Including reviews of Minari, Ginny & Georgia, Allen Vs. Farrow and The Vigil
By Norman Wilner and Radheyan Simonpillai
Feb 26, 2021
NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of February 26. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.
Ginny & Georgia
Netflix’s small-town dramedy about a 30-year-old mom and her 15-year-old daughter describes itself in the first episode as “Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs” – but like most of Georgia Miller’s quips, that’s not exactly the whole truth. Ginny & Georgia – which stars Brianne Howey as Georgia and Antonia Gentry as her rebellious daughter Ginny – is a lot more complex and a lot more rewarding, colouring outside the lines of the Amy Sherman-Palladino model in weird and unexpected ways. At any given time, the show can be a thoughtful teen drama, a giddy small-town romance or even a murder mystery – and it keeps pivoting throughout, stuffing the frame with lively supporting characters (played by a fantastic bench of Toronto talent, including Sara Waisglass, Katie Douglas, Raymond Ablack, Kelly McCormack and Dan Beirne) and even stretching its own aesthetic with a Halloween episode enthusiastically directed by Sudz Sutherland. Howey and Gentry are great both together and separately, the show’s twisting plots are addictive and soapy without being too implausible, and there’s a thoughtfulness in its approach to issues of race, sexuality and parenting. I kinda loved it. All 10 episodes now available to stream on Netflix. NNNN(Norman Wilner)
(Lee Isaac Chung)
Set in the mid 80s, Chung’s autobiographical drama follows a Korean family trying to start a farm in Arkansas. Named for the Korean vegetable that flourishes in even the harshest of conditions, Minari is an unhurried, beautifully observed drama that invites us to live and breathe alongside its characters as they put down roots, worry about each other and find their way through a culture utterly alien to them. Steven Yeun is flinty and charismatic as the driven father; newcomer Alan S. Kim is a natural charmer as the young, impulsive David, who’s our guide to most of the drama. And while Chung doesn’t flinch from the darker aspects of this story, he always makes sure to show us where the light is. It’s nominated for exactly one Golden Globe this weekend, for best foreign-language feature, which is a strangely graceful way of acknowledging the way this most American of narratives is received as an outsider story by people who refuse to see what’s really going on. In any case, this is one of the best movies of the year. Please don’t miss it. Read an interview with Chung here. 115 min. Some subtitles. Available to stream at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox, and on digital and demand. NNNNN (NW)
Allen v. Farrow
(Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick)
There’s so much we already know about the abuse allegations against Woody Allen. The Annie Hall director was accused of sexually assaulting his adopted seven-year-old daughter Dylan Farrow in 1992. Instead of new information, Allen v. Farrow has renewed interest on its side. The four-part doc series presents buried details to a generation that is much more perceptive to victims’ stories after the #MeToo era, which Dylan- Farrow had a hand in fuelling. Allen v. Farrow is predictably gutting when revisiting the traumatizing events, as well as the troubling behaviour that envelopes them (like Allen’s affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter Soon-Yi Previn) and the swift gaslighting that followed. On the one hand, the clearly authorized take directed by The Hunting Ground duo Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering can feel one-sided, missing a few unflattering beats about the Farrow clan’s troubled family life. On the other hand, none of the overlooked material takes away from Dylan Farrow’s story, which is always centred in Dick and Ziering’s series. Allen v. Farrow is at its most revealing and implicating when it considers how the media and culture is susceptible to irrelevant details, pervasive PR spins and the narratives doctored by the men the public wants to love blindly. Episode two premieres Friday (February 26) at 9 pm on Crave, airs weekly.NNNN(Radheyan Simonpillai)
The Obituary Of Tunde Johnson
A gay Black teenager (Steven Silver) is trapped in a time loop that always ends with him dying at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department in LeRoi’s first feature, which carries a lot more resonance now than it did when it flew under the radar at TIFF in 2019. (The movie spent 2020 on the virtual film festival circuit, playing Inside Out in the fall.) The ingenious twist of Stanley Kalu’s script is that its protagonist isn’t aware of the loop – but he unconsciously carries the weight of each trauma, which is a terribly effective metaphor for Black people’s lives in contemporary America. Watching Tunde wake up every morning in a state of shock he doesn’t fully understand – and from which his parents’ wealth and status can’t insulate him – builds an uneasy tension that accumulates through each repetition, and making us all too conscious of how every interaction with authority is a literal dead end. Silver’s performance also shows us exactly how many facets of Tunde are in play at any given moment, and how this experience shatters him over and over again. Available Friday (February 26) for rental and purchase on digital and on demand.NNNN (NW)
Dark nights of the soul don’t get much darker than they do in The Vigil, a horror movie set in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn. And while there have been attempts to spin Jewish mythology into a spookhouse nightmare, they’re usually Dybbuk-based; writer/director Thomas has chosen a different monster for his feature debut. That would be telling. The Vigil centres on Yakov (Dave Davis), a former Hasid who’s left the community after a tragedy, but who’s drawn back in when a friend offers him a night’s work as a shomer, standing watch over a body until it can be claimed in the morning. But there are restless things in the house, and it’s not long before Yakov’s simple duty becomes a trial by fire – or at least candlelight. The Vigil doesn’t break new ground for supernatural horror, exactly; it’s your basic assortment of unnerving noises, jump scares and musical stings. But the context in which it’s all happening and the intensity of Davis’s performance makes it a worthy exercise in Midnight Madness horror… and if you watch it with the lights off and the sound up, it’ll work just as well at home. 88 min. Some subtitles. Available Friday (February 26) for rental and purchase on digital and on demand.NNN(NW)
Available on VOD
The Last Vermeer
Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps; directed by Dan Friedkin
Rebounding from last year, when the country went into lockdown the week its 20th anniversary edition was supposed to start, the world’s largest festival of Canadian cinema is an online event in 2021, with most of its titles streaming globally. Celebrate the world premieres of Paul Bellini and Scott Thompson’s Mouth Congress and Ryan Noth’s Drifting Snow, or catch up to fest-circuit hits like Kazik Radwanski’s Anne At 13,000 Ft., Tracey Deer’s Beans, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby and Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s No Ordinary Man, all with filmmaker Q&As. Or watch everything. That’s an option!
Smooth Talk, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop (Criterion, Blu-ray and DVD)
The Criterion Collection is absolutely killing it this month – first with the release of the 70s classic The Parallax View two weeks ago, then with Ousmane Sembene’s Mandabi last week and now with this trio of intimate, incisive and very specific American dramas, all of which hit the shelves today. Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk, a 1985 adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates short story about a teenager facing the brutal arrival of adulthood in the form of a charming predator, established Laura Dern as one of the most promising actors of her generation and gave her a terrifying foil in Treat Williams’s unrelenting Arnold Friend. In distribution limbo for decades, the film was rescued in an Olive Films Blu-ray a couple of years back; Criterion’s release improves on that with a bumper crop of extras, including three key short films Chopra made in the 70s, last year’s New York Film Festival panel with Dern, Chopra and Oates, new interviews with Chopra, Williams, co-star Mary Kay Place and production designer David Wasco, and much more.
Man Push Cart and Chop Shop are more modern classics, being writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s low-budget studies of people on the margins of American society – respectively, Manhattan in 2005 and Queens in 2007. Criterion’s individual editions of the films include archival audio commentaries and new video conversations with Bahrani, assistant director Nicholas Elliott and actor Ahmad Razvi, who all collaborated on both films; Man Push Cart adds a discussion about the film’s evolution and influences between Bahrani and scholar Hamid Dabashi and Bahrani’s 1998 short Backgammon, while Chop Shop offers rehearsal footage and a video conversation with Bahrani and scholar and writer Suketu Mehta about the way the movie deals with the immigrant experience in New York City.