Sundance Film Festival: ‘After Yang’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As technology advances, humans grow more attached and forget what life can be like without it. As each year passes, we get more wrapped up in the social aspect of technology and forget to make connections in person. Maybe the connections we make online have more of an emotional depth because they are not physically present in your life, thus causing an illusion of intimacy that has recently developed. Eventually, these advancements will move further into artificial intelligence, fully removing the emotional connectivity to feed the human soul. If our relationships are already so dependent on online validation, then what would happen in the future when AI’s become the replacement of that connectivity to another human?

In Kogonada’s sophmore film, After Yang, we meet a lifelike, artificially intelligent android named Yang (Justin H. Min). Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner Smith) purchased him as a companion for their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). One day, Yang abruptly stops functioning, and Jake just wants him repaired quickly. But having purchased Yang “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, he’s led first to a conspiracy theorist technician and then a technology museum curator. Instead of Yang having spyware in his core, they discover that Yang was actually recording memories. As Jake learns more about his companion through his memories, he realizes that he lost a piece of himself and his connection to the world he is currently living in.

Kogonada created such a futuristic atmosphere while grounding the rich colour palette in nature. There are some great framing choices, especially when Kyra and Jake speak to each other; the editing allowed them to speak face to face and have them in the full frame with a change in aspect ratio. This is a technical feat for Kogonada because of how he visually shows Yang’s memories. After Jake put on those glasses, he stepped into Yang’s mind and it felt like it was virtual reality. Imagine being able to step into someone’s memories and pick them out like a file from a cabinet. Then being able to rewind, fast-forward or stop the memory entirely.

The only issue with After Yang is the pacing of the film. We get deep, emotional moments between Yang and every member of the family, but those moments faded into the background when the focus shifts back to Jake trying to fix him. If the film focused more on that human connection with the AI, it would have resonated with me a bit more. There was this feeling of detachment from Jake and Kyra that kind of overpowered the deeper meaning of the film. Perhaps the feeling of detachment from the characters is something Kogonada wanted you to feel, in order to parallel our detachment to our fellow people and nature itself.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘The Princess’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After decades of processing Princess Diana’s untimely death, she continues to evoke mystery, glamour, and the quintessential modern fairy tale gone wrong. As we all know, Diana was the People’s Princess. This documentary directed by Ed Perkins highlights the struggle within the castle and in front of the cameras. She was a woman whose very presence left the monarchy and the media completely shaken. Her every move was documented which was the ultimate invasion of privacy. Whether she was performing her rightful duty to her country, being a mother to her sons, or navigating the media landscape, Princess Diana lost her sense of self and her public persona snowballed into something uncontrollable.

The documentary is crafted entirely from immersive archival footage and Perkins constructs a narrative that many did not see all those years ago. This was a more personal approach to Princess Diana’s story, as every piece of footage that was chosen showed the full spectrum of her emotions and her true story. Even with the media swarming her, she was always gracious and welcoming, but all of that takes a mental toll. We see the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana fall apart right in front of our eyes. The interviews and body language within them, show that there was a clear disconnect and something more was happening behind closed doors. Princess Diana had to deal with so much and still present herself as the person the media created.

Watching the lengths that the paparazzi went to just to snag one photo was sickening. Yes, the monarchy needed to change, but to make them populist ultimately changed the perception of the Crown itself. After everything Princess Diana had to go through publicly; her wedding, the birth of her two boys, the adultery, the suicide attempts, and even her life after Prince Charles, all of it was done to make the monarchy more relevant and it was just self-destructive. Sure, they’ve had scandals, but once you get the media involved, these scandals take on a life of its own. We see how harmful her living situation was to the full extent, leading to her eventual “death”. Perkins structured the story through the eyes of Princess Diana and her spirit came through with the archival footage. We saw her for who she was and how all of this was unfair to her and her children.

The Princess connects the people to Princess Diana once again, but Perkins managed to show her in a different light. Even though the documentary feels a bit by the numbers, Princess Diana’s story will haunt the monarchy forever. The fact that films are still being made today to show the unfair treatment from the Crown and the invasion of privacy from the media, proves that she will forever be an example of an injustice that no one will ever fully understand. The monarchy created a monster through the media that consumed one of their kindest members. The perfect image of their institution will forever be tainted by the stories that surrounded the People’s Princess.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘FRESH’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the past decade, we’ve seen a shift in the conventions of dating. We all think to ourselves, “Where has the romance gone?” The majority of single people are constantly going through the same cycle on dating apps and it can be so exhausting. It’s not about the connection anymore; it’s about checking all the boxes based on a couple of text messages exchanged back and forth. It’s hard to even consider that this is the new way of meeting someone in the digital age. It’s also interesting to call a red flag if the other person has no presence on social media, considering they are on a dating app. There are always awkward encounters, but nothing is as awkward as a bad date. Women’s intuition is powerful but there can always be that hopefulness that skews their judgement

In Mimi Cave’s directorial debut FRESH, we meet Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who is frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates. After getting yelled at in the street by her last date and getting an unsolicited picture on a dating app, she ends up meeting and giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. It goes without saying that Sebastian Stan suited this role perfectly and still managed to surprise us with how talented he is. After they go on their first date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hook-up, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.

This is truly one of the most interesting concepts that I have seen in years. The social commentary that surrounds dating apps and the many horror stories that have come out of them; only amplifies the feeling in your gut when watching FRESH. Lauryn Kahn’s script blends genre tropes together, from horror to comedy, to romance, and hits all those beats. There are incredible frames and symbolic imagery that Cave presents in order to elevate the sharp-witted script. She deliciously ties everything together with her own style. The combination of Kahn’s script, Cave’s direction, and Alex Somers’ music create a horrific atmosphere that looks so polished on the outside, but can cut deep with the feminist allegory. The way the twists are executed in this film will keep surprising you until the very end.

FRESH has one of the best soundtracks of the year and will have you screaming at the situations that unfold in the film. It’s bold, unique, and a downright treat to witness a directorial feature debut this strong. Cave’s flashy style and extreme close ups capture such intimate moments through the female lens. The warmth that radiates through the lighting to create a safe, comfortable setting, only for it to be stripped away, adds to the theme of things not always being what they seem. Kahn’s script also has little details that you pick up on in order for women to understand how fearful the situation actually is. The film highlights the many ways women are mistreated and how we can be seen as commodities, just to be prepped and served for consumption without any real sense of agency in the eyes of men.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘When You Finish Saving The World’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, When You Finish Saving The World, he explores the idea of what it truly means to help others. As we know, there are many different ways to help others, but what people fail to realize is the intention the olive branch stems from. Is there genuine compassion to help others, or is there an ulterior motive for personal gain? In this film, we meet Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) who performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept completely baffles his uptight mother, Evelyn (Julianne Moore), who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. We see a very strained relationship between mother and son because they are actually very similar.

While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila (Alisha Boe), by making more politically driven music, Evelyn meets Angie (Eleonore Hendricks) and her teen son, Kyle (Billy Bryk), when they seek refuge at her facility. She notices that Kyle needs the proper guidance to move away from his current working-class lifestyle and decides to take him under her wing. The dynamic between Ziggy and Evelyn is interesting because they both want to help others through their own narcissistic lens but don’t bother to confide in each other. They both look elsewhere to fill the void that the other created inside them. Both characters are difficult to connect with because of how self-absorbed they are and think their service is a gift.

One thing that can be said about this film is that Jesse Eisenberg’s voice was evident throughout its entirety. For years we have admired Eisenberg’s ability to deliver lines so sharp and eloquently. Eisenberg’s entire personality and his intellectual process seep through the dialogue, making Evelyn and Ziggy, two halves of a whole. Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard both deliver great performances but unfortunately the film itself was lacking an emotional connection. There are strong moments between the two of them; one actual conversation that was the turning point of the film and the other a full-out argument that felt extremely authentic.

When You Finish Saving The World is a strong directorial debut from Jesse Eisenberg because of how distinct his voice is. Forget about the story and the characters themselves, this felt authentically Eisenberg and that is definitely a sign of a director with a strong sense of who he is. Even if this film isn’t your cup of tea, Eisenberg made something completely in his voice and his style and that is the most interesting aspect of this movie. This film explores the feeling of being incomplete and attempting to help others in order to be satisfied. The truth is, you can never help enough people, to fill that empty void inside of you. Instead, you have to work through that emptiness to make yourself whole again.

‘The Royal Treatment’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We would all love to fall in love with royalty and be whisked away to a new country. Since that can’t happen to all of us, the new Netflix film, The Royal Treatment will make you believe in fairytales again. When New York hairdresser Izzy (Laura Marano) seizes the chance to work at the wedding of a charming Prince Thomas(Mena Massoud), sparks between them fly, will love — or duty to one’s country/family — prevail? Both Izzy and the Prince have lost their way because of their duty to their family’s, but once they confide in each other, they both realize what they need to do.

What I really appreciated about this movie was the authentic Italo-American lifestyle that was presented to Izzy and her family. Within seconds of meeting Izzy, there’s a comfort and sense of ease that Marano brings to the character. She offers such warmth to everyone she meets and is very kind as well. Marano gave such a great performance and it was nice to see the Italian family dynamic within the hairdressing shop ‘Bellissime’. To Izzy, family is very important, but sometimes that attachment holds her back from actually pursuing her dreams. It’s a really difficult situation to be in and many people can relate to her.

Like any romantic comedy, there is a miscommunication and our two leads meet unexpectedly. The Prince resents his family for keeping him from actually making his own decisions, similar to Izzy, but their families only want what’s best for them. Even though they don’t have the same lifestyle, they understand each other on a different level. The best part of any romantic comedy is the chemistry between the two leads. Marano and Massoud were dynamite together and played off of each other so well. Sparks were definitely flying and their genuine admiration for one another came through.

The Royal Treatment is a very sweet, heartfelt, and grounded romantic comedy that has two of the cutest leads falling in love with each other. The authentic Italian nature of the family and the New York City attitude makes for a fun encounter with royalty. Laura Marano is a total sweetheart and Mena Massoud is a very charming leading man, they were perfect together. The supporting cast was entertaining as well. The love and friendship was definitely felt. If you want to feel all warm and fuzzy, then this one is worth checking out on Netflix!