The mantra spoken by the female stars of UnREAL in their Season 2 promo could just as easily be Lifetime’s new catch-phrase as they attempt to use this show to rebrand their network based on “Television for Women” as something darker and sexier — hoping to appeal to a wider audience.
When UnREAL premiered on Lifetime last summer no one believed that a show that seemed like nothing more than a parodic meta-commentary on The Bachelor would be anything other than fantasy fodder for lonely housewives desperately searching for a soap opera replacement.
Instead, it’s become a critically acclaimed media sensation, highlighting issues of sexism and racism in the television industry, as well as commenting on the questionable construction of reality TV, and exploring how one might lose their sense of right and wrong in such an environment. Not to mention the complexities of love in romance in the 21st Century — especially when influenced by substance abuse, mental illness, greed, or lust.
It’s fresh, scathing, and binge-worthy.
Created by well-known television writer/producer Marti Noxon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (a former producer on The Bachelor), UnREAL is truly created by strong female showrunners about strong female showrunners and it’s self-reflexiveness and gender commentary is unmatched by any other show on television right now. Shiri Appleby plays Rachel Goldberg, a brilliant producer for a fictional reality romance show Everlasting, who fights continuously between feeling guilty about her manipulative actions and impressing her headstrong, take-no-prisoners, ball-busting boss Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) who wants nothing more than salacious story lines and is willing to ruin anyone to get them.
In Season 1, Rachel finds herself in a love triangle between her cameraman ex-boyfriend Jeremy (Josh Kelly), and the “suitor” of Everlasting Adam (Freddie Stroma), and Quinn herself is the mistress to the married Everlasting creator Chet (Craig Bierko) — all of which must be navigated while puzzling together then meta-romantic story lines of the reality show they produce. However, for what seems like a show about romance and heterosexuality, UnREAL quickly becomes more about the complex relationships between women — the one’s who do the manipulating, the contestants they have control over, and, more importantly, the “romance” between Rachel and Quinn.
By the Season 1 finale all romantic relationships have disintegrated — for Rachel, Quinn, and suitor Adam. At the end of the episode Quinn and Rachel ruminate on the devastation they’ve caused to themselves and everyone around them, and seem to have nothing left but each other and the soul-sucking show they’ve given their lives over to. With dejectedly expressed “I love you”s to each other, the focus on their relationship that appears to permeate Season 2 (if the trailer is any indication) is nicely set up. That moment also highlights for more casual viewers the fact that UnREAL is not actually about how Reality TV producers create fairytale romances, or even a critique of shows like The Bachelor, but is truly a look into these two women and who they choose to be as professionals and people.
But, in following tradition, this female-focused endeavor has raised questions about men’s role, influence, and response: How has a show about real, complex, flawed (and working!) women from the (also) female-focused Lifetime network been able to garner and impress male audiences? Why does this male audience seem so important to the show creators and actors? Is UnREAL promoting more authentic portrayals of women on television? Or is it perpetuating the stereotypes about women’s television and contributing to its delegitimization?
In the Pilot of Season 1 we see Rachel running around the set, unwashed and haggard (as is her usual appearance, a dramatic shift from traditional beauty standards often reinforced on television) donning a sweatshirt that says, “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE.” Perfectly summating the dichotomy of this show, this first impression of Rachel — constantly battling between being a woman who believes in female empowerment and spending every waking moment undermining all of the women around her, and succumbing to the incredibly sexist nature of Everlasting — also provides a fantastic layer of irony.
So, again, how is a meta-reality-romance show that highlights strong-willed women bringing in male audiences and is it changing perspectives about women on television?
Lifetime certainly used overt sexuality and heteronormativity to promote Season 1 of UnREAL, creating posters featuring both Appleby and Zimmer nude. (Also including Josh Kelly despite the fact that he has a relatively small role in the show). This approach suggested to audiences that UnREAL would fulfill their expectations of sex and drama — but then they delivered something so much more: a nuanced portrayal of real women and the personal and professional obstacles they continuously create and have to overcome.
Since the show began to win awards, gain critical attention, and effectively legitimize itself, Lifetime has been marketing Season 2 in a way that is much more true to the actual substance of the show. The promos have been focused solely on Rachel and Quinn and their complete control over Everlasting, featuring one-liners such as “The two of you together are terrifying,” Rachel’s “We don’t solve problems. We make them, and point cameras at them,” and of course Quinn’s “Money, dick, power.”
In an interview with IndieWire Zimmer discusses the way that Lifetime and the creators and actors of UnREAL are helping each other, as Zimmer and Appleby are able to show the rawness and realness of their characters, and in turn the network is able to use the fresh content as part of their rebranding efforts. For example, it was at Zimmer’s insistence that her character say the word “pussy” rather than the sanitized “hoo-ha.”
In fact, in the same interview it’s revealed, “one interesting challenge, put to [Shapiro and Noxon] by Lifetime, was figuring out how to bring in a male audience.” To which Shapiro responded, “That seems pretty hard . . . because that brand is so specific. But the fact that there are men responding to it is just a testament to the hard work that all these guys have done.”
So there was intention on the part of Lifetime to appeal to men.
Is this brasher approach an effort on their part to celebrate a portrayal of complex characters that their female audience can relate to? Or is the intention to convince men of their validity and raise their viewership?
As Professor Kathleen Battles acknowledged, “To me one of the best parts of UnREAL is precisely its consideration of the ways that patriarchy shapes the lives of women, from its unrelentingly cynical take on romance to its consideration of workplace politics.” However, in it’s ability to observe and critique sexism in television through UnREAL, Lifetime somehow still made it all about men: Zimmer notes, “men were ultimately enjoying seeing flawed women. There was really pretty girls who had incredible bodies on our show, but those weren’t the ones people were talking about. People were talking about the ones that were ugly — ugly personalities.” While the promotion of putting more realistic women on television and men’s positive response to characters who are not presented as supermodel-level beautiful are both applause-worthy feats, the implied necessity of male approval for the show’s legitimation leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
UnREAL certainly does seem to be successfully raking in male viewers, though. In just one example, Zimmer recounted an experience at SXSW of a male friend in his 60s who was blown away by the show’s novel exploration of gender politics and suggested that all men should watch it for insight into the female psyche. But, it’s also important to note that he had no intention of ever attending a Lifetime screening at SXSW and only subjected himself to “Television for Women” on Zimmer’s insistence.
The “convincing” of men to watch the show, and their “surprise” at enjoying it seems to be more complicated than creating a wider audience or impressing men with images of real women. As Professor Christine Becker smartly noted, comments from men such as “Who knew I’d like a show on lifetime?” or “I’m actually a guy watching a Lifetime show!” continue to operate under the assumption that television for women couldn’t possibly be insightful in it’s own right, and it’s only through this new approach that male viewership of UnREAL could be as anything more than a guilty pleasure. This way of thinking suggests that it is only when men are watching the show, and enjoying the show, that it has any credibility or legitimacy.
So, what does it mean when a show about women working in television is (unintentionally I assume?) contributing to sexist stereotypes within the industry?
The answer is unclear.
Bierko says: “[UnREAL] is moving women forward in the industry. There’s a whole population of talented women over 28. They actually exist. It takes a long time to affect these changes, but this is a push in the right direction.” And it is bringing much deserved attention to people like Zimmer and her talent. I think it’s excellent that such a greater awareness has been brought all of the outstanding work that the women of UnREAL are doing, both behind and in front of the camera.
However, it’s not a stretch to think that when Quinn raises her fist in the air, displaying her and Rachel’s matching wrist tattoos of “money, dick, power,” that the claim is not only a comment on their professional prowess — but possibly Lifetime’s own new mantra.
Oh my bananas bajeesus. I just finished the episode before the Season 4 finale of Parenthood. I'm literally dying. Of course there's been a whole bunch of shenanigans going on in the show (Drew and Amy getting pregnant and having an abortion - Jesus H!) but no shocker I have been obsessed with Sarah's storyline with Mark and Hank.
Obviously from the last post I made about this show I was team Mark 10000%. But that was when the other options were Sarah alone or Sarah with Seth. And the thing is, I absolutely love Mark as a character and the whole development of their relationship... but that was before Hank came into the picture.
Okay -- even though I can seriously only see this guy as Ray Romano, I am kind of low key obsessed with his character and how his connection with Sarah has developed. He's got this cynical, brooding, artist thing going on (where Mark is more of a sweet, caring, artist) and the way that Sarah has been able to bring him out of his shell and pull some genuine feelings from him actually melts my heart into a pink squishy mess. (And as actually disturbing and painfully weird as it is for me to admit -- Hank has got some tall, dark, and handsome foxiness going on. I can see it.)
I AM STRUGGLING SO HARD. I obviously had been pining so hard for Mark and Sarah to work out - and they did and it was magical! But then Hank was introduced and I found myself wanting him and Sarah to get together so badly. When the engagement with Mark was falling apart I felt so sad for Sarah and how her happy ending was disintegrating, but also it was so cute to see Hank and Sarah actually begin to start a relationship. AND NOW THERE IS PISSING-CONTEST-FIGHT-COMPETITION-MAN-DUEL HAPPENING TO WIN SARAH'S HEART AND I AM LIVING FOR IT.
I have no idea what to think or feel or want. Usually I am solidly on one side or another when it comes to ships on shows, and I've never been so completely on the fence before. This is a brand new feeling for me. I've never seen a love triangle on TV (trust me I've seen many) where I've genuinely liked both options, both people, and the kind of relationships they have with the middle person. I know this is dramatic and I am fangirling to an embarrassing degree, but I'm just having a lot of ~feels~ and I can't articulate them all.
I'm so nervous and excited to watch and see what happens and what Sarah will decide. I also know that no matter what someone I like is going to be sad, and it could even be all three of them, which would be awful. (But also not? Girl power? Feminism? Help!) AND the next episode is a season finale so there is definitely potential for a time jump and oh my god anything can happen with that. I'm so anxious!
I will not be watching the finale tonight because I don't want to torture myself (and also I want to torture myself) so I will save it for a time when I can jump right into the next season after. (Which is another weird OCD habit I have when it comes to TV.) I want more more more but I'm also sad because the more I get the closer I'm getting to the end of the series and I know that's gonna make me so sad.
ANYWAY, I am going to take my dramatic-ass-self to bed and try not to stay up all night thinking about fictional characters lives. I do not predict I will be sucessful. I'll check in with you guys at least once more post-Parenthood. Be prepared for a lot of tears (from me).
As a self-proclaimed fangirl one of my favorite things in the world is getting to see the objects of my affection in the flesh. Since there aren't a whole lot of celebs just walking around my little corner of the world, this means I spend a lot of time at concerts and small shows.
Below are five TV stars (of various popularity) who have shifted their focus to music, and who I've had the unique experience of seeing live. (Stay tuned til the end -- the last one's a doozy!)
Just two days ago at Portland House of Music I had the extremely confusing and time-warping experience of seeing Drake Bell in "concert." A few friends of mine grabbed tickets and I wasn't about to miss a chance to travel back in time to my childhood Nikelodeon days. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Having previously had no freaking idea that Drake Bell even made music I had no inclination as to what kind of show he was going to put on. THEN my friend shared his most recent release with me, a song called Rewind... and the music video which was basically porn. Coupled with the conspiracies I've heard floating around about Mr. DB possibly leaking his own nudes... I was expecting something a little graphic/R&B/intense, if a little laughable.
Well. That is not what happened.
The kid (I say kid because that's what he is in my head despite the fact that he's 32) came out on stage in a red and blue striped polo looking every bit like the Drake we know and love from Drake & Josh. Not only did he look like strange man child with his greasy hair side-parted, but he also stood on stage with nothing and no one else besides his trusty acoustic guitar. Yes, an acoustic guitar.
He proceeded to play 45 minutes of strange sappy folk-y acoustic songs, ended with an encore of the Drake & Josh theme song, and never played nor mentioned Rewind or the fact that he's apparently making two very drastically different types of music.
I don't want to be so harsh as to call him a washed-up child star, but... it wasn't a pretty sight. 10/10 for entertainment value, but that's more due to the disbelief of what we were seeing than the quality of the show.
Honorary Mention: The opener for Drake Bell was Kira Kosarin who apparently also got her start on Nikelodeon much more recently on a show called The Thundermans (never seen it). She's obviously very, very fresh to the scene but low key was a better time. She's young but gives off heavy wannabe-Jojo vibes. I don't hate it.
Speaking of Jojo -- I saw last year at Port City Music Hall, and although she's clearly been recognized far more for being a musician than an actress, I still think she counts. I mean -- Aquamarine and RV are some pretty stellar films, no? Just being in the presence of someone who's been in the presence of Robin Williams is pretty amazing in my book.
She's a complete badass and supremely talented artist and it was one hell of a show she put on. I can't say that I remember every detail because girlfriend is short as hell and so am I, so my view from the back of the venue was not stellar. (Not to mention the few beverages I had...)
Nevertheless I had a fantastic time and I love Jojo's music and all the positive feminine energy she puts out into the world. Queen. QUEEN.
I know, I know. Rick Springfield was a musician way, way before he ever stepped foot in front of a camera. He probably came out of the womb strumming a guitar. HOWEVER, our 80s heartthrob did spend a little bit of time on the small screen -- playing Dr. Drake Sr. on the soap opera General Hospital.
The concert was a time, let me tell you. It was an acoustic set. The audience was compiled of housewives and stay-at-home-moms with an average age of 54, and the set was peppered with long winded stories of yesteryear. There was a slideshow of old photos playing in the background. When he came down into the audience, we were almost trampled by some hot and bothered older ladies. It was a time. It was awesome.
Okay - some might say that Aaron Carter does not count as an actor in any way shape or form. You'd say he's a musician. I'd agree. But he did appear on one very specific television episode that's extremely important to me: the "I Want Candy" episode of Lizzie McGuire
This is all to say, that when I landed at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston in 2016 not only was I excited to see the grown up hot man version of Aaron take his clothes off (youtube videos of his sets prepared me for this inevitability), but I also wanted to see the real life version of the boy I once loved. I was not disappointed.
His shirt did come off. There were two female backup dancers. There was a lot of autotune and some long sad stories. There was a photo taken of the crowd in which I absolutely hid behind my friend so as not to be visible among the 30 other people in the room. I saw Aaron-freaking-Carter.
I went to a Pizza Underground show and to this day it was one of the most unique experience I've ever had. (Also MC walked by me and literally brushed up against my arm and I actually died.) The songs were about pizza. They were giving out actual slices of pizza. The band had some actual instruments made out of trash. The drummer was dressed as Anchovy Warhol. There was a slideshow of cats in the background.
Macaulay Culkin is one of the most peculiar and fascinating people ever seen and I will not ever forget the bizzare and weird and strange and awesome night of the PIzza Underground show. And I will continue to watch Home Alone 2 every winter of my life and will love both versions of this boy/man/child/human.
There you have it - five stars who've hit the stage in my little corner of the universe!
Okay, so when I say parenthood is a time-suck, you might be thinking that I'm a mother. Guess what? I'm not. Although I'm well aware that being a parent is the best way to never have any time ever again. BUT. What's been soaking up all of my minutes lately is the much loved show... Parenthood.
Currently it's been a little over a week and I'm mid-way through Season 3 (I started again from the beginning because that's who I am) and I'm deep in my feels
Parenthood is really a heartwarming show. It tackles so many sensitive topics: Asbergers, infidelity, infertility, adoption, addiction, and of course the trials and tribulations of being parent and part of a family. It might seem dramatic but it gets pretty emotional in a super real way.
Right now I'm super obsessed with Sarah's storyline with her playwriting and relationship with Mark (Mr. Cyr). Not only do I just love Jason Ritter but his English teacher, thoughtful, sensitive, romantic vibe thing he's got going on with this character actually kills me. I'm obsessed. The way that he and Sarah took that 2 year break out of respect for Amber, and how he encouraged and supported Sarah's writing... it's adorable. And it makes me so happy that they were able to come together after all the time apart.
Now, where I'm at in the season there's been some tension in their relationship because Sarah's ex-husband has come back into the picture and she's helping him go through the process of rehab for his addiction issues. If I've ever watched a TV series (I have) I can sense the crash that's coming... if I'm being honest I don't think their relationship is going to survive the deep familial connection that obviously exists between Sarah and Seth. Mark isn't willing to take a backseat to this guy, and I don't blame him at all. He's doing what's best for him. But it makes me super sad that the happily ever after between him and Sarah probably isn't going to happen. I mean obviously there has to be some tension or there isn't a show, but it doesn't mean that I'm not bummed.
When it comes to Seth I don't know how to feel. I think it's a super interesting dynamic to explore his attempt at sobriety and his relationships with his kids, Amber and Drew, but I'm worried about how things might progress with him and Sarah. It's obvious that she desperately wants her family to work. The drama, the chaos, the trauma of the years they spent together are impossible to forget, but the thought that they could actually be a functional, happy family for the first time is appeal to her. Intoxicating, even.
I guess I'll see how this storyline progresses, as I'm sure there will be a lot of twists and turns along the way seeing that I'm not even yet halfway through the series yet, which is almost unbelievable to me.
As for the rest of the various family members I'm intrigued to see what happens with Julia and Joel's adoption plans and Adam and Crosby's new music studio. It's really interesting and kind of badass to see the progression of the music studio and I it's cool to see such a unique profession showed on tv in such a casual way. Plus I'm just pumped up for Crosby to succeed since he's one of my absolute favorite characters (duh, Dax).
Alrighty! Those are the thoughts that I have swirling around in my brain since I've been totally submerged in the world of the Braverman family. I'll keep you posted about what sort of emotional rollercoaster I go on through the rest of the series.
Have you watched Parenthood? Leave your thoughts on the series down below!
And please no spoilers!
Next Day Edit: AH Crosby slept with Jasmine! AH Lily! AH Sarah wants to have a baby with Mark! What a freakin' ride just 3 episodes took me on before posting. I effing love this show.
This post is all about those ladies of television that we know and love and who had to suffer through the epidemic of the late 90s/early 00s "mom" haircut...
These women are hot. They're smokin'. They carry guns. They're moms, they're cops, they slay the boys... SO WHY WERE THEY TORTURED WITH THE EPITOME OF THE 'CAN I SPEAK TO A MANAGER' HAIRSTYLE? Don't get me wrong, I am not passing judgement of the beauty of these actresses or their characters, I just think maybe someone should have put the scissors down.
Let's take a look at some of the most recognizable offenders...
olivia benson - Law & Order SVU
The queen. The legend. Olivia mother-freakin' Benson. She's graced our screens on SVU for nearly 20 years now and she's killed every single second of it. It's no shock that she's had a litany of hairstyles of various lengths in that amount of time - including a striking pixie cut that she pulled off surprisingly well. But alas, Olivia is one of the most memorable wearers of the "mom" haircut. I blame it more on the decade than a true fashion faux pas -- I mean we can't hold 1999 against her -- but it's still fun to look back on the shaggy bob when we're now so used to seeing her long stylish locks.
KATE BECKETT - CASTLE
TARA KNOWLES - SONS OF ANARCHY
Understandably, the hands behind the curtain were trying to soften her character up per the storyline, but it bothered me that they had to give her kind of an awful (sorry!) haircut to literally make her seem more like a "mom." This one can't be blamed on the time period and that's the true tragedy.
DEBRA BARONE - EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND
An oldie, but a goodie. Everybody Loves Raymond was a staple on the screen of my childhood. Ray's wife Debra was one of those classic sitcom moms that lives in your living room and feels like your neighbor. And she looked the part from day one. She wore the cut just like all the other ladies of the 90s who jumped on the style bandwagon, but thankfully add inches to her look as the years went on.
MONICA GELLER - FRIENDS
There some truly classic looks throughout the whole series of Friends, without a doubt. But Monica truly embodied the spirit of the "mom" cut -- in look, in personality, in spirit. She. is. the. mom. cut. It fits, it works, it's true. The epitome of early 90s fashion, and she pulls it off. Dang if I don't love her long hair, but If there is one badass woman I can forgive for this bad hair, it's this lady right here.
So there you have it -- a collage of some pretty cool chicks who all rocked the same questionable look at some point in time. There's no judgement or harm meant here, these are all beautiful women and talented actresses, all jibes in good fun!
Now that Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale is finally upon us, I thought I would blather on a bit about why I love this show so dang much.
When I first started seeing previews for The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu I was intrigued. At first glance I thought it was just another period drama which aren't usually my thing -- but as soon as I discovered that it was set in modern time I was hooked.
Of course, being the bibliophile that I am, I refuse to watch anything that's based on a book until I've read the book first. So I put The Handmaid's Tale on my to-watch list until I could get my hands on Margaret Atwood's masterpiece.
I finally got a chance to dig in on the novel while on vacation in February. It was a quick read, only taking me a day and a half to finish, but I enjoyed every second of it. There is something about the juxtaposition of the archaic and confining "ideals" being set in a post-modern society. It tripped me out, to be honest.
Although Atwood's work was a really intense and fascinating read as a whole and complete story, one reason I was so excited to begin the Hulu show was to see how much they would be able to expand the story past what was in the book -- and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.
The scariest part of The Handmaid's Tale to me is how very tangible and possible the changes brought forth by the new nation Gilead, really are. As a society based on "biblical" and "moral" values (ie misogyny and tyranny) the propaganda used was eerily easy to swallow and not at all unfamiliar.
In the introduction to the novel (added by the author in the 2015 edition) Atwood explains how when writing the book in the 80s she didn't want to push the idea of a new society so far as to become science fiction. Every tool, idea, practice, and horror used in the book was pulled from history. Handmaids. Hangings. Mutilation. Prejudice in all it's forms.
The true terror of The Handmaid's Tale is the mirror it holds up: a vision of humanity's most vicious truths. It has all been done before.
Throughout the novel reader's learn about this new society, get to know the central character June (now Offred) and begin to understand the painful reality of Gilead through her trauma. But there was no resolve. The story was what it was and then it was over. June's life was what it was and then the book concluded. There were no answers.
This is what is so fantastic about the Hulu original series -- we get to see how the rest of the story might have played out. The secondary characters become more full, tell their own stories, and brand new ideas are brought into the fold. There are so many new paths to travel now thanks to the show.
What will happen now that Moira has escaped and has rejoined Luke? How will June navigate her relationship with Nick now that she knows her husband is alive? What kind of trouble will she get into with Mayday? How will her pregnancy play out?
These are exciting questions that we will now get to fully explore where before we could only speculate the way one does when a great book ends. Even the introduction of the Mexican trade deal raises intriguing questions about how this formation of a new nation might cause ripples across the globe.
It's also an excellent way to show just how much the character has changed as a person after everything she's gone through. Despite everything I know, it's still sometimes difficult for me to reconcile that the smiling, giggling, mother June and pale-faced, subservient Offred are one in the same.
Elisabeth Moss is perfection as June/Offred. Her ability to tell a story with the quirk of an eyebrow or the quiver of a lip is astounding. The internal dialogue we get from her character is clever and funny and I think greatly helps viewers remember that this is indeed a post-modern society. Nothing brings you back to the present like a well-timed "fuck" and Tinder reference -- even if she is wearing a bonnet.
The supporting cast is just as amazing -- especially my ladies. I was thrilled to see a couple of my favorites, Samira Wiley and Alexis Bledel. Although very different, they're a couple of badass babes that I'm excited to see on my screen in Season 2. Yvonne Starhovski as Serena Joy and Madeline Brewer as batshit crazy Janine (one of my favorite characters!) are also highlights of the female cast.
I'm pumped up for the next season of The Handmaid's Tale, not only for that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of more story after your favorite book has ended, but also for all of the possibility it holds.
It's one thing to open your eyes to a vicious new world. It's another thing entirely to watch the revolt.
I'll be waiting for the entirety of the second season to conclude before I dive back into the world of Gilead... I just can't bear the idea not bingeing it all at once. From what I hear, it will be well worth the wait.
No Spoilers please!
A few weeks I was in dire need of a feminist pick-me-up, so I dragged myself to theaters to take in Charlize Theron's new kick-ass spy thriller Atomic Blonde. Set in both the Eat & West sides of Berlin during the Cold War, Theron plays an undercover M16 agent, Lorraine Broughton, who is tasked with stealing back a secret list of double agents. If the idea of a tall blonde feminist badass super-spy kicking ass and taking down big burly men while wearing a mini-skirt and 6-inch-heels peaks your interest -- this movie is for you.
On first thought, one might suspect this film of over-sexualizing the lead to entice wider audiences (ahem, men) to a female-driven thriller, or maybe fostering an unbelievable action-driven plot (back to the fist fighting in skin-tight leather) -- but fortunately, and maybe surprisingly, Atomic Blonde did neither.
As Theron explained in this Vogue article, her wardrobe played a huge part in the characterization of Lorraine: "[B]ecause this movie doesn’t have a ton of dialogue or backstory—we don’t ever really explain who she is and where she comes from—Cindy put me in [outfits] that forced me to behave in a certain way." Not only was this a way to for Theron to express Lorraine's inner world though her outer dress, but it was also a way for her to differentiate Atomic Blonde from other male-dominated action thrillers. Her costume designer Cindy Evans was actually the first to suggest that she perform her action scenes while in her fabulous wardrobe. "She was like, 'You know what? We should do a fight scene in 6-inch heels.' And I was like, 'What?' And she was like, 'Yeah, because Bond could never do it—so you have to,' and I was just like, 'Fuck.'"
One of my favorite aspects of this film was how honest it was when it came to the physicality necessary for Theron to play this role, and the toll it would take on the character. Theron trained for months before filming (often alongside Keanu Reeves who was training for a different film at the same gym), and performed almost of all of her own stunts. Theron as producer, along with director David Leitch, was not only dedicated to the authenticity of her fight scenes, but also was adamant about showing visually the effect that these brawls would have on a woman's body.
I love this aspect of the film because it allows you to witness Lorraine as a the badass elite-level spy that she is, but also see her in her most vulnerable state. She may take down robust Russian spies in a trenchcoat and garter belt, but she doesn't come out of it looking fresh as a daisy, that's for sure. When she gets punched, she bruises. When she gets cut, she bleeds. The neon-meets-noir feel of the movie adds to this reality, by implying emotional wounds that match her physical ones.
The cinematography in Atomic Blonde was beautiful -- some scenes so dark and dangerous that you were convinced Theron was the baddest Femme Fatale there ever was, and other's so neon you could feel the mixed vibrations of desperation and reckless hope from your seat in the theater. The wardrobe, mise-en-scene, and soundtrack all worked together to invoke what once "only belonged to ’80s Berlin and David Bowie." In fact, Bowie in voice and spirit was a large part of the film, according to Theron: "[W]e initially went to David Bowie for one of the roles in the film. We really wanted him to be in the movie but unfortunately, he passed on the role, and then he passed away while we were making the film. We were always going to have a bunch of Bowie songs in it; he was just such a part of the conversation in making this film."
If Atomic Blonde was hoping to electrify a sense of nostalgia in their audience while simultaneously making you want to buy a pair of thigh high boots and take up jiu jitsu, they succeeded.
Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel The Coldest City (written by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, 2015) that was brought to Theron's production company, Denver & Delilah Productions. Explained in this Variety article, she was given the then-unpublished manuscript, which became a passion project for Theron that she ended up spending 5 years working on and felt very strongly about producing. A piece of the story that made it into the film, that never existed in the novel, was Lorraine's tryst with French spy Delphine Lasalle, played by Sofia Boutella.
Rather than hiding their sexual relationship, the two are scene very openly together, in a way that managed to be sexy but somehow not come off as a tired plot device. Neither did it seem to be for the sole benefit of male viewers. Theron's opinion is clear in her interview with Variety: "[T]he sex scenes are right out of the 007 playbook, although Theron rolls her eyes at the comparison. “James Bond doesn’t have such hot you-know-what,” she says. “I loved that we didn’t hide under the sheets.”
The director of the film, David Leitch, also gave his interpretation of the relationship to EW, explaining how it's used to show how Lorraine is able to find pockets of connection in the midst of an extremely trying job that hinges on secrecy and obscured identity. He says: "It was more about if you are a spy you will do whatever it takes to get information. Everything is about survival and getting the mission done. And when you are a character like Lorraine, she will find her intimacies and her friendships in small doses, with anyone she can." This relationship is not a fetishized lesbian encounter or superficial eye candy for viewers, but rather further development of Theron's character.
Overall, I found Atomic Blonde to be both a powerful and an empowering film. It fulfilled all of my most adrenaline-pumping expectations of a spy thriller, while also leaving me with the pure joy that comes from watching women kick ass on screen. Yeah, it may have been a few weeks now since this film left theaters, but do yourself a favor and go get it. A must-see in my book.
This past weekend as I was scrolling through Netflix, as you do, and saw that they had added the 2015 thriller No Escape. I remembered watching this movie in theaters when it first came out and being so enthralled. After realizing my roommate had never seen it, we hunkered down for a heart-racing trip that, even the second time around, did not disappoint.
In short, No Escape features Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie (Lake Bell) as a married couple who, with their 2 young daughters, move to a foreign country on the same night a revolution sparks. Finding themselves targeted for execution by the rebels, the film follows the family as they try to escape the country with their lives.
Sure, the premise might sound a little over-the-top to some, but in my opinion the idea was so smartly carried out that it was believable and engaging. I especially loved the casting in this film -- I already loved Owen Wilson and Lake Bell individually, but it was so nice to see them cast in a suspense/thriller where you might normally expect to find a Ben Affleck or Jessica Alba type. The two are so often seen in comedies (this was Wilson’s first dramatic role since 2001) or as secondary characters (Bell as the friend Tipper in What Happens in Vegas is one my all time favorite movie besties), so it was refreshing to see their more serious acting chops brought to the forefront. Bell’s performance as the petrified but determined mother was easily one of the best aspects of this movie for me and I so love how she had the opportunity to show off her skills to a wider audience than might already have known her.
If you’re not immediately familiar with No Escape, you might remember the previews from a few years ago that featured Wilson throwing a little girl over a rooftop to her mother. It was a jarring few seconds that pulled my heart into my throat and made this movie a must-see for me. The idea that someone might be in such horrific danger that their best and only option is to THROW THEIR CHILD OFF OF A ROOF is one of the more gripping things I’ve seen on screen in recent years. It pulls you in so successfully that you almost feel like it’s your own flesh and blood who is in imminent danger and you have to make sure they are going to be okay.
This movie had the most beautifully shot cinematography and editing choices. The fast-paced, heart-racing moments of intensity one after the other are balanced out with slower, silent minutes that were still emotionally charged. Chaos followed by quiet panic, highlighting the reality of the situation. This was specifically charged during scenes where the family was hiding and the camera would show the feet of their potential captors walking around from their perspective. These clever camera angles and the use of slo-mo definitely upped the ante. As a viewer I was always in suspense of what was going to come around the next corner, or what the camera would pan to next. It was fascinating to experience this same suspense from my couch, already knowing what would happen, as it did the first time in the theater -- the true test of it’s success for me.
For a movie that might not have the most believable circumstances it still managed to portray a genuine sense of urgency. Of course, there are those moments in these types of films where a bullet is conveniently dodged or help turns up at the exact right moment, and you want to scream “yeah right” at the TV. Those few scenes in No Escape were balanced out by moments where characters, mostly Wilson’s Jack, would take a wrong turn or run into danger that was so obviously the dumbest move he could make, but still managed to be believable as a disoriented and panicking American in the midst of foreign terror. The combination of these made the film feel real. In that same vein, there were moments when they really delved into the trauma of the moment, without making it seem too exaggerated or “extra.” For instance, when the younger daughter has to urinate in her pants while they were hiding from gunmen, or towards the end of the movie where Jack is so tired and disoriented that he just can’t make himself take another step.
Political commentary in the film was nicely done, hitting on some hot-button political and philosophical ideals that I would say are even more relevant today than they were when the film premiered. There are obviously serious representations of violence in this film, not only the perilous situations that the family is put in, being shot at, attacked, hunted, etc. but the representation of the conflict in general showed the chaotic, harsh, and sometimes gory realities of a nation in revolt.
In an article published by the New York Post, the very real dangers of making this movie were highlighted. During production in Thailand, where their own political unrest was occurring, Wilson said, “we had had to be done filming by a certain time, because they didn’t want our movie riot to touch off a real one.” I’m sure the seriousness of that worry bled into the acting and lent a sense of authenticity to the scenes. Again, Wilson said himself, “It helped to film this movie where we did. It’s easier to sell the idea that you’re confused and don’t know what’s going on, because that’s oftentimes how you feel when you’re traveling in strange places.”
Despite how easy it might be to divide this film into “good guys” and “bad guys,” -- the nice American family vs. the awful people trying to kill them -- the reality is not always that black and white. For example, there are moments in the film where native rebels show small moments of kindness to the family, or at least not overt disdain. There is an especially poignant scene in which mysterious operative-like man named Hammond (played by Pierce Bronson and not entirely unlike James Bond himself) says to Jack: “These people are trying to protect their families much like you are.” He goes on to explain how the two of them have played a part in the events that led to the revolution, either knowingly or otherwise. These gray areas make the film so much more emotional when you’re forced to acknowledge the circumstances that have pushed the rebels toward violence, and also how Jack’s own hands are not blood-free.
Yes, there is an element of enjoyable suspense to this film, and yes, it tells a dramatic family story, but for me the takeaway was greater than that. This kind of conflict is always much larger and much more complicated than the bad guy pointing a gun at the good guy.
No one is all one or the other and everyone is just trying to protect the people they love.
Okay, so it's just about Valentine's Day... and that means it's time to wax nostalgic about one of my favorite romantic movies.
Sure, it's from 1999. Sure, the wardrobe is rough at best. Sure, there's no nudity. Nonetheless, I find it quirky and warm and delightful, and it's what I'll be curling up with on February 14th.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all about contemporary “romcoms” featuring A-list stars in minimal clothing: Sandra Bullock on one knee in front of Ryan Reynolds, Katherine Heigl showing off hideous bridesmaid dresses, JT’s tush all up in Mila Kunis’s business— I’m there. But, if I’m looking for something that incites nostalgia for pre-technology romance and some weathered good looks, Runaway Bride is my pick.
I assume many people haven’t heard of this movie, haven’t watch it, or have no desire to see it again. I get it, there’s a subdued-ness about it, it’s not flashy or in your face or particularly exciting. But I do think it’s worthy of appreciation on a day dedicated to romance, even if — gasp! —there’s no sex.
Runaway Bride, where Julia Roberts plays Maggie Carpenter, a cheeky small-town woman with a habit of leaving men at the altar — even if she has to flee via dirt bike, horse, or FedEx truck. Richard Gere plays the role of Ike Graham, a pompous NYC newspaper columnist who exaggerates an article about Maggie in a moment of deadline-induced panic, and is subsequently fired by his boss/ex-wife. Seeking vengeance, Ike travels to Maggie’s rural Maryland hometown to “interview” her and fiancee #4, in hopes of writing a career-redeeming article. As you might assume, everyone gets more than they bargained for.
Here’s 10 Reasons why this movie is my go-to Valentine’s Day pick:
1. Julia Roberts.
2. Richard Gere.
3. Obviously my love for this movie stems from my own personal experience with it. It’s a sentimental thing for me. My mom used to play it when I was a kid and it was one of the only movies we had on VHS. I used to tingle with excitement every time I heard the music from the opening credits playing (more on that later), and even years later when I see the movie poster or sit down to watch it again, I’m filled with comfort and nostalgia both for the pre-technological romance of late 90s romance, and of my own childhood.
4. Again. It’s Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Is it even possible to not love them?? Anything the Pretty Woman duo does together is perfection in my book. They’re on-screen chemistry is visceral and even 9 years older than the infamous Edward and Vivian, the two are looking fiiiine. (And if it helps, Gary Marshall directed both, so obviously he knew what he was doing.)
5. From the film's setting to the characters professions to supporting roles, this movie is anything but stereotypical. It’s refreshing to put this on and not see the same story that’s been played out a million times. Sure, Maggie has 3 ex-grooms she’s run away from, which has been done in some variation again and again, but, I mean, come on… a mechanic, a catholic priest, and an entomologist? I’m here for that. Rather than some swanky bar or hipster apartment, we get run-ins at Maggie’s hardware store, the local bakery and salon, and unannounced visits in each other’s homes, and… a pre-wedding luau in a barn? Yes, please.
6. Runaway Bride also has a stellar supporting cast, including the quirky, salon-owner Peggy “Not The Ice Skater” Fleming (Joan Cusack) as Maggie's Best friend, and slick GQ photographer Fisher (Hector Elizondo) who play’s Ike’s ex-wife’s new husband and, somehow, his friend. With a cast of small-town characters including Maggie’s grooms and her family, as well as some cold New Yorkers (the recurring sidewalk t-shirt salesman, for example), the secondary roles are truly the hidden gems of this film.
7. The lack of tech in this movie adds to it’s 90s feel-good vibes for me — the only screens we really see are black NY flip-phones, Ike scribbles article ideas on bar napkins, and the the two main characters begin their communication through columns printed in a major newspaper. Instead of bar-hopping or texting we get night walks through snake-infested fields, and stealing cassette tapes from hotel rooms. These authentic interactions are refreshing and add a sense of closeness to their burgeoning romance. Instead of sub-tweeting each other or posting jealousy-inducing Facebook posts, we get arguments in a field lit with tiki torches and gifting running sneakers as a proclamation of love. It’s old, but it feels new.
8. One of the reasons why I truly love this movie is the script — the dry one-liners that hit my funnybone just right. Some faves:
9. The soundtrack in this movie is PHENOMENAL — the highlights for me being “Maneater” by Hall & Oates , “Ready to Run” and “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Dixie Chicks. Okay, yeah, there are a few montages in this movie, I’ll admit. But how can you not break out in genuine glee when you see Julia Roberts galloping across a field on horseback, wedding gown flying in the wind, with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” playing in the background? Answer: You can’t.
10. If we want to get real, the thing that I really appreciate about this film is the way it ends. Yes, it follows the traditional romcom trope of a big catastrophe before the grand reunion, as well as what script-consultant and screenwriting expert Pilar Alessandra once defined on her podcast as the “I hate you, but I love you” romcom. However, I still think it has some feminist redeeming qualities. If we wanted to get truly vomit-inducing romantic, Maggie would have succumbed to her love of Ike and let a marriage between the two of them save her from being “profoundly and irreversibly screwed up.” But [SPOILER ALERT] she doesn’t. Despite the love between them, Maggie takes time for herself, figures out what kind of eggs she likes when not in a relationship, follows and succeeds at her professional dreams, and discovers within herself why she hasn’t been able to make it down the aisle. And only then, once she has stood on her own two feet and gained self-awareness and independence, can she offer herself to Ike.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
You can watch the trailer for Runaway Bride here.
I would like to preface this post with a disclaimer: I am a Kristen Stewart fan.
And it has nothing to do with Twilight.
I think that Kristen gets a super bad rap because of a poorly written and poorly made young adult franchise that skyrocketed into a global obsession (for whatever reason) and she is not given nearly enough credit for many of her other, excellent roles. (As Joan Jett in The Runaways, for example. But we’ll get to that later.)
So, I was strolling through new releases on Netflix the other day and I saw a thumbnail of Kristen Stewart in army fatigues and was immediately intrigued. The film turned out to be Camp X-Ray, made in 2014, in which Kristen’s character Army Private first-class Amy Cole is placed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay detention center 8 years post-9/11.
I don’t think it’s a secret that KStew thrives in gritty roles and that she’s an actress much more suited to play a grungy tomboy than the girl next door, and in my opinion she was cast perfectly as a tightly-wound servicewoman in an environment that can only be described as slightly better than hell. Long story short, she develops a relationship with a Muslim detainee who has been declared innocent of all crimes and yet is still forced to live out the rest of his days in the purgatory that is Guantanamo.
There are a crapload of heavy topics that are covered in this movie: terrorism, white supremacy, misogyny, sexual assault in the military, religious prejudice, human isolation, and the true definition of an enemy. I found this to be an incredibly satisfying watch, at first quiet in its contemplation and later gutting in its awareness. So much of the story was told through body language and facial expressions and Kristen truly carried the film on her back. She is constantly criticized for her lack of expression or emotion, and yet she perfected the nuanced physicality necessary for the telling of this story to succeed.
Although this film was made and released several years ago and it’s directly connected to 9/11, it still feels deeply current and relevant to the complexities of racial & cultural oppression that we’re experiencing as a country. It examined tolerance, or lack thereof, and human connection across massive boundaries: including the literal cement walls that protected Cole from the “dangerous detainee” Ali Amir, the figurative boundaries between two feuding cultures, and the extreme power dynamics that exist between inmate and guard.
Despite these barriers, Cole was able to form a bond with Amir as they discussed poetry and puzzles and Harry Potter, and brought small snippets of joy into the void around them. This movie could easily have slid toward an unbelievable, sensationalized, and sugarcoated feel-good ending that could not have been taken seriously. Thankfully, it managed to stick closely to the truth of existence in this very real place.
I don’t want to give away how the story concludes, but viewers are definitely left with the knowledge that this one connection between two people had no effect whatsoever on the inevitable trajectory of their lives. This was not a story of revolution, of resistance, or of justice. Rather, it was a small peek into the complexity of human connection in a very specific setting, for a very specific amount of time. Take from that what you will.
Having watched this movie, my love of Kristen Stewart was that much more solidified, and again I felt a wave of rage that some of her most incredible performances go unknown or unappreciated.
For example, the 2010 indie-drama Welcome to the Riley's where she plays a hard-ass teenage stripper who bonds with a couple who have lost their daughter. Again, Kristen thrives as a cold, gritty, and tousled character.
Another often overlooked role of Kristen's was her portrayal of Joan Jett in The Runaways, a film immortalizing Jett's successful all-girl rock band of the 70s -- also starring the fabulous Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. My love of this movie is far too deep to fully encapsulate here in a few sentences, but I will say that it's a peek into a very specific world in a way that is just as raw as it is weird and amazing. Kristen is about as close to the perfect Joan Jett as you can get without actually being Joan Jett and she should get some gosh darn props for this role, and all of the others, that prove she is a talented and hardworking actress who should be respected as such.
So please, for all that is good and holy, throw out your misdirected and outdated judgments of this top notch actress and hop on Netflix or Amazon or anywhere you have to in order to see these movies and appreciate the Kristen Stewart that I am unapologetically obsessed with.
Watch the trailer for Camp X-Ray here.
SCREENFEELS is a platform for me, Kassie, to talk about all things screen-related!
This is where I rant about the things I'm watching (Ramblings), post random media-related lists I find interesting (Friday Five) and occasionally write something coherent and thoughtful (Reviews).