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Monday, 11 September 2017

Colossal, The Last Face, and Nocturama: Your Week In Film (September 11-17)

Big fun: Colossal is an unusual and original monster movie

The highs and lows of this week's UK home entertainment releases, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. All films mentioned are available to rent, buy or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide: WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Creature features, from the original King Kong down, often contain a subtext that suggests "man is the real monster", but I'm not sure such a notion has ever been spelled out so explicitly or originally as it is in Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal (DVD, Blu-ray, VOD) WWW½. 

Anne Hathaway plays alcoholic Gloria, who, after losing her job and being kicked out by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), is forced to return from New York to her sleepy hometown. There she reconnects with old school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and even gets a job in the bar he owns. At the precise same time Gloria is making her less than triumphant hometown comeback, a monster – or "kaiju", as we nerds call them – starts stomping its way across Seoul, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Gloria quickly realises that she and the creature are linked in some weird way and that she can even control its actions. Things just get stranger and wilder from there...

Of course, Colossal's subtext is screamingly obvious. It is really about the toxic effect Gloria's drunken behaviour has on other people – how her bad choices impact those around her, especially long-suffering boyfriend, Tim. It's about selfishness and depression, about how being drunk all the time makes you a colossal pain in the arse, how your lies compel even those who love you to turn their backs. When inebriated, Gloria is, quite literally, a monster. As it turns out, she isn't the only one. Films about drunks are mostly very, very serious, whether that's Leaving Las Vegas, Clean And Sober or Krisha, but Spanish indie director Vigalondo turns all that on its head to pleasing effect as he expertly mixes comedy, melodrama and action, whilst hitting us with some cleverly worked twists. 

Despite her Oscar success for Les Mis, I've always considered Hathaway a rather underrated actress. Gloria is a deceptively complex character, one who attempts to wear her despair and self-loathing lightly, and Hathaway really nails that dichotomy. I've always had a soft spot for Sudeikis too, even when he's playing insufferable wise ass characters in the middling likes of Horrible Bosses and We're The Millers. He's great here, a study in bullying, boorish, toxic masculinity, the result of unrequited love and small-town frustration.

Upon its theatrical release, some critics suggested Colossal falls apart towards the end but I'm not having any of that. Vigalondo (Timecrimes) smartly raises the stakes, offers up a gratifyingly wacky explanation for Gloria's kaiju connection, and even gives her redemption, as another entity linked to a different character enters the fray as her monster's nemesis. In fact, the only thing I didn't like about the movie is Hathaway's wig, which is every bit as abominable as the creatures menacing Seoul.

Appetite for destruction: Anne Hathaway has a Colossal problem

Nocturama WW½ has arrived on Netflix with precisely the sort of fanfare you'd imagine the streaming service might reserve for a French arthouse film about a terrorist attack on Paris – none whatsoever. I doubt director Bertrand Bonello will mind too much though as the notoriety it has gained in the past year or so guarantees his seventh feature is certain to make a splash. It was snubbed at last year's Cannes (not invited, never mind screened), and that's understandable really as France had suffered the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan atrocities at either end of 2015. Understandably, no one was much in the mood for a rather arch, unknowable movie about blowing people up. Despite that, Nocturama is perhaps the most hotly-debated foreign language film of the past couple of years.

Bonello (Saint Laurent) spends much of the first hour introducing us to a large group of characters – all young, multi-ethnic, and attractive – as they go about their business, riding the Paris subway, passing around mysterious packages, and generally putting things in place for the co-ordinated assault on a number of targets – including a corporate office and a government building – that follows around halfway through. The group – minus a couple who run into trouble – then retire to an opulent Harrod's-style Parisian department store to lie low for 24 hours, before trying to make their escape, as the police close in.

The filmmaker at no stage lets you into his characters' heads – not David's (Finnegan Oldfield), Yacine's (Hamza Meziani), Sabrina's (Manal Issa) nor any of their comrades'. You therefore have precisely no idea what the group's attack is meant to achieve, or in who's interest it has been carried out. None of them call up a newspaper to claim responsibility for it. Moreover, they seemingly have no demands they wish to extract from the French state and none of the group mentions politics or religion – in fact, they don't have much to say at all and barely a single personality between them (getting such oddly "blank" performances from his cast can't have been easy for Bonello). In fact, these are the sort of fresh-faced kids you're more likely to encounter at an undemanding pop concert than on a highly-charged political demo or on their way to an ISIS training camp in Syria. 

Despite being so deliberately opaque, Nocturama has the urgency and tension of a bonafide thriller, even in its meticulous, slow-burn first half, but Bonello leaves you to draw your own conclusions about his characters' motives. Are they lashing out at capitalism, only to be seduced by it later when they reach the department store, with its flash designer clothes and expensive TVs? Are they merely a bunch of bored, mixed-up kids for whom blowing stuff up is just another lifestyle choice? Is Nocturama even about terrorism at all, and is it in fact meant to be more of a scream into the void at the way in which the young are perceived and treated in 21st Century western society? They are required to get jobs they hate, consume "stuff" they don't need, and any rebellion against that will inevitably bring down the full sanction of the state upon them. To be honest, I have no idea, and no one else seems to either, which is, of course, the film's blessing and curse.

Nocturnal animals: Young terrorists launch multiple attacks on Paris

I don't know whether The Last Face (DVD and VOD) W is quite as dreadful as the reviews have suggested (the film currently sits at a derisory five per cent on Rotten Tomatoes), but it's certainly damned close. Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem are doctors – she the head of an international aid agency, he a dashing surgeon – conducting a fraught romance, amidst the murder and mayhem of Liberia's second civil war in 2003.

Actor-turned-director Sean Penn (Into The Wild) occasionally conjures images both haunting and powerful from the violence, and his film exhibits a woozy, dreamlike quality that calls to mind Terrence Malick. Unfortunately, everything else about The Last Face is horribly clumsy and cloyingly earnest. Despite being set in West Africa, not a single black character is granted any agency whatsoever – the Liberians, cast either as victims or savages, are little more than extras in what should be their story. Meanwhile, Jean Reno, Jared Harris and Adèle Exarchopoulos are wasted in nothing supporting roles, the film proceeds at a snail's pace, and some of the dialogue is cringe-making ("She leaks urine, but she's dancing"). It's a well-intentioned but profoundly wrong-headed holiday in other people's misery, from which Bardem and Theron only just about emerge with their dignity intact.

Losing Face: Sean Penn's war drama is a wrong-headed mess

Finally, there's Suntan (Dual format) WWW½, a film I praised back in April when it received a simultaneous cinema and VOD release, and then again in July when it made #20 in my top 25 films of the year so far. It's out as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD this week, the first release from Montage Pictures, a new sub-label from indie distributor Eureka, intended to showcase "ground-breaking and thought-provoking world cinema from new and upcoming directors".

Argyris Papadimitropoulos's film (in Greek with English sub-titles) starts off as an offbeat black comedy about a lonely middle-aged doctor (Makis Papadimitriou's Kostis) relocating from the mainland to one of Greece's resort islands, and struggling to fit in with the locals. As summer comes, he falls in love with a carefree tourist, much younger than himself (Elli Tringou's Anna), and quickly inveigles himself with her friends. Of course, his clumsy infatuation leads to disaster as the movie's tone turns ever darker. It's original, creepy and disturbing, and hopefully indicative of the quality of films Montage will be bringing us in the months to come.

Doctor in trouble: Kostis's infatuation with a young tourist doesn't end well

What I shall be watching this week:
I need to catch up a bit this week, so It and Wind River.

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