A day off work. What to do? Do I waste half my day traveling to and from a theatre to watch a movie? Do I binge watch a season of a TV show I've been meaning to check out (or finish)? Do I play some solo board games? Do I read some of my stockpile of comics? Do I continue slowly plodding through my current book? Do I fart around on my phone and the internet, just killing time? Or do I work through my all-too-long and ever-growing Netflix queue? A real Sophie's Choice? Ooh, should I watch Sophie's Choice?
Colossal - 2016, d. Nacho Vigalondo
The film opens with brief prologue of a giant monster suddenly emerging in Seoul. 25 years later, party-girl Gloria (a bewigged Ann Hathaway) gets dumped by her boyfriend after yet another night of, well, partying and kicked out of his New York apartment. She returns to her parents furniture-less rental home upstate to help find herself, hoping that perhaps distancing herself from the wrong people will change her behavior. She reconnects with Childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis) who has never left, now running his father's bar. After a night drinking at the bar with his friends and an awkward interaction, she passes out at home. When she wakes up she learns that a monster (the same one from 25 years earlier) has attacked Soeul. It dominates the news, and everyone's world is a little different. The next night, she gets blackout drunk, and the monster emerges again...not attacking so much as making weird gestures, and Gloria sees her own actions mimicked by the creature, but she's not certain if she's the cause, and her guilt weighs upon her. She investigates and finds the manifestation is tied to a specific location and a specific time in her hometown.
I thought perhaps this was some form of allegory or metaphor, that the manifestation of the monster was reflective of Gloria's self-destructive behavior. And in a way it is. On another drunken night she shows Oscar and friends what happens, and it's confirmed, but she stumbles and she's the cause of more deaths. Her recklessness affects more lives than her own, but in the process Oscar learns that he becomes a giant robot in Seoul as well.
To this point, Oscar has been very helpful to Gloria, very sweet and giving. But after Gloria leaves the bar with his friend Joel, he takes a very sudden and very dark turn. At first Gloria sees a reflection of her own self-destructive behavior in Oscar's actions, and then Oscar starts manipulating and controlling her by threatening lives. It's here where the film falls apart, the rather light touch the film had to start turns ugly and dark in a very unpleasant way. There's a backstory as to why Gloria and Oscar are connected like this to Seoul, why they manifest the monster where and when they do, but it's terribly silly and doesn't make a lot of thematic sense. Oscar's statement "I'm the robot, you're the monster" doesn't hold water, metaphorically.
As Gloria has to fight Oscar to protect Seoul, it becomes really ugly (as, inexplicably Joel just kind of stands by to watch...Gloria gets no real support from any man in this story...and it's rather unpleasant once I realized that there's no other female characters in this film either). Yeah, I get that some people are not good people, that their inner demons get the better of them, and that some people can wrest control from those demons while others succumb to them, but the way the film turns the metaphor into physical conflict is ham-handed. I was hoping this would be all drama, all the way, that Oscar were truly a robot that needed to be reminded about his heart and that Gloria would see that she's not the monster. In a way the latter happened with her becoming the hero, but it's unrewarding to see what seemed to be a metaphysical light-drama become a muddle drama-action.
Okja - 2017, d. Bong Joon Ho
Lucy Mirando (a perky Tilda Swinton) has taken the lead of the troubled Mirando Corporation from her unlikable sister, and seeks to reinvent the company with a new super-piglet found in Chile. They've reproduced 26 of them and scattered around the world to be raised by local farming traditions for 10 years, ending with the Best Super Pig competition prize winner and the debut of new Super Pig food products. Given the animal's size, yet low consumption, are meant to revolutionize food consumption and ecological footprint.
10 years later we meet Okja, a sweet and gentle giant, we first meet one with a bramble stuck in its paw, and gently begging for food. She is raised by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her grandfather live on a conservation in the mountains of South Korea. A moment of Mija in peril highlights the creature's intelligence and cleverness, and also her heart, compassion and bond with others. I think Bong drew a lot of inspiration from My Neighbour Totoro in presenting Okja and her relationship with Mija. It's certainly effective.
But Okja is not Mija's to keep, and with the 10 year anniversary up, the Mirando corporation takes Okja to Seoul before transporting it to New York for the big competition finale. Mija runs away to rescue her leading to a big farcical romp in Seoul
where activists from the Animal Liberation Front hijack Okja's transport, setting the creature free. Mija manages
to run off with the creature through town, causing much havoc. In the end the ALF has designs to use Okja to expose Lucy Mirando's white-faced lies to the world, exposing their "natural super pig" as an actual genetically modified aberration.
Lucy is not a cackling supervillain, Swinton gives her a real well-meaning intentions, a real desire to help change the world, but through a through small deceptions. It's when things fall apart and we meet her sister, who reasserts control, that we realize the machinations of big corporations, whether openly honest or deceitful, tend to succeed regardless as a result of the consuming populace's own willful ignorance.
Is this an anti-meat movie? Not at all, actually. What it instead is preaching, if anything, is awareness. Just be mindful of what you're consuming. The second half of the final act takes place in a slaughterhouse, a place where Bong could have turned the film into a real horror-show, with stark angles and lighting and skreetchy soundtrack, but it's all presented very matter-of-factly. Though the animals are fictional, it's pretty true to the reality of mass-production slaughterhouses. It's a film that doesn't pretend to have the answers...how do we feed the world with compassionate farming. It knows the conundrum. It ultimately is merely the story of a girl and her super-pig. The weight of the reality surrounding it is up to the viewer to decide what to do with it.
It's a sweet, enjoyable, exceptionally well-crafted adventure film, which is always to be expected from Bong. With a few tweaks (language mostly, but the extremity of a couple of scenes) it would practically be a children's film, although I imagine the heavy dose of reality might be somewhat traumatic for children, which is why it's not a kids film.
It Follows - 2014, d. David Robert Mitchell
A young woman runs out of the house at dusk in her underwear and high heels. She keeps looking behind her. Her neighbour is concerned but she dismisses it. Her dad is concerned, she avoids him and runs back in the house. The soundtrack, a pulsating, crunchy electronic score, kicks in, riddled with momentum, and Annie takes off with her family car. The chase is on. It ends on a beach in the middle of the night. There's nobody else around. At dawn Annie's body is in the same spot, horrendously mutilated.
Jay (Maika Monroe) has been on a couple dates with "Jake". She has sex with him, after which he chloroforms her. She wakes up tied to a chair in a run down garage where a clearly paranoid Jake explains the premise...it was passed along to him the same way he passed it along to her, it's something following him, it can look like anyone - friend, family, a complete stranger, a face in the crowd - but it follows. Never go anywhere without two exits, don't let it touch you, and don't let it kill you or it will come for him again...try to pass it along. Jake drops Jay off on her curbside at home and runs. A police investigation reveals he's not Jake and that Jay didn't contract anything from him, not anything science can detect, but it's not long before Jay begins to understand his paranoia.
Goddamn this film is freaky. No matter where she is...at school, in the house, in her room, there's no safety. She can't sleep, always on guard. Her neighbour Greg takes her to a "Jake's place"...an abandoned house that seems set up for hiding out from ...it. Cans and bottles hanging in front of the covered windows, a bed and supplies among the dirt and detritus, a stock of pharmaceuticals in the drug cabinet. As Jay, her siblings and friends Scooby Gang their way through finding Jake, the camera pans around the premises, just scanning.
There's an awesomely weird sense of style to this film. The grinding 80's synth score, the differently advanced technology (an e-Reader that looks like a make-up compact), the lousy black&white sci-fi films on TV, clothes that are modern and retro from multiple generations, the old picture tube TVs, the 70's decor of Jay's family home, the station wagon... as if it's reflecting upon horror films from across decades.
It Follows is an amazing suspense/horror film... an absolute classic of the genre. It doesn't just live in the suspense of Jay's predicament, but establishes an awkward dynamic among the Scooby Gang. The film builds a metaphysical entity with a past, and no clear method of stopping it.
Shimmer Lake - 2017, d. Orin Uziel
Oddly writer-director Uziel conscripted a bunch of typically comedic actors in a crime drama. Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally, Rob Coddry, John Michael Higgins, and Ron Livingston are the most notible names in a solid cast of character actors muddling their way through a series of murders and betrayals after a bank robbery in a small Ohio town.
The film is told in four chapters, begining on a Friday and works its way back to Monday, the story starting out as fragments, but the puzzle eventually filling itself in the further back we go. There are so many characters, so many common family names, it's initially a bit of a maze, but by Wednesday the connections and motives start to gel. A bank robbery, a schlubby Joe on the run, two dull feds, a dead Judge, and the town sheriff, and a meth lab explosion all intertwine to form a rather engaging story, even if the mystery of it is rather obvious.
There's a bit of a Fargo feel (more the TV series rather than the Movie) except there's something off about our lead Sheriff played by Benjamin Walker. Where in Fargo the Sheriff is our moral compass, the most upstanding person in the town, here Zeke is "the smartest person in the room" but there's an edge to his placid demeanor. Small moments - a vile distaste for his sister-in-law's cooking for example - doesn't inspire the same smooth calm that we got from Frances McDormand, Allison Tollman, Carrie Coon or Patrick Wilson. But then it's not Fargo, it's just Fargo-esque.
There's a sense of humour to the proceedings (with all these comic actors there would have to be), odd exchanges of inane banter, more than a bit of bumbling from our crooks after the robbery and even during. I enjoyed how each day starts with a character waking up with a start, and the running gag of Pally's Deputy having to sit in the back seat of the squad car every day made me wish there were more than just four days being covered. It's like jeopardy comedy where the big payoff comes first, and then the joke slowly builds to it's starting point.
It's a film that could've tried to be too clever for its own good with its structure, but it's just the framework it hangs an enjoyable story upon...I'm not certain it's ever even really trying to outsmart its audience or be too impressed with itself. If anything the downside to its structure is its inability to have a coda, to see how things worked out for the schemers.