The DVD Report #658

Parasite, which has been winning the lion’s share the foreign language film awards doled out by the various critics’ groups and organizations for films released in 2019, is the latest from director Bong Joon Ho, best known in the U.S. for his 2013 debut American film, Snowpiercer.

Nominated for six Oscars, the exhilarating tragicomedy is about a family of four poor Koreans who one by one ingratiate themselves into the lives of a wealthy Korean family, displacing the family’s previous help. Slowly we come to realize that although the poor family may be parasites in the home of the wealthy, their wealthy employers are also parasites living off the toils of the poor. It’s all played out in Hitchcockian style in which stairs play a pivotal role inside both the fabulously designed wealthy house and the slum apartment house the poor family calls home as well as connecting stairs on the road between the two.

Bong is himself nominated for three Oscars for Best Picture, Direction, and Original Screenplay. The film is also nominated for its intricate Production Design, fast-paced Editing, and International Film, the new name for foreign language films. The cast is headed by Bong regular Song Kang Ho as the father of the poor Kim family with Chang Hyae Jin as his wife, Choi Woo Shik as his son, and Park So Dam s his daughter. Lee Sun Kyon heads the wealthy Park family with Cho Yeo Jeong as his wife, Hyung Jun-Jung as his son, and Jun Siso as his daughter. Lee Jung Eun and Myeon-hoon Park have key supporting roles.

Universal’s Blu-ray release features a Q&A with Bong.

Twenty years ago, the film that won the lion’s share of the foreign film awards was Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother, newly given a 2K restoration by the Criterion Collection.

This film may well be Almodovar’s most accessible, the title of which is a play on All About Eve, the film middle-aged single mother and nurse, Cecilia Roth, watches with her 17-year-old aspiring writer son (Eloy Azorin) at the beginning of the film. Having once played Stella in a Barcelona production of A Streetcar Named Desire, she takes him to a revival of the play put on by a traveling company in Madrid where he becomes enamored of the actress playing Blanche DuBois (Marisa Paredes). After the show, running to get her autograph, he is hit by a car and killed. After several weeks of mourning, Roth decides to quit her job and return to Barcelona where she tracks down an old friend, a trans sex worker (Antonia San Juan), who introduces her to a young nun who ministers to the poor and downtrodden.

Roth has come to Barcelona to find her son’s father, which she eventually does. Meanwhile, she becomes an assistant to Paredes whose traveling Streetcar is now playing in Barcelona. She also becomes further involved in the lives of the sex worker and the nun. The nun, played with sweetness and charm by Penélope Cruz, is now pregnant and dying of AIDS. The father is a transvestite (Toni Canto) who it turns out was also the father of Roth’s son. He had been Stanley Kowalski to Roth’s Stella in her long-ago production of Streetcar.

Roth, Paredes, and Cruz all received strong notices for their performances, but it was San Juan as the trans sex worker who was singled out most. Like Sylvia Miles, who everyone thought was a real-life prostitute when Midnight Cowboy was first released, she was thought to be either a transsexual or a transvestite. Everyone wanted to know which, had she had a sex change or not. It turns out, she was neither, just a very accomplished actress playing a very convincing part.

Extras include a 52-minute documentary from 2012 featuring Almodovar and his younger brother/co-producer, as well as Roth, Parades, Cruz, and San Juan and a 2019 Q&A following a screening of the restored print with the Almodovars and Paredes.

Criterion has also released a 4K restoration of Sidney Lumet’s 1964 film Fail Safe, which has somehow lost the hyphen that separated the two words in the title.

One of several Cold War era political films released between 1962 and 1964, it followed, in order, Advise & Consent, The Manchurian Candidate, Dr. Strangelove, Seven Days in May, and The Best Man into theatres.

Interestingly, Henry Fonda, who was a candidate for Secretary of State in Advise & Consent and a Presidential candidate in The Best Man, was now the President in Fail Safe

There was a plagiarism suit brought by the authors of Red Alert, which was the novel on which Dr. Strangelove was based, against Fail Safe which resulted in a settlement in which Fail Safe was not allowed to be shown in theatres until six months after the debut of Dr. Strangelove. Consequently, Fail Safe suffered at the box office. Contemporary audiences had a hard time keeping a straight face during the end-of-the-world plot of the latter after having laughed so hard at Kubrick’s spoof earlier the same year. Still, there are those who prefer Lumet’s serious take. Coming out of a New York theatre to find the city was still there was small comfort to many of the film’s patrons fearing it was just a matter of time before the events depicted in the film would come to fruition.

The stellar cast also includes Walter Matthau, Dan O’Herlihy, Frank Overton, Edward Binns, Fritz Weaver, and Larry Hagman. Extras include a new interview with critic J. Hoberman and a 2000 documentary featuring Lumet, O’Herlihy, and George Clooney, producer-star of a TV remake.

Arrow Academy has released a restored Blu-ray edition of Black Angel, an overlooked film noir from 1946, directed by Roy William Neil with a screenplay by Raymond Chandler from Cornell Woolrich’s novel. Dan Duryea stars as a man aiding the wife of an accused killer (June Vincent) investigating the murder of his ex-wife (Constance Dowling). Wallace Ford is his only friend, Broderick Crawford the detective on the case, and Peter Lorre one of the suspects.

Extras include an appreciation by film historian Neil Synyard.

Newly released on both Blu-ray and standard DVD are two disappointing new films.

Cynthia Erivo’s Oscar nomination for playing Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet is well earned, but everything else about the film is a disappointment. Instead of simply telling Harriet’s amazing story, it turns her into a superhero and ends before half her story is even told with a short coda to give us the rest. Watch Cicely Tyson in the 1978 TV miniseries A Woman Called Moses instead.

There is simply no reason for Terminator: Dark Fate to exist. The original 1984 Terminator and its 1991 sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day were instant classics, but subsequent iterations have all been disappointing. The latest stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger last seen together in the 1991 film. Just re-watch the first two films. That’s all the Terminator you’ll ever need.

This week’s new releases include Doctor Sleep and The Good Liar.

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