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January 2022

At Your Own Yellow Peril

Benjamin Loeb/A24

After Yang (2022)

Asians are often derided as robotic; in “After Yang,” the titular Asian is literally a robot. Jake (Colin Farrell), Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) form the performatively picture-perfect interracial family, and Yang (Justin H. Min) is part of that picture, too, albeit it enters slightly later, both literally and figuratively, during the film’s opening sequence.

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Roast in Translation

Eric Lin/Sundance Institute

blood (2022)

Essentially “Lost in Translation” with the sads and more interactions with the locals, “blood” takes place in Japan, the seeming destination of choice for lonely whites in search of je ne sais quoi. Newly widowed photographer (bien sur, what else could she possibly be?) Chloe (Carla Juri) arrives in the Land of the Rising Sun, which she previously visited with now-deceased husband, Peter (Gustaf Skarsgärd). She is apparently there taking pictures of the Japanese doing Japanese things, and she greets everyone and everything with wide-eyed wonder and amazement like Nicole Kidman shilling for AMC Theatres.

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Peas in a Pod

Ilkka Saastamoinen/Sundance Institute

Girl Picture (2022)

It was disorienting to watch “Palm Trees and Power Lines” and “Girl Picture” back-to-back at the Sundance Film Festival. One is about a 17-year-old girl who throws herself into an abyss. The other is about three 17-year-old girls whose lives are full of fun. Both movies are award-winning depictions about groping teenage attempts to grow up and/or feel something, but “Palm Trees and Power Lines” is the ne plus ultra of horror. Fortunately “Girl Picture” is its opposite, a relaxed and humorous tale bursting with life in a safe environment. That’s not to say there’s no sour mixed in with the sweetness, but for a hopeful and charming tale about growing up, you could not do better.

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Women Helping Women

Sundance Institute

The Janes (2022)

“The Janes” opens with archive street footage of fabulously dressed women in the 1960s. The immediate point that makes is that while fashions change, people more or less stay the same. But codirectors Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin use the fashions of the late ’60s and early ’70s to make a quiet point in their story of the Jane Collective, an underground network in Chicago, at a time when abortion was illegal, that safely arranged at least 11,000 abortions in five years.

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Unplanned Parenthood

Wilson Webb/Sundance Institute

Call Jane (2022)

Years ago, this critic attended a talk by Euzhan Palcy, director of “A Dry White Season,” the 1989 antiapartheid box-office bomb that was the first major Hollywood production directed by a Black woman. She told a roomful of righteous undergraduates that she centered Donald Sutherland’s character because his was the one with the story arc; all the Black characters already knew of the atrocities keeping the apartheid regime in power and that racism is bad. She calmly explained that you have to start from the beginning every time, because there will always be people who simply don’t think they are affected by something like racism, and the constraints of a movie’s running time mean it’s more interesting to focus on the people who need to change. That same logic went into the choices that make up “Call Jane,” a major Hollywood production about why abortion is good. Should we need to start from the beginning on this subject? Of course we do. And when it’s done this well, it speaks for itself.

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The Graduate

Sundance Institute

Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

In her first book, Mindy Kaling has a section where she discusses romantic comedy tropes, one of which is the Typical Mother Character. To paraphrase Ms. Kaling, basic math makes it clear that the Typical Mother Character became a parent at an uncomfortably young age, which means that her backstory can’t really be discussed, because it is automatically more interesting than anything happening in the romantic comedy. Writer-director Cooper Raiff, who also stars in “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” evidently took this statement as a challenge. His incredibly charming movie is about how an open-hearted young man and a jaded older (but not much older) woman suddenly find themselves with an unexpected potential romantic situation, and the all-encompassing question of what they are going to do about it.

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Mind the Age Gap

Sundance Institute

Palm Trees and Power Lines (2022)

“Palm Trees and Power Lines” immediately joins the rare pantheon of movies that are so emotionally disturbing they can only be watched once. But earlier examples such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Million Dollar Baby” are kiddie cartoons compared to the brutal nihilism and emotional horror within this film. In her first feature film, director Jamie Dack, who also wrote the script by Audrey Findlay, has immediately vaulted herself to the front rank of American directors, but she’s done it with a story so difficult to enjoy that she – and it – are not going to get the attention they deserve.

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Disabled Gaze

Reid Davenport/Sundance Institute

I Didn't See You There (2022)

Reid Davenport’s documentary, which won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, is a tone poem about the experience of living inside a disabled body that does the neat trick of not centering the body itself. The filming is almost entirely done from Mr. Davenport’s chair-eye point of view as he navigates Oakland, Calif., where he moved especially for its public transport and the concomitant ability to be an independently mobile person (something able-bodied people take completely for granted). But his freedom exists only up to a point. Repeated shots of cars ignoring him in crosswalks and able-bodied pedestrians blocking the path make the microaggressions of existing in public with a wheelchair very clear. What’s worse are the people who offer unasked-for help or patronizing congratulations, as if they think they deserve a medal for recognizing Mr Davenport’s humanity.

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Proof of the Pudding


Sundance Institute

Bill Cosby was a bona fide ’80s cultural icon. In his documentary series “We Need to Talk About Cosby,” W. Kamau Bell acknowledges Mr. Cosby’s influence on his initially choosing a career in comedy – the same inspiration that spurred a generation of Black comedians. Of course, the urgency to discuss Mr. Cosby now stems from the fact that he’s better known over the past decade for being a serial rapist.

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Rude Sexual Awakening

Sundance Institute

Sharp Stick (2022)

Lena Dunham has a singular gift: She makes horndog art about the most irritating people in America which somehow captures the zeitgeist. In her first movie in 11 years and her first filmed work since “Girls” went off air, she has moved the setting to Los Angeles, but the basic theme of self-discovery-through-sexual-misadventure remains the same. Your enjoyment of this will depend on your tolerance for being completely unable to tear yourself away.

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