"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Parasite: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A fantastically original film, gloriously directed and acted, that is both dramatically potent and politically insighftul.

Language: Korean with English subtitles

Parasite, directed and co-written by Bong Joon-Ho, is the story of the Kim family, who live at the bottom rung of Korean society and try to connive their way out of poverty. The film stars Song Kang-ho as father Ki-taek, Jang Hye-jin as mother Chung-sook, Choi Woo-shik as son Ki-woo and Park So-dam as daugher Ki-jong.

Parasite is an exquisitely crafted film that, although it is in Korean with English subtitles, speaks as eloquently and insighftully about the perils of American capitalism and the growing resentment and rage born out of astronomical wealth disparity, as any film in recent memory. In this way Parasite is reminiscent of last year’s Shoplifters and this year’s big movie Joker. All three of these movies tap into the pulsating dissatisfaction of the working poor who are being left further and further behind, and growing angrier and angrier about it, with every passing day.

Whenever certain themes recur in films that capture either the critical or commercial imagination (or both), my antenna stand on end because as my studies have shown, cinema can be prophecy, and these films are red flags as to what is percolating just beneath the surface in the collective sub-conscious. One look around America, and the world, gives credance to the theory that these films, all of which give voice to the emotional pull of populist uprisings, are trying to warn us of what lies ahead.

Parasite is a brilliant examination of the frustration and fury that accompanies being at the bottom of the social rung in a corrupt and rigged capitalist system. The only way to get ahead and get out of the prison of debt, and it is a prison, is to lie, scheme and cheat. If that means throwing other poor people under the bus, then so be it.

Director Bong Joon-ho has tapped into these ideas of class struggle before, most notably in his film Snowpiercer (which starred Chris Evans aka Captain America), which was a remarkably innovative and original film. Bong’s class consciousness in both Parasite and Snowpiercer is fueled by anger and fear… namely, fear for what will result when the anger from below is righteously unleashed upon those at the top when the house of cards crumbles. Bong, either consciously or unconsciously, understands that the current world order sits atop a super volcano that is growing more and more unstable and combustible, and his film’s reflect the emotional and political fragility of our time.

In Parasite, the poor are vermin, roaches, who are either being pissed on or drowned, as poverty is a deluge that imposes upon them indignity after indignity until it suffocates them. The poor are forced to stay in their place and warned not to “cross the line” into familiarity with the rich. The prison of poverty has walls, both real and imagined, that are impenetrable…even when you repeatedly bang your head against them…like Arthur Fleck does in Joker (wink).

The rich family in Parasite, the Parks, are the picture of decadence, detached from the ability to see the poor as even human. The Parks are repulsed by the poor, who they see as more akin to animals than people, as evidenced by their disgust at the literal smell of poverty. The Park’s revulsion at the poor does not stop them from fetishizing poverty, much like Americans fetishize Native Americans but make sure they stay on the reservation (wink)…just one more way for the rich to exploit the poor for their personal gain.

Parasite’s politics and psychology are as insightful as its drama is enrapturing. The film never shies from the difficult or the desperate, nor does it wallow in it. Instead Bong Joon-ho has made a socially relevant, dramatically explosive film that is deliriously entertaining in every single way.

Bong’s direction of Paradise is fantastic, as the film’s dramatic and physical geometry is spectacular. His use of straight lines, differing levels (symbolic of class status) and long journeys upward and downward (very similar to Joker, where Arthur Fleck makes those trudging journeys up the long flight of stairs, and the victorious dance down it) is proof of a master craftsman and artist at work.

Bong’s ability to meld together comedy, suspense, elements of thriller, as well as social commentary is extraordinary. I never knew what was coming next in Paradise and was always surprised, sometimes shocked and never disappointed.

The cast of Paradise are outstanding. Song Kang-ho in particular gives a dynamic performance that is consistently rich and layered. And both Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam do stellar work that is both magnetic and subtle. Park in particular has a charm and presence about her that is intriguing and compelling.

Parasite is one of the very best film’s of the year and most certainly will garner an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Picture, if not a win, and may even sneak in a Best Picture nod. The film is expertly made, wonderfully acted, politically prescient and dramatically potent, for these reasons, Parasite is required viewing for cinephiles and regular folk alike. My recommendation is to go as quickly as you can to the art house and see Parasite…it is that good. And after that, head to the cineplex to see Joker…again, and then when you get home watch Shoplifters (I see it is now available on the streaming service HULU)…because they are that good too. If you want to know what is coming for America and the world, and why, go watch those three movies. But make sure you go see Parasite as quickly as you can…it is truly a fantastic film and well worth you time and money.

©2019

Roma: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW. A directorial tour de force and utter masterpiece from Alfonso Cuaron.

Roma, written, directed, shot and edited by Alfonso Cuaron, is the story of Cleo, an indigenous young woman who works as a live-in maid for a middle-class Mexican family in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood in the 1970’s. The film stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in her first acting role.

2018 has not been a good year for movies, and as the final days of the year quickly fall away the chances of a cinematic redemption have grown ever more bleak. But sometimes a Christmas miracle occurs and a movie comes along that reminds us why God invented cinema in the first place…Roma is that movie. Simply said, Roma is a stunningly beautiful, staggeringly well-crafted masterpiece.

Director Alfonso Cuaron has made some very good movies in his time, the most notable of which were Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and Gravity (2013), for which he won the Best Director Oscar. My personal favorite of Cuaron’s movies is the under appreciated Children of Men (2006), which I thought was magnificent but was maybe a little too dark and too existential for audiences and Oscar voters to embrace. Cuaron’s filmography is a testament to his storytelling ability and his dedication to craft, which brings us to Roma…and in the case of Alfonso Cuaron, all roads lead to Roma.

Auteur Cuaron puts on a remarkable directorial and cinematographic tour de force with Roma. Cuaron’s direction is intimate, intricate and impeccable and creates an immersive cinematic experience that is so sublime as to be hypnotic. Cuaron’s artistic visual prowess is on full display from the very first shot of the film, which is cinematically glorious in every way, and only grows from there.

Cuaron shoots the entire movie in black and white and intermittently uses a slowly panning camera which at times goes a full 360 degrees, to masterfully tell the story of Roma with moving pictures instead of words. Cuaron’s camera movement, framing, choreography and blocking are absolutely exquisite, and are the work of a true master. In fact, you could watch Roma with the subtitles off, and if you don’t speak Spanish or Mixtec you would still have an equally profound cinematic experience. There are so many visual sequences in Roma that are so breathtaking, and dramatic scenes so gut-wrenching, that viewers are left in a cinematic stupor when it is all over.

Cuaron’s use of black and white and his complete mastery of craft are reminiscent of another great auteur’s seminal work, Martin Scorsese and his 1980 classic Raging Bull. While the story’s of Raging Bull and Roma are very different, the artistry and craftsmanship that brought them to life and propelled their narratives are very similar.

Roma is a perfect stylistic combination of realism and formalism, where the viewer is shown a realistic slice of life in Mexico City in 1970 but one that is littered with mythic and political symbolism. Everything in Roma is intentional and deliberate, filled with deeper meaning and symbolic significance.

Water opens the film and plays a vital symbolic role throughout, signifying transitions and/or baptisms and rebirths. The symbolism of dogs (and their shit) rears its head…literally…and carries with it the symbolism of status and social hierarchy throughout the film. Planes, (symbolic of higher planes of spiritual existence), containers such as eggs and cups (symbolic of the womb-the container of the life force) along with natural disasters (symbolic of God/Fate/Destiny) and social unrest (symbolic of the political as the personal) are all used throughout the movie to great affect. These rich symbols are hiding in plain sight in Roma, but their deeper mythic and archetypal meaning is pulsating just beneath the mask of Mexico City’s middle-class mundanity.

Roma is the story of one drop of water lost in the meaningful, yet mystical and mysterious, Sea of Life. It is a detailed glimpse of the specifics of one woman’s life, where tedious work is transformed into transcendent ritual and the minute and mundane into spiritual magnificence.

Roma’s politics are both personal and profound, as class and social hierarchy are at the fore of the story, and speak to the scourge of income inequality and the enormous disparity of wealth across the globe and the angry populists sentiments rising in reaction to it. The reason viewers so quickly project themselves onto Cleo is because so many of us are in her shoes in one way or another, under the boot of someone higher up the social/economic class totem pole. Cleo is all of us, exploited and degraded by those who consider themselves our superiors and who look down upon us from tony, Ivy League, Washington, Wall Street, Media, Hollywood perches. Cleo’s struggles are our struggles, in one form or another, and as elites across the globe have been slow to discover, that struggle is quickly becoming conscious and growing very sharp and lethal teeth.

Cuaron’s skillful direction is not limited to just his camera work, as he coaxes an astounding performance from first time actress Yolitza Aparicio. Ms. Aparicio is staggeringly good as Cleo, creating a grounded and genuine character that is part sherpa and part lama, whom the audience is instantly drawn to and sympathetic towards. Aparicio is so comfortable on camera that it appears she isn’t acting at all, and while this may be a case of a person just being perfect for a specific role, that does not diminish her incredible work in Roma. There are so many scenes where Ms. Aparicio has to do so much in regards to blocking and specific “business” and has to do them all with perfect timing and in synchronicity with very detailed camera moves, that it is just remarkable she is able to pull it off. I can tell you with first hand, recent experience with some famous actors, that Ms. Apricio’s skill in regards to doing this is very, very uncommon, and extremely beneficial to a director. Ms. Aparicio isn’t painting by numbers as Cleo either, she brings a potent and palpable emotional vitality to the role that is so compelling it drives the entire film.

In conclusion, Roma is a monumental and magnificent masterpiece that is a film for our times and of our times. It is one of those films that restores my faith in the art form and reminds me of why cinema exists in the first place and why I love it so much. I am hesitant to write too much about the film because I don’t want to spoil it, but just know this…I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go see Roma. If you can see it in the theatre, do so to swim in the lush and immaculate waters of Cuaron’s cinematography on the big screen, but if not, watch it on Netflix (it is available now). I don’t care where you see it, just see it, and bask in the glow of Alfonso Cuaron’s talent and skill, because with Roma, he is currently at the height of his glorious cinematic powers.

©2018