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. 

Darkest Hour – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ronald Pickup. Directed by Joe Wright Written by Anthony McCarten Length: 125mins

In 2017 Joe Wright directed this undeniably captivating account of Winston Churchill’s ‘darkest hour’ in 1940 as Hitlers forces were gathering across the channel, poised to invade. While the subject matter naturally prepares it’s audience for a tension-building portrayal of such an important period of Great British history, it’s not only the plot that is worthy of it’s audiences attention. This is not so much a period war drama, rather a detailed political thriller presenting a leader up against not only one of the sheer enormity of Hitlers Nazi Germany, but political swipes within his own Government.

While obviously the key plot points are guided by historical fact, it’s important to recognise that there are moments of fiction written into the film. It’s an interesting opportunity to remind a contemporary audience that big issues did not simply vanish the moment Churchill took over as Prime Minister, and with such a famous outcome it seemed to be a difficult challenge for the filmmakers to really paint the picture wherein the characters didn’t know the outcome of the events of the story. 

Darkest Hour collected a fantastic array of nominations and wins throughout the 2018 awards season, with Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill winning most of the prestigious ‘best actor’ awards. It’s clear that without Oldman this films success may not have been so prolific. He manages to demonstrate Churchill’s courage effortlessly while still presenting the ‘grumpy old man’ with glimpses of humour. While Oldman is the main draw of the film, his co-stars of Lily James and Kristen Scott-Thomas bring a really lovely balance to the other characters on screen throughout.

Joe Wright is a reliable filmmaker with a very impressive list of filmography. You can’t help but notice the large scale features on that list including Anna Karenina, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, with Darkest Hour fitting in nicely with the aesthetic of some of his previous works. Darkest hour is  a crowd-pleasing historical epic that knows when to keep moving and when to dwell on a moment.

There seems to be a renewed appetite for wartime movies in recent times and this one is an important watch amongst the others. Darkest Hour manages to exhibit Churchill’s daring bravery while not fully absolving him nor idolising him, rather it humanises him. I would suggest that for the sake of history this film is a necessary watch, but even if you have no interest in history it is Gary Oldman giving a masterclass for over two hours and that alone is reason to watch Darkest Hour.

The Fugitive – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward and Julianne Moore
Written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy
Directed by Andrew Davis
Length: 130mins

When the wife of a loving surgeon (Ford) is killed, her husband is arrested and sent to death row. During a bus crash en route to prison he escapes and the game of cat and mouse begins. A police detective (Jones) determined to catch his fugitive, and the fugitive determined catch his wife’s murderer whilst clearing his name. This film was not predicted to carry the success that it did, it was even rumoured that the actors believed the film could have damaged their careers. But with the clear, brilliant vision of Andrew Davis at the helm, a potential box office flop, turned into a smash hit and highly accoladed movie that would be considered a true classic.

The Fugitive’s success relies significantly on how plausible the action feels; though not something that you would hear in the news every day it feels realistic that the husband of a murder victim would be seriously investigated and, dependent on evidence (or lack thereof) charged. Also the fact that his ‘escape’ wasn’t a spontaneous, highly skilled prison break, but more of a grief stricken man making the most of an opportunity and driven by injustice. It’s refreshing and interesting to see an action based thriller with focal characters who are more ordinary, intelligent and successful, but still normal. It really opens up the opportunity for the audience to empathise with the situation.

The brilliance of this movie is a combination of the performances, direction and the clever editing. Harrison Ford’s character, Dr Kimble, is so interesting. Most of his performance is with just a small amount dialogue, meaning the bulk of his action is so heavily reliant on the physical transformation and portrayal, Dr Kimble speaks through his actions. Tommy Lee Jones earned an Academy Award for his work as Samuel Gerard. He is just outstanding, the audience really gets to walk through the whole situation with Gerard and it’s a fascinating watch, to have the two sides of this chase just enhances the build in suspense. The relationship between the characters is enunciated by the brilliant editing team (who also achieved Oscar nominations), the chase scenes cut between the two characters and you find that there are parallels between the two characters, making it wonderfully symmetrical. Andrew Davis, who had previously worked with Tommy Lee Jones, managed to turn a plot that could have easily ended up boring and predictable into a canvas for the two leading actors to play and push their characters, with brilliant results.

After it’s unexpected but well deserved box office success, The Fugitive has gone on to be considered a front to back classic and is timeless in it’s brilliance. It’s an exciting experience full of really brilliant moments and is well worth a watch.

La La Land – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K Simmons
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Length: 128mins

In 2016 Damien Chazelle brought the highly anticipated ‘old Hollywood’ style musical, La La Land, to the big screen. The film itself seems to have split audiences into passionate opinions of ‘love it or hate it’ and for that response in itself I think its worthy of comment. I have found it so interesting to enter into conversations with people who disagree with my own views; I would confidently say that this is one of my absolute favourite films.

Our story follows two artists in Hollywood – Sebastian, a hot headed but passionate pianist with a deep love for Jazz music and Mia, an actress, taking on the industry one audition, one rejection at a time. Their paths cross a couple of times before their conjoined story begins, but what seems to be key is that they are connected – both young people, with big, possibly unrealistic dreams. This story has a very raw feel, assisted of course by the cinematography and directorial choices, our main characters have such a normal feel about them. I find both Mia and Sebastian very easy to relate to, sharing explicit moments of vulnerability; weakness, frustration and emotion. All performed beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both of whom received high accolades for their work including multiple nominations and awards. I feel that what this film has done so brilliantly is create something that people relate to. Mia and Sebastian express so much of human nature making it almost impossible to not connect with the characters on some level. This makes me question the impact that this level of empathy instills within it’s audience, perhaps some dislike the outcome of the story because choices made aren’t the ones they would have made? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting idea to consider.

In comparison to one of Chazelle’s previous hits, ‘Whiplash’, La La Land was an opportunity to show a whole different side to his vision and creativity. Where Whiplash is said to have been a very ‘tight’ production – heavily relying on editing with lots of shots, focussed on exact, predestined moments. La La Land was a much more ‘free’ production, relying on less shots than Whiplash but allowing time for rehearsal and regular retakes (to assist in the practicalities of syncing actors to playback etc…) I understand that there was plenty of opportunity for improvisation within the script – though the visuals were predesigned the key relationship needed a real casual essence as its driving force and so the relaxed atmosphere of two professionals, totally in character, improvising gave new layers of truth while keeping the relationship and story telling light. In considering the visual presentation on a whole you cannot miss the sheer attention to detail. Everything is so deliberate from the colour schemes, camera angles to moments of quiet and a small glance.

I’m not sure you can discuss La La Land without commenting on the music, another element that divides people. I for one was slightly confused at some peoples outrage at the use of seemingly ‘normal’ vocals. These vocals, though of an extremely high standard, rarely sound polished or like recording artists and perhaps it’s just not to some peoples taste, but I feel that, firstly; it was a deliberate choice and therefore was selected to allow for the tone of the overall story and, secondly; it still sounds great, it just doesn’t necessarily fit with the framework of modern day ‘moive-musicals’. For me, the music and the lyrics provide extra layers to the storytelling, layers that are perhaps unreachable through alternative methods. I feel like Justin Hurwitz, the films composer, has outdone himself. In the films that he’s worked on I always find myself paying attention to the music, not as a distraction, rather as another thread of the canvas so to speak. As someone without much musical knowledge I wasn’t sure i’d ever really have a ‘favourite’ composer, but I certainly do admire and respect Hurwitz’s ability to tell story through music. Each piece of music, each song is so deliberate and powerful.

This film is truly a piece of art. By nature it wont be loved and adored by everyone, but it will speak to people in different ways. I encourage you to look at this film through a slightly different lens than just ‘popping something on the tv’. Consider the films intentions, the messages hiding in each detail, in each lyric. It might teach you something about yourself or encourage something in you that you had pushed aside.

“Here’s to the fools who dream”