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.

Continue following our arts & culture and lifestyle 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.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Review: Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

You might recognize Hasan Minhaj as the Senior Indian Correspondent over at The Daily Show, where he was hired in 2014. Since then, he’s done numerous pieces on a wide variety of topics, many of them focusing on Islamophobia and how it affects Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. He also did a noteworthy interview with Justin Trudeau, where he (Hasan) wore a Canadian tuxedo and, among other things, asked the PM to apologize (or not apologize) for everything from Drake on Degrassi to Justin’s Movember goatee. In any case, on May 23rd, Hasan Minhaj also released a new comedy special for Netflix called Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King.

About a half-hour into Homecoming King, Hasan relates a story about how, following 9/11, his family got an anonymous phone call in which he and his father heard someone repeatedly calling them racial slurs and accusing them of aiding terrorists before saying their address and threatening to kill them. Hasan describes looking at his father after and says, “Do you ever see your parents, and see the mortality in them?” Minutes later, the family heard the sound of their car windows being smashed in. He compares his own reaction, running around looking for the perpetrators, to that of his father, who sweeps up the glass “like he works in a hate crimes barbershop.” While Hasan’s father asserts that “these things happen” and considers it the price of being an immigrant, Hasan has a different realization: “We really are from two different generations…I was born here. So I actually have the audacity of equality…I’m equal, I don’t deserve this.” Following this incredible speech, Hasan adds on that his father once tried to return used underwear to Costco. Hasan will tell you all about how annoying he initially found his younger sister (who he didn’t even know about until he was 8), before he reveals that she is currently an accomplished attorney, and that she interfered on his behalf when their parents were reluctant to accept Hasan’s relationship with his then-fiancée (now wife), who is Hindu, not Muslim.

Hasan Minhaj performing in Homecoming King

That is the genius of Hasan Minhaj’s comedic style. In one moment, he is completely serious, relating the intensity of the racism and Islamophobia he and his family have experienced, and in the next, he is quipping about the oddities of these experiences. He laughs at the differences between himself and Bethany, his white friend/crush in high school. In one particularly amusing moment, he describes sneaking out of his house in a JC Penny suit and six puffs of Michael Jordan cologne, and biking to Bethany’s house to be her prom date. However, he arrives to learn that Bethany’s parents have found a white boy to be her prom date instead — because they were taking pictures and didn’t think Hasan would be “a good fit.” The camera zooms in on Minhaj’s face, betraying heartbreak and shock and confusion, as though he is still a kid in high school having his prom hopes dashed. He contrasts this type of quiet racism with other types he’s received. Bethany’s mother is sure to call him “honey”, say that the family loves him, but it is still brutal. Shaking off the people who refer to him and his family with racial slurs is one thing, but shaking off the more subtle hatred from supposedly nice people is much harder.

Minhaj’s comedy and his sharp takes on racism and Islmophobia are desperately needed in this political climate. He wants to ensure that he and his family are seen as multidimensional people. He is honest about his childhood, neither pushing away some of the less seemly parts of it nor allowing the accomplishments of his family to be pushed away either. More than anything, he is here to remind us that he cannot be boxed off as being just an Indian Muslim, and that he is not willing to allow his identity to be erased or pushed aside. He peppers his jokes with Hindi and Urdu, and also mocks himself for his work in a Pizza Hut commercial. He comes off as fun and cocky, brimming with a confidence he may not have had in high school.

Hasan ends the show by discussing his audition for The Daily Show, in which he did a piece about Ben Affleck defending Islam on Real Time with Bill Maher (you know, the guy who just said the n-word on TV). We don’t see the audition, but considering the brilliance of the comedian saying it, and the fact that it evidently worked, we can imagine that it was pretty darn funny. Homecoming King was an awesome comedy special, and I honestly can’t wait for him to continue with new material both on The Daily Show and off it.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Fashion TV Shows that don’t suck

With so many die-hard fashion lovers around the world, why is it that only a handful of (poorly made and utterly boring) fashion centred TV series seem to garner attention? I mean sure, there is a plethora of fashion reality tv shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway kicking around, but why is that fashion lovers around the world are confined to having to watch Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, or some random show that has nothing to do with fashion, but has a great wardrobe none the less. This article could have easily been filled to the brim with shows that have stunning costumes like Versailles and Downtown Abbey, but that would be unjust to those who live, breathe, and work in the fashion industry. Luckily, Novella is here take away your woes and provide every fashion lover out there with a list of great fashion centred tv shows that won’t have you lying in bed wondering if sleep really is a better option than binge-watching an entire season before work.

Atelier (Japan)

Photo: Netflix

Atelier (Andâwea) is one of those series that sadly gets overlooked on the Netflix roster because of the simple fact that it isn’t in English. Now, some may be hesitant to delve into the world of subtitle reading, but the sacrifice is well worth it: This single season powerhouse of a TV show packs a mighty punch. Throughout the series, you follow a young textile design graduate, Mayuko Tokita (Mirei Kiritani) as she navigates the world of high fashion lingerie. Immediately our young protagonist is met with resistance by the series’ main antihero, a veteran lingerie designer (Mayumi Nanjo, played by Mao Daichi) and owner of Emotion Lingerie, who uses tough love to guide our hero through the often times brutal fashion world. The greatest thing about this show is the emotional response it generates in its viewers. It’s so easy to fall in love with Mayu and connect with the ups and downs of her career at Emotion as if they were your own, making Atelier a very enjoyable watch.

The Fashion Fund (USA)

Photo: Vogue

Now everyone is very well aware of the dominance Project Runway has over the fashion design competition category of reality tv. Season after season, fashion lovers are treated to a group of designer hopefuls fighting for a chance of winning a chunk of cash and a spot on New York Fashion Week’s illustrious schedule. However, once you get past all of the flash and bang that Project Runway creates, you soon come to realize that it really just is the fashion lovers’ version of American Idol. Luckily, not all is lost when it comes to design competitions. From the brilliant marketing minds at Vogue magazine comes a little design web series based on one of the most intense competitions the fashion world has to offer. Follow editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, designer Dianne Von Furstenburg, and countless other fashion elites as they mentor and oversee the Vogue Fashion Fund, a design competition aimed at kick-starting the careers of fashion designers who exhibit the most potential for becoming the next American fashion heavyweight. The best part about the series is how real and relevant it is to today’s fashion industry. Rather than watching a design competition for the sake of drama and good tv, this series aims to showcase the reality of what it takes to play with, and impress, the big kids in fashion. And if that isn’t enough incentive to start watching The Fashion Fund, then you might find some in the fact that you get to watch the designers behind brands like Gypsy Sport, Chromat, and Jonathan Simhkai do their thing all under the watchful eye of Ms. Wintour.

Absolutely Fabulous (UK)

Photo: Fox Searchlight

This British tv classic should be hailed as a national treasure at this point. With six seasons under its belt and recently a feature-length movie (with appearances by fashion legends Kate Moss and Suzy Menkes, to name a few) Absolutely Fabulous is a glittering gem among drab fashion related shows. The show follows the everyday life of self-proclaimed PR guru Edina Monsoon and her fashion editor best friend Pasty Stone as they navigate the world of British high fashion. The series itself is brilliant enough based on the constant bombardment of British wit, but the real laughs come with the catastrophic scenarios Eddy and Patsy manage to get themselves into. Ab Fab really is a melting pot of quick English wit, drugs, Bollinger champagne, and laugh out loud moments that will change the way you look at the glamorous lives of the fashion elite forever.

Fashion War (Hong Kong)

Photo: TVB

Fashion War is what they call on the Eastern hemisphere a drama. A television drama can best be compared to a soap opera. But Fashion War doesn’t play out like its melodramatic western counterparts. It follows the lives of a group of people employed at an important Hong Kong fashion magazine. Viewers are taken on a ride through the often ugly and brutal side of the fashion industry, where decisions are made at the cost of others’ feelings and jobs, which is an interesting take on the often comical or uplifting and inspiring portrayal of the fashion industry in media. Unlike the other shows on the list, Fashion War focuses on the more intense side of the industry, where loyalty and betrayal come hand in hand; a perfect edge of your seat nail biter for those of you who want a show with a little more edge to it.

Velvet (Spain)

Set in the late ’50 and early ’60s, Velvet is yet another series that showcases fashion through a different lens. In the world of Velvet, Alberto (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), heir to the prestigious Spanish department store Galerias Velvet, is faced with the daunting task of running his late father’s store while trying to keep his own personal life in pristine condition. However, things take a more difficult turn when he begins to fall for Ana (Paula Echevarría), a seamstress who works at the store. What ensues is a whirlwind of love and the tough decisions that come with it, especially when facing the responsibility of keeping a business afloat.

The Paradise (UK)

Photo: PBS

Now, this list wouldn’t be complete without a British costume drama. Luckily, among all of the historical series that features stunning costume design, the Brits managed to make a show that’s based on the industry that created those stunning costumes. Set in 1875, this two-season series follows the changes shop workers and owners must go through when the first English department store opens its doors. Alive with romance and loss, The Paradise is one of those shows that reignites the creative flame all fashion lovers have within them. The stunning costumes hark back to a time when clothing represented more than just self-expression and every detail was of the utmost importance. Another fun aspect to the series is seeing how retail fashion all began, which could be a very interesting concept to those on the business side of the fashion industry.

Continue following our fashion, arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Dear White People, What’s all the Fuss About?

There’s a slight naiveté in thinking that a tv-show called Dear White People concerning black students in a fictional Ivy-league like Winchester University should not stir up so much talk. As of an hour ago, the thirty-four seconds teaser trailer on the upcoming Netflix series based on the the 2014 independent movie directed by Justin Simien, has over four million views, 56,709 likes, and 419,525 dislikes with some calling for a boycott with #NoNetflix as their Twitter calling card. Simien responded in an interview with ET, “thanks, white supremacists, you really helped me promote my show.” Whether the controversy has indeed promoted the show or led people to unsubscribe is unclear and perhaps even besides the point. The series premieres this Friday.

The 2014 movie dramatizes black students’ experiences of racism and prejudice in universities across America with likable characters, each with quirks and characteristics that are forcibly placed to simulate the complex and diverse nature of race relations; there’s a mixed-race radio host, a gay black student, one who just wants to fit in, one pursuing academic and professional success, an Asian cameo, etc. In one scene, Sam White’s radio show is accused of being racist by the dean of students, who is also black. Sam responds: “Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can’t be racist since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system.” The scene does little to enlighten or inspire to examine race relations in the U.S. — the discussion, though it is more akin to listening to commentators with talking points, merely pushes Sam’s character as the intellectual and somewhat rebellious would-be leader. That Sam is right accomplishes little both within the movie and the minds of the viewer.

As a whole, the movie, in that it hints at social and cultural habits of race relations and the politics of the university as an institute and a microcosm of society at large has noble intentions of inciting social and political thought and, perhaps, even action. But, as is the case with many political movies aimed at exposing or addressing a large issue, it disappointingly does not go deep enough into the issue. And to my frustration, the movie was not even remotely controversial. If anything, the only true controversy within the film seemed to me to be the sudden emergence of a harmonious minority collective at the end that brings swift justice to evil-doers — this requires a bit more faith than I’m comfortable practicing.

Regarding the movie, there’s little, it would seem, to be mad about as there is little to celebrate. But that this mildly titillating and somewhat political film exists and would cause so much backlash and droves of angry responses online — much from white supremacist groups/accounts — speak volumes on our current social climate.

What is the relationship between safety and freedom? Though seemingly apart from race issues, the question is central to grasping what it means to be a student at a university or a citizen in a society. The recent controversies at Yale and at other Ivy-league schools demonstrate that the two are intricately linked. Too often we associate freedom of speech with safeguarding hate-speech and safety with some kind of millennial liberal mindset of needing protection. The true controversy underlying the movie and the issues at these schools is that somehow we are led to believe the two, safety and freedom, are inevitably mutually exclusive.

Perhaps the ten thirty minute episodes of the new series will address the important issues brought up in the original film in more depth and risk more controversy and truly shake the minds of the viewers.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.