Review: Parasite

Screening until Thursday 27th February.

Bong Joon Ho’s chilling satirical masterpiece addresses the age old theme of social class. Much like Bong Joon Ho’s previous work, Snowpiecer (2013), the question of why some people are seen as “lower” and some people are seen as “higher” class is asked. The film also explores what we have to sacrifice to change social classes under a capitalist system.

The narrative follows the Kims, a poor family who con their way into becoming the servants of a rich family, the Parks. Their easy life gets complicated when their deception is threatened with exposure. What follows is a fascinating spectacle which is sometimes operatic in nature and a sad reflection of modern life. Although it is all set in South Korea, the story works so well because it is universal and could have been set practically anywhere. It could be argued that there are no villains in the film, just people; however, it is anything but a soap opera. It is a commentary on the human condition. Nothing is black and white, just shades of grey.

Parasite offers a way of seeing the world which feels unlike anything most Western audiences have seen before. However, there are still some films which it does bear some stylistic similarities to. Hitchcock comes to mind with films such as Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).

There is also a twist in the tail which does feel slightly Hitchcockian. I could also see traces of films with a more biblical and spiritual quality to them such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999).

The acting was convincing throughout with stand out performances from Kang-ho Song and Sun-kyun Lee which puts the audience on edge. The spider-like way Bong Joon Ho directed his cast to move added to the sense of uneasiness.

The writing is spot on with some razor sharp wit which, combined with the direction, made for some side-splitting moments. However as a contrast to the more humorous points in the film, there are moments of real sadness and pain. The contrasts beautifully represent life, because what is life if not a series of contrasts?


Sam Judd

On The Road: New Indies

From this weekend, the first official On the Road screenings are set to begin – with the first films showing at Leeds University Union’s Pyramid Theatre. The NEW INDIES strand, kicks off with two screenings of the gripping new documentary Midnight Traveller. Winner of Sheffield DocFest’s Grand Jury Award, this remarkable film follows a family’s epic flight from persecution.

Also playing at the Union this Sunday is the brilliant coming-of-age drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, showing as part of LGBTQ History Month. And animation fans are in for a treat on Monday, with Makoto Shinkai’s romantic, visually dazzling follow-up to Your NameWeathering With You.

The NEW INDIES screenings at Leeds University Union are open to absolutely everyone, and are only a 10min walk from the cinema. There’s a 2-4-1 ticket offer for both screenings of Midnight Traveller – this Sunday (3.30pm) & Monday (6.30pm). Simply enter the promo code MIDNIGHT2020 when selecting your tickets on the website to receive the offer – or let staff know when buying on the door.

SUNDAY 16
3.30pm: NEW INDIES at LUU | Midnight Traveller (15)
6.00pm: NEW INDIES at LUU | The Miseducation of Cameron Post (15)

MONDAY 17
6.30pm: NEW INDIES at LUU | Midnight Traveller (15)
8.30pm: NEW INDIES at LUU | Weathering With You (12A)

The Lighthouse

Screening multiple times daily until Thursday 13th February

Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers offers a mixture of a fantasy horror film and a turbulent sequence of potentially iconic imagery in The Lighthouse.

The narrow, nearly square framing of the film reflects the claustrophobia of Robert Pattinson’s 4 week shift as wickie, Ephrain Wilnslow, on a secluded lighthouse island, under Willem Defoes’ tyrannical lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wake. 

Given the impressive cinematography, this is recommended for big screen viewing for an immersive experience. However, after an hour of being visually delighted, the chaos sequences become, well, chaotic, and the stunning imagery fails to make up for the lack of narrative. 

Unable to understand Defoe apart from some of his more bombastic Shakespearean speeches, it isn’t possible to determine if the character is much more than a generic Jaws’ Quint “type” than a whole character to invest in.  It feels like watching a sinister, parallel Craggy Island, where Father Jack has been left alone for too long.  As Wake himself says, “Thirteen Christmases at sea. Little ones at home. She never forgave it”. Maybe it is Mrs Doyle who left.

The black and white format illuminates the Brando-esque angles Pattinson’s face, with his characters’ descent into a madman masturbating over a mermaid scrimshaw whilst obsessing over the lighthouse summit is at times, an unsettling watch and the more notable of the two lead performances.

A pessimistic view of the plot is a pair of depraved drunks, unable to cope with the isolation of lighthouse life, descending into mutual insanity. With farting, masturbating, and some disappointingly obvious metaphors, all wrapped up in a black and white format.  There is a sense that the film aims to be conspicuously arthouse, especially in the final scene.

The Lighthouse is a memorable film, that will no doubt be rated as significant by film buffs and art students. 

Review: 1917

Sam Mendes’ brilliant war epic, 1917, shows us the horrors which so many young men went through in the darkest days of the First World War. It also hints at the rare melancholic beauty of war, with scenes such as a soldier singing the American folk song (The Wayfairing Stranger) as his brothers in arms sit around him listening with intent. The way Mendes masterfully presents the contrasts of war to us signifies a director on the top of his game.

The plot is relatively simple and is loosely based on stories from Sam Mendes’ grandfather’s own experiences of the First World War.  Two soldiers, superbly played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, are assigned to deliver a message behind enemy lines. It will stop 1,600 men, including one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap. The film puts you in mind of Saving Private Ryan (1998) and the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001), and even Peter Jackson’s First World War documentary They Shall Not Grow Old (2018). However none of them delivers the sense of urgency and hopelessness which 1917 exudes.

Interestingly, the film is told in real time through a sequence of long takes. Mendes isn’t new to the one shot idea, as shown in the opening sequence to 2015’s Spectre, but he has never done it for a whole feature length film before. While there are masks and cuts if you look hard enough, this does not subtract from the feeling of urgency at all, in fact it heightens it. There are other films that play with the one shot formal such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Victoria (2015) that arguably deal with relationships and characters more effectively. Technically, however, 1917 is something quite unique. What makes it remarkable is the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins, who creates a beautiful ballet with the camera, putting the audience into the shoes of the soldiers. This technique can get a bit distracting at points, nonetheless it generates images and emotions which you wouldn’t be able to achieve with multiple shots. For example, there is one shot where one of the characters is running through some ruins while flares go up all around him. In this sequence the lighting and camera work combine to make something truly breathtaking, and is the stuff that dreams (or nightmares) are made of. 

The film is carried throughout by its two leads. Both Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are utterly mesmerising, and MacKay in particular gives a performance of a career, and is completely believable in the role. It is a wonder why neither of them were nominated at this year’s Oscars.  There are also numerous big name actors who appear in minor roles throughout the film, such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong, but they just act as seasoning which punctuates the overall narrative. That is not to disregard their contribution; Andrew Scott gives a perfectly dry and callous performance as a cynical Lieutenant, while Colin Firth gives a solid matter of fact performance as General Erinmore. It is all credit to the filmmakers’ ingenuity for not making these cameos feel out of place or unduly dominate their respective scenes.

The tale of love, loyalty and friendship that Mendes presents to us is something which everyone should bear witness to. It acts as a reminder of what those brave young men sacrificed.  1917 is worthy of all the praise given to it. 

There are a few more screenings of 1917 at Hyde Park Picture House this week.


Sam Judd

Jojo Rabbit

Showing daily from Friday 17th January

As kids, many of us had invisible friends drawn from our heroes or storybook characters. Jojo’s invisible friend is Hitler.

Jojo is a boy who’s been indoctrinated; he’s 10 and a member of the Hitler Youth. He likes marching, he likes uniforms and he likes the camaraderie of an extra-militaristic version of Scout camp. Taika Waititi plays Hitler as seen through Jojo’s eyes – a camp and paunchy, child friendly version of the dictator who acts as a confidant and sounding board for Jojo’s thoughts and fears.

After leaving the Hitler Youth through injury, Jojo finds other ways to get stuck in to the war effort, collecting scrap metal and sticking up posters. Away from the marching and training, without any adult supervision he’s left to his own devices, playing with Hitler and exploring the house he shares with his mysteriously busy single mother. Upstairs she’s kept a secret and Jojo’s discovery of Elsa, a Jewish girl hidden in an attic room throws his devotion to the Nazi cause into disarray.

If you’ve seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) or What We Do In The Shadows (2014), Waititi’s off-kilter silliness will be no surprise. In Jojo Rabbit, he handles the heavy themes delicately with on-brand bursts of humour and irreverence that bring levity without ever quite tipping into disrespect. The casting throughout is incredible; Jojo is Roman Griffin Davis’ first role, his mother is played by Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell is the one-eyed Hitler Youth Co-ordinator Captain Klenzendorf. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant appear as improbable supporting Nazis.

Jojo Rabbit has been nominated for Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. Scarlett Johansson has been nominated for best supporting actress and four more nominations (for best adapted screenplay, film editing, costume design and production design) bring the total to 6. It’s not just the big awards; audience reception has been rapturous and in 2019 the film won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival and the Audience Favourite at LIFF.

Jojo Rabbit will be showing at the Hyde Park from Friday the 17th of January.

Bill's 2019 delectable dozen

In alphabetical order:

  • Beanpole – gripping story of survival in Leningrad after World War 2
  • A Dog Called Money – after seeing this documentary I’m an even bigger PJ Harvey fan
  • The Favourite – Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz stretched my imagination in enjoyable ways
  • Foxtrot – a great anti-war film; something goes terribly wrong at an isolated Israeli military checkpoint
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – a beautifully made adaptation of a James Baldwin novel
  • It Must Be Heaven – a fresh angle on what it means to be Palestinian
  • Judy and Punch – Punch and Judy for feminists, a heady mix of anarchy, comedy and violence
  • La Belle Époque – for anyone (like me) who wants to revisit a key time in their life
  • The Lighthouse – what could be better than two lighthouse keepers losing their sanity, especially when they are Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson?
  • Loro – everything you ever wanted to know about bunga bunga sex parties
  • Marriage Story – breaking up is the hardest thing to do, as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver show us with sharpness and humanity
  • Shooting the Mafia – documentary about a remarkable Sicilian woman, Letizia Battaglia, who defies the odds by exposing the brutality of the Cosa Nostra

Bill Walton

2019 in retrospect.

So, I found 2019 not a great year for new releases; lots of popular films but not that many outstanding ones. Those that stood out for me both in terms of craft and subject were:

Rosie, Eire. This was a drama about homelessness in Dublin. Very well done and the cast were impressive. It was distributed independently so I am afraid many people may have missed it.

Happy as lazzaro / Lazzaro Felice, Italy. A compelling drama, both of exploitation and the problems of migrants. One of the most imaginative stories I have seen for a  long time.

A Season in France, France. A drama about an African migrant family. This was a bleak tale but finely done.

Never Look Away, Germany. An artist travels from East Germany to the West and from Socialist Realism to the avant-garde. Fascinating.

Pain and Glory, Spain.  An exploration of sexual orientation and of cinema and of art; beautifully put together.

Bait, Britain. This title only qualified on 35mm. The digital version did not handle the distinctive techniques on the film well.

So Long, My son, China. One of several epic dramas from the territory presenting a canvas that was large in terms of time and space; a study of  the contradictions of family relationships.

We also enjoyed several screenings of classics in their original format of 35mm.         Sans Soleil / Sunless, France 1983 was part of a weekend of screenings curated by the Pavilion of the  Artist Moving Image Network. This is a classic documentary, visually stunning and with a complex tapestry of themes. Among the other gems of the weekend was Colloque de chiens, France 1977; a sardonic 20 minute film on 35mm and in colour. The canine characters were a metaphor.

2019 At Hyde Park Picture House

2019, the year Brad Pitt fixed antennas (Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Scarlett Johansson tied shoelaces (Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit – out in the UK on 1st Jan), Adam Driver seemed to be everywhere and washing machines featured more than expected (In Fabric and Seahorse).

There were a lot of films shown at the Picture House during 2019, here are my highlights from the new films:

  • La Belle Époque – It’s too soon to know if this is really as good as it made me feel during the film festival or an “overegged French time-travel comedy” as Peter Bradshaw claimed in The Guardian.
  • The Favourite – One of the first films I saw this year which made me think it would be a while until I saw something I enjoyed more and I was right.
  • Eighth Grade – A really long wait to see this in the UK but it was worth it, a film about hope, despair, anxiety and it manages to be terrifying and funny in equal measures.
  • Marriage Story – Everything feels so authentic, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful and also surprisingly funny.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – A beautiful film with a beautiful soundtrack.
  • Knives Out – Another recent film that may not stand the test of time but I had so much fun whilst watching it I had to include it in this list.
  • Midsommar & Us – Horror is a genre I tend to overlook but both of these films exceeded my expectations, both are carefully constructed and unravel in an enthralling way.
  • Irene’s Ghost, Seahorse, Our Most Brilliant Friends – Great documentaries that were enhanced by Q&A with the filmmakers.

My favourite film of 2019 only got a single screening as a Tuesday Wonder and (confession time) I didn’t see it at the Picture House. Minding The Gap: An American Skateboarding Story is one of those documentaries where the subject matter is just a cover story for the way it brilliantly exposes just what it means to be human and I absolutely loved it. It’s available on iPlayer as part of the Storyville strand and would make a great double bill with the underrated Mid90s.

Honorable mentions to: Collette, Beautiful Boy, RBG, Pond Life, Vox Lux, Madeline’s Madeline, Booksmart, Sometimes Always Never, Apollo 11, Only You, The Farewell, Peanut Butter Falcon.

So Long, My Son / Di jiu tian chang, China 2019

Friday December 27th at 7 p.m., Saturday December 28th at 3 p.m. and Thursday January 2nd at 7 p.m.

Some fortunate Friends enjoyed this film at the beginning of December, courtesy of Curzon Artificial Eye and ‘The Guardian’. It would not surprise me if some of these returned to see again one of the outstanding movies released this year. It is a long title, running 185 minutes. Moreover, it has a challenging narrative which covers the periods from the end of the 1970s until the present. The different periods are presented in a series of flashbacks which are organised, not chronologically, but thematically.  And in the different periods the main protagonists move round Chinese urban areas.

This is a family melodrama centred on the couple, Liu Yaojun (Wang Jingchun) and Wang Liyun (Yong Mei). They have two sons in the story, one adopted but both called Xingxing. Li Haiyan (Al Liya) is a friend of Wang Liyun and an official at a factory where they work. Also at the factory Shen Moli  (Qi Xi) is at first a trainee alongside Liu Yaojun. The latter two women also have sons who are important in the story. These adults age and change their appearance as the pilot develops. Whilst the offsprings appear at different ages played by different actors.  Having noted this the story does gradually fall into place and in the latter stages a viewer can discern the tragic relationships that befall this couple.

One aspect of the tragedy is the ‘one-child’ policy that operated for a long period in China. However, it is the relationships between characters, both in the factory workplace and in the residential blocks and housing, that is most important. Both aspects are afflicted by silences. This is disrupted at the factory when the workers angrily confront the mangers [‘bosses’] as they unveil the new economic [capitalist] policies. And in the family relationships it is the final breaking of another silence that brings some relief to the protagonists.

The director, Wang Xiaoshua, has sixteen previous credits not all of which have been released in Britain. One film that was released, Shanghai Dreams / Qing hong (2005) shared one aspect of the plot in this later release: the policy in the 1970s and 1980s of moving large numbers of workers to new industrial zones. But in this feature the protagonists move from employed workers to self-employed. Another comment on the changing economic  world in China.

I have not found a translation for the original Chinese title, but the director sees this as the first in a trilogy of ‘Homeland’ movies. And he talks of charting the effects of the ‘shattering’ changes in the last three decades in China.

The feature has fine production values. There is excellent cinematography and sound; whilst the editing carefully knits the disparate periods and setting into a dramatic tapestry. It is in colour and standard widescreen with the Mandarin dialogue translated in English sub-titles. Chinese films have been a prominent part of quality cinema this year. Earlier titles like An Elephant Sitting Still / Da xiang xi di er zuo and Ash is the Purest White / Jiang hu er nü offered visual and aural pleasure with complex but fascinating stories. This title offers the same pleasures and three hours is not too long to savour these.

 

Knives Out, USA 2019

Daily from Friday till Monday and again on next Thursday

The drama opens with two German shepherds running across a darkened lawn outside an old and large mansion  in the early hours. The two dogs are not developed as characters but they turn out to be important clues in the solving the question posed in the story. This is a self-conscious exploration and exploitation of the classic  country-house murder mystery. It is a very entertaining presentation of the genre, at times with the air of pastiche. It offers frequent references to both cinematic and literary precedents, especially that of the Agatha Christie oeuvre.

A family patriarch (Christopher Plummer) is dead; the question whether is this suicide or murder? And if the latter, who is the killer? The investigation is in the hands of a gentleman detective (Daniel Craig). Possible suspect include all the members of the family who stand  to inherit a fortune; (Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon and Dom Johnson). They are an unprepossessing group of nouveau riches. The key witness, possibly also a suspect, is the nurse and carer (Marta Cabrera).

The plot is labyrinthine and fairly implausible. But the scripting has created this complicated series of events and exposures with real skill. Moreover there are many witty scenes where the excellent cast exploit the changing aspects of the story to the full. The production values are good. And the characters and unfolding plot hold the attention well; though the film is slightly indulgent and slightly over-long. As the title suggests knives matter and the patriarch’s portrait is a recurring prop.

As well as paying homage to a long-running and successful genre the title updates the premises to skewer some of the foibles of the modern USA. One family member  tells the nurse, who is [possibly and variously] identified as coming from Brazil or Paraguay or Uruguay, that

‘You’re not even an American!’

If this is not a quote from Donald Trump it sounds like one.