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How Heavy This Hammer

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Imagine Tony Soprano had no affiliation with the mob; instead of spending time amidst criminals and criminal-related activity, he was addicted to computer games.

Fat, lazy, selfish, childish and at times unnecessarily violent, these are the same characteristics of Erwin, the very unlikeable protagonist conceptualised by Canadian director Kazik Radwanski and actor Erwin Van Cotthem.

On first impressions Erwin may seem like your typical family man; middle-aged and overweight, living with his wife (Kate Ashley) and two children. He has a respectable job and enjoys playing rugby and having a beer with his mates. However, most nights or whenever else he can find the time, Erwin sits alone playing a fantasy game on his computer – he’s addicted.

It’s clearly impacting his personal life, and Erwin soon starts to neglect his responsibilities. He’s physically exhausted from playing all night, often falling asleep at family outings, but also detaches himself mentally from the real world. Erwin becomes isolated and frustrated with the people closest to him and eventually decides to move to his own place.

So he settles into a new life, free to drink and play computer games as much he wants, which is great… for a while at least. However, Erwin soon realises the situation he created for himself is also a lonely one – and in the end the real question is whether or not he’s too lazy and selfish to do anything about it.

Just as Erwin gazes blankly at his computer screen, Radwinski and Cotthem evoke the same behaviour from viewers, who can’t help but be mesmerised by this miserable creature – partly fascinated by his antics but also terrified that it’s not far from reality for many people these days.

Radwanski uses an intense operatic score to depict these key sequences, switching between the actual gameplay and a close-up of Erwin’s face. The music is used effectively as both a representation of the character’s obsession but also ironically, to illustrate the insignificance of his actions.

The ambiguous ending will have audiences divided but that shouldn’t detract from the performances within. Van Cotthem makes you love to hate him and Kazik Radwanski seems to be cementing himself as a master of character studies, clearly one of Canada’s most exciting new talents.

All in all, it’s a quiet-achieving gem that will definitely make you evaluate your own relationship with technology. For that, it’s definitely worth a watch.

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones Season 2

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Following on from the events of Season 1 (and last year’s The Defenders, barely referenced), life goes on for Marvel’s resident superpowered private sleuth, the titular Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). Of course, the past is never too far away in this series, which makes the processing of trauma its key concern, and so the hard-drinking, poor-life-choice-making Jones must now deal not only with the ongoing PTSD born out of her enslavement by the horrifically evil Kilgrave (David Tennant), but fresh mental wounds opened up by her breaking his damn neck in last season’s climax.

She does, however, have plenty to distract her, thanks to her messy life and career. Indeed, the first few episodes of JJS2 throw out a number of seemingly disparate plot threads and character arcs that will doubtless cohere by the final episode in true hard boiled/film noir fashion (this season really leans into its noir influences, up to and including dry voice-over narration and moody sax on the soundtrack). A paranoid, overweight speedster wants protection from mysterious forces that may or may not be threatening him (he knows he’s not well – “With great power comes great mental illness,” he quips). An arrogant, high class PI (Terry Chen) wants to buy out Alias Investigations for the prestige of having a superhuman on his staff. Neighbour-turned-assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville) is bucking for more responsibility, while bestie Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) deals with a multitude of issues, from professional ambition to romantic drama to the continued oppressive presence of her toxic AF mother (a deliciously vile Rebecca de Mornay).

There are a lot of balls in the air to keep track of, but in terms of plot the season is definitely canting in the direction of the past, specifically what would be termed Jessica’s “super hero origin story” in a lighter series that could stand including such a trite descriptor. It turns out her powers are the result of being experimented upon by a shadowy black science outfit called IGH in the aftermath of the car accident that killed her parents. She has no memory of the period, but events conspire to force her to look inwards and backwards.

Not something she’s particularly good at – what sets Jones apart as a female protagonist is how incredibly flawed she’s allowed to be. She’s a self-destructive alcoholic who engages in dangerous sex and is absolutely loathe to turn her incredible powers of insight and deduction inwards – so, of course, that’s exactly what the series forces her to do. Krysten Ritter has really settled into the role since her first outing back in 2015. With a character like this, whose demeanour is predicated in prickly abrasiveness and snarky patter, there’s always a risk of drifting into affectation. Ritter give her layers, and it can;t be easy portraying the inner life of a character whose standard operating procedure is to pretend that inner life doesn’t exist.

Incredibly, Ritter isn’t the MVP in the acting stakes thus far – that honour goes to Carrie-Ann Moss, whose icy lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, has been a frequent flyer in the Netflix MCU properties but here really gets to shine. A medical and professional crisis shakes Hogarth’s normally rigid self-control and, what do you know, it tuns out that she can be just as self-annihilating and reckless as our eponymous heroine – she’s just normally better at hiding it. Moss is flat-out fantastic as a woman coming to terms with the fact that, for all her wealth, power, intelligence and sheer will, she’s vulnerable to things completely outside of control.

Understanding the limits of control is one of – if not the – major thematic concern of Season 2. For all that it deals with PTSD, abuse, addiction (Oh, Trish), the casting couch (Trish again), common across the board is the notion that characters are grappling with their frustration over their lack of control over their lives, or else learning to draw strength from understanding what they do have influence over. It’s all very Stoic. The past is set, the actions of others are difficult to change without conflict, scars are permanent, diseases are indifferent, and entrenched power structures and covert conspiracies alike grind ordinary people to dust, but knowledge and mastery of the self is a goal worth fighting for – and the only real goal attainable. It’s a smart and logical extension of the first season’s explorations – don’t forget, what made Kilgrave such a compelling and terrifying villain was his ability to take away that self-mastery from anyone.

So far (the first five episodes were released to critics for review purposes) season 2 lacks a singular villain of such narrative power, but this is, let us not forget, a mystery, and some confusion and murkiness in the early stages is to be expected. What makes Jessica Jones great television is its thematic coherence – it knows what its about, more so than any other Marvel series on Netflix or off. If the new season manages to carry that forward through to the final episode, it’ll be one for the books.

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When We First Met

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It’s two classic Hollywood romance conceits folded into one: the unrequited love of a best friend, and the use of time travel in order to win them over and make the day right. It’s My Best Friend’s Wedding meets Big; When Harry Met Sally meets Groundhog Day; and even though When We First Met isn’t destined to be a classic like any of those films, it’s different enough to set itself apart from the pack.

After meeting Avery (Alexandra Daddario – Baywatch, The Choice), the girl of his dreams on one perfect Halloween night, Noah (Adam Devine – Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) doesn’t end up getting the girl, instead becoming one of her best friends. Yet the story of his unrequited love takes a turn on the night of Avery’s engagement party to the perfect Ethan (Robbie Amell), when an old photo booth sends him back in time to that fateful Halloween night, so that he can re-do events and make Avery fall in love with him.

With an overly-familiar premise, the first half of When We First Met trots out like every other time travel-infused romantic comedy, with Noah fumbling his way through an evening he knows backwards and forwards as he tries different ways to make Avery love him, ultimately changing the future for the worse every time. It’s predictable, but certainly not cheesy – instead, it’s witty and likeable, as are our core five characters, especially Noah, and Avery’s cynical best friend Carrie (Shelley Hennig). Writer John Whittington (The LEGO Batman Movie) has created characters that are not only well cast but change organically through the story; there are no big corny dialogue rom-com turning points, and the characters develop gradually, you know, like normal humans do.

You slowly begin to realise that there’s no traditional happy endings on the horizon, and it becomes unpredictable, a fresh, exciting turn that (ironically) you don’t expect from a film like this. It’s still happy, don’t worry, but it’s different, a new take on the friend-zone romance concept that’s both outdated and exhausted. It might come as a bit too much of a surprise – at only 97 minutes, the film’s short runtime does leave its more interesting themes underdeveloped by the time they become more apparent – but When We First Met is still a pleasant surprise populated with refreshing characters, made interesting by nice twists and turns, that is worth the slow burn that it takes to get there.

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For Now

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Four young adults embark on a road trip from LA to San Francisco. there’s Kane (Kane Senes), an Australian filmmaker; his girlfriend Hannah (Hannah Barlow), an actress struggling for her big break; her brother Connor (Connor Barlow), a ballet dancer heading for an audition in San Francisco, and Katherine, a friend who has been crashing on Kane and Hannah’s couch and is starting to wear out her welcome. Kane plans to propose to Hannah when the moment is right, but underlying tensions and unresolved issues between the four might make that impossible.

A semi-autobiographical film shot on a shoe-string budget over the course of seven days, For Now is light on plot but functions well as a “hang-out” movie. It’s mumblecore through and through, adopting the improvisational, unscripted style of the Duplass brothers and Joe Swanberg, with everyone playing analogues of themselves and processing their real world anxieties and interpersonal conflicts for the camera. Whether that’s pretentious is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s worth remembering that these are members of a generation that have grown up in the panopticon of social media – performative behaviour arises naturally out of that environment.

It helps that they’re, by and large, fun to be around – there’s an easy amiability to the proceedings as the quartet cruise through some stunning NoCal landscapes, getting blissfully stoned and doing what millennials do. The comedy is incidental and banter-based, and the whole thing hangs together remarkably well, given that it’s a gestalt of single takes and on-the-fly moments.

It does drag a bit in places – the advantage of a script is that a scene can get to its actual point with economy, and there are times when we have to slog through the improv to reach the crux of the moment. Similarly, there are a couple of points when the drama is a bit beyond the actors’ capabilities in that exact moment, and perhaps an extra take or two would have nailed it. These are hardly deal-breakers, though.

A handcrafted film possessed of easy charm, For Now is definitely worth a look.