Month: June, 2019

Parasite

paraKorean director Bong Joon-ho has once again lanced the infected boil on the bum of society: inequality. Those who saw his sci-fi action-thriller Snowpiercer (which cut a strikingly violent image of a class system gone awry) will know he isn’t a stranger to the topic. While far less abrasive, Bong’s latest, this year’s Palme d’Or winning Parasite, is no less pointed. Rather, this time he gives us the same critical castigation cloaked in the tranquility of a present-day urban setting. 

Bong brings an uneasy mix of dark comedy and caustic ideas to his story about a family of four who wrestle with poverty, greed and dignity. Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), a street-wise teenager, lives with his family within the bowels of the city’s “lower class”, wallowing (literally at times) in the filth, vomit and excrement that seemingly pools on their doorstep.  But fortune (and a bit of creative forgery) lands Ki-woo a job uptown at the wealthy Park family residence. As he ingratiates himself into the family’s trust he manages to engineer (again, via deceitful means) jobs within the household for the rest of his own family to occupy. 

The aptly titled Parasite is indeed a double-entendre that perfectly describes the two families’ symbiotic relationship. However, all is not as it seems at the Park mansion and Bong, whose camera begins to spit and sputter to life, appears to delight in slowly exposing the rotting underbelly of their newfound life.

Exhilarating and thrillingly portrayed, Parasite is elevated by some jaw-dropping scenes, employing to maximum effect Bong’s skill as a visual director as well as his dextrous use of satire to illuminate the more unsavoury side of class-politics. In many ways, it casts a striking resemblance to last year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, and also gives a quiet nod to Jordan Peele’s slick modern horror, Us. Nonetheless, Parasite remains a unique parable of the haves and have-nots—a resonant masterpiece that, like its name, gets under your skin but leaves you the richer for it. 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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NZ Herald’s top ten of 2019 so far

No review this week.  Instead, have a gander at NZ Herald’s top ten of 2019 so far.  It’s been slim pickings for the first half of the year and there was much gnashing of teeth at TimeOut’s golden towers as we settled on this list.  But at least I managed to convince my fellow compadres of Beale Street and Destroyer.  If I was supreme overlord of editorial decision-making then I’d have also swapped out a couple for Everybody Knows and Colette … but hey, I’m not complaining or anything. Check out our write-ups on the Herald website here.

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Sometimes Always Never

Sam Riley (left) and Bill Nighy (right) star in Sometimes Always NeverIn his debut feature, director Carl Hunter has embraced a very British vibe with this low-key dramedy about a missing person, a mourning father, and, umm, Scrabble. And what better person to play its mainstay—an unconventional Scrabble-obsessed tailor—than the inimitable Bill Nighy. Like him or not (and for the record, I like him), he plays these kinds of roles with aplomb.

Alan (Nighy) pines for his missing son who walked out after a heated game of scrabble, mysteriously never to be seen again. Although the film doesn’t clarify when the disappearance occurred, it’s still fresh enough for Alan to clutch onto unrealistic hopes of his return—much to the chagrin of his other son Peter (Sam Riley from Control) who wishes he’d just move on with his life.  However, some fresh evidence leads to a road trip that forces the two to reflect on their own relationship.

Although the “prodigal son” trope is a well-worn one, it does provide this tale with a solid bounding-board from which to launch its character study. And as the father/son dynamics play out, the two find themselves in some very comical situations— most notably, Alan, who hustles another grieving dad (wonderfully played by Tim McInnerny) out of 200 pounds over a game of (yes) Scrabble.

The camera-work is wall-hangingly beautiful, each shot being carefully framed with a lush pallet that sings loudly the film’s whimsical sensibilities.  However, cinematographer Richard Stoddard might’ve pushed the boat out too far with a style that doesn’t quite match the substance.  Pretty to look at, yes, but Frank Cottrell Boyce’s comparatively pallid screenplay is worse off for the distraction. That said, the usually sombre Boyce, who penned the surprisingly dark AA Milne biopic, Goodbye Christopher Robin, has thankfully lightened up and laced this film with some fairly quick-witted comedy—it’s a perfect fit for Nighy whose dry delivery seems to delight in soaking up Boyce’s more gloomy tendencies. 

Sometimes Always Never is a quintessentially British film; a damp slice of seaside village life, often ponderous and offbeat (perhaps to a fault, depending on your tolerance) but curiously endearing.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Never Look Away

nlaThe regally named Writer/Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who hit a career-high with the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others), has helmed an ambitious project that examines the opaque world that lies between art and its creation. Such is an artist’s modus operandi, this film follows suit by placing meaning tantalisingly just beyond reach and invites you to plum the depths of an artist’s life to find it.  Yes, watching this movie is as much a frustrating experience as it is a cathartic one.

The three-hour-plus running time gives Von Donnersmarck plenty of wriggle room for a deep dive into this lengthy tale. It begins with Kurt Barnert (wistfully played in his later years by Tom Schilling) as a wide-eyed impressionable boy staring in awe at an art exhibition in pre-war Nazi Germany. His deep connection with what the Nazis considered “degenerate” art frustrate his vocation as an artist, especially later on when his home falls under the equally stifling Stalinist Communist regime. Finally escaping to the liberal freedom of Germany’s West, Kurt’s artistic sensibilities are thrown into further disarray as he comes to terms with an immense cultural shift.  As the film slowly unfolds, it suggests that only by reconciling his past with his present can Kurt discover his own artistic voice. 

Never Look Away is an alluring film that blends exquisitely framed visuals with Max Richter’s (Shutter Island) haunting score. However, if you’re looking for the clipped precision of Von Donnersmarck’s Oscar-winning effort, you won’t find it here. The German Director has undone his top button and gone for a looser, more contemplative approach that encourages you to rummage around the tapestries of its oblique ideas and provocative ambiguities for meaning.

Those wanting clean lines of exposition might find this film a frustrating watch. It does occasionally riff heavily on the pained artist routine and is hampered by some moments of pretentiousness and trite sentimentality.  But if you check your cynicism at the door and stick with it, you will be rewarded by a film that is ultimately a sublime experience. 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.