Review: The Following

MV5BMTUxNTk0MjUwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE4MDc2NDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_I’ve decided to use my first television review to honor one of my favorite shows: “The Following.” If “Doctor Who” didn’t exist, “The Following” would surely earn the place of being my all-time favorite show. Even so, it’s creeping its way up the ladder (especially after Season 8 of “Doctor Who,” but we’ll get to that later).

“The Following” is a dark drama that follows our rebellious, damaged hero, Ryan Hardy (played by the main man, himself, Kevin Bacon), as he assists the FBI with their manhunt for the charming, infamous serial killer and “cult leader,” Joe Carroll (played by the incredibly talented James Purefoy), who has escaped from prison. Over the course of its three seasons, “The Following” continues to provide surprising twists; introduce new, intriguing characters; and, given the dark nature of the show, provoke the sinister feeling that anything can happen. No one is safe, including many of our main characters. Though the series was canceled after three seasons, I would (and do) still recommend it to as many people as possible. Despite the abrupt halt, it’s worth your time, and, unlike many other shows that have ended unexpectedly, it still manages to leave us with a fairly satisfying conclusion.

The first thing that struck me as intriguing about “The Following” was how unique the story is. I’ve truly never seen anything like it, and with the plethora of available media these days, that’s not an easy feat. Aside from the invigorating plot, however, what continuously impressed me about this show was the amazing quality and incredible talent of everyone involved. After “The Following,” I now have many new favorite actors, and given their talent, I’m shocked that I had never heard of many of them prior to the show. Everyone knows Kevin Bacon rocks, and Shawn Ashmore has always been an old favorite of mine, since “Animorphs” and the “X-Men” films, but this show introduced me to a lot of new (or at least new to me) faces. James Purefoy, Valorie Curry, and Sam Underwood, in particular, have become some of my favorite actors, and I’m always anxious to see what new projects they may be working on (such as the beautiful short film “Bus Stop,” starring Sam and Valorie, created by Jamie Sims. Seriously, check that out like now: https://vimeo.com/106475235). I also believe that having such amazing talent from every actor involved has to be a sign of a good Director, so props to Marcos Siega for that.

Another aspect of “The Following” that blew me away was the writing. First of all, it can be tough to follow a story with so many characters, but the show never left me confused as other shows sometimes do. For example, in the recent seasons of “Vampire Diaries,” I often find myself sitting down to watch a new episode and I can’t remember what’s going on in the story because everything is too complicated and there are too many characters to follow. With “The Following,” however, not only was I never confused about the rabbit trails that were taken, but I actually cared about them. Even the smallest of characters, such as one of Joe Carroll’s loyal followers who is only on screen long enough to sacrifice themselves for him, were intriguing enough to make me wonder about who they were and how they got there. The writers of “The Following” were great at creating intricate back-stories for all of their characters, and those back-stories were always revealed at the perfect moments, little by little, just when we were starting to want to know more about them.

I think the biggest challenge the writers faced (and conquered), however, was the challenge of creating and maintaining a character that is so absolutely abhorrent, arrogant, psychopathic, and frightening… and yet, we still kind of like him…. We still kind of want Joe to “win” in some way. We still kind of don’t want him to go to jail, and we still kind of want him and Ryan to be BFFs and have sleepovers together. And the best part is, the writers didn’t just accomplish this once, but many times. At least in my opinion, they succeeded at maintaining this fragile balance with Joe, Luke, and Mark. Not to mention side characters that evoked such emotions, such as Emma, Jacob, Daisy, and probably many others that I can’t remember at the moment. That idea of creating a villainous character that everyone loves and feels some compassion for intrigued me so much, as a writer, that it inspired me to take on the challenge myself, which lead to the accomplishment of a goal I’ve been working toward my entire life: successfully finishing a novel of which I’m proud and my family enjoys. For that, I cannot thank the creators of “The Following” enough. I needed that inspiration to get back into the writing world, and it has since grown and developed into a deep passion that has become a core piece of who I am. Writing is in my blood; it’s who I am, and in the words of Joe Carroll, “I am inevitable.”

So, overall, watching (and re-watching… and re-watching) “The Following” has been an immense pleasure. It’s become an important part of my life and something I want to share with those close to me. If you have Netflix, you can start binge-watching now. Or, if you’re like me and already love the show, you can buy the entire series now, on DVD/BluRay! Also, if you feel like getting me a Christmas present, you can use this as a helpful guide.

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Review: The Intern

The-Intern-Movie-PosterOne of my favorite ways to enter into a film-watching experience is with completely neutral expectations. It’s tough to accomplish that, but it helps if you choose a movie you don’t know anything about and for which you haven’t seen any trailers. “The Intern” falls under this category, for me, as it was a suggestion by my mother, and I had never heard of it when I arrived at the theater.

The reason I enjoy having neutral expectations is because I feel that my post-film opinions will be more accurate and less biased. That being said, I greatly enjoyed “The Intern.” Obviously Robert De Niro is fantastic, as is Anne Hathaway, and their chemistry on screen was easy and believable. The characters were intriguing and unique, the story itself was something very different from anything I’ve seen lately, and overall, everything about the movie just worked.

Something I’d like to address is the obvious underlying theme of feminism in this film. Now, as someone who cringes when she reads that word, due to the incredibly vast amount of negative experiences I’ve had with such individuals, I have to say that my feelings toward the many feminist comments in “The Intern” definitely surprised me. I never thought I would come away from a film that I would describe as having an “obvious underlying theme of feminism” and still have a positive view, not only of the film as a whole, but of the expressed views, themselves. On several occasions, I was nodding along with whatever comment was being expressed and muttering to myself “that’s what feminism should look like.” So, aspiring (or already self-proclaimed) feminists, watch “The Intern” and take notes.

For example, one of my favorite scenes in “The Intern” was the bar scene, in which Jules (Hathaway) is having a conversation with Ben (De Niro) and several of the young, male interns/employees from her company. She goes on a bit of tipsy rant about the way our society has begun referring to “girls” as “women” and to “men” as “boys.” She talks about how nurtured young girls are as they grow up, being constantly encouraged about their potential and strength and how they can do anything boys can do. Meanwhile, our young men have kind of gotten the short end of the stick. This is an opinion I’ve had for years, not just in relation to gender, but to any sort of social justice issue that has two definable “sides,” neither of which being better than the other.

For example, thin versus curvy. I was always thin growing up, and I grew up in a family of a lot of curvy people. Right around my teenage years is when the epidemic of promoting curves began. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a curvy person about her body, but why, oh why, does it have to be at the expense of the opposition? Why have I heard so many men say things like this to curvy women, to boost their self-esteem: “I’d rather have a girl with curves, anyway! You don’t wanna be skin and bones and have no boobs. Gross!” (Yeah, yeah, that’s not how men talk, but you get what I mean.) It’s as if in order to encourage and build up one group of people, we have to neglect and put down the other. That’s just ridiculous. And as women, I think it’s a mindset we really need to work on changing. Think about how many times you’ve felt better about yourself because of someone else’s weakness. Have you ever gone to the drugstore in sweats and felt terrible about your appearance until you saw someone else who looked even worse than you? Can’t you see how sad that is? It’s sad because, firstly, you shouldn’t be judging your self on a comparison scale anyway, because you are 100% unique. There is no one in the world like you, so comparisons are frivolous. And secondly, it’s sad because it reaffirms in our minds the idea that we want other women to fail, to be less pretty than us, to be less successful than us, otherwise we can’t be happy. I think, in general, we all, men and women alike, could use to work on the balance of being able to be happy for someone else (even someone who has more than you) and happy for ourselves at the same time.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. Well, that one, at least. Another reason I enjoyed the scene in the bar so much is because it depicted a self-proclaimed feminist standing up for the rights and privileges of men, which is something I’ve never seen before. Now before I get a bunch of feminists flocking to my door to tell me how wrong I am, I didn’t say it’s never happened; I said, in all of my many personal experiences in this department, I’ve never seen it. It was a refreshing anomaly to see someone who claims to fight for equality (not just women’s rights) actually doing it.

The rest of the film definitely addressed some other feminist-like issues, such as the women at Jules’ daughter’s school judging her for being a working mother (an issue that Ben resolved greatly in an epic moment that made you want to yell, ‘BOOM! Face!” at the screen), but it was all done very well and tastefully. Also, as a… we’ll say “feminism skeptic” like myself, I think the fact that the bar scene was so early on in the film was fortunate. It set the tone for the rest of the film, essentially saying, “Yes, we are going to talk about feminism, but it’s going to be different than what you’ve heard in the past, so hang in there.” At least, that’s what the scene accomplished for me. If you already have positive views of feminism, you wouldn’t need that scene to be able to enjoy the film, but some people might need a little bit of encouragement to get on board.

Another thing I want to address is a bit of a spoiler, so if you’re planning to see this movie and you don’t want to know how it ends, maybe skip this paragraph. There’s a great scene, near the very end of the film, in which Jules discusses with Ben the fact that her husband is having an affair. It’s a sweet, real moment as they sit in her hotel room and talk about the situation. I loved how open and honest she is about her feelings, acknowledging that despite her anger, she feels partly responsible because of the success and responsibility her company has brought, taking time away from their marriage. The writing in that scene is fantastic, because everything she’s feeling is completely relate-able and we feel for her having to admit those feelings aloud. It’s also another great moment for Ben to step in and save the day, reminding her that she shouldn’t have to apologize for the success that she’s worked so hard for, and, more importantly, she absolutely shouldn’t have to apologize for her husband choosing to have an affair.

Overall, I thought “The Intern” was a great film. It had well-established, strong, interesting characters and a story that was real, heartwarming, and easy to connect with. On top of all of that, it goes deeper than just warm and fuzzy by addressing some important, valuable lessons and issues in our society that we have likely all experienced in some capacity. If you’re looking for a way to spend your weekend, try to catch “The Intern” in theaters before it leaves. It’ll be worth it.

Review: No Escape

downloadAfter deciding to jump back into the blogging world (you can easily tell from my previous movie review of “Annabelle” that it’s been about a year), I started thinking about what to write. Looking back over my previous posts, I was reminded of how much I enjoy reviewing films, so I searched my mind for any particularly good (or particularly bad) films I’ve seen lately, and I remembered “No Escape.”

From the minute the credits began rolling at the conclusion of the film, I said, “That was the best movie I’ve seen in a really long time.” Unfortunately, I don’t think the trailers did this movie justice, as I very nearly almost didn’t see it. Thankfully, my husband made the suggestion one night, and I was bored, so I figured what the heck. I had mediocre expectations for this film, but even if my expectations had been much higher, I still believe it would have exceeded them.

Watching “No Escape” is an almost unbearably intense experience. It’s one of those movies in which, once the screen goes black and the credits appear, you realize you haven’t been breathing for the past hour and a half. I found myself taking deep, calming breaths from the theater, to my car, and all the way back to my house. I believe the intensity of the film hits you hard and stays with you long after the credits roll because the writing and direction were absolutely fantastic. Drew and John Erick Dowdle have created a story that is so raw and real, one which takes real-life situations that simultaneously tug at our heartstrings and illicit unnerving fear. The rooftop scene was intense. The realism of the simple worries of children, such as being hungry or needing to go to the bathroom was heart-wrenching. The (spoiler alert) almost-rape scene undoubtedly had every woman in the theater clenching their legs shut in anxious anticipation. All of these moments, and more, were so powerfully relateable and came alive through the help of talented actors and good direction by John Erick Dowdle. Although the film is much more “action” than “horror,” and there aren’t many “jump” scenes involved, there is an underlying fear that grips you tightly throughout the entire story.

Another reason I believe “No Escape” succeeded at inciting very powerful, realistic fear is because of some great casting decisions. I have to admit, when I saw the previews for this movie, I thought, “Owen Wilson? Really?” I love the guy, but I’ve never seen him in this type of a role before, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that he could handle it. After watching the film, however, I realize that casting a more “Average Joe” kind of guy to play the lead role was brilliant. It goes back to the fact that the reason the story is so powerful is because you, as a viewer, are bombarded with the constant, unnerving idea that “this could happen to anyone.” Being that the story follows an average dad traveling with his family for his somewhat average job, I think it’s more than fitting that the “hero” in the tale be an average guy. So, seriously, well done on that casting choice.

Another thing that I enjoyed about the writing: in the midst of all of this fear and chaos and quick-decision-making, a dad still has to be a dad and a mom still has to be a mom. The children in this story were in that perfectly frustrating age-range in which they understand that something bad is going on and they should be afraid, but they’re not fully aware of the danger of the situation. I loved that Owen Wilson’s character, Jack, continuously pushed his wife to be more brutally honest with their kids about what was happening, because they needed to know. As it was said on my favorite BBC show, “Doctor Who,” “Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster and cleverer and stronger.” Those kids needed fear, and Jack made sure they had the appropriate amount, not too much and not too little. Though fear is important, I also enjoyed the fact that the writers never let us forget that we are watching a family, not just a group of strangers banding together for survival, and every family has their own form of humor. One of my absolute favorite moments in the film was after the infamous “rooftop scene.” The family is gathered together on the ledge of a building as mom and dad try to figure a way out of this situation, and one of their young daughters says she’s hungry. Mom and dad exchange a heartfelt glance, knowing they can’t provide her with the food she needs. After a short moment, Jack simply replies with the ever-so-classic, “Hi Hungry, I’m Dad.” It was a brilliant moment, reminding us of every struggle these parents are going through, because this isn’t just about staying alive; it’s about keeping their sanity, staying as positive as possible, and making sure their children will be okay once all of this is over.

Overall, “No Escape” was an incredible film in many ways. I can’t think of anything lacking in the story, and although it is one of those films that makes you say, “That was great, but I don’t want to watch it again,” after a few months of recovery, I’m itching for the day it is released on DVD/Blu-ray. It’s one for the Christmas list, this year. 5 stars.