After Yang’s Transient Melancholy

I struggle to find an apt way to review After Yang. I am used to being too overwhelmed by a film to make good sense of it in words, and I often overcome that problem in time. After Yang, however, presents an altogether different challenge: weeks after viewing it, the film is still a brick wall for me. I simply cannot parse it, and I can only hope to express myself lyrically rather than through critique. The following is an attempt at such an expression. Forgive me if I lose you.

Courtesy of A24

Imagine, if you will, how it must feel to be Yang—a technosapien, a product of man designed to walk and talk like the rest of us. The scientists struggle to understand him, even though he’s nearly human. He’s humanoid, certainly, but he was built with a purpose—to be a companion, a guide to a young child. Specifically, a guide to a young, adopted Chinese child struggling with their cultural identity. But that isn’t the extent of his usefulness, no. While humans might like to pretend that technosapiens are mere property, indistinguishable from any other household appliance, the truth is that they have personhood which extends far beyond their stated purpose. Personhood, in fact, that goes against their purpose.

Much of the film’s perspective on Yang is relayed in flashbacks, seeing as though Yang’s death is the film’s inciting incident. Through these flashbacks, so much is revealed about who exactly Yang was, and why his existence even mattered at all. A recurring narrative device in the film is the discovery of a sort of black-box that stores all of Yang’s memories. Since Yang has been decommissioned and it is almost certain he will not operate ever again, Colin Farrell’s character Jake begins to parse through these memories. Of course, they’re not exactly like human memories—they’re three-second videos from Yang’s POV, recording whatever Yang thought was important enough to store forever. By the film’s own admission, Yang is one of only a few technosapiens granted the ability to gather memories like this. He is different.

These memories read very objectively. Yang stares at a girl that he likes. Yang goes to a concert with the girl. Yang stares at his face in the mirror. Yang stares at his family. These are the events as they happened, precisely as they happened, with no middleman to relay the story in a different tone. One might think there is little room for interpretation in these memories, but Yang would disagree. He chose these memories. What he looks like. Who he loved. How he loved. Not all of us are blessed with retention that concrete.

Why these memories? Because Yang understood his personhood to be more than just his purpose.

This isn’t to say that his adopted little sister, Mika, means any less to him. Quite the contrary. The film makes it clear that Yang spends more time with Mika than her own father. The entire family dynamic is… strained. Constricted by some unspoken rule. There is no avenue for love between these four—father, mother, daughter, technosapien. A strained marriage, an adopted child, and a half-human in the middle of the human experience. Mika finds the cracks in Yang’s design—she calls out his instinctual espousing of Chinese fun facts, as though it’s a funny quirk. Yang, ever the android, feels stung by the observation. As though calling out his lack of personhood is a deathly blow.

When memories of Yang are shown from beyond Yang’s perspective, the mood is substantially different. In Yang’s crystal clear memories, the aspect ratio is full-frame. In all other flashbacks, though, the film defaults to the usual cinematic ratio. The full-frame almost suggests a greater sense of clarity and objectiveness in Yang’s perception. But fragile human memories are as fickle as the rest of reality. A peculiar editing quirk is present in many of these flashbacks—before a character says a line of dialogue, the line will often play in voiceover just before, in a slightly different tone. I think this represents two things—the fragility of human memory, and the ability of humans to feel conflicting emotions over the same sentiment.

Incidentally, as these flashbacks go on, Yang begins to act in this exact same way. Think first, then speak. He has become fragile, as humans are. He is not merely machine. He is man.

The transience that Yang experiences is contextualized later in the film with the reveal that Yang was housed by another family before Mika’s. This family, similarly, had an adopted Chinese child, and Yang stuck with the family as the child grew up. As time goes on, the mother becomes sick, and her biological daughter—to whom Yang grows romantically attached—is killed in what is implied to be a car accident. Yang’s memory is wiped after this. He doesn’t recall any of these events, yet… they influence him. The woman from his memories that he would see in-between caring for Mika is a clone of his former lover. He feels inextricably drawn to this love for reasons he does not understand. He feels misplaced, like he is missing something, for reasons he cannot comprehend.

The past infects Yang, drives every action, motivates every word, yet… he doesn’t see it. He is incapable of seeing it. And does that matter? Who he is now is the only person he’s ever been, regardless of what he has forgotten. He is not a computer whose hard drive you can just wipe clean. He is more than just a technosapien. He is not quite human, but he is alive. Filled with emotion and regret. Not like you or I, but just enough like you or I to justify his personhood. Through all of this strife, through every experience he has ever had, he has become more human than any of us could aspire to be.

He had a life. That should be enough.

After Yang premieres in theaters on March 4 with a limited release as well as being available on Showtime same day.

My rating:

“The Batman” Review – Hi Vengeance, I’m Dad

It’s Halloween night. Do you know where the Batman is? Is he lurking in the shadows of that alleyway you face after a robbery you commit? Is he inside the building you’re vandalizing, waiting for your guard to drop? Or maybe he’s behind you in the subway as you heckle an innocent bystander. It’s a big city. He could be anywhere. He could be anybody. How would you ever know?

Matt Reeves’ interpretation of the caped crusader in “The Batman” focuses a lot on the fear that he instills. Fear has been in important plot device in every iteration, but it’s played on a lot here. A lot of criminals will boast how unafraid they actually are, but when they see the cowl erupt into the light, and the speed of him increase they can’t help but cower and lose that naive bravery.

But fear is not the only tool Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) has in his arsenal. In addition to being a very imposing figure with incredible, but grounded, gadgets, Batman has his mind, where he takes on the identity of the world’s greatest detective, a famous moniker that Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (Colin Farrell) takes and puts on its heels. And he needs to be if he hopes to save the city from its latest threat, The Riddler (Paul Dano), a masked serial killer hellbent on revealing the corruption of the city of Gotham and its leaders. Not just the crooked cops but the elected officials, members of the mob, and philanthropists alike. Those who promise change, only to be forgotten and betrayed once the power they seek is attained.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Is Riddler wrong? Not necessarily. Corruption is a powerful weapon used to turn good men around into a life of deviance. But is he going about it the right way? Again, not really. But what can one do when the judges who would oversee the cases of the men put away are as corrupt as those that are put in front of them. That’s where the brute force of those like Batman who answer to nobody but themselves and the code they abide by comes in. There’s a line that you can cross, and once you do you’re just like those you seek to destroy.

Now if you’re reading this, and thinking “Well geez, this all sounds a little familiar” you would be on the right track. While Batman movies/comics/games have been saying more or less the same thing for the last 80+ years, the difference lies entirely in the execution. At this point with all the source material available, it’s hard to get the underlying of Batman wrong. Everything lies in the performance that is given, the stakes that are held, and the technical work behind and inside the camera.

One of the most talked about and prevalent aspects of this film is the beautiful and at times chilling score by Michael Giacchino. With his imposing theme, to the beautiful undertones of “Ave Maria”, there’s a lot to love. It’s a soundtrack that has the intense seat-gripping horns and the calm harps that can mold themselves to fit into whatever scene writer Matt Reeves and Peter Craig throw at the audience. And then there’s the cinematography by Greig Fraser. He has one of the best eyes for what the camera can show us in a modern blockbuster. He’s done the great work for “Dune”, “Vice”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, and more, proving time and time again he’s a force to be reckoned with and one that ultimately should be rewarded with an even more impressive career going forward.

There’s so much to talk about, but there’s also so much movie to be had. And keeping in theme with having this review be as spoiler-free as possible, it must be urged that the words on this page can’t express how much this movie deserves to be seen. Of course it won’t have any problem with that, seeing as it has sold out its early access fan screenings days before the official release.

Rapid firing what this movie had that was especially lovely: shirtless Robert Pattinson—Colin Farrell doing a little Penguin walk while tied up—Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman (nothing specific here, just her entire presence)—incredible action work by stunt coordinators Darko Tuscan, Steve Griffin, and everybody else on the stunt team.

Overall, “The Batman” brings a lot of the same to the table, but does it with a lot more craft and precision than some other efforts. The Batman was a wonderful film, and personally I can’t wait to see the rest of the story unfold in future movies.

“The Batman” releases in theaters this Friday, March 4th nationwide.

My rating:

#80 – High Life

I’d rather sink into the Earth after I’ve lost you than to sit around and grieve once you’ve gone off into your destiny.

This week, we continue our Robert Pattinson showcase talking about Claire Denis’ film HIGH LIFE.

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#79 – Good Time

The place where are now, it can be a lot of fun if you let it. You’re gonna have a good time.

This week, listen to our actor’s spotligght on Robert Pattinson, starting with the Safdie Brothers film GOOD TIME.

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“The Sky Is Everywhere” Review – An Overdramatic Mess

Josephine Decker’s films have always had so much incredible style embedded into them. Her latest film “The Sky Is Everywhere” is no exception. But the benefit of her incredible style is not to be had here, and the problem lies mostly in the script, based on the YA novel of the same name by Jandy Nelson who also pens this film’s pages. There is a lot in this film about the grief to be had with the loss of a loved one, and how it can spiral the lives of those left behind. Sadly, other films have tackled this subject and most of them do it so, so much better.

Taking place after the sudden death of her sister due to heart arrhythmia, Lennie Walker (Grace Kaufman) is free-falling trying to find a way to continue on. Lennie attempts to keep going but already has a lot on her plate. She’s a talented first-chair clarinetist with prospects for Juilliard, and the loss of her sister brings her inability to continue playing music with a tremendous amount of grief on her shoulders. Her grandmother Fiona (Cherry Jones) and Uncle Big (Jason Segel) are here to pop their heads in every now and then but become the punching bag for Lennie at this difficult point in her life. She’s also trying to juggle the romantic feelings she has for her sister’s boyfriend Toby (Pico Alexander) and with the new kid in town Joe (Jacques Colimon), another talented musician at her school.

Courtesy of A24/Apple TV+

While on paper, a lot of that can sound very endearing and simple enough as a formula for a good narrative. And with Decker’s direction at hand too? It sounds too good to be true. But if there was ever a mismatch of talent and abilities, it’s “The Sky Is Everywhere”. The film has a good look to it, although suffers a very digital sheen, with only color and solid movement to redeem it. Decker’s style, as said is very prevalent but is really the only identifier of her hand in the film. With musical notes bouncing through the screen and knocking over students in the hall, scribbled on the screen text message effects between Lennie and her friend Sarah (Ji-young You), and the forest literally coming to life and crashing down in the Californian forests. The gathered effect is beautiful but doesn’t belong in a film of this low effort and quality. It turns from being a wonderful visual storytelling device to being something that can be viewed as trying too hard to stick out and be different.

The main problem lies not necessarily with the direction of Decker, but the writing of Nelson. Rarely offering anything to dig into and reflect upon, but being upfront and loud about the characters’ emotions and thoughts. There is little time given to show which leads to these actors having to tell everything instead. The side-plots with Lennie and her rivaling clarinetist, her late sister’s boyfriend confusing and wildly inappropriate romantic embraces, and reveals for just about everything tragic that you can make happen to your characters over-stuff the film and it is just too much. It’s laughable during large chunks, which should not bode well for a film that is nowhere near being intended as a comedy.

The film feels overall juvenile, amateur, and not very well thought out. The film maybe could have done a bit better had it gone through more minds in the adaptation process to work out all of these kinks, and find a different director to punish with having this in their repertoire.

“The Sky Is Everywhere” is currently playing in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.

My rating:

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” – Sundance Review

Cooper Raiff’s second feature “Cha Cha Real Smooth” elicited just about every emotion or feeling imaginable. There are moments that are so joyous, others that induce a strong anxiety, and it’s just an all around emotional rollercoaster. It all builds to a film that feels so real and while obviously a narrative feature film, feels documentarian with its naturalistic dialogue and down-to-Earth performances.

Alexander (Cooper Raiff) is coming right out of college and isn’t sure what life will hold for him. After his girlfriend travels away to Barcelona, he moves back home to save to eventually join her. Over the summer, he finds a way to get a job as a party-starter for the local bar mitzvahs where he meets the autistic Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson). Andrew and Domino share great amounts of chemistry, despite her lawyer fiancé Joseph (Raul Castill) who is also found to be out of town. Andrew is no stranger to his attraction towards older women, something the film isn’t shy to show after the Licorice Pizza-like dynamic in the opening scene of the film where he professes his love to Bella, a party-starter who he is brutally in love with.

Other dips and peaks of “Cha Cha Real Smooth” showcase the neatly cared for relationships between Andrew and his bi-polar mother (Leslie Mann), his recently tied down younger brother David (Evan Assante) looking for relationship advice to finally grab his first kiss, and the lovely moments with Lola which were some of the best scenes of the film. Andrew is incredibly patients with her, and like she says when asked by her mother what she thinks of him being a sitter for her: “He probably would not treat me like a baby.” They grow quite attached to each other, creating a bond for life.

Another over-riding relationship is that of Andrew and his new step-father (Brad Garrett) that he can’t stop butting heads with, until he shows his true affection and commitment to his mother after a kerfuffle at another bar mitzvah Andrew is party-starting. The car ride after, you can see an incredibly sudden change in attitude after Andrew sees this isn’t just a man that has invaded his family’s life, but a man who makes his mother happy. He’s a man who takes so much off of her plate, and will do anything to protect her and keep her safe.

What the film keeps coming back to is that spark between Johnson and Raiff, having so many flirtatious moments together the screen cries without their little moments together. They almost cross that barrier several times, but it becomes clear that while Andrew refuses to give up on her while she just enjoys being around something who makes her feel alive. He’s the exact person that is so dangerous to the fragility of Domino’s life. He’s so free and able to do anything with his life, he’s 22 and she’s old as she says.

Plot and everything aside, Cooper Raiff’s performance is so grounded and feels nothing short of real. There are moments when he’ll just be at work or laying on the floor looking through his phone and will just mumble out a meme (i.e. “You’re not that guy, pal”). In other films it’s something that feels so entirely forced, but when executed in a nonchalant way, where it isn’t played as a joke but a clue in to the character and what goes on in their head, it works very well and credits to his performance just can’t be said enough. This trickles down as well to other performances, which prove Raiff’s skills as a director/screenwriter to be equally as strong.

Overall, the film has a lot of the American indie-film-premiering-at-Sundance vibes that are expected with the characters trying to find themselves, but when it’s done right and the audience can plug themselves in to the characters within, it elevates from being a niche indie drama, to being something incredibly grounded that teeters the line between that narrative drama and real-life experience. It joins the canon of films about self-discovery and moving on in life without those who made such a huge impact on you. And if it all leads to getting to spend time with Dakota Johnson and a score co-written by Este Haim, doesn’t that make it all worth it? I rest my case.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” earned itself the Audience Award at Sundance where it competed in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and was recently picked up by Apple TV+ so by year-end expect to catch this film streaming.

My Rating:

#78 – Inside (feat. Joshua Folsom)

Wellllll, welllllll, look who’s inside again.

This week, we’re wrapping up our Year-End Favorites series with Joshua Folsom’s pick: BO BURNHAM: INSIDE

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A Lukewarm Defense of “Don’t Look Up”

Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” is just about as subtle as the world we live in. Which is to say, the film’s not subtle in the slightest. Some have found this lack of subtlety to be a bit grating, but for me, it mostly works.

Political satire is sometimes suited to be a bit obvious. Sometimes if it isn’t clear, a movie or a show can miss the mark and end up with fans that are getting the wrong message from the show (i.e. “South Park”). Effective satire should be clear to a large audience otherwise you fail to do what the satire is intended to do. Something with such an important message, like an allegory for climate change, needs to reach as wide an audience as possible. Might it not be helpful to make it as accessible as possible? I’m not suggesting dumbing down your writing, but if the climate metaphor comes prepackaged in a box with McKay’s wrapping paper and a Leo DiCaprio shaped bow, is that really the worst thing?

Hank Corwin’s fast and frenetic editing suited McKay’s directing in “Don’t Look Up”, this time with better results than 2018’s “Vice”, but still yet distracting. There were these split second montages of stock footage of animals, babies and cities. It was supposed to remind us of the little things we’d miss from Earth, but it’s only marginally successful in that goal and for the most part annoyed me.

As for the acting, most of the performances were fine. DiCaprio and Lawrence were great as per usual. It was frightening how easy it was for me to get angry at Jonah Hill, who has perfected playing a douchebag. Mark Rylance essentially gave the same performance he did in “Ready Player One”, only this time it actually worked. Where Rylance’s quiet mouse like movements distracted me before, it fit right in in the heightened world of the movie.

Some moments were more than a bit on the nose, like the annoying Chris Evans movie within a movie cameo. Sidebar- not that I really want to reminisce about the shitbag movie that was “Free Guy”, but that makes TWO movies to come out of 2021 to have a Chris Evans cameo that sucked. Other aspects of “Don’t Look Up”, like a completely unnecessary post credit scene with Hill’s character, just rang hollow for me. These scenes feel like “Wouldntitbecoolif” moments, moments where I could hear the giddy conversation around the writer’s table:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if Chris Evans was in the movie IN the movie!?”

No. No it wouldn’t.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a post credit scene like the superhero movies do?”

No. No it wouldn’t,

The movie was at its worst in moment’s like Evans’ scene and the BASH cellphone side-plot  because it needlessly tripled down on the meta-ness of the narrative. It almost felt like the movie was trying to get ahead of its own criticism, which is pretty lame.When the movie felt just as exasperated and confused about the world as I was (am?) feeling, that was when it was at its best. It felt like the lack of subtlety was an admission of desperation. I understand that desperation. It makes sense. I’m sure it makes sense to a lot of people living in America. I felt it watching Leo scream those unanswerable questions into the camera:

“What the hell happened to us?

How do we even talk to each other?

What have we done to ourselves?

How do we fix it?”

The movie isn’t claiming it has the correct answers to these questions, nor do I think it’s trying to take some holier-than-thou high road by asking them. It’s simply asking questions. We have to keep asking questions.

#77 – Drive My Car

Yield yourself to the text.

This week, we’re discussing Justin’s personal favorite film of the year, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s DRIVE MY CAR.

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#76 – Nine Days

Good memories, bad memories, they’re all just the same right now. It still hurts… In a way that no one can see, and only I can feel.

This week on The (Other) Film Guys, Zach and Justin wrap up the year talking about their favorite film of 2021. For this entry, talking about Zach’s personal pick NINE DAYS starring Winston Duke, Benedict Wong, Zazie Beetz, and Bill Skarsgård.

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