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Movie Review: MINARI

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . MINARI! (March 26, 2021)

Click here for the blurb and viewing link of MINARI!

“While I know I had promised a review of the newest documentary to showcase the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it appears that RUTH, JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS has left the RRT Virtual Cinema. It is available to rent on Amazon, so I encourage all to view it there as I will one day soon!

That said, I am delighted to bring you my thoughts on the highly celebrated film MINARI, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung and honored with six Oscar nominations this year. This film is now available in the Red River Virtual Cinema and I can definitely say with confidence that it is my favorite of the scattered but exceptional 2020/2021 movie calendar.

The story of a Korean family of four who move to begin life in rural Arkansas, MINARI epitomizes a family who are seeking the American Dream. Beautifully photographed and expertly scored, the film, which is set in the 1980s and said to be semi-autobiographical, tracks the ups and downs of adjusting to this new life. The characterization is so deep and personal that you cannot help but cheer the family on as you watch their triumphs and challenges.

Aside from a strong script, great direction, and expert aesthetics, MINARI is the superb piece that it is because of its performances. The cast is led by Steven Yeun, who plays Jacob, the determined and serious patriarch of the family. Yeun, who is the first Asian-American man to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, delivers a subtle yet powerful performance from start to finish, developing outstanding chemistry with his co-star Yeri Han, who plays his wife Monica. Han is equally powerful in her characterization of the frustrated and tired Monica, who just wants to give her children the best possible life.

The really amazing chemistry that develops, however, is between actors Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-jung, who play David, Jacob and Monica’s son, and Soonja, the hilarious and endearing mother of Monica. Kim and Yuh-jung are at the heart of this film in so many ways, including their depiction of a special relationship between grandson and grandmother. Much of the film is through the lens of young David’s thoughts and feelings, but the pieces that track Soonja’s own thoughts are equally memorable.

Despite being labeled a “foreign language film” by so many, MINARI really is one of the most American films that I’ve seen in a long time. At the core of its message are the themes of hope and perseverance amidst challenge and adversity. These themes ring familiar to us no matter how our ancestors arrived in this country and are universal to say the least.

At a time when the United States has seen a bothersome uptick in crime toward Asian-American and Pacific Islander populations, we need a film like MINARI more than ever to help remind us that the American values span backgrounds, cultures, and races; that those who have contributed to our nation have come from all over the world.

 It is my hope that MINARI does well this Oscar season. Like Caleb and Barry, who posted thoughts on the nominees in their columns last week, I had my fair share of observations, thoughts, and surprises in reacting to the Academy’s nominations.

Before I close on MINARI and move to additional thoughts on the nominations, I was thrilled to see both Yeun and Yuh-jung among the nine performers of color nominated for acting awards, the most diverse group ever. The piece that would have made it even better were if Alan Kim were included among the supporting actors for his brilliant work as David. I do feel MINARI has what it takes to win, but I still feel that NOMADLAND has an edge over it. The Screen Actors Guild Awards, where NOMADLAND did not receive a Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture nomination (the top award) will be telling, though. If MINARI wins the top prize there, then the frontrunner may change, though I think THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, a true ensemble piece, will triumph at SAG.

I have seen seven of the eight Best Picture nominees, leaving me with only THE FATHER to still watch. My overall impression is that JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH has gained the most momentum in recent weeks. While I did enjoy that film, I am a bit gobsmacked as to how both LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya ended up as supporting actors among the nominations. Kaluuya is arguably the frontrunner and really serves as the film’s co-lead, which is why I was shocked to see they included Stanfield as well. The Academy has a tendency to do this with supporting roles (case in point, Mahershala Ali in GREEN BOOK and Viola Davis in FENCES). Maybe this will be a wake-up call that they need to shift things so that true supporting performances like Paul Raci’s (SOUND OF METAL) have a stronger chance.

It would appear that ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI and DA 5 BLOODS didn’t get as much love as they deserved. I was sorry to see the latter almost entirely left out, especially lead Actor Delroy Lindo, while I was surprised that Regina King did not join Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell among the historic women who earned Best Director nominees. King’s directorial film debut for ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI was impressive.

ANOTHER ROUND, which I previously reviewed and remains available through Red River, also did very well, garnering a Best International Film nomination and a surprise directing nod for Thomas Vinterberg, which doesn’t often happen.

Lastly, while David Fincher’s MANK leads with 10 nominations, it could well be this year’s IRISHMAN, which did not earn one single Oscar of its 10 nominations. In the case of MANK, I would not be displeased if it didn’t earn any as I found the film underwhelming.

Overall, it’s still early days and we have to see how things play out, but I could easily see this being a NOMADLAND vs. MINARI battle. Both are great films, but for me, MINARI has much more going for it that warrants a win.

Stay tuned for Volume IX, which will appear on Friday, April 9. Title to be determined.”

Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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