Marie Antoinette

(USA/France 2006)

“This, Madame, is Versailles.”

—Comtesse de Noailles

If her take on Marie Antoinette is any clue, Sofia Coppola loves postpunk ’80s British bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, New Order, and New Romantic frontrunners Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. So do I. This in all likelihood is what drew me to Marie Antoinette: with three Bow Wow Wow songs (two remixed by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields), big hair, and a real MTV sensibility, its appeal to me is, well, a piece of cake.

All that is only part of the story. What really makes me love Marie Antionette is the sympathetic angle Coppola takes with this infamous character. Based on Antonia Fraser’s biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey, the first half of the movie is about the difficulties Marie (Kirsten Dunst) faces adapting to her new French surroundings and getting her new husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, Coppola’s cousin), to consummate their marriage. She fails, and of course everyone blames her—even her mother (Marianne Faithfull). When she’s had enough, she says “fuck it” and becomes a full on rock star. This is where things get interesting.

Colorful and elaborate, Marie Antionette is not profound. So what? Lance Acord’s music video cinematography is perfect for what Coppola is going for; bordering on sensory overload, this film is busy, clever, and fun to watch. I know better than to take it as a history lesson.

With Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Mary Nighy, Jamie Dornan, Steve Coogan, Tom Hardy

Production: Pricel, Tohokushinsha Film Corporation (TFC), American Zoetrope, Pathé, Commission du Film France, Commission du Film Île-de-France

Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures

123 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) B-

http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/marieantoinette2006feature/

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

T2 Trainspotting

(UK 2017)

“You’re a tourist in your own youth.”

—Sick Boy

“Face your past. Choose your future.” That’s what the poster for T2 Trainspotting says. Perhaps it should say, “Paybacks are a bitch,” something Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) finds out pretty quickly when he returns home to Edinburgh after 20 years in Amsterdam following his little fuckover at the end of Trainspotting. Ostensibly back to make amends and settle his debt, Renton knows that forgiving and forgetting isn’t so easy—or smooth. Truth be told, he probably didn’t expect it to be.

Renton finds Spud (Ewen Bremner) unemployed, still struggling with heroin, and literally killing himself—like, alone with a plastic bag over his head in his dingy apartment. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is a full-fledged douche, complete with a failing bar—the Port Sunshine—that he inherited from his aunt, a blackmail sex scam he runs on the side with a Bulgarian partner—Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), whom he fancies as his girlfriend—and a seriously unflattering coke habit. Oh yeah, he’s still bleaching what he’s got left of his hair. Neither is stoked about Renton showing up, but Sick Boy is clearly more bitter than Spud. He has a plan to get even.

Soon, however, Renton and Sick Boy are up to their old tricks, nightclubbing, tripping, and yes, thieving. In one of T2‘s best scenes, they head somewhere outside Edinburgh and hit a pub that looks more like an American VFW hall. It’s some weird open mic night for a crowd of Protestant Unionists who are rabidly anti-Catholic because of history. Explaining it all to Veronika in the car before the heist—the plan is to pickpocket as many ATM cards as they can get their hands on—Renton calls them “relics.” After a successful mission, the bouncer won’t let them leave until they perform a number. What they come up with is brilliant.

The fun and games come to a grinding halt when Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who’s serving a 25-year prison sentence and is denied parole because of his anger management problem, breaks out of jail and runs into Renton. He loses his shit in yet another great scene. Renton gets away for the moment but Begbie is on his trail, which leads him to a sketchy business partnership. Will history repeat itself?

I was skeptical when I heard director Danny Boyle was making a sequel; I guess I thought Trainspotting didn’t need a follow up. T2, which is loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno, lacks the youthful vigor of the original and frankly isn’t as cool. How could it be? It wouldn’t exist without Trainspotting; it’s got flashbacks and obligatory references, some more clever than others, throughout. Kelly Macdonald has a fun cameo, Renton’s “Choose Life” monologue is updated, that toilet makes a brief appearance, and there’s a nice remix of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” at the end (and yes, we know it’s coming).

Still, T2 stands on its own. It’s fueled by nostalgia and revenge, which in this case turns out to be a rather interesting combination. T2 has more of a conventional plot, and it’s oddly fascinating. The dialogue is every bit as wickedly sharp as before. These boys have grown up—they’ve turned into sad men because they’ve chosen unfulfilled promise and disappointment (to use Renton’s words). Now they have to deal with it, which isn’t what I imagined them doing in 20 years—if they even lived, which they most definitely have. Surprise! We all know someone like this, right? I would see T2 again.

At a post screening discussion, Boyle said he really made an effort to connect to the original. He succeeded, in a good way. As for the title, he said it’s an homage of sorts to Terminator director James Cameron, whom the characters would simultaneously want to honor and piss off.

With Shirley Henderson, Scot Greenan, Pauline Lynch, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, Irvine Welsh

Production: Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films

Distribution: TriStar Pictures

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh moderated by Richard Roeper

117 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.t2trainspottingmovie.com

https://www.facebook.com/T2TrainspottingMovie/?brand_redir=490630094455946