Movie Review: Parasite (2019)

Title: Parasite
Release Date: 30 May 2019
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Production Company: Barunson E&A

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.

Parasite is 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.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Title: Pulp Fiction
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Production Company: A Band Apart | Jersey Films

So I finally watched Pulp Fiction after avoiding it for 26 years.  And it was … okay.  Especially in the first sequence with Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), I kind of felt that I already knew every line of dialogue from repeated quoting and referencing.  Nevertheless, there were some surprises:

  • I had no idea that stars like Christopher Walken and Bruce Willis were in this movie, much less that Willis has a major role.
  • I didn’t realize that this movie is very long (154 minutes).  Granted, it’s basically three different movies intertwined. Tarantino essentially went ahead and made Pulp Fiction sequels and integrated them into the original film, which is admittedly clever.
  • The movie also features a lot of dialogue, both conversations and monologues, allowed to play out in full which is unusual for movies in recent decades and much appreciated. Although that dialogue also adds to the long running time…
  • I had absolutely no idea of the many twists and turns that occur in the “The Gold Watch” sequence with Butch (Willis), Vincent and then Marcellus ( Ving Rhames)

I avoided this movie because I assumed it was full of gratuitous violence and casual, hipster indifference to that violence.  There’s definitely some of that in this movie (a rape scene in “The Gold Watch” and a character getting his head blown off in “The Bonnie Situation” are particularly brutal to watch).  Nevertheless, the violence doesn’t seem to be as extreme as expected and as I noted above, words are more key to this movie than action. I was turned off by the gratuitous and “hipster-cool” ways that racial slurs are used in the movie and that aspect is going to only to continue to make the movie look dated as time passes.

What makes the movie for me is the moments of humanity. In three instances, in fact, people go to great efforts to save the life of another: Vincent rescues Mia (Uma Thurman) from a drug overdose, Butch goes back to rescue his rival Marcellus from their attackers, and Jules begins his transformation away from a life of crime to rescue the hapless robbers Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer).  There are great acting performances by everyone involved including smaller parts by Harvey Keitel, Maria de Medeiros, and Eric Stoltz.

I can definitely see Pulp Fiction earning a spot on a greatest movies of all-time list based on its influence on the film industry alone.  Nevertheless, I don’t believe it will make my personal lists of favorite movies.

Rating: ***1/2



Movie Review: Clue (1985)

Release Date: December 13, 1985
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Production Company: Guber-Peters Company | PolyGram Filmed Entertainment | Debra Hill Productions

We played a game of Clue and then decided to watch the movie Clue.  The things you do while in isolation.  I saw this movie in the theater back when it first came out.  The gimmick at the time as that there were three different endings released to different movie theaters.  I saw ending C.  By the time it made it to video and television broadcasts (and now on streaming) all three endings are played back to back.

This is perhaps the first, but not the last, movie based upon a board game.  A comedy that parodies ensemble murder mystery movies while bringing in elements from the board game is a good premise. The movie has become a cult classic among Millenials, but I’m surprised at just how few laughs there are, especially considering the stellar cast.  The movie features Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren. but only Curry gets some truly funny moments.  And most of those are held until the end(s) of the movie when he’s revealing whodunnit.

Knives Out did it all much better.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Title: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Release Date: June 21, 1966
Director: Mike Nichols
Production Company: Warner Bros.

“That’s messed up!” I cried aloud as the credits rolled on this dramatization of a middle-aged married couple tormenting one another in the way only a loved one who knows one’s weaknesses can do.  Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the most glamorous actors in Hollywood at the time, play against type as the schlubby duo of Martha and George.  She is the daughter of the university president and he is an unaccomplished history professor.

The movie begins at 1 am after they’ve returned from a party and Martha mentions that a young couple will be dropping by that they have to get to know on account of her father.  The young biology professor played by George Segal (known as “Nick” in the credits, but never addressed by name in the movie) arrives with his wife, called “Honey” (which may or may not be her name), who is played by Sandy Dennis.  Over the course of the night and into morning, the quartet argue, drink, reveal bits of their past and as George describes it, play “games.”  These are mind games that George and Martha torture one another with.

I won’t go into any further detail, as I find this movie worked well without knowing what was coming.  I found it excruciating to watch despite or perhaps because of the excellence in acting.  The movie’s content and dialogue must’ve been shocking in 1966, and along with Blowup was a key factor in the demise of the Production Code and the emergence of a ratings system.  This is a great movie, no doubt, but it is not an easy movie to watch, so be warned!

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Title: Kind Hearts and Coronets
Release Date: June 13, 1949
Director: Robert Hamer
Production Company: Ealing Studios

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a dry and satirical British comedy from Ealing Studios, among the earliest of a string of “Ealing Comedies” that include classics like The Ladykillers and often starred Alec Guinness. Set around 1900, the story focuses on Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price) whose mother (Audrey Fildes) was disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying his father (also Price), an Italian singer. In revenge for their ill-treatment of his mother, Louis decides to murder every member of the D’Ascoyne family who is ahead of him in inheriting the title of Duke of Chalfont.

The so-absurd-it’s-wonderful twist is that Alec Guinness plays all the members of the D’Ascoyne family, 9 characters in all, of different ages and genders.  The amazing thing is that Guinness’ chameleon-like talent allows him to portray all these different characters without much in the way of make-up or costuming.

In addition to Guinness, the cast includes Joan Greenwood as Sibella, Louis’ childhood friend who turns down his marriage proposal due to his initial poor prospects, but later becomes his mistress.  Valerie Hobson portrays Edith, the widow of one of Louis’ murder victims whom he marries in order to have a properly elite bride.  There are a lot of good comical twists to the story, especially a stunner at the finale. And keeping with British tradition, there’s also a lot of variety and creativity in how the murders are carried out.

These days, the British aristocracy is an open target for mockery, but I wonder if in 1949 there was still some level of deference that would’ve made this movie more shocking. Deference to aristocracy is certainly a target for satire right at the start when a comical hangman seeks to  learn how to properly address his illustrious victim.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: In Bruges

Title: In Bruges
Release Date: February 8, 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Production Company: Blueprint Pictures | Film4 Productions | Focus Features | Scion Films

In this most bizarre spinoff from the Wizard World of Harry Potter, aurors Percival Graves and Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody are sent to Bruges, Belgium by their boss Lord Voldemort after a hit on Aberforth Dumbledore goes awry.  While there Graves forms a relationship with Fleur Delacour.  Okay, I’m having a laugh here, but this movie shares a lot of actors with the Harry Potter series, and good actors, too.  Apropos, In Bruges is an actors’ movie drawing out a very human, character-driven story against the backdrop of Bruges’ historic medieval city center.

I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for about 11 years now, and glad I finally got around to it. I was expecting an over-the-top black comedy crime story like Trainspotting or Intermission. While In Bruges shares qualities with those prior films, it is also quieter and more introspective at times.  Colin Farrel plays the young hitman Ray whose job killing a priest goes wrong and is sent to Bruges with his mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson). While Ken enjoys the holiday as a chance to explore historic Bruges, for Ray the city feels more like purgatory.  He wavers between being suicidal and partying a local petty thief, Chloë (Clémence Poésy) and a dwarf film actor, Jimmy (Jordan Prentice).

Ultimately the movie comes down to a debate of whether or not Ray can be redeemed. Ken, despite being a hardened criminal himself, sees Ray as someone who can make a difference in the world.  On the other side, their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) sees the world in black & white and believes that Ray must be killed to restore order.  It’s a very well-acted film, and even minor roles like pregnant owner of the hotel (Thekla Reuten) where Ray and Ken are staying have clearly defined character moments.  Fiennes does go over the top though towards the films climax, which may be the film’s biggest minus.

Rating: ****