Okja


A girl and her genetically modified giant pig; such a sweet picture!

(2017) Fantasy (Netflix) Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seohyun An, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jungeun Lee, Byun Heebong, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Steven Yeun, Daniel Henshaw, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, José Carias, Colm Hill, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Nancy Bell, Jaein Kim, Bongryun Lee, Woo Shik Choi, Moon Choi. Directed by Joon-ho Bong

 

Asian culture can be incomprehensible at times for the Western mind. There is an almost cultish worship of things that are ridiculously cute and a sense of humor that is wacky and broad, yet their comic books and animated features can be crazy violent and chock full of deviant sexual behavior. Some things are best left un-analyzed.

In the near future, food shortages have led the multinational Morando Corporation to develop a genetically enhanced pig. The CEO (Swinton), seeking to undo the damage to the corporate image her amoral sister (also Swinton) did, proclaims the pig to be a miracle; it eats and poops less, provides more meat on the hoof (it resembles a hippopotamus with dog eyes) and tastes delicious. She initiates a contest in which piglets are sent to a variety of farms around the world to see which one is most successful at raising one.

The South Korean entry is sent to the farm of Hee Bong (Heebong) whose granddaughter Mija (An) has developed a bond with her pig whom she has named Okja. When television personality Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal) – a sort of Steve Irwin-like character if Steve Irwin had been a corporate shill – visits the remote mountain farm and proclaims Okja the winner. What nobody has told Mija however is that Okja is to be taken away from the farm, sent to New York for a promotional appearance and then butchered for snacks. When she finds this out, she is not at all pleased.

But she gets a break; the quirky Animal Liberation Front, led by the quirky Jay (Dano) – has kidnapped Okja (maybe pig-napped would be a better term) and hopes to use the creature for his own agenda. However operatives for Morando find Okja and bring her back to New York. Can Okja be saved? And even if she is, will she ever be able to live on the farm again once she’s seen New York?

Director Joon-ho Bong, who gave us the wonderful The Host and the not as wonderful but still interesting Snowpiercer, delivers a great-looking film which is infused with a good deal of unexpected satire on the nature of corporate politics, mass media, obsession, animal cruelty and a little bit of American imperialism (at least one line spoke in Korean is deliberately mistranslated in the subtitles, which is about as subversive as you’d think Netflix would ever get). The satire can be a bit broad but it at least has its heart in the right place.

Just as broad is the humor which can take some getting used to by Western and particularly American audiences. There’s an awful lot of jokes about pig shit and if you find that dopey or distasteful, well, you’re not alone. Fortunately nothing is overtly mean or tremendously gross, so most youngsters will be delighted by the mainly CGI Okja who looks startlingly realistic.

This isn’t bad at all, although again there is a bit of a curve of how much you’ll enjoy it depending on how open to different cultures you might be. While much of this is fairly universal, I found some of it to be bewildering. Still, the cinematography is incredible (particularly in the Korean scenes) and even if the usually reliable Gyllenhaal and Swinton overact shamelessly (Esposito as a debonair corporate flunky is an exception) the movie is a solid choice for a night at home with Netflix.

REASONS TO GO: It’s bizarre and weird but in a good way. There is a surprising amount of social satire in the mix.
REASONS TO STAY: The humor is a little broad for my Western tastes and the movie a bit too long for what it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, some violence and plenty of rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Animal Liberation Front is an actual organization that is dedicated to freeing animals in captivity and causing economic chaos for corporations profiting from their captivity.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Babe: A Giant Pig in the City
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead


George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Hellllllllloooooooooo handsome!

(2009) Horror (Magnet) Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Stefano Colacitti, Athena Karkanis, Steano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Josh Pearce, Michelle Morgan. Directed by George A. Romero

And in the end of days, the dead shall rise and walk the Earth. We just didn’t think that was meant literally. However, George A. Romero took it one step further yet.

Eight days after the dead begin to walk, the army quickly realizes they are fighting a losing battle. There are far more dead than living and the living may be turned dead not just by dying but by getting bitten. One company led by Sarge Nicotine Crockett (van Sprang) sees that this is a hopeless cause and determines to head somewhere remote where the people are few and the dead are fewer. Fewer people means fewer reanimated corpses to kill…again.

Sarge and his guys Tomboy (Karkanis), Kenny (Wolfe) and Francisco (Colacitti) as well as young Boy (Bostick) make their way to a dock which, Boy informs them, has a boat that can take them to Plum Island, just off the coast of Delaware. This land is inhabited by two families only – the Muldoons and the O’Flynns who have been feuding ever since anybody could remember. These days it’s about how to deal with the zombies. The O’Flynns think the zombies should be destroyed, since their animating spirits are departed. The Muldoons believe the dead are merely diseased and should be treated with compassion and chained someplace meaningful so they can go through their lives…er, afterlives with some sort of comfort until a cure can be found.

In the middle are caught Sarge and his crew and it won’t be long before the crossfire starts creating more problems than it solves; after all, every new corpse creates another zombie for them to deal with.

Romero is one of those directors who is legendary among the demographic he serves – to wit, zombie lovers. Most of the mythology of zombies in general in modern literature both graphic and traditional was evolved by Romero in Night of the Living Dead and its succeeding films. Romero’s contribution to the horror genre in particular and film in general cannot be understated.

This is not Romero at the top of his game. The story is pedestrian and a bit disjointed. Romero is known for making social commentary thinly veiled as a horror film and this could easily be construed as a parody of the two party system. However, the characterizations are so cliché and the plot so thin and quite frankly, the acting so uninspiring that if Romero’s name wasn’t on this you might easily be persuaded to give up on the movie early on.

But this being Romero, he knows how to kill zombies and the zombie kills are at least interesting but at this stage of the game you really need more. It is kind of sad that the real innovating in the zombie genre is being done on cable (although Zombieland introduced a nice comedy element into it).

Still, it’s George Romero and watching even the weakest work by a master of that magnitude beats the best days of thousand of lesser talents out there. This isn’t his most entertaining work by any stretch of the imagination and there are plenty of zombie films that are better than this one. There are also better films to start with if you are unfamiliar with Mr. Romero’s talents. While the score it’s getting is poor, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watching – it’s just you probably won’t want to give it any more than that. And that is not normal for the film catalogue of George Romero.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s George. Effin. Romero.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It simply doesn’t measure up to his previous work.

FAMILY VALUES: It is a George Romero zombie film, so it comes as no surprise that there’s a surfeit of gore. There’s also no shortage of bad words, a smattering of sexuality and yes, all the violent zombie goodness that only Romero can deliver.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film that Romero has used major characters from a preceding film as leading characters.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a couple of interviews with Romero as well as a fascinating featurette on how to create your own zombie bites on a reasonable budget.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $143,191 on a $4M production budget; a certain box office disappointment.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: “The Walking Dead”

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Day 2 of the Six Days of Darkness 2012

New Releases for the Week of August 3, 2012


August 3, 2012

TOTAL RECALL

(Columbia) Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bill Nighy, Will Yun Lee, Bokeem Woodbine, Ethan Hawke. Directed by Len Wiseman

A man goes into a shop to buy two weeks worth of memories and discovers that he is not who he thinks he is. In a dystopian future, he races to find out who he really is despite being hunted down by government storm troopers and his own wife, who is trying to kill him. Sounds like the divorce is going to be real final. Not precisely a remake of the 1990 film but one that intends at least to be more true to the original Phillip K. Dick novella “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense scenes of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language)

Beasts of the Southern Wild

(Fox Searchlight) Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes. A young girl in an isolated Louisiana community cut off from the rest of the world by a gigantic levee deals with her father’s potentially mortal illness, believing that nature is in balance with the rest of the universe. When a terrifying storm changes that perception, the girl believes that putting the world back into balance will save her town from sinking into the bayou and cure her father. A huge hit at Sundance earlier this year.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

(20th Century Fox) Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris. Greg Heffley and Rowley Jefferson, the middle school misfits of the first three movies, find themselves embarking on what promises to be what they were most terrified of. The Worst. Summer. Ever.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family Comedy

Rating: PG (for some rude humor)

Red Lights

(Millennium) Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen. A veteran team of paranormal debunkers take on Simon Silver, a legendary psychic who has come out of retirement after 30 years with an agenda that remains unclear. They see to prove that this charismatic showman is nothing but a fraud – and wind up taking on much more than they could have bargained for.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Saw VI


Saw VI

Tanedra Howard tries a new cure for migraines.

(2009) Horror (Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Peter Outerbridge, Shawnee Smith, Samantha Lemole, Caroline Cave, George Newbern, Devon Bostick, Darius McCrary, Shauna McDonald, Tanedra Howard. Directed by Kevin Greutert

It is nearly impossible to give you a plot summary of Saw VI without giving you spoilers on the previous films, so therefore my description of the action is going to be necessarily vague in the odd chance that you might be thinking of seeing any of the previous films in the series first.

Saw VI picks up directly after the events of Saw V. The police continue to search for Jigsaw’s (Bell) remaining apprentice who is disturbingly close to home. A health insurance executive (Outerbridge) who has denied treatment to individuals who died for its lack (including Jigsaw himself) is forced to play out four twisted traps. We see in flashbacks more detail on the relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda (Smith) and how Jigsaw’s wife Jill (Russell) is dealing with the contents of the mysterious box left to her in Jigsaw’s will. As the traps begin to unfold, the noose begins to tighten around the apprentice, including from an unexpected direction. Is the game over finally?

Well, no not yet. There is one film yet to go in the series and after the disappointment that was the fifth film in the series, the franchise seems to have regained a bit of momentum heading for its conclusion. Greutert, an editor in the series, makes his feature film directing debut and does a nice job, keeping the tension and action running at high levels.

The secondary story line with the insurance executive keeps the interest up. One of the big complaints about the series and the last couple of movies in particular is that the portion of the movie that deals with Jigsaw and his apprentices seems to have shrunk, leaving the backstory (and side story if you will) to take up less than half of the movie – and the portion with the traps to be the far more interesting portion of the movie than that which explains how the principles got there. That’s not really a good sign, but the traps are so fiendishly clever here that it does make up for that lack somewhat.

I’ve said it before, but relegating Jigsaw to flashbacks was a tactical error. Mandylor is a decent actor but his character has none of the charisma of Jigsaw; consequently his sequences seem to be the ones most likely that you’ll want to fast forward through, although there’s a terrific scene at a crime lab that involves him that is actually worth waiting for.

Perhaps the most important accomplishment the movie is going to have is to make viewers want to watch the final installment; certainly this is a flawed movie and by no means the best in the series but at least it doesn’t make you turn off the DVD player in disgust with a cry of “Never again!” Two trilogies down the road and the series has at least kept our interest and displayed a certain amount of cleverness and invention throughout. That’s something worth respecting.

WHY RENT THIS: Clever traps and a decent secondary story line.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Mandylor’s Hoffman is still not nearly as interesting as Bell’s Jigsaw..

FAMILY VALUES: Violence and torture and gore, oh my!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tanedra Howard was the winner of the SyFy reality show “Scream Queens” and won a role in Saw VI.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an unrated DVD edition which contains both the theatrical release and an unrated version of the film. This edition also includes four music videos and a featurette on the building of a Saw-themed haunted house attraction at the Universal Studios theme park. The Blu-Ray edition has these features and the first Saw film as an extra added attraction.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.2M on an $11M production budget; the movie was a modest blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Whistleblower

New Releases for the Week of March 25, 2011


March 25, 2011

Beautiful girls at war - Zach Snyder knows what makes teenage boys drool.

SUCKER PUNCH

(Warner Brothers) Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn, Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac. Directed by Zach Snyder

A young girl is sent to an asylum against her will and discovers that in a few short days she will be lobotomized. She and a group of her friends mean to escape, but there seems to be no way. They enter a dream world where the keys to their salvation may lie.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and an animated short here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

(20th Century Fox) Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Devon Bostick, Zachary Gordon. As Greg enters the 7th grade, he and his nemesis (his brother Rodrick) are thrust together by their parents in a misguided attempt to force the brothers to bond. Superglue couldn’t bond these guys together.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family Comedy

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and mischief)

The Fifth Quarter

(Rocky Mountain) Ryan Merriman, Aidan Quinn, Andie MacDowell, Andrea Powell. Star Wake Forest football player Jon Abbate dedicates his season to his younger brother, who passed away tragically in a car crash. The rest of the team is inspired by Jon’s dedication and devotion and the team makes one of the most memorable turnarounds in college football history.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements)

Happythankyoumoreplease

(Anchor Bay) Josh Radnor, Malin Ackerman, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan. When an aspiring writer finds an orphaned boy on a subway platform and agrees to care for him for a couple of days, his life is turned upside-down as is that of his friends.  This friendship with a young boy however may bring to him a new level of maturity as he begins to see life with a different perspective.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

The Stone Angel


The Stone Angel

Ellen Burstyn is still a powerful actress, even in her sunset years.

(Vivendi) Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Page, Cole Hauser, Wings Hauser, Dylan Baker, Christine Horne, Kevin Zegers, Sheila McCarthy, Devon Bostick. Directed by Kari Skogland

Regret is a powerful thing. It can color your perceptions and order your actions. The longer you hold onto it, the stronger it can get until it completely takes you over.

Hagar Shipley (Burstyn) thinks she’s going for a Sunday drive with her son Marvin (Baker) and his wife Doris (McCarthy). However, it turns out that they are taking her to a nursing facility “just to see,” as Doris puts it. Hagar has been living with Marvin for some time and her needs and ailments are becoming too much for them to handle.

Hagar’s suspicions about the place are not allayed by the petunias at the entrance, nor the sight of senior citizens playing canasta like the living dead. She realizes deep down that sooner or later she’s going to end up if not in that specific home, in one a lot like it. Impulsively, she decides to steal away on one last adventure and winds up in a broken down old beach house, there to reminisce about the events of her life.

The daughter (Horne, playing Hagar as a young woman) of a prosperous Manitoba merchant, she marries Bram Shipley (Cole Hauser), a farmer her father deems beneath their station. He expresses his disapproval by leaving her out of his will, instead leaving all his riches to the city to build a park named after him. She responds by snippishly trampling the petunias planted there.

However, she has inherited more of her father’s attitudes than you might think, and she tends to rub Bram’s face in her family’s superior breeding, which leads to marital difficulties which in turn leads to Bram’s drinking problem. She tries to instill her attitudes into her sons John (Zegers) and Marvin (Bostick) with varying degrees of success. John (her favorite) breaks her heart by falling in love with a wild girl (Page) and marrying her against Hagar’s wishes. Hagar’s fiercely independent nature will carry her through, but it will also cause her a lion’s share of heartache before her time is through.

This is based on a novel by Canadian writer Margaret Laurence and has been a staple of Canadian high schools for the past 40 years. It is set on the sprawling prairies of the beautiful province of Manitoba, and that’s exactly where they filmed it. There are those who wonder how a seemingly empty vista of endless prairie can inspire such devotion and love in the people who live there, but those who see this movie will get a good chance to see precisely why that is.

I will admit to having a great fondness for Manitoba. My mom is from there and I have many relatives and friends who live there and whom I look forward to seeing every time I venture up there, but that isn’t all of it. There is something about the windswept prairies, the city of Winnipeg  and the small towns on the outskirts, the great farms of wheat, sunflowers and other crops, the grain elevators and silos rising like silent sentinels…it just speaks to me, perhaps from a deep genetic place. You should know about that affection before reading the rest of this; my review is certainly colored by it.

One of the movie’s bigger successes is in the casting. Burstyn takes on the role of the feisty Hagar with a certain amount of panache. She’s a consummate actress, an Oscar winner who knows when to go over the top and when to reel it in. She brings Hagar to life as a Canadian icon, a woman who chafes at the strictures of her role in her time and ultimately becomes her own woman, defying the stereotypes of the era.

Horne is almost the spitting image of Burstyn, and on top of that she can act, too. She makes the young Hagar shine almost as brightly as Burstyn’s older Hagar. The two performances mesh nicely, as does the father and son acting team of Wings and Cole Hauser, playing the older and younger Bram respectively.

However, while the movie was written in the early 60s, more contemporary novels by authors like Nicholas Sparks that share a similar storytelling style especially regarding the conceit of an older woman telling the story of her life as a young, spirited girl. Some may find this movie suffering in comparison to movies like The Notebook.

Even so, there is a lot to recommend this movie. I’m not as familiar with the source material that is the novel, but I’m told it is a sprawling, magnificent work, along the lines of Giant and Gone with the Wind. For my money, any movie that tells a compelling story, particularly when it is set in a land that I love as much as Manitoba and its people, is worth recommending.

WHY RENT THIS: Beautifully photographed and well acted. The casting director not only got some top-notch talent for this film, he managed to get people who resemble each other to play the lead roles at different times of their lives.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie suffers from Nicholas Sparks-itis; although the novel it is based on pre-dates Sparks, the presence of movies like The Notebook and Prince of Tides makes this one seem cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality and a bit of rough language but otherwise suitable for any audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While looking over the call sheet, Burstyn discovered a long-lost relative who was working on the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: August