PaleyFest L.A. 2018: New The Handmaid’s Tale Footage Finds Offred Navigating the “Privileges” Motherhood Offers Her

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 18 (L-R): Amanda Brugel, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley, and Madeline Brewer arrive at PaleyFest LA 2018 honoring The Handmaid's Tale, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 18, 2018 in Hollywood, California.

(L-R): Amanda Brugel, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley, and Madeline Brewer arrive at PaleyFest LA 2018

Yesterday was the PaleyFest L.A. session for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the highlight of the event was the footage they screened from the upcoming season. In it, we got a glimpse of where June’s story ended up after being loaded into the back of a black van, and Emily not faring too well in the Colonies. Season Two is gonna be amazing. [SPOILERS FOR THE HANDMAID’S TALE]

The three scenes that were screened were prefaced by a video greeting from Elizabeth Moss who, unfortunately, couldn’t attend the event, because she was still shooting for the last couple of episodes of Season Two. Still, she seemed excited that we were getting to see the new footage.

Handmaids Punished for Their Defiance

So, remember when Janine (Madeline Brewer) was about to be stoned by the Handmaids for kidnapping her own child, but then June/Offred (Elizabeth Moss) led a moment of resistance when she dropped her stone to the ground saying “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia,” inspiring others to do the same? You didn’t think that was going to go unpunished, did you?

The first scene screened was one in which Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has the Handmaids outside in a circle on their knees. In the rain. She has forced them each to hold a stone out the way they did when they dropped them to the ground in support of Janine, but not drop it. As she circles the women, randomly poking them with her electric baton at will, she preaches to them about the dangers of thinking they know better than God. As we watch the women shivering, their arms straining with the weight of their stones, their clothes drenched, we come to Offred’s face, and she is furious.

Suddenly, another Aunt arrives and whispers something to Aunt Lydia, changing her mood completely. She has just been told that Offred is pregnant! She stops her punishment because she’s so overjoyed by this miracle. As she helps Offred to her feet, she demands that the other Handmaids shout praise to the Lord’s mercy.

Offred looks at Aunt Lydia with disgust…but now she has a card to play.

Alexis Bledel as Emily in

image: Hulu

Emily in The Colonies

We’ve already gotten a preview image of Emily (Alexis Bledel) in the Colonies, but PaleyFest got to see her introduction play out. While it’s unclear what work these banished women are actually doing, it’s clear they’re doing so under terrible conditions and are miserable. Guards on horses stalk the perimeter as the worker/prisoners dig in the thick, seemingly gaseous mud. Their faces are worn and blistered and peeling.

The guards and their horses are wearing gas masks. The women are not.

At a certain point, the guards call the women to attention, and they all kneel in the mud to say prayers. We then close in on Emily, who repeats the prayers by rote and looks heartbreakingly broken and resigned to everything happening around her. She looks tired and afraid.

Serena Joy Brings Offred Anything But

In the final scene screened at PaleyFest, Offred is laying down at the hospital, her feet in stirrups, waiting to be examined. As she lies there, a splash of red in an otherwise oppressively white room, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) enters and towers over her. Serena attempts to be threatening, telling Offred that she will never do anything like what she did last season again.

Offred coolly replies, “Serena, don’t get mad. It’s bad for the baby,’ playing into all of Serena’s insecurities about being unable to carry a child. The moment elicits unexpected laughter in support of Offred’s justified moment of defiance, and in the knowledge that for the next few months, Offred is basically untouchable.

Then the doctor and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) come in, and the doctor gives Offred an ultrasound. Waterford calls Serena over to the screen where they see the beginnings of “their” child, and Serena gets really emotional. Is she filled with actual joy?

The men leave, and before Serena leaves, she goes to Offred, kisses her forehead, and says “God bless you.” As Serena exits, Offred looks a bit confused as far as how to feel about that.

Meanwhile, there was a guard in the room who is the last to leave. As he leaves Offred to change, he says “May the Lord open,” She says, “Thanks. By his eye.” Then the guard says, “Goodbye, June.” He knows her name? She registers that.

As she’s putting her boots back on, she notices something planted inside one of them: a key with a red square on it. What does it open? Was that guard in on a plan for June with Nick?

I have no idea about that or the answers to the million other questions I have about this show, but I do know I’ll be excited to find out when The Handmaid’s Tale returns April 25th with two episodes and airs thereafter with one episode a week for a total of thirteen episodes!


(Featured image: Brian To for the Paley Center)

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Thanos, Thor, and Gamora Are Reportedly Driving the Narrative in Infinity War

Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Josh Brolin as Thanos in "Avengers: Infinity War"

Avengers: Infinity War co-director Joe Russo recently spoke with Black Girls Nerds’ Jaime Broadnax over at Fandango, and he revealed which of the movie’s characters will have the most screen time and who will be “telling the narrative.” The three characters who came up? Thanos, Thor, and Gamora.

Personally, I was surprised about those last two, because I’d sort of assumed that Thor and the Guardians would have the B-plot off in space, while the characters on Earth would take center-stage. Now, they may still be off in B-plot land, and it may just be that Joe Russo found their particular arcs the most compelling, but this was an intriguing interview either way.

When Broadnax asked Russo which characters were “invested with more screen time” in the movie, he rather unsurprisingly answered with Thanos. “I’ll start out by saying Thanos, even though he’s not a character that had a huge preexisting story in the Marvel universe,” Russo said. “He was a threat, but he was not developed in any way up to this point. Thanos has an incredible amount of screen time in this film; in a lot of ways I would say it’s his movie. Our job when we make these films — and what we feel is important to us — is to surprise the audience. We wanted to tell a story that they weren’t expecting, and the story is told from the point of view of a villain, which I think is also really unique and risky for a commercial film that will surprise the audience.”

In addition, Russo said that the film’s “point of view is Thanos’ point of view, so it’s a villain driving the narrative.”

However, while it sounds like this is ultimately Thanos’s movie, Russo said that two other characters will also have compelling arcs: Thor and Gamora. While Thanos is driving the film, Russo added, “I think you could argue, too, that a lot of the film is told from the point of view of Gamora, and I think she has a really fascinating arc in the movie.”

Given that Gamora knows more about Thanos than any of the other heroes, and that this is a Thanos-centric film, it makes sense that she’ll play a bigger role. It also fits with some of the shots we saw in the latest trailer. We saw present-day Gamora explaining Thanos’s goals to the others, and we also got two glimpses at what looks like a young Gamora taking Thanos’s hand in a flashback.

Screengrab of young Gamora taking Thanos's hand in the

Screengrab of young Gamora and Thanos walking from the "Infinity War" trailer

The God of Thunder will also have a “very important role” and significant character arc. Russo said, “I think you’ll find that Thor has a really interesting arc in the film. He hasn’t been at the forefront of other Avengers movies, but he certainly has a very important role in this film … I think you’ll see that Thor is at times hilarious and at times tragic in the film.”

Now, if you’re sad that one of your favorites isn’t listed here, don’t despair yet! The Russos planned to emphasize some characters in this film, and others in the next. “We knew that because we had two films, Avengers 3 and 4, that in one movie we could push people to the forefront, but then we could pull back in the second film and push other characters to the forefront who had less screen time in the first movie,” Russo said. “We did have the opportunity to divide it up that way. So if you feel like one of your favorite characters didn’t get enough screen time in Avengers 3, well then, wait ’til Avengers 4.”

Avengers: Infinity War arrives in theaters on April 27, 2018.

(via Fandango; images: Marvel Entertainment)

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Kate McKinnon Returns as Betsy DeVos: “I May Not Be Very Good on Camera, but Behind the Scenes, My Ideas Are Much Worse”

Kate McKinnon was back as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last night on Saturday Night Live (SNL)‘s “Weekend Update.” In the segment, DeVos is appearing on Update to explain her disastrous and embarrassing performance on 60 Minutes, in which she said things like, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming” or “all of this issue comes down to individual kids” while repeatedly demonstrating her ignorance about school performance in her home state of Michigan.

“So, Betsy,” co-host Colin Jost asks, “what happened in that interview?”

“Well, I – I think the problem is that the words that were coming out of my mouth were bad,” McKinnon’s DeVos says. “And that is because they came from my brain.”

Jost then offers to give her “another chance” to redeem herself, and he asks her some basic questions: “What are your thoughts about public schools versus charter schools?”

“I don’t like to think of things in terms of ‘school.’ It should be up the states.”

“You might now be the most-protested member of Trump’s Cabinet. Why do you think that is?”

“Y’know, I think it’s because I do not do a good job—and I can’t, because I don’t know how.”

“Recently, people have also been criticizing your position on guns in schools.”

“Again, I think the states should choose how they protect their schools … Good schools, good choice. So whatever they choose, we are working hard to ensure that all schools are safe learning environments for guns.”

The best/worst part of this sketch is how realistic some of these answers feel. I would be 0% surprised to find that DeVos actually had said, “I don’t like to think of things in terms of ‘school’” or “good schools, good choice” in the course of her confirmation hearing or subsequent interviews.

But the best line of the sketch had to be DeVos’s closing: “Look, I may not be very good on camera. But behind the scenes, my ideas are much worse.”

Too real, SNL. Too real.

(Featured image: screengrab)

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Daniel Wu on Finally Finding Better Roles for Asian Men in Hollywood

Daniel Wu as Sunny on AMC's

Tomb Raider and Into the Badlands star Daniel Wu recently spoke to The Los Angeles Times about his unique film career. Wu was born and raised in California, but he didn’t start his film career until he moved to Hong Kong. He’s since become a massive star in the Asian market, described in the article as “the Brad Pitt of China” and an “A-lister who gets swarmed by paparazzi whenever he leaves the house.”

And yet, for many years, Hollywood wasn’t interested in an actor with such a phenomenal track record. After he became so successful overseas, Wu returned home to see if he could find roles in the United States. “I came out to Hollywood to see if there was any interest—and there wasn’t, so I just gave up,” Wu said. “I went back. I would take meetings and nothing would come of it. Quite frankly speaking, nothing came of it until recently, in the last few years, when there’s been such a focus on the Chinese box office.”

“It sucks that it was money that motivated that move,” he continued, “but at the same time it’s a good opportunity for everybody. You started to see more Chinese actors appear in Hollywood movies. I could see that that was about to happen, and then it happened … It was this slow progression of people starting to know who I was and then being educated on my influence back in Asia, and realizing, ‘Oh, he speaks perfect English — that’s a major plus.’”

In addition to the money argument, Wu thinks that American culture has become more diverse and global as well: “I think the difference now is the audience is different. The audience is more diverse now not just culturally, but the white kids growing up today are eating Asian food. When I was growing up white kids were like, ‘Hey, what are you eating?’ And that was only 20 years ago.”

Wu has gradually been building a Hollywood profile, with roles in Warcraft, Europa Report, AMC’s Into the Badlands, and now Tomb Raider. As Into the Badlands showrunner Alfred Gough said: “He’s got the charisma, he’s got the chops, and he just really is the full package. And in a world where we’re trying to expand what a leading man looks like in movies—you look at Black Panther and movies like that—I keep telling people, ‘You don’t understand. He’s done it in Asia. You guys are late to the party.’”

Honestly, “late to the party” seems to sum up Hollywood’s treatment of marginalized actors in general. Wu’s experience echoes that of many Asian and Asian-American actors who have struggled to find meaningful roles in a Hollywood which often whitewashes Asian roles, characterizes Asian actors as “not very expressive,” or tries to offer Asian actors minor, stereotypical parts. It’s encouraging to see that things are starting to change, even if that shift has mostly been profit-driven. And the change isn’t limited to movies. As Grace Lee at Glamour wrote, “There is an undeniable new class of handsome Asian male actors dominating TV right now. Vinny Vincent Rodriguez III [from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend], but also Manny Jacinto from The Good Place, and Ross Butler who plays a studly jock on 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale.

As for Wu’s future career? “My favorite genre of filmmaking is crime drama, which I did a lot of in Hong Kong,” he said. “One thing we can’t do in China is heist movies because people doing bad things can’t get away with them; the censorship you have to deal with is the challenge of working in Asia. But I would love to do an Italian Job type heist film … or a comedy.”

(Via The Los Angeles Times; image: AMC)

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Come Live Your Best Life and Watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi With Kelly Marie Tran

Though director Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi commentary has revealed some interesting tidbits and infuriating deleted scenes, everything else immediately dropped on my priority list when I discovered that Kelly Marie Tran gave her The Last Jedi commentary to The Oh My Disney Show. Tran sat down with them to watch the film and discuss her experience playing Rose Tico. As part of the movie watch, Tran discusses her opinions on porgs, #Reylo, and the experience of filming with co-stars John Boyega, Veronica Ngo, and Oscar Isaac.

On working with Veronica Ngo, who plays Rose’s sister Paige: 

“We actually spent a lot of time together, because she was in London for about three months, so we became close really quickly. First of all, because she’s an amazing human and very talented actress. But also because we have a shared history within our families; we’re both Vietnamese, and we just connected immediately. And we still text all the time. She’s just an amazing person.”

On the porgs:

“Well, I’m neutral … [laughs] No, I’m so pro-porg. I’ve loved them from the beginning. I remember seeing them at their inception; I feathered them in the creatures department. Look at that face! Look. At. This. Face.”

On working with John Boyega:

“Oh, I love him so much! I can’t think of anyone better to have had as a partner throughout this experience – especially because he had just gone through what I had gone through for this movie, but on Force Awakens. He was just, first of all, such a great actor, and so charismatic and funny, and also as a human, just a really supportive person. We instantly hit it off.”

On Oscar Isaac: 

“I can confirm … he is just as charming in person.”

On Reylo: 

“I really, really like what Rian has done with these characters, in terms of their relationship, and the idea that they’re two sort of lone figures (on obviously opposite sides) going through this parallel experience. It seems like a very lonely thing to have this sort of power that you might not understand, that no one else really has (at least in the same age space). So I love what he’s done with them.”

On being part of the Star Wars universe: 

“It feels like both a responsibility and an honor at the same time. Part of me is like, ‘I don’t want to take this seriously, I just want to have fun’ But the other part of me is like, ‘This is a huge thing, and it it should be taken with a lot of thought. And just knowing that you have a responsibility to not just this film, but to the ones before, and the ones that will come.”

(Featured image: screengrab)

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Writer Joe Kelly on Adapting I Kill Giants for Film

Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Nimura’s award-winning graphic novel, I Kill Giants, has been adapted into a movie from R​LJE Films. Directed by Anders Walter, and starring Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Madison Wolfe, and Sydney Wade, I Kill Giants will be available on March 23, 2018. In advance of the movie’s release, TMS got to speak with Kelly about the process of adapting the graphic novel for film.

In a relatively unique arrangement for writers of source material, Kelly was also the only writer on the film adaptation. “So many times, you hear about creators whose material is adapted and then they get quietly, or not so quietly, kicked to the side,” he said, “and I had the complete opposite experience with everybody with I Kill Giants. They knew how precious it was to me; they knew I had already developed a screenplay before it was ever officially picked up. I mean, one of the stranger days of my life was to say to [Harry Potter producer] Chris Columbus, ‘Just so you know, I will be the only person who ever writes on this thing. And if that’s a problem, we gotta know now.’ And he said okay! So through all twelve, thirteen drafts that we did, it was just me, and I was very lucky and very fortunate to be that person.”

What made you want to turn I Kill Giants into a film?

“When I first wrote it as a comic, I immediately wrote it as a screenplay right after that. It was one of these stories that stuck with me. Any script, obviously, isn’t a complete thing until you give it to the next person, whether it’s an artist or a film team. But a screenplay feels a little bit more like a finish product, for me, just because I was trained as a screenwriter. So I was impatient, because I didn’t have an artist for the graphic novel right away, so I wrote it as a screenplay pretty immediately. And I told my wife, which I rarely ever do, ‘This is the one. This is the story that will go to the next level. I just feel it.’ It was just so in my gut and such a part of me, and I felt like it had to get out.”

“I took a long time, obviously, for it to happen, but the fan response from folks who have read it has been so kind. It really hits people in an emotional place, and I think the film does the same thing. As big as this movie gets, it’s still personal and emotional. I think it’s a complementary experience to the comic book experience.”

“And,” he added, “I just wanted to see a real-life version of Barbara with that hammer.”

While the art style in the graphic novel has this outsized, frenetic energy, the film style is more subdued. Was that a decision in the script, or was that a production design choice that came later on?

“That, I think, is [director] Anders Walter’s vision. His previous work (Nine Meters is a good example) has a similar quality to it, in its airiness and sense of calm. Even when there’s big stuff happening, there’s still a … I don’t know, a surrealness to it. He believed that I Kill Giants is the sort of film that really could be enjoyed by a wide swathe of people. It’s not just for comic book fans. It’s not a kid’s film. It’s not a ‘family film.’ It really is an everybody film. And I think that his look and his take on the world gives it that vibe. And I think it works … The world that’s created by those guys feels real and magical at the same time, which is exactly what we want.”

What were some of the challenges of adapting the graphic novel to the screen?

“Everybody who was involved with the project was incredibly supportive and helpful. Everybody wanted to make the same movie, which is the best thing you can ever hope for in a production. So the only challenge became—and it was pretty obvious early on—that there are some things you can get away with in the book, because reading is a personal experience, and a tactile experience. The reader’s imagination sort of fills in the blanks. But as soon as you see certain things in real life, on the screen, they become concretized.”

“And one of the things I’m fond of about with the graphic novel is that people will come up and ask, ‘Was that real or was that in her head?’ I love that, and I want the audience always to make their own choice. They wouldn’t have that opportunity if certain scenes from the book were in the film. I had plenty of direct lifts from the graphic novel, and then Anders would say, ‘I know you love this scene, but we have to cut it. If we keep it, then it’s pretty obvious that this is a fantasy, and that it’s not real.’ Or, vice versa: ‘This moment really nails down that this is absolutely real, and is that the story your’re trying to tell?’ So that was the biggest challenge: not breaking the tone of the film by being too precious about the comic book script.”

Were there any challenges with Barbara in particular? She’s kind of a prickly character, and she says some nasty things. You can get away with that a bit more when she’s this exaggerated comic character, but when she’s a real girl in front of you saying things, it’s a different experience. 

[Laughs] Oh, yeah. I’m laughing because very few lines were changed, if they came from the graphic novel. And, since you’re familiar with both, you know what they are. And it was literally what you said. I didn’t have so much a problem with it personally. I love films that feature child protagonists but are not ‘kids’ films,’ so I love it when a kid is really sassy. And, as Madison put it, Barbara is ‘savage.’ So I like it when she’s savage. Because she’s trying to get a rise out of everybody. She’s not doing these things to be arbitrarily mean; it’s a defense mechanism. So I love it when she says these really horrible, acerbic things.”

“But when you saw her do it—and we did, we filmed it—it was pretty rough. It was really rough. And I think people just felt like, ‘They like her, but they’re not entirely sure…’ Because we did go through a testing process. In the end film, she still is very funny; she is still really sharp and witty. Madison carries the savage all the way through, but with a lot of heart. So I don’t really think we lost anything by getting rid of those few lines. Folks who find the book will hopefully get to see the nastier version of Barbara.”

The world of this film does feel really detailed and intricate, particularly when it comes to Barbara’s giant traps and her secret hideaway. Were they any real-life details that you got to add into the script at all, or were those mostly coming from the production team?

“That’s a great question. The production team was amazing. That [hideaway] set is literally under a boat on a beach. I thought that was gonna be built on a little soundstage, but instead they rigged it up under an actual overturned boat. It’s incredible. I couldn’t believe it. This team really understood that it’s important for the film to feel grounded, especially as it does get more fantastic.”

“Barbara’s look was really important to me, and we had all agreed early on that the ears were staying, which was very, very important to me personally. I just feel like it’s such an iconic image. I spent a lot of time talking to Anders about how to do the ears in a way that I felt would translate properly. So there were a lot of ears.”

“That handmade feel is really critical for everything that she does. And apparently they did try to make a set that moves at one point. I didn’t actually see them, but I think the rig weighed like 10 pounds on her head. So, not happening.”

“The only other detail I worked on was the name of Zoe Saldana’s character, Mrs. Mollé. My wife’s maiden name is Mollé, and she is also a guidance counselor, so the character was always based on my wife. It’s very nice to get to see her name on-screen, and her little stamp on it.”

Do you have any closing thoughts about the film? 

“I’m thrilled. I’m so proud of the film. I’m proud of everybody who worked on it. I think the performances are amazing. I love everything that Anders did. And I just hope that folks give it a chance and track it down. It’s going to be available in their homes on the day that it comes out. Certainly, I’ve seen the film work with an audience on a big screen, but it also really does work sitting at home on your couch, too. That intimacy that you get from a comic book, I think, comes across in this film whether you’re seeing it at home on in a theater.”

“I also feel like anybody who sticks with Barbara’s journey is really rewarded for it. And I hope that the film finds the people who need it. One of the nicest stories that we hear at comic conventions, and it’s a story we hear a lot, is ‘I didn’t know this book existed, and then I was going through something in my life, and somebody handed it to me. And it’s like the book found me.’ I hope that people have that same experience with the film. It’s deeply meaningful to me that people make that connection with the material, so I hope that translates to the movie as well.”

I Kill Giants will be available in a limited release in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on March 23, 2018.

(Featured image: RLJE Films)

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Review: Allure, Starring Evan Rachel Wood, a Relentless Depiction of Abuse Not for the Faint of Heart

Evan Rachel Wood as Laura in "Allure"

Evan Rachel Wood. image: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Evan Rachel Wood has recently taken the fight against abusers to Congress, where she testified in favor of an expanded Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, sharing her own history of abuse and assault. Which makes her most recent film project all the more incongruous…or perhaps not. Wood stars in a new film out today called Allure.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) works as a house cleaner for her father’s company but her personal life is not so pristine. Rough around the edges, looking for love in all the wrong places, her heartbreaking behavior points to hardships of the past. One day on the job, in yet another house, Laura meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a quiet teenager unhappy with her disciplined life. In Eva, Laura rediscovers an innocent tenderness. In Laura, Eva finds a thrilling rebel who can bring her into unknown territories. The mutual attraction soon morphs into obsession as Laura convinces Eva to run away and secretly come live with her, perilously raising the stakes for the young, impressionable girl as Laura’s emotional instability becomes increasingly clear. As their world closes in, they must unearth certain truths to find a way out.

The synopsis is actually a bit misleading, especially where it calls their attraction “mutual.” If that’s what first-time filmmakers Carlos and Jason Sanchez (who also wrote the script) were going for, that’s not what I saw in the film at all. Certainly not in the beginning of Laura and Eva’s relationship.

What the film is actually about is Eva grooming and eventually manipulating a teenage girl into coming to live with her, setting off an exploitative and sexually abusive relationship.

It paints an accurate picture of what abuse looks like: the slow burn as the predator gains the victim’s trust, playing on insecurities in order to do it; the manipulation; and ultimately, their expectations of their victim once they’ve lured them, and the inevitable fallout when those expectations aren’t met.

Also hauntingly captured is the way in which a victim becomes manipulated. We watch in horror as Eva attempts to leave, or has the opportunity to leave several times…but doesn’t, for reasons left unspoken, but deeply felt. For those who wonder “Why didn’t she just leave?”, this film shows you the heartbreaking reasons why, even if specific reasons are never named. We see how Eva goes from being a rebellious teen following the “cool, older girl,” to terrified, to coping as best she can, by appeasing Laura and making the best of a terrible and vulnerable situation.

Lastly, the film is a portrait of the cycle of abuse, as we come to learn that Laura is simply repeating patterns she learned elsewhere. Both of these women are in pain, and Laura is shown as both predator and victim.

Julia Sarah Stone as Eva in "Allure"

Julia Sarah Stone. image: Samuel Goldwyn Films

First, I need to mention the absolutely brilliant performances from both Wood and Julia Sarah Stone as Eva. Wood, as usual, is absolutely fearless in this performance, walking a very thin tightrope between being a monster, and being a former abuse victim who has internalized the abuse as a form of love and protection.

And Stone was a revelation. One of the reasons I don’t buy that there was ever any real “mutual attraction” that wasn’t just Stockholm Syndrome is because Stone’s performance was so clear and so strong. You saw every emotion on her face and in her body, and so much of what she conveyed was outside of her dialogue. Confusion, terror, deep, deep sadness…Stone as Eva was a walking live wire of emotions that will have the viewer’s heart beating faster for her safety and well-being.

So, in this wayin its brilliant casting, and as an accurate, heartbreaking portrayal of a cycle of abuse—Allure was successful.

Where it was less successful to me was as a satisfying movie-going experience. Nearly two hours long, it’s a long time to spend watching Wood relentlessly be abusive. Normally, I love a good slow burn, but the pacing of the film was so slow (I’m sure to show just how insidiously predatory behavior can begin), but provided no real plot or point of view. It just seemed like a non-stop parade of vignettes where Laura is either giving, or receiving abuse. It was relentless.

I don’t need my films to be all cheerful fun, but especially with a film like this that’s dealing with An Issue, I expect there to be a strong plot, and places that contrast in tone for breathing space. The film didn’t seem to have anything to say except “abuse is cyclical” which, true, but what about that? I think the filmmakers were relying on the fact that their lead was a female character to be so compelling that we wouldn’t notice there was no actual story or point of view.

Allure may serve a purpose as an example of how abusive relationships work for those who need to understand. I watched the film with someone I know who was in a similarly abusive relationship in the past, and they nodded in agreement at just about everything, prompting lots of discussion afterwards. So, this isn’t the kind of movie you’d watch if you “want to watch a good movie,” but it could be a tool in helping survivors of abuse convey their stories and truth to people in their lives.

I suppose there are worse things for a film to be than an educational conversation starter. However, Allure is a difficult, and ultimately, an unsatisfying watch as a film.

Allure is out TODAY.

(image: Samuel Goldwyn Films)

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Despite a Beautiful Legacy, Buffy‘s Willow & Tara Were a Toxic Couple

Tara Willow

One of the things about joining a fandom late is having a different experience with the show. Watching something live as it airs is different from being able to binge it episode to episode, and coming into Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, I was prepared to feel three things based on others’ impressions: for Dawn to be annoying, Spuffy to be hot, and Willow and Tara to be OTP. I didn’t agree with any of that.*

While the first two are strictly a matter of taste, my issue with Willow and Tara was their legacy as the benchmark queer relationship in genre television that all female queer couples are matched up against. Tara being shot by accident, right after her reconciliation with Willow, was a “bury your gays” moment that has rightfully lived in infamy ever since. Especially because of the repercussions of the death for Willow as a character, and all of the trolling that was done to “shock” us.

Even taking into account all of the importance of Willow and Tara as representation for a lot of queer women who realized they loved women, it was difficult watching these two women fall in love, because Willow and Tara are toxic. Mostly because Willow is a horrible person.

I’m sorry if Willow is your fave, but throughout the run of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, for me at least, Willow was a hater of epic proportions. She was a cheater, a liar, an enabler of Xander’s toxic male bullshit, and in season 6, a rapist.

“All the Way” has a conflict between Willow and Tara when Tara worries that Willow is becoming to “addicted” to magic. They have a fight when Willow proposes a magical solution to Dawn’s dating problem and it brings to the surfaces Willow’s addiction to magic. Not wanting to fight anymore, she casts a spell on Tara to make them forget the right and put everything “back to normal.” From this point on until “Tabula Rasa” any time that Willow and Tara are intimate, it is rape.

It is rape because Tara is not consenting with full information about her relationship with Willow. It is a manipulation and a cruelty, but it is never called that. It may not be as “violent” as Spike’s actions in “Seeing Red,” but it still the same action. It is using power to take control over someone else for your own sexual and emotional needs.

When Willow and Tara get back together in “Entropy,” it’s not a conversation that they have. Tara wants to skip right to the kissing, but as a viewer, it just felt like something was missing, despite how beautiful the scene is.

Despite the fact that season six’s villains, The Trio, are all about the ways men attempt to have physical and sexual control over women, especially concerning Warren, that language is never reflected in the case of Willow and Tara.

The fact that queer relationships can be abusive, and that a woman can gaslight and rape another woman, are not things usually explored when we talk about domestic abuse and partner rape. On the Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline, they make it clear that LGBTQ partners can employ the same abusive tactics as heterosexual couples. By using magic to take away Tara’s memories, Willow was violating Tara’s trust and autonomy in a horrible way that stains the couple for me, in a similar way that I could never enjoy Spuffy after “Seeing Red.”

Watching Buffy in my twenties, I could see the abuse in Tara and Willow’s relationship, and it’s one of the many reasons I find Willow awful and don’t ship them. As a queer woman I understand the value of them for people, but for me, the other reason they are important is that it shows that queer relationships can be toxic.

One of the things I disliked about She’s Gotta Have It was framing the same-sex relationship between Opal and Nola as inherently “safer” than a heterosexual relationship. That is damaging because it stops victims of domestic abuse from seeing what is happening to them as wrong, or being believed when they ask for help.

Thankfully, we have more queer relationships between women to look at as positive narratives: Yorkie and Kelly from San Junipero, Wayhaught from Wynonna Earp, and Hollstein from Carmilla to name a few. Willow and Tara may have helped normalize lesbian couples for a generation, but that generation then went and made that kind of representation much better.

I’m thankful that Willow and Tara existed, but I’m much happier that we have moved the needle forward.

*Yes, I think Dawn is fine. I like her and she does the best she can with a role that’s clearly written for a younger person. Plus, when she told Spike she would light him on fire, she gained a fan for life.

(images: 20th Century Fox)

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The New Tomb Raider Movie Works on Exactly One Level: It’s a Hell of a Video Game Adaptation

lara croft tomb raider alicia vikander movie video game square enix

It’s not a huge surprise that the new Tomb Raider movie isn’t getting stellar reviews. Of all the genres Hollywood keeps mining, the video game adaptation seems to be the one they just can’t get right. They keep making movies based on video games, and people keep hating them. Of course, they tend to bring in a ton of money, so it makes sense that studios continue to churn them out. (Assassin’s Creed, for example, was nearly unwatchable and still brought in more than $240 million worldwide.) I just don’t know why we keep hoping they’ll be worth watching.

With the bar set that low, I walked into Tomb Raider not expecting much. So I was happily surprised by what I got. Now, I didn’t love this movie, but as far as half-mindless, kinda-fun, basically B-movie action flicks go, this one is more than serviceable. If you end up watching it on a plane, you probably won’t regret your choices. It is a fine movie, which puts it bounds ahead of much of its genre.

The one level on which the movie really did work was as an adaptation of its source material. That’s to be expected, I suppose, since Square Enix, the company behind the 2013 game on which the movie is based, also served as producers on the film. It would be easy for a collaboration between video game devs and a Hollywood production company to end in a cluttered mess of clumsy storytelling. Instead, we got some of the best elements from that truly fantastic game, streamlined into a feature-length adventure.

I’ll admit that some of the adaptation process misses the mark, with certain scenes and action sequences feeling like they simply cut-and-pasted pages from the video game script into the film’s. At one point, Alicia Vikander’s Croft actually says the words, “It’s a color puzzle,” and then we have to watch her solve a color puzzle, as if playing through these sorts of time-waster mini challenges ourselves isn’t tedious enough.

I should also state that I may have been unusually susceptible to the charms of this adaptation, having spent this last week playing through the 2013 game. I put down my controller and walked into a screening, and was blown away by how much fun the movie was. (At least for the first hour. The novelty of the adaptation couldn’t quite make it work much longer than that.) The action felt so familiar that I legitimately found myself miming hitting the quick time event buttons. The easter eggs weren’t obtrusive, but they did feel like a small gift to observant gamers. The way rope was tied to a ladder or the specific color of climbable walls gave me a few quiet chuckles throughout.

There were two major changes from the game to the movie that heavily impacted the final product. The first, as Princess mentioned in her review, was the omission of Lara’s fellow crewmembers. I get that this streamlined the story, but it also meant that Lara was basically the only woman in the whole movie. We see her with a female friend in the opening of the movie and then never again, and Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas), Lara’s father’s business partner, is in maybe three scenes total. And no, the ancient goddess Himito doesn’t count as a female character.

The other major shift was the way the film depicted violence. I understand the view that something may have gotten lost in adapting an MA game into a PG-13 movie, but personally, the film fixed pretty much every issue I had with the game’s use of violence. To start, the game tells players that Lara doesn’t want to use violence—she doesn’t want to kill—but there’s nothing in the actual gameplay to indicate that killing off dozens of baddies is anything but thrilling. In the film, Lara’s first kill is brutal. She screams and cries through it. She may be a fighter, but she’s not a killer. Vikander’s Croft makes that clear.

My #1 least favorite thing about the game is the number of times we are forced to watch Lara die, as it’s almost always an excessively long, gratuitous, moan-filled death, usually by impalement, the sexual connotations of which aren’t exactly subtle. Many of the quick time events involve watching these deaths over and over, as they require you to memorize sequences rather than just utilize skillful playing and quick reflexes. The manner of these deaths always felt, to me, like full-on torture porn, and I was glad to have them removed from the film.

In fact, I never felt like Vikander was being sexualized by the camera. Given the nature of the genre, that feels like quite the feat. There’s a lot about this adaptation that feels like an accomplishment, and if it didn’t all add up to a spectacular movie, it was sure a step in the right direction. If studios are going to insist on adapting video games into blockbuster films, Tomb Raider sets a solid precedent moving forward.

(image: Ilze Kitshoff, Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Loki Remains One of Avengers: Infinity War‘s Biggest Mysteries

loki in avengers infinity war

Marvel seems to be purposefully teasing and misdirecting us on who has Loki’s allegiance during the events of Infinity War.

Call me a Loki apologist—it should be on my business card—but after the character development we saw from him in The Dark World and Ragnarok, it’s hard for me to believe that Thor’s trickster brother is suddenly going to side with Thanos. Especially since Thanos is presumably furious at him for messing up in The Avengers and promised Loki a world of pain.

By Ragnarok‘s conclusion, Loki returned to Asgard of his own volition to help save its people, fought on his brother’s Team Revengers, then put Asgard’s destruction into motion at Thor’s behest to bring down Hela. Thor and Loki had a touching reunion and seemed to be on good terms at the movie’s end, and things were looking up until the mid-credits scene that saw Thanos’ massive ship bearing down on them.

I’ve written before about why I think Loki won’t betray Thor, as well as the misinformation that spread about Marvel Studios co-president Kevin Feige saying that Loki was an ally of Thanos this time around (spoiler alert: Feige didn’t say that). But what’s most intriguing about the new trailer Loki-wise is that it further muddies the waters and deepens the mystery where he’s concerned.

loki infinity war

Prior to today, we’d only seen two live shots of Loki: one of him offering up the Tesseract to someone unseen—assumed to be Thanos—and another in which he’s glowering. We also saw a still picture of him in Entertainment Weekly looking worse for wear. These views all seemed to be from the same scene, in a setting that’s on fire and amidst mass destruction.

Notably, they were left ambiguous enough, expression-wise, to suggest that Loki might be working to his own nefarious ends and decided to switch sides to ally with Thanos. Sneaky, Marvel.

Today’s trailer offered a new shot of Loki in the same backdrop, and at first glance, it does seem as though he’s joined the Black Order of Thanos’ henchmen. If you don’t examine it closely, that’s the impression. However, upon further examination, you can see that Proxima Midnight has a weapon pointed directly at Loki’s head. He doesn’t appear to be with the Black Order of his own free will. If he is, Proxima Midnight has a strange way of treating her friends.

loki the black order

Intercut with that glimpse of Loki and the Order, we also see Thanos crushing Thor’s head while Thor screams in agony. If this is all happening at once, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to assume that Thanos knows Loki has the Space Stone and is hurting Thor as a means to propel Loki to turn it over.

If Loki is also being threatened by the Black Order in the same moment, he’s rather out of options to try any mischief to get out of this situation. We then see a shot of Thanos having successfully acquired the Tesseract and crushing it to retrieve the Stone within.

What’s unclear is when this scene occurs—though we assume it’s early on in the movie, since Thanos has the Space Stone by the time he reaches Earth—and thereafter what becomes of Loki. We know that Thor somehow gets blasted out into space where he’s recovered by the Guardians, and that he ends up on a road trip of sorts with Rocket and Groot to retrieve his new weapon, the axe Strombreaker. But is Loki missing from Thor’s side because he’s dead? Or is he a prisoner of Thanos? Or has he joined Thanos? Or is he somewhere else?

Loki’s been noticeably absent from any other promotional scene shown save the Tesseract/everything’s-on-fire event, but that doesn’t have to mean that he’s space dust thereafter. Marvel has been mysterious enough about the role that Loki plays in Infinity War, and has gone out of its way to suggest that it doesn’t end well for him. But I’m starting to be hopeful that Loki is more important in the wider arc of the movie than we’ve been lead to believe and that’s being intentionally hidden from the audience.

We’ve seen big story beats like a huge attack on New York and the last-stand battle for Wakanda, but a lot is going to happen in the in-between. Loki is an intriguing, multi-faceted character with a passionate fanbase and an ongoing presence in the comics as well, and it would be a big waste for him to kick the bucket five minutes in. Even more importantly, he has a significant history with the Avengers, having served as the villain in their first major outing.

It feels like this time around Loki should either have a shot at broader redemption by helping them against Thanos, or—if the Russos really do decide to have him turn again—some kind of showdown where the Avengers would get to hold him to account for his crimes. Maybe Clint Barton gets to kick his ass for that whole mind-control thing.

Speaking of Hawkeye, this is another character we haven’t seen in promotions (like, at all). Does that mean he’s dead quickly in the movie, or does he have a part that’s being purposefully concealed? How much of what we think we know about Infinity War is actually purposeful obfuscation of what really goes down?

I’d like to imagine that when we walk into Infinity War, everything we think we know still won’t have prepared us for the realities in store for our favorite characters. In terms of one of my favorites, Loki, I’m crossing fingers that he’ll be given an interesting tale to tell. Either way, I keep telling myself, Loki has come back before. Death doesn’t have to be the end, especially when there’s an Infinity Gauntlet in play.

Marvel is sending mixed messages out about Loki, which leads me to believe that whatever happens with him will be unexpected. Do you think we have a lot of twisty surprises in store, or am I tricking myself?

(images: Marvel Studios)

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