Category Archives: Pop Culture

kirsten dunst’s underrated filmography

Kirsten Dunst’s Filmography has been severely overlooked due to the discourse surrounding her work being labeled with the deadly term, “chick flick.” In this list I will be providing examples of why the unappreciation of Kirsten Dunst’s talent is a grave misfortune, as her film roles throughout her life, especially in her early career, exemplify the importance of her talent in making these female-driven movies powerful and lively. 

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  1. “All I Wanna Do” (directed by Sarah Kernochan, 1998) – Based in the 1960’s at an all-girls boarding school, a group of rebellious teenage girls led by Verena von Stefan, played by Kirsten Dunst, develop plans to ease some of the constraints enforced by the school. When news comes out about the school being in financial trouble and the solution being converting the institution to be coed, Verena von Stefan becomes passionate about doing everything in her power to not let boys interfere with the girls’ education potential. This feminist film is not only fun to watch but also allows the audience to see the varying girls’ opinions and interpretation of letting boys into their school. Kirsten Dunst is incredible in this movie as she convinces the audience that her character is passionate about the mission, while being a complicated, well-rounded person. Her performance is endearing as she is not the “mean girl,” but instead welcomes people into her club for outcasts and encourages others to fight for social causes. I also found the character, Miss McVane (played by Lynn Redgrave), to be incredibly charming and unknowingly sweet in this movie as she showed that boarding school for girls is not about teaching women to be proper and orderly, but wanting them to have the same access to higher education as men do. Miss McVane and Verena von Stefan are alike in many ways, both having a passion for girls to be themselves without the interruption/influence of men. Miss McVane looks at this all-girls boarding school as a place where “you can discover yourself, which is greater than discovering the opposite sex.” 
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  1. “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (directed by Michael Patrick Jann, 1999) – I love this movie for its dry, dark humor – something that is often overlooked when women are at the front of this type of comedy. There is so much blatant irony incorporated into this film to highlight the ridiculousness of teenage beauty pageants and the traditional way to look at a girl’s worth. This beauty pageant becomes deadly as the need to win in some contributors of the contest becomes violent. Kirsten Dunst’s character, Amber Atkins, is a talented, charitable, kind, good girl, who everybody roots for. Dunst plays this character extremely well, showing her passion to leave her small town like all the boys have had the opportunity to do, but with the affordance of a sweet smile on her side. This film is severely underrated; I urge everyone to watch this movie if you’re in need of a fun, humorous time. 
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  1. “Virgin Suicides” (directed by Sofia Coppola, 1999) – Out of all the movies on this list, this is by far my favorite. Director Sofia Coppola is a frequent collaborator with Kirsten Dunst because Coppola realizes Dunst’s worth and appreciates her talent. This movie is sad, but somehow the sadness is not consuming. It tells the tale of five sisters raised in a religious, uptight household with an anxious, controlling mother and a complacent father. Kirsten Dunst’s character, Lux Lisbon, is the main attraction of the sisters, and arguably the film as well. She is the one with the most rebellious, daring tendencies. Despite the movie having an enormously dark mood, this movie is dream-like, and shockingly relatable for teenage girls. In many teen movies, the characters often live a romanticized life of what it’s like being a teenager. This movie does a good job portraying the teenage girl experience, and the intensity of it all. Early on in the movie, the youngest of the Lisbon sisters is asked by an invalidating male doctor why she is so mentally unstable for a girl who has barely lived life, to which she responds, “obviously doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.” The monologues placed throughout the film are beautiful and clairvoyant. Lux Lisbon really makes this movie for me, she’s cheery and smart and her desire to rebel is charming. To me, I consider this one of Kirsten Dunst’s best performances and she was only sixteen years old at the time.
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  1. “Bring It On” (directed by Peyton Reed, 2000) – This list couldn’t be complete without this iconic, overly dramatic, fun, sassy film. This is arguably one of Kirsten Dunst’s most recognizable performances. Her character, Torrance Shipman, is unintentionally funny with her consistent outbursts sprung from her determination to lead the cheerleading squad to victory. This movie is simply fun to watch as there are catchy cheers and dance moves incorporated but has unfortunately been written off by the negative connotations associated with being labeled a “chick flick.”
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5. “Marie Antoinette” (directed by Sofia Coppola, 2006) – This is the latest film on this list but I had to include it because it was snubbed by critics disregarding the film’s excellence and beauty. Like most of Coppola’s films, the aesthetic is dream-like, making you feel entranced as you are drawn into the movie’s plot. The film gives humanity to the historical figure, Marie Antoinette, played by Kirsten Dunst. The pastries, dresses and shoes in this movie are so eye-catching and desirable that it makes the film incredibly attractive to look at. This film doesn’t have much action in it, and could be easily written off as being “slow,” but I believe this film is a solid essence of life piece, even if it’s an extremely wealthy life being portrayed, I find it to be still highly entertaining and humanizing. Dunst gives personality and humanity to her character, showing how young, innocent and naive Antoinette was when she was moved to France to become the queen in waiting.

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an analysis of john hughes’ work

John Hughes was a filmmaker in the 1980’s and became well-known due to his creation of unique coming-of-age films. He showcased teenage problems in a light they deserve: with respect and validity. He took teens’ problems seriously, and made his audience see them in that regard too. By taking in all of Hughes’ renowned appraisal, I also believe we should not neglect the fact that his films were, in some cases, severely flawed. 

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While Hughes did manage to showcase teenage struggles earnestly, he only showcased the problems white, middle-class, suburban kids face. Some of his most popular works that I will be focusing on in this analysis are: “The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “Pretty in Pink.”

At the time of these films’ release, Hughes was praised for having a female protagonist, more specifically, Molly Ringwald. But his female protagonist and her surrounding male counterparts are deeply flawed and this should not go unnoticed. 

Molly Ringwald
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In the film, “Pretty in Pink,” Ringwald’s whole character arc is about going after a rich guy who is bland, blatantly unappealing and never stands up for her against bullies until the very end of the film and once he does so, they inevitably embrace in a kiss. This is not how a healthy relationship develops, yet the film presents their dynamic as romantic and endearing. 

Similarly, in the movie, “The Breakfast Club,” Ringwald’s character is harassed sexually and verbally by the man who she ends up with at the end of the film. The other female character in this movie is known as the “basket case,” more respectfully referred to as Allison. Allison is finally accepted and has become desirable by “the jock” once Ringwald’s character gives Allison a makeover, making her look more “normal” and appealing. 

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Hughes’ films are delivering many wrong messages to his predominantly female audience. He is inadvertently teaching young girls to adjust in order to comply with men’s needs. His films also tend to make the problematic claim that a woman’s beauty is the most important thing about her.

The last Hughes’ film I will be touching on is arguably the most problematic out of the three. “Sixteen Candles incorporates nonchalant conversations about sexual assault and inappropriate, degrading language is used towards the female characters in the film. 

The character only referred to as “the geek” throughout the entire film, parades Ringwald’s character’s underwear to his fellow classmates, showing them off as if he has obtained Ringwald as some sort of conquest. Ringwald’s love interest in the film, Jake Ryan, states horrific things throughout the film, giving permission to “the geek” to do whatever he wants with his girlfriend. 

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It’s jarring to see Ringwald’s character end up with Jake Ryan at the end of the film when you remember hearing all the horrid things he said about women earlier in the movie.  

The actress, Molly Ringwald, is perplexed by the paradox that is John Hughes’ writing as she says in an interview for The New Yorker in 2018, “Hughes was able to write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot.”

Modern coming-of-age films such as “Eighth Grade,” “Lady Bird,” “Booksmart,” etc. are more socially-conscious in the way that they are both entertaining, all the while addressing social problems. The plots of these modern films are not focused on the girl getting the guy, or vice versa, but they’re more centered around the protagonist getting confidence, independence and self-love. The characters in these films are oftentimes more dimensional, demanding and real. These films have adapted John Hughes’ coming-of-age conventions, but have only taken the best parts.

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Top 10 Comfort Films Sure to Induce Nostalgia

Comfort films are heartwarming, magical, they fill your body with nostalgia. They keep me going on a somber day. They have to be easy to watch, maybe a bit sad, but overall light and happy and can fill you with warmth. I composed this list based on the film’s rewatchability, ability to establish sentimentality and the comfort it could bring to watch on a rainy day. 

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  1. “Coraline” – Now I know this movie might be an odd choice to add to this list, but when I think of my list of comfort films, this is my number one. I’ve rewatched this movie countless times and it never fails to remind me of being nine years old and how scared this movie could make me feel. This isn’t necessarily a horror film, but if you’re torn between watching something eerie and something easy, I definitely recommend “Coraline.” Besides, I had to have a children’s movie on this list, otherwise it would be incomplete. Plus, this movie is very Tim Burton-esque so I think it’s the perfect children’s movie to be on this list. 
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  1. “Say Anything” – This 1989 romantic classic is so heartwarming to watch. I used to be obsessed with this movie when I was younger because of the expectations it created in me to get a boyfriend just like Lloyd Dobler. Lloyd Dobler is the perfect nice guy of every young girl’s dreams. 
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  1. “Little Miss Sunshine” – This movie is extremely fun to watch. I love seeing this dysfunctional, yet funny family, all coming together to support Olive, the youngest of the family, in her journey to confidence and stardom. The film is serious but lighthearted at the same time, and it’s quirkiness makes it a joy to watch every time. It’s empowering to watch a family embrace their true selves. 
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  1. “Pretty in Pink” – Of course a John Hughes movie has to be on this list and “Pretty in Pink” is my all time favorite of his. I love Molly Ringwald’s character in this film, as she is comfortable, but definitely does struggle at times with being an outsider. Plus, who couldn’t love the pink, sort of ugly, very 80’s dress her character makes at the end of the film?  
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  1. “Twilight” – I love to turn this movie on when it’s a rainy, gloomy day outside. The vampire, werewolf, human love affair is quality entertainment and needs to be revisited every now and then. 
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  1. “Little Women” – Both the 1994 and 2019 version of this movie are great films, but the 2019 remake is by far my favorite. The transitions between the sisters life’s growing up together and their lives as they’re growing out of their childhood home brings me so much nostalgia, especially with the altering color schemes used to show these time jumps. I had to include a period piece in this list and I thought an empowering, feminine movie such as this one would do just the trick. 
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  1. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – Really any movie from the Harry Potter series would do the trick to bring me comfort. Honestly, I think a movie series of any kind revolves around familiarity with the series’ world and characters, therefore being inherently nostalgic and heartwarming. So, whatever film series brings you joy and reminds you of your childhood, I encourage you to do a marathon of those movies on a quiet, long, rainy day. 
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  1. “Juno” – This movie is cute and hilarious and I couldn’t help but include it in my list. The song that Juno and Paulie sing at the end of the film is adorable and one of my favorite parts. Juno is naive and unique and her hamburger phone makes her an even better character. Seriously, if you still haven’t seen this movie yet, I highly encourage you to do so. 
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  1. “School of Rock” – With an ending like the one at the end of this movie, how could I not include it in my personal list of comfort films? Jack Black’s character’s transition is awesome to watch and the ending performance is even more entertaining. 
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  1. “The Perks of being a Wallflower” – I’m closing out my list with this somber film from 2012. It brings me great happiness to see Sam and Patrick accept Charlie into their friend group and welcome him with open arms. The dance scene to the song “Come on Eileen” is a classic as well as the many quotable, cheesy, yet heart aching lines in this film. If you’re looking for a good cry, this is your movie. 

Ariana Evolution: From Teen Nickelodeon Star to Pop Icon

After eight years of her first single “The Way” featuring Mac Miller, released on March 25, 2013, Ariana Grande has become the epitome of pop music of the last decade. Shedding her peppy Nickelodeon Cat Valentine role, Grande has stepped into her thigh-high boots and gathers attention from everyone as the vocalist of our generation.

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          Grande did not step into this role overnight, though. Grande has experimented with different styles, whether through her music or clothing, to best express herself and reflect on her experiences. Each era has without a doubt been iconic for fans all over the world.

Starting her career at only 15 years old in the Broadway musical “13”, Grande then moved on to star as Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” when she was 16. Her character, Cat Valentine, was a fan-favorite and went on to have her own show “Sam & Cat”, alongside iCarly’s Jennette McCurdy. Playing the super sweet red-headed character for four years as a teen, Grande felt as though she had to hide behind her Nickelodeon image. She went on to release her first single, “Put Your Hearts Up” in 2011, which Graned later disowned because of its inauthenticity and tween sound. In an interview with Zach Sang, Grande explained that the single and music video, which was her with her red hair dancing around in a hot pink dress, was not her style, and instead, a very much Cat Valentine-esque single.

With her now brown hair in her famous half-up, half-down do, wearing super high heels and girly skirts, Grande was entering a new era. On September 3, 2013, Grande released her debut album, which took inspiration from urban pop from the late 1990s. Having been able to let go of her false persona to who she truly was, Grande named the album “Yours Truly”, signing it as she would a love letter.

In a time of her sky-high ponytail and cat ears around one year later, Grande released her sophomore album, “My Everything”, on August 25, 2014, where she experimented with new sounds. Having some of the biggest hits of 2014 including “Bang Bang (featuring Nicki Minaj and Jessie J)”, “Problem (featuring Iggy Azalea)”, and “Break Free (featuring Zedd)”, Grande was becoming a dominant player in the world of music. She played with different styles from 90s R&B in “Problem” to EDM in “Break Free” and to slower sentimental songs such as Harry Styles’ penned, “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart”.

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An even greater force came when “Dangerous Woman” released on May 20, 2016. Grande traded in her cat ears for bunny ears, perhaps symbolic of the no longer present Cat Valentine character. With the album cover featuring her latex bunny mask, signature ponytail, and her first Parental Advisory label, the music itself showed Grande’s more sensual and mature side. In a live chat before releasing her album, Graned explained her different route to this new music saying, “To me, a dangerous woman is someone who’s not afraid to take a stand, be herself, and to be honest.”

During the European leg of the “Dangerous Woman” tour on May 22, 2017, tragedy struck in the Manchester Arena. While the show was ending, a suicide bomber set off an explosion, killing more than 22 people, and wounding 59. With a young fanbase, children were among those affected. Mourning the lives of those loved ones, Grande set up a benefit concert in Manchester, the One Love Manchester concert on June 4, 2017, raising millions of dollars for those affected.

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In a way to brighten up the darker event of the previous year, Grande released “Sweetener”, her fourth album, on August 17, 2018. Her album cover hints at the positivity of her lyrics, with it being her first album cover in color. In addition, Grande debuted her silver hair in this era, in contrast to her usual darker brown ponytail. “Sweetener” was a beautiful response to dealing with her trauma and for Grande to show how music heals her and others. In a sound taking you to a dreamlike state, Grande showcased her lower register, instead of her previous sound of showing off the crazy tricks her voice can pull off in her more radio/pop songs. “Sweetener” was about caring less about her range and more about the lyrical content and showing a sweeter and more mature side of her. As happens in life, Grande seemed to be at the height of her happiness during this time, singing songs like “No Tears Left to Cry”, and naming a song after her then-fiance, Pete Davidson. Of course, things don’t usually go as we wish they did.

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On September 7, 2018, singer Mac Miller passed away from an overdose. Miller and Grande had met years before when Grande was 19 and had become close friends, which then blossomed into a romantic relationship in 2016. They both appeared on each other’s songs and continuously showed their love for each other on social media. Though they broke up in May 2018, both remained on good terms with each other. Quickly after their breakup, though, Grande began dating Davidson, and in a flurry of news of this new relationship, Grande and Davidson got engaged in June of that same year. The news of Miller’s overdose 2 months later left his fans pointing fingers at her to blame, claiming she abandoned him for Davidson.

With the whirlwind of traumatic events Grande went through in a single year, from the Manchester bombing to her former love Miller passing away, to her calling off her engagement to Davidson, Grande was at her lowest point, grieving and traumatized. As a musician, Grande turned to songwriting to heal herself, and hence, “Thank U, Next” was created, her most personal and honest album. Working in an environment of a supportive group of friends who flew in to support her, Grande was able to pull herself out of the dark and take the best out of the horrible situations and turn it into one of her most successful albums to date.

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The “thank u, next” single was dropped in a surprise on November 3, 2018; it quickly shot to fame because of Grande being completely honest, using real names of exes, and being grateful for lessons learned from failed relationships. In this powerful song, Grande gave women confidence everywhere to learn to love themselves. The music video for “thank u, next” alone racked up more than 55 million views in 24 hours, breaking YouTube records, and featuring celebrities ranging from the Kardashians to Jennifer Coolidge. The full album was then released on February 8, 2019, breaking even more records because of the powerful message behind it: Grande reminded fans to embrace their mistakes and what they learn from them.

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Closing up with her latest album, “Positions”, released October 30, 2020, Grande shows how she now rather prefers releasing music on her own terms, without sticking to certain expectations. In contrast to her more pop-sounding music, Positions veers more towards R&B. While “Positions” might not have had as big of an impact as “Sweetener” & “Thank U, Next”, her lyrics and raw voice in “Positions” beautifully resonate with the process of healing and learning how to love again. “Positions” was the production of Grande’s new chapter of a healed version of herself and a way for her to make fans smile during the craziness of 2020.

With just eight years of Grande making music, she has become a key figure in music. She takes her life experiences and turns them into an escape for fans everywhere, giving us music for every occasion with over 100 songs in her discography. As Nicki Minaj says in the “Side to Side” collaboration, “Ariana runs pop. Don’t believe her? Go ahead and look up “Biggest pop star in the world”.

The “it girls” of the 1950s

With the rise of the film industry inevitably comes the practice of turning actors and actresses into stars made for profit. Film companies would manufacture stars’ personas and release scandalous information to the press in order to create more interest in the public about these actors and actresses’ “private” lives. This led studios’ films to get more viewership when they included big star names in their projects. 

Nowadays, this practice still happens, but due to the rise in internet influencers and their celebrity status, their personal lives are seemingly more accessible to the public. With the public’s obsession of celebrity culture comes identifiable “it girl(s)” of every decade. There are many articles out there from various pop culture magazines that list the various “it girls” of the time. 

What I think is more interesting than examining who is the most famous, most sought after, most talented, most liked celebrity of every decade, is taking a closer look at the names and icons from early Hollywood that have stuck around to this day. 

The first name that comes to mind when I think of an early icon is Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn’s image is hung everywhere, plastered wherever her photo can possibly find relevance. Hepburn has been an icon for decades now, maintaining her relevance despite it no longer being the 1950’s. To this day, young girls idolize her image and what she represents. 

Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffanys”

She symbolizes sophistication, high class, she’s classically beautiful and chic, and she is European, adding to her aura of attraction. Young girls repost her image on social media platforms, hang her poster up in their rooms, showcasing their love for her even though most have probably not seen her films, but it’s what she represents that has made her an idol for women of all ages. 

As it turns out, Audrey Hepburn was not the only famous actress of the 1950’s. Right by her side was Norma Jean Baker, otherwise known as Marilyn Monroe. Monroe can be described as the antithesis of Audrey Hepburn. Monroe had a curvy body, big blonde hair and a risqué persona. She was a sex symbol, characterized by the roles she played in films and her manufactured star persona of being a blonde bombshell. 

Marylin Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

Hepburn’s body was also intensely analyzed by the press and was described as “boyish” and “flat.” Their differences in physical appearance and the roles they were casted in caused a divide in the public’s perception of the two stars. In Rachel Moseley’s research article, “Trousers and Tiaras: Audrey Hepburn, a Woman’s Star,” people often described Monroe, flaunting her curves and owning her sexuality, as a girl made for the guys. Hepburn was seen as an idol for other women as she came off as more respectable and cute instead of being coined with the dreaded term, “sexy.” Hepburn was said to be seen as “one of the girls.” Because her body naturally lacked curves, Hepburn was credited for not casting unrealistic beauty standards on women because her body type didn’t threaten them. 

The women that preferred Audrey Hepburn over Marilyn Monroe for these reasons have obviously been conditioned and manipulated by the patriarchy and the shallow men in their lives. And as we all know, the majority of women cannot see themselves as Audrey Hepburn because a lot of women can’t relate to her very tall and thin body type. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is arguably Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic movie. The author of the novella before it was turned into a movie is named Truman Capote. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to be casted as the protagonist, Holly Golightly, instead of Hepburn. The studio did not want to cast Monroe as the protagonist because they had intentions on masking the provocativeness of the original story and in order to do so, they needed to cast a more “refined” actress. The studio went with Hepburn as she was known for her Cinderella-like transformations in her films, as well as her high-class aura. 

This strategic casting choice was done in order to change the character of Holly Golightly as less of a paid escort, as made clear in Capote’s novella and instead portray her as more of a stylish, dignified and endearing paid escort that was seen as a role only Hepburn could fulfill. The studio seemed to miss out on one major key point: an escort can be both dignified and an escort.  

Going along with some of the public declaring their preference for Hepburn over Monroe due to Hepburn’s lack of sex appeal and therefore, perceived elegance, there is a graver injustice in the absence of women of color from early Hollywood being as idolized and remembered for their fame and talent. For example, Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American actress to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her starring role in the 1954 film, “Carmen Jones.” Other popular actresses of color that have been so wrongly forgotten are Pearl Bailey, Dolores Del Rio, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Anna May Wong, and the list goes on. The tragedy is that these beautiful women are not a part of white history, and therefore they are so cruelly forgotten. 

No longer should the harsh, forgotten and deceptive remembrance of famous women and women of color be at the forefront of our recollection. Spreading truthful narratives along with dispelling rumors should be an active practice in our everyday lives to help be a part of creating honorable memories of stars.

Featured Image by Kara Fields