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Blu-ray Review: OKJA, Big Love Comes to Criterion

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Blu-ray Review: OKJA, Big Love Comes to Criterion

I remember being filled with excitement as I sat in the Palais auditorium in Cannes back in 2017, awaiting the press screening of favourite filmmaker Bong Joon ho’s new film, Okja. I was with my ScreenAnarchy colleague Pierce Conran, who was even more excited. And despite some technical difficulties at the start, we were not disappointed (you can read his review here). I think I would need to use two hands to count how many times I’ve watched it; and yet, I never tire of it. Suffice to say, the new Criterion release was made for a fan like me.

There aren’t many filmmakers who could make a film that is at once a comedy, an action film, a social drama, a political statement, and a love story, but Bong is one of them. It’s the love story that’s the strong, beating heart: the titular Okja, a large animal bred to feed a world going hungry, and her best friend, young Mija (An Seo Hyun), are sisters, soul mates, and best friends. When Mija learns why Okja was created, once the creature is forcibly taken from the farm on which they had be happily living with Mija’s grandfather (Bong film veteran Byun Heebong), Mija will stop at nothing to get Okja back.

And this is a story that firmly wears its heart and mind on its sleeve. While it might seem to be taking a a stand against eating animals, there’s more nuance to the themes. We need to protect and nurture all life around us and live with it in harmony, even if we do east meat. The members of the ALF are just as capable of dirty deeds, even if their core mandate is one of peace; even a corporate overlord such as Lucy Mirando is trying to do something right for the world, even as she gets it very wrong. There are some nasty people, though, no doubt, but at least those few make no attempt to hide their greed.

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Despite a certain level of absurdity in the performances – Tilda Swinton’s twin sisters Lucy and Nancy Mirando, head of an iconically evil corportation that masks itself as environmentally just, and Jake Gyllenhal’s inspired over-the-top veterinary showman – or perhaps because of these, Okja is constantly brimming with life. And yet, it is seemless: we watch in sentimental enjoyment as Mija and Okja frolick in the countryside, our hearts are pumping with theirs are they try to make their escape in an underground shopping mall, our hearts are breaking as we see the fate that awaits other creatures like our gentle giant.

Okja is a film that cannot be classified nor contained; it breathes life in every moment, whether it be a quiet contemplation or a frenetic yell. It gains complete attention without the audience noticing how enraptured they’ve become, and it doesn’t disappoint. I would call it Bong’s masterpiece, but there are few of his films that aren’t.

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Special Features

An advantage of releasing a recent film, is that you can pack it with extras. And that’s certainly the case here, with several interviews, promotional and marketing videos from the film’s release, and an excellent essay. The 4K digital master looks superb, and we never cease to believe that Okja is a real creature, so seemlessly does she fit into the screen.

It’s wonderful to hear Bong discuss the first time the idea for Okja popped into this head (while driving), and his discussion with producer Dooho Choi shows the sentimatlity with which they view their project, and how all the pieces came together. Likewise, interviews with An Seo Hyun and Byun Heebong provide an interesting contrast – the former with one of her first roles, and really first starring role, and the latter seeing his later career flourish, and both of them smiling wide as they discuss their experiences on set.

For those who like insight into the technical side of film, there’s a terrific interview with VFX supervisor Erik-Jan De Boer and animation supervisor Stephen Clee. If there is anyone who ‘plays’ Okja, it’s Clee, but their interview is a fascinating look at how Okja was made – what they used on set so the actors would have something to interact with, how they ‘built’ Okja from the inside out, how they worked to make it look and feel as real as possible. Watching this and then interviews with the cinematographer, production designer and costume designers, and it’s a class in how you need all these elements working together to create the whole.

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Given that this was released on Netflix, the featurettes are preserved, that were used as promotion, featuring the actors, and well as snippets on the visual effects and sound design. But of far greater value are the ‘commercials’ made to seem from the Mirando Corporation, promoting Lucy’s efforts to save the world from hunger, and a video made by the ALF exposing the lies. It’s clever marketing for the film.

Karen Han’s essay provides a deeper analysis of the film, with insight into the important moments and their meaning in themselves and the wider context of the story’s themes of love, environmental crisis, and ramptant greed. She notes how the film works into Bong’s recurring themes of empathy and the ‘follies of capitalism’, and how he fit that into a story centred on a child, and her love for her best friend.

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Okja

Cast
  • Tilda Swinton
  • Paul Dano
  • Seo-hyun Ahn

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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