Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Almost Certainly Short-Timers: Shadows and They Cloned Tyrone

There have been a couple Hong Kong movies like this released over the past few months that have been sitting on shelves for years - Shadows has a 2020 copyright and played the 2021 virtual New York Asian Film Festival (I'm mildly surprised I didn't watch it), while One More Chance (which didn't play Boston during its US release a couple weeks ago) has apparently been waiting around since 2019. I've got no idea when Shadows would have shot - it's entirely possible that it was pre-covid - and, whoa, is it kind of nuts that some of this stuff is just rolling out now. I wonder if it's some really Hong Kong/China-specific stuff, between not wanting to have your release torpedoed by Covid or protest-related lockdowns, or if maybe there's some "we are going hard into an ambiguous ending, and no, we won't tack something else on, because that's the whole point" stuff going on.

That played Hong Kong almost five months ago, and just showed up here this weekend, probably because everything was underperforming, so there were a few screening times to fill, and, hey, Lost in the Stars packed 'em in, so why not bring in another Chinese movie? Well, it wasn't quite just me, but I'm also not entirely sure that the other folks behind me weren't theater-hopping.

Meanwhile, In Kendall Square, Landmark picked up They Cloned Tyrone, which got a week of theatrical release before hitting Netflix, and Landmark is the place used for that these days. I've kind of got no idea how much Netflix is promoting this one - I feel like I've seen a little more about it than the usual Netflix movie but not a whole lot more - but it feels kind of odd that this played Boston but Nimona didn't. I saw a ton of advertising for the latter, and it looks like it would have been a great big-screen release, but I'm guessing that it's kind of like the Chinese movies at Boston Common: There wasn't a spare screen for Nimona because its theatrical release week was when Asteroid City came out, but there is one this week.

Both are almost certainly out of here after Wednesday or Thursday, given that Oppenheimer and Barbie will be getting a bunch of early shows before officially opening on Friday. They're both kind of acquired tastes, lucky to have a moment in front of audiences, but won't necessarily be in theaters long enough to be acquired that way.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2023 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Screenwriters and critics both probably have a tendency to pay more attention to structure and fair play than the general audience does, which can lead to movies like Shadows with a sort of timidity and defensiveness to the final film: You can't really say that the unsatisfying ending didn't get seeded throughout the previous hour and a half, but just because that criticism can be deflected doesn't mean the whole thing actually works.

At the other end of the film, the audience is initially introduced to Chu Chung-Yung, a social worker who murders his family, calls the police, and then jumps out a window, before meeting Tsui Hiu-Ching (Stephy Tang Lai-Yan), a psychiatrist with a paranormal ability to enter another person's memory and interact with their subconscious, although that doesn't necessarily guarantee she'll get through to someone like abused wife Kloudia (Jennifer Yu Heung-Ying). She also occasionally consults with the police, such as Ho Shun-Fatt (Philip Keung Hiu-Man), who has her examine Chu, who only jumped from a second story window. What she sees disturbs her, though, and leads her to push Fatt to investigate fellow therapist Yan Chung-Kuan (Tse Kwan-Ho), who seems to be encouraging his patients to commit violent acts.

A brief line later on offers a possible source of Ching's ability, but as with other parts of the film, it's just enough that you can't say writer Mani Man Pui-Hing and director Glenn Chan dropped this unreal element into the film without explanation, but also seems to keep it at arm's length that the film is still more crime than fantasy/horror while still enjoying some of those genres' tropes. It never actually goes down the road of suggesting that Dr. Yan may be some sort of demon, for instance, although his apparent puppet-master abilities seem rather extreme if he's just a skilled but sociopathic psychiatrist. If he's just a guy, though, what is gained by Ching having a superpower, as opposed to just being unusually insightful?

The answer is kind of obvious, of course; from the moment that the framed Rorschach blots in Ching's office start to move, it's an opportunity to tell the story with striking visuals rather than just having her explain what's going on with distancing psychobabble. Chan and his crew don't necessarily break a lot of new ground in how they depict the characters' subconsciouses - those scenes tend to be dark, sort of fading out of existence at the margins, and fairly monochromatic with even the colors of Ching's outfits muted - but it gets the job done. There are some interesting bits in the real world, but it often seems as though those scenes are why the movie exists, and the rest is mostly about getting from one to the other.

That's most evident in the police-centered scenes: Philip Keung knows the assignment - he is there to be the grounded, hands-on contrast to the egghead psychiatrists and supernatural material - and he handles that adroitly. Fatt is kind of a stock character but Keung is undeniably good at playing him. Tse Kwan-Ho plays his villain with a bit of relish, which unfortunately often puts Stephy Tang in the unlucky position of being sincere and well-meaning but too pragmatic to really be either man's polar opposite. She's quite decent, but this isn't the sort of movie that is going to make her as bright and optimistic as Yan is dark.

She might have had more to do if the filmmakers committed to it being her story earlier on, but so much of her story is things they touch upon just enough that they can't be accused of having things come out of nowhere without actually ever feeling important. There's a formal interview meant to contrast the way Drs. Tsui & Yan look at their patients, and hints that there is something dark in her past (dark enough for the police to have a file, at least), so it's there. On the other hand, so much time is spent on the sequences with her inside someone else's mind and the various serial and spree killers that Yan is connected to that, when the last act starts raising the question of whether Ching is capable the same sort of manipulation as Yan, it seems smaller than the rest of the movie and just not what it was about.

It means that the final scenes, which offer what should be a thrilling conclusion (and one that seems utterly unconcerned with passing through Mainland censorship), doesn't actually feel like the culmination of what has happened before. I could see how it fits together, in terms of screenwriting structure and checking off the boxes, but didn't feel it.

They Cloned Tyrone

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2023 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

They Cloned Tyrone has a weird rhythm and a weird vibe, but I'm not entirely sure that its eccentricity works. Not that it necessarily has to work for me, as I am probably not its target audience, but it leaves me wondering if some of the things I found kind of interesting may play as a direct hit for others; the film is just ambitious and eccentric enough to be intriguing.

It opens with Fontaine (John Boyega), a drug dealer in The Glen who is soft-spoken but doesn't mess around with folks moving in on his territory. Seeing that pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx) didn't pay up, he goes to collect just as Charles's top earner Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) is storming out, really intending to leave for Memphis this time. His competitors are waiting to ambush him as he leaves, and put roughly a dozen bullets in him. The next morning, he wakes up with no memory of this happening and sees once again that Charles is short, though a dead man coming to collect is understandably alarming to the pimp. Together with Yo-Yo, they follow a trail to a trap house - and then down a hidden elevator, which is when things get really weird.

Not ever having been part of a community like The Glen, I can't really speak to how well-targeted specific satirical gags might be; I sort of get the general thrust of a gag that posits boisterous church-going, spicy fried chicken, or an afternoon getting one's hair straightened at the salon as being actually a means of keeping Black people pacified, but it plays more as a darkly comic general concept as opposed to each example feeling specifically clever. As an outsider, director Juel Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier often seem to not really have a single metaphor in mind, but that's fair enough, in a way; actual places like this have a mess of exterior interference, two-way assimilation, and self-sabotage to deal with. It would dull the blade a bit even if the individual pieces were more clever than they seem.

On the other hand, the world Taylor and his team build is impressive in how they often seem to be heightened just enough to pull a number of things in: The Glen is a place where everyone still seems to be driving thirty-year-old cars and watching tube televisions but Yo-Yo can also talk about blockchain. The art department seems to have zeroed in on just how far forward a 1970s blaxploitation movie can be pulled forward and a modern sci-fi thriller can be pulled back and still seem like a real setting, rather than one outside of space and time. The secret world underneath The Glen is absurd and makes no sense, but it's also something that feels like it could be there regardless, its seeming-impossibility part of the camouflage. Taylor moves the audience through the world well, whether it's time for jokes or action.

(It is, however, awfully dark at times. I'm not usually one to complain about how dimly-lit a film is or how a theater is trying to lengthen a bulb's life, in part because I don't feel I have the knowledge to know where one ends and the other begins, but there were more than a few moments, like when the trio first enters the trap house, where I struggled to see what was going on, exacerbated by a lot of the film taking place at night. On top of that, Taylor is going for a specific style, processing the image to resemble a grainy B movie, and as nifty as that looks, I'm not sure if it helps or hurts.)

Nice cast, though, with John Boyega and Teyonah Parris especially playing to their strengths. Boyega's first big role in Attack the Block was the same sort of street tough discovering a nagging conscience and a knack for leadership and he still does that very well a decade later, especially fine in the home stretch where he's got to contend with big ideas while still not breaking free of his limited perspective. Tyeonah Parris, similarly, is really excellent at keeping how smart and ambitious her character is just under a brash, stupid-sounding exterior, and it's not surprising that she easily moves Yo-Yo from a broad comic-relief sexpot to an eccentric heroine. Jamie Foxx still feels enough like a movie star that Slick Charles doesn't necessarily need to be played as an aging pimp but he gets just enough wear underneath the clich├ęs to make him interesting. Keifer Sutherland isn't around from the start, but hits the charismatic-piece-of-work villain sweet spot that the movie needs.

There's a whole lot to like about They Cloned Tyrone, even if it does stretch a bit past the ending and kind of key on a sloppy conspiracy. But what it does well, it does quite well indeed, enough to make me wonder if is as much a case of the film stumbling as much as the film not being made with me primarily in mind.


Filmy said...

This was literally my favorite aspect of the film - "The Glen is a place where everyone still seems to be driving thirty-year-old cars and watching tube televisions but Yo-Yo can also talk about blockchain. The art department seems to have zeroed in on just how far forward a 1970s blaxploitation movie can be pulled forward and a modern sci-fi thriller can be pulled back and still seem like a real setting, rather than one outside of space and time."

Filmy said...

I actually do think it seems like a setting outside our space & time, tho. Saw a bit of Strange World in a waiting room and remembered that it too had a funny steampunkish anachronistic technological world. There it was an alternate possible world to ours and so for me this is maybe too. The mix of technology also suggested to me a kind of random aleatorey aesthetic that expresses a world of extreme income inequality.