The Oscar Project
In my experience, when people say that a movie is great, to the point where almost no one you talk to has anything bad to say about it, things can go one of two ways. I had the first thing happen many years ago when I finally watched Napoleon Dynamite after friends raving about it for months. I watched it and was thoroughly unimpressed, something I wrote about after returning to the film when I did a 30-day film challenge in late 2020.
The second thing that can happen is the film can completely live up to the expectations, or sometimes even exceed all the glowing things people said about it before you saw it. Parasite is one of those films.
It feels like a little more than just three years since Parasite swept the awards season and capped it off with four Oscar wins including Bong Joon-ho for Best Director and the Best Picture award. It’s also hard to believe that just about a month after the Oscars where Parasite led the pack, the world shut down and things have never been the same since.
Ki-woo meets with a friend and agrees to take his place as an English tutor for the daughter of wealthy family. Once he gets his foot in the door with the Park family, he recommends his sister (re-named “Jessica” to avoid detection as his sister) as an art tutor for the Park’s young son. “Jessica” then recommends Ki-taek as a new driver for Mr. Park, who in turn recommends Chung-sook as a new housekeeper when the Park’s long-time housekeeper is let go. The Kims slowly insinuate themselves into the lives of the entire Park family, latching on to the wealthy in order to improve their own station in life. Once they have forced the existing driver and housekeeper out of the picture, the Kim’s begin to settle into their new way of life, but before they can get too comfortable, things take a drastic turn.
The first half of this film was a slow burn the way it set the scene. While initially feeling bad for the Kim’s in their destitution, I soon turned to feeling for the Park family, especially because of how easily they are duped into trusting the Kim family. The two families are mirrors of one another, both having four members, a mother, father, son, and daughter, and part of the genius of the film is how they could almost be considered the same family that diverged at some point in history.
Where the film really shines is in the second half, once the Kims are fully in place working for the Parks. Mr. Kim ingratiates himself with Mr. Park, gaining his trust and helping with whatever needs doing when it comes to driving him and Mrs. Park around. But we find out in the second half that while Mr. Park appreciates the service provided by Mr. Kim (and the rest of the Kim family) he doesn’t truly respect them, even complaining about the smell that Mr. Kim has in the car as they drive around town. We also learn that the Kims are not the first ones to latch on to the wealthy family in the house. This is where things start to unravel for the Kims and ultimately leads to a deadly conclusion.
If you were to ask me what this film reminds me of, my initial thought would be something along the lines of Hitchcock. Rear Window jumps to mind in the way the first half of that film is a lot of set up where not much really happens, but once the action starts, it doesn’t stop. Just like Hitchcock, there are moments throughout the second half of Parasite where things are quiet and you know something’s coming around the corner, but the quiet lasts just long enough to allow you to let down your guard, before the director smacks you in the face with a new twist.
Several times in the second half of the film I was certain I knew where it was heading, but every time I was wrong. It’s rare in movies today that things can catch seasoned viewers completely off guard, and this film is the exception that proves that rule. Director Bong delivers a trail of breadcrumbs that oftentimes seem to lead to safety, but only serve to take the film in a new direction completely different from where you expect it to go.
Plenty has been written about this film and the statements on class and social inequality, specifically in Korea but also in the world at large. At the end of the film, Ki-woo narrates over the last few scenes that he has a plan in place to bring the Kim family out of poverty, but the very last image shows him still residing in the same basement apartment where he started. Despite the proximity to the wealthy Park family, his position in life hasn’t changed, and the Kim family as a whole is in a much worse situation. It can even be argued that by associating with the Kims, the Park family has collapsed and begun a fall from grace…the host succumbing to the infection of the parasite that has invaded.
This film is one that I absolutely plan to revisit at least once in the next few months. I need a little time to sit with it in my consciousness, but I know there are things I missed on my first viewing. Just like watching Rian Johnson’s Knives Out a second time last fall, there will surely be little details that I pick up on now that I know the outcome of the story.
Bravo Bong Joon-ho! This is truly a masterpiece.
It’s the last full week of January and you should have just about finished four movies for the year so far. If you’re not a huge movie watcher, this might feel like a lot, but you can do it. Just take them one week at a time and try not to get too far ahead of yourself with the rest of the year. Before you know it, you’ll have over 50 movies under your belt for the year!
My film this week for the category of a film with animals was Life of Pi directed by Ang Lee. I did a little digging after watching this film, and though it is now more than a decade old, Lee has not returned to the Oscars as a nominee since receiving the award for Best Director for this film. It’s also coincidental that I am writing this post the same week as this year’s Oscar nominations were announced and have a post on this year’s crop of Best Visual Effects nominees, a category that Life of Pi won along with Best Cinematography.
The action shifts to a teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) and his family in India before they emigrate to Canada. His family owns a zoo in their town and Pi loves the animals, especially a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (so named due to a clerical error when the tiger was acquired by the zoo). As a result of “the Emergency” in India, Pi’s family decides to relocate to Canada, and bring their animals with them on a ship across the Pacific Ocean. When the ship sinks, Pi is the only human who manages to make it into a lifeboat alongside a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a hyena, and eventually Richard Parker himself. The hyena quickly kills the zebra and eventually the orangutan, before falling victim to Richard Parker.
The bulk of the film is the journey that Pi and Richard Parker go on as they try to survive first days, then weeks and months at sea in a small lifeboat. Pi is alone and uses the time to sort through his feelings on religion and God, something he had thought about since learning about Christianity and Islam as a boy who was raised in a Hindu home. He questions why his entire family had to die in the sinking ship. He considers why he was allowed to survive and why he is stuck in the lifeboat with a creature initially bent on killing him. One of my favorite lines in the film is from Pi when there is a storm raging. He and Richard Parker have come to an understanding at this point, where Pi provides food for the tiger, and the tiger in turn doesn’t kill and eat Pi. During the storm, Pi yells to the open expanse of the sky asking why are “you” scaring him (Richard Parker)? In speaking directly to God, he exclaims, “I’ve lost my family. I’ve lost everything. I surrender. What more do you want?”
There are obvious connections to biblical stories like Noah’s Ark in this film, and honestly it takes on one of the biggest questions people have posed about that story for a long time, namely, how did the lions and tigers and bears not eat everything else during that comparatively short (40 days) journey? I’m sure there are more religious undertones that I missed relating to religions I’m not as familiar with, but it’s definitely a film that makes you think and question why certain things happen.
The film was lauded at the time for the realistic nature of the animals, specifically Richard Parker. If you look at behind the scenes footage of the film, you’ll see that much of the production consisted of Sharma sitting in a lifeboat in a giant indoor water tank with blue or green screens all around him, acting against nothing, or against a small inanimate stand-in for Richard Parker. What the visual effect artists did with the animals, especially Richard Parker, is astonishing, and honestly, there were moments where I couldn’t tell if they had used a real tiger for certain shots or if it was digital. The film is worth seeing for this fact alone. But the visual nature of the film doesn’t stop there. Going back to the point that it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, the overall visual appeal of this film is off the charts. There are the moments in storms where waves climb hundreds of feet above Pi and the boat, but the ones that are even better are those where the sea is calm and Pi gets time to sit and contemplate. We get to see reflections of the heavens against the calm sea, a floating island full of meerkats (also computer generated) that looks like nothing I’ve ever seen, and even an enormous whale breeching near Pi’s boat, churning up bioluminescent algae along the way. If you love striking visuals in film, this is one you shouldn’t miss.
There is some question about the end of this film. Ultimately, no one can verify Pi’s version of events because he was the only survivor. Near the end of the film, some investigators from the insurance company checking on the boat’s sinking ask him for his story and don’t like the version with Richard Parker. He offers a different story where his mother survived in the boat with him along with a sailor and cook from the ship. In this version, the cook turns on the sailor and Pi’s mother, killing them before Pi kills the cook. It is obvious that these characters are substitutes for the zebra, orangutan, and hyena, with Pi perhaps being the tiger. Ultimately the insurance report sticks with Pi’s first version of the story, and I tend to want to believe that one as well.
Finally, a question I considered while digesting this film is what sort of movie I would make featuring animals. My favorite animal has been the wolf for as long as I can remember, so I would probably pick something about wolves. I know there have been plenty of films with wolves, both as good characters and bad, but hopefully I would be able to bring something new to the creature and do them justice. I think a realistic adventure film would actually be a lot of fun, showing the dynamics of a wolf pack.
I hope that I would have been able to survive as Pi did in this film. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want to be stranded in a lifeboat at sea with a Bengal tiger. But if something like that ever DOES happen, I pray that I will be as resourceful as Pi in my ability to survive.
A film with a single word title
Yesterday I chose a very recent film, and today I’m going in the way back machine for my selection. My film with a single word title is Casablanca, the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman classic that provided some of the most memorable lines in film history.
This was actually a terrible gap in my film resume until about a year ago. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years, catching segments when it was on television, or snippets in documentaries about films, but I had never sat down and watched the film from beginning to end. I went back and looked at the films I have rated on the movie tracking website Trakt.tv and I have reserved a 10 out of 10 rating for only about a dozen films, Casablanca being one of them. It is a truly timeless film and I think the thing that struck me most during my most recent watch was the fact that it was a film set during WWII, made shortly after the United States entered the war at the end of 1941 and premiered less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The entire film feels a bit like the story of the war up to that point. Bogart’s Rick Blaine is the stand in for the United States, staying out of the politics and making money from both sides until his hand is forced and he has to make a decision. Bergman’s Ilsa Lund is the reason Rick ends up getting involved for she begs him to help her and her husband and Czech Resistance leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) escape Casablanca.
One of my favorite scenes from the film comes when the Germans start singing their patriot anthem “Die Wacht am Rhein” in Rick’s bar. Laszlo urges the house band to break into “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. The band pauses only a moment until Rick gives a nod of approval. The patrons of the bar pick up the French tune and soon drown out the Germans, but it’s Rick’s subtle nod that is the true turning point of the story. He has decided to do what is right, rather than what will provide him financial gains. It may have been, just like the United States’ own entry into the war, a bit later than the Allies would have liked, but it came just the same.
There is so much more to this film than I have space to discuss here, but I am so mad at myself that I waited so long to see it. If you are like I was and haven’t seen the entire film, please do yourself a favor and check it out. It is currently available on HBO Max and at just 102 minutes, it’s not a terribly long film.
Part of what I want to do with this challenge this year is chronicle my experiences through watching the movies that I select for each of these categories. In certain circumstances, the timing of watching the films will play a part in my feelings on it. My choice to watch Platoon on the evening of January 6, 2021 certainly had an impact.
As I write this post, we are in the midst of a strange time in our nation's history. While there is still much to be figured out about the events of January 6, 2021, it is sure to be a date that finds a place in history books of the future, not unlike July 4th, 1776, December 7th, 1941, and September 11th, 2001. I bring up those dates not to compare the recent events to those famous events. The scale and ultimate loss of life that resulted from the events on those days goes far beyond what we saw this week. However, there was a sense of January 6th being a turning point in history, just as those dates were.
But what does this have to do with Platoon? Well, nothing really. The only connection is that I spent the afternoon watching continuous news coverage of the events then watched the film. Usually I would turn to a comedy to cleanse the palate. But I had committed to doing this challenge and needed to get my film in before the end of the week, planning to watch it on Wednesday evening, before all the chaos erupted. So I sat down and pulled it up on Netflix as planned and tried to focus my attention on the movie for a few hours.
This was easier said than done and I fear it may have detracted a bit from the viewing experience. That said, the violence and chaos I saw in the film were definitely more serious than what was on television news earlier that evening. But, it was a very interesting juxtaposition.
What about the film?
As someone who has loved films for a long time, I have read, seen, and heard many people's opinions on this film. It is often cited as one of the best films about war ever made and given the fact that Oliver Stone was himself a Vietnam veteran, the entire film feels extremely real and genuine. However, I have to admit to being a little less enthralled with this film than I was with Apocalypse Now (the Redux version). That is not to say that it's a bad film. It is fantastic and still worthy of all the praise it has received over the years. Perhaps the fact that I have heard continued hype about it over the years meant that whatever the film was would fail to live up to expectations. Perhaps if I'd seen this earlier in life, before I settled down and had a family, maybe then I would have been able to connect even more with the characters, all being young teenage and early 20s men.
One thing I will say as a huge positive about the film is that it didn't feel bloated the way war films often do. It was a tight two hours and didn't even feel that long because the pacing was great. There were times for quiet and introspection, punctuated by the fire fights and chaos of the guerrilla warfare faced in Vietnam. Continuing the comparison to Apocalypse Now, that film clocks in at just over two and a half hours in the director's cut, but often feels like three hours or more. That film tends to have more extended periods of introspection and rumination, and feels much more like a psychological study than a snapshot of a short period in history in a small part of the jungle like Platoon.
I can't let the comparisons end there with the obvious one left unstated. While Platoon was made nearly a decade later than Apocalypse Now, they feature father Martin (Apocalypse Now) and son Charlie (Platoon) Sheen in the leading roles. One could argue that Charlie's is less of a lead since Platoon's cast is much more of an ensemble, but both actors are the featured voice in the film and provide narration at different points.
Interestingly, both Martin's Captain Willard and Charlie's Chris Taylor undergo a transformation during the time that we are with them in Vietnam. Willard is already a seasoned veteran at the beginning of the film, but progress more and more towards going native as he progresses up river over the course of the film. Taylor on the other hand is a brand new soldier, fresh off the plane from the States. Initially he is a fish out of water, the only man who volunteered in a unit full of draftees. But when he is accepted by some of his peers, he begins to blossom and ultimately shows levels of courage and bravery, along with at least one bout of insanity along the way.
Keith David (King) has enjoyed a prolific career since the 1980s with appearances in blockbusters like Pitch Black, There's Something About Mary, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith while also providing voice work for a number of films. Forest Whitaker (Big Harold) appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High a few years prior to Platoon, and returned to the subject of Vietnam with Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam before winning an Oscar for his role in The Last King of Scotland in 2006.
Two more cast members to note are John C. McGinley (Sgt. O'Neill) who would go on to land a role as Dr. Perry Cox on the comedy series Scrubs and Johnny Depp (Lerner) who you may know best as Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Depp's role in Platoon was minimal, but McGinley figured prominently as Sgt. Barnes's right hand man.
The final word
I plan to post an official review of this film under the Reviews section, but to summarize my feelings on the film, it nearly met my expectations. I was looking for a story about a group of soldiers in Vietnam and that's what I got. There were relationships built and strained, as I'm sure really happened on the ground there. There was plenty of chaos, a sprinkle of weed and alcohol, lots of f-bombs, and what felt to me like genuine military jargon (I'll leave the actual veterans to fully judge that point).
In the end, Platoon lives up to the tag line from the trailer and posters: "The first casualty of war is innocence."
Be sure to come back next week for the next film in the challenge. Week to is all about "classic" films.
A film that is visually striking to you
I absolutely love this film and was happy to find a spot for it on my list. It’s probably my second favorite “real” space film behind Apollo 13. By real space, I mean set roughly in the current reality of our ability to travel in space, and not set in some far off future or distant far-flung past. It has a great pace to it and truly makes you feel like you are in the various space bound environments with Sandra Bullock.
With Bullock playing the majority of the film on her own in space, fighting for her own survival and trying desperately to figure out a way to get back to Earth safely, it truly give the feeling of a suspense thriller that just happens to be set in space. One of the main points of pride, but also pain points is the scientific accuracy of the film. While even director Alfonso Cuarón admits some liberties were taken in the interest of the film, it is incredible to me how well they depicted the movement in space and how things interact with one another in that environment. There are several moments where Bullock just barely manages to save herself from certain doom. Typically, in an Earthbound film, we would see this as falling over a cliff or off the side of a mountain, but in zero gravity, we get that in the form of potentially being flung off into the void of space. It’s a different look at something tried and true in survival films.
One of my absolute favorite pieces of trivia related to this film is its running time. The film runs at 91 minutes, which by no coincidence is almost exactly the amount of time that it takes for the ISS to complete an orbit around the Earth. In a similar way that Titanic runs for the same amount of time as it took for the boat to sink after it hit the iceberg, Gravity is as long as it would take for Bullock’s character to be forced to find a way home. In that way, we are on the journey with her and feel the tension in as close to real time as possible.
And finally, returning to the visuals which prompted the selection of this film for this category, the views in the film are truly stunning. You certainly get the feeling of being in the emptiness of space and far away from our home planet, but also get the feel of the scale of Earth when looking at it from low orbit on or near the ISS. As the action moves around the planet and away from sunlight that we get at the beginning of the film, the palette changes form very bright to very dark, and back again. We get interiors of various space vehicles along with the splendid exterior space shots. All in all, it’s a fantastic voyage and visually stimulating the entire time.
If you haven’t checked out Gravity, I urge you to go rent or download it today. You won’t be disappointed.
Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere | Day 28 – A film that made you feel uncomfortable
We're almost to the top prize and the names are all ones you are familiar with from my previous prediction posts. One of these films will likely be the one that receives the most nominations and Best Director will just be another feather in its cap.
There will be one more post today for Best Picture and then look for the nominations coming tomorrow morning.
You can watch the nominations right here on The Oscar Project.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?