Monday, August 7, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: COLOSSAL (2017); BOYKA: UNDISPUTED (2017); and UNFORGETTABLE (2017)

(US/South Korea/Spain/Canada/China/Luxembourg - 2017)

One of the most audacious and inventive films of the year, COLOSSAL is so offbeat and bizarre that its eccentricities are enough to carry it through its infrequent sections that don't work, like its uneven tone and its heavy-handed metaphors conveying its underlying themes. In a riff on her RACHEL GETTING MARRIED character, Anne Hathaway is Gloria, a hard-partying alcoholic who's been let go from a job at an online publication and has tested the patience of her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) one too many times. He dumps her and kicks her out of his apartment, and she heads back home to the small midwestern town where she grew up. She gets reacquainted with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who runs his late father's bar and clearly still nurses a lifelong crush on her. Gloria doesn't change her ways, working at Oscar's bar and staying up all hours with Oscar and his buddies Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). After sleeping off a bender on a bench at a local playground, she gets online and is horrified by breaking news and terrifying footage of a giant, Godzilla-like reptilian creature appearing in Seoul. When she sees the creature mimicking some of her own gestures, Gloria realizes that if she stands in a certain spot on the playground at 8:05 am, the creature manifests itself in Seoul as her sort of kaiju avatar. If she dances, it dances half a world away. If she scratches her head, it scratches its head. She reveals the secret to Oscar and the guys and when Oscar steps in the spot, a giant robot appears next to the creature in Seoul. When they start playfully horsing around and Gloria falls, several hundred people are killed when the creature falls and crushes them in Seoul. When Gloria sleeps with Joel, Oscar quickly goes from hurt to angry, using their newfound powers over the events in Seoul to guilt her about the deaths she's caused and keep her under his control, especially when Tim arrives in town to try and patch things up now that Gloria has made serious attempts to get sober.

Written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (TIMECRIMES,
EXTRATERRESTRIAL, OPEN WINDOWS), COLOSSAL is like a Toho kaiju if conceived by Charlie Kaufman. It initially approaches the concept as an inspired black comedy, but things gradually turn serious as Oscar grows more angry, more possessive, and even physically abusive toward Gloria, taking out his rage over the perceived betrayal of sleeping with Joel and threatening to flatten Seoul and kill all of its citizens if she doesn't submit to his will. As a metaphor for pulling one out of destructive and self-destructive situation, it's rather large-scale, but the entire film has such a WTF? sense of originality about it that it helps get over some of the less graceful passages. There's an attempt at an explanation to it all--a flashback to a childhood incident in the park, a map that shows a straight latitudinal line drawn from their town and Seoul--but it's still a little foggy and nonsensical. But in the end, these issues matters less than they would have in less imaginative hands. Even with its flaws, COLOSSAL is a film that earns its cult cred the old-fashioned way, and the performances of Hathaway and especially Sudeikis, who's a revelation here, are quite impressive. A strange one, for sure, and unlike anything you've seen before. (R, 109 mins)

(US - 2017)

Only in the world of DTV does a gritty 2002 Wesley Snipes/Ving Rhames boxing drama directed by Walter Hill and featuring a hilariously profane rant from Peter Falk morph over the course of 15 years into a Bulgaria-shot Nu Image franchise about a Russian MMA fighter who wasn't even in the original movie. The fourth entry in the UNDISPUTED series, and the first since 2010's UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION, BOYKA: UNDISPUTED continues the spiritual quest for redemption for hardened Russian convict Yuri Boyka (Scott Adkins). Boyka was introduced as the villain in 2007's UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING but turned into a hero for the third film thanks to Adkins' colorful performance and powerhouse screen presence stealing the film from II star Michael Jai White. After emerging victorious in III's BLOODSPORT-style prison fighting tournament and escaping over the border into Georgia, Boyka has been living in Kiev, Ukraine, scraping by in underground MMA fights and using his extra cash to donate to a local church. He's now deeply religious and wants to prove himself a legitimate fighter and put his murderous past behind him for good. Consumed by guilt after killing opponent Viktor Gregov (Emilien De Falco) in the ring, Boyka gets a fake passport and crosses the border into Russia to give his fight earnings to Gregov's widow Alma (Teodora Duhovnikova) and ask for her forgiveness. Gregov owed money to Russian mob boss Zourab (Alon Aboutboul), who essentially enslaves Alma in order to pay back her late husband's debt. After several run-ins with Zourab's goons, Boyka reluctantly agrees to three fights in order to buy Alma's freedom. Of course, Zourab foolishly attempts to screw over Boyka, threatening to turn him in and have him sent back to maximum security Chornya Cholmi if he doesn't agree to a fourth fight with superhuman killing machine Koshmar the Nightmare (Martyn Ford).

UNDISPUTEDs II and III were directed by DTV action auteur Isaac Florentine, who gets a producer credit here but passes the torch to Syfy vet Todor Chapkanov (MIAMI MAGMA, CRYSTAL SKULLS), whose execution of the fight sequences does a mostly solid job of replicating Florentine's master touch, but the big showdown between Boyka and Koshmar is over way too quickly and isn't put together as well as it should be. Of his three turns as Boyka, this gives Adkins the most space to act, but his arc is a bit predictable and cliched and it's pretty dumb how the film has Boyka fighting for Zourab under his own name in public when he's a wanted man in Russia. Still, in an era when VOD/DTV action is defined by guys like Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, and now Jean-Claude Van Damme coasting through doing as little as possible, the 41-year-old Adkins has genuine star quality, busts his ass time and again and has more than paid his dues over the years. He really should be headlining bigger movies by now (I seem to say this every time I review a new Scott Adkins movie), and while BOYKA: UNDISPUTED is a notch below the Florentine sequels (does anyone even remember the Hill movie anymore?), it's still way above average for this sort of thing. (R, 90 mins)

(US - 2017)

A throwback to the '90s "(Blank)-from-Hell" thriller, UNFORGETTABLE marks the directing debut of veteran producer Denise Di Novi. Di Novi's career kicked off when she shepherded the 1989 cult classic HEATHERS and served as Tim Burton's producing partner during his 1990s glory years on the likes EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, BATMAN RETURNS, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, ED WOOD, and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. She went on to have a long association with Warner Bros., where she produced several Nicholas Sparks adaptations and both installments of THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. In other words, Di Novi is a pretty major player who's generated a ton of money in Hollywood, and the acknowledgment of that appears to be the only reason something as uninspired and thoroughly generic as UNFORGETTABLE managed to get a nationwide theatrical release from a major studio in 2017. Headlined by the best star teaming that 2008 had to offer, UNFORGETTABLE centers on online publishing editor Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) moving to SoCal to live with her fiance David (Geoff Stults), who left his job at Merrill Lynch to open a craft brewery. Everything is going smoothly until the inevitable clash with David's uptight and unstable ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl, in between her annual heavily-hyped new TV series that's inevitably cancelled after three episodes), who's convinced she and David are getting back together and is doing everything she can to turn their daughter Lily (Isabella Rice) against her future stepmother. Tessa starts by criticizing Julia's cooking, then escalates to stealing her phone and digging into her past, uncovering a restraining order against an abusive ex (Simon Kassianides) and luring him by pretending to be Julia online. Then she breaks into the house while Julia's taking a bath, stealing lingerie and sending it to the ex, giving him Julia's new address and inviting him to show up after sexting with him as Julia (Heigl's masturbation scene is hilariously intercut with Julia and David going down on each other in the men's room at a restaurant after Tessa tells Julia how much he used to like public sex, meaning that both women are basically obsessing over the other while they're getting off). Of course, things veer into mayhem and murder as the ex-wife-from-Hell stops at nothing to reclaim what she believes is hers.

Basically a Lifetime movie with a few F-bombs, some splatter, and a great view of Rosario Dawson's body double's butt (Di Novi doesn't even competently match the shots of Dawson and the double, whose presence would be painfully obvious even if she wasn't listed in the closing cast credits as "Rosario Dawson's body double"), UNFORGETTABLE is lethargically paced and never really cuts loose. Even the big catfight between Julia and Tessa seems to be over as soon as it starts. It hits every trope and cliche and the genre, it does nothing with Whitney Cummings as Julia's wisecracking best friend who helps her uncover dirt on Tessa (UNFORGETTABLE is so going-through-the-motions that it doesn't even bother killing off Cummings' pointless character), and it really only comes alive for a couple of scenes where Cheryl Ladd turns up as Tessa's chilly, perfectionist mother, who's even more of an ice-cold bitch who only speaks when she's got something negative to say to Tessa ("You didn't bake scones?" she scoffs at Tessa's store-bought pastries; "You're dragging your knife...and your silver needs polished!"), making it clear why Tessa is the way she is, almost generating a little sympathy for her in the process. But UNFORGETTABLE can't be bothered with multi-faceted character complexities. Dawson seems to know this is junk, the bland-to-the-point-of-transparency Stults looks like a third-string Peter Krause who's just biding his time until his perpetual stubble gets a little grayer and he can take over as the Trivago pitchman, and in the right hands, Heigl could've had some self-deprecating fun with the parallels between her character and her image as a difficult diva with a stick up her ass, but UNFORGETTABLE just coasts by doing the bare minimum. With the help of overqualified cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (THE BLACK STALLION, THE RIGHT STUFF, THE NATURAL, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST), who likely wouldn't be involved with something this junky if not for Di Novi, UNFORGETTABLE at least looks polished and professional on the surface. It's marginally better than the INCONCEIVABLE, another recent "(Blank)-from-Hell" '90s throwback thriller, but all these glossy retro potboilers end up demonstrating is that these things were a lot more enjoyable 25 years ago. (R, 100 mins)

No comments:

Post a Comment