Movie Review – Okja

Okja (2017)
Written by Jon Ronson & Bong Joon Ho
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho


In 2007, Lucy Mirando, heir to the problematic Mirando Corporation announced the discovery of a new animal, superpigs. These miracle animals appear to be the world’s answer to the problem of hunger, and the 26 best are sent around the world to be raised by varying farming cultures in a bid to figure out how best to raise them. One of these superpigs, Okja ends up in South Korea raised by an old man and his granddaughter Mija. Jump to ten years later, and Mirando is calling in all the pigs for a contest that will kick off superpig meat coming to a store near you. These means Okja will be taken away, sent off to New York for “processing.” Mija is having none of this and sets off to reclaim Okja, unaware she is about to uncover the dark secret behind the Mirando corporation.

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The Revisit – Starship Troopers

The Revisit is a place for me to rewatch films I love but haven’t seen in years or films that didn’t click with me the first time. Through The Revisit, I reevaluate these movies and compare my original thoughts on them to how they feel in this more recent viewing.

Starship Troopers (1997, dir. Paul Verhoeven)


The late 1990s was a weird time in cinema. On the independent side of things, you had some interesting work produced, while on the studio big budget side there was some awful dreck being churned out. Take for instance 1997; the year Starship Troopers came out. Boogie Nights, L.A. Confidential, The Fifth Element, and Lost Highway were released, All films that I would argue are vital pieces of work from their respective creators. Simultaneously you have Batman and Robin, The Lost World, George of the Jungle, Spawn, and Spiceworld the Movie. All films that I would argue represents studio executives shaping films. In the middle of all this, you have Starship Troopers.

I think the first time I saw Starship Troopers was my first night in the dorm my freshman year of college. It was 1999, and the guy across the hall had the VHS tape so as about six of us were hanging out we decided to watch it. I hated this movie. I hadn’t done my deep dive into films yet, but I remember being very turned off by the cheesy nature of the movie and god awful acting. It was the ending especially that created friction with me. Something felt off and wrong about it. In my naivete, I discounted it as simply a bad film and have never actually revisited it til now. I was making up my list of movies to review for The Revisit and came across Starship Troopers. I had read things since 1999 that hinted at the film not being what it appears to be the surface level. It’s believed now that the audience has grossly misinterpreted the picture. So, I decided to give it a shot.

Paul Verhoeven, despite having a career directing films since the 1960s to the present. He was responsible for Elle, a film that came out last year starring Isabelle Huppert that has garnered significant praise (though I have not yet seen it). But for most of us that came of age in the 1980s and 90s, he feels like a director of that period. That is when he was hitting his peak as a big-budget director. Robocop. Total Recall, Basic Instinct. Showgirls, The Hollow Man. Those are the films his name is commonly associated with, but to understand Starship Troopers, you must understand some other things about Verhoeven.

He was born in the Netherlands in 1938, showing up just as the Third Reich began their march across Europe. War struck incredibly close to Verhoeven’s family. They lived near an installation for V1 and V2 rocket launchers so Allied forces bombed the area. His parents were almost killed. However, Verhoeven says as a child he viewed war as an adventure.Verhoeven states that he remembers the sight of charred corpses vividly and hollowed out buildings, but admits because his parents lived and he was not Jewish he doesn’t hold the trauma that others do. That sense of war as an exciting adventure existing alongside horrific violence and mutilation is a the core of Starship Troopers.

The opening frames of Starship Troopers are unquestioningly satirical. This is the first of many newsreels that will be used as an ingenious exposition device throughout the film. Each time one of these appears an unseen newsreader will click through related links to the videos we see unfolding before us. The important thing this first video establishes is the dichotomy between being a Citizen and a civilian. In the world of Starship Troopers, Citizenship is only obtained after serving in the armed forces. With Citizenship comes the right to vote as well as other rights that Americans and other developed nations currently hold as inalienable. One recruit gives her reason for joining is that one day she would like to have kids and getting a license to do so is much easier when you are a Citizen. We’re in a world where even nature is under the boot heel of the government. But for being such a dictatorial society we never truly see our protagonists question it.

Only one character speaks up against Rico, the protagonist, joining up with the Federal Service. Rico’s father has a brief moment where he chastises his son for choosing that path post-graduation. Later, both of Rico’s parents are killed by the enemy bugs who strike Earth with an asteroid launched from their system. The message of the film’s world is that Rico’s parents were wrong to question him and now he is emboldened to bring the wrath of humanity down on the bugs truly.

It is funny to think back at my reaction and the reactions of critics and audiences to Starship Troopers. From the start of the film, it is glaringly obvious what Verhoeven is saying about this world. Michael Ironside plays first the high school teacher to and commanding officer of Rico. In his Social Studies class at the opening of the film he states the following:

“This year we explored the failure of democracy. How our social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and established the stability that has lasted for generations since. You know these facts, but have I taught you anything of value this year? […] Why are only citizens allowed to vote? […] Something given has no value. When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force my friends is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.”

A few moments later the teacher has this exchange:

Dizzy: My mother always told me that violence doesn’t solve anything.
Jean Rasczak: Really? I wonder what the city founders of Hiroshima would have to say about that.
[to Carmen]Jean Rasczak: You.
Carmen: They wouldn’t say anything. Hiroshima was destroyed.
Jean Rasczak: Correct. Naked force has resolved more conflicts throughout history than any other factor. The contrary opinion, that violence doesn’t solve anything, is wishful thinking at its worst. People who forget that always die.

Starship Troopers is not glorifying fascism or even oblivious to its presence in the film. The entire work is a direct commentary on fascism, and even further I believe the film is meant to be a piece of meta-fiction. We are watching a propaganda film made in the universe of Starship Troopers that is aimed at impressionable high school students.

The cast of “high school” students are apparently grown, adults. The acting is stiff and artificial. The music is overly bombastic. The characters exhibit no signs of empathy. Both the male and female lead lose people the film tells us they are romantically linked to, but at the end, they march off triumphantly. The meaningless nature of human death is highlighted even further in the newsreel segments. A cow is devoured by one of the Arachnid bugs and is censored. In the end, the brain bug has a tool inserted into her apparently vaginal mouth, and that is censored. One thing that is never censored throughout the film and the newsreels are human casualties. This is because one purpose of this propaganda is to desensitize the young viewers to the sight of human death. No one is ever truly grieved; the protagonist never appears to suffer any emotional or long-term physical consequences. As the teacher said, violence is the best way to solve every problem.

There is so much more I could write about Starship Troopers and eventually, I may. One big takeaway I did have was thinking about games inspired by material like Troopers and that they completely miss the point. Verhoeven did not intend for people to be inspired to run around and shoot bugs. I personally think this is one of the most transgressive studio films ever produced. He wanted us to be appalled through our laughter at the absurdity of fascist thought. He wants us to see what the characters fail to see, that this way of thinking leaves you blind to understanding the horrible implications of your actions on the world around you.

Wild Card Tuesdays – Someone’s Knocking at the Door

Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009, dir. Chad Ferrin)
Starring Noah Segan, Ezra Buzzington, Andrea Rueda, Elina Madison

You should probably not watch this movie. By that, I don’t mean this is a bad film, but it is definitely not a movie for your casual filmgoer. This exists in a very specialized realm of film, grindhouse, but even still it doesn’t strictly adhere to the tenets of that genre and even openly plays with the conventions. This is not to say the film is some masterpiece. It’s very cheap and very gritty, and that’s what it has to be to do what its trying to do. If you decide to see this movie, and can track it down, you’re going to discover a very disturbing, very funny, and in the end oddly moving low budget horror flick.

The first scene of the film features a young man shooting up with some strange drug and then being raped to death by a demonic looking man. Flash to the young man’s friends, a group of med school students who react with coldness towards news of his death. The only one who seems to feel anything is Justin (Segan), the most drugged out of all of them who has a dream/hallucination where his dead friend appears in a morgue blaming him for his death. The kids are called into the police station for questioning where its revealed a few nights prior to the murder they had been poking around the basement of a records building on their campus. Justin discovered files on John and William Hopper, a husband and wife serial killing duo who would rape their victims to death. The two were on an experimental drug which Justin finds a vial of and shares with his pals. It appears that the drug has somehow broken down a barrier to Hell, and now the Hoppers have returned in demonic form to wreak havoc.

While the film follows many of the tropes of grindhouse, particularly  beginning with a big horrific scene, then slowing down until one more final climactic act of grotesque, it also throws some new ideas. There are a lot of jump cuts, particularly when focusing on Justin, which serve the purpose of showing how his drug addled brain is processing things. Sound is also used in an incredibly effective way, sound being an element that is normally overlooked. In certain scenes, instead of hearing the dialogue, we can see that the characters are talking but the soundtrack is overtaken by ambient static. There’s a reason in the plot for this, but just in terms of atmosphere it gives an otherwise mundane scene an air of creepy surreality.

There’s a lot of explotative sex, as you would expect in a grindhouse styled film, and this film definitely goes places with it you wouldn’t expect. If you thought A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween was a crudely disguised warning to adolescents to refrain from sex and drugs, this picture will blow those ideas out of the water. The two supernatural killers of the film possess…*ahem* macabre transformations of their genital regions that render them brutal and demonic. William Hopper in particular has a very unique method of killing his victims. I absolutely loved how evil the villains in this film were. I don’t believe a studio horror film would ever allow a director to go as far and as horrible as Ferrin takes the Hoppers. At the end though, the film has a strangely sad and poignant. Though once again, I warn you to not watch this film unless your brain is truly ready for the horror.

Wild Card Tuesday – The Last Days of Disco

The Last Days of Disco (1998, dir. Whit Stillman)
Starring Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard, Mackenzie Astin, Chris Eigeman, Tara Subkoff, Matt Keeslar, Jennifer Beals

If watching the burgeoning yuppies of early 1980s Manhattan sitting around vapidly waxing philosophic about the inanities of their lives doesn’t sound appealing to you then you may want to skip this film. Despite its title its not at all about disco really. Its about a generation of people who came of age in the 1970s and are focused on self-gratification and the hierarchies and status related to social life in New York. Another of way of looking at it, and how director Whit Stillman was thinking when he made the film, is that this is contemporary take on the comedy of manners genre.

The protagonists of the film are Alice (Sevigny), a recent college grad and an assistant publishing editor and Des (Eigeman), the employee of a disco club which bears a more than passing resemblance to Studio 54. Alice balances a tenuous friendship with snarky roommate Charlotte (Beckinsale) and ending up in awkward social situations with immature men. One of these men is a manic-depressive FBI agent (Keeslar) who becomes a part of a sting on Des’ nightclub which has been funneling cash to a Swiss bank account and failing to report millions the IRS. The characters meander through the film, talking in a completely artificial manner and nothing really seems to happen.

It’s apparent that Stillman’s work (Metropolitan, Barcelona) had a profound impact on the filmmaking of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Stillman’s characters aren’t so much people as they are roughly painted facsimiles of humans who carry on in conversations peppered with Tarantino-esque pop culture references. One character explains that the reason why so many of his own generation are environmentalists is because of the 1958 re-release of Bambi in theaters. Another conversation involves how Lady and the Tramp teaches women to pursue the bad boy and is at fault for a multitude of bad relationships in their generation.

The characters are dull as hell though. They barely even qualify as characters, as Stillman loves introducing a new and even quirkier one as the film progresses. Yet we get nothing past their surface eccentricities and Stillman struggles to manage any sense of a narrative. He tries to create a partial drama with the illegal business practices of the nightclub but even when the arrests go down all parties involved seem aloof and uninterested. The first hour of the film has potential but the second goes off the rails and becomes a chore to wade through. Much like the decade it highlights the start of, its incredibly shallow with nothing to really say.