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.

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A Bigger Splash (2015)

Impression: I really don’t get Luca Guadagnino! I remember watching his other highly acclaimed film I Am Love during what was¬†probably the best week of my life and feeling underwhelmed. While it was beautifully filmed, and I knew that it was critically acclaimed, I just didn’t get it. It seemed somehow empty, nothing really happened (and I’ve watched many movies in which nothing happens, and been fine with it), and I did not care about the characters. So it took Tilda Swinton in the lead role as an aging rock star who lost her voice and high placement on quite a few best-of-the-year lists to lure me into another Guadagnino film. And…. Same exact result: beautiful people, gorgeous setting, but no plot, and no connection to the characters.¬†Sure, no one can pull off a lead role in which they don’t speak quite like Tilda Swinton, and the awkward dancing by Ralph Fiennes alone was worth the price of admission, so it was not a complete waste of time. But I am still intrigued by what it is Guadagnino’s movies are trying to say that I am just not getting. ¬†This one has the female rock star and her younger boyfriend taking it easy on the Italian coast, when her ex-lover and his daughter show up. There is some sexual tension and dislike between almost everyone in the foursome, and eventually one of them ends up dead. Towards the end of the movie it turns into a bit of a thriller, dealing with¬†the cover up of the murder. ¬†In the background, the European refugee crisis is taking place, and is related to the plot only tangentially. In general, the story seems to be about rich people living completely inside their bubble and unaware and unconcerned about the world around them. ¬†If this is the point, I am sure I must be missing the depth of the insight the film is going for.

Facts: An aging rockstar loses her voice and relaxes on the Italian coast with her boyfriend, when an ex-lover shows up with his daughter and someone ends up dead.