Live-action film retrospective (2020)

What?! AK watches live-action films? Yeah, on occasion I do. I don’t watch too many of them anymore because I have such massive game and anime backlogs, both of which would take up several lifetimes to get through. However, I don’t have anything against live-action movies, despite what you might have thought from the total lack of anything about them on the site up until now.

So I thought, why not write an almost-end-of-year post looking back at that stuff? I just want to highlight the films I’ve watched this year that I liked or didn’t like. Each end of the spectrum from love to hate, both of which I felt strongly. As with my upcoming end-of-year game post, I’m not counting what films were released this year but rather what I saw this year. All three of them. But I found all three very memorable (though not always for good reasons; keep reading for more on that.)

Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho, 2019)

Here’s an opinion that won’t be surprising at all: I liked Parasite. This film depicts two families living in Seoul: the rich and very detached Parks and the impoverished Kims. The Kim family is extremely talented at conning others, though, and each of them, father, mother, son, and daughter, manages to lie and scheme their way into the service of the Park family as tutors and household servants.

The first half of the film plays out like a dark comedy, but the second half takes a turn that I won’t get into here — just watch the movie, because this is a solid recommendation. I know Best Picture winners at the Oscars are sometimes actually boring bullshit films, much like all those horribly dull novels you had to read in elementary school with the golden seals on the front (does anyone else know what I’m talking about here? Is this just an American thing?) But sometimes the Academy gets it right, and Parasite was one of those times. It’s also an example of social commentary in a movie that doesn’t feel way too basic, hamfisted, or preachy. Good stuff.

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)

I love history, and I love dark comedies when they’re done well, so I thought I’d like The Death of Stalin. And I did. This is a dramatized and sort of fictionalized account of the events following the death of the Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death by stroke in 1953, his lieutenants began jockeying for power, most notably the feared chief of secret police Lavrenti Beria — but if you know your history, you know who ended up on top.

Not that The Death of Stalin tells it straight. It condenses the real-life series of events that played out over several months into a matter of days, and obviously all the secret, scheming conversations between all these guys could only be guessed at. But this isn’t a documentary, and this kind of condensing/fictionalizing really works for a dark comedy like this.

The Death of Stalin is also all in English, which you could have guessed if you recognize the people on the poster, a set of British actors and Steve Buscemi. They’re all excellent, especially Buscemi, who takes one of the lead roles as Nikita Khrushchev. Another big recommendation.

Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)

If you’ve read my extremely long-winded post on the visual novel Planetarian, you already know how I feel about this film. I watched¬†Ex Machina because it had been on my list for a long time anyway, and I thought it might make an interesting contrast with Planetarian since they’re both speculative sci-fi dealing with human-AI relations. Red Metal’s review of the film wasn’t able to warn me off of it either (if you’re not following his site by the way, go do that: he goes into insane depth and insight in his film and game reviews.)

I should have listened to him, though, because¬†Ex Machina sucked out loud, with one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction. The premise is interesting, with a weird reclusive genius inviting one of his employees to his house in the wilderness to communicate with his newly developed advanced AI robot girl for testing purposes. The actors are also good, and the movie certainly looks nice with a lot of interesting settings and shots and all that (I’m no expert anyway, but it looked pretty good to me.)

However, the most important part of a film like this is the writing, and the writing was hot shit, with all its flaws exposed in the ending that I think was meant to be clever and thought-provoking but simply came off as bizarre and disconnected. I get into a lot more depth in the part of my linked piece where I contrast it with Planetarian, and of course Red Metal goes into far more depth in his review, so if you don’t mind being spoiled or have already seen Ex Machina and want to read these perspectives, feel free to check them out. I found the movie itself a waste of time, though. Most of the professional film press loved it, but they’re wrong. I know, opinions and everything, but my opinion is that this movie doesn’t deserve its accolades.

And that’s the whole list. Barely enough for a proper end-of-year retrospective. But again, I’m not a movie guy. There are plenty of great film reviewers and analysts around the community though, and I post their stuff sometimes in my monthly recaps, so I recommend looking up their excellent work. Next post, you can expect a return to the usual, whatever that means.

It may take a while, though, because I’m doing my absolute best to power through a couple of games before the year is out. So just know that if I’m away for a while, that’s what I’m doing (or else I’m being crushed by work, but what’s new.) Until then, happy Christmas or holidays or whatever, and all the best.