Remember The Oscars?

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, March 26, 2020 04:05pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

It seems like the Oscars were a million years ago, but they were actually just last month. This column was supposed to run a while back but it’s been in limbo for the past few weeks as civilization has been collapsing. I wasn’t a fan of Joker, but the other two Oscar nominees/winners in this column are totally worth checking out during your virus lockdown. Parasite, especially, is not to be missed. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in the past couple years.

JokerJoker, Warner Brothers:
This steaming pile of Oscar excrement is the most torturous couple of hours I’ve spent in the past few months. Sure, Joaquin Phoenix grunts, weeps, spasmodically chuckles, and even interpretive dances his way through a role and that’s acting with a capital A; but most of the time I just feel like I’m watching a terminally constipated man squeeze out the world’s most reluctant turd. It’s acting with a capital A in a movie that’s a bummer with a capital B. The slow moving script is beyond ham-fisted; it’s like they grafted a herd of wild boars to their forearms. There are multiple layers of irony in the film, but the most annoying one is that a movie called Joker doesn’t have a funny moment in it. The whole thing is utterly grey and joyless. It’s like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, only more depressing. The pacing is glacial. At one point my wife said, “God, this movie is so slow,” and we were only ten minutes past the opening credits! There’s no super villains, fights, or explosions to break up the pace, just one excruciatingly sad scene after another. Unlike Marvel, DC seems to have given up on actually entertaining us. Not even Robert De Niro could save this. I mean, it’s well written and acted. The script had some literary sophistication to it. I appreciated the political and socio-economic metaphors and liked the references to the horrors we’re experiencing in the age of Trump, but at the same time you can see the major plot points coming from a mile away. When he lost his job, I turned to my wife and said, “I bet before the end of the night he’s going to have turned to a life of crime and 'Send In The Clowns' will be playing somewhere in the background." And sure enough… Joaquin Phoenix gives it his all until he pretty much breaks out in a sweat in every scene. I’m not saying he’s trying too hard, but by the last time in the movie he does a little interpretive dance I was ready to open a beer, not because I wanted to drink it but just so that I could throw the bottle at the screen.

The main problem I had with the movie is that I just couldn’t find the central character sympathetic. Sure he has a fucked up life but he also is just a psychopath, a weirdo, and a creep. Also no matter how bad your life is, it doesn’t give you the right to go out and kill people and I found this to be the central moral flaw of the movie. Killing people is not OK; I don’t care if you had a bad day. This movie would have been just fine if it was just the latest crappy DC superhero picture. For a film like that, your expectations are pretty low and this movie was perfectly adequate. But I’m shocked that this is a big Oscar nominee. Is this really the best Hollywood could do this year? The Academy gave Joaquin Phoenix the best actor award because they love smarmy white guys who turn in performances that are the equivalent of a good cardio workout at the gym. A friend of mine works in the psych ward at General and she said all the other psych ward nurses loved this movie. They thought it was a spot-on portrayal of a criminal schizophrenic, so there’s that. Personally, if I want to spend time with criminal schizophrenics I’ll just ride the Mission bus for a couple hours. It’s a good thing I didn’t see this in the theater because security would have probably ejected me from the building for repeatedly screaming, “Ah, cheer up buddy!” at the screen. If Joaquin Phoenix ever reads this review, he’ll probably get so angry he’ll club me to death with his Oscar statue in a dark alley somewhere, but I just wasn’t a fan of this movie.

Once Upon A Time In HollywoodOnce Upon A Time In Hollywood, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment:
The first hour of this two hour and forty minute movie was kind of a meandering mess. Way too much time was spent on long lingering shots of the main characters driving around LA in their cars listening to the radio. A half hour in and there was still no sign of a plot. I had no idea what Quentin Tarantino was going for, but finally, in the second hour, the film began to focus and then things started to get good. There is a scene that takes place at Spahn Ranch with the Manson Family that is a wonderfully orchestrated masterpiece of menace and suspense, and I was like, "OK, this is the Quentin Tarantino I know!" Everything finally starts to gel then. The movie is definitely a slow burn, but once the ball starts rolling it steadily picks up steam till the ending, which is a deliriously deranged strike that knocks over every pin at the end of the alley. And the ending is truly epic -- one of the best things Tarantino has ever done. It's violent, over the top, and yet leaves you laughing and cheering. The previous two and a half hours were a masterful bait and switch. You thought the film was going one place, and then Tarantino makes a sudden turn and you just can't believe where you are. I didn't see it coming but was very glad when I got there. Despite the first hour, most of the ride is quite pleasurable. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are great in this, truly a joy to watch. DiCaprio especially seems to inhabit his character like a comfortable suit of clothes that he loves showing off. There is a masterful sense of detail to the production. Countless dollars were spent recreating 1969 right down to the smallest details. Closed stores, restaurants, and long torn down neon signs are recreated. The emptiness of the first hour is filled with all these minute details. These loving details are a major part of the bait and switch that lures you into a false sense of reality. This was a good Tarantino movie, but I don't think it's in his top three. I felt like his Oscar nomination for this was more of a career achievement nod than a vote for this particular movie. It's still well worth watching and one of the more enjoyable Oscar nominees I watched this year.

ParasiteParasite, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment:
Now this is more like it. Pure genius. Definitely the best movie I watched this year and most worthy of winning best picture. Even in the first few minutes of the film, you know you're in for something special. The central family's dynamic is weird and unsettling right out of the starting gate and things just get steadily worse. Parasite tells the story of a family of haves and another family of have-nots, and the creepy sinister relationship that develops between them. There is something almost Kafkaesque about the script, it is simultaneously realistic and surreal and absurd at the same time. The film sinks its meat hooks into you right at the beginning and never lets up. Some of the ideas and story lines it explores may be old and timeless, but the way it handles them is utterly fresh. Even though the film takes place in South Korea and is in Korean, it is a brilliant metaphor for any capitalist society and addresses the challenges contemporary civilization faces better than any other move I saw this year. It does this without ever being preachy. It doesn't use big special effects, stars, or a massive production budget; everything is accomplished just with the script, acting, and some beautiful cinematography. It is a film about ordinary life, that explorers the strange and sinister undercurrents of mundane existence. But don't be fooled, this movie is never boring. In fact, it's almost impossible to look away because every scene is more unsettling than the one before, as if you are watching a car skid off a road in slow motion towards an inevitable crash. The film starts with the Kim family living in utter poverty in a basement apartment. Even affording food is a struggle for them. The son, Ki-woo, finally gets a break when a college friend hooks him up filling in for him at a tutoring job while he is traveling. Ki-woo starts teaching English to Da-hye, the daughter in the wealthy Park family. As soon as he gets his foot in the door, Ki-woo starts to insinuate himself into the Park family and soon manages to get all of his family members hired as household help. The only catch is that the Parks have no idea that their new employees are related to each other. Things get increasingly ugly from there. The pacing of the film is a modulated slow burn that never lets up and pretty soon things start catching fire. Before you know it, we're watching one of the most epic dumpster fires in cinematic history. It is hard to describe what a fantastic work of art this is. This film is one of the great masterpieces of cinema and should sit proudly beside works like Citizen Kane, The Godfather, or Casablanca. It may be the single best picture ever made about capitalism. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie this good. If you only see one movie this year, make it Parasite.

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World Cinema (12), Manson Family (5), Quentin Tarantino (17), Robert De Niro (3), Joaquin Phoenix (1), Joker (4), The Oscars (3), Blu-rays (21), Film (204), Jon Longhi (36), Korea (9), Korean Cinema (3)