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Indie Focus: A family finds itself in ‘Minari’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

For as much as the world seems to be on indefinite hold during the pandemic, the future of Hollywood seems to be taking shape quickly. Ryan Faughnder wrote about what the recent news of Warner Bros. putting its entire 2021 slate in theaters and on streaming simultaneously means for the venerable company.

“The question, though, is what happens after 2021? Few people believe Warner Bros. will go back to normal after the pandemic and that there could be lasting damage from the simultaneous release strategy,” Ryan wrote. “Warner’s evolving film distribution strategy also reflects the changing role of film studios in the modern entertainment industry. With movies and multiplexes no longer considered the center of the cultural universe, film studios are upending their longtime practices to serve the streaming ambitions of their parent companies. Some industry sources worry other studios will follow Warner Bros.’ lead.”

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Ryan also wrote about Disney’s ambitious plans for the Disney+ streaming service, which include 10 Marvel series, 10 “Star Wars” shows and much more, totaling more than 100 new titles a year. In perhaps the biggest reveal on the movie side, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins will make “Rogue Squadron,” the next feature film from the “Star Wars” universe.

Also this week, Times critic Justin Chang published his list of the best movies of 2020; most of the titles will be familiar to faithful readers of this newsletter. As he wrote, “It was the year the movie theaters died — or at least went on indefinite hiatus, with few assurances about if or when they’ll return. And for that reason, by their very absence, they meant more to me than ever.”

The motion picture academy has announced Stacy Sher, Jesse Collins and Steven Soderbergh as producers of the 2021 Oscars, which as previously announced won’t be happening until April. Glenn Whipp wrote that Soderbergh’s role “guarantees that the show isn’t simply going to be different. It’s going to be downright peculiar. Soderbergh’s three decades as a filmmaker have been marked by experimentation, restlessness and invention. … If he doesn’t shoot, edit, direct and produce the 2021 Oscars, it will feel like he’s slacking.”

And we have released the first three episodes of “The Envelope: The Podcast,” the new awards season show I co-host with my Times TV colleague Yvonne Villarreal. These first episodes include interviews with Jurnee Smollett from “Lovecraft Country,” Anya Taylor-Joy from “The Queen’s Gambit” and Andy Samberg, who shared his thoughts on the purposefully ambiguous ending of “Palm Springs.” To get the latest on each episode and other awards season insights in your inbox, get our Envelope newsletter.

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‘Minari’

Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” won both the grand jury and audience prizes when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Drawn from Chung’s own experience, the film tells the story of a Korean American family as they relocate to Arkansas, in part though the eyes of a 7-year-old boy, David (Alan Kim). Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Noel Kate Cho and Yuh-Jung Youn round out the family. Released by A24, the film is playing at the Mission Tiki Drive-in.

For The Times, Glenn Whipp wrote, “‘Minari’ in its entirety feels like a balm right now, a gentle, truthful and tender story of family filled with kind people trying to love one another the best they can. It’s filled with the specifics of Chung’s Korean American upbringing, but it’s also universal in its insights into the resiliency of the human spirit.”

For Slate, Karen Han wrote, “Broadly, ‘Minari’ is about the American Dream, but David is ultimately the film’s main character. Through his eyes, we sympathize both with Jacob’s ambitions and with Monica’s dismay that he continues to put the farm’s success over the well-being of his family. On top of that, the whole family is struggling with assimilation, not just within the very white town they’ve found themselves in, but in David’s case, within his own identity as a Korean American. … This film’s careful attention to these particularities speaks to Chung’s prodigious talent as a writer and director and, on a grander scale, to how quickly the world of film seems to be developing when it comes to normalizing the experiences of marginalized people on screen.”

For IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote, “Chung’s immaculate memory play is always poignantly in flux between shared recollections of the past and conflicting visions of the future. This beautiful film posits family as the ultimate journey, only to explore how difficult it can be to agree on a destination. Is Jacob trying to prove what’s possible for himself, or is he doing his best to build something for the next generation? Is there any way those two goals might be able to overlap before Monica has to pull the ripcord?”

(L-R) Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han, and Noel Cho in “Minari” from A24.
Steven Yeun, from left, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han and Noel Cho in “Minari.”
(Josh Ethan Johnson/A24)

‘Let Them All Talk’

Directed by Steven Soderbergh from a screenplay by short story writer Deborah Eisenberg, “Let Them All Talk” stars Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest along with Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan. Streep stars as a novelist traveling aboard the Queen Mary 2 who invites two old college friends along, in part to catch up and in part possibly to mine them for new material. The film was in fact shot on the luxury liner during a transatlantic crossing. It is now streaming on HBO Max.

For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “It’s one of the surest signs of directorial freedom that a filmmaker can go loose with legends, be arty yet entertaining, and produce work that’s fleet of foot without seeming flighty. Steven Soderbergh is in that kind of phase now with his movie career, looking for ways to push himself yet not push away the audience. … Sometimes, in the long scheme of a director’s highs, lows and whiffs, it’s nice to get a bite — not necessarily a meal — that’s as tasty as it looks.”

For Vulture, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “‘Let them all talk,’ in this case, feels like an instruction to the cast and crew. The film is built largely around conversations (apparently improvised) between the actors, often with Soderbergh’s camera fixed in place, the frame immobile, with occasional cut-aways to the ship’s elegantly appointed rooms, to the quiet bustle of the kitchen and to rows of beautifully plated meals. (There’s a bit of ‘The Trip’ quality to ‘Let Them All Talk,’ though nobody ever actually talks about the food in this one.) Soderbergh’s locked-down aesthetic feels not so much like the poetic austerity of Yasujiro Ozu but the chilly stasis of surveillance-cam footage. That’s not such a bad thing, however. We feel like eavesdroppers throughout the movie. While not particularly intimate, the conversations feel personal and candid.”

For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “The pleasure of ‘Let Them All Talk’ is in how it expands on the premise of an older lady hang movie, burrowing into darker corners and pausing to consider the ambient hum of life tumbling along. It’s a fun movie. It may also be profound.”

Meryl Streep and Lucas Hedges dine aboard a cruise ship in the movie "Let Them All Talk."
Meryl Streep and Lucas Hedges in the movie “Let Them All Talk.”
(Peter Andrews/HBO Max)

‘Another Round’

Directed and co-written by Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round” stars Mads Mikkelsen as a high school teacher feeling stuck in middle-age ennui. So he and some friends convince themselves to follow the teachings of an obscure philosopher who opined that humans naturally need a higher blood alcohol content, and they decide to be drunk all the time and see what happens. Denmark’s submission for the international Oscar, the film is released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. It is available via Laemmle’s virtual cinema and on VOD starting Dec. 18.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “What happens, all told, isn’t terribly surprising: the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, drunken benders that threaten to become relationship enders. But ‘Another Round,’ while very much about addiction, isn’t really an addiction drama. It’s a male midlife-crisis comedy in which drinking to excess is less a cause than a symptom of Martin’s funk — and sometimes, yes, a viable solution to it … Which is to say that it not only acknowledges but also celebrates the life-giving buzz his characters experience with every swig of absinthe or Smirnoff. This is booze you can use, and in these scenes, their intoxication unabashedly becomes your own.”

For the New York Times, Devika Girish wrote, “Vinterberg also makes excellent use of Mikkelsen’s own past as a dancer, mining the incongruously fluid body language of a tall, thickset man with a jaw that seems carved out of lead … The buoyancy of ‘Another Round’ comes from these moments of unpredictability, when the characters teeter on the precipice of either ecstasy or injury. That feeling of indeterminacy is, of course, the very allure of an alcoholic buzz. Despite a few didactic lines of dialogue about Danish drinking culture, ‘Another Round’ mostly shimmies its way out of moral or social questions. The film ends literally midair, suspending us in the perilous thrill of moments in which anything seems possible.”

For the Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “While ‘Another Round’ inspects the varying effects of alcohol on daily life, it’s far from clinical. Waves of ebullience, love, humor and sorrow crash on top of each other, as anyone who’s ever been overserved can attest to. It isn’t prescriptive about drinking, and doesn’t seek to impart any message other than that life is hard, and sometimes dark, and sometimes ecstatically beautiful. Alcohol can unlock freedom, joy and playfulness, but it can also easily be destructive and fatal, which is never far from reality in ‘Another Round.’ The true lifehack? Learning to access that joie de vivre all on your own.”

Mads Mikkelsen in Thomas Vinterberg's "Another Round."
(Henrik Ohsten / Samuel Goldwyn Films)


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