Movie review: Okja

Movie reviews

Hello!

When the international release schedules fail me, Netflix provides. Let’s review their newest original picture Okja!

IMDb summary: Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.

Writing

Okja was written by the director of the film Bong Joon-ho and the author/journalist Jon Ronson. The narrative they crafted was just extraordinary. At a glance, the film appeared to be a live-action family adventure. However, in addition to being very entertaining all ages film, Okja was also unique, different, clever, innovative, and very topical. The premise, given in the opening, sounded insane but also sort or realistic (honestly, humans have come up with crazier solutions to the global problems). The familiar family film elements, like the child-animal bond (which sorta reminded me of The BFG), were mixed with the concepts of the corporate world, like bureaucracy, advertising, social media impact and public image, and GMOs – the ideas usually found in dystopian movies. On top of it, the distinct shades of the Korean culture, starting with the Korean language being used alongside English (I loved how the language barrier and translations were part of the plot), added another layer of uniqueness to the picture (it might not seem that out of the ordinary for anyone familiar with the cinema of the Far East).

Okja’s relationship with the vegetarian/vegan movement was super complex too. The film definitely placed the horrors of the mass meat production to the forefront and destroyed the barrier that the supermarkets have created between the production of meat and the consumer. The animal abuse was also hard to witness (tbh, now I am wondering whether animal rape is a thing) but it helped to prove a point that Okja was going for. The ideas expressed through the inclusion of the Animal Liberation Front were also fascinating. It is important to note that the screenwriters wanted to portray this group as peaceful yet still found ways to show its radicalness (beating one of their own for betrayal, starving to not leave a carbon footprint). I also appreciated the partially ambiguous ending of the film: while the personal win was achieved, the broader battle was lost. And yet, as the post-credits scene suggests – the fight continues.

Even though the movie was quite serious, it still had a few chuckle-worthy moments. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the poop jokes in Okja were adorable rather than annoying. The company’s driver, who was completely done with his job, was also a hilarious addition.

Directing

The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho directed Okja and did an excellent job. He is probably the most well-known to Western audiences for Snowpiercer – another topical and unique film that is still accessible because of its cast of well-known Hollywood actors. While I liked Snowpiercer a bit more, I still have plenty of good things to say about Okja. First, the tone – a weird mixture of satire, theater, and realism ( a less kooky version of A Series of Unfortunate Events). Second, the action – the chase sequence through Seoul was was both fun and entertaining yet still had a lot of heart to it. The score, which accompanied the said sequence, was also magnificent, from the trumpets in the instrumental score to the usage of the song ‘You Fill Up My Senses’. The design of the Okja animal was good too – she was a cross between a hippopotamus and pet pig. The CGI was okay too – not super photo realistic but good enough for the movie.

On a side note, the story of this film’s release is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Okja was first booed at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for being a Netflix film and then received a standing ovation for being a movie of extreme quality. Not only do the festival goers can’t seem to make up their minds, they also appear to be living in the last century. The film release practices are changing and they should catch up to that or risk becoming irrelevant in their field.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, lead by a young actress Ahn Seo-hyun, whose performance was so pure: full of innocence and wonder. The Hollywood heavyweights like Doctor Strange’s and Hail, Caesar!’s Tilda Swinton (once again, completely transformed for the dual role) and Life’s and Nocturnal Animal’s Jake Gyllenhaal (in an eccentric and cartoonish performance that still somehow worked) provided the support. Swiss Army Man’s Paul Dano also starred (he is always really good in non-mainstream/indie films), while Lilly Collins also had a small role – she is actually headlining the next Netflix original film – To The Bone.

In short, Okja is a delightfully smart and entertaining picture that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. The best Netflix film so far!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Okja trailer

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Movie review: War Machine

Movie reviews

Hi!

As the counterprogramming to Pirates 5 and Baywatch (review coming in a few weeks cause international release schedules), Netflix released its newest original picture – War Machine. Since I’m not seeing Wonder Woman till Monday, I decided to make War Machine my movie of the weekend. I have already reviewed a Netflix film before and given you my general thoughts on Netflix’s attempt to break into the movie business. Weirdly, that picture was also a war drama – Sand Castle. I didn’t enjoy it much but I’m still hopeful about War Machine.

IMDb summary: A successful, charismatic four-star general, Glenn McMahon, leaps in like a rock star to command NATO forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by a journalist’s no-holds-barred exposé

Writing 

War Machine was written by the director of the film David Michôd, based on the non-fiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings. I quite enjoyed a variety of aspects of the writing for this film. To begin with, I loved the acknowledgment of the internationality of the war and the importance of the involvement of the other NATO nation’s as well as of the Afghans themselves.

I also was intrigued by the satirical air of the movie. It was so refhreshing to see a serious issue, like war, being examined with a level of irony, especially nowadays, when everybody gets offended by everything. More importantly, the satirical approach was so suitable for the topic of war because of the inherent hopelessness and even stupidity within it. The lack of final resolution to the narrative was also very appropriate as there isn’t actually a final solution to the war(s) in the Middle East.

In addition to the movie being bold in its choice of tone, it was also very daring in its message. That message sounded simple and yet it is so hard for a lot of Western nations to comprehend: ‘you cannot build a nation at gunpoint’ and ‘don’t invade a country you want to make friends with’.

War Machine was also unique in that it did not focus on the physical fighting of the war but rather looked at the paperwork, the planning, and the advertising side of it. I also loved how the team behind the general was spotlighted – I never did think how much is happening behind the scenes or behind the leader. Moreover, the divide between the military and the polity and all the miscommunication that was occuring was fascinating to see.

The writing for the main character (who is based on a real person) was also really good. I loved how idealistic he was – a sort of guy who makes you believe that there is good in the world. And yet, there were still layers to his idealism and I liked the fact that the movie questioned his motives. Were they trully as altruistic as they seemed? The conclusion to the narrative was also complex. I felt that, even though the article, written by the Rolling Stones journalist (who acted as the movie’s version of the real life author, who wrote the book the script was based on), destroyed the General’s career, this film was quite respectuful of it and him. Ultimately, he was painted in a good light, so to say.

Lastly, to end this long passage on the writing, let’s critique one aspect of the screenplay which was lacking – the structure of the narrative and the way it was presented. Of course, I am talking about narration. I do understand that the narration in this film could be sort of justified by saying that it’s the author/the journalist who is telling a story (and that actor did narrate the whole thing). However, the narration is such a cheap story device. Yes, it makes the plot very clear and is easy to understand. But it also makes it boring. I really wish the story could have been conveyed more organically and cinematically rather than just being spelled out for the viewers verbally.

Directing

David Michôd, a director of shorts and documentaries, helmed War Machine and did a good job. The movie was well-paced and the comedic/satirical atmosphere – well handled. The film did not have a lot of sequences of fighting and they weren’t missed – the dialogue and the character interactions were engaging enough. Having said that, the third act’s action sequence was well-crafted and suspenseful. Another sequence which I really liked was the conference in Germany and the stand-off between the German politician and the General. I also loved the ending shot of the film and how it represented the idea of hopelessness and the closed-loop of war. Same place, same job, different people. Doesn’t really matter who, though.

Acting

Brad Pitt (The Big Short, Allied, By The Sea) delivered career-defining performance as General Glen McMahon. The best I have seen from him in years. The performance was so complex, involving all the parts of the body and the face (especially, the eyebrows and the eyes). Also, he did some amazing voice modification for the role – the play with the accent and intonations was spectacular. I also loved how he delivered a comedic performance without being disrespectful. He should definitely get at least a Golden Globe nomination. Pitt also served as a producer – he does that a lot nowadays. He also produces films he does not star in.

The aforementioned team behind the General consisted of a bunch of actors of varying caliber, including Anthony Hayes, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Daniel Betts, and Topher Grace. They all were good and their chemistry and comradeship seemed believable.

The journalist, who was inspired by the real-life writer, who wrote the book the script was based on, was played by Scoot McNairy. He also narrated the whole movie. Will Poulter and Keith Stanfield played two soldiers ‘on the ground’ who actually did the fighting. Stanfield’s character’s confusion about the war was an interesting aspect. I wish it were explored more.

Tilda Swinton also appeared in a single scene as a German politician. While I can’t comment on her German accent, I thought that she was absolutely amazing in the 5 min she was on screen.  Ben Kingsley also had a small role in the film – a quite typical one for him – that of a leader/person from an Eastern country.

In short, War Machine worked well as a biographical drama and as a war film. More importantly, the commentary provided was not only thought-provoking but presented in an entertaining way.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: War Machine trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sand Castle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since no new movies that interest me are premiering this week in the UK, I decided to seek out other new films that did not reach cinemas. The first one that I could find was Sand Castle.

IMDb summary: Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.

  1. Sand Castle is a Netflix original film. While the beloved streaming platform is known for having amazing TV shows (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, House of Cards, 13 Reason Why just to name a few), their movie game has not been that strong. Some of the pictures received more attention than others, but the majority of them did not leave a lasting impact. A few of the Netflix movies that I’ve seen were perfectly fine, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyThe Fundamentals of Caring, XOXO, ARQ, The Siege of Jadotville. Let’s see whether Sand Castle is the film that turns things around and is more than just fine.
  2. The movie’s screenplay was written by Chris Roessner and this was his first feature length script. For a debut work, it’s certainly not bad. I appreciated all the thematic concepts that the picture attempted to explore, like masculinity, patriotism (or even chauvinism) and the American culture in general. The moral questions, including why does an individual choose to join the military, were appropriately asked as well. However, although the various ideas were introduced, they didn’t go anywhere and were basically forgotten by the 2nd act, which was the weakest part of the film. The third act and the conclusion were fine, even though an attempt to go back to the film’s message in the last few scenes seemed like an afterthought.
  3. Sand Castle was directed by a Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra. He succeeded at crafting gorgeous visuals of the surroundings and the long continuous shots during the action sequences were impressive. However, the random jumps in time and the uneven pacing did damage the final product. I also thought that the idea to always keep the camera on the American soldiers, rather than to go back and forth between them and the terrorists, was an interesting, even if a bit one-sided, decision.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Nicholas Hoult and he did a good job portraying a soldier, affected by the horrors of the war. Hoult is one of my favorite actors, so I try to follow his career pretty closely. Most people know him from the X-Men movies or Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d also suggest you check out his smaller films: Dark Places, Equals, and especially Kill Your Friends.
  5. The supporting cast included Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Logan Marshall-Green (soon will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures). Cavill had a pretty small role but he seemed to have more fun with it than he ever had with the role of Superman. It’s quite sad to see that his involvement with the DCEU did not result in more high-brow roles. Well, he is appearing in Mission Impossible 6, so that’s something. Marshall-Green and Powell also delivered fine performances.

In short, Sand Castle was an okay war drama that could have been so much better if it just explored the themes it introduced. It’s not the most original film about war and I probably would not have gone to see it at the cinema, but if you already have a Netflix account, it is definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Sand Castle trailer

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Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

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