Tag Archives: genetics

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+

Advertisements

Gattaca – Review

12 Mar

Science is evolving at an alarming rate leaving humanity and our moral standings in the dust. Science doesn’t care about right and wrong, but people do, and that means developments that could be made aren’t. The ethical questions around cloning and stem cell research are interesting and have plausible arguments on both sides. As a science fiction movie, Gattaca shows a world that very well may exist in our not too distant future, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s utopian or dystopian.

Gataca_Movie_Poster_B

 

In the future, humanity has figured out a way to genetically modify children before they are even physically conceived. This has created a world full of superior humans who can easily climb their way to the top of any organization or lead any sort of life that they desire. This isn’t true for Vincent (Ethan Hawke), who was born before this scientific discovery with heart problems and the possible growth of mental disorders. Although he is brilliant, these health issues render him inferior in society and completely destroy his goal of traveling to space. He illegally “borrows” the genes of failed swimmer Jerome Morrow (Jude Law). Under the guise of Morrow’s genes, Vincent is finally able to enter the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation and is eventually chosen to travel to the moon of Titan. When a murder is committed at Gattaca, Vincent’s cover risks being blown leaving him dodging the police and obsessively covering his tracks.

This film plays out like an old science fiction novel or short story. The science is never overwhelming or extravagant, but instead feels like it could really happen. There’s plenty to think about after watching Gattaca, especially with the knowledge that we are probably very close to this. Unlike most science fiction films, this feels like more of a drama than anything else. Sure, there is a murder investigation which causes some thrilling and suspenseful scenes, but it’s never really the main point of the story. This leaves the movie feeling uneven at times, especially since the murder investigation takes some interesting twists that aren’t really played up enough. I felt like Andrew Niccol, the writer and director, didn’t know if he wanted to make a thriller or a drama, which creates this weird hybrid.

gattaca-lucky

 

 

I feel like the main idea behind the whole plot is to force the viewers to stop and examine where technology is taking us. The movie needs a story, and it is certainly there, but I was a lot more interested in the setting than anything else. The way this film handles the idea of advancements in technology is a lot different than many science fiction films. I feel like the point of science fiction is to warn us about what we are creating for ourselves. Gattaca can be compared to the film Moon, in my opinion. Like in MoonGattaca doesn’t try to bombard the viewer with awesome special effects and cool looking technology, but paints a picture of how humanity has ultimately failed.

Getting away from the thematic area, I should mention some of the more concrete aspects of the film. Jude Law and Alan Arkin give great performances, with Law proving again how deep he is willing to fall into a character. Uma Thurman is ok, and I was really unimpressed by Ethan Hawke, especially his voice overs which sounded like he was reading right from the script rather than his character directly explaining the story to us. What’s really nice is the production design. The sets all look really nice and very appropriate for the “not too distant” future that is being presented. Niccol and his crew knew the limitations of the technology and never tried to bite more than they could chew with the special effects. It’s a very nice looking movie.

936full-gattaca-screenshot

 

There is this one awesome scene where Jude Law’s crippled character, Jerome, has to quickly climb this large spiral staircase. This staircase looks a lot like a double helix of DNA, which Jerome has to conquer. That, in a nutshell, is the point of this movie. Humanity should set it’s own goals and not rely on what they are told they can and can not do. This is also a warning. Technology is great, but there are consequences to everything we create or discover. Gattaca isn’t a fantastic movie, but it is quite good. By the end, I was ready for it to be over, but I did enjoy the glimpse into a possible future.