Movie Review of Parasite

One of the biggest problems in America today is the socioeconomic divide that seems to be getting wider with each passing decade. Yet this isn’t only a problem in the states, but one that exists in many other nations, including South Korea. One film that examines this problem in brilliant and thrilling ways is Parasite, directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho. Seen by some as not only the best of the year, but the best of this decade, I won’t quite make that jump! But it’s easily one of the best, if not the best of the year in my humble opinion. 

Watch It: If you want to see an international film with beautiful cinematography, beautiful and haunting music, satire that observes economic divides around the world, excellent acting, some of the best twists to experience I think in cinema history, and a taste for black comedy. 

Skip It: If you want to avoid black comedy, brief shots of gore, and English subtitles. 

Parasite won the highest prized award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason. Unlike some directors that have a breakthrough film at the beginning of their career and then taper off, Bong Joon-ho seems to only be increasing his skillful talent from an already impressive level during the early 2000’s. From his ability to execute “ensemble staging” in creating a portrait with nearly every shot, to a story that leaves you entertained from start to finish with some of the best twists I’ve personally ever seen, Parasite is a two-hour serving of smooth excellence. 

empty lighted city street at night

It follows the laughs, heartbreak, and actions that an impoverished family takes for a better life. Being recommended by a friend to tutor the daughter of an affluent family, Kim Ki-woo, son of Kim Ki-taek (played by Song Kang-ho), takes the job. What follows is better left unsaid and for you to find out! 

Parasite gets a big recommendation from me if you’re interested in seeing one of the best films of the year that has some amazing thrills and twists along the way. Though it may not have the emotional resonance that some may want and the story has just one element to it that I thought was a bit cliched, I loved Parasite and am anticipating a rewatch in the near future. 

Zimm Score: 8.8/10 

Movie Reviews of Jojo Rabbit and Pain and Glory

Jojo Rabbit

Based on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a Hitler youth who finds out his mother (played by Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. If this sounds like a drama with a serious tone, it’s not. Along the way, young Jojo also interacts and deals with his imaginary friend, an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (played by director Taika Waititi). Riding the fine line between respect and humor is something most would not dare to attempt. Yet Waititi not only attempts, but succeeds in making a satirical black comedy that offers heavy laughter on the one hand, while shifting towards pathos at times on the other. 

Watch It: If you want to see a visually pleasing laugh-fest that addresses a tragic era in human history with some great performances while riding an emotional Ferris wheel. 

Skip It: If you want to see a drama that holds Hitler in his realistic place in human history. (The film has divided critics over how the material is handled.) 

close up of rabbit on field

According to patterns in awards voting for over the last ten years, it’s likely that Jojo Rabbit will earn best picture nominations come awards season. Is it the best of year? My vote is no. Yet it will be no surprise to me if it earns such recognition, when considering the careful direction of Waititi towards such a story, one of the best performances by Johansson I’ve ever seen (and pleasurable to see her apart from the Marvel universe here), and top-notch cinematography (for a comedy film!) and music that’s meant for the big screen. Young Jojo Rabbit gets my recommendation as a must see. 

Zimm Score: 8.4/10 

Pain and Glory

In my second brief review, I’ll be touching on a Spanish film by director Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria). Starring famous actor Antonio Banderas, Banderas received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor, while the film, according to many, has perhaps a 50-50 chance of being nominated for best picture in the  upcoming awards ceremonies. 

This isn’t necessarily a great “chance,” considering how many outstanding films have and are being released this year. Plus, being an international film hasn’t bode well in the past for other such films. Yet Pain and Glory weaves together different vignettes of a film director’s life (Banderas) to present an outstanding turnout for Banderas and one of the best films of the year. 

Watch It: If you want to empathize with a character dealing with a creative crisis and internal conflict, a joyful and unforeseen ending, beautiful music, and a story that makes strong usage of flashbacks. 

Skip It: If you want a nude-free film (there’s one scene with male nudity of one man), exclusively heterosexual relations, a story that emphasizes plot over character, a flashback-free movie, and a subtitle-free film. (Flashbacks occur throughout and it’s a Spanish film.) 

Pain and Glory gets a recommendation from me, though understandably won’t be for everyone. Admittedly, the story is somewhat weak, and conflict exists mostly within the character, as he’s his own worst enemy and hindrance. Yet the performance by Banderas is welcoming, especially if you, like me, still are tempted to associate him with only The Mask of Zorro. Additionally, Penelope Cruz stars and makes a great portrayal of the main character’s mother during flashbacks. If nothing else, the film stays true to its name in brilliant fashion. 

Zimm Score: 7.8/10 

 

 

 

Movie Reviews of The Lighthouse and Harriet

The Lighthouse

During the second half of the 19th century, two of my ancestors in Santa Barbara served as lighthouse keepers of the town’s lighthouse. After her husband declined being reinstated, Julia Williams, my third great-grandmother took up the post… for the next forty years! Born and raised in New Brunswick, north of New England, there’s similarities between this unique part of my ancestry and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a new film that observes the lives of two keepers for a month in New England. 

Watch It: If you want to see superb craft of production design and cinematography, knockout acting performances, a haunting story, and have an affinity for psychological horrors. 

Skip It: If you want to see a film in color and a run-of-the mill drama with a positive or heartwarming storyline, or a horror with much action or jump scares. 

gray scale photography of lighthouse

The Lighthouse left me with a sense of how great of a film this was that I had just watched, while somehow disturbing me enough to where I couldn’t say I “liked” it. By default, the storyline is enough to warrant many viewers from “liking” a film like this. Yet superb acting (easily some of the best of the year) by Rob Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, chilling sound effects and musical score, some of the year’s best technical skill, and a story (albeit ambivalent and sloppy at times) that increases the tension more and more are plenty for this guy to recommend The Lighthouse to those interested in psychological horrors or the movies that have come out of A24 Studios so far. 

Zimm Score: 8/10 

Harriet 

My second brief review is a look at Harriet, a biopic that covers the life of Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, activist, and one of the greatest icons in American history. Because of her stature and legacy, it’s unfortunate that a film covering Tubman was so mishandled in comparison to other films that have covered great, historical figures. 

Watch It: If you want to see a great performance of the title character (played by Cynthia Erivo) and a basic run-through of what Tubman did, now on the big screen. 

Skip It: If you want a moving musical score that compliments its story, fine acting from the supporting cast, polished dialogue, and an in-depth look at Tubman’s backstory and her involvement with the Underground Railroad. 

As implied, Harriet fails to come close in the magnitude that Tubman had in real-life during the 19th century. I couldn’t help but be distracted by performances that were continually amateur and disappointing, music that played as if it didn’t know what kind of film or genre it was serving, and a script that was all too formulaic and cliched. I’m sorry, but there should never be hints of a Hallmark movie when making anything about someone on the level of a Harriet Tubman. 

Zimm Score: 4.5/10 

Movie Review of Zombieland: Double Tap

I’ll admit: I’ve never had much of an affinity with zombie comedies, or zombie films in general. Whatever the various reasons or influences were, they weren’t my thing. Whether it was the fear that some directors associated zombies with, the costumes and makeup that went into these pseudo-beings, or the sheer disgust and revolting display that must coincide with them. There never seemed to be any heart involved… they seemed all too brainless. Apologies, I could go on. 

Yet when I discovered the world of Zombieland (2009), my view towards this subgenre changed a bit. Amidst the gore and post-apocalyptic scenario, there was heart in the surviving characters. There was wit behind the humor and a sense of depth even, to these characters. And while its sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap, opening this weekend, doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, the sequel still offers plenty of fun, a fresh delivery of humor, and enough zombie sequences to satisfy the diehards. I said I could keep going.

dead end road sign

Watch It: If you want to laugh often, see some fine performances once again from the lead actors, and can get past or desire some zombie smashing. 

Skip It: If you want a substantial film with complexity, a serious or dark tone, and that’s free from violence or gore. 

Interestingly, for a movie with ample amounts of gore and destruction, Double Tap kept a surprisingly lighthearted tone, even when compared to the original. In this case, that isn’t all positive. Double Tap does suffer from some of the typical trappings of a sequel. The format seems awfully similar to the first film, and while there are some welcomed new characters to Z-land, we don’t have an entirely original story here. 

Yet its Emma Stone and new addition Zoey Deutch who carry both solid and comical peformances throughout. I got the sense that Stone still gave it her all, even ten years and numerous accolades later. And Deutch in some ways steals the comedic show. Playing a ditsy survivor in Zombieland, she offers many laughs, especially when paired opposite to Stone. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson also return, yet there’s a contrasting sense that they’re there more out of celebrating the first film’s success, acting in a more screwball fashion than in the original. 

Zombieland: Double Tap receives a recommendation from me for those interested, even if it may not offer as much to chew on as its predecessor. ; ) This is a formulaic film that’s funny throughout, even if some jokes at times fall a bit flat. For those who were definite fans of the 2009 film, Double Tap will most likely satisfy those same zom-com viewers this time around as a fun movie for the Fall season. 

Zimm Score: 6.5/10

Movie Review of Joker

“Put on a happy face.” That’s the tagline for Joker, the latest interpretation of DC Comics’ super villain and pop culture icon to hit the big screen. And while there’s not much content throughout the film to warrant a happy face, director Todd Philipps and the award-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix are more than enough to warrant a look of awe and astonishment in easily one of the best films of the year so far. 

Watch It: If you want to see a gripping and stunning performance by the lead actor, experience an epic and haunting musical score, sweeping cinematography, and a somber and unforgettable character study through his story. 

Skip It: If you want a bloodless superhero film that has Batman in it. This is, without question, a psychological thriller that centers on the mental instability of the main character. 

Many critics have stated how much Joker has altered the comic-book genre. Aside from the fact there isn’t technically a “comic-book” genre, Joker is not a superhero film, as something I’ll say upfront. We watch and observe a man named Arthur Fleck, played by Phoenix, who struggles through the pain of mental disorders, bullying, isolation, and deception. 

close up photo of playing cards

Phoenix is clearly front and center as Arthur Fleck in this origin story, essentially, for the character Joker. Every tear, every laugh in attempt of fitting in, and every burst of anger reveals a performance this year that will be hard to beat in the upcoming awards season. Aside from other aspects of the film, Phoenix carries the story through and through. 

What did take me by surprise was how amazing the film is all around. In keeping this a review of the movie itself, without jumping into social commentary on the film, Philipps proves that he can direct spectacular movies that are outside of his past work, like comedies The Hangover, Road Trip, and Old School. The camera work is extraordinary, and I simply could not get enough of the musical score, coursing through every scene and composed by Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir. (Don’t ask me to pronounce!) 

Lastly, as it may go without saying for a Joker movie, the costume, makeup and hair departments also accurately ring true of a dark and struggling Gotham City, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s Taxi Driver, in fact, that Philipps drew much of his inspiration from. Fortunately for viewers, we don’t get the sense of a cheap imitation, but rather a skilled director who knows how to craft an original story while still implementing inspirations and using a pop culture icon. 

Joker gets a strong recommendation from me for those who want to see well-made art and a well-made film, with no surprise from me if it receives multiple Oscar nominations. Many today want to point the finger at art and blame creativity as the source for violence in our societies. Yet what Joker does in my opinion so brilliantly, in opposition to other films that unnecessarily glorify violence, is reflect our current culture and shed light on areas of our real, skin and bone societies that still have a long ways to go. 

Zimm Score: 8.8/10 

The 10 Greatest Psychological Thrillers to Date

In preparation for the anticipated psychological thriller, Joker, I’d like to give the ten greatest psychological thrillers, to date.

This list hopes to show not necessarily the best, but the greatest of all time. By greatest, I’ve combined many areas that include the following:
1) The average rating the movie received from critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes (this is NOT the “Tomatometer” percentage)
2) The average rating the movie received from users on Letterboxd.
3) Any number of Oscar nominations the movie received
4) Any number of Oscar wins the movie received
5) Box Office Success (adjusted for inflation) the movie had

To give much more weight to the ratings and awards the movie has than its box office success, I’ve multiplied the average score out of ten on Rotten Tomatoes by 2, and the average score out of five on Letterboxd by 4. I’ve also given one point for every Oscar nomination and 1.5 points for every win, regardless of category.

You may see that the order is different than you would have guessed, or that some films aren’t even listed. This list, as many others I’ve made, seems to shed a mixed light on both how big it was in its time with how positive its legacy has been. I think this shares something unique that most rankings don’t look at as much.

This won’t be my personal ranking, and the list will simply give brief synopses, not commented on by me as I do with movie reviews. As with all of my lists I’ve posted elsewhere, I’ve ran many films through, though only the ten greatest are listed here. As such, feel free to let me know or ask if I’ve checked a certain film! 

Oh, and a final word: these are psychological thrillers specifically. I attempted to present movies that are not horror exclusively or other subgenres of thrillers, like sci-fi thriller or adventure thriller, for example.  Enjoy!

1. The Silence of the Lambs  (1991)

closeup photo of mayfly

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Synopsis: Clarice Starling is a top student at the FBI’s training academy. Jack     Crawford wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

2. Rebecca (1940)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Synopsis: Story of a young woman who marries a fascinating widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his former wife, Rebecca, who died mysteriously several years earlier. The young wife must come to grips with the terrible secret of her handsome, cold husband, Max De Winter. She must also deal with the jealous, obsessed Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, who will not accept her as the mistress of the house.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

closeup photo of yellow taxi

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.

 

 

4. Black Swan (2010)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Synopsis: A journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by: David Fincher

Synopsis: This English-language adaptation of the Swedish novel by Stieg Larsson follows a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, as he investigates the disappearance of a weary patriarch’s niece from 40 years ago. He is aided by the pierced, tattooed, punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. As they work together in the investigation, Blomkvist and Salander uncover immense corruption beyond anything they have ever imagined.

golden gate bridge photo

6. Vertigo (1958)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Synopsis: A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

7. Memento (2000)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: Leonard Shelby is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty of locating his wife’s killer, however, is compounded by the fact that he suffers from a rare, untreatable form of short-term memory loss. Although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he’s going, or why.

8. Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Directed by: Anthony Minghella

Synopsis: Tom Ripley is a calculating young man who believes it’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody. Opportunity knocks in the form of a wealthy U.S. shipbuilder who hires Tom to travel to Italy to bring back his playboy son, Dickie. Ripley worms his way into the idyllic lives of Dickie and his girlfriend, plunging into a daring scheme of duplicity, lies and murder.

9. The Handmaiden (2016)

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Synopsis: 1930s Korea, in the period of Japanese occupation, a young woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering uncle. But, the maid has a secret: she is a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese count to help him seduce the heiress to elope with him, rob her of her fortune, and lock her up in a madhouse. The plan seems to proceed according to plan until the women discover some unexpected emotions.

10. Fatal Attraction (1987)

Directed by: Adrian Lyne

Synopsis: A married man’s one night stand comes back to haunt him when that lover begins to stalk him and his family.

Honorable Mentions: Gone Girl and Fight Club 

Movie Review of Ad Astra

Two years ago, James Gray, who has directed the newly released sci-fi Ad Astra, stated that he wanted to direct a film that was “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.” Then last year, 33-year old Damien Chazelle completed and released his epic biopic on Neil Armstrong’s life and trip to the moon. And while I’m unaware of what Gray thought of the film, any space-related cliche would apply to how magnificent Chazelle’s First Man was. 

Unfortunately for Gray, I would wager a bet that I’m not the only one who thinks First Man depicts a much more “realistic depiction of space travel” than Ad Astra, coming out this weekend. Ad Astra, a Latin phrase for “into the stars,” is a sight to behold, without a doubt. Yet its progression through space and its screenplay is about as weightless as Brad Pitt’s moon rover floating over a crater. 

sky earth space working

Watch It: If you want superb production design (eye candy) that looks magnificent on the big screen, an excellent musical score, and/or to see Brad Pitt dressed as an astronaut. 

Skip It: If you want a well-directed and well-written story that offers intellect, weight, thrills, and/or majesty. 

Okay, so I’ve been a bit brutal so far. Ad Astra is a fine, decent movie. It received great praise at the Venice Film Festival and Brad Pitt was praised for a great performance. Perhaps some of us, like myself, went in and will go in with high… out of this world expectations. It just barely receives my recommendation, primarily as a technical achievement. The visual, musical, and sound departments are merited some award nominations in my opinion. 

Yet in the realm of direction, screenwriting and even acting, Ad Astra doesn’t hold up to other premiere astronaut films. It lacks the intellectual and thought-provoking material from Christopher Nolan in Interstellar. It lacks the character’s grittiness and technical majesty in First Man, directed by Chazelle. It lacks the complete thrill from beginning to end in Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. It even lacks comedic moments that Matt Damon brought to his survival film in The Martian. What’s left is a blah film with a typical performance from Pitt and marvelous images and sounds to take in. 

Ad Astra gets a reluctant recommendation from me for a necessary, formulaic structure it has, though the high level of lackluster dialogue helps it to drag. As said, the film has stunning images of the moon and other planets throughout the story, and the musical talent is a welcome bonus. As early reviews are in from other audience members, it appears I’m not alone on my critique. But if you’ve had a knack for space travel films, you’ll want to see Ad Astra and get your own take. It’s sure to cause distinctive opinions among us film goers!

Zimm Score: 6.5/10