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January Movie Mashup (2020)

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Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
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Movie Greg Scott
PARASITE
THE TWO POPES
THE RHYTHM SECTION
THE GENTLEMEN
Awards Greg Scott
Film of the Month Parasite Parasite
Hero of the Month Pope Benedict Lee Sun Kyun

 

Hey Scott, let’s change things up this year. How about we review all the movies we each saw this month.

scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Sounds good, Gregger. Let’s call it a Monthly Movie Mashup. But let’s also open ourselves to occasionally reviewing TV shows. After all, this is the golden age of television.

PARASITE

PARASITE

My first pick for January is Parasite – the film from South Korean director (Bong Joon H) which recently won best picture. This is the first time a foreign, subtitled film has won the Oscar. It’s a dark comedy about a family that slowly takes on servant roles for an affluent couple and their child.

What’s interesting about this film is the exploration of the haves versus the have-nots. The director shows the extreme contrast in lifestyles between the upper-crust who live in the sunshine and the lower class who literally live in the cellars of the community. There’s one shocking scene where there is a flood that causes the toilets to explode with sewage flowing everywhere in the low-class family’s hovel. It’s both hilarious and disgusting at the same time.

I highly recommend this film for its ingenious depiction of the disparity between living classes that is prevalent in the US and the world at large. It’s hard to pick a hero as the family is deceptively taking advantage of the couple, and the couple are oblivious to the problems of the lower class. However, both upper and lower class families show Moxnes’ model of the family hierarchy.

I give Parasite 5 Reels and 4 Heroes.

Greg, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. Parasite deserved to win the Oscar for ‘Best Picture’ for several reasons. One thing it accomplished was managing to portray a group of petty frauds in a sympathetic light and as just “likeable” enough that we care about what happens to them. This is not an easy feat and requires good casting, exceptional acting, and a screenplay that knows the richness and complexity of human nature. I suppose one could criticize Parasite for its inconsistency – the first half of the film is a comedy, the second half is a horror show. But again, I view this tonal shift as accurately reflecting life, which can turn on a dime depending on circumstances.

The themes and lessons of Parasite would seem to center on disparities in wealth and social class. How much do we forgive impoverished people for indiscretions aimed at surviving in an economic system that deprives them of basic needs? The film masterfully teaches us that huge income disparities render everyone losers – the poor lose for obvious reasons, and the rich lose because the poor will eventually prey on them.

THE TWO POPES

THE TWO POPES

Okay, Greg, let’s transition to our next film, a Netflix original called The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis. The premise of the film is that Benedict is feeling his age and encountering considerable conflict within the Vatican regarding controversial Catholic policies, not to mention the huge pedophile scandal. He’s considering stepping down as Pope and is sort of interviewing possible successors, among them, an Argentine Cardinal named Bergolgio, the future Pope Francis.

Greg, I’m curious who thought that a good movie could be made about two really — and I mean REALLY – old, immobile, religious men. If I’m a movie studio head and I heard that pitch, I’d laugh them out of my office. And I would have been wrong. The Two Popes is not a great movie but it’s a very good film, well-worth watching despite several slow stretches of quiet dialogue between Pope Benedict and future Pope Francis. What grabbed me was the contrast between the two Popes and the brutally honest and inspiring origin story of Francis, whose values, integrity, and courage make him a true hero IMHO – especially since he is trying to change a church that seems impossibly entrenched in ancient, outdated worldviews.

Benedict was an anachronistic Catholic leader who held an old-fashioned intolerance toward women in the church and toward the LGBTQIA community. Despite these views, Benedict comes across as a somewhat sympathetic figure, open to listening to Francis’s more progressive and inclusive positions on these issues. Benedict is seen as grooming Francis for the Papal seat, despite openly opposing Francis’s viewpoints. The two men show a mature respect for each other, and we cheer when Francis is named Pope. There is never any doubting of Francis’s integrity and humility.

Overall, I give The Two Popes a rating of 4 Reels and 4 Heroes.  

I think you pointed this film out to me as “Hannibal Lecter plays the Pope.” Which brings to mind an alternate title of “The Silence of the Lamb of God.” In which we see Hannibal Lecter offer eucharist saying “This is the body of Christ, with Fava Beans,” and “This is the blood of Christ: a nice Chianti.” (I’m sure I’m going straight to hell.)

But in all seriousness, I was worried this would look a lot like one of my least favorite films My Dinner with Andre – in which two men do nothing but discuss inanities. However, The Two Popes is a well-crafted exposition of the dichotomy of the old and new Catholic Church. While the vast majority of the film is the two men arguing philosophy (which could be incredibly dull), we see intercut scenes from each man’s past that inform how they came to know what they believe to be true. I found it both fascinating and fulfilling as it gave me hope for a future with a Church that is more inclusive and “woke.”

I think Pope Francis comes off as the hero of the film as he champions the underdogs of society. While Benedict is played as the villain, he seems to realize that his style of religious leadership is for a past time. So, he is a redeemed villain. I give The Two Popes 4 out of 5 Reels and 4 out of 5 Heroes.  

THE RHYTHM SECTION

THE RHYTHM SECTION

Next up is a film called The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively and Jude Law. The story is about a young woman whose life is a mess because she has yet to recover from the violent death of her parents. Acting on a tip from a journalist, she goes on a dangerous journey to obtain the truth of their deaths and to avenge those responsible.

Greg, this is a movie that has us pondering whether revenge is morally problematic or simply the act of a hero delivering much-needed justice. Regardless, it is psychologically understandable that our hero (Stephanie Patrick) seeks vindication for the murder of her parents. The storyline is geared toward illuminating how she achieves her retribution. Stephanie follows Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey to such a strong degree that it possibly errs on being too “on the nose”. Yes, sometimes a story can be guilty of being too obvious with hero-journey tropes. To some degree I’ve had this problem with Star Wars, for example.

Stephanie starts out near death, depressed, drug-addicted, and prostituting herself. We learn that she’s been devastated by her parents’ deaths and unable to function in life. A visit from an investigative journalist sends her on her journey toward discovering who is responsible and who must pay for their crimes. Acting on a tip, Stephanie first seeks out Jude Law’s character, Agent B, who becomes her Mr. Myagi-type mentor. It’s a weird encounter because instead of killing Stephanie, B decides to train her to become allies. He gets her healthy and teaches her skills in fighting, shooting, and killing. Blake Lively’s transformation is from corpse-like to Vogue supermodel is startling.

Overall, I give The Rhythm Section 3 Reels and 4 Heroes.  

Scott, I’ve read lots-o-hate in reviews of this film and I don’t think it’s particularly justified. While this smacks of a mashup of Taken, The Bourne Identity, and Single White Female, it’s pretty entertaining. Blake Lively is great in the role, such as it is, and Jude Law presents well, too. There are plot holes a-plenty (like why doesn’t anyone Stephanie encounters just kill her outright). But if you are interested in logic, you might want to try a different genre. Lively’s beauty is played down in this role and her athleticism and intelligence pulled to the fore. Stephany’s transformation from survivor-guilt-ridden addict to in-control assassin is entertaining and fulfilling from an audience point of view. I can’t say I recommend this film over others we’ve reviewed this month, but I had a good time.

I give The Rhythm Section 3 reels and 3 Heroes.  

THE GENTLEMEN

THE GENTLEMEN

Next up is The Gentlemen which is a British-ish gangster film. It pits the gentlemanly crime lords of London against the less-gentlemanly crime lords of London. The construction is interesting as Hugh Grant steps out of his affable good-guy mold to play the skeezy snitch who is trying to blackmail Matthew McConaughey’s henchman with a ‘script’ he’s written of McConaughey’s crime syndicate.

Scott, I’ve become wary of any film with Matthew McConaughey in it. He is a talented man, but he just seems weird. And he brings that ‘weird’ with him to all his roles. He is in good company as Christopher Walken, John Malkovich, and John Lythgoe all have similar reputations. However, for me, McConaughey’s performances all seem about himself rather than the role. And The Gentlemen is no exception. McConaughey’s presence (rather than his character’s) is all over the screen.

Add to that, the film is told mostly as a narration of Grant’s character with flashbacks and cutaways showing the earlier action. It’s an interesting device which gave this a sort of “Tarantino-wannabe” feel. But in the end, wasn’t sufficiently effective. I give this film 4 out of 5 Reels for the technical achievement and performances. I’m not sure there’s a proper hero anywhere in this film as nobody was either redeemed or even redeemable. So, I award 1 out of 5 Heroes.

Greg, your analysis of Matthew McConaughey is spot-on. He’s gotten weird and I’m not sure I can ever forgive him for last year’s disastrously bad Beach Bum. As you mention, his roles are all about him and expose his acting ability to be a bit on the one-dimensional side — he seems unable to show the versatility of a Malkovich or a Lythgoe.

I’m not enamored with gangster movies, as trying to find signs of heroism among killers and thieves is like trying to find the sweet scent of a rose in a pile of raw sewage. My experience watching The Gentlemen is no exception. The characters in this film are certainly fascinating and memorable. Matthew McConaughey plays a drug kingpin, Mickey, who isn’t the worst gangster in the world but he can play dirty when he needs to — and he often needs to. Mickey has a beautiful wife who is also capable of putting a bullet in your head if circumstances warrant it. There is a range of sleaziness mixed with some shock-value scenes involving projectile vomiting and sex with pigs. I left the theater admiring the talent on the screen but also in dire need of a shower. Overall, I give The Gentlemen 3 Reels and 2 Heroes.

AWARDS

Despite some of the problems we saw in these films, they were all at least entertaining. My benchmark for picking a good movie is whether I’d see it again. In Parasite there was so much going on, and such subtlety that I really want to see it again. I was a little disappointed in the Father’s motivation in the final scene and I want to see if reading subtitles distracted me from some of the action. So, Parasite gets my pick for Best Film of the Month for January.

In terms of the Hero I look for the most relatable character and also the one with the greatest transformation. For this I pick Pope Benedict from “The Two Popes.” Scott, you and I have talked over lunch about how remarkable it was that Benedict could see that his views (while unchanged) were not in the best interests of the Church and the world at large. The fact that he set aside his personal views and ego for the greater good of the rest of his followers gets my Reel Hero of the Month for January.

Good picks, Greg. I also choose Parasite As my movie of the month. Parasite is highly deserving of all the critical acclaim it has received, as it excels in both concept and execution — and I don’t just mean the execution of the rich dude at the end of the movie. This movie had me riveted and wondering what fascinating thing would happen next, and it never disappointed me. I applaud the motion picture Academy for daring choose a foreign film with subtitles as the Best Picture of 2019.

I differ with you on the hero of the month, Greg. Benedict is a fine choice, but I have to go with Lee Sun Kyun, the young man in Parasite who sets in motion the parasitic relationship between families and who sees the world “metaphorically” yet is always grounded in reality. Kyun tries to balance pragmatics with morality and loyalty to family, and in the end we’re left wondering how his life will be forever changed by the murderous rampage at film’s end.

Movie Greg Scott
PARASITE
THE TWO POPES
THE RHYTHM SECTION
THE GENTLEMEN
Awards Greg Scott
Film of the Month Parasite Parasite
Hero of the Month Pope Benedict Lee Sun Kyun

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