Parasite (2019)

Impression: I sometimes wonder how much advertising influences how much I like a movie.  For example, I saw Moonlight way before any of the hype. I saw it accidentally for totally stupid reasons while at TIFF: I knew it took place in Miami, and there was a line for it on a Sunday morning. And it turned out to be the most moving film going experience of my life. It’s probably the only movie I saw 3 times in the theaters (excluding Rocky Horror Picture Show). Would I have enjoyed it just as much if I had seen it months later? I like to think so, but no way to know.

With Parasite, I had heard months and months of hype. I had seen it win an Oscar. The first foreign language film to win Best Picture!  I had seen a couple of other movies by Bong Joon-Ho, like Okja and Snowpiercer, which I liked for their genre-bending and imagination, but while enjoying the non-apologetic leftist stands of both of those, often found subtlety lacking. I feel like Parasite was a logical and a more mature version of these films. And despite all the hype, I enjoyed it immensely.

I saw it on a Tuesday at noon, in a relatively large theater, the week following the Oscars. The theater was packed, and we got some of the last seats. That by itself made me happy! I love feeling like I live in a place where people love the things I love. As much as I loved Indy, I always missed this feeling of shared interest with a large group of people.

Anyway, at this point, I don’t know how much new I can say about Parasite that hasn’t been said by other people. It was an impeccably paced movie, the dramatic tension was so well built, and the plot kept developing in unpredictable ways. It was a perfect blend of entertainment and unmistakable message. It was a comedy, it was a tragedy, it was a story of class struggle and its limits and consequences. It was also very clever and incredibly well acted.

The Kims are a poor family fallen on hard times, but very crafty and funny and with a lot of comradely between them: mother, father and young adult son and daughter. Their interactions are so much fun to watch. They manage to worm their way into a rich and frivolous family, but after some time realize that by doing so they have knocked off someone even more in need of their patronage. A bloody battle for survival ensues.

As a piece of art, the film uses a lot of cinematic cues, from the Kims subterranean apartment, to the torrential rains, and the raised toilet as a last resort, to the beautiful shots of many, many downward staircases. Yeah, ok he still likes to hit your over the head with visual metaphors, but in this one they work perfectly.

Facts: An out of work family of 4 weasels it’s way through cunning and guile onto the payroll of a very wealthy but clueless family; mayhem ensues.

My Buddhist reading:  Karma is the idea that you reap what you sow, not in any judgmental way, but just that all actions have corresponding consequences. In this movie, this is true for both the rich and the poor. No one comes out of the inevitable confrontation unscathed. The other idea that seems to apply is that in a society everyone is dependent on everyone else, and no one is “self made”. This also seems to be in agreement with the ethos of the film.

Groom’s Block (2017)

Impression: You definitely don’t want to end up in a Turkish prison. Especially if you are accused of a sex crime. This is a very dark movie. In every sense. Almost all the action takes place in a dark, and dingy cell that eight men share, sleep, eat and lounge in, and the interactions between them are violent and dark.  It’s somewhat of a social experiment, as they establish their own societal order within the cell, and it’s very Darwinian. The physically strongest, and the emotionally most unstable among them sets himself up as the leader, and there is not much the rest of them do to counter him.  He is a violent murderer and an alpha male, and the physically smaller scrawnier guys basically take on ‘female’ roles, make food and coffee for the rest of them, clean,  and are treated as hired help.  The stronger ones are allowed to lounge around, but eventually they start getting on each other’s nerves and pick fights. The murderer keeps them in check. By the end two guys end up dead: one by suicide, one killed, and another one is wounded. Eventually the crimes some of them had committed, are revealed and there is definitely a spectrum of severity, but they all share the same cell.  The ending is unexpected and very good.
The strange thing is that the official prison system has minimal impact on what happens to them.  The violent murderer bullies guards, not just his cell mates, and basically rules through terror.  The film is well made and acted, but definitely not light entertainment.  There are also noticeable political overtones through overheard audio from the television they listen to daily in their cell. All the overheard segments are overtly nationalistic. Makes me think that the movie can perhaps be read as some kind of metaphor for the social order within Turkish society. But I don’t know enough about it to be able to tell what each character is supposed to represent.

Facts: Eight men share a single cell in a Turkish prison where they create their own brutal social order while they are segregated from the rest of the prison population.

Extra: I saw this at the 2017 Indy Film Fest.


I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Impression:  I’ve fairly recently become reacquainted with the fine acting of the kiwi actress Ms. Melanie Lynskey through an amazing and short lived series called Togetherness written and directed by the Duplass brothers. At this point I am thinking I really should make an exception to only reviewing films here and review that show as well, because it very much deserves it, and I keep feeling compelled to bring it up in multiple reviews. I have of course originally seen her as a teenager in an amazing and disturbing little film called Heavenly Creatures more than 20 years ago where she starred alongside a young Kate Winslet.
In her latest acting reincarnation, Ms. Lynskey’s gift is basically looking like a frumpy middle aged mom, lulling the audience into believing she is playing a really boring, yet likable character and then doing something to shock them. She does this both in Togetherness and in this movie in different ways. But while this is something the script calls for, her unique talent is in being so damn believable as both: a frumpy mom AND a badass. So, yes this movie is worth watching for Melanie Lynskey first! But also for an amazing role for Elijah Wood who plays a nerdy heavy metal listening, martial arts practicing, church going loner, who becomes her sidekick. And the premise, and the hilarious writing. The only unfortunate thing is the ultraviolence that takes place in the last 30 minutes of the movie, which will probably turn off some of its potential audience, but then also earn a cult following with the people who dig it. I am definitely not a fan of pointless ultraviolence, but in this movie, it is in some sense inevitable. The movie starts with a very basic premise: the main character is annoyed with people, and the way they treat each other. She tries to confront people who are assholes in hopes of changing the world, or at least changing the world that surrounds her. But at every step along the way, the consequences of her actions are more and more amped up until she gets involved in a mass carnage scene at the end. But since the premise of the movie is that every action leads to some over-reaction, there was no where else for the plot to go, but to more and more extreme ends. In conclusion, the first 2/3 of this movie are fabulous, the last 1/3 will probably not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Facts: A nerdy nurse, tired of people being assholes to her, goes out seeking vigilante justice and  gets messed up with some sketchy characters.