Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Non-Leering Look at Helen Mirren's Pleasure Pillows and Blake Lively's Orange Bikini


The one thing that occurs to me as I watch old movies is that actresses were so pretty back then.  Yes, the ladies of Hollywood's Golden Age had exquisitely formed faces that were perfect for a close-up.  Modern-day Hollywood has rejected classic beauty as something elitist, privileged and overly feminine.  Today, a pretty girl is a terrible person who deserves to be scorned and stifled.  This is as much about race as it is about looks or style because, from the perspective of many, classic beauty is seen as a white thing.  In the 1940s, Americans venerated the beauty of Carole Lombard and Veronica Lake, but today that is seen as a veneration of whiteness.

Betty Grable
Blake Lively received scorn from critics for daring to look pretty, sexy and white in the recent shark-at-the-beach thriller The Shallows.  When a critic described Lively's character as "blonde surfer girl," what he likely meant to say was that she was an "entitled white girl."  Nico Lang of Salon bluntly attacked Lively's whiteness in an article titled "Yet another white lady in jeopardy."  Glenn Kenny of The New York Times wrote, "Ms. Lively's screen presence has always traded on a healthy confidence.  That quality skates close to entitlement much of the time; her appeal is very Girl Next Door, provided the street in question is Rodeo Drive."  It is somehow mean to be pretty and to make other people feel bad about their less attractive selves.  It is old-fashioned jealousy in its most vitriolic form. In the process, we are all called upon to accept and participate in the vitriol. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "Who doesn't want to see a hot blonde in a bikini get attacked by a great white shark?"

In London, feminists freaked out over this ad because it featured a pretty blonde in a bikini.

This was put forth by protesters as a more appropriate image.

It is seen by critics to be crass and shallow for a filmmaker to have a beautiful bikini-clad actress headline their film.  Peter Debruge of Variety Debruge grumbled, "[Nancy's] beach bod and bikini. . . will account for 90% of this thriller's summer box office."  He indicated that the film reached a same level of "schlocky" as The Deep (1977) did when it "immortalized by the sight of Jacqueline Bisset in a wet T-shirt."

Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep (1977)

The point, I think, is that the ugly woman is invariably profound while the beautiful woman is invariably superficial.  Wesley Morris of the New York Times wrote, "[Lively's] performance in The Age of Adaline. . . was like watching a mermaid ride a bike.  She tries.  But her acting hasn't yet caught up to her algorithm-generated beauty.  Alas, there may be no algorithmic solution for that."  But it is not that Hollywood is committed to realism.  Hollywood is not producing kitchen sink dramas and, even if it was, it doesn't mean that every actress has to look like a kitchen sink. 

"Are you a puffer fish or are you just glad to see me?"
Even a pretty actress is made to look ugly today.  Consider Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

When my mother was young, she wished that she could be Jane Wyman.

Today, we have young women who wish they could be Harley Quinn.

Travers blamed "crass Hollywood thinking" for "spawn[ing] a summer throwaway like The Shallows."  From his perspective, the conflict between the pretty girl and the brutish shark does not make much of a film.  He said that The Shallows is "one of those movie titles that serves as its own review."  Tim Grierson of Screen Daily wrote, "[T]he film's uncluttered suspense. . . requires little more than a lone woman in peril, a terrifying shark, and a large body of water that separates the woman from help."  At the center of The Revenant was a pretty (though shaggy) boy and a brutish bear.  The film has little more plot than The Shallows.  Leonardo DiCaprio gets mauled by a gargantuan, toothy predator.  He is bloodied and bruised, but he kills the predator and drags his own broken body back home.  The film demonstrates the importance of perseverance and resourcefulness in the face of overwhelming odds.  Yet, no one called The Revenant crass and shallow.  Instead, the film was nominated for 12 Oscars.  DiCaprio won the Oscar for Best Actor.


Kenny sees Lively as too glamorous to be taken seriously.  He wrote, "The movie's makeup crew does its bit by showing that every time Nancy resolves to take action against her aquatic tormentor, her face regains color, and her lips become unparched."  The film does not bear out this claim.  Lively's physical condition worsens throughout the film.  She hardly looks glamorous as she spends hours bleeding and shivering on a rock.

Megan Garber of The Atlantic found it significant that "the audience isn't privy to the biological sex of this modern-day megalodon."  Garber is desperate to know the shark's motivation and believes that gender has an important impact on its motivation.  What Garber really wants to know is if the shark is male because this would make the shark attacks on Lively male-on-female violence.

The male shark does not have a penis.  Instead, it has a pair of organs called claspers. 
 The shark in "The Jaws" novel was specifically identified as male, but the shark was never at any point during the film's production identified as male (The references to "Bruce the Shark" came later).  Savanna Teague of ScreenPrism believes that, if accept that the shark is male, we must accept that the film is delivering a specific metaphor.  According to Teague, authoritative Brody, intelligent Hooper and physically strong Quint "create a triad of acceptable masculine presences."  They were, according to Teague, "class variations on the white American male."  She wrote, "Hooper as the upper class, Quint as the working class, and Brody as the middle class man [are] ultimately endorsed by the film as the bedrock of civilized society."

The story uses the rule of three.  It reminds me of "The Three Little Pigs."  The three little pigs occupy different classes, too.  Look at the one pig living like a peasant in a thatched hut.

It was the pigs' ethics and approach in regards to work that placed them into different classes.
"Little pig, little Pig, let me come in."
"No, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin."
"Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your shark cage in."
The first two pigs were eaten by the wolf.

Hopper was in the script (as in the novel) torn out of the shark cage and eaten.

Quint was eaten as the film came to its bloody conclusion.

Do we explore these parallels?

Looking at the film from another angle, we can see Quint as the id, Hooper as the super-ego, and Brody as the ego.  That's another rule of three situation.  I am sorry if this seems to be a digression.  My point, simply, is that a film can be open to multiple interpretations.  Everyone will look to find their own personal meaning in a film.  For a feminist, personal meaning is always to be found in gender.

Let us not mince words about the one other male prominent in the story.  Yes, I am referring to you, Mayor Vaughan.  Vaughan, who dishonorably obstructs the trio's efforts to protect the community and destroy the shark, is an unmanly sack of ocean sludge.  He is as much an antagonist as the shark.  This is pretty much Teague's point and I have no reason to disagree with her. 

Teague asserted that the brutish shark represents "natural, primal man without the constraints of society."  She concluded, "The triad's triumph over Bruce (though at the expense of Quint, who is marked as the closest of the three protagonists to Bruce's primal state) is a defeat of the natural, untamed world by modern masculine authority."

Teague can see an alternative metaphor in the film if we prefer to read the shark as female.  According to Teague, this makes the film about "anxiety at the potential loss of masculine power to a wild feminine force."  This puts the shark into the "monstrous female" category, which is also occupied by the scary baddies of Carrie, The Exorcist and Alien.

Like Teague, Garber insists on interpreting life only in terms of gender.  She claimed in her review of The Shallows that she and other audience members were disturbed to see a woman being cut and bruised through most of the film.  She wrote, "Even before the shark appeared, the audience in my screening was audibly gasping at the violence displayed onscreen."  Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian wrote, "[H]ere's the key thing: the group of jaded and highly intellectual New York critics that made up the audience at my screening went from snickering at the arguably unnecessary early cleavage shots to gasping, cringing and even murmuring "Oh, no!" as our leading lady suffered increasingly ferocious setbacks."  Garber found this to be "its own form of cinematic sadism" that betrays the film's reoccurring message of female empowerment.

I find it hard to imagine these critics erupting in a collective gasp to see a man being cut and bruised.  The New York Film Festival maintained a twenty-year ban on Brian DePalma because activists were appalled at the violence against women depicted by DePalma in Dressed to Kill.  Throughout that same period, the New York Film Festival expressed shameless adoration of Martin Scorcese, whose ultraviolent films focused on violence against men.  Remember Scorcese's Casino, which featured a scene in which a man's head is squeezed so tight in a vise that his eyeball pops out?  Only men died in the blood-soaked climax of Scorcese's Taxi Driver (1976).

Women were not shielded by DePalma in the blood-soaked climax of Carrie (1976).


It is unfair for violence against men to be more acceptable than violence against women.

In comparison, The Revenant seemed to satisfy an appetite for gore.  Geoffrey MacNab of The Independent called it "bloody marvelous."  Of course, it's not impossible for the bloodshed of a man to cause an audience to gasp.  Christian Toto of Hollywood in Toto wrote, "Few movies pack as many gasp-inducing moments as The Revenant."  Travers wrote, "Note to movie pussies: The Revenant is not for you. . . [Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu] damn near tortures his cast and his audience in telling the story. . . [I]t's one brutal, badass epic.  But hang on for its unforgiving 156 minutes and you get to experience the power of cinema unleashed."  Stephen Galloway of The Hollywood Reporter wrote:
A pre-Thanksgiving Academy screening led to a few walkouts and a number of moans and groans, even as many audience members were awed by the film’s scope and ambition.  No scene shocked and awed the audience as much as the one where DiCaprio stumbles across a bear and its cubs, and then is ferociously (and repeatedly) assaulted by the beast, which spins, turns and eventually sits on him, after throwing him around and ripping great scads of flesh from his back.  The sequence is a monument to CGI, and also perhaps to (some) viewers’ willingness to endure the unendurable.  One otherwise admiring pundit [Jeffrey Wells] was slammed on social media for tweeting, "Forget women seeing this."
Feminists were so upset by Wells' remark that they came out en masse to brag they, as strong independent women, could sit through the film's most brutal scenes without flinching.  Wells said in his defense that a female friend who accompanied him to the screening was "shielding her eyes" and "chirping like a chipmunk during the extra-violent or extra-gross scenes," and he added that a fellow critic had told him that his wife "wouldn’t last five minutes" if she watched the film.  But we do not know if either woman was a feminist.  Likely not.  I now understand that a feminist will bravely watch a man being mauled by a bear, but she will be driven to express moral outrage at seeing a woman mauled by a shark.

Garber decided in the end that the shark was male.  She said of the shark, "He isn't attacking her so much as he is stalking."  The shark is a batterer.  The shark is a stalker.  The shark is, metaphorically speaking, an abusive boyfriend.  He is Teague's "primal man without the constraints of society."  Teague asked, "Does the shark's urge to destroy this beautiful woman suggest that Bruce is, perhaps, the darkest aspect of masculinity?"


Garber commented, "Maybe the shark has somehow realized, on a spiritual level if not an intellectual one, that humans are responsible for the decline of the global shark population, and figures he should do his part to correct the imbalance?"  Really, we are going to go there?  The shark is now a social justice warrior.  Shark Lives Matter.  Kyle Smith of the New York Post made a similar point by writing his review from the shark's perspective.  He explained in the shark's voice, "I was munching on Dead Willy's carcass when the lady came surfing by.  You could tell there was potential for misunderstanding since one of us has a brain the size of a plum, but enough about blondes."

Brad Wheeler of The Globe and Mail wrote, "[Lively] ends up bitten, bloody and bikinied on a rock. Guarding its dead-whale supper, a shark – a circling symbol of greed – sees her as a threat.  At high tide she'll be flooded off safe ground – an allusion to oceans rising and the threat of global warming, perhaps."

A man versus shark story is hero versus villain, prey versus predator, or man versus nature.  I can accept any of those interpretations.  But I cannot look at this simple thriller and see it as a story of shark versus greed or shark versus global warming.  Just as sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes a shark is just a shark.

Let us get back to Hoffman's reference to the audience at a critic screening "snickering at the arguably unnecessary early cleavage shots."  This is, in fact, a point worth examining.

Garber wrote, "[W]e get several slow, languorous, almost-uncomfortably-close-up shots of Lively stripping down to her (tiny) bikini.  And then rubbing sunscreen on her back, slowly and languorously (even though, moments later, she'll don a neoprene jacket that will render that effort completely unnecessary).  And then zipping that jacket up just enough to tighten her cleavage, but not to cover it.  And then, once in the water, straddling her surfboard.  [Director Jaume] Collet -Serra delights in angles that focus on the surface level of the water; what that amounts to when it comes to Lively, however, are a series of crotch shots."

Garber's assessment of the scene is unfair.  Collet-Serra presents the scene in a series of quick cuts.  I would not describe these shots as "slow, languorous."  Positioning the camera behind Lively as she paddles her surf board out into the ocean is not a crotch shot. 

This is a crotch shot.

But Garber was not alone in her view.  Grierson wrote, "With The Shallows, this penchant for B-movie baseness is apparent in his slow, leering pans over Lively's shapely bikini body. . ."  Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Nancy waxes her board and strips down to an orange bikini, which Collet-Serra's leering camera probably lingers on a couple beats too long.  Then again, he isn't exactly making The Suffragette here.  He's making a Blake Lively shark movie, and he knows precisely which side his bread is cocoa-buttered on."  Alonso Duralde of The Wrap wrote, "Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano (The Gunman) spend a little too much time accentuating her wet-suit cleavage and arching back in the early sequences. . ."  The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, who assessed the film to be "pandering," noted that "[t]he camera is in her face and all over her body all the time." 

Garber at least conceded, "This is a movie, of course, about a lady-surfer; you would expect, given that, a certain amount of lady-surfer-in-her-bathing-suit images."  Yes, this is the female form, which we get to see to an extraordinary extent on a beach.  Thank God for the female form and thank God for beaches.  It is not as if the filmmakers had Lively fixed up to look like Lara Croft.

The actress, cleavage and all, more closely resembles Australian pro surfer Tyler Wright.

Tyler Wright
Michael Phillips of Chicago Tribune is more concise and less judgmental in his assessment of The Shallows.  He wrote, "We're strictly in three-C's territory with this one: character stuff (grieving, doubts, family); cleavage; and chomping."

Helen Mirren is part of the feminist club, which means that she can flaunt her sexy body all that she wants and none of these rude critics will dare say one bad word about it.  So, let us dig into a discussion of Mirren's "pleasure pillows," which is the nickname that Mirren has coined for her ample bosom.

In 2008, a YouTube channel called "Caesonia's channel" published a 1975 video in which chat show host Michael Parkinson speaks to Helen Mirren about the effect that her sex appeal has had on her career.  The video went viral recently.  As of September 17, 2016, the 41-year old video has had nearly 4 million views.  I would like to closely examine this interview clip. 

Parkinson addresses in his introduction the fact that theatre critics have focused a great deal on Mirren's attractive looks.  "The point about her," he says, "is that the critics spend as much time discussing her physical attributes as assessing her acting abilities."  Parkinson offers quotes from critics to validate his point. 

When Mirren comes on stage, she is clearly furious with her introduction.  She is especially upset that Parkinson quoted a critic who called her "sluttishly erotic."  Should she be angry at Parkinson or the critic that Parkinson quoted?  The critic essentially made the point that Mirren is overtly and shamelessly sexual in her performances.  This would suggest that the actress is making an intentional effort to emphasize the sexuality of her characters.  Is this true or is the critic mistaken?  Mirren has an opportunity to respond to the critic.  Understand, the critic was not necessarily trying to insult the actress.  An erotic performance worked out effectively when the actress took on the role of Lady Macbeth.  Critics were also pleased to see Mirren as a lusty, full-figured Cleopatra.  Why is it wrong to talk about this? 

Helen Mirren aged 18, between rehearsals for "Antony and Cleopatra" at the Old Vic, 1965.

I do not know the exact context of the critic's "sluttishly erotic" remark.  Believe me, I did spend time looking for this review and I am sorry to say that I was unable to find it.  I do not know if the phrase was meant as praise or insult.  But Mirren, in any case, has every right to agree or disagree with the critic.  I simply cannot condemn Parkinson for raising the subject and expecting a more professional response from Mirren.

Mirren was furious then and her fury remained unabated decades later.  "Yes, it was completely inappropriate," she told The Irish Times in 2014.  "And it struck me so at the time.  It was insulting.  It's not as if I was a glamour model.  I was doing pretty challenging work in one of the biggest theatres in Britain."

It is obvious during the interview that Mirren is too angry to be either reasonable or civil.  Parkinson tries to get her to talk about her feelings rather than have her just sit there and fume.  But she is being so contrary that the interview quickly deteriorates.  She eventually concedes that there is a basis for Parkinson's remarks.  She says, "Their must be some truth in it if people keep saying it."  People keep saying it because this is what Mirren keeps putting out there.  Other critics have put it more delicately, describing the actress as coquettish as opposed to slutty, but they have without question made the same essential point.  Nonetheless, Mirren remains so angry that Parkinson is unable to set the interview on a smooth course.  She admits after a bit of fussing that she has forgotten the question.  Parkinson takes this opportunity to rephrase the question in a way that is least likely to offend her.  He says, "Do you find that your figure - your physical attributes that people are always going on about - hinder you in your pursuit of being a serious actress?" 

At another point, Parkinson refers to Mirren's physical attributes as her "equipment."  This angers Mirren even more.  She says, "I'd like you to explain what you mean by my equipment in greater detail."

"Your physical attributes," says Parkinson.

"You mean my fingers?" asks Mirren.

Parkinson said that he was talking about her "figure."

Mirren snaps, "Because serious actresses can't have big bosoms, is that what you mean?"

"I think it might detract from the performance," Parkinson says, "if you know what I mean."

"I can't say that would necessarily be true.  I mean what a crummy performance if people are obsessed with the size of your bosom over anything else.  I would hope that the performance and the play and the living relationship between all the people on the stage and all the people in the audience would overcome such . . . boring questions, really."

When Parkinson spoke about her "equipment," Mirren made the assumption that he was making a specific reference to her breasts.  He insisted (and I believe him) that he was referring to her overall figure.  Maybe, the person most obsessed with Helen Mirren's breasts is Helen Mirren, who has exposed them at every opportunity. 

Parkinson's comments were grossly distorted by the feminist press, which accused the interviewer of being hideously rude and sexist.  Heather Schwedel of Slate noted, "Parkinson pursued what to him must have seemed like a logical line of questioning: Men, the default gender of people with brains and talent, do not have breasts, so it would follow that Ms. Mirren's 'equipment' hinders her abilities as a dramatic actor, no?"  It is pure fantasy to say that Parkinson was making the point that women have no brains or talent.  Remember, it was Kyle Smith of the New York Post who said a pretty woman has "a brain the size of a plum."  Parkinson made no such remark.  The man never said or even implied that women are lesser actors than men because their acting abilities are hindered by their breasts. 

Donald Clarke of The Irish Times wrote, "It is worth remembering quite how Neanderthal attitudes still were towards female performers during the 1970s.  [T]he chat shows were still soaked in the culture of the saloon bar and the locker room."  Clarke faulted Parkinson for "behav[ing] so boorishly" and "[m]aking no attempt to conceal his lupine leer."

Slate used a screen capture that made it look as if Parkinson was staring at Mirren's breasts throughout the interview.  He glanced at her chest once after Mirren, herself, had flamboyantly called attention to her breasts.  Journalists referred to Parkinson as "grotesquely sexist interviewer" (Vanity Fair) and "sexist interviewer" (Stuff).  The rabid comments posted on social media were horrible.  I took a quick look at the comments that accompanied the video on YouTube.  Commenters called Parkinson "a jerkoff," "an insanely dumb wanker" and "an overrated, talent-less twat."  One commenter angrily remarked that Mirren should have punched him.  Ah, yes, the mob does have a tendency to get violent.

In the end, the caterwauling offered up a gross mischaracterization of Parkinson.  Parkinson is no smutty, fly-by-night interviewer dolt.  The man is the legendary and beloved Parky.  He was a coal miner's son who worked his way up in the news business.  He has had a 58-year, scandal-free career as a journalist, broadcaster and author.  He has been Sir Michael Parkinson since he was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth in 2008.

He is not a reckless, drooling, self-indulgent womanizer, which is supported by the fact that he has been happily married to the same woman for 57 years.

Parkinson is a flesh-and-blood human being.  When you cut him, he bleeds.  Others understand this.  His fans were congratulatory when the broadcaster recently came through a two-year battle with cancer.  Internet rabble, have a thimble of civility and stop your vicious name-calling. 

Mirren discussed her early life with the Radio Times magazine in 2013: "I terribly wanted to be Brigitte Bardot.  I was a fat, spotty girl sitting on the sea front in Southend-on-Sea imagining, dreaming, being absolutely sure that a big producer would drive by in a car with a cigar and lean out of the window and say "Hey, what's your name?  You're the one I've been looking for!'"  She wanted a man to gaze upon her face and figure and be so enchanted by her looks that he was compelled to transform her into an international sex kitten.  She probably saw in her mind a "Birth of Venus" moment.

Mirren became a sex kitten like Bardot.  She was cast in roles that required her to use a large amount of sex appeal.  She was, as it turned out, showing off her body often in films.

Age of Consent (1969)


Savage Messiah (1972)


The Changeling (1974)


But she always had to let it be known that, no matter how often she agreed to play these roles and no matter if she seemed comfortable striding around naked for the cameras, she really hated every minute of it.  Why don't I believe this?  Mirren said of her nude scene in Savage Messiah, "The day I had to do that nude scene, where I had to walk completely bollock naked down a flight of stairs, was awful.  It was early days and I was so mortified, embarrassed and unhappy about it.  I remember that morning looking out of my trailer, this funky little caravan thing and wondered if I threw myself off the top step of the trailer I could manage to break my leg and not have to do the scene!  I wouldn't like to do that today.  It's never comfortable.  The best thing would be if all the crew took their clothes off too and then you'd feel fine but it's never comfortable to be the only one without clothes on."

Parkinson asked Mirren if she felt comfortable taking her clothes off for a film.  Mirren replied, "There are lots of reasons for feeling uncomfortable about taking your clothes off in a movie.  And one of them is that basically whatever the director says, basically it's being done for commercial reasons."  She indicated that the men who have actresses disrobe for a film were male chauvinist pigs.  Actually, she trailed off before using the word "pigs."  She said, "You know [the rest of] that phrase, I'm sure."

It could be easily argued that Mirren's nudity in Savage Messiah was not gratuitous.  In the film, Mirren plays a free-living suffragette named Gosh Boyle.  Gosh's uninhibited nature is clearly designed to contrast another female character, Sophie Brzeska (Dorothy Tutin), who is sexually repressed.

Gosh, herself, is willing to abandon feminism to devote her nude body to artistic expression.  This is evident in a later scene in which poses naked for sculptor Henri Gaudier (Scott Antony).  I am not allowed to post a nude scene on my blog, so let us simply examine the dialogue.
Gosh: "Do you think I'm beautiful?"

Henri: "You'll do."

Gosh: "Sexy?"

Henri: "Sexy?!  I thought that was a dirty word to you suffragettes."

Gosh: "I'm bored with politics.  I want to be an artist."
It is the scene that people most remember from the film.  An IMDb critic said that he found it pleasing to see Mirren "descending the staircase nude in all her youthful and voluptuous glory."

As I noted earlier, Chris Nashawaty does not believe that a suffragette should show off her healthy body in a bikini.  What would he think of a suffragette descending a staircase nude?  I am frankly confused as to when a nude woman celebrates women and when a nude woman demeans women.  Maybe, it would have been better if Lively had worn a black burka at the beach.  Wouldn't those Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach romps have been fun with burkas?

Mirren comes across as being vain about her appearance.  She wants to look attractive.  She wants to be appear before the public in her voluptuous glory.  She said, "I remember when I had my first costume fitting for The Queen, and they laid all of these sensible shoes out, kilts, barbour jackets, head scarves, and these sort of dresses. . . . I cried.  I thought, I can’t play anyone who'd wear these clothes.  I just can’t do it."

The Telegraph approached Mirren about the viral video.  She said, "That's the first talk show I'd ever done.  I was terrified.  I watched it and I actually thought, bloody hell!  I did really well.  I was so young and inexperienced.  And he was such a fucking sexist old fart.  He was.  He denies it to this day that it was sexist, but of course he was."  In an interview with Bust magazine, she described Parkinson as "an extremely creepy interviewer."

Parkinson was no "old fart."  He was only 40 years old at the time.  Mirren was not "so young."  She was 30 years old, which made her only ten years younger than Parkinson.  Also, this was not Mirren's first talk show.  Contrary to the characterizations that she made of herself and Parkinson, she was not a trembling young virgin and he was not a dirty, bullying old man.   

Feminist journalist have talked about 1975 being the Dark Ages.  Yet, today, film critics who regard themselves as enlightened modern men and women are unwilling to take Blake Lively's performance in The Shallows seriously because of the actress' physical attributes.  Despite delivering a strong performance, Lively has had to suffer derision from a number of critics.


Unlike Mirren, Lively isn't being overt in her sexuality.  Lively is simply looking the way she does in a bikini.  What's wrong with that? 

Mirren has always been explicit in her sexuality.  Let us compare Lively's beach girl with the beach girl that Mirren depicts in Age of Consent.


Here's Mirren having a swim underwater.

Lively's beach girl keeps her clothing on.

I must say in Mirren's defense that she makes her sexuality a part of her performance.  Her sex appeal should not distract from her acting as her sex appeal is part of her acting.  At least, Mirren should be grateful that no one likened her attempts at acting to a mermaid riding a bicycle. 

The first couple of reviews that I read for The Shallows were unkind towards Lively, but I did find when I looked further into the matter that the bad reviews represented a small percentage of the overall reviews.  How bad did the worst reviews get?  Craig Mathieson of The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, "A damp Blake Lively leaves The Shallows toothless."  Andrea Gronvall of The Chicago Reader wrote about Lively's "limited emotional expressiveness."

Lively received faint praise from many other critics.  Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called her "game" and James Berardinelli of Reelviews called her "credible."  Michael Walsh of Nerdist wrote, "[Lively] gave a sincere effort."  Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out wrote, "[B]eautifully and boldly, [Lively] go[es] it alone. . . The Shallows is her Speed, and she’s Keanu."  That last one might be a high compliment, I can't tell.

But let's us look at the good reviews.
Edward Douglas of The New York Daily News wrote, "Blake Lively keeps the shark thriller afloat. . . Despite the genre and setting, this is still very much a performance piece, and Lively is more than just a pretty face and bikini bod."

Stephen Whitty of Newark Star-Ledger wrote, "Lively can act, and she does a good job with a very difficult role here - holding our interest and sympathy for a feature-length movie with no one to talk to for most of it."

Scott Mendelson of Forbes wrote, "Blake Lively gives a terrific solitary performance in this effective little horror drama."

David Ehrlich of Indiewire wrote, "[The Shallows] is the most convincing argument for [Lively's] stardom since 2009’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee."

Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote, "[Lively's] gradually becoming an appealing movie star, a youthful, elegant American with a rare and mysterious quality — she seems both near to us and far away, a close, indifferent moon beaming its pale light upon us lowly mortals gazing up in wonder."

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Lively is a real gamer in a physical role that calls for her to swim, surf, endure shark bites and jellyfish stings, and we’re just getting started.  Even when she’s suffering from dehydration, gaping wounds, early onset gangrene, hunger and thirst, she still looks better than most humans do after a 10-day vacation.  Most of Lively’s scenes are monologues, and while she’s not about to make you forget about a young Meryl Streep, she’s solid and convincing in the role." 

Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times wrote, "[Lively] meets all the requirements of this high-concept one-woman show and then some: intense physical stamina, some stunt-double-abetted surfing, and the ability to look good in a bikini from every possible angle."  Chang acknowledged that Lively was a "talented actress" who was sure to demonstrate "richer, subtler acting in the future." 

Tom Russo of The Boston Globe wrote, "That luckless skinny dipper from the opening of Jaws should have grabbed some survival tips from Blake Lively.  Just when you thought that The Shallows might be nothing more than flashing skin and a few cheap flashes of shark teeth, Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) defy expectations.  Yes, there’s shameless bikini ogling, but what could have been throwaway exploitation is instead a frequently gripping portrait of dire-straits resourcefulness."

Peter Howell of The Toronto Star wrote, "This is potentially a star-making role for Lively. . . Sexy without being Baywatch ridiculous — despite the bright orange bikini and Flavio Labiano’s voyeuristic camera — she’s also athletic enough to convince as surfer and shark fighter."

R. Emmet Sweeney of Movie Morlocks wrote, "[I]t is Blake Lively’s face that carries this film. . . [T]he whole film rides on her ability to convey fear as well as thought. . . And since the shark is entirely a CG creation, she has nothing to play off of the entire film aside from an injured seagull who becomes her inadvertent companion.  Lively turns out to be a commanding presence, and whether she is gritting through self-sewn stitches, improvising with a live bird, or reacting to off-screen chaos, she brings a quiet strength to the part.  It would have been easy (and fun) to overact, splashing about like a kid in the tub, but Lively proceeds as if her life is on the line.  All of the thrilling action mechanics that Collet-Serra orchestrates to end the film – a shark chase to the bottom of the ocean – would have been a dampened squib if Lively wasn’t there to light the fire."
Notice that even the critics who favored Lively's performance could not help speaking about the actress' gym-fit body and her physical abilities.  Chang spoke of her "intense physical stamina" and Roeper complimented her for being a "real gamer" in fulfilling her physical duties.  Matt Zoller Seitz of the Roger Ebert website wrote, "Lively is superb here, giving one of those hyper-focused, action-lead performances that's as much an athletic feat as an aesthetic one."  It is an important element of her performance that could not be disregarded.  Even Gronvall conceded, "Lively's athleticism more than compensates for her limited emotional expressiveness."  It would be like reviewing Robert DeNiro's performance in Raging Bull (1980) without talking about his physicality.  It is part of the performance and yet it is something off on its own.  It is similar to talking about the sexuality that dominates Mirren's performances.

The hostility towards Lively may have something to do with the orange bikini.  Howell and Nashawaty couldn't resist talking about the orange bikini that makes Lively looks so delightful.  Seitz wrote, "[I]n the end, The Shallows is a one-woman show that puts Lively on a jagged rocky pedestal and worships her.  She wears a bikini so radiantly orange that [it] seems to refract moonlight during the night scenes. . ."  But that's fine.  I was enamored of the orange bikini, too.  It is okay for a man to see a woman in an orange bikini and take pleasure in the endorphins that forcefully bubble up in his brain.  Enjoying the sight of a bikini-clad young lady fulfills a biological directive.  I am willing, as one of Lawson's lowly mortals, to gaze up in wonder at Lively.  It doesn't make me rude or sexist.  It makes me a man.  It may just be that DiCaprio was taken more seriously in The Revenant because he was wearing a muddy grizzly skin.

DiCaprio's grizzly skin is authentic, but so is Lively's orange bikini.

Following her contentious 1975 interview with Parkinson, Mirren's irrepressible sexuality continued to be evident in every role that she played. 

Charles Dance and Helen Mirren in Pascali's Island (1988)
Mirren at 60 years old in 2005
The actress returned to the role of Cleopatra in 1998.  This time, she got fully naked in the last act.  Paul Levy of The Wall Street Journal wrote, "[E]ven now, at age 53, she has her moment of nudity - without which no Mirren performance is complete - as her handmaidens Charmian and Iras help her into her best dress and crown."  The Telegraph reported, "[A]s she bravely strips off her simple white costume to don her royal robes and go exquisitely to her death, this often frustrating production finally achieves the rapt magnificence that has eluded it for so long."  She knew that her naked body could get rapt attention from an audience.  It was a tool that she could pull out of her acting tool box whenever she needed it.

Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman in "Cleopatra" (1998)
People were still saying that Mirren was sexy when she was 69 years old and she was still complaining about these sort of compliments.  But it is based on her bare-chested acting that everyone feels compelled to ask her about her chest.  It makes sense to me. 

Mirren said that the word "sexy" was "totally overused and limiting."  She added, "It limits human qualities into this very narrow, rather mundane and banal little place, and human beings are so much more complex and interesting and deep and everything than that.  I would wish there was a better word than that to express something deeper and richer."  Do you want to know what really had become mundane by this point?  Mirren showing her breasts had become mundane.

It was headline news when Mirren finally decided to keep on her clothes.  Mark Jefferies of The Mirror wrote, "Dame Helen Mirren has revealed that she has retired from on-screen nudity - at the age of 70.  The veteran actress said that nowadays the only other person who sees her breasts is her husband Taylor Hackford.  Dame Helen said that at her age you 'don't have to do that sort of thing any more' and so she decided to cover up.  Her announcement means that viewers will no longer see the body of a woman who is still voted one of the sexiest in Britain, despite being a septuagenarian."

Mirren discussed this matter with Alan Cumming on the CBS show Remember That Time.  Cumming asked her if she ever had an issue with performing nude.  Mirren said: "I have but you know, I thought, does it really matter?  It seemed to be not a thing not to get your knickers in a twist over."  She continued, "I was doing nude scenes from the first moment I started doing movies.  It was the era.  I guess it's even more so now.  When I did the Caligula it was: 'Shock, horror, XXX, only in porn cinemas.'  Now, Game of Thrones at eight o'clock is everything we did in Caligula. . . That's the good thing about getting older, you don't have to do that sort of thing any more.  My pleasure pillows are purely for my husband."  Mirren added that she had no idea her breasts are "legendary" and said that there were "much more legendary boobs than mine."


Let us look at her interview with Cumming.

So, the popularity of Mirren's breasts was so great that her breasts became the focus of a sketch on Saturday Night Live.  It was a sketch, I must emphasize, that enjoyed the actress' full and enthusiastic cooperation.

I must disagree with Schwedel's claim that Mirren handled Parkinson's questions "in the most graceful way possible."  I see nothing about Mirren in the interview that can be described as graceful.  To use Mirren's own terminology, the actress "got her knickers in a twist."

I have watched other interviews of Mirren from the 1970s.  She was, at the time, a touchy, heavy-going interview subject.  She was constantly on the defense, wincing if the interviewer spoke a single word that failed to meet her favor.  You must watch your words when you interview Mirren.

In 2015, Mirren made it clear in yet another interview that she was bored with the continuing fascination with her looks.  These are clips from an episode of Good Morning Britain broadcast on July 28, 2015. The show's hosts are Ben Shepherd and Kate Garraway.

Again, why don't I believe her?  She is still snappish, but she has learned by now to snap with a smile.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was distracted by a scene in Gravity (2013) in which Sandra Bullock stripped out of her spacesuit.

He said in a Tweet that he "couldn't stop thinking about Sandra Bullock's thighs."  He spoke in another Tweet about Bullock's "amazing legs" and said that he couldn't believe she had been able to keep them so "hairless."  He tweeted, "How could a female astronaut do such a thorough hair-removal job in space?"  He was shut down quickly with this photo of an actual hairless female astronaut with pretty good legs.

 Real-life astronaut Nicole Stott.

For his comments, Tyson wasn't called a twat, a wanker or a jerkoff.  His race and his political affiliations protect him from the scorn of the social justice warriors.

A pretty woman will get male attention.  It doesn't matter if it is wanted attention or unwanted attention.  She will get male attention.  But it is necessary to distinguish a glance from a grope.  A woman cannot be so arrogant and controlling to believe that she can say who can and who cannot look in her direction.  And it is even fine if that glance brings a smile to the man's face.  It does not make him a leering harasser.  Mirren has said that she has a right to control attention that she receives from men even while she does everything she can to encourage it.  She told Bust, "It's quite valuable to have the courage and the confidence to say, ‘No, fuck off, leave me alone, thank you very much.'"  Could you please get your tits out of my face and fuck off?  She is the Katy Perry of Dramatic Arts.  If you perform with pinwheels on your breasts, you should expect a discussion of your breasts.

Okay, Katy, that's enough.

You need to settle down, young woman.

Helen, we don't need you joining in.

Mirren returned to Parkinson's show in 2006 (She appeared on the show in 1978, 2003 and 2006).  "I hated you," Mirren told Parkinson.  "I thought you were a sexist person for mentioning my breasts."

Alan Cummings and Helen Mirren in Remember That Time
Cumming, a gay man, can openly ask Mirren about her breasts.  His question gets a joyful chuckle out of the actress.  A woman can rest her head on Mirren's breasts for a laugh.


Everyone else draws attention to her breasts and, she says, she finds it "incredibly flattering."  But Parky is a villain.  Odd.

Patricia Neal in Bright Leaf (1950)
It reminds me of a line from Bright Leaf (1950).  The camera moves into a tight shot on Patricia Neal, who is blissfully staring off into space.  She says, "You know, I'll say one thing for Brant Royle: when he looks at me, I know I'm a woman."  Every day, men look at women with joy and love, which is just as it should be.  But the "male gaze," as it has become known, is treated by feminists as a deplorable and intolerable voyeurism.  Of course, it represents heterosexual interest, which threatens the object of the interest with pregnancy, children and family.  As a good feminist, Mirren was quick to reject such things.  "I have no maternal instinct whatsoever," she once said. "Motherhood holds no interest for me."

Michael Parkinson
Parkinson represents male virility, which feminists dislike so much, but it is even more offensive to feminists who insist on seeing Parkinson as an icon of white heterosexual male entitlement.  The YouTube clip is just another poor excuse to demean white heterosexual men.  The truth is that this 1975 video has been on YouTube for the last eight years and, every now and then, it has proven to be fine fodder for a feminist journalist who needs to write her latest tirade.  The video was first rediscovered in 2011, then again in 2013, then again in 2014, and most recently in 2016.  It is indignation on an eternal loop.