JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Parasite | Monos | The Beach Bum (Directors: Alejandro Landes, Bong Joon Ho, Harmony Korine) - January 18, 2020

Parasite | Monos | The Beach Bum

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Reviewed for the 2020 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
A bountiful harvest from Neon

122 minutes, 2019
Bong Joon Ho
Four stars

No plan is best

As with Monos (below), here is another metaphorical film (and Best Picture of 2015), this time dealing with those who are forced to live in life’s basements and those who have enough cash, connections and prestige to live well, above the surface.

On the superficial level, the film explores the down-on-their-luck Kim family who gradually (aided and abetted by a sometime friend and bogus credentials—does anyone really check in this era of fake everything?), infiltrates the wealthy Park family as cook, tutor and driver—happy to take their wages, but always looking out for more.

Lurking in the Korean mansion’s hidden basement (not coincidentally as the “helps’” cavernous abode…”) is a Phantom of the Drama—relying on purloined food from those “above” to barely exist in his own skin while the riches just a floor away remain willfully blind.

Naturally, things go wrong, culminating in a garden party for the dammed that murderously culminates as the perpetually oppressed take bloody revenge on their “betters”.

As in the so-called “real” world, there are no winners, only losers on both sides of the great divide, proving yet again that Nietzsche’s controversial allegation that “we are not all equal” is truer than we know.

One fascinating narrative technique is employing Morse code to allow those locked away (purposely or not) to send their precious thoughts to those who—largely through membership in the Boy Scouts, here—have the communication skills to tell the difference between a dash and a dot. JWR

Monos (Monkeys)
100 minutes, 2019
Alejandro Landes
Four and one half stars

Alas, all too true

Landes (along with co-writer Alexis Dos Santos—well known in these pages, cross-reference below), has crafted a timely allegory, deftly mixing in elements from Lord of the Flies (jungle version) and Animal Farm.

A squad of far-too-young-to-kill teens are hiding out in the depths of an unnamed Latin-American country (fill in your own blank) guarding a feisty hostage/prisoner while awaiting orders from the Organization for their next move. Their masters dictate all things—including who can sleep with who: ignore them at your peril—until the trained rebels do what they have been taught: rebel!

Landes is not afraid to send the squeamish covering their eyes (some brutal murders and a drowning top the list), while deftly inserting moments of calm family life that, in this film, can only end badly.

Beyond the ever-capable ensemble cast, Jasper Wolf’s superb cinematography (a marvel of angles, wide shots and character-revealing closeups—magically edited by Ted Guard, Yorgos Mavropsaridis and Santiago Otheguy), frequently let the images tell the story when words are not enough.

Finally, languishing in chains after a failed escape, the “Doctora” (an especially gritty performance from Julianne Nicholson) becomes the one ray of hope for “rising above” a group of systemic bullies that only follow orders, rather than their consciences. Monkeys indeed.

Fictional on the outside, it doesn’t take much to realize that these desperate warriors are knowingly wreaking havoc on many world stages. But why not, if various “organizations” can’t decide what to do with them? JWR

The Beach Bum
95 minutes, 2019
Harmony Korine
Three and one half stars

That is all there is

It has often been said that real genius must flirt with the abyss of insanity in order to fire the cylinders that result in some of the world’s finest art.

In the case of poet extraordinaire Moondog (Matthew McConaughey, delivering the most purposely fucked-up performance of his career, cross-reference below), his muse is fueled by excessive booze, drugs and fast women. His long-suffering/rejoicing ridiculously wealthy wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher) has no qualms about her dalliances of her own (notably with super rapper Lingerie—Snoop Dogg has a hoot, essentially playing himself), but leaves the planet of her own accord while—high/drunk—driving into oncoming traffic.

From there, the film stutters and starts as Moondog must complete his next volume of poetry (not a novel as so many of the synopses state: there is a huge difference) in order to secure his half of Minnie’s inheritance. The other half going to daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) who opts to marry a milk-drinking, no-ambition hubby (far-removed from her dad’s predilections: we’ll let Freud figure that choice out).

Fine as all of this may sound, in this day and age of drug overdoses and drunk drivers ending innocent lives, it never feels like the human carnage (real or emotional) is worth a Pulitzer-winning tome.

Thank heavens for the original score from John Debney (featuring a saucy bassoon for the bookends) and a wide variety of tracks from Jimmy Buffett—who also appears—Dogg and Peggy Lee (“Is that all there is”) to engage the ear even as the eye is distressed. A curious anomaly is the perpetually loaded Moondog piecing together a credible reading of Beethoven’s first piano sonata, one genius to another… JWR

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