Okja – Review

A heart-warming commentary on the food industry and one girl’s fight to save her best friend, Okja is step forward in digital release films.

Okja is a Netflix production by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The film revolves around Okja, a Super Pig born from the first genetically modified Super Pig and raised by a farmer and his grand-daughter, Mija, in the South Korean mountains as part of an experiment/competition. After ten years, the Mirando Corporation – the owners of the Super Pig program come to take Okja, who has become the best Super Pig, and turn her in to food.

Mija follows the company to a holding facility to free her friend, she meets and is aided by the A.L.F. (Animal Liberation Front) who are trying to expose Mirando for the injustices and crimes they have committed against the Super Pigs.

Ahn Seo-hyun delivers a fantastic performance as Mija, a strong and brave character, and portrays the love and the connection between her and Okja beautifully.

Paul Dano plays Jay, the leader of the A.L.F and brings some nice complexities to his character. There is something about Jay and the A.L.F (including Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Daniel Henshall and Devon Bostick) that felt very Wes Anderson-esque, the characters all had their little quirks yet were all committed to the cause. The animal rights group at some points felt like they were in a different movie, something slightly hyper-realistic.

Tilda Swinton plays Mirando Corporation CEO, Lucy Mirando a slightly bizarre character who is driven to make this Super Pig scheme of hers succeed. Swinton has an amazing diversity in the many characters she plays, Lucy Mirando is no exception. She was a character that felt like she was never quite real and that’s the point. She has a facade of a caring and exciting CEO but behind closed doors wants only to differentiate herself from her father and her sister and will lie and bumble her way to that goal.

Now lets get to one of the standouts of Okja, Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox. At the inception of the Super Pig Program, Johnny Wilcox, a TV star zoologist was attached to work with the farmers and eventually judge who would be crowned the best Super Pig. Now, ten years later, he has fallen out of the spotlight and is now a washed up pawn for the Mirando Corporation who has had to make some moral compromises in the time he has worked for the company. Towards the end of the film, the reality really sets in on Wilcox bringing out a perfect example of why Gyllenhaal should play the Joker in the DCEU instead of Jared Leto.

The visual effects used to make Okja were fantastic, It was believable for majority of the film. She’s a cute Super Pig, so are her friends, the Super Pigs are sweet and passive creatures, which makes the Mirando Corporation’s practices all the more heartbreaking.

Okja is a unique film that wants you to think about where your food comes from and see through the spin that multi-national corporations try to sell you. With out revealing too much about the plot of the film, it’s also an example that while these companies may hit road blocks, the corporate machine can still carry on.

This film was produced by Netflix and has faced some criticism from traditional cinemas and critics before the film had even been seen.

Okja had its world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2017. The film was met with boos, mixed with applause, during its premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, once the Netflix logo appeared on screen and again during a technical glitch (which got the movie projected in an incorrect aspect ratio for its first seven minutes). The festival later issued an apology to the filmmakers. However, despite the studio’s negative response, the film itself received a four-minute standing ovation.

Wikipedia

This is a step in the right direction for digital releases, there are many more notable directors and studios getting behind this sort of release and we can expect to see more high-quality original films coming out on Netflix.

Okja is a nice film with a talented cast and a big heart. It has a message but doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Purely and simply, its a bout a young girl who will stop at nothing to save her best friend.

Okja: Above Average

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It’s Official: Ron Howard will take over directing the Han Solo project

The front runner of the choice of directors to take over from Phil Lord and Chris Miller on the untitled young Han Solo film has been confirmed by Lucasfilm. The announcement came in a press release on StarWars.com:

Lucasfilm is pleased to announce that Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard has been named director of the untitled Han Solo film.

“At Lucasfilm, we believe the highest goal of each film is to delight, carrying forward the spirit of the saga that George Lucas began forty years ago,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. “With that in mind, we’re thrilled to announce that Ron Howard will step in to direct the untitled Han Solo film. We have a wonderful script, an incredible cast and crew, and the absolute commitment to make a great movie. Filming will resume the 10th of July.”

Howard has made some of the biggest hits and most critically-acclaimed movies of the modern era. Among his many films are Lucasfilm’s Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind (winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director), The Da Vinci CodeFrost/Nixon, and Rush. He also narrated and produced the beloved comedy series Arrested Development, starred in George Lucas’ American Graffiti, and remains a TV icon for his roles in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days.

The untitled Han Solo film is slated for a May 25, 2018, release.

They still have about 3 weeks or so of production where Howard will have to review footage they already have and make the tough choices of what to keep and what to re-shoot, for which another 5 weeks have been scheduled. There could be some clashes in the future that the production will have to keep in mind with Emilia Clarke likely to return to filming for Game of Thrones (provided she doesn’t die in season 7) and Donald Glover to shoot Atlanta season 2 soon.

What will this mean for the film? Good question. Ron Howard is a safe choice and he will produce the best movie he can. He is a competent director who has work on a few average films in the last little while, the best recent film he has directed was Rush so we’ll see how we go. I can give you a proper answer in May next year.

The Fundamentals of Caring – Review

The Fundamentals of Caring is an indie comedy-drama that was distributed on Netflix. It’s one of those feel-good, feel-bad, feel-good-again movies, nice to just sit down and watch some time.

The film follows Ben (played by Paul Rudd), a retired writer who completes a course to become a caregiver. He gets a job looking after Trevor (Craig Roberts), and eighteen-year-old who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Ben and Trevor go on a road-trip to see the worlds deepest pit. During the road-trip they meet many people and learn about each other, you know the usual.

Rob Burnett, the writer and director of this film adapted his script from a novel by Jonathan Evison titled ‘The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving’ and he did a good job too. It’s a fun film, the dialogue is tight and everything plot point is tied up either in an emotional or humourous way.

Joining Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts in the film is Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle and Megan Ferguson. All of these actors do a decent job. Megan Feguson plays a slightly weird pregnant woman who has some funny lines but it’s Rudd and Roberts that breath the most life in to the film.

This film isn’t anything amazing but it short sweet and enjoyable. Its something you can chill out and watch on Netflix when ever, but it is worth a watch.

The Fundamentals of Caring: Average

Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired from Han Solo anthology film

I didn’t write about this when the announcement was made because there wasn’t all that much information. Now we have a report from Variety that sheds more light on the situation.

Yesterday, Lucasfilm announced that 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had exited the untitled Han Solo production citing creative differences. Lord and Miller had also released a very co-operative statement. The film has been in principle photography since January this year.

Variety talked to an unknown source with knowledge of the production who said that the chemistry between the directors and Lucasfilm boss, Kathleen Kennedy was never right. The source went on to say that Lord and Miller also clashed with co-writer Lawrence Kasdan who has been heavily involved in Star Wars since Empire Strikes Back.

“Kathy, her team and Larry Kasdan have been doing it their way for a very long time. They know how the cheese is made and that’s how they want it made,” said the source. “It became a very polarising set.”

Kathleen Kennedy in her announcement stated that a new director will be announced shortly. There have been reports from Variety again and Deadline saying the Ron Howard may be the front running candidate for that new director spot.

Ron Howard would no doubt work well with Kennedy, Kasdan and Lucasfilm, he would tow the line and work well with the studio. However, Lord and Miller were hired for their comedic chops and it’d be interesting to see how what they have filmed will blend in with Howard’s product. Let’s also point out that Gareth Edwards suffered similar clashes with Kennedy during production of Rogue One – A Star Wars Story. Tony Gilroy was brought in to direct some of the re-shoots for that film.

I’m not concerned (yet) about these recent developments because of the issues that went down with Rogue One, and the film still ended up being an enjoyable Star Wars movie. I’ll be watching the developments of this production very closely.

The still untitled young Han Solo film is still slated for a May 25, 2018, release date. We will most likely see or hear updates from the upcoming D23 convention and/or Comic Con.

Transformers: The Last Knight – Review

I saw this film last night and since then I’ve been trying to work out what to say about it. I’ve been searching for some remote ounce of quality, some substance, something I liked about it, there isn’t anything. This movie is a terrible mess.

Transformers: The Last Knight picks up after 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, Optimus Prime has left Earth to look for Cybertron and the Humans have decided to hunt down and kill or imprison all of the Transformers. Mark Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager lives with the remaining Autobots in a Junkyard. Organisations and individuals on Earth via satellites or just gut instinct know that the end of the world is coming.

From other films, we know that Transformers have been here since no doubt the beginning of time. This story primarily revolves around an ancient staff that was given to Merlin in the middle ages. This staff can destroy Earth and in turn, rebuild Cybertron. That’s the basis of the film and almost everything else that litters this two-and-a-half hour film is unnecessary.

I don’t know where to begin with this to be honest. The script should have been shredded as soon as it was printed. The dialogue is very bad, the Transformers constantly bicker with each other about senseless garbage, the humans are so often yelling at each other, again, about nothing. When the film quietens down, it’s either blatant exposition or garbage. At one point Cade (Mark Whalberg), tunes out some of Anthony Hopkins’ character’s dialogue. Almost every line delivered felt like the actors were reading directly off a script, with no emotion or emotion. Regardless of all this nothingness, the characters keep talking.

There are many story beats and elements in the film that did not need to be there. Let’s begin with Optimus Prime, you’ve probably seen the trailers and know that Optimus Prime has been brainwashed and goes bad – a main feature of the trailer. This was almost completely unnecessary to the film. Optimus Prime, despite being on every poster and featuring in every trailer, isn’t in the film much at all. More elements that were completely irrelevant to the plot include;

  • The young girl, Izabella (played by Isabela Moner, original character name – right?).
  • Almost all of the Autobots (that’s right, this Transformers movie is not about Transformers).
  • A weird flashback to WWII that lasts for all of maybe 2 minutes.
  • A Suicide Squad-esque scene where a few Decepticons are introduced with freeze-frames and title cards as Megatron lists his team.
  • Callbacks to previous Transformers films, a space ship on the Moon, the giant hole in one of the Pyramids of Giza and an awful way to bring Sam Witwicky and the Witwicky (previously known as Witwiccan) family going all the way back to Merlin (Get it? Wizard – Wiccan?).
  • Every ham-fisted attempt at comedy, sex jokes that fall flat, the annoyingly chatty little transformers that interject with a pointless quip and the amount the Transformers are needlessly crass or profane – as if the only thing the writers know about kids is that they find a robot saying ‘shit’ a lot funny.
  • and so many more…

The visual effects were good and pretty standard for a Transformers film. The only issue that the effects suffer is during fight scenes it can sometimes be difficult to determine which Transformer is fighting. But good visual effects can not save a movie with literally nothing else going for it. There was one thing that stuck out to me more than anything (though it did help distract me some times from what ever trash was going on), the aspect ratio. This movie was filmed in about three different aspect ratios, and these different aspect ratios change not between scenes, but between shots. The change in aspect ratios will change the amount of picture you see and the size of the letter-boxing or the black lines you see at the top and the bottom. One person will be filmed talking in IMAX and the reverse shot will be in standard ratio… and this happens in every scene – action scenes, dialogue scenes – EVERY SCENE. I don’t know how some film professional, weather they’re a producer or editor or something and think, “maybe they wont notice”.

Usually I cover other things in reviews like acting and direction or sound but there is everything in those areas are average and are very common to Transformers films. There’s standard Michael Bay direction, some military shots that weren’t too bad, but that’s what Bay does somewhat well and just like the visual effects, does not save this film. The sound brings the usual warp-y, chks and wubs you come to expect and a wide range of garbled ‘dialogue’ (which I would prefer to call noise) from the Transformers. The acting is forgettable and not worth talking about.

We will no doubt see more of these pieces of absolute garbage as there is a standalone Bumblebee movie coming out next year and an as yet untitled ‘Transformers 6’ in 2019. They shoe-horned in extra Bumblebee and a painfully blatant scene setting up the villain for the sixth film, so yeah they’re serious. Adding to the fact, this film will make a lot of money, all Transformers movies make crazy amounts at the Box Office because people everywhere go see it. I can’t even switch off in a movie like this, like I can with some others.

I very much want to give this a ‘ugh’ out of 5. There was nothing that could get this movie out of the dumpster it found itself in. From the first stupid line delivered by a drunken Merlin (yes, there is so much I haven’t mentioned) to the set ups for the next few films in the main story line to the shifting of the aspect ratios, this film was a sporadic mess.

Transformers: The Last Knight: Below Well Below Average

The Mummy (2017) – Review

The first chapter in the rebooted Universal Monsters’ Dark Universe delivers a lot of set up and a bit of fun, but no real bang. The Mummy features Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise in a Tom Cruise movie that really wasn’t very Tom Cruise-y.

The Mummy is not a great film, but its fun. There’s enough action coupled with a little bit of mild horror and well-blow-average comedic levity to make it an OK popcorn flick to sit down and switch off. There’s not much to it.

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a reconnaissance soldier that uses his job to pilfer and sell antiquities he finds in the Middle-East. During a mission he embarks on to find treasure he accidentally stumbles on an Ancient Egyptian tomb. Upon further investigation Annabelle Wallis’s character Jenny Halsey finds that the tomb was actually a prison holding a princess that seemed to have been scrubbed from history – Princess Ahmanet (played by Sofia Boutella).

Opening the prison has allowed her to return to power and escape. Ahmanet made a pact with Set, the God of Death, to bring him in to the physical world. In the past, she failed but now that she’s been released and now she wants to complete the ritual.

Cruise delivered an average performance, playing almost a caricature of himself. He pulled off some decent action sequences but nothing really stuck. Annabelle Wallis, brought nothing to the role of Jenny Halsey which had nothing in the script anyway, she was there to be a beautiful woman and barely a love interest for Nick. What she did provide was a link to the wider ‘Dark Universe’ through her job with Prodigium, enter Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll.

Crowe brought probably one of the more outstanding performances of the lacklustre cast. He portrayed your pretty standard version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (yes, Hyde also makes an appearance), with just a sprinkling of an organisation leader, a la Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D in the MCU. His is a role I’d like to see developed further in the future of the Dark Universe. Now that I’ve mentioned the word developed, I should mention that there is no character development in this film, it seemed to all fall by the way-side while they set-up the franchise.

Sofia Boutella has brought fantastic physicality in her roles in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond, her performance in The Mummy is no different. While she seems to never be a character with too much dialogue, what she does get to say isn’t bad. I’m not fluent in Ancient Egyptian but it sounded right (she also delivers about one line in English). She was a decent Mummy and provided a good looming threat.

The visual effects were pretty good, lots of sand and big sand storms, a bit of mummification and zombification and some Mercury which moved with a little too much life of its own in my opinion, but other than that I had no issues with it. Sound was good too but nothing stood out to me really.

The story flowed reasonably well providing a lot of exposition into not only the origins of The Mummy herself but really trying to push down your throat that this is the beginning of a new cinematic universe (just in case you haven’t worked that out yet). There was one plot point that seemed to break the in-universe rules they set up, but when you need something to happen and when you’re talking about a ‘world of Gods and Monsters’ you’re going to have to let some of these things slide.

The Mummy is a film its best to just switch off to and let it take you for a ride. The action in the film was enjoyable and the pacing was pretty good. One thing I want to praise the movie for is that it was only 107 minutes long! Though you could probably have thrown in an extra few lines of dialogue or a scene or two to either set up characters or show some development, I thought that the movie didn’t overstay it’s welcome. The mythology this film presented has piqued my interest in the Dark Universe (but that’s because I’m a sucker for Cannon), however the rest of the film was average, with nothing overly standing out.

The Mummy: Below Average

Wonder Woman – Review

An action-adventure film that is worthy of the praise it’s getting, Wonder Woman is a excellent example of what we could hope to see from more DC films.

Wonder Woman tells the story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, an island paradise secluded from the rest of the world, who yearns to see the world of man. One day, Steve Trevor, an spy for the Allies crash lands just off the island and the world of man comes to Themyscira along with news of the ‘War to end all Wars’. Diana travels to Europe with Steve in an attempt to find the god Ares, who she believes is behind this War.

In a way, unfortunately some what foreign to the previous DC Films, Wonder Woman features a coherent story line that follows the hero’s journey’s three act structure. Which worked so well for this film. A lot exposition was required to set up this world, and it was mostly worked in to dialogue between characters which is never something I’m a huge fan of. For example, Amazons saying to each other, “We have not had to fight in a war for 2000 years.”, they already know this, stuff like that wouldn’t naturally come up in conversation. Some of the exposition was delivered as a story told to Diana as a child – this, I enjoyed.

More unnecessary dialogue was worked in between Diana and Steve in attempt to set up their relationship, it wasn’t bad but it slowed down the pacing of the film a little.

Parts of Wonder Woman felt like your ‘swords and sandals’ movie, while others give off a good War movie vibe. The contrast between Themyscira and World War I was noticeable and featured similar dull tones and muted colour palate that the ‘world of man’ has had in previous DC films. It makes me think that the image of Mera from Aquaman that is full of vibrant colours, will be in Atlantis making these two magical locations the most interesting parts of the DC universe.
Gal Gadot really brings it as Diana. The former soldier, turned model now actress might not have the strongest acting ability but her physicality makes up for any minor short falls there were, though I think her delivery of dialogue and facial expressions were good. Chris Pine was great as the almost-sidekick to Diana and key to her transition to the world of man. The supporting characters worked well and I don’t think anyone necessarily phoned it in.

Patty Jenkins directed this film very well. It’s so focused and it sticks to the narrative. There’s great action scenes that were also paired with some good dialogue and character driven scenes she also added a little slow-mo, unassumingly to fit in to the DC mould.

With out going into too much detail in to the film, in order to avoid spoilers, I’ll say that the film was a good action-adventure film that served as a ‘coming of age’ for Diana, its a way to show how she became the fierce warrior we see at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Her character progression and development is such an important part of this film and its one of the key elements of this film.

Wonder Woman is an excellent example of what we could hope to see from more DC films. It is a near-perfect story of Diana’s first steps in to the world of man, and a nice origin story in a day and age where ‘origin stories are over-rated’. Wonder Woman is a character I want to see more of in the coming DC universe films. She is, so far anyway, the best character they currently have and I hope Justice League will continue to show her in the light that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman has.

Wonder Woman: Above Average

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

Zack Snyder’s attempt at the movie we’ve wanted to see for decades fell short of expectations.

In anticipation to Wonder Woman, I watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice again, so here’s the review. PLEASE BE WARNED! While I will try not to go into specifics, there could be some spoiled plot points. While this is a review, it will include some analysis and ‘ways I would do it better’.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice never had the excitement around it that the idea of a Superman/Batman film had. That came from the divisiveness of 2013’s Man of Steel, which I enjoyed for the most part.

The main problem Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is the Dawn of Justice part. This is two movies. The first involves Batman and Superman both being manipulated in to hating each other, they both had their reasons but they were played upon and had their perspective skewed. The story would involve the main characters investigating what seem to be separate leads that all end up being part of the one plan. That plan, was to have Superman kill Batman and that this scenario would have one of two outcomes:

1. To show the world either that Superman would kill someone – God can’t be all good. Or,

2. To show the world that Batman killed Superman – God can’t be all powerful.

Now to me, that sounds like a good story. A little bit of action sprinkled in at certain points, some mystery and intrigue, all culminating in a finale that pits the two DC Comics greats in a battle of Brains (and money) vs. Brawn. Naturally, of course before killing one another they realise they are actually on the same side and they go after the real threat that has been influencing them from the start. We put that threat in jail, while he is in there he plots something bigger, upon his eventual escape, which will be the story of the next film. 2 hours and 10 minutes, simple story, easy to follow, everybody forgets their so-so reaction to Man of Steel, bring on the next film, ‘Dawn of Justice’.

Except that didn’t happen. Instead, that story more or less ends around the 2 hour mark and the remaining 30 minutes of its run time resulted in a ridiculous mess that features an overpowered enemy that came out of nowhere, with very little set up or reason for being there, a character that while awesome (spoilers: it’s Wonder Woman), probably shouldn’t have been in a movie called ‘Batman v Superman’ and particular plot point that probably shouldn’t have seen the light of a projector til ‘Man of Steel 3’. Some shots from the last 30 minutes looked good, but a lot of them were just so cluttered by lighting bolts and laser beams that it lost all meaning. Some of the shots were harder to determine what was going on than being able to determine who’s fighting who in a Transformers movie.

There are more issues with the film, including pacing, writing and editing etc. But I don’t want to be so negative on this film, because there is something there. There’s a movie in here, I have ever since I saw this film believed that. All I need to do it sit down in front of my computer one day and maybe make a cut of my own to prove it. (I don’t want to alarm you but the writers and editor from BvS:DoJ are doing the same jobs on Justice League.)

I very much enjoyed Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman. He gave the older, gruffer character that the story asked for and we were looking for. That said, I like most of the acting in this film. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams have a shallow dynamic, dialogue-wise but their body language and the look in their eyes said more than the script could. Gal Gadot did a pretty decent job as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and delivered in my favourite shot of the entire film – a small smile during the big fight at the end, a little thing that said so much about the character, it said: “This is fun.”, “I’ve missed this” and “So you want a fight, huh?” all at the same time.

Jeremy Irons brought a new side to Alfred Pennyworth that we hadn’t seen before and I didn’t mind Holly Hunter’s role as a senator leading an enquiry in to Superman. Lawrence Fishburne brought nothing to the role as Perry White and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor left a lot to be desired… there were moments of proper evil to his character but sadly it was overshadowed by his ‘no one comprehends my genius’ shtick mixed with a fair amount of overacting.

The first 2 hours of the movie weren’t bad, it probably could have been done with being an hour and 40, but the story was enjoyable and could be followed somewhat. That being said, this is a comic book movie, and yes, the characters are from comic books, I know. I mean this movie paces like a comic book, it could even do with the odd “Meanwhile” tags in the top left corner in a few scenes, if this film was adapted in to a comic book – it would work. I think that is what sets the current DC films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe apart, Marvel makes movies based on its characters, they have adapted story lines, DC, or at least Zack Snyder seems to adapt the panels. Which is why 300 and Watchmen worked for the fans of those movies, its what they were expecting. It’s not what fans were expecting after Marvel had completed its ‘Phase One’. I think the culture had changed.

After all this though, I like parts of this movie, so it doesn’t fail completely in my opinion. I see this movie for it’s merits and what it tried to do. Don’t get me wrong, I have ideas about how you can fix this and effectively write this movie off – which in the DC Universe at least can be done very easily.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Well Below Average