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Carlos Prime [Celluloid 06.27.17] scifi action thriller adventure

There’s a scene in 2005’s The Constant Gardener where Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin (Ralph Fiennes) are driving through a Kenyan town and see a trio of impoverished villagers in need of assistance. Tessa insists they pull over and help out, but Justin denies her by saying, “They all need our help.”

Tessa snaps back with “But these are three we can help.”

The point being, the ability to identify every large-scale problem as a series of interconnected smaller problems is the key to getting anything of vague philosophical importance accomplished. Want to end world hunger? Start by feeding the next hungry person you see. Want to lose weight? Attached a shock collar that administers 50,000 volts every time you look at cheese fries.

In the case of Okja, the question involves taking down an international corporate monolith, and the answer lies in the happiness of the world’s most fabulous super pig.

Starting from her humble upbringing in the Korean countryside, the giant hippo-pig-looking creature is practically living in a Disney montage with her teenage owner Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and family. After being named the World’s Greatest super pig, however, Okja is called upon to New York City, where the shady corporation who started the competition can…check up on her? Nothing sinister, honest!

Mija can’t bear the thought of losing her adorable animal companion, so she embarks on a bold pursuit to retrieve Okja from the vile clutches of the Mirando Corporation. The personalities she encounters on her trip are just as audacious as the trip itself, and before she thinks twice about wanting her giant pet back, she’s head-to-head with the single greatest enemy to humanity in all history: INSECURE CAPITALISTS.

Before I go into detail about how thrilling the chases are, or how gorgeous the cinematography is, or how potentially realistic the premise is for a food-driven dystopian future, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT TILDA SWINTON AND JAKE GYLLENHAAL!

Swinton (who stole every scene she damn well pleased in Snowpiercer) slays as Lucy, the titular head of the Mirando Corporation. Lucy has taken over for her rival sister Nancy and the vulnerable paranoia seeps out of her every pore. Damnit, does Tilda Swinton even have pores? She’s perfect, right? I got so uncomfortable watching her make decisions in this movie because it just felt like she was doing the wrong thing at all times while under pressure from the board members and people were going to get hurt from her panicky nature.

If I had to get as specific as I could for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dr. Johnny Wilcox (animal lover and TV zoologist), I would tell you to imagine if Gene Shalit reviewed living organisms instead of movies, but with the voice of Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Gyllenhaal utilizes his remarkably expressive face in so many of the scenes, and even when he’s in the background in some shots you can’t help but look at him like he’s an oddly mustachioed Terry Jones with super long arms and a tuxedo in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

The timid crew of revolutionaries within the Animal Liberation Front team (Steven Yeun, Paul Dano, Lily Collins) make for a wonderfully disorganized wrench in the gears of Mija’s plans. They want to help free Okja, but they only kind of know what they’re doing. The chase sequences with the ALF team are incredibly orchestrated and at times hilariously grounded in reality, despite the fact they’re running alongside a CGI hippo-pig-thing.

The animation is seamless, by the way. It reminded me of watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where after about 30 minutes of the film you forget you’re watching CGI and say “Dang, these monkeys can act!”

Okja is a devastatingly beautiful film that emphasizes the importance of fighting the good fight while maintaining a realistic sense of idealism. You can fight the system. You can change the world. You just have to know along the way that you’re not going to change everybody’s world.

Okja is available on Netflix June 28th.

Imagine if Soylent Green had a child with Babe: Pig in the City, and Tilda Swinton’s character never left Michael Clayton.

Recommended Release: The Host

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