This Korean multiple award-nominated, SAG Globe winning movie, Parasite, has captured the critics’ minds as it delves into the income gap, greed and class discrimination between the “one-percenter” wealthy Park family and the destitute, marginally employed Kim clan. The theme of the competitive, desperate search for wealth at one end of the income spectrum versus the content, oblivious upper-class entitlement at the other end permeates South Korean director, Bong Joon-ho’s films (“Snowpiercer” and “Mother” in particular.) This difficult theme is unusual to tackle, let alone devote one’s film career to different genre for portraying the inviting and repelling ways in which humans are not aware of each other’s choices and behavior.
The wealthy Park family live the “lux life”,
mainly due to a retinue of servants and staff who allow them to pamper their
daughter and son, entertain while a flood leaves many low-income residents
homeless, and believe that no one wants to do them harm. The low-income Kim family has to fight their
invisibility. [While Parasite does not deal with ethnic strife,
it resonates with Jordan Peele’s films “Get Out” and “Us”.]
Parasite burrows deep into the dream
world of the rich and the poor: for the rich, there are no problems that money
can’t solve, or at least improve. For
the poor, their ambitions pave the way for dreams that almost certainly cannot
come true, denying that they are living off the breadcrumbs of the very rich
whose lives are supported and enabled by them. And both families live in a wormhole of
interwoven, interdependent lives. The
characters—in their respective bubbles—can’t truly be tricked unless they want
to believe. And they all do. Parasite,
however, does not evoke the many shades of gray that need to be addressed.
This is an important film, because it focuses
on a theme that others fear to tackle. Jordan Peele is a notable
exception. My hope is for more
provocative, better films in Bong Joon-ho’s future.
Note: Snowpiercer (see my August 4, 2014 review) is more memorable and soon to be made into a TNT mini-series releasing in May. Dealing with climate change as well as unconscionable income inequality, Snowpiercer’s ending takes no prisoners and has no answers.
by a true story, Godfather of Harlem skillfully interweaves the combative and competing forces of the mafia with the battle for civil rights in the
mid-‘60s. In the riveting Epix limited series, Godfather of
Harlem, we see the character Bumpy Johnson (the exceptional Forest
Whitaker) re-enter the world of organized crime after being released from Alcatraz.
have taken over many of New York’s poor communities, and the Italian mafia runs
most of them, now including the crime syndicate of Harlem which had been Bumpy
Johnson’s exclusive domain. Not wanting
to be a snitch, Johnson survives an eleven-year prison sentence meant for
members of the mafia. Upon release, Johnson feels he is owed back his
Vincent “Chin” Gigante (Vincent D’Onofrio)
refuses to give up the control of Harlem he has seized through brutal means, so brutal they fall outside the boundaries of the mafia’s own
code of conduct.
During the turf war that follows, Bumpy
Johnson forms an alliance with preacher Malcolm X and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. This additional subplot of backroom politics and maneuvering
gives force to the civil rights movement but threatens to tear the communities
apart. And other subplots that overlay
the crime drama are a love story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet and a saga of
dysfunctional families compartmentalized by criminal masterminds who are also
fathers and husbands. Reminiscent at
times of “The Sopranos”, Bumpy Johnson and his daughter in the finale have an
liked American Gangster with Denzel Washington, you will probably love its
prequel, Godfather of Harlem. Denzel’s character Frank Lucas was
Bumpy’s right hand until he took over the throne.
ensemble cast and some extraordinary dialogue delivered by both major and minor
characters. [The co-writer Chris
Brancato also created the series Narcos.]
This is a real winner!
Nominated this year for eleven Academy Awards, Marriage Story portrays two people who really care about, respect, and love each other, and yearn for a “gentle” amicable divorce resolution. They also are determined to nurture and nourish their young son, Henry, with as little wounding as possible.
Written, directed and produced by Noah
Baumbach (of “Squid and the Whale”, another excellent film about divorce), this
film eviscerates what happens in even the best-intentioned divorces,
reminiscent of the classic 1979 film
“Kramer vs Kramer”.
Charlie (Adam Driver) is a very competitive, driven theater director
whose wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) has substantially contributed to his recent
success. As the leading actress and idea-generator for this theatrical company,
Nicole loves witnessing the accolades
and fame Charlie is garnering, including receiving the prestigious MacArthur
grant. (There are parallels to last
year’s hit, The Wife, here.)
Until she doesn’t.
Neither character is portrayed as
overly narcissistic (although Charlie comes close) but both are flawed. While the viewer comes to understand and
empathize with both of them wanting to pursue their dreams, we see the character arcs change
radically. The hoped-for amicable
divorce proceedings turn very ugly when lawyers get involved.
This is an emotionally raw journey
into trying to figure out how to be an independent adult and survive alone. It is so grief-stricken in impact that it is as
if the viewer’s observing the psychological amputation of the couple’s former
Charlie and Nicole’s assumptions about each other were lovingly
expressed while they were a couple, and are now weaponized. What they had been fond of in each other’s
character, turns into deep wounds and grievances.
The cast is phenomenal. Adam Driver
offers a transformative, heartbreaking performance that may surprise many. Scarlett Johansson is his equal, playing a
broken woman who wants the best for her family, but can no longer hope for her marriage
to change. Their performances are as intertwined and nuanced as they are
fragmented, and they play off each other
with rarely seen chemistry.
Marriage Story is a delicate dance and dialectic of vertiginous rage and devastating miscommunication, weaving together themes of loneliness, heartbreak, and regret acutely reflecting the imperfect and painful nature of human relationships. An unnerving capture of the complexities of character and the dissolution of a marriage between two loving people, Marriage Story will become a classic allegory for us all.
The Buddha taught rats first, among the animals in the Buddhist pantheon, and rats rank first on the Chinese zodiac. Though people who follow Western animal symbolism do not consider the rat either adorable or auspicious, nevertheless the characteristics of the rat are considered spirited, witty, alert, flexible, and that of a survivor. The Chinese New Year will begin on January 25, 2020 with the final celebration on February 11.
The Metal Rat Year is going to be a strong, prosperous, and lucky year for those who conduct financial research and follow through on investments. For investors in real estate, or venturing on their own to start a business or to invest money in a long-term project, major decisions on money matters will affect the entire twelve-year cycle of the zodiac–until 2032.
On the political front, those who fight against corruption will be accused of duplicity and hypocrisy. Political unrest will continue and revolutionary disruption of the establishment will gain momentum. Increased tensions and misunderstanding between allies will occur.
To avoid escalating conflict by
unscrupulous populist governments who overlook
or ignore the common interest of society, moderation, patience and compromise must
be recognized and practiced. In
addition, all nations must implement strict and disciplinary measures to
ameliorate climate change. Jealousy of
those who have polluted the plant will rise.
Here are the reviews I wrote this year with the criteria that they were available online or were at local movie
theaters, although not necessarily under broad distribution nor widely
distributed through move theaters. Of
the 43 reviews, here are my favorites. Another difficult year to make my listicle. As in past years, both television and cinema
have continued to produce phenomenal story-telling and intriguing characters.
The following list is not ranked, only
grouped by genre and date of review.
INDIES and FOREIGN CINEMA
1) Lo and Behold–Reveries of the Connected World (January 13 review)
Lo and Behold gives the viewer a spellbinding,
lesser-known walk back in time through the birth of the computer and its
subsequent impact on our daily lives.
We see extremes: medical marvels
saving lives or electromagnetic waves that debilitate. Each chapter introduces
a different positive or negative dynamic of the internet.
documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? explores perhaps more
clearly now than at the time the show was produced is just how
revolutionary Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood actually was.
Even through the tumultuous Sixties, subjects of political violence, racial
discrimination, and the degrading messages children and adults frequently heard
were never side-stepped or sugarcoated.
this combination of black comedy and Nordic noir, we are treated to a series of
scenes involving gangster mobs, drug trade, a father’s revenge, kidnapping, and
snow plows. In Order of
Disappearanceis part “Fargo” and part other Coen brothers’
comedic treatment of snow country.
this gripping 2010 Academy Award nominated HBO documentary, Which Way Home opens with something large and bulbous
floating down the Rio Grande. The viewer soon learns it is a corpse, perhaps
that of a child, and an observer comments matter-of-factly that this happens
multiple times a day.
Netflix Original Always Be My Maybe gives us a reason for
watching rom-coms again. A modern riff on “When Harry Met Sally.” Set in San
Francisco, Always Be My Maybe is
a story of childhood sweethearts who go their separate ways only to meet
up fifteen years later. Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall
Park) were best friends who, as teenagers, had sex for the first time and
then stopped talking to each other.
comedic drama opens with the tagline: “based on an actual lie.” The
universal theme– of the gathering of a family clan harboring secrets and
lies, told and sometimes motivated by love.
7) Late Night—Women Do
It Right (November 5 review)
In Late Night we
see a notoriously, male-dominated world of late-night network TV in
which a woman–Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson)– is the host of her own
talk show. (Think “The Devil Wears Prada” and Meryl Streep as the
“bitch-boss from hell”).
Carter, a sixteen-year-old gifted student, has to adeptly maneuver
between two worlds — her poor, mostly black neighborhood and a wealthy, mostly
white prep school. Facing pressure from all sides, Starr must find her voice
and decide to stand up for what’s right.
9) Rocketman—Seeing the Light Through the Darkness (July 28)
backstory of Elton John’s childhood is the emotional core defining his
self-worth and genius. Although we soon find out that Elton was a deeply
lonely child, unloved by his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven
Mackintosh), but nurtured by his grandmother (Emma Jones), he introduces
himself with a lie: “I was actually a very happy child.”
Jokeris a devastating
portrait of a rapid descent into mental illness. This Joker, nemesis to the comic book masked superhero
Batman, takes center stage with only a tangential reference to Batman and
for good reason. Now we see the masked Joker as few could have
Netflix series — Narcos, Narcos Mexico and El
Chapo– are gritty, raw, and bingeable. Each chronicles the most
powerful drug lord and his cartel at the rise of cocaine and marijuana
production in Colombia, Mexico, and other parts of the world.
Chernobyl is an HBO
historical drama miniseries depicting the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear
disaster and the unprecedented coverup that followed. The flawed
reactor design operated by inadequately trained technicians is
jaw-clenching and chilling. That lack of transparency and flagrant
disregard for human life depicts greed, lack of moral integrity, and political
corruption. Chernobyl is a cautionary tale for today’s
criminal mastermind, calling himself “The Professor,” plans the biggest heist
in Spain’s history: to storm the Royal Mint and print billions of euros. He
recruits eight people who have the criminal talents he needs, knowing they have
nothing to lose.
14) Locked Up—Spain’s “Orange is the New Black”
(September 11 review)
with extraordinary writing and plotting, Locked Up‘s main
theme is unexpected consequences: the turmoil of events that turn
everything upside down.
A “Narcos” or “El
Chapo”-style drama about the rise of drug lord Teresa Mendoza (played by
the exceptional Alice Braga, niece of the renowned actress Sonia Braga),
we see a new first. Instead of a ruthless kingpin of a Mexican drug
cartel like Guzman (El Chapo), we see Teresa Mendoza. She navigates and
outsmarts a world dominated by men and machismo to become the queen (or
queenpin?) of Sinaloa.