Search This Blog

Tuesday 29 October 2019

A Rainy Day in New York, Film 2019, written and directed by Woody Allen starring Timothée Chalamet, 7* out of 10

Eighty-three-year-old Woody Allen, embroiled in accusations of child sexual abuse and a 60 Million Dollar lawsuit with Amazon Studios, presents an enjoyable romantic comedy, more melancholic and nostalgic than highly amusing, which chimes with his early works Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979). Timothée Chalamet shines as the male lead.

Gatsby Welles (Timothée, not Timothy, Chalamet), Jew-ish son of very nouveau riche parents from New York, is a reluctant student at Yardley an idyllically set liberal arts college in upstate New York. His girlfriend Ashleigh, (not Ashley) played by Elle Fanning, is a banker’s daughter from Tucson, Arizona. Gatsby supplements his pocket-money by copious earnings from his talent for playing poker. So, when Ashleigh gets the opportunity to interview the famous filmmaker Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) for her college magazine, Gatsby comes along and plans to spend a good part of his recently won ten-thousand Dollars on a special weekend in New York with her, which includes the well-known hotels, restaurants and bars in Manhattan where no ragged people go. While Ashleigh’s interview turns into a series of opportunities for scoops and sexually charged encounters with intellectual, insecure and horny icons of the artsy film world, Gatsby meets Shannon (Selena Gomez), the now not so young anymore younger sister of a former girlfriend on an outdoor filmset in New York and tries to avoid his parents with whom he has a passive-aggressive latently hostile and rebellious relationship.

Woody Allen’s Rainy Day in New York reflects his earlier works that feature New York, Annie Hall, and Manhattan. The photography, the melancholy, the Manhattan landmarks, and the classic Jazz rhythms make this a pleasant romantic comedy for a middle-aged nostalgic crowd who grew up with Woody Allen movies. 

Thus, I enjoyed A Rainy Day in New York and particularly the excellent performance by Timothy Chalamet as the male lead. I suspect quite a few of Woody Allen’s European fans will too, although the film lacks the originality, edge, depth and zany neurotic feel of the earlier Woody Allen works with which it chimes.

Eighty-three-year old Woody Allen has of course become a highly controversial figure in the US, whose status as persona non-grata following accusations of child sexual abuse by his ex-wife Mia Farrow and some of Farrow’s and Allen’s children, has been reinforced by the #metoo scandal and movement which has shaken the film world especially in the US. Because of this and the sixty million USD lawsuit between the giant Amazon Studios and Mr. Allen, A Rainy Day in New York is unlikely to be seen on US cinema-screens anytime soon. Moreover, there will be many, who will not go and see any movies involving those convicted or accused of sexual harassment or worse in the revelations around the #metoo movement. Indeed, some of the plot-points and scenes in A Rainy Day in New York seem to be quite oblivious if not deliberately provocative in the light of the film industry’s numerous #metoo moments and can make for uncomfortable viewing.

For those, however, who are willing to see A Rainy Day in New York as a work separately from its author and director it is an enjoyable melancholic, somewhat nostalgic romantic comedy.

Sunday 6 October 2019

Parasite, Film (2019), Korea, written and directed by Bong Jun-Ho, 9.5* out of 10

Parasite is a bizarre, at times funny, at times horrifying story about rich and poor in developed societies coming into ever-closer proximity, developing an uneasy familiarity which breeds increasing contempt. What starts as dark humour moves seamlessly on to bloody violence and melodrama. Parasite is a satirical portrait of Korean, but not only Korean, contemporary society with apocalyptic overtones. It deservedly won the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

An impoverished family consisting of father (Song Kang-ho) mother, daughter (Park So-dam) and son (Choi Woo-sik) lives hand-to-mouth in a stinking basement in Seoul. They jump at every opportunity to gain access to free resources and make money with piece work such as folding pizza boxes for pennies here and there. Despite their poverty and poor living conditions they are all clever, resourceful and remain optimistic about chances for survival and perhaps even escaping their destitute state.

When the son who is in his twenties gets the opportunity to become an English tutor to a teenager living with her parents and young brother in a classy modern designer home, he jumps at it. Soon, with guile and deception, he manages to find jobs for other members of his family. To do so, plans of getting the current incumbents of domestic jobs removed from their positions must be conceived and executed. The result is an extreme, modern form of masters and servants (think Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey) adapted for the 21st century. Likeable scoundrels are constructing an economic ladder for themselves by clever planning and teamwork and progressively make themselves indispensable to their new rich patrons. Yet what starts as a comedy, becomes an increasingly dramatic, dark and violent satire about the inevitably violent consequences of physically close coexistence of people across extreme wealth gaps.

As Bong-Joon-Ho's bizarre story moves eclectically from one genre to another the viewer is drawn into a rollercoaster ride of emotions from laughter to horror, from melodrama to tragedy with vivid depictions of the rich and the poor parts of society. The unsuspecting viewer will be drawn into the story with humour and at a pleasant pace. Director Bong-Joon-Ho and his talented ensemble of actors take us along for the ride with attractive photography and filmography showing worlds of poverty and wealth coexisting in ever closer proximity until it is too late for them and us to disengage, even though at a certain point we would like to. 

This is a captivating and unusual portrayal of unequal societies in the developed world where members of what used to be the middle class fall into destitution while watching others close-up living lives of increasingly untold wealth and luxury. So, in a world where we are told that middle-class families can achieve a reasonable standard of living what happens when the promise is broken for many and exceeded for a few. Parasite presents satirically and tragically apocalyptic vision. Parasite is a memorable high-quality film that makes for at times difficult yet compulsive viewing.