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.

 

 

 

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.

 

1917: Movie Review.


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I have a recurring dream.

It’s a common one.

In it I am a soldier trying to evade the grasp of my enemy in a war zone.  I sneak around fields, towns, villages often being spotted, running for my life.  Sometimes I spot the enemy from afar preparing to attack and a sense of dread overwhelms me.  It last all night.

The dream interpreters, not particularly surprisingly, suggest this reflects some form of conflict one are facing in one’s life.

Today, in the cinema I witnessed that dream come to life, imagined by Sam Mendes in a Hades like no other.

It’s terrifying.

Totally and utterly terrifying.

It’s a true story based on the experience of Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred, who shared a fragment of what happened with his grandson.

Mendes’ career is largely theatre-based, and many film critics believe theatre makers do not make good film makers.  Yes, they might be strong on dialogue and characterisation but they tend to be weaker on cinematography.

One way to resolve this is to create your movies with Roger Deakins, surely the greatest cinematographer in history – given not only his ridiculously great eye but also the technology he has to further enhance his art.

There can be NO doubt that this is as much Deakins’ movie as it is Mendes’.  He was Oscar nominated 12 times before he finally landed one for Bladerunner 2049 (along the way his greatness has blessed No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo and The Assasination of Jesse James…). This will be his second.  There can be no doubt about that.

The combination of stunning grading, extremely long takes and unworkeoutable steadycam technique defies logic, description and understanding.  It is mesmerising.

Remember the first 20 minutes of Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, arguably the greatest War movie of all time?  Would you agree with me that the remaining 90 minutes is patchy at best?  Well, 1917 begins more slowly, but no less electrifyingly, as we settle into Deakins’ art.  The difference though is that the remaining 90 minutes of 1917 grab you by the throat and do not let off.

It’s completely overwhelming.

Technical movies of this competence don’t always have great acting performances.  And this won’t win George Mackay an Oscar, probably not even a nomination, but he does not let the side down, neither does his supporting actor Dean-Charles Chapman, but although this is SUCH a human story it’s the sheer scale and bravado of the overall thing that is what makes it such a compelling piece of filmmaking.

Some will lament the fact that this is so, but I believe Mendes has found the balance.

One other thing; Thomas Newman’s soundtrack is so gripping, so menacing that jeopardy is maintained for its entirety – it’s a significant achievement.

He has created a nightmare vision that out-horrors even the likes of The Exorcist, because this is no fantasy, this is reality, and it feels like it.

Truly a seminal cinema experience.  This will only be half the movie on your TV set so get up and get down to your local big screen, before it’s too late.

Peerless.

The movie of the year (although I’ve yet to see Parasite) in an already epic year.

Note:  I have now and I think 1917 is a better movie.

 

 

 

Little Women: Movie Review.


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I haven’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, neither have I seen any of the previous film incarnations of her famed novel, so I came to this with no expectations other than that the cast is stellar and the director, Greta Gerwig, is highly noteworthy. (Lady Bird was superb in my opinion – next up is Barbie, written by Noah Baumbach and starring Margot Robbie – that should be interesting.)

What interested me structurally about the movie is that it is essentially both an autobiography and a fiction – the novel itself is represented as little stories but the narrative describes how the book came about.  For some critics this has been problematic as it requires (or allows if you prefer) a considerable amount of time-switching, that is not always captioned for the hard of intelligence.

The movie is an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of hilarity and depths of real pity as the four March sisters, that make up the main protagonists, live a struggling middle class life surrounded in close proximity by deep poverty and significant wealth.  It is this relationship with money, and the pursuit thereof, that is the central philosophical backbone of the movie and allows for many excellent vignettes and clear messaging that money is not the root of all happiness.

On the side of the rich sit three excellent portrayals; Timothy Chalomet (outstanding as the main love interest Laurie), his wonderful and generous of spirit grandfather (played beautifully and touchingly by Chris Cooper) and the ‘evil'(ish) rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep).  Laura Dern continues her annus mirabilis as the girls’ mother (it complements her performance in Marriage Story.)

More than once the beautiful tableaux’ that Gerwig sets up reminded me of Dorothea Langue’s Migrant Mother.  In that it resonates love and tenderness in the face of adversity.

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This is a tremendous piece of film making in every way.  It’s funny, moving, beautiful to look at, poignant and thought provoking.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent, as always, but Florence Pugh’s ability to appear both 14 and 26 is even more remarkable.  Emma Watson is solid and poor little Beth is played touchingly by Eliza Scanlen.

Overall it’s a great ensemble production with the real star of the show, Great Gerwig.

Bravo!

 

 

 

Joker: Movie review


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“A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society” is IMDB’s excellent byline description of this deep exploration of disintegrating (disintegrated?) mental health.

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It’s described as taking place in the ‘Scorseseverse’ by some critics, in that Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck appears to be an homage to many of Scorsese’s monumental 70’s characters.  And what’s more, De Niro has a supporting role that shows he still can deliver the goods when not just taking a part for the money.

So I’ve already used the M word and in this Academy Award winning performance (of that there is no doubt) Joaquim Phoenix’s monumental performance will put the Academy back on track after their laughable decision to recognise Rami Malek for impersonating Freddie Mercury last year.

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I detest impersonation movies on the whole, but this is no impersonation, this is a character crafted out of magic.  It’s not a superhero movie in the slightest and all the better for it. It’s simply a character study of great depth and extreme nuance.

One thing I loved about this intense study of a disintegrating man is the extreme close ups that shows Phoenix in all his imperfections, his upper lip, his wonky teeth, his chewed finger nails, his nicotine stained fingers (possibly make-up).  It’s glorious.

It is unquestionably a masterpiece, not just for Phoenix’s performance, but for every SINGLE aspect of cinema:  music (White Room by Cream blasts out of the screen in the final apocalyptic act to tremendous effect – but it’s outstanding throughout), make-up (stunning), costume (stunning), cinematography (stunning – the dance on the steps and the aerial train track shot particularly blew me away), design (epic) and direction (Todd Phillips follows up his epic production, but not direction, of A Star Is Born remarkably It’s interesting looking at Todd Phillips’ Filmography though – a real mixed bag with much of it centred on comedy – The Hangover in particular.)

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But you don’t need me to tell you  how good this movie is – you don’t get a 9.1 rating on IMDB without reason.

See it and bathe in its mastery.

Once Upon a Time in Holywood. The Ninth (I think it’s ten when you include Death Proof) Film by Quentin Tarantino: My observations.


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To describe any Tarantino film as less than excellent would be, in my opinion, sacrilege.  So let’s cut to the chase here.  This is excellent.

The question is…how excellent? And how ‘acceptable’.

And that’s where deconstructing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood becomes tricky.

It’s most similar in its narrative structure, I’d say, to Pulp Fiction, probably his flawed masterpiece, in that it doesn’t really have one.  I mean there‘s kind of a story, a long one, but I don’t think that’s what he set out to do here.

He set out to capture the fragility of two fading performers; one a star actor (DiCaprio) and one a star stunt man (Brad Pitt).

That the movie’s triumph lies in the hands of Pitt rather than DiCaprio is interesting.  Probably DiCaprio has more screen time, but Pitt has more presence.  And Pitt is coping better with his fall from grace.

It’s almost a portmanteau (I know my friends say I’m a pretentious twat for using that word) but it is a THING.  Usually a portmanteau is a loosely linked collection of short films under a kind of director’s curation.

Here, though, I think it is a sort of continuous dream sequence, of beautiful but uneventful linking scenes, between big ‘pieces’  – the portmanteaus – it’s like walking through an art gallery enjoying a painter’s studies before BOOM, here’s the big canvas.

Tarantino creates 8 or 9 stunning canvases. One of the most affecting, for me, being the beautiful and funny scene DiCaprio shares with 8 year old Julia Butters as his method acting co star in a last chance Hollywood western.

To say the one scene of violence is a career high would be to both underestimate it and potentially spoil the movie so I won’t disclose where, when or how it happens, like the best of Tarantino it is unexpected and both viscerally shocking and hilarious.

One of my female companions only had eyes for the stunningly handsome Brad Pitt (there’s quite a diet Coke moment about an hour in – and I have ordered the Champion Spark Plugs T Shirt)  and I thought he stole the show (see above), but let’s not gloss over DiCaprio.  He’s great. But the devil has the best tunes.

Margot Robbie is no more than a muse, and wasted.  He does that a lot – does Quentin – a weakness.  Uma Thurman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Pam Grier have bucked the trend, but it’s rare to leave a Tarantino screening with the actresses front of mind.

Is he a masoginist?  No, I don’t think so, but close, but it’s the guys that get the greater spoils in the master’s work.

The other question the film undoubtedly raises though is…is he racist?  Uncomfortable, yes, but I felt pretty creeped out by the Bruce Lee scene where Karate and eastern fighting arts are pretty much laughed off the screen in the Bruce Lee fight scene.  I didn’t find it acceptable actually.

The music has been hailed as a masterpiece, but for me it’s one of his weaker selections.  Trying to cram too much in.

The styling, though, is exquisite, as is the cinematography.

Overall I’d rank it as in the upper half, just, of his repertoire.  But what do you think?

I’d go.

  • Kill Bill Part 1
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Jackie Brown
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Once Upon a time in Hollywood
  • Django Django
  • Death Proof 
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Kill Bill Part 2