January 24, 2022

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance 2022 Reviews: “892” & “After Yang”


892 (no distrib):  John Boyega’s turbo-charged performance fuels this true story.  In 2017, when Brian Brown-Easley (Boyega) entered a Wells Fargo branch in a suburb of Atlanta and informed the teller that his backpack contained a bomb, he wasn’t trying to hold up the bank.  Rather, it was his desperate attempt to get enough public notice so that the Veterans Administration would pay him the pitifully small amount they were refusing him for bureaucratic reasons, an amount that for him was the difference between a life with some dignity and one on the street.  Inevitably, what ensued became a version of Dog Day Afternoon, and Abi Damaris Corbin’s film (written with Kwame Kwei Armah) works well as a simple thriller, with whiz-bang editing by Chris Witt and a tremendous cast that includes Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva as the tellers Easley took hostage, Connie Britton as a local news producer, Olivia Washington as Easley’s ex-wife, and in his last performance, the great Michael Kenneth Williams as the lead police negotiator.  892 is gripping all the way through, but the script may have bitten off more than it could chew, or chunks were left on the cutting room floor for the sake of a taut 103-minute running time.  The result raises quite a few issues that it ultimately doesn’t develop, and settles at times for scenes that play as cliches even if they were factually accurate (of course the FBI guys are jerks).  Whenever 892 falters, though, Boyega rescues it, imbueing Easley with a mix of fury, terror, frustration, courtliness and fatalism that’s quite moving.  Corbin’s drama feels like one of the most likely in the festival to attract a mainstream audience, whether on a screen big or small.

AFTER YANG (A24 – TBD):  Gentle sci-fi, from Kogonada, who made the lovely art film Columbus in 2017.  In the film’s universe (based on a short story by Alexander Weinstein), androids known as techno sapiens designed with Asian features and programmed with knowledge of the region’s language and history are sold to couples who are adopting (human) Chinese children, to serve as surrogate siblings and keep the children in touch with their backgrounds.  Yang, who was acquired by tea-seller Jake (Colin Farrell) and executive Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) at the time they adopted Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and who has lived with them as a family member, collapses one day, and Mika insists that he be repaired.  Jake sets out to make that happen, but it turns out to be impossible.  However, he learns that Yang has in his system a repository of memories that the android chose for himself, and in reviewing those, Jake comes to understand Yang’s past and his accumulated emotions.  Unlike other projects that have dealt with the workings of android minds like Blade Runner, Humans and Westworld, After Yang is a delicate piece of work, its shots beautifully framed by cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, and with graceful performances by Farrell and by Haley Lu Richardson, who was luminous in Columbus.  The problem is that Kogonada’s insights are so sweet and his touch is so soft that the film often seems to barely have a pulse, like the most pleasant parts of Spielberg’s A.I. played at one-quarter speed.  Kogonada’s film seems meant to be regarded with appreciation more than to be experienced.  It’s as though the target audiences he had in mind were androids themselves.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."