Minari (2020)

While watching Minari, I couldn’t help but think: is farming the saddest profession?  With so many variables out of your control, a happy and successful farmer would seem to be the exception to the rule.  Farming requires you to deal with the weather, pricing futures, insects, water (or the lack thereof), the physical toll, bank loans, and so on, any of which could leave you teetering on the brink of insolvency.  Being a farmer requires incredible fortitude, physical as well as mental.  You have to fully acquiesce to whatever fate may bring you, good or bad.  Minari fits squarely into the “tough life of the farmer” category of movies, and acquits itself well as a drama. Definitely recommended.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (or TTC7) presents itself as an historical reenactment, and it is that to a certain degree.  Set during the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in 1968, the movie is actually an Aaron Sorkin greatest hits package, with a bit of Oliver Stone visual razzle-dazzle thrown in to emphasize both the anarchy of the riots and the absurdity of the trial afterwards.  Fans of Sorkin’s trademark rat-a-tat dialog will not be disappointed, but few of the performances stand out from the superficial treatments of their characters.  Unfortunately, the directorial missteps outweigh the few good choices made, and the movie comes off more as a one-sided diatribe than an objective examination of the events presented.  That the movie has a topical connection to present-day events some fifty years later does not give it a pass for its flippant regards towards history.  Recommended for Sacha Baron-Cohen’s performance only.

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Pieces of a Woman (2020)

Pieces of a Woman asks a question we never want to answer: how would I handle the death of a child?  The movie provides answers to that question through the perspectives of the mother, the father and the mother-in-law.  The acting in the movie is exceptional, and the childbirth scene is a riveting scene to behold.  After the initial tragedy, the movie becomes a character study in grief, and is effective because the performances are so honest.  Recommended.

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The Rental

Horror movies, in particular slasher movies, are known for their efficiency.  Introduce the soon-to-be-victims with some threadbare character traits, each having some a combination of obliviousness, stupidity, narcissism and hornyness, provide a remote setting where the victims can be seen with their negative character traits on display, then introduce a weapon-wielding maniac to mete out justice on the victims for being generally bad people.  These movies put us in the position of rooting for the killer, because only he (sometimes she) can save us from spending one more minute with the victims, who are too annoying and oversexed for their own good.

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Last Christmas (2019)

Even though my reviews typically discuss practically everything about whatever I’m reviewing at the time, I try to avoid spoiler territory by not posting a review immediately after something comes out. If you follow movies, you probably already know the big [insert your adjective here] twist in the third act of Last Christmas.  If you don’t know about it, and don’t want me to spoil the surprise, stop reading now.

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do!

I admit that I know next to nothing about the blues.  I’ve listened to the blues performed live several times, in Chicago and New Orleans, but as a musical genre, I’m completely ignorant of its history and context.  Country music would be a close second.  (My mother decided country music was her thing in the seventies and eighties, so I have an unconscious awareness of its tropes and stylings.)

With this in mind, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a movie I can really appreciate for giving me some much needed schooling on the blues.  Not that the movie is a history lesson or documentary.  Ma Rainey is based on an August Wilson play of the same name.  Like the play, the movie is a work of fiction where the lead character is based on an actual person.  Born Gertrude Pridgett in 1886, she started out as a performer in black minstrel shows, then vaudeville.  In 1914, when she was roughly 28, she began performing as a blues singer, touring the south extensively.

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