Okja (2017)

Okja

Mija (newcomer Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her pet Okja…

Before I watched Okja, I noticed a number of negative reviews from users on Netflix. The main accusation: It is not for children. I could not agree more, but that does not mean the movie is bad. My conclusion is that those who did not like Okja just noticed the fact that it had a little girl and a (very big) pet pig, therefore thinking it would be a family friendly fare.

The movie begins in 2007, with the head of the Mirando Corporation Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announcing the discovery of making super sized pigs in the effort to stop world hunger. She sends 26 of these pigs to different farm locations on the globe, stating that they will be ready for consumption in ten years.

Fast forward ten years, and we meet Mija (a young and talented actress named Seo-Hyun Ahn), who lives on a farm in the mountains of South Korea with her Grandfather and pet super pig, Okja. It is clear that Mija and Okja are best of friends (their scenes reminded me a little of My Neighbor Totoro).

One day, they are visited by the host of a TV show sponsored by Mirando, Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal). They announce that Okja has been selected as the winner of the competition, and will be shipped off to America. When Mija finds out that Okja will be slaughtered for meat, she rushes after him.

Along the way, we get some rather impressive action sequences (Mija is shown on top of a moving truck), witty dialogue (the truck driver hates his job), and rather stunning imagery. Mija also encounters animal rights activists called ALF (including great actors like Paul Dano and Steven Yeun), who want to put an end to the Mirando Corporation.

Legendary Acting teacher Sanford Meisner said, “Acting is fun. Don’t let that get around.” It can be clearly shown here in Okja. Tilda Swinton, an Oscar winner, is known for picking roles that are considered a little strange and unusual, and while her performance (as well as that of Paul Dano) seemed like it was written for them, I for one was very surprised at the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. He has always been a great actor (underrated, in my opinion), but I never thought he could play the goof ball like he does here, and still make us forget it is him behind the mustache. It is rather brilliant work.

Parents, the TV-MA on Netflix is more than appropriate. Consider the film an R rating.  There is no sex in the film, but there is a lot of swearing. There is also a lot of disturbing imagery (especially at the end, knowing what happens to animals when they are killed for meat). Totally not a movie for kids. High School and above (maybe mature middle schoolers).

One thing about Okja you cannot deny is the originality. If a movie keeps you glued because you have no knowledge of what will happen next, it is because the movie has been completly void of any cliches one would think could happen. That alone is worthy of praise for any movie.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Dr. Strange (2016)

dr-strange

Benedict Cumberbatch casts a rather affective spell on the movie goer…

Once again, Marvel gives us a solid, all around fun origin flick with their newest Superhero to hit the big screen, Dr. Strange (though obviously not to be confused with the 1964 masterpiece Dr. Strangelove: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).

Once again proving he is best when playing the smartest character on-screen, Benedict Cumberbatch gives a rounded performance as neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange. Strange is both brilliant and arrogant (though neither as much as Cumberbatch’s other, better role as the title role of Sherlock). He is basically another version somewhat of Tony Stark (aka Iron Man, for those who somehow don’t know), though he becomes a little more kinder quicker than Stark did.

An accident leaves Strange with severe nerve damage mainly in his hands, leaving him unable to work again (it is a comic book movie, so it would be hardly spoiling anything if I mentioned there was an accident scene.) Despite letting all his anger out on his on again/off again girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams), he learns of help in Nepal. There he meets Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and later The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). It is here that Strange learns his hands are not the only thing that can be healed. They are after a former student named Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen).

What I personally feared most going into the movie was that I would be confused. I have stated before I never read comic books as a kid (something I regret now as an adult), so I had no real knowledge of what to expect. What were Dr. Strange’s abilities? Was he a wizard? Does he even count then as a superhero? More than anything, would the explaining of the origin of Dr. Strange be too much for me to handle?

Thankfully, the movie explains only what it needs to, and nothing more. It also dashes in enough humor (as expected now by Marvel) to make sure we are smiling still. There is a scene where Mordo gives a piece of parchment to Strange, who is confused to what it is (it says “Shambala” reminding me of that great oldies song from Three Dog Night). The answer? The WiFi password.

The action scenes are not to be missed. The CGI is nothing short of spectacular (they reminded me a lot of Inception). I never was a fan of 3D, but I would not mind if I saw the movie again with those annoying glasses on.

Parents, the PG-13 rating is very mild. There is no sex (one mention of dialogue, though nothing horrible), some swearing, and mainly a little violence (a character at the beginning does get his head cut off, though it is not filled with gore). Basically, if your kids have seen any superhero movie made in the last fifteen years, they are fine seeing this.

In the classic Disney/Pixar flick The Incredibles (2004), the character Edna mentions how she does not like costumes with capes (the examples are always smile inducing). She may change her mind when she sees Dr. Strange’s cape. It is quite the character itself.

This movie is quite the charmer.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

 

Hail Caesar

George Clooney in “Hail, Caesar!”

When you see a lot of trailers like I do, you know the name of the director(s) can make or break the perception you will have of the film. Seeing a name like Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino, Eastwood, Nolan, or Inarritu will give a sigh of relief, while names like Bay or Shamalyn make you lose all faith in the movie. Joel and Ethan Coen obviously belong in the first catagory. Whenever a trailer for a Coen brothers film is released, a voice in my head seems to say “Oh boy, what have they got for me this time?” with a smile.

Their newest film, Hail, Caesar!, is another Coen classic. It tells the story of a film studio in the 1950s called Capitol Pictures. The film centers around Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). He is in charge of making sure all the stars stay in lie and behave. To say Mannix is a workaholic is an understatement. One day, his biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing, and life seems to go downhill from there.

We also get a Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) who is the new star of a period piece by director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), whose name pronunciation is never fully clear. Their rehearsal scene is sure to garner big laughs. Other stars in the film include Scarlett Johansson as another troubled star, Tilda Swinton as (twin) sister reporters, Frances McDormand (real life wife of Joel Coen) as an editor, Jonah Hill as a reliable go to man (I won’t say how), and Channing Tatum as a musical star (no kidding).

What I loved most about the film is it seemed to be the Coens’ personal love letter to the movies. We get scenes that seem to cover almost every genre. There is a little bit of Western, Film Noir, and even some musical (a dancer scene is in the film that I may consider buying on Itunes).

Parents, the movie is PG-13, which I feel is because it is a Coen brothers film. There is no sex or nudity (some mild innuendo), some smoking (it is 1950s Hollywood after all!), and some swearing (probably the least amount of swearing in a Coen brothers film I can remember). Middle School and up would be ok.

The film has some mild flaws (I was a little confused why Tilda Swinton, a fine actress, had to be twins), and some scenes tended to run a little long. Still, this is another Coen brothers film to be remembered for a long time. It is one of the best movies about movies made in some time.

Overall: Four Stars ****