Monday, October 7, 2019


Have you ever envied someone's life? Sometimes it can be from the material goods that surround the envied person, other times it's because of how charmed their life appears. But to what extent would you be willing to go to achieve a similar life with less effort?

Bong Joon-ho's Parasite depicts such a situation. It opens with the Kim family just barely making enough to live on. An opportunity arises to help them but almost as quickly, they find ways to get more out of it. But how long can such a ploy go on?

Similar to Bong's earlier film Snowpiercer, Parasite shows a particular class struggle and how both parties behave. The wealthy seem practically oblivious to the fact that less fortunate people lust for what they have. Meanwhile, the latter is stuck in some truly atrocious living conditions so it's no wonder they're fighting (quite literally at times) for something better.

But to compare the two films is like comparing apples to oranges. Parasite is decidedly far more calculating than Snowpiercer. Bong -- knowing how to make a thriller with dashes of dark comedy -- applies this to his latest film and boy, does he succeed with flying colors.

Parasite is a wicked little picture in every sense of the word. It's one where going into it blind is best recommended (thus rendering this whole review null and void...). Anyway, be sure to see it before it gets spoiled for you; you won't be disappointed in the slightest.

My Rating: *****

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story opens with Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) listing the many reasons why they love the other. But this isn't as heartwarming as it initially appears; they've written these reasons for the sake of marriage counseling. (Nicole then refuses to read them out loud out of embarrassment.) This kicks off the essence of the film.

That's not to say Charlie and Nicole's separation is a tumultuous one, far from it. They're still living under the same roof -- most likely for the sake of their son -- as they work out their differences. But after Nicole heads to Los Angeles to film a TV pilot (and hires a lawyer), that's when things get both complicated and ugly.

Par for the course of a Baumbach film, there are many moments that are just extremely uncomfortable to watch unfold. Granted, to see a marriage crumble follow suit by a bitter custody dispute is not something anyone wants to experience let alone witness. And what Baumbach captures is more emotionally devastating than what's found in his earlier work.

Both Driver and Johansson have been involved in bigger projects these last few years (he with Star Wars, she with the Marvel Cinematic Universe) so to have them in titles that rely more on substance than style is nice. (They've done others of the like as well but still.) Obviously those larger vehicles don't give them much of a chance to properly act so Marriage Story more than offers that opportunity (to Johansson especially).

Marriage Story certainly isn't date night material (much in the same vein as Gone Girl). With attention-grabbing supporting turns from the likes of Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Merritt Weaver, Baumbach also continues to show his worth as a storyteller. (Being written after his own divorce shows that yes, he knows exactly what he's talking about.)

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

One can never really know what goes on in someone's mind from first impressions. There are those whose personality remains impenetrable after knowing them for years and there are those who become an open book after spending very little time with them. But what group do you want someone to fall into?

This is something that Marianne (Noémie Merlant) encounters initially in Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Commissioned to discretely paint Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), she finds her subject aloof. But as more time passes between the two women, something deeper grows between them.

In contrast to other lesbian-themed films from recent years (Blue is the Warmest Color, The Handmaiden, Disobedience), Portrait of a Lady on Fire is decidedly much better in depicting such relationships. The earlier films were adapted by straight men, the resulting sex scenes looking more like they were inspired by porn than the female-penned works they're based on. Meanwhile, Sciamma -- who was once romantically involved with Haenel -- prefers more of the sensuality from parting glances and brushes of fingers that her male contemporaries tend to eschew, something that directors like Dee Rees and Donna Deitch featured in their respective sapphic showpieces as well. (A good example of this is in a scene where Marianne and Héloïse point out the other's tics.)

Sciamma also plays with the use of color in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Like the Technicolor-drenched films of Powell and Pressburger, she and cinematographer Claire Mathon toy with various contrasts such as the broad colors of Marianne and Héloïse's dresses against the pale walls of the home or silhouettes against the dusk sky. (There's another striking example best left for one to see themselves.)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire continues Sciamma's streak as a director. As she did with her earlier films, it maintains a nuance to its storytelling, not needing those big blow-out moments. And just a warning: the last scene will destroy you.

My Rating: *****