Okja Review

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is cinematic storytelling at its finest. Funny, smart, heartbreaking; Bong has created a film with so much soul, it simply has to be seen by all.

In Okja, the ominous Mirando Corporation, led by Tilda Swinton’s Lucy, unveils superpigs, claiming these animals were ‘discovered’ and not created in a lab. One pig, Okja, is raised in the South Korean mountains by a young girl named Mija and together, over ten years, they form an unbreakable bond. When it becomes clear that Okja was reared to be used as live stock, the Animal Liberation Front, helmed by Paul Dano’s Jay, join forces with Mija to bring down Mirando and save Okja from a cruel fate.

Bong’s film is obvious in its messaging and vocal in its views on the meat trade – some viewers won’t like that. Those who can look beyond the imbedded message of anti-meat and see the many other themes the flick involves will relish in the total joy and, at times, utter sadness this sentimental story brings to its viewers. Okja isn’t just a discussion on the treatment of animals reared for food, it’s an exploration of unusual friendships and the want to make a positive impact on the world in which we live.

The film boasts an enviable ensemble that unites fresh new talent with established actors, all putting in memorable performances. Dano is superb as Jay, impassioned and quietly emotional, while Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal have a riot in eccentric roles that are both unforgettable and terrifying. It’s Ahn Seo-hyun who steals the film, though. And, of course, her best friend Okja. Bong brings the best out of his actors as he directs them through a journey that is unashamedly bonkers.

Ahn Seo-hyun in Okja

As with Bong’s previous entries into the world of film, Okja won’t be for everyone. The director has oddball tendencies and blends these with truly dark themes, a combination that won’t sit so well for some viewers. What this is though, is a genuine success for Netflix and a bold leap too. The film is half in Korean and half in English, and it combines a cast of South Korean actors with American talent – this combination of East and West works and does something in terms of bringing audiences closer to seeking out world cinema.

For some, watching Okja will lead to a change in lifestyle. For others, it will be a nonsensical action-adventure. And for most, a riotous ride that’s a great piece of cinema. Bong’s film will stir many different reactions and this reflects its total brilliance. Rather wonderfully, Okja is unlike any film before it. Bong Joon-ho has masterfully crafted a one-of-a-kind picture that is, yes, completely unusual, but brilliantly so. It’s an adventure of epic proportions that’s thematically brave and brimming with heart.

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Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is acted to perfection. Luca Guadagnino’s sexually charged flick is visually stunning and its script – penned by David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page – escapes clichĂ©s and reflects a wonderful originality. Despite the genuinely brilliant nature of this critically acclaimed drama there’s something amiss, and it’s incredibly hard to put a finger on what that might be.

Tilda Swinton (one of the best actresses of her generation) stars as rock star Marianne Lane. Vacationing in Sicily with troubled boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), they are joined by the outrageous Harry (Ralph Fiennes clearly had an absolute ball in this role) and promiscuous daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The small ensemble is phenomenal but Schoenaerts struggles alongside Fiennes in a subdued role that doesn’t allow him to shine amongst a cast of acting heavyweights. Johnson is an unexpected star, showing herself to be a young actress of such sheer talent that she will surely go on to bigger and better things than the truly absurd Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Guadagnino directs with a sharp eye, demonstrating his artistry early on through snappy camera direction and set pieces reminiscent of Woody Allen. The film is sexy and boisterous with a sun-drenched visage that masterfully deceives its audience, resulting in a finale that is tinged in unexpected darkness. Its cinematography is a triumph and Yorick Le Saux’s photography truly rouses the senses while the enviable costume design further propels the film into stunning territory.

A Bigger Splash questions the price of fame while exploring the boundaries (and burdens) that come with intimate relationships, whether that be father/daughter or boyfriend/girlfriend and this it does truly successfully. Cracks in the plot begin with the unlikeable characterisation of the majority of those seen on-screen. Yes, Marianne is a tour-de-force of a protagonist and Swinton is a gem as always, but Schoenaerts’ Paul is weak and easily forgettable while Harry‘s overbearing nature loses effect early on and the escalation of his behaviour becomes meaningless. Each character holds secrets and these are much beyond having slept with each other. Alcoholism, drug addiction, underage sex, suicide; Alain Page’s story unabashedly explores these themes but they are thrown at the audience with such an eager force that the twists and turns of the plot lose effect.

It’s certainly flawed but A Bigger Splash is lavish filmmaking with a stellar ensemble that boasts some of the best the big screen has to offer. Sophisticated and gorgeous to look at, Guadagnino’s layered flick is a treat on the eyes despite never fully delivering an engaging premise.

Trainwreck Review

In Trainwreck we meet Amy. Amy is a 20-something magazine journo who lives in New York city. From the outset we are introduced to her through her provocative behaviour of drink-fueled one night stands, balanced out by her apparent career goals and obvious love for her sister and father. We are meant to laugh when, in an early scene, Amy finds herself in bed with a random from one of her many mid-week nights out – and we do. But 100 minutes in to the 124 minute running time, when this happens again, we don’t laugh as hard as we should.

Judd Apatow is an ingenious director in that he picks strong female and male leads to dominate his crude comedies – of which there have been many. And it’s obviously a winning formula. Trainwreck made $140 million after being filmed on a budget of just $35 million, and the general consensus is that it’s good – really good, in fact. Amy Schumer is the driving force of the film, and positioned with her we navigate New York through booze, recreational drugs and encounters with work colleagues, family and love interests. Bill Hader is spectacular (as always) as Aaron, the sweet-as-a-button sports doctor who Amy is forced to profile for work. The pair become entangled romantically, but not with a whole lot of romanticism.

amy schumer and bill hader in trainwreck

amy schumer and bill hader in trainwreck

Trainwreck is unique in its depiction of Amy and Aaron. Amy is a bit of a mess; she smokes weed, rocks up to work late and is surprised when Aaron wants to take things further with her after another one-night encounter. Aaron is a sweet-natured doctor who questions, but accepts, his girlfriends rebellious behaviour. Apatow and Schumer have successfully reversed the expected characterisation of how a man and a woman should behave and by doing so escape genre cliches, but as an audience we want to see some kind of journey in this dramedy that places us with a not-so-likeable protagonist. We only see a realisation of needed change from Amy when her actions have serious repercussions, and by that point it’s hard to keep on caring. Hader and Schumer are supported by a strong ensemble including Oscar-winners Brie Larson and Tilda Swinton but both roles are underdeveloped and the latter’s is laughably stereotypical.

Schumer is a star, and she will go far thanks to her strength as a writer and obvious comic prowess, but this isn’t one of Apatow’s strongest works. Trainwreck falls short of sentimentality and genuine displays of human emotion when it becomes lost to uncomfortable sexual encounters that should make us laugh but just make us squirm.