Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Parasite

Spoiler-free!

This Oscar-nominated South Korean dark comedy tells the story of the Kim family. It all begins when the son, Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-Sik) is approached by his friend who's hoping he'll take over tutoring a rich girl he likes. He trusts Ki-Woo not to steal her out from under him, and doesn't care that he technically isn't qualified to tutor. Ki-Woo's sister Ki-Jung (Park So-Dam) forges university papers for him and he's off. But the rich mother also has a son who she considers a budding artistic genius. Ki-Woo sees an opportunity for his sister to get in on the enterprise too, and soon she has become a "prodigious art teacher." The next steps are to get their also unemployed father (Song Kang-Ho) and mother (Chang Hyae-Jin) into the household, but that may take more than some white lies and the slope keeps getting slipperier...

The Kim family! Pleasant, charming, devious, criminal.

The big appeal of this story is how unique it is. A poor family that literally lives halfway underground in a cramped and stink-bug infested home, slowly and steadily infiltrating a rich home that sits high up on a picturesque hill. While they're on top of the world, the Kims talk of living in the house as theirs -- and in a way they do. And when they're low, they're literally existing in the gutter with sewage surrounding them. It's fascinating to watch their plans and schemes unfold, especially because plans never go the way they're planned to. The plot is like watching a slow-spiraling plane crash and a beautiful rocket launch at the same time.

Bong Joon-Ho of Snowpiercer fame is the writer/director, and his craftsmanship is tight and full of unique style. He excels at creating unprecedented situations and placing characters into them that are interesting and different so as the navigate the situations in an entertaining and unique way. Here I especially liked the family dynamic, where they all just kind of accept the criminality of the scheme from the get-go, and work together like gears in a clock to get it all done. Bong creates instances of darkness and comedy that exist together perfectly. There's moments of joy, tragedy, horror, and thoughtful fascination. The look of it is rich and sticks with you. It's all-around a beautifully crafted piece.

But a well-crafted film doesn't equal a universally great film on its own. 

And yet, despite all this, I didn't love the movie. I was entertained, amused, horrified, and fascinated by it, but I could never cross the threshold into love. I've thought about why, and have concluded that I couldn't care about the story and characters in the way I need to in order to love a story. And it's not because the characters are bad people, per se -- that makes investment harder but isn't a deal-breaker for me. This movie asks its audience to sympathize with the Kim family, and I could. Especially Ki-Woo, who participates the least in the wrongdoing and who the story somewhat centers around. He has a naive hopefulness to him that invites pity more than blame. And you do feel for the situation the family begins in. They are poor, but talented, and have grand aspirations. What's not to sympathize with?

However, in their pursuit of riches and comfort, they bulldoze anyone in their way -- not only their elite targets. It's also worth mentioning that the rich Park family are not bad people. They're aloof and careless in how they deal with people, but never "cross the line," as it were, into law-breaking. And the Kim family are equally as careless of anyone not a part of their clan. So I found it hard to root for them, as their redeeming qualities dwindle over time. I don't think the film needed me to root for them, but without the investment that caring for characters brings, the impact of the film's later events is severely lessened. They're merely interesting, which the movie always was. There's no switch in which I became engaged on a personal level -- something vital for me to care about a film, if not to appreciate or admire it.

We all feel inferior from time to time. We all get that sense that people can smell that which we want to hide. Most of us already know that it's no excuse.

It frustrates me the more I think of it, because with the right tweaks I could have easily invested -- but I'm beginning to doubt that's what the film wanted at all. Ki-Woo is who we understand best, but once Ki-Jung enters the house, she overshadows him completely. She's that kind of person -- fascinating, and captivating to watch, but fake. We never know her. We know the father, Ki-Taek, and once he comes along he overshadows both the kids, but his motivations never sat well with me. I wanted to understand the kids better, but we never get a real chance, and by the end I didn't know any of them well enough to care what happened to them. Being hard up is not a character trait. It's a circumstance; and one that isn't automatically deep enough to forge a connection that would inspire me to look past certain behaviors.

So in the end, interesting is all it could ever be for me. For other people it was more, and I can see why. I want to mention that, because perhaps you reading this may be one of those people. Or maybe you're the sort of person why doesn't need to care about a film's characters in order to love the film itself. Either way, if you love dark comedy that is both rich with seriousness and light with wit, and if you like to see a unique plot unfold that you've never seen before, Parasite may be well worth your time, and your riches -- such as they are.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Upcoming Movie Roundup - February

No big surprise that I didn't get out to see any of the new January releases. Instead I did my catching up plan! I saw 1917 which did me proud and rocketed up to my #1 spot on my best of 2019 list. It was everything I wanted and so much more, and I'm still not over it. Stunning on a technical level but the focus remains where it should; on story, character, and beautifully empathetic emotion. I can't recommend it enough, but I try in my review here.

Then I went with my sister to Little Women and we were both greatly impressed by it. It has charm coming out its ears and tells the wonderful story in a passionate and meaningful way, with endless fantastic performances. Read my review here!

Then I went to see 1917 again.

And if I get my way I'll go see it at least one more time before it's out of theaters, and the release line-up for February leaves plenty of open space for me to do that. There may be a good number here that will be worth watching at some point, and maybe I'll get some surprises out of them, but there's only one that I'm planning a theater trip for. The rest seem more stream-worthy, IMO. What looks good you y'all this month??



Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)
In theaters February 7th; R
I'll watch it when it's free on Amazon Prime and I can plug it into VidAngel to get rid of the sexual content. And I won't expect to enjoy it very much, but it really could go any number of ways -- worse than Suicide Squad? Not writing that off. One of DC's better flicks? Unlikely, but I'm open to the possibility. That's what I like about DC over Marvel. You never know what to expect. Will mostly be watching for Ewan McGregor. I love Margot Robbie, but her Harley Quinn is already feeling abrasive.




The Lodge
Limited release February 7th; R
I may or may not have talked about this one already but I think might actually be coming for real this time. I won't bother to see it in theaters and may not ever bother to see it at home either -- depends on if I ever am brave enough and if anyone will watch it with me. So it has to be scary enough to get my brother on board but no so scary that I'll want to stay away. It's a tightrope. I do like Riley Keough though, and Jaeden Martell and Richard Armitage. Could be... cool. Ha.




Sonic the Hedgehog
In theaters February 14th; PG
Ugh, The curiosity is going to be too much for me, isn't it? I know I won't be able to resist... the moment I can stream it from my couch and feel free to laugh at and talk over it. I'm only wondering now -- is it possible that it'll be GOOD? In the vein of Monster Trucks, perhaps? Too much to hope for, I'm sure...?




Emma
Limited release February 21st; NR
Emma is one of few Jane Austen adaptations that, in my opinion, don't yet have a definitive adaptation. I love the Gwyneth Paltrow version, but it doesn't have the kind of perfection that makes further versions unnecessary. So I'm eager to see this new version with Anya Taylor-Joy, even if it also isn't definitive or perfect. Emma can be adapted once every two years for the rest of my life and I'd be happy to watch them all! This one also stars Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse, Mia Goth as Harriet, Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly, and Callum Turner as Frank Churchill. High hopes and theater plans for this one!




Call of the Wild
In theaters February 21st: PG
I don't even want to talk about this, why am I including it? THE CGI DOG PLEASE MAKE IT STOP. How can Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, AND Bradley Whitford be in a movie so pathetic that it can't even be bothered to work with a live action dog?? What's wrong with real dogs??? I like real dogs, not CGI ones! Who thought I would want to see this crap? Does ANYONE want to see this? If you're genuinely exited to watch a CGI dog in this movie please leave a comment. I promise I won't laugh... much.




The Invisible Man
In theaters February 28th: R
I dunno. Good premise, Leigh Whannell directing, looks kinda upbeat and fun. But also, not a fan of Elizabeth Moss, and watching the trailer is like watching the while movie which isn't a great sign. Maybe a decent Halloween watch come October?



Wendy
Limited release February 28th; PG-13
This could be interesting and seems worth keeping an eye on. Fox Searchlight generally has good taste. This is a kind of loose adaptation of Peter Pan that seems to be more realistic and thoughtful than the fairytale. Starring Wendy, with no Peter in sight, but that can be got over if the story is any good. One of those kids looks like baby Tom Holland. Just a random observation I had. Yeah, it doesn't seem especially promising, but I'd consider giving it a fair chance.