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:

#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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“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:

#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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“The Worst Person in the World” Review – Finding Yourself Through Trial and Error

What does it take to be able to find yourself? How many ventures will you go through, how many versions of yourself will you discard until you find the one that feels right? What kind of people will you meet to get there, and discard when you’ve moved on? These are some of the underlying questions that Joachim Trier’s film “The Worst Person in the World” asks.

There is always something so alluring about films that have their characters going through life’s tasks and trying to find themselves. It’s comforting, yet distressful all at once. Which is a lot of what Julie (Renate Reinsve) goes through for the entire film. Trier goes for a book-like approach to the making of this film, the third in his “Oslo Trilogy” of films alongside “Reprise” and “Oslo, 31 August”. There’s a prologue, 12 chapters, and an epilogue. And they’re all different chapters of Julie’s life. In the end, something has changed or been discovered and we’re on to the next chapter.

But it’s interesting watching Julie in her life and these changes. She changes in between each chapter slightly, but not that much really. Starting, Julie is a med school student but finds this to be something she’s not really suited for. Then, she decides she’ll study psychology. Then, she meets various men and finds that she thinks photography is what draws her in most. She drops out of school and uses the money to buy a camera. This is probably when she could have called it, pooled everything in, and really taken off. But she doesn’t. Because she meets somebody else now, at a bar. In comes the acclaimed comic-book artist Aksel (Anderson Danielsen Lie), and the next part of Julie’s life in the first major relationship we see her in. That’s the prologue.

Courtesy of NEON

Everything is going pretty well. But Julie has drifted away from her photography. When visiting Aksel’s parents, she’s asked “So what are you doing now” showing that her variance of passions is something people have noticed and latched on to. But Aksel already let them know she’s delved into the world of writing. It’s not really detailed what kind of writing, but she does later have an article published pretty successfully. But not after meeting somebody new, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who works as a barista. This is where Julie again will get torn to her next part of life. She’s 30 now, and still working part-time at a bookstore. The two meet at a party and spend the entire time teetering the line between playful flirting, and cheating on their respective partners.

Eventually, Julie and Aksel split after an incredibly visual motif where time stops, and Julie runs to Eivind in the Barcode Project of Oslo and they finally cross that line together, with nobody to witness their trespasses but themselves. She loves Eivind for the reasons she couldn’t continue with Aksel. Aksel wants to move on with life and have kids. Julie still doesn’t know what she wants, and can’t stand to see him waste his life and desires waiting for her to catch up, saying that she’s too flaky. He hits back saying that’s exactly what he needs to pull him out of his intense drawing board sessions where he’ll lose himself. So she’s drawn to Eivind because they’re more alike than she and Aksel are different.

Truly though, this is a really great character study of a woman who is shaped so much by the world around her, but at the same time incredibly resilient against influence from other people, not wanting to follow in anybody’s steps or play along to their plans. In one scene on her 30th birthday, narration plays in place of her thoughts and reminisces over her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and so on and how their lives were different and what they each achieved by the age of 30. This leads her though to never keep growing with her life as it goes on. She’s stuck growing, and then almost immediately receding into the previous stage she was at.

The last part of this film though is probably the most heartbreaking and holds much of the film’s thesis in those final conversations where the most growth and understanding of life take place. Where Julie finally starts to understand that she need only go through life by her own path, rather than needing anybody else to help her through it all. Which is a lesson maybe a lot of people know. Too much of life is looking for somebody else, whether that be the never-ending search for a partner in life or looking to emulate somebody else’s success. Whereas what this film is saying, is that none of that matters. Be true to yourself, be kind, and everything else will fall into place. You’ll be just fine.

“The Worst Person in the World” had its premiere at the 2021 Canne Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or. Neon acquired distribution for the US, and MUBI picked up rights for India, the UK, and Ireland. No official release date stands, but it is set to be added into the Criterion Collection sometime in 2022.

My rating:

“Licorice Pizza” Review — Stumblin’ In To 70s Los Angeles

“Licorice Pizza” wastes no time at all bringing you right into the action of each moment in the film, something that starts as being fairly unnerving, but became something to be a bit more expected. Constantly asking you to move to the next scene, pretty much forgetting whatever happened in the scenes prior. The same way that the characters live their lives, the backdrop is constantly evolving to fit the next scheme that Gary drags Alana in to help him with. Whether it be selling waterbeds, running an electoral campaign for a young and upcoming politician, or working to open the first legal pinball arcade again.

The entire film, like its cast, is incredibly funny and charming, with a really lovely soundtrack and stunning cinematography. The performances of Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) are some of the best of the year. And in a small but appreciated supporting role, Bradley Cooper puts his backbone into playing Jon Peters by bringing his truly nonsensical mannerisms to screen. It was every crazy story that has been told about Peters, and then some extra bits on top. Presumingly, this came from personal experience at least a little bit as Bradly must have met Peters a number of times when directing/producing 2018’s “A Star Is Born,” of which Jon Peters was also a producer (as well as the Barbra Streisand-starring 1976 version).

Courtesy of MGM Studios

And of course, what everybody has heard so far about this movie is the difference between the two characters, and actors frankly though it is not as severe. While the age gap is present, up-front, and plentifully noted throughout the film, you can’t help but get caught up in this affair and chemistry that Alana and Cooper have together. Honestly, they are cute together in the movie and you’re rooting for them? Which feels incredibly weird and you just want to see Alana sort of coming to her senses about what she’s doing. Cooper’s character though, just has too much draw. If it’s not Alana, he’s smooth-talking himself onto one girl or another, whether they’re his age or not. He’s cute, he’s charismatic, and he’s an incredibly talented businessman being able to see what will stick and seemingly make a large chunk of cash. He’s like a more rounded version of Eddy from Cartoon Network’s “Ed, Edd n Eddy”

Where the film starts to lack a bit, is that it feels like a lot of ideas just thrown at a wall. And a few of them stick, and I want to delve into them more! But there’s just too much happening to make this feel like 70s L.A., instead of fleshing out these moments of which we can get to be with the characters a bit more, understand more. It often feels like each scene, after the first where we meet our protagonists decline ever so slightly sidelining either Gary or Alana rather than put them together. And to add insult to injury, some of the roles that originally felt like they would be larger, are much smaller in reality. Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Benny Safdie were large draws as well as the Big Three mentioned earlier. But for the most part, they feel wasted in this. Especially Safdie, whose role was reduced to a small stereotypical gay role. It would have been nice to either have that side-plot be expanded or just redacted as a whole. To put it more eloquently, Zachary Morgason’s review from Letterboxd states: “I would personally like to request directors in this decade to stop writing gay couples as little more than stereotypes to prod main character conflicts. I don’t have a clue why that has been a revitalized trend this year, but it sucks! Please immediately desist.”

Despite some of these flaws that can be overlooked for the most part—I enjoyed this movie a lot, and the entire time I could not tear my eyes from the screen. I can not wait to see Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim (or any of the other Haim Sisters featured) in other films with how incredibly talented they are.

So while it’s not the meticulous storytelling and character work that has been felt from Anderson’s previous work, it is still one of the most fun movies I had the pleasure of waiting to finally be able to see this year. To be cliche about it—I laughed, I cried, I had a wonderful time delving into the world of “Licorice Pizza”. If anybody knows anything about me and the films I like, especially that of PTA and my potential bias towards his films, that should come as no shock at all.

Make sure to catch this when it comes out at Christmas time, it has some very serious promise for this awards season, and you won’t want to miss our coverage on it for The (Other) Film Guys podcast episode at the end of this year!

My rating:

“Petite Maman” — Houston Cinema Arts Festival Review

Céline Sciamma does a great job in “Petite Maman” of making a movie that is incredibly gentle while still being able to keep the audience engaged. It might come off as a stark contrast from Sciamma’s brutally emotional film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which gave her incredible acclaim and cemented her as a favorite for film lovers worldwide. After a small break between films, “Petite Maman” was filmed during the pandemic and is a staggeringly beautiful 72 minutes. While one of the shortest films in her library of work, an incredible effort is made to fill in every minute of screen time with great detail and attention, making it feel anything but short.

The film starts with Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) visiting a retirement home and saying goodbye to the residents. We learn pretty soon, her grandmother has passed away, and they’re here to go through the leftover belongings in her home to sort out what will be kept or discarded. Now please beware, there is a spoiler that is pretty important to understand for the remainder of the film. So if you prefer to be left unspoiled and find that out for yourself, this is your exit point.

Courtesy of NEON.

Nelly, her mother (Nina Meurisse), and her father (Stéphane Varupenne) then go through her mother’s childhood home house they’ll live out of for the next few days while sorting through items and cleaning it out. One thing to note is that we’re not given any time for the characters’ grieving in a way that other films might have done. There’s never a moment where the characters break down or outright question anything that happened. They do still grieve, of course, just in their distinct and subtle ways.

While the family is at her mother’s childhood home, she meets another girl about the same age and appearance as her. While not said out loud until about halfway through, it is made clear to the audience that the girl is her mother Marion (portrayed now by Joséphine’s twin sister Gabrielle). It should also be said the already existing sisterhood and chemistry between the two girls help immensely in their relationship in the film. So while this takes from the concept of “What if you got to see your parents when they were your age” from the likes of “Back To the Future” this movie does not devote a single second to any sort of temporal consequences of this situation. There is no time machine, fancy technology, or anything of the sort. For all we know, this is just a fantasy created inside of Nelly’s head to get to know her mother better and to process her grandmother’s death.

Not needing to worry about the physics or side effects is essential for the film’s point to come across. Maybe she can’t be inside this house where she is reminded of her lost mother–or even reminded of her childhood when she feared inheriting her mother’s condition. Nelly, of course, thinks like many children might when their parents go through when a parent leaves; “Is it my fault? What could I have done differently.” But when the children talk about it together, Marion reassures Nelly, “You didn’t invent my sadness.” One point it seems that the film is making is how much easier it can be to process these feelings with somebody else around to help distract from them. When alone, Nelly and Marion both seem to be quite melancholy. But they’ll put on a play together, make pancakes, and build their hut in the woods. This temporarily helps to distract them both from their respective sadnesses. It highlights that while these girls are written to be more emotionally intelligent and mature than you’d assume, they don’t yet have the tools to help themselves handle their emotions.

Child performances are usually quite difficult to get a meaningful performance from, but directing children is no strange act to Sciamma. She directed Zoé Héran as a 10-year-old in “Tomboy.” So she knows how to get these emotional and evocative performances from these girls that make the film that much more grounded and moving. There are moments where tears are difficult to hold back, like how Nelly gets to give her grandmother that last goodbye she told her mother about earlier, where she knows that she won’t be able to see her again. The lack of score is also surprisingly appreciated, keeping us always focused on the characters and their dialogs together. Overall, the film is like said at the beginning. Very relaxing yet still engaging, bringing on the emotions that the characters themselves feel to not only teach you about themselves, but maybe even yourself as a viewer.

The film originally premieres at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was acquired for North American distribution by NEON, with no distribution date currently set.

My rating:

#15 – Mulholland Drive

Summary

This week Zach and Justin discuss the 2001 film by David Lynch, MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

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#14 – Blue Velvet (ft. Joshua Folsom)

Summary

This week Justin and Zach are joined yet again by Joshua Folsom to talk about David Lynch’s film BLUE VELVET.

Making of Documentary

Unsettling Scenes by Ren Buckman

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