Reviews & More: American Dreams

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“Minari” (Amazon Prime)

“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Prime Video) is a fictional depiction of what actually occurred in a hotel room in 1964: a conversation among recently crowned boxing champ Cassius Clay (soon to be known as Muhammed Ali), football star Jim Brown, civil rights leader Malcolm X and singer-songwriter Sam Cooke, all of them successful Black icons of the time. Director Regina King has done a fine job of turning the original play into a film but it can’t escape its theatrical origins, especially as playwright Kemp Powers adapted his own work for the screen. Thus it comes across more like an intellectual exercise than real-to-life dialogue. Even so, the cast is so very fine—especially Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and young Eli Goree as Clay, with more subtle performances by Aldis Hodge as Brown and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Cook—that King’s brilliance as an actress has influenced her feature film directorial debut greatly. The subject is fascinating; consider the barriers that each of these men faced due to the color of their skin, and how successful they were able to be. There is an especially chilling flashback scene of NFL player Jim Brown having lemonade on a former plantation porch with an admiring landowner on the Georgia island of Brown’s childhood. This is a must-watch film for anyone who needs to learn why Black Lives Matter.

 

“The Sound of Metal” (Prime) was released in November 2020, and I’m so glad I finally caught up with it. Riz Ahmed has been getting a lot of hype for his performance as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer who struggles through deafness and addiction as he resists pressure to become a part of the deaf community. Ahmed thoroughly deserves the hype; it’s a flawless performance of a flawed character, a man who is used to barreling his way through every difficult challenge he has faced and who has a very hard time accepting the reality that his life has changed completely. Ahmed makes you care deeply about a troubled human being who cannot stop shoving back at the world, no matter what. Film director/co-writer Darius Marder, in his feature film debut, has thoroughly captured the world of heavy metal, the sounds of gradual loss and the realm of silence that propel the plot, and not only Ahmed, but Olivia Cooke as his girlfriend/bandmate and Paul Raci as a deaf 12-step counselor are also excellent.

 

“Minari” (for rent on Prime) is a small film with big themes. A Korean family of four who have spent years in California move to Arkansas in the 1980s because the father, Jacob Yi, (the charismatic Steven Yeun) dreams of cultivating a farm that will cater to the “30,000 Korean immigrants who come to America each year.” Not only is he a novice farmer who has much to learn, but he has used the savings from years of hard work to purchase a large acreage without a real homestead; instead, a trailer propped up on blocks and surrounded by mud is their new home—much to the dismay of his wife Monica (Yeri Han)—and it’s far from neighbors and a town. Their two children, seven-year-old David (scene-stealer Alan Kim) and older sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho) have to adapt to an entirely different culture. Their father is stoic and forceful, with underpinning of warmth; their mother is protective, loving and often unhappy. Then Monica’s mother arrives to live with them (another scene stealer, the delightful Yuh-Jung Youn), all eccentricities and bawdy language. Together, the five face challenges both small and huge, but inevitably, the strength of the family unit provides hope for their future. Based on his own childhood, filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a lovely yet realistic depiction of hard times lived by sturdy human beings.