Category Archives: A+

Review: Parasite

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I’ve never seen a movie by Bong Joon-ho before I saw Parasite, and if any of them are even remotely close to the cinematic masterpiece that I witnessed, I’m definitely going to have to check them out. If you can’t guess already, I absolutely adored every second of this movie and couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. This is probably the best class consciousness movie I’ve ever seen and I’m already ready to watch it all over again.

The movie follows the Kim family – a group of incredibly skilled and intelligent scam artists. Because the family is poor and lives in an incredibly impoverished location, they each have to make full use of their wits in order to cling to their lives. The movie really gets started once the son, Ki Woo (Choi Woo-shik) infiltrates a rich family and slowly helps his own family infiltrate and take from his rich clientele. However, unlike the traditional rich evil character type we’re used to, the main “antagonists” of the film seem fairly normal and even nice at times. There are moments, especially closer to the third act where you can get why the main characters don’t like them as much, but they’re never overbearing. The best part? The characters don’t know their counterparts are actually nuanced and distinct from the archetypes they have formed in their head. As a result, interactions between the groups are comedic and thought provoking. The juxtaposition of the smart and poor with the rich, non-malicious, but ignorant creates this wonderful interplay of previously unseen class interactions. There are a lot of moments that forced me to recognize certain moments in my own life and unpack the assumptions and biases I had. Expectations are subverted , but it never feels like it’s done for no reason. It all calculated, but comes off as natural.

As a result, the movie can be funny when it wants and serious when it needs to be. Jokes hit well because of the way expectations are set up. There are always good punch lines but what elevates them to the next level is their thematic significance. After finishing the movie, I knew I had to watch the movie again to see how the earlier jokes figured into the way things unraveled.

The movie also shines on a technical level. Camera work is off the charts. There are gorgeous shots of the characters traversing treks of the city. These moments help to drive home the social positions of different character groups. The impoverished are geographically positioned lower compared to the rich who are placed higher. Pan and tilt shots are expertly used to amplify this feeling. The score naturally flows and accompanies the different sections In particular, the more epic musical tracks helped sell the tension in a lot of the latter parts of the film. The architecture of the house the majority of the action takes place in is also beautiful. The layout of it helped reinforce themes while providing eye candy. It’s relation to the sun and other sources of light was also something I wasn’t expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. All these elements always help reinforce one another making the whole experience feel more textured.

This is a film I think almost any one can relate to because it is fundamentally a story of a family’s struggle to survive under capitalism. Though the first part of the movie is more lighthearted, the movie never takes the characters predicaments lightly. Any possible mistake can risk upending everything. That’s the real beauty of the movie. We actually end up cheering for a group of con-artists swindling a naive wealthy family. Whenever something felt like it was going to fall apart, I felt genuinely scared, because I cared for and wanted everything to go well for the Kims. I could see large swaths of my life in theirs, and I think a lot of people will feel the same way. That’s why the tale never feels long or unbelievable. Take away the names and location and suddenly you have the tale of billions of people around the planet. That’s powerful.

Rating

TLDR: Parasite is a masterclass film. Every element from the story to set design helps sell a thought-provoking and bold story about class consciousness and the human condition.

Final Rating: 10/10. If you’ve ever felt like the world has had it out for you then you owe it to yourself to watch this cinematic masterpiece. It might be one of the most relatable and human pieces of art I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Ringu

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To celebrate the end of Halloween and my 2019 Movie Marathon, I decided to close off with one of the most important horror movies to me, on a more personal and nostalgic level. When I saw that Arrow was releasing a Blu-ray restoration of this 1998 classic, I had to buy it and after watching it, I can say that it was worth each every penny. Everything looks crisp and serene and only made the impact of each and every scene more evocative.

Hideo Nakata’s direction and Hiroshi Takahashi’s screenplay serve to make their adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s original book, Ring, more mysterious and eerie. For those of you not familiar with the general plot, the movie follow a Reiko, a reporter researching a story about a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it within 7 days. As her investigation continues, she uncovers some disturbing facts, and has to race against time to figure out how to stop the curse.

This film is a great slow burn. The first scene drops the audience in the moment, immediately drawing them into the lore. The lighting in the scene sets the tone- an eerie one at that. As the scene progress, the tension grows, and even upon the end, the lack of resolution and presence of ambiguity kept me on edge. That’s something that’s true of most of the movie. It stays creepy. There’s something that doesn’t feel right as you watch it and on more than one occasion I turned around to look behind my shoulder.

The use of sound makes the journey to certain realizations more dramatic and unsettling. Large portions of the film are in silence, so it feels like anything can drop out. But then when there’s a fearful affect around, the music turns to match that. It never feels cheesy or over the top.

On top of this, the film never uses sound for jump scares. Every scare is “natural”. You see something unnerving on the screen and that’s that. You’re forced to process the phenomena and make sense of it. This helped keep the movie realistic, which is it’s strongest selling point. The characters act urgently because they only have so long to resolve the curse. It’s like a bomb scene in an action movie- but scarier because it’s unknown which neutralizes the normal certainty we have that the problem will actually get resolved. This in conjunction with how nuanced and fleshed out the character interactions are makes us actually care for what’s going on to everyone so their race becomes that much more tense.

One of my favorite parts about the movie is how subtle it is. A lot of dialogue scenes are shot with all relevant characters in frame. I’m used to the over the shoulder dialogue shot or the screen cutting between two characters and the film does do that, but it does so more sparingly. The focus is always on showing the characters interacting with each other. The way they position or respond to each other. A lot of the relationships between characters are never explicitly stated until past the half-way mark of the movie, but, because of excellent direction and writing, they feel rich and reveal a lot. As the film kept going on, I felt like I kept having an epiphany about how something else had just made sense- like a series of light-bulbs were going off – and it made the whole experience thematically more resonant to me.

I only have a few minor complaints about the movie. Because the movie doesn’t adapt the backstory of the book, there’s a ton of mystery and ambiguity regarding the reason for why things are happening. This is fine, and as evidenced by my reviews (ex: The Lighthouse) , I actually love that. However, in the case of this movie, the unresolved issues feel more important to resolve certain thematic points. There are hints at them throughout the film, but they don’t add up enough for my liking. There’s also a lot of exposition in the movie from Ryuji. I know there’s a lot that needs to be explained, but later scenes in the film proved that Nakata had creative ways to do the same, so I wish he did more of that.

Rating

TLDR: Ringu is provocative, beautiful, and eerie. Even after having seen the movie multiple times, I’m scared of my T.V. after a late night viewing.

Final Rating: 9.7/10. One of the best horror movies. If you like psychological films or like horror movies that use subtle well-crafted scares, this film is the best.

This review is also part of the Ring series- spoiler analysis will be posted in a longer article at a later point.


Review: The Lighthouse

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Wow.

I’ve been excited for The Lighthouse since it’s release at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. Robert Egger’s previous 2015 work, The Witch, is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade so describing my state of mind as excited might actually be putting it a tad lightly. After watching the movie, I’m happy to say the movie not only delivered, but exceeded expectations. Bravo.

The plot follows Epharim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) , a young man who’s sent out to join and work under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as a wickie. From the start of the movie we can see friction between our two main leads. Pattinson is reserved and wants to keep to himself. Dafoe on the other hand is a authoritative, talkative, alcoholic who constantly seeks to get Pattinson to open up and join along. The rest of the plot is just the ensuing dialogue and the results of staying on an isolated island. Despite this, there was not a single moment I was bored or uninterested with what was going on. Every interaction, every visual, every little outburst kept my attention glued to the screen.

The movie constantly plays with your emotions . One moment might be ripe with violence and cause you to feel tense about what’s going to happen. Immediately, a humorous scene will follow creating a perverse laughter. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen next which makes every moment feel like an experimental must watch. This is fueled by both the respective leads phenomenal acting. Pattinson goes through a wide range of emotion and watching his development from an aloft and quite wickie, to a man losing his sense of self and sanity is a treat. Dafoe is a perfect compliment to Pattinson and conveys a mythical authoritative figure while simultaneously taking pleasure in farting/fart jokes. Yes you read that right- the film even has fart jokes. I’ll take “Setups I’d never see in a horror movie” for 500, Alex. Once certain twists and reveals are set up, the film becomes even more nuanced and allows for different and nuanced takes from the audience. You could watch this with a group of friends and everyone could take something different from the plot.

Aesthetically the movie shoots everything out of the ballpark. Camera movement is fluid and never draws outward attention. Instead, it almost feels like it operates seamlessly in the background. Pan and tilt shots move geographically through the lighthouse, but based on twists in the movie might indicate something else entirely. The black and white nature of the movie makes the extreme shadows and radiance of the actual lighthouse that much more bright. It helps amplify the difference between them but also makes the film feel like it was filmed in the late 1890’s early 1900’s. Mark Korven’s score is also precise- it’s bombastic and loud when it needs to be, but it also plays a subtle calming role in other scenes. It only ever accentuates and never feels out of place.

Rating

TLDR: The Lighthouse is a beautiful, wholly original piece that’ll have you asking what’s real and what’s going on for a lot of it’s run time. It has fun with itself and it’s ambiguous and mystical nature lends it to multiple interpretations post viewing.

Final Rating: 10/10. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2019. Eggers beautifully merges horror, comedy, and psychological introspection and delivers it in an aesthetically rich package. If you want to see one of the years best, or enjoy psychological movies that play with reality/religious mythos this movie is right up your alley.

There’s no spoiler section- I’ll be posting a more full analysis and a discussion of the movie with friends at later times.

Review: Jaws

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The moment Jaws starts and we’re treated to John Williams dramatic and tension laced theme music, I knew I was in for a suspenseful ride. Steven Spielberg’s deceptively simple creature-feature, follows Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Quint (Robert Shaw), and Matt (Richard Dreyfuss) as they go on a journey to capture a ravenous great white terrorizing Amity island.

Like I said earlier, the music in the movie is immaculate. Whenever the theme starts and we’re treated to the underwater camera shots of people dangling in the water, I felt a sense of dread. The music keeps the tension up and constantly kept me on edge. The best part however, was how varied the sound was during the entire film. The scary parts are filled with tension but there are adventurous and joyous sections that introduce some much needed levity in the movie. This helps keep each scary moment fresh and surprising.

Spielberg went through great lengths to build up each of the characters. Chief Brody is a man of the law who wants to do the right thing but is tied down by the bureaucratic rules of Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton). He’s beholden to the executive’s control and as such innocent people end up suffering. Matt is like the technocratic elite. He’s rich, fully reliant on brand new technology, and is sure of his own thoughts. Quint is a working class man- eccentric and stuck in his ways. The characters and their motivations are written in a complex and nuanced way and allow for multiple readings. As their interactions play out, we can see how their ideological views impact their solutions to the situation. However, the biggest impact of this well written character development, is that it makes the horrifying scenes more emotionally resonant, because I grew to actually enjoy the characters and wanted them to survive.

I was scared for most of the movie. The moment I saw the first gruesome shark kill and the remains of the body, I felt scared every time I saw a character enter the water. Nobody ever feels safe and anytime someone was in the water I immediately started shaking as the all too familiar theme started playing in the background. Because the shark isn’t shown that often it never feels fake. Even though this movie is over 4 decades old it feels realistic and believable. The blood and gore is gruesome and made my stomach churn as I saw it. It’s used sparingly and to great effect.

Rating

TLDR: Jaws is a great multi-genre horror film that tackles deep and complex issues through wonderfully written characters and well timed suspenseful scares. Though the movie was over 2 hours long I didn’t feel it’s length and was enthralled for the entirety of the run time.

Final Rating: 10/10. I’m scared of going into the ocean now which means the movie did more than a good job of terrifying me. If you like adventures, thrillers, or creature features then you need to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Candyman (1992)

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As a child nothing scared me more than “Bloody Mary.” I was only in elementary school when I heard the tale, and the “true stories” of the awful bloody things that happened to their second-cousins-brother’s friend (you know what I’m talking about) , and I promised myself I would never play the game. Even now as an adult, I respect that oath out of the fear of what could happen. After watching Bernard Rose’s supernatural-slasher, Candyman, I have one more name to add to the list of names never to utter in front of any mirror.

The story follows a pair of graduate students, Helen (Virginia Madsen) and Bernie (Kasi Lemmons) as they write their thesis on urban myths. As luck would have it, the Cabrini-Green housing project near them , has experienced a death, supposedly at the hands of the urban myth, Candyman. A murder and a community believing in that the murder was caused by a spirit? That sounds like the perfect location for students writing about urban myths and Helen quickly springs into action learning all about Candyman. Like Mary, he can be summoned by anyone who chants his name 5 times in front of a mirror. Upon being summoned he will brutally eviscerate the one who dared to summon him. Helen, being a firm non-believer, treats the rumor as a myth and proceeds through with the ritual. What follows is a tightly knit tale about gender, race, gentrification, and the mystical nature of belief.

What helps the story work is how real it feels. The community at Cabrini-Green aren’t caricatures of our worst fears of what the “hood” is. They’re heterogeneous and breathe life into a community that gets demonized, not only in the movie, but in real life as well. The shocking reality of social imbalances set in, and the way that characters react and approach different situations highlights those fears. When the cleaning ladies talk about how Ruthie Jean called the police twice about someone coming for her she gets ignored. It’s palpable and reveals just how warped the system has become. Violence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a community when they’re arbitrarily relegated to the periphery for no other reason than their skin color.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of Helen, a young white women, and Bernie, a young black women going into a black community was magnificent. They respond to different scenarios in ways to highlight not only character differences, but also social differences. When they enter the downtrodden community, Helen’s primary concern is finding information about the myth, while Bernie scared for her life. The whole way their first interaction plays out during this act only amplifies the way their positions change the way they think about themselves and what can/cannot happen to them. This becomes even more interesting when Helen goes through multiple revelations that complicate her relation to both the community and the legend of Candyman.

Speaking of Helen, Virginia’s performance is nuanced and emotionally resounding. The long reaction shots on her eyes help convey the depth of her emotional state. She goes from confident, to resourceful, to mystified, to paranoid, and so on. At no point do any of these shifts feel out of place or odd. They all feel authentic and make emotional beats in the story feel that much more poignant. After doing some background reading, I appreciated the extra effort she put in. For certain scenes, she actually let herself get hypnotized so that she would look dazed and mystified. Although, after witnessing Tony Todd’s performance as Candyman, and hearing his authoritative but hypnotic voice, I could see how someone could be entranced by him. But make no mistake, he is sinister.

The film is also shot well. The use of long pan transition shots makes the dread feel like it’s moving along. But the most interesting thing the movie does is insert stills constantly. Iconic images from the movie appear at key moments. They don’t feel intrusive, but are provocative and help foreshadow the meaning and metaphysical positions of key characters.

Rating

TLDR: Candyman, is a well-woven tale that analyzes multiple pressing social issues without ever feeling preachy or patronizing. It’s provocative and aesthetically haunting.

Final Rating: 10/10. Anyone who wants to experience a beautiful commentary on social positions/issues while also being scary, in a more visceral way should watch this movie. It’s a masterpiece.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: 28 Days Later

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Zombies- check.
Misanthropy- check.
Examination of alienation – check.
Awesome music – double check.

Danny Boyle’s science-fiction zombie film, 28 Days Later, checks off all the necessities of a great movie, adds on a great deal of nuance and criticism, and wraps all of that in a beautifully shot and scored piece. The story follows Jim (Cilian Murphy) as he wakes up 28 days after a terrifying “rage” virus has spread and destroyed most of England. He eventually meets up with and forms a rag-tag team with other survivors as they struggle to find a way out of the living hell they find themselves in.

I knew I was in for a cinematic treat just based off of the parallels in the opening scene of the movie, and the opening scene on Jim. We start off looking at a monkey, tied up to a series of wires, being forced to take in violent awful media. When Jim wakes up, he’s also covered in wires on a hospital bed causing an immediate association between him and the primate. It beautifully foreshadows his journey as he’s forced to view and deal with gruesome and morbid scenes of violence. It also raises one of the films main thematic questions- what is humanity and how is it different than animality? Based on this opening scene it might be that humans and animals aren’t so different after all. The feeling never really goes away and the film constantly plays with it.

Every camera shot has a purpose in this movie and I was constantly kept off balance by their variation in use. The use of a gritty realistic recording makes the setting feel grounded and haunting. A darker color scheme is used for most of the film so when lighter ones are front and center, it feels intentional. It serves as a visual and thematic pallet cleanser, which for the most part, keeps the movie fresh and invites deeper answers to the questions being posited.

The frequent use of angled shots highlight the upturned nature of the world around them. Any semblance of the social order that they know of is gone. There are a lot of wide open shots that make the characters feel puny in comparison. They feel like ants- showcasing not only our groups’ alienation, but also questioning the general place of humanity in relation to the planet at large. The quick panicked shots when the zombies come in is also jarring and was frightening each time it was used. The zombies being as fast as they were only made the effects more pronounced.

Speaking of that, I love how fast the zombies were. They’re aggressive killing machines and present a real sense of urgency. The film ensures we know of that by having an incredibly tense and shocking zombie/reaction scene out of nowhere, highlighting the absurdity of it- a mistake at any point, even a small one could be deadly. Even a small speck of blood end our protagonists, so every zombie encounter becomes even worse- we’re constantly on the lookout for blood and cadavers because those present as much of a threat as the zombies themselves.

Because the zombies were so threatening I expected them to be the highlight of the film, driving the main source of tension. But the film spends a large chunk of time developing our group. They really do feel like a family, and some of the character moments in the second act are well realized. They help flesh out the characters without feeling out of place with what we’ve learned about everyone earlier.

John Murphy’s sound makes all of the above elements even better than they would be otherwise. He uses music to precisely accentuate the emotional undercurrent of the scene. The music is never just there for the sake of being there. For example, during one scene in the first act, a soft song plays in the background as the characters explore a certain area, but upon the discovery of a deceased couple, the music cuts out. Instead, the audience is left with silence- highlighting the somber and tragic nature of the scene, before the song comes back in- snapping us, and the character who discovered the scene back to real life. Furthermore, “In the House, In a Heartbeat”, is one of the the best horror/theme tracks I’ve ever heard and its use in the third act was chilling.

The ending of the movie feels rushed and thematically inconsistent, even if I personally thought it was a pleasant change of pace from what I expected. Certain character arcs feel like they come out of left field, but are still beautiful symbolically and thematically. The issue is that after setting up a series of expectations that would allow for the rushed characterization to feel symbolically meaningful, the film directly sidesteps what it just did in favor of something else. The end result, is a surprising ending that a lot of people might find unsatisfying. Personally, I liked it and I’ll get into that in the spoiler section, but I’m definitely going to look at the alternative endings to see if they change my view of the movie at all.

Rating

TLDR: 28 Days Later, is a rich and tense zombie film that’ll have you asking questions about the depraved extents we go to survive. Thought it falters in the ending, it is tense and filled with a sense of isolation that lasts until the very last scene.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. This is the scariest zombie movie I’ve seen. Watch if you enjoy tense and well-paced action scenes, examinations/criticisms of anthropocentrism, or want to watch a beautifully shot and scored work of art.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Nosferatu

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F.W. Murnau’s vampire piece, Nosferatu, is the first silent film I’ve ever seen and left quite an impression on me. The film, an illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, follows the same basic narrative with some changes in an attempt to avoid litigation. We follow Thomas Hutter( Gustav von Wangeheim), a real estate agent, who treks on to Transylvania, to complete a deal with the infamous, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). What follows is an artistic take on the human response to fear and our attempt to deal with those bumps in the night.

Visual design here is impeccable. The Count looks terrifying with his extended fingernails and shocking facial appearance. He radiates an intimidating sense of dread. His reactions and movements are animalistic- unnatural and evocative. When the camera focuses on Shreck’s face, it’s almost as if the Count is staring straight into the depths of our soul. His portrayal throughout the film is haunting and truly represents a terror unbound.

What makes Orlok so mesmerizing is his symbolic representation. Whenever he’s mentioned or shown , it’s in reference to rats and the plague. He is somehow more than just a vampire- he’s fear itself. The silent nature of the movie only amplifies this. Because the film has no dialogue, the characters are almost forced into a sense of helplessness- they can’t speak to the horror so instead the actors/actresses have to convey the feeling of dread through immaculate reactions. In particular, Greta Shroder’s portrayal of Ellen Hutter is heartfelt and disturbing. Seeing her reaction to the Count emphasizes the immensity of what he actually is.

Lighting is also used well, not only to indicate the passage of time, but to reinforce themes. Night is associated with Orlok- emphasizing our instinctive fear of the dark with the realm of the Nosferatu. Light is primarily associated with Ellen, highlighting her strange relation with the Count and serving as a beautiful example of foreshadowing.

The film should be viewed in mind of what was being attempted. No, it’s not scary in a traditional way. You won’t jump away in fright at Orlok and the acting might seem exaggerated, especially compared to films right now. Personally, some moments felt funnier to me. Having to read read highly stylized font also presented a unique set of challenges (pausing and squinting my eyes). But if you can get past those small hurdles and view the movie as a more abstract take on human emotion and our responses to fear and the unknown, you’ll walk away feeling haunted.

Rating

TLDR: Nosferatu, is a mesmerizing and artistic take on fear and our response to the same. Great set design combined with just the right acting evokes a haunting presence.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. If you like German Expressionism, want to see an artistic and pure take on Dracula, or enjoy vampire movies check this one out. To anyone who enjoys film as an art form, this is definitely something you would appreciate.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!