Refusing a genre, ‘Colossal’ is a revelation

The strongest of my genre expectations is that every film will exist in some sort of genre. And then, I expect that the conventions of that genre will convene, maybe with a few slips or surprises, but nothing more. When a film like Colossal comes along – a film that defies, ignores, mashes up and spits on multiple genres – I couldn’t help but be confused. Through half of it, I watched with my head tilted as if I were a puppy watching his owner practice yoga. It’s a talky indie comedy, a Korean monster movie, a feminist suspense film and an addiction parable; it’s funny, creepy, shocking and weird as hell. Clearly, the studio didn’t know what to do with it, because the trailer makes it seem like a slapstick rom com star vehicle for Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. It’s not.

Hathaway plays Gloria, an out-of-work New York writer who is drinking away her sorrows, her anxiety and her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). When he kicks her out after one-too-many all-night binges, she lands in the empty house where she grew up in Maidenhead, New Jersey. While walking home with her new inflatable bed, her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) drives by. He now owns his father’s bar, and they rekindle their friendship while drinking till dawn with his friends Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson). Oscar eventually offers a bartending job to Gloria; he clearly has a crush on her, but she seems more interested, at least while drunk, in Joel.

Meanwhile, a several-story-tall monster is randomly appearing in Seoul for a minute at a time and causing mass destruction. Not surprisingly, everyone is horrified and mystified, and Oscar’s bar does good business because of it. But then Gloria notices that the monster has the exact same body language she does, particularly at 8:05am when she’s walking home drunk through a nearby playground. Somehow, she is that monster – for a minute a day, from 7,000 miles away, and only in that little playground. She’s confused and feels horribly guilty for being responsible for the deaths of so many (nameless, faceless) Koreans. One morning, drunk as usual, she reveals her bizarre secret to her new friends, who are flabbergasted. And then it turns out that she’s not alone in her violent out of body transnational gigantism.

Gloria’s plight veers from ridiculous to pathetic to horrifying to hilarious, with the film starting as a comedy and ending in some sort of cathartic tragedy. The tone shifts make narrative and artistic sense, but they are certainly disconcerting, especially when you realize you’re watching comedic drunkenness that is killing hundreds of people on the other side of the planet. Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo doesn’t clearly signal to the audience how they’re supposed to feel about that or about Gloria’s emotional messiness in general, aside from bemused pity and confusion. But then the awkward love square created by Gloria’s flirtation with Joel, Oscar’s crush on Gloria and Tim and Gloria’s unresolved issues mashes up against the mysterious monster embodiment. Who’s good and who’s bad and what’s right and wrong becomes clear. And by the end it should be clear to most that the whole thing is a metaphor for the struggle with alcoholism.

Hathaway has done drunk well before, earning a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married. Gloria isn’t as well written a role, but Hathaway’s ability to seamlessly transition from broad comedy to dramatic grit is perfectly utilized. Except for Sudeikis, the rest of the cast mostly exist as plot devices, which is a shame considering the skills of Stevens and Nelson. Sudeikis, however, matches Hathaway’s skills in his portrayal of a not-so-secretly despondent drunk who is the life of the party one second and its destroyer the next. Oscar’s first appearance sets him up as the lead of a rom com, but then he becomes something much less safe and much more sinister, like the film as a while. Both are a revelation.

Written and Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens
Rated R

Originally published in LGBT Weekly

The 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Film

Update appended.

And the winners are…!

Most Excellent “I’m SO CrAzY!” Acting.

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Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” There is truly awful “I’m SO CrAzY!” acting, such as Brad Pitt in “12 Monkeys” or Robin Williams in “The Fisher King” showing off a bunch of mannered ticks, and then there is truly great “I’m SO CrAzY!” acting. Not since Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” has someone done sociopathic so well — so creepy, so deep, so funny, and so captivating.

Most Excellent “I’m so sad and depressed…” Acting.


Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married.” This movie bugged hard. It was preposterously plotted and every single character was awful, with the exception of Mather Zickel’s Kieran, Hathaway’s underwritten love interest. I wanted the movie to end about 45 minutes earlier than it did; it was annoying and boring. I guess Hathaway’s performance shows a great deal of versatility. She laughs, she cries, she pouts, she gets into a fist fight. But she’s ACTING. I wanted to slap her.

Most Excellent When Shirtless.

Hugh Jackman in “Australia.” Just watch this clip; you’ll get what I’m saying.

Most Excellent First Half of a Movie.


“Wall-E.” The first 45 minutes is more or less a silent film; it’s genius — moving, beautiful, hilarious. The moment the robot ends up on the intergalactic Ark, the movie becomes obvious political commentary about Saving the Environment. And that part is kind of annoying.
Most Excellent Rewrite of Source Material to Fit Our Current War.


“Iron Man.” In the original comic book, Tony Stark is kidnapped by the Vietcong and forced to make a weapon. In this movie, it’s some sort of a Al-Qaeda wannabe group. The best part is that Stark is given an Middle Eastern buddy / assistant / doctor that diffuses the otherwise problematic racist overtones. No such Vietnamese sidekick existed back in the 1960s version. Yay for progress.

Most Excellent “You’re doing WHAT?!” Acting. Tie!


Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder.” His three scenes are shocking, not just because it’s Cruise but because his character is so shocking. Usually when Cruise pulls a WTF?! moment, it seems to me as if he’s just a sight-gag. This was more. Though, yeah, he is kind of sight-gag. And oddly hot.


Robert Downey, Jr. in “Tropic Thunder.” Just plain genius. I don’t know how they pulled off his make-up, but Downey pulled off the character by being a brilliant actor. I mean, really. He’s that good. He should win an Oscar.

Most Excellent Reason to Blacklist a Casting Director.


Pierce Brosnan in “Mama Mia!” What were they thinking? The last 15 seconds of this clip … they’re just painful. Oh, my ears.

Most Excellent Gimmick-less Acting.


Sean Penn in “Milk.” He certainly looks a lot like Harvey Milk, but not that much. And he certainly sounds a lot like Milk, but not that much. This is a not a simple imitation, like Jamie Foxx in “Ray” (as good as that was). Penn creates a character who is more than Milk; he is a gay Everyman, a Norma Rae for the Gays. He’s also funny, sexy, and flawed. Obviously, Penn’s Milk wouldn’t exist without Dustin Lance Black’s amazing script, which is based on mostly new research.

Most Excellent Gimmick-less Film.

“Milk.” It’s the gay “Gandhi,” except it’s not too long and not boring. And unlike it’s documentary predecessor, it leave you uplifted, not completely depressed. The movie is nearly perfect.

Most Excellent Gimmicky Film


I feared that “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would be “Forrest Gump” with a darker palette and prettier people, but it was instead a deeply felt, deeply affecting meditation on death, aging, and fate. Like all David Fincher films, every shot was stunningly gorgeous. But it seems that Fincher has allowed his visual and technical virtuosity to serve the story, not his ego (unlike, I feel, he did in “Fight Club”). In his blankness and naivete, Brad Pitt was perfect. As Variety wrote, “Benjamin is a reactor, not a perpetrator, and Pitt inhabits the role genially, gently and sympathetically.” Cate Blanchett, playing a much more complex character, actually goes through more emotional transformations than Pitt does physical. As always, she’s amazing, and I don’t think she’s ever been better.

Most Excellent Trailer for a Movie That Doesn’t Exist and Probably Won’t.


“Thundercats,” starring Brad Pitt, Vin Diesel, and Hugh Jackman. I mean, really. This is was obviously created by a future Oscar for Best Editing.

Most Excellent Movies That I Didn’t See Either Because I Couldn’t Be Bothered Or Because I Live in San Diego Where the Movies Will Never Open or Will Open Next Year.

Tie! Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Frozen River, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Quantum of Solace, Waltz with Bashir, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, The Wrestler, Changeling, and Gran Torino. Yeah. So in other words, I based 2008’s Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Film on, like, 10 movies. Ha. Suckerz.

Tomorrow: The 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Books!