honestly get a sense and feel that they are flying without any visual aid whatsoever. I don’t know how they did it, but it looks awesome.
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