Parasite: Movie review.


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I am going to be unpopular here because it’s unfashionable to do anything other than laud Parasite from the rooftops.

Let’s get a couple of things straight before the off.

  • I have no issue with the ‘One inch barriers” to universal film appreciation that director Bong Joon Ho describes subtitles as.  I have seen thousands of subtitled movies and Scandi Noirs.
  • I have no, unlike Mr Trump, political bias against (sorry, not bias, prejudice in Trump’s case) South Korean cinema.  Indeed I recently reviewed Chan Wook-Park’s The Handmaiden as 10 stars on IMDB. (Oldboy is a classic from Park, too.) I also loved Ho’s Okja and The Host, although I thought his English-speaking Snowpiercer was truly awful.

So this is not the problem, and just because I’m not raving about this doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, I did.  I just feel the praise that’s being lavished upon it is greater than my appreciation.

I read one review on IMDB by ‘mysticfall’ that suggested anyone who didn’t love this was a moron and clearly didn’t understand it.

I had no issue with understanding it.

It’s essentially a movie about class and privilege in which Ho brings together South Korea’s richest and poorest in one household, with the poorest as servants, and sets up a scenario where he does not judge either for their caste.

Except he does.

As the film progresses it’s clear that the master of the house has an ingrained prejudice against the poor that manifests itself in his inability to understand or articulate that it’s their ‘smell’ that reeks of poverty, and is therefore undesirable.

Variously described as a comedy and horror it leans far more to the former with some extremely funny lines and a pretty strong dose of slapstick – as seen in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s excellent Inside Number 9 episode – A Quiet Night In in which two cat-burglars attempt to steal paintings from an occupied house without a word of dialogue.

Almost all of Act 2 of Parasite was essentially this episode.

The horror that we are promised is actually gore, and is reserved for Act 3.  It’s very much in the school of Tarantino, and, of course, Tarantino himself is heavily influenced by Asian film-making, so a certain circle is squared.

The  performances are universally excellent but I feel that, on occasion, Ho strays into slightly heavy-handed territory – much in evidence in his direction of Snowpiercer.  It’s not enough to spoil anything, but it clashes with the adulatory reviews I’ve read.

The cinematography is simply beautiful.

It’s a fine movie, but in my view 1917 was a more immersive cinematic experience and consequently deserved the Best Picture Academy Award.

Call me what you like, but I’m saying what I’m seeing.

 

 

 

American Factory: Documentary review


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I didn’t think I’d see a better documentary than For Sama this year, and having viewed Netflix’s American Factory last night, the Oscar winner in the documentary category, I stand by that view.

However, this is a fine piece of work.

It tells the story of a Chinese windscreen-manufacturer reseeding the site of a massive General Motors factory in Dayton Ohio some three years after its closure.

The main premise of the film is that this is a meeting of two cultures, both business and anthropological, and how the rise in Chinese commercial enterprise, even deep in rust-belt, Republican USA, is a success that won’t go away.

But the Chinese drive a hard bargain: much lower wages, poorer health and safety ideology, an intolerance of unions and a hard work ethic (in China overtime is compulsory, not optional).

The filmmakers – Stephen Bognar and Julia Rheichert  – are seasoned pros and have an interesting technique that makes this such an agreeable watch.  It’s not controversial, there’s little humour and there are no pyrotechnics.  It’s just a laconic stroll through the lives of the people on both sides of this cultural ravine, gradually exposing what it’s like for each of them.

They take no sides, they critique no-one, but clearly there is stuff in here that could enrage a very large percentage of its viewers, no matter their cultural persuasion.

That’s what makes it work.  That and a good soundtrack and a pleasing use of cinematography.

It’s not doc of the year, for me, but it IS an intelligent piece of documentary film-making that is as far from the Michael Moore one-sided tidal-wave of opinion and argument as one could get, and, for that, it is to be admired.

The Lighthouse: Movie Review


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Steptoe and Son, on a rock.

It’s marketed as a horror, but I’m not sure that would be my proposition given that it’s not very scary, but what it is, is interesting.

It’s arthouse.  Very arthouse.  So, if the word ‘pretentious’ leaves you cold leave The Lighthouse by the only exit, downstairs centre.

Robert Pattinson (an increasingly accomplished actor) and Willem Dafoe ( a criminally underrated performer) perform two-man psychological warfare as they set sail, in the fog, to the 19th century eponymous structure.

Silent and brooding, the two take a good 15 minutes to utter a word to each other and even then only grudgingly.  Dafoe, the old hand and the extremely domineering boss, and Pattinson, the new charge on his first tour of duty, play a curmudgeonly duo (think Steptoe and Son, but without the laughs) that only gradually begin to come to terms with one another when their hooch starts to flow.

Pattinson has a secret to hide, Dafoe is just a bullying old git that gets his rocks off on the rock by exposing himself to the lighthouse lens deep into the night.  Meanwhile, Pattinson fantasises about mermaids.

Gradually it unravels as the hooch takes hold and it becomes a battle of wits and strength between the two, the prize unknown and the purpose unclear.

As a vicious storm takes hold it’s uncertain as to whether they will ever leave the rock, let alone alive.

Shot in gorgeous black and white in an interesting square format (think Son of Saul and Grand Budapest Hotel) it’s a beautiful experience, albeit pretty grim.

It’s clearly not going to be of universal interest and I felt it outstayed its welcome a little, but it’s an interesting cinematic (not TV) experience and I’d recommend it with strong caveats.

 

The Testament of Gideon Mack, by James Robertson: Book Review.


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Gideon Mack is a Scottish Minister, a man of the cloth.  Indeed the son of a man of the cloth.  But he doesn’t believe in God.

His Dad of the cloth was an absolute bastard and that probably contributed to his lie of a life.

Awkwardly, he also fancies his best mate’s wife and, more importantly, and centrally to the story, falls into a river near the fictional Scottish village of Monimaskit – where a raging river flows under it.

In trying to save a dog, who wanders too close to the edge of the canyon that carries the torrent into the unknown, Mack slips and falls to his death.  Or so the villagers think.

In fact, he survives the fall and meets, in an underground cavern, that the raging river takes us to, The Devil, with whom he strikes up an agreeable relationship before returning to his kinsfolk three days later, bruised and bloodied, but very much alive.

What follows is Mack’s difficult reconciliation of his shot-to-pieces faith, the retelling of his unlikely story that nobody believes and the death of an old friend.

James Robertson’s tale is a stirring Scottish romp through the double-standards of the Scots’ particularly Calvinist take on Christianity, duty, sanity and illicit love.

It’s a terrific yarn with much to recommend although I think it found its level on the Booker Prize Long List; any further would have been to have exalted it a little above its station.

Nevertheless, a most agreeable read.  Reasonably strongly recommended.

 

13 Minutes to the Moon: Podcast review.


Episode six of this forensically detailed story of the race to deliver JFK’s dictat, in 1961, – that Americans would be first to the moon before the decade was out, consuming at times 4% (YES 4%) of the USA’s GDP and employing 400,000 people – reveals, for me, its greatest and most sage moment.

Jim Lovell is co-piloting the lunar capsule as it orbits the moon and is trying to help his Commander, Frank Borman, badly photograph the earth as it rises above the moon’s horizon.

With Lovell’s help the result is ‘Earthrise’ – one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

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But it’s the commentary from Lovell that stopped me in my stride…

“I’m not a religious kinda guy.  But my perspective is – God has given mankind a stage on which to perform. How the play turns out is up to us.”

A truly frightening thought for this time as Climate Deniers support the ongoing rape of our planet.

The BBC’s World Service is to be congratulated for its attention to detail in pulling together this eight hour marathon, with breathtaking music by Hans Zimmer and a superb narration by Kevin Fong.

It grips from the first moment (the music) to the last – the entire landing, through the recordings of the actual Mission Control tapes, captured in real time.

The eponymous 13 minutes refers to the time it took from firing Eagle’s booster rockets to the Eagle landing on the lunar surface.

In a series of flashbacks, readings, interviews, archive material and Fong enthusiasm (but in a controlled way) we learn of the mission, its predecessors and the lessons and learnings from them, until the actual landing itself.

It’s riveting.

And it’s packed full of facts. (Software was invented thanks to the Apollo missions, you could push a biro through the metallic skin of the Landing Module (the LEM) – to save weight – and the average age of the Mission Control team is 26 or 27, depending on which commentator you believe.)

On more than one occasion I was moved to tears by the sheer human endeavour of it all.  Because it’s presented by British producers the American nationalism is left at the door of the edit suite.  Instead, we have old men and women’s stories brought searingly to life and its monumental scale is, at times, simply overwhelming.

I loved every second of this astonishing documentary and stronly recommend it.

You’ll find it on BBC Sounds.

 

 

Mouthpiece: at The Traverse by Kieran Hurley


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The tricky disclaimer

I have to first declare my physical challenge with this night in the theatre, one of my favourites, and not previously the purveyor of spasming pain in my right knee.  However, tonight the cramped legroom of Traverse 1 caused me such physical discomfort that I was counting the minutes till the end.

It was probably me, but the seating didn’t help.

The common gripe

This is the second Kieran Hurley show I’ve seen. Square Go by Paines Plough, like this, started brilliantly but seemed to run out of steam.  This less so, but it was a game of two halves for me.  The first pain-free, the secondly most certainly not.

The difficult narrator issue.

Narrated plays when the performers talk about what they are up to as they do it is not my cuppa, I’m afraid.

The describing of structure as the structure unfolds in episodic real time.

See above.

The holding of mirrors up to middle class audiences technique.

Herein lies my real problem with this production.

The performances by Shauna Macdonald and Angus Taylor are both very good and the story is engaging, but it’s about working class (underclass) strife meeting middle class privilege – a bit Pygmalianesque, but trying very, very hard not to be.

This whole ‘theatre-holding-a-mirror-up-to-its audience’ schtick, as we look in on how others live (it happens a lot in black theatre, queer theatre and class theatre) is starting to tire me out.

In this, Hurley intermingles the fortunes of a deprived teenager with a failed but privileged early-middle-aged writer, but in such a way that life starts to imitate art, become art, debunk art and eventually question art to such an extent that I started to run out of emotional connection.

Hurley does his best to take the whole ‘Rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’ cliche and subvert it, so that Mrs Higgins rapidly descends from hero to villain and Master Doolittle morphs from victim to hero to victim to hero so much that I began to wonder if I was really all that bothered any more.  Or maybe it was the knee.

The site-specific thing

If you haven’t seen it you won’t get this reference.,  But it is very clever.  I liked that.

The Martin Creed references.

You know what, I’m moaning a bit here.  This was a good production.  I’m just a grippy bastard sometimes and it had too many flaws for me.

But, at the end of the day…Everything’s going to be all right.

 

 

 

Word of the day: Verschlimmbesserung.


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The Germans Have great words.

Schadenfreude is one of my favourites.

This one, in the context of Brexit, is rather good.

It means an attempted improvement that makes things worse.

It started with posh boy, was taken up by that ineffectual woman and has been triumphantly scrambled over the line by the one that lies all the time.

One could level this at the Democrats and their lame duck attempted impeachment of Trump that will only help his road to re-election.