Parasite (Gisaengchung)


Who is the exploited and who is the exploiter?

(2019) Dramedy (NEON) Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Woo-sik Choi, Sun-kyun Lee, Seo-joon Park, Jung Ziso, Jeong-eun Lee, Andreas Fronk, Hyae Jin Chang, Myeong-hoon Park, Hyun-jun Jung, Ji-hye Lee, Keun-rok Park, Joo-hyung Lee, Ik-han Jung, Jeong Esuz, Dong-yong Lee, Seong-Bong Ahn, Hyo-shin Pak, Kang Echae. Directed by Bong Joon Ho

 

As the gap between the rich and the poor grows wider worldwide, the desperation of those on the lower end of the economic spectrum also grows. As capitalism turns into a modern-day Wild West, it doesn’t stretch the imagination much to figure out that some will do whatever is necessary to survive.

The Kim family is the kind of family that often takes the brunt of those pointing the finger at the poor and blaming them for their own poverty. Patriarch Ki-woo (Choi) is chronically unemployed and a bit of an idiot. His shrill wife Chung-sook (Chang) has the family bringing in income by folding pizza boxes but they can’t even get that right. They live in a basement flat with a toilet on a ledge looking out onto the street where drunks often urinate. Ki-woo, despite the haranguing of his wife, can’t be bothered to shoo the offenders away. Their phone service has long been switched off and they steal Wi-Fi from a neighbor who has inconveniently put password protection on his router.

Clever son Ki-taek (Song) gets a tip from his buddy Min (S-j Park) who is about to depart to study abroad that a rich high school girl he is tutoring in English will need a new tutor while he is gone. Min offers to recommend Ki-taek for the job but Ki-taek, who was unable to afford college, doesn’t have the credentials for the job. Not to worry: his sister Ki-jung (S-d Park) has no problem forging the documents he needs.

When Ki-taek goes to the beautiful modernist house the family lives in for an interview, he realizes the materialistic mom Yeon-kyo Park (Jo) is somewhat simple and easily swayed. He realizes that there could be a bonanza here for his family. He finagles his sister an interview as a teacher for the ADHD younger son Da-song (H-j Jung) specializing in “art therapy.” In the meantime his own student daughter Da-hye (Ziso) has taken a shine to him.

Cold-blooded Ki-jung realizes there’s room for the whole family, but it will take some finagling to get the established servants out, including their beloved housekeeper Moon-gwang (J-e Lee). Through clever manipulation, brazen gall and a thorough lack of mercy, Dad is moved into the driver’s position and Mom into the housekeeper’s job. Now the Kim family is living the high life and can think about maybe moving on up, as George Jefferson might say. However, the Park home holds an unexpected secret that throws all of their machinations into disarray.

Bong Joon Ho is already one of South Korea’s most masterful directors, with films like The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja to his credit. Here, he comes into his own with the kind of movie that is going to elevate him into an elite class of directors, guys like Del Toro, Cuarón and Wong Kar-Wei. This is one of the best-written movies I’ve seen this year, with clever dialogue and a plot that while it has some zany elements to it never falls out of believability.

The cast performs solidly, particularly Ho’s go-to guy Choi who takes a character who could have easily have become a caricature and gave him depth and even a bit of gravitas. Jo is also memorable as the somewhat dense mom of the Park family.

The movie changes tone in the second half and there’s some fairly intense violence that occurs, some of it quite disturbing. It isn’t a movie for the weak of heart but neither is it a movie for the weak of mind; there is an awful lot of subtext going on about class distinctions, and exploitation. Just who is exploiting who in this movie may not be terribly clear by the end of the credits. However, I must say that the only thing that is keeping this from a perfect score is a somewhat convoluted ending involving a coded message that overstays its welcome a bit.

Frankly, this is one of the best movies of the year and it certainly should be on the radar of anyone who really likes movies. There’s a scene on how a bad thunderstorm affects the wealthy Parks and the not-so-wealthy Kims that is a gut-punch that comes almost out of nowhere but Ho is such a deft director that it doesn’t feel out of place. Do yourself a favor and catch this one because it’s sure to get some love come awards season.

REASONS TO SEE: Very cleverly written. Well-acted. Some very dark humor but funny throughout. An intriguing look at class warfare from a different angle.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is a little bit convoluted.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, some bloody violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; it is also South Korea’s official submission for the Best International Film award at the 2020 Oscars and is an early favorite to make the short list.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 99% positive reviews: Metacritic: 95/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shoplifters
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
Day 3 of Six Days of Darkness

Xenophobia


Why is it that aliens always get the pretty girls?

(2019) Science Fiction (VisionKristen Renton, Manu Intraymi, Rachel Sterling, Brinke Stevens, Angie Stevenson, Kelly Lynn Reiter, Alexander Kane, Alan Maxson, Nick Principe, Dilynn Fawn Harvey, Mark Hoadley, Karlee Perez, Keavy Bradley, Jed Rowen, Baker Chase Powell, Shaun Blayer, Scott King, John Karyus, Jack McCord, Douglas Epps, Sheila Brandon Allen. Directed by Thomas J. Churchill, Steven J. Escobar and Joe Castro

 

Sometimes, a filmmaker’s reach exceeds their grasp. That’s just the way things go sometimes; someone comes up with a good idea but doesn’t have the expertise or the budget (or both) to pull it off. As a critic, those are the most disappointing movies of all. You might think that we critics get off on ripping a bad movie a new one but speaking for myself, that’s simply not the case. Truthfully, I want every movie to be a home run. Sometimes they strike out swinging, though.

A support group for alien abduction victims meet to tell their tales of woe. The members are at turns terrified and hostile, paranoid and sympathetic. They’ve all been through hell and are trying to help one another make it through to the other side, but what could be waiting there might well be worse than what they’ve already been through.

This is told anthology-style with each abduction tale getting a different director, so there are tonal shifts from segment to segment. The segments include a photographer who gets abducted and probed while taking pictures in the desert, a group of young women who have a captive audience, a camping trip that turns deadly when an alien artifact is discovered, and a house in which a dog-sized alien stalks a babysitter.

Despite the presence of one of my all-time favorite Scream Queens in Brinke Stevens (who plays the mother of an abduction victim here), the acting is almost uniformly bad. The digital effects look like something you might see on an early PlayStation games, but much of the effects are practical and even though the aliens look a little bit on the rubbery side, the aliens are still nifty enough (some of them Gigeresque) to be enjoyable.

The trio of directors also wrote the film and they could use some work on their dialogue; much of it is written like nobody bothered to actually speak any of it out loud before giving it to the actors to read. It sounds thoroughly unconvincing and not at all the way people actually speak to each other.

I wanted to like Xenophobia a lot more than I did and I will have to confess that my score is probably a bit generous but I hate to thoroughly eviscerate a movie like this one. Clearly there  was some pride and passion put into the finished film but this was certainly a case where ambition overrode realism.

REASONS TO SEE: The aliens are fairly nifty in a B-Movie kind of way.
REASONS TO AVOID: The acting is subpar. The story is disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity as well as violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Veteran Scream Queen Brinke Stevens originally got a Masters in Marine Biology and briefly worked as an environmental consultant for a nuclear power plant before venturing into modeling and acting.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Communion
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Perception

Transit (2012)


Diora Baird can run but she can't hide.

Diora Baird can run but she can’t hide.

(2012) Action (After Dark) Jim Caviezel, Diora Baird, James Frain, Elizabeth Röhm, Sterling Knight, Harold Perrineau, Jake Cherry, Ryan Donowho, Robbie Jones, Griff Furst, Douglas M. Griffin, Monica Acosta, Don Yesso, Rob Boltin, Beau Brasso, Ashley Braud (voice), John T. Wilson Jr., J.D. Evermore. Directed by Antonio Negret

In the 80s, when Arnold, Sly, Seagal, Van Damme and Snipes ruled the roost in Hollywood, action movies had kind of a unrealistic quality to them; indestructible heroes went up against whole platoons of villains who shot enough ammo to supply the Russian army for a decade without once hitting the hero anywhere vital. In the 90s, things got more gritty and a bit more realistic. Since then, action movies have more or less fallen out of favor at least to the extent of their popularity back in those days as the action stars grew longer in the tooth. We still see action movies today like the various Expendables films but by and large they are different with far more CGI in the mix.

This is more like a throwback to the 90s. Family man Nate Seedwell (Caviezel) is driving his family to a camping trip in Louisiana. Nate is fresh off an 18 month stay in Club Penitentiary for real estate fraud. He’s lost the trust his wife Robyn (Röhm) and the respect of his teenage sons Shane (Knight) and Kenny (Cherry) who would rather be anywhere else.

That wish is only going to grow more intensified. It turns out that a quartet of sullen criminals – Marek (Frain), Losada (Perrineau), Arielle (Baird) and Evers (Donowho) have just robbed an armored car of $4 million, executing the guards in the process. The police are after them and it’s only a matter of time before they catch up. In order to safely make it past police checkpoints, they stash their loot in a tent bag on top of a Land Rover in a truck stop parking lot. You’ll never guess who the Land Rover belongs to.

Once the bad guys get past the police checkpoint (the Seedwells sail through with no problems) they put on the afterburners to catch up with the unsuspecting family, and catch up they do. What follows is a series of action sequences punctuated by people doing dumb things that nobody in their right mind with more than two brain cells rubbing together in their brain would do.

This is a movie of lost opportunities. They set the movie in the swamp lands of Louisiana’s Cajun country, but for the most part this could have been set anywhere as they don’t really utilize the setting to its best advantage. There’s also a part of the movie when Robyn finds the money and assumes that Nate stole it and that the robbers were ex-partners of his trying to retrieve the money that Nate took. They really don’t do anything with this either, other than having Robyn drive off leaving Nate stranded at the side of the road literally holding the bag. That seems to be the end of her disbelief though, as the boys plead with her to go back and get their dad, pleas which fall on deaf ears.

And that leads me to my next problem with this movie. There are so many logical holes here and so many instances of people acting in ways no sane people act. Nobody whose family has been attacked multiple times would drive off and leave their spouse to face the music alone, no matter how mad they got. The instinct to survive and protect one’s children is too strong and when in a situation like that, you’re going to need all hands on deck, or in this case, on dock.

The saving grace for this movie other than the game performances by Caviezel and Röhm is the action sequences. Negret, who worked with After Dark previously on one of their horror films, has a good sense of pacing for action sequences and delivers some terrific fight sequences and some strong car chases. He realizes that he doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel here; he just has to keep the action moving. Far more experienced directors have not done so well in that department, so kudos to him for that point.

It’s a shame this wasn’t better written because the idea is sound and I like that they’re doing an action picture of the style that is much out of favor these days. The movie received only an excuse-me theatrical release before heading to home video and cable, where you can occasionally catch it from time to time. I don’t know that I can recommend this – too many script problems spoil this broth – but I wouldn’t mind seeing what Negret goes on to do in the business.

WHY RENT THIS: Delivers the goods in the action department.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Huge lapses in logic. A few too many cliches.
FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of foul language and violence, scenes of terror and brief teen drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Caviezel and Frain both previously appeared together in the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Röhm and Perrineau both worked on the TV show Lost.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental and Streaming), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stash House
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Sneakerheadz