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.