In this review, we tackle two films you should watch before the Oscars, and a Limited Series on Disney+ that heralds the advent of MarvelTV on that streaming app.
Minari (Video On Demand) – Nominated for six Oscars this April, Minari has taken full advantage of the big studios holding back on their big budget releases on account of the pandemic. It’s a ‘small’ film, about a Korean family that moves from California to Arkansas; the father (Steven Yuen), hoping to get a fresh start for his family by starting up a farm growing Korean vegetables for the local markets servicing the growing Korean community. It’s a hard scrabble life that’s depicted, showcasing the everyday life and dynamics between husband, wife, their daughter and sickly son, and the maternal grandmother who eventually comes and lives with them. It’s social realism with no frills or fairy tale ending.
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Yuen, Best Supporting Actress (for Youn Yuh-Jung who plays the grandma), Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score – the film has scored nom’s in all these categories. The attention and acclaim for this film reminds me of how American critics loved Cuaron’s Roma a few years back. For Filipino audiences, as with Roma, Minari may be far too real a narrative, with no Hollywood elements, and not be as well received. What light moments and comedy that exists in the film flows naturally, and as part of their day to day existence. Loosely based on the experiences of the Director/Writer Lee Isaac Chung, one impressive highlight of the film is the very naturalistic acting of Alan Kim, who plays the young son, David.
WandaVision (Disney+) – This 9-episode Limited Series on Disney+ is the answer to what the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe) would come up with after The Avengers: End Game; and how they would generate content during the pandemic, with movie theaters still closed. Picking up from the aforementioned End Game, the series is the continuation of the story of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), two super-powered beings who were were introduced to in the Avengers Universe. But in what must have been an unexpected turn for the MCU fans, the series starts off like a spoof of the TV sit-coms of yesteryear, and the final episode dropped during the first week of March.
It starts off as a tribute to the sit-com’s of the 1960’s, and shifts to the 1970’s, with small instances subtly hinting that not is all what it seems, and there’s something very weird and strange going on. For those who’ve been religiously following the MCU, there are a lot of rewards and Easter eggs, as minor characters from those films pop up here and numerous references to those films are made. To be honest, there is a point towards the latter half of the series when my interest flagged; but I’ll still give full points to the production team for being imaginative and throwing up the unexpected in this series. Both Olsen and Bettany are in fine form as the main focus, and the Olsen character of Wanda truly shines.
Judas & the Black Messiah (HBO Max) – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Fred Hampton – Hampton would be the least known of the names above, and yet, they all played important roles in the American Black History of the 1960’s. Newton and Seale co-founded the Black Panther party, which was fostering a social revolution and equality for the Black man, but was seen by the FBI and law enforcement as a dangerous, militant terrorist group. At one point, the Panthers are equated to the Klan, just on opposite sides of a coin, both espousing violence. William O’Neal was the man who was coerced by the FBI and went undercover, joined the Panthers, and ended up snitching on Hampton, that lead to Hampton’s killing.
It’s this story that this film brings to the fore, in a dramatic, relatively fast-paced narrative. Foremost in the story-telling are the strong acting of both British actor Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton, and LaKeith Stanfield as O’Neal. Kaluuya has already picked up Best Supporting Actor wins at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. For the Oscars, both Kaluuya and Stanfield have been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category and it’s hoped they won’t end up cancelling each other out. While both are deserving of the nominations, Kaluuya is by far the more incendiary, memorable performance. The film is also nominated for Best Original Screenplay & Cinematography. In this era of Black Lives Matter, this true tale of what went down in Chicago, Illinois, in 1969, is an informative reminder of how far we’ve come… or haven’t.