Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Colossal

Colossal was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo.

Vigalondo is a Spanish writer, director and actor. He previously wrote and directed Timecrimes (which I highly recommend), Extraterrestrial, Open Windows and the Parallel Monsters segment of V/H/S Viral.

Imagine an indie relationship drama like Garden State combined with a Godzilla film, and you'll have a good idea what this movie's about.

The film's well-written and well-acted, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. I generally don't have much patience for "soul-searching" movies like this, but somehow it found the perfect balance between a character piece and a monster movie.

Best of all, Colossal sets up a specific series of rules concerning the way the monsters work, and the story actually follows them! In fact, main character Gloria even cleverly uses the rules to her advantage at the end of the film! Well done, movie!

You don't have to be a film scholar to pick up on the movie's conspicuous message. The Giant Monster is obviously supposed to represent Gloria's destructive addiction. At one point her boyfriend Tim even tells her, "You're out of control!" Later she wakes up after a booze-filled bender, sees the Monster on TV and asks, "What did I do? How many people did I kill?" much the way a remorseful drunk driver would. 
Her attempts to tame the Monster then perfectly coincide with her kicking her booze habit as well, as she takes steps to clean up her act and get her life back on track. Not exactly subtle, but it works.

Unfortunately the film does go off the rails a bit at the end, as the resolution to the story is a too clean (not to mention morally ambiguous), but if you can live with that, you'll probably enjoy it.

In May of 2015, Colossal was hit by a lawsuit from Toho studios in Japan, owners of the Godzilla films. The lawsuit claimed that Voltage Studios (distributers of Colossal) were using images and stills from various Godzilla movies in a presentation designed to lure potential investors. Voltage reached a settlement with Toho that October, and the suit was dropped.

While researching the film, I noticed that perennial movie critic Rex Reed of the New York Observer gave Colossal 0 out of 4 stars, saying, "It was almost as unwatchable as it was incomprehensible." 

First of all, I was surprised to find out that Rex Reed is not only alive, but still reviewing films. Secondly, Reed's so out of touch with the general public that any time he says a film is a bomb, you should immediately seek it out and watch it. There's nothing incomprehensible about Colossal unless you're a drooling moron. Lastly, anyone who willingly starred in 1970's Myra Breckinridge has no business being a film critic (look it up, kids).

So far the film's grossed just $3 million against its $15 million budget. It's probably not fair to call it a flop though, as it had an extremely limited release, playing in just 327 theaters. For comparison, Wonder Woman played in a whopping 4,165 theaters during its first week.


The Plot:
Twenty five years ago in Seoul, South Korea, a girl’s searching for her lost doll in a park. As she finds it, she looks up and sees an enormous Godzilla-type monster, er, I mean a generic-looking Giant Monster (don't wanna get sued!) form out of thin air and start stomping around the city. The girl screams in terror.

Cut to present day New York City. Gloria (played by Anne Hathaway) comes home from a night of hard partying, and tries to sneak into the apartment she shares with her boyfriend Tim (played by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey and Beauty And The Beast fame). He complains that she’s out every night drinking, and is tired of her constant hangovers, lost jobs and screw-ups. He packs her things and tells her to get out.

Having nowhere else to go, Gloria moves back to her hometown in upstate New York, into her (presumably deceased?) parents’ old home. It’s completely unfurnished (Plot Point!) so she walks to a local store to buy an air mattress. On the way back she runs into her childhood friend Oscar, (played by Jason Sudeikis). The two of them reminisce a bit, and Oscar seems like a typical “Nice Guy.” He mentions he’s on his way to the bar he inherited from his father, and gives her a ride there. So far this is playing out like every indie drama I've ever seen.

At the bar, Gloria meets Oscar’s best friends Garth (played by Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel. The four of them hang out in the bar after closing time and get falling-down drunk. Joel tries to kiss Gloria, which enrages Oscar.

Gloria wakes in the bar the next morning, and walks home with her mattress. She passes through a small playground at exactly 8:05 am (Another Plot Point), stopping to watch a group of kids walk to school. She makes it home with the mattress, but is too tired to inflate it and passes out on the floor.

Later that day Gloria’s awakened by a call from her sister, who asks her if she’s been watching the news. She opens her laptop and is stunned to see news coverage of a huge kaiju attacking Seoul. She can hardly believe that something like this is happening in the real world. Just then Oscar arrives at her house, and is such a Nice Guy he gives her an old big screen TV he was going to throw out. He offers her a job at the bar and she accepts.

Gloria begins working in the bar and hanging out after hours with Oscar and the gang. She walks home one morning and stops in the playground— at 8:05 am— to call Tim. He hangs up when he realizes she's hung over again and hasn’t changed. She angrily throws her phone to the ground and scratches the top of her head, which is her trademark nervous tic.

Gloria goes home and passes out again. When she wakes she watches the news, and sees more coverage on the Giant Monster. She's puzzled when it mimics the action of throwing something to the ground, then stops and scratches the top of its head. Gloria begins to suspect a link between her and the monster, and decides to perform an experiment.

The next morning she goes to the park at 8:05, raises one arm over her head, then the other. She rushes home to watch the news, and is both delighted and terrified that the monster copied her exact movements. In some bizarre way she's causing the monster to appear in Seoul, and is inexplicably controlling its movements.

Gloria brings Oscar, Garth and Joel to the playground the next morning and tells them to watch the live "monster streams" from Seoul on their phones. The guys are puzzled, but humor her. At 8:05 she steps into the playground and starts dancing. The guys are stunned as they watch the Giant Monster perfectly mimicking her movements on the other side of the world. Suddenly several helicopters begin shooting the Monster in the face, which Gloria painfully feels. She swats at something unseen in front of her face, which causes the Monster to send a chopper crashing to the ground. Oscar steps into the playground to help. Gloria swats at another unseen attacker and falls down.

Back home, Gloria watches the news in horror. When she fell in the playground, the monster fell in Seoul as well, destroying buildings and killing hundreds. She feels directly responsible for their deaths. Oscar arrives and hands her a newspaper, which shows that the Monster was joined by a Giant Robot. He says he thinks the Robot was him!

Gloria then stops drinking and begins acting responsibly for the first time in years, as she feels an obligation to the people of Seoul. She has a Korean restaurant owner translate a message for her (apparently she doesn't know about Google Translate). The next day she goes to the playground and conjures the monster. She gestures for everyone to stand back, then writes her message in the sand. The Korean citizens are gobsmacked by the message, which reads, "I'm sorry. It was a mistake. It won't happen again." This causes a change in opinion toward the monster, as the public now believes it means well.

That night after the bar closes, Gloria goes home with Joel and spends the night with him. The next morning Gloria walks home through the playground, and sees a drunk and jealous Oscar waiting for her. His Nice Guy facade starts to slip a bit, as he scuffs his feet in the sand, causing the Giant Robot to kill hundreds in Seoul. Gloria tries to stop him, slapping him in the face and ordering him to leave. In Seoul, it looks like the Giant Monster fights the Robot and drives it away, to the cheers of the populace.

That night after the bar closes, Oscar begins drinking and becomes increasingly hostile and violent. He drives Garth away and accuses Gloria of thinking she's "too good" to drink with him. He orders her to drink a beer, threatening to destroy Seoul if she doesn't (!). She takes the beer, defiantly pours it out in front of him and leaves.

The next day Joel delivers a load of old furniture to her house, saying it's a gift from Oscar. She goes to Oscar's home, where he apologizes profusely for his behavior and begs her forgiveness. Later that day Tim calls Gloria, saying he's in town for business and would like to see her. She goes to his hotel room, and he seems impressed that she's stopped drinking and is seemingly turning her life around.

Tim insists on giving Gloria a ride to the bar. Oscar's none too pleased to meet Tim, and sets off a huge firework inside the bar, severely damaging it. Tim asks Gloria to come back to New York with him, but she refuses. Oscar gloats, telling Tim that no matter how awfully he behaves, he's got Gloria under his thumb and she'll never leave.

Gloria has a flashback to her childhood, when she and Oscar were walking to school. Gloria carries a model of Seoul she made for a school project (!), but the wind blows it out of her hands and into a small clump of trees (that's now the site of the playground). Oscar walks through the brush, sees Gloria's model and spitefully stomps it to pieces, revealing he's always been an asshole. Suddenly lightning flashes, striking Gloria and Oscar on their heads. A toy kaiju monster spills out of Gloria's backpack, while a robot toy falls from Oscar's. Get it? It's their origin story!

Gloria goes home and is startled to see Oscar waiting there for her. He tells her he's there to make sure she doesn't run back to Tim. She tries to leave and he attacks her. They have a brutal fight, destroying her living room in the process. Oscar punches Gloria (!) and leaves, heading toward the playground. No more Mr. Nice Guy, I guess!

Gloria comes to and follows Oscar. She sees him stomping all over the playground, wreaking havoc in Seoul. She attacks him, but he punches her again and knocks her down. He tells her that if she leaves town, he'll come back every morning and destroy Seoul until there's nothing left. She sobs on the ground while Oscar/Giant Robot rampages the city.

Suddenly Gloria has an idea. She boards a plane and flies all the way to Seoul. She walks calmly through the ruined city, as panicked citizens run past her. She sees the Giant Robot ahead and walks determinedly toward it. Back in the States, Oscar's stomping around the playground again. He stops as he feels the ground quake, and looks up to see the Giant Monster looming over him.

In Korea, Gloria reaches down and grabs at a small, unseen object. In the playground, the Giant Monster snatches Oscar and holds him up to its face. This causes the Giant Robot to raise in the air, as if held by a giant, unseen hand. Oscar begins sobbing, asking Gloria/Giant Monster for forgiveness. She almost falls for his ruse, until he calls her a "f*cking bitch." Gloria then hurls her unseen captive into the distance. This causes the Giant Monster to throw Oscar a hundred miles through the air. In Seoul, the Giant Robot also sails off like a shot, never to be seen again.

The people of Seoul celebrate the defeat of the Giant Robot. Gloria walks into a bar, looking shellshocked. The bartender asks if she's OK. Gloria says yes, and asks if the woman would like to hear an amazing story. The lady says yes, and asks if she'd would like a drink first. Gloria lets out a long, ambiguous sigh.


•  Once Gloria discovered she controlled the Giant Monster, why didn't she didn't just clam up and stay away from the playground? She and Oscar were the only ones linked to the location, and he was unlikely to ever go there before she involved him and he found out he could control a Giant Robot. 

Of course if she'd kept quiet about it and took another route home, then the film would have only been twenty minutes long.

• I liked the look and design of the Giant Monster quite a bit. Unfortunately we never really get a good look at the Giant Robot, as we only see it from a distance and only at night.

• Gloria tries to make amends to the people of Seoul by focring the Giant Monster write an apology in the sand. She gets a local restaurant owner to translate the message into Korean for her.

So why didn't she just use Google Translate? 

Oddly enough writer/director Vigalondo seems to realize this is a plot hole, as he even includes a line about Gloria not trusting the accuracy of online translators. It's pretty weak sauce though. There's also a lengthy scene calling attention to the fact that she needlessly risked exposing her link with the Monster by involving a third party, instead of translating it herself.

Why bother with all these unnecessary explanations? Why not just cut the scenes, have her use Google Translate and be done with it?

• I'm not a fan of Gloria and Oscar's "origin story," which explained how they can control rampaging kaiju on the other side of the world. To refresh your memory, as kids they were struck in the head by lighting. While standing in the future site of the playground. While Young Gloria was holding a school project about Seoul. And while they were both carrying toy monsters in their backpacks. Sheesh!

Honestly I think it would have been better if they'd just left it unexplained.

• Many reviewers had a problem with Oscar's sudden 
transformation from "Nice Guy" into violent, emotionally manipulative psycho, claiming it came completely out of the blue.

I disagree. The signs were there all along, from his very first scene. His true nature was buried just an inch or two under the surface, and it didn't take much provocation to bring it out.

Oscar plays the "Nice Guy" role to the hilt around Gloria, constantly giving her furniture bringing over groceries and even offering her a job. Of course he then feels she owes him something for these unsolicited gifts, and lashes out at her when he doesn't get what he thinks he deserves.

Kudos to Jason Sudeikis for such a subtle (maybe too subtle!) and amazingly perceptive performance.

• Sadly the film's plot train derails late in the third act. 

Oscar threatens Gloria physically and emotionally, vowing to destroy Seoul and kill thousands of innocents if she tries to leave town. Gloria then uses her connection with the Giant Monster to kill Oscar.

OK, her solution to the problem was a clever use of the rules the film set up, but it sends out a very weird message. Apparently if you're in an abusive, manipulative relationship with a violent, emotionally-crippled bully, just straight up murder him! Problem solved!

Sure, Oscar was a horrible asshole, he physically and mentally abused Gloria and his actions indirectly lead to the death of hundreds of innocents in Korea, but... did he really deserve to die for all that? It's not really for Gloria to decide. Especially since her drunken actions inadvertently killed several Seoul citizens as well. How about if maybe Gloria just called the police on him after he broke into her house and beat her?

Colossal is a bizarre mashup between an indie relationship drama and a kaiju movie, but somehow it works. It stuck with me for days after I saw it, which is more than I can say for most films these days. It falls apart toward the end, but overall it's a well-written and well-acted film that I highly recommend. I give it a solid B.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Site Meter