Best Picture Showcase Day Two

BPS2a

Four films are on tap today, including the one I have not yet seen, Parasite. I’ll have comments about all/of the films as we go along, but I will try to have more in depth commentary on Parasite when we get to it. I sat in the same seat that I had last week and again visited with Gary and his son Bradley.  They had remembered taking with Amanda a couple of years ago and they recognized me as one of the frequent trivia winners.  So although I was without my usual crew, I did have fans to talk with about the films.

All of the films in this years showcase are pretty heavy in some emotional way. While there are comedic moments in most of them, there is not one film nominated who has as it’s principle focus, making us laugh. The closest we get to that was the first film of this Saturday’

JoJo Rabbit

There is a lot to laugh at in this fantasy film about the waning days of World War Two. It is told from the perspective of a ten year old boy who has made Adolph Hitler his imaginary friend. The film mocks the notion of radical nationalism and it shows fanaticism in some pretty silly ways. The preposterous claims about Jews made by the Nazis come in for some pretty funny exaggeration, and the hopelessness of the war is told through the story of two kids, a teenager and a mother who struggles to be supportive to her child while remaining true to her ethics. The movie takes a pretty dramatic turn and I could hear the whole audience respond to it as we were watching in the dark. This provides another reason to enjoy theatrical exhibition of movies where the collective experience adds to the power of the film.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

This has been my go to film this last year. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen in it’s summer release, I watched it on a plane and once on home video, so today marks the fifth time I saw the film since it came out last July. I was hot on the film before it opened, warm after the first viewing, but heated up substantially with each subsequent visit. Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead, nominated for Best Actor, but the movie belongs to the guy carrying his load, Brad Pitt as stuntman/gofer Cliff Booth. Pitt gets three big fight scenes and excels in all of them. He makes Cliff a laconic throwback to old school Hollywood stuntmen and at the same time a transition to the new Hollywood. Leo’s Rick Dalton will have a harder time adjusting to the new ways but the film gives them both a little hope at the conclusion. The revisionist history of this film is the most compelling thing about it. If you don’t stick around for the last fifteen minutes, you are missing one of the most violent and joyful conclusions of a fairy tale ever told.

Parasite

This is the one that I had not yet seen and about which there has been so much talk. Director Bong Joon Ho is the toast of the film world and the movie won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the top rated film of 2019 on the LAMB, and I saw several on-line rankings that said it was the best film of the decade. Okay, here is the thing, it is great, extremely well written and acted, it however is being overcooked and it will be endangered of having a backlash if people keep pushing the greatest ever narrative.

Somehow, this became a film that is about income inequity, and I think a lot of social warriors want to jump on that to do a little virtue signalling.  That seems like a bad idea to me because the have nots appear to not have from bad choices. They all have talents but in a cliche worthy of a superhero movie, “if only they used their talent for good rather than evil”. The Kims ingratiate themselves into the Park household by being the kinds of employees that you would want. Mr. Kim knows the roads and learns a Mercedes well enough to be a good driver, his wife is the kind of housekeeper for the Parks that she never is at home. The daughter may be faking the art therapy thing, but she is having a positive effect on the Parks son. Ki-Woo, the son,  is a capable tutor but his lack of University status might hold him back. It’s not really clear why the two offspring who are so gifted are not at university. This may be a place where the implication is poverty, but that is subtle at best.

What is clear is that the Kims delight in taking advantage of the Parks. They maneuver two people out of jobs in devious ways and they congratulate themselves for doing so. The only fault that the Parks seem to have that might justify the audience sympathy for the Kims, is a not very realistic olfactory failing. The Kims smell like poverty. When that becomes the trigger for an unfortunate event later in the film, it certainly seems to be overblown.

The movie reminded me of a cross between “The Sting” and “Fargo”. There is a confidence game being played that runs out of control by unanticipated events. Those surprises are the kinds of things that provoked the violence in the Coen Brothers movie. From the beginning however, in Fargo we have two low lifes that we know are killers, so the explosions of violence seem reasonable to the characters. The twist in this film turns people who were not particularly nice but who were not killers, into potentially violent actors. The sort of stuff that we might have laughed at as innocuous petty crime becomes something very dark, very quickly. A new layer of social class is being brought in and it is even more inequitable. So the metaphor begins again. The metaphor even becomes a theme in the story and that is a little obvious as well.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the film. There may be something wrong with the folks who are over analyzing it as social commentary, and that is something that put me off a bit. I’m reacting to the reaction rather than the movie.

1917

This continued to be my favorite film of the year, even after viewing all the others. Several people in the audience as I was walking out at the end of a long day were overheard saying “well, they saved the best for last”. I think that was true.   The gimmick of the film, being shot as if one continuous take, is a technical marvel but it also works for dramatic purposes. This was an intensely dangerous and stress filled day in the lives of two ordinary soldiers. When we see that they are part of a large army and we get hints about the equally dangerous days that each of those other soldiers that we see our two leads passing are having, it is even more compelling.

If Roger Deakins doesn’t win for cinematography, something is just wrong. The complexity of the shots is hard to believe given how smoothly the images float in front of us. The expertise required to handle the night time scenes is also worthy of an award all on it’s own. The composition and lighting of those sequences are both beautiful and nightmarish.

I did mention the two leads in my previous review but I’m not sure I gave them as much credit as they deserve. Dean-Charles Chapman as the determined younger brother who is given this mission because he will be motivated to carry it out, is a stand in for all of us who are naive enough to think that mere will alone is enough to accomplish a task. He of course does show that he has more than will, but his naivete is frustrating to us emotionally and another victim of the horrors that war is. George MacKay as the slightly more weary companion, imbues the film with the valor that an ignoble soldier finds in trying to do right by his commanders and friends. Either of them would have been valid choices for awards consideration despite their lack of star status.

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