TIFF 2016: Colossal

colossal-anne-hathaway

The first time we see Gloria (Anne Hathaway) she’s apologizing to her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) for staying out all night. It’s clear she’s a bit of a mess as she ┬ástumbles into the apartment and tries to balance herself against the wall. Tim complains that he only ever gets to see her when she’s hungover. I can only guess that Tim isn’t much for parties, otherwise they might be able to be hungover together. Alas, this is one alcoholic binge too many and Gloria is sent packing – back to her hometown to ostensibly “find herself.”

What she finds is an old friend (Jason Sudeikis) and a limitless supply of booze – he’s the owner of the town’s bar. The stage is set for a alcohol-soaked romance between the two with some challenges and life lessons along the way, until that romantic comedy premise is derailed when a gigantic Godzilla-like monster attacks Seoul. Oops. Let’s just say the monster attacks are connected to Gloria’s homecoming and overshadows the film’s earlier “will-they or won’t they” story line.

Colossal is an unpredictable film. It’s a buffet of different genres – the aforementioned romantic comedy, an addiction drama, tones of a 90s-esque thriller, sci-fi monster movie and a shaggy dog hang-out picture. It may sound like the tone of the film is all over the place, but the central concept – as absurd as it may be – grounds the plot so that all the developments feel organic, if unexpected. It’s an entertaining ride throughout.

But it’s not perfect. The characters are drawn a little thinly, and it would have helped to flesh them out a bit more. It’s not entirely clear what Gloria’s past relationship with Sudeikis was – they were friends, but good friends? Were they only close in elementary before drifting apart in high school and losing touch after? Did they have a “thing” together? It’s all rather hazy, which may be reflective of Gloria’s perception of life (she often doesn’t remember conversations she’s had the night before, or the people she was with). However, some of the climatic moments of the film require understanding who these characters are and why they’re damaged. Lacking defined characters ends up limiting the impact of the twists that come later – and the motivation behind them.

I guarantee Colossal is something that you’ve never seen before. Where else will you hold your breath watching two drunk adults fighting in a schoolyard playground and hope that the people of Seoul will be okay?

Grade: B+

Sidenote: With gender-swapped remakes all the rage right now, I wouldn’t mind seeing Single White Female remade with Jason Sudeikis in the Jennifer Jason Leigh role.

 

Interstellar

An interdimensional disappointment.

An interdimensional disappointment.

There are just some directors who shouldn’t attempt to do the mushy stuff. Play to your strengths, rather than make a half-baked story about parental responsibility, loss, and the enduring power of love. Christopher Nolan makes cold films, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering his filmography contains multiple movies that rightfully deserved to be called masterpieces. But his films are not good at being sentimental, or expressing emotions beyond jealousy, ambition, or dogged perseverance. Any time Nolan’s films have attempted a romantic subplot, they’re always the most criticized and forgettable parts of his films (looking at you Scarlett Johansson in The Prestige, and Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight trilogy). Sure, the guy can create movies about pining for a lost love (Inception, Memento), but if that love is still alive – fuhgeddaboutit. Interstellar handles the complex themes of family, love, and the “fifth dimension” through clunky, awkward dialogue that’s on par with some of the crap George Lucas wrote for Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. This movie is hugely disappointing.

Earth is going through a transition period – humans can only grow corn. At least, I think that’s what was going on. It’s all very confusing, because characters still drink beer, the water system still seems to be functioning, and kids still have to take science classes in school. It really doesn’t seem all that bad. Meanwhile dust storms are commonplace, and archival footage of the folks who lived through these terrible times reminiscing are interspersed throughout the first quarter of the film, and then that faux documentary trope is all but forgotten to move into the outer reaches of space.

But anyhow, Matthew McConaughey ekes out his existence as a farmer (of corn) with two kids – the dull son and the precocious daughter – whilst living with his grizzled father-in-law who moonlights as the kids’ grizzled babysitter. The daughter thinks a ghost lives in her room, and some spoookky occurrences gets Dad to start believing in the supernatural force too. Yada yada yada, ghost leads McConaughey to hidden scientific outpost and off on a rollicking space adventure, minus the rollicking part and heavy on the scenes talking about wormholes, relativity, and the quantum mechanics of love (not joking). There’s also supposed to be some poignancy about leaving your family behind to do something IMPORTANT and how you sacrifice making memories with your kids because you’re doing IMPORTANT things. Yes, the film is romanticizing a world where “work-life balance” is severely tilted to the work side of things.

The biggest problem I have with the film is the motivations of every single character don’t make sense.

1. McConaughey

McConaughey’s character is the dad who has to leave his kids behind to “save the world” but is tortured by the anguish that he won’t get to see them grow up. But he doesn’t have to leave. This is the future, where robots exist, and despite McConaughey being the “best damn pilot NASA has ever seen and the only one who can captain this ship” in the film’s climatic piloting scene McConaughey asks the robot to fly the ship for him to make a difficult manoeuvre. Half of the adventure is spent on auto-pilot while the human passengers slumber peacefully in cryo-sleep. Yet McConaughey is such an integral part of the mission because he can fly so good. Ugh.

Also, he’s supposed to love his children so much, but about half-way through the movie he forgets he has a son. Just watch. There’s a point where he’s crying because both of his children are growing up in front of his eyes, and then later, he’s just concerned about his daughter. I don’t know, I just find it a little difficult to empathize with a character when he doesn’t even really care about his kids.

2. Unnamed Celebrity Cameo

Yep, a Hollywood star pops up later in the film. He has a plan that makes absolutely no sense when you take the three seconds to think about it. Let’s just say he tells a fib, and then when he could own up to that fib, he decides to make it 1000x worse, and I still can’t understand what his endgame was. Please explain if you know.

3. Everyone else

This is getting long-winded, so every character has an issue. The first “Red Shirt” character stands beside a door that leads to safety. Instead of walking through the door himself, he watches for several minutes as another character is carried through the door after travelling a mile away. The stupidity of the character overshadows any of the pathos of his death.

Jessica Chastain’s character is supposed to be brilliant, but can’t see through the weakest of twists. Casey Affleck’s character inexplicably wants his suffering wife and child to die on his farm, even when offered the chance of medical care and safety.

Interstellar uses wafer-thin characters, cheap storytelling twists (way too much deus ex machina for one movie), and dresses it up using first-rate special effects and long-winded technobabble to make us believe that we’re watching something important and goads us to care more about the character’s plights than they do themselves. I didn’t buy it.

Grade: C

 

 

 

The Dark Knight Rises

It’s been a long eight years for Bruce Wayne.

Setting aside the cape and cowl after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce holes himself up in his mansion like a Howard Hughes recluse – complete with dishevelled appearance, patchy facial hair and questionable hygiene. Peacetime, while it may have been good for Gotham, has not been good for its hero. Funny that the only thing to bring Bruce out of his stupor is not his city, but a new threat: a mysterious terrorist known as Bane.

That’s about the end of my plot synopsis – to mention it otherwise reeks of redundancy, and there are many other (more well-written) reviews that can do a much better job of explaining it.

I think this was probably the weakest of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It doesn’t help that it came after The Dark Knight, which is arguably the perfect blockbuster for its adept balancing of pathos, spectacle, storyline, and intelligence – with the most charismatic screen villain in recent memory as a cherry on top. That being said, this is by no means a bad film. It’s actually quite good in fact – it’s just overshadowed by the brilliance of its predecessors.

What’s disappointing about The Dark Knight Rises is that it revisits the League of the Shadows – the villainous cabal from Batman Begins – villains that were more of an afterthought in the first film than an entire concept to build the trilogy around. What I mean by that is the first film used the League of Shadows as a stepping stone for Bruce Wayne to develop the skills needed to become Batman, and once that transformation was complete, they weren’t necessary anymore – thus their defeat in the first film. The Dark Knight had different ambitions – neglecting to mention the League of Shadows (at least to my recollection) and allowing the central villain of that film – the Joker – to survive for a sequel. The Joker was a villain to build the franchise around, the League of Shadows merely a placeholder for better things – but real life tragedy hampered the trilogy going in that direction.

Rises also suffers from unfocused storytelling, an overly complicated plot to destroy Gotham, and too many characters and comic references shoehorned into its bloated running time. But after watching this, I realized that any criticisms of the film are minor irritants – this may not be the perfect blockbuster, but this is the type of blockbuster audiences deserve. Nolan and co. may have overreached with this film, which lacks the consistency of the other two, but it’s still a satisfying and worthy conclusion to one of the best trilogys – blockbuster, superhero, or otherwise – to hit theatres. Summer movies don’t have to be dumb – and the success of Nolan’s Batman series proves that audiences aren’t dumb either. And that counts for something.

Grade: B+