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Reel Time

Parasite 

It is present-day in Seoul, Korea. Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), a would-be college student, lives with his unemployed chauffeur father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), and his sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam). They try various schemes to support themselves in their grungy basement flat. But it is not until Ki-woo’s friend, an English tutor for the well-to-do Park family, asks him to take over while he goes abroad to study, that things begin to look up for the family.

Ki-woo shows up for work at the family’s elegant villa and meets the indecisive Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) and his adolescent student. He makes a good impression on his first day. As he leaves the home, he sees a painting done by the little brother, Da-song. When Mrs. Park mentions that she has not been able to find an art teacher for the hyperactive child, Ki-woo says he knows of such a teacher, Jessica. Jessica is really his own sister, Ki-jung, who knows nothing about art, but like the rest of her family, is a master at faking it. 

Ki-jung manages to convince Mrs. Park to replace the family’s driver with her father, Ki-taek. The young lady also convinces her to replace the wily housekeeper, who has been with the family for years, with her mother, Chung-sook. Now with the Kim family fully entrenched in the home, the unknowing Parks go on a camping trip. The Kim family relaxes and celebrates their employment by having a feast and making a mess. 

In the midst of a severe storm, the former housekeeper begs to be allowed in, revealing that her husband has been living for years in an underground cave accessible only through the basement of the house. The Park family returns and things spin out of control. 

Parasite, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, is a clever, dark comedy and social commentary about the invisible working poor who will do anything to survive, as well as the often-thoughtless rich who live off of them. Everyone is shown to be a parasite in one way or another. The acting and direction are superb. The story sheds a glaring light on the growing gap between the rich and the poor in South Korean society, not unlike our own. 

Not yet rated • Violence, social injustice. 

Reel 1019 H2

Spider in the Web

In modern-day Belgium, Adereth (Ben Kingsley), an aging Israeli spy who fronts as an antique dealer, is having lunch with his old friend, Syrian officer Col. Khadir (Makram Khoury). Adereth gives him an antique ring for his wife, Anne-Marie (Hilde Van Mieghem), as a show of gratitude for their friendship. 

Adereth senses that all is not well when his Mossad boss, Samuel (Itzik Cohen), wants him to return to Israel because they believe he is manufacturing intelligence to make himself appear relevant. They give him a task to confirm that Belgium is supplying Syria with chemical weapons and, thus, prove he is still useful. Samuel also appoints a young, up-and-coming spy, Daniel (Itay Tiran), to shadow him and make sure he gets the job done. Meanwhile, Col. Khadir and his wife are murdered, leaving Adereth shocked and emotionally bereft. Yet he soldiers on. 

Adereth meets and falls in love with a doctor, Angela (Monica Bellucci). They begin an affair, and she helps him to get information from the chemical manufacturing company. Meanwhile, the head of Belgian Intelligence makes contact with the Mossad and Adereth. They appear to be working together. 

Oscar-winner Kingsley is very good as the crafty old spy. The film, directed by Eran Riklis, is in the mode of a John le Carré novel. It is not altogether satisfying as a story, but it works well enough as a smoke-and-mirrors spy caper. It shows that the world is a dangerous place with countries acting in their own self-interest. 

Not yet rated • Violence, sexuality, chemical weapons. 

Reel 1019 H3 

Don’t Be Nice 

This enthusiastic and soul-searing film documents the journey of New York City’s Bowery Slam Poetry Team as its five members and coaches prepare for the finals in Atlanta, Georgia. Slam poetry features a broad range of genres and styles. In Don’t Be Nice, most of the poetry reflects the influence of hip-hop, but with the added element of performance. I found the poems “Google Black” (that is, if you don’t understand a black reference, Google it!) and Noel Quiñones’ multigenerational piece about life in a Puerto Rican family to be particularly effective.  

The poets are African American, Afro-Hispanic, and gay. Their poems speak truth to power from the margins, refusing “to stay nice” and maintain the status quo. The pain of so many killings of unarmed black men resonates strongly. One poet featured in the film wonders what she will do with her “three minutes and 10 seconds” on stage—and the audience wonders, too, as we watch these passionate artists bare their souls for the audience. The importance of participating in the Poetry Slam competition and winning cannot be underestimated: It can lead to book deals and teaching gigs. For these poets, writing is a form of activism; poetry is their song. I found the film to be inspiring and moving. 

Not yet rated • Strong language. 


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