REVIEW: Colossal

28 04 2017

Historically in monster movies, the imminent threat stands in for a more existential fear. From foreign invaders to nuclear weapons and screen addiction, we’ve seen any number of external forces terrorize the cinema. But starting in the 1960s (as compellingly chronicled by Jason Zinoman in his book “Shock Value“), some of these monsters came to represent parts of ourselves. They were manifestations of some internal demons, not some societal hazard.

Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal” is the latest film in this tradition as Anne Hathaway’s trainwreck of a character, Gloria, manifests as a godzilla-like beast in Seoul when she gets blackout drunk in a certain radius. The premise sounds a little risible, admittedly, but Hathaway and Vigalondo sell its spirit with gusto. This is not the kind of movie devoted to detailed scientific explanation. You accept the oddly specific rules under which it operates and then delve into its rich metaphorical terrain.

A mid-movie turn in the plot should go unspoiled in a review, but I’ll hint at it by saying it opens “Colossal” up to be more than just a metaphor for alcoholism. The monster is all of us and whatever baggage we carry that makes us act impulsively. It takes a physical manifestation of these forces to make Gloria realize that her actions can cause collateral damage harming people around her. Vigalondo adds plenty of contemporary touches – in particular how the Internet can find a way to turn tragedy into memes instantaneously – but this classical dilemma lies at the very heart of the film. The satisfying resolution shows why Hathaway is uniquely equipped to play the part. It requires creativity, determination and a brushing aside of the haters. B+

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REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

20 03 2017

From their first moments, all movies start establishing a contract with their audience to set the framework of guidelines and conventions through which to view the work. This might sound like advanced film theory – it’s not. And for all those who just want to know if Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” is worth seeing, this is relevant. These implicit contracts are some of the first things you factor into your decisions about a movie’s quality because they relate to whether or not you believe their created worlds.

Fictional films present distortions of observable reality that ask for various suspensions of normal existence. Conveniently, one of the easiest illustrations of this principle resides in the musical genre. We generally accept that people do not burst out into song as a mode of expression. If they do in a film, though, why? Is it a sung-through musical like “Les Misérables,” where music is the only mode of communication? Is it like “La La Land,” where song and dance numbers provide an expressionistic commentary? Is it more akin to “Into the Woods,” where moments of heightened emotion cause the characters to break out in a catchy melody?

The animated musicals of the so-called “Disney Renaissance” from 1989 to 1999 hinged on a fairly interesting set of conventions. The films borrowed heavily from the Broadway musical format but also took wild flights of animated fancy. Their limitation was not the confines of a stage but the edges of imagination. It’s no wonder these films carved out such a special place in the millennial consciousness.

But when it comes to adapting “Beauty and the Beast” into a live-action feature, musical numbers and all, director Bill Condon had a special challenge that Kenneth Branagh did not face in his 2015 version of “Cinderella.” Fans of the 1991 animated classic expect a certain fidelity to the original film. But so much of what made that film so effervescently delightful simply does not translate easily to a world that more closely resembles our own.

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REVIEW: The Cobbler

20 07 2015

The CobblerTom McCarthy may soon bear an ignominious distinction in the history of my sight, going from making my #1 film in 2011, “Win Win,” to likely one of the worst in 2015 with “The Cobbler.”  This adult fairytale, co-written with Paul Sado, makes “Click” feel like it possesses the profundity of an Aesop’s Fable.  It’s all of the magic with none of the heart.

Adam Sandler stars as Max Simkin, a pickle-munching mensch on the Lower East Side, who reluctantly becomes the “guardian of souls.”  It’s a title not only better deployed within the context of a Marvel movie but also a pretty terrible pun since Max is a cobbler who works with soles.  In a strange turn of events, Max discovers that he can literally walk around as his clients if he walks arounds in their shoes … because magic.

Shockingly, Sandler’s character takes a whopping half-hour to discover the potential of the shoes for sex.  “The Cobbler” bops around from episode to episode, most stupid but a few touching, all the while squandering a great opportunity for an obvious message. The premise of the story effortlessly lends itself to discussing cultural differences and the understanding we can gain by learning through experience.

But sadly, this isn’t a Tom McCarthy movie, not really.  It’s an Adam Sandler movie.  In his movies, social commentary would never get in the way of entertaining genre fare.  Shame on us for assuming anything might be different here.  C2stars





REVIEW: The Guest

3 02 2015

The Guest

A new spate of American genre films that wear their influences on their sleeves often underwhelm.  After all, the downside of name-checking is having to weather comparisons to the source itself.  Adam Wingard’s “The Guest,” however, is the rare film from this revival that actually stands well on its own merits.

The plot could more or less be reduced to saying it’s “The Terminator” for the age of the Iraq-Afghanistan military industrial complex.  Dan Stevens stars as David Collins, the titular guest, a self-professed veteran who slyly ingratiates himself with the family of fallen comrade Caleb Peterson.  His stay just keeps extending due to the kindness of the Petersons and his insidiously winning charm.

Wingard plants the seeds of conflict and action in this idyllic sojourn of “The Guest.”  The movie jumps from a mostly dramatic piece to a tense thriller and then into an all-out action fest (whose ending nods cleverly to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”).  Somewhat surprisingly, all these elements coexist rather well.  This is due in large part to Wingard allowing knowledge of cinephile cult classics to enhance the movie, not drive it altogether. It also helps that “The Guest” does not feel like a litany of references to his VHS collection circa 1993.

Wingard simply brings a fun amount of campy pulp to the table while also maintaining the movie’s integrity.  “The Guest” lands in the narrow strip between parody and believability.  It is serious enough to command and maintain attention without being so serious that it precludes a great, enjoyable time.  And that throbbing synth-pop score underneath it all?  Just icing on the cake.  B+3stars