Monday, July 17, 2017

"Okja" (2017)

*This review discusses major plot points, all of which are after the page break. You've been warned.*

Okja, the latest film from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, first made waves at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where the Netflix-produced and distributed film entered the Official Competition. This caused quite a stir on the Palais, where many critics and exhibitors questioned whether the film should be eligible for the competition since it was largely bypassing theaters in favor of debuting on the streaming platform. France is particularly protectionist of its film industry, and the government has passed laws in recent years aimed at curbing the proliferation of streaming and protecting the interests of theater owners and exhibitors. Netflix's decision to bypass French theaters irked many, ultimately leading the company to relent and open the film in a few theaters and the festival to enact a new bylaw preventing films from entering the main competition without securing French theatrical distribution (this isn't unique to France either; in Bong's native South Korea, several major theater chains threatened to boycott showing the film if Netflix didn't wait three weeks after the theatrical release to stream it in the country).

While the film itself certainly can't be faulted for the controversies surround its exhibition, it is fitting that Okja is under scrutiny for the effects of late capitalism. The film is, essentially, a critique of late capitalism dressed up as a charming story of a young girl and her pet genetically-modified "super-pig." The girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), is the granddaughter of a Korean farmer who was one of 24 global recipients of a "super-piglet" from the Mirando Corporation, a chemical company-turned-agricultural giant run by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton). Lucy plans to unveil the super-pigs through a "best pig" competition that presents the creature as a locally-sourced, completely natural organism that is environmentally friendly to boot, rather than the factory-grown-and-slaughtered GMOs going into the company's new sausages. Mija's pig, Okja, is selected by the company's Steve Irwin-esque celebrity spokesman Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) as the best pig, and so Okja is off to New York for the public unveiling. Mija follows her beloved pet and, with the help of the Animal Liberation Front, attempts to rescue Okja and expose the truth behind Mirando's super-pigs.


As in Bong's previous feature, Snowpiercer, Okja juggles multiple ideas and tones throughout its two-hour running time. He is not quite as successful at pulling off that trick as he has been in the past, but Okja is nonetheless a fascinating satire of globalized capitalism.

More *SPOILERS* after the break.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Alien: Covenant" (2017)

*This review discusses significant plot points of the film. You've been warned.*

At this point, there are certain things that the audience expects from an Alien film. A group of people, usually in an enclosed space, will confront the threat of the xenomorph, a slimy, double-mouthed monster that bursts forth from the host's body and quickly grows into a gigantic, acid-blooded creature that exists solely to kill. This plot mimics the slasher film (which itself was relatively new at the time of the original's 1979 release), as each member of this unfortunate crew gets picked off one by one until there's only one survivor - typically a woman, exemplified by Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley in the first four films of the franchise (Alien, 1986's Aliens, 1991's Alien 3, and 1997's Alien: Resurrection). Chests will burst, acid blood will spurt, and the survivor will live only to come face-to-face with the phallic-domed beastie in the next film.


Alien: Covenant - the sixth film in the franchise overall, but the sequel to the 2012 prequel Prometheus - covers all of these bases well. The crew of the Covenant - a massive spaceship carrying thousands of colonists (all couples) and embryos to a new planet far away from Earth - wake from their cyrogenic sleep after an energy blast damages their ship. While conducting the repairs, the crew picks up a mysterious signal, which leads them to a planet that's almost exactly like Earth - so much so, it seems like a paradise. The ship's captain, Orem (Billy Crudup), is convinced by the rest of the crew, led by Daniels (Katherine Waterston), to send a team down to investigate whether the planet is as habitable as it appears. The result, of course, is less paradise and more living hell.

More *SPOILERS* after the jump.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Brief Thoughts on the 69th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations

The nominations for the 69th Annual Emmy Awards were announced this morning, and this year the Academy unleashed quite a few surprises. HBO's perennial juggernaut Game of Thrones is absent after not airing any episodes during the eligibility period, yet the network still reigned supreme with 110 total nominations. Netflix, however, followed close behind with 91 total nominations, and both platforms far outpaced their closest competition, NBC (60). The latter's Saturday Night Live was recognized for it's return to the zeitgeist with 22 nominations, matching HBO's new science-fiction/Western hybrid Westworld (22) for the most among programs. Those programs were followed by Netflix's retro sci-fi/horror Stranger Things and FX's Ryan Murphy-produced showbiz anthology series FEUD: Bette & Joan with 18 nominations apiece. The reigning winner of Best Comedy Series, HBO's Veep, led all comedies with 17 nominations.

 Stranger Things

The wider variety of choices available in the era of "Peak TV" and the Academy's new online voting system seems to have shaken up their selections. Sure, voters stubbornly refuse to let Modern Family slip from the Best Comedy Series lineup, where Atlanta is the only debutante in a season that saw a wide range of new comedies debut. Best Drama Series, on the other hand, sees five first-time nominees among its seven honorees, and all five of those series are in their first season. Plus, the nomination for The Handmaid's Tale marks Hulu's breakthrough at the Emmys, joining fellow streaming sites Netflix and Amazon. Best Limited Series - which is tailor-made for anthology dramas - saw both American Horror Story and American Crime fall away in favor of "event series" Big Little Lies and The Night Of from HBO, suggesting that maybe the self-contained miniseries isn't dead yet (those rumors of more Lies be damned). And the new Best Variety Sketch Series opened the doors for IFC's Documentary Now! and truTV's Billy on the Street to be recognized alongside Saturday Night Live and Portlandia as sketch comedy continues to blossom critically once again.

The full list of nominees can be found here. My thoughts on the biggest surprises and snubs can be found after the jump.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "The Parent Trap" (1961)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

I grew up watching the The Parent Trap a lot. Not the 1961 version starring Hayley Mills, which is the subject of this post, but rather Nancy Meyers' surprisingly faithful 1998 remake that introduced the world to Lindsay Lohan. I'm not even sure that I remember why: I don't think my family owned it on VHS, but I distinctly remember seeing it frequently. In any case, I know that version well enough that, watching the 1961 original for the first time, I was struck by how well I could remember the remake and play "spot the difference" even though it's been at least a decade since I've seen Meyers' version. But "spot the difference" isn't the reason we're here, is it?


The Parent Trap stars Mills, then coming off her starmaking performance in Pollyanna the previous year, in the dual role of Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick, twins separated shortly after they were born who are reunited by chance at summer camp. Susan lives in California with her father, Mitch (Brian Keith), while Sharon lives in Boston with her mother, Maggie (Maureen O'Hara). After realizing that their single parents are in fact their parents, the girls set in motion an elaborate plan to reunite the broken family by switching places. Their plan faces a major obstacle, however, when Mitch reveals his engagement to Vicky (Joanna Barnes), who wants to marry into Mitch's considerable fortune.

The film is an eclectic mix of genres: a screwball farce, a romantic comedy, a family drama, all wrapped up in a Disney-approved family-friendly bow with a few nods to teen rock 'n' roll flicks to boot. What's perhaps most surprising about the film is how the film shifts between these modes fluidly while maintaining the distinctions between them. The film is never really so much a genre blender as it is a genre buffet: some exaggerated mischief here, an emotional realization there, but not letting anything on the metaphorical plate touch.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Moonlight" (2016)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

I apologize for the short length of this post. I'm trying to get back into the groove of blogging now that I'm officially a Master of Fine Arts (supposedly) and beginning my transition into a doctoral program. I have a lot of thoughts on this film, an excellent choice for the return of my favorite TFE series, that I will hopefully post later.

Moonlight is a radical film. Not necessarily in narrative or aesthetics, though the former masterfully builds on the cumulative evolution of the characters and the latter are evocative and beautiful. The film is not even that radical in representation - there have been films about black gay men before. But Moonlight is radical in that it is a film about black gay men that captured mainstream attention, playing in more theaters than its predecessors and winning awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. It's not new - it's just new to this level of national exposure.



For the uninitiated, the film follows Chiron through three periods of his life. In the first act, "Little" (Alex R. Hibbert) meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who takes Chiron in with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe). In the second act, teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) struggles with his drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) and bullying at school, which leads to a riff between him and best friend/crush Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Act three, "Black," follows adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes, revelatory) as he returns to Miami to meet with Kevin (André Holland) after years without contact.

The main throughline of the film is desire; namely, Chiron's desire for Kevin and his inability to put that desire into words. It's here that the film is radical in one very significant, but under-examined, facet: child sexuality.

More after the jump.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Quickie Final 2016 Oscar Predictions

For the first time in a couple of years now, I entered Film Actually's annual Oscar prediction contest. So, taking a quick break from thesis writing, here is a rundown of my final predictions for each category. I don't have any commentary or pictures, but feel free to discuss these choices in the comments. And don't forget: the nominations will be announced this Tuesday, January 24!

BEST PICTURE

First five in:

Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
La La Land
Hell or High Water
Arrival

Next five in (in order from most to least likely):

Lion
Fences
Hidden Figures
Silence
Hacksaw Ridge

BEST ACTRESS

Emma Stone, La La Land
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Amy Adams, Arrival
Ruth Negga, Loving

BEST ACTOR

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Denzel Washington, Fences
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Tom Hanks, Sully

The rest of the nominees after the jump.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The 7th Annual Jarmo Awards

Earlier, I posted my top 10 list, which you can find here. Now for the Jarmo Awards, my annual awards for the film year that, for some reason, none of the winners have yet come to claim. The offer still stands, folks!

Anyway, check out this year's winners below. There's even a new category this year, Best Use of Music, because a memorable pairing of music and image can make all the difference for a film. Enjoy, and feel free to tell me why I'm wrong about every one of these!

BEST ACTRESS


(tie) Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone, Certain Women

Runner-up: Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
Finalists: Sonia Braga, Aquarius; Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Emma Stone, La La Land

I've handed out plenty of ties in the past, typically one a year, and most of them have been for performances in the same film. I've never, however, done a three-way tie before, but damn me if Certain Women doesn't deserve it. The film wouldn't work if not for the phenomenal performances that Dern, Williams, and Gladstone give. Dern seems revitalized by the role of Laura, a beleaguered lawyer exasperated with her client's over-the-top behavior. Williams, a regular of director Kelly Reichardt's films, is fascinating as Gina, a prickly mother with a single-minded goal: obtain the materials for the foundation of her dream home. The true revelation, however, is Gladstone. In her first onscreen role, Gladstone is astonishing as an unnamed rancher who, out of boredom, ventures to night classes and finds herself attracted to the new law teacher (Kristen Stewart). With very little dialogue, Gladstone mesmerizes purely through her subtly expressive visage, and sells the film's most emotionally-charged scene with sturdy aplomb. All three women were superior, and thus all three are winners.

BEST ACTOR


Colin Farrell, The Lobster

Runner-up: Adam Driver, Paterson
Finalists: Ryan Gosling, La La Land; (tie) Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight; Nilbio Torres, Embrace of the Serpent

Colin Farrell is vastly underrated. Anyone who's only seen his big-budget turns in Alexander (2004), Miami Vice (2006), and the misguided Total Recall remake (2012) would think that Farrell is simply a pretty face that Hollywood insisted could be a movie star. But such reasoning would disqualify the fantastic work he does when he's energized by the material: his one-two-three breakout punch of Tigerland (2001), Phone Booth (2002), and Daredevil (2003), for example, or his auteurist years with In Bruges (2008), Ondine (2009), and Seven Psychopaths (2012). Yet nothing he showed in these films truly prepared me for his performance in The Lobster. As David, Farrell doesn't just soften his voice and sport a truly awful mustache; he carries himself lack a man living without choice nonetheless bemused by his curious fate, he snuffs out the mischievous glint in his Irish eyes and replaces it with deadened combination of curiosity and defeat. David doesn't "move" the plot of the film so much as go along with it, but Farrell refuses to make him an amorphous cypher, instead imbuing him with a rich interiority that's enrapturing to witness. It's because of Farrell that the film's final scene holds such queasy power, and it's because of him that the film succeeds at such a high level. Underestimate Farrell at your own risk from now on.

More winners after the jump.

The Entertainment Junkie's Top 10 Films of 2016

The feeling, by and large, was that 2016 was awful. From the losses of too many luminary talents to the election of the least qualified, most terrifying president in the history of US democracy, I have to agree with that feeling - except at the cinema. There were many great films released last year; sure, the summer blockbuster season sagged under the critically-reviled Independence Day sequels and DC superhero flicks, but there were bright spots even there (Captain America: Civil War, for example, made a massive superhero free-for-all exactly as fun as it sounds). In fact, it proved exceedingly difficult to pare down this list only to ten films.

But it is, as always, a top ten, and so sacrifices had to be made. The following ten films have lingered in my thoughts more than any other films I've seen this year (in a positive way, at least). At least four of them are out-and-out masterpieces from auteurs who are decidedly outside of the mainstream, but, as you can see, there were pleasures to be found in studio fare as well. These certainly aren't the only great films released last year, but they are the ones that stand above the rest.

Since only films that received a US release were eligible, I have to extend my apologies to the following great as-yet-unreleased films: Strike a Pose, Sonita, Down Under, Goldstone, Barakah Meets Barakah, Zach's Ceremony, The Year We Thought about Love.

Find out who made the list after the jump.