I, Tonya

(USA 2017)

As crazy at it was, the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee just before the 1994 Winter Olympic Games and the resulting shit show that plagued her teammate Tonya Harding never occurred to me again after the media frenzy over it died down — like, by spring. Then one day this past autumn, I caught the trailer for I, Tonya. Oh, Lord!

I must confess, Craig Gillespie’s biopic ended the year on a high note — much higher than my expectations. Framed as a documentary with interviews interspersed throughout the story, I misjudged I, Tonya as mere fluff. It’s not. For all its lurid, sensationalist absurdity, it packs some jarring moments that hit…well, like a club.

While not a vital undertaking, I, Tonya is a very well done film. The screenplay by Steven Rogers is sharp, while Gillespie’s pace — cuts and jumps and all — moves nicely. What makes the whole thing fly, though, is the cast. Sebastian Stan as Harding’s sadistic twerp of a husband Jeff Gillooly and Allison Janney as her caustic mother LaVona Golden give performances worthy of gold medals. But the real showstopper is Margot Robbie, who makes Harding something she never was in real life: sympathetic. It’s no small feat.

I’ve heard some grumble that I, Tonya is a mean-spirited film that condescends to its subjects and gets laughs by making them look like fools. I don’t see it that way. Without absolving her, the film presents nasty circumstances that no doubt fueled Harding’s desire to win. The story and characters are culled from actual sources. Harding’s ultimate punishment was harsh. You can’t help but understand and feel for her, just a teeny tiny bit.

With Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale, Bojana Novakovic, Caitlin Carver, Maizie Smith, Mckenna Grace, Jason Davis, Mea Allen, Cory Chapman, Amy Fox, Cara Mantella, Lynne Ashe, Steve Wedan, Brandon O’Dell, Davin Allen Grindstaff, Daniel Thomas May, Anthony Reynolds, Ricky Russert, Miles Mussenden, Jan Harrelson, Luray Cooper, Dan Triandiflou, Kelly O’Neal, Alphie Hyorth

Production: Clubhouse Pictures, LuckyChap Entertainment

Distribution: 30West (USA), Neon (USA), VVS Films (Canada), Cinemex Films S.A. de C.V. (Mexico), California Filmes (Latin America), Mars Distribution (France), Lucky Red (Italy), DCM Film Distribution (Germany), Ascot Elite Entertainment Group (Switzerland), Nos Lusomundo Audiovisuais (Portugal), The Searchers (Belgium / Netherlands), Seven Films (Greece), Myndform (Iceland), Vertigo Média Kft. (Hungary), Fabula Films (Turkey), Gakhal Entertainment (India), Lots Home Entertainment (Taiwan), M Pictures (Thailand), Noori Pictures (South Korea), Shaw Organisation (Singapore), Showgate (Japan), Solar Pictures (Philippines), UA films (Hong Kong), Roadshow Films (Australia / New Zealand), Ster-Kinekor Pictures (South Africa)

120 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B

https://www.itonyamovie.com

What’s Opera, Doc?

(USA 1957)

“Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!”

— Elmer Fudd

Many consider What’s Opera, Doc? a masterpiece — the greatest Merrie Melodies cartoon, ever. It frequently makes “best of” lists for animated shorts, sometimes at the top.

What’s Opera, Doc? is classic dopey Elmer Fudd (Arthur Q. Bryan) hunting flippant, nonchalant Bugs Bunny (Mel Blanc), complete with trickery, potstirring, and the latter in drag. This one, however, is notable because it’s not particularly violent, and — spoiler alert! — Elmer actually catches Bugs in the end. He feels bad about it, too. To quote Bugs, “Well, what did you expect in an opera — a happy ending?”

Written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones, What’s Opera, Doc? is an irreverent parody of composer Richard Wagner’s works, and I think I hear songs from Die Walküre. It really takes the piss out of him and high fallutin’ culture (those viking hats, egads!). It’s also a parody of the Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny formula. Its visually impressive Technicolor layouts are big and downright gorgeous, resembling a Salvadore Dalí painting at times.

For all it has going for it, though, What’s Opera, Doc? isn’t my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoon. Honestly, it’s not even close. But I see why it’s highly regarded.

In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed What’s Opera, Doc? “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

Production: Warner Brothers

Distribution: Warner Brothers

7 minutes
Not rated

(Vimeo) B

Psychos in Love

(USA 1987)

“A well hung hard man is good fun.”

— Girl in Toilet

“I guess that I thought that me being both a manicurist and a psychotic killer would turn a guy off.”

— Dianne

“I hate grapes! I can’t stand grapes! I loathe grapes! All kinds of grapes. I hate purple grapes. I hate green grapes. I hate grapes with seeds. I hate grapes without seeds. I hate them peeled and non-peeled. I hate grapes in bunches, one at a time, or in groups of twos and threes. I fucking hate grapes!”

— Joe

Hmmm. The first warning came from Aaron when Gorman Bechard’s Psychos in Love started to play, and I quote, “I don’t think this is supposed to be a good movie.” Well, there’s an understatement!

What sounded like a bizarre winner — two serial killers who find love over mutual hatred for grapes and mankind — turned out to be a dud. Sure, the weirdness and the DIY aspect of this movie are cool. Angela Nicholas emits a weird Molly Ringwald gone bad vibe that’s truly funny.

However, the whole plot is one dumb joke repeated over and over. It doesn’t go anywhere. Now that I reread the premise, I’m not at all surprised that this is so bad. Gory, cheap, boring, and stupid, this is an hour and a half that I’ll never get back. My only consolation is that I was half crocked when I watched it.

With Carmine Capobianco, Patti Chambers, Carla Bragoli, Carrie Gordon, Debi Thibeault, Cecelia Wilde, Robert Suttile, Lum Chang Pang, Danny Noyes, Herb Klinger, Wally Gribauskas, Peach Gribauskas, Ed Powers, Frank Christopher

Production: Beyond Infinity

Distribution: Media Blasters, Generic Films

88 minutes
Not rated

(DVD purchase) F

http://www.psychosinlove.com

Strangers with Candy

(USA 2006)

“Hello, I’m Jerri Blank and — and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also addicted to amphetamines as well as main line narcotics. Some people say I have a sex addiction, but I think all those years of prostitution was just a means to feed my ravenous hunger for heroin. It’s kinda like the chicken or the nugget. The point is, I’m addicted to gambling. Thank you. Oh, and my daddy’s in a coma.”

“Way to go, faglick.”

“I’m thinkin’ about pussy. The science fair’s for queers.”

“I want your spermies!”

“Why doesn’t anybody like me?”

— Jerri Blank

 

“Everybody! Eyes to the back of the room!”

— Chuck Noblet

Those offended by juvenile potty humor and crass jokes in very poor taste — as many no doubt are offended — well, they best steer clear of Strangers with Candy, a sort of prequel to Amy Sedaris’s twisted cable TV series about depraved boozer, user, and loser Jerri Blank (Sedaris).

Those who dig this shit — like me — well, they’ll love this tawdry little farce.

As in the series, 47 year old former alcoholic, junkie, dealer, petty thief, bisexual hooker Jerri is released from prison after 32 years. She returns home to find her mother in an urn, her father (Dan Hedaya) in a coma, and her new family — “mommie” Sara (Deborah Rush) and 17 year old half-brother Derrick (Joseph Cross) — in complete shock, awe, and horror at the sight of her. They want her out.

When Jerri’s presence induces a physical reaction from her father, his doctor (Ian Holm) posits that she could be key in pulling him out of his coma by taking him back to the days before she left. The good doctor suggests that she move in and do something to make him proud.

Jerri decides to pick up where she left off: she goes back to Flatpoint High, where the faces may have changed but the hassles are just the same, and enrolls. She’s getting the diploma she never earned.

A science fair is the perfect opportunity to make her daddy proud — if only she can muster the wherewithal to participate. New BFFs outcasts Tamela (Maria Thayer) and Megawatti (Carlo Alban) are trying to keep her focused but Jerri’s more concerned with bagging class hottie and star squat thruster Brason (Chris Pratt). So much is riding on winning, not just for her father and her teammates but also shamed “science” teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert). Can Jerri rise to the occasion?

Directed by Paul Dinello, who does double duty as art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck, and written by Dinello, Colbert, Sedaris, and Mitch Rouse, Strangers with Candy is true to its roots. Loaded with silly lines and a surprising number of celebrity cameos, it doesn’t expand on the series; in fact, it plays out like a binge watch of a season. Still, it’s a damn good time — and healthier than crack or unprotected sex. Maybe.

Oh yeah: I dare you not to let “She’s a Fig Neutron” by Gordon Grody and D-Fonz get stuck in your head. Go ‘head. No? Well, then I guess we’ll never know.

With Stephen Colbert, Gregory Hollimon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Justin Theroux, Delores Duffy, Kristen Johnston, David Pasquesi, David Rakoff, Elisabeth Harnois, Alexis Dziena, Thomas Guiry

Production: Comedy Central Films, Worldwide Pants, Roberts/David Films

Distribution: THINKFilm, Front Row Filmed Entertainment (United Arab Emirates)

97 minutes
Rated R

(DVD purchase) B-

http://www.strangerswithcandymovie.com

La Chinoise

(France 1967)

“Okay, it’s fiction. But it brings me closer to reality.”

— Véronique

Set in the context of the New Left movement in late 1960s France, Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise is not really about the political ideas it raises — many of which seem relevant today. No, at its core is Godard satirizing the idealism of youth.

Structured as a mockumentary in what undoubtedly is an intentionally scrappy art school style, La Chinoise is a series of “interviews” of five middle class college students about their Maoist terrorist organization. Headquartered in a loft apartment in a suburb of Paris, they named their organization “Aden Arabie” after a novel by French communist Paul Nizan.

The apartment, all done up in primary colors like a Piet Mondrian painting, is owned by one of the members’ parents.

Véronique (Anne Wiazemsky, who sadly died exactly a week before the screening I attended) (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/obituaries/anne-wiazemsky-french-film-star-and-novelist-dies-at-70.html) is the bossy leader, a philosophy student from a family of bankers. She’s involved with Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a “theatrical actor.” Yvonne (Juliet Berto) grew up on a farm and works as a housekeeper and occasional hooker. She’s involved with Henri (Michel Semeniako), a writer who protests and publishes essays. Serge Kirilov (Lex de Bruijin) is a Russian nihilist who is single and suicidal.

La Chinoise is dense with ramblings about social and economic philosophy, politics, and literature. However, Godard uses all of it to make his point: these are kids who are still naïve and don’t fully grasp what they say they stand for. He shows them running around with toy weapons, playing school, and acting out scenes from books in the apartment, often cutting to pictures of comic book and cartoon characters. The joke is pretty funny when you consider the bourgeois backgrounds of the kids.

A conversation between Véronique and French philosopher Francis Jeanson on a train best illustrates Godard’s point: he asks a series of questions challenging her proposal to blow up the university in an effort to expose the flaws in her plan — and maybe get her to question her motives and the depth of her conviction. It goes over her head. So much for carrying pictures of Chairman Mao.

Side note: Claude Channes’s song “Mao-Mao” features prominently here. It’s a nifty little earworm.

With Omar Blondin Diop

Production: Anouchka Films, Les Productions de la Guéville, Athos Films, Parc Film, Simar Films

Distribution: Athos Films (France), Pennebaker Films (United States), Kino Lorber

96 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+

https://www.kinolorber.com/film/view/id/1111

Il Boom

(Italy 1964, 2017)

For some reason — I can’t find an answer — Il Boom was not released in the States until this year. Madonne! Better late than never, and I’m glad it made it because it reaffirms my love of midcentury Italian cinema.

Giovanni Alberti (Alberto Sordi) lives large. His fabulously modern apartment in Rome features a gorgeous patio for entertaining. He employs a housekeeper and sometimes a wait staff. His beautiful and frivolous wife, Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale), has expensive taste. Every night, they go out on the town for lavish dinners and fancy cocktails, dancing and partying in the most chic and trendy clubs.

A game of footsie under the table suggests that his bourgeois crowd is into some naughty stuff on the side, but Giovanni loves Sylvia way too much for that.

Life is grand, but that’s the problem: Giovanni lives above his means. Unbeknownst to Sylvia, who continues to spend gleefully, he’s over his head in debt and about to be publicly humiliated on “the registry.” He can’t get another loan because his credit is shot. Desperate, he suggests a simpler lifestyle, which Sylvia simply ignores. He can’t bring himself to tell her why.

Giovanni fails miserably to convince a number of friends and associates to invest in his land development plan, which may or may not be a scam. His last hope is one-eyed real estate mogul Mr. Bausetti (Ettore Geri), who like everyone else turns him down. Mrs. Bausetti (Elena Nicolai), however, makes a proposal behind her husband’s back: she offers to buy Giovanni’s left eye. He can name his price.

Il Boom is a lot of fun. The title refers to the postwar economic boom in Italy and elsewhere. Director Vittorio De Sica and writer Cesare Zavattini are critical of consumerism, and there’s definitely a moral. However, they avoid getting on a soapbox and simply make fun of it. The story moves along breezily, and quite a few scenes — the dinner party, the hospital — are memorably offbeat and funny. Sordi is perfect as the hapless Giovanni, displaying a mercurial energy and general uneasiness that keeps you watching. His reaction to Mrs. Bausetti’s offer is priceless. I left with a smile.

Armando Nannuzzi’s cinematography is beautiful in luminous black and white; I can’t imagine Il Boom in color. Billy Vaughn’s super cool “Wheels” plays throughout the film; man, does it stick in your head. I’m humming it now.

With Alceo Barnabei, Federico Giordano, Antonio Mambretti, Silvio Battistini, Sandro Merli, John Karlsen, Ugo Silvestri, Gloria Cervi, Gino Pasquarelli, Maria Grazia Buccella, Mariolina Bovo, Felicita Tranchina, Franco Abbiana, Rosetta Biondi

Production: Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica

Distribution: Rialto Pictures, StudioCanal

88 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+

http://www.rialtopictures.com/catalogue/il-boom

The Little Hours

(USA / Canada 2017)

“Eating blood? Do you think I’ve ever written down ‘eating blood’ before? Where am I?”

— Bishop Bartolomeo

From what I remember in my English lit classes, Geoffrey Chaucer called it as he saw it. He took a dim view of piousness and devotion because he knew that neither makes someone a good person. Hold that thought.

Some people take religion very seriously. Others reach such a high level of intellectual refinement or maturity that it puts them beyond crass, juvenile humor. Good for them — I’m not one of those people. I adore a snarky, irreverent story; it’s even better when it involves absurdism or sacrilege and still has something to say. The Little Hours is exactly that: a farce with a point.

Set during the Middle Ages, hapless Fr. Tommasso (John C. Reilly) has the unenviable job of overseeing a convent. Yipee. He finds himself without a gardner when Lurco (Paul Weitz) quits after three hateful young nuns — vain Sr. Alessandra (Alison Brie), nerdy gossipry Sr. Ginerva (Kate Micucci), and belligerent Sr. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) — physically attack him one too many times.

While on a mission selling embroidery to raise funds for the convent, Fr. Tommasso, lost and drunk, crosses paths with Massetto (Dave Franco), a servant running from his master, obnoxious douchebag Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman). Bruno is out for blood (not to mention balls) after he discovers Massetto has been carrying on with his wife (Lauren Weedman) for some time.

Fr. Tommasso learns of Massetto’s dilemma and makes a proposal: Massetto can work in the garden at the convent, but he must pose as a deaf-mute to avoid stirring the ire of the nuns. Massetto accepts, but things don’t pan out quite as intended. The young nuns are, well, horny. Not long after he arrives at the convent, Massetto is getting it on with both Alessandra and Fernanda. All hell breaks loose when they find out.

Written and directed by Jeff Baena, The Little Hours is loosely based on — or a spoof of — a novella from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a 14th Century epic. If this sounds highbrow, don’t fret — it’s the only sophisticated thing about this film, which is fine because it is above all else a comedy.

Loaded with f-bombs, sex, and general malice, The Little Hours is an amusing mix of Mean Girls and Monty Python. The cast works well as an ensemble, bringing out and playing off of each other’s goofiness in an endearing way. I see hints of improvisation, which brings even more energy to the whole thing. Although the story peters out toward the end, Baena keeps the momentum going strong for most of it. What could have been a thin joke stretched out too long and too far stays fresh and fun with this vibrant and funny cast.

For all its silliness and flippancy — pretty much all seven deadly sins make an appearance here — Baena raises an interesting point. The Little Hours is very much a comedy about desire, and it get its laughs from the conflict between desire and appearance. Without getting preachy, The Little Hours shows that piousness and devotion don’t douse the flames of desire; sometimes, they fan them. After all, we’re all merely human. I can’t help thinking that Chaucer would approve.

With Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jon Gabrus, Jemima Kirke, Adam Pally, Paul Reiser

Production: StarStream Media, Bow and Arrow Entertainment, Destro Films, Dublab Media, Productivity Media, Concourse Media, Exhibit Entertainment, Foton Pictures

Distribution: Gunpowder & Sky (USA), Mongrel Media (Canada), GEM Entertainment (International)

90 minutes
Rated R

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

http://www.thelittlehoursmovie.com

The Birdcage

(USA 1996)

“It’s aspirin with the ‘A’ and the ‘S’ scraped off.”

— Agador

Mark Caro’s latest presentation in his “Is It Still Funny?” series, The Birdcage, is director Mike Nichols’s 1996 Americanized remake of Jean Poiret’s classic 1979 French farce La Cage aux Folles. I’m not sure it was intentional, but this presentation coincides with National Drag Day, something I didn’t know existed.

I left the theater with three impressions: one, things have changed quite a bit in two decades; two, The Birdcage is still funny even if it is silly and dated; and three, Robin Williams could do anything well.

Armand Goldman (Williams) owns and operates a drag nightclub, the Birdcage, in South Beach. His flamboyant husband, Albert (Nathan Lane), is the club’s star attraction. Armand’s son, Val (Dan Futterman), announces his engagement to Barbara Keeley (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of right wing Republican senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman). The kids want to — and should — introduce their parents to each other, but the problem is Barbara’s father, who no doubt will not approve.

Val has a solution: Armand can fake being straight — and married to his biological mother, Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski), who didn’t have much to do with him growing up but maybe will do him this one solid. And the Keeleys will be no worse not knowing the truth.

Albert, who’s a gay giveaway, can’t be part of it. He can’t even be around. This puts Armand — and the entire household — in a tricky situation. Albert is delicate at the moment, and this will hurt him. Little does anyone know how important he’ll prove to be in pulling off the ruse.

It’s easy to dismiss The Birdcage as fluff. The whole thing — plot, setting, characters, that dinner — is really, really silly. The humor relies heavily on stereotypes — histrionic Albert, house “boy” Agador (Hank Azaria), and conservative Kevin are the most obvious examples. Madonna dancers Luis Camacho and Kevin Stea have bit parts as…dancers, big shock. There’s a lot of camp and physical humor here, which doesn’t make for sophisticated comedy.

Nonetheless, the actors bring it, particularly Lane, who imbues his role with unexpected tenderness. Elaine May updates and punches up the screenplay with political jabs and cultural witticisms. At the center of the insanity is Williams, who despite a few glimmers of his wacky old self (“You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!”), plays the Straight Man — that might sound contradictory considering his character here, but I’m not referring to his orientation. And he does it well. The result is a guilty pleasure.

With Dianne Wiest, Tom McGowan, Grant Heslov, James Lally, Luca Tommassini, André Fuentes, Tony Gonzalez, Dante Lamar Henderson, Scott Kaske, Tim Kelleher, Ann Cusack, Stanley DeSantis, J. Roy Helland, Anthony Giaimo, Lee Delano, David Sage, Michael Kinsley, Tony Snow, Dorothy Constantine

Production: United Artists Pictures

Distribution: United Artists (USA), United International Pictures (UIP), Filmes Lusomundo (Portugal)

117 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

http://www.mgm.com/#/our-titles/187/The-Birdcage/

Best in Show

(USA 2000)

“We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other.”

— Meg Swan

I’m an enthusiastic fan of sharp, quirky humor; the more biting, the better. I love stuff like Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Strangers with Candy, The Office, Little Britain, and of course Christopher Guest’s This is Spinal Tap, one of my favorite not to mention most quoted films.

Best in Show, another “mockumentary” like the ones Guest has become known for, is right up my alley. It pokes fun at a culture many no doubt find strange: dog shows. Woof!

Best in Show follows five canines and their owners as they prepare for and travel to a dog competition, the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show — that title is perfect! — in Philadelphia. The characters are awesome and the situations they get into are fun. The cast, which includes then-minor stars like Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge who would go on to bigger things, is stellar. Guest and Eugene Levy’s screenplay is deliciously mean. This is all good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. I saw Best in Show a long while back, but this time it just didn’t strike me as funny as I remember it. I don’t know what it was — I had a long week and I had to travel the next morning, so maybe that explains why I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was the martinis. One of these days, I’ll give Best in Show another chance to redeem itself.

With Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Jay Brazeau, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Michael Hitchcock, Christopher Guest, Ed Begley Jr., Beatrice the Weimaraner, Winky the Norwich Terrier, Hubert the Bloodhound, Miss Agnes the Shih Tzu, Tyrone the Shih Tzu, Rhapsody in White the Standard Poodle

Production: Castle Rock Entertainment

Distribution: Warner Brothers

90 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) C-

Okja

(USA/South Korea 2017)

“We needed a miracle, and then we got one.”

—Lucy Mirando

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, now streaming on Netflix, is a lot of things; dull is not one of them. A slick, fast-paced, mesmerizing mix of fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, action, satire, and social consciousness, this film has a lot going on—and a lot going for it. I was lucky to see it on the big screen before its official release, and that’s how I recommend seeing it if you can. Sorry, Netflix, Okja is simply too good for TV.

The story begins ten years ago in 2007: in a desperate but brilliant attempt to rebrand a disreputable family business—to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so to speak—Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announces her master plan to breed an all-natural “superpig” that leaves a minimal footprint, feeds the world, and tastes great (https://superpigproject.com). Her company, Mirando Corporation, devises a competition, sending twenty-some piglets to real farmers across the globe to raise them; the company will monitor each pig over the next ten years and declare a “winner” based on the results. Mirando hires animal television show host Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), a zoologist whose star is fading, to lend credibility to the project as well as to generate public interest in it.

Fast forward to 2017: Mirando’s plan is coming to fruition without any hiccups, which makes her happier than a pig in…well, you know. Unfortunately for Mirando, a young South Korean girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), whose grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) signed onto the project, threatens to derail the entire mission. Mija, you see, essentially raised her grandfather’s pig, Okja. They’ve become dependent on each other. He never explained to her what the deal really is—that Mirando’s silk purse is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.

Dr. Johnny and his television crew show up at their home in the mountains and marvel over Okja, now a magnificently enormous hippopotamus-like creature. He presents her grandfather with an award and takes Okja to Manhattan—actually, New Jersey—for a pig roast sponsored by the Mirando Corporation.

To put it lightly, Mija’s not having it—she takes off after Okja on a chaotic chase through Seoul, where she encounters the Animal Liberation Front, a group of inept animal rights activists led by idealistic but ineffective Jay (Paul Dano). They make a pact, but unfortunately she doesn’t speak English. Mija ends up at the world headquarters of Mirando Corporation in New York City, completely unaware of the cards she holds.

I went into Okja blind—the only thing I knew about it was that its central character is a big pig. I left more than satisfied: the cast is stellar, the effects are flawless, and the script is smart and strong despite its flaws. If that don’t beat a pig a-pecking, I don’t know what does.

In simplest terms, Okja is about our complicated consumerist relationship with food. As one pig farmer put it best, “Okja’s a fake pig in a movie I watched on Netflix. But plenty of real animals are suffering inside a horrific system that don’t have to.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/okja-thoughts-from-a-pig-farmer_us_595bd1cde4b0f078efd98cbd). On this point alone, Okja will resonate with anyone who’s ever connected with an animal—pig, dog, cat, bird, horse, aardvark. The story has been compared to E.T. (https://moviebloke.com/2016/03/29/e-t-the-extra-terrestrial-e-t/), and it’s pretty wonderful. The final scene, which takes place in a slaughterhouse, is hard to watch—I got anxious. And queasy. I thought of Morrissey!

Appropriately, the acting is hammy; I love that Swinton plays twins again. She looks like a deranged Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. Gyllenhaal teeters on insufferable with his wimpy sniveling, but to his credit he manages to keep it in check. I’m usually unimpressed with computer animation, but here it’s amazingly well done; Okja looks as real as the humans. I think the trick is her eyes. Even with its Hollywood ending, Okja is definitely one of this year’s more interesting movies.

With Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito

Production: Kate Street Picture Company, Lewis Pictures, Plan B Entertainment

Distribution: Netflix

118 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B

https://www.netflix.com/title/80091936