Friday, November 1, 2019

Korean 'Parasite' easily eats up three other TIFF films on November screens

If it's November, you must be on your way to the movies, where awards possibilities actually may be heating up.

Certainly, the class-distinction epic "Parasite," from South Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho, has a terrific shot at earning a number of Foreign Language Film plaudits, if not an outright Best Picture nomination for its clever mix of satire and thrills.

The upwardly mobile Kim Family looks for a way out of folding pizza boxes.
The Kim Family barely hangs on in the underbelly of Seoul, "borrowing" wi-fi, battling stinkbugs, making a few bucks by folding pizza boxes and scamming as many wealthy folks and situations as they can find. Enter the unsuspecting Park clan, looking for a tutor for their young daughter.

That's when streetwise Ki-woo Kim gets a tip from a pal and brilliantly pretends to be a collegiate scholar to get the job. Next thing we know, his equally smart sister, conniving dad, and go-along mom are also sharing the gorgeously expansive Park home as art expert, driver and housekeeper, respectively.

Joon-ho makes it all increasingly funny at first, until an out-of-nowhere twist sends both families into a sparkling but serious assortment of genre-mixed rides and wrinkles. One little beef: His 120-minute-plus story eventually looks hard and a little too long for a place and reason to end, but I still was on board and thinking about it days later.

"Parasite," which captured the coveted Palme d'Or at last spring's Cannes Film Festival, also finished as second runner-up in "People's Choice Award" voting at September's 44th annual Toronto International Film Festival. Of course, that's where three other movies opening today had their own notable premieres.

Rated "R": language, some violence and sexual content; 2:12; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

In fact, "JoJo Rabbit," from writer/director Taika Waititi ("Thor: Ragnarok"), actually won Toronto's top "People's" honor, almost a surefire signal that this pretentiously promoted "anti-hate satire" will be an awards contender. However, in one of the rare times yours truly has pooh-poohed TIFF voters, I will borrow the phrase, "not so fast my friends," and respectfully disagree.

Rockwell, Johansson and Davis chase after satirical laughs in Nazi Germany.
I mean, promotional gimmickry aside, I did hate the first 20 minutes or so, set at a Nazi youth camp, where Hitler (played by Waititi himself) shows up as the imaginary "friend" of a young Fascist-to-be, the mockingly named title character (Roman Griffin Davis), being constantly bullied and badgered for his shortcomings.

Honestly, the movie did grow on me from there, but not enough to recommend it beyond another rollicking performance from Sam Rockwell, as a cartoonish Nazi officer (think of TV's old "Hogan's Heroes"), and a movie-shaking moment involving "JoJo" and his mother (Scarlett Johansson in a somewhat odd portrayal).

Otherwise, an Anne Frank homage has a young Jewish girl (Waititi's fellow New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie) hiding out in a crawl space from which she emerges long enough to cajole and confuse JoJo, who has no clue how she got there. Much purposely leans toward the absurd for sure, but it's definitely no laugh-a-minute romp, especially if you simply refuse to giggle at Hitler, et al.

Rated "PG-13": mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence and language; 1:48; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

 A much easier Toronto fest choice becomes writer/director Edward Norton's "Motherless Brooklyn," another title derived from a key character's nickname. This one belongs to private eye Lionel Essrogg, a noirish '50s-era survivor/orphan with Tourette's Syndrome that Norton himself plays with dignity and distinction.
Mbatha-Raw and Norton ride along with some New York noir.

Yes, there are times when his affliction delivers some laughs, but this caring character is no fool. His boss (Bruce Willis) points out Lionel's efficiencies and job strengths early in a sequence that sets the stage for learning why our underdog hero is so determined to risk life and limb to find what he's looking for in a politically corrupt New York City.

The ever-terrific Gugu Mbatha-Raw shows up as a key lawyer/love interest, and a strong cadre of Big Apple actors, led by Willem Dafoe and Alex Baldwin, connect plot threads floating on a nice mix of jazz and justice until the movie's length eventually gets in the way down the stretch.

Rated "R": language throughout, including some sexual references, brief drug use, and violence; 2:24; $ $ $ and 1/2 out $5

Erivo stars as "Harriet" Tubman.
Finally, Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo (Broadway's "The Color Purple") shoots for some movie gold with her earnest performance in "Harriet," a by-the-book telling which, at times, plays like a high school reading assignment.

Besides Erivo's persevering performance -- which mostly captures the dynamic temperament that heroic Harriet Tubman must have personified -- only the radiant period cinematography of ex-Clevelander John Toll ("Braveheart") brings the urgency of the slave-turned abolitionist/freedom fighter's historical importance to the screen.

Still, there are moments that absolutely rivet. Many others, not so much.

Rated "PG-13": thematic content throughout, violent material and language, including racial epithets; 2:05; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

1 comment:

Vas Deferens said...

"especially if you refuse to laugh at Hitler, et al" - oh lighten up.