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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Parasite

“Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Harriet,” and “Motherless Brooklyn” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

In order to have a parasite, there has to be a host. Ironically, the director of “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho, made a monster movie in 2006 called “The Host,” though it should be noted that “Parasite” is not at all a monster movie. Not in the same sense as “The Host” anyway. Though the argument can be made that the working class Kim family in the movie—the parasites of the title—are indeed monsters. At the very least, they do monstrous things to get in good with the wealthy Park family.

It’s a fine line to walk in writing reviews for suspense thrillers when it comes to providing examples to back up statements and giving away plot details. Since these types of movies rely on the twists and turns of their plots, I am hesitant to give too much away. Let’s say this: Over the course of the first act of the movie, the Kim family—son Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik), daughter Ki-jung (Park So Dam), mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin) and father Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho)—at various points forge, lie, manipulate, seduce, and plant false evidence to get jobs with the Park family, made up of rich businessman Dong-ik (Lee Sun Kyun), his wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo Jeong), and daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). There’s even an incident with some peaches and the Park’s housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jung Eun) that is devious in conception and insidious in execution.

It is this incident, however, that leads to the events in the remainder of the movie. It turns out that the house holds more secrets than the Parks are aware.

“Parasite” is masterfully directed by Bong Joon Ho, who has the sole story credit and co-wrote the screenplay with Jin Won Han. What I admire most about the narrative is the escalation. The first act goes at a breakneck pace as each of member of the Kim family schemes their way into jobs with the Park family. For a lot of writers, this would have been the entire story, ending with the Parks finding out and resolving in some great climax where all is revealed and the consequences happen from there. “Parasite” uses that scenario as a mere warm up for darker, more sinister things to come. The movie doesn’t become a cat and mouse story so much as it becomes a cat and cat story, with the mouse as the prize for whichever cat wins.

There are also a few well designed and shot suspense sequences that put me in mind of the kind of situations Alfred Hitchcock used to concoct for his characters. While the situations may be Hitchcockian, the style is all Bong Joon Ho’s own—and what a sharp one it is, employing visuals, sound, and dialogue. At one point Ki-taek finds himself in a compromising situation and has to hide. He overhears another character making negative comments about his body odor. He would love nothing more than to come out of hiding to defend and explain himself, but he can’t. He has to stay hidden and take it. It’s that kind of play on emotions and knowing how we in the audience would relate to such a scenario that makes the direction so effective.

“Parasite” already won the prestigious Palm D’ Or at the Cannes Film Festival—unanimously, I might add. For what it’s worth, it also won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language. More importantly, it won the Screen Actors’ Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. This is the closest SAG comes to a best picture award. This puts “Parasite” in good shape for Best Motion Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards, but keep in mind that SAG does not have a foreign language category—it just judges acting. “Parasite” will more than likely win Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards and take home the trophy for South Korea. This is one of those years where it’s as sure of a bet as there can be, and a victory by any other movie would be an upset. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Terminator: Dark Fate

I guess I just can’t help myself—I love “Terminator” movies. I’m not sure if it’s the mythos of the world of “Terminator,” or the well-crafted action sequences, or if it’s the hero characters who face near impossible odds, or if it’s the butt kicking coolness of the Terminators themselves, but I love these movies. “Terminator: Dark Fate” isn’t perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and can say I love it too—same as I loved “Terminator 3,” “Terminator: Salvation,” and yes, even “Terminator: Genisys,” which while admittedly more than a little fan fiction-y, I greatly appreciate for its imagination and taking off in a bold new direction.

We get a new direction with “Terminator: Dark Fate” as well, but it’s less bold. After the negative reception of “Genisys” by everyone except me, it seems that the minds behind “Terminator”—including James Cameron, who has a co-credit for story—decided to dial back the boldness and bring the franchise back to basics. We have a soldier (Mackenzie Davis) sent from the future to the past to protect a woman (Natalia Reyes) who will someday have a part to play in the resistance against the robot overlords that have captured the planet. Also sent back to assassinate the woman is a deadly Terminator (Gabriel Luna) who will not stop until his mission is done.

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These basics are straight out of the first “Terminator” movie from 1984, but with some updates, such as the soldier-protector being augmented to be super human, and the Terminator being a blending of the metal skeleton from the first “Terminator” movie and the liquid metal Terminator from 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Also, we are not dealing with Skynet anymore. This movie is a direct sequel to “T2”, so Skynet is vanquished. Judgment Day still happens though, just at a later date and by another network that becomes self-aware called “Legion.”

“Terminator: Dark Fate” also sees the welcome return of a gravelly voiced Linda Hamilton to the franchise, reprising her role as Sarah Connor. Plus what would a “Terminator” movie be without the indelible presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his most iconic role.

But it’s not all nostalgia and memories for “Dark Fate.” The story is tight and well-paced, and director Tim Miller, who honed his action directing chops with 2016’s “Deadpool,” once again delivers on the hard-hitting, pulse-pounding action, with just the right amount of CGI to blow our minds with stunts we haven’t seen before. I didn’t get a sequel to “Genisys” like I wanted, so I am very much hoping, given its generally positive reception (at least compared to “Genisys” and “Salvation”), that this franchise will do like it’s most famous and oft-quoted line and “be back.” Rent it.

Harriet

Stories of the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman are legendary, so it’s surprising that it took this long for her to get a movie. In the appropriately titled “Harriet,” actress Cynthia Erivo does an expert job at bringing Tubman—who was called Minty until she adopted the free person name of Harriet Tubman—to vivid life. Not only does she look the part (photos of the real life Tubman at the end of the movie attest to this) but she infuses the character of Tubman with an inner strength that slowly but surely starts to show on the outside as the movie progresses.

Most of the movie is her journey back and forth between Maryland—a slave state—and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—a free state—as she leads slaves along the Underground Railroad to freedom. Tubman thought herself to be ordained by God to do this work, and not only does the movie portray this fact, it takes it a bit far. There is a scene in which she is leading a group of slaves to freedom over a river and the bridge is blocked by her former master (Joe Alwyn) and his posse. God gives her a vision to not take the bridge and cross through the river instead. These are the moments that stretch the credulity of an otherwise well-grounded movie about a very determined woman. Then again, who am I to say that Harriet Tubman didn’t receive visions from God that gave her direction on the many perilous journeys she took? The historical fact remains that she did free upwards of 70 slaves, and with or without God’s help, that is still pretty spectacular. Rent it.

Motherless Brooklyn

It’s interesting how the times we live in affect our perception of reality, and our perception of reality in turn affects the veracity of what we see in movies. “Motherless Brooklyn” illustrates this very well.

Just as little as four or five years ago, most of us would not believe that such a thing as a shadow government or a deep state or a permanent bureaucracy or whatever you want to call it would or could exist. Or maybe we just didn’t want to. We had our suspicions, but nothing was confirmed, and those who confidently purported the existence of such a thing were shouted down, laughed at, and dismissed as crazy. Turns out they were right. The past few years have exposed the deep state in our federal government, and now the crazy—or at best, willfully ignorant—ones are the ones who still deny it.

I bring this up because even though “Motherless Brooklyn” is the story of local New York City government in the early to mid-1950s, it is very much the story of a deep state. In particular, it is about one member of city council who represents the deep state, a man named Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), who is so powerful that he is in control of multiple committees and the mayor of New York answers to him. If this movie had been made five years ago, this scenario would have played as more fantastical, a complete fabrication on the part of novelist Jonathan Lethem, on whose book screenwriter-director Edward Norton based his screenplay. It would have played on our darkest, most neurotic suspicions of a shadow government out to subdue us. Being made in 2019, it plays more matter of fact, leaving us wondering how deep the corruption actually goes. Randolph can’t be the only puppeteer pulling strings in New York City government.

The investigation into the unscrupulous dealings of Randolph and his cohorts is done by by Lionel Essrog (Norton), a man with Tourette's Syndrome before it had a name. Throughout, he finds himself apologizing to people and explaining that it’s like a piece of his brain broke off and has a mind of its own. Norton’s performance is heartfelt. He captures the ticks, gestures, and outbursts of a person suffering from Tourette’s without taking it too far and becoming a parody. His intention is for us to see Lionel as a man first, a private detective second, and a Tourette’s sufferer third. At this, he succeeds. He could have turned the Tourette’s into a quirk and used it as a crutch for either drama or comedy, but Norton does neither and I respect that.

If there are any gripes with “Motherless Brooklyn” it’s that the movie at times gets a bit listless. One scene in particular that takes place in a jazz club between Essrog and a woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw ) goes on for far too long, and is filmed in just a couple of flat angles. This is relatively uninspired compared to the rest of the movie, which has a film noir gumshoe flair to it. There is also the ending, which while realistic and well-grounded is also unsatisfying, at least as far as movies go. Lord knows I do not want or need a movie like this to devolve into moronic Hollywood chases or shootouts or anything so trite, but I could have done with a little more comeuppance in order to feel like my time was well spent in watching a movie that clocks in at two hours and 24 minutes. In all it was, but it could have been a bit shorter and a bit more worthwhile. “Motherless Brooklyn” is the kind of movie that swings for the fences, but gets a triple. Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Battle of Jangsari,” a depiction of the Battle of Incheon during the Korean War in 1950, starring Megan Fox, Myung-min Kim, George Eads, and David Lee McInnis; and “The Field Afar,” documentary about the life story of Vincent Capodanno, a Catholic Priest who received the Medal of Honor for his valor as a chaplain to the Marine Corps during some of the most harrowing battles of the Vietnam war.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.