Movie Reviews: Harriet, Parasite, and 1917

Each year, I try to watch all the nominated films before award season. I fell short this year but made up for it last week when I watched three of the Oscar-nominated movies: Harriet, Parasite, and 1917. Inspired and impressed by this diverse trio of movies, I decided to write and share my reviews:

Actress, singer and songwriter Cynthia Erivo delivers a stellar performance, one that is truly worthy of the nominations garnered during the recent award season. Erivo embraces the multi-faceted role of the legendary Harriet Tubman, a woman who is considered one of America’s greatest heroes

Born a slave on a Maryland plantation and known by the name Araminta “Minty” Ross, she decides to flee to the North. Miraculously, she survives the journey (over 100 miles) and makes her way to Philadelphia. There, she is assisted by abolitionist William Still (Leslie Odom Junior) and boarding-room owner Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe).

After taking the “freedom” name of Harriet Tubman, she becomes part of the Underground Railroad, repeatedly risking her life to return to the South and ferry over 70 slaves to freedom.

I was most impressed by the scenes showcasing Harriet’s ability to hear nothing other than her own inner voice. In stressful situations, Harriet loses consciousness as she slips into spells, which she describes as “consulting with God.” Afterward, she emerges with an ironclad sense of the action and direction to be taken during rescue missions. These amazing feats earned her nickname “Moses.”

An extraordinary tale of an American freedom fighter!

Described as a “pitch-black modern fairy tale,” Parasite has won numerous awards, among them four Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.

Interested in examining relationships between different classes under capitalism, director and screenwriter Bong Joon Ho created an upstairs-downstairs tale involving the wealthy Parks and the street-smart Kims.

A twenty-something drifter Kim Ki-woo jumps at the chance to teach English to the teenage daughter of Mr. Park, a celebrated tech entrepreneur. Renamed Kevin by his status-conscious employers, Ki-woo hatches a plan to bring the rest of his unemployed family into the Park’s spacious, multi-level house. Father Ki-taek is the new driver, mother Chung-sook is the new housekeeper, and sister Ki-jung is the art tutor/therapist.

Determined to maintain their anonymity and successfully “con” the Parks, the Kims forge documents, invent aliases, and rehearse their lines. Bordering on preposterous, these schemes provide much of the dark humor in the film.

Gainfully employed, the Kims dare to dream about a different kind of future, one worlds away from their stinkbug and mildew-infested basement apartment. Unfortunately, those hopes and aspirations are quickly shattered. Without giving too much away, I will only say that several unexpected (surprising, shocking, and even horrific) twists to the storyline alter the trajectories of all the characters.

In a recent interview, Bong Joon Ho discussed the significance of the title. While most people would attribute the word “parasite” to the poor Kim family that has infiltrated the rich household, the director has a different viewpoint. He suggests that the members of the rich Park family could also be considered parasites. Unable to drive, cook, wash dishes, or study independently, they are forced to leech off the poor.

A must-see film that will linger in consciousness.

Director Sam Mendes has incorporated anecdotes from his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who fought in World War 1.

Two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are given a seemingly impossible mission: Cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop the following day’s deadly attack on 1600 soldiers. General Erinmore (Colin Firth) has selected Blake because his brother is part of that battalion.

What follows is a journey into a wasteland of twisted barbed wire, corpses, and shell craters as Schofield and Blake make their way deep into the German trenches. While the former front line has been abandoned, there are still many dangers the two men must face.

It seems like only one camera has been used, closely following Blake and Schofield as they embark on this perilous journey. I could feel the tension and suspense as they sidestepped booby traps, encountered German soldiers, and ran through burning buildings.

While the story of two young men attempting to stop a doomed attack is a compelling one, it would have helped to include more historical context. Also, I would have liked more scenes with the senior officers and the Frenchwoman in the deserted building. Those cameos moved a bit too quickly.

A dramatic and powerful film!

Movie Trailers

Harriet | Parasite | 1917

Note: Harriet and Parasite are available on DVD.

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