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Two quintessentially American stories on film open virtually on Friday

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Alan Kim and Steven Yeun in "Minari." - PHOTO COURTESY A24
  • PHOTO COURTESY A24
  • Alan Kim and Steven Yeun in "Minari."
Fresh off receiving a slew of Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations last week, two wildly deserving award season contenders were released on Friday. As the pandemic forces film distributors to rethink their release plans, both “Minari” and “Judas and the Black Messiah” will now be accessible to audiences, both digitally and in limited theatrical settings.

A24, the distributor of “Minari,” has launched the A24 Screening Room platform, which will host two weeks of nationwide virtual screenings of the film, with room to expand that run, subject to demand. For those screenings, the distributor has partnered with individual virtual theaters around the country, including The Little Theatre locally.

Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung's upbringing. The story follows the Yis, a family of South Korean immigrants trying to make it in America during the 1980s.

Family patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) has moved his family from California into their new plot of land in rural Arkansas, with ambitions of starting a farm and growing fresh Korean produce to sell at market. His wife, Monica (Han Yeri) has her doubts, but agrees to relocate with their American-born children Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) to this isolated and unfamiliar place.

They’re soon joined by Monica’s mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), and one of the film’s most touching throughlines is the relationship the prankish older woman develops with young David.

Jacob desires self-sufficiency, and has an almost obsessive need to build something of his own from the ground up, even if it means uprooting his family. We see the sacrifices required to make Jacob’s dream a reality, and the effect they have on his wife and children. Crucially, Chung never turns him into an antagonist, and that generosity of spirit extends to every member of the family.



The film’s title comes from a resilient herb native to South Asia that can thrive even when planted in a foreign environment. The metaphor is clear, but the film never hits us over the head with it. The story “Minari” tells is a quintessentially American one, about a family that only has each other for support, and the cast’s chemistry supports Chung’s vision beautifully. His deeply felt drama builds delicately through small moments into something with an intimate grandeur.

Digital showtimes for “Minari” are scheduled once daily at 7 p.m. starting Friday, Feb. 12, through Thursday, Feb. 25. With limited tickets allotted, screenings are already selling out, though additional showtimes may be added within this window. Tickets are $20, with a portion of each ticket going to support the Little Theatre. Find full details at thelittle.org/films/minari.

Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah." - PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."
Opening in limited theatrical release, and digitally on HBO Max, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”) the deputy chairman of the Black Panther Party chapter in Chicago, seen through the eyes of William O'Neal (a reliably excellent Lakeith Stanfield, “Sorry to Bother You”), the man who would ultimately betray him.

As the film opens, William is picked up by the authorities for impersonating an FBI agent in order to steal cars. To avoid prison, he takes a deal to become an informant, infiltrating the Panther Party to get close to Hampton and bringing the information he gathers back to his FBI handler, Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons).

As portrayed by Kaluuya (whose riveting performance proves once again why he’s one of the most exciting actors working today), Hampton is a charismatic orator and revolutionary thinker who pours his whole heart into the fight for racial justice.

Just 21-years-old, Hampton was a natural leader, capturing the attention of the FBI and putting him in the crosshairs of the agency’s director, J. Edgar Hoover (played here by a nearly unrecognizable Martin Sheen).

Directed by Shaka King (screenplay written by King and Will Berson, from the story by Keith and Kenneth Lucas), the film does justice to the complicated history of the Panthers and shines a light on the often brutal actions by an American government bent on burning down a movement it viewed as a threat to law and order.

But for any fiery rhetoric he delivers about taking up arms in the fight for equality, Hampton’s true focus is on building a stronger community: establishing a free youth breakfast program, medical clinics, and bringing together diverse groups from around the city to join forces as a Rainbow Coalition.

Kaluuya captures Hampton’s charisma and intelligence, and in scenes with Dominique Fishback (a standout as Deborah Johnson, Hampton's girlfriend and fellow Panther), shows a touching vulnerability. King’s film is a stirring tribute to the activist, burning with a righteous anger that gives it devastating power.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” will be released simultaneously in theaters and digitally on HBO Max.


“Minari”
(PG-13), Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Playing virtually through The Little Theatre

“Judas and the Black Messiah”
(R), Directed by Shaka King
Now playing in limited theatrical release, and streaming on HBO Max

Adam Lubitow is a freelance film critic for CITY. Feedback on these reviews can be directed to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY’s life editor, at becca@rochester-citynews.com.