Review: ‘After Yang,’ starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Justin H. Min and Haley Lu Richardson

March 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja and Justin H. Min in “After Yang” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“After Yang”

Directed by Kogonada

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi dramatic film “After Yang” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a family’s android malfunctions and appears to be unfixable, the family’s patriarch goes on a quest to find out the origins of this robot.

Culture Audience: “After Yang” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching introspective movies about what life could be like in the future.

Justin H. Min and Haley Lu Richardson in “After Yang” (Photo courtesy of A24)

What happens when a family robot breaks down and apparently can’t be fixed? And what if that robot was such an integral part of this family, the family might be broken too if the robot can no longer be in their lives? Those are the questions posed in the thoughtful sci-fi drama “After Yang,” written and directed by Kogonada. The movie might be too slow-paced for some viewers, but it’s worth viewing for a contemplative story about how the need for emotional connections won’t change, no matter how much technology advances.

“After Yang” opens with a “selfie” family portrait in the home backyard of the Fleming family: Jake (played by Colin Farrell), Jake’s wife Kyra (played by Jodie Turner-Smith), their daughter Mika (played by Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and their human-looking android Yang (played by Justin H. Min), who operates the camera before getting into the group photo. It seems like a happy family gathering, based on the smiles in the photo, but Jake and Kyra have grown emotionally distant from each other in their marriage.

Mika, who’s about 6 or 7 years old, seems oblivious to the tension in her parents’ relationship. Jake and Kyra adopted Mika as a baby from China. Yang is described as a “techno-sapien.” He was purchased to be a companion to Mika and so he could teach her about Chinese history and culture. Yang, who has a kind and patient personality, has known Mika since she was a baby. Yang is treated like a nanny and a family member.

“After Yang” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city in an unspecified future, when human-looking androids and human clones are fairly common. (“After Yang” was filmed primarily in New York state’s Rockland County.) All of the actors in “After Yang” keep their native accents, so the movie has a very cosmopolitan tone to it. Most of the cast members are American, but Farrell is Irish, Turner-Smith is British, and there are some other non-Americans who are in the cast.

Jake owns a tea shop, while Kyra works at an office job in an unnamed industry. The passion seems to have left their marriage, but Jake and Kyra are not on the verge of splitting up. These two spouses don’t have big arguments, but they just seem to barely tolerate each other.

Through various conversations between Jake and Kyra, viewers find out that her main complaint about him is that she doesn’t think he spends enough time with the family. Kyra tells Jake during one of their tension-filled conversations: “I just want us to be a team, a family.” An early scene in the movie shows Mika and Kyra at home eating dinner. Mika asks where Jake is, and Kyra tells her that he has to work late. However, Kyra puts a positive spin on Jake’s absence by saying that Jake being busy with customers means that his business is doing well.

Jake obliges Kyra’s request to spend more time with family, by participating with Kyra, Mika and Yang in a worldwide virtual dance-off competition that happens once a month. The dance-offs are based on the number of people in each group. For example, groups of four compete against each other, groups of three compete against each other, etc. Because this is a virtual competition, thousands of people can compete at the same time.

In this dance-off, groups go online and dance to the same song and are monitored by judges. The objective is for everyone in the group to dance in sync. Any group that has a member who dances out of sync is eliminated.

The movie’s opening credits play over a memorable montage sequence of the Fleming family and other four-member groups dancing in this contest. Some of the people in the other groups end up being supporting characters in this movie. Despite the Fleming family’s best efforts, someone in their group dances out of sync (Jake gets the blame), and they’re eliminated, but they seemed to have fun bonding over this shared activity.

Not long after the family participated in this dance-off, Yang malfunctions and shuts down. Because his exterior is made of human-like flesh, there’s a limited time to fix him before he will start decomposing. Jake and Kyra have different reactions to Yang’s shutdown. Jake wants to do everything he can to save Yang, because he knows how emotionally attached Mika is to Yang. Kyra is more reluctant to fix Yang, because of the expenses involved and because she thinks that Mika needs to learn about death.

Kyra also gripes to Jake that he should’ve bought Yang as a new android from a company called Brothers and Sisters, which is the main company that has the authority to sell new androids. Instead, Yang was purchased as a used android from a company called Second Siblings, a company that’s considered to be inferior to Brothers and Sisters. The place where Yang was purchased affects the ability to repair him quickly, because Yang’s warranty is with Second Siblings, not with Brothers and Sisters.

The Fleming family has a next-door neighbor named George (played by Clifton Collins Jr.), whom Jake thinks is a little weird and annoying. George notices that Jake is carrying Yang, so Jake tells George that Yang malfunctioned the night before. George mentions to Jake that he has a friend named Russ who does android repairs for a reasonable price. George advises Jake on what to do about Yang: “I wouldn’t take him back to Brothers and Sisters. They’re just going to try to get you to recycle him for a new model.”

When Jake goes to the place where he remembers Second Siblings was located, he’s dismayed to find out that the business has closed, and a fish aquarium store is now in its place. Mika is with him on this trip and is afraid of what will happen to Yang. To placate Mika’s worries, Jake buys her a pet fish from the shop.

Jake then goes to a repair shop called Quick Fix, where a repair consultant named Aaron (played by Brett Dier) tells Jake that he has two options: (1) recycle Yang and get a $1,000 discount toward a new android, or (2) turn Yang’s head and voice box into a virtual assistant, and the family can keep the rest of Yang’s salvaged parts. Jake decides to take neither option.

With Mika growing increasingly anxious about losing Yang, Jake decides to go to George’s friend Russ (played by Ritchie Coster) as a last resort. Russ tells Jake that he needs Jake’s permission to open Yang’s interior core. Opening this interior core is is an illegal thing to do, but Russ insists it’s the only way to figure out how Yang can be fixed. Yang is left at Russ’ repair shop for the time being.

Back at home, Jake and Kyra continue to disagree over what to do about Yang. Kyra also tells Jake: “Yang has been wonderful, and we’d miss him terribly, but we’ve been over-reliant on him. We bought Yang to connect [Mika] to her Chinese heritage, not to raise her.” Jake replies, “Yeah, but we spent a lot of money on Yang.”

Kyra says, “If we can’t fix Yang, we’re not going to buy another sibling for Mika. We can’t afford it anyway.” Kyra also says that she and Jake, not an android, should be responsible for teaching Mika about her Chinese heritage. Jake remains undeterred. His determination to save Yang leads him down unexpected paths and eventually on a quest to find out Yang’s origins.

Along the way, some other people play important roles in this story, including a Museum of Technology curator named Cleo (played by Sarita Choudhury) and a young female clone named Ada (played by Haley Lu Richardson), who has a connection to Yang. It’s enough to say that through a series of circumstances, Jake can access Yang’s memories by putting on special sunglasses. What Jake finds out changes his outlook on many things in life.

“After Yang” takes its time in unpeeling some of the layers in this story. There are several scenes of people staring off into space, as if they’re in deep thought. And although Jake is seen occasionally at work, he doesn’t seem to have any employees at his tea shop. It will make viewers wonder who’s operating Jake’s tea shop while he’s going around investigating the mystery of Yang, while Mika is sometimes along for the ride.

One of the biggest flaws in the movie is how Kyra is such an underdeveloped character. It will be hard for a lot of viewers to emotionally connect to Kyra, who comes across as cold and completely boring. Yang might be a robot, but he has more personality than Kyra does. And for all of Kyra’s complaining about Jake not spending enough time with the family, Jake is the one who ends up spending more time with Mika than Kyra does during the course of this story.

Only when Jake accesses Yang’s memories do viewers get to see a brief glimpse of Jake and Kyra in happier times, when they look like a real married couple. But for the vast majority of “After Yang,” there’s little to no chemistry between Farrell and Turner-Smith as these spouses. Even though they are portraying a married couple drifting apart, there’s nothing in the movie that shows why Jake and Kyra fell in love with each other in the first place.

“After Yang” also could have used more of the story to explore family issues when an adopted child is of a race that’s different from the adoptive parents. The only reference to any realistic challenges of interracial adoptions is a flashback scene where Mika confides in Yang about how some kids at her school told her that Jake and Kyra are not her real parents and asking him what it means to be Asian. Mika knows that she’s adopted, but she still seems a little hurt and confused over people thinking that Jake and Kyra aren’t her “real parents.” Yang then tells Mika about tree grafting as an analogy to adoption. It’s a very trite and simplistic way to deal with this issue.

Later in the movie, Kyra calls Jake while she’s at her job to ask Jake to pick up Mika from school because Mika got into a physical fight with another student. Mika was sent to the school principal’s office over this altercation, but the movie never shows Jake and/or Kyra interacting with anyone at the school about this problem or talking to Mika about it. It would be easy to assume that Mika might have gotten into the fight because of the adoption issue, but the movie never explains how Jake and Mika tried to resolve this problem.

Tjandrawidjaja is very good in the role of Mika, but her character was basically written to be just a cute and somewhat precocious kid. Instead, “After Yang” puts most of the emphasis on Jake as the person whose thoughts and feelings have the most importance in the story, since he’s the one who’s the most involved with and affected by finding out Yang’s origins. Farrell handles the character of Jake with a lot of care, but some viewers might grow tired of so many people in the movie having pained expressions on their faces without much action happening in the story.

The rest of the supporting cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. Min and Richardson do the best that they can with their Yang and Ada characters in the limited screen time that these characters have. When viewers see the connection between Yang and Ada, it will make a lot of people wish that there could’ve been an entire movie centered on Yang and Ada.

Kogonada brings a futuristic, dream-like style to the flashback sequences of Yang’s memories. These striking visuals are among the best aspects of “After Yang.” If viewers have the patience to watch this movie, the last third is the best and most meaningful part of the film. “After Yang” isn’t a groundbreaking sci-fi movie, but it offers a unique perspective of humanity when human clones and androids that look like humans co-exist with people.

A24 released “After Yang” in select U.S. cinemas on March 4, 2022, the same date that the move premiered on Showtime.

Review: ‘The Batman,’ starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell and John Turturro

February 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” (Photo by Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Batman”

Directed by Matt Reeves

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Gotham City, the superhero action flick “The Batman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Vigilante superhero Batman—the secret alter ego of orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne—battles several villains (some more obvious than others) in a race against time to stop psychopath The Riddler, who is intent on destroying Gotham City.

Culture Audience: “The Batman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in superhero movies with a dark and brooding tone that’s similar to director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman/The Dark Knight” movies.

Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” (Photo by Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richly layered in dark intrigue and life’s shades of gray, “The Batman” takes viewers deeper into Batman/Bruce Wayne’s mind than previous “Batman” films have ever ventured. This top-notch superhero film makes pointed social commentaries about greed, corruption and responsibilities of the wealthy, in addition to delivering plenty of stunning action sequences. The movie’s total running of time of 175 minutes doesn’t make the movie feel too bloated, although at times the filmmakers’ ambitions to make “The Batman” an epic superhero film seem forced into the story a little too much, in order to justify this nearly three-hour movie.

Directed by Matt Reeves, “The Batman” is not an origin story, such as director Christopher Nolan’s 2005 movie “Batman Begins,” which was the first in Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy that continued with 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” Reeves co-wrote “The Batman” screenplay with Peter Craig, with the movie based on DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

In the beginning of “The Batman,” billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Robert Pattinson), whose secret alter ego is vigilante superhero Batman, has been fighting crime as this caped crusader for two years, mostly at night. And it’s drained his finances to the point where his trusted butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Andy Serkis) warns Bruce that if Bruce keeps doing what he’s doing as Batman, he’ll have no more money left, and that Bruce is doing a disservice to his family’s legacy. “Alfred, stop,” Bruce says with impatience at Alfred’s worrying lecture. “You’re not my father.” Alfred replies grimly with a hint of sadness, “I’m well aware.”

As Batman fans already know, Bruce lives in the fictional U.S. city of Gotham City (also known as Gotham), which is designed to look a lot like New York City. (“The Batman” was actually filmed in the United Kingdom and Chicago.) In the movie version of the Batman saga, Bruce’s parents—billionaire philanthropists Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne—were gunned down in front of him by an unidentified man when Bruce was 8 years old. The killer has not been caught, and his parents’ murders have haunted Bruce ever since. Thomas (played by Luke Roberts) and Martha (played by Stella Stocker) are seen in brief flashbacks in “The Batman.”

The murders of Bruce’s parents motivated Bruce to become a secret crimefighter as an adult. Finding out who killed his parents is never far from Bruce’s mind. He’s been investigating with the help of Alfred. However, Batman’s other crimefighting duties often get in the way of this investigation. In addition to being a philanthropist, Thomas Wayne was a medical doctor and a politician. He was a mayoral candidate for Gotham when he and his wife were murdered.

Bruce has no superpowers, but his wealth has allowed him to have highly sophisticated and top-level resources, weapons and equipment, including his famous Batsuit and Batmobile. In “The Batman,” Bruce also has special contact lenses, which act as hidden cameras. Gotham police summon Batman for his help, by sending out a lighted signal of distress called the Bat-Signal, which is the Batman logo that can be seen in the sky.

Out of all of the movie incarnations of Batman, “The Batman” has a tone that most closely adheres to Nolan’s “Batman/Dark Knight” trilogy, with some noticeable differences. Compared to all previous “Batman” movies, “The Batman” is much more immersive in the psychology of Bruce Wayne/Batman—so much so, that viewers can hear Bruce’s/Batman’s inner thoughts in voiceovers throughout the movie. It’s a filmmaker choice that might annoy some viewers, but in the context of “The Batman,” it works very well.

The movie’s opening scene takes viewers right into Bruce’s/Batman’s state of mind, as heard in a voiceover that says: “Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal. I must choose my targets carefully. It’s a big city. They don’t know where I am. The signal that lights up the sky is not just a call. It’s a warning to them. Fear is a tool. They think I’m lying in the shadows, but I am the shadows.”

This version of Batman has a type of inner turmoil and rage that hasn’t been seen in previous “Batman” movies. Batman famously has a personal policy to not kill people unless it’s justifiable self-defense. But in “The Batman,” this caped superhero unleashes some vicious beatings that go beyond what would be necessary to defeat an opponent. There’s a scene in the movie where Batman has to be physically stopped by law enforcement during one of these near-fatal assaults. It’s one of the reasons why Batman is feared and mistrusted by certain people who think he’s an out-of-control vigilante.

Previous “Batman” movies also made it very clear who the heroes and villains are. “The Batman” effectively blurs those lines, as secrets are revealed about several characters’ backgrounds. However, there’s no question that the chief villain of “The Batman” is a mysterious psychopath named The Riddler (played by Paul Dano), whose real name is Edward Nashton. “The Batman” reveals only a few other things about The Riddler’s personal background, since he operates and is seen mostly in the shadows.

However, there’s no doubt about The Riddler’s motives. He leaves notes and clues around Gotham to announce that his murder victims are being targeted because they are corrupt leaders who have betrayed the citizens of Gotham and beyond. The first murder is shown early on in the movie, which opens on Halloween night in Gotham.

This murder takes place 20 years (to the week) after the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The target of this Halloween-night murder is “tough on crime” Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (played by Rupert Penry-Jones), who is brutally tied up and assaulted in his own home, as he is watching himself in a pre-recorded televised candidate debate for Gotham’s next mayoral election. The incumbent mayor is home alone because his wife (played by Kosha Engler) and son (played by Archie Barnes), who do not have names in the movie, are somewhere else celebrating Halloween.

Is The Riddler acting alone, or does he have any cronies? One of the best aspects of “The Batman” is that the movie plays guessing games about where loyalties lie and whom Batman/Bruce can really trust. Bruce also finds out certain things that make him question his own motives and ethics, as well as how well he thought he knew his parents before they died. Throughout the movie, Bruce/Batman is a trusted ally of James Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright), a lieutenant of the Gotham City Police Department, who includes Batman in the investigations and at each scene of The Riddler’s crimes.

In previous “Batman” movies, Bruce was an obvious playboy. In “The Batman,” Bruce is still a brooding eligible bachelor, but he isn’t dating anyone. However, when he meets Selina Kyle (played by Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman, there’s a mutual attraction between them that sparks a little bit of romance. (They kiss each other in the movie.) Selina works as a bar server at warehouse-styled nightspot called the Iceberg Lounge, owned by shady and slippery business mogul Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (played by Colin Farrell), also known as The Penguin.

Selina is an emotionally damaged soul whose Catwoman alter ego is a skilled and clever thief. Selina also “collects” stray cats and takes care of several of these cats in her home. In “The Batman,” Selina and Bruce cross paths because she’s investigating the disappearance of her Russian immigrant roommate Annika Kosolov (played by Hana Hrzic), whom Selina thinks has been kidnapped because Annika knew too much about a powerful man whom Annika was dating. The reasons for Annika’s disappearance (and how they all connect to a larger story) are eventually revealed in “The Batman.”

Even though Selina describes Annika to people as her “friend,” the movie hints that Annika was also Selina’s lover. Before Annika disappeared, Selina is shown comforting a distressed and fearful Annika in their apartment. Annika won’t tell Selina what’s wrong, and Selina keeps calling her “baby” and touching Annika in the way that someone would touch a lover. The movie leaves Selina’s sexuality open to interpretation because it seems the intention is that Selina is the type of person who doesn’t want to put a label on her own sexuality. Whatever the nature of Selina’s relationship is with Annika, it’s a departure from previous movie/TV characterizations of Selina, who is usually depicted as a social outcast who lives alone.

The potential romance between Batman and Catwoman is fraught with trust issues and the taboo of Batman dating someone he knows breaks the law. However, their emotional connection is powerful. Bruce and Selina both know the pain of growing up without parents and having a parent murdered. Selina’s single mother Maria (who is not seen in the movie) was strangled when Selina was 7 years old. Bruce and Selina also have the shared characteristic of having secret identities that are often misunderstood to the point where certain people don’t know if Batman and Catwoman are heroes or villains.

During the course of the movie, these other characters come into the orbit of Bruce/Batman: Carmine Falcone (played by John Turturro), a ruthless mob boss who has The Penguin as his “right-hand man”; Gil Colson (played by Peter Sarsgaard), Gotham’s district attorney who’s at the center of one of the most suspenseful scenes in the movie; Pete Savage (played by Alex Ferns), the Gotham City Police Department commissioner who doesn’t trust Batman as much as Lieutenant Gordon does; Gotham City Police Department chief Mackenzie Bock (played by Con O’Neill), who also has mistrust of Batman; and Bella Reál (played by Jayme Lawson), the young and progressive mayoral candidate who was Don Mitchell Jr.’s opponent in the mayoral race, and she is elected mayor after his death.

During all of this murder and mayhem in Gotham, Bruce finds out that he’s the target of The Riddler because The Riddler thinks that Bruce is corrupt too. Does The Riddler knows Batman’s real identity? The answer to that question is shown in the movie. There’s also some intrigue around the Wayne Foundation Renewal Fund, a charitable venture launched by Bruce’s father and is worth millions.

And in “The Batman,” the Iceberg Lounge has a “club within a club” that’s exactly what you might think it is for a nightclub that attracts a lot of powerful figures involved in criminal activities. The movie has several references to an opioid-like liquid drug called “drops,” because people take the drug through eyedrops, and addicts are called “dropheads.” Years before this story takes place, a crime lord named Salvatore Morrone (who’s never seen in the movie) was a major dealer of drops, and he got busted while Don Mitchell Jr. was mayor of Gotham. This drug bust has had long-lasting repercussions.

“The Batman” offers some biting views on how rich people throwing money at society’s problems doesn’t necessarily erase those problems if systemic inequalities still remain. Catwoman shows she has a side to her that’s about disrupting or challenging society’s institutions that are constructed to keep corrupt, privileged people in power. She’s not really an activist, but more like a social anarchist. And, for the first time in a “Batman” movie, Bruce is really taken to task by certain people for being perceived as a spoiled, wealthy heir who hasn’t really done much to help underprivileged people.

It’s not really “social justice preaching,” but it somewhat shocks Bruce to see that people seem to resent that he appears to have an “ivory tower” mindset while people are suffering around him. And to be fair, this Bruce is such a depressed recluse in “The Batman,” he’s not exactly hobnobbing at charity events as much as Bruce did in previous “Batman” movies. Alfred has to practically beg Bruce to go to a high-society fundraiser, so that Wayne Family charities can continue to operate.

As well-written as “The Batman” screenplay is, it’s hard to go wrong with such a talented group of cast members, who embody their roles as if they were born to play these characters. Pattinson has already demonstrated in plenty of his independent films that he’s got the gravitas and empathy to personify the dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Kravitz is all kinetic grace and seductive street smarts as Selina Kyle.

Farrell (who’s unrecognizable underneath exceptional prosthetic makeup) does one of the best supporting-role performances of his career as The Penguin, a menacing and sarcastic thug who isn’t in the movie as much as “The Batman” movie trailers would suggest, but he still makes an undeniable impact. Dano is chilling and unnerving as The Riddler, who’s a combination of a calculating mastermind and a loose cannon. This is not a fun-loving, impish and giggling Riddler, as seen in other “Batman” movies or TV shows. This Riddler is genuinely an infuriated and deeply disturbed villain. The cast members in the other supporting roles do their jobs well in characters that are less complex.

In the 2010s, “The Batman” director Reeves helmed two stellar “Planet of the Apes” movies: 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” With the “The Batman,” Reeves raises the bar considerably for all other “Batman” films to come. “The Batman” excels in numerous areas of filmmaking to make this superhero movie true visual art. The captivating cinematography (by Greig Fraser) is bathed in hues of black, dark gold and crimson red to bring viewers into a very specific and fascinating world. In addition to the cinematography, the movie’s costume design (led by Jacqueline Durran), production design (led by James Chinlund), musical score (by Michael Giacchino), makeup, sound, visual effects and stunts are all worthy of awards attention.

The musical choices in “The Batman” are particularly effective. For example, Batman’s theme in this movie, which is a nod to composer John Williams’ Darth Vader theme in 1977’s “Star Wars,” is quite possibly the most memorable Batman movie theme to come along in years. It’s a stirring musical signature that evokes the despair and determination that weigh heavily on Batman/Bruce Wayne’s soul. The musical interludes in “The Batman” also include Nirvana’s melancholy song “Something in the Way,” which is woven into the story in such a distinctive manner, viewers will get this song stuck in their heads long after seeing this movie.

But one of the ways that “The Batman” truly stands out from other superhero movies is that it doesn’t necessarily follow the predictable formula of all the villains defeated at the very end. (And “The Batman” has are no mid-credits scenes or end-credits scenes.) The movie takes on some heavy issues, including how society places a stigma on mental illness, and how this stigma has serious repercussions on people’s lives.

“The Batman” also has a few twists and turns that might surprise audiences. (For example, people will be talking about Barry Keoghan’s cameo as a “mystery character” near the end of the movie.) Most of all, “The Batman” accomplishes what many other superhero films don’t: The movie shows the vulnerabilities of a troubled superhero protagonist, who doesn’t have bunch of superhero friends to back him up, and who is at war with himself as much as he is at war against crime.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Batman” on March 4, 2022, with official sneak-preview screenings on March 1 and March 2, 2022. The movie is set to premiere on HBO Max and will be released on digital and VOD on April 18, 2022. HBO will premiere “The Batman” on April 23, 2022. “The Batman” will be released on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on May 24, 2022.

Review: ‘Voyagers,’ starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead and Colin Farrell

April 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers”

Directed by Neil Burger

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in a spaceship from Earth, the sci-fi drama “Voyagers” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) who portray American scientists and crew members involved in exploring a new planet where human beings can possibly live.

Culture Clash: A power struggle erupts among the crew members, and it turns deadly.

Culture Audience: “Voyagers” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies that borrow heavily from dystopian young-adult novels with “survival of the fittest” themes.

Quintessa Swindell, Reda Elazouar, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe and Lou Llobel in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers” is a disappointing space travel movie that’s the equivalent of being stuck on a pointless road trip with bickering 20-somethings from a bad soap opera. “Voyagers” is not an adventure story about exploring a new planet. The movie is really about a group of young people isolated on a spaceship in a bland ripoff of “Lord of the Flies.” The cast members’ overall serviceable performances can’t quite save “Voyagers” from the movie’s annoying “bait and switch” in its story, which has too many plot holes and not enough originality for it to be a truly enjoyable film.

Written and directed by Neil Burger, “Voyagers” begins with a captioned intro that explains why this space voyage is taking place: “As the Earth grows hotter, and drought and disease ravage the population, scientists look for a new planet—one that can support human life. In 2063, they find it. The human voyage to the planet will take 86 years.” Although the movie never says which government is spearheading this voyage, viewers can assume it’s the United States because all of the people involved have American accents.

Leading this experimental voyage is a scientist named Richard (played by Colin Farrell), who tells people in a meeting that the plan is to have 30 qualified crew members—all who were born and bred to live on a spaceship. These crew members (who were born from artificial insemination) will have a pre-determined number of children and grandchildren during this 86-year journey in outer space. During this time, these voyagers and their descendants are supposed to learn enough about this new planet to return to Earth and bring back this knowledge so that other humans from Earth can possibly start relocating to this new planet.

From the start, there are some major problems with the story. Richard is the only person who’s shown interacting with and educating the children who were selected to be born and and bred for this program. He has been involved in raising them since birth. The movie should have had more scientists and government officials involved in this training. Just because “Voyagers” is a low-budget independent film is no excuse for this lack of credibility. If you can afford Colin Farrell to be in your movie, you can afford to hire some more cast members to portray the people training the children.

The children, who are in the same age group, are first seen as 4-year-olds in a sterile spaceship simulation environment where they are solving puzzles on computers. Richard interacts with them while wearing a hazmat suit. He is kind and patient with the kids, who have deliberately been raised indoors their entire life. The reason for always keeping the children indoors is because if the kids knew what it was like to be outdoors on Earth, it could have negative effects on their mental health while they’re in outer space if they knew what they were missing on Earth.

There’s a scene early in the movie that completely contradicts what happens later in the story. During a teaching session, all of the kids are happy to see Richard when he enters the room. Most of the kids run up to him and hug him, and he hugs them back. But later in the story, when the children begin the voyage when they’re 24 years old, they act as if they’ve never expressed public displays of affection before. It doesn’t ring true at all, but it’s the basis for a huge turning point in the movie.

Richard, who is a bachelor with no kids of his own, has grown attached to these children. He’s so attached that he wants to go with them on this voyage. His supervisor Marianne Sancar (played by Veronica Falcón) is very reluctant to allow it. However, Richard tells her that he really won’t miss living on Earth at all. And the next thing you know, Richard is the only adult over the age of 30 who’s with the crew members who were bred for this voyage. Once Richard and the crew members live on the spaceship, he no longer has to wear a hazmat suit when he’s around them.

Here’s another problematic part of the story: No government would realistically allow a bunch of 24-year-olds who don’t have any life experience outside of a spaceship environment to be on their own to explore a new planet. It’s what would have happened if Richard had not insisted on going on this voyage too. Any scientific exploration like this one would require people who would know what it’s like to live on Earth (indoors and outdoors), to make informed decisions on whether or not a new planet could be inhabitable by human beings whose biology was wired to live on Earth through centuries of evolution. It’s basic science for any scientific exploration to have that comparison point.

The “bait” part of “Voyagers” starts off misleading viewers into thinking that these young people, who’ve been trained specifically to explore this new planet, will get to do this exploring in the movie. But no, here comes the “switch” part of the movie: “Voyagers” has absolutely zero screen time of these so-called explorers doing any exploring. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal this fact about “Voyagers.” It’s a fair warning to viewers that this so-called “new planet” is never seen in the movie. Instead, “Voyagers” is essentially a predictable and often-dull soap opera on a spaceship.

Out of the 30 young people who are the crew members, three are the main focus of the story. It’s telegraphed early on that these three are the main characters, in a scene with the future voyagers as 4-year-olds. They are the only three characters Richard is shown tucking into bed and calling them by their names when he says good night to them.

The three main characters at 24 years old are:

  • Christopher (played by Tye Sheridan), who is even-tempered and analytical.
  • Sela (played by Lily-Rose Depp), who is the group’s assertive and intelligent chief medical officer.
  • Zac (played by Fionn Whitehead), who is the group’s rebellious chief surveillance officer.

And because “Voyagers” is really a soap opera in space, you know what that means: love triangle. There are some other crew members whose personalities are given some notable screen time. They include:

  • Kai (played by Archie Madekwe), a mischief maker who likes breaking the rules.
  • Julie (played by Quintessa Swindell), a flirtatious engineer who has a mutual attraction to Kai.
  • Peter (played by Viveik Kalra), who becomes a rival to Kai for Julie’s affections.
  • Phoebe (played by Chanté Adams), who is the group member most likely to stick to the rules and protocol.
  • Edward (played by Isaac Hempstead Wright), a nerdy control room officer who’s the most “book smart” one in the group.
  • Anda (played by Madison Hu), a level-headed type who is good at negotiating.

All of the crew members except Richard are given a blue liquid called (unimaginatively) The Blue as part of their dining routine. Christopher finds out through some computer hacking that The Blue is really a drug that dulls human senses. It contains a toxin called T56j, which makes people docile and eliminates sexual desire and other sensual urges.

Zac is with Christopher when this information is discovered. Christopher then confronts Richard about it. Richard admits that The Blue is a medication that was given to the crew members to make them less likely to rebel or get distracted.

It’s also explained in the movie that the outer-space program doesn’t want the crew members to conceive children naturally. All conceptions are supposed to be by artificial insemination. It’s been pre-determined how many children and grandchildren each voyager will have, in order to prevent over-population.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t sit too well with Christopher and Zac to find out that their lives have been strictly controlled and manipulated by being given The Blue drug without their knowledge and consent. They decide to stop taking The Blue. And eventually, Christopher and Zac tell some other crew members that The Blue is really a drug to keep them complacent. And, of course, the word gets out to everyone else, and they also stop drinking The Blue.

Remember that scene of the cute and cuddly kids running up to Richard and hugging him? Well, the filmmakers of “Voyagers” want people to forget that scene, because (plot hole alert) they want viewers to think that these kids have now grown up to be people who don’t know what it’s like to express affection. It’s unclear how long the voyagers were taking The Blue, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not a drug that causes amnesia where they would forget childhood memories.

There’s a scene on the spaceship where Christopher sees Richard and Sela talking, and Richard has his hand affectionately on Sela’s shoulder, like a father would for a daughter. Christopher gets a little freaked out and acts as if Richard is one step away from being a sexual predator because Christopher can’t believe that someone is actually touching Sela in this way. When Christopher asks Sela in private if there’s anything inappropriate going on between her and Richard, she denies it, but Christopher doesn’t look completely convinced. It’s all just sloppy and contradictory screenwriting.

Keep in mind, these voyagers are the same people who, when they were children, were jumping up and hugging Richard and letting him tuck them into bed. It’s quite an unrealistic stretch that Christopher, now in his 20s, would suddenly act like he’s never seen Richard touch Sela in a fatherly way before, when Richard is essentially the only father these kids have ever known. By the way, this movie never shows the young voyagers being curious about who their biological parents are, even though Christopher mentions in a conversation that they’ve inherited physical and personality traits from their unknown parents.

After certain characters in “Voyagers” stop taking The Blue, the movie makes a big deal of showing them acting out as they lose their inhibitions. For Zac, that means a touch can’t just be a touch. When he touches Sela’s face affectionately, it quickly turns into fondling her breasts without consent. Zac and Christopher suddenly get the urge to wrestle each other a lot. And there are multiple scenes of the crew members running playfully through hallways, as if they’ve never done it before in their lives.

Through a series of circumstances, the voyagers also learn about violence. And the rest of the movie plays out as predictably as you think it would. Christopher and Zac go from being friends to being bitter enemies. And in true “Lord of the Flies” fashion, people take sides, and there’s a battle over who’s going to be in power.

And what about the mission to explore this new planet? That gets lost in the arguing and fights that take up almost all of the last third of the movie. And there’s some nonsense about a possible alien that’s invaded the ship, which is a fear that Zac uses to manipulate people to do what he wants.

While all of this childish drama is going on, no one seems to be operating the spaceship. It must be on auto-pilot, just like this formulaic, substandard sci-fi flick is on auto-pilot for almost its entire duration. Out of all the actors portraying the young voyagers, Whitehead seems to be the one having the most fun (probably because he’s playing a villain role), and he smirks it up to the hilt.

Unfortunately, the scenes in the movie where the voyagers have been taking The Blue drug require them to talk in almost-robotic monotones. And so, there are long stretches of “Voyagers” that are quite boring because the actors are supposed to be portraying “numb” people. Richard is the only character on the spaceship who maintains a strong sense of lucid humanity, but the power structure ends up changing on the spaceship, so Richard isn’t in the movie as much as some viewers might think he would be.

The cinematography and visual effects for “Voyagers” aren’t terrible but they’re not outstanding either. The movie’s production design for the spaceship isn’t entirely convincing. The interior rooms often just look like a shiny and sterile cafeteria, office building or lounge space. There aren’t many exterior scenes in the movie because the voyagers spend more time quarreling or goofing off inside than actually working outside.

You know that “Voyagers” is a terrible sci-fi movie because it cares so little about this mission to explore a new planet. Not once do any of the voyagers talk about any hopes or fears that they have about what they might find on this new planet. You’d think that people who were raised to be these pioneering explorers would be curious. But no, not in this movie. “Voyagers,” just like the space mission in the movie, was badly conceived from the start and should have been aborted.

Lionsgate released “Voyagers” in U.S. cinemas on April 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Artemis Fowl,’ starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by Nicola Dove/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Artemis Fowl”

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and a magical underground world, the fantasy adventure “Artemis Fowl” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black and Asian) who portray humans, fairies, dwarves and goblins.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl , who must save his kidnapped father from an evil fairy, kidnaps a good fairy as bait for the ransom, setting off a battle between fairies and humans.

Culture Audience: “Artemis Fowl” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Artemis Fowl” book series who won’t mind watching a movie adaptation that is inferior to the books’ storytelling.

Judi Dench in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

The “Harry Potter” books and films have set the bar pretty high for what can be achieved in making young-adult fantasy novels into movies. By comparison, “Artemis Fowl” is a mediocre mess of a film that clearly spent a lot of time on visual effects but not enough time in doing justice to the kind of storytelling that author Eoin Colfer has in his “Artemis Fowl” books. Almost everything that happens in the “Artemis Fowl” movie can be predicted by people in their sleep.

The long-delayed “Artemis Fowl” movie was supposed to be released in theaters, but instead was released directly to the Disney+ streaming service, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who’s hit-and-miss artistically when it comes to his big-budget films), “Artemis Fowl” isn’t the worst fantasy film that someone can ever see, but it’s a disappointing movie, considering the level of talent involved. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl wrote the clunky “Artemis Fowl” screenplay, which is supposed to be an origin story, but the movie is highly unlikely to get a sequel.

The story takes place in Ireland, in an alternate modern reality where humans live above ground, while fairies and other creatures live in a below-ground place called Haven City. The movie begins with the news media in a frenzy because several priceless artifacts from around the world have been stolen. The chief suspect is a reclusive businessman/art dealer named Artemis Fowl Sr. (played by Colin Farrell), who lives in a mansion called Fowl Manor and who has mysteriously disappeared.

However, a suspected accomplice has been arrested: an oversized, thieving dwarf named Mulch Diggums (played by Josh Gad), who’s self-conscious over the fact that he’s much taller and bigger than the average dwarf. Mulch is taken to the MI6 Red Fort Interrogation Unit in Thames Estuary, London, where he begins to tell the story of Artemis Fowl Jr. (played by Ferdia Shaw), a precocious 12-year-old loner who’s frequently left to his own devices because his father goes away for long periods of time on secretive trips.

The Artemis Fowl father and son have a close relationship, but Artemis Jr. feels hurt and left out that his father won’t tell him where he’s going on these trips and exactly when he’ll be back. (Artemis Jr.’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.) Artemis Jr. has a friend/mentor/bodyguard named Domovoi Butler (played by Nonzo Anozie), who tells people that he hates to be called a butler. Domovoi has a relationship with Artemis Jr. that’s similar to the “Batman” story relationship between Alfred the butler and Bruce Wayne/Batman.

As Mulch tells it, Artemis Jr. doesn’t like school very much. He’s considered “different” and has found it difficult to make friends. There’s somewhat of an unnecessary scene where Artemis Jr. is talking to a school counselor, and then Artemis storms out because he thinks the counselor doesn’t understand him and the session is a waste of time.

Considering that Artemis Jr. spends the rest of the movie fighting battles like an adult, going to school isn’t a priority to him. It also didn’t make sense to show him at school in this movie because a kid like Artemis Fowl would probably be homeschooled, considering his father’s secretive and reclusive life. Why bother with nosy teachers and students?

At any rate, Artemis Jr. soon gets a phone call from the evil fairy who’s kidnapped his father. Let that sink in for a few seconds and try not to laugh at how dumb that plot sounds. We’ll have to assume they have caller ID blocking in Haven City.

The evil fairy tells Artemis Jr. that his father will be killed unless the fairy (an unnamed androgynous creature who’s in disguise with the creature’s face obscured) gets the ransom: a magical object called the Aculos, which has the power to open portals across the universe. The evil fairy tells Artemis Sr. that he’s been kidnapped as revenge for causing the deaths of some other fairies.

Artemis Jr. then comes up with a somewhat convoluted plan to get the good fairies of Haven City to help him find the Aculos. How? By kidnapping a fairy named Holly Short (played  by Lara McDonnell), an enforcement officer who’s supposed to be 84 years old in fairy years, but she looks close to the age of Artemis Jr. (All of the fairies are human-sized.)

The good fairies, led by gravel-voiced Commander Root (played by Judi Dench, in yet another no-nonsense, unsmiling role), then descend upon Fowl Manor to rescue Holly. The fairies have the magical power of creating a force field around a certain area, where everyone in the force field can be temporarily frozen and have their memories erased.

This power is demonstrated in a scene where a giant troll crashes a wedding reception in Italy and attempts to kidnap a child and the good fairies come to the rescue. It’s an example of how this unfocused movie literally jumps all over the place.

But apparently, having magical powers isn’t enough for the fairies, because they also have a massive technology center at Haven City, complete with huge video monitors and computers. How very Earth-like. Except it’s not, because their chief technology officer is a fairy centaur named Foaly (played by Nikesh Patel).

And who else has teamed up with Artemis Jr. and Domovoi to help them fight off this large army of fairies? Domovoi’s 12-year-old niece Juliet Butler (played by Tamara Smart), who’s got martial-arts combat skills. The three allies are outnumbered, but they have some tech gadgets and guns for their battles—although the guns don’t seem to actually kill anyone, because Disney can’t have a movie with 12-year-old kids on a murder spree.

Mulch’s narration comes and goes in the story, which includes a scene of Mulch in a prison cell full of goblins who are hostile to him. It’s an example of a poorly written scene that seems to have no purpose other than to show Mulch in an uncomfortable situation and the visual effects of when he uses his magical ability to over-expand his mouth.

All of the actors do a serviceable job in their roles, although McDonnell frequently outshines her co-stars in her scenes. There are a few lines that might give people a chuckle, such as when a gruff Commander Root barks to subordinates, “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!” The way she slightly pauses before she says “four-leaf clover” makes it clear she could have said another “f” word, and then it would definitely not be a Disney movie,

The visual effects and production design of “Artemis Fowl” are good-enough, but they won’t be nominated for any major awards. Because there is so little character development in the movie, the action scenes are really what bring the most appeal to the film. Kids under the age of 10 might enjoy “Artemis Fowl,” but people with more discerning taste in fantasy films won’t find “Artemis Fowl” very impressive. “Artemis Fowl” might just make people want to watch an old “Harry Potter” movie instead.

Disney+ premiered “Artemis Fowl” on June 12, 2020.

Review: ‘The Gentlemen,’ starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding and Jeremy Strong

January 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Gentlemen
Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

“The Gentlemen”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Set in London, this group of predominantly white male characters (with a few Asians and black people), who are from the middle and upper classes, live on the edges of the law and are primarily motivated by greed and revenge.

Culture Clash: The characters in the “The Gentleman” constantly try to one-up and outsmart each other in their betrayals.

Culture Audience: “The Gentlemen” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about groups of criminals who mix dirty deals with aspirations to belong in the upper echelons of society.

Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

In case people might think British filmmaker Guy Ritchie was turning soft because he directed Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin,” he wants to remind everyone that he’s still capable of making the down’n’dirty British crime capers that made him a hot director, starting with his feature-film debut, 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (And then his ill-fated 10-year marriage to Madonna brought him another kind of fame: tabloid hell.)

With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to the theme that he seems to like best when he writes and directs a film—men behaving very badly. And who needs to have legal consequences? Ritchie makes it clear in his movies about drug dealers or gangsters that the harsh realities of police busts and courtroom appearances are pesky distractions that shouldn’t really get in the way of the story he really wants to tell, which is from the lawbreakers’ perspectives.

The movie’s title is quite cheeky, since the shady and sleazy characters in “The Gentlemen” act like anything but gentlemen. All of them are violent, and some of the Anglo characters spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks. There’s some content in this movie that’s truly twisted, including a bestiality scene that’s in the movie for laughs. The deviant act is not shown on screen, but what happened and who was involved are made very clear to viewers.

“The Gentlemen” has an all-star cast, but the movie really comes down to the sparring between two of the characters who want to be the alpha male who’ll outsmart them all. The two opponents are Michael “Mickey” Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant), who see themselves as brilliant manipulators who like to play people off each other like pawns in a chess game.

Mickey is an American who’s been a marijuana dealer in the United Kingdom, ever since he was a Rhodes Scholar student at Oxford University. He’s built up his business by renting out large estates worth millions and using the land to build underground areas for growing marijuana. His operation (which spans the entire nation) has grown to the point where he’s ready to sell it, now that marijuana might become legal in the United Kingdom.

Fletcher is a private investigator and aspiring screenwriter, who wants to tell Mickey’s story (and dirty secrets) in a movie screenplay that he’s writing. Fletcher describes the screenplay in vivid detail (which viewers see acted on screen) when he has a tense confrontation with Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (played by Charlie Hunnam). It’s a story-within-a-story conceit that works well in some areas of the movie, but gets too convoluted and messy in other areas. Fletcher tells Ray that the salacious details of the screenplay is Fletcher’s way of extorting £20 million from Mickey if he wants to keep Fletcher from spilling those secrets. Fletcher has found himself in Mickey’s orbit in the first place because Fletcher has been hired by a tabloid editor named Big Dave (payed by Eddie Marsan), who has a grudge against Mickey and wants Fletcher to dig up dirt on Mickey.

Viewers should know before seeing this movie that the hyper-absurd situations in the story basically serve to poke fun at the characters, who mostly think they’re smarter than everyone else in their world.  And make no mistake: This is definitely a man’s world, since Michelle Dockery (who plays Mickey’s Cockney-accented loyal wife, Rosalind, nicknamed Roz) is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie—and her screen time in the film is less than 20 minutes. Fletcher describes Roz as the “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s Cowboy Caesar.” It’s a fairly accurate description, since Roz’s scenes basically revolve around her sexuality, and Mickey’s scenes revolve around him asserting his power.

Mickey’s asking price for his marijuana operation is at least £400 million, and he finds a potential buyer in billionaire Matthew Berger (played by Jeremy Strong), another successful, upper-echelon drug dealer who’s been a longtime rival of Mickey’s. And there are some other sordid characters who are entangled in this spider web of a story. One of them is Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding), a gangster/wannabe mob boss who answers to his real mob boss, Lord George (played by Tom Wu). Their gang is also at odds with Mickey.

Then there’s deadpan henchman Coach (played by Colin Farrell), who’s somewhat of a mentor to a group of young thugs who like to video record their mischief-making and crimes while in disguise, take the footage, make them into rap videos, and post the videos on social media. The young hoodlums make the mistake of breaking into one of Mickey’s marijuana bunkers and stealing some of what’s stashed there, so Coach offers to make amends by doing favors for Mickey.

All of the stars of “The Gentlemen” do a very competent job with an often-verbose script, which requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the fight scenes—especially in an assault-weapon shootout aimed at a vehicle, where someone very unrealistically walks away unscathed. Grant’s Fletcher character has the best lines, and he’s the one who’s the least predictable. But many of the other characters (such as Ray, Dry Eye and Big Eddie) are very two-dimensional, and a few humorous one-liners don’t quite fill the voids in their personalities.

Put another way: Ritchie is no Martin Scorsese when it comes to gangster films. “The Gentlemen” tries to be a little too clever for its own good, but if you’re curious to see Ritchie’s take on a backstabbing criminal subculture, then “The Gentlemen” might be your stinging cup of tea.

STX will release “The Gentlemen” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2020.

 

 

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