Domestic Imbalances Lead to Dangers Abroad
Reviews by Ken Burke
Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)
In this strange mishmash of dead-end lives, unresolved romances, and giant monsters suddenly appearing in Korea you’ll find quirky humor, unexpected plot twists, dysfunctionality played for reasonable laughs, and a surprise ending as an alcoholic woman frighteningly realizes that somehow she’s the controlling force behind the creature terrorizing Seoul.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Anne Hathaway effectively portrays Gloria whose promising writing career cratered due to her daily alcoholism which also breaks up her relationship, requiring her (in jobless desperation) to return to her long-ago-hometown to live in an abandoned house still owned by her parents. Soon she’s reacquainted with old-grade-school-friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), now running a local bar he inherited from his father, although his main focus is the nightly-after-hours-drinkfest-until-dawn with a couple of close buddies. Gloria takes a part-time-job there, joins the boys with their early-morning-beers, then stumbles toward home but with a clumsy nap on a playground bench. Things get weirdly-complicated when a giant monster starts appearing every day in Seoul, Korea (then vanishes without a trace) which Gloria quickly realizes is some sort of avatar of her, with her actions unconsciously (at first) controlling the beast, a frightening secret she finally reveals to Oscar’s small circle. From this cluster of opening premises (with little attempt at rational explanations, although a cause-and-effect-connection is shown much later in the plot) we explore Gloria’s guilt and reactions to the havoc she’s causing a world away from her otherwise-uninteresting-location, Oscar’s confused responses to both her reappearance in his life and the complications that are inherent with Gloria, then finally the unanticipated confrontations that keep changing the tone/direction of this extremely unique film.
While I have a positive reaction to Colossal, with a recommendation to see it because of its most unusual premise and exploration of its odd narrative approaches, I’ll also say its generally unsympathetic characters, unexpected twists of plot direction, and somewhat violent conclusion may not be as accommodating to all tastes as the generally favorable critical reactions to this film might indicate. You'll lose a lot of surprise-satisfaction if you continue to read the more-detailed-exposition below; however, you might also save yourself some cash better invested elsewhere if you do just read all the details I offer rather than buy into something just too strange for your tastes.
So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
What Happens: (Disclaimer: If this synopsis makes no sense at times, blame Spanish writer-director Vigalondo because I’m just transcribing what occurs, not trying to explain how it happens.) After an odd beginning where a little girl in Seoul, Korea’s looking for her lost doll in a park at night only to suddenly see a huge monster appear, we jump 25 years to Gloria’s (Anne Hathaway) life in NYC, which couldn’t be more of a mess; about a year ago she lost her noted job as a nonfiction writer for an internet magazine, she’s turned into an alcoholic staying up most nights getting bombed with her friends (it’s not clear—as with many plot points here, but insisting on rationality’s not what this film’s about—whether the drinking led to the job loss [most likely] or whether it’s a response to a once-promising-career now going nowhere), all leading to her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), throwing her out of their Manhattan apartment until she’s able to get her act together again. With nowhere else to go, she returns to her Mainhead hometown (also not clear where it is, could be upstate NY, somewhere in New England, or maybe out in the Midwest—1 review I read said NJ) where her parents still own an empty house (possibly it's the one she grew up in until they moved away when she was a child; otherwise, it’s just another odd, unexplained plot convenience).
She moves in, soon reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who’s taken over his late Dad’s bar, walled off the back part of the huge place which still has a Country & Western vibe, upscaled the rest of it, then spends most of his early-mornings continuing to down beer (Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon get prominent product placement) and bourbon with close friends Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). In no time Gloria’s got a part-time-job at the bar (with encouragement to Oscar to reopen the back section) as well as a regular place at the after-hours-table with the drinking buddies (as they ultimately piss away the bar’s profits, I’d think, because of this nightly guzzling ritual), as Oscar shows her some needed warmth and understanding (although she doesn't usually remember too much of what they talk about during these imbibing-sessions).
As Gloria staggers home at sunrise she always walks through a park, usually sleeping off her stupor on a bench until she can get back to her inflatable-bed (essentially, her only furniture; even it’s no good as a small leak quickly deflates it). Oscar surprises her with a giant screen TV, but the news she sees is all about the reappearance of the gigantic Seoul monster who seems to come from/disappear into thin air, although causing horrible havoc in this faraway-land (including so many awful deaths) stomping around the city in a distracted manner when it's materialized. Through a few chance observations, Gloria then realizes that her bodily movements are all being copied by the monster so she assumes she’s somehow responsible for manifesting it, with the only connection she knows (gradually revealed to us through a series of ever-increasing-flashbacks of a windy day when she and Oscar were bringing little dioramas to grammar school, hers was of Seoul [not sure why nor if his was also] but blew away in the wind in a spot that later become this enchanted playground; Oscar retrieved it yet stomped it to smithereens [he was jealous of her natural writing ability], bringing about an intense anger in her which we see leads to the 1st appearance of the creature in Korea, somehow linked to the little monster and robot dolls she and he drop in the last shot of the concluding flashback). She reveals her secret to Oscar, then his friends, which sparks his jealousy again because he always felt worthless (while admiring her for getting out of their dead-end-hometown-existence), with his response leading to the appearance of his robot—gigantic, of course—in Seoul, clearly operated by Oscar in that same mysterious playground space. Gloria responds by getting a message from a local Korean, then using it to have her monster spell out an apology for the disruption in Seoul, with Gloria then trying to avoid both drinking and the playground to eliminate further trouble; however, she spends a night with Joel which just fuels Oscar’s wrath, leading him to activate his robot again, with great damage overseas.
Later that day Oscar sobers up, apologizes, sends over a vanload of his uncle's unneeded furniture to try to help fill up Gloria’s still-mostly-empty-house, but then Tim shows up in hopes of reconciliation with Gloria, throwing troubled Oscar into distraught bedlam again, ultimately using a giant Mexican firecracker to cause damage in his bar just to show them how irrational he can be. Oscar’s now determined that Gloria will remain in Mainhead with him rather than return to NYC with Tim or he’ll keep coming back on a daily basis to the playground, using his robot to terrorize Seoul; this all leads to a playground confrontation between Oscar and Gloria where he slugs her then storms off (with her falling monster causing yet more damage in Korea). Faced with this ultimatum, instead of leaving with Tim as planned Gloria suddenly has an idea, rushes off to Seoul where the next night (8:05am back at the playground, when the giants always appear) she confronts the robot (as the screaming crowd rushes the other way) which means that her monster is now at the playground where it hoists Oscar high in the air. Rather than seeing the error of his self-hatred-ways, Oscar just calls Gloria a “bitch” (she can see the playground through live video coverage on her smartphone) so her monster throws Oscar out of our sight (seemingly to his death), with the robot flying into disappearance from Seoul as well, Gloria hailed by the local populace as a savior.
So What? Colossal is basically like nothing you’ve likely ever seen before (even with its silly references to the equally-silly Japanese monster movies of decades past—although the new version of Godzilla [Gareth Edwards, 2014; review in our May 15, 2014 posting] takes itself quite seriously—to useful effect—as it opens us up for a revival of those older attacks on Tokyo to now be sophisticatedly-redone in truly dire circumstances, even when the huge creatures are just in an isolated environment as in the recent reboot of King Kong in Kong: Skull Island [Jordan Vogt-Roberts; review in our March 16, 2017 posting]) because it manages to blend elements of huge creatures loose on the rampage, the complexities of romance between emotionally-damaged-individuals, plus surrealistic happenings that aren’t even as “logically” explained as the premise of radiation-infused-monsters suddenly rising out of the Pacific bent on the destruction of coastal-dwelling-human-populations, all with an overriding comic attitude in Colossal that makes for a fascinating trip to the movies. (At least for some of us; see the next section below for dissenting opinions, although one that might be a problem for most narrative-aficionados is that neither of the main characters in this unpredictable film proves to be very likable—while Oscar's friend Garth is just unsettlingly-weird—at least until Gloria makes a risky-gamble to overpower Oscar which might have failed had his huge robot simply stomped on her tiny human presence in Seoul before his own human character was surprised, then completely overpowered by her creature back at that unexplained-physics-warping-playground.)
If I were running South Korea (not likely, given their current political unrest—as bad as ours), I’d make permanent payments to Gloria to stay away from that spot, unless there's ever a need for her creature to re-emerge to deflect Kim Jong-un’s missile attacks—a very serious topic this wacky movie inadvertently references, given the current saber-rattling by that unhinged “Dear Leader” of the North. Despite the absurd premise of this tale, Hathaway and Sudeikis excel in their roles with neither of them allowing us to get comfortable as to where their characters are headed next in the context of a story that always feels as eclectic as is its intentionally-overdramatized-soundtrack.
In admitting this film isn’t likely to be something that can be encouraged for universal embrace, I look no farther than my own viewing experience in which my wife, Nina, and I both enjoyed this oddball bit of cinematic diversion while our two viewing companions both felt it was a total waste of time and “celluloid” (in that it’s most likely shot and projected on video, the norm these days, rather than the traditional 35mm filmstock used—despite great difficulties shooting with such bulky technology in the jungles of Colombia—for The Lost City of Z, reviewed just below). Critical acclaim for Colossal has been rather high (the Rotten Tomatoes survey offers 78% positive reviews, the average score at Metacritic is 70%; more details in the links much farther below)—despite the adverse reaction from my filmically-aware-friends—although the domestic-box-office-results (from the U.S.-Canada markets) haven’t caught up to such support yet, with only about $1.4 million in receipts after 3 weeks in release (but keep in mind that’s from just 224 theaters, a steadily-growing-number, so maybe better income’s still on the horizon if this film’s wacky premise can draw in more attraction than it has so far, a “colossal” need in regard to recouping the $15 million budget); in “contrition” for my having chosen this screening (as I often do for our weekly-Friday-night-ventures to the moviehouses) I bought a round of drinks afterward, so at least I’m contributing to the support of the fine Berkeley, CA Landmark cinemas, in that the California offered lots of seating options (very few in this progressive community chose to follow my lead last weekend) while the Shattuck sports a marvelous bar (with the option of taking your beverages into the auditoriums; as usual, no payola for me in making these plugs, just encouragement to keep these venues open and thriving).
Despite my friends’ afterthoughts about how we all ideally could have just seen something else (to which I still disagree, but that would likely at least have allowed me to go Dutch on the drinks) I continue to advocate for Colossal to those of you looking for something unusual in an upcoming-moviegoing (or video in some format)-experience because not very much of what happens in this film is predictable (except for Gloria getting drunk on a regular basis until she decides to curb her habit in order to prevent her destructive-doppelgänger [no physical resemblance to Hathaway, fortunately for her] from causing any more damage), including those constantly-shifting-attitudes of Oscar in terms of coming to his senses or continuing to indulge in solipsistic decisions that are as destructive to his psychological continuance as Gloria’s alcoholism is to hers, which finally results in his (assumed) death rather than our anticipated reconciliation and her final, ambiguous response in a Seoul café as to whether to have a drink in response to her tumultuous adventure or not. So, in considering choices for my usual wrap-up-the-review-Musical Metaphor (to offer a final perspective, from the realm of another artform) I’ve decided this intentionally-crazy-film is best represented with Joni Mitchell’s version of “Twisted” (music by noted jazz saxophonist Wardell Gray in 1949, lyrics added by Annie Ross in 1952) from her 1974 Court and Spark album at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iisYw0epV_Q* because its verses about the singer “being right out of [her] head” who “heard little children Were supposed to sleep tight That’s why [she] got into the vodka one night,” later proving that she’s “got a thing That’s unique and new To prove it I’ll have the last laugh on you ‘Cause instead of one head I got two And you know two heads are better than one.” In the case of an early 20th-century-British-explorer, though, there were some who said he barely had one functioning head so let’s move on to do our own explorations about his obsessions.
*If this song gets you into a Joni mood you’ll find its YouTube page includes links (in the right-side-column) to several full plays of marvelous Mitchell albums including Court and Spark, Ladies of the Canyon (1970), Blue (1971), and Hits (1996). Further, maybe you’d like to see Ross' version of "Twisted" from a 1959 performance with Count Basie on piano, Tony Bennett and Hugh Hefner in her audience (in further irony, Gray worked with Basie during the time when he originated this song).
(somewhat) SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
Based on historical events, this is a biography of British explorer Percy Fawcett who made several trips into the Amazon basin in the early 20th century, to map the territory but also to find the legendary city that supposedly once housed an ancient, advanced civilization; despite opposition from countrymen and family in his quest he never wavers in his bold attempts.
Once again we’re back in the realm of a Hollywood film based on real events,* this time the story of British Army Major (later Colonel) Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) a surveyor who, in 1905 County Cork, northern Ireland (after previous posts in Ceylon and north Africa), is a bit despondent, desiring something adventurous to provide decoration for his barren uniform (and to erase the bad legacy of his drunken, gambling father); instead he’s sent to work with the Royal Geographical Society to chart some of the jungles of South America, helping adjudicate a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil which forces him to leave his pregnant wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), and baby son, Jack (played as a boy by Tom Mulheron, then Bobby Smalldridge), behind while he’s gone from April 1906 for a couple of years. Upon returning he stirs up controversy by claiming he’s found some rudimentary evidence (“pots and pans” chant his detractors) of an ancient civilization somewhere in what was then referred to as Amazonia (the idea of a high culture prior to England’s is anathema to his opponents, to which Fawcett says the West has “too long been seeped in the bigotry of the Church”), but with support from a 1753 Portuguese letter claiming something similar, which Nina found in a library, Fawcett (along with close friend Corporal Henry Costin [Robert Pattinson] and RGS honcho James Murray [Angus Macfadyen]) finds himself back in the jungle in 1912 (despite the problems with arrow-attacking-natives on the last trip that could drive you from the “frying pan”
of your boat into the “fire” of those piranha-infested-waters), with ill-prepared-for-this-difficult-journey-Murray becoming injured, sent off on the group’s last horse to find medical help for himself while the others must begrudgingly trek to civilization as well because he ruined their remaining food supplies.
*You might be interested in this lecture (1:16:00) by David Grann who wrote the 2009 nonfiction book upon which this film is based, discussing his extensive research about Fawcett's deep-Amazon-explorations; this video is also on a YouTube page where the right-column offers some useful links, this time documentaries about fabled lost cities.
When he's back home, Fawcett’s now got another son, Brian (Daniel Huttlestone), along with Jack (who barely recognizes him), plus an angry wife determined to accompany her husband on any further expeditions in search of this mysterious “lost city of Z” (or Zed, as the Brits say; sounds much more elegant) despite his refusal to honor her intentions (coming off like Michael Corleone [Al Pacino] rejecting wife Kay’s [Diane Keaton] attempt to leave him in The Godfather Part II [Francis Ford Coppola, 1974] with a similar imperative statement about the unchanging nature of relations between men and women, although Percy does manage to get Nina pregnant again before his next departure), and threats of a lawsuit from Murray (who made it back alive after all), claiming he was abandoned, unless Fawcett apologizes, bringing yet another determined refusal from our intrepid adventurer.
Such expeditions are put on hold anyway because WW I’s now broken out, with retired Maj. Fawcett voluntarily going back into combat (arranging for Costin along with another friend, Cpl. Arthur Manley [Edward Ashley], to be put in his unit) where we witness a typically-brutal-battle occurring in France (late September, 1916); Fawcett's badly wounded but later recovers as he reconciles with his family. By 1923 he’s somewhat settled into rural life until his young-adult-son, Jack (Tom Holland), convinces him to search again for the elusive Z, which he finally agrees to do with financing from various American banks, John D. Rockefeller, and the RGS, but all we know is that father and son disappeared in the jungle in 1925, with rumors both of their deaths by hostile natives and (as shown in this film) acceptance by a tribe who possibly took them to the long-lost-remains of Z. Final graphics tell us Nina continued to hope for their return until her death in 1954, then early 21st-century explorations have indicated the existence of the type of forgotten early civilizations Fawcett
was so obsessed about. While I was intrigued but not overwhelmed by this film, I find that overall critical response toward it is quite solid, with 88% positive reviews at RT, a 78% composite score at MC (more details in the links below); it’s growing into an audience as well, expanding in its 2nd week to 614 theaters, upping its total domestic take to about $2.5 million (not that much yet, but it’s just now expanding into wider release). I will admit it’s somewhat fascinating to see such fiercely-sincere-determination of a person to accomplish a goal that others ridicule, along with the counter-positions of the Fawcett couple to the mores of the time (he sees nothing ludicrous about a jungle-based-civilization predating the accomplishments of his White “ruling class”—a theme that somewhat evokes the proof of sophisticated humans living prior to their intelligent primate relatives in Planet of the Apes [Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968]—while she sees herself as an independent woman capable of handling the rigors of the wilds, even without support from her otherwise-open-minded-husband) and the opportunity to learn a bit more about the explorer-fascination of this era (which led to the discovery of Machu Picchu, found by American Hiram Bingham in 1911), as well as view the lush nature cinematography, shot in the jungles of Colombia.
Beyond the history lesson, though, it’s hard to get as involved as these filmmakers want me to in territory already seen—and noted in many other reviews—in much more engaging fictional films about the dangers of traveling a river into dangerous territory (Apocalypse Now [Coppola, 1979]) or the difficulties of strong-minded-Europeans attempting to impose their will upon the Amazon’s brutal terrain (Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God ), Fitzcarraldo ). These hesitations on my part don’t mean The Lost City of Z wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience, particularly if you’d like your (like mine) vague-historical-consciousness of such events to be expanded, but for me it was more noble intention than engaging result. However, I do admire Fawcett’s yearning to pursue his quest (as a spiritualist woman during a lull in WW I combat tells him he’s compelled to do), so to finish this off with a Musical Metaphor I’ll offer a cluster from The Moody Blues’ 1968 album In Search of the Lost Chord about an equally-driven-obsession (in this case, to attain higher consciousness) starting with the brief introduction of “Departure” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ywimaX7InU, then the closing-combo of “The Word/Om” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRGJbk4XpYs (with added visuals, many of our planet in further evocation of the exploratory spirit of Maj. Fawcett; if you’d like to do your own exploring of the entire album, here it is [42:00, also with lots of related and intriguing visuals including the ones accompanying “Dr. Livingston, I Presume” about another famous explorer, him of the wilds of Africa]—as with other YouTube citations in this posting the … Lost Chord page contains links in its right-side-column to other related options, in this case additional full albums by The Moody Blues).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all. From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.
Here’s more information about Colossal:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8hpm_BcHKE (2 trailers, 2:48 total)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T8XGPg4FJk (6:26 compilation of clips from the film, gets a little repetitive of the above trailers; some shots look a bit dark but that’s just appropriate to the context of the locations and time of day settings of the story)
Here’s more information about The Lost City of Z:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLGRLx_WwYA (32:51 interview with director James Gray [who does most of the talking] and actors Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen including Gray’s explanation about why he insisted on shooting on 35mm rather than video, despite the extra cost and production difficulties)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*
*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 4/12/2017. Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one. The corporate overlords triumph again.
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
UNLESS YOU’RE READING THIS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.1 YOU MAY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (Google Chrome 58.0.3029.81 meets our layout design; hopefully all other options will look decent also). OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 23,160; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (by chance I got some hits from South Korea this week even before discussing Colossal; I also have the honor of interest from 5 of the 6 continents I hope to reach [missing only Africa, with little hope of connecting with Antarctica until the penguins get better access to laptops or even smartphones]):