Jackie

No, not this one…

… or this one (I love that song!)…

… but this one, the existence of which I only discovered two days ago!

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Jackie is a Dutch movie from 2012 starring real-life sisters Carice van Houten (left, known to some through Game of Thrones), Jelka van Houten (on the right) and Holly Hunter.

I was flipping through channels the other day (which I hardly ever do anymore as Dutch TV has so little to offer that interests me) and stumbled on the beginning of this movie called Jackie. For some reason I was instantly drawn in. I think it was the no-nonsense approach, the swift set up of the story and then I saw Holly Hunter, whom I like as an actress, and I became even more curious. Of course, 15 or so minutes into the movie there was a commercial break and as I can’t stand commercial breaks during movies, I decided to not finish watching it that evening. I watched it yesterday evening instead, with no commercials breaking the magic of the story unfolding.

Jackie is about twin sisters, Sofie (Carice van Houten) and Danielle, Daan for short (Jelka van Houten), who were born through a surrogate mother and grew up in Amsterdam with their dads. Sofie is a career woman, Daan is married and trying to have a baby with her husband. At a dinner with their dads Sofie tells the family that she received an unexpected call from America where she was told that their birth mother is in a hospital with a complicated broken leg and needs transport to a rehab facility.

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Curious to find out who the woman is that gave birth to them, the girls decide to fly to New Mexico to meet her. They find a dishevelled, intense woman who doesn’t speak much and seems hostile towards them and life in general.

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As they can’t fly to the rehab facility due to Jackie’s medical issues, they give in to travelling in Jackie’s beat up old RV instead. What ensues is this road trip, with the necessary obstacles thrown in, where both sisters try to deal with what’s thrown at them and also deal with long-distance controlling situations at home while they try to forge some sort of relationship with this woman who gave birth to them. Meanwhile, Jackie is bewildered by her two daughters but is also slowly drawn to them.

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I don’t quite understand why this movie struck such a chord with me. I was reading some reviews after I watched it where it said that this was pretty cliché road movie fare, that the twist at the end should have happened sooner, that it was annoying that Jackie never explained anything about herself, that the women were all flat and devoid of feeling (what? I really didn’t get that criticism) and yet… I loved everything about this movie! The mix of Dutch and English was really fun to hear, it’s how I speak at home as well, I loved the dynamic between the two sisters, I loved the intensity of Holly Hunter, I loved the three leads in their roles. I even loved that there was not much explaining, these women just are as they are, no explanations necessary. The story really is a snapshot of a certain time in these three women’s lives and how this road trip brings each one closer to their own true selves and each other. At the end, each woman is able to move forward in their own unique way. There was serious stuff going on, but there were funny and light-hearted moments as well. The part that made me smile most was when the two sisters were in the front singing along with the radio to this fun, upbeat song and Jackie was enjoying herself in the back…

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I also felt that the New Mexico backdrop fit the story very well. The landscape is not only empty and stark, it also has some beautiful hidden treasures, which I thought somehow mirrored these women as well. Yep, I loved this movie, I think I even dreamt of it last night, I have been re-watching bits and pieces this morning and now I’m blogging about it. I tend to not love most Dutch movies so much, but this one really did it for me. Here’s a trailer…

It’s available on Dutch Netflix, so maybe also on Netflix where you are, should this have made you curious…

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Say my name, over and over again

Two years ago, when Berlin Station first aired, I got a little kick out of the fact that one of the characters on it was named Esther (played by Mina Tander). And not just any character, but the woman would turn out to be a love-interest for Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage)!

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A year after Berlin Station I discovered Suits and got caught up in (binge-)watching that. In season 5 there was a guest character on the show who was also called Esther (played by Amy Acker), the sister of one of the main lawyers on the show (Louis Litt played by Rick Hoffman). She became a fling for the main guy Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht).

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Ever since then I have been meaning to make an ‘Esther’ fan video in which Richard Armitage and Gabriel Macht say my name, over and over again. Now that I have finally finished watching the second season of Berlin Station, I finally decided the time had come. So, here it is, the video I finished making this weekend, featuring my name (said by more people than just Richard and Gabriel)…

When I was a kid, I really didn’t like my name. In time I made peace with it and now, over the years, I guess I have finally gotten used to it; I have warmed to it in such a way that I am now happy enough with it. This video is all silliness, and feels somewhat narcissistic, but it was nice hearing my name on the lips of actors I like and love and it’s been fun documenting it in this video!  🙂

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Marta Dusseldorp, lead actress from A Place To Call Home who plays Sarah, actually saw the fan video I made recently for George and Sarah in season 5!

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How do I know that she has seen it? She tweeted a reaction!

Last year she retweeted something I wrote and this time she actually commented and again I am stoked! I had to reply to her, of course…

I never fangirl to garner attention from the object of my affection, I never tweet to the objects of my affection (I only hashtag them) and I never ever expect a reaction. In fact, I am more than fine not being noticed, I’d be embarrassed… I just fangirl because I need to let my enthusiasm out. So, when one of your fangirl objects personally acknowledges you for something you have done because you admire the work they do, I admit, it makes me feel giddy! Thank you Marta for making my day! 🙂

The Split

Just before the summer the BBC showed a 6 part series called The Split which is a legal drama series about divorce lawyers. I tend to not really like watching divorce dramas or dramas where a married woman is torn between her husband and a potential (ex-) lover. However, I had seen a trailer and it had two great attractions.

The first attraction was Nicola Walker (of Spooks fame, a very nice connection to Richard Armitage there!)…

I only watched Spooks during the three seasons that Richard was in it. It was fine but I never was a real fan of the show. However, apart from Richard, I always thought Nicola Walker as Ruth was the standout actor in it. I’ve never really seen her in anything else and in the trailer for The Split, she made me curious.

The second attraction was Barry Atsma, a Dutch actor. I tend to generally not be very fond of Dutch actors (or Dutch films) and I had not seen that much of Barry Atsma, although he is famous in The Netherlands. He seemed a generic and a little too sleekly handsome actor. Recently he made a Dutch movie called Bankier van het Verzet (The Resistance Banker) set in The Netherlands during World War II, which I alas missed in the cinema but was one of the few Dutch movies I really did want to see.

In the trailer and the publicity surrounding it, I suddenly saw something more than the smooth, charming exterior of Barry Atsma. Maybe it’s him ageing a little, like a fine wine, that makes him a little more appealing. Maybe he’s gaining more maturity as an actor and coming into his own. In any case, when I realized he had been cast in a prime time BBC series, I got curious to see how he’d do in an international setting and was also curious to see how his English would be.

I caught a glimpse (the first 10 minutes or so) of episode 3 of The Split when it aired on TV and from that felt I needed to watch the whole series. And so, recently, I finally did. Caution: if you read on, there may be minor spoilers ahead!

So, Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker) is a top class divorce lawyer in London.

She used to work for the family firm, where her mother Ruth Defoe (Deborah Findley) is boss and her younger sister Nina Defoe (Annabel Scholey, the dark-haired woman in the pictures below) also works as a lawyer. Their youngest sister Rose Defoe (Fiona Button) is not a lawyer but is very much a part of the story as well.

At the beginning of the series, Hannah starts work for a large top-class law firm, having left the Defore family firm as there were no more prospects for her there. She becomes the colleague of Christie Carmichael (Barry Atsma), who is an old flame she has been out of touch with. Christie is referred to as ‘Dutch not Danish’ a few times, and he also has a little bit of a Dutch accent, so why they chose to name the character Christie Carmichael is beyond me – there is nothing remotely Dutch about that name! Anyhow, Christie it is.

Christie and Hannah share an old friendship, which of course doesn’t sit so well with Hannah’s husband of twenty years, Nathan Stern (Stephen Mangan). Hannah and Nathan have 3 children between the ages of 16 and 10, Nathan is a barrister and on the surface their marriage seems alright, although from the beginning you do feel there is something lacking. Later it becomes more clear what that is…

Hannah immediately gets thrown into a big divorce case. During an initial meeting at Hannah’s new law firm, multimillionaire business owner Davey McKenzie (Stephen Tompkinson) tells his wife of 40 years, Goldie (Meera Syal), that he wants a divorce, which comes as a complete shock to her system.The Split MeeraPainful layers slowly get peeled away in this case and it serves as a thread throughout the whole series. The case also pits Hannah against the Defoe firm of her mother and sister. Hannah has a bit of a problematic relationship with her mother after leaving the firm, yet, Hannah, her sisters and their mother also share a deep bond and history of having to rely on each other after their father walked out when the girls were small children. Their father Oscar Defoe (Anthony Head), after having been an absent father for 30 years, suddenly shows up again in their lives, which causes a lot of tension…

There is tension between Hannah and her fellow-lawyer sister Nina: professional tension but also personal tension when Hannah sees Nathan flirt with Nina and when Christie too seems interested in Nina. And there also is tension between the youngest sister Rose and her fiancé James Cutler (Rudi Dharmalingam). Again, a baffling choice of a name for an Asian man who turns out to have Asian parents as well. Anyhow, James, seems almost too decent and boring and Rose seems to be getting cold feet as things slowly go south for this young couple. The way a young vicar gets caught between the couple during pre-ceremony talks is quite amusing, though…The Split Rose James… and (spoiler here) things do get better again for them.

Then there is the whole Hannah, Nathan and Christie triangle. Hannah still is attracted to Christie, yet also cares for her husband Nathan and is fiercely determined to keep Christie at a distance. Nathan loves his wife and when things come to a head at the end of the series, he fights for her, despite mistakes he also made. Christie, who seems to only be a smooth flirt at first, does turn out to have depth as he slowly shows how deeply he still cares for Hannah. It is hinted that she is “the one who got away” for him and you even get the sense that he is “the one who got away” for her as well, that she settled for Nathan over Christie way back in the day. Nathan is aware of some of the history between Hannah and Christie but not all of it and when the two men meet at work, you can cut the tension with a knife…The Split Christie NathanSo, Hannah is at the center of this whole story and has so much to deal with. Professional problems at work (among other things, her mother and sister poach a client and her loyalty to the new firm is occasionally questioned), problems with her dad re-entering her life, problems with her 16-year-old daughter who is discovering sex, problems with her sisters, and she is torn between two men. I normally don’t like stories about women being torn between two men, especially when she’s already married, but in this case I admit to being extremely torn myself. That is all down to the perfect portrayals of Hannah, Nathan and Christie. Usually in films or series you have a preference for one suitor over the other and what I think is brilliantly done here is that it is difficult to prefer one to the other; I have great sympathy for Hannah and also for both the men she loves. All three of them are very decent at heart yet all three of them are also flawed, just very human. If I were Hannah, I wouldn’t know who to choose either, I wouldn’t know who would make me happiest and I would love both as well… Nicola Walker, Stephen Mangan and Barry Atsma are truly brilliant in this.

Not only these three characters are so very well portrayed. Mother Ruth, sisters Nina and Rose, fiancé James, dad Oscar, and Goldie who has been forced into a divorce by her husband Davey, are all brilliant. They are all very human, good and flawed at the same time, and you get a real sense that even if you wouldn’t necessarily agree with all actions, you do understand where they’re coming from. The point where in the last episode Hannah is truly falling apart and she turns to her dad for a brief moment – yes, tears were streaming down my face.

I’m sure many things about divorce are not accurately portrayed in this, and it really is all a rich-person’s drama, and some of the names seem weird, and yes, I have read mixed reviews for this show. I get the criticism – there really is so much drama, almost too much to bear. And yet, I loved every moment of  this show and I think it had mostly to do with the characters and how they were portrayed. With lesser actors, the whole thing could have become whiney and unbearable and ridiculous to watch. Yet, with this cast, each and every one of them was brilliant and they lifted it all up for me. I really liked that you could sympathise with almost every character despite their flaws, it felt like all characters were treated fairly and I loved that it was strong-women driven.The Split - Defoe women

I finished binge-watching The Split a few days ago and it’s been on my mind ever since. There will be a season 2 next year and I for one am already looking forward to it!

Grace and Frankie

A little while ago I finally started watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix. I have been aware of the show for some time, and I have always liked Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, but somehow I was never actually moved to watch this. After the recent resurgence of my interest in actor James Stewart, I began reading about his friendship with Henry Fonda. That led me to reading about the complicated relationship between Henry Fonda and his kids and that in turn led me to some video interviews with Jane Fonda. From that my interest in Grace and Frankie grew and I finally braved the first episode. I was very pleasantly surprised, not only with the two women, but with all the main characters in the story!

Grace & Frankie posterThe show is about so many things, although most obviously it’s about two ladies in their 70s that have to completely reshape and redefine their lives.

At the start of the series Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) is married to lawyer Robert (Martin Sheen) and Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) is married to another lawyer Sol (Sam Waterston); the couples are in their 70s. Grace is an uptight former beauty product executive who is very fond of a drink and doesn’t much like Frankie who is a free-spirited hippie, giving painting lessons to ex-cons and who likes to smoke pot on occasion.

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Robert and Sol work together in their shared law firm and the two couples have known each other for ages. The series begins with a dinner, where Robert and Sol announce to their wives that they are gay, that they have been in love with each other for 20 years and that they want to get married…

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While Robert and Sol are relieved that their secret is out at last, the two women are completely blindsided, their whole worlds are turned upside down. The two women retreat to the beach house the two couples had shared as a time-share and while at first Grace and Frankie get along with difficulty, they soon develop a friendship.

grace frankie01Each of the couples also have grown up children. Grace has two daughters, Mallory (Brooklyn Decker, on the left in the two pics below) and Brianna (June Diane Raphael, on the right).

Mallory is ‘the nice one’, married and a mom, while Brianna is the one who now heads up Grace’s old beauty products company, she is sarcastic and a commitment-phobe.

Frankie has two sons: Nwabudike, Bud for short (Baron Vaughn, the dark guy), who is also a lawyer, very responsible and on his way to take over the dads’ firm, and Coyote (Ethan Embry, the light guy) is a recovering drug addict, just out of rehab and living with his brother because he isn’t ready to live on his own yet.

What I loved about these two sons is that it is immediately clear that they are brothers and it takes a couple of episodes until it’s explained that they were both adopted by Frankie and Sol. It reminds me of my own family. I just visited my brother in London last weekend, and he too is dark where I am light (and his daughter is a lovely mix).

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Seeing Bud and Coyote going through regular sibling stuff reminds me of my brother (or my Palestinian brother or my Palestinian sister) and me. There is no emphasis on adoption, there is emphasis on sibling relationships with ups and downs and I just love that.

The daughters and sons of Grace and Frankie have known each other pretty much all their lives, so we also see them explore together what the new status quo means, how they too need to find their places. We also get glimpses into their lives and some of the big stuff they need to deal with.

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Then we have Sol and Robert. The marriage of Robert and Grace had sort of muddled on for ages, they weren’t particularly close. However, Sol and Frankie did have a close relationship in their marriage and their ‘uncoupling’ is difficult as they still really like each other.

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Yet, there is no doubt at all that Sol and Robert are absolutely in love and seeing that, despite the hurt they caused their wives, is heartwarming…

They deal with finally coming out as gay in their 70s (in a later season we see how nervous Catholic Robert is when telling his 90+ mother that he is gay), trying to tap into a gay community and find their own ‘way’ of being gay and struggling with couple issues like any couple does (living together, wedding preparations but also jealousy and infidelity of sorts are included).

The stars of the show are of course Grace and Frankie. They deal with the blow they have received and must learn to find new sources of support. They deal with feeling obsolete and ageing and health and death and family and finding love and sex and what all that means late in life. They must find their new normal, figure out a way to deal with their ex-husbands and figure out a way to make life fun and meaningful again. All of this sounds quite dramatic but the show has so much humour! It is touching and very funny at the same time and that combination is gold.

Grace and Frankie are two opposites who somehow attract and so much comedy is derived from how these opposites interact with each other, how very differently they deal with situations.  Grace is closed off and not too comfortable talking about emotions, Frankie is the opposite, Grace finds solace in drinking, Frankie finds solace in chanting and smoking pot. Frankie is very nurturing of her sons, whereas Grace is more standoffish with her daughters. She doesn’t particularly like kids and being a hands on grandmother is not her thing. And yet, reluctantly and bonding over the situation they have found themselves in, they become close. At some point Grace and Frankie even decide to found a company making vibrators that are tailored to older women, after Grace injures her wrist using a ‘regular’ vibrator at Frankie’s suggestion.

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That whole vibrator storyline is just a joy to watch. It also highlights how different their approaches to business are. Grace is a business woman through and through and Frankie is very much a go with the flow person, also very intent on being ethical in business. This leads to some very funny situations and they even go out and about with vagina balloons at one point!

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And their families look on in wonder how these two very different women seem to gel…Grace & Frankie group

They also deal with love. Frankie finds herself attracted to vegetable farmer Jacob (Ernie Hudson) who provides yams for the yam lubricant she makes (yeah, funny, just watch it…).

Grace gets involved with travel writer Guy (Craig T. Nelson) for a while…

… then reconnects with contractor Phil (Sam Elliott) whom she had once been attracted to but at that time she couldn’t act on it…

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… and later finds that rich businessman Nick (Peter Gallagher), a man younger than she is and an adversary in business, is trying to pursue her…

Through all of this, at the heart of the show, there is the friendship between Frankie and Grace, dealing with problems that age brings and finding their feet in a later stage of life.

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To me this is a very universal show, relevant to all ages. Sure, it centers around old people, but really it’s a show about humanity, accepting the differences in people, dealing with what life throws at you and trying to make the most of life regardless, and survival. All of this is done with a nice large shot of humour thrown in. The acting is great, the characters are great, the stories are fun and serious subjects are not shunned. I have just completely fallen for Grace and Frankie!

There are four seasons of Grace and Frankie available on Netflix (13 half hour episodes a season). The fifth season is being filmed as we speak, it should be out at the beginning of next year. I, for one, can hardly wait to see how this continues! Here’s a trailer for the start of the series.

The show really is everything this trailer promises and more… totally worth a watch in my humble opinion. 🙂