New Shows + Movies by Women — June 4, 2021

There’s a lot this week, including shows and films with some awesome representation. This includes a show from the UK, and movies from Germany, Greece, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, and the U.S. Let’s dive straight in:

NEW SERIES

We Are Lady Parts (Peacock)
showrunner Nida Manzoor

A PhD student is recruited to be the lead guitarist for an all-women, Muslim punk band.

Nida Manzoor created, writes, directs, produces, and showruns “We Are Lady Parts”. The UK series aired earlier this year to very strong reviews, and now comes available in the U.S.

You can watch “We Are Lady Parts” on Peacock.

NEW MOVIES

Port Authority (VOD)
directed by Danielle Lessovitz

Paul is a Midwesterner fresh to New York. He quickly falls for a dancer named Wye, and discovers she’s trans. He wrestles with the bigotry he’s grown up with, whether he’ll be accepted by cis friends he’s making, and whether he’ll pursue his feelings.

“Port Authority” casts Leyna Bloom, a trans woman of color, as Wye. The film’s gotten both praise for its casting and representation, and some criticism for focusing through the lens of Paul’s journey.

This is the first feature from writer-director Danielle Lessovitz.

See where to rent “Port Authority”.

The Girl and the Gun (Netflix)
directed by Rae Red

A woman finds a gun sitting on her doorstep one night. Fed up with abuse, she decides to put it to use.

Rae Red has written several films and series in the Philippines. This is her second directorial effort.

You can watch “The Girl and the Gun” on Netflix.

Kajillionaire (HBO Max)
directed by Miranda July

A young woman named Old Dolio Dyne grifts, cons, and heists alongside her parents. It’s a living. They’re not very successful, though. They owe rent so they need a new mark, but things are complicated when Old Dolio connects with her. The cast is interesting, with Evan Rachel Wood as Old Dolio, Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins as her parents, and Gina Rodriguez as their new mark.

Writer-director Miranda July has an abstract storytelling style that centers on off-kilter, somewhat invisible characters, and the humanity in what’s ‘unremarkable’ about them. She’s known for “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “The Future”.

I shared this when it hit VOD, but this is the first time it’s on a subscription service. You can watch “Kajillionaire” on HBO Max, or see where to rent it.

Sailor Moon Eternal (Netflix)
directed by Kon Chiaki

Behold, the progenitor of the magical girl genre returns. The first Sailor Moon films in 26 years were released in Japan as two 80-minute films, but they’re coming out paired in the U.S. That’s nearly 3 hours of new Sailor Moon.

A Pegasus appears in Tokyo during a solar eclipse, asking for help in breaking a magical seal. Meanwhile, a new villainous organization known as the Dead Moon Circus spreads nightmares with the intention of ruling the Earth and Moon. This is an adaptation of the Dream arc of the manga. I have to confess I’m not too familiar with Sailor Moon, but I’m told the Dream arc is an incredibly big deal.

Director Kon Chiaki has helmed adaptations of “Higurashi When They Cry” and the Book of Sunrise arc of “Naruto Shippuden”. She also directed the adaptation for “The Way of the Househusband” earlier this year (also on Netflix).

You can watch both parts of “Sailor Moon Eternal” on Netflix. Both parts are listed as episodes under the entry “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie”.

The World to Come (Hulu)
directed by Mona Fastvold

Neighboring women in the mid-19th century begin a whirlwind romance. Of course, they have to hide it from their husbands. Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby star.

Be aware that the film also stars Casey Affleck. He was sued by two women for repeated sexual harassment for his behavior on the set of “I’m Still Here”. The suits maintained that they weren’t paid for their work as a retaliation. It’s important to recognize that is a form of extortion. The suits were settled, and Affleck finally acknowledged culpability eight years later, in 2018. I mention all this because I know many are uncomfortable with watching him, and others may not know why.

This is director Mona Fastvold’s second feature after 2014’s “The Sleepwalker”. She may be best known as a writer on “The Mustang”.

You can watch “The World to Come” on Hulu, or rent it.

Kala Azar (MUBI)
directed by Janis Rafailidou

In the midst of what could be read as a post-apocalypse, a couple continues to care for both dead and abandoned animals, even risking their own lives and sense of self to do so.

The Greek film is the first feature from writer-director Janis Rafailidou.

You can watch “Kala Azar” on MUBI.

I Was at Home, But… (MUBI)
directed by Angela Schanelec

A 13-year old reappears a week after disappearing from home. The adults around him are confronted with questions that have no easy answers.

Writer-director Angela Schanelec has directed eight other feature films, and won the Berlin International Film Festival for this one.

You can watch “I was at Home, But…” on MUBI.

Dancing Queens (Netflix)
directed by Helena Bergstrom

A young woman stuck in the backwaters of a Swedish archipelago dreams of becoming a famous dancer. She misses an audition by a month, but chances upon a drag show that’s interested in casting her.

Director Helena Bergstrom has directed a great deal in the Swedish film and TV industries.

You can watch “Dancing Queens” on Netflix.

Trippin’ with the Kandasamys (Netflix)
directed by Jayan Moodley

In this South African film, two women were best friends before they became in-laws. They plan a getaway with their partners, but hijinks ensue.

This is the third in Jayan Moodley’s very successful Kandasamys franchise. The franchise is a South African-Bollywood co-production. This is the kind of thing that we American viewers are badly educated on, but South Africa is actually home to 1.3 million people of Indian descent, and Durban has one of the largest Indian populations outside India itself.

You can watch “Trippin’ with the Kandasamys”, as well as the two previous Kandasamys movies, on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — May 28, 2021

I’m going to keep the intro brief today. I got my second COVID vaccine Wednesday, and the side effects are pretty intense. I’m still really glad to have gotten it, of course. If the vaccine is hitting me hard for a few days, I can only imagine how dangerous it would have been if I’d gotten COVID for weeks. Plus, my doctor tells me getting the side effects only 5-or-10% of people get means I have a great immune system, which you’d think would be reassuring in most cases. Point is, I’m keeping the intro brief this week so I can go toss myself back into bed.

And remember to get your vaccine. Saying it’s a rough few days shouldn’t be discouraging. One night of Joseph Conrad-level fever dreams is character-building, but if I’d caught COVID, I might’ve had weeks feeling like this or far, far worse. If anything, this brief window into part of what COVID can feel like makes me a hell of a lot more thankful I got the vaccine, because now I’m resistant to ever having to go through it.

NEW SERIES

Panic (Amazon)
showrunner Lauren Oliver
mostly directed by women

Panic is a game where graduating seniors in rural Texas face a series of challenges to win money and leave town. Only one can win. It’s based on the novel of the same name, written by writer and showrunner Lauren Oliver. She also wrote the Delirium trilogy and “Before I Fall”.

It looks like the majority of the series’ directors are women as well: Megan Griffiths, Gandja Monteiro, and Ry Russo-Young direct two episodes apiece, while Leigh Janiak directs the premiere.

You can watch “Panic” on Amazon.

Whitstable Pearl (Acorn TV)
showrunner Julie Wassmer

A restaurant owner who once wanted to be a police officer establishes a private detective agency. Her first case is the murder of a close friend.

Showrunner Julie Wassmer has been a writer on other British fare like “Family Affairs” and “EastEnders”.

The first two episodes became available May 24, 2021. Additional episodes will premiere one a week on Mondays through June 14. You can watch “Whitstable Pearl” on Acorn TV.

NEW MOVIES

Plan B (Hulu)
directed by Natalie Morales

After having sex for the first time, a high school student needs access to Plan B. The problem is that her state makes it difficult to access. She has 24 hours to track the pill down with her best friend.

Director Natalie Morales may be more recognizable for her acting in “Dead to Me” and “Santa Clarita Diet”. “Plan B” is her second feature as director and producer, and she’s also directed on HBO anthology series “Room 104”.

You can watch “Plan B” on Hulu.

Baggio: The Divine Ponytail (Netflix)
directed by Letizia Lamartire

Roberto Baggio was a soccer player who became internationally famous both for his play on the field and his unique accessibility. The Italian film is a biopic about his career and impact on the sport.

This is the second film directed by Letizia Lamartire.

You can watch “Baggio: The Divine Ponytail” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — May 21, 2021

This week sees new movies from Argentina, India, The Philippines, and the U.S. Remember that options to watch are linked at the bottom of each entry. This is easy when it’s just linking to its Netflix or Hulu page. For something that’s out on rental (VOD) but not on a subscription service, I’ll link to the Reelgood page. This is a solid source to see where a specific movie’s rentable, and how much it is on different platforms. It does have a few oblivious spots – it usually misses Redbox, which has become a pretty good digital rental platform.

It also misses certain low-budget films, like this week’s Argentinean, post-apocalypse, grindhouse slasher “Scavenger”. In that case, I’ll just list the services out as I can find them.

There are no new series this week, so let’s jump into the new movies directed by women:

NEW MOVIES

Cowboys (Hoopla, Hulu)
directed by Anna Kerrigan

Troy is separating from his conservative wife. When she refuses to accept their trans son and forces him to behave as a girl, Troy takes a risk. He picks up his son in the middle of the night and whisks him off into the Montana wilderness.

This is the second feature for Anna Kerrigan, after 2010’s “Five Days Gone”.

You can watch “Cowboys” on Hoopla, Hulu, or see where to rent it.

Sardar Ka Grandson (Netflix)
directed by Kaashvie Nair

(Turn on closed captioning to get the English subtitles on this trailer.)

A dedicated grandson wants to fulfill his grandmother’s last wish. She wants to visit her old home in Lahore, Pakistan. The problem is that movement between India and Pakistan is restricted. He decides he’ll move the home to India instead.

This is the first feature film from director Kaashvie Nair.

You can watch “Sardar Ka Grandson” on Netflix.

Scavenger (VOD)
co-directed by Luciana Garraza

Tisha is an assassin and organ dealer in a post-apocalyptic world. She’s seeking revenge in a “Mad Max” inspired grindhouse film.

Luciana Garraza co-writes with Sheila Fentana and Eric Fleitas, and directs with Fleitas. The Argentinian film is an ambitious low-budget effort, costing only $10,000 to make.

You can rent “Scavenger” on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube.

Love or Money (Netflix)
directed by Mae Czarina Cruz

Angel dreams of becoming wealthy, but this gets in the way of her relationship with Leon – who is not.

Director Mae Czarina Cruz has directed a number of Filipine movies and series. Netflix actually has a pretty good selection of Filipine movies, including a number of romances.

You can watch “Love or Money” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

A-F*cking-Plus: “Those Who Wish Me Dead”

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is the action movie I want more action movies to be. It’s practical, it’s personal, and it builds tension from detail. It’s about how small, tactical decisions made by two opposing forces change the situation in ways neither expect. The script is smart as hell, and makes a familiar premise feel unique and refreshingly different.

Angelina Jolie plays Hannah, a smokejumper crew boss who makes a terrible mistake. Smokejumpers are firefighters who work against wildland fires. They parachute into remote areas in order to contain those fires before they grow larger and unmanageable. Hannah misreads the wind, and loses one of her crew and a family of hikers. There wasn’t really anything she could do, but the blame has to be pinned somewhere and she’s happy to heap it on herself.

Unable to pass the psych evaluation, she won’t be jumping out of planes anymore. Instead, she’ll be on firewatch in a remote tower. She keeps an eye out for any signs of fire and radios them in. The premise from here on is familiar. Assassins are after a kid named Connor, and an action hero stranded in the wilderness is the only one who can save him.

If the set-up is familiar, what makes “Those Who Wish Me Dead” special? The rest of it feels unique. The dialogue isn’t what we hear in a thousand Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or superhero movies. No one’s dropping one-liners.

The assassins are practical, smart, and efficient, but they’re hamstrung by their employers failing to provide a second team. Played by Aidan Gillen (“Game of Thrones”) and Nicholas Hoult (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), they make mistakes by trying to compensate and rush the job. The assassins aren’t some unbelievable cinematic team of unmatched evil. They’re not infallible in their choices. It’s their increasing desperation to finish the job and frustration with the situation that make them intimidating. They feel more human and that makes them more immediate and real.

One of the tensest moments involves the assassins instructing someone movement by movement how to throw his weapon away, kneel, fall forward, put his hands behind his back. It’s not played as a meeting of uber-badasses, or as a standoff where villains give someone 20 chances to growl about how they’ll rip their head off later. It’s not played with dramatic close-ups or emotional performances. It’s tense simply because it’s so practical, so matter-of-fact, because as viewers we understand how each step is a decreased chance of escape for the person being disarmed.

Hannah is creative, experienced, and trained to be decisive in life-or-death situations, but she doesn’t have the skills or equipment the assassins do. She knows the woods, but neither is she going full Rambo. She understands her environment and makes smart decisions in situations that soon involve lightning storms and a raging fire. She’s not making everything into a deadly weapon or doing anything superhuman. She’s mostly trying to hike out of the situation with Connor in tow, which is what any of us would do. This makes her feel more immediate and real, too.

It’s also easy to forget because she’s such an icon, but Angelina Jolie is one of the best actors in the medium’s history. She won an Oscar and Golden Globes three years in a row before most anyone knew her name. She’s delivered dramatic work as good as “Changeling”, and comedic work as capably as out-acting Brad Pitt in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. It’s also easy to forget because “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is only the fifth live-action film she’s acted in across the last decade. (She’s written three and directed four films in that same span, though.)

She does superb work in a film that doesn’t focus heavily on emotional performance. There are no monologues, and the dialogue is terse and to the point. Nonetheless, her performance nails a sense of someone who’s not just traumatized, but who’s good at covering it up.

The moments of dissociation she has, she shifts into a thousand yard stare. These aren’t tearjerking emotional moments. They’re part of her day, every day, an interruption to the performance Hannah puts on for others and for herself.

Jolie’s had intermittent Bell’s palsy, so I can’t say whether slack features on one side of her face in some moments was an intentional decision she chose, or an element of her as an actress they kept. Either way, including it goes a long way to deepening the reality of a character. Hannah has worked one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and palsy can result from head injury or emotional trauma, among other factors. While I do think Jolie’s smudged make-up looks a little too designed after fist-fighting in forest fires, keeping this element helps the character feel more real. My understanding is that disability depends on the severity of the condition, but it’s great that someone who’s dealt with it sees it incorporated in a film. A lot of filmmakers would have edited those takes out or “corrected” it in post (which is a bullshit mentality). The character is more authentic, human, and representative for its inclusion.

I also like that the movie doesn’t make Hannah into a great mother figure. There’s no Ripley and Newt dynamic here. Hannah is shit with kids, and has zero interest in becoming a parental figure to Connor. She takes care of him as he needs, and protects him not out of some amazing emotional connection, but because it’s what the situation requires. It’s insulting when movies need to create these kinds of bonds to increase the tension of protecting a child. People don’t protect children because they create a one-on-one parental bond through extended dialogue in a high-stakes situation; they protect children because it’s what you fucking do. If you’re parenting a kid because it gives you a redemption arc, you probably shouldn’t be parenting that child. Hannah doesn’t always like communicating with Connor, and she doesn’t need to be good at it to risk her life protecting him. I’m glad to see the sudden mother redemption trope left out of the movie completely.

Others intersect with the assassins and Hannah, but not in the thoroughly useless or sacrificial roles where movies like this usually shove side characters. Most of them play an important part to what happens.

In fact, the cast is exceptionally deep. Finn Little delivers an incredibly strong performance as Connor. The usual child-panicking-in-a-movie notes aren’t hit because those notes are ridiculous. Connor is smart, traumatized, untrusting, scared, determined. He shuts off in some moments, he’s a kid in others, and sometimes he does what’s in front of him because it keeps him going. He’s erratic because that’s what happens in the midst of coping with trauma.

I’ve mentioned Gillen and Hoult as the assassins, and they land an odd-couple working dynamic. Gillen is the superior and more forthright, but also more emotional. Hoult doesn’t see the big picture as well, but he’s more reserved and less prone to drastic decision-making.

Jon Bernthal (“The Punisher”) joins in a large role as a sheriff’s deputy, Ethan. Jake Weber (“Medium”) also shines in a supporting role. Yet its relative newcomer Medina Senghore who steals the show in several ways as Ethan’s resourceful, pregnant wife Allison. She’s one of the most awesome and unexpected characters I’ve seen in an action movie. As if that weren’t enough, even Tyler Perry, Tory Kittles, and James Jordan show up in bit parts.

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a 90s action movie in style and pace, though I’d say it’s far superior to most of what the 90s had to offer. For one, you don’t have to put up with John Travolta. This is a film where situation, dialogue, performance, and patience between action scenes pays off.

Characters aren’t tumbling from one escalating set-piece to the next. They pause, reassess, make smart decisions, reverse old ones based on new information. When both sides make smart decisions, and those decisions go haywire because the other side isn’t standing still, we get to see an asymmetric cat-and-mouse game. A favorable firing position in one scene can turn into characters falling behind as they descend from it the next, and the movie translates these changing elements of give-and-take without ever having to say them out loud.

Nothing feels rushed here. “Those Who Wish Me Dead” takes its sweet time establishing the plot and how characters connect. It’s never complicated, but it is constantly evolving.

Intelligence often gets in the way of visual effects-heavy action movies. Genius is treated as kooky and explaining your plan as quickly and patronizingly as possible. Action screenplays tend to take one scene to insist someone’s intelligent, and then spend the next two hours with that character’s ego telling us the exact opposite.

There’s a dearth of action movies that treat intelligence as knowing how to fuse experience, patience, resilience, emotional maturity, and creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies that are constant colorful explosions featuring ever-quipping sides of human beef. At a certain point, I do want more personal action movies, with a more focused scope, featuring intelligent people facing intelligent people, where a character weighing a decision can be far more tense than whether our explosions out-explode their explosions.

That doesn’t mean “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is gritty – it’s not. That doesn’t mean it isn’t outlandish – it is. It’s just refreshing to have an action movie where the characters in it feel intelligent and experienced in ways that are actually useful and have real-world applications.

I loved this movie. Part of that is because it’s really good, and part of that is because it feeds a desire for action movies that possess a different mentality and respect the time its characters take to think and not just act. It’s what I want out of traditional (i.e. non-superhero) Western action movies. It’s practical, it focuses on performance without being overdramatic, and the situation and scope are personal rather than epic. Rescuing a single child can mean a lot more on-screen than saving the universe.

It also brings back the action hero we never fully got in Angelina Jolie. Hell, you want to be pissed, look up “Salt” where they rewrote the screenplay when she replaced a man because the studio didn’t think a woman could rescue her husband.

Sign me up for “Those Who Wish Me Deader”, “Those Who Wish Me Dead with a Vengeance”, “Live Free or Wish me Dead”, and “A Good Day to Wish Me Dead”. I’m in. I will forward you ticket money.

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is available on HBO Max.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — May 14, 2021

It’s worth diving into HBO Max’s approach to new movies for those who may not know. The return of “Wonder Woman 1984” to HBO brings up why it ever left. Why was it there in December, gone, and now back again?

HBO and Warner Bros. struck a deal where “Wonder Woman 1984” and their 2021 movies would have a day-and-date release in theaters and on HBO Max. This was in part a reaction to the COVID pandemic, but also something Warner Bros. has reportedly been interested in testing for a while now.

New Warner Bros. movies are available on HBO Max for 30 days, then become unavailable. This allows Warner Bros. to still have a rental/purchase release period where the film is unavailable on streaming services. It mirrors the rental-purchase period for a post-theatrical release.

Once that winds down, the movies become like any other and hit streaming services – as Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman 1984” is doing now.

It usually goes theatrical release, rental period, streaming acquisition over the course of several months. For 2021, that theatrical release for Warner Bros. movies will just be coupled with a 30-day HBO Max release as well. If you missed “Wonder Woman 1984”, it’s worth checking out. I thought it had a lot of beautiful ideas, and a few major issues.

NEW SERIES

Hacks (HBO Max)
showrunners Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky

“Hacks” follows a Vegas stand-up comic in her 70s who pairs with a 25 year-old writer to modernize her act. The two don’t get along, but do develop a grudging respect for each other.

Director and showrunner Lucia Aniello has produced and directed on “Broad City”, “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens”, and “The Baby-Sitter’s Club”.

Writer and showrunner Jen Statsky comes over as a writer from “Broad City” and “The Good Place”. (Aniello and Statsky are joined as showrunners by Paul W. Downs, who also acts in “Hacks”.)

You can watch “Hacks” on HBO Max. Two new episodes will premiere every Thursday, having started on May 13.

Intergalactic (Peacock)
showrunner Julie Gearey

“Intergalactic” follows Harper, who’s set up for a crime she didn’t commit. She’s placed on a transport to an off-planet prison, but the prisoners mutiny and force her to pilot their escape.

Julie Gearey was a writer on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and writer and producer on “Cuffs”.

You can watch “Intergalactic” on Peacock.

Mine (Netflix)
directed by Lee Na-jeong

Two women in a wealthy family are tired of the lies they put up with and secrets they hide. They plot to topple the family hierarchy that traps them.

Director Lee Na-jeong also helmed “Fight for My Way” and “Love Alarm”.

“Mine” is a simulcast. New episodes will become available weekly on Netflix as they premiere in South Korea.

The Upshaws (Netflix)
showrunners Regina Y. Hicks, Wanda Sykes

This new sitcom centers on an African-American family living in Indiana. Mike Epps, Kim Fields, and Wanda Sykes star.

Co-showrunner Regina Y. Hicks has been a writer and producer on “Sister, Sister”, “Girlfriends”, and “Insecure”.

Co-showrunner Wanda Sykes has written and produced on “The Chris Rock Show”, and “Wanda at Large”, as well as acting in “Black-ish”, “Broad City”, and delivering a number of stand-up comedy specials.

You can watch “The Upshaws” on Netflix.

Use for My Talent (Netflix)
directed by Cai Cong

Forgive the trailer quality. Netflix has a habit of making English trailers or clips, but not posting them. They’re great at acquiring East Asian series, but rarely attempt to attract new audiences for them. This was recorded by a user instead.

Gu Ren Qi owns a cleaning company, but is germophobic. Shuang Jiao is an employee who can’t seem to clean anything in her own life. Despite their differences, they begin a romance that helps each deal with wounds from their past.

Many sources list this as a Korean series, but that’s incorrect. It’s a Chinese adaptation of a Korean series that was called “Clean with Passion for Now”.

The Chinese adaptation “Use for My Talent” is directed by Cai Cong. I wish I could tell you more about her, but the information that’s out there in English seems to disagree or be incomplete.

“Use for My Talent” is a simulcast with new episodes premiering weekly on Netflix as they air in China.

NEW MOVIES

Saint Maud (Hulu, Amazon)
directed by Rose Glass

A Catholic nurse becomes obsessed with saving the soul of an atheist patient in palliative care. She increasingly interferes with her patient’s life, believing it’s a holy duty tasked to her by God.

Super film nerds chew their fingers off at the anticipation of every new A24 horror movie (I say this from experience). This was no different for Welsh horror film “Saint Maud”. Scheduled to come out last April in the U.S., it got delayed due to COVID. I usually hate review aggregating sites, but “Saint Maud” doesn’t have the platforming now it had a year ago, and it’s worth mentioning when something has overwhelmingly positive scores on Rotten Tomatoes (93%) and Metacritic (83).

You can watch “Saint Maud” on Hulu or Amazon.

Together Together (VOD)
directed by Nicole Beckwith

A man in his 40s wants a child, but he doesn’t have a partner. A woman in her 20s becomes the gestational surrogate. The two become close friends. Ed Helms and Patti Harrison star. The supporting cast is also pretty strong, including Tig Notaro, Fred Melamed, and Rosalind Chao.

Writer-director Nikole Beckwith also wrote and helmed Saoirse Ronan-starrer “Stockholm, Pennsylvania”.

See where to rent “Together Together”.

Wander Darkly (Hulu)
directed by Tara Miele

New parents struggle with both their relationship and a fresh trauma amid shifting realities. Sienna Miller and Diego Luna star.

Writer-director Tara Miele is known for compelling work in low-budget films such as thinspiration drama “Starving in Suburbia”. She’s also directed episodes of “Hawaii Five-0” and “Arrow”.

You can watch “Wander Darkly” on Hulu.

What Lies West (VOD)
directed by Jessica Ellis

Nicolette takes a job as a nanny to make some extra money, but her ward Chloe has a plan to make a four-day hike out to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of stopping Chloe, Nicolette is soon scheming with her.

This is the first feature from writer-director Jessica Ellis.

You can rent “What Lies West” from Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, or YouTube.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Superb Horror, Rushed Actioner — “Shadow in the Cloud”

The first half of “Shadow in the Cloud” is one of the most perfect pieces of cinema I’ve seen. It nails an atmosphere of mounting dread with the precision of early Spielberg and an assured retrowave aesthetic. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Maude Garrett, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who boards a B-17 Flying Fortress as last second crew. It’s the middle of World War II, and her mission is to ferry a satchel across the Pacific. What’s inside that satchel is confidential.

She’s soon parted from her charge and locked in the plane’s bottom turret. The bomber had a crew of 10 and several turrets. One was on the belly, guarding the plane’s exposed underside. It overlooked thousands of feet of empty air. This is where the first half of the movie takes place.

On her radio, Maude overhears how the crew of men speak about her. They talk about fucking her, dismiss her concerns, challenge her mission, and refuse to believe her sighting of an enemy plane. Worse yet, there’s something climbing across the plane, a lurking shape that’s tearing out key parts piece by piece. When they won’t even believe the ordinary when she says it, when they charge her with hysteria simply for reporting what she sees, how can she report what seems impossible?

Moretz realizes a spectacularly written screenplay in what becomes a riveting one-woman show. Writer-director Roseanne Liang puts on a clinic of horror cinema. The sky is dark, full of shadows and lightning. Unsettling details mount: hydraulics hanging out under the plane, a hole in the turret’s glass, a shorn screw as thick around as your finger. What she hears on the radio with the crew, Maude imagines visually for us in deep reds and blacks.

The first half of “Shadow in the Cloud” is one of the best horror experiences I’ve had in my life. Then the second half happens. The second half feels rushed. There’s a reason the most effective moments in “Jaws” are the ones where we can’t see the shark. The moment that one-woman show changes into a more traditional action movie, it loses something key.

That rhythm of Liang’s dialogue, Moretz’s performance, the atmosphere of being trapped and disbelieved, and the awesome texture of Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s synthwave musical score combine to create something genre-defining, but it loses its magic when the film has to move on to resolutions. It’s still a solid film, but when you go from all-time great to OK, you can feel that swing as a viewer.

The second half of “Shadow in the Cloud” does hold onto that magic for a while, largely through Moretz’s performance. There’s also an audacious sequence under the plane that’s so driven and ambitious, and shot so creatively that I couldn’t have cared less if the seams of a low budget peaked out here and there.

The problem is more that the first half is so patient, exact, and grounded, and the second half accelerates without paying off on that pace. What was a mastercraft becomes a solid action B-movie, albeit one without enough rhythm or time. Many of the beats of the second half are good ideas, though your mileage on one particular twist may vary. The ending is just shoved into too short a time that makes it feel checklisted and predictable when the first half was anything but.

That truly unique, assured aesthetic that fuses war movie, “Twilight Zone”, “Amazing Stories”, 80s horror, Hitchcock, and social commentary together feels sidelined. The script shifts from nearly all-dialogue, expertly written, to very little, most of which we’ve heard before. It goes from Moretz absolutely living and breathing the rhythm of the movie, to the scenes rushing her and the other actors. There are times that the last half hints at a punkier, more meta, even cartoonish attitude that could’ve taken over, but it doesn’t have the time to make this shift fully enough.

That first half is so good that none of this stops “Shadow in the Cloud” from being a movie I like and recommend. It’s just that first half is a cinematic holy grail. It is magic. It’s what you sit down and hope every movie is as a critic. Forty minutes in, the thought was forming that this goes up there with “It Follows”, “Alien”, “The Orphanage”, “Ravenous”, “John Carpenter’s The Thing”. Almost nothing achieves the tension this can. I mean, look what it can do in two minutes:

And the second half is a sillier, often rushed action movie. It keeps the thread on its social commentary, but even this can feel rushed at points. It may have been more effective in a film that was able to sustain that early energy. Moretz carries the first 40 minutes of the film through the dialogue, and Liang through patient, stylized directing. If they’d found a way to carry it this way through the last 40 minutes (or extended it to 60 or so minutes to allow that same textured approach), I think it also could have capitalized on what it set up in other ways. This could’ve made that social commentary even more effective. I also think if they’d managed that, I’d be calling “Shadow in the Cloud” one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

Do half a film that’s utterly perfect and half a film that’s uneven and rushed equal a good film? Yeah, no question. Some films don’t start well, but come together in the end and we’re perfectly fine with calling them good. A movie that starts perfectly, but doesn’t bring all those strengths through in the end will be enjoyable in different ways. It may challenge our concepts of what in the storytelling makes it satisfying, but I’m deeply glad I watched it and got to see something as spellbinding as that first half. A lot of good, more consistent films never even approach 5 minutes like that, let alone 40.

I’d also point out that a 40-minute first half and 40-minute second half equal an hour-and-20 minute movie. Take that, kids who don’t think they’ll use math as adults. You’re not sacrificing a whole evening to take a chance on “Shadow in the Cloud”. The film as a whole is so wild, opinions on how well it carries through that initial energy and tone are going to vary a lot.

This is something I know I’ll go back and watch, even if the viewing experience does feel inverted. It is so unique, knowledgeable about the genre foundations on which it stands, and deeply ambitious and creative. Those first 40 minutes are one of the most rewarding movie experiences I’ve had. As I sit with it longer and longer, I like “Shadow in the Cloud” more and more. It’s just so much of what I want to see on screen, even if the conclusion doesn’t pull through.

I’ll certainly keep an eye out for Roseanne Liang. Anyone who can write and direct that singular a stretch can make a great film.

For her part, Moretz is proving she wasn’t just a child actor with an off-kilter taste in projects. Few actors can carry a project alone on-screen for this long, few actors can haul a film ahead regardless of whether it loses its footing, and few actors embody the social commentary of a project this effectively through their character.

“Shadow in the Cloud” is available on Hulu, or see where to rent it here.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — May 7, 2021

It’s a good week if you’re a fan of British things, with a new mystery series in Acorn and Sundance’s “The Drowning”, an immigration drama on Netflix in “Sitting in Limbo”, and a romantic comedy in “Love Sarah” on Hulu.

The biggest news is “Star Wars: The Bad Batch”, though. It continues the story of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, a hit among diehard fans with storylines that matured as the animated series built up its own lore. Star Wars fandom is always dicey to navigate, but early reviews on “The Bad Batch” are very favorable.

There’s also a new Tina Fey-produced comedy in “Girls5eva”. It boasts a pretty strong cast, though many might miss it because Peacock hasn’t exactly broken through as a streaming service.

For me, the most exciting entries are “Shadow in the Cloud”, because who doesn’t want to see Chloe Grace Moretz shoot down Nazis to synthwave backbeats, and “Rosa’s Wedding” from Iciar Bollain, one of Spain’s best filmmakers.

NEW SERIES

Star Wars: The Bad Batch (Disney+)
co-showrunner Jennifer Corbett

As the Empire pumps out its clone soldiers, it occasionally experiments with new ideas. As one does. They develop a “bad batch” of experimental clones, whose loyalties are torn during the prequel trilogy’s infamous Order 66. The show follows what happens after, as they fight on both sides of a growing war.

Jennifer Corbett was a writer on “Star Wars Resistance” and “NCIS”. She showruns with Dave Filoni, who was lead director on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”.

Season one of “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” will run 16 episodes, with the first two available this week and a new one premiering each Friday. I believe most will be a 20-30 minute format, but the first is a special 70-minute episode.

You can watch “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” on Disney+.

Girls5eva (Peacock)
showrunner Meredith Scardino
mostly directed by women

A 90s girl group has faded into obscurity after being a one-hit wonder. That is, until that one hit is sampled by a rapper. This could be their comeback.

The series has a strong musical cast headed up by singer Sara Bareilles and Renee Elise Goldsberry, who won a Tony for her featured role in “Hamilton”. This is balanced out by experienced comedy actors Busy Phillips and Paula Pell.

Showrunner Meredith Scardino has written for “The Colbert Report”, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, and “At Home with Amy Sedaris”,

Five of the eight episodes are directed by women: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Mick” director Kat Coiro directs the first ep. She’s also directing half of Marvel’s upcoming “She-Hulk” series. LP and “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood direct two episodes apiece.

You can watch “Girls5eva” on Peacock. The streaming platform comes included in many cable and satellite packages, so you may already have access to it.

The Drowning (Acorn TV, Sundance Now)
directed by Carolina Giammetta

A woman has slowly recovered and rebuilt her life since losing her son, Daniel. Eight years have passed, when she thinks she catches sight of him again.

The four episode British mini-series is directed by Carolina Giammetta. She’s directed on “Vera” and “Shakespeare & Hathaway”.

You can watch “The Drowning” on either Acorn TV or Sundance Now. It’s premiering on both jointly.

NEW MOVIES

Sitting in Limbo (Netflix)
directed by Stella Corradi

“Sitting in Limbo” recounts the struggle of Anthony Bryan to remain a British citizen during the Windrush scandal. The 2018 scandal involved the illegal detention of Caribbean immigrants to the UK, many of whom were subsequently illegally deported. Many had lived their entire lives there, but lost their jobs, homes, passports, and medical care, and were denied re-entry. Many had been born British subjects due to centuries-long colonial occupations by the U.K., and had direct legal rights to live in the U.K. as citizens.

Stella Corradi was a director on BBC series “Trigonometry”.

You can watch “Sitting in Limbo” on Netflix.

Shadow in the Cloud (Hulu)
directed by Roseanne Liang

Chloe Grace Moretz stars as an agent transporting intelligence during World War II. Her ride is a B-17 Flying Fortress, a bomber so large it required a crew of 10. The big problem is that something’s hitched a ride along with them, and it’s killing the crew one by one.

This is Roseanne Liang’s second narrative feature as writer and director. She got her start in the industry as an editor.

You can watch “Shadow in the Cloud” on Hulu.

Rosa’s Wedding (HBO Max)
directed by Iciar Bollain

At 45, Rosa decides she’s done catering to everyone else’s needs. A costume designer by trade, she visits the tailor shop where her mother once worked. Then it strikes her – she’ll start her own business.

Iciar Bollain was an actress in the 1980s-00s, but her last role was in 2012. She’s shifted to directing and writing over the course of her career. Her “Take My Eyes” is known as one of Spain’s best films. The film that centered on a blunt portrayal of domestic violence won seven Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent of our Oscars), including Best Picture and Best Director.

“Rosa’s Wedding” saw Bollain nominated as Best Director and for Best Original Screenplay alongside her “Take My Eyes” co-writer Alicia Luna.

You can watch “Rosa’s Wedding” on HBO Max.

Love Sarah (Hulu)
directed by Eliza Schroeder

A woman pursues her mother’s dream: opening a bakery in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London. She enlists friends and family to help her accomplish this.

Director Eliza Schroeder also co-wrote the story for the screenplay. This is her first feature film.

You can watch “Love Sarah” on Hulu.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

What Were April’s Best Music Videos?

One thing that’s hard not to notice as we put this together is that male artists are nowhere to be seen this month. Our top ten is entirely women artists or groups fronted by women. Extending to the honorable mentions at the end, only one of 18 groups this month is fronted by men (Major Lazer). It’s not something we intended, but it’s cool to see.

The rest of the year’s top tens counted 16-and-a-half music videos by women out of 31 entries (the half is a collab, and we cheated with a top 11 once), so that’s not been a particular focus. It’s not a statement, we just didn’t like what male artists put out this month as much as the women below.

One thing I will say is that women directors still aren’t heavily featured – they aren’t given as many opportunities as men to direct. That’s a shame and still feels like we’re missing a big chunk of the talent pool out there that’s not getting the same opportunity or resources to create art.

This month’s music videos were selected by S.L. Fevre, Eden O’Nuallain, Cleopatra Parnell, and Gabriel Valdez.

10. I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You) – dodie
directed by Hazel Hayes

“I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)” continues dodie’s strong run of music videos that reflect on extremely personal stories of trauma, anxiety, and struggling with depression. Here, it’s a cycle of new partners in an attempt to feel like herself and make a connection in the depth of numbness.

It’s fair to say dodie has a reputation for cute, lighter fare because she’s delivered it reliably, but so much of her work also centers on notions of dissociation and impostor syndrome. What’s been remarkable is how transparently she’s able to communicate what we’re taught to hide and guard.

9. BNR – Crumb
directed by Joe Mischo

Crumb’s always been into making videos that take the everyday and make it weird, but they seem to be driving it to even more Lynchian realms this year. Their unsettling “Trophy” made our list last month.

Even when you get the energy of what Lila Ramani and company are doing, they still deliver endings that make you sit there in a bit of shock. It feels too weighted to just be random, but it also makes so little sense given the framework of what you’ve just seen. That expectation of yourself to design the connection that isn’t there is something that’s hard to evoke. A lot needs to be built beforehand, and Crumb have a habit of building it.

8. love u lately – Laica
directed by Cooper Leith

This is the epitome of a great DIY video. Everything is homemade, and something most of us have the resources to film. Of course, it still takes the idea and execution, which is spot-on here.

One of the things I love about doing this is happening upon MVs that only have a few thousand views. Inexpensive music videos can often be superior to copy-and-paste videos that cost millions and churn out views.

Laica is a Filipina artist who’s had a few breakthroughs, but isn’t exactly mainstream either.

7. Fire Kites – Noga Erez
directed by Omri Rozi

If there’s been a music video artist of the year so far, it’s been Noga Erez. We mentioned her “End of the Road” in January for her singular performance, and listed “Story” just last month as a tremendously fun video with an underlying message about mutual destruction.

“Fire Kites” follows a consistent theme, and Erez has spoken about the differences in growing up between Israeli children with privilege and Palestinean children without it. “Fire Kites” compares the hypocrisy of Israel firing missiles as a regular occurrence with the perceived horror of Palestine launching incendiary kites – as if missiles are acceptable or less horrific simply because they cost more.

(When sharing Israeli artists on this site, I do my best to follow BDS guidelines. Contrary to popular belief, they do not suggest a blanket boycott of Israeli artists, but a selective one based on contracts signed with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Erez appears to have no such contract and has been very critical of her government and its treatment of Palestine.)

6. Cha-Cha-Cha – Bonnie Banane
directed by Raphael Stora

There’s something so bluntly suggestive in this, and it comes together to undermine our expectations beautifully. Saido Lehlouh’s pent-up energy communicates an impending violence in response to Bonnie Banane’s sultry dancing. What we get instead, what he could barely restrain, is his own performance for her.

The humid interior contrasts to the cold blue, gray, and white of the city outside. Their isolation contrasts to the empty office building. It all seems so simply put together, but it’s beautifully shot and there’s such restraint in focusing on the performance to build the tension and its release.

CW: the following contains quickly flashing images

5. He Said She Said – CHVRCHES
directed by Scott Kiernan

I think this is my favorite music video by CHVRCHES, and they’ve had some strong ones over the years. The thing is, this uses a lot of concepts that usually aren’t done well. Utilizing 80s music video effects can go off the rails pretty fast. So can the tumblr aesthetic employed to present them. The revolving door metaphor is simple, but they plumb pretty deep into it. Fusing all of it together is brave, to say the least, and it achieves an MV that’s impressionistic and emotive.

4. Posing in Bondage – Japanese Breakfast
directed by Michelle Zauner

This one hits hard a year into quarantine. I’m not sure Zauner’s singing about the same thing, but the song and video undeniably reflect isolation and connection. The meet-cute of a woman who’s feasted on blood rolling around an abandoned grocery store until she meets a clerk who shares ramen with her is also better than 99% of romances.

That line “When the world divides into two people/those who have felt pain and those who have yet to” is a sort of lyrical monument that resonates across…well, the past year, the past four years. It may be about one thing, but Zauner communicates it in a way that speaks to so much more. Between this and “Be Sweet”, her upcoming album Jubilee (out June 4) sounds exquisite.

3. Your Power – Billie Eilish
directed by Billie Eilish

The MV works with ideas of camouflage, and how slow we can be to pick up visual changes. Eilish is camouflaged sitting on the cliff, her story imperceptible in a larger landscape. The introduction of the snake is barely on-screen and when it is fully on-screen, it moves slowly and takes a second to register.

Our slowness in picking up these details works as a metaphor for our own slow reactions to recognize abuse. What Eilish does in her direction is building that metaphor in our reaction, rather than as one solely presented on-screen.

The first and last things we see are those cliffs, the suggestion of a landslide, Eilish lost in the geological strata. It suggests the larger history of how common that abuse is, and also reflects the personal – that the trauma of that abuse now forms a layer of who she is as a person.

2. Sorry – Deb Never
directed by Justin Tyler Close

There’s so much going on in a video that never feels overly busy. Deb Never in front of stripped paint that suggests a flag. The bruise and black eye. The slam poet, the dancer interlude picking her up, the mixed acceptance and disappointment of parent to child. It conveys a character and her story more like a film, complete with journey, ending, and a fully developed character with whom we can identify.

1. Introvert – Little Simz
directed by Salomon Ligthelm

If you haven’t followed Little Simz, I’d argue she’s been the best rapper going for a few years now. Her “Stillness in Wonderland” was a mind-blowing 23-song concept album, and her following “GREY Area” was an intense, streamlined entry that existed as a polar opposite in form.

“Introvert” sounds like something new yet again, and the video delivers a surging contemplation of British colonial history largely carried by Little Simz, dancer Stefano A Addae, and choreographer Kloe Dean.

Other music videos we liked in April:

“I Pazzi” by MILLE is a warm and reassuring performance music video that transports you to a courtyard in Italy.

“Lost in the Weekend” by Vok is a beautiful release of a music video. It celebrates the self-assurance of getting to be who you are, even if it’s not who society expects or approves.

“Link” by Tierra Whack celebrates communities and connection through the idea of building Lego-ish rocket ships with aliens. It’s super cute.

“I Eat Boys” sees Chloe Moriondo track down, murder, and gleefully eat street harassers.

“Titans” by Major Lazer sees giant monsters, spaceships, alien starfish, muppet-style versions of Sia and Labrinth, and an animated interlude that helps Lazer learn to defeat kaiju through the power of dance.

“Calle” by Lola Indigo, featuring Guaynaa and Cauty, depicts a terrifying future where roving street gangs have dance-offs against ninjas (this is the future liberals want, btw).

“Space” by Audrey Nuna is a hazy slow-burn that builds on inventive visuals.

“Exception” by renforshort depicts heartbreak and loss as a time loop. By evolving our understanding of who the heartbreak centers on, the repetition challenges the ingrained social assumptions we make.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

A Study in Distractions — “Yasuke”

“Yasuke” is based on an African man who came to Japan with Jesuit traders. His circumstances and position are unclear, and the show refers to him as a “servant” at this point. Once in Japan, he entered the service of legendary warlord Nobunaga, and became a samurai. That’s about where the anime’s historical accuracy ends.

This isn’t necessarily a problem – the series dives into a fantasy battle from the opening scene. Giant robots lay waste to soldiers as sorcerers conjure devastating attacks in response. It lets you know that “Yasuke” isn’t really going to be recounting history.

Most of “Yasuke” takes place after Yasuke himself has gone into hiding. It’s 20 years later and he’s known as the “Black boatman”. He takes people up and down the river and fishes along the way. Traumatized by his time in battle, he spends his free time drinking or sleeping. He’s charged with taking a girl upriver to see a doctor. Needless to say, things go haywire from there.

The problem with the show rests in its world-building. There’s an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to incorporating anime cliches. That’s fun at first, but becomes increasingly overwhelming and distracting. It’s a six episode series and outside of two fight scenes, Yasuke himself has nothing to do outside of drink or be tortured for the first three episodes.

For a show ostensibly created to celebrate a Black samurai, it feels frustrating. He certainly wasn’t the only Black person in Japan at the time, but he’s the only one we know of who broke through its considerable racism and achieved such high social status in a very hierarchical military culture. In those first three episodes, we get flashbacks where Yasuke trains, fights, and discusses honor and loyalty. Those flashbacks are great. The storyline that takes place in the present, however, mostly sees him drink and get tortured.

There may’ve been more for him to do, but the show is too intent on shoveling in trope after trope that don’t have to do with him. Like I said, it’s fun to recognize them at first. Yet none of them are contextualized or even very consistent. You see, the Mongols invaded Japan using giant robots, forcing Japan to adopt the tech as their own to defend themselves, except giant robots are sometimes magical constructs and sometimes technological ones, and sometimes mecha operated by a pilot and sometimes not, and who knows which and does any of it matter because I’m not sure even the show knows.

And then there’s a werewolf, and then there’s an African sorcerer, and then there’s a wise-cracking robot, and then there’s a woman with a scythe who’s maybe a mecha pilot one time in the fifth episode, and then they work for an agent of the Catholic Church who’s a mutant with biomass powers but he also has electric powers and oh! he can also can turn his mouth into that series of teeth that the worms from “Dune” have, and then the Daimyo is an evil psychic spider, and then there’s a Dark Samurai infused with powers that do something, but he glows purple real well, and then there’s astral projection, and then, and then, and then.

With each new “and then”, I got excited about how brimming the world was with the intersections of all these things, until I realized none really mattered. None were ever filled in. Their presence in the world isn’t given reason. They’re all present, for no particular reason. The voice cast does a good job with these characters, but the writing needed to have fewer of them or provide them more substance.

The series details Yasuke’s past in beautiful ways for three episodes, and LaKeith Stanfield does some great work as a young, idealistic Yasuke and a burnt out, traumatized older one. There are nuances of the character that carry through, but a worldview that’s been damaged. It’s a good thing Stanfield does this level of work, because the rest of the show doesn’t. It weaves his story in the present in such a way that sidelines Yasuke in exchange for world-building. That’s fine, but then that world-building doesn’t mean anything. Nothing is shaped out of it. It’s good for a few meta one-liners, but many of them fall flat and they aren’t central enough to build into something larger. We’ve traded Yasuke and his story for a pile-on of elements the show never treats as very important.

For the first three episodes, “Yasuke” relies on balancing his arc in the past against his arc in the present, without ever giving him an arc in the present beyond getting drunk and being tortured. It hardly feels like a celebration or recognition of him, but even if these aren’t what we’re looking for, what is given us feels needlessly counter-productive and cruel.

The last three episodes leave the flashbacks behind and progress the current story. Here, Yasuke has considerably more agency and the show capitalizes on those flashbacks in some resonant ways. I really wish the series had found a way to focus on the flashbacks from the first three episodes, and the present-tense storyline from the last three episodes, with all that wasted time in the first three episodes cut down.

But it’s an action anime, I’m taking it too seriously? Sure, but the lack of context and consistency saturates the action scenes. Let’s take the good first: the sword fights themselves are stylish and communicate in a way that makes following them feel easy. We can watch Yasuke fight, dodge, counter, and then follow the movement of his sword all the way through to someone’s head being chopped off, the camera spinning around the world in relation. There’s a groundedness and great sense of choreography – particularly for what anime enables our POV to follow in a cogent way.

Then comes the robot. The fight and chase scenes he’s involved in have very little geography. Characters fly around in ways that completely lose the viewer’s sense of direction and strategy. If we can’t follow what the pursued and pursuing are thinking and why they take a certain action, then it doesn’t matter how many energy blasts you’ve got, the scene lacks consequence. Of course, anime has a long history of abstracting fight scenes so that geography disappears altogether, and this can be really striking – but this doesn’t describe the approach here. Instead, these are grounded fights and chases – they just aren’t done well.

This also expands into the battle scenes, where landscape and geographical features are only included once they’re needed for a plot point. You’re ambushing from the forest? I guess there was a convenient forest on both sides of their army the whole time, OK. You’re blasting through a chunk of mountain to bring an army in? OK, so there was mountain there the whole time, I guess. The more elements a fight, chase, or battle includes, the more the sense of “and then, and then, and then” takes over.

Many may show up for the music, and it is by far the show’s standout strength. The electronic/hip hop artist Flying Lotus designs an expressive landscape of yearning synths and soft yet driving drum hits. There are moments that are reminiscent of Vangelis’s work in “Blade Runner”, but Flying Lotus also shifts easily into a unique blend of hauntology, hip hop, and Japanese instrumentation that often rises toward heroic darkwave themes for the fights. There are even clever synth callbacks to Ennio Morricone in moments of stand-off and rising tension. I don’t know how much I’d recommend the show, but the score has an argument as one of the best ever made for a series. It does so much heavy lifting that I think it kept the show’s emotion alive for me after the rest of it had already burned through my patience.

The animation is a mixed bag because it’s often sabotaged by editing decisions. Japanese studio MAPPA do some really detailed work, with early backgrounds of Yasuke’s village standing out as beautiful. The presentations of astral projection and sorcery are well done, with a sense of impact and consequence. There are some towering moments of otherworldly weirdness with the show’s big bad.

That brings us to the robots/constructs/mecha, which can be impressive when they’re actually shown in relation to characters, but are often isolated to their own shots that don’t relate to the battle, fight, or chase scene at hand. I don’t mean to double down on criticizing the robot element here – I was excited at its inclusion at first – but the show never defines any element of how they function or intersect in a fight, while relying on them in half the fights. Worse yet, it leans on cutting to them in isolation or in a completely different area. They’re not linked up to an element of the action scene where the viewer is already anchored, so whatever they do ends up being confusing until one of the characters notices, ‘oh hey, they just did xyz’ or you catch up and just figure it yourself. There’s a reason the trailers avoid showing most of the sci-fi elements: they just don’t work.

Character designs can feel like they come from different eras, which should be a strength but can also stress the sense of wanting more context and world-building from all the different elements crammed together. There are also a few times scenes feel missing, where a character just Hudson Hawks from one place in one scene into a completely different place in the next without the interstitial scripting that connects them.

Would I recommend “Yasuke”? I’m fifty-fifty. The symbolism’s strong in a lot of moments. Then it gets distracted by one-liners, many of which don’t work or are overly familiar. The flashback story of the first three episodes is strong, with a genuine sense of character and texture that made me want to see this element expanded. The last three episodes feel a bit rushed and could have supported more meat to this part of the story, but they’re overall good.

On the other hand, that sense of being rushed only makes me more frustrated with all the wasted time in the present-tense story of the first three episodes. Even as the show got more consistent in its final episodes, I felt like my patience had already been wasted. I wasn’t sure if I was finishing the show because I wanted to see what happened, or because I’d already invested an hour-and-a-half and figured I may as well finish the last hour-and-a-half. I’m glad I finished it, but its early misfires also made me bristle any time I felt the series was getting distracted or focusing on unexplained, throwaway characters again.

The everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach isn’t a bad one. I’ve enjoyed it in series and movies that are far worse than this, so why didn’t I enjoy it here? If I’ve defended “Vagrant Queen” or “Flash Gordon”, how can I possibly criticize something that is more artful and substantive like “Yasuke”? Those may be worse, but they didn’t lose the thread of their stories or characters. They didn’t sideline their stories and characters in ways that wasted viewers’ time.

“Yasuke” doesn’t ground the huge range of elements it wants to throw in, it just keeps throwing more in. Neither does it pursue something abstracted, surreal, or meta enough to use these elements as texture on which you can imprint larger meanings. There are a lot of anime series that handle such a wide range of elements in more directed ways than this. They may not always have the elements of social consciousness that “Yasuke” has, but even when “Yasuke” brings them up, it can’t focus on them very long when a robot needs to deliver a one-liner you’ve heard 20 times before. At the same time, it’s not like there are many anime series entrusted to Black creators like LeSean Thomas, and that representation gives the series an off-the-screen importance that other shows lack.

“Yasuke” has good characters, some good action, and phenomenal music, but with incredibly inconsistent and distracted storytelling. Countless elements are thrown in, a lot of them with writing that doesn’t hold up to the standard of the writing of the main characters. There’s no sense of consistency to the things that establish consequence. Some scenes arrive without context, powers are all over the place, and even the features and geography of a battle will change as the plot suddenly requires the landscape to be different for something new to happen. Moderate distances are too great to travel one minute, while great distances are then traversed in no time when the series realizes it only has 30 minutes to wrap things up.

None of this is enough to topple “Yasuke”, which is borderline shocking and speaks to how good certain elements like the music, acting, and much of the animation are. Yet the series never feels very steady either. There’s a story here that it wants to tell, and that’s fun to see, but there are so many distractions and excesses that it feels like Thomas is often more interested in these than in the core plot and hero…and that risks us following the storyteller’s lead and becoming less interested in the plot and hero, too. All that we’re left with is those distractions, which aren’t going to hold our attention. When the show finally does get more interested in Yasuke, his agency, and his story, I couldn’t feel comfortable putting that initial trust and emotional investment back into it all.

You can watch “Yasuke” on Netflix.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies By Women — April 30, 2021

Series from Poland and Sweden join two new films from the U.S. this week. Let’s dive straight in:

NEW SERIES

Sexify (Netflix)
co-directed by Kalina Alabrudzinska

A student needs to design a new app for a competition. She decides women’s sexuality is rarely focused on. Her app will help women learn about and optimize their orgasms. Of course, this brings her into conflict with her more socially conservative family, friends, and the university itself.

As a Polish series, the show comes at an interesting time – when women’s rights are being severely repressed in Poland.

Kalina Alabrudzinska has chiefly worked as an assistant director, and branched out as writer-director with the 2019 feature film “Nothing is Lost”. She directs here with Piotr Domalewski.

You can watch “Sexify” on Netflix.

Backstrom (Acorn TV)
half directed by Amanda Adolfsson

Evert Backstrom is a self-centered detective who encounters an impossible murder. A skull has been discovered on an uninhabited island, and the victim appears to have been shot. The only problem is that this is the second time she’s died – on opposite sides of the world.

In something of a reversal, the Swedish book series was first adapted as a U.S. series in 2015, as a vehicle for Rainn Wilson. It didn’t last long, but the Swedish version looks decidedly less comedic.

You can watch “Backstrom” on Acorn TV.

NEW MOVIES

Things Heard & Seen (Netflix)
co-directed by Shari Springer Berman

An artist moves to the Hudson Valley in the hope of new inspiration. She develops suspicions about her marriage that mirror the strange history of her new home. Amanda Seyfried and James Norton star. The film is based on the novel “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage.

Shari Springer Berman writes and directs with her husband Robert Pulcini. The pair were nominated for an Oscar in 2004 for adapting the screenplay to “American Splendor”, and an Emmy in 2011 for directing “Cinema Verite”.

You can watch “Things Heard & Seen” on Netflix.

Golden Arm (VOD)
directed by Maureen Bharoocha

A truck driver recruits her best friend to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship.

Director Maureen Bharoocha has worked just about every job there is in the film industry, from editor to cinematographer, and most recently a segment director on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”.

See where to rent “Golden Arm”.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

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Movies and how they change you.