“Okja” – a Dark Animal Rights Satire Firing at Anyone in its Sights

Like the past works of writer-director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), Okja isn’t so much an allegory as it is an outright morality tale. The Korean filmmaker seem intent on tackling each and every woe of modern society, from the danger of radioactive waste (and by extension, the short-sighted profit-seeking of big business) in The Host to the accelerating divisions between the wealthy and the poor in Snowpiercer. In Okja, Bong once again wraps his morality tale in a bit of science fiction. The titular Okja is one of several genetically-enhanced pigs, bred for slaughter in an attempt to solve the world’s hunger crisis. Where The Host was an obvious Monster Movie, and Snowpiercer more of a dystopian science fiction film, Okja is mostly a dark piece of satire. It’s just not clear who Bong means to target with his barbs.

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“War Machine” is Imbalanced, Has Too Few Barbs

The satire is the most fragile of all the genres.  Drama fails or succeeds on the strength of very definite qualities like story, character, and pathos.  Comedy has leeway with its execution on account of its casual tone, as even the blackest comedies have a jokey kernel.  Strict genre fare or action is even more forgiving:  as long as the film hits a few key points, we enjoy the parts that hit, and dismiss the parts that miss (i.e., the recent Mad Max, which is awesome yet fairly bereft of story).  But with satire, if certain elements are missing – a unifying vision, a stylistic conceit, or even a single performance – then the product just feels off.  So is the case with War Machine, the Netflix film from Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B Entertainment.  Though the satirical aspirations of this send-up of the War on Terror are apparent and welcome, there are simply too many missteps.

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Yay for Giant Hippo-Pig Trailers: Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja”

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho is not subtle when it comes to the themes of his films, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Snowpiercer isn’t so much an allegory for class warfare – it is class warfare, just set on the science fiction environment of an ever-moving train.  The Host is the venerable monster-movie warning that our careless destruction of the planet will come back to bite us – literally in this case.  And so, Okja continues in that same vein.  This Netflix exclusive will compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and then will be available for streaming on June 28th.

Check out the trailer below:

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Despite “Out There” Visuals, Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” Is as Safe as They Come

For a film meant to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into the novel territory of alternate dimensions and mind-bending magic, Doctor Strange sure does play it safe.  Though many of the visuals are fascinating, some are overly show-offy, like an elaborate ornament on an otherwise bland facade.  The acting talent and the performances that they deliver are impressive, but they are relied upon to prop up a flimsy story that inadequately introduces us to this new facet of the MCU.  Similarly, most of the characters are unbalanced, uneven, and inconsistent – as though the filmmakers were afraid of allowing Dr. Strange to be too much of an asshole.  Finally, aside from an innovative and interesting climactic sequence, the plot is about as by-the-numbers as one can imagine.  Overall, this is the disquieting flaw of Doctor Strange:  the eye-popping visuals are in direct aesthetic conflict with the safeness of the narrative and thematic choices.  The result is a reasonable entry into the MCU, but a film which isn’t appreciably better than the average origin story.

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“Hail, Caesar!”: The Zany Slices of an Incomplete Pie

Joel and Ethan Coen have crafted a peculiar ode to old Hollywood in Hail, Caesar! The principal protagonist in the film is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a producer and “fixer” tasked with making sure that everything runs smoothly at Capitol Pictures. He hops from fire to fire, and along the way gives us a haphazard overview of the Hollywood studio system by visiting the sets of different pictures. While different threads of his life entwine together into a coherent story by the end of the film, particular elements fail or succeed largely on the merits of the superb supporting cast of characters. Regardless, moments of hilarity exist in this mish-mash of tone and style, and the worst sin Hail, Caesar! can be accused of is failing to synthesize its zany parts into a cohesive whole.

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