The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1133): OKJA -- Bong Joon-ho's Third Movie in the Collection
Review by Sean Boelman
Bong Joon-ho already had a couple films in the Criterion Collection (Parasite and Memories of Murder), and while fans are waiting for the inevitable box set for the South Korean auteur, his 2017 Netflix satire Okja joined the Collection this month. Making it even more special is that this is the first time the movie has been made available on physical media, meaning this is one fans will surely be excited to add to their shelves.
The film is an environmentalist satire, and while it’s imperfect, like the rest of Bong’s work, the script sharply uses its genre leanings to explore its themes. And even five years after its release, what the movie has to say about industrial farming and the dangerous path the world is on still rings true.
What allows the film to work so well is that the script by Bong and Jon Ronson really emphasizes getting the audience invested in the story of this young girl and her pet “superpig.” It has all of the emotional resonance of a kid-and-their-pet movie without being as trite or manipulative.
The real highlight of the movie is the acting, though. Child actress An Seo Yeun is simply extraordinary as the protagonist, giving a performance that is stunningly restrained and emotional. Paul Dano’s chemistry with her as her animal rights activist ally is also fantastic, and he gives a performance that is typically brilliant.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, who are also fantastic but giving thoroughly flamboyant performances as the antagonists. It’s particularly fun to watch Gyllenhaal chew up the scenery, and it fits given the surreal, whimsical nature of the film.
The visuals of the movie look quite good on the Criterion Blu-Ray, but it’s not an upgrade or anything given that the film was already released in high definition on streaming. Still, the world which Bong has built for this movie is immersive, and it’s nice to see it preserved in a format like this.
Admittedly, the biggest disappointment about this Criterion edition is that it is a little minimalistic when it comes to bonus features. While it does include a few new interviews and such, the truth is that it will take a lot more to get anyone who isn’t a diehard fan to purchase a film that they can already watch on streaming, and this doesn’t quite justify it.
There’s no denying that Okja is a good movie, but the question is whether or not it’s worth picking up the Criterion Collection edition of it. While it is a bit on the bare side, the chance to complete your Bong physical media collection means it’s at least worth getting while the sale is still running.
The Criterion Collection edition of Okja is now available.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1136): DRIVE MY CAR -- Your Chance to Bring Home the Best Movie of 2021
By Sean Boelman
When Drive My Car was picked up by specialty distributor Janus Films, cinephiles knew that it would only be a matter of time before the film was added to the Criterion Collection given the companies’ long-standing business relationship. Now, physical media collectors have the chance to bring home one of the finest movies of 2021 and add it to their shelf.
The moving three-hour drama follows a theater director who puts on a unique performance of Anton Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya two years after the passing of his wife. It’s a perfect fit for Criterion — literary but not too pretentious, and almost universally beloved among the film community.
Although the movie picked up much acclaim on its festival run — garnering several awards at the Cannes Film Festival, among other fests — few expected it to break out into such mainstream success at the Oscars last year. But that recognition has allowed it to find the audience it needed to be remembered as the masterpiece it is.
The film tenderly explores its themes, ranging from grief to artistic expression, and while its three-hour runtime can be a bit daunting to some, the opportunity to own the movie on home media allows you the opportunity to admire it at your own pace or the chance to rewind and watch some of your favorite scenes over and over again.
Hidetoshi Nishijima’s leading performance remains one of the most criminally unrecognized of last year. The amount of nuance he brings to the role is simply mind-blowing, as is the amount of emotion he is able to get out even the smallest of emotions. And his chemistry with Toko Miura is subtle but particularly impactful in the third act.
The Criterion release is a new 2K master, and while it would have been nice to see them take advantage of the 4K format in which they have been working recently, it’s still nice to be able to own the film in a physical format. After all, Hidetoshi Shinimiya’s gorgeous cinematography is going to look exquisite regardless of what format you see it in.
The bonus features on the disc do draw a lot from other sources, but there is a new interview with writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Given that this is the movie’s initial home media release, it almost makes sense that it resembles more of a standard Blu-Ray release than a Criterion Collection edition, but cinephiles are going to jump on it regardless.
Drive My Car is hardly a surprising addition to the Criterion Collection, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving of its spot. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film is an early contender to be one of the best movies of the decade, and having this Blu-Ray will ensure you remember that.
The Criterion Collection edition of Drive My Car is now available.
By Sean Boelman
The Fantasia Film Festival is known as one of the best showcases of genre cinema in the world. After leading the way for digital festivals in 2020 and pivoting to a hybrid format in 2021, the festival returns to an in-person-only edition in 2022. And as always, the lineup is full of exciting genre films that cinephiles will be clamoring to see.
We at disappointment media are excited to again be planning remote coverage of the festival, which runs in Montreal, Canada from July 14 to August 3. Here are some films playing in the lineup that you certainly aren’t going to want to miss:
Carlota Pereda’s Piggy debuted at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it made quite the splash in the Midnight section. An expansion of her short of the same name, it’s a vicious little slow-burn thriller with some interesting social commentary. It’s one of those films where you don’t know exactly where it’s heading, and even once you think you know, it has a trick up its sleeve that will catch you off-guard, culminating in an ending that is without a doubt one of the most haunting you will see all year.
Lena Dunham’s coming-of-age film Sharp Stick is pretty much like any other sex comedy… until it isn’t. This isn’t going to be a film for everyone — it’s aggressively ribald nature is going to be too much for some — but for those who are able to get onto its uncomfortable wavelength, it’s going to be a pretty entertaining watch. The main reason to watch this film is the extraordinary cast, including a strong lead performance from Kristine Froseth and a memorable supporting turn from Jon Bernthal.
Genre cinema documentarian Alexandre O. Phillipe’s newest film, Lynch/Oz is perhaps his most academic yet, but it is nonetheless a must-see for any cinephile. A series of essays about the seminal 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz and its influence on several filmmakers, including the eponymous auteur David Lynch. Although it is a bit on the unfocused side, anyone at Fantasia who is interested in learning about the inspiration for their favorite films will certainly want to check this out.
What is a great festival without some exciting retrospective presentations? At this year’s festival, Hong Kong action auteur John Woo is going to be honored with a Career Achievement Award alongside presentations of his classic films Face/Off and Hard Boiled. Cinephiles who are on the ground aren’t going to want to miss these in-person presentations, especially Face/Off, which is perhaps one of the wildest action movies ever made. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta are both among the most exaggerated actors there are, and it’s still amazing to get to see them chew the scenery with one another.
One for the Road
Baz Poonpiriya’s One for the Road debuted at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it took home the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Vision and disappeared ever since. It was a refreshing surprise to see it pop up a year and a half later at the Fantasia lineup, which is fitting given that the festival is known for featuring some of the most exciting in Asian cinema there is to see. Cinephiles will want to check out this tender road movie now, because it still doesn’t have distribution in many markets and who knows when you’ll get the chance to see it again.
The 2022 Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 14 through August 3.
By Dan Skip Allen
Many of these retrospectives on actors' lives have started with me talking about something I've seen in my childhood that I loved, which made me a big fan of a film, actor, or director. The same will go for Hollywood tough guy James Caan. The Godfather is in my Top 5 movies of all time, so I couldn't do a James Caan retrospective without bringing up "Sonny"/Santino Corleone, the first born son of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). He had a lot of fire and led the family differently than his father or younger brother, Michael (Al Pacino). His temper, especially toward his sister's husband in the film was legendary. He beat him to a pulp in that street scene. That was the mentality of Caan, though.
That is just one of the many notable performances from Caan. He's had a long and storied career in Hollywood. Another role he is noted for is that of Paul Sheldon in Misery, an author with writer's block who has traveled to a secluded cabin to write his next novel in his popular series. Unfortunately for him, he gets into a near-fatal car accident on the slippery mountain roads on his way to get some supplies for his stay at the cabin. He gets rescued by an innocent bystander who happens to live nearby, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Bates won an Academy Award for her performance as this superfan turned kidnapper. Caan has to do everything he can to survive and escape this maniacal woman. This film showed Caan's range and put him in great company opposite Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and the aforementioned Bates, who gave the best performance of her career opposite him. He played it a little more nuanced this time around.
Caan also works opposite one of the world's foremost comedians and television stars in Elf. He had to play the straight man, as Buddy's father opposite Will Ferrell. Ferrell is at the height of his popularity as this elf looking for his father in the Big Apple. He's such a child that everybody around him, including Caan's Walter Hobbs character, is playing second fiddle to Ferrell. Like in Misery, Caan creates nuance and subtlety to make this character memorable. The rest of the cast, including Peter Dinklage and Zoey Deschanel, add some addition to the film that makes it even more fun than it already is. This is an instant Christmas classic, and Caan is a major part of that.
In Caan's career, he played tough guys, innocent victims, and fathers who never knew they were a father of a man child, but he's also done a couple of football films that mean a lot to me. One I consider one of the best sports films ever, Brian's Song, a movie of the week where Caan plays Brian Piccolo opposite Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers. Both actors played football players who played for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s. Piccolo and Sayers were white and Black men in an era when segregation was still a thing, even in sports. They were symbols of what would become a norm in later decades. Both characters have various bouts of severe illness, and one was very tragic for Caan's Sayers. This film is amazing, and the performances between Caan and Williams are the main reason why.
In The Program, on the other hand, Caan plays a head coach, Sam Winters, of a college football team with all the cliche moments you'd think a football program would have: drug abuse, alcoholism, partying, and other criminal behaviors. This film was modeled after Florida State in the 90s and early 2000s, where Bobby Bowden had a great team, but his players weren't necessarily all on the up and up during their careers as college students/athletes. The student part seemed to go by the wayside, though. Caan played this coach with a manor of innocence towards his players while bringing the fire he was known for in his other films. He was cast perfectly as this coach with a championship goal despite the directives from his superiors at the school and his crazy and wild players.
Caan's career is varied, and he's played all kinds of characters. He is most known for Sonny in The Godfather, but he has been around since the '60s with El Dorado, and his 70's career had a mix of interesting roles in Rollerball and The Gambler. The 80s brought Thief, directed by Michael Mann, where he played Frank, a jewel thief trying to do one last score before he retires. This is always the case with criminals, but it never ends the way they think it is supposed to. In Mickey Blue Eyes, he plays a gangster once again, opposite Hugh Grant, who's trying to marry his daughter. This is another comedic role for Caan, who mixed up his parts very nicely. His career has given fans plenty of great characters and memories that will endure for many years to come. I will never forget him and his career as long as I live.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.