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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “Minari,” HAIM, and more

Feb. 26, 2021
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Watch: I Care A Lot (dir. J Blakeson)

I Care A Lot made waves before its release for two things: Rosamund Pike donning her Amy Dunne sharp bob once again, inciting all the Gone Girl: Retirement Home Edition jokes, and the typos literally shining neon yellow in the trailer. Perhaps this was a premonition—the film, messy and rough-edged, enjoyed merit it borrowed from movies much better than it.

Pike is Marla Grayson, a tenacious legal guardian who games the system (legally!) to drain elderly people of their money and possessions. She and her equally conniving partner Fran (Eiza Gonzales in the hottest haircut I have ever seen on a human being) meet their match in the wealthy Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who is not the solitary retired businesswoman everyone thinks she is.

Like many movies that previously attempted (and failed) to give justice to a morally ambiguous female character, I Care A Lot is both audaciously confident and unsure of its tone. It appears the film wants the viewer to root for Marla, but then it does a sudden 180 and expects the audience to also be on board. The criticism that comes after Marla’s glorification as an eyeliner-so-sharp-it-could-kill-a-man feminist icon feels more like a cop-out than a satirization. Speaking to No Film School, director J Blakeson said,”I haven’t seen that many movies where there was a female protagonist who is fearless and ambitious as she is without her being a femme fatale,” and I beg to differ. 

That said, it is indeed the fun black comedy it promises to be. Blakeson’s choice to tell this story through the perspective of the perpetrator is smart, since we get a clearer sense of what makes this predatory guardianship possible on a systemic level. Pike, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role, is a perfect Marla, nailing the ruthless, invincible demeanor that defines the character. It’s anti-girlboss in the most convoluted, despicable way.

I Care A Lot is streaming on Netflix (and this perfect reaction video is on their YouTube channel).

Watch: Minari (dir. Lee Isaac Chung)

This American movie tells the story of the Yi family, Arkansas transplants with a newly purchased acreage and a trailer perched on cinder blocks. Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun, who in a perfect world would be an automatic shoo-in for Best Actor), the patriarch, is determined to make a family farm from the ground up. His partner Monica (Han Ye-ri) is hesitant and longing for home; their two children (Alam Kim and Noel Kate Cho, both unbelievably brilliant) are trying to wade through racial microaggressions to make friends. 

Minari is a quiet film that speaks for itself. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based it on his childhood, when his family moved to Arkansas with the same vision as Jacob: to be self-made, to no longer work for anyone, to achieve the quintessential American dream. Through the family’s personal reconciliations with being diaspora, different immigrant experiences are brought to light. Chung fills the film with so many moments other diaspora will surely recognize, and by the end he gives both the Yis and the audience deliverance. 

The arrival of Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) makes this more explicit. Homesick Monica delights at her mother’s baggage, all reminding her of home, while youngest son David expresses disdain at Soon-ja not fitting his image of an American grandma. Instead of baking cookies, she watches wrestling on television, drinks Mountain Dew (“water from the mountains”), and plants minari by a creek.

An already excellent script is propped up by a cast with no weak link. Every intricacy is captured perfectly; even the simplest moments are given gravity because each character is fully-realized, living and breathing even before they are on the big screen. Minari made its festival run last year, appearing on 67 critics’ year-end top-10 lists, claiming the top spot in five. It has easily become a milestone in American cinema, encapsulating a relatable narrative without being heavy-handed—only sensitive, only true.

Minari is in theaters now and will be available on VOD on February 26.

Listen: Women in Music Pt III by HAIM

HAIM’s third studio album Women in Music Pt III was a balm in the early days of quarantine. Released in June last year, it went on to be nominated for Best Album at the 63rd Grammy Awards, with single “The Steps” also nominated for Best Rock Performance. Its genre shifts and blunt lyricism earned the group critical acclaim.

Half a year later, HAIM released an extended version, boasting remixes with Taylor Swift and Thundercat. Twitter had a field day with Swift screaming “I get sad!'' in “Gasoline” upon its release, with writer Hunter Harris even crafting a deep-dive about it in her newsletter (wherein she identified the singer as “Cats star”). Meanwhile, Thundercat breathes new life into “3 AM,” a song HAIM has always seen as a duet. While this isn’t technically new music, it gives WIMPIII more time in the spotlight, something the atmospheric, textured, and personal record deserves.

Stream Women in Music Pt III by HAIM on Spotify here.