[Early Review] Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Byun Hee-Bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yun Je-Mun, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-Shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal

Screenplay: Bong Joon-Ho, Jon Ronson

118 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, have I got a movie for you today!

Okja is the story of a young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn, The Housemaid, Monster) who lives on a farm in South Korea with her grandfather and a unique animal, a superpig named Okja. For ten years, Mija and her grandfather have been raising Okja to win a competition against other superpig farmers around the country. Mija is overjoyed when the judge, TV personality and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Life) selects Okja as the winner. But when she learns of what will happen to Okja upon returning to the United States and to its true owner, Mirando Corporation, she sets out to free him and, along the way, gains help from Jay (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, Swiss Army Man) and his ALF (Animal Liberation Front) team. Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin, War Machine), the CEO of Mirando, will stop at nothing to use Okja for her own greedy plans in this strange and unique new film from Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, Mother).

Now, I get it. Reading that synopsis wouldn’t exactly hype me for a film, and in lesser hands, I’d believe this film to be destined for failure. But with this director, I became more and more excited to see it.

And Okja has a lot going for it. With Bong Joon-Ho’s direction  and powerful writing, the cardinal message shines clear but with enough layers to make the discussion following an important one. The use of the CG superpig allows enough separation from reality for the film to make thought-provoking statements and ask serious questions behind the guise of a science-fiction adventure.

The performances here aid in crafting the unique vision presented, specifically Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando, a villain with motivations and an understandable approach but one that doesn’t always have the right methods to solve her problems. Then, there’s the standout work from Jake Gyllenhaal, who steals every scene as the over-the-top Wilcox, an unhinged failing TV personality who lost his fanbase years ago. Paul Dano and Giancarlo Esposito (The Usual Suspects, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) also turn in great work, the latter portraying Frank Dawson, Lucy’s right-hand man, but the work from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija rises up to match her fellow performers. The young actress’s ability to play to a CG superpig and hold her own in scenes with much more accomplished actors is strong in its own right.

It frustrates me that a film like Okja was booed at Cannes for having the Netflix banner in front of its opening titles. The streaming giant has more than proved itself in recent years, and Okja stands among the best of their original films. I’ll say it simple: it’s the best film I’ve seen this year so far. This is a film that balances humor with deep political satire and genuinely heartbreaking moments. I don’t care if this film changes your mind on its subject matter. It didn’t completely change mine, but I’m happy for the interesting viewpoint it offers. This is one that will stick with you. It will make you believe in a superpig.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Life (2017)

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

103 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and horror.

 

Yeah, I’ve seen Life. I saw it last night, and I really want to talk about it, but don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it, and count yourself lucky for that.

Life has a similar premise to many before it. A group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station come across irrefutable proof of existence beyond Earth when they discover a microscopic being on a Mars probe. The crew mistakes the lifeform of being friendly when they soon discover it will do anything to survive and grow.

Let’s talk about all the good in this movie because the good outweighs the bad. First of all, hats off to the marketing department for not ruining all the exciting twists and turns of the film in the marketing and trailers. I still saw some of it coming a mile away, but it helped to not have it flat-out ruined for me.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Nocturnal Animals) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Criminal) absolutely steal the show in this ensemble piece but all the performances are above par here. I particularly found myself intrigued by Ariyon Bakare (TV’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Hugh, a paraplegic charged with studying the lifeform, coyly nicknamed Calvin.

Props to director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) for the pacing and getting as much as possible from the premise and the set. He allows the confined set to breathe and flourish. There’s some gorgeous camerawork similar to 2013’s Gravity, but it is impressive nonetheless.

And I would be disappointed in myself for not recognizing the excellent score from Jon Ekstrand. His music jumps between grandiose space epic and claustrophobic horror film, and it works really well.

Okay, so let’s talk negatives, because there are two. The biggest, and most disappointing, is the screenplay. I can’t even believe I’m saying this, because I love the writing of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but the screenplay hopped between exciting and completely stupid. There are things that characters, and we’re talking NASA-trained astronauts, do in this film that are so shockingly stupid that it’s hard to ignore. Then, there are moments that are meant to come across as genuine and heartfelt that would be difficult for anyone to glean. For example, Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan reads from Goodnight Moon, and it doesn’t work at all. I can’t blame for Gyllenhaal for trying, because the scene just doesn’t work. And the ending. The ending is just plain wrong. A big copout poorly written that comes off as expected and uninteresting.

The other issue with the film is the release date. This film is coming out too close to Alien: Covenant in a world where we’ve already seen Prometheus and Gravity, and Life comes off as a carbon copy because of it. Simple mistakes like the way the title is displayed hearken back to Alien, and it makes Life look bad by comparison. It’s just bad timing.

Life has more wins than losses, but it just doesn’t excel where better films have. Still, 2017 hasn’t had the best start, so it’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year. This movie is worth checking out in theaters, preferably as soon as possible to avoid spoilers for the most shocking moments.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Life? What did you think? And what’s your favorite first contact moment from film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

[Happy 30th Birthday!] Cat’s Eye (1985)

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Director: Lewis Teague

Cast: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, Candy Clark

Screenplay: Stephen King

94 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

A cat named General is on a mission in this adaptation of two Stephen King stories with an all new tale from the master of horror. The three stories are linked by General making his way to a little girl named Amanda (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko, Blended). In the first story, “Quitters, Inc.”, Dick Morrison (James Woods, Once Upon a Time in America, White House Down) has a problem: smoking. He needs to quit and he needs to do it now. Quitters, Inc. is the place to go, though the man in charge, Dr. Vinny Donatti (Alan King, Casino, Rush Hour 2), has some very unique methods in ensuring that his clientele quit for good. In “The Ledge”, Johnny Norris (Robert Hays, Airplane!, Sharknado 2: The Second One) has been kidnapped by Cressner (Kenneth McMillan, Amadeus, Dune), a wealthy gambler who has discovered Norris sleeping with his wife. Cressner challenges Norris to a bet: walk around the ledge outside Cressner’s penthouse or die trying. Finally, in “General”, our cat has made it to the home of Amanda, who is being hunter by a troll who wants to kill her in her sleep, and only General can stop it. Lewis Teague (The Jewel of the Nile, Navy Seals) directs and Stephen King (A Good Marriage, Desperation) himself writes in this heightened reality collection of stories which celebrates thirty years today, but is it good?

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I say yes. Cat’s Eye is quirky and goofy and classic King. Few films choose to display King’s twisted sense of humor the right way like this one. I saw a lot of dreamlike sequences like one where Dick has been without cigarettes long enough to be seeing them in the mouths of everyone he encounters at a party. James Rebhorn plays Morrison’s work partner as he lights up a dozen cigarettes all at once while dancing packs of smokes encircle the struggling addict. It is chilling and a little silly and amazing. Any fan of King’s work should be sold on this film.

It doesn’t help to have some great performances from genre actors like James Woods and Robert Hays. Teague knows his target audience here as well, and he crafted what could be construed as an early attempt at a shared universe with references to Cujo and Christine. More than anything, it’s a lot of fun.

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Cat’s Eye is a mostly enjoyable experience with callbacks to some of King’s more iconic work. With a tonally perfect screenplay from the master of horror himself, some of King’s stranger work makes it to the screen in one piece, mostly. Now it isn’t perhaps as scary as it could be, but it still works. I would like to see this film immortalized as part of a possible Stephen King shared universe (and yes, there is currently one being worked out with the impending Dark Tower adaptations). Enjoy this film for what it is: a piece of 80s candy.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Fever Pitch (2005)

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Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Cast: Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, JoBeth Williams, KaDee Strickland

Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality.

 

In Fever Pitch, from directors Bobby & Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber To), we see a beautiful romance between Ben (Jimmy Fallon, Whip It, Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star) and a group of men known as the Boston Red Sox. Also, he falls in love with a woman named Lindsey (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko, Blended).  Lindsey and Ben desperately want to make things work, but Ben just can’t seem to make sacrifices for Lindsey, especially when it comes to his beloved team who hasn’t won a World Series since 1918. As Lindsey tries to balance her time with Ben with his time and the team, tempers start fueling and seek to topple the relationship.

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I enjoyed Fever Pitch, especially the timing of the film, which permanently place this film in a historic time frame for the Red Sox (it was being filmed right when the Sox won the 2004 World Series). Jimmy Fallon’s obsessed man-boy isn’t too far of an acting stretch for the comedian, while Drew Barrymore flubs around in an unlikable character. Most of her dialogue comes off as condescending when it really shouldn’t.

The Farrelly’s understand how to wield a camera and tell a fun story, though their recent efforts would persuade otherwise. Fever Pitch is slightly more in line with their earlier work, while not being as laugh-out-loud funny as There’s Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber. Best of all, the story is accessible. I see a lot of my own frustrations in the film. I am an obsessed individual (not with the Red Sox, mind you, that is a mere fascination). I talk about film constantly. My girlfriend knows this and sometimes she puts up with it to make me happy. In return, I try not to drag to every movie I want to see in the local theater. Compromise. That’s what Fever Pitch is all about.

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And it is kind of funny. Kind of.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, click here.

Nightcrawler (2014)

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Director: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy

117 mins. Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

In Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, we meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Accidental Love), a severe sociopath looking for something to be great at. When he comes across a collision on the highway, he meets Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, Titanic, Edge of Tomorrow), a man who makes his living being the first man on the scene with a camera, ready to sell his footage to the highest bidding news outlet. He is a nightcrawler. Louis Bloom takes his specific and strange set of skills to this new obsession, and a new fascination in Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Outbreak, Thor: The Dark World), a woman who takes interest in Louis’ footage. As Bloom falls deeper and deeper into fractured sanity, his skills improve, and his methods evolve with truly terrifying results.

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Gyllenhaal is completely unnerving as Bloom here, and his mental transformation is almost more impressive than his physical transformation, and Bloom’s arc is very much like the car crash which ignites his passion: something horrifying to witness, but impossible to look away. He is met on his playing field by Russo’s Romina, an aging ex-anchor who very much misses the limelight. She uses Bloom as he uses her. There is something creepily affectionate about their relationship. Paxton provides a likability to his unlikable Joe Loder. These are characters we don’t like, but we can’t stop viewing.

Gilroy’s cinematography could use some work. The film doesn’t move in the way it should. The pacing doesn’t have the beats it should to make the film flow right. The film’s score complements Gyllenhaal’s performance well. In fact, the entirety of the film exists to turn you away from it. The whole film is enjoyable once but not a film I could watch again.

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Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a moody character study. Men like Bloom exist, and that is perhaps the most terrifying takeaway from this film. Gyllenhaal deserves recognition for once again proving that he is at the top of his game and is the reason his character is so unlikably likable.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Independence Day (1996)

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Maragert Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein

Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich

145 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

In the annals of film history, it would be a tough time attempting to find a movie that depicts the destruction of all mankind better than Independence Day from director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down).

On July 2nd, the world discovers that we are not alone in the universe as massive spaceships make their way to every major city. Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith, Men in Black, Focus) has to cancel his 4th of July plans and head back to base. President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway, The Equalizer) has to deal with the floods of looting and scared citizens while also trying to reunite with the First Lady (Mary McDonnell, TV’s Major Crimes, Donnie Darko). David (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, Mortdecai) has figured out a pattern in the signals of the alien ships, and thinks he is seeing a countdown to something big. As the world is cripple in fear of the alien menace, mankind is about to re-earn their independence.

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Independence Day is one of those movies that seems perfect when at first glance, but after multiple viewings, the plot-holes become more apparent. There are severe issues with this plot, but the film is still a culty pleasure (see what I did there?).

The performances from our stars (Smith, Pullman, Goldblum) are all serviceable to keep the hype up throughout the action set pieces. The only issue with the characters portrayed is that they aren’t written to experience catharsis. Their “catharsis” is only due to the impending death of the human race. Goldblum’s David is my personal favorite as the man who has tremendous potential but chooses to waste it. His character represents an interesting dilemma: should a man use his full potential even if he likes things the way they are? Hmmm. James Rebhorn (Scent of a Woman, The Game) also turns in some fine work as Albert Nimzki, who has specific thoughts and secrets which make President Whitmore’s decisions all the more difficult.

The cinematography focuses a lot on spectacle. It is meant to show us just how screwed we are, and it works well enough.

The score is another important piece of this puzzle, something haunting and rhythmic while empowering the American ideals of freedom and military superiority.

There are some great uses of miniature work in Independence Day. Some of the explosions do seem extremely dated, but the grandiose visual effects were well worth the Oscar win.

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Independence Day is returning to the big screens soon with a sequel (perhaps two). As far as the first film goes, Independence Day is a lot of fun. Not a particularly great film, but a classic nonetheless.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Roland Emmerich’s 2012, click here.

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