2021 Movie Reviews: Antebellum/The Kid Detective/Minari/Music/Nomadland

Sorry I missed last week, but here are five for you.

Antebellum

Extremely problematic and incompetent Get Out rip-off that proves really grueling to watch. The characters are underwritten, the plot is extremely confusing and it’s so on-the-nose with everything it makes me long for the smooth subtlety of Step Up 3D. If you’re going to have a horror movie about slavery, first of all don’t because every movie about slavery is a horror movie and a lot scarier than any kind of supernatural element you can bring into it. Secondly, if you do, you have a responsibility to treat that subject with the utmost respect and delicacy and Antebellum exploits it to create a flimsy time-fractured narrative wrapped around a stale, third-rate M. Night Shayamalan plot twist all while using slave abuse/brutality to ratchet in the scares. What’s next? A ghost movie set in Auschwitz? Grade: D (HULU)

The Kid Detective

I was blown away by how much I ended up liking this movie. A small little Canadian film that seemingly came out of nowhere. A never better Adam Brody stars as a once celebrated kid detective who solved pretty much every low stakes crime in his small town from his treehouse office. He was so good at what he did, the town pitched in and bought him an office space on Main Street when he was like 12. Unfortunately, when the mayor’s daughter got kidnapped and he couldn’t solve it, the town turned on him and he was left with the guilt. Now, all these years later he’s washed up and 32, barely making rent and working pet cases. Then a murder case falls on his lap and it’s his one chance to redeem himself.

On one hand, The Kid Detective is a curiously subdued absurdist comedy still grounded in reality a la Brigsby Bear or Ingrid Goes West. On the other hand, it’s this legitimately interesting and unpredictable small town mystery thriller, and on the third hand, it’s this really focused and affecting character study about a man traumatized by the past. The fact first-time filmmaker Evan Morgan is able to weave these three different movies together into something that feels cohesive and greater than the sum of its parts is really something. He’s one to watch and I have a feeling his masterpiece is just around the corner. Grade: B+ ($5.99 Rental on Amazon)

Minari

Truly one of the best films I’ve seen during quarantine, Lee Issac Chung‘s semi-autobiographical story about a Korean family trying to acclimate as farmers in Reagan era Arkansas is pure magic. It’s heartfelt and sweet without ever feeling forced or contrived, it lives entirely through its core group of loveable and relatable characters and the sometimes uncomfortable, but never not genuine moments they share. This is not an overwhelmingly emotional tearjerker and many viewers might be scratching their heads as to why it never culminates into a “bigger” or more sweeping dramatic climax, but this is a subtle movie that values little moments of conversation and realization over movie-of-the week tropes.

The performances are brilliant across the board with Steven Yuen pulling a tonal 180 from his recent chilling work as a sociopathic playboy in Burning. He really establishes himself as an actor who can play anyone here, while relative newcomer (to American audiences at least), Han Ye-ri, matches him note for note as his conflicted wife. Long-time character actor Will Patton (Remember the Titans, Armageddon) gives maybe his best film performance ever as their simple but sweet born again farm hand, Paul, who delivers some of the most insightful messages of the film while also, periodically, breaking out into tongues. Alan Kim gives one of the most effective child performances of the year, but the movie really belongs to Youn Yuh-jung as the foul-mouthed, card-sharking, Mountain Dew-swilling, old school Korean grandma. It’s a hilarious and heartfelt performance that never goes overboard, much like Minari itself. In a year(decade?) where almost everything we saw in real life was traumatic and awful, this wonderful film exists, free from the chains of cynicism but somehow still entirely honest. Grade: A ($19.99 Rental on Amazon)

Music

“Misguided” is a very kind word critics and audience members are using to describe musician Sia‘s new magical autistic person movie, one that supposes whenever an autistic teenager closes their eyes, glossy musical children’s shows play in their brains. Music is an autistic teen played by not autistic actress and Sia muse, Maddie Ziegler, apparently lightly coerced by Sia into taking on the role after having 100% legitimate reservations. After Music’s grandmother and caretaker (a thankfully underused Mary Kay Place) dies, Music’s fuck-up older sister Zu (Kate Hudson) steps in to try and be an adult. Unfortunately, Zu is much more interested in fucking the stereotypically HIV-positive African neighbor, Ebo (Leslie Odom, Jr.), than taking care of her sister, and Music’s storyline gets sidelined for a half-baked romance. “I’m taking her to the person pound!” Zu jokes to Ebo about getting her sister out of the way so she can hook up. It’s upsetting on so many levels, mostly because Zu treats Music more like an accessory than a sister, like Paris Hilton’s purse dog or something. The acting is atrocious across the boards, with characterizations ranging from underwhelming to wildly offensive. Maddie Ziegler delivers an I Am Sam-esque performance with a dash of The Grudge (autistic people do NOT move like Japanese water ghosts), Kate Hudson sleeps her way through the role, Leslie Odom, Jr. does all he can and industry vets like Mary Kay Place and Hector Elizondo seem embarrassed to be there. Sia has a cameo as herself, smuggling prescription and street drugs over to Haiti as relief packages for children. There’s also blackface in the beginning, apparently. I didn’t even notice. If you’re so busy cringing at a movie’s insensitivity that blackface disappears into the background , what does that tell you? Even beyond how problematic this is, it commits the gravest sin of all – it’s not genuine. People with autism, disabilities or really anyone deserve to have their stories told honestly. Don’t support this film. Grade: F ($6.99 rental on Amazon)

Nomadland

Chloe Zao’s Oscar frontrunner Nomadland, follows Fern as played by Frances McDormand, a widower nomad wandering around the southwest and living in her van, meeting people along the way and little by little trying to find peace with herself. It’s a relatively quaint and sad movie, without the quirky humor or family warmth of something like Minari, but it’s low-key pretty great. It’s a mix of actors and real people (the campsite nomads), but they’re so well directed by Zao you could be forgiven for forgetting which is which. Frances McDormand and indie darling David Straithirn disappear into their roles and really become these people, but my only real complaint is that we never delve deeper into Fern’s backstory or what really makes her tick. However, if you want to see gorgeously filmed desert landscapes and wonderfully nuanced acting from both pros and non-pros, Nomadland is the way to go. Not my favorite film of the Oscar season, but it’s easy to see why it’s really captured the hearts of so many viewers and critics. Grade: B+ (HULU)

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