Minari – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Cho and Yuh-Jung Youn. Directed by Lee Isaac Chung Written by Lee Isaac Chung Length: 115mins

Minari is a wonderfully absorbing and moving family drama. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based it loosely on his childhood growing up on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s. It’s a basic story, not especially dramatic or complicated, but it pulls it’s audiences into the vulnerabilities and intricacies of family life while focussing mainly on the young son, David, and his Grandmother. Minari is infused with a really warm sentimentality and, while Chung has explained that it is a fictionalised account of his rural childhood, he has managed to create a real sense of authenticity from start to finish.

From the opening shot Minari adopts the visuals of a well-loved classic, it’s difficult to explain other than it feels familiar. Perhaps this is an element that Chung fought for, that familial essence of a regular family experiencing life. The story itself explores the issues faced while balancing medical concerns, family tensions and the driving desire to establish a successful family farm. One component that was really interesting to me is that this focus on the relational journey of the family was the key narrative in a story that on paper could have delved into a ‘fish out of water’ immigration story. The film makers haven’t attempted to speak to the full experience of being a Korean in America and racism, when encountered in the film, is only communicated by an unthinking child; an interaction that moves swiftly into a friendship. I’m pleased that the topic of racism wasn’t avoided completely, it’s vaguely present, but isn’t the driving force of the story and invites the audience to understand that immigrants experience other issues as well as racism in their day to day lives.

While the whole cast presented really strong performances you have to mention Yuh-Jung Youn as Grandma and Alan Kim as David. A lot of the story focusses around the relationship between the two and they create something so pure. There’s nothing stereotypical about their character choices and it allows the audience to feel a real sense of inclusion as their story develops. Something that was very refreshing was that Chung didn’t feel the need to increase the drama unnecessarily, he managed to create a really lovely ‘flow’ that was maintained by authentic characters.

Minari is really about the universal dynamics of a family struggling to survive and daring to want to thrive. Of what happens to men, to fathers, when they feel they have to succeed at the expense of everything else, including the very family they’re claiming to do it for. But also about roots: how they’re sunk and can be torn out if not tended to. The gentle, quietly rhythmic pace could mistakenly be called a lack of dynamism, but actually there’s a boldness and confidence in the complete lack of emotional and dramatic manipulation. Unfortunately due to the events of 2020 I fear that the opportunity to watch this film is significantly limited, but I implore you, if you get the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, please do. It’s really lovely work and deserves to be seen by the masses. 

Sound of Metal – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Amalric
Directed by Darius Marder
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Darius Marder and Abraham Marder
Length: 121mins

A heavy metal drummer in a band consisting solely of himself and his girlfriend, Ruben’s life is completely dedicated to the music that he makes. As a result, when his hearing is suddenly lost, he soon begins to spiral into an anxious and unfamiliar world which threatens to lead him back into the destructive habits of his past.

‘Sound of Metal’ balances the two juxtaposing ideas of extreme noise and utter silence perfectly. For Ruben, whose life until this point has been deeply rooted in making noise – whether that be as a musician or as someone who uses destruction as a means to release emotion – the idea of hearing nothing is overwhelming. His actions as a result show him at his most honest, and the audience is able to become deeply engaged with this portrayal of emotion. Furthermore, the filmmakers utilise some incredible sound design to provide the audience an insight into what such a transition feels like. Sudden absences of sound and a continuous ringing provide a clear perspective on the experiences of Ruben, and the debilitating extent of his condition.

Visually, ‘Sound of Metal’ is a striking film which utilises the beauty of natural landscapes to reflect on Ruben’s desire to return to normality. His ability to see these areas of the world with such clarity, and yet be almost entirely unable to engage with them audibly reinforces this idea of frustration and loss. Through the use of cinematography and locations, we can begin to understand how Ruben is able to develop, and change his perspective on his own physical state from one of loathing, to one of acceptance.

When it comes to performance, it’s undeniable that both Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke are key reasons for this film’s success. Their portrayal of a young couple who’ve managed to find solace in one another and escape the cruelty of the outside world is apparent from the first moment they share the screen, and it’s this connection which provides such a great amount of drama within ‘Sound of Metal’. The impact which Ruben’s sudden change in lifestyle has on their relationship is massive, and seeks to test the very thing which brought them together – a love of music.

Now that cinemas are opening, I cannot recommend ‘Sound of Metal’ enough. To see it on the big screen will be an incredible experience already, but to go after such a long period without films being shown will only make it even better. Head down to your local cinema, buy yourself a ticket for this great film and have a lovely evening out.

Without Remorse – review

Rating: 15 Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith, Jamie Bell and Guy Pearce Directed by Stefano Sollima Written by Taylor Sheridan, Will Staples and Tom Clancy (novel) Length: 109mins

Without Remorse tells the story of an elite Navy SEAL who uncovers an international conspiracy while trying to avenge the murder of his pregnant wife. This film is the origin story of Tom Clancy hero John Clark (Jordan), a popular character in the well known Jack Ryan universe. Torn between personal honour and loyalty to his country, Kelly targets his enemies ‘without remorse’ with hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful foggers behind the conspiracy. 

Immediately we are presented with a very predictable set up, you know whats coming and they take so long to do it. We start watching a questionable mission, we progress to 3 months later where several of the team are taken out and hero avoids death while his pregnant wife is killed in her sleep. This all happens within the first half hour and tells us exactly whats the IMDB bio or film description. It’s quite strange in a film of this nature to present such a long set up. Half way through there’s a lot of talking and very little action which is what most of the typical audiences of this genre would be watching for.

The prolonged set up may well be due to the fact that this is an origin story and so it’s got potential to become a franchise but this film is certainly at risk in losing audiences before any of the real action happens. In a lot of films that spend time on set up we often get some more in depth character work however in ‘Without Remorse’ they opt to just explain a lot…it doesn’t really fit into it’s genre and can come across a little boring. We spend a lot of time in nothingness; rolling around on the floor, in a hospital bed, under water etc…the music helps to build tension but I found that the further into the film we got the less patience I had for the random details that didn’t help progress the plot. It felt a bit sloppy and was frustrating. 

The actors are the best thing about this film, Michael B. Jordan is solid as you would expect, creating a likeable hero with a vendetta. He manages to create a nice balance between a kick-ass SEAL and a heartbroken husband in a situation that could have easily tipped either way. Jodie Turner-Smith plays a reliable team mate on the battle field, an engaging character who holds a high enough rank to be a decision maker as well as boots on the ground, but unfortunately she is given very little of interest to work with. Jamie Bell plays arguably the most interesting character, the audience is tasked with trying to work out which ‘side’ he’s on and Bell brings a wonderful authenticity to the role. 

Without Remorse had the potential to be a solid action film, the Jack Ryan universe has a decent reputation and the names in the film are enough to attract viewers but for some reason it just lacked. The story isn’t particularly original or interesting, and there’s a whole of lot of talking. Honestly, I would give it a miss. There are so many other good action films to choose from and this just doesn’t hit the mark. 

Nomadland – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Gay DeForest
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Written by Chloé Zhao
Length: 108mins

Caught halfway between some of America’s most beautiful landscapes and the oppressive trappings of the modern workplace, Chloé Zhao’s ‘Nomadland’ reflects on what is truly important in our lives, and seeks to find an answer for how we can put these things first. For Fern (McDormand), a woman in her sixties who lost a great amount to the recent recession, the answer lies in her van. Addicted to the freedom which her new lifestyle as a Nomad provides, she seeks to find a balance between the necessary nature of employment, her relationship with her own family, and the opportunity to escape it all. 

Employing real Nomads to act in the film, Zhao’s work feels as natural as ever. ‘Nomadland’ is a work of fiction, and yet you can feel the sincerity and honesty that each character brings to the screen, which, combined with an incredible performance from Frances McDormand, creates a story you can’t help but believe in. Despite many of the places Fern travels between being extremely far apart, a lot of the characters cross paths multiple times, reiterating this idea that they’re meant to be a part of one another’s lives, and that the life of a Nomad is not as isolating or lonely as audiences may at first believe.

If there’s one thing that Chloé Zhao is known for, it’s her ability to capture the Earth at its most beautiful. ‘Nomadland’ is defined by its breathtaking skylines and hubristic landscapes, creating a sense of both importance and inconsequentiality in the characters’ lives. Compared to the beauty of these natural occurrences, the actions of Fern and those in her life are entirely unimportant, and yet this is what drives them to live their life in whichever way they choose. As a result, the presence of the large corporations which Fern has to work for, such as Amazon, seem powerless in comparison. Their status as an international conglomerate is suddenly reduced when compared to the care which the film provides for such expansive natural features, and emphasises the idea that no one should have to work under inhumane conditions just to live. Although not explicit in it’s beliefs, ‘Nomadland’ is very clearly a film which disagrees with the power large businesses are provided in the modern day, and utilises visual imagery to brilliantly convey such an ethos.

Arguably one of the greatest actresses working today, Frances McDormand’s performance as Fern is both crackling with energy and defined by a weariness for the state of the world she’s found herself in. Her only freedom is in the escape from everything which modern society stands for, and her expression clearly reflects this whenever she’s able to get away for a little while longer. The patience the camera is provided when slowly following Fern through the Nomad’s camp is significantly longer than any shots found in urbanised areas, and as a result, the combination of performance and cinematography works brilliantly to emphasise the feeling of escape experienced by the lead character, and the audience too.

All in all, ‘Nomadland’ is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and important films released so far this year. As soon as cinemas open I look forward to watching it on the big screen, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I definitely recommend getting yourself a ticket booked. Chloé Zhao has already achieved more than any filmmaker could dream of, and still with a wide array of projects in the near future, I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring for her.