Dead Pigs: Film Review

Dead Pigs

Cathy Yan‘s debut feature Dead Pigs received critical acclaim and caught the attention of Margot Robbie when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and landed her a blockbuster directing gig in the form of 2020’s Birds of Prey – but then it never got released. Finally, after three years, Dead Pigs is coming out.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of an odd mix of people, as thousands of dead pigs mysteriously float down the river towards Shanghai, something which actually happened in 2013. There’s Xia Xia (Meng Li), who crashes her car after a night out at a restaurant and ends up in hospital; Wang Zhen (Mason Lee), who finds her phone and helps her out while she’s hospitalised and also likes to get into accidents to make money; his father Old Wang (Haoyu Yang), who is up to his neck in debts and his pigs have all mysteriously died; and his sister Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), a prized pigeon-keeping beautician who is refusing to sell her house to a redevelopment company and stays in her property as an act of protest when its the only house still standing in the proposed new site.

Dead Pigs is a darkly funny and quirky social satire which deals with themes such as social change, globalisation, capitalism and the increasing inequality of wealth and employs a random assortment of characters, who are all developed well, thanks to Yan’s impressive screenplay. She makes bizarre choices in places though, for example, a random musical number that comes out of nowhere with singalong lyrics onscreen. What the hell? I was so baffled by this decision.

The most interesting storyline was Candy Wang, a beauty parlour owner who refuses to leave her home in case it gets knocked down, like the rest of her old neighbourhood. The Golden Happiness company are confident she will sell at the right price, considering she is now surrounded by rubble, but she cannot be bought – she was born and raised in that house and it has sentimental value, whereas her brother is a sad pathetic drunk who begs her to sell to help him out of his hole. Zazie Beetz also has a small and inconsequential appearance, so don’t be mislead into thinking she “stars” in this, because she really doesn’t.

Dead Pigs is a real mixed bag and a bit too long, so it didn’t completely gel for me, but it’s a strong debut feature from Yan – I’m not surprised she got hired for a big-budget movie (one on a whole other level in terms of scale) off the back of it.

Released globally (except China) on MUBI on Friday 12th February

Rating: 3 out of 5.

My top ten new film releases of 2020

Many people like to publish their end of year lists near the start of December but I always think that’s unfair on December releases! I have been working on this list for a while and I’ve finally settled on a top ten (for now, this feels subject to change!) and have waited until the last day of the year to drop my round-up.

2020 hasn’t been a great year for blockbusters and cinema, given all the closures and film postponements due to Covid, but there have still been a bunch of releases I really enjoyed this year. Admittedly, I didn’t give out too many five stars, but that could be down to watching them on a laptop at home rather than in a cinema/screening room.

As ever, this list is for UK release dates, so some movies I saw in 2019 (like Parasite) are included, while some I’ve seen this year but aren’t out here yet (like Another Round and Supernova) have been discounted and may make an appearance on next year’s list.

Without further ado, here is my top ten list of 2020. If you want to read the full review, click on the title.

  1. Parasite

I didn’t want to put this top because I first saw it in 2019 but nothing has beaten it this year. Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars is one of the few good things to come out of 2020. I don’t re-watch films very often but I have seen Parasite three times, which says A LOT about how much I love it. Bong Joon-Ho‘s movie starts off like a simple domestic drama but then, bam, all of a sudden, it’s not! I urge you all to check this out if you haven’t already.

2. The Trial of the Chicago 7

I see a lot of people dunking on Aaron Sorkin‘s legal drama on social media but I absolutely loved it. It told an incredibly fascinating story, the screenplay had me hooked, the structure made it more interesting, and the star-studded cast was fantastic, with my particular favourites being Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (always got so much love for JGL!)

3. Host

The success story of Host is so, so deserved. It debuted on niche streaming service Shudder in the summer but thanks to word-of-mouth it ended up with a cinema release (where possible) in December. It tells the story of a group of friends who take part in a seance via Zoom with devastating consequences. It is truly terrifying and I think about certain imagery when I’m trying (and failing) to sleep, and considering this was made during the lockdown in accordance with the social distancing rules, it’s super inventive and clever.

4. Saint Maud

Keeping with the horror theme, I give you Saint Maud, which stars the terrific and creepy Morfydd Clark as Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse who moves into a dying dancer’s home. It takes its time setting up the characters and the situation but then it goes full throttle towards a heart-pounding ending. I literally gasped out loud at one point. A sensational debut from Rose Glass.

5. The Broken Hearts Gallery

I doubt this will appear on many end of year lists but I’m a sucker for a romcom and I think Geraldine Viswanathan is simply brilliant. This was the first film I saw in a cinema after the original lockdown and I came away with a huge smile on my face. Sure, it’s predictable as hell (what romcoms aren’t?!) but it made me feel good and put a spring in my step. If that’s not the mark of a great movie, I don’t know what is.

6. Wolfwalkers

I know Pixar has brought out two movies this year and Soul has been particularly popular but I would love for this hand-drawn animation to win the Best Animated Feature prize. It looks gorgeous, has a terrific voice cast (featuring Sean Bean), and tells a fascinating story about a girl who can become a wolf when she sleeps.

7. Birds of Prey

I love Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and it was so so good seeing her lead her own movie along with the likes of Jurnee Smollett and Rosie Perez. Cathy Yan‘s movie is a lot of fun; the funhouse fight sequence is amazing and the egg sandwich scene is so relatable and hilarious. I want more!

8. The Invisible Man

I didn’t have high hopes for Leigh Whannell‘s horror at first but it was so smart, scary, and had a strong lead performance from Elisabeth Moss. This film contains the single most out-of-nowhere shocking moment in 2020 cinema – if you know, you know – and I was so tense basically the whole time.

9. Jojo Rabbit

A lot of people seem to be dunking on Taika Waititi‘s ‘anti-hate satire’ and I totally see why it’s a divisive piece of cinema, but I enjoyed it a lot. I saw it in 2019 and it has managed to stay on my list. I’ve seen it twice and I appreciated it even more the second time around. Waititi is hilarious as Hitler but my personal favourite was Archie Yates as Yorkie – he was just brilliant – and it still manages to pack an emotional punch.

10. Bad Education

It’s a shame this movie ended up premiering on Sky Atlantic over here as it probably slipped under the radar. It’s definitely worth checking out. The film depicts the largest public school embezzlement in American history and Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney have never been better as the masterminds behind the scandal, swindling the books to scam their school district out of millions. It’s shocking stuff!

Other honourable mentions – Rocks, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Old Guard, The Assistant, The Boys in the Band, and 1917.

I’m so sad about Birds of Prey’s disappointing box office performance

I really enjoyed Birds of Prey so I was gutted when I saw the opening weekend box office figures come in because I don’t want it to be considered a flop. It deserves to be bringing in more money than the likes of Justice League!

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Birds of Prey: Film Review

I love Margot Robbie in general, but particularly as Harley Quinn, so I was excited to see her reprise the role in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). And I’m happy to report that it’s a lot of fun.

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Top Films for February

We’re now in a new month which means it’s time for my monthly movie preview.

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