‘Barking Dogs Never Bite’

The feature debut from South Korean Oscar-winning Bong Joon Ho (Parasite, Okja), Barking Dogs Never Bite is a mordant social satire that is both absurd and visceral.

Driven crazy by the constant yapping of a dog in the housing complex in which he lives, out-of-work academic Yoon-ju (Sung-Jae Lee – Art Museum by the Zoo, Carter) decides to do something about it. Somewhat dopey and controlled by his pregnant wife (the breadwinner in the house), by taking the wrong canine, Yoon-ju sets in motion a series of events that sees a non-too-bright housing estate clerk (Bae Doona – Cloud Atlas, TV’s Sense8) become something of a crusader.

It’s uneven and a little too reliant on slapstick for its comedy, but there’s plenty of early flourishes in evidence to point the way to the classic Parasite. With his trademark deft sense of observation and characters full of contradictions, Barking Dogs Never Bite is a satisfying oddity of a debut feaure.

Rating: 64%

Best of Year (2019 – Male Performance)

Another strong year for male performances even in a year that was less than memorable in terms of quality films (with a couple of notable exceptions). There was a whole bevy of excellent supporting roles – Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in The Irishman, Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Anthony Hopkins and The Two Popes, both Syun-kyun Lee and Song Hang Ho in Korean sensation, Parasite: add child star Zain al-Rafeea in Capernaum and all of these could have featured in the top five performances for the year (as well as Taron Egerton for Rocketman and Adam Driver with Marriage Story).

But in the end, my top five male performances for 2019 are:
5: Jakob Cedergren, The Guilty
4: Robert De Niro, The Irishman
3: Marcello Fonte, Dogman
2: Timothee Chalamet, The King
1: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

The fact he held the screen for virtually the film’s entire 85 minutes is indicative of the power of Jakob Cedergren’s performance in the Danish film, The Guilty.

A surprise omission from this year’s best actor nominations, Robert De Niro is a powerhouse in Scoresese’s magnum opus to the gangster flick, The Irishman – my choice for the best film of 2019.

Something of an unheralded film outside its native Italy (except on the arthouse film festival circuit), Dogman was a dour drama set in a poor neighbourhood of the Naples urban sprawl. Yet as a timid dog handler and part time cocaine dealer, Marcello Fonte is superb – and Marcello Fonte collected, among other awards, best actor at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and the 2018 European Film Awards.

The fourth major Netflix streaming film of the year was The King, but it was overshadowed by The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. It did pick up some love in Australia – as an Australian/Uk co-production, the film garnered 13 nominations in the AACTA awards, winning four. But Timothee Chalamet has been overlooked in what is one of most impressive performances to date.

But there’s no denying Joaquin Phoenix gave the year’s best performance – an extraordinary bravura performance plumbing emotional depth and physicality. Winner of the Golden Globe a couple of weeks ago, Phoenix should comfortably pick up the Oscar for which he was nominated just two days ago.

Best of Year (2019 – Film)

As I’m heading off for the holiday period until early January and heading for a place where the nearest cinema is a 90 minute drive (and likely to be showing multiple screenings of the latest Star Wars), I can safely list my top 10 films of the year.

2019 was not a vintage year from my perspective – and, with missing the Melbourne International Film Festival, my screenings count was down on previous years. But there were a few crackers in the list – it was simply a lot easier than previous years to whittle the list down to 10.

My top films for 2019 seen as the cinema:

10: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
9: Marriage Story
8: The Favourite
7: Cold War
6: The King
5: Capernaum
4: The Guilty
3: Joker
2: Parasite
1: The Irishman

It’s loud, bombastic, funny, gruesome and enormously entertaining. In other words, a true Quentin Tarantino  – that’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and number 10 on my list. It’s overlong and gets lost in its narrative but Brad Pitt is magnificent in a supporting role to Leonardo DiCaprio.

At number nine is one of three Netflix originals that, thankfully, were screened exclusively by independent cinema house Lido Cinemas. Marriage Story is not an easy watch – the breakdown of a marriage but its a film that celebrates the art of film making, with both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver superb in delivering Noah Baumbach’s incisive dialogue.

One of last year’s Oscar winners came next with The Favourite and Olivia Colman unexpectedly winning the best actress award. It’s a deliciously ribald entertainment of power struggles at the 18th century English court of Queen Anne.

One of my first films of the year – and one of the best. Shot in bleak black and white, Cold War  is an impossible tragic love story from Polish writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski.

Sixth on the list (and another Netflix film) is The King, a UK/Australian co-production which inexplicably lost out to the far inferior The Nightingale at the recent Australian Film Awards. Stirring and commanding with a powering central performance by Timothee Chalamet, The King is a magisterial telling of Henry V,  loosely based on Shakespeare’s history plays.

And so to the top five for the year. A compassionate tour-de-force set in post-Civil War Lebanon, Capernaum is a narrative of lost hope, poverty and sorrow.

A tense, riveting claustrophobia of a narrative restricted entirely to one night in a Danish emergency call centre and built around the headset of one operative, Jakob Cedergren. That’s The Guilty – reminiscent of Locke and Tom Hardy from a few years back.

Number three is one of the few big studio productions – Joaquin Phoenix, whose extraordinary bravura performance plumbing emotional depth and physicality, made Joker a tour-de-force, with a limited palette tonality and brooding score from Hildur Guðnadóttir adding to the impact.

Oscar favourite for best foreign language film (and a few other possible nods) is the Korean Palme d’Or winning Parasite , a splendidly anarchic dark comedy about social divides and love of money. It was my number one film for many a month – until one of the film events of the year….

Another exclusive release screening within Melbourne by Lido Cinemas, Scorsese’s magnificent The Irishman saw sell out screenings (highlighting the importance of seeing such a film on the big screen). And it became my number one film of the year.


Parasite: the history-making Korean film having become the first film to win both the best feature film and best foreign language Oscars as well as the Golden Globe and BAFTA. Such accolades added to the earlier-awarded Palme d’Or at Cannes 2019 (as well as, among many others, the best film at the Sydney Film Festival). Parasite is a splendidly anarchic dark comedy about social divides and love of money.

As dirt-poor Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song – Snowpiercer, The Age of Shadows) and his family struggle to survive, an opportunity for his son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi – Okja, Train to Busan), to teach English at the wealthy Parks’ home leads to a scam that goes tragically wrong.

Director Bong Joon Ho (Okja, Snowpiercer) mixes humour, slapstick, drama, gore and suspense to masterful effect in his love of sociopolitical commentaries (Snowpiercer, anyone?) ably supported by a cast that excels.

Nominated for 5 Oscars, won 3 (best film, director, foreign language film) in 2020.

Rating: 89%


A riveting slow burner from Korean director Chang-dong Lee (Poetry, Secret Sunshine), Burning evolves, on the surface at least, from a romance story into a metaphysical thriller.

The dow-eyed, stoical Lee Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo – The Throne, Veteran) bumps into Haemi (newcomer Jong-seo Jun), a former school classmate and girlfriend, in the streets of Seoul. Spending time between the city and the impoverished family farm, Lee Jong-su becomes drawn into a menage a trois with Haemi and the wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun – Okja, TV’s The Walking Dead), an enigmatic playboy.

Adapted and expanded from a Haruki Murakami short story, Burning is a powerful psychological portrait with its distorted perceptions, building up to a shocking finale that it tragic but not wholly unexpected.

Rating; 81%

‘The Age of Shadows’

the-age-of-shadows-posterOvertly stylised Korean film noir, The Age of Shadows is a beautifully filmed cloak-and-dagger twisting narrative as the Korean Resistance attempt to move explosives from Shanghai into Seoul to move against the 1930s Japanese occupation.

It’s a slow start (with the exception of the fabulously staged shoot-out that opens the film) as characters are introduced, with Kang-ho Song  (Snowpiercer, The Host) the Korean-born Japanese police officer heading the team trying to stop the Resistance. But director Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) ramps up the action as things become more and more desperate for all parties.

Rating: 62%

‘The Handmaiden’

handmaiden_poster_2764x4096_1200_1778_81_sSexually explicit, exquisitely filmed, quietly sensual, Chan-wook Park’s (Oldboy, Stoker) (loose) adaptation of Sarah Waters’ best seller is luridly mesmerising over its 150 minute run-time.

Told in three parts and set in 1930s Korea under Japanese occupation, the twists and turns of the intricate lesbian love-story-with-a-difference keep you engaged, even if some of the scenes are less than subtle.

Rating: 71%