Monday, 22 May 2017
Beware The Ids That March
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
UK cinema release print.
Okay... so what the heck happened to the publicity machine for Colossal? I literally was only aware that this movie even existed when one of my favourite composers, Bear McCreary, talked about doing the score for this on Twitter. After a while it’s finally arrived on UK shores and, mainly due to the poster design, I actually thought this movie was some kind of animated film. However, I looked at the trailer online, a few nights before I went to see it and was absolutely enthralled by what looked like a comedy starring Ann Hathaway who has somehow become inextricably linked to a giant monster which is stomping Seoul.
Which is pretty much what it is...
Or should I say... what it starts out as, at least. One of the things the trailer is doing, however, is masking that the film suddenly ‘does a Gremlins’ and takes an unexpected left turn about two thirds of the way through the movie... once the rules of the monster/human link have been established in some fairly funny and, surprisingly, sometimes moving moments in the film. This is such a good movie on pretty much every level, to be honest (although I know it has its detractors too).
Anne Hathaway is absolutely excellent in this and also has one of the Executive Producer credits here. I’ve not actually seen her in many movies but I think she’s actually got a certain screen presence which goes far above and beyond her abilities as an actress. She can screw her face up into various expressions which are almost larger than life, stage acting style short-hand to convey emotion but... it really doesn’t look out of place on film, somehow, the way she does it and she manages to do so much with it, so naturally, that she brings a lot to the table. My eyes were pretty much on her, more so than any kaiju eiga inspired scenes in the film. She is joined by people like the always watchable Dan Stevens, as her ex-boyfriend who kicks her out at the start of the movie and Jason Sudeikis, who actually does a really interesting and subtle performance, especially in terms of bringing a certain amount of stealth character establishment in the first two thirds of the film. I honestly did not see the character arc for him coming in terms of his specific personality so... yeah, longtime readers of this site will know that I love the few rare films that can surprise me and this one surprised me no end as it sauntered to it’s... very satisfying ending.
So, yeah, all the acting is great.
What’s also great in this, asides from Mr. McCreary’s incredible and appropriate score for the film (yeah, you can bet that CD is already on order... can’t wait to hear it as a stand alone listen) is some of the incredibly interesting shot designs. This director actually does some interesting stuff with the character which was a pure joy to watch.
For instance, lets talk about the way a director might focus on a character.
Back in the days before a director could ‘zoom in’ effectively on someone, you had directors like Sergei Eisenstein. He would show a shot of, say, a crowd and then focus on individuals in that crowd for an emotional interaction with the audience. However, what he would do, possibly due to technical limitations of the equipment at the time he was making movies like Battleship Potemkin, Oktober or Strike, would be to cut to a close up of the actor or actress in question. However... and this works at almost a subconscious level the first time you see one of his movies, he shoots the actor against a different background without any distractions to the foreground... like a somehow more staged or hyper-real version of the original shot. You have a look sometime and you might see that not everything in those shots match. In Eisenstein’s case, he didn’t use actors but people who naturally looked like the kinds of stereotypes he wanted to convey to use in this manner and this kind of practice in Soviet Cinema of the time was known as typeage.
Well, director Nacho Vigalondo doesn’t do anything quite like that here but he does use the camera in some nice and unexpected ways to pull the focus onto the actors involved in the movie when a character, usually Ann Hathaway, needs to come into some kind of snap focus so the audience can catch everything and sympathise, or empathise, with her plight.
For instance, after a pre-credits sequence establishing the first appearance of the colossal monster 25 years prior to the main body of the film, we return to present day with Hathaway’s character Gloria being kicked out of her flat by her boyfriend because of her constant and repetitive bad behaviour... specifically because of her drinking problem. After he leaves her in his flat to go to work, a load of people start filling the room, who Gloria has waiting in the wings to resume the partying once her boyfriend has left for his office for the day. As people file in behind her we see sitting about two thirds of the way to the right of the screen, sitting at a table with shock on her face as she looks towards the camera. Behind her we have two large windows filling most of the screen with the single, upright vertical between the windows splitting the screen in half. The director slyly and casually moves the camera around to the right so Gloria moves to the left in relation to the window until it’s she, herself, who becomes the vertical split in the centre of the screen... thus highlighting her character in perfect symmetry as we concentrate on her features more. And it’s brilliant. I loved it and felt like clapping in the cinema.
Another thing he does, later, to bring the symbiotic link between her and the main monster of the film home on a visual level, is to have her standing in front of a giant television with her back to us as she watches news footage of the monster’s ‘rampage’ from the night before. Previously we had seen her put one hand up to test her hypothesis that there is an actual link between her and the creature, followed by swinging both arms up to the side as part of a series of gestures to reveal the truth of her plight. As she watches the playback of the monster, we see the back of the top half of Gloria’s body, with her hands by her side, in the centre of the shot, masking the creature on the TV screen. As the creature throws its arms up and to the side, we are given a visual metaphor of the link as the creature’s televised arms become the visual surrogate for Gloria herself, completing her body in a way that is one of the truly unique ways that film can make comparisons as part of a narrative flow. It’s a less subtle but really great moment in the film and, again, I wanted to throw my own arms up to congratulate the director here. This stuff was incredible.
As the film reaches the last third of the running time, the comedy is dropped and, in addition to the drinking issues already highlighted, it takes another serious social issue and tackles it head on in a way that, if this wasn’t a science fiction story, it wouldn’t be able to do in the unique way it does it here. I’m not going to spoil this thing for you but I will say that if you saw the trailer and are expecting an out and out comedy... think again. This film gets kind of ugly later in a way that you probably wont see coming and some of the character performances in this part get almost too hard to watch.
Another great strength of this film is, just like the majority of modern, post 1969 zombie movies, the writer doesn’t really bother to explain just why there’s a giant monster that is inexplicably linked to Gloria. Sure it gives a kind of half hearted ‘origin’ scene which it works it’s way up to in flashback but this in no way explains just what the heck is going on and it’s seen in fierce juxtaposition with a revelatory confirmation of the nature of one of the other characters in the film so much so that, by this point, it really doesn’t matter anymore. The movie is no longer about the ‘how’ but about the ‘why’ and how Gloria is going to be able to fix things in her life (and also save gazillions of people).
And that’s all I’m going to say here about this movie because it’s frankly awesome. Yes, I’m sure the social issues it targets are crudely handled in terms of the 'final solution' of a certain problem in the film and I’m sure it’s all done in an over-the-top manner but, you know, sometimes these issues are something you need to show in a simplistic, ‘beat you over the head with it’ form to provoke thought in an audience once the movie is finished. I don’t know enough about the specific issues it takes on to be able to say whether it hits the right points or not but at least it got me contemplating them for a minute or two. Which is no bad thing, I guess.
If you haven’t already guessed it, Colossal is a solid recommend from me. If you are thinking of seeing it, don’t go expecting a horror movie or even a comedy movie, although there are some good laughs to be had in the earlier parts of the movie. Catch this one at the cinema before it’s too late because it is quite original, in some ways, even if it’s deliberately using genre tropes to reach its end game. A lot of fun and it also makes you pause and think. Cinema at its very best.