All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.
2019 |South Korea |Curzon Artificial Eye | 132 mins |Comedy, Drama, Thriller (Korean with English subtitles)
Release Date: 7 February 2020
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Jo Yeo-jeong , Park So-dam
Bong Joon-ho (‘Snowpiercer’ ‘Okja’) returns with this suspense drama about wealth, greed and class discrimination and won the Palme d‘Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
This is a story of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ which focuses on poverty and desperation and the lengths to which a family will go, in order to prove their worth and achieve some status. Kim Ki-teak’s (Song Kang-ho) family, are firmly embedded in the latter category; all unemployed and living in squalid basement conditions.
When his son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) strikes lucky and gets a tutoring job at the lavish home of the Park family, it seems like their luck is about to change for the better.
Mr Park (Lee Sun-kyun) is a wealthy entrepreneur, who lives with his ditzy, naive wife, Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), their teen daughter, Da-hye (Jung Ziso) and her younger brother, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun).
Ki-woo is a hit with the family, especially the Da-hye, who quickly develops a crush on him, which he does nothing to discourage.
Yeon-kyo reveals to him that she would like to find an art tutor for her young son and Ki-woo suggests that he might know of someone (his sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam)but without divulging this piece of information). Soon, Ki-taek joins the household followed by his wife, Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin), all under the pretext of being unknown to each other. As they gradually infiltrate the Park’s home and attempt to take over their affluent lifestyle, the audience will be left wondering how do you eradicate a parasite.
Bong Joon-ho gets the adrenaline running with this amazing film and once again, proves what an outstanding director he truly is.
Parasite has managed to refresh the parts which no other film has reached, this Awards season. Not quite the Body Snatchers, more a case of the Lifestyle Snatchers. Parasite’s tentacles reach far and wide, digging deep into our psyches.
A magnificent film which I never wanted to end, with a beautifully calibrated ensemble cast – easy on the eye, in perfect harmony and all talented, to boot.
This will win the Oscar for best International Feature Film (though I did love Corpus Christi) but unfortunately, not in the Best Film category, in which it has also been nominated. It would seem that voters, in general, are backing 1917 and I’m still scratching my head about that. But, you never know – the Oscars has produced some last minute surprises – Moonlight for instance.
A definite must see… you won’t be disappointed.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub, Sub Zero
* * *
Drama following world-renowned civil rights defence attorney, Bryan Stevenson, as he recounts his experiences and details the case of a condemned death row prisoner whom he fought to free.
2019 | US | Warner Bros | 136 mins | Drama
Release Date: 24 January 2020
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson.
Adapted from activist lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s 2014 memoir, ‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’, Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is remarkably understated.
The film opens in 1987, in Monroe County, Alabama, where Walter ‘Johnny D’ McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is arrested for the murder of a white teenager, Ronda Morrison. Despite him being at a local fish-fry when the young girl was killed and there were dozens of witnesses who could back him up, he had previously had an affair with a white woman and therefore, the law was intent on pinning the crime on him.
On 17 August 1988, a jury declared him guilty and he found himself suddenly facing the death penalty.
After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly imprisoned or those unable to afford proper legal representation. One of his first cases, is that of Walter McMillian. As co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Stevenson is determined to make a difference, and despite McMillian’s initial dismissals, he nevertheless, makes the journey out to his client’s impoverished old neighbourhood in order to speak to his family and friends who are adamant he could not have committed the crime he has been accused of.
In the years that follow, Stevenson tirelessly fights for McMillian’s life whilst at the same time, battling with racism and legal manoeuvrings. He is strong, but not unbreakable and his operations director, Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) is always on hand, both as an ally and friend.
Cretton’s direction and combined writing with Andrew Lanham, is refined and unfussy filmmaking. It would be so easy to over-sensationalise such a story, but in their capable hands you have a personal account of one man’s struggle to allow the silenced and dispossessed inmates’ voices, on death row, to be heard.
Foxx’s performance is his best yet. There’s no hint of the underlying movie star, only the stillness of man who has resigned himself to his inevitable fate.
Jordan is equally disciplined, making his performance all the more rousing, when the dramatic heat is dialled-up, during the courtroom showdown and prison breakdown.
O’Shea Jackson Jr and Rob Morgan are both extremely convincing as Anthony Ray Hinton and Herbert Richardson, fellow death row inmates. Darrell Britt-Gibson brings a nervous energy to his role of the reluctant witness, Darnell Houston, while Tim Blake Nelson is very convincing as McMillian’s primary accuser.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub Zero
* * *
A Welsh journalist breaks the news in the western media of the famine in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s.
2019 | Poland, UK, Ukraine | Signature | 119 mins | Biography, Drama, Thriller (in English, Ukrainian, Russian, Welsh)
Release Date: 20 February 2020
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Starring: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard
Mr Jones is the powerful and thought-provoking true story of Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones, who uncovered Stalin’s genocidal famine in Ukraine, which killed almost 10million people.
It is 1933 and Gareth Jones (James Norton) is an ambitious journalist who gained fame after his report on being the first foreign journalist to fly with Hitler.
While briefly employed as Private Secretary to Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham), he is met with patronising complacency with regard to his notion of Nazi warmongering. He is seriously concerned by Hitler’s rapid ascendancy, whilst being suspicious of Russia’s supposedly fertile economy. He requests an interview with Stalin, but is turned down and loses his job.
Jones is still determined to go to the USSR and land an interview with Stalin, who was then much admired for boosting Russian productivity, despite the rest of the world’s, economic depression.
By devious means, his aim now is to plot his way to the debauched journalistic circles of Moscow. He is introduced to Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), an Anglo-American, who is bureau chief for the New York Times. He is a firm believer in the new Russian order, but also likes to indulge in luxurious parties, replete with naked bodies, alcohol and drugs.
He encounters Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), Duranty’s right-hand reporter, who gives him some inside information on the way things are really done in the USSR. He decides to visit the Ukraine and see for himself what is going on there. There he is met with the gruesome reality that there is indeed a government-induced famine and millions are dying.
Deported back to London, Jones is determined not to keep the atrocities under cover and publishes an article revealing the horrors he witnessed. He is accused of lying by those who have a vested interested in denying all, but as the body count mounts, he is left to fight for the truth.
A gripping and immersive film, beautifully directed by Agnieszka Holland and one can hope that she will be duly recognised during next year’s Awards season.
Stunning cinematography from Tomasz Naumiuk with one shot in particular, still haunting me – a close-up of a walking stick with a hare’s head handle. So simple, and yet, so striking. His photography of the bleak blizzards, carts piled high with corpses, and images of people having to resort to eating bark (and much worse) for sustenance, is heart-stopping.
This is one of Norton’s more notable performances and is both compelling and credible in this role.
Sarsgaard is mesmerising as the scabrous, unctuous and quietly menacing Walter Duranty.
A great film with which to start the New Year.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub Zero
* * *
Aided by his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler, 10year old Jojo must confront his blind nationalism when he discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.
2019 | UK | 20th Century Fox | 108 mins | Comedy, Drama
Release Date: 3 January 2020
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam
Rockwell, Rebel Wilson
Loosely adapted from Christine Leunens’s novel Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit begins where the Third Reich ends. Jojo Betler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10- year old boy, who fantasises fighting for the Nazi regime, is a Hitler Youth member and counts Hitler (Taika Waititi) as an imaginary friend. In fact, Hitler represents more of a father-figure to him, since his own has been posted abroad.
Whilst being an active Hitler Youth member, he is not wildly enthusiastic. The camping sequence led by Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson, as Hitler Youth leaders, is funny and entertaining and it is where Jojo earns his nickname (Jojo Rabbit) after he refuses to prove his fighting credentials by breaking a rabbit’s neck.
He would far rather be meeting Hitler himself, but for the time being, he has to make-do with the imaginary Hitler, with whom he can discuss ‘Jews’.
Unbeknownst to him, his mother, Rose (Scarlett Johansson) is a secret resister, whilst keeping her good Aryan persona in public and is harbouring a Jewish teenage girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the eaves of their house, When he discovers her hiding place, she swears him to secrecy and an unlikely friendship blossoms, much to Hitler’s annoyance.
Having seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), I was very much looking forward to seeing this film, since I had missed it at the London Film Festival.
I loved this film and yes, it may be trying to almost cash in on trying to emulate Roberto Benigni’s 1997, triple Oscar winning film, Life is Beautiful, but it doesn’t quite make the grade.
However, that said, it is very enjoyable, although it does lose some of its momentum when it veers towards the schmaltz.
Griffin Davis steals the film and is delightful as Jojo, helping to keep the whole film together, whilst Scarlett Johansson, as his mother puts in a very good performance and manages to pull-off a pretty credible German accent.
The film has been nominated in the Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role and Costume Design categories. It all remains to be seen.
Twitch Factor: Sub, Sub Zero