Review: The Girlfriend Experience


The Girlfriend Experience

In 2009, Steven Soderbergh released a little independent film called The Girlfriend Experience starring, who at that time, was one of the adult industry’s biggest stars in Sasha Grey. The film explored and dealt with the life of a high-class escort by the name of Chelsea as she navigated the world of powerful men and the effect of money in monetizing something as intimate and personal as being someone’s girlfriend. It wasn’t a film that had many supporters. Most saw the inexperience of Sasha Grey as a dramatic actress hamstringing what was an interesting look at the dual themes of sex and capitalism.

It’s now 2016 and the premium cable channel Starz has released a new dramatic series inspired by the very same Soderbergh film mentioned above, but not beholden to it’s characters and storyline. Where Sasha Grey’s character of Chelsea seemed more like an on-screen cipher the audience was suppose to imprint whatever their expectations onto, this series has a more traditional narrative of a young woman whose attempt to balance in her life a burgeoning career in law (she’s just earned an internship at a prestigious Chicago law firm) with her discovery of her inherent sexuality while dipping her toes into the high-end sex-workers trade of the so-called “girlfriend experience.”

Riley Keough (last seen as the Citadel wife Capable who both romanced and mothers Nicholas Hoult’s War Boy Nux) plays Christine Reade as a struggling law firm intern who has worked hard to get where she’s at and continues to do so both as an intern and as a continuing law student. Yet, she also has the same problems many young people the past couple decades have had when it comes to earning their degrees. Debt has become a major issue and finding ways to make ends meet while still holding onto their dream profession becomes more and more difficult. Christine, at the encouragement of a close friend (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), tries her hand at becoming a high-price escort.

Girlfriend Experience 01

Just like the film it’s loosely based on, the series tries in the beginning to paint the high-priced escort profession that Christine gets herself into as very glamorous. Christine’s clients are white men who are older, rich and powerful. Men whose own interpersonal relationships with those close to them have been left behind in their quest for power. They see in Christine a sort of commodity to help fill in a need missing in their life even if false and just a transactional role-play experience.

Showrunners Amy Seimetz (who plays Christine’s sister Annabel) and Lodge Kerrigan (independent filmmakers and writers of renown) have created a show that explores not just the dual nature of how sex has become just another commodity in a world that’s becoming more and more capitalistic, but also a show that explores the nature of a professional woman in a world where they’re told that in order to fit in with the “men” they must suppress their sexual side. It’s a series that doesn’t hold back it’s punches in showing how the patriarchal nature of the professional world (it could be law, business, Hollywood, etc.) makes it difficult for women like Christine to try and be a successful professional and still retain their sexual nature. It’s a world up-ended and shown it’s cruel and ugly nature by Christine with every new client she meets and entertains.

The show and it’s writers (both of whom took turns directing each of the 13-episodes of the first season) don’t pass any sort of judgement on Christine’s choice of working as a high-paid escort. This series doesn’t look at these sex-workers as beneath what normal society expects of it’s women, both young and old. They instead want to explore the why’s of their decision to enter into such a career even if it means hampering their initial chosen profession. They’ve come up with some intriguing ideas of this world of escorts and powerful men walking through their lives always pretending to be one thing then another. A world where half-lies and made up personas have say much about the true natures of each individual as it does of the world around them.

Girlfriend Experience 02

Christine enters this world of becoming a “girlfriend experience” as a rebellious, adventurous lark, but finds out that her keen, observant and adaptable mind which has served her well in her rise as a law student and intern also serves her well in her new side-career. While her friend Avery who first introduces her to the world sees it all as a rush and exhilarating experience to be done here and there, Christine finds herself drawn deeper into the world as she goes from being represented to finally going off on her own as a freelancer. She’s her own boss and she controls what goes on with this new life.

Yet, The Girlfriend Experience is not all about the glass and steel, cold and calculating glamour of Christine’s new world. Just as she’s reached the heights of her new found power over the very system which tells her what she can and cannot be, outside forces that she thought was in her control brings her back to the reality of her choices throughout the first half of the series. For all the money, power and control she has achieved her old world as a law student and intern begins to fall apart as it intersects with her new one. It’s to the writers credit that they don’t give Christine any easy outs, but do allow her character to decide for herself how to get through both her professional and personal crisis.

While both showrunners Seimetz and Kerrigan have much to do with the brilliance of The Girlfriend Experience it all still hinges on the performance of it’s lead in Riley Keough. She’s practically in every scene and she grows as a performer right before out eyes. From the moment we see her we’re instantly drawn to her character. Hair up in an innocent ponytail and dressed very conservatively as she starts her internship, we still sense more to her character and we’re rewarded with each new episode as Keough’s performance with not just her acting both verbal and silent. Whether it’s the subtle changes in her expression as she transitions from an attentive “girlfriend”, supportive “confidant” and then to a calculating and all-business “escort” and all in a span of a brief scene.

Girlfriend Experience 03

Even the scenes where some audience may find titillating (even for premium cable like Starz, the sex in The Girlfriend Experience are quite eye-opening without being exploitative.), Keough manages to convey her true feelings with her eyes, while her body language convinces her latest client that it’s all real. She’s able to slip into whatever fantasy her client pays for and, in the end, whatever fantasy she wants to insert herself into in order to escape the terrible reality which has hardened and prepared her for the “real world” that all young people in college aspire to join.

The Girlfriend Experience might have been born out of an cinematic experiment by the icon of independent filmmaking, but it more than stands on it’s own take on ideas and themes (while adding and introducing some of their own) that Soderbergh tried to explore. With Sasha Grey’s performance as Chelsea proving to be a divisive reason whether Soderbergh’s film was a success or a failure, with Seimetz and Kerrigan they found in Riley Keough’s performance as Christine Reade a protagonist that engenders not just sympathy but at times frustration. Her Christine Reade doesn’t conform to what society thinks women should be when out and about in public and, for some men, when in private, as well.

The same could be said about this series as it doesn’t fit into any particular narrative and thematic box that we as a viewer have become trained to. It’s both a series exploring the existential idea of sexual identity and the commodifying power that capitalism has had on things intimate and personal. It’s also a series about a young woman’s journey of self-discovery that doesn’t just highlight the high’s but also shows how precipitous the fall can and will be when the traditionalists object. The show also performs well as a thriller due to the exceptional score composed by another brilliant indie-filmmaker. You may know him under the name of Shane Carruth.

The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t have the pulp sensibilities of such shows as The Walking Dead or the rabid following of Game of Thrones, but as of 2016 it’s probably the best new show of the year and here’s to hoping that more people discover it’s brilliance before it goes away.

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The Preacher Is About To Begin Mass


Preacher

Preacher the comic book that came out in 1995 and became the title that everyone gravitated to to balance out all the superhero titles that were coming out from Marvel, DC, Image and every small publisher in-between. The book was written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon. It was the book that took on the institutions of the Church, government and family in the most irreverent and blasphemous way one could think of at the time.

The book had been talked of within Hollywood since it’s release as one title that producers (seems all of them at one time or another) wanted to adapt for the big-screen. It wasn’t a superhero title so there was no need to worry about trying to adapt tights-wearing heroes and villains. Yet, the book’s subject matter which tended to go into the extreme at times became something that kept the title from being adapted.

After almost two decades of futile attempts to get Preacher up onto the big-screen it took the star-power of one big-screen star (Seth Rogen) to finally get the book adapted, but not on the big-screen, but on the small-screen to become part of AMC’s stable of unique series titles (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Into the Badlands).

So, fans of the books only have until 2016 to wait for their dreams of Preacher finally coming to live-action life and non-readers will finally see what all the hype has been all about.

Horror Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E04-05 “Not Fade Away” & “Cobalt”


FearTWDS01E04-05

“Sometimes all we can do is not enough.” — Dr. Bethany Exner

[some spoilers]

Fear the Walking Dead has been a mystery to some audiences and critics. If there was something the original series was criticized on it was that it’s writing throughout it’s current run has been uneven. There would be some great episodes and some good ones, but then some go nowhere episodes that stops any sort of momentum a particular season was having. The Walking Dead deserved some of the criticism leveled at it’s writing and how some of it’s characters appeared one-note for too long. Things began to improve once Scott M. Gimple took over a showrunner beginning with season 4. yet, some of the damage had been done by a very uneven first three season.

One thing The Walking Dead was never lacking was it’s creativity when it came to the zombies and the violence around them. Greg Nicotero and his KNB EFX crew never flinched from whatever hellish idea the writers were able to come up with. It’s probably one of the main reasons why the show has succeeded so much despite flaws in the writing and characterization. People were willing to tolerate the soap opera-style character interactions if it meant the flesh-eating and the headshots came a-plenty.

The first half of Fear the Walking Dead didn’t have much of the zombie action. It was a bold decision by the writers to stay on the path that brought the early days of the zombie apocalypse to life. This was a show that didn’t already have zombies taking over and with civilization having fallen by the wayside. It was still a world where everyone went about their daily routines. Sure the first episode gave some hints that something was amiss, but not until the final minutes did we finally see our first zombie. Even after that initial reveal at the end of the pilot the writers kept the zombies more off-screen. When they did appear it was as one or two.

Episodes four and five, “Not Fade Away” and “Cobalt”, continued this trend of keeping the zombies at arm’s length and off-screen. We saw Travis and Madison’s neighborhood turned into a safe zone by the National Guard who had been deployed to help contain and combat the spreading infection. Some took the military’s arrival with optimism (Travis) while others saw their arrival as a sign that things were just going to get worse and that things might already be too late to save (Daniel).

These two episodes were some of the strongest in this shortened first season of Fear the Walking Dead. We got to learn more about every character, but mostly we learned just how differently each parent of the core group reacted to the growing situation. These were reactions that were as varied and complex as any we’ve seen in any of the characters in The Walking Dead.

Each parent tried to do what they thought was best for their immediate family. On one end of the moral spectrum we had Travis who tried to serve as a sort of de facto mayor of the walled-off neighborhood. Become the person that would be the one who dealt with the military liaison when it came to his family’s and, to an extent, the neighborhood’s well-being. So far, throughout the this short first season, Travis has come across as the sort of enlightened, civilized man who tries to reason and talk things out instead of acting out rashly and on instinct. This sort of personality is what we as a society want to keep the wheels of civilization moving along problem-free. But as we’ve seen this has also become a weakness as things progressively begin to get worst. Travis can’t seem to see that the rule of law and reason seem to be fighting a losing battle with the need to survive.

Yet, despite Travis’ coming off as some sort of pacifist we get a hint of logic to his seeming weak-willed madness. He sees the world crumbling around him and as a father and role model he has tried to be that moral center to his circle of family and friends. Even when what he’s seeing chips away at his belief that those in power will protect and save them, Travis tries to remain that strong, moral center.

The opposite seems to be true for the other father in our group, Daniel Salazar. This character has been quite the revelation in this series. We first meet him in episode 2. He comes across as a leery, but good man like any immigrant in the US looking to make a new life for his family. But with each new episode we learn a bit more of what makes Daniel tick. He’s a father whose past history before coming to the US hints at chaos and bloodshed. He has seen how crisis could spiral out of control in a blink of the eye and he sees that now with the arrival of the military. He doesn’t trust too many outside his wife and daughter and when he does, as the case with Madison, he does so begrudgingly. He’s adaptable to the ever-changing situation the way Travis is not. He’s willing to resort to immediate action to solve a problem or to find a solution. There’s a darkness in him that’s the current situation has awoken once more and it terrifies him, but he allows it to emerge nonetheless in order to keep his family safe.

Throughout these two episodes we see the recurring theme of authority in its many forms (parental, civilian and military) trying to do their best to keep the situation from spiraling out of control, but they despite all their efforts they fail due to that basic flaw that humanity can’t seem to shred and that’s the inability to work together at the most dire situation to solve the problem.

Both Travis and Daniel try to do the best they know how to navigate through and around the encroaching apocalypse. They succeed in some way, but in the end all their efforts still don’t amount to much as everything right from the start of the crisis has been stacked against them. All they could do now is try and save those closest to them.

The question now as we head into the season finale is whose path will ultimately be the best one to navigate in this apocalypse.

Will it be the Way of the Open Palm that we seem be getting from Travis?

A path of sticking to one’s moral center and principles. To try and keep oneself from sliding back into one’s darker impulses as we’ve seen signs of in these two episodes.

Or will it be the Way of the Closed Fist that Daniel seem to be following?

A mentality that requires quick thinking and direct action even if it means allowing one’s darker side to take hold in order to survive. It’s a path that looks to be well-suited for this apocalypse, but one that also brings with it a set of unknown dangers.

So, while the series has so far lacked in major zombie action and the gore quotient has been tame in comparison to The Walking Dead, it has one-upped it’s older sibling by allowing for it’s cast to grow as characters. Whether they all turn out for the better remains to be seen, but in the span of 5 episodes they’ve become full-fledged characters and now the finale will see who will remain steadfast and who will break.

Notes

  • “Not Fade Away” and “Cobalt” were directed by Kari Skogland. Meagan Oppenheimer has writing duties on the former with David Wiener being responsible for the latter.
  • It’s been nine days since the events of episode 3 and it looks like both the National Guardsmen and the neighborhood are fraying at the edges. It doesn’t help that the unit commander is a reservist who also happens to be an LAPD policeman on a power-trip.
  • Still no sign of Tobias. It looks like his own place might be located in the unsafe and unwalled “dead zones” the military have been doing sweeping patrols for the past nine days.
  • Sandrine Holt comes in as Dr. Bethany Exner. Not her first time in a zombie production. She was also in Resident Evil: Apocalypse as Raccoon City news reported Terri Morales.
  • Ruben Blades is turning out to be the MVP of the series, so far. I guess being a government torturer in his native El Salvador during it’s time of troubles is turning to be a good skillset in the coming zombie apocalypse.

Season 1

Horror Song of the Day: Penny Dreadful Theme (by Abel Korzeniowski)


penny-dreadful-logo-penny-dreadful-new-posters-and-a-new-character-trailer

It’s that time of the year. It’s October here in Through the Shattered Lens and that means one thing: horror-theme month.

October has become a sort of favorite month for us over here at Through the Shattered Lens. While other genres and topics will be posted and and get their time in the sun, this month always brings the site back to the shadows and things that made us fear the dark. Horror has been a common thing which drew Lisa and I to continue the site from it’s fledgling early months to going on almost 6 years.

I’d like to start my contribution to all-things horror by introducing those who haven’t experienced one of the best shows on TV which also has one of the most unique horror theme’s on either big or small screen.

The theme for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful was composed by Abel Korzeniowski. It’s a theme that gives an audience of hint at the show’s Victorian Age gothic setting with just the right amount of dark romance and psychological themes the show has become famous for.

So, here’s the latest “Song of the Day” set for the witching hour.

X-Files previews!


Although I have given up on Gotham and Minority Report, FOX did give us a few previews during them to a show that I am exited about!
Yes, I mean X-Files. And, yes, I watched both of them just to see the X-Files preview!
If you want to skip the shows and just watch the X-files trailers, they are here.
Also, how soon can January get here!

Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E03 “The Dog”


FearTWDS1E03

“Good people are the first ones to die.” — Daniel Salazar

[some spoilers]

After a two week break we’re finally back to a new episode of Fear the Walking Dead. The show has so far been very consistent in establishing one simple fact about the most of the cast in this companion series. They are, deep down in their hearts, very good people. Travis is very much your typical enlightened man who shows compassion towards his family and others. Madison loves her family no matter the sort of trouble they find themselves in. The show in it’s third episode seem very intent on pushing against their very good-nature to see who will be the first to break.

“The Dog” finds both Travis and Madison separated during what looks like the first major outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. Travis has just found his estranged son and with his ex-wife have had to seek refuge in the boarded up barbershop of one Daniel Salazar and his own family. Madison waits back home in their East L.A. suburban home with her own two children. With such a truncated season the episode doesn’t wait too long to put the families of both Travis and Daniel in danger. The riots which broke out during the last episode have begun to spun out of control and businesses in the neighborhood have begun to get looted and burned. It’s during their attempt to flee the riot zone that we see the extent of the damaged caused by the continuing riots and more signs that rioters won’t be the only danger around these two men’s families.

Back with Madison we see her attempting to shield her daughter from the truth of what she has seen during the day (it’s been less than two days in series timeline since the events of the pilot episode). Her son Nick seems to understand more of what’s truly going on around them and is more than willing to be the one to voice the ugly truth to his mother. If they’re to survive the storm that’s coming then she needs to tell Alicia what she has seen. As with the events around Travis, Madison and her kids must soon flee their own home when an infected and turned neighbor has decided to follow the barking of a dog Nick had let into their  home.

Both sequences were edited with equal amount of tense-filled moments as Travis and Madison must rely on their protective instincts to try and keep their respective families safe. The scenes with Travis and his group fleeing the barbershop have much more of an action tone to them as rioters, looters and police clash all around their group. With the Clark family it’s a sequence that wouldn’t seem out of place from any horror film. We see how resourceful Madison is starting to become since her time during the visit back at her high school in the previous episode. Some of this resourcefulness seem born out of keeping up with her junkie son Nick who has taken the initiative to do the the best thing to keep the family alive.

The writers have so far written up Nick not just as a troubled, loser drug-addict of a son, but as a survivor. His very addiction and time spent out on the streets feeding his habit has given him a sort of advanced survivor instinct that many around him still haven’t developed. It’s very clear from the first half of the season that his sister Alicia is still quite clueless to the events happening around her. She still believes that she must cut loose from her troubled family and be with her boyfriend to start a new life. Even after seeing the results of those infected, one of which happens to be her boyfriend Matt, Alicia still denies what she has seen and heard. Madison, on the other hand, has had some first-hand experience of what’s going on and has begun to fully believe Nick and gradually adapting to the new reality descending on her family and the world.

Travis, on the other hand, continues to cling to his inner goodness. His compassion for his neighbor Peter Dawson, who he finds in Madison’s home eating the remains of the barking dog that attracted him to the house, almost gets him killed if not for the fast thinking of Daniel Salazar. We see contrasting fathers in Travis and Daniel in this sequence. Travis’ good-nature almost gets him killed while Daniel’s more pragmatic approach to the deteriorating situation around them saves everyone. Even the scene where Daniel tries to teach Travis’ son how to handle the shotgun speaks volume on the differences between the two men.

Travis is the enlightened and educated man who abhors guns and violence. Daniel, we learn through some brief exposition, has survived his home country or El Salvador when many of his family didn’t and has carved out a life for his family in a new country. Travis still thinks that those in power will settle things and get everything back to normal. He even comments in the end of the episode that the cavalry has arrived when the National Guard pulls into the neighborhood to search, isolate and destroy the infected. Daniel sees this and knows that whatever has begun with the riots has spun out of control and too late for everyone still hoping for a peaceful resolution.

Fear the Walking Dead has had a tough task of making itself feel both new and familiar to fans. On the one hand, the series does feel new from the fact that this is a world still inhabited mostly by the living. It’s a world still unaware of the storm bearing down on it. Yes, we’ve seen instances of zombies making an appearance, but never in the large numbers audiences have become used to from it’s parent series The Walking Dead. The familiarity comes from the audience seeing the chaos caused by these first moments of the zombie apocalypse. We as an audience has seen the result once civilization finally broke down. We know the rules of this world even if most of the characters in the show are oblivious or slowly learning about them.

It’s that very familiarity that could make or break the series. So far, the series writers have made each character’s reaction to the events these past couple days range from dangerously naive (Alicia) to hard survivor (Tobias) and everyone in-between. While for some viewers the very naivete that some characters exhibit despite what they’ve seen or heard could become frustrating, it does sow the seeds in filling in the blanks of why civilization fell. Mistrust helps in the populace not believing what those in power has been telling them. Yet, it looks like misguided optimism and compassion also might have had a hand in speeding up the zombie apocalypse.

We’re now halfway through the first season of Fear the Walking Dead and things have begun to move along faster than it’s parent series did with it’s first season. We still have slower scenes with people just talking, but the writers never linger too long before ramping up the tension. This companion series has had the advantage of working with a world still learning the rules which makes for some dread-inducing scenes which the parent series rarely had. With the back-end episodes of series set to start it’ll be interesting to see if the writers will continue to mine the theme and focus of this first season.

Will the good people be the first to die and if they don’t then how will these horrific events change them? Will it be for the better or for the worst?

We will just have to tune in the next three Sundays and see what happens.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Jack LoGiudice and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • Nice sequence after fleeing the barbershop as Travis and his group slowly drive past a hospital and see the chaos unfolding as zombies (looking like both patients and healthcare workers) were confronted by responding LA police and SWAT. Earlier in this sequence we even see a brief glimpse of a doctor who looks to be a zombie staggering amongst the fleeing civilians and responding police yet remaining unnoticed by both.
  • The rioting, once we see it in full, doesn’t show whether the chaos is due just to the rioting or to the zombies amongst the rioters and riot police causing their own form of disturbance.
  • Neighbor Pete Dawnson being put down by Daniel Salazar with both barrels from an over-under Turkish shotgun marks the arrival of the series’ first gory moment. Some very nice work by the effects gurus from KNB EFX.
  • The point-blank headshot of Pete via shotgun blast was a nice homage to a similar shotgun blast to the head in the original Dawn of the Dead.
  • Funny how even though people heard the two shotgun blasts and the screams of their neighbors from the night earlier, some of them seem to still have to take the garbage out in the morning. I guess living in the city with it’s constant sounds of gunshots and screams have become routine for these Los Angelinos.
  • I guess the neighbor who had the party for their girl the day before and who was being attacked by neighbor Pete Dawson didn’t survive the night uninfected if the markings left by the National Guard was to be believed.

Season 1

New iZombie trailer!


The CDub has released a new trailer for iZombie and it is awesome! Short, but but it gives us our first taste (not sorry for the pun) of what Liv (Rose McIver) will be like.

We get a glimpse of the new Blaine, and Max is in it!

I so want iZombie back on my TV! Besides Jane The Virgin, this is one of CW’s best shows!

Here is the new trailer.