Trailer: Set it Up

Posted on May 23, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Coming to Netflix June 14, 2018 — “Set it Up,” the story of two assistants to highly demanding bosses who decide to “Parent Trap” them into falling in love so they won’t be so demanding. Cute idea and two stars from one of my favorite films from 2016, “Everybody Wants Some!!” — Zoey Deutsch and Glen Powell.

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Webseries: An Emmy for Megan

Posted on May 2, 2018 at 9:33 am

I love “The Good Place.” And An Emmy for Megan, a new web series by “Good Place” writer Megan Amram is very meta, very charming, and a lot of fun, with some surprising guest appearances, and a very clever take on awards-bait programs. (With a very dark turn in Episode 6). One of my favorites is episode 4.  If they ever give out Emmys for best smile, she’s got a lock.

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Modern Life is Rubbish

Posted on April 25, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 27, 2018

Copyright 2018 Serotonin Films
“Modern Life is Rubbish,” named for the song by Blur, is a slight but sweet update to the classic boy meets girl story. What it lacks in originality it almost makes up for with its exceptionally appealing actors and a soundtrack featuring Radiohead, Stereophonics, the 1975, The Vaccines, Warpaint, The Libertines, and Mt Wolf, all very suitable for a story about a couple brought together by music. It’s like a lower grade “High Fidelity” with a touch of “When Harry Met Sally.”

Liam (Josh Whitehouse, who does play music in real life) meets Natalie (Freya Mavor) in a record store, where he tries to talk her out of buying Blur’s “Best of” album: “It’s cheating. It’s like a shortcut to enlightenment.” “Do you work here?” she asks, before telling him that she already has all the other albums he is urging on her and is buying this one because it is the only way to get the special live acoustic version of “On Your Own.” In other words, she is his dream girl. But she leaves the store without his getting her number.

But we know there is a romantic falling-in-love montage ahead with an impeccably curated musical score as they fall in indie music love and are just plain heart-meltingly adorable. Until life intervenes, Liam’s promises that he will be a big rock star seem increasingly implausible, and someone, probably the member of the couple who is not in the band, has to get a regular old job to pay the rent. In other words, it is time to grow up.

But Liam is, as we saw in the record store, a purist, and cannot sully himself by working for The Man or buying any of The Man’s enlightenment-preventing products, like, for example, an iPod. Music should be on albums you can hold in your hand, with artistic statements in their cover designs and meaningful liner notes. Natalie, who once dreamed of creating album covers (Michael Beck’s job in “Xanadu,” as I recall), goes to work for The Man-iest of The Man jobs — advertising. Each begins to resent the other. They break up and have to go through all the stuff they have accumulated together, each one bringing back memories of better times.

Director Daniel Jerome Gill relies too much on the music to do the work, and the secondary characters are not as colorful as he hopes they are. But Whitehouse and Mavor have great chemistry and give their thinly written characters charm and energy, which keeps us on their side through very predictable ups and downs.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and explicit sexual situations (no nudity).

Family discussion: Why was Liam so opposed to new technology? What does it mean to sell out?

If you like this, try: “High Fidelity” and “Bandslam”

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Posted on April 23, 2018 at 6:57 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Issues of non-gender-conforming adolescence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie (gender and ethnicity)
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2018
Copyright 2018 Mass Ornament Films

Trans kids generally know who they are, even when they are very young. They don’t tell their families they want to be a gender different from their body parts. They say they are that gender, and it is usually their families who have to reframe their understanding of the boy or girl they thought they had. Even the most certain of children and the most understanding and supportive of families face a wrenching challenge as the child approaches adolescence. Do you block puberty with medication to preserve the child’s choices about gender until age 18? Secondary sex characteristics for the wrong gender can be intensely traumatic. But the medication can have side effects.

“They” and “their” are the preferred pronouns for the lead character, known just as J, and played by a trans actor named Rhys Fehrenbacher. J is a young teenager who is having an adverse reaction to the puberty blockers and has to decide what to do. J’s parents are away caring for another family member, their return home delayed, and J’s brisk but not uncaring sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her Iranian boyfriend, Araz (Koohyar Hosseini) have come to stay with J until their parents return.

Writer/director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh gives the film a lyrical, meditative quality. J’s parents, sister, Araz, and doctor are all understanding and supportive, if distracted. They are all so accepting that no one seems to think J might need to talk about the momentous decisions they are confronting.

We see J reciting Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, The Mountain:

I do not mean to complain.
They say it is my fault.
Nobody tells me anything.
Tell me how old I am.

The deepest demarcations
can slowly spread and fade
like any blue tattoo.
I do not know my age.

We see many moments in nature, as though to locate J’s transitions within the context of the natural world. Lauren and Araz are both preoccupied with their own personal and professional liminal challenges as well. There is also a long, seemingly improvised section that takes place in the home of one of Araz’s relatives, with Lauren and J at a large family party. Throughout, it almost seems as though we are eavesdropping on bits and pieces of the J’s world.

That is not always successful, and some of the choices are heavy-handed. But thankfully, it is not didactic or preachy. J may not know what they want, but Ghazvinizadeh has confidence that they will make the right choice, and trusts us to root for them.

Parents should know that this movie deals obliquely but frankly with issues of non-binary gender.

Family discussion: How do the boys with the bicycle feel about J? What should J do?

If you like this, try: the “I am Jazz” series on television

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