Love & Slaughter — Bong Joon-ho’s Okja

When we talk about animals in movies, there are usually two images that come to mind: a best friend, like My Dog Skip or Marley and Me, and a dangerous predator à la Jaws. Our fictional images of them reflect our relationships with them. They are our companions or our aggressors. They are our downfall or our victims.

In the case of Okja, they fall into the latter category.

Bong Joon-ho’s latest is a strange fable of animal companionship. Babe but set in a world on the brink of rule by Orwellian-esque conglomerates. But instead of being separate from reality, Okja is based on a premise terribly close to where we find ourselves now: searching for a way to feed a booming population while reducing our carbon footprint on the planet. The solution? Genetically-modified organisms. A multi-national chemical company called Mirando Corporation has created the answer to everyone’s prayers: giant mammals called superpigs that are cute, leave minimal carbon footprint, and will apparently taste delicious once they reach full growth and are harvested for their meat. Coinciding with the announcement of this miracle pig, the Mirando Corporation also beings a ten-year contest, where farmers around the world will raise 23 of the babies to determine one winner as the best superpig.

One farmer in South Korea is given a superpig. The superpig is given the name Okja and grows up with a girl named Mija.

Okja and Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn). Photo source.

The majority of the movie revolves around Mija’s quest to save Okja from the Mirando Corporation, but along the way Bong delivers so much satire that you could pick and choose where you want to read it. Biting social commentary is a bit a signature for Bong. We also saw it in the fantastic post-apocalyptic film Snowpiercer, in which a class system emerges on a train driving non-stop around a frozen earth. In Okja, the first target is companies such as the Mirando Corporation, who create gimmicky campaigns and contests to detract from the harm their company may actually cause. The second target is us, people who cry fear of GMOs but are able to shut down those concerns for delicious, questionably sourced food constantly. The parallels are undeniable, especially since Okja doesn’t take place in a vague future like Snowpiercer does. It is set in today. Literally now, in 2017, and while the conditions Okja is placed in the movie are purposefully manipulated to draw maximum sympathy, the similarities between the conditions in Okja and those within our current factory farming cannot be denied.

Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando and Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija. Photo source.

We get to know Okja. The huge mammal is, in a word, odd and, in another, adorable. Within the first few minutes of the film you’re able to get over the fact you’re seeing a giant, CGI, hippo-pig hybrid-thing on your small laptop screen. After that, you love her. Okja’s animation is stunning. Every movement she makes, every twitch and blink, is placed with such precision and detail. It seems as though some of her mannerisms are dog-like, while her eyes express human-like intelligence and emotion. It’s easy to get attached, both to her and Mija, played by the outstanding Seo-Hyun Ahn.

Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija. Photo source

While Okja the animal is marvellous, Seo-Hyun Ahn is the true star of the show. She gives a performance that, in my opinion, is more notable than Tilda Swinton’s turn as the high-strung CEO of Mirando Corporation, or Jake Gyllenhaal’s as a boozy, washed-up nature show host. I could watch a two-hour film of just Mija and Okja in the South Korean mountains without a problem. Bong takes his time in the Korea sequences, making use of the gorgeous landscape. These shots are languid and soft, but as soon as the story moves to Seoul and New York, the cinematography takes on the same frenetic pace as the plot. Bong makes use of everything within a scene: from a young woman taking a selfie while a giant pig is chased through a mall to the employees in a corporate office being totally duplicitous but also blindly faithful. The potential for satire is enormous and Bong gladly delivers.

Okja is a surprising movie in a number of ways. There are shocking moments of violence and cruelty, gleefully dry and dark humour, and a conclusion in which no one turns out to be “the good guys” except Mija and Okja. There is a clear divide between “them” (Mirando) and “us” (Mija and the Animal Liberation Front), but the animal rights activists don’t emerge entirely unscathed either, with moments of hypocrisy, deceit, and self-righteousness within the group. Mija and Okja are the true heroes of the story and to the audience, the most redeemable characters. There’s a possible reading into that, the idea that only animals and children are safe from the inevitable selfishness and violence that plague humanity.

Mija and Okja. Photo source.

Okja is full of meaning and criticism. It makes judgements on our current ways of life and questions how we got to this point of resource depletion, the ethics of factory farming where animals are put under conditions that are terrible at best. Okja doesn’t offer any answers or solutions, but it makes you think and that in and of itself is an achievement. It’ll entertain you, just like any movie should and needs to in order to be seen. That being said, once you turn on Okja, it’s hard to turn it off, and it’s hard to forget both the giant superpig and everything she represents.

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The American Dream: The Bad Batch Review

It’s common, while watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, to have the thought, “yep, I just saw that.” This statement could refer to a number of things. It could refer to brief moments of intense gore, ridiculously beautiful cinematography, or bemusement at the sheer camp stumbled upon in an otherwise brutal and dry story.

You could call The Bad Batch a survivalist movie. You could call it a cautionary tale. You could call it a love story, though I’m personally ambivalent towards that reading. It’s a terribly simple movie that’s also terribly strange. If Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was Iranian noir, then The Bad Batch is sunburnt Americana — the most cliché American characteristics stretched out to their maximum and stripped down to their basest levels.

At its core, The Bad Batch is about Arlene (model-turned-actress Suki Waterhouse) getting cast out into the desert as one of ‘the Bad Batch’, people deemed not rich, healthy, contributing or just good enough for America. Once in the desert, she’s immediately kidnapped by cannibals and loses an arm and a leg to their meals. She escapes, is found by a scavenger and brought to a makeshift town called Comfort, where other Bad Batch castoffs try to survive with the help of The Dream (a cultish Keanu Reeves.)

Suki Waterhouse as Arlen in The Bad Batch. Photo source.

Those in Comfort are fuelled by The Dream’s drugs and his nighttime desert raves. Comfort is filled with satirical images America — from the raver decked out in a Statue of Liberty costume to a one-legged pole dancer wearing a big t-shirt with an American flag bikini on it. Everywhere there are signs referring to The Dream, be it the drug or the man — clear references to The American Dream —, that pointed fingers at America, saying “this is what you want” or “this is who you are.” It’s not subtle, but little in this movie is, save for the sparse use of dialogue, something I’m beginning to consider as an Amirpour technique, just like her long takes and rack focus.

Keanu Reeves as The Dream in The Bad Batch. Photo source.

In the first twenty minutes of the film, barely any words are said. The audience is left to parse through what they can see to try and figure out what the hell is going on and why people are being forced out into the desert. While hosting a rave, The Dream paints a clearer picture of a post-apocalyptic world that likely doesn’t have the resources for its entire population. The survivalist aspect of the film combined with the desert setting does give off a Western vibe, much like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night did. Both films have female protagonists, in place of a John Wayne type of character, battling their enemies and they are neither perfect nor nice. They are both killers and they are both alone. Or at least, they’re alone until a guy steps in.

Jason Momoa as Miami Man in The Bad Batch. Photo source.

When I was first looking into the film, I saw that it was described as a love story. This was confusing to me both before and after watching the movie. The love story here is one between Arlen and one of the cannibals, Miami Man (Jason Momoa trying out a Spanish accent for a cuban character). Arlen and Miami Man are brought together by Miami Man’s search for his daughter, Honey, who was taken by The Dream after Arlen brought her to Comfort. Momoa is as brooding and hunky as ever, and maybe I’m just traditional, but I would be hesitant to start romancing with a fella that may or may not have eaten part of my leg for dinner.

How you want to define The Bad Batch is entirely up to you. I personally liked it. However, the two hours of a lot of walking and not a lot of talking garnered mixed reviews from the public. In that bleak desert and with so little speech, the audience is left with an uncomfortable amount of space and silence where they must sit with their thoughts. It leaves so much open to interpretation, so many questions unanswered in this short timeline that barely scratches the surface of the dystopian world it inhabits. In that space we could also find what the movie is and what it might be expected to be.

What it is not is an action-packed thriller. It is not a love story, or a comedy, or even a drama. It’s not a blockbuster, but not a complete indie-house movie either. It plays at being an examination of the human condition in dehumanizing environments when the characters themselves let so little of their person be revealed to each other, let alone the audience.

So what is The Bad Batch? 

I’m viewing it more as an experiment — of what could happen in a very near future, of how we would react to something like that happening, and how we react as an audience to a movie like this that doesn’t sit comfortably into any genre and doesn’t give the audience exactly what they want.

Whether opinions on the film are good or bad, I see Amirpour as a strong directorial voice. As this is only her sophomore feature film release, I’m keen to see what else she has in store and where else she may take us.

The Bad Batch is now playing in select cinemas and is available on iTunes and Amazon. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Novella’s Fall Movie Preview

As we fully immerse ourselves in summertime, we also find ourselves bombarded with summer blockbusters — big-budget, questionably written, made-for-popcorn flicks that have folks heading to theatres in droves to watch some action and enjoy the intense air conditioning. Right now, however, we’re going to look past those blockbusters and into the future — the future meaning the fall. Fall, in the movie world, is a mix of winter blockbusters dropping, independent movies finally getting distribution, and documentaries seeing the light of day. We’ve pulled from all three of these categories to bring you our fall movie preview.

Note that movies times are always subject to change, but these are the current release dates for the films below.

Dolores — September 1

© 2016 Sundance Institute | photo by George Ballis.

Dolores Huerta, the American activist and co-founder of the country’s first farmworkers union, lived an extraordinary life. She fought against gender bias and for unions while raising eleven children. Her incredible and inspirational story is told in this documentary directed by Peter Bratt, which premiered at Sundance and is now set for North American release on September 1st.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle — September 22

Whether you hated or loved the sheer ridiculousness and camp of the first Kingsman movie, you have to admit that it was memorable. The exploding heads scene stands out in my mind as a particularly visceral experience. This September, the long-awaited sequel, directed by Matthew Vaughan, will hit theatres, bringing together the original British cast with some American newcomers, namely Channing Tatum and Julianne Moore.

Blade Runner 2049 — October 6

Many have high hopes for this hotly anticipated sequel to the science fiction classic Blade Runner, which originally came out in 1982. A cult classic, Blade Runner is based on the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and is a milestone for the genre. In Blade Runner 2049, Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard and is joined by Ryan Gosling as a younger, but somehow just as world-weary, cop. Directed by Dennis Villeneuve, this is one that may be polarizing for die-hard fans, but will definitely be entertaining.

The Florida Project — October 6

Photo source

Sean Baker, the director behind the runaway hit Tangerine, turns his lens on a different subject: kids. The Florida Project centres around a group of children who are homeless but have days filled with child-like wonder and excitement. It looks like the rawness and unusual beauty of Tangerine will be present in The Florida Project. Having premiered at Cannes, an early review called it a “near-perfect film.”

Happy Death Day — October 13

Happy Death Day may or may not be a good movie. It may fall into the elusive category of “cultish horror hit” but in all likeliness may become another unmemorable slasher flick. However, the structure of this is unusual: a college student relives the same day and has to solve her own murder. I’m hoping for some kick-ass final-girl moments and the same type of black humour and cultural commentary found it the Purge movies, which come from the same production team. Director Christopher B. Landon did, however, direct the last three Paranormal Activity movies, so what we may get is a lot of jump scares and pitched screaming.

Marshall — October 13

Chadwick Boseman takes on the role of lawyer Thurgood Marshall in this biographical drama directed by Reginald Hudlin. Marshall famously became the first African-American supreme court judge, but this movie centres around an early case: his defence of a black chauffeur against his wealthy white employer on accusations of sexual assault and attempted murder. Josh Gad also stars as Samuel Friedman, the young Jewish lawyer paired with Marshall on the case. Oscar fodder? Potentially. But it’s also the kind of content production companies need to be paying attention to.

Thor: Ragnorak — November 3

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding. Constantly. These guys put out sequels faster than the Wrong Turn flicks did in their prime. The latest Marvel drop has us back with Thor who we last saw in The Dark World, a not-so-great follow-up to a not-bad first movie. This time around, though, Marvel’s taking a different approach. They’ve got New Zealand director Taika Waititi at the helm and a promising ’80s vibe. I’m hoping for tons of references to classic ’80s sci-fi and fantasy, but even if you’re not keen on that, might I point you in the direction of Chris Hemsworth on a big screen for two hours?

The Killing of a Sacred Deer — November 3

Yorgos Lathimos’s film The Lobster was a critical hit. Dark, weird, and funny, it was described as “brutal and rapturously romantic” by Rolling Stone and received over 70 award nominations. This November, Lathimos returns with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as a couple that takes in a teenage son. The summary is purposefully vague, but early reviews are rapturous and regular moviegoers like myself are definitely curious to see more of Lathimos’ work.

The Shape of Water — December 8

Photo source

Guillermo del Toro, the man behind both hits and flops, is undeniably creative and ridiculously good at creating atmosphere. His latest has yet to have a trailer or a full summary, but it’s been described as more romantic than del Toro’s other films. It features Sally Hawkins as a cleaner that comes across a scientific experiment in a 1960s research lab. We can assume, given the director, there’s got to be some kind of monster action involved.

Star Wars: Episode VIII — December 15

Le’s face it, Star Wars is here to stay. It’s one of the biggest, most iconic movie franchises of all time, and while the new Disney additions to the canon were met with mixed excitement from Star Wars fans, the franchise shows no sign of slowing down. Last year’s Rogue One was a stand-alone in the franchise, but now we’re back to where Episode VII left off, with the reappearance of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. This episode is directed by Rian Johnson but of course still has George Lucas credited on the screenplay. You can bet I’ll be in the theatre on opening night for this one.

Phantom Thread — December 25

Photo by Glenn Kilpatrick, The Whitby Photographer

Daniel Day Lewis’ final film before retirement reportedly has him playing couture designer Charles James in 1950s London. Little else is known about the movie; plot summaries are vague at best, but the combination of Lewis with director Paul Thomas Anderson has everyone in a tizzy. The last time the two worked together was on the critical hit There Will Be Blood, which earned Lewis an Oscar for his performance.

The Breadwinner — October

Cartoon Salon’s newest animated film is a Canadian-Irish-Luxembourgian collaboration, with Angelina Jolie as a producer. The film is set in Afghanistan and tells the story of Parwana, a 12-year-old girl who poses as a boy to earn money to help her family. Forget the idea that animated movies are made solely for children, The Breadwinner is one that could be appreciated by everyone.

Act & Punishment — November

Photo source

Back in 2015, Russian director Yivgeni Mitta documented the punk band Pussy Riot after their release from prison and subsequent rise as activists. Now, the movie has finally been picked up for North American distribution to be released this November, coinciding with a soundtrack release and international tour. After all, Pussy Riot started as a band, and they still are, but they’ve also become so much more.

Bright — December

So we’ve got Netflix. We’ve got Netflix and Will Smith and Joel Edgerton and a modern fantasy directed by David Ayer. Little else is known about this movie, except that Smith plays a cop and Egerton plays an orc. Also, there’s this world where magical creatures live alongside humans. Netflix has hit a comfortable place where it is producing both good and bad content, but not enough is known about Bright to know where it may stand. That being said, Max Landis, writer of the sci-fi cult hit Chronicle, penned the script, so things are looking promising.

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Film Review: Equals

Photo credit: Rock-It Promotions.
Photo credit: Rock-It Promotions.

In the future, there will be no sex. In fact, there will be no touching, no companionship, no intimacy of any kind. Such is the world envisioned in Equals, starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, opening in Canada today.

After a near apocalyptic event, the last vestiges of human civilization take refuge inside The Collective. On the bright side, The Collective knows almost no disease or suffering, and everyone looks great in their matching, perfectly tailored white suits. The downside is, everything is meaningless. With human emotion weeded out through the wonders of science, only those afflicted with SOS (Switched-On Syndrome, a bit of an eye-roller) are burdened by feelings.

All is well for emotionless and productive Collective member Silas (played by Hoult) until the arrival of Kristen Stewart, aka Naia, who inevitably introduces him to the art of brooding. From there, even more shocking behaviour follows as the two battle first to resist, and then to fulfill, their illicit passions.

The rebellion of the young couple begins when a bad case of SOS forces each of them to ask one question: what’s the point of it all? Unfortunately, the film leaves us wondering the same thing, not so much about our own culture, but about the conceit of the film itself. Why, we wonder, would a whole society be so invested in such an obviously vacuous existence? With no Big Brotherly grand oppressor to speak of, and no soma-fuelled orgies to make it all worthwhile, this future feels a little too inexplicable.

But the film is not without its charm. Hoult and Stewart give laudable performances under challenging circumstances. After all, how do you make a character interesting in a world where personality and emotion are effectively contraband?

“That was the trickiest part,” says director Drake Doremus. “It’s quite the opposite of what you’re normally doing in a movie.” And while the two leads never escape their initial flatness as much as one might like, it is compelling to watch their muted chemistry come quietly to the fore. In addition, the always impeccable Guy Pierce and Jacki Weaver round out the cast as supportive fellow SOS sufferers.

The most memorable part of Equals is its art direction, overseen by Jason Hougaard, who was production designer on Beyoncé’s Lemonade earlier this year. The Collective members live in a glistening white utopia of minimalism. Silas’s furniture slides smartly out of his apartment walls as he enters. Come feeding time, the walls produce five star meals as if by magic. At the office, the young attractive automatons work in rows, illustrating on touch screen standing desks. Picture a high tech minimum-security prison run by chic Japanese department store Muji. Everything is cool, everything is agreeable. Evidently, that’s the problem.

At its most thoughtful, Equals is a cautionary tale about style. It begins to ask: what does looking this good do to the soul? But the movie doesn’t answer this question. It might not know it’s asking it. Instead, the film sticks to its ham-fisted dystopian didactics, its unflinchingly predictable plot, and its often dull cinematography, whose warm and fuzzy close-ups speak the emotional language of an EDM music video.

Ultimately, the film never really escapes the dehumanizing quality of its own aesthetic. Consequently, it boils down to a platitude: without emotion, messy as it is, life is meaningless. Thankfully, the film’s flaws don’t get in the way of the sweetness of its better moments.

What Novella Loves This Week


Drew Brown – Editor-in-Chief

Absolutely Fabulous : The Movie

Sweetie darling! Patsy and Edina return in ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The movie’. I have loved following the antics of Edina and Patsy since the very beginning, so you can only imagine how excited I am about movie which will be released on this side of pond on July 22nd. In the movie, Kate Moss is presumed dead after Edina accidentally bumps into her, causing her to fall off the balcony into the Thames forcing our fab duo to be on the run. That’s enough for me to head to the theatre!

Liat Neuman – Fashion & Trends Writer

Red Sunnies by Céline

Summer is the right time of year to upgrade your sunglasses selection. Bold and bright colours are the perfect way to evoke the joyful of summer days. Recently I came across with these amazing Céline red sunglass, made from plastic frame. The futuristic and the modern shape along with the vibrant red can definitely make a statement and show off your playful side.

Chantelle Lee – Arts & Culture Writer

World’s Best Cities by National Geographic

World’s Best Cities is a photographic travel book created by National Geographic. The book displays stunning photographs of 220 cities around the world, and includes historical facts and must-see attractions in each location. Flip through this book to plan your next vacation, learn about different cultures, and admire beautiful photography.

Snigdha Koirala – Arts & Culture Writer

Penguin Clothbound Classics

Penguin Clothbound Classics are every bookworm’s dream. A curation of classics bound in cloth designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, the collection ranges from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Jean Rhys’ Wide Sagrasso Sea. So in addition to being riveting reads, these books make a unique feature in any bookshelf or coffee table!

Joyce Li – Social Media Analyst

Defining Mascara by MAKE Beauty

Most of the mascara I’ve used often smudges or leaves prints on my under eye. I decided to try this brand that was recommended from a New York blogger. I am absolutely in love with it, the best part about this mascara is that it’s smudge-proof while hydrating and nourishes the lashes.

Ryan Wohlgemut – Men’s Fashion Writer

Embroidered Chuck Taylor All Star

As we all know white sneakers are a fan fave for everyone, especially in the summer. Myself being a fan of the trend, have been debating whether or not to expand my collection of white sneakers or not for a couple months and cannot decide. I recently stumbled across this pair of embroidered white high top chuck taylor’s and fell in love. I love the idea of personalizing or customizing clothing to make them fit accordingly to your own personal style. So this week my pick is the rose embroidered chuck taylor’s pictured above.