Thursday, February 11, 2021

Bob's Cinema Diary: 2/12/21-- 'Minari,' 'Land' and 'The World to Come'

     Like most reviewers, I'm being inundated with streaming opportunities. In a normal moment, it would be possible to give more space to the movies that you'll find in these cinema diaries. But I've decided that it's better to call attention to these movies than to ignore them and sometimes, a special movie -- in this case Minari -- finds its way into a diary post. 
 I've included Minari in this edition of the Cinema Diary because the movie was a hit on the festival circuit, has turned up on many 10-best lists, and already has received considerable attention. I gave it honorable mention status.

In Minari, writer/director Lee Isaac Chung tells the story of a Korean family trying to start a farm in Arkansas during the 1980s. In his warm but realistic endeavor, Chung focuses on family dynamics. Dad, a deservedly praised Steven Yeun, dreams of making a go of farming, which -- for him -- means taking a stab at being his own man. Mom (Yeri Han) goes along but is more skeptical about the chances for success. Grandma (a scene-stealing Yuh-jung Youn) arrives to help young David (Alan Kim as the couple's son) and Anne (Noel Cho as the family daughter). Chung astutely avoids rising-immigrant cliches. Mom earns money in a chicken processing plant and Dad receives help from a strange Pentecostal neighbor (Will Patton). Youn and Kim play a perfect and often unexpected grandma/grandson duet and Yeun delivers a performance that brims with both frustration and hope. Don't expect a Rocky-style aspirational pep talk. Fair to say, then, that Minari eschews nostalgia and, though set in the 1980s, feels very much alive in the present.

Watching Land, a movie marking the directorial debut of actress Robin Wright, I kept asking myself what might have motivated Wright to pick this story about a woman who withdraws into nature's harsh isolation. Edee (Wright) moves into a remote cabin in Wyoming with little experience in how to negotiate life in the wilderness. We'll eventually learn what prompted Edee's withdrawal from society, but it's not too difficult to guess where her motivation lies. Before heading for the hills, Edee tells her sister (Kim Dickens) that she no longer can bear life around people. Most of the movie involves watching Edee struggle to survive. She must learn to hunt, gather enough wood to keep from freezing, find ways to feed herself and adjust to taking care of bathroom needs in an outhouse. At one particularly low point, Edee is rescued by a native-American woman (Sarah Dawn Pledge) and another wilderness denizen (Demien Birchir). Watching Edee nearly freeze to death gives you the shivers, but Land never seems to gather the kind of thematic momentum that would have justified Edee's battle with unforgiving nature. It doesn't help that Edee has moved into the wild less for purposes of discovery than for what can seem like a punishment. 

The World to Come
In The World to Come, Vanessa Kirby portrays Tallie, a 19th- century farm woman who lives an emotionally Spartan existence with her husband Finney (Christopher Abbott). The movie focuses on a friendship between two women that quickly blossoms into love. Abigail (Katherine Waterston) plays another resident of this unforgiving environment. She's married to Dyer (Casey Affleck). They've lost a child and evidently whatever passed for love in their relationship. The men in director Mona Fastvold's movie are a sour lot. Finney is an unapologetic chauvinist who tries to guide his wife's behavior with Old Testament pronouncements. The morose Dyer seems lost and lugubrious. The women ultimately realize their passion for each other but it doesn't take much foresight to know that things won't proceed toward a sunny conclusion.  An atmosphere of hardship and deprivation serves as a backdrop that heightens the  longing both women experience. A surfeit of narration (mostly from Abigail) tends to substitute for drama and although the performances are fine (notably Waterston's), the movie left me wondering whether Tallie and Abigail were not only being constrained by their husbands but by Fastvold's stark conception of the movie. 

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