Okja – For 10 years, Mija, a young girl in South Korea, has taken care of a giant pig creature named Okja, but the corporation that gifted it to her has returned to claim her lovable pet and turn it into fast food! Alright, hot take, I guess: this is Bong Joon Ho’s worst film by a country mile. The good news is that his best movies are so good that this being the worst means it’s still an okay film. Okja plays like his version of a Terry Gilliam children’s film like Time Bandits or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but his second English language film once again feels out of his element and a bit dumbed down. His last film, Snowpiercer, was similarly explicit in theme but it was a visually told story. The E.T.-esque stuff here is cute, and there’s a cool chase scene, but the surface level corporate satire and bonkers side characters feel like they’re from a different, broader film. It’s streaming on Netflix and I recommend a watch at some point if you’re a Joon Ho fan, but don’t expect The Host or Mother or Memories of Murder. Grade: C
The Big Sick – Over the past 7 years as the mid-budget studio film died, the genre that was most harmed was the adult drama, and by extension, the romantic comedy. With that context in mind, The Big Sick is not only refreshing for a romantic comedy but for an entire type of film that we used to see regularly. Think Terms of Endearment or Ordinary People in terms of mixing comedy and drama. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon pen their real life story in which Najiani (starring as himself) fell in love with Emily right before she fell into a coma and during the ordeal he developed a bond with her parents. At 2 hours it’s too long for this type of film, and neatly follows rom-com tropes, but it’s funny and sweet in equal measure with strong performances from Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents. Grade: B
The Beguiled – Sofia Coppola — who I like a lot, by the way — has remade the 1971 Don Siegel film of the same name that starred Clint Eastwood. Coppola’s version of a civil war era girls school that takes in a union soldier trades camp, gore, and horror for glances, melancholy, and imprisonment. One might view this less as a remake of Siegel’s The Beguiled and more of a remake of Coppola’s own The Virgin Suicides (1999), another film about women imprisoned in time. The cast is all excellent (good lord Elle Fanning is a star) and Coppola conjures up a gloomy atmosphere in the south that foreshadows an inevitable downfall for both the women and Colin Farrell’s McBurney. Coppola, making her first genre film, doesn’t quite know how to navigate/build plot and it leaves the second half rushed. Her adherence to the original’s plotting causes a messy internal logic because she’s changed the POV from McBurney to the women, but not the plot points. This close quarters thriller may not be one of her best films, but it’s a steamy hoot and the most entertaining and artful summer film I’ve seen so far. Grade: B
War for the Planet of the Apes – The final film in the apes trilogy is the weakest and least gripping of the bunch (Rise and Dawn are two of the best tentpole films of the decade), but it’s also the most atypical franchise film of the summer and it should be applauded for leaning into silent emotion rather than explosions (tho it does go big in the third act). Caesar’s last chapter is a prison escape movie with this trilogy’s first outright villain, the Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson. War is a calmer retread of Dawn that deals in heavy handed social issues rather than exploring moral complexity. This is a not so subtle film that has apes imprisoned in labor camps and has scenes of them being lashed while an American flag blows in the wind above them. It’s strangely dour and serious for a film about talking animals (its predecessors are more dynamic), but, for better and worse, it bludgeons you into taking it seriously, and by its closing moments, it might move you. Even if its calibration is off, and doesn’t sustain the entire piece, I respect the hell out it and wish more franchise films took this committed approach. Not entirely satisfying, but it’s an emotional end to one of the best franchises of the past decade. Grade: C+ but I admire it more than that rating might suggest.
20 minutes of Transformers: The Last Knight – This isn’t an official or fair review, obviously, but I walked into a theater showing this just to see what ol’ Michael Bay was up to this time. Jesus christ. 20 or so minutes was enough for me to know that Bay is simultaneously one of the most savvy VFX directors and also a director who has absolutely no interest in using his technical skills to create something resembling a coherent, quality film. Disjointed editing, awful dialogue, and mailed in performances make this one of the worst film series of all time. I say this as someone who thinks the first Transformers is a decent summer film. Call me when Michael Bay makes The Rock 2. Grade: D-