Parasite: Film Review

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2020 saw The Oscar for Best Picture was given, for the first time in history, to a foreign film, and that film was Parasite; written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, who would leave the ceremony with both the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay awards in his hands, as well as the evening’s flagship prize. Parasite is a Korean film which follows the story of a poor family that cons a rich family into employing every single member of their family, and the dangerous circumstances that arise from that situation. The film stars Kang-ho Song, Sun-Kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo, and Woo-sik Choi among others. This review contains spoilers for the film. Please don’t read beyond this if you haven’t seen the film, it really is worth experiencing for yourself.

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I was not entirely sure what to expect from Parasite. My experience with foreign films has tended to take up residence on one of the two qualitative extremes. Considering that I was watching it a few days after it won Best Picture, out of a pretty stand-out field of competition, with only its reputation as a Korean class-commentary, I was a little sceptical. Maybe even a little aversive, it’s hard to say. Either way, my scepticism and/or disinclination was totally and utterly blown sky-high out of the water by one of the most emotionally topsy-turvy films I’ve ever seen; introducing itself as amusing and leaving its audience gasping for breath.

Amusing is definitely the word to describe the first half or so of this movie, which pertains, almost exclusively, to the variety of skulduggery and subterfuge that the Kims employ to slowly (but not that slowly) sneak their way into the lives of the Park household. It starts off just kind of funny, but, by the end of it, it’s downright hilarious. Some of the crap they pull to oust and replace the incumbent staff is insane, crossing the border of outright cruelty a couple of times. The way they cross that line makes you a little uncomfortable at that halfway point, there’s a serious moral ambiguity to the situation in spite of their very clearly displayed lack of prosperity in their own circumstances (another facet that is portrayed in a very compelling way). That depiction, as well as the character endearment that comes from the comedy, is what keeps you from rooting against the Kim’s, but the discomfort is definitely seeded and is exploited as deep as it possibly could have been by what follows.

I maintain that they were insane, absolutely bonkers, to try to stay the night at the Park’s house in the first place. There was an element of predictability to it all, not that that wasn’t entirely the point but it was infuriating all the same. It was when the doorbell rang, and it was not the Parks at the door, that shit started to go down. The film took on a horror/thriller tone from that point, and it was unsettling as hell. It becomes difficult, here,  to understand the differences between a director’s influence vs. the actors. Obviously the walk down the tunnel and all its goose-bumps were Ho’s prerogative, but if the guy playing the caretaker’s husband, Myeong-hoon Park, hadn’t been as brilliant as he was, we might’ve been seeing a different film. Whatever the source, the film takes a turn, and it’s nail-bitingly crazy. The suspense of the whole escape sequence was incredible. I suspect the stakes feel as high as they do because of the situation more than the actual character development. That’s a reality throughout the film, you never really commit to any of them so much as you commit to their family. Whether that’s a weakness or a strength ends up being a pointless debate, the end result is your hair standing up on end for at least a straight hour nearing the end of the film.

It’s after the whole escape sequence that the emotional sophistication rams hard. The flood is painful, visceral to watch and its aftermath equally so. Up until that point you’ve felt a lot from this film, but the flood was what made it all saddening, bringing the only emotion we hadn’t yet seen and bringing it hard. It served as a reminder of the fact that this film, above and beyond anything else, is a film about class: the high and the low. Seeing the difference in material effect of the flood on the two families was a little hard to watch to, especially coming from a place of privilege myself. From that point, your heart was in your hands. The horribly dark twist was most definitely seen coming, and yet nothing really prepared for it. It’s hard to really say more than that. The last fifteen minutes of the film are weightless. At least I felt that way. Weightless. Like everything was happening in slow-motion, the dread of what was coming weighing what was happening on screen down. The visuals of the climax of this film are crafted as if out of pure gold, every moment landing perfectly on-beat. I was a little surprised to see that Kevin survived, I had my money on none of the Kims making it out of that house. I appreciated the fact that they never disclosed, what happened to the Parks afterwards, the ones that survived at any rate. It feels right that I don’t know. As for Kevin’s eventual dream sequence, I interpreted it as fantasy, though I’ve heard differently from others. I’m not clear on the value of the morse-code message; why Mr. Kim would’ve sent it out every night makes exactly as much sense as Kevin returning to look at the house. It adds to the heartbreak, however, and for that it contributes to an ending that left its audience needing a minute to re-gather themselves. This was a brilliant, if altogether internally dividing, film.

Maybe it was my initial scepticism that drove deeper my appreciation for all that this film was. A pulsating, energetic, and suspenseful storyline, emotional stimulation, and a bedrock of acute social commentary made this film an undisputed conqueror among 2019s films. I neglected to mention above, but a striking aspect of the screenplay was the placement and usage of certain motifs. The fatal rock that began and ended it all, Da-song’s birthdays, and what would later become the ‘poor person smell’, which would drive Mr. Kim to drive a knife into Mr. Park’s heart, are all used in their ways with a not-so-subtlety that strikes hard. Was the way the smell was used a little out of place in the last sequence? Yes, it probably was, but it did contribute to the unreality of it all so that bit of slight laziness was forgiven. All in all, Parasite was a wholly unexpected, hilariously funny, and devastatingly heart-breaking film, which was absolutely deserving of every accolade it picked up at the Oscars. May it not be forgotten any time soon.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 92/100                                                                   Aryamaan’s Score –

JoJo Rabbit: Film Review

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JoJo Rabbit, written and directed by Taika Waititi, is a topical comedy about a young boy living in Nazi Germany near the end of the second World War. Along with his imaginary friend Adolf, JoJo does his best to serve is country and his Fuhrer, until he finds that his mother has been harbouring a slightly older Jewish girl in the attic. JoJo Rabbit stars Scarlett Johansen, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant alongside Waititi himself as Adolf Hitler as supporting characters to Thomasin McKenzie and Roman Griffin Davis.

I was completely unsure what to expect going into JoJo Rabbit. To be fair, it’s about a boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler with an Australian accent, so who would know what to expect. My reaction was altogether mixed in a way that can actually be split chronologically.

The first half hour or so of the film is quite awful. Awful to the extent that I was regretting go for it to some extent. Very few jokes landed, the rest fell very, very flat, and there was nothing interesting about the story or the characters involved. Once you got over the inherent funniness of a day-camp for Nazi kids (which was really funny for sure but only really lasted a couple minutes), it was unfunny offbeat and cheap, without a lead character, or any supporting characters, that I had a compelling reason to commit to. The whole rabbit thing was a little weak in its attempt at sincerity, and the only comedy was coming from the situation, which wasn’t enough to keep it going for long.

Almost all of that changed as soon as the girl showed up. Her relationship with JoJo was far and away the most interesting thing about the film, elevating it to a new place. Seriously, it’s like someone flipped a switch. The jokes started landing and landing hard, his relationship with his mother got more interesting and important to the story, and JoJo’s character himself finally had a decent conflict for the film to then become about. I should emphasize on the sudden landing of the humour because suddenly the film was hilarious. More importantly, it then became a film about anti-semitism; that predisposition mixed with a childish innocence and desires. That thread takes on a much more real life in the film, making for a lot of wonderfully sweet moments and the heartwarming development of a completely natural, wholesome, and a slightly heartbreaking, relationship.

I don’t know that I was expecting it to be as heartfelt as it was. Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s most notable other work, kind of gave me impression that there was going to be a significantly limited amount of actual emotional expression, but I was very much mistaken. Griffin Davis delivers a pretty great performance during the second half of the film, carrying it for sure alongside McKenzie. There’s a very innocent, childish uncertainty about the regime he’s under, which doubles for an actually relatively sophisticated depiction of the internal struggle of unlearning. The growth of his relationship with a young Jewish girl, from thinking she has horns in her head from all the mind control powers to feeling an innocent love for her, is a wonderfully sweet thing to witness, aside from the humor. Parallel to that, his dynamic with his mother is something to watch as well. Johansson definitely deserved as Oscar nomination, delivering on a pretty complex character who’s essentially trying to mother two children in this film.

The humor, on the other hand, ranges from dark to a little adult actually. This is by no means a kids film. In moments the film strays away from everything and turns pitch-dark. I shouldn’t go into too much detail, don’t want to spoil, but there were a few moments during scenes with JoJo and his mother where I was actually curious as to why a shot or two lingered on her shoes. Anyone who’s seen it knows exactly what I’m talking about. That revelation actually led to a pretty big plot-hole in my eyes; for the period of time after, I’m not entirely sure how Jojo just kind of…survives? Like how they don’t seem to ever run out of gas in Zombieland, this was a plot point that they didn’t really address. There seemed to be quite a bit of time between that and the eventual climax. I’m stepping around the slight plot twist because I didn’t add a spoiler warning on this review, so anyone whose seen the film hopefully knows what I mean.

Whether or not I recommend JoJo is a complicated question with an uncomplicated answer: yes, I do. However, be prepared for an unspectacular opening. They turn it around, in rather spectacular fashion, I might add, but the first half hour or so of the movie is actively not good in my opinion. It really does become something a little bit special though, life-affirming, even. All in all, JoJo is a fun, hilarious, and at the same time sweet and innocent film about Jewish persecution at the hands of the Nazis in Germany during the second World War. Ever did I imagine writing that sentence.

Edit: Post the Oscars, and this film winning best Adapted Screenplay, I ought to mention that the film is adapted from a book called Caging Skies. I wasn’t pleased about the Oscar win until I read about Caging Skies and realized that the book is very different from Waititi’s deeply creative spin on the original story. It definitely deserved that Oscar.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 78/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score –

Little Women: Film Review

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Late 2019 saw the release of Greta Gerwig’s screen adaptation of literary classic Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. Little Women is the story of a family living in America during the time of the Civil War. Four sisters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, and their mother live in difficult financial times, as the women of the house grow up to find their respective ways in the world. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet and Laura Dern among others, and is written for the screen and directed by Greta Gerwig.

I should say that at time of writing I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the book, which makes my understanding of the story, as it ought to, less deep as compared to those who have. This review does not compare the film to the book, nor does it take it into account, my not having read it.

Which is, it would transpire, entirely my loss. Little Women is a simply excellent film, simultaneously telling a story that is both thoroughly interesting as well as having heaps of literary value. The writing is beautiful, which I suppose I could not realistically accredit to either Alcott or Gerwig without first comparing it to its source material, and is complemented by a style and rhythm of storytelling that keeps its audience engaged, without exception, through the entire film. The pacing is a bit confusing, actually, because while it is as entertaining as it is (assuming an interest in the circumstance, if you’re not into period pieces and a lack of explosions then the entertainment factor won’t be there), it most certainly feels like a much longer film than it is. Clocking at just over 2 hours and 15 minutes makes it a hardly above average film in length, but the way Gerwig has woven the piece together makes the experience feel much longer. I personally never found myself bored, though it must be said that this sensation could just as easily be construed as drag if this kind of film isn’t your cup of tea.

The performances could not be described as special in their capacity as actors, with the possible exception of Ronan as Jo and Dern as Mother. Rather, the film is cast extremely well, insofar as I understood the characters. The characters themselves were delightfully likeable, and conveyed a fascinating study of different definitions of success and ambition in women, far ahead of its time. Jo and Meg are two sides of the same coin in a way, Jo the adventurous and conventionally ambitious writer and Meg the woman who dreams of a family. Meg might’ve been the least elaborated upon of the four, save for a scene just before her wedding where she defended her heteronormativity, something that I found perfectly valid, right alongside Jo’s own defence. They were by far the two most interesting characters by my book; one who wanted a career and to accomplish things for herself, and one who wanted to be in love and who wanted a family, and that’s okay too. Those are two really interesting ideas to juxtapose, which they’ve done very well. My understanding is that Amy’s character is not historically liked, which is understandable, but even she gets her moment of defence to Laurie later in the film. Beth was perhaps the weakest casting, but one of the stronger performances despite not an incredible amount to do. Chalamet as Laurie was another perfect casting, with an irritatingly irresistible likability to him. Likability was a theme across the board in this film (with the only possible exception of Amy). It was a much funnier film than I ever saw coming, very tastefully so, in a way that kept it relatively light hearted without dropping the stakes of the story. The tone is familial, constantly, which was an intimate closeness that I just couldn’t help but smile at.

Plot-wise, there were some slight issues. The French guy was somewhat random, I’d say, and his relationship with Jo really ought to have been developed further. Chalamet and Ronan’s dynamic as Jo and Laurie was sold much more, and, while I’m not suggesting that there should have been an equivalent amount of time given to a fundamentally less important part of the story, a little more could’ve been done to sell their relationship. Beth could’ve been explored slightly more, but the job is done sufficiently if you ask me. Amy’s love for Laurie goes a little underdeveloped as well, though the chemistry was there for certain. A few more hints of her love at a younger age might’ve been welcome. I really do wish they’d given more insight into Meg. Not instead of Jo, crucially, but in tandem with. Her husband, for example, is in the film but not explained as a character. I’d have liked to see more of that.

Little Women was a fantastic film, one of the best of the year. It had a lot more to say than most other period pieces that have become household names. It was more interesting, in my opinion, as compared to a film like Pride and Prejudice, which, a good film in its own right, is in the end, a love story. Little Women is that and much more, and I have every intention of reading the book at the earliest possibility. In the meantime, I’d give my strongest recommendation to Gerwig’s adaptation, as a fun, entertaining, and stimulating film.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 84/100                                                               Aryamaan’s Score –

Bojack Horseman – S6 (Part 2): Series Review

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The second half of the conclusive sixth season to Netflix’s Bojack Horseman dropped yesterday, about three-odd months after the first 8 episodes to S6 left fans on a cliff-hangar, with Bojack’s unusually peaceful circumstance on the verge of implosion. The half-season starts off more or less exactly where episode 8 of S6 left off, with Bojack beginning his teaching post at Wesleyan University while, concurrently, two journalists chase down the truth behind his involvement with Sarah Lynn’s death. These 8 episodes round off a series that has run for 6 seasons and as many years. Widely regarded as one of the best running shows on the air, most certainly one of the best animated shows for a considerable period of time, Bojack stars Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Allison Brie, and Aaron Paul among others. The show was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

It seems like an age since I sat for 4 straight hours to watch the first half of S6, and immediately got up to go write the review for it. I was, at that point, slightly underwhelmed with what the first half of the season had to offer, but very much looking forward to seeing where they chose to go from there. One way or another, the cast and crew were tasked with ending a mammoth of a show, one of the best things on TV in the last 10 years and one that has left a mark on its audience one way or another. The task was monumental.

Whether or not they succeeded depends a little bit on how you define success in this area. Quite frankly, S6 was, holistically, the weakest and least rounded season of the show, even and especially when combining both its parts. A lack of rounded-ness ought to be the central idea here, because the show skews itself quite hard for S6. Comedy becomes a guest appearance, changed up for a deeper dive into character psychology and existentialism. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, that’s only a good thing, but Bojack has always been a show which has been able to do both at the same time, and I do think that, in general, S6 oscillated with greater frequency between quality, well written existentialism and rather unnecessary psychedelics. It’s possible I’m being a bit harsh, if not in my assessment then at least in the omission of an acknowledgement of the baseline attributes of the show, which remain as good as they always are, and there are moments of genuinely striking philosophical conversation (most of the second last episode comes to mind). That said, S6 does, without a doubt in my mind, lean toward a particular type of content, disturbing the unprecedented balance that they managed to find for 5 seasons before this one.

The saving grace of S6 turned out to be the last episode, which I suppose I should’ve seen coming. It’s a really beautiful episode, and a fitting end to one hell of a show. It just seemed to have…everything. Everything the show has ever had, it had it in this episode, from comedy to sobriety to running gaffes to satisfying endings for characters. I actually think they did a great job of figuring out the right places for some of these characters to finish their stories, and where they didn’t it didn’t feel like much of an end per se. I love what they chose to do with Diane, for example. I’m a fan of Guy and their relationship, and I appreciate how they choose to let her be happy. That was a worry for me going into this half season: the show needed to make a decision about the kind of message it was propagating. They haven’t exactly said anything explicit, but the two best scenes of the last episode, and probably the 6th season overall, between Bojack and Todd and Bojack and Diane respectively, kind of give a not-so-veiled hint. More on that a little later.

They manage to create a sense of an ending without really finishing most of the character’s storylines. Mr. Peanut Butter doesn’t exactly get an ending per se, but his involvement does feel very complete in his last scene (thank god they got rid of Pickles, and they managed to do it in a kind of funny way so good on them). Another of the better scenes of the season was Peanut Butter’s goodbye with Pickles, during which I have to acknowledge the work of his voice actor: Paul F. Tompkins. Princess Carolyne’s ending is pretty satisfying as well; she and Jonah have a uniquely sweet relationship which I’m glad worked out. Her last scene with Bojack is lovely as well, adding to what I have to reiterate as one of the best episodes of the show. One of if not my favourite scene was the one with Todd on the beach. One of my main criticisms of S6 in general is that we didn’t get enough Todd, who is, without a doubt, the cure for all things. His whole thing with his Mom this season was a little meh (even if it did involve the last hurrah of character actress Margot Martindale, possibly my favourite and most consistently funny running gag of the show), and I wish we’d got a more in depth arc for him this particular season. Nevertheless, his last scene is beautiful, and Todd bows out as the best among a crowd of phenomenally drawn characters.

So what about Bojack himself? This season saw the steepest emotional ups and downs from him. It starts off close to perfect, then it implodes. Then he fixes it, then he implodes again, then he almost drowns in what used to be his own pool after a drunken and drugged marathon of Horsin’ Around. And then he’s kind of okay again. It’s a topsy-turvy ride, and one that I felt had the tendency to get a bit emotionally numbing after a while. There is only so much we can see the guy go through, good and bad, and it gets dangerously close to getting so much that I almost stopped caring. Nearly, and had the show gone on for one more episode I think they would’ve fallen into that trap.

Luckily, they ended it the way they did. With the weight and the mixed-ness only Bojack could’ve ended with. Weight is the right way to describe it, because you don’t exactly feel good or bad about the way the show ends. It’s just kind of…continuous. Bojack lost a lot, Hollyhock’s gone, he’s in prison, the money he lost. Situationally, he’s in the hole, yet strangely it doesn’t exactly feel that way. There’s a contentment to the situation, a thoroughly un-dramatic commitment to improvement. The show ended up being about struggling, but not just how we lose to it. Between Todd’s scene on the beach and Diane’s scene on the roof, two of the best scenes in this damn show, it becomes clear that Bojack Horseman chose to end as a show about how life goes on, despite pain and suffering, and that the difficult choice is to choose to be okay, and then act on that. That’s part of why I love what they did with Diane so much, because when it came down to it, she just chose to do what made her happy. Bojack ends up at that crossroad too, in some way, but he’s there calmly, after all the crap. There’s something beautifully heavy, about that. Not in a melodramatically emotional way, in fact, quite the opposite. You do the hokey-pokey…then you turn yourself around. Wow, I love Todd. Bojack’s last moment on the show is bittersweet in the same heavy way, it really feels like that’s all they needed to say about him, and Diane. It didn’t bother me that after that scene, they got down from that roof and continued with their lives. It didn’t bother me that I won’t know what happens. They showed me what they needed to.

Bojack Horseman was a hell of a show. I jumped on the train a little late, I started watching around when S5 dropped, so S6 was the first season which I saw as it released. I’m extremely grateful to the creators and the voice actors and the rest of the crew, as well as Netflix, for giving us this story. I had a bad feeling, before this half of S6 dropped, that the show was going do what many expected: jump into a nihilistic pit of despair and remind us all that life isn’t worth living anyway. Instead, they ditched the angst, and for that all the threads came together for a conclusion befitting of a fabulous series, one of the best out there. S6 on its own might’ve been the weakest season for me personally, but boy did they end it right. A salute, if you will, to Bojack Horseman. One hell of a show.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score: Season – 76/100. Show – 90/100           Aryamaan’s Score –