film

Review: Parasite

*Warning! In order to discuss this film, I will be spoiling large aspects of the plot- I highly recommend this one though!*

Written by Han Jin-won and Bong Joon-ho, and directed by Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” is a social satire that greatly benefits from the audience knowing as little as possible for your first viewing. Being the first film from South Korea to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, it seemed like a perfectly good reason to check this one out. That, and the fact that Bong Joon-ho is an excellent director. Personally, I’ve only seen a few of his films, namely “Snowpiercer” and “The Host”, both of which were quite enjoyable and fun genre films that housed aspects of a critical eye towards society. This film, however, is far more critical of society and it’s financial machinations. If you want nothing more than my recommendation to see this film, then you have it already. It’s easily one of the best films of the year, and as already mentioned, the less you know, the better… I suspect. “Parasite” focuses on two families, the Kims, and the Parks. The Kims are in dire financial straits, a family of four adults living in a small, cramped, and sunken, apartment. They fold cardboard pizza boxes for income and allow street fumagation to freely blow through their windows- free fumagation is better than none, and besides, it will get rid of their bug problem. Eventually Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), the son of the family, is offered a lucrative job by a close friend as an English tutor for the daughter of a rich family in town. Ki-woo’s friend is heading out of the country for awhile and he doesn’t want just anybody mentoring this girl, none of his collegiate peers were up to the task though, as they might simply fawn over the young girl instead of actually teaching her. After his interview is a success Ki-woo begins to analyze the Park family’s situation and assess how he may fit his other family members into the high life as well. It isn’t long before the Kim family brutally excises the other working class people that earn their livings from the Park family and replace them with a member of the Kim family, extravagantly performing an act, or scheme, to fool the Parks into accepting them into their realm with high dollar luxury positions such as Art Therapist or Handmaid.

A lot of the film tells its story purely through the visuals displayed onscreen. Through the staging and direction, we can see how differently the two families operate and how each family’s financial status orients their needs for certain skillsets. The two families are staged in near complete opposites, the Kims are almost always physically close together onscreen and working efficiently as a group. The Parks on the other hand are barely in any shots with other members of their family, and when they are there are large empty spaces inbetween them. This division extends to a multitude of layers that separate the two families. The Parks can afford to outsource skills that the Kims couldn’t live without, cooking, cleaning, understanding the needs and idosyncracies of their closest family members etc. The film even wisely showcases how even simple things can affect the families in wildly different ways. When a rainstorm ruins the Park’s camping trip and they have to come home early, they complain that it was “a disaster”. However, when the Kims return to their home at the bottom of the city, the rain that the Parks so quaintly admire in the night sky, has actually caused the Kims a real disaster in flooding their home. “Parasite” even goes so far as to show that while the Parks are very particular about their maids, housekeepers, and drivers “crossing the line” between work and their family life- they have no qualms about reaching out to the Kims while they’re off duty to request a litany of demands.

The writing and complexity of this film are at the core of why it works on so many levels. Literally involving levels to be exact. There’s a lot to be said of the imagery involving staircases throughout the film too. The Parks ascend stairways while the Kims descend, fearing a misstep into the abyss below. Keep an eye out for stairs, they’re all over the film, who goes up them, and who falls down them. I think one particualrly small aspect that could get overlooked, is actually one aspect that I respect the hell out of, creatively speaking. Bong Joon-ho has an opinion about the world and what it does to people, but he doesn’t lay any judgement on the characters. Neither the Parks or the Kims are full-fledged stereotypes, the film doesn’t even seem to embrace each family’s perception of the other. The Parks are not villains or naive, nor are the Kims triumphant protagonists or simple helpers. There are societal criticisms to be had for sure, but these events unfold plainly before us, without a wagging finger or an opinionated slant with a heavy-handed message. If you haven’t seen the message of the film yet, it seems, to me at least, to be about capitalism and how it can turn anyone into Parasites. The film cleverly makes an argument for how daily competition can get cutthroat, but more importantly it dives into how the poor can get lost in the chaos by trying to smother each other in an attempt to climb into the higher class. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is also its most depressing. I’ll leave the specifics to the third act, but when Ki-woo allows himself to be filled with hope at the thought of eventually saving his Father from isolation through the power of money.. it is this hope that has infected him, it is what continues the cycle of poverty and despair. Ki-Woo even has a plan. Which is even worse when considering what his father pointed out earlier in the film when revealing that lives with laid out plans are never lived that way.

I’d be a fool not to point out the crucial performances of all the actors in the film, the movie wouldn’t work without the skills on display and comittment to the craft. Kang-ho Song, as Ki-taek (the father of the Kim family), in particular was a fascinating performance to watch evolve over the course of the film, he did so much with even the smallest facial expressions. Everyone though put in standout performances. “Parasite” is a unique and powerful drama/thriller that I highly recommend to everyone. This movie should win Best Picture, it’s got my vote! (If I were voting for the Oscars that is…)

Final Score: 4 Parks, 4 Kims

*For fun, check out this video that further analyzes the film, be warned though, it contains ALL THE SPOILERS!

film

Review: Roma

Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” follows a family through a tumultuous year in early 1970’s Mexico City. Specifically it is the story of Cleo Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), one of two maids that live with the family they clean and care for. While we follow the arc of the family’s overall storyline as the film develops, we see most things through Cleo’s perspective. She works with Adela (Nancy García García) cleaning the floors, preparing food, and watching over Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio’s (Fernando Grediaga) four children Toño (Diego Cortina Autrey), Paco (Carlos Peralta), Pepe (Marco Graf), and Sofi (Daniela Demesa).

I won’t divulge too many details, as I believe this small film benefits from a less-is-more attitude upon first viewing. The emotional core of the film lies in the parallel storylines of Cleo and Sofia, both of whom experience cycles of neglect and trauma. The first half of the film is cleverly benign. It explores the intimacy of small moments between various characters, forcing a closeness between the audience and the family onscreen so that when the dramatic events unfold, the twisting of the narrative knife is that much more painful. In an article for Variety the director speaks about the sensation of memory, about how the film isn’t meant to be a direct representation of the time and place, but informed by how he remembers it. “[Jorge Luis] Borges talks about how memory is an opaque, shattered mirror, but I see it more as a crack in the wall. The crack is whatever pain happened in the past. We tend to put several coats of paint over it, trying to cover that crack. But it’s still there.” -Alfonso Cuarón.

With “Roma”, Alfonso Cuarón demonstrates his deft handiwork and skill behind the camera, which firmly reminds us of his place in cinematic history. This passion project of Cuarón’s has his fingerprints in nearly every department of production. Not only did he write and direct the first Best Picture nominee for Netflix, but he was also behind the camera as the cinematographer and edited the film himself too! Informed by his own childhood growing up in Mexico City, Cuarón’s semi autobiographical work is dedicated to the real Cleo of his childhood, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez. Though in a fun sidenote, there’s even a nod to the director’s other works when the family goes to the cinema to see “Marooned”- an inspiration for his own sci-fi film in the shape of “Gravity” years later.

Cuarón’s cinematography makes everyday life seem like a spectacle to behold. This works wonders in the latter half of the film when the narrative starts to weigh more, for both the audience and the characters involved. If “Roma” doesn’t sweep the Oscars with its ten nominations then it should at the very least get the cinematography award. Though admittedly, it would be a shame if Yalitza Aparicio didn’t get the Best Actress- her performance was grounded, warm, tragic and outstanding. I haven’t seen as many of the Oscar nominations as I normally do this time of year, but I’d have a hard time considering others over this performance, and the film as a whole truthfully.

What I loved most about this film was that it captured the breadth and depth of life’s circumstances. It asks how we’re supposed to wade through the vague and swirling confusion of psychological and emotional trauma that is life when we’re supposed to go about our lives and do things that are required of us, like work and the accumulation of wealth. In my humble opinion, good art makes you question life and your place in it. Really great art reaches you on a previously unseen level and makes an impact on you- but the best stuff burrows inside your mind, and it becomes a part of you, it makes you live in ITS space. Any great novel, painting, orchestra, or film can accomplish this- and it is different for everyone, but Roma was all of these things for me after the end credits had rolled.

Final Score: 4 kids, 2 maids, and 1 Borras

Check out this article (mentioned earlier in the review) about the film and the director’s complex relationship with the material from Variety: https://variety.com/2018/film/news/roma-alfonso-cuaron-netflix-libo-rodriguez-1202988695/

film

#OscarsSoSubjective

 Relevancy

This year the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, celebrated eighty-eight years of doling out the tiny golden guys to the filmmaking community at large. 2016 brought with it renewed criticism that the Academy was out of touch with the rest of the community of not only filmmakers, but everyday citizens as well. Race played a big part in the acknowledgement that all nominees were white while 2015 had offered films centering on african-american characters and stories that were essentially ignored by the Academy. ‘Straight Outta Compton’, ‘Creed’, and ‘Dope’ were just a handful of films that I personally believe should have gotten more attention and acknowledgement by the famed awards show. In fact the reaction on twitter, giving rise to the popular #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, alone has put the Academy, for lack of better terms, in the limelight when it comes to this subject and they have begun to incorporate structural changes to the membership of the board of voters that has been a long time coming.

The show as a performance was on point and appropriately topical given the circumstances of the national zietgiest. Chris Rock deftly handled the subject and made for a competent, and important, host for the times. I can’t think of a better actor to have handled this year’s show. Kevin Hart also had a moment to focus on positvity rather than any negative reactions to come from the awards show results. On the whole it was an entertaining night of fanfare and respect for the craft of filmmaking, how Lady Gaga didn’t win for her musical nomination after that performance is still puzzling though, more on that later.

Best Actor: Leo fights a bear to win an Oscar

Admission: I haven’t yet seen ‘The Revenant’. Now however, I need to. Its been a long time coming for Leonardo DiCaprio, personally I think he should have won way back for his performance as Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Aviator’ in 2004, but now that he’s won a lil gold guy of his own we can finally put all those Leo oscar memes to bed. Finally.

Best Picture: Spotlight shines a light on journalism

I also missed ‘Spotlight’, but the film did seem compelling by its very nature. Any film that champions true journalism, especially when its tough and the world is against you, is sorely needed in this political climate we find ourselves in currently. The cast is a knockout and the screenplay won gold as well so it seems this ensemble piece nestles itself neatly between compelling and enthralling.

Best Director: Coogler and Miller’s missed opportunity

In my personal opinion the greatest missed opportunity came at the expense of Ryan Coogler’s ‘Creed’. Not only was it not nominated for Best Director, it definitely should have been, but even ‘Mad Max’ director George Miller couldn’t break the spell and oust last year’s winner, Alejandro Inarritu. Granted, as noted before I haven’t seen ‘The Revenant’, and I did love ‘Birdman’, but the technical prowress that Coogler showcased in ‘Creed’ was beyond impressive and deserves to be lauded.

‘Straight Outta Compton’ also should have gotten at least some kind of recognition, especially with how current that storyline is right now in America. Topical, loud, rebellious, and important ‘Straight Outta Compton’ connected with the pulse of the times and to ignore it outright certainly did no good deeds for the Academy members.

Best Supporting Actor: Stallone V Rylance

Admittedly, while I still believe Sly earned the Oscar more-so than Rylance, it couldn’t have gone to a better second contender. Mark Rylance’s role as the mild mannered Soviet spy caught on American soil in the cold war was a restrained and grounded performance that reveiled more of the personality of the character as time went on. It was one of the best aspects of Spielberg’s sandbox of American drama, ‘Bridge of Spies’. There’s still a chance Sly has one more Rocky role in him left for the ‘Creed’ sequel but I feel he’ll be more likely to go the way of Kenobi if he even chooses to rejoin the sequel at all.

Alicia Vikander: Ex Machina vs The Danish Girl

Not to take away from the levity of the oscar win that Alicia Vikander got, but I feel as though she won it for the wrong film. The Danish Girl is all well and good, but it is very clearly the sort of film you would expect the Academy to dole out awards to. The very notion of the story lies within the comfort zone of the Academy. A marginalized character that rebels against the larger machinations of the public, or establishment’s (of the time in which said story takes place), unchallenged perception. Like I said this is not to take away from the performances, or direction, staging, score etc, I bring it up because it is painstakingly predictable that this film would get nominated and win. ‘Ex-Machina’ on the other hand, is a unique small scale sci-fi dealing with heady questions of existential threat and the rise of supercomputers and, eventually, Articifical Intelligence. Moreover, Alicia Vikander’s performance as Ava is what grounded the film, and set it soaring to new heights. It’s a film that deserves recognition, but I suppose it will have to settle with snagging the special effects Oscar away from Star Wars for now.

Mad Max: Knockout by production

While George Miller didn’t win Best Director, he should be more than happy with the outcome of his film’s night at the Oscars. The Juggernaut that is ‘Mad Max’ swept the technical awards at the show, and it certainly deserved every win it racked up. At the end of the night the wastelanders were adorned with six Oscars in total: Production design, Film editing, Costume design, Make-up, Sound editing, and Sound Mixing. What a lovely day indeed!

Animation: Inside out turned us all inside out

We all knew ‘Inside out’ would win this year’s animation Oscar, how could it not? The film was a heartfelt and tear jerking experience about a young girl moving to San Francisco from the midwest. That might not sound like the most compelling plotline in the world, but trust me, it’s brilliant. Seriously, it’s a beautiful story and will mean all the more to you if you have children.

How did Sam Smith win for that Spectre song?

I still have no idea how Sam Smith won for that lackluster Bond opening. Of course anyone would have a hard time topping Adele’s Skyfall, but Smith’s offering was less than stellar to say the least. It must have been odd receiving the award after Lady Gaga’s powerful performace. Although in all honesty it matches the overall quality of that Bond flick, passable, but could have been so much better.

In other Musically related news Ennio Morricone finally won some incredibly well deserved limelight for the score to Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’, which makes all the sense in the world as that score elevated the nature of the film to another standard. If you haven’t seen the film, you definitely should, the score, not to mention cinematography, is wondrous.

Art is subjective

This was an interesting year at the famed awards show to say the least. Ironically, by being out of touch with relevancy the awards show garnered enough bad press to make some real changes in how the membership works. Of course the show also had it’s gaffes, praises, upsets, expected wins, deserved wins, and of course, obligatory fanfare. But, that is what the whole thing is about right? Putting on a show. Being entertainers. It’s a reflection of the people in the room that it takes place in. But is it what ultimately thrones or damns film? Of course not. We all have to remember that awards are simply up to the subjectivity of the Academy. Yes we can all agree to a certain degree of what makes or measures a “Good” film, but none of that really matters in the end because everyone has a differing taste in opinion. You know what they say about one’s man’s trash, it’s another man’s Oscar. This goes the other way as well, but it really all just depends on what you enjoy. There are films I love beyond measure, movies that I put on when I’m not feeling well, when I’m elated, when I want to be scared… these films will never win an Oscar, and sometimes that makes the film shine a little brighter. Not every film can win, and some simply shouldn’t- not because of anything quality related, but because some films don’t need to be put on the Academy’s pedestal, they’re already on ours.