Colossal

For F*** Magazine

COLOSSAL 

Director : Nacho Vigalondo
Cast : Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Genre : Sci-Fi/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Coarse Language And Some Violence)

In this sci-fi dark comedy-drama, Anne Hathaway learns that the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic out-of-work writer whose irresponsibility has led to her boyfriend Tim (Stevens) breaking up with her. After getting kicked out of their house by Tim, Gloria moves back to Maidenhead, the small Midwestern town where she grew up. Her childhood friend Oscar (Sudeikis) helps Gloria get back on her feet, offering her a job at his bar. Gloria becomes acquainted with Oscar’s friends Joel (Stowell) and Garth (Nelson), developing a romantic interest in Joel. When a giant bipedal reptilian monster appears out of nowhere to terrorise Seoul, Gloria comes to the startling revelation that she is controlling the creature. At a specific time every day, the monster materialises in South Korea, and mirrors Gloria’s physical actions. As Gloria processes this surreal turn of events, her personal relationships take similarly unexpected turns.

There is a film franchise centred on giant robots, which releases its fifth instalment this year and has the tagline “more than meets the eye”. While there’s often less than meets the eye with that film series, there’s far more to Colossal than one might think. Colossal comes from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who helmed the mind-bending Spanish-language film Timecrimes and the experimental techno-thriller Open Windows. Colossal’s zany premise of a kaiju that just happens to be controlled by a random American woman is only its first layer of weirdness. By the film’s end, it’s evident that this is not a movie that is weird solely for the sake of being weird. The film’s genre-defying nature plus its blend of comedy and genuinely unsettling drama might alienate some viewers, but it adds up to a uniquely compelling whole.

Colossal has been marketed as a quirky comedy; its trailer scored with light-hearted music and its cutesy poster depicting Hathaway scratching her head, with the monster standing behind her, doing the same. While the inherent absurdity of the premise does lead to some laughs, Colossal winds up in an unexpectedly dark, dramatic place. As characters’ back-stories and motivations come to light, things suddenly feel a lot more serious than they did earlier in the film. Rather than feeling like whiplash, this trajectory is earned. The story is gripping enough for this reviewer to go along with – even given an explanation for the film’s central phenomenon which requires more suspension of disbelief than usual.

The film’s budget is estimated at around $15 million, which is a paltry sum compared to summer blockbusters than can cost upwards of $150 million. Vigalondo smartly allocates his resources, and the visual effects spectacle holds up sufficiently well. The climactic sequence, which includes scenes of the South Korean army ushering panicked civillians to safety, is more riveting than this reviewer thought it would be.

Hathaway is goofy and endearing, but is also able to evince the hidden conflict within Gloria. The attractive woman whose life has spun out of control thanks to a drinking habit could well be the lead character of an insufferable sitcom, but like with other aspects of the film, Colossal takes that archetype and builds it out in a surprising way.

It’s difficult to meaningfully discuss Colossal without giving too much away, so skip past this paragraph if you’re worried about spoilers – we’ll try to be vague. This is likely the most depth Sudeikis has been able to display in his acting career. The Oscar character starts out as your standard ‘nice guy’ character, but the cracks begin to form. As defined in various think-pieces, the ‘nice guy’ is a man who gives the appearance of being thoughtful and caring while pursuing women, and who becomes bitter and resentful when his advances are rebuffed. The deconstruction of this trope as performed by Sudeikis is visceral, sorrowful and engenders just the right strain of uneasiness.

 

Stevens’ supporting role is a minor one, but he does get to retain his English accent. The friction that arises from the initial friendliness shared by Gloria, Oscar, Joel and Garth in the bar unfolds in believable fashion.

It is perhaps ironic that Colossal’s producers were sued by Toho Studios, who claimed the film was too similar to their flagship kaiju Godzilla. There are superficial similarities in that Colossal, like Godzilla, features a monster stomping about an Asian metropolis. However, the underlying allegory is completely different, and Vigalondo’s boldness in crafting a film that defies classification pays off, in that it is far from a jumbled mess. Colossal not only breaks the mould, it stomps on it with insouciant defiance.

Summary: Colossal is an odd beast, but the weirdness that fuels it belies surprising depth, salient social commentary and emotional resonance.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bridge of Spies

For F*** Magazine

BRIDGE OF SPIES

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Sebastian Koch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
We’ve had our late-summer fun with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but with fall awards movie season upon us, it’s time to revisit the Cold War in a far more serious manner. It is 1957 and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is captured by the FBI in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bar Association elects for insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks) to serve as Abel’s counsel. Three years later, after U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Soviets, Donovan is tasked with negotiating his release. The deal is an exchange of Abel for Powers. Naturally, things aren’t that clear-cut, and the East Germans have American student Frederic Pryor (Rogers) in custody. With the odds stacked high against him, Donovan flies to East Berlin to bargain for the safe return of both Americans as the threat of nuclear war between the two superpowers looms ever greater. 
Bridge of Spies is based on the 1960 U-2 incident, an actual event, with a screenplay by Matt Charman and rewritten by Joel and Ethan Coen. The title refers to Glienicke Bridge, which was the site for several prisoner exchanges between the Americans and Soviets. The film has been described as a “Cold War thriller”, but it’s more of a courtroom drama and not an action-driven spies vs. spies affair. Director Spielberg’s follow-up to 2012’s Lincoln is another sombre awards contender, but this is more accessible to the average filmgoer, less dense and scholarly. Bridge of Spies is an old-fashioned drama, with the bleakness of a rubble-strewn East Germany evoking the gloomy vision of Vienna as seen in the classic spy film The Third Man. There is a stillness about the film, which is very much a slow burn. Spielberg’s films are seen by many as varying degrees of schmaltzy. While Bridge of Spies certainly has its emotionally impactful moments, it is largely restrained and the feeling of frigid detachedness effectively captures the atmosphere of the Cold War.
If the film that surrounds him is cold, Hanks is Bridge of Spies’ warm, beating heart. In this, his fourth collaboration with Spielberg, Hanks is called upon to embody the archetype of a decent man in an indecent time. If there’s anything Hanks can play, it’s “decent” – he does that and so much more here. James Donovan is a consummate professional who is flung into unfamiliar territory but who always stands his ground, his attentiveness and upstanding nature recalling To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. It turns out that Gregory Peck almost played Donovan in 1965, with Alec Guinness set to play Abel opposite him, but the film was ultimately called off as the era was too fraught with political tension for it to be made. When Donovan arrives in East Germany, construction has just begun on the Berlin Wall, and the angle of a relatively ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances is the audience’s way in. As Donovan is accosted by gang members, catches a cold and has to deal with Soviet and East German officials, he remains admirably steadfast, clinging to his principles, the ideal unassuming hero. 
Rylance, a veteran of the London stage, is coolly compelling as Rudolf Abel. Abel is a Russian spy, ostensibly the bad guy, but the film doesn’t demonise him, taking the stance that the Soviets had their spies and the Americans had theirs. Rylance’s Abel is unflappable and inscrutable, and the unlikely bond that Abel forms with Donovan makes for a fascinating and subtly moving dynamic. While audiences are very familiar with Hanks, Rylance isn’t as recognisable a name, and perhaps that unfamiliarity adds to Abel’s mystique. Spielberg apparently enjoyed working with the actor and Rylance will play the title character in Spielberg’s next film, The B.F.G. Defending Abel makes Donovan a very unpopular man indeed, and this takes its toll on his family, especially his wife Mary (Ryan). The scenes involving Donovan’s family and Pryor’s arrest at the border are the closest Spielberg comes to indulging his more sentimental sensibilities, but these moments are necessary to establish the personal stakes involved. 
Spielberg’s usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn bring the technical polish that we’ve come to expect from his films, but one key collaborator is missing: composer John Williams. Owing to a minor health issue which has now been resolved, Williams was replaced by Thomas Newman. Newman’s score is appropriately dignified, containing his own trademark instrumentation while not sounding a million miles away from what Williams might have written. 
Spielberg has always been an idealist, and along with lead actor Hanks, he brings a reassuring, old-fashioned moral certainty to this tale set in one of the murkiest eras in modern history. Even so, Bridge of Spies avoids being naïve and manipulative in its account of the U-2 incident negotiation process. Perhaps this reviewer just isn’t that much of an intellectual, but the one action sequence in which Powers’ U-2 spy plane is shot out of the sky did make him hanker for another Spielberg-directed straight-up action adventure. Of course, that’s not the kind of film Bridge of Spies is, and it lives up to the pedigree before and behind the camera, succeeding at being a sturdy, well-made historical drama. 
Summary: As prestigious as prestige pictures get, Bridge of Spies is a restrained, quiet drama anchored by Tom Hanks’ reassuring presence, with thespian Mark Rylance stealing the show from him at times. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong