Tag Archive: Timecrimes


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.

 

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Terminator Remix

Terminator Genisys Poster

Terminator Genisys Poster

Same ingredients, wrong recipe

Save yourselves. It’s too late for me.

That was my final tweet before watching Terminator Genisys, the new movie which creator James Cameron thinks is swell. Well no, it’s not. Only the films Cameron did were any good, the rest got worse. There was a slow-paced, short-lived TV series set in more contemporary times, but it was cancelled just when it got interesting. Where does Genisys sit in the franchise spectrum? It in no way tops the first two movies (written and directed by Cameron), but it’s definitely not the worst of the series (McG gets that honor).

There are parts of Terminator Genisys that were fun to watch. You can call it fan service, or homage, but the parts of the movie that take place in 1984 (the year the original movie took place) were fun. It’s like watching a movie you’ve seen before. Mostly. Reshooting iconic scenes from the first film, but with a slightly different twist is enjoyable at first (including an encounter with a young Arnold as the original T800 terminator), but when the plot breaks out into its own alternate timeline, things go downhill rapidly. Acts II and III were just tedious, mindless PG-rated video-game action.

James Cameron’s original Terminator film (I’ll shorten it to “T1” to avoid confusion with the character) was really about Sarah Connor and her story arc, and less about the action sequences, high tech special effects, and sci-fi time travel conceits. It’s not even really about the titular character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That other stuff is just icing on the cake. It’s one of the reasons I consider T1 the work of an auteur with a low budget, but a terrific original idea. Remember: James Cameron wasn’t a bankable Hollywood A-list name yet, and this movie was pure gumption and creativity. The result is still one of the most re-watchable, emotionally resonant “hard R”-rated sci-fi action/horror flicks from the 1980s.

This is where Terminator Genisys could have gotten it right. They were bringing the story back to 1984 when Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese first met, but using the “alternate timeline” trick to tell a different story about those characters. This worked really well in JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot, in which the archetypes of the main characters were preserved to tell new stories without the burden of series continuity, but this is where Genisys got it all wrong. The Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese characters are completely different, almost alien. Connor is not the fragile, scared waitress from T1, but a woman who has been fighting and destroying T1000-model (liquid metal) terminators since she was 9 years old (like it was her day job) with the help of her trusty old T800 Terminator protector, played delightfully by an older Schwarzenegger. The version of Sarah Connor played by Emilia Clarke is like a caricature of the “kick-ass” version of Sarah Connor who appears in T2: Judgment Day; the only thing they have in common is that they’re on a mission to destroy Skynet. But Clarke’s version of Sarah is nothing like Linda Hamilton’s from T2: a haunted-by-fate, frothing-at-the-mouth crazy, fatalistic lost soul. Clarke’s Sarah bickers throughout the movie with Kyle Reese, and regards him as an unwanted passenger she has to protect. And Jai Courtney’s version of Reese is not the PTSD nightmare-suffering, soft-spoken, love-struck, exposition-spouting soldier from the future. He’s more of a complaining “bro” who acts like he’s unable to cope with the “new” 1984. There’s even a scene where Reese’s alpha-male bro sensibilities are threatened by the T800’s status as Sarah’s trusted protector. Why he would feel inadequate to the T800 makes no sense when he regards them as robots (at least he did in the original time line, but we’re told this is the same Reese from the original time line). Neither Sarah nor Kyle in this movie had any chemistry, nor were they in any way likable or sympathetic. And without the tragic arc of their brief but doomed love affair, the resulting story has none of the emotional gravitas of T1.

But wait: it gets worse.

I’ll accept continuity breaking as a necessary plot device for Hollywood sequels. I’ll even accept some contrivances or shaky rationale in the name of making a difficult plot fit together. But contrivances abound in Genisys, with no restraint. After saving Reese, Sarah and Kyle rush off to a time machine that the T800 magically built in a basement (one assumes from spare DeLorean parts), because, fuck, he’s from the future and they all have detailed files on building time machines, right? After some more bickering, Reese convinces Sarah to time hop to the year 2017, the day before Skynet comes online (in the altered timeline) and murders 3 billion people. How does Reese know? Because sci-fi. Now, I’m all for working under pressure, but this makes absolutely no sense. The reason for the time hop is ridiculously obvious: move the setting to contemporary times. Giving yourself 24-hours to stop Skynet however, puts you at a tactical disadvantage. And why they hurry to leave 1984 also makes no sense: if John Connor isn’t born in 1984, he’s not going to be there in 2029 to end the war. Why hurry when you have a time machine? But I’ll accept that John’s birth is one possible future and that if she stops Skynet in 2017, then John and the survivors of the holocaust won’t have to in 2029. That’s well and good, but then John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) appears in 2017 (looking like he does in 2029, including the scar across his face). How did he get there? Not explained.

***SPOILERS AHEAD (Sorta, if you didn’t see the spoiler-heavy trailer)***

It’s revealed that John is a new type of terminator from the future, another shape shifter who is made of a swarm of nano machines. Skynet (played by Doctor Who’s Matt Smith) in the future converted him into a terminator, using nano technology, which gave rise to this alternate 1984. But Sarah didn’t conceive him before jumping to 2017, which means John’s existence in 2029 is a paradox (let’s call it paradox #1). It’s obvious some writer thought “wouldn’t it be awesome if John Connor was made the bad guy in this movie?” and did it. Never mind that the only fucking people this terminator would NOT be able to terminate were its own parents (let’s call that paradox #2). What was Skynet thinking? (But he shouldn’t exist because of paradox #1). What were the writers thinking? This is seriously lazy ass writing. I appreciate time travel movies that follow their own rules about time travel mechanics (See Primer, Time Lapse, Timecrimes, The Infinite Man, or even T1 as examples of the proper way to handle causal loops). At some point, I think the writers gave up and explained it away with dialog about the three of them existing in their own time bubble (or something to that effect). It made no sense. That’s just like saying no rules apply, and the characters can do whatever they want and it won’t matter.
Of course it’s not the only paradox, but it’s the one that stares you in the face in Act II, and the movie’s way of dealing with it is to dismiss it faintly. There’s also no explanation for why Sarah has a pet T800 for a protector. Who programmed him in the future? Nobody knows. Whoever did it came from the alternate timeline 2029 because they were trying to save Sarah from T1000s arriving in the alternate 1973 (which is a continuity break, since the T800 wasn’t sure which Sarah Connor to kill in T1). Yet we’re shown that Skynet’s conversion of John Connor in 2029 triggered the alternate timeline. The movie is not even internally consistent. The writers don’t seem to care because the apparent point of this is they need Arnold to reprise his role as a “good” terminator. For the third time. There’s one word for that: contrived.

***END OF SPOILERS***

But wait: it gets worser.

Genisys is a PG-13 movie equivalent of Doritos chips: utterly unnatural, manufactured food-substitute designed to satisfy hunger and craving for salt, sugar, and flavor without delivering any nutrition. In this case, the salt, sugar, and nacho cheese flavor are the empty and meaningless action sequences and special effects that fill much of Acts II and III. While it’s all technically well done with the normal CG perfection, none of it raises the bar on action. I can remember so many other movies with spectacular chase or action sequences that surprised me in one way or another, but flipping a bus over before it falls off a bridge while the main characters hang on for dear life? I saw that done better in Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Arnold crashing through the windshield of a police vehicle only to say “Get out!” in a deadpan way? T1 and T2 featured that. In fact, most of the fighting, chases, and effects are just a remix of stuff we already saw in T1 and T2.

The nano-machine terminator doesn’t add anything new either. The “swarm of particles” enemy has been done in other sci-fi movies (The Matrix Revolutions, Transcendence, for example). It’s mostly just a variation of the liquid metal T1000 that astonished audiences back in 1991 as an early example of CG, minus the ability to hide by shapeshifting. Again, nothing new to see here. The bar has not been raised. Nobody used their imagination. Nobody took any chances. It lacks…soul.

So what are we left with? A smattering of clever scenes in Act I that pay homage to, and remind us of how much better James Cameron’s T1 (and for that matter, T2) was, while sending a wrecking ball to the continuity of those first two films. Followed by a contemporary, paradox-riddled and illogical plot to re-destroy Cyberdyne Systems (which drove the plot of T2) in 2017, filling the running time with familiar-looking, unremarkable action beats. The only redeeming thing is watching Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise his role as the robotic T800 with a twinkle in his eye. It’s clear that Schwarzenegger is enjoying himself, and still fit for action movie duty as he approaches 70 (he’s signed on for another Conan movie). Character actor J.K. Simmons also takes a small role that brings levity to the movie, but on the whole, the movie doesn’t feel as dark or even as serious as the original T1, which ended on an apocalyptic, dread-filled note that stuck with you after the final credits rolled. The ending of this movie is utterly a let down, meaningless, and ultimately feels like it doesn’t matter due to all the paradoxes needed to get there. The characters and the franchise deserve better, but is anyone up to task? JJ? 5/10

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