Lee Isaac Chung goes back to his childhood in the pastoral Minari, an autobiographical breakout from a promising filmmaker. A Korean American whose father moved the family to an Arkansas farm when he was a boy, Chung dramatizes exactly that as his characters navigate various divides and ambitions. An immigrant story of the kind that American filmmakers keep returning to, for good reason, Minari’s down-to-earth roots and naturalistic style make for an affecting film.
A school is a difficult place to imagine Danny Ocean setting up shop for his latest heist, but where there are piles of cash and minimal oversight, anything can be turned into a big payday for the unscrupulous. Cory Finley’s Bad Education tracks the perpetrators behind the largest theft involving a school in US history, turning a dry case of embezzlement into a plot with verve and momentum and insight into the thieves and the community they were supposed to be serving. A major leap forward for Finley after his impressive debut in Thoroughbreds, Bad Education provides mid-budget excellence that is an anti-hero character study, a coming of age tale, and a piercing satire all at once.
Difficult actor Dustin Hoffman takes on his truest role in Tootsie, wherein he plays a difficult actor. The same guy who slapped Meryl Streep on the set of Kramer v. Kramer and famously was told by Laurence Olivier to take it down a notch during filming for Marathon Man connects with the part of himself that abuses and alienates his costars, except Sydney Pollack’s landmark comedy treats it as a joke instead of a serious character flaw that finally bit Hoffman in the ass during the MeToo era. That Tootsie itself is a sharply edited, clever, and relevant comedy washes some of the bad taste from the viewer’s mouth at what looks like an attempt launder Hoffman’s own reputation. If I can laugh at my bad behavior, the film implies, why can’t you? That’s a lot of meta-text to bring into Tootsie, but satire like this wants the viewer to think about the broader world.
Cartoon Saloon took a brief and productive detour into Afghanistan with The Breadwinner, but they return to their roots of Irish mythology in Wolfwalkers, the small studio’s best entry yet. Where The Secret of Kells found fairies in the forest and Song of the Sea found selkies in the ocean, Wolfwalkers goes back to the forest for its titular creatures. The usual template of a child finding a hidden magical world is recreated with the wrinkle of said child becoming the creature instead of just investigating it, and the result is a fantastical brew of discovery and adventure that also has something to say about fear and loss and submission to unjust authority. This is a stunning work that allows Cartoon Saloon to measure its best against that of competitors like Pixar and Laika.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.