2017 Summer Movie Review: Okja

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Mija (An Seo Hyun) bonds with Okja in Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film, distributed by Netflix. (Source: Slash Film)

South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has become an international sensation. His 2014 hit Snowpiercer is one of the best post-apocalyptic films in recent memory. It had a talented, diverse cast, strong action, marvelous visuals, and a message with an Orwellian touch. His new film, Okja (which released on Netflix June 28), is unlike your average monster flick. Despite the gifted cast, the results are quite underwhelming.

Mija (An Seo Hyun) is a young girl living with his grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) in the beautiful South Korean countryside. Her only priority is taking care of a “super pig” named Okja. One day, wacky zoologist Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a crew of his television show come to do a segment on this stunning creature. However, Mija learns the truth on what is happening with Okja.

Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the CEO of Mirando Corporation, constructs a plan to use the super pigs as food. Why? “Because they need to taste f***ing good,” she says during the opening scene.

Meanwhile, Mija goes to New York City where a festival is about to take place. She must save her only friend before it’s too late.

There is a great message about the environment and the livestock industry. But—the film’s satire and beauty fall apart after the first hour. It’s hard to determine what the audience is aiming towards. The tone is inconsistent throughout; ranging from childish and innocent to dark and upsetting. Although the movie is rated TV-MA, there are times in which the movie is too childish for adults. Swinton stands out from the rest of the cast (she is a chameleon!), while it seems like Gyllenhaal is doing his best impression of Jim Carrey as the environmentalist in In Loving Color. It gets annoying after a while.

Okja is the second movie this year in which it (ironically) uses John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”. Case in point, the song is used in a wonderful scene where Mija attempts to save Okja in Seoul until being picked up by the Animal Liberation Front, an animal activist group, led by Jay (Paul Dano). Other than that, I’m not a big fan.

1.5/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Swiss Army Man

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Hank (Paul Dano) tries to make his way back to civilization in Swiss Army Man, one of the most original movies in recent memory.

I have been waiting for a movie like this for years! Something that is not based on a book or television show. Something that is not a remake, a reboot, or a sequel. But something imaginative and original. After receiving polarizing reception at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (causing a lot of people to walk out within ten minutes at the premiere), Swiss Army Man is one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. Imagine Cast Away directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman.

We open up with Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on an island months after his boat crashes. He’s about to hang himself until a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up shore. The corpse—dubbed Manny—is actually flatulent. Hank later uses Manny as his #1 survival tool; he has many abilities compared to a Swiss army knife including using his farts to propel forward like a jetski and his erection as a compass. They both go on a crazy adventure back to civilization.

How can a movie featuring a flatulent corpse be one of the best movies so far this year? Swiss Army Man is more than just about the toilet humor (be prepared for a lot of it). Not only is it funny, it’s also a heartfelt picture about the ways of life through love and regret. Farting is a natural process of life. Without Manny, Hank would continue to lose every brink of hope. With the island serving as a symbol for Hank’s grief, Manny’s farts become symbolic for freedom and having a connection with someone. Thanks to the marvelous screenplay and direction by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known for directing the music video for DJ Snake and Lil John’s “Turn Down for What”), the movie goes in many deep paths.

Fresh from delivering a wondrous portrayal of Brian Wilson in last year’s Love and Mercy, Dano is a revelation as Hank. It’s hard not to relate to the hell he is going through. He has an offbeat sense of humor, and–kudos to its practical effects–his stunts resemble those of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. His chemistry with Daniel Radcliffe is one of the reasons why this movie works. Even though Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career hasn’t been the strongest, this has to be one of the oddest yet most ambitious roles of his career. From staying underwater for long periods of time to being carried on Dano’s back to acting dead and occasionally talk, he has a massive heart.

Unlike the traditional orchestra, the score—performed by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of the Manchester Orchestra—is a cappella. In one funny scene, Hank starts to hum the Jurassic Park theme with Manny joining him. There are scenes in which these two start humming a tune until the music takes over for them. I guarantee this movie will not be for everybody. Once you get through the farts, Swiss Army Man is a one-of-a-kind movie. A wild, devastating journey that I will never forget.

4/4

2015 Summer Movie Review: Love & Mercy

Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) becomes disconnected with reality in Bill Pohlad's "Love & Mercy"

Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) becomes disconnected with reality in Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy”

I have been waiting all summer to finally see Love & Mercy in theaters. As a fan of The Beach Boys, it would impossible not to miss this one. Their music truly defines the feeling of summer. When they start recording songs for Pet Sounds, considered as not only their best album but one of the best albums of all-time, leader Brian Wilson decided to do something different for the band. Instead of dance pop, he wanted to write pop songs that are suitable for listening. Furthermore, he stopped touring with his fellow band mates to focus on Pet Sounds.

The movie takes place in two different time periods. In the 1960s, Wilson (Paul Dano, in an Oscar-worthy performance) has been getting a lot of success being in The Beach Boys. After touring, he starts getting panic attacks while he is producing Pet Sounds. In the 1980s, he (John Cusack, equally terrific) is a washed-up middle-aged man under the watch of therapist Gene Landy (Paul Giamatti). He befriends Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), a Cadillac saleswoman. She begins to help Wilson every way she could.

The real Brian Wilson stated the events in the movie are factual. Director Bill Pohlad intended to make Love & Mercy as genuine as possible. This might be too good to be true. As a matter of fact, this is a devastatingly powerful film about the rise and fall of one of the greatest musicians ever. You can’t help feeling sorry for Brian Wilson being in this hellhole. Kudos to Pohlad’s confident direction and wonderful performances by an astounding cast, Love & Mercy is an experience I’ll never forget. Looking forward to getting the DVD.

4/4