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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F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 20, 2017)

20 04 2017

We’ve all seen our fair share of time travel movies ranging from the fantastic (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” the “Terminator” series) to the comedic (“Hot Tub Time Machine“) and even the romantic (“About Time“). But there’s a special class of scrappier films, like Shane Carruth’s “Primer” and Rian Johnson’s “Looper,” who rely less on stars and visual effects for this particular blend of sci-fi. Instead, they involve us in story by putting a creative spin on the mechanics of their time manipulation.

Nacho Vigalondo’s 2008 debut feature, “Timecrimes,” is another welcome entry into this esteemed group. Admittedly, I avoided the film for quite some time because I judged the book by its cover. (The gauze-wrapped head on the poster made me feel some kind of way.) But after the rapturous acclaim Vigalondo’s latest film, “Colossal,” received, I thought it only right to go back to the beginning with the director. What I found was a sharp, succinct time travel tale that is deeply concerned with human agency and free will in a world where delineations between past, present and future cease to exist. It’s an obvious choice for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” and it’s certainly one I’ll be mulling over for weeks to come.

Going too deep into plot details would only inhibit full intellectual access to “Timecrimes,” so I’ll describe the experience as something close to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” or “Edge of Tomorrow.” The outcome is certain in all these films, despite the ability to make directional shifts along a chronological timeline. For the characters making these journeys to the past, they slowly come to realize that their actions are not their own. Instead, they must play a predetermined role in maintaining reality.

For Héctor in “Timecrimes,” this involves piecing together the seemingly non-sensical relationship between a naked girl in the woods, a gauze-wrapped man wielding scissors and an invasion of his home. In order to make sense of it all, he must make several trips back to the past with the aid of a mysterious neighbor’s contraption. Though we might lose our footing in time, we never unlock ourselves from Héctor’s desire to return to normalcy and restore some order in life. It’s this connection that makes the film so memorable and distinctive among its peers.





REVIEW: Camino

4 03 2016

CaminoFantastic Fest, 2015

The danger of seeing successive films at a festival is that their cumulative effect can prove quite draining, making the later films in the day enervate rather than energize. “Camino” is one such film that fell victim to the festival effect for me, but let me be clear – I do not think the fault is entirely my own.

I drifted in and out of sleep for large portions of Josh C. Waller’s film, yet every time I opened my eyes, I could figure out exactly what I had missed. The script is just that simple. “Camino” marks another uninspired entry into the canon of “Final Girl” movies, where a lone female survivor outlasts everyone else in the film for some intrinsic virtue. Zoë Bell’s protagonist, war photographer Avery Taggert, lacks any kind of exceptional gumption that merits our investment of energy or empathy.

The film follows Taggert on assignment in Colombia, where she ultimately must flee and fight for her life after capturing a rather damning incident on camera. Her journey for survival, riddled with cliches and void of tension, is the kind of thing I would gladly sleep through in any kind of viewing environment. Waller makes an unabashed B-movie with “Camino,” but who really cares when that film is made from a C-grade screenplay? C2stars