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

Movie Review: ‘Five Feet Apart’ Wrangles Cystic Fibrosis Into the Young-People-With-Terminal-Diseases-Find-Love Genre

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CREDIT: Alfonso Bresciani

Starring: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Parminder Nagra, Claire Forlani, Emily Baldoni, Cynthia Evans, Gary Weeks, Sophia Bernard, Cecilia Leal

Director: Justin Baldoni

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Medical Minutiae and Sensuality

Release Date: March 15, 2019

I have a sharply adverse physiological reaction to needles, so I am not especially excited about the prospect of a movie set entirely in a hospital. Five Feet Apart does indeed remain ensconced in a medical facility, but it is actually rather merciful, for the most part, in its depiction of medical equipment inserted into bodies. But that does not mean it is without its icky moments. It focuses on a group of young people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that primarily affects the lungs and as such leads to a lot of discharged mucus. As someone who is pretty much constantly congested, I am quite familiar with mucus and in fact have been able to find amusement in its expulsion. But it is a little harder to bear in Five Feet Apart, in which every mucus-filled cough sounds like it could be deadly.

While director Justin Baldoni (best known as Rafael on Jane the Virgin) brings us down into the muck, he knows, as we all do, that the real reason for a movie about terminally ill young people is an overwrought love story. It’s a classic opposites-attract pairing, holding close to the stereotypes to an excruciating degree, despite the actors’ most charming efforts. Stella Grant’s (Haley Lu Richardson) CF diagnosis has led her to become a control freak, which means that she makes it her mission to ensure that the devil-may-care Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) will stick to his medical regimen.

The twist that superficially separates Five Feet Apart from any other entry in this genre is that Stella and Will are not supposed to stand closer than six feet apart from each other, lest they catch each other’s infections. Their resolution to take one foot back (hence the title) comes across more as foolhardy than as romantic. I appreciate promulgating the idea that anyone, even those with terminal diseases, can fall in love and express that love (one scene in which Stella and Will strip down to their skivvies and show off their scars is a beautiful moment of vulnerability), but if it’s going to play out on the big screen, it could really use some more crackling dialogue than what we have here.

Five Feet Apart is Recommended If You Like: The Fault in Our Stars, Midnight Sun, Everything, Everything

Grade: 2 out of 5 Pill Cocktails

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Support the Girls’ is a Low-Key Look at the Ins and Outs of a Curvy Family Sports Bar

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, James Le Gros, Junglepussy, Dylan Gelula, Lea DeLaria, AJ Michalka

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: R for a Nipple That’s Visible for a Fraction of a Second

Release Date: August 24, 2018 (Limited)

A wayward day at work, especially if you have a job in the service industry, has a way of making time feel distorted. And if you’re working at a Hooters-style “family” restaurant, you also have to contend with the distortion of typically agreed-upon social mores. So it is for Double Whammies general manager Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall), who finds herself at the nexus of so many little disasters over one day. Every shift at Double Whammies is a potential disaster, so it is no surprise that an early scene features Lisa explaining her zero tolerance policy towards “grabbers.” On top of that ever-present risk, this day is just a circus. A bunch of potential new waitresses are recruited for an extracurricular car wash, somebody is stuck in the vents, and the cable is threatening to be out during a big boxing match.

Support the Girls has the look and feel of a shaggy dramedy, capturing the minutiae of suburban service employment without directly commenting upon it. But it turns out that there is a tighter focus to writer/director Andrew Bujalski’s approach than he at first lets on, as Lisa is closer to the end of her rope than we initially realize. An alternate title could have been We Caught Her on a Good Day and a Bad Day. There’s a weird mix of committed and easygoing at play here. Hall is steely enough to make Lisa’s journey compelling, but I’m more interested in probing the psyche of Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), her most enthusiastic waitress. Maci is the type of person who suddenly pops out of a door to shoot confetti and declare, “You’re the best and we love ya!” She is a burst of consistent positive energy, which in this environment is alarming but never less than genuine. How do the Maci’s of the world stay on all the time? Are they role models for us all? Or maybe ideal best friends? Or perhaps cautionary tales struggling with demons they never show us?

Support the Girls is Recommended If You Like: Anything with Regina Hall or Haley Lu Richardson

Grade: 3 out of 5 Crop Tops

This Is a Movie Review: Split

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Split is basically M. Night Shyamalan’s version of an X-Men movie. Kevin (James McAvoy), with his 23 personalities (X-23?), is like Legion crossed with Wolverine, and “the Beast” is about to emerge. And let’s throw some Professor X in for good measure, since McAvoy plays both after all. (BTW, Legion is Prof. X’s son.)

The last X-Men film, Apocalypse, was not that well-received, but I liked it a lot, and the similarities are instructive. Just as that mutant film was, for better or worse, unapologetically over-the-top, so is Split relentlessly blunt with its dialogue. Sometimes that means characters thuddingly explain exactly what is happening and exactly how they are feeling, and we say, “Nobody talks like that.” But then, that is also the appeal. Kevin talks and acts like nobody else, and that is what makes him so spellbinding.

There is a series of flashbacks from the childhood of the main kidnapping victim (Anya Taylor-Joy, always a wonder to behold), which is largely unnecessary. The point they make is demonstrated more subtly and just as effectively towards the end, but they are compelling and in keeping with the unsettling tone.

Yeah, there’s a twist (or two). There are hints that we should have seen all along, but also plenty of misdirection, so it works, beyond all odds and all sense.

And for my Early 2017 Oscar Wish List, I of course like McAvoy for Lead Actor, Mike Gioulakis for his expressionistic Cinematography, are opening and closing credits considered part of Production Design?, and Shyamalan himself for Supporting Actor in the best one-scene performance I have seen in some time.

I give Split 20 out of 24 Personalities.

This Is a Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen

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This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R, But It Should Really Be PG-13 Because We Should Be More Comfortable with the Fact That Teens Are Sexual Creatures

Release Date: November 18, 2016

Some of the most memorable moments of The Edge of Seventeen remind me of RuPaul’s Drag Race, specifically the reality show’s “Reading is Fundamental” segments (which were in turn inspired by the drag ball documentary Paris Is Burning). “Reading” is basically insult comedy, with everyone in the room taking turns as insulter and insulted – so, you know, a roast, but the drag queen version, i.e., bitchier and wittier. But there is also a sense of perfecting one’s craft and being there to support each other. Much of Edge of Seventeen’s dialogue has this acidic streak, even though every character is fundamentally on one another’s side. Woody Harrelson at one point informs our heroine Hailee Steinfeld, “Maybe nobody likes you” – despite being her closest confidante and that line being part of a pep talk to raise her spirits.

Everything starts falling apart right from the start when high school junior Nadine (Steinfeld) discovers her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) hooking up with her brother Darian (Blake Jenner). Nadine declares that Krista must choose between her and Darian; Krista refuses to play along, but Nadine is so stubborn and thus she suddenly finds herself friendless. It is hard for me to relate to this type of conflict, because if one of my siblings started dating one of my best friends, I would be thrilled! They might officially become part of my family! (That specific argument is actually made to Nadine.)

However, I do realize that not all brothers and sisters get along that well. But what is maddening is that as much Nadine frustrates Darian, he clearly wants a good relationship with her. The source of this friction is possibly the death of their father five years earlier. It is implied that Nadine feels alienated from her brother and her exhausted mother (Kyra Sedgwick) because of their different methods for handling grief. She also may be suffering from depression or anxiety, which does not make her self-centeredness any less maddening, but at least it makes more understandable.

I am a little torn about how to assess Edge of Seventeen. Nadine is a supremely frustrating character, constantly making hurtful decisions when she intellectually must know better. But she is also easy to fall for. Part of that is because she is played by the guileless but fierce Steinfeld. A bigger part is the fact that when she actually does realize there are other people who have experienced pain she like has, she becomes a fun person to open up to. I may have to catch a few re-watches at home over the next several years to cement this as a classic, but for now it at least undoubtedly has my attention.

The Edge of Seventeen is Recommended If You LikeCluelessSilver Linings Playbook, Teenagers Played by Actual Teenagers and One Token 30-Year-Old

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Accidental Sexts