In this edition, we’re taking a look at Win it All, Gold, Rime, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Season 12
I feel much the same about It’s Always Sunny season 12 as I did season 11 — while I respect the writers’ boldness in taking on new types of genres and storytelling methods, the episode concepts are often stronger than the execution. There are just some episodes in season 12 that aren’t all that funny as a whole, which is a shame. But don’t get me wrong, there’s at least one great bit in each episode. This is still It’s Always Sunny, after all.
Interestingly, one of my favorite episodes from season 12, “The Gang Goes to a Water Park,” is the most traditional of the bunch. It’s just the gang put into a scenario where they can team up and be terrible people together. There’s no new type of “thing” that’s trying to be accomplished from an episode perspective. It’s vintage Sunny, and it’s proof that this approach still works.
Most of the genre episodes don’t fare as well. “Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy” is Sunny’s take on a multi-cam, laugh track driven sitcom, and while it starts strong and the idea is sound, the actual jokes don’t carry through the episode and the ending kind of falls flat. Similarly, “The Gang Turns Black” could have been a unique take on the “musical” episode that so many sitcoms try out in later seasons. The combination with race-switching and singing never gels together, and considering the musical talents of Charlie Day, the actual music and lyrics of the episode aren’t all that interesting. “The Nightman Cometh” was hands-down a better musical episode.
“Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer” is a pretty obvious goof on murder documentary shows, and it thankfully executes well on its jokes and interactions between the characters. The undercut ending also feels appropriate for the show. These genre episodes always have something insightful to say about the genre they’re riffing, but this is still a sitcom so the humor matters more to me than the subject material.
The end of the season really weirded me out, to be honest. In the final few episodes, it becomes clear that Dennis is kind of fed up with the gang, and this manifests in the season finale, “Dennis’ Double Life.” We come to find out that Dennis actually has a kid conceived during the “The Gang Beats Boggs” episode of season 10, but the mother of his child thinks he’s someone else — different name, different job, etc. There’s a good deal of the gang acting like they’re different people in order to fool her, and they fail miserably in the end. Spoilers for the end of the season, but Dennis ends up deciding to leave Philly to be with his kid. There’s an actual emotional moment there that kind of works, despite the show doing almost nothing to earn it.
The fact that actor Glenn Howerton is pursuing other opportunities obviously had an impact on the creation of this storyline, and it still isn’t clear if he’ll be back for the already renewed seasons 13 and 14. Personally, I’d have a hard time watching the show if any member of the gang left for good, but we’ll see what happens. It’s Always Sunny continues the recent trend of inconsistency for the show, but I certainly can’t fault the writers and actors for wanting to try new things and experiment with their show’s structure. Season 12 doesn’t hold up to most of the earlier seasons, but it’s still worth watching for folks who, like me, have been on this crazy ride for over a decade at this point.
Win It All
I spent most of my time watching Win It All wanting to like it more than I was. It’s a perfectly likable movie, after all, with likable characters and an interesting — if slightly overdone — premise. Eddie (Jake Johnson) is a loser of sorts. He’s addicted to gambling, and he’s bad at it. He hasn’t really made anything of himself. But then opportunity strikes as a nefarious “friend” asks him to babysit a duffle bag for a few months while the friend is in jail. Despite being told not to, Eddie looks in the bag and find quite a bit of money.
He decides to gamble just a little bit of it. He’ll make a profit, pay back the difference to the bag, and no one will be any the wiser. Only, he’s bad at gambling, remember? So Eddie ends up in bigtime debt, trying to find a way to make the money back before the bag’s owner gets out of prison.
The film tries to focus on Eddie’s struggle to get over his gambling addiction and make a life for himself, and that story is great. He meets a girl, gets a job working for his older brother, and starts attending gamblers anonymous meetings. But that subplot of making the money back really drags the whole thing down, because as a viewer, you’re never given evidence to suggest that Eddie is capable of winning. He keeps trying and losing and digging himself into deeper trouble.
But because this is a movie, and here come the spoilers, Eddie is able to win everything back on a few big hands of poker, and then the movie abruptly ends before you’re able to truly process the resolution. There are more than a few moments where you really think Eddie can make a change in his life and get back on the right path, but at the end, once he’s already made the money he needs and is in the clear, the only reason he doesn’t keep gambling is because he has a heart attack and is carried out of the game by a friend.
There are just too many moments in Win It All where I kind of despise Eddie to truly want him to succeed. Perhaps this is an intentional theme of the film, that even borderline scumbags deserve infinite chances to do the right thing and be happy, but the story doesn’t work for me. I’m a big Jake Johnson fan, but despite my best efforts, I didn’t get anything out of Win It All.
Matthew McConaughey has had a crazy career. In the past few years, he’s finally made it to a point where he can be taken seriously as an actor, and good for him. I can’t imagine it was easy making the transition from stoner heart-throb to Academy Award winner.
In Gold, McConaughey takes on the role of Kenny Wells, a fictionalized version of the real-life prospector, David Walsh. He’s washed up and looking for one more mineral score. No one believes in him, and when he makes it big, everyone just tries to take him down. McConaughey is great as Kenny, and Bryce Dallas Howard also brings in a strong performance as Kenny’s girlfriend, Kay. Kenny believes in himself — and in his ability to make millions on gold — more than anyone else, but McConaughey does a good job selling Kenny as more than a millionaire wannabe. It’s clear that he’s in this thing for the thrill of it, not just the money.
But he sure does make some money, and that’s where a great deal of the film’s conflict comes in. Kenny becomes the owner of a billion dollar company overnight, and plenty of folks on wall street don’t appreciate that. It’s also clear that Kenny doesn’t have what it takes to live in that world, as he’s constantly being pushed around and taken advantage of by his new peers. Again, McConaughey sells Kenny’s arc beautifully.
The problem is, Gold doesn’t really have that much to offer outside of McConaughey’s committed performance. There was clearly an effort to “dramatize” the real-life events, and I think that works to the film’s detriment. The truth is often more interesting than what Hollywood thinks will be interesting. Fictionalizing events in a film is all well and good, but when you change the characters, time period, setting, and whether or not the main character was even involved in the events of the film, I think you lose the opportunity to list the movie as “inspired by true events.”
If it wasn’t for McConaughey trying his best to carry Gold, it would be completely forgettable. It’s more than a bit slow, and some of its scenes don’t seem to fit into the larger whole. Part of me likes the dichotomy of the friendship between Kenny and Edgar Ramírez’s Michael Acosta, but the other part of me found Ramírez’s performance to be tad flat. It’s tough, because I enjoyed Gold more when I thought that most — or at least a good portion of it — was true. But learning that a lot of my favorite scenes and story beats didn’t actually happen took away some of that enjoyment. I think Gold would have been a better movie had it stayed closer to the actual truth.
Watching trailers for Rime, it would be easy to write it off as a simplistic take on The Legend of Zelda. In a lot of ways, they are similar. Rime takes place in a beautiful, colorful world filled with both wonder and sadness, and there’s a fair amount of environmental storytelling that doesn’t rely on dialogue or motion capture to convey emotions. But while some of Rime’s elements may seem like derivative or dumbed down takes on other games, the package as a whole delivers a memorable experience in every category.
To get the most glaring flaw out of the way, Rime does not run well on PS4. I can’t speak to other platforms, but the digital version I played struggled to maintain its framerate throughout. Due to the simplicity of the mechanics — which I’ll get to in a bit — this technical issue never held me back from progressing or doing what I wanted to do, but it was definitely a visual annoyance in an otherwise gorgeous game.
The art direction is absolutely stunning. I wouldn’t say the visual design is particularly unique in most ways, but it certainly brings a sense of color that too many modern games ignore. The island on which the game takes places is also surprisingly varied. You start on a hilly beach area, but quickly venture into desert, ocean, and ruined landscapes. There’s a painterly style to the art that helps sell the child-like wonder and mystery of the environments. The design of the main character doesn’t totally fit in with the rest of the visual aesthetic, but there’s a story reason why this might have been intentional.
To me, the music is the most effective method of delivering on the emotional journey of Rime’s young main character. The score is sweeping at times, with uplifting strings and horns, but it also dips into more subdued moments where the silence stretches. There’s a sense of pain and loss expressed in the music that brings the “story” beats to another level. I’m not ashamed to admit I was tearing up at the game’s conclusion, and it wouldn’t have been a fraction as effective without the music.
The gameplay of Rime is perhaps its least interesting aspect. There’s some simple platforming from area to area, but most of the puzzle solving revolves around activating statues that unlock gates or open doors. You do this by moving boxes, lining up shadows, or even simply standing on the right part of a platform. Each new area offers up a twist on the core mechanics, and while nothing quite stands out as unique, there’s enough interest that I never got bored playing the game.
But truly, Rime’s greatest success is in its environmental storytelling and heart. I felt inspired to explore every nook and cranny of the environments to find collectibles that give a bit more color to the backstory of the world and our young lead. The context keeps building on where you are and what you’re doing, with several eureka moments that made me not want to put the controller down. The main story delivers something akin to Journey in its combination of relief and loss, and really trusts the player to put the pieces together in the end. But Rime also delivers so many smaller moments that had a lasting impact on my experience with the game.
Rime is one of those excellent proof cases for video games as art, and while the gameplay and mechanics don’t always hold up their end of the bargain, the story doesn’t work if you aren’t responsible for pushing the character through to the end. If you can look past its technical hiccups and somewhat bland platforming, Rime will be a gaming experience you won’t soon forget.
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