What If: A Feel Good Hidden Gem

“Love is dirty, baby, sometimes it’s downright filthy.”

Maybe it’s because wedding bells are drawing near for Jesse and because I’m currently living 461 miles away from my love but, whatever the reason, romantic comedies are getting featured here on Flimsy Film Critics this month. Actually the real answer is we are smooth, handsome, hopeless romantics who express their love with big romantic gestures on a daily basis but we don’t talk about it here because we don’t want our audience feeling bad about themselves. Yeah that’s it…

Either way, I was in the mood for a feel good movie about love and all its complications. I found just that in the hidden gem that is 2013’s What If (not to be confused with Netflix’s recent What/If series nor the comics-soon-to-be-Disney-show What If that asks daring questions like, “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four”, the answer is, the Fantastic Four would finally get a good movie as long as Sony wasn’t producing it).

What If has a classic romantic comedy set up, a dude meets a girl at a party, there’s instant chemistry but the girl reveals she has a boyfriend, in the most ham-fisted, awkward manner possible of course.

What makes this movie stand out is the cast led by Daniel Radcliffe and his best friend Adam Driver (Harry Potter and Kylo Ren fanfics goin’ wild right now) alongside the so-hot-right-now Zoe Kazan with a great supporting performance from Mackenzie Davis (that girl from your favorite Black Mirror episode).

Daniel and Zoe, portraying Wallace and Chantry, have palpable chemistry, and as they settle into their friendship you feel like they’ve known each other forever with their quick banter and comfort to be their whole selves. Wallace, coming off a bad break up, and Chantry, living with her boyfriend, decide, over a handshake, they are going to give the ‘men and women can be friends’ thing a shot.

The other stand out in this movie is the dialogue, it is crisp, quick, and funny. Each word feels intentional and has meaning. Especially the scenes with Allan (Driver) and Nicole (Davis) as the head-over-heels couple that falls madly, and quickly, in love. The performances by Driver and Davis had me cackling with laughter bringing a much needed energy to Wallace’s downtrodden world view. Allan and Nicole, who meet the same night as Wallace and Chantry, in fact in front of the same fridge, are the foil to Wallace and Chantry. They fall for each other fast and they don’t stop to think or ask questions. They serve as opposition to Wallace’s nihilistic views on love as well as the comic relief. They drop nuggets of wisdom along the way and truly might be the #relationshipgoals couple of the movie.

Of course no relationship is perfect. As Allan pontificates after his first fight with Nicole, “All this love shit is complicated. And that’s good. Because if it’s too simple you’ve got no reason to try and if you’ve got no reason to try, you don’t”. It’s one of the seemingly cliché lines that is so well delivered by Driver that it sticks with you. It provides a sense of relief that a lot of romantic comedies don’t, life is messy and that’s okay.

Love and life is complicated. People fall in love with the wrong people at the right time and the right people at the wrong time. As much as we can focus on ourselves, our careers, our hobbies, we can’t control who or when we fall in love and we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about our feelings. This movie gives a sense of relief that life is nuanced and messy. No one knows what they’re doing, especially when feelings are involved. This film reminds you that love happens in unlikely ways but if something is good, hold onto it for as long as it stays that way.

The Farewell: Guilt Inducing Poetry

When telling people where I’m from, the typical question I get is, “Colorado? Why the fuck did you leave?” followed up by, “do you go back often?” My response actually sums me up well as a person, meaning it’s sensible, dark, and a tiny bit funny, “only for weddings, babies, and funerals” I say. And I wonder why I make friends slowly, I guess I’m an acquired taste.

As someone who has chosen to live away from my family, friends, and community, I have to deal with the weight of guilt on a daily basis. How do I maintain these connections while thousands of miles away? And as I miss birthdays, doctor appointments, and house warming parties the weight gets heavier.

The Farewell is a movie made for people like me, or really, for anyone who has dealt with the sudden news of the impending loss of a loved one. But it specifically hits home for those of us who are thousands of miles away from our homes. It’s a brutal reminder of the reality of our choices as well as showcase of the beauty of our bravery.

The Farewell directed and written by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, follows a family of Chinese immigrants as they deal with the heart wrenching news that the beloved matriarch of the family, Nai Nai (grandmother), is at death’s door and only has a short time to live. The family decides to NOT disclose this information to Nai Nai herself, instead choosing to carry the emotional burden quietly amongst themselves.

Dealing with the news of an impending death is maddening enough. What exactly do you say to someone who is dying? Do you keep it light and discuss the weather or the news or other meaningless trivialities? Do you ask for stories of their past or ask them for wisdom as a dark reminder that the end is coming? Neither seem like an enjoyable path but neither does a loss without warning with no time for these conversations. For every person who has lost someone suddenly and wishes they had just a little more time to enjoy their company, there is someone who has been blessed with that time and has no idea how to handle the awkward blessing.

It’s even trickier for Billi, an aspiring writer living in New York perfectly portrayed by Awkwafina, who has to keep the family secret of her grandmother’s impending doom while visiting her under the false pretense of a fake wedding (so Nai Nai doesn’t get suspicious). Billi loves her Nai Nai dearly and desperately wants to tell her the truth and cry in her arms. But her family, and the cultural expectations surrounding it, will not allow even a single tear. The film follows Billi as she traverses through the societal differences between the culture she was born into and the culture she was raised as well as the guilt of living so far away.

The heart of this movie lies in the realism. Pay attention to the scenes of the family around the dinner table eating an endless amount of food, there’s a lot of them, and they serve the purpose of creating the familiar. Sure this is a Chinese family but the conversations they have around the table are recognizable for any culture. There is gossip, there is the constant pressure to “eat, eat, eat” from the matriarch, there is childhood stories told, as well as pointed, guilt-inducing, remarks made by elders.

It’s a heart wrenching reminder for those of us who have left of what we leave behind and of the moments we miss while apart. If this is you, the scenes of reunion around the dinner table or walking around the city with a random relative or watching your cousin get married will spark a grueling familiarity. It’ll throw you back to those times when you are forced to step back into your past life. The battle of dread and secret joy that is waged internally, followed by reminders of why you left and why you come back.

The Farewell, for those who have chosen a path away from their families, is a gut punch of guilt, laughter, and the familiar. It’s everything you hate and everything you love about going home to visit those you have abandoned physically but will never abandon emotionally. It’s pure poetry that will drive you to both immediately call your loved ones and refocus your reasons for leaving.

 

Ready or Not Brings the Cathartic Laughter

Ready or Not, a film directed by the relatively unknown Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, is a big foam middle finger to the wealthy and conservative elite that are running our country. It’s the kind of film that steadily, and humorously, builds to a cathartic release of anger and frustration in the form of violent comeuppance that will make you want to literally stand up and clap like a fool. It’s exactly the kind of movie you need after a hard, long news day (AKA every day).

The film follows Grace (played by the underrated…actually maybe ‘not yet rated’ is a better term, Samara Weaving) as she prepares to marry Alex Le Domas, he of the “richer than God” Le Domas family whose wealth is built around a board game monopoly (not the board game, Monopoly, but a monopoly OF board games). Oh and also funded by a dead spirit named Mr. Le Bail, minor detail.

Except it isn’t!  Because per the deal that great-grandad Le Domas made with Le Bail, the obscene wealth and success of the family will only continue to be passed down through the generations under one stipulation, anyone who marries into the family MUST have a game night with the family on the night of their wedding.

GASP! BUT THAT’S WHEN THE COUPLE IS SUPPOSED TO BE BANGING FOR THE “FIRST” TIME!

(Alas, those of us who are married know that’s not how it really works. I, for one, beat my wife at Mario Kart the night we tied the knot. That’s…that’s not a joke.)

Back to the plot! Not only does the newly married person have to play a game with their new family but there’s a slight chance that the person will have to be sacrificed to Satan if they draw the wrong card. The ‘hide and seek’ card to be exact. Talk about drawing a bad hand.

Of course Grace pulls the hide and seek card because otherwise the movie would be pretty dull if we just watched a rich family beat each other at checkers for two hours. And now she must deal with the consequences of drawing the worst hand (outside of a 2 and 7 off suit in hold ‘em of course) by hiding while the family loads up guns and crossbows.

Except there is one small detail, SHE DOESN’T KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES. That’s right, the dude she loves decided to buy a ring, pop the question, spend thousands of dollars on flowers, and decides it’s not important to inform his soon to be wife that she is soon to be dead! Men, am I right?

Grace is left to her own devices and has to learn to traverse the many hidden passages of the unfamiliar Le Domas mansion. Luckily for her the Le Domas’ incompetence is threatening to derail their home field advantage.

That’s right, there are four things that makes this movie worth giving up two hours of your life for: a simple and engaging premise that delivers numerous scenes of true terror and intensity and is balanced by a self-awareness of its own ridiculousness. But the best aspect is that the old white rich family is completely daft and hopeless.

Many horror movies build themselves around a villain that is unconquerable. And why not? What’s scarier than true hopelessness? What sets Ready or Not apart is the villains are truly terrible. Both morally and murder skills wise. You laugh as these numbskulls, born with silver spoons in their asses, bumble around the house possibly more terrified than the person being hunted. You laugh because it feels far more realistic that a rich person who doesn’t even do their own laundry or fill their own gas, can’t manage to hunt down a small, unarmed woman.

The wealthy family being ill-equipped at murder brings a sense of humor that connects directly with the endorphins in your brain. It allows the audience to point and laugh at the helpless rich people, it provides a rare sense of power over those who control our world if only for two brief hours. It’s dark humor, sure, but it’s also good humor. In an alternate universe without Get Out and Us, Ready or Not is the horror movie you would have thought was directed by Jordan Peele because it feels like an expanded Key and Peele skit mixed with the deeper meanings of Peele’s real work.

The beauty of Ready or Not is it brings a sense of relief to the audience. It doesn’t bother with subtext or allegories because it is glaringly obvious what the writers are trying to say: rich people don’t play by the same rules and they would rather sacrifice your life than lose their power. And this overt message mixed with the cathartic release of the climax provides EXACTLY what we as an audience need in this day and age, a good laugh and a giant middle finger to the man.

For Game of Thrones, Our Watch Has Ended… For Now

I needed to give it about a week. When you are fixated on a television series that lasts for eight years, and it ends, I think it’s hard to provide an objective opinion right away. Your thoughts on how the story wrapped up get mixed together with your disappointment that it’s over, and those emotions can cloud our judgment. That’s one reason why so many people derided season eight of Game of Thrones as the worst finale of all-time: they were pissed about how it ended and maybe even more pissed that it had really ended. Saying goodbye is always hard to do.

That’s why I didn’t want to put this out there right away. I figured that any kneejerk reactions wouldn’t do this show’s legacy justice, and so I would wait for those emotions to subside until I was sure that there was no bias in my opinions. Now I’m sure, and what I truly believe is that the last six episodes were in keeping with the spirit and themes of Game of Thrones. They weren’t perfect but I enjoyed them for what they were. There just weren’t enough episodes to truly stick that landing.

So if you were devastated by the events that transpired in season eight and feel that the entire series was ruined as a result of where your favorite characters wound up, maybe take a moment and see what I have to say. Perhaps I can talk you down from the ledge a little bit. Obviously, spoilers are coming, but if you haven’t watched the series from beginning to end by now, odds are you aren’t going to. Carry on ye who enter.

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In the Game of Thrones, You Win or You Quit Playing

(Spoilers for all of Game of Thrones are below. Even if you’ve never watched the show, don’t read this, because we know that someday you will.)

One of the things that I have always liked about Game of Thrones, among many, is that you always had someone to root for to take power over the Seven Kingdoms. It wasn’t always necessarily the same potential monarch that your friend wanted, either. Whether you’ve been on Team Daenerys since day one and your friend had a brief stint on Team Stannis (before he committed the most despicable act of the series and burned his daughter alive), or if you and your friend have both always been about the Starks, the point is that you’ve pretty much spent the last seven years hoping that your chosen one would usurp whichever ass was sitting on the Iron Throne.

Although the list of hopeful leaders has essentially dwindled down to just Dany, it’s still easy to get behind her because Cersei is the one currently occupying that uncomfortable chair, and as Jon Snow so succinctly puts it, “At the very least, you’re better than Cersei.” That makes things pretty cut and dry and we would all be rocking House Targaryen apparel, if the rules hadn’t changed.

But of course, season 7 didn’t just change the rules of the game. It changed the game entirely. And much like the friend who is left playing Halo while everyone else moves on to Call of Duty, Cersei now presides over a city that almost every notable character has abandoned and holds a seat of power that everyone but her has stopped trying to obtain. I suppose when you finally master the game you’ve been playing for so long, you’re not about to let it go that easily (especially when you’re a cold-hearted bitch with just a slight drinking problem).

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Better Call Saul is Perfectly Serviceable, and that’s the Problem

The challenge that Better Call Saul came up against when it premiered was how it could create drama even though it’s destination has already been predetermined. We know that Jimmy McGill ultimately becomes Saul Goodman, who develops a reputation as the top “criminal” lawyer in all of Albuquerque and like all criminals, sees his reign come to an end.

Prequels don’t often have the luxury of surprising the audience, so no one is holding their breath hoping that Jimmy has a chance as a legitimate attorney or that he’ll make amends with his brother, Chuck. The question is if the show can keep people invested even if they know where things are going. Better Call Saul is in its third season now, so someone out there is paying attention to what’s happening. Personally, a lot of my interest was riding on whether or not Jimmy would get lucky with Kim. Score one for the guy who looks like Kevin Costner.

And while the pre-Breaking Bad escapes of Slippin’ Jimmy hint at greatness and occasionally even delivers it, there’s just not enough substance to make me forget that I’m watching a prequel. When I’m constantly reminded of what awaits these characters in the future, I find myself wishing that I was watching Breaking Bad instead.

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Game of Thrones: Season 1 Review

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.

There has probably never been a quote in the history of television that laid a path for an entire series like that zinger from Cersei did. For all of its complexity, depth and shocking turns, Thrones is a pretty basic show at heart. Those who play the game either wind up victorious or six feet under. Or burned alive. Or flayed. Or killed only to be brought back as a mindless husk. People are very particular about the way that they like to kill in this world.

I have done reviews for Thrones in the past, but they are very much a mirror of Pegboards’ activity level (and by result, my level as a writer). Now that we are heading into the final two seasons of this sprawling, epic saga, I am running out of opportunities to write about it and be somewhat timely, so I thought it would be fun to look back at the series and see if there is any singular storyline or character that catches my eye. It only makes sense to start with season one.

And of course there will be major spoilers for season one and much of the series, but if you haven’t caught up by now, what the hell are you waiting for?

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