I honestly thought I would never see this Netflix original. I’m not a fan on the streaming service or any streaming service you have to pay for. I know I am clearly in the minority when I say this. As much as you can potentially have all the films and TV at your finger tips I believe it takes away that sense if anticipation, waiting for a film or TV program Plus I’m horrified by the idea of box-set bingeing, how can you enjoy a whole season of a show in the space of a few hours/days and hope that you can actually remember it all. I’m lucky to be able to watch Westworld on a weekly basis, I’m happy with that set-up. Maybe I’m old fashioned that way. I can wait and enjoy the pay off when it’s something special. Also the notion of having a physical collection to enjoy that you build, a personality curated collection of films that I have, I’m really proud of that, which I can both enjoy and inform my ever-growing appreciated of the medium of film. That’s not to say my way is best, it does rely on having physical space to hold the collection, something I struggle with at times now. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. As much as it’s looking like the future of the film industry I hope there’s still a place for theatrical released work before a home release a few months later.
However over this weekend I have watched two Netflix Originals – that I was previously resentful off, because I felt excluded (yes I could just subscribe and watch), it looks like there’s very little/no chance of a physical DVD release of both The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017) and Okja (2017). I took the opportunity to catch these both. I found them both to really worth my time, engaging, funny and professionally produced, no different to theatrically released work really. Showing how much competition there is between these new companies and the old-guard who are still fighting the TV industry. Where the once little up-start that was just a flash in the pan has become a respected competitor around the world. Actors now move between the two mediums with ease without losing respect, no longer the odd guest-role on a series. Or even starting out in TV before landing in your first film, it no longer matters and why should it as long as your entertaining and stimulating.
So enough of the rant and on to the chosen film – Okja (2017) which I’ve finally been able to catch. Now I came to the film an Omnivore, very much so and still came away one. I know my sister a vegan was really engaged with the themes raised and I can understand and respect that. However it will take a lot more than a film that that acts in part as supporting the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle – pro-animal that didn’t stop me enjoying the film. If anything I was drawing parallels with Starship Troopers (1997) the satirical science fiction which relied on the use of commercialism to convey a dark message about industry. With Okja it’s focused on the food industry and the media manipulation over the audience. With Tilda Swinton playing Lucy Mirando, the face of the Mirando Corporation that has declared a solution for solving the food problem for the growing population – a unique and new discovery, a new breed of pig that they have been keeping under wraps. Mirando is a clever media manipulator who knows how to run a campaign to to her companies advantage. Obsessed with image, we see her being inaugurated as the new CEO of the company, it’s an event or a media circus, all an incredible distraction from the real purpose of the press event.
We jump forward 10 years to the forests of South Korea where one of 26 giant pigs have been reared. I’m left wondering at this point why are they all sent different countries and not in pairs to breed, so no massive farm just a single giant pig. That’s the first plot hole I found. The pig, which has since been named Okja has become the sole companion of Mija (Seohyun An) who sees the pig as her friend/pet. They have bond that can’t be broken, which we see in the early scenes they share together. This isn’t just some oversized animal for comic effect, we come to invest our hearts into this CGI animal who is the focus of the film. Sadly I found at times I was distracted by the quality of Okja whose appearance varies, sometimes rendered seamlessly, you can see the hairs on the pigs body. Whilst at other times she just looks unfinished for medium shots, which at times really distracted me.
Away from those niggles we really start to see how much has been invested between Mija and Okja who are soon torn apart from each other when she’s deceived by her grandfather, whilst Okja‘s transported by the corporation’s divisional head office before returning to America. You could make a whole short film out of the chase and rescue sequence, full of comedy and action that easily rivals and sometimes surpasses the mainstream Hollywood. One of the upside of being funded by Netflix has to be the free-reign to do as you please. As long as you turn in the product they are not fussed. The chase and rescue introduced the AFL (Animal Liberation Front) which I found to be a vert confused group whose aim was to free animals from being harmed. Yet as the film progresses they allow harm to come to Okja which doesn’t make much sense. As much as they feel remorse for what they are doing they still allow harm to another living thing, and carry out violence on others themselves – a flawed group.
There are no real standout performances from those you’d expect to find. I found Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance to be overblown, making the most of the few scenes he had. Whilst Tilda Swinton’s to be just a standard Swinton role nothing that was much of a stretch for her. Seohyun An‘s performance is the only one that really stays with you, full of emotion, you understand her anger, frustration when her friend’s life is at stake. Doing anything to see her again, that’s what you want to see and get in her determination, it feels more than just a role to her, she believes the ideas in the script. In all honesty it is a thinly veiled film that promotes animal rights, which is not a bad thing, we have an entertaining film that is both dark and emotional. We go places where we would hope not to go allowing the film to reach it twist filled conclusion that’s ultimately full of optimism.
Now will I go Vegan or Vegetarian? It’s hard to give up a whole part of my diet for reasons that are shared by others. As much as I respect, I’m not ready to do that. Coming from a butchers family it’s part of my history. Animals cruelty is never something to be taken lightly as we see in Okja, however if an animal that’s raised to be ultimately for human consumption it’s something I see as part of food chain that’s regulated for their safety. A food chain that has become more mechanised and increased for the growing populations. I feel that there is a place for everyone to sit at a table with different ideas/taste of the food they eat whilst respecting others.
It’s a shame that Snowpiercer (2013) didn’t get a UK release last year, having only caught the trailer by chance I thought I’d look out for it in some form. Catching it on an Italian import I was able to see what as going on in this fascinating Sci-fi film confined to a train that travelled the frozen Earth for the last 18 years since a chemical released into the atmosphere in hopes of reversion the effects if global warming. Which had devastating effects on the now snow-covered planet we call home. Leaving only a handful of our civilisation alive, returning society to a strict class system that was once informed on trains. Something we still have today thanks to the recession that has seen the richer get richer and the poor poorer. A struggle for equality is something those at the rear of this beast of a train called the Snowpiercer are fighting for. Lead by Curtis (Chris Evans) assumes the role of natural leader of these survivors who had previously trued to escape from an autocratic social systems that sees the rich comes down only when necessary for those with skills and children they require. The old world we thought we had once left has returned travels around the globe once a year.
I must say I have only been in 1st class once and hated it, I read a menu which had a breakfast with a muffin for £15 which is a ridiculous price really, nobody talks to anyone. Something I am naturally against, an innate feeling that repels me from the upper class, or even first class, a down to earth guy who worked hard and reaps those rewards. Not those of circumstance and privilege. This is a personal perception none the less which is to some extent reinforced in this Terry Gilliam-esque world that shows everything has its place whilst still not really making sense.
After two children are taken away it’s the last straw for the rear of the train, after being shamefully lectured with a shoe metaphor about knowing their place, courtesy of Mason (Tilda Swinton) whilst another is being tortured. Its time to act, time to break free of the carriages they’re confined to and make their way to the front of the train and gain control from the engineer and leader Wilford (Ed Harris). Every carriage is a fight at first, needing the help of drug addict and engineer Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) to open the doors allowing them to move up the train.
Each door reveals new challenges and surprises, learning more about the inner working of the train and how the society functions, from the kitchen that feeds the rear to the school that brain washes the children to learning a very skewed version of earths history. All made possible by the wise and wonderful Wilford who has constructed a very top-heavy society which functions on order and dominance. Utilising fear to control the rear who are slowly making ground in ever diminishing numbers. Only a few actually make it to the from. We begin with a large and international cast, this is not your average Hollywood film where all the main cast are American, leaning more toward European, ok its largely British. Swinton and weird form with a Yorkshire accent, whilst John Hurt starting to become typecast as the old and wise man who is behind the rebellion.
We start in the dark violent rear of the train, work threw all the axe-wielding soldiers which provides the most violence that is quickly replaced by a slow-motion sequence as we lose quite a few of the rebellion. A brave move by the dictator Joon-ho Bong we are left with a few that we at first wouldn’t expect. Theres a better sense of reality, we can lose stronger people at any point in life which is reflected here. It’s grim to be honest and probably a reason why the film has not yet been released over here theatrically. Becoming brighter and more mysteriously quirky as we reach the engine room. Where all the mystery that has been built up us explained, pulling the film apart more than enriching it. There are some important details revealed which try to counter that all of that.
I also felt let down by the special effects which construct the outside world, which is all to artificial to engage with. It’s as if I as watching a promotional video for a computer game, expect nothing really matched up except the snow. Looking at the credits there were a number of companies involved on the film. Maybe they were all working on different aspects of the film, which would probably work better if the work wasn’t spread so thin, as it looses its visual identity. There are some incredible sequences nonetheless which do blow your mind. I just wish they matched up though.
All of that doesn’t detract from a film which has an interesting idea at the heart of it, taking two themes, one of climate change and social class and throws them both together on a form of transport that helped to reinforced both of them. There’s a lot going on here which keeps you occupied and mind focused, so many characters who we meet along the way. Leaving us to meet Harris at the end playing very much the same role as he had in The Truman Show (1998) a delusional god-like figure who believes he is doing only good, a rational thinker and leader who is intact very flawed.