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Film: Parasite (Korean with English subtitles)

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo

Directed by: Bong Joon Ho

Duration: 2 hrs 14 mins

Rating:  * * * * *

Much like the house depicted in the film, Parasite is a very multi-layered film. On the surface of it, you can enjoy it purely as a thriller but you don’t even have to dig very deep to see that it is also a meticulously crafted social commentary. Director Bong Joon Ho, at just 50, has already established himself as a highly respected name in world cinema with films like Memories of Murder (2003), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013) and the Netflix film Okja (2017). With Parasite, he has pushed the bar even higher.

One of the hallmarks of a great film is when it conveys something more than what you just see. The main protagonists are a family of four, living in a cramped place which is a half basement – the window is just at the eye level of the road. In a way, the Kim family has their heads floating just above the waters of life. Poverty is the focus here but the family is not one to sit and cry – they don’t have Wi-Fi but the neighbours do. They make pizza boxes by looking at YouTube videos but that doesn’t solve their problems.

The son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) gets a break when his friend gives him an opportunity to tutor a young girl of the very rich Park family. He also gives him a “lucky stone” which is supposed to make them wealthy. It is very symbolic and has an important role to play. There is a lot of deceit involved but life suddenly starts looking rosy for the Kims. The daughter becomes an art therapist for the brat son, the father (Kang-ho Song, a Korean superstar) gets in as a chauffeur, while the mother comes in as a replacement for the housekeeper. The going is good, momentarily – then it all starts to go awry.

The divide between the rich and poor couldn’t be starker and couldn’t be shown in a more matter of fact manner. But this question also arises – who are the real parasites here? In Bong’s view, it seems the Kim family is the one because they are the ones who infiltrate and con the other family. In the end, everyone is an opportunist but the sympathy for most parts lies with the Kim family. They are always subjected to indirect humiliation when the Parks often refer to the smell that comes, particularly from the father who drives the car.

There are no real villains here, are all a victim of their circumstances – the rich family is no way exploiting the poor in the direct sense. But yet, there is no hope for economic equality for the poor as the ending clearly depicts. They are likely to remain where they are, at best, they can have ambitious dreams.

It is very rare for a foreign film to be nominated for six Oscars, including best picture – all of them completely deserving.  

Rarely do you see such meticulous production design – there is a basement, a bunker and a posh house depicting the layers of society. Those in the bunker are not necessarily unhappy or ungrateful but then human nature is unpredictable.

Also, what we learn eventually is that in any space, one person or family replaces another, whether it is the rich or the poor but the disparity remains.

Reality bites, and how.

Manning up

Film: Jawaani Jaaneman

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Alaya F, Kumud Mishra

Directed by: Nitin Kakkar

Duration: 1 hr 59 mins

Rating: * * *

Based on the Argentinean film Igualita A Mi (2010), Jawaani Jaaneman is a fluffy but enjoyable story about a father-daughter relationship. I have always maintained that if Hindi films stuck to the 120 minutes or less mark, they would fare much better and this Nitin Kakkar film is a case in point.

Largely breezy, except the last lap, the film takes a look at relationships and the coming of age of a man who it appears is in his early 50’s. Saif Ali Khan plays Jazz, he is a happy go lucky character who loves in freedom, frequents night clubs and chases anything in a skirt. It would have been interesting to see this kind of a person in an Indian metro setting but this story is set in London.

Jazz takes it as it comes – his business is not doing well, the rent is overdue, the bills are not paid – but he couldn’t care less about all that. In the middle of it all, he meets Tia (Alaya F) at a night club and invites her home – just as things are about to warm up, there is a revelation. She suspects that he could be her father and that’s the reason why she has been tailing him. Jazz doesn’t take it too kindly – the thought of him being a father is terrifying. Add to it, it turns out that Tia is also pregnant and her boyfriend is not on the scene.

The awkwardness of the whole situation is handled very well as Jazz slowly, steadily and reluctantly discovers that there is more to life than just personal needs. The playfulness between the two is fun to watch but towards the end, it runs out of steam and everything is wrapped up in a conventional manner including a climax at the train station. 

Kubra Sait plays the friendly hairdresser but Jazz doesn’t miss an opportunity to hit on her as well while Kumud Mishra is the supportive brother who usually overlooks Jazz’s flaws. Tabu nails it as she always does – she plays a hippie of sorts with whom Jazz had an encounter several moons ago.

It’s not just that, the character is well written, Saif Ali Khan also plays it with equal charm and conviction. All in all, this is one of the bolder and better outings at the cinemas in recent times.

To Heil and Back

Film: Jojo Rabbit

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Duration: 1 hr 47 mins

Rating: * * * 1/ 2

 First things first – it is refreshing to see the director who made a superhero box office hit, Thor: Ragnorak (2017) tell an offbeat kind of a story. Taika Waititi pretty much saved Thor from the dumps and gave him a new lease of life – the next installment which will also be helmed by him is due in 2021.

But coming to Jojo Rabbit, this is a risky proposition because it involves Hitler and humour which sometimes doesn’t go down very well. And by making Adolf the hero’s friend (albeit imaginary), he has gone for the jugular but manages to pull it off.

It is not the first time that Hitler has been the subject of humour – even when he was around, Chaplin did it in The Great Dictator (1940), Lubitsch ridiculed him in To Be or Not to Be (1942).

Set during the Nazi period, this slick and stylish film has Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis, missing out on a deserving Oscar nomination), he is all of 10-years-old, adores Hitler and the Nazis and has already joined the army for training. In fact, Hitler (played by Waititi) is also his imaginary friend with whom he often has conversations. In the opening scene, there is a discussion about how to say “Heil Hitler” before cutting to the German version of the Beatles classic, I wanna hold your hand,  which sounded very good actually. Jojo earns the nickname of Jojo Rabbit at an army camp when he refuses to kill a rabbit as a demonstration of his courage. 

Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) appears to be a faithful of the Fatherland but then maybe she is not. We soon learn that there is young Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in their house, putting Jojo in a fix. He is a nice bloke and Elsa seems to be a sweet girl but then she is also a Jew. “You’re not a Nazi, Jojo,” Elsa tells him, “You’re a 10-year-old boy who likes dressing up in a funny uniform.” 

Jojo has been brainwashed to hate but can he have a change of heart? Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens’, which apparently is much grimmer than the film, Waititi manages to keep things light and also manages to make a point about fascism. Sam Rockwell plays the officer in charge of training while Jojo and his friend (Archie Yates) are the cutest kids you’ll see on the big screen.

Since he is dealing with a sensitive subject, there is always bound to be some criticism about the manner in which it is dealt with. But is one sees it, this is an effective film and the manner in which Hitler is disposed of, says it all.

Silly but Fun

Film: Bad Boys For Life

Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence

Directed by: Adil and Bilall

Duration: 2 hrs 3 mins

Rating: * * *

 After a good 17 odd years, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return as Mike and Marcus two cops who take on the bad guys. While the story and plot points are as silly as they get, this is one of those leave your brains behind kind of a Hollywood film. It has also been a while since we saw Martin Lawrence on the big screen – older, heavier and presumably wiser he still surely has a knack for comedy.

With the Belgian duo of Adil and Bilall taking over directorial duties, Marcus (Lawrence) has become old enough to become a grandfather and also old enough not to see anything without glasses – he is still a part of the Miami police force along with his partner Mike (Will Smith). There is a Mexican cartel headed by Rita (Paola Núñez) and her son (Charles Melton) who want to bump off Mike but are unsuccessful. Marcus then promises God that he will not resort to any more violence in his life. You really don’t need to know the rest except that there are silly twists and turns and the odd emotional moment (“What happened to bad boys for life?” thunders Will Smith) and a huge body count.

The film primarily sails through because of the humour and Lawrence’s nonchalant attitude. The action is strictly average including a lot of car chases that resort to the Michael Bay style of frantic editing. In fact, Bay himself is seen in a cameo. If you enjoy his kind of movies, then this is your ticket to two hours of entertainment, as silly as it may be.

Gangsta’s Paradise

Film: The Gentlemen

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Duration: 1 hr 54 mins

Rating: * * * 1 / 2

 With a Guy Ritchie film, entertainment is usually guaranteed. His films are slick, stylish, sometimes very clever and after surprising us with Aladdin last year, Ritchie returns to what he does best,  gangster flicks. The Gentlemen shows us vintage Guy Ritchie in this drama that involves guns, drugs, gangsters and lots of double-crossing. This is more like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch Guy Ritchie that we know of. 

The Gentlemen also has a stellar cast comprising mostly of men. Hugh Grant plays Fletcher, a hustler, and investigator of sorts who is demanding a rather huge sum of money from Ray (Charlie Hunnam). A large part of the film cuts back and forth to their conversation as we learn that Ray works for Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) who is the kingpin of the marijuana business in the UK. He is looking for a buyer for operations while you get accustomed to the heavy British accents, barring that of Mickey who is an American who has moved to UK. Mickey cleverly uses the estates of the rich in the country to make sure his business flourishes. Mickey wants to retire and get out of the business.

There is a buyer on the cards but then there are complications as well. There is more than one of them interested while all of them look dubious in their dealings. The body count rises steadily, much slower for a Guy Ritchie gangsta film. Colin Farrell plays a trainer who gets caught in the murky business while the only lady on the scene is Mickey’s wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) who is an absolute no-nonsense woman.

You have to be attentive to what is going as the characters are introduced one by one. Given the nature of the plot, Ritchie is clearly going back to his roots with style and some substance.

You can tell that Hugh Grant is having the most fun playing his character while the rest of the cast is serviceable.

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