The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

Director: Joe Cornish

Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Joe Cornish

120 mins. Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language.

 

The Kid Who Would Be King had some pretty bad marketing. It felt too silly and too cliche, and perhaps the finished film is, but the film’s marketing did not sell it well. Word of mouth from reviewers is the only reason I went to see it, and I found it to be much better than expected even if it suffers from several issues that plague these kinds of fantasy films.

Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) isn’t a popular kid by any means. He regularly saves his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from the clutches of bully Lance (Tom Taylor, The Dark Tower, TV’s Doctor Foster). But when he discovers a sword amid the rubble of a construction site and retrieves it, he is enlisted by the mythical sorcerer Merlin to stop the evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Life) from taking over the world and plunging it into darkness. To stop her, he will need to master the sword and enlist some knights to assist him.

There’s some good in The Kid Who Would Be King, and there’s some notable flaws as well. First of all, I think Alex is a well-written character and Louis Ashbourne Serkis does a fine job of holding up the film. He’s realistic and imaginative and very reminiscent of heroic characters. He’s a flawed character with room to grow.

Dean Chaumoo’s Bedders and Tom Taylor’s Lance are rather simple one-note characters. Bedders is there for the jokes and Lance doesn’t display true believable growth. I also found Morgana to be a very bland villain. Rebecca Ferguson gets really nothing to do in the role.

The writing is smart but some of the jokes fall completely flat and the film gets a little lost in search of purpose. This is especially apparent with the finale, where it feels like the film should have ended about 30 minutes earlier. That’s where the film lost me. I was unimpressed with the poor plotting and repetitive action.

The Kid Who Would Be King could have been better. I enjoyed bits and pieces of the narrative but overall I didn’t feel like it was really going anywhere interesting. Where it did go was uninteresting. I admire the film and I think it has an audience out there. I would be interested to see where a sequel ends up taking it, but this first film felt like I’d seen it before many times.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[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!

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