Tag Archive: Nacho Vigalondo


This is both a review of Colossal, the new film from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, as well as a retrospective on where it fits into his growing body of feature film work. For a lot of people, Colossal will be the first time they’ve heard of him, or seen his work. And it’s a great place to start.

Colossal Review

colossal-poster

Colossal (2017)

First, let’s talk about Colossal. The movie opened this weekend in NYC, LA, and a few other select cities. If you saw the trailer, it kinda gives away the “secret” of the film. (I won’t give it away, so I’m not linking to the trailer, out of respect to the film). It’s the story of a young jobless woman, Gloria (played charmingly by the talented Anne Hathaway), who drinks too much and isn’t really in charge of anything that happens in her life or career. When her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her out of his NYC apartment, she returns to her home town to get back on her feet. Without any real plan or grown-up responsibilities, she takes a job at a local bar owned by her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). He owns a bar and she drinks too much. What could possibly go wrong? The unhealthy (platonic) relationship between Gloria and Oscar form the core of the story. There’s drama, there’s comedy. Oh, and Gloria has a mysterious connection to the giant monster (kaiju) terrorizing Seoul every night. As Gloria discovers herself and the power she has, it brings out a toxic masculine insecurity in Oscar, and the true nature of their relationship is uncovered.

This genre-busting female-empowerment film was screened at TIFF, Fantastic Fest, and SXSW, and was well received by audiences who have seen it. I’ve seen it twice and I love it. Hollywood would never make this kind of film. A monster movie about female empowerment? The studios would rather crank out another summer blockbuster sequel to pay the bills so they can fund dignified Oscar-contenders in the fall and winter seasons. But the stars aligned (literally; movie stars aligned), and we have Colossal. I’m especially happy to see pedigreed actors such as Hathaway and Sudeikis take a chance on it. They don’t just bring name-recognition to the project; they really make the characters come to life. And this is, at its heart, a character-driven film. The characters are what gives this movie gravitas, above and beyond the creature effects and the comedic timing, which are done very well.

The Works of Nacho Vigalondo

I’m also excited about this film because it is the perfect showcase for the talents of Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who is no stranger to this type of genre-bending. From his early career shorts and experimental videos (many of which can be found in YouTube), Vigalondo has always had a flair for the fantastic and the whimsical. His stories work best when something magical happens to relatable characters. His characters are grounded in reality, even when the fantastic thing that happens to them is not. Take one of his earliest works, the Oscar-nominated short 7:35 in the Morning (2003). A woman walks into her favorite coffee shop, only to find everyone there suspiciously silent and unmoving…until a suicide bomber (played by Vigalondo) starts singing and dancing, and she finds herself the center of his attention. She’s a grounded character in a fantastic situation. And despite the Hollywood-level of production value and polish, Colossal retains those elements that make it uniquely Nacho. Colossal will give Vigalondo a boost in visibility and introduce a larger audience to his brand of interesting story telling. As a fan of his work, I’m excited about that. Colossal, is, if nothing else, an inflection point in his career, whereever that is headed. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Nacho Vigalondo at Fantastic Fest 2016

Nacho Vigalondo (center) channels his inner Fay Wray at the Fantastic Fest premiere of Colossal.

 

Feature Film Filmography

Timecrimes (2007)

Nacho’s feature film debut is the Spanish-language mystery-thriller about a man who finds himself stalked by a silent and menacing figure wearing bloody bandages. Then he meets a scientist with a time machine, which he uses to put things right, only to discover that he’s making things worse.

Extraterrestrial (2011)

If you enjoyed Colossal, check out Extraterrestrial, a quirky Spanish-language romantic-dramedy with a sci-fi twist. Julio and Julia wake up from a one night stand to the sight of giant flying saucers hanging silently over the major cities of the world. Despite the film’s title and sci-fi window dressing, the film isn’t about aliens or the flying saucers, but a comedy about the two star-crossed lovers, her clueless boyfriend, and a spying, jealous neighbor.

Open Windows (2014)

This puzzle-box mystery-thriller is Vigalondo’s English-language film debut. Nick (Elijah Wood) is a super-fan of movie star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He thinks he’s won a contest to meet her, only to find that he’s been duped into some kind of twisted game in which both he and Jill are the would-be victims.

 

Advertisements

Unfriended

Unfriended

Unfriended should be called The Skype Murders

You know… it’s come to this. The horror movie that takes place on a teen girl’s laptop screen. In case you hadn’t heard, or didn’t care, or maybe you’re thinking of something else like bacon flavored ice cream and ended up on my blog by accident and you’re about two seconds away from clicking the back button–wait don’t leave!–Unfriended is Universal’s new take on the “found footage” real-time horror movie. Yes, the movie takes place entirely on what is supposed to be one of the character’s laptop screen–an Apple MacBook no less, and it could be described as one long group Skype call gone horribly wrong. The backstory is that one year ago, fellow high school classmate and bullying victim Laura Barns committed suicide by gunshot, and someone using Laura’s FaceBook account has hacked into their Skype call and wants to play some games. The loser dies. Did I mention this group of friends are all the mean little shits who bullied Laura? This is payback. But, is it a hacker, a virus, or something supernatural? I won’t say (spoilers!), but some suspension of disbelief is required to buy into what happens later in the movie.

👿 📹 😢 🔫 😵

Horror movies aren’t about logic, they’re all about suspense, and Unfriended delivers on that. There is also a bloody, gory payout. The whole “group Skype call” mechanic works and doesn’t detract from the suspense. If anything, it feels like it’s real because you experience it as one long continuous event shown from one unchanging point of view. There are no cuts or scenes in the traditional sense, and I found that fascinating. If you go back and watch really early films–from the silent age–you’ll see many of the cinematic storytelling techniques and shots used in modern films today. There really hasn’t been a whole lot of new in how movies are shot in the last 100 years. The Matrix is probably one of the few recent films that really brought something new to the table with “bullet time,” and found footage tries to mimic the authenticity of home video recordings. But moving all the action into a computer screen? This is horror for the YouTube generation.

💻 📞 🎲 😱 🔪 😵

Question is: does that make it better or easier to relate to? Yes. If anything, it works because this particular story was crafted around the format, so the story couldn’t be told any other way and be as visceral. There are some things done in the name of suspense that are somewhat transparent or eyeball-rolling (depending on your level of cynicism), such as when characters predictably walk out of view of their FaceTime cameras, or when the Skype video breaks up or freezes when something juicy is about to happen. But it still feels like a real event. Many of us are computer savvy and can relate to what the main character is doing on her computer, including attempts to thwart, or suss out the identity of the person using Laura Barns’ online identity. And all of the screens look like real, authentic applications and user interfaces we (or at least the intended audience) knows, including Skype, iMessage, FaceBook, YouTube, Google, Chrome, and Mac OS X. I always appreciate it when computer screens look real and authentic, and surprisingly few filmmakers want to present technology or user interfaces that looks remotely real for fear that the movie will look dated and passé in a few years. There seems to be purpose in “keeping the computer screens real”: and that is as the main character is using her computer, she’s doing things very familiar to us–or at least anyone who uses a Mac (which is most of the people who would watch this movie), including using Force Quit to kill Chrome after the spinning beach ball cursor appears (and if that didn’t make any sense to you, then this movie isn’t for you).

🎬 💻 🎥📍🔒

This isn’t the only film to take place on a character’s computer screen: a recent episode of the ABC network TV show Modern Family took place on a character’s MacBook screen with FaceTime and iMessage. I don’t, however, consider this to be the beginning of a trend in cinematography. It’s just too confining to limit the action to a single computer screen. I can imagine another filmmaker doing a variation of this using a surveillance video screen–like a movie version of the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Or a movie like Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows, which incorporates surveillance-footage-on-computer-screens into an otherwise conventionally shot movie.

Now, wouldn’t it be something to someday watch this movie on your MacBook in full screen? 7/10

Fantastic Fest 2014 Day 8

Sob. It’s over. 😢 Well, it was over since last Friday morning, but oh the memories. I wish I was still there. It was great to meet up with my past festival pals! And meet new ones. Hope to see you all again next year.

The final day of Fantastic Fest was like any other. The 5-hour sleep all week and hectic schedule had worn me down. I don’t know how I sustained the energy or stayed awake. Must be the coffee. Oh yes, I was ordering two coffees a day during the second half. Ironically, the movies I saw on the last day were among the best of the festival. I didn’t know or intend it that way; it just happened.

The Incident
The Incident (El Incidente) is about two interconnected stories involving people trapped in a kind of endless, impossible loop. The first involves three men chasing each other down an infinite staircase. The second involves a family trapped in an infinite highway in the middle of nowhere. And that’s just the premise. The otherworldly scenarios are like some private pocket universe, completely closed off and without any edge. Traveling in a straight line in any direction will bring you back to your starting point. And then it gets weird. The characters and stories from are impossibly linked, and death seems to be the only escape. What purpose or reason does this exist? Is it Hell? Director Isaac Ezban seems to have taken a high concept, Twilight Zoney story and jacked up the adult content to 10. I loved this mind-bending, surreal fantasy. The most interesting high-concept film I’ve seen since Primer. And it puts the ‘fantastic’ in Fantastic Fest. (9/10)

The Tribe
This is the movie nobody saw, and probably shouldn’t have missed. It’s a crime drama from Ukraine, featuring no spoken dialogue only sign language without subtitles. The result is like a silent film (there’s still sound, but no music), comparable to last year’s Fantastic Fest selection Moebius (see my review), which was also completely dialog-free. The story follows a deaf teen on his first day as he joins a school for the deaf, and he quickly falls into the cliques and hard core criminal gangs. There are drugs, theft, bullying, prostitution (and you thought deaf school would be boring). What really sets the film apart is the use of very long unbroken scenes throughout the entire film (something like 5-10 minutes at a time). It reminds me of Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, which also featured long unbroken scenes. This imparts an almost documentary, direct cinema feel. Since there’s no dialog, scenes frequently start without exposition, and there’s usually a long setup before you understand what is going on in a scene. The camera follows the action, and usually tracks characters, but you otherwise feel like a disembodied observer just watching the events unfold. The Tribe has a bleak tone, and very strong content.  No wonder Drafthouse Films picked this up for distribution. It’s the joyless, feel-bad art house movie of the festival. While it’s not perfect (There Will Be Blood was perfect), it’s close enough. (10/10)

Open Windows
Open Windows is director Nacho Vigalondo’s high-tech thriller about computer geek Nick (Elijah Wood) who is a fanboy of glamorous movie star Jill (Sasha Grey). He thinks he’s a contest winner who is about to meet her in person, but he soon realizes he’s been made a pawn in a sinister hacker game that involves terrorizing Jill through his computer. Nick is coerced into doing some very bad things. There’s some backstory about hacker groups at war with each other, but I didn’t quite understand it.  It’s not perfect, but it mostly works as a tech fantasy, fueled by the plot’s high energy and Vigalondo’s taste for plot twists. Trivia: portions of Open Windows was shot at The Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar (where Fantastic Fest is held). The scene appears as video on Nick’s screen early in the movie. I got a chance to work as an extra on set with Sasha Grey. (7/10)

Alleluia
Another festival award winner, and deservedly so, in my opinion. Best Picture (Fantastic Features), Best Director (Fabrice Du Welz), Best Actor (Laurent Lucas), Best Actress (Lola Dueñas). A fitting way to close out a great film festival (little did I know that it would not be the final screening!). It’s about a very strange and twisted couple. Single mother Gloria (Dueñas) meets and falls under the spell of the charming Michel (Lucas) on their first date, even though she wasn’t that interested in dating him to begin with. Literally under his spell, because he’s a sorcerer adept at using black magic to make women fall madly in love with him, something he does for financial gain. Gloria turns out to be the perfect psychotic yang to Michel’s scheming ying. The two eventually tag team on Michel’s con game, if only Gloria could keep her psychotic, spell-induced jealousy in check. This black comedy has everything a Fantastic Fest film should have: humor, drama, sex, violence and Satanic magic. (8/10)

In Order of Disappearance
Bonus screening! During closing night party, a number of festival favorites were playing at midnight for anyone who felt like watching an extra film, and this title was recommended to me. It was a second choice during the festival, and I’m glad I saw it. Stellan Skarsgård plays Nils, a quiet snowplow operator living in a sleepy mountain town in Norway. His world is turned upside down when the local drug cartel murders his son over a petty crime, and Nils soon takes up a new job: making each and every one responsible for his son’s death “disappear.” It’s a very darkly humorous revenge/vigilante/one-man war-against-the-mob story. Some of the best, funniest screen time is given to the local drug boss (an environmentally and nutritionally conscientious vegan who rides around in a hybrid) and his henchmen. Anytime someone “disappears” or dies, their name appears on a title card. Nils racks up an impressive body count without straying too far into implausibility. It feels like the kind of film a younger Tarantino would make if he was Norwegian. (9/10)

Closing Night Party at the Alamo Drafthouse
Tim League throws some pretty wild parties. This year’s closing night party was going to be held at Ghost Town in Manor, but it was rained out at the last minute. They were going to throw an ABC’s of Death themed party (pure genius), with 26 stations, each with a different letter of the alphabet. Fortunately, they just moved it all to the Drafthouse on South Lamar and the now-adjacent Highball. Maybe not as cool as Ghost Town, but (1) super convenient, plus the bar at the Drafthouse and The Highball were right there, and (2) the extra round of  screenings at midnight. It was great way to end Fantastic Fest 2014.

Fantastic Fest 2014 Day 4

Day 4 is the halfway point of this 8-day film festival. The schedule for attendees has 37 time slots, and at the end of the fourth day, the normal attendee has seen 18 feature films (3+5+5+5).

Confetti of the Mind – The Short Films of Nacho Vigalondo
This is a special short film dedicated to the shorts of director and “unofficial Fantastic Fest mascot” Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes, Open Windows). Drafthouse Films is distributing Confetti of the Mind as well. FF2014 attendees can get a download code for $5 by ordering it with a plate of Nacho’s Nachos off the menu (which is pretty damn good, less salty, and vegetarian). The compilation includes a short introduction by Nacho before each short. Of course, Nacho was on hand for a little Q&A afterwards. I wouldn’t miss it. The Vigalondo shorts are unbridled little bundles of creativity. (8/10)

Lost Soul
This year’s documentary selection includes two films about films–and Lost Soul is one of then. It’s about the troubled New Line production of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Or rather about the film Richard Stanley started with and about the one that finally got made after he was fired. The documentary is an oral history from many of those involved with the production. What emerges is a fascinating tale of big money, huge ambitions, clash of massive egos, and sunk costs. Director David Gregory and Richard Stanley were guests in attendance, and boy do they have a great story to tell. (8/10)

Danger 5
Two years ago, Fantastic Fest selected (for one showing only), the complete the 6-part Aussie TV series Danger 5. It’s about a team of international spies who go on missions to foil the ridiculously cartoonish plans of Adolph Hitler (Nazi dinosaurs! Giant Japanese robots!). The deliberately cheesy special effects and props only seem to heighten the Saturday morning cartoon-inspired art direction. For FF2014, Danger 5 is back with the first 3 shows of Series 2, which as of this writing has not yet shown on TV in Australia. The new series takes the characters out of the WWII era setting and plants them sometime in the 1980s (or 90s). The war is over and Hitler has secretly escaped, living under an assumed name: Johnny Hitler. The members of Danger 5 have disbanded and gone their separate ways. But the tragic murder of an old friend reunites them to find the killers. By abandoning the WWII setting and James Bond-era spy tropes, the show moves into fresh new territory, mining the kitsch of the 1980s: Betamax, synth music, big hair, cop shows on TV, and a new setting: Metro City, USA. I can’t wait to see the rest of the series, but fear deeply that short of resorting to BitTorrent or moving to Australia, I might not anytime soon. (9/10)

Tokyo Tribe
This is quite simply in a category all by itself. The movie has the distinction of earning more FF genre icons than any other movie. But that doesn’t really describe it. Imagine a Japanese hip hop opera about feuding street gangs, with over-the-top gangstas (think Scarface), ultra-violence, and huge street fight sequences, and some gratuitous bits thrown in the round out the tone. The hip hop songs and performers are energetic and authentic, and the film is a full-on musical, albeit with the Japanese flavor. (7/10)

Let Us Prey
I really enjoyed this moody, gothic, and ultimately gory supernatural tale from Scotland, which takes place over the course of one night. It begins with a mysterious stranger (Liam Cunningham) who appears (and more mysteriously vanishes) at the scene of an accident, kicking off a series of events that culminates in a number of small cast of characters (police and perps) being isolated in a small police station together. The first half of the story is thick in mystery and atmosphere, and the movie accelerates from there to a gory and satisfying ending. (8/10)

%d bloggers like this: