Monthly Archives: August 2017

“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” Movie Review

According to the mythology of this movie, Judgement Day happened on August 29th, 1997. That happened exactly 20 years ago. And if you are reading this, that can only mean one thing: we have survived James Cameron’s prediction and can most certainly survive whatever happens with Donald Trump and North Korea. This science-fiction actioner was released in July of 1991 earned back over 5 times its $102 million budget. With the success of the first Terminator film, Cameron was able to produce a film and a world that he wanted to explore more of. It’s completely apparent because this film is ultimately bigger and more ambitious and more complicated than its predecessor. Approximately 10 years after the original concluded, a new Terminator, the T-1000, has been sent back to the past to kill a teenage John Connor in Los Angeles. However, in the future, the resistance has reprogrammed the T-800, the villainous robot from the last movie, and sent him this time to protect Connor from all danger. As the cat-and-mouse chase ensues, they uncover more about the bleak, impending future and comes to many realizations. I have a confession to make before going any further in this review: I had never seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day until earlier this year, around the end of May. Of all the films on my list of shame (Which also includes The Shawshank Redemption, Seven Samurai, Drive, and The Godfather Part II) I was most hungry to see this particular film. For one reason: One of my best friends consistently called it the greatest action movie ever made. And now, after purchasing the Blu-Ray and sitting down on my couch to watch it… I understand why. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprise their roles as the T-800 and Sarah Connor, respectively. Schwarzenegger is given so much more to say and do this time around due to being a good guy, though most of his “dialogue” is reserved for either technical exposition or cheesy one-liners like “Hasta la vista, baby.” His deadpan delivery is an embodiment of everything that the body-builder turned-actor could do when given the right material. Hamilton is a little nuts in this follow-up. She has transitioned from a timid, plucky waitress to a badass warrior ready for the impending doom of man. But thankfully, it’s completely convincing, giving us arguably Cameron’s best character aside Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Edward Furlong plays a teenage John Connor who, despite being consistently annoying and whiny, is able to hold his own when the action is going down. It isn’t until the last act of the film that he really starts blossoming into the savior that humanity needs years from now. Robert Patrick, meanwhile, plays the role of the T-1000, a liquid-based assassin sent from the future. His cold delivery and unassuming stare make him one of the best and most menacing villains in cinematic history. Even more so than his counterpart in the original, it becomes apparent that this is an enemy that cannot be simply beaten. He can adapt to any environment and can take as many punches or bullets that come his way. As far as technical attributes go, this is one of the finest accomplishments of the last few decades in cinema. The sound design is one to really be appreciated on a 5.1 audio system, and I can only imagine what it would be like in the theater. It matches the beautiful editing job of Mark Goldblatt, Richard A. Harris, and Conrad Buff IV. Each scene flows seamlessly with the next one and never allows the pacing to let up. But the visual effects are what truly made this film then- and still to this day -an eyepopper. Provided by the legends at Industrial Lights and Magic, the effects in Terminator 2 were way ahead of their time and in some respects still look better than some of the CGI we’re getting today. The scene in which the T-1000 passes through a metal gate with ease is one of the most enduring images of 1990’s cinema. It also netted one of the film’s 4 Academy Award wins, which gives it the distinction of being the only sequel to win such an honor when its predecessor wasn’t even nominated. Brad Fiedel returns to compose the musical score, and what a soundtrack it is. With pulsated electronic drum beats punctuated by sharp strings elevate the intense action scenes. But it’s also the franchise’s main theme on the synthesizer that gives the film some emotional levity in its characters, who inherently are the focus of the 137 minute-long picture. But unlike most other sci-fi action films, (And arguably its own sequels/reboots) Terminator 2: Judgement Day understands the intelligence of its audience. Because of that, it is able to convey real themes about human nature and our destiny as a species. The T-800, as well as Sarah Connor, is trying to gain an understanding of the value of human life since all they see are bags of sentient meat waiting for their inevitable deaths. Similarly, the Connors are wrestling with the idea that no matter how hard they fight, the future depicted is already set. If you drop a stone into a rushing river, will the current simply course around as if the obstruction were never there? Or will it completely block the flow of water out, forcing it to find another path? These are the questions the film forces us to ask. As one character puts it, “There’s no fate but what we make.” There are admittedly some pacing issues in the middle act when it simmers down. Not a lot happens aside from world building, but it’s still pretty fascinating. Aside from that, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the quintessential marriage between science-fiction and action, and one hell of a ride. I’m glad I got it off of my list of shame because it is now one of my all-time favorites. And don’t worry; I’ll be back.

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“Cloud Atlas” Movie Review

“Epic.” It’s a word that has been tossed around by writers, scholars, and illiterates for several decades. What’s it actually mean? A long story, one typically derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic and legendary figures or in the history of a nation. In the days of yore, authors would create grand masterpieces that fit that description, from the iconic poem Beowulf to the big daddy of them all War and Peace. They were hard to get through but still superb. Nowadays, if you simply typed up the word “epic” into the search bar on YouTube, you’d get somewhere in the neighborhood of 98 million results. Most of them are just stupid comedy videos such as “Most Epic Nerf War in History” or “Epic Battle Music.” I, myself, am guilty of watching those and can safely say that none of them really live up to their titles. It’s completely apparent that many have forgotten in this day and age what the word actually means. On a similar level, they are very few movies that can be appropriately called an epic. To reach that achievement would be to go beyond the boundaries of convention and time. To make one would be to inhabit the modern spirit of David Lean, who made such films as Lawrence of Arabia. To immerse the audience in a world as vast and lush as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To have an experience on the scale of epics like Titanic just doesn’t seem possible anymore. Along come Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, who absolutely endeavor to create an epic together called Cloud Atlas. It is based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell, which may be one of the most impressive pieces of modern literature I’ve read. That’s right. I read the book a film was based upon before actually sitting down to watch the film. I rarely do that, but I was so fascinated by the division to a film like this that I was curious. And I sit here at my desktop stunned. Cloud Atlas recounts six separate stories spanning many centuries and many genres. Starting with a dying American lawyer on a 19th century vessel, followed by a forbidden love story with a penniless English composer, cut in the middle with an intense detective conspiracy, making us laugh in the present with an editor on the run from the mob, a neon-soaked future with clones and rebels, and a crazy post-apocalyptic society that has a strange dialect. Whereas in the book each individual story is cut in half and shown in chronological order, the movie edits the stories together seamlessly, scene-to-scene. And despite its mammoth running time of 2 hours and 51 minutes, there’s not a minute wasted or rushed here. It flies by and time becomes nonexistent. And while I could whiff on and rave about its fantastic editing, the point isn’t the stories per-say. In fact, none of them are really given any priority over the other. The point of this film, as well as the novel, is to show us that everything in life and death is connected. As one character puts it, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of cinema or literature that tackles topics as ambitious as that more brilliantly than Cloud Atlas. By the final 30 minutes of the picture, it brings everything to a head in a very emotionally satisfying way. I acknowledge that this isn’t a perfect movie. There are some editing choices that I would have cleaned up, and I’m pretty sure at least one character was useless. But isn’t it human to be flawed? All of the characters here are flawed individuals. And when a movie takes on such a big task of tackling a massive story, it can be forgiven for a few mistakes. And thankfully, there are only a few. I’m sure if I saw it again, I’d hardly notice any flaws at all the second time. Not to mention its beautiful and sometimes moving soundtrack by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil. Arguably the biggest thread tying everything together is the piece “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which also exists in the book. It’s a gorgeous piano melody that inspires upon first listen. The whole rest of the orchestral score is stunning, but it baffles me that this didn’t get a nomination from the Academy. In fact, the film wasn’t nominated for anything, which either blames tough competition or lack of diverse tastes on part of the voters. I’m usually the kind of guy that likes to get his opinion of a movie out there immediately. But with this particular picture, I had to let it marinate for two straight days and nights. Let every little detail get soaked in and think about the themes of it all. I have rarely seen a movie that forces me to wait overnight to form an official opinion on it. Even more unique is a film that can also be the basic definition of the word “epic.” And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Cloud Atlas is, indeed, that rare movie. It is as brilliant as it is gorgeous and proves the potential of modern filmmaking. Those who once thought that this novel was “unfilmable” have been proven wrong. While not perfect, it has been on my mind way too much for me to give it any less than high praise. For now, until I decide otherwise, I’ll say this: Cloud Atlas is one of the best movies I have ever seen and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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“The Terminator” Movie Review

Yeah, that’s right. Avatar isn’t the only Cameron flick we’re talking about in preparation for the re-release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I’m going to be reviewing both of the first two Terminator movies (The only ones that matter), as well as possibly Titanic and Aliens. But for now, let’s talk about the movie that put this man on the cinematic map. This groundbreaking sci-fi action thriller from future Academy Award-winner James Cameron was released on October 26th, 1984, grossing over 11 times its small $7 million budget. Following his disastrous debut with Piranha II: The Spawning, Cameron apparently came up with the brilliant idea for this film in a dream. It’s also said that he sold the rights to producer and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd for just a single U.S. dollar, which included rights to a potential sequel. The now-iconic plot centers on a humanoid cyborg called a Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is sent from the bleak future of 2029. In that future, a man named John Connor is poised to save humanity from slavery or annihilation by the machines. The Terminator is sent to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, in the 1980’s. However, John Connor also sent his soldier Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, to stop this from happening, resulting in a tense cat-and-mouse chase. To say that The Terminator had a big impact on the film industry would be a severe understatement. Before it came out, lines of dialogue like, “I’ll be back” weren’t catchphrases, and Hollywood blockbusters were just burgeoning into existence. It also managed to launch the careers of every single person involved in the production and created many iconic images, not the least of which is the iconic design of the titular robotic exoskeleton. It began a trend of darker tones in science-fiction stories, not just limited to movies. Sure, not all of it has aged that well, but there’s still so much to like about this classic. Arnold Schwarzenegger may receive flak for his acting abilities, but the role that made him famous is quite impressive and brilliant. Speaking only 16 lines of dialogue total, his sheer physique and imposing relentlessness create one hell of a menacing villain. At least, for the first movie. Linda Hamilton, Cameron’s future wife, admittedly feels like she doesn’t have enough to say and do, but is still awesome as Sarah Connor. She comes with a very 80’s hairstyle and shows a pluckiness and resilience that wasn’t commonly found in female characters at the time, with the exception of Ellen Ripley. But she still shows that she is still susceptible to fear and terror as the titular threat is never more than a few hours behind. Michael Biehn may be there mostly just to give us the exposition on the future, but damn if it isn’t fascinating stuff. You get the idea that Kyle Reese has seen some dark days, especially in a flashforward (not flashback since it takes place in 2029) that shows what some Terminators did to his fellow soldiers. Other recognizable players include early performances from Lance Henriksen and the late Bill Paxton. On the technical side of things, even with a limited budget, it’s a pretty impressive movie. Adam Greenberg’s cinematography uses great examples of Steadicam with highly detailed close-up shots. This mixes beautifully with Mark Goldblatt’s careful editing job, contrasting with wider shots of the scene. This makes things easy to follow and creates an aurora of slow-building tension common in James Cameron’s films. But some of the stop-motion effects show the film’s age. Meanwhile, Brad Fiedel’s powerful musical score is perfectly symbolic of the pacing. It is heavily synthesized and often trades in with pulsating electric drums. This is truly evocative of the metallic killer’s presence no matter where our heroes are going. You may not agree with me here, but I firmly believe that The Terminator is a horror film. I mean, why not? It came out at the peak of the slasher genre’s popularity, and like some of those most popular films, this one was produced on a small budget. Plus, it has an unstoppable villain who, no matter how bullets hit him, refuses to die. He’s got Kyle Reese spooked, for sure. In a car after a getaway, Reese hastily tells a frightened Sarah Connor, “It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t know pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop.” Oh yeah, and the cherry on top? An explicit sex scene between our heroes late in the picture that felt completely out of place. Although it does make sense for the plot later on, for now, it just felt odd with the way the rest of the movie was playing out. But thankfully, the movie itself, overall, is such an original, thrilling film with 100 minutes not wasted once, that I can easily overlook this issue as trite and petty. Although it wasn’t quite as entertaining or game-changing as its sequel, The Terminator is a relentless piece of high concept thrills and an iconic premise. Watching it again recently, I found much more to appreciate about it than I did my first time. I feel like most people, at first glance, will dismiss it as another simple action film of its era. I urge you to give it a try at least once.

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“Good Time” Movie Review

Can you imagine going through all the tribulations Robert Pattinson went through in this movie to look after your own brother? I’m still asking myself that question. This acclaimed independent drama thriller competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Although it was released stateside on August 11th, it didn’t receive an expanded run until the following week, and has only earned back just over $137,000. This is the fifth collaboration between brothers Josh and Ben Safdie, who previously directed the drama Heaven Knows What. It’s also reportedly their biggest production to date. Set in the urban streets of New York City, Good Time follows a petty bank robber named Constantine “Connie” Nikas, played by Robert Pattinson. After a robbery goes awry, his mentally handicapped brother Nick is placed in a harsh prison program on Ryker’s Island. He tries to break him out of there while avoiding the cops and learns the consequences of his reckless actions. This is my first movie from the Safdie brothers, so their style almost overwhelmed me. They have such a rough and authentic view of street-level New York that is so hard to find in modern or even classical cinema. I do feel that their way of making a story will definitely not appease everyone, especially because the trailer is so misleading. It tried to sell this movie as a straight-forward prison break movie, but what I got was a surprisingly mature film that takes a look at poverty, desperation, brotherhood, devotion, and- dare I say -the death of the American Dream. Robert Pattinson proves that he has come a long way since his days as a brooding, sparkling vampire in the Twilight franchise. Earlier this year, he gave an excellent supporting performance in The Lost City of Z, and he outdoes himself here. Despite his criminal disposition, he is able to invoke an immense amount of empathy for his actions. Connie is an extremely resourceful character and some the things he does puts you on the edge of your seat. It becomes apparent pretty early on that he s willing to do anything, including taking the fall for crimes, to keep his brother safe. Speaking of his brother, co-director Ben Safdie is nothing short of convincing as Nick. He completely loses himself in the role and I actually didn’t enjoy watching some of his scenes because they felt so real. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, and frequent collaborator Buddy Duress all give typically excellent performances in their small but crucial roles. The real revelation, though, is the young Taliah Webster as a young girl in Queens who helps Connie on his journey. She may be small, but her confidence and energy make her a promising star for the future. You get the idea that she really shouldn’t be involved in this world, no matter how much she wants to be in it. And the movie just looks downright gorgeous at times. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams locks the audience into a neon-soaked night environment. Specifically, he highlights the color red, whether it be the color of a street sign, a hallway lamp, the color of characters’ clothes, etc. Some of the lighting just seems impossible, but he pulled it off and made an otherwise harsh atmosphere look appealing and beautiful. The musical score is an unusual one, and I mean that in the best way. Experimental musician Daniel Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never, composes the picture primarily out of synthesizers and electropop instruments. In a way, this kind of gave it this aesthetic of an 80’s horror movie, in the vein of composers like Charles Bernstein or John Carpenter. Sometimes, when the music began, a strange warm feeling of anxiety and tension came over my body. Tying these two aspects together is the frantic editing by the writers themselves, Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein. Not only is their dialogue sharply written and at times exhausting, but it matches perfectly with each cut made to a scene. It’s still easy to tell what’s going on, but the fierce delivery of the lines and editing really make this a movie that never lets you catch your breath. So yeah, if you have any history of anxiety attacks or get stressed out easily, Good Time is not for you. I feel the need to make that clear for my readers, because it is not conventional. While there are some moments of laughs and smirks, the 100-minute plot takes several twists and turns that I didn’t expect to see and I’m glad about that. The Safdie brothers do not make easy movies, in fact, some people might find this movie to be too loud or unsatisfying. It often takes time to examine the ugly side of brotherhood, especially when one of them is mentally handicapped. It could be easy to label this as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape with criminals and violence, but that would be misleading. It is so much more, and thus demands to be seen. Although it’s maybe a little too frantic for most audiences, Good Time is an unexpectedly challenging drama with thematic prowess. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I can comfortably say that it is one of the best movies of 2017. Let this be the official moment when Robert Pattinson left behind all of his roles as a heartthrob and shows his true range as an actor.

“Avatar” Movie Review

So, I have been looking for a while now for a time to review this movie. I couldn’t quite figure out when or where exactly to put it. But since Terminator 2: Judgement Day is officially getting a 4K re-release in theaters, I decided it was time to rip myself a new asshole and talk about a movie everyone once loved but now seems to hate. This epic science-fiction adventure from writer-director James Cameron saw an international release date on December 18th, 2009. Despite being one of the most expensive films ever on a budget $237 million, it went onto gross over $2.7 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, mainly because so many people saw it in IMAX 3D instead of conventional cinema. If rumors are to be true, the film was conceived in 1994 and was intended to be produced immediately after Titanic. But due to the lackluster technology, Cameron had to wait a decade before he really started developing the world and the story of Avatar. Set in the mid-22nd century, mankind has colonized a lush habitable moon called Pandora. In order to mine for unobtanium, a highly valuable superconductor, they have started a program allowing human soldiers and experts to helm genetically engineered versions of the Na’vi, the indigenous population of Pandora. One of these subjects is Jake Sully, a paralyzed soldier who starts getting in over his head and questions his loyalty. How do you review a film that has had such an odd reputation? As I said, when it came out in 2009, everyone loved it with every fiber of their being, calling it one of the best movies ever made. Nowadays, it seems the cool thing to do is to hate on it and call it stupid and simple. It’s like U.S. politics: take a side or lose by default. Personally, I do find this movie to be a bit overhyped, but there is still a special place for it in me that I would love to explain. I will never forget the first time I saw it. I was a lot younger and just starting to see more movies in the theater more often. My family was hyped out of our minds to see it in 3D. And I remember, through the lens of those thick glasses, being completely sucked into the beautiful world of Pandora, truly realizing the potential of CGI and motion-capture. And 161 minutes later, I left to my family car in a complete daze. It ended up becoming one of the very first films I ever purchased on Blu-Ray, and I watched that 3-disc set quite a bit. And every time I get a new T.V., this the first disc I put in as a demo and end up getting swept away in its fantasy. Although he has been ridiculed later for his performances in mediocre movies, Sam Worthington is actually good here as Jake Sully. He had apparently been living out of his car at the time, so the movie more or less saved his life. Zoe Saldana is an underrated action star, and her mo-cap turn as Neytiri is proof of that. She’s different enough to appear alien, but sexy and feisty enough to be relatable. Stephen Lang, meanwhile, makes a great villain out of Colonel Miles Quaritch, the military leader of the humans. One of the biggest badasses ever, you understand his character’s motivations fair enough. Michelle Rodriguez and frequent collaborator Sigourney Weaver plays Cameron’s trademark strong female characters, Giovanni Ribisi is morally conflicted as a corporate administrator, Dileep Rao and Joel David Moore are great sympathetic doctors inside the colony, while C.C. Pounder, Laz Alonso, and even Wes Studi appear as the other primary Na’vi characters. But the character I cherish most in this adventure is the score of the late James Horner. Having arguably the hardest job of anyone involved in the production, he successfully captured the feeling of arriving on a wholly different and alien environment with several unique sounds. High-pitched piccolos, a heaven-like choir, and a wide range of percussion instruments such as a deep bass drum do a fantastic job immersing us into this world. Along with the pitch-perfect sound design, every bit of music seems to evoke a whole scope of emotions no matter how reserved you may be. The two main points of derision for Avatar are very much correlated to each other: the story and its themes. The overall plot- a man discovers his true purpose and switches sides in a conflict -is a structure that has been seen dozens, if not hundreds of times before. Specifically, it plays out like a space version of Dances With Wolves crossed with Princess Mononoke. While it is undoubtedly conventional, not everything that happens is predictable. In fac,t the first time I watched it, I almost left the theater because I was so scared about the ending fate. But themes is where some people, like conservative Armond White, were especially pissed off. Criticisms ranged from an oversimplification of imperialism and colonialism to anti-American propaganda to racism towards indigenous peoples. The parallels between the plot and the early days of Native American relationships are undeniable, but I choose to see it a different way. I choose to see it as two civilizations that are doomed from the started to go to war, but search for other possible outcomes. In the end, Avatar may be derivative, but it’s also great escapism at its most imaginative. 8 years since coming out that theater and I haven’t wavered my overall opinion; I love this film. Like critic Scott Anderson once said, “Loving this film is the cinematic equivalent of dating an absurdly gorgeous girl in high school, but your best friend hates everything about her personally.” I guess that means my cinematic equivalent is better than my game ever was in high school for me.

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“Okja” Movie Review

Here we are, folks. We have yet another Netflix original movie that I am super late on reviewing. But hey, as a wise Wizard once said, “We have work to do.” This unorthodox science-fiction film by writer-director Bong Joon-ho competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It later was added on the streaming giant Netflix on June 28th, garnering positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. It also gained unwanted attention at Cannes for causing a few technical glitches during its runtime, prompting debate if streaming services should be allowed to compete at festivals at all. The real concern people should have with this movie is whether it will convince audiences to become vegetarians as a result. In the not-too-distant future, mankind has started creating GMO animals to feed the population. One of these is a massive “super-pig” named Okja, who attracts the attention of a powerful food corporation and the radical Animal Liberation Front. And Okja’s friend, a young Korean girl named Mija, does her best to protect her from all these forces just so she can live a happy, quiet life in her mountainous home. Joon-ho’s previous film, Snowpiercer from 2014, was a great and underrated film not nearly enough people saw. In fact, I would say that it was the film that made me want to start sharing my opinions on film on my blog because I had quite a bit to share about that picture. And so ever since I saw it in theaters, I’ve been salivating to see whatever the singular South Korean filmmaker could conjure up, even if it wasn’t technically released theatrically. Still, after absorbing 2 hours and 2 minutes of his new vision in 2017, I feel content with what he has given us. Mija is played by a complete newcomer named Ahn Seo-hyun, and this is a name that we should keep an eye on in the future. Despite only being 13 years old, she demonstrates a strong will and commitment to compassion most young girls may aspire to. It’s also believed that she performed some of her own stunts, which makes it all the more obvious how awesome she is. By her side is a big English-speaking supporting cast, all of whom offer some unique flavor to the experience. Tilda Swinton especially impresses in her dual role as sisters who own a massive corporation. One’s an eccentric but mostly likable woman, while the other is a heartless corporate magnate, reminiscent of her role as Mason in Snowpiercer. Her incredible range is on full display here and proves that she can basically kill any role that she takes. Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Devon Bostwick, Daniel Henshall, and The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun appear as members of the ALF, while Giancarlo Esposito felt as though he were simply waiting for his paycheck to clear. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a washed up and drunk T.V. personality who is so clearly out of touch with his current state of popularity. His performance is totally out-there and provides a Segway for many shifts in tone. Piggybacking off of that, the primary point of criticism people have had with Okja is that it juggles its tone around too often. These complaints are valid. Sometimes, a scene that is very serious will become hilarious through the insertion of a moment that is just so absurd. Or vice versa. Also, a number of times, it shifts from being a fun action scene to an intense moment of torture or violence. To be fair, Joon-ho has done this in his previous films. If you watch his monster flick, The Host, it’s clear that he likes to shift the viewers’ mood on the snap of a finger. It can be jarring, but I’m willing to forgive him on account of sheer ballsiness. The film is also technically brilliant. Darrius Khondji is a vastly underrated cinematographer who continuously proves his worth, with his work on recent Woody Allen films as visual proof. Following in the footsteps of his stunning work on The Lost City of Z earlier this year, the mountains of Korea look green and gorgeous, which contrasts nicely with the condensed atmosphere of the city of Manhattan. It, along with Yang Jin-mo’s excellent off-kilter editing job, gives this film a feeling so foreign and different than what we are used to. Extreme close-ups of characters followed by big sweeping shots of the parading streets of Seoul or New York allows for the personality to come into play. The visual effects also deserve some praise-worthy commentary. The design for the “super pigs” that Mirando is using is really unique and appealing. The titular character is nothing short of adorable and likable. Even though we don’t know her whole history, we’re immediately on her side and want her to spend peaceful time with Mija. But the film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the processed food industry. A scene two-thirds of the way through shows a rather disturbing and graphic mating scene between Okja and another “super pig.” But it’s later in the last 20 minutes of Okja that it transitions from a fun sci-fi adventure into a twisted look at the American slaughterhouse. It creates a bit of moral ambiguity as Mirando’s true intention is revealed, but it’s not evil or far-fetched. They just want to feed the world, no matter how many animals have to be killed for it. There have been reports of people who have given up eating meat and become vegetarians/vegans as a result of watching this movie. I’m still fine, but I can’t say the same for you. Okja balances a tricky tonal juggling act with a plucky hero and great characters. Bong Joon-ho is a brilliant director and deserves more recognition after this film’s release. It also proves that Netflix movies can be just as big and enjoyable as anything getting a theatrical release. It all just depends on the talent behind everything.

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“To the Bone” Movie Review

Damn it, Netflix. You’re $20 billion in debt currently, yet you continue to purchase and distribute original content to us. If you would slow down and give us quality like this, maybe you would be financially better. Oh well. This R-rated independent drama made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the official competition. Shortly after its premiere, the online streaming giant Netflix acquired the distribution rights, one of many purchases at the event. Written and directed by Marti Noxon, the film is believed to have been inspired by her early battles with eating disorders. The story focuses on a young woman named Ellen who is struggling with severe anorexia, meaning she can’t eat food and she wants to vomit at the mere sight of food. Having run out of options, her family arranges for her to meet an unconventional specialist Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. This specialist, refusing to let her give in, moves her into a house with other patients determined to fight their condition. So earlier this year, Netflix released the original teen drama series 13 Reasons Why. Many people loved it, but I saw it as a manipulative, insulting, and sometimes disgusting interpretation of its incredibly sensitive subject matter. It took the nature of teenage suicide and tried to make it into something intriguing and sexy, neither of which did any victims any justice. Because of that, I clicked “Play” on both this and the new series Atypical (Which may end up being a review soon) with serious hesitation. Would it take a taboo subject like eating disorders seriously or try to pander to the lowest common denominator? Thankfully, To the Bone falls into the former category. Lily Collins is an absolute revelation in the lead role as Ellen. Losing so much weight for the role, her character’s a complete wisecracking cynic. If they had gotten someone else for the part, she would have just come off as unlikable and insufferable. Thankfully, Collins’ subtlety and sharp tongue make a person we can understand and side with, even in her lowest moments. Alex Sharp plays one of the other patients, a ballet dancer who struggled to eat after breaking his knee. Despite his extreme optimism towards the other house members, you can tell that he mentally tortured himself and wants to better. Although he came off as a bit annoying at times, he really grew on me over time. Keanu Reeves, meanwhile, gives a performance totally unlike any previously in his action-heavy career. An uncompromising doctor with a fundamental sense of optimism, he at one point encourages Ellen to find the dispiriting voice inside her head and tell it “Fuck off voice.” His lines are the only bits of levity and balance in this film, delivered only the way Reeves could do it. That’s a relief because this movie is not a fun time by any stretch of your imagination. This is an absolutely bleak, mature, and sometimes disturbing portrayal of eating disorders, and refuses to pull any punches. Some critics have labeled To the Bone as corny or misguided in its approach to the subject matter. As a person who has actually met people with eating disorders, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this movie is not corny at all. In fact, it accurately portrays not just how Ellen reacts to her own sickness, but how her loved ones deal with it, and the results aren’t always easy to watch. Let’s talk a bit regarding the technical side of everything. Cinematographer Richard Wong frames the picture with precision and focus, often giving us wide takes of the dinner table or at group meetings. It allows for us to have a good view of everyone involved. My favorite scene in the entire movie came when the Beckham and patients visited an underground waterfall with a small natural light at the side. It was a gorgeously shot and directed moment that gave the characters a glimmer of hope. It also went down to the song “Water” by Jack Garrat, and witnessing Sharp’s dance moves to it was perhaps the one part of the movie that made me smile. Lili Taylor is an extremely underrated actress, having proven her worth on the excellent show Six Feet Under. In this movie, she plays Ellen’s biological mother, who hasn’t been a major part of her life for quite some time. She tries to offer her support to her, culminating in a beautiful scene near the end of the film. On paper, it would sound kind of dumb and awkward, but the way it’s executed completely floored me. In fact, would dare say that it is one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of the entire year. I will say, I don’t think I could ever watch it again. As relevant and well-made as it is, I feel it was too powerful an experience to have more than once. Also, some things that happen late in the film feel a bit tacked on and forced, almost like they could have been left on the cutting room floor. I don’t consider this movie to be perfect by any means. Even so, To the Bone is an unflinching yet empathetic look at a highly undervalued problem. The writing is already great, but it’s the performances of Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves that make it what it is. Be warned of how challenging it can be for those with a weak stomach.

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