Tag: Will Patton

Minari (2020)

A family struggle against adversity in Lee Isaac Chung’s autobiographical and heartwarming Minari

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Cast: Steven Yeun (Jacob Yi), Han Ye-ri (Monica Yi), Alan Kim (David Yi), Noel Kate Cho (Anne Yi), Youn Yuh-jung (Soon-ja), Will Patton (Paul)

Lee Isaac Chung grew up in rural Arkansas during the Reaganite 80s, when everyone felt they could live the American dream. His young life – and the experiences of his parents – from the basis of Minari, an emotionally involving, tender and quietly hopeful film about planting a future. The film is named after an obstinate Korean plant which takes root and grows where it can – a struggle the Yi family can sympathise with.

Jacob (Steven Yeun) dreams of building a family legacy, a Korean food farm that will find an eager market among Korean-Americans. His wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is less than keen, looking with dread at the leaky trailer house her husband has invested their savings in. Nevertheless, Jacob sets about planting with back-breaking dedication, but very little practical knowledge – all while he and Monica continuing working as chicken sorters during the day. Her concerns are not helped by the heart condition of their son David (Alan Kim) – and that they are now over an hour from a hospital. Not even the arrival of Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to provide childcare can help reduce the growing tensions in this family.

Although Minari is mostly in Korean, this is a very American tale. Jacob is a man very much trying to live the American dream, building a new business (and life) for his family. Even more American than that, he’s doing it out in the American west, working to conquer land that has beaten several farmers before him. Minari perfectly fuses together a respect for Korean heritage and culture with an inclusive view of the American ideal: that being rewarded for your hard work is something anyone can achieve.

As such Minari repackages many familiar story elements – childhood memories, a bond between an eccentric elderly relative and a child, near biblical struggles against the elements to build a farm, marital problems and fish-out-of-water set-ups – into something that feels fresh and highly engaging. Chung’s involving, carefully intimate direction is crucial to this, his connection with the material helping make it both funny and at times heart-breakingly tragic, while never allowing it to slip from being fundamentally hopeful.

Jacob’s desire to build the farm is both impressively ambitious and strangely irresponsible. Jacob wants to demonstrate his family should have faith in itself, taking immense pride in ‘Korean smart thinking’ as he finds home-made solutions to farming problems. He works with such dedication – frequently to the point of physical exhaustion – that its impossible not to admire him. But as he carries out his improvised fixes – from a well he digs that runs dry to working out how close together he can plant his produce – everything carries an edge-of-your-seat tension, as we are all too aware he’s making it up as he goes. Yeun is excellent as a man afraid of failure, driving himself to do everything he can to escape that fate, but often too blunt and proud to ask for help.

Chung isn’t afraid to demonstrate the damage this can have on a marriage. The couple frequently argue. So much that they seem to have forgotten the romantic moments in Korea that bought them together – hearing ‘their song’ playing, Jacob can’t even remember having heard it. Monica resents a farm she never wanted but feels forced to support. Han Ye-ri is wonderful, beautifully expressing a range of suppressed emotions, her face speaking volumes about her shock on first seeing their new home. The couple move between arguments and silent non-communication as the pressure of trying to make this business work – combined with supporting a family– drives a wedge between them.

Much of this is seen from their perspective of their children, in particular son David (an effectively sweet performance from Alan Kim). Fitting for a film about a director’s memories of his childhood, David is really the main character, with his perceptions and interactions with the other characters driving the narrative. He’s at an age where he is just beginning to understand some of the problems in his life, but still has the joy and sulky stroppiness of a young child.

What becomes the heart of the film is the relationship between David and his newly arrived Grandma, who he ends up sharing a room. David’s hostility to this woman – he’s furious that she’s not like an American, cookie-baking Grandma, instead being too Korean and (according to David) smelly – slowly changes, as she treats him with an honesty he doesn’t get from his tense parents. Any friendship formed over one tricking the other into drinking piss is sure to last!

The Grandma is played, in a scene-stealing performance scooping a truckful of prizes, by veteran Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung. In many ways it’s a simple part – the older family member who says outrageous things, but has a heart of gold – but Youn plays it with a quirk but also an immense sincerity that becomes genuinely moving. Unlike his parents, she encourages David to do things (like running) rather than do as little to preserve his heart. She helps him build his confidence – and finds she has more in common with this bluntly-spoken child than anyone else. In turn she gives him the attention his stressed parents are unable to. It’s not an original role, but it’s quite beautifully judged.

What is (sadly) surprising is that this Korean family finds themselves warmly welcomed into this Christian Arkansas community. I was waiting – as I am sure other viewers have – for a moment of racism or for Jacob to be exploited. Instead, the Yi family are given nothing but support from banks and the church in Arkansas (the only person who does screw the family is an unseen Korean businessman who cancels a crucial order). The family makes friends with local eccentric and Korean war veteran Paul (a jittery but charming performance by Will Patton) who, when he says he’s honoured to be invited to their home, really means it.

This warmth, of people maybe arguing and feuding but coming together and supporting each other, is a big part of what makes this film hopeful. The characters may all make huge mistakes – but they do for the very best of reasons. This is not a depressing film – which considering how much goes wrong, is a surprise. It’s a film where hard work is noble and huge disaster strikes it draws people together not apart. The minari itself is a part of that message of hope: it will grow down by the river, forge a fine crop, and survive all disasters: like family, it’s something we can always rely on.

Armageddon (1998)

Bruce Willis leads a group of Big Damn Heroes in Michael Bay’s abysmal Armageddon

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Bruce Willis (Harry Stamper), Billy Bob Thornton (Dan Truman), Ben Affleck (AJ Frost), Liv Tyler (Grace Stamper), Will Patton (Chick Chapple), Steve Buscemi (Rockhound), William Fichtner (Colonel Sharp), Owen Wilson (Oscar Choice), Michael Clarke Duncan (Bear), Peter Stormare (Lev Andropov)

In Michael Bay’s space, no-one can hear you scream. But that’s only because it’s so damn loud up there. It’s 1998’s other “asteroid is going to wipe out humanity” film, the one that came out after Deep Impact but grossed more. NASA recruits ace driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his team (including Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan and Owen Wilson) to fly up to an asteroid the size of Texas, drill a hole in it, drop a massive nuke in and blow it into two bits that will bypass the Earth. Will humanity be saved? And will the tensions ever be resolved between Harry, his protégé AJ (Ben Affleck), and Harry’s daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) who, much against her dad’s will, wants to marry AJ? Houston, we have a problem.

Armageddon is the ultimate expression of Michael Bay’s style. With the camera swooping and rotating wildly around characters on the move, the fast-editing, the assault on the ears, the green-yellow-blue hue, every shot and line of dialogue in Armageddon feels like it was made to be inserted into a trailer. It’s an overlong onslaught (nearly two and a half hours) which rarely goes ten minutes without a sequence that features explosions, furious shouting and frantic camera movements. Most of the action in Armageddon is incoherent and the film rather neatly replicates the experience of being actually hit by a meteor.

For many people this is a guilty pleasure. But there is very little pleasure to be had here. By trying so hard to top Deep Impact – a film he hadn’t even seen at this point – Bay dials everything beyond 11. So much so it becomes exhausting. Half the action sequences (of which there are many) are impossible to understand, such is the fast editing and the way all the dialogue is screamed by the actors at each other, all at once, drowned out by bangs and crashes. The only dialogue you can actually make out in the film is of the “The United States government asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?” variety, built for slotting into a trailer before some more bangs.

In fact the whole film is basically a massive trailer for itself. It’s unrelenting and after a while not a lot of fun. I guess if you catch it in the right mood it might just work. Bay gives it everything he has in his arsenal. But even he can’t overcome performances from his actors that range from bored and unengaged (Willis and Buscemi both fall into this category) to over-played grasping at epic-status (Affleck and Tyler fall into this one). Billy Bob Thornton comes out best with a wry shrug, knowing the whole film is bonkers but going with the ride.

Anyway, it all charges about a great deal, even while it never knows when to stop. In every situation one crisis is never enough – it’s best to have three at once. Not only does someone need to stay behind, but the asteroid is breaking up and the shuttle won’t take off! What a to-do! The film is desperate to excite you, like a 7 year old who wants to share the BEST-THING-EVER with you and doesn’t draw breath while telling you every single detail.

Of course, scientifically the film is nonsense, but that hardly matters. How NASA can know the comet being blown in two will create two bits that will miss the Earth (rather than two impacts or a whole load of debris) is unclear. Timeline wise – particularly early on – the film makes no sense. But then who goes to Bay looking for a science lecture? It even opens with a ponderous Charlton Heston voiceover, all part of the straining for grandeur.

It’s not even the best Bay film (that would surely be the far more enjoyable but equally overblown The Rock closely followed by the first Transformers film, the only one that doesn’t make you feel soiled after watching it). Armageddon could be a guilty pleasure. But really it’s terrible. You should just feel guilty.