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

Enjoy new wonders reminiscent of Harry Potter’s world

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

When the final book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was published, after the initial excitement of reading the final chapter, fans of the boy wizard and Rowling’s magical world created were also a bit distraught: It was the end. The cynic would have said, “Oh, please. There’s way too much money involved!” Between Warner Bros, which handles the films, and the slew of publishers across the world who made mints on the books and its translations, there were, literally, tens of billions of dollars to be made. But Rowling, at least publicly, isn’t much of a cynic. She seems to love, really love, the world and characters she created, and shortly after Deathly Hallows, she announced that she would start a whole new set of films based around Newt Scamander, the author of a text book Harry and his friends read while students at the wizarding academy Hogwarts. Rowling had released the short, whimsical Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2001 to raise money for Comic Relief. The film of the same name, written by Rowling and directed by David Yates, uses Scamander’s mini encyclopedia as a way to expand the wizarding universe to the United States, to the previous century, and to investigate, tentatively and slightly, themes a bit more adult than those of Harry’s adolescent concerns.

The film takes place in New York in 1926 and begins with Newt (Eddie Redmayne) arriving by steamship with a suitcase literally bursting with magical animals he has collected during his travels. His suitcase, like various rooms and tents in the Harry Potter series, is much, much larger than it appears. When one of them escapes – a platypus-like rascal who collects shiny things, like money – the resulting chaos gets Newt arrested by local magic cop Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). He exposed magic to the local No-Maj, or folks who can’t do magic, while physically harming one, a wannabe baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who just happened to be in the way.

Tina isn’t just being a good cop. It turns out she’s trying to get back into the good graces with the powers-that-be, including a detective named Graves (Colin Farrell) and the American wizard president (Carmen Ejogo), who demoted Tina after she got into a fight with a witch-hating No-Maj radical (Samantha Morton). Meanwhile, the city is being plagued by mysterious building collapses and explosions, which may or may not be the fault of mysterious international wizard terrorist Grindelwald. When many of Newt’s creatures escape and the attacks get worse, Newt is blamed, Tina is implicated, and fantastical adventure ensues.

The film is fun simply because it reminds us of the Harry Potter world, and in expanding that world, geographically and historically, we are treated to new wonders, some which are Rowlingesque quirky and some which are visually spectacular. The beginning of the film’s second act takes place in Newt’s suitcase, which is a sort of ramshackle wild-life sanctuary, and the creatures are as original and beautiful as anything out of Avatar or Star Wars. Our heroes are broadly drawn as characters but they are endearing: Newt is weird and brilliant and idealistic, while Tina is as ambitious as she is emotionally invested in her work. Harry, Hermione and Ron were only complex and magnetically interesting after repeated exposure. There will be five movies about Newt and Tina, so we have time to fall in love with them.

In Fantastic Beasts, I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they will become more interesting, but I found Kowalski and Tina’s squeaky flapper sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) immediately entrancing. Oscar-winner Redmayne, whose jerky awkwardness is becoming his one-note wonder, is fine and is used well by Yates and Waterston, so brilliant in P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice, is also well used, though I wanted her to be more badass, or at least edgier. Tina’s sweetness is a symptom of the film’s flaw. While Harry Potter grew up and Rowling became a much better and more interesting writer over the years, Potter properties are still marketed to children and teenagers. Fantastic Beasts, despite being about adults and careers and adult love, is still a kids movie. It could have been darker and more interesting, but that’s not where the billions of dollars are going to come from.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by David Yates

Written by J.K. Rowling

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston and Colin Farrell

Rated PG-13

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