Film Review: WILDLIFE (USA 2018) *** Directed by Paul Dano

Wildlife Poster

A teenage boy must deal with his mother’s complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job.


Paul Dano


Paul Dano (screenplay by), Zoe Kazan (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

Paul Dano, in his early 30’s  is an excellent actor who has been seen in a diverse range of films from COWBOYS AND ALIENS to 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  He has delivered outstanding performances in his films, the best of which is with Daniel Day Lewis, holding his own with the multiple Oscar Winner in P.T. Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD in which a troubled teen learns of life.

Having proven his active chops, Dano has now taken on directorial reins in a new film again centring on a troubled teen.  Dano also co-wrote the script with his partner Zoe Kazan, this giving the film a female point of view.  It is familiarity that Dano has dealt with and it is of no surprise that the actor he has chosen to play the 14-year old protagonist, Joe looks somewhat like a younger version of himself.

The film is set in 1960, Montana.  Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) have recently moved to Great Falls, Montana with their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould).  Tensions build after Jerry is fired from a low esteemed job as a golf pro at a country club.  He is offered his old job back but refuses out of pride, and instead of looking for work, he sleeps in his car and watches the local firefighting efforts against a forest fire raging in nearby mountains.  To support the family as Jerry looks for a job, Jeannette takes a job as a swimming instructor, while Joe works at a local photography studio.  One day, Jerry decides to take a low-paying job fighting the forest fire, which upsets Jeannette and worries Joe.  Jeannette speaks openly about her strained marriage with Jerry to Joe, and the stress of the situation takes a minor toll on Joe’s school life.  

While Jerry is away, Jeannette becomes romantically involved with one of her students, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a rich older man who owns an automobile dealership.  Fireworks begin when Jerry returns and Jeannette announces that she is moving out – all this inferno of and to Joe’s dismay.

WILDLIFE s a simply told family drama but one told with conviction.  The mountains and icy landscape look stunning in  the background, reflecting the loneliness of people in  the vast surroundings.  Dana connects the audience with both points of view, that of the mother and the father but it is the story of the young son.   “I surprised myself and had a good time.  Did you?”  asks the mother to Joe and one point int he film, illustrating how the film looks from the woman’s point of view and then when there is no answer from the son, switches perspective back to the son.

The desperation of the mother is what propels the family woes.  She tells Joe after Joe catches her making out with Miller.  “He wants to make it better.  Maybe you got a better plan.  I wish I was dead.”

It is a common story of father leaving home to get a decent job while mother becomes restless.  There is really nothing Joe can do.  He wants to keep the family together, but all he can do is to say how each misses the other.

Dana keeps his film on track as Joe’s coming-of-age passage as he is forced to navigate the complex dynamics of adult relationships and figure out what to make of the woman who used to be just Mom.   A well paced family drama with real characters from Paul Dana. 


Movie Review: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, 2009, Directed by Spike Jonze

Movie Reviews

Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Max Records, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose
Review by Matthew Toffolo


Young, mischievous Max is sent to bed without his supper, but when his bedroom turns in to a magical jungle landscape filled with strange creatures, he embarks on a wild imaginary adventure.

I walked into this film knowing nothing. All I knew was Spike Jonze directed it and they were using the Arcade Fire song to promote it in the trailer. I also heard right before that this was based on a children’s book, but I never read it as a kid or adult.

So I saw this film with virgin eyes. And what I saw I was impressed with. This is a movie almost all of us can relate with because we’ve all been that kid who would rather live inside of our imagination than real life. And we’ve also been that adult too.

Where The Wild Things Are is a movie for everyone because this is a film about FEAR. We all have it and we all react differently to it. Our hero Max (played by 11 year old Max Records) is a young boy who is scared about his new surroundings. He’s alone and doesn’t really like it so he runs away inside of his own world.

What makes him alone is that his teacher is not aware that what he says carries a lot of weight with the children. And saying that the sun is dying might not be the best thing to say to a group of 10 year olds. His father is also gone and his mother is moving on with another man and Max doesn’t like it. And his sister is a teenager and is now living in that teenage girl world that most of them do.

So Max goes off into his own world. And when I was 10 years old I did the same thing. My own parents had their own issues and I had two older teenage sisters who were going through that stage. So in my basement I created my own world and I was the only member because it was just my imagination. And I’m sure there are millions of kids doing the same thing now.

Where The Wild Things Are gives us characters in the wilderness who are purely Max’s creation. And all of these characters are dealing with their own inner fears and loneliness. It’s like the 7 animals are all versions of his own personality. And every character just wants to find peace in their world.

But life isn’t always about peace and fun. The characters decide to create a fort where all their dreams can come true, they can always be together forever and their is a shield that doesn’t let in any fears. The fort seems to be working at first but then conflict occurs because everyone has a different idea of what happiness is.

And that’s the point of Where The Wilds Things Are. We all want to be happy and not alone all the time but sometimes a little conflict is needed in order for perspective to occur. And as we grow from kids to adults our version of happiness changes year to year. We can’t just live in a fort all the time even when you’re 10 years old. And for Max he needs to learn when it’s time to leave that fort and come back home to reality.

The most interesting character from Max’s imagination is Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini). He just wants things to remain the same all the time and when it doesn’t he doesn’t know how to handle it. His friend KW has found new friends and Carol is threatened by that because they are not what he’s familiar with. Just like how Max’s mother has a new boyfriend. Carol reacts in anger by damaging things he loves. Just like Max damages his sister’s Valentine’s present when she decides to hang around with her friends instead of him.

This is a highly fascinating movie that really deserves a second viewing because there is more than meets the eye. Max learns from his imaginary world just like an adult would by going to a therapist or writing a journal. And it’s all about how we deal with our FEARS. Something that isn’t taught for some reason in school.

Where The Wild Things Are crosses generations. A film a 5 year old can get something out of and also a 90 year old. And they said only Pixar is capable of that.

Netflix Original Film Review: OKJA (South Korea/USA 2017) ****

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okja.jpgMeet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.

Director: Joon-ho Bong (as Bong Joon Ho)
Writers: Joon-ho Bong (screenplay) (as Bong Joon Ho), Jon Ronson (screenplay)
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ever since films like LASSIE COME HOME enchanted audiences, a lost pet reuniting
with its owner has been a favourite theme. In the new Netflix original movie OKJA, director Bong (MEMORIES OF MURDER, MOTHER, SNOWPIERCER) has broken all rules with the darkest kids movie since BABE IN THE CITY.

OKJA courted controversy at Cannes when it was argued that films like this Netflix original not slated for theatre release be disqualified from competition. Surprisingly, OKJA opens at the TIFF BELL Lightbox same day it opened on Netflix last week.

OKJA is a tale of a girl and her lost pet. The only difference is that the pet is a super pig named OKJA. For 10 idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja – a massive animal and an even bigger friend – at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where an image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission. She encounters the Animal Rights group helping her.

The film can be divided into three parts. The first and most family friendly shows Mija in the Korean countryside playing with OKJA. Bong includes a suspenseful sequence where OKJA saves Mija’s life. The second occurs after OKJA is abducted to Seoul. This is the funniest segment which shows how an individual can infiltrate a big conglomerate armed with a strong will never to give up. No glass doors or metal walls can stop Mija. It is hilarious watching the little girl pursued by security calling her ‘a little shit’. The third and darkest segment is OKJA ‘s rescue from New York City. Mija sees an abattoir complete with pig carcasses, something really unpleasant to even an adult. Bong does not shy away from violence. The animal rights group are the main target for the violence as many of them are beaten with batons and kicked on the ground.

Mija is played convincingly by South Korean child actress An Seo-hyun. Hollywood stars Jake Gyllenhaal has a field day with his over the top performance as TV personality Dr. Johnny. Tilda Swindon plays the villain of the piece, Lucy Mirando who wants to put OKJA on the dinner table. Paul Dano is equally winning as the animal rights group leader who aids Mija rescue her pig.

The question is why Netflix financed a film like OKJA. It is reported that most studios would stay away from films that do not fit a certain mould, like the recent Brad Pitt Netflix movie WAR MACHINE. It is clear the reason studios might be afraid of the adult dark tale of OKJA with its dose of violence and company satire. But thanks to Netflix, Bongs’s OKJA got to be made. OKJA is a brilliant dark and original piece of filmmaking complete with excellent special effects. Highly recommended!


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Happy Birthday: Paul Dano

pauldano.jpgHappy Birthday actor Paul Dano

Born: June 19, 1984 in New York City, New York, USA

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