Tag Archives: animals

Okja – Review

1 Jul

Bong Joon-ho has really made a name for himself as one of the most internationally acclaimed filmmakers to come out of South Korea. His films like Memories of MurderMother, and The Host were hits in South Korea, and Snowpiercer brought his talents to the west and into the English language. He has this excellent ability to create moments of humor out of very serious situation and his style is something all his own. His latest film, Okja, is a Netflix exclusive which also continues Netflix’s trend of creating quality entertainment. This film, while having very cute and funny moments, is a condemnation of the dealings of big business in the animal industry and shines a harsh light on the manufacturing of GMOs.

Okja is a genetically modified super pig who has been being raised in a rural South Korean village by a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather Heebong (Byun Hee-bong) for the past 10 years. Okja was first created by the Mirando corporation, run by the then new CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), to be the next best meat in the entire industry. Now that Okja is fully grown, Mirando sends its spokesperson, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), to get Okja and bring her back to Seoul and eventually New York City. Mija’s not about to let them take Okja away from her, so she runs off to Seoul to stop Mirando and runs into the ALF, or the Animal Liberation Front, a small group run by animal activist Jay (Paul Dano). With time for Okja running out, Mija has to reluctantly team up with Jay and the ALF to expose the major wrongdoings and cruelty of Mirando and save Okja in the process.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is the whole message this movie is giving. Bong Joon-ho is known for his environmentalism and his environmentally conscious films. Okja continues this tradition with an even louder voice than ever before. The first thing he tackles is GMOs and how it can be an absolutely absurd practice to genetically enhance animals and have people ok with that, even when it’s used for something more shady than health reasons. His other stance that he takes is the two faces of major companies, no matter which industry they are a part of. In this film, Lucy Mirando and Dr. Wilcox make it impossible not to like the Mirando Corporation, but once you see past the surface you know what they are really about. This is a time when companies are backed by armadas of lawyers and P.R. teams who exist just to issue cleverly worded apologies to make everything right again. While I can back these stances and I’m glad to see them presented in a movie, Okja sometimes is a bit to heavy handed with the message to the point of sounding preachy. Other scenes have that subversive wit this film maker is known for and it more than makes up for the more overly explicit moments.

There are a few minor faults with the movie that did get a little distracting as I was watching it. Towards the end of the movie when things were really going down and the climax of the film was fast approaching, I sort of started to lose track of what the villains of the film were really up to. I feel like most of this happens because their motivations get muddled and the writing makes it so they run the gamut of evil to make them seem like the villains they truly are. They do something to Okja that is very serious and quite important, but then they go and try to do something else that completely counteracts what they originally did. It’s something of a plot hole where I feel like I could be missing something, but it just seems like intentions got muddled somewhere in the screenplay. The story is also a little slow on the uptake. A lot of time is spent introducing Mija and Okja, which is important to build the relationship, but there’s something in particular that happens in the very beginning that just seems out of place. It distracted me from where the story was heading and could be cut out of the movie all together. These are relatively minor complaints, but obvious enough that made them worth stating.

I really need to take a moment to mention how excellent Ahn Seo-hyun is in this film. Her performance of Mija is really excellent and it’s rare to see an actor this young give such an honest performance. This goes along with the fact that her best friend in the movie is a CGI super pig. She does very well at acting around something that isn’t even there and I was really impressed. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal are both hilarious in this movie and Paul Dano gives the exact kind of performance you would expect Dano to give. I do want to touch on Okja herself. At times the CGI got a little bit cartoonish, but there were other times, especially in close up, when the CGI looked great. As a whole I was definitely a fan of the design of Okja. When I saw the first promotional picture released, I thought the design looked kind of stupid, but seeing it in action completely changed my mind. Speaking of visuals, it’s hard for me to remember just how well shot Bong Joon-ho’s films are since I always relate him to writing and character. The camerawork in Okja is sweeping and exciting and adds a whole new layer of entertainment to the film.

Okja is certainly a welcome addition to Bong Joon-ho’s filmography and is a reminder that Netflix is really killing it with their original content. I can’t say that this film ranks up there with Bong’s earlier films like The Host but it does have a strong message, some excellent characters and actors, and a CGI super pig that is surprisingly lovable. Okja is both a strong drama and a light hearted comedy that blends to create a very entertaining film despite some minor issues with motivation and pacing. I say, if you have Netflix, this is a new addition that should definitely be seen and works well to also introduce any newcomer to Bong Joon-ho’s unique style.

Final Grade: B+

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Rango – Review

30 Aug

I just want to start this review by pointing something out. Just because a movie is animated does not make it a kid’s movie. Look at Rango, for example. It was marketed as a movie that was great for the family. Hell, it was released by Nickelodeon Studios. I will admit that kids might get some enjoyment out of it, but Rango is a strange animated western that is spot on entertainment for teenagers and adults.

 

Rango (Johnny Depp) is a lonely chameleon who, after a strange highway mishap, is flung from his owner’s vehicle and let to fend for himself in the Mojave Desert. After happening across the small town of Dirt, Rango inadvertently becomes the sheriff of this hopeless town. After the town’s water supply is stolen, Rango and a posse set out on a mission to find it , but he soon discovers that there is a bigger scheme going on in Dirt, and it involves one of the heinous gunslinger, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy).

If someone were to ask me what Rango was like in the simplest and quickest way possible, I’d reply, “It’s Pixar on LSD.” This is not your average, run of the mill family animated feature. This is a strange take on traditional westerns that is both interesting in its existential themes and humor, but also a plain old good time. It’s in jokes are hysterical and its snappy dialogue is so quick that you won’t pick up on every joke the first time through.

 

There are a lot of points in this movie where I kept thinking, “Kids aren’t gonna find this funny…at all.” There’s a lot of talking and walking around in between the action set pieces that are actually really fun and genuinely exciting. There isn’t a whole lot of silly slap stick humor, but there are great references that are great shout outs to the older generations of readers and movie goers.

If this is the type of animated material that Industrial Light and Magic is going to be putting out, then I’m confident in saying that Pixar might be in a bit of trouble. Rango has some of the best computer animation that I have ever seen. There’s an excellent scene in the beginning where the sun is glistening through water, and it looks stunning. The shadow effects add a whole new layer of intricate light design that is either missing or lacking in Pixar films. This sets the bar higher than you may think.

 

Rango has kind of a weird style that films like this generally don’t have (are you seeing a theme in this review?). The desert creatures who we have to follow throughout the entire movie are neither cute nor cuddly. In fact, they can be pretty grotesque. The same can be said about the town of Dirt and even some of the strange looking humans we briefly see. Everything appears to be warped in a very twisted and ugly way that is just so cool.

Besides the fantastic humor and the oxymoronic beautiful/disgusting look of the movie, the plot suffers from a bad case of the scatters. What I mean is that it is all over the place. The movie starts at a weird spot and doesn’t seem to have a true conflict until we get to the third act. You can break the movie up into three short segments. The first, second, and climactic third conflict. There was just a little bit too much going on and I didn’t get the feeling Verbinski decided on a definite plot, just a lot of little ones.

Rango is one of the best, funniest, and strange animated movie I have ever watched. It’s Hunter Thompson mixed with Sergio Leone with a sprinkle of the Coen Brothers on top that’s neatly wrapped into a bizarre package by Gore Verbinski. Don’t show it to your kids, but get your closest friends and enjoy Rango.