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CINEMA Film round-up

Reviews of Minari, Chaos Walking, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Night, Concrete Cowboy, Undine and Zana

Minari (12)
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung 
★★★★★

DESERVEDLY nominated for six Academy Awards, you can’t help but be swept away by this exquisitely tender and heartfelt story of a Korean-US family in pursuit of the American Dream in 1980s Arkansas. 

Though totally fictional, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung was inspired by his own family and provides a fresh new take on the immigrant tale. It is a touching love letter to his own parents and their tenacity to forge a new life in the US and to provide their children with a more promising future.

The film, the produced by Brad Pitt and named after a peppery Korean herb, follows the pressures that a Korean family of four face as they move from California to a small farm in rural Arkansas and how their lives are upended with the arrival of the maternal grandmother (played superbly by Yuh-Jung Youn). 

She is a sly, foul-mouthed, gambling but loving woman whose adorable but cheeky young grandson David (phenomenal newcomer Alan S Kim), takes an instant dislike to her.

The film captures the growing tensions and heated arguments between David’s parents (a fantastic Steven Yeun and Yeri Han) as their hopes and dreams for the future shatter and digress.

It is a beautiful, slow-burning drama about immigrant life and trying to fit in which, as the daughter of immigrants myself, I can totally relate to.

Maria Duarte

Available on demand and via virtual cinemas

Chaos Walking (12)
Directed by Doug Liman 
★★

FROM the director of Edge of Tomorrow and the more recent Lock Down comes this sci-fi thriller with the most fascinating premise, set in a dystopian world where the women have all disappeared and the men and male animals can hear and see each other’s thoughts. 

It is based on the thrilling trilogy by writer Patrick Ness and follows the naive Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) as he comes across a mysterious girl (Daisy Ridley) for the first time in his life, who has crash landed on the planet and is desperate to find a way to phone home for help.

The first problem is that he can’t see her thoughts — women being immune — and the second is that they are being pursued by the town’s ruthless mayor (Mads Mikkelsen) and its deranged pastor Aaron (David Oyelowo).

Despite the A-list cast’s fantastic efforts, the film, directed by Doug Liman, lacks the twisted bite of the novels and wastes its innovative premise. Frankly this is a major let down; I would stick to the books. 

MD

Available on demand

 

Godzilla vs. Kong (12A)
Directed by Adam Wingard
★★★★

PLAYING like the Rocky IV of contemporary Hollywood Kaiju flicks, the two kings of monster cinema come to blows for the first time since 1962 under the skilful eye of The Guest director Adam Wingard for the best movie with a “versus” in its title since Krueger met Voorhees. 

An absolute masterclass in box-ticking the various components of current-era geek-infused blockbuster culture (naturally, there’s a Stranger Things alum present), there are sadly no prizes on offer for predicting the plot of this clash of the titans.

Nevertheless, there’s a veritable bevvy of thrills to be found. It may not be as academically triumphant a Kaiju throw-down as Pacific Rim or Kong: Skull Island (to which this serves as a sequel), but it’s certainly the most engaging and fun.

Going so far as to purposefully include a moment that the internet will, no doubt, gleefully “Martha-tise,” GvK’s no flawless film, but it’s a reminder that, once upon a time, movies used to have fun.

Van Connor 

Available on demand

 

The Night (15)
Directed by Kourosh Ahari
★★★★

STAR of A Separation Shahab Hosseini joins the relatively unknown Niousha Noor for The Night, an atmospheric, marital “chiller” that also marks the first US-made movie in more than four decades to be given an Iranian theatrical release (they were spared Cats).

With a series of shorts and a pair of decently passable, cheaply produced dramas under his belt, Kourosh Ahari nonetheless bursts out the gate here, directing and co-writing a solidly robust and stripped-back horror tale in which Hosseini and Noor face off against both their literal and figurative demons over the course of one deadly night in an LA hotel.

Infused with a genre-perspective reminiscent of Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow, The Night is all about sustained creepiness and ever-escalating dread.

Forgoing hacky jump scares, the horror here works on the back of fine craftsmanship, terrific performances, and an absolute excess of goosebumps.

VC

Available on demand

 

Concrete Cowboy
Directed by Ricky Staub
★★★

STRANGER THINGS kids dropping new movies are a lot like buses this week, with Caleb McLaughlin taking the literal reins for this touching, if a tad worn, father and son drama on Netflix.

Idris Elba produces and stars alongside McLaughlin for this heartfelt and slightly sugary adaptation of Greg Neri’s young-adult novel Ghetto Cowboy, here retitled as Concrete Cowboy, with the estranged parent-child dynamic revived when the troubled teen is sent to live with his estranged father, an urban stable worker.

Though narratively worn, a warm sense of reverence for the setting is palpable in a solid production from first-time feature helmer Ricky Staub, who nonetheless ensures that the predictably evolving relationship between Elba and McLaughlin, as they and their supporting cast trot almost anachronistically through the streets of Philly, will leave you with an affectionate smile.

A no-frills, old school, father-son story; the cowboy’s concrete, but he comes with a soft heart.

VC

Available on demand

 

Undine (12A)
Directed by Christian Petzold
★★★★

DIRECTOR of the compelling German drama Transit a few years ago, director Christian Petzold returns with a darker, more surrealistic energy in Undine. 

Transit alumnus Paula Beers is the eponymous lead, overcome by her mythological namesake as she struggles to comprehend a romantic encounter that her would-be paramour has seemingly no memory of.

Beers instantly arrests viewers with a fearless propulsion that, in its wild emotional swings, helps turn Petzold’s film on a dime; consistently challenging expectations of even what Undine is — as a narrative construct, as much as an individual. 

It’s a bonkers tale — part Fleabag, part Jacob’s Ladder, all top-tier filmmaking.

Particular props for which are due to another Transit-alumnus, cinematographer Hans Fromm, who games the visuals to maximum effect here, emboldening a wonderfully, ever-increasing sense of paranoia where he can with a clever and quite subtle use of enhanced colour vibrance in generously portioned-out and calmingly paced moments of narrative breath.

Where Undine could lose a lot of traction for many, however, is in a story that doesn’t perhaps hold together as coherently and efficiently as it might.

Its conclusion may well leave you cold, but perhaps that’s its biggest subversion of all.

VC

Available on demand

 

Zana (15)
Directed by Antoneta Kastrati 
★★★

INSPIRED by her own personal experience and loss during the Kosovo war, filmmaker Antoneta Kastrati explores its devastating, deep-rooted psychological effects on women in this haunting and heart-breaking fictional drama.

The film centres on Lume (Adriana Matoshi), an Albanian woman who is having problems falling pregnant but, according to her gynaecologist, there is nothing physically wrong with her, which suggests it might be psychological.

Dismissive of the doctor’s diagnosis, her mother-in-law (Fatmire Sahiti), who lives with her and her husband (Astrit Kabashi), threatens to get her son a younger wife to give him a child if Lume does not go and see a healer for help. 

Fearing replacement, she sees two: a local witch doctor, then a costly and famous televangelist healer.

Lo and behold — after seeing him, she becomes pregnant. But, as the pregnancy progresses, her night terrors intensify and her post-war trauma resurfaces in disastrous ways as she finds it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between her nightmares and reality.

With a powerhouse performance by the mesmerising Matoshi, the film analyses the lack of options and help offered to women crushed by the effects of conflict, survivor guilt and loss of loved ones in a patriarchal society which also believes in mystic healers and curses.

It is a heart-wrenching film which will stay with you, long after the end credits have rolled.

MD

Available on Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player and Barbican Cinema on Demand

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