OKJA (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho

Written by: Bong Joon-Ho & Jon Ronson

Starring: Ahn Seo-Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Byun Hee-Bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins & Giancarlo Esposito

South Korean director/screenwriter Bong Joon-Ho has carved out quite a nice filmography for himself. He’s made acclaimed thrillers (MEMORIES OF MURDER, MOTHER), one of the best monster movies of the new millennium (THE HOST), and recently broke into English language films with the slightly-overrated-but-still-good SNOWPIERCER. OKJA sees Bong Joon-Ho constructing a creature-feature crossed with a wild adventure and a deep bond between a girl and her animal friend. This eccentric film probably won’t please everyone because it’s pretty damn weird to begin with, but it’s a crazy ride from beginning to end that had me grinning from ear to ear.

In an effort to roll out a new kind of GMO meat, CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has created a breed of genetically engineered super-pigs and zoologist/reality star Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) has spread those super-pigs throughout different countries to see which farmer has the most effective methods. Cut to 10 years later in South Korea, young Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun) has a best friend in giant super-pig Okja. When the Mirando Corporation comes to collect Mija’s companion for tasty meat, the determined farmgirl decides to take matters into her own hands and fights to get Okja back…with the help of a radical PETA-like group called the Animal Liberation Front. Chaotic craziness ensues, alongside lots of laughs and a surprising amount of feels.

OKJA kicks things off in the right direction as the first quarter of the film sets up the comical premise in a convincing way and develops the relationship between Mija and Okja. The friendship between this little girl and her giant pig is surprisingly effective and the viewer can feel the connection between them. This greatly benefits the story when Okja is stolen and we root for Mija to rescue him. I sincerely wanted to see this girl and her giant pig reunited, which resulted in lots of vocal reactions as her journey puts her into perilous situations and pits her against a cruel corporation. Young newcomer Ahn Seo-Hyun puts in the best genre-based leading child performance since Onni Tommila in the twisted Finnish Christmas flick RARE EXPORTS.

The supporting cast has a number of big names and stand-out performances. Tilda Swinton does a fine job as unusual antagonist Lucy, who cares about Mija and Okja’s situation more than I anticipated. She also does well as Lucy’s sinister twin sister during the final third. Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from BREAKING BAD) has a few moments as Lucy’s reserved assistant. Meanwhile, the ALF is populated by the likes of Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Daniel Henshall, and Devon Bostick. The motley crew of activists supplies lots of comic relief and a surprising amount of heart.

The only bad performance and one of OKJA’s two major flaws arrives in Jake Gyllenhaal’s over-the-top antics as the crazy scientist/reality star. I seriously don’t know what happened here because Gyllenhaal is (in my opinion) one of the best actors working today. This actor takes odd, artsy, and serious roles that usual have him acting his ever-loving heart out. His attempt as a goofy, cartoonish villain is cringe-inducing for all the wrong reasons. He sucked me right out of a major moment that should have been hard to watch. Instead this would-be depressing scene became depressing purely because of Gyllenhaal’s unusually terrible performance.

OKJA’s second problem comes in its not-so-subtle message hitting the viewer over the head like a sledgehammer. That’s not a huge detraction as the film is still massively entertaining and hits its emotional cords just right. However, I feel that PETA, vegans, and vegetarians will likely hold up OKJA as a crowning achievement of cinema. Meanwhile, meat-eaters in the audience may find themselves occasionally rolling their eyes. Still, the film overcomes Gyllenhaal’s crappy acting and the overbearingly preachy message through sheer entertainment, well-executed laughs, stellar effects, and an emotional core. The super-pig Okja looks every bit as good as THE HOST’s freaky-ass monster and that’s a massive compliment.

Viewers who will dig on what’s essentially an entertaining R-rated version of a heartwarming family-friendly adventure will likely find themselves head over heels for OKJA. This movie is weird, hilarious, and moving. I loved every second of it, even when the two notable flaws reared their ugly heads. OKJA is something out of the ordinary and I hope that plenty of viewers love it as much as I did. OKJA comes highly recommended for the delightful little oddity it is.

Grade: A-


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Sequences of Scary Action and Peril

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Directed by: Jon Favreau

Written by: Justin Marks

(based on THE JUNGLE BOOK by Richard Kipling)

Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito & Christopher Walken

After playing second fiddle to Pixar for years and hitting a stream of live-action flops along the way, it seems that Disney has been on a drastic upswing with live-action retellings of their animated classics. The latest title on their docket is THE JUNGLE BOOK, based upon Richard Kipling’s short story collection of the same name. Before walking into this movie, I read up on the process of how it was filmed. Apparently, it was entirely shot in a Los Angeles studio with tons of computer effects making up the locations and (obviously) the animals. That is incredible given how realistic and detailed every frame of this movie looks. Even if you ignore the undeniably impressive effects, this new JUNGLE BOOK is a very entertaining adventure for the whole family.

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Mowgli is a young boy who was orphaned deep in the jungle. This man cub was raised alongside wolves, with panther Bagheera serving as a would-be parental figure. When a particularly hot dry season arrives, Mowgli’s way of life is threatened by evil tiger Shere Khan, who vows to hunt and kill the boy when the rainy season returns. Soon enough, rain begins poring and Mowgli is forced to make his way across the treacherous jungle in order to be with his own kind. Along his way, he’ll meet an assortment of colorful characters. There’s lazy bear Baloo, who becomes a friend, while giant orangutan King Louie and massive snake Kaa serve as newly found antagonists. All the while, Shere Khan waits for his chance to pounce.


I already mentioned JUNGLE BOOK’s insanely detailed effects, but they cannot be talked about enough. This is the best CGI that I’ve seen in a long time. The environments look completely realistic and the animals (despite human speech coming from their mouths) are convincing. One might imagine that human voices coming from realistic looking animals might appear somewhat silly, but JUNGLE BOOK pulls off this fantastical feat in an extraordinary way. I was entranced by this animated on-screen world and never once felt like this film went over-the-top, even though that easily could have happened in lesser hands.

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The vocal work is great from the A-list cast. Lupita Nyong’o plays wolf-mother Raskha, Bill Murray perfectly inhabits jokey Baloo, and Ben Kingsley wonderfully fits wise Bagheera. Shere Kahn is voiced menacingly by Idris Elba and the more subtle moments of this villain fully showcase his vicious nature. A big standout is Christopher Walken as King Louie, who comes off as simultaneously comical and intimidating. Walken even gets to do a bit of singing with the tune “I Wanna Be Like You,” which I am still humming as I type this review. Though she serves as little more than glorified cameo, Scarlett Johansson adds a bit of charm as the calm, deadly Kaa.

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The only live-action performance in the film comes from newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Major props to this kid, because he was essentially acting against nothing and does a solid job for 90% of the film. The other 10% comes from a few moments of line delivery that sounded a bit awkward. However, the lame excuse of this kid being a first-time child actor could also easily wipe away my complaint with his performance. Neel Sethi is a convincing enough lead and mostly sells the more emotional moments. One of the most moving scenes in the film is a conversation between Neel Sethi’s Mowgli and wolf mother Rashka, which solely depended solely on Sethi’s acting abilities.

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This new JUNGLE BOOK is well-paced as the nearly two-hour running time flew by. We are treated to a few cool plot devices early on that come back in a big way. The script also doesn’t follow the exact motions of the 1967 animated classic or the underrated 1994 live-action effort. Instead, big changes have been made to the plot that actually benefitted it. I really loved this movie’s conclusion and the final face-off with Shere Kahn is far better than previous interpretations of the material. What is sort of awkward are two songs (“Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”) in the otherwise straightforward narrative, which were enjoyable and also felt like they were included purely for nostalgia.

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2016’s JUNGLE BOOK reinterprets an old Disney classic in a groundbreaking effects-laden new way. The film has an already talented voice cast who are made even more impressive by animation that doesn’t make talking animals look silly. The movie runs on three modes: exciting, funny, and heartwarming. As a result, it’s never allowed time to drag and never bored me in the slightest. I may have mild annoyances with certain parts of the film, but I had fun watching it the whole way through. Families are bound to have a great time, as will older viewers who simply want to watch a quality effort from Disney. Christopher Walken as a talking, dancing giant ape is worth the price of admission alone!

Grade: B+


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence and Action, some Thematic Elements, Substance Use and Language

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Directed by: Wes Ball

Written by: T.S. Nowlin

(based on the novel THE SCORCH TRIALS by James Dashner)

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Kaya Scodelario, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Alan Tudyk & Patricia Clarkson

Seeing that HARRY POTTER ran its course, TWILIGHT has long since ended and THE HUNGER GAMES is coming to a conclusion this year, it seems like the next two big young adult movie franchises are DIVERGENT and THE MAZE RUNNER, for better or worse. I actually liked the first MAZE RUNNER and considered it be big dumb spectacle. It was an entertaining, ridiculous movie that came across like LORD OF THE FLIES with a maze, monsters and just a touch of RESIDENT EVIL. It also left the door wide open for a follow-up. A mere year later, we have THE SCORCH TRIALS. This sequel holds some of the bombastic charm from the first film, but also seems like a big step down in the newly spawned franchise.

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Thomas and his friends survived the Maze and have been rescued by the mysterious Mr. Janson. Janson runs a safe haven from WICKED (an evil organization that wishes to use these teens for something…no spoilers). Soon enough, Thomas discovers that Janson isn’t quite the hero he’s set himself up as. Thomas and his friends find themselves running once again, but not in a maze. Instead, they’re in a sand-filled wasteland crossed with the zombie apocalypse. Instead of monsters, Thomas now faces off against zombies (though they don’t call them that), harsh elements (including a freaky electrical storm) and WICKED itself.

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SCORCH TRIALS feels like its making itself up as it goes along. The plot is silly, rife with clichés that you’ve seen in plenty of other films/stories, and has moments of obvious CGI. This is a RESIDENT EVIL movie series for kids who aren’t old enough to get into an R-rated movie. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I mean that as both a compliment and a detriment. The teenage characters are just as wooden as they were in the first film, but there’s a definite dark streak to this movie. I found myself surprised at how grim things actually get, resulting in one teenager (who was sitting within earshot) swearing after a particularly depressing scene. Plot points that were a mystery in the first film are brought out in exposition. However, these revelations feel lazy and underwhelming (especially the reason for why Thomas was sent into the maze).

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There is still entertaining action to be had in this sequel. I enjoyed the desert wasteland and chase scenes (of which there are many). Though the aforementioned teenage characters may be wooden and unconvincing, the adults seem to be having fun. Aidan Gillen (who plays one of my favorite characters in GAME OF THRONES) is well cast as the villainous Janson. He doesn’t receive a ton of screen time, but makes the most of what he has. Alan Tudyk has a really strange part as a drug-using criminal in the post-apocalyptic world. He has about two or three scenes tops, but sticks out as a “what the hell was that?” character. Giancarlo Esposito stole the show for me as a heroic aid to Thomas. Patricia Clarkson is a bland villainess though and her motivations are as clichéd as you’d expect in a movie that’s derivative of seemingly every apocalyptic science-fiction story ever made. SCORCH TRIALS really bombs in its pacing and ending. This second installment runs 20 minutes longer than the first film, when it has half the story to fill that length of time. There is no satisfying conclusion either. It’s just another obvious cliffhanger setting up for the final film (THE DEATH CURE coming in 2017).

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MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS is not necessarily “good” in the traditional sense of the word. There’s nothing original or creative here (save for the slightly darker tone in a young-adult movie) and it’s riddled with plot holes. However, I still found myself slightly invested for the strange adult characters and sheer spectacle. The movie runs too long for its own good and doesn’t have a satisfying ending. I also hear it’s not a straight adaptation of the novel, so fans of the book might want to prepare themselves for that. As someone who hasn’t read the books and doesn’t plan to, I found SCORCH TRIALS to be a significant step down from the first film, but I didn’t hate it. This is an okay time if you don’t mind turning off your brain at the door.

Grade: C+


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Disturbing Violence, Language and some Sexuality

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Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Written by: Stuart Beattie

(based on the novel DERAILED by James Siegel)

Starring: Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George, Addison Timlin, RZA, Tom Conti & Xzibit

DERAILED, based on James Siegel’s novel of the same name, is a typical thriller. You’ve probably seen enough similar films to establish a good idea of where things are heading before the movie reaches its halfway point. This being said, it’s truly amazing how some quality actors and a couple of decent twists can make standard material into something far more enjoyable than it should be. DERAILED is more of a guilty pleasure than a solid piece of cinema or quality thriller, but I mean this in a way of back-handed praise. I had a fun watching this in the only way that a cinephile can enjoy a relatively well-executed B-flick.


Charles Schine is a loving husband, caring father and troubled businessman. Through the simple mistake of missing his usual train, Charles meets a good Samaritan named Lucinda. Despite both of them being married and parents, Charles and Lucinda decide to go against their better judgment and have a fling that becomes an affair. Before the two can go through on the actual affair portion of their fling, a violent stranger breaks into their hotel room with a gun. After beating the crap out of Charles and raping Lucinda, this thug, LaRoche, decides to blackmail both of the potentially unfaithful spouses for all that they’re worth. With stakes increasing and danger taking its toll, Charles must resort to drastic measures in order to protect his family and Lucinda.


I respect that a significant amount of time was set aside to develop Charles as a likable character who makes a costly mistake. Clive Owen was a great choice for the role and shows a side that we rarely see from him. I usually picture Owen as a badass or tough guy, but his DERAILED character is a bit of a wuss and emotional wreck. He gets the crap kicked out of him on multiple occasions, which makes the shift in his overall shift in attitude that much more satisfying later on. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jennifer Aniston was embarrassingly miscast as Lucinda. She isn’t given a whole lot to do other than be a cowering, scared damsel in distress, but Aniston doesn’t exactly show a range of emotions to be a compelling character. This is made up for in the villain of the piece. Vincent Cassel seems to be having a blast playing LaRoche, injecting a cruel playfulness in his evil that makes him a lot of fun to watch. As LaRoche’s side thug, Xzibit shows up with a perma-scowl and his performance is enjoyable as well. Cassel and Xzibit chew the scenery together like it’s going out of style.


The story in DERAILED is overly familiar, but key moments are effective. One suspenseful sequence in which Clive Owen is stuck in a very comprising situation, all while a cop patrols nearby, milks every bit of tension that it can out of this threatening scenario. A couple of the smaller twists did actually surprise me. However, there are arguably a few too many surprises and the final few become increasingly far-fetched. A big plot revelation that happens close to the final third is also way too predictable. So much so that I had correctly guessed the outcome of this show-stopping plot twist in the initial plot set-up. It’s not that big of a shock, especially when certain comedies have made fun of this clichéd twist plenty of times (e.g. IN BRUGES and FANBOYS).


This all being said, there’s silly fun to be had in DERAILED. The main plot is definitely too predictable for its own good and Jennifer Aniston was miscast. Neither of these problems derail the movie (pun fully intended). There are a solid moments and a couple of twists did catch me off guard, even if they do get pretty preposterous by the conclusion. Clive Owen shows a softer side that I’ve never really seen in his acting, while Vincent Cassel dominates the film as the snarky villain. DERAILED comes recommended as a guilty pleasure thriller. It’s suspenseful fun, but just remember to turn off your brain before watching.

Grade: C+

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