Tag Archives: paul dano

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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Swiss Army Man – Review

12 Jul

Listen, I’m all for big budget Hollywood productions. If there’s a movie that’s a sequel or another comic book adaptation, chances are I might be in that theater seat adding to what some people might call “the problem.” That being said, it is mighty refreshing to come across a new movie that is overflowing with imagination, creativity, and though provoking content. The movie I’m referencing right now is Swiss Army Man, a film circuit gem that has finally gotten a wider release. I’ve seen a lot of great movies this year, and I’ve also seen some garbage, but Swiss Army Man will more than likely remain in my top picks of 2016.

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After being shipwrecked on an island for who knows how long, Hank (Paul Dano) has decided he’s had enough and creates a makeshift noose to help him end it all. This plan abruptly comes to an end when a dead guy who Hank names Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the beach, and through the power of extraordinary flatulence, whisks Hank away to the mainland. Still trapped in the middle of nowhere, Hank and his new deceased friend start their trek back to humanity, but soon it becomes clear that Manny is slowly coming back to life, even though he has no memories of his life or customs that humans hold so dear. As this odd couple makes their way through the woods, Hank gives Manny some lessons about what it means to be human, which includes some of our positives and lots of our negatives.

I have to give all the credit in the world to Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for having the guts to actually write and direct this movie. When you think of all the movies out there right now, none of them really compare to the absurdity that is seen in Swiss Army Man. It takes a lot of imagination and skill to actually pull this movie off. While it is a fantasy, it also works as a social commentary. Might I just remind everyone that this social commentary is discussed between a guy that’s been stranded on an island and a dead guy that washed up on the beach and is slowly coming back to life. What a ridiculous concept, and yet it is pulled off so well. There’s a lot of overt criticisms, but the ones that are more subtle are the ones that work the most. I don’t want to say it’s a pessimistic view of the world we live in and the rules we are “forced” to follow, but it kinda sorta is.

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So, yeah this is a pretty pessimistic movie that I would argue continues throughout the entire story. Paul Dano’s character has a backstory that is pretty upsetting, even though what can be interpreted as upsetting is actually pretty minor. This is because we can all relate to those little things that always seem to bring us down the most. In that way, Dano’s character is extremely relatable and I really just wanted to see him finally find something to be happy about. On the flip side, Swiss Army Man is also an incredibly funny movie. I laughed a lot at things I never thought I’d ever see. There’s humor as low as fart jokes all the way to some really clever satire. The way Radcliffe’s character is used adds a lot to this humor as his corpse seems capable of pulling anything off. What I’m trying to say is that this movie works well at making you feel sad one moment and then making it seem impossible to stop laughing the next.

Throughout most of the movie, the only characters we see are Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Needless to say, this movie wouldn’t have worked it their chemistry wasn’t exactly on point. Thankfully, it was and now we have one of the most hilarious odd couples to ever grace the silver screen. Dano is great as Hank, the straight man, who is forced to explain even the most basic things to the screwball corpse, Manny. Radcliffe really steals the show, though, as he brings Manny to life more and more as the story progresses. He’s absolutely hilarious and gives one of my favorite performances of the year so far. The only other person worth mentioning is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is only really in the movie near the very end. She’s fine, but she doesn’t really have much to do. If you wanna see Winstead really show what she’s capable of, just watch 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Swiss Army Man is packed to the brim with ideas, imagination, and adventure. It’s certainly a one of a kind movie in every sense of the word, and might sit pretty well in my top 10 movies of the year. Of course, it is only July, but on the other hand I loved this movie a whole hell of a lot. This is normally the part where I would say that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that may be true, but I can’t really see how. This is a movie with characters that anyone can relate to, and a premise that is guaranteed no one has ever seen before. It’s independent film making on a grand scale.

12 Years a Slave – Review

12 Jan

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that spectacular time of year called award season is upon us. It’s a time when film lovers get together and argue or agree on the nominations and predicted winners of all the major awards. It’s also a time where I have to catch up on all the great movies of the year that I may have missed. This is where 12 Years a Slave comes in. Being nominated for over 100 different awards, this is a film that is getting some major recognition, and I was really excited to see it. Well, it was a really good movie that showed terrible things in an uncompromising way. While this may be required viewing, I have major problems with the artistic execution, and the flaws in its presentation made 12 Years a Slave more disappointing than I would have wanted it to be.

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Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and two children. After two white men drug him and illegally strip him of his freedom, he is sold to William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) where he works on his plantations as a slave. After a violent altercation with one of Ford’s carpenters, Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) for his own protection. Unfortunately, Epps isn’t as understanding as Ford. Epps is an alcoholic and violent towards his slaves, especially to Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a slave woman who is constantly abused by Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson). As Northup waits for his opportunity to free himself from Epps, he must watch and be subjected to the horror that was slavery.

It needs to be said that this is a great movie. There really is no doubt about it. The acting is the shining beacon of this entire things. Everyone, and I mean everyone, give amazing performances. Ejiofor carries the weight of his role was superb talent, proving that this part couldn’t have been casted any better. His facial expressions alone speak more words than any line of dialogue written. Fassbender deserves an Academy Award for his work as Epps, the character that strikes as much fear into his victims as Ralph Fiennes did in Schindler’s List. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o has set a career in motion that I’d love to see blossom. These are just a few of this huge cast that struck hard with their performances. Without these believable and talented actors, 12 Years a Slave wouldn’t be as powerful as it is.

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Along with the powerful acting comes powerful imagery. Director Steve McQueen is no stranger when it comes to visual punishment. Hunger was not an easy movie to sit through, and Shame, although visually tamer, was no picnic either. Both are still fascinating films and great to look at, and 12 Years a Slave is no different. There are beautifully executed long takes, amazing nature shots, and other camera work that makes it feel like it is another character in the film. This is a really great addition to the film, but it’s also where 12 Years a Slave begins to fail.

When a movie with a storyline as moving, horrifying, and tragic as this one is, I expect the director to keep a focused eye on the plot. Unfortunately for this film, McQueen gets a little out of hand with showing the beauty of the South. There are way too many shots of trees and lakes and flowers, which only became a distraction as the movie went on. I understand his showing a beautiful South as a backdrop for such horror, but that only goes so far. By the third act, I was getting sick of the unnecessary shots of nature, and long takes for the sake of long takes. Some just never ended. These problems drag the movie down so much and make me really disappointed. These may seem trivial, but if you’ve seen the movie you may know what I mean.

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12 Years a Slave tells a story, not just of one man, but of the struggle of an entire race in a very dark time of American history. I applaud the movie and McQueen for showing such an uncompromising look at this time, and I also applaud the actors for giving such incredible performances, be they human or horrific. I’m still disappointed, and I really don’t want to be. This is in no way a bad movie, it’s a great movie. Unfortunately, the over-stylization of certain scenes make the movie slow down and lose focus of what is actually happening. I still stand by my point that this is required viewing, even with its artistic flaws.

Prisoners – Review

6 Jan

I can’t speak from experience, but I’m pretty sure that the thought of having your child or children abducted is every parent’s worse nightmare. It’s something traumatic enough to really mess with a person’s mind and body in such a way that they may resort to actions that they never would have thought possible. From this idea comes Prisoners, a morally heavy film that really shows that in extreme situations, morals lines may shake or disappear all together, but wouldn’t all of  us do anything to protect our children?

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Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a deeply religious man with a loving wife (Maria Bello), a son, and a young daughter. On Thanksgiving, Keller and his family spend time with their neighborhood friends Franklin (Terrance Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), who also have two daughters of their own. After dinner Dover’s daughter and one of Franklin’s daughters go missing when they go outside to play. The police are called and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is claimed never to have lost a case, is assigned to find their daughters. When a suspect is found in the man-child Alex Jones (Paul Dano), there appears to be hope, but there isn’t enough evidence against him and his Aunt (Melissa Leo) is determined that there is no way he could have done such a thing. As Detective Loki has to battle to stay within the realm of the law during his investigation, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.

Emotionally, this is a very heavy movie. Right in the first fifteen minutes I felt an unbelievable dread. Not only is the subject matter heavy, but the look of everything is so gray and uninviting throughout the whole movie. It always seems to be raining. On top of how horrible this movie makes you feel, the run time of two and a half hours doesn’t make things any easier. But seriously, this movie is loooooooong. I’d say it’s a little bit longer than it needs to be. I could see it clocking in at a little over two hours, but two and a half going on three is kind of pushing it. There’s a surprising amount of things that happen in Prisoners which led the story to place I didn’t think it was going to go. This is cool and all, but a little but of trimming would do the movie a lot of good.

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The real draw of this movie is the performances. Just look at the cast. It’s unbelievable. Hugh Jackman gives an Oscar worthy performance as Keller and makes us sympathize, yet cringe at what he is doing and going through. Maria Bello and Viola Davis are both great, yet different, as the two grieving mother with Bello giving a more fragile performance than the strong willed Viola. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a very grounded performance as Detective Loki is what I may argue is his best performance and Terrance Howard, though not onscreen too often, gives a very quiet but tragic performance. Finally, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are both excellent as always as they seem to have completely morphed into the characters they are playing.

Finally, I need to give a special nod to the cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who really gives his all with the dramatic lighting that is seen in Prisoners. A lot of what is seen seems pretty natural, as it should, and the exteriors all have a gray look, but there are times where the drama picks up that the lighting looks fantastic. There’s great exposures for silhouettes and very hard, foreboding lighting that really shows the gravity of a scene. Deakins has also been the cinematographer for a lot of the Coen Brothers movies like No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski and also did beautiful work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I would check any of his movies works on.

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Prisoners is a very powerful and draining movie whose only hinderance is a run time that goes on a little bit too long. The content is very difficult, and to have to sit through that for such a long time may put some people off and that’s totally understandable. Still, this is a fantastic movie with some fantastic performers giving everything they have to their roles. This is not a movie that should be missed.