Quick Take: “Okja”

Quick Take: “Okja”

A family-friendly story about a girl and her pet? A biting satire? A dark and disturbing thriller? Bong Joon-ho‘s Okja bounces between genres enough times to give viewers whiplash. I went into Okja blindly when it auto-played on my dad’s Roku. Without anything else to watch, my dad and I shrugged and let ourselves be sucked in. In some ways, Okja is reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film – full of quirky, blunt characters and unpredictable absurdities. Yet, Okja is also entirely its own beast. Okja has a message at its heart – it’s a story that exposes the cruel and violent reality of slaughter houses and the greed of the food industry. It’s a battle cry for veganism, a look at what might happen to our world. Mija, the little girl at the heart of the story, is played well by Seo-Hyeon Ahn in a performance that’s a mixture of genuine wide-eyed wonder and deadpan delivery. The CGI that crafted Okja definitely deserves a gold star.

Like the genre-hopping, the soundtrack is equally jarring. The music is jaunty during scenes that are anything but and has enough of a presence to be its own character. Whether or not this character is likable is up to each individual viewer.

All in all, Okja is an entertaining, manic romp of a movie. Viewers will find themselves glued to the screen, spinning between horrified and amused. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy Okja, its creativity and ambition can’t be denied.

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Overheard At The Cinema: Customer Reviews

Overheard At The Cinema: Customer Reviews

Fun fact: I’ve been working at the same movie theater for almost a year now.  One of the things I’ve learned is that when you work at a movie theater, you overhear a whole variety of things: from complaints about how high soda prices are to full-blown arguments between spouses about where they parked the car. And, of course, you hear your fair share of movie reviews. Here are a handful or so of bite-sized reviews I’ve overheard during the month of June.

Paris Can Wait 

  • “It was all cutting vegetables, cutting vegetables, eye contact, eye contact, bleh, bleh, bleh.”
  • “I don’t know how they can call that a rom com.”

My Cousin Rachel

  • “I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. They were speaking gibberish.”
    (customer proceeded to request a refund because of the English accents)

The Lovers

  • “That was a really funny movie!
  • “I just saw the most depressing movie.”

Beatriz At Dinner 

  • “I guess it’s uh… an allegory of some sort that I’ve got to figure out.”
  • “I didn’t know it was gonna be so sad!”
  • “The ending was unsatisfying!”
  • “It was very spiritual.”
  • “I thought the dialogue was just amazing!”

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Review: “The Edge of Seventeen” – A Coming of Age Movie that Stutters and Shines

Review: “The Edge of Seventeen” – A Coming of Age Movie that Stutters and Shines

“There are two types of people in the world: The people who naturally excel in life and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.”

Nadine, played exceptionally by Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit fame, is a high school junior that defies categorization. Instead of fitting a classic high school movie stereotype, Nadine is both bitingly brazen and deeply self-conscious. She’s as sharp as a knife and painfully naïve. A bundle of contradictions, Nadine is refreshingly flawed and feels achingly real. In a sea of teenagers on screen who fit into narrow boxes and wear the same designer outfits, Nadine stands out. The Edge of Seventeen wants to stand out too, but it isn’t quite sure how to do that.

When we first meet Nadine, she is still grappling with the aftershocks of the death of her loving father. She’s can’t stand being in the same room as her high-strung mother (Kyra Sedgewick) or seemingly perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). Her world is defined by her best, and only, friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). The driving conflict is ignited when Krista and Darian act on their mutual attraction to each other, much to Nadine’s dismay. Torn up by jealousy and the fear that she will lose her only friend, Nadine lashes out and ensures just that. It’s an inciting incident that radiates with the promise of a story that explores its teenage characters not through the labels of mean girl or nerd, or through the classic boy-meets-girl plot, but through the complexities of friendships and familial bonds. A story that acknowledges that platonic relationships can be just as emotional and impactful as any romantic entanglement.

The movie gets close to accomplishing something like that with the connection between Nadine and her hyper-cynical history teacher (played well by Woody Harrelson despite the narrowness of the role). The two share a sardonic sense of humor and it’s clear that they see something of themselves in each other. She pokes and prods at him and he pokes and prods back. It makes for amusing bickering but it also scratches at the surface of something more. Nadine accuses of him of being unhappy and alone in the hopes that he’ll reveal a happier side of himself. If he can find comfort in his skin, then maybe a misfit like Nadine can too.

And yet, all of Nadine’s platonic relationships take a backseat to her interest in a smirking upperclassman only interested in sex and the dorky and sweet Erwin (Hayden Szeto). It’s exciting to see an Asian American love interest on screen but unfortunately, this romantic subplot sucks away some of what differentiates the movie from the classic teen flick. While Nadine’s interaction with upperclassman Nick sheds light on her naivety and reckless behavior, Erwin’s purpose in the narrative seems to fulfill only one thing: the obligation that teen movies and YA novels must tell a love story. The film edges closer to following the recipe it was at first rejecting. Teenage love stories often become consumed by the idea of true love, forgoing a character’s own development by defining him or her by the person they have fallen in love with. There are exceptions to this rule (Juno and Paulie in Juno, Hazel and Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars) but The Edge of Seventeen falls into these traps, especially where Nadine’s friendship with Krista is concerned.

One of the movie’s best scenes is when Nadine apologizes to her brother after leaving the house and her mother without a word. She tearfully admits that she’s never liked herself. It is incredibly moving to see Nadine share such a revelation with her brother who, up until this point, she has done nothing but antagonize. We see how ugly depression can be and how difficult it is to put words to. In one simple yet poignant scene, the movie accomplishes what others haven’t been able to – it skillfully and authentically depicts what living when you don’t want to be alive can look like. This scene elevates the movie beyond its recycled teen clichés and leaves the audience hungry for more. Yet, we never get to see Nadine open up to Krista in any meaningful way. Instead, we see Nadine and Krista briefly agree to call each other later, sharing smiles while Nadine’s brother hovers in the background. It would have been too easy, too clean to have the two girls forgive each other for everything and become best friends forever once more, but omitting any kind of heartfelt scene between Nadine and Krista before the credits roll leaves the movie feeling unfinished, the previously crucial plot thread trailing away in favor of the romance. As the movie approaches its end, Nadine goes to see a short film Erwin has made. It has the classic boy-saves-the-girl narrative, asserting in the audience’s mind that Erwin can save Nadine from her demons. It’s a disappointing note to end on when the rest of the film, with its multi-faceted protagonist and sincere depiction of mental health, has defied so many tropes.

All this said, The Edge of Seventeen is worth watching for the clichés it does escape. The story loses its footing and stumbles but that doesn’t take away from the moments it shines.

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