Okja (2017)

Impression: What a strange and imagination-filled adventure this movie is? I am not sure what category to even place it in. It’s a little bit sci-fi-ish, a little kids-movie adventure, a little over-the top comedy, a little action, and a little vegetarian. ūüôā ¬†I definitely had second thoughts about eating pork in my Chinese food the day after seeing it. So if its goal is to use cuteness to make you question eating meat, it has succeeded. This is a new film from the director of Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho. Thankfully, his love of Tilda Swinton as a villain has not subsided. While in that movie she built a character that she described as a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silvio Berlusconi, in this one she is more like a female Donald Trump with an even more evil twin sister which he is trying to prove his worth to, while running a pig butchering empire marketed by cute piglets. But this is peripheral. At the center of the story is Okja, a very cute super pig raised by a farmer and his grand daughter in the Korean mountains. Ten years later, the Mirando¬†Corporation (cleverly named) who gave them the piglet in a marketing ploy wants it back, for more marketing, and to sell its meat. While the farmer acquiesces, the girl will not let her best friend go, and sets on an adventure to bring Okja back home. She runs into an animal activist cell whose leader is played by Paul Dano (always best cast as a fanatic leader!). They are mostly on her side, but also have some agendas of their own. ¬†Their ambiguous relationship to violence is well portrayed: on the one hand they want to avoid pain to all living things, on the other, they are thirsty to beat up people who stand in their way and instigate violent clashes with police. Reading other reviews, some people did not find the special effects all that successful, but I thought the CGI was very realistic, and I totally bought Okja as a central character in this movie. ¬†I especially liked the use of a kids adventure and over-the-top action movie trope to tell a story of corporate greed. The way genres (which I would otherwise think are pretty incompatible) were blended was surprising, but mostly, the wild imagination that was on display throughout the film was thrilling.

Facts:¬†A “super piglet” grows up care-free with a human girl best friend roaming the mountains of Korea, until the food industry wants it back… as food.

La La Land (2016)

Impression:¬†I kinda wanted to hate this movie. It had picked up all the awards, that Moonlight (which is on my top 5 movies of all time) rightly deserved. I wanted it to be horrible, so I can feel ok about yelling at the screen when it wins awards. But I didn’t hate it! At first, I kept thinking “This is cute, I am glad that a movie like this got made!” Eventually, I felt myself kind of liking it, and by the end maybe even loved it? I still think Moonlight should win anything it gets nominated for. But, I think La La Land is actually pretty¬†great: it’s very entertaining, it’s well filmed and well acted, and creatively thought-out. It deserves its nominations, it’s just unfortunate for it that it was made in the same year as a cinematic masterpiece. ¬†This movie is both, a Hollywood fantasy and a commentary on the Hollywood happy-ending type fantasy, and it’s clever with how it’s presented. It’s about dreams and hopefulness and the weight of reality. The monochrome dance sequences were spectacular, and the writing was funny and sharp. The scenes where Mia is shown going through bad auditions were pretty funny. ¬†And while it’s most definitely a movie about Hollywood, it deconstructs the myth, and presents a much more likely¬†scenario as an acceptable ending. ¬†And sure, Hollywood’s obsession with itself, and the likelihood for a movie about Hollywood to win awards, is absurd (The Artist and Birdman come to mind from just the last few years). But, as Roxane Gay pointed out in a recent interview, authors write books where main characters are authors all the time. So, it’s not all that surprising that movies would be about movies. Still, if you want your movie to stand out for more than beautiful shots, and amazing song and dance numbers, the movie might need to say something a little deeper than “It’s tough to make it in showbiz!”

Facts: A struggling actress and a struggling musician in Los Angeles keep running into each other until they fall in love, amidst a lot of song and dance.

Extra: Bad choice to see it in IMAX, the spinning sequences were all extra blurry.

Our Little Sister (2015)

Impression: This one was good but odd. I felt like I was watching a beautiful, thoughtful film which kept switching to a soap opera/sitcom/cartoon. Kind of like a Japanese Gilmore Girls, but with three older sisters instead of a mother and their younger half sister sharing a beautiful but crumbling old house with a garden in a seaside town. The coolness/cheesiness line was tough to walk sometimes. There are some visually stunning sequences here. The bicycle ride through the cherry blossom tunnel is pretty high on the list of most beautiful scenes ever filmed. Not much of a plot, but definitely a mood and leaving with a feeling of having just spent 2 hours in Japan, in that town, in that house. At the Q&A all was explained: it was an adaptation of a manga. Had it been animated I would have been much more in tune with some of its quirkiness, but maybe it would have also lost something. Not sure I did it justice, still a movie very much worth seeing.

Facts: Three Japanese girls in their 20’s meet their teenage half sister and decide to adopt her.