New Shows + Movies by Women — August 27, 2021

One of the things I’ve been paying attention to lately is the content creation niche that’s dedicated to arguing why every project by women fails. I’m in a few “Star Trek” groups (shock) and one of the ‘analysts’ we regularly shake our heads at is Doomcock. Now first off, he should really get that checked out by a doctor. Secondly, he traffics in “inside rumors” and “sources” that he insists makes him a resource for prognosticating the future of shows.

He’s railed against newer “Star Trek” series by insisting they’ve turned their backs on the previous eras by focusing on inclusivity and diversity. Never mind the inclusivity and diversity of the entire canon. Hell, “The Next Generation” spent an episode discussing assisted suicide, followed up by an episode where Riker tries to save someone from conversion therapy. That was in 1992, the year before they launched a show where a Black commander, his best friend who’d changed genders, and a famed terrorist led “Deep Space Nine”. This was all unheard of in 90s TV; if anything, modern Trek could stand to push boundaries even more.

Where is this going? Doomcock (see a doctor!) and those like him rely on their “sources” to break news like “Star Trek: Discovery” getting canceled. It wasn’t; it would subsequently film its fourth season. His “sources” revealed that “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” would never even get to filming. It finished filming its first season in July. Nearly every rumor is complete fabrication, nearly every source unreliable to an historic degree. And yet…people still tune in because it feeds the narrative they want to hear – one that says shows about women, that prioritize women, that are made by women, and that focus on inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionalism are all doomed to failure. It feeds the thinking that these are things that are unsustainable in our culture, instead of the reality that we keep renewing them and getting more of these shows because there’s such an audience and hunger for them.

One of the biggest narratives this cottage industry of hate has been pushing this year is the failure of “Black Widow”. Why, it’s a $200 million film that’s only made $180 million domestic! Forget the pandemic, forget that it’s made around 75% more on Disney+. (Disney’s own figures put its opening weekend at $60 million on Disney+, in addition to the $80 million it made in theaters).

“Black Widow” is a film directed by Cate Shortland, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second film centered on a woman protagonist and first directed solely by a woman (“Captain Marvel” was helmed by directing team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck). It has to be a failure. They cannot fathom or allow it to be interpreted as successful.

The reality is that “Black Widow” stands as the highest earning movie at the box office this year at $180.6 million. “F9: The Fast Saga” is second at $172.6 million, and “A Quiet Place Part II” is third at $160.1 million. Nothing else crests $100 million.

“Black Widow” very likely made at least another $140 million via streaming, which would make it more profitable than any of the three “Thor” movies that have been released. People like Doomcock (at least get some ointment!) make excuses for similarly expensive movies led by men – they came out during a pandemic, they have same-day streaming releases – while calling the most watched and highest earning movie of the year a failure. It must be in order to fit their narrative.

This happens in a year where Kate Herron directed every episode of “Loki”, Kari Skogland directed every episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, and Jac Schaeffer showran “WandaVision”, all three of them popular successes and media darlings.

We saw the same thing in 2020 with Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey”, the sixth highest earner all year, declared a failure. The results of films by men are given excuses, whereas films by women are held to a standard as if the pandemic isn’t even happening. Be in the top six and it’s a failure. Be the top performer and it’s a failure. Men get the contract to direct the sequel no matter how they perform. Women effectively get fired from the franchise. Leading a movie? Could you imagine Disney+ refusing to pay Chris Hemsworth? Meanwhile Scarlett Johansson has to sue to get half her pay in a film that outperformed all three of his.

On to this week:

NEW SERIES

King of Boys: The Return of the King (Netflix)
showrunner Kemi Adetiba

“King of Boys” was a 2018 Nigerian political thriller about power struggles and corruption. It centers on a woman, Alhaja Eniola Salami (played by Sola Sobowale). The TV series continuation “King of Boys: The Return of the King” sees Salami return after 5 years of exile in a ruthless attempt to seize power.

Kemi Adetiba created, wrote, and directed both the movie and this new, seven-part limited series. She’s won numerous awards within Nigeria’s music video industry.

You can watch “King of Boys: Return of the King” on Netflix.

NEW MOVIES

Really Love (Netflix)
directed by Angel Kristi Williams

A Black painter tries to break through the art world in a rapidly gentrifying Washington, D.C. that’s less and less interested in Black art. He tries to balance this with his personal life, but he may not have the energy for both.

This is director and co-writer Angel Kristi Williams’s first feature film.

You can watch “Really Love” on Netflix.

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

If you like 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 — August 20, 2021

It’s a good week for Netflix and HBO Max, with each seeing a pair of projects arrive. It’s particularly good to see Sandra Oh lead another series, and one that seems tailor built for her to shine. It’s astonishing that a comic actress of her caliber has seen so few leading roles, and she’s often talked about the difficulty Asian women have getting cast as leads.

Before we dive in, I’ll also highlight a short film. MUBI is now featuring the short film “Menarca”, where women learn from piranhas how to defend themselves from men. It’s directed by Brazilian filmmaker Lillah Halla.

NEW SERIES

The Chair (Netflix)
showrunner Amanda Peet

A scandalized university English department declares its next chair and intended scapegoat: their first woman of color in the position. Sandra Oh leads what looks like an exceptionally promising series.

Amanda Peet is the creator and showrunner of “The Chair”. Chances are you’ll recognize her work as an actress from “Dirty John”, “Brockmire”, “The Good Wife”, or “Studio 60”. This is her first work as a showrunner.

You can watch “The Chair” on Netflix.

NEW MOVIES

Reminiscence (HBO Max)
directed by Lisa Joy

Nick is a detective who dives into people’s memories. In a world that’s crumbling around him, he’s obsessed with tracking down his missing lover, Mae.

The cast for this is ridiculous. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson star as Nick and Mae. Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, and Daniel Wu also star.

Writer-director Lisa Joy co-created, writes, and directs on “Westworld”. Before that, she wrote on “Pushing Daisies” and “Burn Notice”.

You can watch “Reminiscence” on HBO Max.

Reefa (HBO Max)
directed by Jessica Kavana Dornbusch

Israel ‘Reefa’ Hernandez-Llach is a Colombian immigrant in Miami. It’s his last summer before going to college in New York on an art scholarship. Before he can get there, he suffers an act of police terrorism.

The film is based on actual events, where Israel was beaten and murdered by Miami Beach Police in 2013. Officers chased him for blocks before beating and tasering him for spray-painting graffiti in an area that’s a popular tourist destination in large part because of the work of artists like him. The eventual wrongful death settlement cost the police department a mere $100,000.

Writer-director Jessica Kavana Dornbusch is the child of Uruguayan immigrants. This is her first feature film since 2006’s “Love and Debate”.

You can watch “Reefa” on HBO Max, or rent it on Amazon, Google Play, Redbox, or Vudu.

Out of My League (Netflix)
directed by Alice Filippi

In this Italian film, Marta is an orphan coping with a fatal diagnosis. Her one dream is for a beautiful man to fall in love with her.

Director Alice Filippi has been an assistant director on “Hannibal”, “Spectre”, and “Inferno”. This is her first feature.

You can watch “Out of My League” on Netflix.

Habit (VOD)
directed by Janell Shirtcliff

A trio of drug dealers lose both the money and the drugs. Their only way out is to pretend that they’re nuns. “Habit” continues lead Bella Thorne’s interest in leading genre comedies and satires.

This is writer-director Janell Shirtcliff’s first feature.

You can rent “Habit” on Redbox.

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

If you like 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 — August 13, 2021

I was worried when I only found three projects combined over the last two weeks. Was the pandemic’s impact on productions finally being felt by streaming platforms? I hoped it was just an early August slowdown and that seems to be proving out. This week sees five new series by women (plus one I missed last month) and five new films by women making it to streaming services.

NEW SERIES

AlRawabi School for Girls (Netflix)
directed by Tima Shomali

Outcasts at an all-girls school in Jordan plot to get even with their bullies, but who the outcasts and bullies are is constantly shifting.

Tima Shomali directs the series. Shomali broke through as a writer and actress on YouTube series “Bath Bayakha”. It allowed her to circumvent an Arabic comedy world that (much like our own) can limit opportunities for women.

You can watch “AlRawabi School for Girls” on Netflix.

Brand New Cherry Flavor (Netflix)
co-showrunner Lenore Zion

Lisa Nova is an awesomely named director in 1990 Los Angeles. She wants revenge on a producer who wronged her. Enter Boro, played by Catherine Keener. She offers vengeance of the supernatural kind.

Lenore Zion showruns with Nick Antosca. Zion has written on “Ray Donovan” and written and produced on “Billions”.

You can watch “Brand New Cherry Flavor” on Netflix.

The Beast Must Die (AMC+)
showrunner Gaby Chiappe

A mother ingratiates herself with the family of the man responsible for her son’s death. Once accepted into his home, she plots her vengeance.

Writer and showrunner Gaby Chiappe was a co-writer of last year’s “Misbehaviour”. This is one I missed last month.

The trailer mentions BritBox, but that’s only in the UK. You can watch “The Beast Must Die” in the U.S. on AMC+.

The Crowned Clown (Netflix)
directed by Kim Hui-Won

Amid uprisings and assassination attempts, a king replaces himself with a performing clown who looks nearly identical. Now his replacement has to avoid murder attempts and giving away his real identity.

This is based on “Masquerade”, a Korean movie that is inspired by Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper”.

Director Kim Hui-won is one of South Korea’s best series directors. Fresh off the lauded “Vincenzo”, she’s currently attached to a Korean adaptation of “Little Women”. “The Crowned Clown” actually preceded “Vincenzo”, following her well regarded “Money Flower”.

You can watch “The Crowned Clown” on Netflix.

Fantasy Island (Fox)
showrunners Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain

The 70s drama returns in a new form. Rather than a reboot, it’s a soft continuation of the original, which features an island that grants people’s desires for a price.

Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain run the show. They first worked together on “The Shield”, and since have written and produced on “The 100” and “The Fix”.

You can watch “Fantasy Island” on Fox. New episodes air Tuesdays.

The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated (Crunchyroll)
directed by Mirai Minato

A demon finds herself transported to the real world in this anime series. The only problem is that she arrives without any of her powers.

Mirai Minato has been prolific in the last two years, directing series like “Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense” and “Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World”.

“The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated” is simulcast in the U.S. on Crunchyroll. New episodes arrive Saturdays as they air in Japan.

NEW MOVIES

CODA (Apple TV)
directed by Sian Heder

Ruby is the only hearing member in her family. She helps them with their business, but wants to pursue music school.

The deaf characters are played by deaf actors. Actor Marlee Matlin threatened to drop out when financiers attempted to cast hearing actors in their roles. Early reviews have indicated that the film approaches cultural deafness inclusively.

Writer-director Sian Heder has a hell of a resume. She’s written on “Orange is the New Black” and “Men of a Certain Age”, and directed on “The Path” “Orange is the New Black”, and “GLOW”.

You can watch “CODA” on Apple TV.

Together Together (Hulu)
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”.

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

The Cloud in Her Room (MUBI)
directed by Xinyuan Zheng Lu

A woman returns home for a spring festival. Her mother and father have both pursued new lives, separate from each other. Zhao Muzi feels both comfort and out of place in the town where she grew up. The different roles she plays are reflected in the fragmented nature of the film.

This is the first feature for writer-director Xinyuan Zheng Lu.

You can watch “The Cloud in Her Room” on MUBI.

Bleed with Me (Shudder)
directed by Amelia Moses

Two best friends get away to a secluded cabin in the dead of winter. One becomes convinced the other is stealing her blood.

This is the first feature for writer-director Amelia Moses.

You can watch “Bleed with Me” on Shudder.

Bloodthirsty (Shudder)
directed by Amelia Moses

And this is the second feature from Moses: Grey keeps having visions of being a wolf. She’s invited to work with a music producer at his secluded mansion in the woods. She brings a friend along for safety, but as she works, she begins to transform into a werewolf.

Amelia Moses has worked a variety of crew positions in horror – set designer, cinematographer, editor, writer, and now director.

You can watch “Bloodthirsty” on Shudder, or rent it on Google Play or Vudu.

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

If you like 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 Indian Shows + Movies by Women

Earlier this year, CNN’s Diksha Madhok reported that services like Netflix and Amazon have offered women filmmakers in India a platform they’re often denied within the country’s own film industry. Madhok stressed that India’s increasingly autocratic government has begun threatening many filmmakers on these services with imprisonment and fines.

Much of this is due to Indian women filmmakers focusing on films that criticize rape culture. Many are based on rapes and murders of women that have become high-profile news stories, and depict the failure of government and police to respond properly or with accountability.

Other criticisms that have resulted in women filmmakers being threatened include presentations of Hindu-Muslim romances. Political firestorms have also resulted from how religious imagery is used, or the inclusion of nudity. Madhok’s article discusses both women and men filmmakers, but highlights the particular plight and threat involved in topics that women filmmakers have very actively pursued.

India is hardly the only country where women filmmakers face issues like these, but right now it presents a huge number of potential viewers for streaming services. Those streaming services often decide that it’s in their immediate financial interests to simply adhere to what a government requires in order to have access to those viewers. Streaming services will very often choose market access over equality.

I’ve been meaning to compile this article for a while, so I want to take a break from what I normally write about to feature this. It’s a slow week for new projects overall, and that makes a great opportunity to go back and look at new Indian series and movies directed by women. The more interest there is in other countries for Indian films made by women, the more streaming services will continue to support their projects despite the Indian government’s interference.

These are several that I’ve featured in the last year. Find one that sparks your love for stories, and please give it a try:

INDIAN SERIES BY WOMEN

Bhaag Beanie Bhaag (Netflix)
directed by Debbie Rao

An aspiring stand-up comic pursues her dream job despite the disapproval of her parents. Reviews from India have been pretty favorable.

Beware heavy user brigading on review sites. There’s early upset that the show shares broad similarities to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. Apparently only one woman in the entire world has a story to tell about double-standards in the stand-up comedy industry, and having a second woman tell one that takes place 60 years later from the complete other side of the world is too frequent. I’m not sure what the logic is – that women could only possibly face bigotry in the stand-up industry once every 70 years globally? Point is: review brigading would be silly if it wasn’t so damaging, and if you’re interested in this, do what you like, watch it, and be careful about how much credence you lend user reviews on places like IMDB and Metacritic.

“Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” is directed by Debbie Rao. She’s directed on a few Indian series, including the very well received “Better Life Foundation”, “Pushpavalli”, and India’s version of “The Office”.

You can watch “Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” on Netflix.

Masaba Masaba (Netflix)
showrunner Sonam Nair

Masaba Gupta is an Indian fashion designer. Her mother is prolific Indian actress Neena Gupta. “Masaba Masaba” stars the two of them in a comedy where they portray…themselves. It’s entirely scripted and framed as a narrative comedy, so there’s no reality TV element here. The characters the two portray are simply fictionalized versions of themselves.

Showrunner Sonam Nair has written and directed on a few different Indian TV series.

You can watch “Masaba Masaba” on Netflix.

INDIAN FILMS BY WOMEN

Kaali Khuhi (Netflix)
directed by Terrie Samundra

Shivangi’s family moves to a rural village to look after her grandmother. Soon enough, she spies strange occurrences, even as residents of the village wind up dead. What’s a little girl to do but unravel a supernatural mystery?

This is Terrie Samundra’s first feature film.

You can watch “Kaali Khuhi” on Netflix.

Bombay Rose (Netflix)
directed by Gitanjali Rao

A deaf, orphan boy loses his job. A group of workers whisper about unionizing. An English teacher sets the table for her late husband every night. A Muslim man falls for a Hindu woman, each struggling to make ends meet. A single rose connects a city full of characters in a hand-painted animation that took 60 artists a year-and-a-half to make.

The absolutely awe-inspiring feat was helmed by writer, director, and editor Gitanjali Rao. This is her first feature animation, but her previous shorts “Printed Rainbow” and “TrueLoveStory” have earned praise and awards at Cannes and other festivals.

You can watch “Bombay Rose” on Netflix.

Cargo (Netflix)
directed by Arati Kadav

People who pass away appear on a spaceship, where a man named Prahastha takes care of them. He prepares them to move to the next life. He’s been doing this alone for a long time when an assistant arrives. It’s Yuvishka’s job to learn everything he knows.

This is director Arati Kadav’s first feature. In interviews, she’s described the film as fusing Indian mythology to Eastern sci-fi. She’s cited her influences as science-fiction writers Jorge Luis Borges and Ted Chiang, writers who have fused the abstracted edge of the genre to some of its most human moments.

You can watch “Cargo” on Netflix.

Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars (Netflix)
directed by Alankrita Shrivastava

Dolly is a wife and mother who is trying to hide a secret. Her cousin Kajal has just moved to the city. Kajal ends up working at a phone sex parlor under the name Kitty. The two alternately grow close and clash in their off-hours, winding a tricky path of trust and wariness of the other’s place in their lives.

Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava has hit the ground running in recent years. Her “Lipstick Under My Burkha” won award after award on a major festival circuit, and she wrote nine episodes and directed two for Amazon original series “Made in Heaven”.

You can watch “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” on Netflix.

Bulbbul (Netflix)
directed by Anvita Dutt

Set in India during the 1880s, a 5 year old girl named Bulbbul is married off to a man decades her elder. After several years, the man’s younger brother Satya, whom she initially assumed to be her intended husband, is sent to London. Satya returns to find his family missing, and Bulbbul the only remaining survivor. He’s told his family was taken by a witch, just as some villagers have been.

I watched and reviewed this last year. It’s a deeply gothic inversion of horror with a message and aesthetic I loved, and a superb performances by Tripti Dimri and Paoli Dam. The truth is that there’s no horror that can match the ones people enact on each other, and the film makes its horror a hero. To paraphrase writer-director Anvita Dutt, “Bulbbul” is less about what happens, which you can infer pretty early on in the film. It’s more about how it happens, and why it’s cathartic.

Dutt has primarily worked as a screenwriter and songwriter on Indian films. “Bulbbul” is her directorial debut.

You can watch “Bulbull” on Netflix.

Shakuntala Devi (Amazon)
directed by Anu Menon

Shakuntala Devi was someone who could calculate just about anything in her head. She became known as a human computer, and demonstrated her ability for crowds. She later became a writer in India. This included what’s considered the first study of homosexuality in India, one that argued for its decriminalization. She passed away in 2013. The film is an energetic biographical take on her life.

Writer-director Anu Menon has come to prominence more recently in the Indian film industry.

You can watch “Shakuntala Devi” on Amazon.

Tribhanga (Netflix)
directed by Renuka Shahane

“Tribhanga” follows women of three different generations in India, and tells the stories of how each raised the next. The title is derived from the name of a dance pose that’s often described as simultaneously beautiful and imperfect.

The film was originally envisioned as a smaller production, but gained momentum (and a Netflix deal) as major producers joined.

Director Renuka Shahane is a popular Indian actress. This is only her second film listed as director after 2009’s well-received “Rita”.

You can watch “Tribhanga” on Netflix.

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape. What follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming.

It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.

You can watch “Guilty” on Netflix.

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

If you like 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.

An Action-Adventure Classic — “Jungle Cruise”

My new favorite action hero is The Woman in Pants. Everywhere Emily Blunt’s Dr. Lily Houghton goes in 1916, friends and enemies alike remark that she’s drawing attention to herself by daring to wear trousers instead of a dress. It’s one of a dozen running gags that fuel “Jungle Cruise”, which also happens to be one of the best adventure movies of the last 10 years.

Houghton journeys to the Amazon during World War I with her brother in tow. They’re searching for a flower that could revolutionize medicine. There she find’s Dwayne Johnson’s Frank Wolff. More than their boat captain, he’s a quick-witted con man whose motives are impossible to pin down. German soldiers want the flower for themselves, raising undead conquistadors in a tricky alliance. Soon, everyone is chasing The Woman in Pants down the winding rivers of the Amazon.

Before the superhero boom, action-adventures like “The Mummy” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” dominated the event movie landscape. “Jungle Cruise” absolutely belongs in that conversation, though it leans more heavily on its leads to carry it than those films did.

You might make the mistake of thinking this is a Dwayne Johnson movie, but the ubiquitous actor plays the 1b character here. No, this is an Emily Blunt action-adventure, and it frees up both actors to play to their strengths.

Blunt carries movies, period. She’s usually both the best dramatic and comic actor in her films. She has that special knack for looking the exact same in every movie yet being unrecognizable between roles. I refuse to believe this is the same actress who led “Sicario”. It’s just not possible, but in film after film she’s simply expanded her range with ease.

The extent to which Blunt claims her spot as one of our greatest action heroes here can’t be overstated. If you look at “The Mummy” as a prototypical action-adventure blueprint, Blunt is playing Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz at the same time. That she pulls it off so smoothly frees everyone else up to be John Hannah.

Don’t get me wrong, Dwayne Johnson can be a lead, and he gets fight scenes against a jaguar, undead conquistadors, evil Germans, the whole action-adventure bingo card. Yet he’s primarily here to be the comedic change-of-pace and potential romantic interest. Johnson plays off Blunt beautifully, and they put on a clinic when it comes to charm and timing.

It’s great to see Johnson in a role that stretches his comedy muscles more than his action ones. Frank runs cons on the wide-eyed European tourists who pour into the Amazon, faking adventurous boat rides and squeezing every cent out of his passengers. While Frank doesn’t know when to stop running cons on someone like the smart and self-aware Lily, he’s also empathetic. He’s constantly deceitful, but also kind in a way that suggests there’s more to be understood before judging him. That’s dangerous territory, but it’s conveyed with reason here.

Jack Whitehall plays Lily’s brother MacGregor. He’s superb, and as close to the archetype of John Hannah in “The Mummy” as anyone’s going to get. Jesse Plemons is Joachim, the Germany prince who’s stalking them. His comedy is much broader, and I’m still undecided how much it works.

“Jungle Cruise” is based on a Disney theme park ride, just as “Pirates of the Caribbean” was. It similarly utilizes elements of the ride in meta comedy moments, especially early as part of Frank’s cons. The movie smartly ditches the “savage natives” trope that Disney loved back then, and inverts and comments on it a few times.

That doesn’t change the fact that this is a movie taking place in the Amazon with barely any Latine or indigenous characters in it. Mexican legend Veronica Falcon plays an indigenous leader. The lead undead conquistador (a Spanish character) is the underrated Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (my choice to play Geralt in “The Witcher” before Henry Cavill was cast). There are a lot of Latine actors filling out the backgrounds of settlements, but they’re never front and center. There’s certainly a missed opportunity here.

I went and saw this at the drive-in. I’m vaccinated against COVID-19, but with the Delta variant spreading, I still don’t want to encourage people (including myself) to go to theaters. A drive-in allowed me to stay in my car, outside, distanced from everyone else. I mention this to encourage it as an alternative to theaters until we better know how the Delta variant’s spread will look.

I also mention it – on a less important note – to talk about CGI. The drive-in I went to is a temporary installation put together during COVID. The picture quality is fine, but just a bit dark. I’ve heard some people have an issue with the CGI. I didn’t and I thought it was creative – especially with how the undead creatures are choreographed in action scenes. That said, a hint of light or darkness in the picture can do a lot for how CGI translates. I might have liked it more because I was seeing it slightly darker than I would have on my TV at home. That can make the eye fuse the CGI to its surroundings better, whereas a lighter picture highlights color choices and tone differences that can introduce uncanny valley qualities. I may have come away liking the CGI better than most because of that.

For me, “Jungle Cruise” is in the same conversation as classic action-adventures “The Mummy” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” (and I’d argue “John Carter”). I think I was locked in when, after the joke was strung across the movie, one undead conquistador commands another to “follow the woman in pants”. There’s a particular glee when a movie decides it’s going to live or die on a joke it thinks is really funny, and “Jungle Cruise” constantly decides to do this. It does help the movie feel more personal.

I did say at the start that it leans more heavily on its leads, though. “The Mummy” and “Pirates” were movies with tight foundations and successful storytelling that were then elevated into rare territory by fantastic ensemble casts. “Jungle Cruise” is successful because of Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, and Jack Whitehall, which means it’s already leaning on them quite heavily by the time it needs them to elevate the film as well.

In its bones, I don’t think it’s as well-structured or ambitious as “The Mummy” or “Pirates”. It still gets to that elevated territory, but by repeating the same strengths. Those other films kept finding new strengths, which made them feel more universal and added to tension in their final acts. “Jungle Cruise” doesn’t have those additional strengths to find – but if you’re going to get trapped in that position, it turns out the best initial strengths to keep repeating are Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, and Jack Whitehall.

You can watch “Jungle Cruise” on Disney+.

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 — July 30, 2021

There are only two new entries this week, but both are well reviewed character pieces. That’s a light week, so if you’re looking for more options or different genres, remember that this feature runs every Friday. There’s an archive that’s 75 articles long. It’s full of series and movies directed by women.

That covers projects across every genre, from dozens of different countries, hosted on streaming platforms both common and niche. It’s there for you to explore.

Let’s dive into this week’s entries:

NEW SERIES

The Pursuit of Love (Amazon)
showrunner Emily Mortimer

“The Pursuit of Love” is based on the novel by Nancy Mitford. Two women in pre-World War II Britain obsess over love, marriage, and sex in the looming shadow of social and political division. Lily James, Emily Beecham, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, and writer-director Emily Mortimer star.

Emily Mortimer, of course, also starred in “The Newsroom”, “Hugo”, “Shutter Island”, and “Transsiberian”, just to name a few. This is the second series she’s written and first she’s directed.

This is a three episode miniseries. You can watch “The Pursuit of Love” on Amazon.

NEW MOVIES

Lorelei (VOD)
directed by Sabrina Doyle

Wayland is released from prison after 15 years. He encounters Dolores, an ex from high school who now has three children of her own. The two reconnect and try to build something in the shadow of personal and economic trauma and loss. Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber star.

This is the first feature written or directed by Sabrina Doyle.

See where to rent “Lorelei”.

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

If you like 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.

Great Star Turn, Terrible Movie — “Jolt”

In “Jolt”, Kate Beckinsale plays a woman with intermittent explosive disorder. According to the movie, this gives her superhuman strength and martial arts talent that makes her a shoe-in for the CIA. After all, what intelligence agency wouldn’t want someone they can’t control? When we find Lindy, she’s in between jobs as a bouncer.

Lindy controls her violent outbursts through a vest that delivers jolts of electricity. Anytime she feels an impulse coming on, she presses a button, receives a jolt, and calms down. After her boyfriend is murdered, she sets off on a path of vengeance to find the killer.

This is a pretty bad take on intermittent explosive disorder, but sometimes we overlook a film’s problematic core when it’s just one of a host of glaring issues. It becomes a “forest for the trees” situation as you watch.

“Jolt” is like when you nail your elbow on a door but you’re distracted by that really uncomfortable numbing sensation by slamming your shin into a table, causing you to step on a Lego and rush upstairs for ice so fast you cram your head into a low-hanging pipe. At that point, picking the worst problem is less about what to do and more about taking a moment to appreciate just how much of a mess can be created at this one focal point in the universe.

The first blaring klaxon is that we’re introduced to Beckinsale’s Lindy by way of a needless prologue. It’s narrated by someone we won’t see or hear from again for an hour-and-a-half – but don’t worry, it won’t even matter then. I’m all for a good narrator, but not one who dominates the first few minutes and then completely disappears. What’s more, “Jolt” is determined to keep Lindy mysterious and ill-defined. This could be a strength, but it directly undermines a prologue meant to ground us with the character.

Each new scene in “Jolt” introduces a new failure on the movie’s part. Despite a few brief flashes of violence Lindy imagines, there isn’t a real action scene in this action movie until 40 minutes in. It’s also an action comedy, which the police officers pursuing Lindy will remind you of as often as they can. Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox play such incompetent cops that they feel lifted out of “Reno 911”, “Police Academy”, or real life. Cannavale’s entire motive for being convinced Lindy’s innocent is that he wants to sleep with her and misreads the kind of person she is. Cox’s entire motive for Lindy’s guilt is that Cannavale’s reasoning for believing she’s innocent is absolute nonsense. I mean, she’s right even if her conclusion is wrong, and there’s a lot you could do with this, but there’s no consequence attached to any of it. It’s just an excuse for them to bicker in some of the worst writing that’s ever been put to screen. Every moment they’re on-screen plays like a farce, when nothing else in the movie does.

Look, don’t get me wrong. When you go in for a Kate Beckinsale actioner, you’re expecting a competent, mid-budget throwback determined to carry the torch of 90s gothic action movies. You’re not expecting hundreds of millions in visual effects or a who’s who of action stars. You’re looking to see heroes and villains toeing the line of BDSM fashion while hotly debating vampire bylaws, taking occasional breaks to see which werewolf can cleave a distinguished English actor’s jaw the furthest. I like to think this is how golf started.

They’re an acquired taste. You’re not looking for “Avengers”, you’re looking for costume design, dry wit, efficient pacing, enough extraneous lore to fill a Ken Burns miniseries, and quick bursts of splattery violence.

Beckinsale can sell an action scene. This ranges from the superhero-esque choreography of the “Underworld” franchise to the martial arts of the “Total Recall” reboot and the more practical, realistic fights in films like “Vacancy” and “Whiteout”. Whatever combination of Beckinsale and stunt actors has played these roles has conveyed extremely solid action scenes again and again.

All this is getting round to stressing that “Jolt” utterly fails her. Beckinsale is there, she’s doing the work, she’s delivering the dry wit, she’s hauling the entire film forward clenched between her teeth in as fun a way as someone can, but outside of her, this is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

What’s frustrating is that “Jolt” can’t settle on what the hell it is. Beckinsale’s scenes with Jai Courtney are a romance where she feels seen for the first time. Her scenes with the designer of her electroshock vest, Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Munchin, are some of the film’s best and are full of acerbic wit. Her scenes with the detectives are straight-up farce and it’s often hard to tell how intentional this is or isn’t. I mean, the baby-tossing scene obviously is, but often the film communicates this too late and it doesn’t fit at all into the rest of the world “Jolt” is painting.

What is that world? It’s the dark, bleak, gothic, “It can’t rain all the time” universe you expect out of a Beckinsale action movie, complete with an old, scenery-chewing English villain so bad he’d be twirling his mustache if he hadn’t, you know, like outlawed mustaches altogether so he could eat people’s faces more easily. Not literally, that’s not an aspect of the plot, but if it had been I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I would have been pleasantly surprised because at least the film would have been clearer about what it was trying to be.

Worst of all, the film’s central metaphor works on Lindy finally “uncaging” herself from her electroshock vest and learning that her anger is something she can use to solve a problem. It is a power and something she should have allowed herself much earlier. That can be an amazing metaphor for women taking hold of their anger to make change. It’s a really shitty metaphor for people dealing with mental health issues such as the intermittent explosive disorder the film builds itself around. It’s especially shitty given that we’re shown numerous flashbacks where Lindy doesn’t control her anger and maims and kills innocent people as a result.

Those flashbacks were fine in the moment because they’re comedic and it’s communicated they’re not meant to be taken at face value…except we’re then asked to hold those kinds of actions accountable in order to cheer for Lindy and see her freed from a form of impulse control in a way we’re expected to take at face value. Lindy’s reckless cruelty is meant to be a dark humor we don’t take seriously – yet when the film asks us to take the power of her anger more seriously, we also have to take the casual murder of innocents, baby hurling, and blowing up residences where others live more seriously.

Is it a farce making fun of action movies and cliché dialogue? In the cop scenes, yeah. Is it trying to be a successful action movie? In assault-the-tower, torture, and fight scenes, yeah. Is it a witty comedy? When Beckinsale and Tucci go at it, yeah.

Half the problem is that it never fully gets there. A lot of the farce doesn’t play and the physical comedy is terribly blocked out. The chase scenes are awful and serious action is so delayed it becomes compartmentalized from the rest of the film. Beckinsale and Tucci deliver on the verve of witty comedic scenes in order to make up for where the dialogue fails them.

The other half of the problem is that “Jolt” doesn’t commit fully enough to any single aspect. I love films that cram together divergent genres. Last week’s “Gunpowder Milkshake” effortlessly glided between genres, influences, and styles of art. Or if you don’t sell every genre you’re going for, you can go all in on at least one of them. That makes an anchor for the others to work off of – look at “Shadow in the Cloud” from earlier this year.

“Jolt” just doesn’t have follow-through on any of these aspects. Every time we shift genre, half the cast feels completely out of place. Beckinsale visits the physical comedy farce despite never existing in it. Cannavale and Cox visit the action despite never existing in it. No one burrows into one of these genres deeply enough for it to make those shifts feel consequential, and no one glides between the genres in the way needed to guide viewers through those shifts. That’s not a criticism of the actors – that’s the fault of direction and – here at least – the screenwriting.

Above all, I’m shocked that this is something Tanya Wexler directed. Her film “Buffaloed” came out last year, and it is both a successful comedy and a biting social commentary. The performances are all phenomenal, led by Zoey Deutch and Judy Greer. Hell, the woman even made Jai Courtney interesting. Wexler was able to glide everyone and everything across genre and commentary in a way that is often sublime.

Her prior film “Hysteria” is a comedy about the invention of the vibrator that’s considered one of the more unique and creative comedies of the 2010s. Wexler was on something of a roll, until now.

Above all, I blame this on Scott Wascha’s screenplay. Maybe this was intended as a more straight-up actioner. Maybe it was supposed to be a “Hudson Hawk” style send-up. Something, somewhere along the way got unbelievably muddled and lost.

None of this torpedoes my faith in Wexler. Her talent for witty slam cuts of flashbacks and imagined violence are one of the few comedic aspects of “Jolt” that works. The art design is inspired in moments. She has nothing to prove, and every director has a bad movie in them.

Tucci does what he can in limited screen time. Cannavale and Cox just don’t seem to be in the same film as anyone else, and that’s not their fault. Courtney’s already the internet’s punching bag for his performances and whether deserved or not, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of point in trying to sink the Titanic even deeper.

As for Beckinsale, it’s a mark of success that it’s taken this long in her career for an action star like her to deliver a truly bad movie. That’s not a period of competency that Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone can claim.

Hell, Bruce Willis came out with three movies this past week that wish they had the scores of “Jolt”. You have to add the IMDB scores of “Cosmic Sin” and “Out of Death” together (5.6) to match that of “Jolt” (5.5). His standout is “Midnight in the Switchgrass” at 4.3. As a rule, I hate IMDB scores, but you get the idea.

Beckinsale is by far this film’s strength and she combines sheer charisma as an action hero with timing that can make a bad line of dialogue feel intentional and weighted. It’s rare that you can watch a movie you think is a failure and come out thinking more highly of the star who at least dragged it halfway out of the well.

Beckinsale elevates this film from completely unwatchable to a bad film that has its moments. That doesn’t sound like praise, but believe me it is. It’s almost worth watching to see someone do that, but at the end of the day the key word there is almost and that’s the strongest possible angle of endorsement I can give “Jolt”.

You can watch “Jolt” on Amazon.

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 — July 23, 2021

In researching this week’s new entries, I came across a show called “Etheria”. It’s a horror anthology where every episode features a new story directed by a woman. Its listed as premiering on Shudder this week, though it seems to have been there last year in a film festival format. It’s also been available on Amazon since August 20, 2020.

That listing sent me researching. Etheria Film Night is a film festival that features short horror films directed by women. Yet despite premiering less than a year ago in its series format, the “Etheria” website says six seasons have already been made. Five seasons totaling 48 episodes seem to be available on Amazon. I believe this has been done by bringing prior years’ entrants into a season format. Either way, “Etheria” has flown under the radar, with only 22 reviews for its first season on Amazon.

These episodes are best understood as short films. Some are 20 minutes, some are fewer than 10. Still, realizing there’s a 48-episode-and-counting horror series out there directed exclusively by women is phenomenal. It’s not new, but realizing that it’s out there and so under-seen is blowing my mind right now. Go check it out on Amazon or Shudder.

Let’s dive into the new entries:

NEW SERIES

Outlier (Acorn TV)
co-showrunner Kristine Berg

This Norwegian noir was shot in the Arctic. A crime profiler returns to the Sami community where she grew up. She wants to solve a murder others think has already been resolved. The Sami people are an indigenous people who live in the northern regions of Scandinavia.

Kristine Berg writes and directs with Arne Berggren. Berg has written extensively in Norwegian television.

You can watch “Outlier” on Acorn TV.

NEW MOVIES

Cousins (Netflix)
directed by Ainsley Gardiner, Briar Grace Smith

“Cousins” follows the lives of three Maori girls. One is stolen from her family and put in an orphanage. The film tracks their separate experiences, and speaks to the unfathomable internal violence of colonialism.

Both Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace Smith are Maori directors. Gardiner was nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Film in 2005, and has produced a number of Taika Waititi’s films, winning best film at New Zealand’s Film and TV Awards for “Boy”.

You can watch “Cousins” on Netflix.

CW: sexual assault

Test Pattern (Starz)
directed by Shatara Michelle Ford

A Black woman is sexually assaulted. Her boyfriend takes her to the hospital. They don’t have a rape kit available. They refer her to another hospital. The night drags on, the pattern repeating, the woman treated more as offender than victim, each hospital referring her to the next.

This is the first feature from writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford.

You can watch “Test Pattern” on Starz.

Jolt (Amazon)
directed by Tanya Wexler

Kate Beckinsale plays a bouncer who’s gone through a kind of shock therapy to manage her anger. When her boyfriend is murdered and she becomes the suspect, it’s up to her to express that anger by beating dudes up. Oh, and to track down the real killer, of course.

At more than $2 billion worldwide box office, multiple hit action movies, and her own franchise, Beckinsale might be the most bonafide action star who’s rarely thought of that way. She’s reliable, and she’s elevated a lot of mid-budget actioners.

The other big draw here is director Tanya Wexler. She helmed the exceptional “Buffaloed”, which had a sharp sense of humor, laser-focused social criticism, and enabled Zoey Deutch to deliver one of the best comedy performances in recent years. Wexler has a knack for getting her actors to buy into roles and feel comfortable testing genre boundaries.

You can watch “Jolt” on Amazon.

Arab Blues (MUBI)
directed by Manele Labidi

A woman returns to Tunis after years of living in Paris. Her goal is to open up a psychotherapy practice. Golshifteh Farahani stars. You may recognize her from an exceptionally strong supporting performance in last year’s “Extraction”.

This is the first feature film from French-Tunisian writer-director Manele Labidi. She’s also written and directed extensively for theater and radio.

You can watch “Arab Blues” on MUBI.

Mezquite’s Heart (HBO Max)
directed by Ana Laura Calderon

A girl in Northern Mexico wants to help her heartbroken father by playing the harp. The instrument is only played by men, according to tradition, but she’s set on her dream.

Writer-director Ana Laura Calderon primarily works as an editor. This is her second narrative feature film as director. You may also find the film listed as “Corazon de Mezquite”.

You can watch “Mezquite’s Heart” on HBO Max.

Milkwater (Netflix)
directed by Morgan Ingari

Milo meets a gay man at a bar. She decides to become the surrogate for his child. The two struggle with how it changes their understanding of their own lives.

Writer-director Morgan Ingari has worked a number of other jobs on indie projects, such as assistant director and script supervisor, on her way toward her first feature film.

You can watch “Milkwater” on Netflix.

The Last Letter from Your Lover (Netflix)
directed by Augustine Frizzell

A journalist tries to solve a mystery at the heart of a love affair decades prior. She sifts through a trove of letters, the film interweaving her story with the one she begins to learn. Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley star.

This is Augustine Frizzell’s second feature film as director after 2018’s “Never Goin’ Back”.

You can watch “The Last Letter from Your Lover” on Netflix.

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans (Netflix)
co-directed by Johane Matte

Netflix’s family-friendly, animated series “Trollhunters” was originally created by Guillermo Del Toro. It formed the basis for a universe that included two other animated series: “3Below” and “Wizards: Tales of Arcadia”. After three successful seasons of “Trollhunters”, characters from these shows unite to fight an evil order.

Johane Matte directs with Francisco Ruiz-Velasco and Andrew L. Schmidt. Matte has directed on all three series of the Arcadia universe. She got her start as an assistant animator on 90s TV fare, and progressed to a storyboard artist for shows like “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, “The Legend of Korra”, and “The Penguins of Madagascar”.

You can watch “Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans” on Netflix.

Mass Hysteria (Shudder)
co-directed by Arielle Cimino

Salem witch trial re-enactors get themselves caught up in a contemporary witch hunt in this low-budget comedy.

Arielle Cimino directs with Jeff Ryan. It’s the second feature the two have directed together.

You can watch “Mass Hysteria” on Shudder.

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

If you like 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.

“Gunpowder Milkshake”, Late Stage Capitalism, & Spaghetti Western Pop Art

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is a Spaghetti Western that takes place in abandoned commercial spaces where smart light panels blaze inconstant, shifting colors into the night. Only robber barons and their armies dare to tread there. They shuttle between the defunct, collapsed memories of malls and the nostalgic retro-pastiche shops that act like anchors when everything real just…stopped one day.

Karen Gillan plays an assassin named Sam, after a job goes belly-up and her employers turn on her. It leaves her protecting a child through ever-more ridiculous action sequences. More importantly, Gillan leads us through a funhouse mirror reflection of action movies, built more from John Woo than “John Wick”, constructed on the bones and intentions of Sergio Leone Westerns, and strung with a deeply macabre and explicitly violent humor.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is messy and imperfect, but it’s also unique and satisfying in a way so many other action movies aren’t. As in many Spaghetti Westerns, Sam has a chance at personal redemption by doing the right thing for once. That means turning on those she once worked for, with only her estranged gang of outlaws to offer support.

Pluck Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, or Eli Wallach out of yesterday’s Westerns and deposit them in “Gunpowder Milkshake”, and they’d feel right at home in the structure of it. The style, however, is anything but familiar.

There aren’t horses or sweeping desert landscapes here. There are bowling alleys, parking garages, a library acting much like the Western’s courthouse, a shake shop as the meet-up instead of a casino or brothel. The strange, sweeping music makes the Spaghetti Western connection more obvious, but “Gunpowder Milkshake” isn’t a straight analogue. It adheres to the framework of the Spaghetti Western, the meaning of it. The aesthetic is something altogether different, a suffusion of American realism and pop art, as if Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” was done by Roy Lichtenstein.

Where the Western was desolate landscape that reflected the barren souls of its characters and gave them a stage that stressed iconography, “Gunpowder Milkshake” is a retro diner, a run-down mall, an unbelievably sanitary hospital, all of them overwhelmed with calming pastels, or too-bright white, or neon-emulating light panels, anything to suggest a life and bustle that isn’t really there. It’s no less a limbo. “Gunpowder Milkshake” is a modern desolation, as empty as those deserts save for its murderers and the people who pay them. It doesn’t paint its own world so much as it interprets and abstracts our own.

It’s also funny, in particular during a series of escalating action scenes where Sam’s lost any motor function in her arms. Gillan plays her hero gruff and generally monotone, just like a Western hero, but it’s in these scenes that her comic chops shine through. Her sheer skill within action comedy can undermine that gruff approach, but she has a keen ability for Bruce Willicisms – eye rolls, exasperation, and that personally offended, put-upon reaction within shootouts and fist fights. This doesn’t really agree with the emotionless, lone rider approach she takes in some scenes, but it’s a trade well worth making.

I love everything that “Gunpowder Milkshake” is trying to do. I don’t know that it gets there with every note, but it succeeds on most counts. Even when it doesn’t, there’s still a phenomenal cast to watch beat fools up. Gillan is joined by Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Lena Headey, and Michelle Yeoh. I know, bury the lede, right? In particular, Michelle Yeoh reminds us that she may be the best action star in cinematic history.

There’s an anti-patriarchal message early and late, but it disappears through the film’s middle. It’s a thematic strength that “Gunpowder Milkshake” sometimes forgets to carry through in the narrative. This is made up in large part by the cast of women action heroes, who have been othered as both actors in their genre and the characters we see here. They’re much better suited than men to lead us through such a collapsing, late stage capitalist landscape. They inhabit it in a way the men they piss off never will. A cast of women can inhabit this abstraction of othering and economic decay because our culture asks them to inhabit versions of the same in our world. For a cast of Wahlbergs and Pratts, it would be nothing more than a diorama instead of a stage.

I’ll agree completely with many criticisms of the movie. You probably won’t like it if you go in expecting a straight-up action movie. This isn’t “John Wick” with women, and it’s not trying to be. It is a deeply weird, macabre Spaghetti Western that is also constantly excited and invested in its next ridiculous idea. It takes place in an abstracted, eroded commercial world – one that feels like elements of our own boiled down to the desolate iconography of late stage capitalism. If you can buy into and enjoy it at that level, it’s often a beast of a film.

The closest comparisons I have aren’t even in similar genres. They’re films that are both rooted in and playfully invert their own genres – yet if I say it made me think of “Dark City” or “Delicatessen” or “Six-String Samurai” in that way, I don’t want you to think it’s anything like those films. You can say two people approach their jobs the same way while understanding they do completely different jobs. That’s what I mean, and I think it highlights that there’s not a real comparison for “Gunpowder Milkshake” out there. Before it’s anything else, it is unique.

I certainly think there are places that could’ve been improved. The beginning is overlong, and uses a narrated framework that isn’t needed or maintained. There’s an overuse of slow-motion when nothing is happening early on, but this is solved by a constant deluge of events that make it useful later. While I think the sight gags and visual comedy of “Gunpowder Milkshake” are phenomenal, its comedic dialogue is hit and miss.

Are any of these enough to topple the ludicrous amount of fun that “Gunpowder Milkshake” is as a whole? Not at all. Don’t get me wrong – reviews for this from both critics and audiences are all over the place. This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of film.

If you want to see a traditional action movie with a complex plot, this is likely too stylized, impractical, and episodic. It lacks interest in the connective tissue, fine detail, and storytelling mechanics of a latter-day “Mission: Impossible”. It also wants to abstract and get to the cinema of it all where more gothic action films ranging from “The Crow” to “John Wick” to “Justice League” would prefer to use their foundation of atmosphere for philosophical expression.

Neither is it a good corollary to the MCU, whose films and series are plenty witty and colorful, but before this year often misplaced their viciousness and were too restrained for the meta-pastiche, art-before-narrative attitude of “Gunpowder Milkshake”.

This is something told through good, creative action scenes, and uses these to pursue becoming a funhouse contemporary art installation. It’s engineered to be both entertaining and eerily uncomfortable around the edges. It has a fairly simple plot to complement a world that’s meant to be interpreted instead of told outright. If that appeals to you, then you may find one of your favorite films.

That’s why I make the “Dark City”, “Delicatessen”, and “Six-String Samurai” comparisons – not because any of these films are much like each other, but because the kind of art they become utilizes popular genre conventions to deliver a film that’s more expressive than particular, landscapes and realities more suggested than defined, a world that is meant to leave you turning it over in terms of how you felt toward it rather than how you understood it. The place where you understand these worlds isn’t on the screen. You’re not connecting to what’s already formed and just needs to be grasped. You understand them by what they evoke in you. These are films that can establish a home in your imagination.

Is “Gunpowder Milkshake” on the level of those films? It’s close enough – and this type of film evoked on this scale is rare enough – that I love it. I’d call “Gunpowder Milkshake” a good film. A great one? That would require it to behave itself more. The challenging thing about contemporary art is that it defies the idea that it should be judged as good or bad; you judge it on whether it makes you feel something in a way nothing else does. “Gunpowder Milkshake” does this, and a film like that is far rarer than a great one. When something like that plants roots in your imagination, that unique emotion or sensation that only it gives you is something that you now get to carry with you. Do I think “Gunpowder Milkshake” is great? Who cares when it’s something even better?

You can watch “Gunpowder Milkshake” on Netflix.

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 — July 16, 2021

Before we dive into what’s new, I want to highlight the second season of one of the best comedies going. “Never Have I Ever” is a genuinely funny, heartfelt series that separates itself even in today’s hyper-abundance of coming-of-age shows. It follows a young girl of Indian descent lashing out at others and inwardly at herself after the death of her father. It’s a beautiful, endearing series that is one of the best I’ve seen at speaking to that feeling of impostor syndrome that young people of color face. It’s showrun by Lang Fisher and created by Mindy Kaling and Fisher. Both also write many of the scripts. The second season just premiered this week and I highly recommend starting the show if you haven’t already.

I also want to talk about films that are in theaters. I’m still holding off on listing them for the time being. There are warning signs the pandemic might hit a second wave with COVID’s more infectious Delta variation becoming more prevalent. As a U.S.-based writer, even the most inoculated states haven’t hit the level of vaccinations (at least 80%) that are needed to prevent another wave. Many states haven’t even fully vaccinated half their population.

Until these things happen, I’m going to encourage people to continue watching movies and shows from home. That means continuing to not cover films in this feature unless they’re digitally available. That breaks my heart; I really want to get back to the theater. It’s not worth putting others at risk in the midst of a pandemic that still isn’t over, though. When a theatrical film hits VOD and can be watched at home, I’ll include it in this feature then.

NEW SERIES

Dr. Death (Peacock)
directed by women

“Dr. Death” is a crime drama based on real-life cases of medical malpractice. It’s adapted from a podcast that tackles a different perpetrator each season. The first season is based on Christopher Duntsch, a surgeon from Texas who injured 31 of his patients and killed two of them. Here, Joshua Jackson plays Duntsch.

The showrunner is Patrick Macmanus, but the eight episodes are all directed by women. The first two are helmed by Maggie Kiley, who’s directed on “Riverdale”, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, and “Dirty John”.

The next two are directed by Jennifer Morrison, one-time co-lead on “House”. She’s directed on the series “Euphoria” and 2017 film “Sun Dogs”.

The last four episodes are helmed by So Yong Kim, who’s directed on “The Good Fight”, “Halt and Catch Fire”, and “Tales from the Loop”.

You can watch “Dr. Death” on Peacock.

NEW MOVIES

Fear Street: 1666 (Netflix)
directed by Leigh Janiak

Netflix’s “Fear Street” horror trilogy is a grand experiment in releasing, with each entry premiering a week after the prior one. Not only this, each film goes back in time to reveal more about a town’s curse. The first entry took place in 1994, the second in 1978, and this one in 1666. Each has been pretty well reviewed, and now that the third one’s out, I plan to watch them straight down the line, all in one go.

Janiak was a director on the “Scream” and “Outcast” TV series.

You can watch “Fear Street: 1666” and the entire “Fear Street” trilogy on Netflix.

A Perfect Fit (Netflix)
directed by Hadrah Daeng Ratu

No embeddable English trailer is available, but both subtitled and dubbed versions of “A Perfect Fit” are on Netflix.

A shoemaker questions her engagement when she grows close to a fashion blogger in Bali. The Indonesian romantic comedy takes place where various cultures intersect in the fashion world.

Director Hadrah Daeng Ratu is a prolific Indonesian director. This is her 10th film since 2015.

You can watch “A Perfect Fit” on Netflix.

My Amanda (Netflix)
directed by Alessandra de Rossi

No embeddable English trailer is available, but a subtitled version of “My Amanda” is on Netflix.

“My Amanda” follows two lifelong friends through their ups and downs. They remain close through it all, coming together whenever one truly needs the other.

This is the first film directed by Alessandra de Rossi, and the third she’s written. She’s much more familiar to Philippine audiences as an actress, with just over 100 credits. Aside from writing and directing, she also stars in “My Amanda”.

You can watch “My Amanda” on Netflix.

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

If you like 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.

Movies and how they change you.