Parasite 기생충 - Official Trailer - YouTubeParasite (2019) is a film by South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho and the first non-English language film to win Best Picture at Hollywood’s Academy Awards. The film examines the effects of wealth disparity through two families on opposing ends of the social spectrum.

Parasite was an Oscar darling. As well as Best Picture, it received the following awards and nominations in 2020:

  • Best Director: won
  • Best Original Screenplay: won
  • Best International Feature Film: won
  • Best Production Design: nominated
  • Best Film Editing: nominated

It was the first Korean film to ever win, let alone be nominated for, an Academy Award.

The Kim family live in a semi-basement apartment. They are resourceful but uneducated. Their fortunes turn when son Ki-woo’s friend offers him a job tutoring the daughter of the affluent Park family. Ki-woo accepts, but to do so he must pass as a university student. Once in, Ki-woo helps his family get hired too, all lying about their qualifications and relation to one another.

Parasite movie house is stunning - Parks live in a mansion designed by its architect former owner. They can afford tutors for their children, a chauffeur and a full-time housekeeper. The Parks are friendly and ‘nice’, though haughty and naïve. ‘She’s nice because she’s rich…’ Mrs Kim comments. ‘Hell if I had all that money I’d be nice too. Nicer even!’

Tonal shifts mark each act. While starting as a black comedy, the film takes a sinister turn and effortlessly blends thriller, horror and gothic. Careful attention is paid to its pacing and no camera shot, no line of dialogue, is without meaning or consequence. Symbolism abounds. The official premise describes Parasite as a ‘pitch-black modern fairy tale.’

An issue with film these days is a lack of originality. Nine out of ten of the 2010’s top-grossing films were either reboots, sequels or (in the case of Star Wars) both. Superhero flicks, or most big-budget all-ages action-adventure films, are often too predictable. Even if a film makes is visually stunning, well-acted or slick, it is all for nought if the audience immediately knows how it will end. The more films one watches, the more one notices clichés and tropes. Conversely, shoehorning twists or deux ex resolutions ruins a narrative if the unpredictability makes no sense. To work, a twist must be both surprising and plausible. Parasite achieves the balance perfectly.

Parasite movie review: Bong Joon-ho’s biting social satire ...

The opening scene shows the Kim family searching for a new wifi connection after a password encrypts the old. They are all capable workers, but in an economy where ‘an opening for a security guard attracts 500 university graduates’, their merit is irrelevant. Connections are paramount. Only through social connections can the Kims can find stable employment. The film’s stairway motif represent its characters’ social standing; whether affluence, near-poverty and destitution. 

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, South Korea suffers social inequality. In 2015 the top 10% controlled 66% of its wealth. Status and money are everything. Success depends on getting into the right university and the stress shows: South Korea has the second-highest rate of suicide in the OECD. In a society obsessed with image and hierarchy, however, the popularity of Parasite and its critique of social inequality shows people are changing the way they think.


Sources: IMDB, New York Times, VOA News

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The Irishman

Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman' Gets a Poster!The Irishman (2019) is the latest film from director Martin Scorsese. Like GoodFellas (1989) and Casino (1995), it is a crime epic set in the glory days of the American mafia. Scorsese’s muse Robert De Niro stars alongside genre mainstays Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in their first film together. Steven Zaillian of Schindler’s List wrote the screenplay. Released on Netflix, it runs a hefty 3.5 hours. The film tells the story of Irish-American mobster Frank Sheeran and the 1975 disappearance of union boss Jimmy Hoffa. It is based on Sheeran’s biography, ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ – code for contract killing.

Frank Sheeran (De Niro) is a truck driver in 1950s Philadelphia when mobster Russell Buffalino (Pesci) takes him under his wing. Sheeran’s service in WW2 taught him Italian and desensitised him to killing. Through Buffalino he meets Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), charismatic and blustering president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the largest trade union in America. Frank murders on Hoffa’s behalf and builds a name for himself in the underworld until circumstance and mob politics force him to choose where his loyalties lie.

Digital ‘youthification’ technology makes De Niro, who is 76, and Pacino, 79, able to play younger men. Though De Niro’s face is believable – even his artificial blue eyes – his stiffness and gait betray his age. Surprisingly Pacino pulls it off.

The Irishman takes liberties with fact. Its source material is based on Sheeran’s confessions to lawyer Charles Brandt before he died in 2003. The 25-30 murders he details, however, are officially unattributed to this day, the insinuation the mob killed Kennedy is disputable. They did help get him elected, however. JFK’s father made his fortune bootlegging in the 1930s. In 1960 he promised the mob his son would overthrow Castro, and restore Havana to the gangsters’ playground of old. The Bay of Pigs Fiasco resulted. Former FBI agents claim Sheeran was simply a crooked union official. He was violent, sure, but never murdered anyone, or at least was never caught. De Niro stated he believed Sheeran’s account, though the film ultimately tells ‘our story, if not the actual story.’

The Irishman deals less with the mafia itself and more its characters’ journeys. Catholic themes of sin and atonement feature, as they do in many of Scorsese’s works. I loved Hoffa and Tony Pro’s ‘meeting scene’ in the third act and the haunting ending. De Niro and Pacino give their finest performances in years and Pesci, who left retirement for his role, is superb as calculating don Russel Buffalino. Though I am hesitant to say it tops GoodFellas without rewatching, The Irishman is easily Scorsese’s best since.

Verdict: 5/5

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Movie Review: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (2019 ...

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, the penultimate in his promised ten. Set 50 years ago, it follows the plight of a fading television star and his stunt double as they cross paths with Sharon Tate and the Manson Family. Its cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in their first film together, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning and many more. Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski,  Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen and Charles Manson are depicted.

It was one of the most anticipated films of the year, unusual considering it is neither a sequel, remake or superhero flick. DiCaprio and Pitt are two of the only film stars, Tarantino one of the only directors, whose names can still draw box office millions with something original. The trailer is especially well done.

Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) once starred in a popular 50s Western series but now gets by with villain roles in TV pilots. The times they are a changin’ and Rick Dalton is failing to adapt. Hollywood shuns his double Cliff Booth (Pitt), who possibly ‘murdered his wife and got away with it’, (alluding to Robert Wagner and the death of Natalie Wood) and is now Rick’s chauffeur and drinking buddy. While self-pitying Rick plays the tough guy on screen, Cliff is the real deal.

Sharon Tate Murder.*Warning – Graphic Images* | This is my ...In this fairy tale if Rick is the knight and Cliff the squire, then ‘doomed’ Sharon Tate is the princess. In reality the actress (right) was married to director Roman Polanski and brutally murdered – along with her three friends and unborn child – on August 1969 by the Manson Family. In the film, her moving next door to Rick’s mansion on Cielo Drive with her husband is a chance for Rick to renew his career. Tarantino took flack for Robbie’s lack of lines, though this was likely on purpose as the naturally shy Tate had only just hit the spotlight when she died. Publicly she was seen but seldom heard.

Though set in ‘69,  Once Upon a Time depicts a romanticised Hollywood past. Gone are the politics and social issues that defined the time.  Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are old-timers, more symbolic of the 1950s than the cultural decade – and they are fading fast. The soundtrack is celebratory, not rebellious.  Vietnam is mentioned once, Hendrix or the Beatles not at all and the hippies – those long-haired agents of social change – are the bad guys.

Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Posters Released ...

Once Upon a Time spends most of its 165 minutes panning through Tarantino’s late ‘60s Hollywood, blending comedy, nostalgia, drama and near horror before culminating in an explosive finale. For Tarantino it is a personal project, his ‘love letter’ to the old Hollywood in its final days. Both Tarantino and production designer Barbara Ling grew up in 1960s Los Angeles and they pay careful attention to its aesthetic and world-building. Easter eggs and Hollywood trivia abound. For those indifferent to the film industry, or unfamiliar with the Manson murders however, it can drag on. Though cinematography, dialogue and acting are tight, the narrative is loose.  Others disliked its violence. It was too much for me – but considering the director and subject matter, I knew what I was in for.

The best part of Once Upon a Time is the second act, which follows Rick, Cliff and Sharon Tate on three different adventures on the same day. Tate sees a film, Rick acts on set, and Cliff picks up a hitchhiker. Here, the film’s carefully constructed characters, its theme and world truly shine. What it says about Hollywood or the ’60s, exactly, is up for debate.

Verdict: 4/5


spartacus original poster.jpg

Spartacus (1960) is a swords and sandals epic starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Action, adventure, romance and intrigue abound.  The film follows the rise of a Roman gladiator from the lowest rung of society to public enemy number one.

Last week my local cinema was showing classics on the big screen. I’d seen Spartacus only once, when I was a boy. This was back before I could tell when a film was dated. Back when I enjoyed every movie I saw. I remembered the battles and the “I am Spartacus” scene but little else. Naturally the senatorial politics and Crassus’s monologue on liking both ‘snails’ and ‘oysters’ flew over my head. I also didn’t appreciate just how well written and acted this masterpiece was.

Related imageSpartacus is the story of a man who challenges the might of Rome. He is born a slave in the end days of the Roman Republic and forced to fight his fellow men as entertainment.  But Spartacus has other ideas. During a dispute in the kitchens, he kills his trainer and inspires the gladiators to revolt.  They escape and roam the Italian countryside, ravaging Roman estates and freeing slaves as they go. Using the techniques he learnt as a gladiator, Spartacus builds a formidable army and humbles the legions sent his way.

That much is true. Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator who instigated the ‘Third Servile War’ of 73-70 BC, the largest slave rebellion of the ancient world.  When Crassus eventually crushed it, he crucified 6,000 rebels along the Appian Way.

Spartacus’s director, lead actors and screenwriter were among the best in history. They made the film at the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when technicolor was new and exciting but before television diminished the movie-going audience.

Image result for kubrick trumbo douglasKirk Douglas plays Spartacus. Well-built and charismatic, he fits the role well.  At 45, Douglas was conscious of being upstaged and used his position as executive producer to insist no one younger be cast as a gladiator. His performance makes up for this nonetheless.

Stanley Kubrick was chosen to direct two weeks into filming.  As much Douglas’s vision as his own, Spartacus is the only Kubrick film in which he did not have total creative control. With CGI not yet invented, Kubrick used 10,000 extras from the Spanish infantry for the final battle scene, filmed on a plain outside Madrid.

Dalton TrumboDalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay from behind the Hollywood blacklist. Once Hollywood’s best paid writer, he fell victim to the Red Scare after refusing to ‘name names’ of other Hollywood communists.

Howard Fast, who wrote the book, was also under blacklist. It was only by chance that his self-published work found itself in Kirk Douglas’s hands and was consequently adapted for the big screen.

Though Trumbo wrote Spartacus in exile under a pseudonym, Douglas insisted he take full credit for his work and personally accept its awards. Trumbo did so at risk of arrest and was exonerated only after a newly-elected John F Kennedy defied a conservative embargo to see the film. His endorsement broke the Hollywood blacklist. “Thanks Kirk,” Trumbo said, “for giving me back my name.”

Oscars:Related image

  • Best Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov)
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinemotography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Film Editing (nominated)
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (nominated)

Pictured right: Peter Ustinov as the slave trader Bataiutus

Good quotes:

“You don’t want to know mine. I don’t want to know your name….. Gladiators don’t make friends. If we’re ever matched in the arena together, I have to kill you.” – Draba

“When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” – Spartacus

“I’m not after glory, I’m after Spartacus!” – Crassus

Image result for crassus laurence olivier

Part of Spartacus’s draw is the universal appeal of his struggle. He is fighting for freedom. Not freedom in a nationalistic, Braveheart sense, but literal emancipation. His army juxtaposes beautifully with the Romans. While they are scheming and factional, his people are fiercely united. While the Romans buy their love with money and force, Spartacus and Varinia are mutual and pure. While the Romans hold the material advantage, Spartacus holds the moral.

Despite being old, Spartacus is still worth a watch.

Update 05/02/2020: Kirk Douglas, who played Spartacus has died, age 103.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | Fox Movies

Disclaimer: The following is a summary of this film with no spoilers. If you are the type of person who prefers to see films completely blind, however, I would not recommend reading.

This is the film that should have won best picture at the Academy Awards. It was written and directed by Martin Mcdonagh, a British-Irish playwright-come-director who brought us ‘In Bruges’ (2008), another favourite of mine. Witty, suspenseful, vulgar and violent, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is one hell of a film.

While driving along the American interstate 10 near Vidor, Texas in 2000, Mcdonagh passed a strange billboard. Pictured below, it condemned the local police’s failure to solve the case of Kathy Page, who was killed nine years earlier.

Related image

The event inspired Three Billboards. In it, Mildred Hayes, a bereaved mother of a murdered girl, rents three billboards along a little used road outside town. By keeping the case of her murdered daughter in the public eye she hopes to increase the chance of it being solved.

The billboards read:

Raped while dying

And still no arrests?

How come, chief Willoughby?

Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is Ebbing’s head cop and a pillar of the community. For seven months his men have failed to turn up any evidence over the Angela Hayes case. His popularity puts the town at odds with the billboards and the woman who put them up.

Frances Mcdormand, wife of Joel Coen, plays Mildred Hayes in one of the the best performances of her career. Foul mouthed and abrasive, her determination to see justice for her daughter makes her a perfect antihero.

Sam Rockwell plays Jason Dixon, a moronic and uninhibited police officer with a violent temper who lives with his equally hateful mother. Fanatically loyal to Chief Willoughby, he takes personal offence to the billboards and launches a vendetta to see their removal.

Despite losing the Oscar for Best Picture to Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape of Water, Three Billboards was still an Academy Awards favourite, nominated for:

  • best picture
  • best original screenplay
  • best film editing
  • best original score (Carter Burwell)

and winning:

  • best actress (Frances McDormand)
  • best supporting actor (Sam Rockwell)

Additionally Three Billboards won four Golden Globes and five BAFTAs. Both included best picture, best actress and supporting actor and best screenplay.

Image result for three billboards outside ebbing missouri characters

The film is intense. Its plot is turbulent and themes heavy: police brutality, grief, cancer and nihilism to name a few. Racism is touched on too, though somewhat clumsily. Like much of Mcdonagh’s work it couples dark comedy with deep emotional resonance. Few films have made me go from laughing out loud to hovering at the edge of my seat so much in a single sitting. Though the plot relies a little too strongly on coincidental encounters, at no point was it predictable.

Three Billboards was not without its share of controversy. Tim Parks of the New Yorker describes it as “a film so empty of emotional intelligence, so devoid of any remotely honest observation of the society it purports to serve”. Parks’s main criticism is that Three Billboards reduces complex social issues to a struggle between individuals and that it reinforces familiar stereotypes of the conservative Midwest. What he seems to forget, however, is that a film can only be so long, and exploring social issues and themes through characters is not transgression but the nature of narrative.

Another, more pressing criticism of Three Billboards is the handling of one of its main character arcs. Revealing more would call for a spoiler warning so I will stop short here. Suffice to say, I recommend you watch it first and come to your own conclusions. I will be happy to discuss mine in the comments below.

Verdict: 5/5