Title: Parasite Release Date: 30 May 2019 Director: Bong Joon-ho Production Company: Barunson E&A Summary/Review:
The Kim family are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet while living in a semi-basement apartment in a run-down looking part of a South Korean city. Their fortunes start to look up when the college-aged son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) gets the opportunity to substitute for his friend as a tutor of the daughter of the prosperous Park family, despite not having qualified for the university himself. Ki-woo notices the anxiety the Park family’s mother (Cho Yeo-jeong) has for her young son and recommends his artistically-talented sister Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam) as an art therapist he’s knows named “Jessica.” Ki-jung is able to get the driver of the Park family father fired, and recommends to Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) her own father Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) as a replacement driver (again in disguise). Finally, the trio work to get the Park’s long-term housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), and replace her with their mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin).
With all four members of the family gainfully employed by the Parks, they take the opportunity of the Parks leaving for a camping trip to celebrate in the Park’s elegant house, designed by a prominent architect who once lived there. Things look good until Moon-gwang arrives claiming that she left something in the basement. She reveals a shocking secret which unleashes a series of events that lead to a tragic final act.
The movie is a dark satire of socially-stratified society. Despite the fact that the Kims do some morally reprehensible things, you still find yourself rooting for them because people as clearly talented and motivated as them should not be living in poverty (of course, no one should live in poverty). The conflict that arises between the Kims and Moon-gwang is also emblematic of how the poor are forced to fight amongst themselves for the scraps thrown by the wealthy. Without going into spoilers, the grim events of the final act are an indication that actual class war would be devastating for all involved, but that inequality is going to have be addressed by other means.
The movie is very cleverly-written and the acting is all-around terrific. I really felt like I knew all these characters and they were fully-rounded humans, not just types. I was also impressed by the direction. One sequence shows the Kim family running from the Park’s house to their own neighborhood by way of descending a series of staircase. The social stratification between the families is made literal. There’s also a shot where flood waters rise into the frame and everything above the waterline wipes into the next shot, an effect I’ve never seen before.
Parasiteis a clever, funny, thoughtful, and disturbing film. It’s received a lot of awards and accolades, and I guess I’m adding mine to the pile.
Title: The Wind Release Date:November 23, 1928 Director: Victor Sjöström Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Summary/Review:
Silent film star Lillian Gish starred in her last silent film as a young woman named Letty Mason, who travels west to live with a cousin who is like a brother, Beverly (Edward Earle). All is not well in Sweetwater, Texas, though, as two ranchers want marry Letty, the creepy cattle buyer Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love) pursues her relentlessly, and Beverly’s wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) is jealous of her. Worst of all, the relentless wind torments poor Letty.
This movie is a straight-up melodrama to the point where I expected Gish to grab her heart and proclaim “I can’t pay the rent!” Having seen some other late-era silent films, I also don’t think the movie is particularly technically innovative, either. Mostly it’s a movie made on powerful wind machines and Gish flailing around like she’s on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The best sequence is toward the end when in a fever dream Letty deals with the worst wind storm yet and the threat of sexual assault. But it’s too little, too late in a movie that’s largely Hollywood hokum.
An interesting side note, much later in life, director Victor Sjöström starred in Wild Strawberries.
Last September, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.
Artist: Loretta Lynn Album: Coal Miner’s Daughter Year: 1971 Label: Decca Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“Coal Miner’s Daughter”
“What Makes Me Tick”
Thoughts: Since my mother was a coal miner’s daughter, and I am the grandson/great-grandson of a coal miner (or at least a coal cracker), the title track has always resonated, even if my own family experience is very different. The rest of the album are almost entirely songs about cheating, or being cheated on, but Lynn’s voice makes them all sound lovely.
Artist: James Brown Album: Sex Machine Year: 1970 Label: King Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“I Got The Feelin'”
“Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose (Undubbed Mix)”
“Please, Please, Please”
Thoughts: The title track of this album as long been a favorite of mine. Turns out that this is a different, slower version of “Sex Machine” than I’m familiar with. The album consists of a portion that Brown recorded with one backing band (including Bootsy and Catfish Collins) that he had produced with sound effects that make it sound like it was recorded in front of a live audience. The other portion of the album is an actual concert performance with a different band from James Brown’s hometown of August, GA in 1969. Both performances are blistering and blend together well.
Artist: Blur Album: Parklife Year: 1994 Label: Food Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Favorite Tracks:
“Girls and Boys”
Thoughts: Back in the 90s, I somehow got it into my head that Blur was another generic grunge band and didn’t give them much attention. This impression was probably due to the ubiquity of “Song 2” – admittedly great rally music in a hockey arena – but not representative of their work. Instead, Blur are a pop band with with clever story songs in the tradition of The Kinks. Despite learning this, I still hadn’t gotten around to giving Blur a fair listen (much like I haven’t done with The Kinks). It makes me question my poor decision-making skills in the 1990s regarding what I did and did not listen to. The only song I was familiar with is “Girls and Boys,” which I hated back in the 90s, but now I think it really slaps.
Artist: Primal Scream Album: Screamadelica Year: 1991 Label: Sire Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Favorite Tracks:
“Slip Inside This House”
“Don’t Fight It, Feel It”
Thoughts: Scottish band Primal Scream kind of sound like if by the 90s the Rolling Stones had evolved to sound like an alt-rock band that took a great interest in the acid house scene. Primal Scream were, of course, an alt-rock band that took a great interest in the acid house scene, and this album creates an undefinable mish-mash of 90s rock, funk, disco, psychedelia, and Madchester bands. I’ve written about the song “Loaded” before on this blog, and I was familiar with some of the other songs, but overall listening to this album all the way through for the first time is a revelation I waited 30 years too long to have.
Artist: 2Pac Album: All Eyez on Me Year: Death Row Label: 1996 Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes, a little Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No Favorite Tracks:
“Heartz of Men”
“Life Goes On”
“Only God Can Judge Me”
Thoughts: As I’ve noted previously in this column, I did not pay much attention to rap and hip hop in the 1990s. Nevertheless, I remember feeling sad when I learned about the murder of Tupac Shakur. From what little I knew about Shakur, he struck me as a talented and thoughtful young man who died way too young. Despite, 90s rap being in my blind spot, I was still surprised that I wasn’t familiar with any of the tracks on this album. I didn’t enjoy listening to the songs with lyrics about “bitches” and “hos” and the celebration “thug life” and the n-world sprinkled liberally about. Nevertheless, I could still see the genius and conscience of Tupac Shakur shine throw on a number of tracks.
Artist: Pet Shop Boys Album: Actually Year: 1987 Label: EMI Manhattan Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
“It’s a Sin”
Thoughts: The Pet Shop Boys are an odd duck, a duo who made music unlike anything else at their time. You got a pair of men who look and sound bored all the time, singing wry satire about the failures of the Thatcher/Reagan era, over danceable synthpop. And all those pieces work together.
Somehow, I was never aware until now that Dusty Springfield is the guest artist on “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” Did I know who Dusty Springfield was when I was 13? I do know that as a Catholic school boy the imagery of “It’s a Sin” made me laugh, and also made me feel guilty about polishing off a carton of Breyer’s mint chocolate chip.
Artist: Pavement Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain Year: 1994 Label: Matador Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: Prior to now, the only Pavement album I’d listened to before is Slanted & Enchanted, which I liked well enough but wouldn’t consider it a favorite. This album strikes as me as sound like very generic 90s rock. While Pavement is not a post-grunge band, I would consider their work on this album adjacent to a mid-to-late 90s genre I call “boring rock.” That is to say, it’s not bad, it’s just not very interesting.
Artist: LCD Soundsystem Album: Sound of Silver Year: 2007 Label: DFA/Capitol Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“North American Scum”
“Us V Them”
“Watch the Tapes”
Thoughts: I’ve always liked LCD Soundsytem although I don’t think I’ve listened to a full album before. The album branches out beyond the definitive electronic music sounds LCD Soundsystem to punk, indie rock, and even a bit of folk. I also love the humor of the lyrics such as the title track “Sound of silver talk to me /Makes you want to feel like a teenager / Until you remember the feelings of / A real life emotional teenager / Then you think again.” Although maybe that’s not funny enough to be repeated the entire song.
Artist: Usher Album: Confessions Year: 2004 Label: Arista Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Not intentionally Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: So, after years of hearing the song in the ether I finally found out that THAT song, which is “Yeah! (feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris),” is by Usher. It’s nice to put 2 and 2 together at last. The rest of this album is down- and mid-tempo contemporary R&B with Usher crooning over the beats. Too mellow for my tastes.
Artist: Los Lobos Album: How Will the Wolf Survive? Year: 1984 Label: Slash/Warner Bros. Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes Favorite Tracks:
“Don’t Worry Baby”
“A Matter of Time”
“Will the Wolf Survive?”
Thoughts: This is an album I’ve listened to before and liked but didn’t love. Listening again I found myself enjoying the blues rock and tejano sounds mixed into a solid collection of 1980s rock & roll. Los Lobos, a Mexican-American band from Los Angeles, made a big splash in Reagan’s America, which is as an impressive an accomplishment as this delightful album.
Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again
500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
498. Suicide, Suicide
497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
487. Black Flag, Damaged
485, Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
483, Muddy Waters, The Anthology
482, The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
481, Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
478, The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
477, Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight
469, Manu Chao, Clandestino
465, King Sunny Adé, The Best of the Classic Years
464, The Isley Brothers, 3 + 3
462, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin
459, Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day
457, Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
Title: Aguirre, the Wrath of God Release Date: December 29, 1972 Director: Werner Herzog Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion | Hessischer Rundfunk Summary/Review:
This the first narrative film by Herzog that I’ve watched, and it is as bleak as his reputation. It tells the story of Spanish conquistadors in 1560 traveling through the Andes in search of the legendary city of El Dorado. Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) is the second in command of a scouting party sent down a river on four rafts. Kinski portrays Aguirre not only as ambitious but so literally drunk on power that he staggers when he walks.
The movie features some startling shots, including the introduction when hundreds of soldiers, enslaved indigenous people, and two women (carried in sedan chairs) process in a long line on a muddy mountain trail. It was filmed on location and must’ve required dozens of extras but it’s an impressive scene and serves also to introduce all the main characters.
The sight of armored Spanish soldiers bearing swords and guns against the wilderness is a great satire, because nothing is going to protect them from nature. Of course the indigenous people are also a threat, but its more likely that the Spaniards will enslave them or kill them for unknowing acts of blasphemy. Ultimately, though, the greatest threat to the party is one another as power and greed turns them against each other.
It’s a grim film, but an honest depiction of colonialism, exploitation, and in humanity.
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien Title: The Fellowship of the Ring Publication Info: George Allen & Unwin, 1954 Summary/Review:
I read this book aloud (along with my wife) to my daughter for the first time. It’s still a classic, imaginative adventure that I remember. Although there are some slow and boring parts when reading to a 9-year-old. You begin to notice how tedious the lists of names and places and the songs and poems are when you’re reading aloud. Nevertheless, we had a good time reading it and are looking for to the more action-oriented The Two Towers next.
Title: Au Hasard Balthazar Release Date: May 25, 1966 Director: Robert Bresson Production Company: Cinema Ventures Summary/Review:
It’s a movie about the life of donkey, this should be sweet and light! Or not. Au Hasard Balthazar needs content warnings not just for animal cruelty but for the repeated abuse and sexual assault of a woman. That woman is Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), one of the children in a rural village in the Pyrenees who baptizes the young donkey Balthazar in the opening scene.
Years pass by and as Balthazar is passed from cruel owner to cruel owner, the teenaged Marie is the main human protagonist and one of the few people who are kind and affectionate to the donkey. Unfortunately for Marie, she’s only able to find escape from her constricted life in an abusive relationship with the film’s main antagonist, the smug and evil criminal Gérard (François Lafarge).
While I don’t believe that movies need a “Hollywood ending,” I also don’t understand why so many “great films” have to be unbearably bleak. There is no humor or humanity anywhere in this film. Roger Ebert wrote a beautiful review of this movie, and I totally agree that Balthazar’s story is designed to elicit empathy. I don’t agree with how Breeson handles the human actors who’s dialogue often sounds stilted and as if they’re reciting philosophical treatise. The way Breeson constructs Marie’s story is basically torture porn (not surprisingly 65-year-old Breeson was sexually pursuing the 18-year-old Wiazemsky behind-the-scenes) and borderline misogynistic.
Maybe this isn’t a “bad movie” by definition, but it makes me feel bad and I don’t like it.
Album: Three Little Words Artist: Dominique Fils-Aime Release Date: February 12, 2021 Label: Ensoul Records Favorite Tracks: Thoughts: Dominique Fils-Aimé, a vocalist from Quebec, explores the sounds of soul music with hints of jazz on her third album. The songs draw on influences from Do-Wop and classic Motown to more recent performers like Amy Winehouse. Lyrically the songs celebrate Black history and music and the ongoing struggle for liberation. Everything seems to be arranged and produced to perfection. Really the only flaw to the album is that it ends with an unnecessary cover of “Stand By Me.” If you like beautiful vocals and souljazz arrangements, this album is for you.
Album: Good Woman Artist: The Staves Release Date: February 5, 2021 Label: Atlantic Favorite Tracks:
“Nothing’s Gonna Happen”
The English folk trio of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor provide beautiful, close harmonies on this set of tunes. But the sweetness of the songs does not prevent them from singing lyrics of defiance
Album: Tell Me I’m Bad Artist: Editrix Release Date: February 5, 2021 Label: Exploding in Sound Records Favorite Tracks:
“Tell Me I’m Bad”
“She Wants to Go and Party”
Thoughts: The Western Massachusetts trio Editrix combines sweet singsong vocals over shredding guitar. Both the vocals and guitar are provided by Wendy Eisenberg, while Steve Cameron plays bass and Josh Daniel plays drums. The great punk/indie rock melodies support lyrics that are often political but also humorous. I found a great piece online that breaks down each song, something I’d love to see more of: https://www.talkhouse.com/a-guide-to-editrixs-tell-me-im-bad/