Tag Archives: Fantasy Films

Okja (2017): Where Miyazaki Meets Horror

  “Okja” is a strange and wonderful film. This is a film that starts like a Miyazaki film and ends like horror movie and inbetween tries to political satire and be an all around adventure story. Did it work? Enough to the point that I did enjoy this film and recommend it. Netflix is getting better at putting out quality original work and this is a shining example of a great film of theirs that shows the streaming platform (and often times going cheap) can work for quality original works.

The film was directed by Bong Joon-Ho who co-wrote it along with Jon Ronson.  Bong Joon-Ho also was one of the seven producers on the film. The others were Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Seo Woo-Sik and Ted Sarandos.

The story involves the Mirando Corporation sending lab designed super pigs around the world to be raised by farmers in the best Pig Competition, where the winner will be crowned in 10 years. During that time Okja, one of the pigs is raised by Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her Grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). When the corporation returns and takes Okja Mija goes on a journey to save her friend and fights herself being manipulated by different political factions who want to use Okja to their own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Flawed Characters and Ego – Most of the minor characters in this are compelling in the ways their egos and drive them and make them flawed. There is Jay the leader of the Animal Liberation Front who believes in consent but ignores it for the overall aims in the end, there is Lucy Miranda who wants to make her company better than it is but not face the darker side of the slaughter house and there is the Grandfather who wants his granddaughter to have success but in the end misses how important Okja is to her. These characters make the narrative interesting.

Magical Realism – Giant Pigs created in a lab transported around the world for a Best Pig competition that will take place 10 years later, and one of them is raised by a little girl in the mountains…it is right out of a Miyazaki film and was part of what made this film so fun. I’ve always loved the fantasy in magical realism and this film captures that really well.

A Critique of Ideology over People – Both the ALF and Mirando Corp don’t care about people, only ideology. We see this in how Lucy’s sister turns on her, on the lying that K and Jay both do to Mija in order to serve their overall goals and in the end the hero of this film has no ideology and just wants to be with her pig Okja. This is the core theme of the piece and from that do good where you can as you are and don’t let ideology consume you.

The Cruelty of Factory Farms – The film is extremely against factory farming and you get to see all the parts of it as the Super Pigs get slaughtered and how their different parts go to the different areas of the supermarket. Mija sees this first hand at the end and it is really well done…this is when the film turns into a horror film as we see it all through Mija’s and Okja’s eyes.

The Cons: The Satire – The Corporation doesn’t feel like it is full of people and the ALF is so disconnected and all over the place that they are hard to take seriously as a force. This really brings down the satire as our villains become a bit too cartoonish, which hurts the satirical argument in play.

This is a flawed film that also manages to just be great. Certain characters feel like caricatures (the Mirando Corporate characters as a whole (except maybe Lucy) and some of the Animal Liberation Front Members) but this didn’t bring down my overall enjoyment film. This film is solidly great and now that I’ve watched this and “Snowpiercer,” I can’t wait to see what director Bong Joon-Ho does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): An Amazing Celebration of Magic, Childhood and Madness

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory poster

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is a well deserved for a reason. I completely understand that when I did poll on which film to honor Gene Wilder should be reviewed that this was the one that won out. This film that really displays how brilliant, talented and creative Gene Wilder could be and why the world lost on of our greats. I can’t wait to continue going through his filmography and learning more about the history of this fascinating and talented man.

     The film was directed by Mel Stuart, written by Roald Dahl (who also wrote the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the film is based on) with help from David Seltzer and produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper.

         The story involves Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finding a golden ticket and winning entrance into the magical Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) with four other children. Things are not as they appear though, as both Wonka and the factory are full of unpredictability and danger.

The Pros: The World – The world is one full of magic that is close to ours but manages to satire ours through exaggeration. It is imagination and possibility and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all.

The Writing – Dahl’s writing is brilliant. He is one of my favorite authors and he did a great job making this screenplay. He knew his characters and how to adapt them and his world screen as he worked within the limitations given and in the process created a rich story full of drama and humor.

Snapshots of Humor – A psychologist trying to use a person’s delusions to find a golden ticket, a dictator in Paraguay, the homes of each of our children that aren’t Charlie…each of these is a snapshot of some sort of corruption that in using the golden ticket as the focal point provide a wonderful satire of the different forms of corruption.

The Comedy – The comedy is brilliant! Dahl’s dry humor and satire combined with Wilder’s wit, sarcasm and energy made this film most memorable as both a drama and a comedy.

The Oompa-Loompas – The Oompa-Loompas are refugees who work at the factory. They are fascinating as we see those who lost everything teach those who materially have everything. These guys are brilliant and I really like their songs and designs. The orange face and stark colors live in the popular culture now on what an Oompa-Loompa is.

Willy Wonka – Gene Wilder owns this role. Wonka is a man who you never know if he’s telling the truth or not. He comes in limping and after walks fine, and this was done by Wilder himself to make the audience question everything Wonka does. Wonka than proceeds to let peoples’ vices destroy themselves and he doesn’t care at all except to mock. This is a man who sees himself above it all and is living in his world of madness and imagination…yet he has a good heart, he rewards Charlie for doing the right thing and it is in his relationship to Charlie we see the compassionate core underneath the lies, sarcasm and trickery. He is easily one of my favorite characters in fiction and Wilder made the character larger than life and the best part of this film.

The Take on Vices – Each of the 4 kids are different vices. Violet is spite, Mike is anger, Veruca is greed and Augustus is gluttony. At different points Charlie experiences each vice but grows beyond them by choosing compassion and courage in the end, something they all lacked and each them is destroyed by their vice in turn in the Karmatic place of the Chocolate Factory.

The Good and the Bad in People and Children – Children are celebrated in this, but they aren’t idealized. 4 of the kids are little monsters and even Charlie can be a brat sometimes. Dahl was honest about what it means to be a child and it is in this work we see how they grow and that actions have consequences that will hopefully help the kids stuck in a bad place in their actions, to grow up.

Celebrating Creativity and Invention – The core of the story is a celebration of madness and creativity. Wonka’s world is pure imagination and what he is seeking is an heir with that same madness who can see the bigger picture.

Okay/Pro: The Music – The music is memorable and good but not great. I’d never seek out this music to listen to it on my own…it works for the film though with “Pure Imagination” being the best and most memorable song in the soundtrack.

Charlie – Charlie is flawed and it makes him human. All the other children and their parents are terrible, while Charlie in looking out for his family can become like the other kids too. Charlie is greedy or angry sometimes and that’s okay. It makes the good choices he makes all the better.

Grandpa Joe – I liked Grandpa Joe but since we never learn why he became bedridden it takes away from part of what drives him to get out of bed. I like how he is a mentor and father figure to Charlie though and that he calls out Wonka for not giving them the prize at the end as promised. He’s a stand up guy.

The Other Kids and Their Parents – The other kids are alright. Augustus is forgettable as his mother but the Teevee’s have an energy about them and the Salt’s are great representations of greed, while Violet and her huckster father are entertaining in their own way. I’m not putting them as a pro though since they aren’t complex. They are interesting but lack major complexity.

Okay: Pacing – The pacing is a little all over the place at times, with the scene where Charlie and Granpa Joe take the Fizz drink as the best example. Wonka and the group just go away when before every mistake that the kids make is recognized by the group as Wonka shames their for their vice. This is the only time where he holds off on shaming until after the tour is completed.

The Cons: Certain Songs – Certain songs go on a little too long or mess with the tone a little bit. “Cheer up Charlie” definitely goes on too long as does Veruca’s song. This is made up for the fact that musical isn’t terrible but I’d only describe music as memorable and good, but not great.

     There was so much that worked in this film and managed to push it up from good to great. The greatest credit goes to Wilder with his chaotic take on Wonka whose performance was full of anger, empathy, compassion and madness. There is a reason the film is called “Willy Wonka & and the Chocolate Factory” and not Charlie. Charlie maybe the main character but the action and drama all relates to the antics and choices that Wonka makes and the gambit he puts into play to find his heir.I can’t wait to read Dahl’s original book. Dahl having power over turning his book into film was masterfully done by the studio and with Wilder’s performance and Stuart’s direction a masterpiece of art that celebrates the very nature of art and creativity was born. The three men have all passed on now but their vision, their metaphorical Chocolate Factory lives on in the lives they touched and the art they created. R.I.P. Stuart, Dahl and so recently now…Wilder. To remembering the dreamers and the dreams they made.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Warcraft (2016): A Few Great Characters Can’t Save This Adaptation

Warcraft Film

    The game series “Warcraft” is one I have a history with dating all the way back to Warcraft II and it’s expansions. They were my introductions to this universe even though I think Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is the best storytelling to come out of the series. At the end of the day, all the Warcraft books I read about the First and Second War didn’t draw me in the way the Scourge, Forsaken, Illdari and Night Elves did in Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft was always something I played more casually the few times I did. What bearing does all this have on the review outside of history? Metzen was starting from one of the more weaker places in the lore (Humans were always the most boring faction) so going in it was starting out weak, I wish we’d gotten “Rise of the Horde” as far stories go, that had drama and Orcs are the strongest part of this film….and there are a lot of human characters, making the film enjoyable but weak.

    “Warcraft” was directed by Duncan Jones who was a co-writer along with Charles Leavitt with Chris Metzen and produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan.

    The story involves the arrival of the Orcs on Azeroth who plan on bringing their forces through the Portal as their world is dying. Lead by the evil Orcish Warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) as Durotan (Toby Kebbell) must work with humanity when he realizes what Gul’dan’s magic did to his world and will do to this one.

The Pros: The World – The universe of Warcraft is one that is fascinating…there different planets, different fantasy races and politics between them. Sadly we don’t see much of the politics in this one, but the factions are still present and you feel the size of the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is just like the Warcraft cinematics. Simon Duggan really did a great job of transferring Blizzard’s style to film.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also feels like the Warcraft games, which is a plus. The games have always had a beautiful soundtrack that captures the epic fantasy feel of the world. Ramin Djawadi did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters who work, work really well…those who don’t show the flaws in some of the writing that has come out of the books and games and the universe as a whole. I’ll get into what I mean later.

Blackhand – Blackhand is played by Clancy Brown with his usual large and vocal presence. He truly is perfecfr for this role and does a fantastic job as Warchief of the Horde, sadly his role underutilized (just like Ogrim) and he doesn’t survive past this film. Lothar kills him in honorable combat so the orcs let Lothar go free. Poor Felled up Blackhand goes out way too fast.

Khadgar – Khadgar goes from comedic relief to a smart magician. I like that he is humorous as he has had that aspect in some of the games he appears in. His being an outsider and being given up by his folks to be a Kirin Tor mage is really cool too, especially his rejection out of the order. He reminded me a lot of Sam from “Game of Thrones.”

Garona – Garona is a good character and the only female character who actually felt like she had agency beyond telling the guys they are doing a great job. She even got a romance with the hero and got to kill the King and be the double agent among the orcs working for peace between their races. I wish we could have got more of her backstory as we see she’s a slave and half her heritage (Draenie) was used to open the Dark Portal. Hopefully they’ll do more with her next film if they make one, she’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Lothar.

Gul’dan – Daniel Wu is awesome! It is wonderful seeing Gul’dan in all his badassery on screen. He is great here and the only competent villain as his people are so afraid of him that they follow him and he wins every fight he gets into. This guy is pumped so full of fel energy that he can take anything. He also is still living at the end (like in the games at this point in the timeline) so curious what they’ll change about him. I really want a “Rise of the Horde” story so we can see Ner’zhul (one of the best orcs and Gul’dan’s mentor).

Durotan – Toby Kebbell is the closest thing to an interesting protagonist. In him we see an honorable soldier just trying to look out for his people, and faced wit the fact that his entire race is dying out and all they have is the new world of Azeroth. He dies fighting Gul’dan in a pretty awesome fight.

Okay: King Llane – The King is kind of bland but at least he’s given something to do and notices the orcs aren’t all bad given his friendship with Garona. In the games he’s a non-presense too. I really don’t care about Stormwind in the lore and see them as a lore sink (was always a Horde player in WoW). He dies so that Garona can be accepted into the Horde as a hero.

Ogrim Doomhammer – Doomhammer is a Frostwolf in this rather than a member of the Blackhand clan. In this he betrays Durotan but leaves the Horde after he sees how the Fel is turning his people into demons and that Gul’dan has no honor. He is the one carrying on the Frostwolf legacy in this after the death of Durotan and Draka.

Medivh – Medivh is bland, he is supposed to be crazy but he doesn’t feel there. This character felt invisible and we never get any good interactions with characters except a strange scene with Garona. He dies fighting for Stormwind though after the Demon is beat.

The Ending – The orc ending isn’t bad (would have like Blackhand to survive) and I felt Garona becoming the heroic champion was really cool. The human side is just bland though. Maybe this will work as a movie series, but it felt unfinished.

The Cons: Lothar – Guy has a son who he has no chemistry with (he doesn’t have chemistry with anyone). He acts a cool and distant and it comes off as forced. He is Action Hero Man*TM and it hurts the story since he’s the main character.

Draka – She makes sure Go’el (hate that name, Thrall in the games) is freed on the river and eventually picked up by humans. She exists only as mate and not much else. The games also had this problem too. Draka deserves better.

The Queen – The Queen is just kind of there. She shows kindness to Garona and maybe befriends her but she feels like a non-entity. She is scenery…

Women as Scenery – Both Draka and the Queen, who besides Garona are the any female characters with any presence feel like non-entities. They exist as plot devices and I wish had been written as actual characters.

 The Demon/Sargares? -This guy posses Medivh to open the Dark Portal (like in the game), and in this he’s beaten like a little punk. Khadgar drops his own golem on him. At least in the books it was a more epic fight and in WoW he’s an actual raid. This is supposed to be the guy pulling everyone’s strings.

    Weak villains that aren’t orcs (that Demon who was  weak Sargares if it was him) and bland human heroes kept this from being a great B movie. The orcs were awesome as they are in lore and the film really should have been about them. The only things we get that are interesting from the humans are Khagdar as comedic relief and Garona making friends with the humans. Outside of that they are bland and uninteresting. I hope they make more of these films though, there is so much lore in Warcraft and the Rise of Illidan or Fall of Arthas would make an amazing story on the bigscreen and would work within time limit of a film. This film is still okay, but I’d only watch it for the orc scenes.

Final Score: 6.2 / 10

Seventh Son (2014): Bland Leads and Would Have Worked Better as a Mini-Series or Videogame

Seventh Son

    “Seventh Son” was okay. For what it is worth it did get me interested on the book it is based on and the side characters are far more interesting and compelling than the leads (Jeff Bridges, Kit Harrington and Julianne Moore) are characters so there is that, but so much of the world feels unfully fleshed out and the story does feel rushed, like it was trying to take advantage of the fantasy in cinema interest going on right now. I’ll get into more of that in the assessment though. This is a decent rental but the limitations of film don’t serve this film justice and the presentation would have worked better as a really good videogame.

    The film was directed by Sergei Bodrov, written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight and produced by Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull and Lionel Wigram, and based off the story The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney.

    The story involves Gregory (Jeff Bridges) searching for the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son since they are gifted at fighting Witches and the Queen of Witches Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) escaped and killed his last apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington). This leads him to Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) who is the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and also has magic in his blood as his mother is a Witch. He must train Tom before the Blood Moon when Mother Malkin will be at full power and impossible to stop.

The Pros: The World – The world is interesting as there are Witches who are shapeshifters and aren’t all bad as well as their being many other creatures and beasts like Bogarts, Wights, etc. Some of whom aren’t bad. This isn’t fully explored though as so much of the plot is focused on Tom and his romance that the plot didn’t need.

Bradley – Kit Harrington does a great job and would have been great in the role of Tom as his character has a lot of personality and is the happy go lucky one to the bitterness of Bridges’s Gregory. He sadly dies pretty early on to Mother Malkin in his Spook Apprenticeship to Gregory.

Gregory – Jeff Bridges is wonderful and I like how you get why he is bitter as Malkin was his lover before he got married and after she killed his family and his apprentices he carries nothing but hate and anger. He makes a great character though and Bridges makes him sympathetic. His relationship with Bradley and Malkin would have made this a great story, but sadly we get boring leads instead.

Mother Malkin – Julianne Moore hams this role up and does a great job of reveling in being evil for the sake of power. She is a good threat and far more interesting than those who follow her. He backstory being Gregory’s lover gives her depth too and motivation for what she does, she wants to get back for being trapped and wronged.

The Cons: Story Execution – The story execution is bad, largely due to the focus on our uninteresting leads of Tom and Alice who are blank slates and contrived love. The actors and script can’t carry those characters and it brings down the dynamic between Malkin and Gregory.

The Lieutenants – We don’t know anything about them though they have cool designs, from an army of stone, a shape-shifter and a multi-armed killer though we never get their motivations and they would have been much funner in a videogame, not a film.

The Other Witches – The other witches are plot devices. Alice and Tom’s mothers dies to show that not all witches are bad and to motivate the characters to change. They don’t ever feel like characters, they are there to drive plot and that is it.

Alice – She is the spy for Malkin but changes sides because she loves Tom. She has no motivation outside of love for Tom which was contrived since all she had was his saving her life. The actress is also really bland.

Tom Ward – Ben Barnes was horrible in this role. He wore one expression the entire time and he was written as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. He’s half witch and a Seventh Son so he can do anything and has all the magic powers! This felt super contrived and plot armor kept him alive when he should have died on a few occasions. Super weak writing and terrible acting.

 This is a movie that would be fun to watch and mock with friends or if you want something that you don’t have to think deeply about. It’s a throwaway film and not my kind of movie though I do want to read the book now, so there is that. It isn’t good though, it’s okay at best and again, it’s a film that would be most enjoyable mocking with friends and having in the background.

Final Score: 6 / 10