*NEW* OKJA REVIEW *NEW*

A bit more than OK, ja?

Meet Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn), a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.

Strange, charming, quirky. What did you expect from the guy who gave us The Host?

I was surprised to see a Bong Joon-ho flick on Netflix. I’m glad the Twitter poll recommended this.

The eclectic opener with Tilda Swinton’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin) brace ridden quirky corporate exec didn’t really give me high hopes.

Swinton doesn’t like to do normal, does she? BUT we wouldn’t have it any other way. The random statistics and animated PowerPoint presentations threw me into a mini-coma.

To cut a long story short, the world is overpopulated and running out of food. Cue the discovery of “super piglet” on a Chilean farm, a litter of little super piglets and a worldwide competition among farmers to grow the biggest pig.

Fast forward 10 years to a beautifully pastoral Korean forest setting. Darius Khondji’s cinematography was breathtaking.

The animation was very good. The detail on Okja was brilliant. A cross between a giant hippo and a elephant with the mannerisms of a dog.

Mija and Okja reminded me of characters from a live action Studio Ghibli animation. I loved the dynamic.

There was an easygoing feel to the piece as we watched the pair hunt and frolic in the woods. Establishing that their bond was more than just a farmer raising her produce.

It wasn’t long before the pair’s safe haven was disrupted by the emergence of the squeaky and highly flamboyant simpleton Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal – Donnie Darko). A fame-seeking animal loving TV host.

God knows what Gyllenhaal was smoking while taking on this role?! He was bloody mental and hilarious. A deluded hypocrite. Scene stealer in every frame he featured.

Of course being “company property”, Okja must return to New York to claim her prize as “best pig” and face her impending fate. Throwing Mija into one mad journey.

Seo-Hyun Ahn was brilliant as the resilient Mija. It takes a lot for a child actor not to infuriate me BUT she played the role perfectly.

The Seoul street chase was a fantastically choreographed and entertaining sequence as Mija ran through alleyways and dived over highway bridges.

Things taking a highly comical turn when a group of animal activists decide to free Okja at the same time. The Animal Liberation Front were a great addition to the mix and featured a surprisingly talented supporting cast.

I couldn’t help but laugh as the gang tried to remain peaceful during Okja’s rescue mission. The friendliest highway robbery I’ve ever seen (“Please co-operate”).

Pointing a gun at the truck driver, demanding he put on his seat belt before ramming him off the road. Swiftly followed by a sincere apology. Desperate not to use violence by any means.

Steven Yuen (Glenn from Walking Dead!) and Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man) were excellent as K and Jay. Dano’s reaction at the speed of the Korean language to English as he asked to be translated was a particular highlight.

Lily Collins (Love, Rosie) did her best to hide those brows from the balaclava BUT I knew it was her before the big reveal.

Devon Bostick has come a long way from his Wimpy Kid days. His character Silver had so much potential BUT didn’t get enough screen time. Refusing to eat in order to leave the smallest carbon footprint.

I felt their characters got lost in the chaos. Shame. And that was kind of the problem; the pace lumbered things drastically especially during the middle act that I could feel myself fidgeting.

Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito was wasted in his minute role as Mirando’s underling.

I was happy to see Trainspotting’s Shirley Henderson feature. Moaning Myrtle just doesn’t get a break.

The second half certainly delivered a more rewarding affair BUT I didn’t expect the direction it took. I would have said that this was a kid’s film right up until Okja’s incarceration in a New York lab.

Bong Joon-ho brilliantly encapsulated the GM food crisis perfectly. Showing the brutal treatment of animals. I’m not a vegetarian BUT even I was left feeling queasy. Especially during the “natural non-forced breeding” process.

The gruelling underbelly of corporate control as Swinton’s Mirando tried to turn Mija and Okja’s bond into one big PR stunt to help change her company’s bad image.

I thought Snowpiercer was dreadful. The saving grace (Sorry, Chris Evans) being Tilda Swinton. I was getting disappointed at her lack of screen time. That was until the mad final act. She delivered everything I expected.

The closing minutes left food for thought making this a rewarding and charming little film (If a little long at the tooth) that delivered raw social commentary and mad humour.

A pleasant surprise.

3.5/5 (Just)

*NEW* LA LA LAND REVIEW *NEW*

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Over-hyped drivel.

Well, that’s what I thought I was going to say.

Overrated, maybe? But as much as I tried to resist the crazy hype train, I still couldn’t help but fall for this highly watchable and entertaining romp.

A jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) falls for an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles.

The opening sequence did nothing to win me over. Despite director Damien Chazelle’s opening credit titles and Cinemascope capture mimicking the days of old; it was too much.

People jumping out of their cars, free-runners . . . free-running, the word ‘chaotic’ doesn’t come close. I couldn’t even hear the lyrics being sung.

All that was missing was a truck with some bongo players in the back . . . Oh, wait, no. There they are.

The soundtrack was a little disappointing. The first two or three songs were highly unmemorable.

Chazelle’s disorienting camera work and ever-growing ensembles combined with his incredibly mad and colourful palette felt like a shot of insulin being given to a caffeine addict. Overkill.

However . . .

I will admit. I’m not the biggest fan of Gosling and Stone. There’s just something about them that grate against me. The Help and The Nice Guys being exceptions.

BUT once the couple were finally brought to the fold, my grumbling was subdued.

Both caught up in their own testing life struggles from Mia’s awkward cringe-inducing auditions to Seb accomplishing his dreams of running a jazz bar.

The concept was hardly original. The focal point of the piece was just like any other musical. A love story.

BUT despite its predictable nature, Chazelle managed to cross exam a relationship from its crazy highs to its downbeat lows. All aided by fantastic chemistry between two brilliant leads and a good script.

I didn’t realise Gosling could play the piano. He was fantastic. City of Stars was probably the only song that I (annoyingly) can’t stop whistling. That blasted piano rift!

I thought the pair’s singing was very good. Considering they aren’t professionals, they sung very well. Stone’s rendition of Audition was excellent.

In all fairness, I would have been happier to watch more of their dancing. A Lovely Night was a bit of a weak song BUT with Justin Hurwitz’s score and the duo’s late night toe tapping dance in the dusk, I was entranced.

The whole thing had a slight air of Astaire and Rogers about it.

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That was until their beautifully shot ballroom dance in the Griffin Observatory. Dancing in the stars. Cheesy but a nice touch with a fitting nod to A Rebel Without A Cause.

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I knew the Whiplash director would sneak jazz into the mix. The only problem was that I’m NOT the biggest fan. I’m sure Seb would have a few choice words to say about that. For those who’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

There were some good songs BUT it all felt a little samey to me and the pace was starting to test. If it wasn’t for Gosling’s (and Chazelle’s) enthusiasm, I would have found all the jazz trivia a little dull.

BUT I was engaged in the couple. We watched their romance blossom over the seasons as their paths crossed time and time again. Fate playing its little game.

Laughing as they inevitably fell in love and wincing as the strain of their busy lifestyles took its toll. We could all relate to moments that the pair experienced.

The epilogue was unexpected. Just when I thought I had the film pegged, Chazelle managed to surprise. And not even the Twitter references and endless memes spoiled what was a wonderfully captured and fitting swansong.

The set design, the layout, the choreography. Fantastic.

The hype may have hindered. From all the astounding comments you’d think people hadn’t seen a musical before?!

I’m not saying I’m the biggest musical fan. BUT I don’t hate them either. West Side Story, On The Town, Chicago, Singin’ In The Rain, Moulin Rouge are classics I could watch again and again (Bet you weren’t expecting me to name those titles).

As much as I enjoyed this, I wouldn’t rush to make a special trip to see it again.

La La Land certainly celebrated the much missed presence of an absent genre. I tried to compile a list of musicals in the last decade. Not many came to mind; Frozen, Sing Street (A must watch) and . . . shudder . . . High School Musical.

As much as I felt this may have been over-hyped by awards buzz, it was still an entertaining watch from two underrated actors.

Unless you’re completely anti-musical. If so then why you are here?

3.5/5 (Just)

*NEW* NOCTURNAL ANIMALS REVIEW *NEW*

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Strange, hypnotic, tense, nail biting, different. Certainly one for the books.

An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel (Jake Gyllenhaal), a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

I hadn’t even sat down and got comfortable before I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself into.

I never like to read too much about a film. All I had to go by was the hype. The endless promotion and tweets. I had to seek it out. The eye popping opening sequence certainly grabbed my attention as a bunch of morbidly obese elderly naked women gyrated and flaunted their money makers across the giant silver screen.

I kid you not. I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed with the first 15 minutes BUT director Tom Ford’s (A Single Man) hypnotic visual style (aided by Seamus McGarvey’s beautiful cinematography) and Adam’s (Arrival) presence kept me going.

Abel Korzeniowski’s musical score was something else. Perfectly balanced against the haunting backdrops.

It was only when Susan (Adams) received a mysterious manuscript from her ex husband that my interest was peaked. A dual narrative set with Susan’s (Adams) cynical lifestyle and unhappy marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer – The Man from U.N.C.L.E) running alongside Edward’s (Gyllenhaal – Demolition) story.

Gyllenhaal was superb. He really excelled in playing both the author and his fictional counterpart Tony. Nightcrawler certainly marked a turning point in ol’ Darko’s impressive career and he delivered yet another sterling performance. Oscar?

The film flicked back and forth from Adams’ past to Tony’s fictional struggle. The only problem was that I was found myself more interested with the fictional world than the real one. I’m sure that was supposed to be the point BUT it was a little frustrating watching the talented Ms Adams become increasingly more passive. A mere spectator in her own narrative.

The cut backs conveniently appeared at the tensest moments of Tony’s traumatic journey in the desert as his family crossed paths with some unsavoury characters.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) was superb as the demonic Ray. A complete change of role for him. A revolting creature lurking in the darkness. Dare I say, a nocturnal animal waiting to strike. I really detested him. A great performance.

The suspense had me on tenterhooks as the family feared for their lives. BUT every time we cut back to Susan dealing with her empty and frustrated life, I was urging the film to get back to Tony.

The questions piling up. Why is Susan so captivated with this story? Did this happen to her? Is this why she is no longer with Edward?

The supporting cast were impeccable. Michael Shannon (Midnight Special) was equally good as Bobby. The cop with nothing to lose. Ready to do anything to help Tony get justice. Made a change to see him play something less sinister.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Anne Riseborough (Birdman). Reduced to passing cameos as Susan’s gallery friends. Shame. Laura Linney (Mystic River) made more of an impression in her minute role as Susan’s controlling mother.

Despite that bizarre opener, I was hooked to the very end as you began to peel beneath the layers and realize that there is more than meets the eye. Gyllenhaal and Adams had good chemistry as we finally delved into Edward and Susan’s relationship.

My only qualm on first watch was the ending. It was a little abrupt and left me baffled. I actually looked around the cinema, wondering “Did I miss something?”. Perplexed, I went to forums and discussed heavily on Twitter about the ambiguous finale.

BUT for the first time in a while, I was left talking about a film for days. It actually made me have to think. I actually wanted to watch it again. An impressive feat in itself. Especially if you look back on my last months review backlog.

It was suspenseful, engaging and brilliantly acted. There was even a moment that took me completely off guard and made quite a few people jump in the screen. One chap actually yelped in surprise (No, not me!)

If you’re in the mood for something a little different to the norm, I would heavily recommend.

4/5 (Just)

CHEF REVIEW

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Jon Favreau cooks up another treat, a little overcooked and missing a little seasoning. This meal may be a little overhyped but a treat none the same.

Don’t worry, there will be more food punnery somewhere. Overall, not bad. An easy going, nice film. Makes a change to have an upbeat movie. The only problem is that it may be too nice and gets absorbed too much in it’s running length and preparation that it forgets to deliver the dessert (There we go) or in my case, drama or conflict.

The film is about . . . let me guess, a chef? Come on, stop it now. A chef (Favreau) who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative premise, while piecing back together his estranged family. Favreau plays a likeable lead and the initial preparation in which we see his character’s relationship with his son and torn obligations between cooking the set menu and being creative makes for a watchable, if a little long, opener. However, once he ends up getting into a Twitter feud with a pestilent food critic (Oliver Platt) and has a Gordon Ramsey-esque meltdown, it all kicks off.

Favreau has a fantastic cast at its fingertips. Dustin Hoffman plays the arrogant owner to perfection. Scarlett Johansson is hot . . . What? And plays a restricted supporting role but pulls off the tattooed dark brunette look. Platt doesn’t really get to say much as Favreau’s chef lays into him before he has a chance. A shame as we know Platt could have done more with that role. His grimacing and face pulling were convincing, if that’s any comfort. Sofia Vergara (you may remember her from Modern Family) was surprisingly not irritating at all. I expected her to be whining and yelling like Gloria. Nope, a much more subdued role and to be honest, I wanted to see more of her. Not like that . . . well a little.

The main focus is on Favreau finding his passion again but also restoring his relationship with his son (Emjay Anthony). Anthony and Fav work well together and there are some nice moments. One critic did mention how this film was like food porn and my word, some of the dishes that are prepared, I was sweating and panting. My lord. Anyway, moving on. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire) plays Fav’s knuckle head sous-chefs well. Leguizamo, in particular, proves yet again to be a good supporting choice. He doesn’t quite get enough of the laughs or time that his character deserves.

The only problem is the length for me dragged in parts. Once they have got on the road with the truck and served a few people, it gets repetitive. Mainly because everything is all tickety boo. No real drama along the way. Vergara is very supportive. Every one is getting on. The police appear at one point but only in the form . . . of the hilarious comedian Russell Peters. His Lady and the Tramp pic with Fav brought a chuckle. It’s all too nicey, nicey. Favreau seems to suddenly realise at the end. Hang on, can’t make it that easy. Let’s throw a quick spanner in the works but still make it alright in the end. It leaves little in plot development or surprises and gets a little predictable.

But it does keep you watching. The scenery and the dishes look fantastic. There are some funny moments. Robert Downey Jr makes a five minute, if slightly overhyped, cameo. He does deliver the laughs with him bumbling and baffling poor Fav. Friends doing what they do best. A nice touch.

The whole social media jibe worked really well, especially in this day and age with Favreau failing to understand the impact of one tweet and the issue of becoming a viral phenomenon. Favreau’s previous works have always seemed to suffer from either an overlong pace with little story or too much story and not enough pace. This was a mish mesh. Started off with a story but then the pace dragged it out that for a certain moment, I felt I was just watching two chefs work. But it’s not all bad. Chef is a nice movie to look at but just not as tasty as you hoped. Still worth a bite or two. 3/5

Currently ranked 63 out of 196!