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Robot Love and Human Folly 

After Yang and Deep Water

click to enlarge Realizing Ketanji Brown Jackson really has to pecked at by these fools so she can go to work with Brett Kavanaugh.

After Yang

Realizing Ketanji Brown Jackson really has to pecked at by these fools so she can go to work with Brett Kavanaugh.

AFTER YANG. Envisioning the future is a dicey prospect in the best of times; lately it seems borderline pointless/delusional. Global dissolution aside, committing to an imagined version of progress or the lack thereof is a risky artistic decision, and one that can (and usually will) be revealed as foolish, wrongheaded or stupid in short order. All told, the great works of futurism across mediums make for a short, luminary list, while the failed attempts number in the too-many-to-counts. All too often, creating the future is thought to require world-building on a titanic scale, the investment of millions of dollars and thousands of hours to generate either a glowing, mirrored metropolis or the smoldering remains thereof.

It might require more imagination and, arguably, more fortitude to depict the future as an actual product of our present-as-past. There are marriages of the two methods but they are rare enough that I struggle to think of a recent example other than Spike Jonze's Her (2013).

Writer-director Kogonada (Columbus, 2017), adapting a short story by Alexander Weinstein, here constructs a vision of the world, perhaps centuries from now, populated by regular people with gorgeous, complex, mundane lives. It is clearly a world apart from our own but also a logical extension of it. With remarkable restraint, nuance and an eye for granular detail, Kogonada gives us a humbler version of science fiction, but one that, for its humility, seems all the more resonant than something spectacular.

In an unnamed city in an unnamed year, Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) struggle with the stuff of domesticity, as we all do. His tea shop could be more successful, the strain of being the breadwinner is noticeable in her carriage and demeanor. They both strive to be present and loving for their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), which becomes complicated by the death of Mika's robotic older brother Yang (Justin H. Min). Perhaps death isn't the right word but identifying the correct one is a minor example of the ideas explored in After Yang. As a technosapien, was Yang alive in the first place? Can he die or, in the coarse language of the company that created him, is he merely an assemblage of components to be recycled or destroyed? Pretty heady stuff and presented at a deliberate, painstaking pace — not for everyone.

For those not averse to the quiet and stillness of the movie's tone and structure, though, there are rewards. As Jake shuttles from quickie repair facilities to ethically questionable underground techno chop-shops to high-minded museums dedicated to the preservation and study of our robotic counterparts, he begins to not only reach a better understanding of Yang and their relationship, but deepens his bond with Mika, broadening his empathy and sense of wonder all the while.

I don't really consider myself a science-fiction fan; perhaps more accurately I don't seek out science fiction for genre's sake. In fact, I often find the descriptor a little demeaning of the great work done within it. But I am here for that great work and even for some of the not-so-great. In particular, I revel in the successful execution of a unique, creative vision of other worlds, our own among them. After Yang not only delivers on that promise but simultaneously tells a rich, compelling, largely interior story of the simple, impossible vagaries of existence — the very definition of existence not least among them. PG. 96M. AMAZON PRIME, HULU, STREAMING.

DEEP WATER. So, most of us thought the erotic thriller was dead; if Deep Water is all that remains, perhaps it should be.

There was much ado about the production of Deep Water, all those months (years?) ago: The godfather of the genre, Adrian Lyne returned to directing after two decades! The stars fell in love (I have questionable intel that this was a media stunt)! The pandemic! Anyway, it was something of a noisy business.

Many of us came of age in the era of the erotic thriller: Body Heat (1981), Basic Instinct (1992) and the whole smutty, silly gamut between. In fairness, the proliferation of these movies was problematic, as we say, creating a cinematic multiverse largely defined by misogyny, homophobia, abuse and the male gaze. On the best of days, though, they presented us with a seedy, steamy, dark-hued good time and, for many of us, served as a titillating (if inaccurate) corollary to sexual education.

As referenced just above, Adrian Lyne was one of the most prime of movers within the genre, helming 9 ½ Weeks (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), Indecent Proposal (1993) and Unfaithful (2002), among others; he's made more movies about problematic sexual relationships than maybe anybody. And so, his return to the form, along with the purportedly incendiary chemistry of Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, seemed like exciting news. But then there wasn't any news for long enough that something clearly must have gone wrong.

Now Deep Water has been quietly dumped on Hulu and the question now is "What didn't go wrong?"

This is neither erotic nor a thriller, and appears as though put together in the complete absence of technical experience or talent. While the leads do their damnedest to make the material work, the camera is almost always in the wrong place, the edits are almost comically mistimed and what we came to see (the sex and the violence) is all borderline nonsensical. R. 153M. HULU.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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