Category film reviews

Parasite Film Review

Parasite may well be a last minute entry, but is easily the best film of 2019, and possibly even the decade. So, what makes this South Korean release so special? Well, aside from being beautifully shot, cleverly scripted and full of vivid and often hilarious characters, it’s down to its central theme – class. Without getting too bogged down in politics, the film is bold in its break down of how class and a society built on wealth, connections and the luck of being born into privilege affects us all and really defines how we think, act and behave.

But let’s not get too philosophical. Parasite is the latest production from writer/director Bong Joon-ho, who rose to international fame with the monster horror picture The Host in 2006, and continued to receive acclaim with the sci-fi cult hit Snowpiercer (2013) and ecological adventure Okja (2017). Parasite ditches the sci-fi and adventure settings for a domestic thriller full to bursting with black comedy, despite rarely moving beyond two very different domestic spaces.

The script, which starts off as a witty, con-artist trickery plot, is crammed full of references to the forthcoming suspense and tension that slowly consumes the Kim family. We get hints at who will be the weak link in the Kim’s scheme through their struggles for money, subtle cinematography pre-empts major scenes and literal relics pop up which will come back to haunt them towards the end.

But what makes it all work are the charmingly scrappy family each with their own arcs, strengths and weaknesses, but who respect and support each other and overall provide a contrast with the upper class Park family they cannily insert themselves into. Not only are the two families contrasted, but their situations too – mass rains cause the Parks to return from a camping trip, while the same weather practically destroys the Kims’ basement home.

Tension is used exquisitely – being steadily cranked up with each scene, adding more and more obstacles in our protagonists’ way, until it reaches breaking point with an intriguing, yet completely out-of-the-blue twist that sends our family into a spiral from which it seems impossible to return. The tension works because Bong spends a lot of time getting to know the Kims, and playfully allows their tricks to prove surprisingly successful, despite their rag-tag, and often improvised nature. That said, the fantastic introductory scene, where the Kims humorously scramble for a decent Wi-Fi signal, is an incredibly nuanced and compact way to set out their relationships, bonds and status in society.

Not getting too much into spoilers, Parasite’s twist turns the story on its head and painfully takes the protagonists to a point of no return which culminates in a melancholic ending, with the audience’s emotions twisted even more by a somewhat cruel fake-out imagined ending. While such devices can be controversial, the masterful storytelling means nothing feels unearned in this film, and that’s what makes it a serious contender for film of the year, if not the decade.

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 7 FEBRUARY

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Film Review

Tarantino has returned, and he’s still doing that cowboy schtick, but this time it’s not the real thing like in The Hateful Eight or Django Unchained, but actors doing the cowboy thing in late 1960s Hollywood. Throw in the tragedy of the Manson Family and the Tate murders and you’ve got yourself Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Firstly, go read up on the Manson Family or Tate Murders before you sit down to enjoy this one – you don’t need to know much, but just an outline will allow you to appreciate the backdrop.

Now, down to business, the film business that is. Tarantino’s love for the movie industry, particularly in the 50 and 60s, oozes out of this picture. It’s his fairy tale send off to a bygone era, and it does a pretty damn good job of it.
You’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio as a washed-up TV cowboy Rick Dalton plying his way through guest spots hoping to resurrect his former glory. This allows Tarantino to play at director of several genres, whether its mini TV Westerns, action adventure films, or even reinserting Leo into some rather famous classics.

Dalton’s stuntman Cliff Booth, aptly played by Brad Pitt is Leo’s partner in crime, whether taking the punches, driving him around or just fixing stuff around his house. While Dalton’s tale takes him on a reflective journey surrounding his success and future, Booth’s adventures drive the major story and take him on an exploration of hippie culture and the Manson family, which ties into the Sharon Tate plotline, well helmed by Margot Robbie.
Not getting too much into spoilers, this film heavily channels Pulp Fiction’s interlocking mini stories, with some incredible memorable scenes which could easily stand by themselves as shorts. Unlike that 1994 classic, the dialogue in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is a lot more relaxed, no longer are scenes bursting full of witty dialogue, but there’s a more relaxed conversation style, added to the fact that some scenes were improvised – a relatively rare concept for Tarantino.

Coming in at just over 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film is in no way means bloated (apparently the original cut was 4 hours), but everything is perfectly balanced towards its aim. There’s a long scene that literally drips in tension, added to by the fact much of it is in the bright sunshine, which then turns into a darkly lit, isolated and anxiety-ridden moment. Sections like this are perfectly timed and balanced to create that punch-in-the-gut emotional connection that many big blockbuster films no longer aim to instil in the viewer. Overall, it’s so rare to have scenes where the actors can just ham it up and revel in the dialogue and interactions they’re gifted by the writer, and DiCaprio, Pitt and Tate all excel here – Pitt is the sure-fire star though, radiating with charisma, charm and playfulness, particularly in the backlot fight scene.

Would it have worked better with say a washed-up actor like Charlie Sheen, Christian Slater, or even Brendan Fraser? Who knows, but it may have lessened the comedic effect of having Leo bumbling through his lines, coughing his guts up and generally falling apart. The film also heavily focuses on Leo and Brad’s characters – their story, chemistry and acting works so well together that you could have released their tale on its own without any of the Manson murder backdrop, which feels slightly tacked on in places, but understandably sets the scene.
This isn’t a perfect film, or even the perfect Tarantino film, but it’s a picture that looks, feels and drips in dedication, excitement and just darn good celluloid fun.