Tag Archives: satirical

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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War Machine – Review

21 Jun

In 2012, a book titled The Operators by Rolling Stone editor Michael Hastings was released. It details the times that Hastings spent with General Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force. Soon after Hastings published an article featuring McChrystal and his team, which featured a lot of trash talking certain high level government officials, McChrystal was pretty much forced to resign his position. Now we have another look at the story in a fictionalized, satirical account of what happened by writer/director David Michôd and his latest film War Machine. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this movie, so I was a little hesitant going into it, but I have to say I really had a blast with this movie, despite some of its minor storytelling set backs.

General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a man of principles, conviction, confidence, and opinions. While all of those words do perfectly describe the officer, he’s also loud mouthed, arrogant, and a buffoon. He’s also the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan at the tail end of the war. Along with his team of sycophants and cronies, McMahon has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East with the payoff being a huge boost of his ego. Of course, along the way he has to deal with bureaucrats and politicians cutting into his plans while also trying to manage relations with Afghanistan’s new president (Ben Kingsley). While formulating a plan to head into enemy territory in a major assault that will be the high point of his career, McMahon agrees to have Rolling Stone reporter Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) join the ranks to see the inner workings of his squad. This, along with every other bad decision of his career, will ultimately be his downfall.

The first thing that I really came to appreciate after watching War Machine is the film’s tone. It’s silly and often times over the top, but it never falls into the realm of stupidity. The dialogue has some corny jokes, but it also has some pretty whip smart moments of really good satire. While all of the humor is well and good, I was also surprised to find some depth and drama to the storytelling. I was really just looking to have some laughs with this movie but I felt a little more than that. By the end of the film, I started to analyze the character of McMahon and his intentions and the consequences of his action. There are even a few quieter moments that were actually kind of sad, and that’s an area I really wasn’t expecting the film to go based on the trailer. This isn’t just a surface level movie that exists to provide some cheap laughs. War Machine has a message and actual depth to it to support the laughs and the sillier moments in the movie.

So, War Machine is a movie with a message and it’s one that I can agree with. Unfortunately, the film’s biggest problem lies with how this message is conveyed at certain times. Throughout the movie we hear Scoot McNairy’s character doing a voice over and explaining certain things that are happening in the film or describing a character we are meeting for the first time. This helps since there are a lot of minor characters in this movie and everyone is constantly traveling around. While this helps with certain things, it also comes across as annoying more often than it should. The character of Sean Cullen is fine when he’s actually with McMahon and the other soldiers, but his voice over is so cynical and snide, while also beating the viewer on the head with the opinions being expressed in the movie. It was kind of annoying being told how I should be thinking. If the writing of the voice over was toned down just a little bit, that would have been great. I can figure out the messages and themes of movies, so I really don’t need them explained to me in this way.

One of my main draws to this movie was to see Brad Pitt in yet another role where he’s playing someone completely out of the ordinary. Pitt takes this part of McMahon and completely embodies it. From his odd posture, to his facial ticks, and even the goofy way he walks and runs, he’s perfectly believable as this character and it’s easy to forget you’re watching an actor, even if his face is so recognizable. Sir Ben Kingsley is also hilarious as the off the wall president of Afghanistan that McMahon is trying to cooperate with, even if they’re both not on the same page with each other at all. Kingsley is really hardly in this film, but most every scene has Pitt in it. Unfortunately, while everyone else around them do their jobs fine, they aren’t given a whole lot to do other than the bidding of McMahon, and while there are funny moments surrounding their characters they don’t really have too much that stands out.

At the end of it, War Machine is a pretty funny film with a memorable lead character and a sharp satirical look at America’s goings on in the Middle East. It isn’t really a heavy film, so if you’re looking for serious war and drama, look elsewhere. War Machine is packed with great satire and a tad too much cynicism for my taste. Still, as far as comedies go, it’s definitely one that’s worth a look.

Final Grade: B+

The Lobster – Review

21 Jun

Let’s go back to September of 2014 when I reviewed one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. I remember feeling like I just saw a genuine work of art and also one of the most frustrating movies ever. That frustration came from the film’s desire to make the movie make the audience think for themselves’ and interpret the story in a way that would make them feel fulfilled. Now, here we are in 2016 and Lanthimos has brought us another puzzle of a movie with The Lobster. This is a two hour long movie with a thin plot and an overabundance of symbolism and themes and motifs that would keep anyone busy for a good long while. What’s also important is the use of pure and unfiltered imagination that comes along with it.

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In the not too distant future, more stock is put into relationships than ever before. In fact, it’s illegal not to be paired with someone and the punishment is absolutely absurd. This is the situation David (Colin Farrell) faces when his wife leaves him and he is forced to go to the Hotel. This is a place where all of the single people go where they have 45 days to find a partner, and if they fail to do so, they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing and be released into the Forest. As time passes for David, he finds his situation to be hopeless and escapes into the Forest where he meets the Loners, a group of single people hunted by the people at the Hotel. One of these Loners is a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) that immediately is taken with David, and the two begin an affair that is forbidden amongst the Loners and that can be met with another punishment most severe.

First and foremost, I have to bring the imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos to attention. Between what I witnessed in Dogtooth and now The Lobster, it’s clear to me that this guy has a lot going on inside his head and isn’t afraid to put his outlandish thoughts into action. This film at times felt like I was reading some odd, classic science fiction story written by someone who admired Kafka with an overwhelming passion. This is a really strange movie, but Lanthimos also made the future he created somewhat believable. At first everything seemed completely absurd, but as the rules of this world were iterated and reiterated, I started to give myself up to these guidelines and went along with everything that was being said. Considering the absurdist nature of The Lobster, it’s impressive that I got on board with things so quickly.

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It’s almost an impossible task to put this movie into any sort of genre, and part of that is because there are so many components to consider. The whole idea of changing people into animals using some kind of medical procedure is textbook science fiction. What’s interesting is that they decided to leave how it happens out of the story and instead just leave it a mystery. The important thing is that it happens, not how it happens. There’s also a pretty touching, if not slightly twisted, love story at the center of the movie. Just because the movie is completely outlandish doesn’t mean that there isn’t strong, touching moments of romance. What The Lobster really is for me, though, is a darkly funny satire. It takes modern society’s need for acceptance and love and looks at the worst qualities of it. The Hotel is like Tinder from hell. I also got a huge kick out of the hollow way people talked to each other, almost like they were reading from a script of socially acceptable things to say. That just adds to the sharp satire.

I do have to point out that while The Lobster is extremely creative and full of pitch black humor, it can sometimes feel like a chore to watch. I felt the same way with Dogtooth, so it must be the deliberate slow pace that Lanthimos uses in his movies. I won’t say that I was ever bored watching this movie, but it did tire me out. The plot moves at a snail’s pace over the two hour running time, which made it feel even longer than it actually was. The first half of the movie is significantly more entertaining than the second half, but the second half introduces a lot of new themes and ways of looking at the situation. While I wasn’t having as much fun in the second hour, there was a lot of new things to think about which kept everything interesting.

The Lobster is certainly one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and after anticipating it for so long I had very high expectations for it. It certainly did not disappoint in any department. It was funny, kind of sad, intelligent, and also full of imagination and originality. That being said, this movie is certainly not for everyone and if someone told me that they hated it, I would understand. It’s definitely something different, but it asks a lot of good questions and succeeds at immersing the viewer into a dystopian world of absurdity.

Maps to the Stars – Review

24 Mar

Over the years, the glamor of Tinsel Town has kind of lost its luster. Starting with Sunset Blvd., critiques of Hollywood have kept on coming throughout the years, and each one has a unique approach to the nightmare that is celebrity. For this particular review, I’m going to be looking at David Cronenberg’s 2014 film, Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has made a name for himself over the years as one of the most intense and challenging directors, be it in the horror genre or otherwise. Maps to the Stars fits in perfectly with his filmography as it is a horror movie, but also a darkly hilarious and penetrating satire.

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Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging actress who is determined to play her deceased mother in a remake of a movie that she starred in many years ago. To do that she hires Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a famous new age psychologist, to help her face the demons her mother made her endure during childhood. While he’s not with Havana, Stafford works to keep his son Benjie’s (Evan Bird) acting career together. Benjie has suffered from drug addiction and has been to rehab at the age of 12. Now it’s a struggle to stay clean and keep his acting career from dying. As all of these people deal with their lives in their own strange ways, a mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in town, and her past threatens the stability of all these people have worked to build.

While this does definitely feel like a David Cronenberg movie, it also has elements of Bret Easton Ellis’ writings and a sort of David Lynch vibe that was felt in movies like Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. I really love movies like this because it implements something similar to nightmare logic, if that’s even a thing. What I mean by that is Maps to the Stars feels like a very bad dream. There were many times throughout the movie where I felt like I was watching reality, but it was something different and more sinister. Kind of like in a dream when you’re in your house, but it isn’t actually your house. That’s probably a weird way of putting it, but what I’m really trying to say is that this movie had a really creepy and off putting atmosphere that really hooked me.

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Screenwriter Bruce Wagner has written a very strange movie, but the way people interact with each other in Maps to the Stars might be the strangest thing of all. Some of the things they say and do is so outlandish that you really wish it was a joke just written for the movie. Unfortunately, the media has given us plenty examples of celebrities, like the ones in this movie, saying and doing some ridiculous things that would fit right into this film. Kudos to all the actors in this movie for delivering these lines with complete seriousness. If it wasn’t for their belief in their characters, much of what they say would not have been nearly as funny or hard hitting.

While I do really like this movie, there was one big problem with it that I can’t shake. For the entire movie I was sucked in and really could not wait to see how it ended. When the ending finally came, I didn’t really buy it. First of all, the ending just wasn’t particularly a good one, but that’s not really my main complaint. My main complaint is that they didn’t take enough time to really build up to the ending. It pretty much just sprang up out of nowhere without any real tension happening. There’s tension in the movie, but nothing with any real finality to show that this is the climax of the movie.

Maps to the Stars is a movie that I knew would be right up my alley and I was exactly right. It’s a darkly hilarious look at celebrity life and what it can do to you if you aren’t careful. There’s a lot of disturbing content in the movie that’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable, and the whole atmosphere of the movie is relatively unsettling. While it seems Cronenberg might have been kind of a weird choice for this kind of movie, he was actually a perfect choice. I definitely liked this one a lot.