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Non-Review Review: Set It Up

Set It Up is a loving ode to the classic romantic comedies of the nineties, harking back even further to their antecedents, the screwball comedies of the forties.

The basic premise of Set It Up is straightforward. Zoey Deutch is Harper, the personal assistant to Lucy Liu’s Kirsten. Kirsten is a cutting-edge sports journalist, and Harper is an aspiring writer who found herself working as a personal assistant and has been unable to extricate herself from that situation. Glen Powell is Charlie, the personal assistant to Taye Diggs’ Rick. Charlie hopes to leverage his experience with Rick into a successful and prosperous career, if he can survive Rick’s temper tantrums.

Their chemistry is through the roof.

Following a chance encounter while picking up a delivery late one night, Charlie and Harper hit upon a cunning plan to escape the ridiculous demands of their bosses. Charlie and Harper will use the positions of trust afforded to them as personal assistants in order to trick their bosses into a relationship. Their logic is that a potential romance would eat into Kirsten and Rick’s free time, and thus afford Charlie and Harper more personal time. Charlie can reconnect with his increasingly estranged girlfriend, while Harper can try to become the writer that she always wanted to be.

It is perhaps churlish to describe Set It Up as formulaic, as the primary appeal of the movie is in watching a charming cast navigate a modern spin on a variety of classic romantic comedy tropes. There are perhaps moments when Set It Up leans a little too heavily into its genre trappings, and there are moments when its attempts to update genre conventions for the twenty-first century don’t exactly land. Nevertheless, the film is elevated by charming central performances and breezy yet witty script that understands the mechanics of the genre enough to know when to play with them and when to play them straight.

Will we see some PDAs from the PAs?

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The Defenders – The Defenders (Review)

If The Defenders is fundamentally a story about New York, then it seems inevitable that it should return to the city’s defining tragedy.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the events of 9/11 changed the course of world history. They fundamentally altered the foreign and domestic policies of the United States, the world’s strongest superpower. Inevitably, they also changed New York itself. It could reasonably be argued that the twenty-first century began with the 9/11 attacks, at least culturally; the atrocity brought an end to the global peace and stability that had defined the nineties, ushering in a new world order.

“Um, Danny? Hero shot?”

The Defenders is a story very much invested in New York City, with characters repeatedly referring to New York as “my/your/our city.” Of course, each of the four series leading into The Defenders imagines a different city. Daredevil is set against the backdrop of an early eighties version of Hell’s Kitchen, one never tamed nor gentrified. Jessica Jones unfolds in a vast and anonymous and disconnected city. Luke Cage imagines Harlem as an ideal, a cultural hub. Iron Fist treats Manhattan as the stage on which familial conflicts might play out.

The Defenders is about bringing those separate versions of New York together, of integrating them into a single story set against the backdrop of a single version of the city. Inevitably, that version of the city is the city as it was defined at the start of the twenty-first century, a city united by catastrophe and destruction. However, there is more to it than that. The Defenders embraces the 9/11 subtext seeded through the first season and plays the idea out to its logical conclusion.

“What? Am I supposed to look serious doing this?”

The season culminates in a bizarre inversion of 9/11, in which our heroes lay siege to an empty skyscraper. They decide that the only way to save Manhattan is to demolish the building. Although the episode is edited in such a way that the audience never sees the collapse of the skyscraper in question, The Defenders is still structured in a way that evokes the most uncomfortable paranoid conspiracy theories about the events of 9/11. With the structure destroyed from the inside with architectural precision, this change to the New York skyline really is “an inside job.”

It plays almost as a grotesque and uncomfortable attempt to reclaim a traumatic image, to take ownership of the atrocity. It is an attempt to construct a heroic iteration of the terrorist attacks that forever changed the city, as if that may somehow provide an opportunity for healing and reconciliation.

Take it as red.

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Jessica Jones – AKA Top Shelf Perverts (Review)

Generally, Jessica Jones is quite optimistic in its portrayal of responses to trauma.

In AKA It’s Called Whiskey, Will Simpson tried to murder Trish Walker with his own hands; by half-way through AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, the two are involved in an energetic and fulfilling sexual relationship. In AKA Top Shelf Perverts, Malcolm helps to dispose of the body of Ruben before engaging in a half-season long deception of Robyn about the fate of her brother; but AKA Take a Bloody Number, it seems like there might be romance in the air. In AKA You’re a Winner!, Jessica reveals that she killed Luke Cage’s wife; by AKA Smile, they have reconciled.

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As a rule, Jessica Jones suggests that trauma is not defining or delimiting. Trauma damages a person, but it does not necessarily break them. Jessica Jones never avoids exploring the consequences of abuse – particularly long and sustained abuse – but it also refuses to let its characters be trapped by those experiences. Trish’s abuse at the hands of her mother might have led her to build a fortress, but she still puts herself out in the world. Jessica has been abused by Kilgrave, but she still wants to save Hope. AKA Top Shelf Perverts is the exception that proves the rule.

After the events of AKA You’re a Winner!, Jessica spirals into truly self-destructive behaviour. In many ways, AKA Top Shelf Perverts serves as an effective contrast to the rest of the season, demonstrating how functional Jessica was up to this point. As with AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, the episode suggests that Jessica is not solely defined by her traumas; that she is not broken by her experiences with Kilgrave. AKA Top Shelf Perverts does this by teasing the audience with glimpses of what a truly broken Jessica might look like.

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Non-Review Review: Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings feels like several different films all rolled into one. Is it an English major detective story about investigating one ruthless act through character and theme and other literary devices? Is it a coming of age story about a young man finding himself at college in New York City against the back drop of the Second World War? Is it a condemnation of the recklessness and the irreverence of the young Beat movement? Is it a standard college adventure story about young students sticking it to the man, and refusing to let authority figures tell them how to live their lives?

Kill Your Darlings is most interesting in the space between the familiar genre trappings, when it focuses on the characters at the dawn of the emerging literary movement. Indeed, the spirit of the film is best captured in one drug-induces segue in which our characters find themselves slipping between the reality and existing in a gap between moments. Kill Your Darlings is by turns romantic and cynical in its handling of Allen Ginsberg and his development as a young artist, featuring a wealth of superb central performances which can’t quite hold the film together.

Given the literary cut-up technique that we see the gang experiment with here, it feels strangely appropriate that Kill Your Darlings should be an uneven mess of a film, with a wealth of great ideas existing in the space between plot and tone and substance and reality. It just doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying film.

Talkin' 'bout the Beat Generation...

Talkin’ ’bout the Beat Generation…

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Jameson Cult Film Club: Predator

I had the privilege of attending last Tuesday evening’s Jameson Cult Film Club screening of Predator. It’s easy to take for granted the care a preparation that goes into these nights celebrating popular classic films, but the crew pulled out all of the usual stops for the evening, turning their city centre into something of a jungle. From improvised death traps (within health and safety regulations, of course) through to advice on movie etiquette translated from… whatever that noise is that Predator’s make, the evening was a fitting tribute to an eighties cult classic.

Again, the production team walked the line, balancing the need for spectacle carefully against the integrity of the film. Predator is a loud film by its nature, and the special effects on the location were well-chosen to turn the volumes up to eleven. The pyrotechnics display during the movie’s climax was just astounding, as were brief interludes of the Predator itself preparing for battle or cleaning up after one.

The guys at Jameson Cult Film have sent over some snapshots of the night. Check them out below and click to enlarge. In the meantime, feel free to register at their website for free tickets to their next event, which I am already looking forward to.

EK4G0958 Continue reading

Non-Review Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby feels like candy floss for the soul. A little of it is tempting, even appetizing. It was a curious texture, a strange sense of lightness, but also curiously heavy. Appealing to look at, and fun to pick at, it’s not something to be digested in large portions. The opening fifteen minutes of The Great Gatsby pop and sizzle, as Luhrman blends stylish visuals with an inability to keep anything still. The cameras, the actors and even the scenery seem to be moving to a beat – one occasionally intruding on the sound track. Such energy and vibrance is hard to resist, but it’s also exhausting – as much for the film as the audience. Once the movie settles into its own style and routine, it winds up feeling a lot like its protagonist. You’re not quite sure it’s really there.

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Chris Cooper Raps (The Muppets)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #1

If you ever need proof of how delightfully absurd The Muppets was, the sight of Oscar-winner Chris Cooper dancing and rapping across his desk, only to unleash a storeroom full of chorus girls while Jason Segel looks on in confusion should do the trick. It’s a fantastic moment because it’s so ridiculously surreal. Cooper is rapping for about a minute of screen-time, meaning that it’s over before it has really begun – leaving both the characters and the audience wondering what the hell just happened.

In a great way.

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