If You Were Promised Robots and Got ‘After Yang,’ What Would You Think?

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After Yang (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury, Clifton Collins Jr., Ava DeMary, Brett Dier

Director: Kogonada

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Mortality-Tinged Milieu

Release Date: March 4, 2022 (Theaters and Showtime)

After Yang opens with a really rousing dance number that establishes an initial joyous note, although the rest of the film quickly settles into a much more reflective and melancholy mood. This is a near-future vision in which “techno-sapiens”serve as live-in babysitters, although the particular techno-sapien we get to know is really more of a big brother. For those of you who are so excited by the potential of robotics that you just can’t keep still, After Yang‘s opening choreography is for you. This dance session is an opportunity for the whole family – dad Jake (Colin Farrell), mom Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), young daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and android Yang (Justin H. Min) – to get up and really get moving. It also appears to be some sort of worldwide tradition that other families of four are participating in. It’s a delightfully colorful good time, and quite frankly, I wanted it to last forever.

I like to think that Yang’s family is also chasing that dancing high for the rest of the film, if only metaphorically. (Or perhaps literally as well.) The trouble is, Yang starts to break down, and he’s an older model, so it’s difficult to find a place that will get him back to his old self. That sends Mika into a funk, as she can’t find the strength to go to school without Yang to rely on. I know how she’s feeling. It’s like trying to shake your sillies out the way you’ve always done, but then you discover that your shins have suddenly become massively inflamed. Indeed, the entire family starts behaving like they’ve lost a limb.

But maybe they can grow a new one back? In Jake’s efforts to figure out what to do with Yang, he ends up on a sort of spiritual quest, as he examines Yang’s memories and seems to be traversing new planes of existence. He discovers that Yang may have somehow developed a fully human romantic relationship, but the real kicker is the alternate perspective it provides to his family history. After Yang is pondering the big questions that science fiction has been pondering for decades, centuries even. That examination can be sublime, but it can also be frustrating, because definitive answers never really come. Sometimes it’s best to just devote your energy to dancing it all off, but the journey you take when you can’t do that is likely to stick in your craw.

After Yang is Recommended If You Like: Just Dance, Home movies, Contemplation

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Memories

At the ‘Nightmare Alley,’ the Circus Gets Pretty Dark

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Nightmare Alley (CREDIT: Kerry Hayes/20th Century Studios)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, David Straitharn, Holt McCallany, Mark Povinelli, Mary Steenburgen, Clifton Collins Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Beaver

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Running Time: 150 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Gunfire and a Little Hanky Panky

Release Date: December 17, 2021 (Theaters)

If you can’t trust circus folk, who can you trust? Actually, if Nightmare Alley is to be believed, carnies are the only people who can be believed (well, most of them anyway). It’s everyone else who’s trying to pull one over on you. This movie is two and a half hours long, which is to say: it takes Bradley Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle way too long to realize the truth about Truth. That’s probably because he’s fooling himself.

The movie itself is pulling a trick on us as well. Considering its spooky title, and its writer-director, we’re primed for some horror, or at least something supernatural. But instead it’s a full-on noir thriller, with all the moral prisons, femmes fatales, and cigarettes to prove it. We first meet Stanton burning away his past, quite literally. Then he wanders into the local big tent, and it’s unclear if he actually has any plans for anything at this moment. Only later do his machinations come to the fore. He gets roped into a job, which at first pays him a mere 50 cents (it would have been a dollar if he hadn’t snuck into the geek show), but then that’s followed up by steadier employment at the next town, and soon enough he’s one of the top mentalists around. That trajectory eventually leads to him teaming up with a psychologist (Cate Blanchett) for a con to bilk some big, big money out of a rich man (Richard Jenkins) who’s overcome by Stan’s promises that he can commune with the dead. But of course, there’s enough doubt and double-crossing in the air for everything to go sideways.

By the end of the whole plot, Stan essentially circles back to his original destitute and anonymous status quo. I was struck by both the futility and durability of his con man nature. The Universe, or the Fates, or God or whatever, or simply the randomness of existence has decided that his deception can go only so far. And while his reach exceeding his grasp might send him down to rock bottom, he’ll find a way to survive in the gutter if he has to. But why not do it a little differently? If Stan were a real person, and he were my friend, I would remind him that he seems happiest when he’s just hanging out with the circus crew. He found a family, but the genre that he lives in has ensured that he’s a nowhere man who’s never fully at home anywhere.

Nightmare Alley is Recommended If You Like: Hucksters, Snow, Trenchcoats, Biting heads off chickens

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Cold Reads