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.