Crass warfare

You have to give it to them: the Kims, the protagonists of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, are nothing if not resourceful. At the suggestion of a friend, the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) pretends to be a student in order to get a position as the English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy couple, complete with photoshopped diploma. It doesn’t take long and he’s introduced his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-Dam) to the Park family and she takes on the job of being the youngest child’s art therapist. It’s amazing how you can fake expertise with little more than Google skills and a knack for improvisation. Before long, the entire family – Ki-woo, Ki-jeong and the parents Ki-taek (Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho) and Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin) – are in the gainful employ of the Parks, one recommending the other, as that’s how the Parks work: they only trust employees that come highly recommended by another trusted employee. Oh, my father has a friend who used to work as a chauffeur. Oh, I know of this housekeeper who’d be just perfect for you. And the rich, friendly (if patronising), gullible Parks eat it all up. They get the domestic help they want and the Kims get the gainful employment they need, so it’s a win-win situation, right?

To cut a long story short: no. Parasite isn’t a story about the joys of sucessful social mobility. It isn’t a hymn to faking it till you make it. No, Bong’s latest is a caustic comedy that turns into a war movie – the war in question being that between the classes. And as another war story set in Korea used to say: war is hell.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Touch of Evil (1958)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

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Touch of Evil most resembles a house of mirrors. In some parts you may feel you have gone backstage in some kind of carnival or circus. The direction is very Welles-ian, very masterful and very distinct. In the first minutes, we see a bomb placed in the boot of a car, and then the camera follows the car in one shot for a full 3 minutes and 20 seconds. We see shop-fronts, a souvenir seller moving his cart, some livestock and even two of our protagonists, who are walking the same route as the car. The bomb explodes, as it has to, and our story begins. Continue reading

How to Quit

I’ve heard it said that the majority of neo-nazis and other members of extreme right-wing associations contemplate suicide at least once in their lives because subconsciously, they sense that their world-view is wrong. In Guy Nattiv’s Skin, Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is at this point. He is a member of the Vinlanders Social Club, not a social club at all, led by Fred ‘Hammer’ Krager (an unrecognizable Bill Camp), a stern father figure who is married to Shareen (Vera Farmiga), who actively tells everyone that they can call her Mum. It’s a bunch of people who have nowhere else to go, socially as well as economically, and they are just happy that there is someone who takes care of them and gives them things to do, no matter how vile or poisonous their chores are. The VSC is a family for people who never had a proper family. It would be a huge mistake to think that Fred and Shareen are in any way dumb or ridiculous. They provide food and shelter for strays and manipulate them into becoming white supremacists. They are not above murder, so be warned. The more they clash with their preceived enemies, the more they come alive, and the more dangerous they are. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

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Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Imagine you could create any movie. Any movie at all. A drama perhaps. It might star the inimitable James Stewart, it might have music by the masterful, the truly incredible Duke Ellington. That, to me, is Anatomy of a Murder. It happens to be a courtroom drama in the truest sense of the word. What we learn about the case (a murder and a rape), we learn through the court procedure only. Continue reading

Other People’s Music

It’s possible to have great fun in a predictable formula movie. My daughter and me went to see Yesterday, about a luckless singer who has a road accident and wakes up in a world without the Beatles songbook. It slowly dawns on poor Jack that he is the only one who remembers the Fab Four. Screenplay by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle. That’s a pretty snazzy premise, innit? We went during a sweltering hot day, the movie theater was cool, and it was the tiniest viewing room in our city. “It’s just like a movie theater people would have at home,” she exclaimed. We were the only ones sitting there, and so we sang along to all the tunes. Great fun. Continue reading

Burying the Lead

Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer fails for me (and maybe for me only) on a mere technicality. Consider Nicole Kidman’s character, a police detective by the name of Erin Bell. She walks as if she is in constant pain, or medicated, or both. There are flashbacks with her partner and later boyfriend Chris, where she looks younger and healthy. It’s just that it is implied that she has to take drugs and/or alcohol in order to infiltrate the bank heist crew run by Silas (Toby Kebbell). There are only very few scenes, and very late in the movie, that really let us know what it cost Erin to stay in Silas’ crew. What drungs did she have to take in order to keep her disguise? And what about Chris? And her lower jaw seems wired or dislocated – is that from the car crash she produced herself long ago? We just don’t know. And it’s Erin Bell’s face that the whole movie rotates around. On the whole, Destroyer raises far more questions that it answers. Continue reading

Slow Deaths in the Sun

The situation for movie theaters in my hometown is dire. The inner city places are closing up one after the other because the rent is said to be too expensive for the two chains, Kitag and Quinnie. The Capitol, where I saw Return of the King, is boarded up. So is the Gotthard, where I once took a girl who was way out of my league on a date. The Jura triplex is closed, the City triplex is a provisory pub, the Royal has reopened as a vegan burger restaurant. The Splendid, the only inner city theater still showing undubbed blockbusters in 2D, is said to close soon. Instead, soulless multiplexes have sprung up at the edge of town where it is cumbersome to get to by public transport. Their viewing rooms are bigger, so the small number of viewers seems even more lost. They are run by companies that have profit as their priority, not fine movie-making programmed along a common theme or name for an appreciative or even regular audience. Granted, Pathé is a movie production and distribution company, but their multiplex is just as anonymous as that by Swisscom, the national number one telecommunications company. I only go to either of them when I have to, for instance when I want to see Jordan Peele’s Us in its original language.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #25: Psychopaths (2)

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Sometimes they come back: since our last episode, where we discussed black and white movie psychopaths, couldn’t contain all the cinematic psychoses, we’re dedicating a second episode to our favourite psycho killers. Starting from the question what we consider the archetypical pop culture psychopaths, our three intrepid pop culture baristas embark on a journey, beginning with the capo of New Jersey from HBO’s The Sopranos. Is Tony Soprano a narcissistic psychopath or does he really care about those ducks? We then move on to ’60s and ’70s San Francisco and gaze into the absence at the centre of David Fincher’s Zodiac, before the episode finally ends on American Psycho and the dark, cold, empty heart of Wall Street psychopathy.

If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out episode 24, where we talked about movie psychopaths and psychopath movies, from Night of the Hunter via Fritz Lang’s M to the psycho granddaddy of them all: Norman Bates and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Jules et Jim (1962)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Jules et Jim (1962) wasn’t my first film by François Truffaut, but it might as well have been: while I saw The Last Metro (1980) earlier, it didn’t fully register that this was a film directed by Truffaut, one of the founders of the French nouvelle vague, and I only remembered The Wild Child (1970) very, well, vaguely. In fact, I was more aware of Truffaut in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

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The Compleat Ingmar #6: Summer Interlude (1951)

Summer Interlude (1951) came out only one year after To Joy, and in some ways it’s a remarkably similar setup. Again, we have an older character looking back at a youthful romance and its consequences. Again, the protagonist is an ensemble artist: where Stig (Stig Olin), To Joy‘s protagonist, was an orchestra violinist, Summer Interlude‘s Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson, who also starred with Olin in the earlier film) is a ballerina. In both films, love and death become intertwined. However, while To Joy is an often bitter film that suffers from a grating manchild protagonist, Summer Interlude is a much more joyous film and perhaps the first of Bergman’s early works in the collection that is not just engaging in parts but a pleasure to watch as a whole.

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