“Parasite” art house film review

An international film with domestic relevance. Writer-director Bong Joon-Ho delivers a thought-provoking satire on the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Joon-Ho’s film is perhaps a new interpretation of the Wes Craven cult film The People Under the Stairs with a brilliant message of the lengths one goes to climb out of poverty in a world of massive income and opportunity disparity. For those whom may be worried that you’ll be distracted by the subtitles, you needn’t worry. To be perfectly candid, the visual storytelling and acting is so incredibly good that you won’t need the subtitles to follow the story. You’ve no doubt heard from the various critic circles that this film is a masterpiece, that it’s one of the best films of the year. That hype train is barreling past station after station, will it ever come to a stop? The short answer is not any time soon. But is the hype justified by the cinematic experience? In the opinion of this critic, no. I had incredibly high expectations for this film based upon everything I was hearing and reading, but it just didn’t do it for me. After the brilliant first half of excellently crafted suspense, foreshadowing, and plot setup, the second half loses the intrigue and just takes one convoluted turn after another for the sake of complicating the plot in an effort to make it say more than it actually does. Much of the griping tension is lost by the time the anticlimactic showdown comes to pass. What hampers the execution of the second half is taking too many predictable turns. It’s like a research paper that has a brilliant thesis, background, literature review, and method section, but the results are lacking in advancement. But, what the film lacks in plot execution, it makes up for in lavish visuals and exquisite production design. That house is a character in and of itself! While it may not be the best film of the year, it is one to watch in order to support original, independent stories that are slowly dying because of the increased difficulty to seek funding and theatrical distribution in a world dominated by superheroes, space fantasy, and remakes of animated classics.

Jobless, penniless, and, above all, hopeless, the unmotivated patriarch, Ki-taek, and his equally unambitious family–his supportive wife, Chung-sook; his cynical twenty-something daughter, Ki-jung, and his college-age son, Ki-woo–occupy themselves by working for peanuts in their squalid basement-level apartment. Then, by sheer luck, a lucrative business proposition will pave the way for an insidiously subtle scheme, as Ki-woo summons up the courage to pose as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of the affluent Park family. Now, the stage seems set for an unceasing winner-take-all class war. How does one get rid of a parasite? (IMDb)

Where this film shines brightest is the production design, specifically the house and neighborhood designed and built specifically for the film. Honestly, this is on Kubrick levels of cinematic immersion. From a principle photography point of view, this allows for the structures to (1) be designed to accommodate the action, blocking, and general movements of characters (2) externalize emotion or bring to light a reality that lies beyond our naked eye and (3) allow for efficient camera movement, artistic placement, and simply brings the setting in the screenplay to life to the very last detail. As I watched the film, I wondered where they found the perfect basement apartment and upscale house because the locations fit the characters and narrative perfectly. Then when I learned that both locations (not to mention the Ki’s neighborhood) were custom built, then it make sense how it could have been so perfect. That is commitment to narrative integrity right there! From the architecture to the interior design and furnishings, the art direction of this motion picture is astounding! It certainly stands out against the backdrop of most of the films to have hit theatres this year in terms of its visual appeal, scope, and scale of the story.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another film this year that has the brilliant setup that this one has. From the moment the film opens, you are hooked. All throughout the first act, the conflict that we are going to encounter in the second act is setup and foreshadowed with extreme precision. It doesn’t take long to develop these characters as members of South Korean society that are having a tough time climbing out of poverty; furthermore, the first act paints a portrait of a world that appears to be stacked against them. All that changes when a cousin gets one of them hired as a tutor to a wealthy family. For how the rest of the setup unfolds, you’ll just have to watch the film. I appreciate how this film takes the home invasion plot premise to a new level by subverting what we expect from home invasion or heist films. In addition to developing our ensemble cast of central characters, the first act also successfully provides excellent exposition so that the audience never feels lost in this non-english speaking film. Sometimes American audiences can get lost in international films because of the language and cultural barrier. Fortunately, the language is never an issue in this film and there is virtually  character for everyone in the audience to connect or empathize with. From the opening until about midway through the film, the plot is engaging, suspenseful, and the tension ratchets up greatly.

Unfortunately, most of the tension and suspense begins to decline as we near the anticlimactic showdown of the film. This is where the film lost me. Not lost me in that I couldn’t follow it–quite the contrary–I found the latter half of the film predictable and derivative. Gone is the ingenuity that I loved during the first half. There was such genius in the setup that I expected more out of the conflict and resolution. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still enjoyable and even intriguing at times in the second half, but not nearly to the levels it was during the first act. It’s almost as if Joon-Ho did not imagine the ending before writing the second act. There is stark contrast between the precise focus and direction of the first half and the lack of direction in the second half. There are some moments that I want to highlight from the second act though, that I truly liked. There is a scene in which the Park family boy notices that all the newly hired help smell the same. Of course, his parents dismiss that as childish foolishness, but thanks to dramatic irony, we know that he is close to ruining the entire charade.

More than than the film itself, I am mystified by the intense hype train that continues to zoom through social media, picking up new people at every turn. It’s a good film, but I cannot reconcile the motion picture I saw with the proliferated accolades on social media the the web. You’ll hear that this is “the best film of the year,” but just a couple weeks ago, The Lighthouse was the best film of the year, and before that many claimed that Midsommar was the best film of the year. Seems like we get a best film of the year every few weeks. The danger of dissenting opinions on films like Parasite and The Lighthouse is the critic and cinephile establishments seeking to revoke your membership card because your taste is simply not refined enough to appreciate the artistic masterpiece right in front of you. Of course, it is entirely possible that the film is just not AS outstanding as so many want to claim that it is, but jump on that hype train out of fear of missing out or being seen as an outsider. So to that point, I feel that Parasite is a solid film, even excellent in the first act, but the second and third acts hold the film back from its full potential to truly be a masterpiece of cinematic art.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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LEGO Movie 2 Review with InSession Film Podcast

Return to Bricksburg where everything is no longer awesome. Picking up where the first LEGO Movie left us, and jump right back into the action as the invaders from planet Duplo threaten the very existence of Bricksburg and its inhabitants. After the Duplo invasion reduces Bricksburg to a city that is barely recognizable. Now living in a dystopian society, a mysterious figure arrives and promptly kidnaps several of Emmet’s (Chris Pratt) friends, including Lucy/Wyldestyle (Elizabeth Banks). Emmet sets off on his rescue mission to save his friends, but along the way meets allies and enemies who test him at every turn. I enjoyed LEGO Movie 2 nearly as much as the first one! Unfortunately, hosts JD and Brendan do not quite share my sentiment; however, they provide some great talking points! But the only way for you to find out what we think of this movie is to listen to the episode.

For the full review, visit the InSession Film website for the podcast and written review! And if you don’t do so, follow InSession Film on Twitter and subscribe with your podcast service.

And you can also listen to the episode by clicking HERE.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Dark City” (1998) Throwback Thursday Film Review

The “thinking man’s Matrix.” That is how fellow critic and senior producer of One Movie Punch Joseph Dobzynski describes this underrated neo-noir science-fiction film that predates The Matrix. For the weekly film screening with my cinephile friend Leon in Germany, he selected Dark City. Truly visionary and incredibly rewatchable! I don’t know about you, but I had never even heard of it before. Perhaps that’s because I was so young when it came out. But I am glad that we watched it. It’s now among my favorite neo-noir films.  Never before have I seen a film take the stylistic techniques of film noir and extended them into the realm of fantasy, delivering a motion picture that is highly artistic and cerebral. Perhaps the film was ahead of its time, and that’s why it does not receive the fanfare that The Matrix gets. Between the two, objectively this one is more thought-provoking and artistic. Directed by Alex Proyas, this Fincher meets Scott neo-noir successfully fuses a classical film noir/detective mystery approach with futuristic fantastical allegory. One of the elements of early horror and film-noir that I feel gets lost today is the extension of the plot into the setting itself to the degree that the setting becomes a defacto character. Just as a human is more than the sum of his or her parts, so a setting can be more than the sum of its physical dimensions and time. I would have loved to have experienced watching this one on the big screen to get the full surrealist effect of being completely immersed in this volatile world. Hey Fathom Events, put this one on your list!

John Murdoch wakes up in a bathtub in an unfamiliar hotel just to find out that he is wanted for a bizarre string of murders in a cult or serial killer fashion. One problem, he has no memory of committing the murders, nor much of a memory of anything save a place called Shell Beach. Thinking that he may have completely lost his mind, Murdoch begins to connect the pieces together in order to solve the twisted riddle of his identity. After a bizarre run-in with someone claiming to be his wife and a persistent detective, Murdoch continues to unravel the mystery surrounding the entire unnamed city. Never could he have imagined that his investigation would lead him to uncovering the presence of ominous group of aliens that have taken over the city. The truth that he uncovers will blow your mind.

Next to horror, film-noir is my favorite genre. And yes, we could all too easily debate film-noir‘s status as a genre as it only existed for a moment in cinematic history; and anything more modern is considered neo-noir, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept film-noir as a genre. There is a beauty to this film that does not exist in The Matrix. And that beauty runs incredibly fluidly from page to screen as is made evident from the brilliantly crafted setting, characters and conflict. There is a Metropolis-like quality to the setting and characters in Dark City. Even before Inception blew our minds with its ability to completely immerse us in the world of reality manipulated by the boundless imagination, Dark City transformed the landscape of this city in perpetual darkness. Some of the cinematic characteristics of film noir are found in the lowkey lighting, architecture inspired from German expressionism, and often a character playing the role of a detective. Whereas detective/mystery is a separate genre, there are several films with overlap between noir and detective. If you pay close attention to the production design, you will notice that the buildings grow more elongated and twisted the closer Murdoch gets to solving the mystery; furthermore, the buildings grow more slanted as Murdoch reaches the edges of the city. On a meta level, the setting is an extension of the mind of Murdoch and reflects his memories or lack thereof, more precisely the unreliability of memories. Just as his [Murodoch’s] memory is unreliable, so is the cityscape in which he resides. Characters and settings change and display broken collective memories, even when remembering how to get to Shell Beach. The design of the setting demonstrates Proyas’ attention to the stylized visual components of building this hybrid noir/sci-fi.

Whereas the neo-noir characters and world, in which they live, are very much a product of a reimagination of the film-noir genre, the conflict and plot (after the very much noir first act) are a deconstruction of the noir genre through a science-fiction plot. One of the dangers the many science-fiction screenwriters encounter is that he or she spends way too much time on constructing the science-fiction world and technology and quickly writes characters for the world. The error: starting with the world instead of with the characters or plot. Proyas demonstrates a strong commitment to his characters and plot, followed by the world. He was able to masterfully craft both because he used the world from one and the plot from another. Think of this combination of noir and sci-fi elements as Walt Disney’s patented multi-plane camera (last used on The Black Cauldron). Instead of elements mixed together, they were layered on top of one another in order to increase the depth of story. The plot remains simple; but the conflict, characters and world built on top of it gives the illusion of a complex plot. The screenplay stays true to a simple plot and complex characters. Through this visionary approach of fusing a film-noir setting to a science-fiction plot, Proyas provides the characters (and by extension, audience) a thought-provoking means of exploring reality in a most cinematic fashion.

There are considerable similarities between Blade Runner and Dark City in terms of the setting, score, and cinematography. And this is to be expected from a director who has demonstrated an admiration of Ridley Scott’s brilliant film. In retrospect, there are prominent earmarks of Muholland Drive by David Lynch as well. The meta nature of this film can be observed in the city itself. As the plot unfolds, we learn that the city is glorified set–not so different from a film set which changes throughout production in order to capture each and every scene. Just as a mood ring supposedly visualizes the emotion of the wearer, the set serves as an extension of the paranoia of its inhabitants. Capturing the madness experienced by the characters, specifically Murdoch, in the setting and cinematography adds to the experience of watching this film by creating an immersive environment as much for us as it is the characters. As this film is a means to deconstruct a film-noir through a science-fiction plot, we have the trademark characters such as a love interest and private eye; but instead of a central character who is experiencing a type of psychosis, the central character of Murdoch is the only character who has complete control of his mind and thus sees the cracks in the world created for him by The Strangers. This inverse of the central character injects this story with innovative ingenuity.

I would be remiss to not analyze the characters of opposition led by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson), with a notable chief of his version of the KGB, Mr. Hand played by the legendary Richard O’Brien (the writer/director of Rocky Horror Picture Show). While Mr. Book is the leader of The Strangers, the alien species whom have kidnapped these citizens of earth to place them in this futuristic experiment to analyze what constitutes the human soul, we spend most of our time with Mr. Hand. To borrow from Game of Thrones, Mr. Hand is the hand of the king. While these aliens resemble humanoid lifeforms, they are in actuality a jellyfish like species that uses human bodies as hosts in order to interact with humans. For all the power that their telekinetic abilities give them, water and sun is their greatest enemy, hence why Shell Beach is nowhere to be found and the city is perpetually in darkness. Just like Murdoch is an inverted noir central character, The Strangers are inverted humans as they have a great fear of water and sunlight, whereas humans require water and sunlight to remain healthy. I cannot help but wonder that Star Trek TNG and Voyager’s The Borg was influential in the development of The Strangers, as they both share the hive-like mind and pale skin. Of course, a chief difference is The Strangers’ ability to adopt some unique traits to blend in with the humans.

In retrospect, this is a much stronger film than The Matrix. Both share a similar premise, but the original expression of the shared premise in Dark City is far more timeless than the more famous of the two. And I am not merely talking about the visual effects, of which they hold up better in Dark City than The Matrix; I am talking about the comprehensive execution of the two films. Had James Cameron’s Titanic not dwarfed Dark City, then it may have been seen as the superior film to The Matrix by wider audiences than the strong cult following it currently has. But why do I feel that Dark City is superior to The Matrix? Simply stated, it comes down to the writing and direction. There are so many more layers to the writing and direction that makes it a cerebral film. I would not characterize The Matrix as a thinking man’s film, but I would Dark City. You can liken the two to Star Wars vs Star Trek (TV series). Star Wars is action-driven whereas Star Trek is largely character-driven. One may even go so far as to call The Matrix high concept and Dark City low concept. On the topic of visual effects, virtually all the effects in The Matrix are CGI; conversely, Dark City contains a beautiful fusion of practical effects (including miniatures) supplemented with digital effects. Dark City feels so much more real, tangible. It’s that authenticity that makes it the stronger of the two and warrants far more rewatches.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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One Movie Punch “Glass” Full Review

Not a total train wreck, but the plot is full of cracks nevertheless.

After the success of 2017’s Split, M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass was the highly anticipated conclusion to the macabre take on the superhero genre. Unfortunately, the film fails to deliver the intense plot that audiences wanted. After the big reveal that Split was connected to Unbreakable (2000), the audience was predisposed to anticipating the same level of suspense and thrill that was found in the aforementioned two films. Plot twist. The plot misses the mark. Glass is the final installment in this superhero universe trilogy that postulates that comic book characters are, albeit exaggerated, inspired by real-life super humans. Out of left field, this movie was completely unexpected until the uncredited cameo of Bruce Willis’ character of David Dunn from Unbreakable. Despite the lackluster narrative, the film is not without its entertainment value. It is sufficiently enjoyable, but leaves you with a feeling of “meh.”

For the full review, visit the One Movie Punch website for the audio review and transcript! And if you don’t do so, follow One Movie Punch on Twitter and subscribe with your podcast service.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Recipe for the Best Picture Oscar

With the Academy Awards quickly approaching and the nominations announcement early tomorrow morning, I thought that it would be interesting to dive deep into what it takes to build a film that gets nominated and wins the most coveted film award in the United States, the Oscar for Best Picture. In order to explore this topic as objectively as possible, criteria from 1987-2017 has been analyzed and broken down into a chart. Although there are many artistic and technical merits that make a film, this article selected runtime, genre, IMDb score, and popularity. According to the empirical date, it is possible to produce a film that theoretically should get nominated and even win, but there are incalculable uncontrollable variables that range from makeup of the Academy, to number of films submitted, to release times, to the socio-political climate at the time, so it is NOT an exact science. However, looking at the data does paint a portrait of what are some correlations between winning and the various elements that make a motion picture. Depicting the criteria in the form of a chart is certainly helpful and measurable, but combining a qualitative analysis to the quantitative approach will aid in developing a comprehensive exploration of what it takes to bring home the gold.

Films range from shorts to 3+ hour epics, and there is a correlation between runtime and winning the Best Picture Oscar. The sample of winners for this data is gathered from the Best Picture winners 1987-2017 (up to 2018 Oscars) totaling 31 films. According to the sample, 21/30 films ranged from 91 to 120 minutes with 11 of them ranging from 121 to 150 minutes. The shortest and longest films to win the Best Picture award are Driving Miss Daisy at 99mins and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King at 201mins. There were zero films to win the Best Picture award released between 1987-2017 and the number after 150mins drop off significantly. The shortest film to ever win a Best Picture award is Marty at 90mins and the longest is Gone with the Wind at 238mins. Looking to the most recent winners of this most prestigious award, there is a measurable trend toward shorter feature length films. Looking to films such as Moonlight and Lady Bird, there is clearly an intentional effort to not exceed 2hrs but get close to it. Why is this? While you may think it may have to do with film budgets, that’s incidental. Yes, money and budgets are part of the equation, but it’s because movie theatre chains want to fit as many movies as possible into a daily schedule. Two hours is a solid time not to cross because a movie theatre can play the film every three hours in a single auditorium (and stagger it with multiple auditoriums). So if you are attempting to draft your Best Picture nominees or winners, look to the runtime for one of the correlating criteria for winning this award.

Genre films are certainly the favorite of the Academy. Rarely do we witness a film playing around or experimenting with genre get nominated much less win. Personally, I like it when a film plays around with genre in an innovative attempt to tell a new story or provide a new perspective on a previous one; however, the Academy likes their straight forward dramas most. Yes, drama is in every story; but this label specifically refers to the cut-and-dry serious narratives that lack a significant level of comedy, horror, romance, etc. From 1987-2017, ten drama films won Best Picture. The next highest winner is a significant drop at 4 with the crime genre. While drama wins the most, horror, thriller, war, musicals, and romance win the least. While many dramas certainly contain elements of the aforementioned, these genres refer to the films that are genre purest than crossovers. There are certainly high profile, memorable exceptions to this rule. And the biggest surprise on this list is the Best Picture win of The Silence of the Lambs. Not only did it win the Best Picture award, but it also won Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. No other film in the last 30 years has won the Big 5 Oscars. The win of The Silence of the Lambs is also the single win for the horror genre. Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the general popularity and critical acclaim of horror films (Get Out is a great example) but the winningest genre still remains to be drama. Another exception to the rule is Chicago’s win! Perhaps big musicals once dominated the box office but not as much anymore. Last year’s La La Land came close to winning (that is an article in and of itself) but it came in second to a hard drama. Although there are other genres represented on this graph, that covers 1987-2017 released films, it is clear that you stand you best chances of winning by writing a straight-forward drama.

While genre can be debated on many films, IMDb scores are hard quantifiable evidence that is not subject to interpretation. Personally, I am a qualitative researcher but even in an analysis such as this, having the hard numbers is an important part. While you think it would be the films that score high 8s and 9s that would win the most, the evidence from 1987-2017 states that it’s the low 8s and high 7s that win the most often. Unlike genre and runtime, there is no way to predict your IMDb score; therefore, this evidence is most handy when trying to pick the nominees and winner. It’s like looking as a sports team’s stats going into the playoffs of the final big game of the season. Perhaps it’s not an ingredient in the same way genre and runtime are; but you can extrapolate from the aforementioned data what plots to consider when building your story and how long your movie should be. If you are one of those who are selecting which films are going to get nominated or which nominee will win, then you definitely need to look to the IMDb score for guidance.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the ten most popular motion pictures to win the Best Picture award over the last 30 years. The graph referenced in this paragraph depicts the ten most popular films from 1987-2017 to win the Best Picture award. IMDb takes multiple values into account when developing this list from IMDb score, Metacritic, audience score, etc. So, this is the most subjective criteria on this list; however, since the popularity is based upon quantifiable data, it can be used as a reliable source of information. The most popular movie on this list is 2017’s The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, which IS an example of a film playing around with genre that won! It combines elements of science-fiction, drama, and romance. Taking the number 10 spot on this list is the Tom Hanks classic Forrest Gump. Interestingly, each of these winners is quite different from the rest. The only two to really share any similarities in plot are Silence of the Lambs and The Departed. Both of these films contain crime elements, with one skewing more towards thriller and the other more towards horror. Whereas these films differ in terms of plot, what they DO share in common is a strong lead cast. The top IMDb scorers on this list are Return of the King (8.9), Schindler’s List (8.9), Forrest Gump (8.8), Silence of the Lambs (8.6), and The Departed (8.5). All are 8.5 or higher. Beyond the IMDb score, runtime, and genre, what makes these films so popular is a compelling story comprised of a simple plot and complex characters. A superlative story begins with a screenplay, and the films on this list to also win Best Original or Best Adapted screenplay are BirdmanMoonlightThe DepartedThe Return of the KingForrest GumpSchindler’s List, and Silence of the Lambs. With 7/10 of these Best Picture winners also winning the best screenplay award, it is imperative that the film begin with strong writing.

For aspiring writers and directors, look at this data and take it into account if it is your intention to write or direct the next Best Picture nominee or winner. Following this data does in no way guarantee that you have an award winning film, but it does help to highlight some important and controllable elements to consider when crafting your story. With the new additions to the academy this year to include more women and other underrepresented groups amongst the Academy’s makeup, we may see a new pattern to observe over the next 5-10 years. There have been many changes to the landscape of motion pictures in the last few years with Netflix and Amazon throwing their respective hats in the ring, and with increased at-home viewing as opposed to watching first-run films in the cinema. It’s an exciting time to analyze the films that have a shot at winning the golden man, especially as the socio-political climate is becoming increasingly influential on the nominees and winners. What this data shows us is what we can observe over the last 30 years and apply that to the nominee predictions that are going on now and the eventual predictions for the winner in this category.

For more on the awards talk, you definitely want to follow #FilmTwitter on Twitter and the podcasts of Mike, Mike, and Oscar, Next Best Picture, and InSession Film. These are just a few of the great folks I follow, but ones that specialize in awards talk.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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