Sorry For Your Loss (Season 1, 2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Four months ago, Leigh’s husband, Matt, went for a walk; a walk that he never came back from. And ever since then, she, her sister Jules, her mother Amy, and Matt’s brother, Danny, have struggled to cope with his death. Some, like Amy, have put on a brave face, and acted as emotional support to others. Others, like Jules, have used this event as the catalyst to do things that they’ve always been meaning to; in her case, getting sober. And others, like Leigh and Danny, have resorted to lashing out, at friends, at family, and especially each other, for not knowing how to explain, or process, Matt’s loss. No matter how they do it, though, one thing is for certain; the road to recovery will be a long and hard one.

Sorry For Your Loss is probably the first work of art I’ve ever seen, be it in film, television or literature, that shows the grieving process realistically. It shows how slow it is. It shows the anger, the confusion, and the denial that all come from losing someone, or something, important to you. It highlights how little things, like donuts at a grief support group, can make all the difference. It portrays how some people use the grieving process to get attention, and how others use it to cut themselves off from the world. And unlike a lot of other films about grief, which tend to dramatize emotions with bold, symbolic visuals and over-the-top scenarios, it never once veers into histrionics. What I mean by that is, many artists, like Lars Von Trier (Antichrist), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), and Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal) have used fantastical elements, like monsters, to convey things like anger and grief, but Sorry For Your Loss never once veers into surreal or expressionistic territory. This show is set 100% in the real world, with the acting, dialogue, and cinematography all being plain and naturalistic. At no point does the series try to cram in quests, arcs, or artificial conflict. Instead, each episode focuses on a very small, but very real aspect of grieving, such as not being able to go back into your house, not knowing what to do with your loved one’s possessions, and being unable to attend parties, for fear that others will look at you as “that” person.

Now you might be thinking, “okay, the show portrays grief realistically. Fine. Is it any good?” Yes! Yes, it is. Not only does Sorry For Your Loss tackle the messy, complex topic of grief with both grace and care, but it’s really good, and very funny. That last part is key. As much as this show is about sadness, it’s also very humorous, and not in a way that feels forced, or like it’s trying to undercut the seriousness of the situation. A substantial portion of this humor comes from the character Jules, played by someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses, Kelly Marie Tran. She’s got great dialogue, and she brings the same energy and joy to this role as she did to Rose in The Last Jedi. But she’s not the only one in this show to get some great lines. Matt, who is seen entirely through flashback, has one exchange with Leigh that was so good I had to write it down. Matt: I just wanna bury my feelings. Like White people. Leigh: Oh? Tell me more about White people. Matt: White people spread smallpox through blankets, and take improv classes. The show is full of moments like that, moments of humor that help elevate what would ordinarily be painful to get through. And when you combine that with the realistic portrayal of grief, some absolutely stellar performances from Elizabeth Olsen, Kelly Marie Tran and Jovan Adepo, and a very quick runtime (the whole first season is 10, 30-minute episodes) you’ve got yourself a winner. I seriously think this might be my favorite new show. I urge you all to give it a look. It’s on the “watch” section of Facebook, it’s completely free, and It’s a breeze to get through. Please, please, please give it a chance.

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Searching (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views ARe My Game.

When his teenage daughter, Margot, fails to come home, widowed father David Kim becomes worried. He calls her piano teacher, only to find out that she quit taking lessons months ago. He asks her friends if they’ve seen her, only to discover that they either didn’t know her very well, or hadn’t spoken to her in years. Things only get worse when the police get involved, and he is forced to break into her laptop to provide them with useful information. In so doing, he learns that she had a whole life he didn’t know about, a life where she was depressed, and possibly didn’t even want to live anymore.

Guys, I’ll be honest; I wasn’t planning on seeing this movie. I mean, I like John Cho, and the reviews were decent. But, come on. How interesting can a film told entirely from the perspective of someone’s laptop really be? As it turns out, very, very interesting. I loved this movie! It’s exciting, well written, and terrifically acted. John Cho proves, once again, that he’s a fantastic leading man, and that Hollywood should definitely cast him in more stuff. There’s a reason why the #starringjohncho movement got started; he’s great, and there really is no excuse not to use him. But, setting that aside, something else that I was surprised by was how the “from a person’s laptop” gimmick really worked in this film’s favor. I really cared about David Kim and Margot, and a large part of this had to do with the fact that their back-story was told to me through social media; i.e. from watching home videos and photos they’d posted online. That’s how most people present themselves these days, and, when done right, It’s very effective in getting you to care about them. This film recognizes that, and uses it to its advantage. Something else that the gimmick did well was conveying character. See, when we’re online, we’ll maybe type things, then think better of it, and delete what we were about to say. This film has David doing that, and the things that he types, or, rather, doesn’t type, speak volumes about his character. They even highlight his emotional arc.

The last thing I really appreciated about this film was how, like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, it normalizes the Asian American experience. With one exception, a scene where David and his brother are talking about a Korean recipe, the Kim’s could be any race imaginable. And that’s great. As I said before, the philosophy in Hollywood, for so long, was, if you’re going to cast people of color, it has to be because the story is about race. And because most people don’t really want to spend their money on depressing films about social issues, films with non-White, specifically Asian, leads are unprofitable. Well, this movie says otherwise. It says, “yes, you can have a mainstream, entertaining thriller, with an Asian lead, that doesn’t have to be about race, and it can do very well.” I’m just hoping that Hollywood looks at the films that have come out in the last two months–Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, This–and recognize that there is a market for these kinds of stories, and continues to produce them. Only time will tell, but, even if they don’t, I still think you should watch this movie. It’s great.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game.

When a car crash leaves him paralyzed from the waist down, alcoholic John Callahan decides to make a change in his life. He begins physical therapy, joins AA, and tries to find a new, more healthy, means of dealing with his various anxieties, including graphic illustration. This leads to him meeting the love of his life, finding a community that supports and understands him, and even getting a job as a cartoonist. Can he keep it together, though? Well, watch the movie and find out.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is  a movie I was excited to see. On top of having an absolutely stellar cast, including Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill and Jack Black, it’s directed by Gus Van Sant, the man behind some of my favorite films. Yes, he’s made a few flops, what director hasn’t, but one thing you can always say about his movies is that they’re terrifically acted, and considerably more sensitive than most hollywood fare. He’s made pictures about murderers, drug addicts and pimps, and somehow found a way to give them all humanity. So I was excited to see what he would do with this source material. And, having finally sat down and watched the movie, I’m happy to say that it’s very satisfying. It’s superbly acted, extremely sensitive in terms of how it deals with addiction, and surprisingly understated. What I mean by that is, movies like this–movies that are based on true stories about people overcoming adversity–are often very sappy and made for the sole purpose of winning actors Oscars. This movie isn’t like that. There isn’t a scene where Joaquin Phoenix mugs for the camera, or gives a big emotional speech. Everything is played very quietly, and very authentically. The best moments are the ones where he’s in group therapy. Everyone in these scenes is so down-to-Earth, unglamorous, and, for lack of a better word, real, that you forget you’re looking at actors. That’s terrific.  The movie’s also a lot funnier than you might think. The filmmakers find ways of infusing humor, particularly regarding his cartoons, into the story, and it really works. My audience was laughing their butts off. So between the rock-solid performances, sensitive storytelling and heartfelt humor, I think you’ve got more than enough reasons to go see this movie.

If I have any complaints at all, it’s the fact that the film, in its attempt to be unconventional, and not fall into the OScar-bait trap, is a bit uneven in terms of how it’s structured. It’s told out of order, with certain key details getting revealed perhaps a bit later than they should be, and certain characters who you think will be important, like Jack Black and Rooney Mara, not really showing up as much as you’d think. Rooney Mara, in particular, doesn’t have much personality, or purpose, in this film beyond being Joaquin’s girlfriend, which, coincidentally, she is in real life. But none of this detracts from this movie’s strong qualities. It’s acting, it’s humor and sensitive treatment of addiction are all rock-solid. So don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Sorry To Bother You (2018)

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Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game.

In an alternate reality Oakland, Cash Green is a regular dude, struggling to get by. With no money, and few prospects, he takes a job in telemarketing, where he quickly learns that he’s far more likely to sell products if he uses his “white voice.” Doing so allows him to climb the corporate ladder, eventually getting promoted to the position of “power caller,” meaning he gets to sell weapons of mass destruction to dictators. All this success puts him into conflict with his girlfriend, Detroit, and co-workers, Sal and Squeeze, who want the telemarketers to unionize, and fear that Cash is selling out. Things only get worse when the head of WorryFree, a company that turns people into slaves by forcing them to sign life-long contracts, comes to Cash’s door with a frightening proposal.

Sorry To Bother You is a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing ever since the first trailers dropped. I love the cast–Tessa Thompson, LaKeith Stanfield and Steve Yeun are always fun to watch–and thhe premise seemed interesting–a Network-style satire about workers of color needing to adjust their behavior in order to get ahead in the world of telemarketing. Then the first reviews came out, and I just knew I had to see it. So when I sat down in the theater this week, I was super excited. And now, having actually watched the flick, I’m… something else.

Now, to just get this out of the way, this is actually a well-made movie. So don’t worry about that. The cast is superb, the pace never drags, and there’s some really good humor in here. There’s one moment in particular, where Cash and Sal are super mad at each other, but, rather than throw insults, they start trading fake compliments, like, “You smell great.” “You smell better.” “You wanna get drinks?” “Sure. It’s on me.” And something that I appreciate about this movie is the fact that it is truly original. I’ve never seen a film like this before, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that you have no idea where the story’s going. So, for all these reasons, I do think Sorry To Bother You is worth watching.

That said, the film isn’t perfect, and a large part of this has to do with the fact that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The trailers make you think it’ll be a satire of racism in the workplace, but that’s not really what it’s about. Oh, those elements are in the film, to be sure–there’s one uncomfortable scene where Cash’s boss forces him to rap, and talk about the “gansta” lifestyle–but the movie has at least 12 more things to say besides that. It wants to talk about worker’s rights. It wants to comment on arms dealing. It wants to satirize the power of social media to turn random people into celebrities, and make a statement about how we’re so used to seeing shocking things that we don’t even care anymore. And on top of that, it wants to be a dystopian sci-fi parable. Yeah. I’m not joking at all when I say that this movie is science fiction. A major twist that gets revealed about halfway through involves a company using advanced technology to create… things. I’ll just leave it at that. And while that twist is genuinely shocking, and took me off guard, I can definitely see it alienating a lot of people. There were members of my audience who got mad at the direction the film took. And, finally, the movie introduces a lot of elements that you think will be important, like Cash using a “white voice,’ and this radical leftist group called “The Left Eye,” which more or less get abandoned after that twist I was talking about. So if you’re expecting a light-hearted farce, which follows a clear narrative, go watch something else, because you won’t find that here.

In the end, though, I do think the film’s humor, it’s strong performances, and unabashed originality do make it worth watching. Just go in with tempered expectations.

GLOW (season 2, 2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

After months of hard work, the ladies of GLOW have finally done it. They’ve gotten their show picked up by a TV station, and are pumping out new episodes every week. But all is not well, as they face a variable cornucopia of new challenges, such as keeping the ratings up, making sure their sponsors don’t leave them, and personal demons, such as divorce, AIDS, and the possibility of getting deported.

If you read my review for the first season of GLOW, you’d know that I thought the series had a lot of strong qualities–such as an all-female cast, an intriguing premise and some good acting–but I was put off by some of its more offensive jokes, and inconsistent tone. I mentioned how the show was, for the most part, pretty light-hearted and up beat, but then, out of nowhere, it’d throw in these really macabre gags, like someone pretending to have a miscarriage to make fun of someone else, or having one of the main characters try to fuck his daughter. And, of course, there were all the racial stereotypes, and the fact that the supporting characters, particularly the Asian ones, were just there to be ethnic punch lines. Well, someone must have read my review, because GLOW, season 2, just about addresses all my concerns. The tone is much more consistent, there are considerably fewer racial jokes this time around, and the show runners actually manage to give the Asian characters some depth. Sunita Mani’s character, in particular, becomes much better rounded. We learn that she used to be a medical student, there’s an episode that shows her being uncomfortable with her wrestling persona, and trying to change it, and she even gets a love-interest in the form of Yolanda, one of the new wrestlers. The season also does a good job of introducing queer elements into the story, and addressing homophobia in the 80s. There’s a season-long subplot where Bash is trying to find his butler, Florien, only for him to realize that Florian was gay, and died of AIDS. The way he reacts to this information–with disgust and disdain–is heartbreaking, but also very accurate to how people did back then. So, for all of these reasons, I have to give GLOW, season 2, props.

That said, the show still has problems. The biggest is the fact that there’s not really one, overarching story this time around, so there are moments where the pacing drags, and the show feels kind of listless. In the first season, there were subplots, but they all tied into the larger narrative of trying to get the show picked up by the network. This time around, there’s not really that one, master goal for the characters to pursue, so you wind up with smaller side-quests, like Ruth wanting to go out with a guy, but feeling she can’t, one of the wrestlers not wanting her son to see her on TV, Bash trying to find his butler, and one of the wrestlers worrying that she might get deported back to the UK. And as much as the show runners did for Sunita Mani, they still did nothing for Ellen Wong, who might as well have not been in the season, that’s how little she has to do. The show also has a bad habit of introducing complicating factors very late into the narrative, such as the aforementioned fear of deportation, which doesn’t materialize until the second to last episode, and Justine’s mother, who wants to bring her home, and who, again, doesn’t show up until the very end. If they’re so important, and are such big sources of conflict, why didn’t you introduce them earlier? Ugh. But, like I said, this season is, in many ways, an improvement over the first. Does it have problems? Sure. But I still think you’ll have fun if you watch

Damsel (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Parson Henry isn’t a real preacher. He isn’t even a man of God. He’s just a sad widower, looking for a fresh start, who was given a preacher’s clothes while journeying out West. How unfortunate for Henry when young Samuel, thinking that he is a real parson, recruits him to go out into the wild and wed him and his fiancé, Penelope, whom he claims was kidnapped. Henry is reluctant, but, seeing as he’s got nowhere else to go, and Samuel has offered to pay, agrees. When they reach Penelope’s cabin, however, and shoot her supposed kidnapper, Henry realizes that not all is as it seems to be, and things spiral out of control from there, with the line between good and evil, sanity and insanity, getting blurred.

Damsel is not a film I was planning on seeing. At least, I wasn’t at first. I went to the theater to watch Hearts Beat Loud, the new Nick Offerman movie, found out it wasn’t playing, and decided to give this a try. And I am so happy I did, because this is an original, subversive, darkly-comedic gem that I’m praying more people will go see. What is it, exactly? Well, that’s actually kind of hard to say. Is it a comedy? Is it a Western? Is it a thriller? Is it all of them at once? You spend the first 30 minutes or so being led to believe that this is going to be a sweet, old-fashioned Western with a comedic twist, but then, out of nowhere, things get super dark, and super violent. And the best part is, it feels earned. The transition doesn’t feel abrupt, or out of place. See, there are some films, Audition, Psycho, that switch their genre about halfway through, and it feels appropriate. Part of that has to do with how they set up tone. In Damsel, the filmmakers do a great job of making the world around Henry seem strange and menacing, so that when we find out that Samuel lied about Penelope getting kidnapped, it feels in keeping with what we’ve seen so far. Something else that I love about this movie is the fact that it truly is subversive with regards to how it presents the Western. See, many, many films have tried to approach the Western from a deconstructive or revisionist stance, but ultimately wind up becoming the very thing they were trying to satirize. Unforgiven is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. It spends the first two-thirds telling you that the heroic Western is a myth, that gunslingers were selfish, violent, disgusting men without conscience or honor. And yet, it ends with the main character avenging his friends death, and freeing a town from the clutches of a ruthless, tyrannical sheriff. It basically becomes the very thing it spend the first half of the story telling you didn’t exist. Damsel doesn’t do that. It starts off by giving you a Western you’d expect, a heroic man and his bumbling sidekick going to save a woman, but then pulls the rug out from under you by having it get revealed that the “hero” in question is a delusional stalker who murdered a man for no reason. And far from being a damsel in distress, Penelope is easily the most active, most competent and most aggressive character in this movie. I’m actually kind of sad that she wasn’t the main character the whole way through, but,  you can’t always get what you want.

Now, if I have any complaints at all, it’s the fact that the movie is very slow. It spends a long time setting up the world, and showing Henry and Samuel journeying through the wilderness together. I understand why those scenes were there, to give us a false sense of security and familiarity, so that, when the reveal happens later on, it’s more shocking, but I can definitely see some people being bored by them. On top of this, the film’s humor is very eccentric. A lot of it derives from the characters meeting people, or seeing things, that are just super weird, like a fat man, dressed in a barrel, who never stops laughing. I found it endearing, but, again, I can see people being put off by it. Still, none of those things take away from the fact that this movie is original, funny, subversive, and very well-acted. It’s an eccentric gem that stands out in the midst of all the franchise mayhem we get this time of year, and I think you’d all like it if you gave it a chance.

Set It Up (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Charlie and Harper are too over-worked assistants. Harper works for a former Sports Reporter named Kirsten, and Charlie works for a guy named Rick, who does… something. Whatever the case, they meet one night while desperately trying to procure food for their bosses, and commiserate over the fact that neither of them has time for a social life. Deciding that the only way to improve their existences is to get their superiors laid, and, in so doing, off their backs, Charlie and Harper devise a scheme wherein they’ll manipulate Rick and Kirsten into falling for each other. Things don’t go  quite according to plan, however, as  the two realize that it takes more then serendipity to keep a couple together.

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the Western has become something of a lost genre. With hindsight, I’d say the romantic-comedy has as well. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, rom-coms were everywhere, with films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and Pretty Woman absolutely killing it at the box office. Directors like Richard Curtis, and actors like Hugh Grant, were able to build tremendous careers off the strength of this one genre alone. And rom-coms didn’t just make money. They were critically respected as well. In 1977, Annie Hall, a film that has since become a quintessential rom-com, won Best Picture at the Oscars. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that rom-coms were a big deal. But as time wore on, they started to lose their charm. People became acutely aware of the tropes, and more and more feminist critics started to question the genre’s portrayal, and treatment, of women. As such, rom-coms stopped becoming a reliable box-office draw. Oh, studios never stopped making them. There were plenty of rom-coms made in the new millennium, The Notebook, 500 Days Of Summer, that did well financially, but they were either critically-derided, as with the former, or were intended to be deconstructions of the genre, as with the latter. My point is, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a traditional, true-blue rom-com do well on the big screen. Perhaps that’s why Set It Up, which absolutely falls into that category, was released straight to Netflix, a place now regarded as a dumping ground for films no one wants. And that’s a damn shame, because this movie is really, really charming.

I watched Set It Up on a whim. I saw that Lucy Liu was in it, and I always want to support Asian-American actors, so I decided to give it a chance. And when I finished watching this movie, I had a huge smile on my face. This is a movie that doesn’t just work as a rom-com, it works as a genuinely-entertaining film. It’s well-acted, well-paced, well-shot, and, above all, funny. Really, really funny. There’s so many great moments of awkward humor in here, like when Harper hears that Rick only dates women who get waxed, and she awkwardly tries to convince Kirsten to “lose the bush,” that had me in stitches. The actors who play Charlie and Harper, Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, are so likable, and have absolutely amazing chemistry. And the film is actually a lot better written than I expected. One of my favorite films of last year was Their Finest, a period romance that acted as a meta-commentary on rom-coms. Now, as much as I enjoyed the flick, I was annoyed by how closely it adhered to certain romantic comedy tropes, such as the lead starting out in a relationship, meeting someone new, and then their initial love-interest cheating on them so its okay for them to be with the new person. Set It Up starts out in a similar manner, with the character of Charlie being in a relationship before he meets Harper, but the film isn’t so lazy as to have his first girlfriend cheat on him, or have Charlie sleep with Harper behind her back. He just realizes that him and the girl don’t have anything in common, and they split up, like actual people do. There’s also a minor character, Becca, who you think is going to be a bitchy best friend that Harper can feel envious of because she’s getting married, but the film doesn’t go that route. Becca actually winds up being super awesome and supportive, like real friends are. But by far my favorite thing about this movie is the scene where Charlie, in true rom-com fashion, rushes to the airport. Except a few things are different here. One, he’s not rushing to talk to his love interest, Harper. He’s there to see her boss, Kirsten. And two, the filmmakers manage to poke fun at the cliche by having him get there four hours before the plane is supposed to take off, and be really bored by all the waiting. My point is, Set It Up is an utterly charming film that I’m kind of sad didn’t get a wide release. Critics really like this movie, it currently has a 90% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and I genuinely think it could’ve done well, had the studio given it a chance. As things are, though, all I can say is that, if you have Netflix, and are in the mood for something sweet and charming, give this a look. It’s definitely worth your time.