[Fresh on Blu-ray] ‘PARASITE’, ‘HARRIET’ and ‘TERMINATOR: DARK FATE’ offer up a scattershot of cinematic thrills and sneers

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James Clay // Film Critic

Trying to find a common thread for this week’s crop of Blu-ray releases is a bit challenging. The three titles covered here can scratch the cinematic itch a wide variety of audiences are craving. One is craving the glory of yesteryear by retreading the past, the other is a run of the mill biopic that dipped its toes in the Oscar pool, and the shining beacon here is a crossover hit from South Korea that is unlike anything American audiences have experienced.

While two of these films don’t offer much in terms of a satisfying cinematic vision, it’s important to note that it’s all about approaching a review by looking at the filmmaker’s intention.

HARRIET achieved a highly palatable (and way too saccharin) approach to a slave narrative that Hollywood eats up come awards season. TERMINATOR: DARK FATE sought success in bringing the original gang back together for one final ride. Sure, it had progressive elements, but it failed to create a viable reason to bring back Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. PARASITE, of course, has taken the film world by storm, garnering six Oscar nominations (including best picture). I suspect many of you will be catching up on this now that it has hit digital renting platforms.

PARASITE

Rated R, 132 minutes.
Director: Bong Joon-Ho
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun LeeYeo-jeoung Jo

Director Bong Joon-Ho crossed international lines back in 2006 with his creature feature THE HOST. He’s a malleable filmmaker who plays within the genre wheelhouse that comments on the status of the world today. Bong has always been a critical darling, but his latest, PARASITE, is an outright phenomenon.

The film tackles many anxieties the middle and lower classes are dealing with today. This includes searching for their place at the table, and the only solution is to eat the rich. Now that the film finally comes home after many awards, reviews and think pieces have heralded this as seminal work and outright masterpiece. 

Here’s an excerpt from my review of the film out of TIFF: 

“Nothing should be said about the second act of PARASITE. Once things take off, there’s no turning back for any of the characters. Seeing how this charade plays out is a delicious meal for film fans and general audiences alike. This is one foreign film that translates so well across counties with its universal brand of thrills. All and all, this is a film with a razor-sharp edge. It’s angry, it’s joyous, and – to keep it simple – it’s a ton of fun.”

Grade: A-

PARASITE is now available on Blu-ay and on digital platforms

HARRIET

Rated PG-13, 125 minutes.
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr, Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae

 A well-intentioned biopic of the legend Harriet Tubman by director Kasi Lemmons became a hit after it premiered to middling reviews on the fall festival circuit. The film stars Cynthia Erivo, whose notoriety is rapidly rising. She dutifully portrays a titular character who went on to become one of the most celebrated Civil War-era figures who freed slaves in the American South. 

We’re put inside Tubman’s mind by Lemmons. She employs visions that are sent from God about how to fulfill her purpose in life, which ends up being the storied Underground Railroad. HARRIET is a story about sacrifice. It’s about finding your purpose in life and, most importantly, overcoming insurmountable odds while staring the personification of hate directly in the face without batting an eye. 

However, Lemmons hasn’t really progressed her chops as a director since her astounding debut feature EVE’S BAYOU way back in 1997. By using the same techniques, HARRIET is stuck in a time vortex of biopics that use narrative devices have now become cliche. It’s not the story that plays it safe. It’s that Lemmons only goes surface level into the psyche of what Tubman must have been feeling in those times.

Carving Tubman out into a #MeToo, gun-toting force genuinely resonated with audiences, as this was one of the biggest breakout indies of 2019. While Erivo anchors the film attempting to bring gravitas to even the cheesiest of scenes, this effort can’t add anything to the conversation audiences didn’t learn in a grade school history lesson.

Grade: C

HARRIET is now available on Blu-ray and digital platforms.

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Rated R, 128 minutes
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Mackenzie DavisLinda HamiltonArnold SchwarzeneggerGabriel LunaNatalia Reyes and Diego Boneta

Carrying a 35-year legacy is tough – maybe impossible for any franchise to live up to in a world that’s overwhelmed with options and second screens.

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE is now the third attempt to kickstart the franchise since. First, they tried an apocalyptic wasteland with TERMINATOR: SALVATION. Then, they worked the alternate timeline angle with TERMINATOR: GENYSIS. And now with DARK FATE, they are taking the “lega-sequel” route by taking a victory lap while trying to start something new for this generation. Despite original director James Cameron’s constant seal of approval on each new entry, this film is a wet blanket with little personality.

DEADPOOL director Tim Miller took the captain’s chair for this outing that’s difficult even to surmise a plot from the maze of narrative threads. Sarah Connor (Hamilton) has spent the past couple of decades hunting terminators after the death of her son John Connor came at the hands of yet another T-800 (Schwarzenegger) was sent back through time to finish the job. She eventually teams up with Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a human who’s a part cyborg and all attitude. The duo has formed a shaky alliance to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes), the future leader of the human race, as they play cat and mouse game with yet another liquid metal terminator (Gabriel Luna).

Franchises have become so uninspired and incapable of forging new paths that made their originals the classics they are today. The title DARK FATE is indicative of what the future may hold for the TERMINATOR franchise.

Grade: C

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and digital platforms.