“Colossal”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

In one of the most original indie sci-fi films in recent memory, “Colossal” is a genre bending exercise in sheer creativity and inventiveness. This exquisitely strange and cleverly original film is part romance, part monster movie, part revenge thriller, and is all but guaranteed to confuse and frustrate anyone who buys a ticket thinking they are going to see a quirky comedy (they’re not).

The movie tells the spectacularly weird story of unemployed, often hungover party girl Gloria (Anne Hathaway) who, after being dumped by her live-in boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), is forced to move back to her hometown in upstate New York. She hangs out and pounds beers with her childhood frenemy Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and his group of loser pals (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell). When a giant monster suddenly appears in South Korea, Gloria finds herself connected to the deadly attacks by the kaiju. The insignificance of her existence suddenly becomes relevant when she’s forced to grow up (and rise up) to save the people of Seoul — as well as herself.

This film is a peculiar psychodrama of sorts, reveling in the harsh reality of self-destructive behavior and finally offering its flawed characters a chance for redemption. This is a multi-layered story with some especially dark themes of alcoholism, toxic relationships, and mental abuse, including an unsettling and slightly off-putting anti-feminist tone. The story starts out a bit playful and fun, but then turns into an exceedingly creepy and disturbing tale. Sudeikis shows great range by going through a character transformation from a totally chill bar owner into an unstable, controlling sociopath. It’s unpleasant to watch because you’ll come to realize that none of the characters are particularly likeable in the first place.

“Colossal” suffers from two considerable flaws that I find impossible to overlook. One, the film has some serious pacing issues. It’s slow to start and takes nearly half an hour before it gains footing and things start to pick up. Two, writer / director Nacho Vigalondo tries so desperately to explain every little thing in the story by attempting to wrap up the multitude of plot lines, but he ends up creating even more gaping plot holes in his wake. This would be a much stronger movie if not so many explanations were given. To this end, half of the film is cleverly executed but the other half nearly sinks the entire project.

And that’s where the movie really stumbles: in the details. There are lots of important particulars and specifics that go unanswered, and it’s such a big deal that you simply can’t ignore it. Even the eventual reveal as to the “why?” of Gloria’s connection to the monster doesn’t make much logical sense, and it’s more than a little dumb (and a bit lazy) in terms of screenwriting.

Still, this is one clever and original movie that is worth seeing. Do yourself a favor and don’t read any reviews or watch any previews before you see it. I’ve tried to make this write-up spoiler free because the true joy of this one is in the discovery.

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“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARSMATT: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The shockingly weak screenplay is one of the many elements that completely ruin “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a disappointingly lousy movie from Oscar winning director Ang Lee (“Life of Pi,” “Brokeback Mountain”). The film gave me the overwhelming feeling that Lee and the majority of his cast were emotionally detached from the subject matter in a way that radiates through to the audience. Something is definitely amiss. Nothing hits home here, and it’s a real shame that I felt a close to zero emotional connection to the story or the characters.

The film (based on the novel by Ben Fountain) is told from the point of view of Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19 year old Private who suddenly finds himself a decorated military hero. After displaying an incredible act of courage on the battlefield in Iraq, Billy and his entire Bravo Squad are flown home to Texas to be paraded around as American heroes, culminating in an appearance at a halftime show during a big Thanksgiving day football game (the ballgame provides the majority of the film’s setting).

In an attempt to take a “seen it all before” war story and make it unique, you have to do more than simply change the setting. This is only one of the areas where the script fails this project’s ambition. Part of the story is told through Billy’s personal flashbacks to the war zone (as viewers would expect, everyday objects and situations remind him of the horrors he’s seen and experienced firsthand). I understand and can appreciate what Lee was trying to do with his juxtaposition of present-day events to connect with battlefield memories, but it’s visually done in a way here that is so obnoxious that it loses all meaning and effectiveness. Plus, it’s been done much, much better in other movies (“Brothers,” “The Hurt Locker”). There’s nothing visionary about this movie, and that’s a real shame.

The acting across the board is rough, including a wholly distracting performance from the miscast Chris Tucker as a Hollywood publicist and the worst Southern accent you’ve ever heard from Steve Martin as a the owner of a football team. Alwyn and Kristen Stewart (as Billy’s sister Kat) are the obvious standouts, but that isn’t saying much because neither are particularly memorable. Shame on any movie that wastes Stewart’s talent.

The rest of the supporting performances range from competent yet boring (Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Arturo Castro) to hokey, dinner theater caricatures (Makenzie Leigh, Tim Blake Nelson). The film feels much like a stage play with a stagnant pacing that is near agonizing to sit through. If you played a drinking game and took a shot whenever there was an extreme close-up of an actor’s face delivering a single tear soliloquy, you’d be drunk far before the film’s halfway point.

The film never finds its true voice and loses its footing early on. If there was a point to this dull exercise, then it was completely lost on me. Is this meant as a dramatic form of satire? A criticism of capitalism, our love for violence, and the American war machine? A rallying cry to enlist? A sentimental family melodrama? A celebration of brotherly love? A patriotic propaganda piece? You’d have to answer “yes” to all of the above.

I appreciate the film’s lofty goals and this negative review is in no way meant as a knock on our military or America’s brave servicemen and servicewomen. I’ve never served in the military but I’ve heard countless stories of how difficult (and at times impossible) it is to acclimate back to life as a civilian after being in combat, and I just wish this important idea for a story had been told in a more effective and worthy manner.

MATT SAYS:

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is a film entirely lacking in both originality and vision. It’s not terrible, but director Ang Lee‘s first movie since “Life of Pi” is surprisingly uninspired. I’ve come to expect more from Lee and, given the level of talent in the cast, it’s quite surprising in its mediocrity.

Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is an Army Specialist who has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Billy gained national fame for a heroic rescue of his Sergeant (Vin Diesel) that was captured on camera, and is back at home in the states for the first time since the conflict. He and his unit Bravo Squad are taken on a publicity tour by manager Albert (Chris Tucker), which culminates in his squad’s taking the field during a halftime performance at Cowboy stadium during a football game.

“Billy Lynn” has nothing new or interesting to say about war and the men and women who fight for this country; what little the film does have to explore has been done before elsewhere. Much of the movie is devoted to the difficulties that some in our military have re-adjusting to civilian life when they are back at home. Throughout his time stateside, he is haunted by flashbacks of some of his more traumatic experiences in Iraq, which can be triggered on a moment’s notice by a noise, or crowds, or scenery. The problem for “Billy Lynn” is that other movies have explored these issues and have done it better. Films like “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper” portrayed the struggle battle-worn servicemen have had in returning to a country at peace. “Band of Brothers,” “Fury,” and “Saving Private Ryan” (among others) did a more effective job of showing the bond between soldiers and how important they are to one another. This same “it’s been done elsewhere better” problem plagues every facet of the film.

Even the acting here is uneven. While the veteran actors like Garrett Hedlund and Vin Diesel shine at times, in other moments their performances ring false, wooden, or histrionic. While the ever-dependable Kristen Stewart turns in a solid performance, it’s not one of her best roles. And as much fun as it is to see Steve Martin back on the big screen, he’s wasted in this movie.

To say “Billy Lynn” was disappointing would be an understatement. Skip it.

“Anesthesia”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Anesthesia” is another ensemble film of intersecting storylines that strains just a little too hard to connect all of the tales together. It’s obvious that writer / director / actor Tim Blake Nelson has a strong personal attachment to the material and a grand vision paired with noble intentions, but none of this is fully realized in this “Crash” and “Babel” rip-off. The film plays like a thesis project on the meaning of life.

Set in modern day New York City, this pompous, self-important film focuses on six core stories that intersect over the mugging of Columbia University professor Walter (Sam Waterston). Walter’s wife Marcia (Glenn Close) and son Adam (Nelson) are at the top of the character pyramid, with secondary stories about drug addiction and homelessness (Rob Morgan, K. Todd Freeman and Michael Kenneth Williams), a cancer scare for Adam’s family (Jessica Hecht, Hannah Marks, and Ben Konigsberg) and a marriage in crisis (Gretchen Mol and Corey Stoll). There’s some compelling stuff here but in the end, the film strains a little too hard to connect all of the stories together, and Nelson’s lofty goals ultimately fall short.

There’s a lot of overly complicated smarty pants dialogue that will surely lose most average viewers while simultaneously managing to alienate the more thoughtful ones. It’s this condescending faux profoundness that’s such a turn-off. This film is nowhere near as clever, smart or intelligent as it thinks it is or aspires to be.

While Nelson might not quite be a master of screenwriting, an area where he truly excels is directing his actors. In something that you rarely see in ensemble films, the performances are strong throughout. The depth and sincerity of the actors are exceptionally effective, from the smallest background extras to the leads. The standout performance shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: it’s the grossly underappreciated Kristen Stewart in a small role as a self-destructive student who just longs to feel something in her life.

“Anesthesia” is self indulgent, contrived, and at times a bit too messily overblown, but at least it’s provocative and interesting. Worth watching for the award-worthy performances from the entire cast, especially Stewart and Waterston.


Matt was unavailable for review.