New Shows + Movies by Women — May 6, 2022

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion draft that would end Roe v. Wade, I want to repeat some things shared in the April 15 article. Please get involved – this is especially true for men reading this. I’ve done a good deal of organizing in activist spaces, and men showing up to do the work is not terribly common. We need to be involved, show up as allies, and consistently do the nitty-gritty work that helps everyone fight this.

Time and again, I’ve seen fellow men show up, realize they’re not going to be gifted a leadership position, and then fade away until it’s mostly women working to protect people. We have this mythology of ourselves as men that we show up to do work and protect others, but I’ve seen little evidence of that. From what I’ve seen, we tend to show up to be congratulated for showing up. We tend to armchair quarterback the people actually putting in the work, and pretend that doing that is somehow work. That’s some bullshit. We need to do far more than that.

We’re supposed to be allies. That means contacting elected officials, putting our weight into politically pressuring them. That means volunteering, marching, donating, and doing the routine, daily jobs that come up in the course of activist efforts regardless of whether they’re tough or thankless. We’re not here to be thanked. We’re here to give help. So give it.

Knowing what we’re up against is crucial – Washington Post has a good resource for the types of state bills that have been passed and introduced, including trigger bans that would go into effect the minute Roe v. Wade is overturned. It explains each type of bill in turn, and shows which phases each state is at.

Securing the right to an abortion is crucial in states that support the right to choose. This is being done at the state level in many states, either through law or, even more firmly, through amendment to the state constitution.

For instance, the Connecticut General Assembly has recently approved a bill that protects providers of care and patients seeking care in Connecticut, regardless of which state the patient comes from. It would ensure that information cannot be turned over to another state, and CT Governor Ned Lamont has vowed to sign it into law. The right to an abortion must not only be protected by law, but we need to make sure those laws protect people providing and seeking such medical care.

Right now, Republicans hide behind the perception that this is an issue for only half the population. They’ve bet that men aren’t going to show up to fight it, and when we don’t show up, their strategy proves out. We’re not needed to save the day, but we are needed to support those who are already leading. We’re needed to make abortion rights leaders’ jobs easier, we’re needed so that our numbers add enough to overwhelm what Republicans anticipated.

Our job isn’t to assess whether others are resisting appropriately; our job is to ensure the way they’ve chosen to resist has our numbers and support behind it. Allies do work for those they’re allied to, and this is a time we’re needed to do that work. As men, we need to join and support the fight for choice and the right to an abortion.

This week, new series by women come from Canada, Nigeria, the U.K., and the U.S. New films by women come from Argentina, Finland, France, and the U.S.

NEW SERIES

The Staircase (HBO Max)
co-showrunner Maggie Cohn

Based on the real incident, Michael Peterson is a crime novelist whose wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. The ensuing judicial battle lasted 16 years. Toni Collette, Colin Firth, Sophie Turner, and Parker Posey star in the biographical crime drama.

Maggie Cohn showruns with Antonio Campos. She brings experience as a producer on “American Crime Story”.

You can watch “The Staircase” on HBO Max. The first three episodes are available immediately, with a new one dropping every Thursday for a total of 8.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+)
mostly directed by women

The newest “Star Trek” follows Captain Kirk’s direct predecessors on the Enterprise. Returning from well-loved roles in the 2019 season of “Star Trek: Discovery”, Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, and Ethan Peck play Captain Pike, Commander Chin-Riley, and a young Lt. Spock. Other original series favorites return, such as Nyota Uhura and Christine Chapel.

Though Henry Alonso Myers and Akiva Goldsman serve as showrunners, six of the 10 episodes look to be directed by women. This includes Amanda Row (“Nancy Drew”), Andi Armaganian (“Smallville”), Sydney Freeland (“Reservation Dogs”), Leslie Hope (“Snowpiercer”), Maja Vrvilo (“Star Trek: Discovery), and Valerie Weiss (“Outer Banks”).

You can watch “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” on Paramount+. New episodes drop every Thursday for a total of 10. Filming on a second season already started in January.

Ridley Road (PBS)
directed by Lisa Mulcahy

Based on the book by Jo Bloom, “Ridley Road” sees a Jewish woman go undercover within the 1960s British neo-Nazi movement.

Lisa Mulcahy directs off the teleplay by creator Sarah Solemani. She previously directed on British series “Years and Years” and “Blood”.

You can watch “Ridley Road” on PBS. New episodes arrive Sundays, for a total of 4.

The Porter (BET+)
showrunner Marsha Greene

The story of the first Black union is told through the eyes of those who formed it – porters working the railways that cross the U.S. and Canada.

Showrunner Marsha Greene previously produced on “Mary Kills People” and “Coroner”.

You can watch “The Porter” on BET+. All 8 episodes are available immediately.

CW: domestic violence

Blood Sisters (Netflix)
directed by Temidayo Makanjuola

Sarah gets engaged, but her upcoming nuptials hide a secret involving her friend Kemi.

This is the first project recorded for Temidayo Makanjuola, but IMDB can often be incomplete when it comes to Nigerian projects.

You can watch “Blood Sisters” on Neftlix. All 4 episodes are available immediately.

Signora Volpe (Acorn TV)
showrunners Rachel Cuperman, Sally Griffiths

Sylvia becomes disillusioned with her life of spycraft. On a trip to Italy for her niece’s wedding, things go wrong and she puts her skills to use. Perhaps she’ll start a new life as a detective in the Italian countryside.

Showrunners Rachel Cuperman and Sally Griffiths both wrote for “Midsomer Murders”.

You can watch “Signora Volpe” on Acorn TV. New episodes drop every Monday for a total of 3.

NEW MOVIES

Language Lessons (HBO Max)
directed by Natalie Morales

Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass star as a Spanish teacher and an adult student who become friends.

Director and co-writer Morales also helmed last year’s “Plan B”. She’s best known for roles in “Dead to Me” and “Santa Clarita Diet”.

You can watch “Language Lessons” on HBO Max, or see where to rent it.

Inbetween Girl (VOD)
directed by Mei Makino

After her parents divorce, a teenage artist copes by secretly hooking up with the popular boy at school.

This is the first feature from writer-director Mei Makino.

See where to rent “Inbetween Girl”.

Anais in Love (VOD)
directed by Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet

In this French film, Anais is broke and disinterested in her relationship. She falls for a new man, but he leads her to fall for the woman he’s seeing, Emilie.

This is the first feature from writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet.

See where to rent “Anais in Love” on iTunes or through Spectrum.

Hatching (Hulu)
directed by Hanna Bergholm

In this Finnish horror film, a gymnast finds a strange egg. She hides it from her demanding mother and keeps it safe, waiting for the day it hatches.

This is director Hanna Bergholm’s first feature.

You can watch “Hatching” on Hulu.

Along for the Ride (Netflix)
directed by Sofia Alvarez

Based on the novel by Sarah Dessen, two insomniacs explore their town at night before one heads to college.

Writer-director Sofia Alvarez helms her first film after writing the “To all the Boys” movies.

You can watch “Along for the Ride” on Netflix.

La afinadora de arboles (HBO Max)
directed by Natalia Smirnoff

In this Argentinian film, Clara and her family move to the countryside for a slower pace of life after she wins a world prize for children’s literature. Can’t find an English trailer for this, but there are subtitles for the film.

Director Natalia Smirnoff started out as an assistant director and casting director, including becoming Lucrecia Martel’s go-to casting director. Smirnoff started writing and directing features in 2010.

You can watch “La afinadora de arboles” on HBO Max.

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

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.

Natascha McElhone’s Space Witch 2552

I once ruined my father’s sourdough starter by leaving it out in the heat for too long. Now, maybe it was still good – heat wasn’t supposed to bother it. But the temperatures were soaring and it smelled rancid. Perhaps it could still be baked. Maybe all the wacky bacteria in it would taste delicious. But it might also send us to the hospital. Ultimately, the choice was made to throw it out. You can always make a new sourdough starter, and doing so is both easier and cheaper than having your stomach pumped. This brings me to “Halo”.

The TV series has some bad ingredients, but it’s now committed its most upsetting act yet. It’s gone and thrown it in the oven anyway by getting a capable director who can make a passable episode. I’m of conflicting minds on this because I was ready to give up and move on…but the combination of solid directing with writing that’s as terrible as ever is something that’s both new and familiar. It’s exciting without being too risk-averse. I’m already prepared for the failures it’s going to make, but perhaps it can change for the better.

Jonathan Liebesman comes on board as director for the last half of season one. This may not seem all that exciting. He helmed the 2014 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Wrath of the Titans”, both of which felt like wastes of a concept. What he did before that, however, was direct “Battle Los Angeles”.

“But Gabe”, you say, “’Battle Los Angeles’ only has a 5.7 on IMDB. It has a 37% on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Slant Magazine even said, ‘The film blows thick smoke up our ass and calls it charity’”. I’m not entirely sure what that means as a concept, but it sounds suspiciously similar to something my crystal-hawking hot yoga studio kept trying to sell me when I lived in Portland.

The point is that they’re wrong. “Battle Los Angeles” is one long firefight made for a generation raised for better or worse on “Tom Clancy” and “Call of Duty” video games. It imagined an utterly silly sci-fi concept as something that should be shot with the weighty chaos of “Saving Private Ryan” or “Band of Brothers” – which is exactly what fans wanted the “Halo” series to be.

Don’t get me wrong, “Battle Los Angeles” gets pretty shaky when anyone’s asked to act, but most of it is a moving firefight against aliens in L.A. It does a great job of conveying the tactics and topography of that ever-shifting firefight. It’s exceptionally easy to keep track of without losing its in-the-moment feel.

Knowing Liebesman would be coming on board is the only thing that made me sit down and give Episode 5 a chance. And oh what a difference a director makes.

I’m not calling “Halo” good. The ingredients of the first four episodes were rancid. But what if that bakes out? Or what if they only make you kind of sick but taste good at the same time? Is it worth it? Can it be covered over with enough jam?

It helps that this fifth episode, “Reckoning”, has a nice, long 10-minute action scene at the end. Let me remind you that we haven’t seen an action sequence in this action series since the first 15 minutes of the very first episode. But I know what side my bread is buttered on, so first the nonsense:

Natascha McElhone’s Dr. Halsey develops some real chemistry with the best scene partner she’s had yet – a large alien artifact. She wants Master Chief to stay away from it, but when he finally touches it, it reveals to him all the lies she’s told him over the years. He asks his Captain to check out McElhone’s story, his Captain is like, “Yeah, sure, I’m totally not in on it, too”, and then the Covenant attack.

The action is…actually not that great. It works, but they’re going in on big gestures at the sacrifice of the moment-to-moment choreography. Many of the Covenant carry energy shields that they don’t use to block incoming fire or bash anyone else. They just sort of carry them in the same position most of the time as if the animator in charge of it was out that day. Maybe they had some bad sourdough. Master Chief must have practiced how to be invisible because one alien runs up to him without raising their gun or shield, just so they can clothesline themselves on MC’s arm.

The Spartans are badass at driving a car in a straight line until it does an aerial, Master Chief chooses saving people instead of stopping the Covenant from stealing the artifact, and Kai – the other Spartan who yanked out her emotion suppressor – completely forgets how to fight and curls up in a ball.

I want to be really specific about this. Master Chief pulls out his emotion suppressor and if anything, it makes him braver, angrier, he chooses to save lives instead of sacrifice them…what a hero. Kai pulls out her emotion suppressor, is overwhelmed by her emotions, curls up in a ball in the middle of the firefight, and is the primary human life Master Chief chooses to save that costs him the larger artifact. Le sigh.

The most impressive thing about “Reckoning” is that it manages not to overstay its welcome. It feels so much shorter than the other episodes. How do they achieve this? By making it 15 minutes shorter than the other episodes. The relief when the credits roll early is like waking up thinking it’s going to be a tough day at work but then realizing it’s a long weekend. It should be no surprise that this is the series’ highest rated episode so far. It turns out in the end, the…more judiciously “Halo” is edited, the better.

“Reckoning” ends with the UNSC realizing they still have the smaller artifact back home, so they pull stakes, and – oh, what’s this, an escape pod launches from the Covenant cruiser before it leaves! It’s Makee, and she’s doing her whole poor-little-me, I-just-escaped-the-Covenant shtick. Last time she did this, her carnivorous worms got treats.

But the UNSC is very wise. They clearly don’t trust her, so they put her right down the hall from the smaller artifact. Sorry, let me try that again. They clearly don’t trust her, so they put her right down the hall from the smaller artifor fuck’s sake.

Episode Six is “Solace” and it begins with Master Chief telling Cortana about an architect’s dream of designing everything in the UNSC. But that architect screwed up when he designed the lab on their ship, which gives him the opportunity to irradiate the lying McElhone. He stops this at the last second – it was all a trick to test whether Cortana could override his brain or not. Turns out she can only shut him down, not control his every action. But the joke’s on Master Chief. The lab was made from scenery; McElhone could have chewed her way out in a heartbeat.

The fellow…admirals…administrators…senate oversight committee members, I don’t know, it doesn’t really explain who they are, they’re there to pressure Admiral Parangosky into handing control of the Spartans over to them. You see, they’re upset that in the last episode, Master Chief chose saving lives over preventing the Covenant from getting a powerful artifact. They’re threatening to shut McElhone’s entire operation down because there’s no proof the Covenant wants the artifact…that the Covenant just stole, for which Master Chief is in trouble for not preventing, so they’re threatening to shut McElhone’s entire operation down because there’s no proof the Covenant wants the artifact they just stooh shit, not this again.

Who is paid to write this? Who is how the money? Who edits it? Who is fucking reading the words that are on the do they type pages do they improv this shit is this all a Second City skit, like does an audience member just shout out, “Now the Covenant doesn’t want it and it’s raining” and Jeff Hiller walks in and says, “But I left my car windows open” and it turns out this is all a sketch at the open mic from “Somebody Somewhere”? I am down if Natascha McElhone’s going to break into “Wuthering Heights”, otherwise the whole thing just feels like a bit of a kick inside.

Let’s get back to the man with the child in his eyes, Master Chief himself, as he continues seeing visions of himself as a kid, but also sees visions of the kid he was replaced with I don’t know, just go with it. He talks to McElhone about her kidnapping him as a child and she admits everything. He was replaced with a clone who died to give his parents closure, and she kidnapped hundreds of children this way.

Of course, this confession is being listened in on by the Admiral and the Captain, who are using the utmost in undetectable covert technology to spy on the pair when – whoops, they forgot to lock the door or post a guard and now Dr. Keyes (McElhone and the Captain’s daughter, remember) is all like, “Ooh, I’ll put on that spy tech and sit next to you” cause nobody bothers to edit a script. It’s a lazy way of having Keyes learn about her mother’s awfulness without coming up with actual dialogue to take care of it.

Where this all leads is with McElhone under house arrest as she manipulates everyone anyway into giving her what she wants. This is where the heart of the series rests – not with Master Chief or any of the characters whose stories we followed for the first four episodes before the show gave up on them. This series is about a motherfucking Space Witch who kidnaps children, probably eats a couple, I don’t know if that’s canon, whatever, makes the rest into supersoldiers, and then bullshits everybody into doing what she wants cause she’s a goddamned Space Witch. When McElhone acts as if someone else is testing her patience by daring to be in her series that’s about her and no one else, it’s great.

What about Kwan Ha, Soren, and their rebellion against the Rhyming Dictator? The show may have realized it had no clue where its B-plot was going and cut it out. We see them fleetingly in episode 5 before they disappear completely in ep 6. Buuut, it’s “Halo”, so I’m sure the next episode will be entirely about them. And look, those actors are doing fine, they’re certainly putting more into it than most of the UNSC actors. It’s just that their plot is a bunch of reverses on reverses that results in a flurry of movement with no progress made. At least the main plot floats a bunch of threads in McElhone’s cauldron. The B-plot just meanders half-heartedly.

We’re left with Master Chief connecting to the small artifact again, forcing the imprisoned Makee into a sympathetic vision with him. It’s here he gets his first glimpse of the beautiful ringworld that is Halo, and you can see why the Covenant desires it so: it looks exactly like an Irish Spring commercial.

Credit to Paramount who was kind enough to provide this live footage from the Halo ring:

What “Halo” is accomplishing now is a nominal level of competency. It may not seem that exciting, but imagine being offered kitty litter to eat for four weeks and then being offered a Totino’s Pizza Roll. It still may not be food, but it’s such a step up that you think it’s delicious. Throw in some rad 90s advertising with kids asking their mom if the pizza rolls are ready, and she’s like not yet, and they’re like, “Mom, what are you good for then”? and she laughs and serves them and you realize, hey, maybe the 90s weren’t actually as liberal as we like to remember them.

What I’m getting at is that I went into these episodes of “Halo” thinking I didn’t want to watch it any more and came out thinking, “Cheeseburger flavor?!? I gotta try that”. I know it won’t be good, but I haven’t had that flavor of knowing it won’t be good yet and I am pretty curious what it’s like.

You can watch “Halo” on Paramount Plus, but I highly recommend catching up on the history of Irish Spring commercials first. It’ll make a lot more sense.

That way madness lies.

New Shows + Movies by Women — April 29, 2022

We’re covering the last two weeks since I had a brief break last week. It’s a really strong moment for new series by women covering several different platforms – but with a trio premiering on Showtime. Let’s get straight in since there’s a lot. New shows come from France, the UK, and the U.S., while new movies come from France, Germany, and the U.S.

NEW SERIES

Shining Girls (Apple TV+)
showrunner Silka Luisa

Elisabeth Moss stars as a woman who’s shifted between realities since an attack years before. She learns about a murder that’s linked to that assault, and partners with a reporter to investigate it.

Showrunner Silka Luisa also wrote and produced on “Strange Angel”.

You can watch “Shining Girls” on Apple TV+.

The 7 Lives of Lea (Netflix)
showrunner Charlotte Sanson

A woman discovers the body of a teenager who went missing 30 years ago. This triggers her to wake up in 1991, every day in the body of a different person as she tries to stop his murder.

Showrunner Charlotte Sanson is a fairly new voice. The French series is her first as showrunner.

You can watch “The 7 Lives of Lea” on Netflix.

The First Lady (Showtime)
directed by Susanne Bier

Viola Davis stars as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in a series that leaps between time frames to reveal the influence of three former First Ladies. The series also stars Dakota Fanning, O-T Fagbenle, Aaron Eckhart, Kiefer Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Jackie Earle Haley, and Kate Mulgrew, just to name a few.

Director Susanne Bier won an Oscar for Best International Film (at the time Best Foreign Language Film) in 2011, for the Danish “Haevnen”.

You can watch “The First Lady” on Showtime.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (Showtime)
co-showrunner Jenny Lumet

Based on the 1963 novel, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” follows an alien with a mission to become human and seek out someone who can save his species. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris, Bill Nighy, and Kate Mulgrew star. Ejiofor stars as the alien Faraday, but the series may also serve as something of a sequel to the 1976 film starring David Bowie: Nighy plays the alien that Bowie once did.

Jenny Lumet showruns with Alex Kurtzman. Lumet has written and produced on “Star Trek: Discovery”, “Star Trek: Picard”, and “Clarice”.

You can watch “The Man Who Fell to Earth” on Showtime.

The Offer (Paramount Plus)
showrunner Nikki Toscano

This behind-the-scenes drama follows the production of “The Godfather”. Miles Teller, Matthew Goode, Juno Temple, and Giovanni Ribisi star.

Showrunner Nikki Toscano has written and produced on “Revenge” and “Bates Motel”.

You can watch “The Offer” on Paramount Plus.

I Love That For You (Showtime)
showrunner Jessi Klein

Vanessa Bayer stars as Joanna, an aspiring home shopping host who lies about the return of childhood cancer in order to keep her job. Molly Shannon also stars.

Showrunner Jessi Klein has produced on “Dead to Me” and “Big Mouth”.

You can watch “I Love That For You” on Showtime.

NEW MOVIES

Crush (Hulu)
directed by Sammi Cohen

A student grudgingly joins her high school track team. It’s not all bad, though. She’s had a crush on one of her teammates for a long time…though training draws her closer to another.

The cast here is remarkably strong, with “Girl Meets World” and “Snowpiercer” actress Rowan Blanchard, Auli’i Cravalho (the voice of Moana), and Isabella Ferreira, who stole scenes as the lead’s cynical younger sister in “Love, Victor”.

“Crush” director Sammi Cohen is a longtime College Humor director and editor.

You can watch “Crush” on Hulu.

Rumspringa (Netflix)
directed by Mira Thiel

An Amish man goes to Berlin to discover his roots and face a choice about what kind of life he wants to lead moving forward. Can’t find a translated trailer on this one, but the film itself has a subtitled option.

The German comedy is directed by Mira Thiel, whose career has bridged fiction series and documentaries.

You can watch “Rumspringa” on Netflix.

The Aviary (VOD)
co-directed by Jennifer Raite

Two women flee a cult. They escape into the New Mexican desert, but their supplies run out and they can’t trust their own perceptions as reality bends in on itself.

Jennifer Raite writes and directs with Chris Cullari.

See where you can watch “The Aviary”.

A Mouthful of Air (Starz)
directed by Amy Koppelman

Amanda Seyfried stars as Julie, a children’s book author who suppresses her own past trauma. After her daughter is born, postpartum depression opens the door for it all to come flooding back.

This is Amy Koppelman’s first film as screenwriter or director.

You can watch “A Mouthful of Air” on Starz.

I Love America (Amazon)
directed by Lisa Azuelos

Sophie Marceau stars as a Parisian who uproots her life for Los Angeles in a film that blends French and English.

Director Lisa Azuelos previously helmed “LOL” and “A Chance Encounter”.

You can watch “I Love America” on Amazon.

Unplugging (VOD)
directed by Debra Neil-Fisher

A couple detox from all things digital in a remote town, but things quickly devolve into chaos.

This is the first film Debra Neil-Fisher directs, but you’ve almost surely seen her work before. A sought-after comedy editor, she edited the first two “Austin Powers” movies, all three “The Hangover” films, the 2020 “Sonic the Hedgehog”, and “Coming 2 America”.

You can rent “Unplugging” on Redbox.

9 Bullets (VOD)
directed by Gigi Gaston

Lena Headey stars as a burlesque dancer who attempts to protect a boy who’s being stalked by her ex.

Writer-director Gigi Gaston is a former Olympic Equestrian show jumper who shifted into music videos and later film directing.

See where you can watch “9 Bullets”.

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

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.

Kind & Generous — “Somebody Somewhere”

“Somebody Somewhere” gives me a phenomenal sense of calm. The series itself isn’t necessarily calm. Its small-town Kansas characters are frenetic, unmoored, and often judgmental. The show’s sensibility takes all this in with empathy, searching for the vulnerable moment underneath every joke or instance of lashing out. It’s beautifully human, and it features some beautiful humans.

Bridget Everett stars as Sam, who returned to the town of Manhattan, Kansas in order to take care of her sister Holly. We enter a year after Holly’s death. Sam is still stuck in town, sleeping on the couch, unwilling to use her late sister’s bed. She’s just getting by: emotionally, career-wise, day-to-day.

Sam’s own sister Tricia judges her. Their mother deals with alcoholism. Their father is falling behind in managing his farm. It’s not until Sam breaks down at work that a former classmate approaches her. This is Joel, and their friendship unlocks the series.

They spend time together and make each other feel seen. Joel is gay and out, so it’s not a romantic dynamic. It’s a gorgeous portrayal of friendship helping two characters who are treading water feel legitimized enough to start making small changes.

Joel runs a furtive open mic/song night at a local church. He wants Sam to come by because she used to be a singer. This is the community that Sam has so badly needed.

Everett is exceptional as Sam. She feels utterly real, less a character and more a person dealing with her own life. There’s a sense of her emotional turmoil being so mundane to her as to be utterly recognizable. It’s accessible to us in a way that doesn’t have to be acted, just understood.

Jeff Hiller’s Joel is a revelation because his is the kind of character who’s so easily written off as a joke or comic relief. He’s funny here – not as a punchline, but as someone who’s genuinely kind and caring.

Both Everett and Hiller are so generous to each other as performers that you want to laugh along with them. The writing is funny and the performances are comic, but you could say that for a lot of series. That you’re invited to feel in-the-moment with them, and that their generosity extends to the audience, creates an expression of comfort and safety. That allows the comedy to get to something deeper, something very human that we all share. “Somebody Somewhere” doesn’t just make us laugh, it recognizes our need to laugh. It brings that very vulnerable part of both its characters and audience to the surface.

Patience and timing allow the understated, realistic interactions to thrive. There aren’t too many ridiculous or unexpected things happening to drive the comedy. Instead, we see Sam and Joel during brief work breaks, on a lazy weekend morning, talking in the driveway or a store. The plot does escalate – for instance, Sam is deeply suspicious of Tricia’s husband Rick. These escalations aren’t the destination, though. They change our characters’ outlooks and relationships, but they feel more like stops on the highway as they keep going.

Mary Catherine Garrison, Mike Hagerty, and Jane Brody play Tricia, and Sam’s father and mother, respectively. They’re more than the simple stereotypes each could have delivered. I’m hard-pressed to find a character – even the occasional asinine one – who doesn’t come off as human in some way.

Another beautiful performance is delivered by Murray Hill as Fred Rococo, the open mic’s master of ceremonies and a local professor of soil science. Sam becomes close with him and looks to him as someone who’s a little wiser than she is. He never treats her with condescension, but rather with encouragement to figure out her own path, and with an understanding that at the end of the day, they can always sing together or drive his party bus around town to pick up their friends.

“Somebody Somewhere” shows how one person thinking “you’re a big fucking deal” can push you to treat yourself better. It shows that drawing strength from that can allow you to stand up to the people and structures in your life that minimize you. For Sam, that confidence comes from an introduction to friends who think that about each other. It gives her strength to lend that attitude to her family. It introduces her to community, and how community is constructed.

Every character in “Somebody Somewhere” helps another get back up again even while struggling to do this for themselves. This fosters kindness and inclusiveness (the cast has some good LGBTQ+ representation). It creates resilience, not by pretending weakness doesn’t exist, but rather by recognizing when someone needs help and offering kindness, interest, communication, and support.

That the show itself feels like it offers some of those things – I might have once called that rare, but it seems more are recognizing these needs. “Somebody Somewhere” joins “Our Flag Means Death”, “Komi Can’t Communicate”, and “Abbott Elementary” as new series in the last few months that all investigate the persistence of kindness and the construction of community. Where once acidic humor and conflict defined our comedies, it seems like we are getting at least a few that dump this in favor of finding empathetic humor through understanding others and the satisfaction of seeing them accepted.

You can watch “Somebody Somewhere” on HBO Max. It is renewed for a second season.

If you enjoy articles like this, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write more like it.

Halo: Episode 4: The Commemorative Song: The Sermon

Watching all the Halo, a botched franchise
Mediocre space show, characters minimized

I would like to disavow
yet reserve the right to complain
I can still hear my brain think
That I only have disdain (like eating ptomaine)

Master Chief’s been trapped somehow
written into the wrong campaign
I hear Cortana zinging
“My brain is still in your brain” (explains this eyestrain)

Incommunicado: with fans’ insight
Master Chief is pseudo, should violate copyright
Waste a license, does fanfiction a slight

And how is it this damn show
is convoluted yet mundane
one-liners are arising:
this sure as hell ain’t “Arcane” (that show entertains)

Ninety million dollar slough
bisecting canon into twain
A fanbase is apprising
A brand deal in suzerain (forgive this quatrain)

Wait McElhone’s found me now
and I try to escape in vain
She heard me criticizing
hey why’s she got novocaine (it’ll stop the pain)

Brain, keep it together (McElhone’s in the shadows)
Brain, log my displeasure (her clone does a quick cameo)
Brain, what’s a trepanner (that’s how you get brain juice to flow)
Brain, what’s she got straws for (she tells me that I’m next to go)
Brain, she’s got a blender (she pairs me with a nice Bordeaux)
Brain, hold still while she stirs (there goes my cerebral marrow)

Thank you, Halo Nation. The above was inspired by the show’s rhyming dictator. I wanted to commemorate this moment in “Halo” to the tune of an ancient traditional song.

Halovers, we left episode three’s rundown with the “Halo” question on everybody’s mind: whose ass will we see this time? Well today, I have a special treat for you. This week’s “Halo” features no less than two asses. I do not mean the showrunners who said they neither looked nor talked about the game when adapting a series from the game. (Quote: “We didn’t look at the game. We didn’t talk about the game”.)

Always aiming to subvert the format, they deliver unto us an ass right out of the gate. It shall not be eternity to wonder, “How patient must we be”, for lo! An ass was given unto them. Choosing consistent visual themes like this is what truly makes “Halo” the show that it is.

Do you sit there and think to yourself, “No, they are not HBO yet”? Do you doubt that Paramount Plus is going to continue to deliver asses until you do? O viewer! Consider your fearful suspicion. Consider your sinful wicked manner. They shall not give you anything else. They shall not give you other bits. This is not mid-70s British television.

And should you have missed a previous week in “Halo”, how dreadful it must be to have not read our coverage of the first, and the second, and the third episodes that shall enlighten your circumstance.

So check it: the freshest episode of “Halo” features Kai, one of the Spartans under Master Chief’s command. She saw Master Chief dig out his emotion suppressor last episode, so she decides to do the same.

What I love about this scene is that fellow Spartan Riz walks up behind Kai, talks to her, and leaves, all without noticing the bleeding wound at the base of her spine. We see it as the camera pulls away to give you that HBO shot, but the most attentive, detail-oriented, super-sense designer soldiers in the universe completely fucking miss it. Cool, cool.

What is Kai’s first action as a newly feeling Spartan? Well, Master Chief went for a walk, listened to music, gave a ball back to a kid, you know, he really connected with humanity before convincing Natascha McElhone’s Doctor Halsey to take him on a super important mission to save the universe. Kai’s a woman, though, so apparently all she’s got to do to communicate to the audience that she’s a new person is dye her hair.

Kai does get to do more later, like connect to Dr. Halsey’s scientist daughter, whose father is also the general in charge. His duties are chiefly to show up every other episode to read a snippet of Halsey’s biography to the audience in a totally organic way. But Dr. Miranda Keyes realizes Kai knows the Covenant language, so the two buckle down and translate…their feelings for their shared mother figure.

What’s Master Chief up to? He’s gone to the planet he was raised on to dig up his drawings of a big alien wotsit the alien wotsit they already have fits into. Master Chief, Dr. Halsey’s Natascha McElhone, and Cortana are joined by Adun, whose job is to be utterly useless in every situation. Literally the only thing we know about him in four episodes is he was about to get supercreepy with McElhone’s clone before getting interrupted. I don’t know if we’re supposed to care that he’s here, but he does nothing and I’m just hoping a large rock falls on him in the background at some point.

My favorite single moment this episode is Master Chief digging up the box of drawings he buried as a kid. Adun is drilling a few feet away. It’s all loose soil. Suspiciously loose, like production assistants just dumped a bunch of fresh soil there so that Master Chief could dig it up easily while wearing six feet of bulky space armor. But it’s loose soil. Why the fuck is Adun drilling? The drill isn’t even going in straight, it’s just sort of sliding around because it needs a shovel, but despite knowing they had to shovel something up on this excursion, they only brought one shovel for three people. Why does this feel so familiar?

Master Chief finds his drawings, which McElhone wants to go back to the ship and analyze despite the entire point of last episode being that Cortana is installed in Master Chief’s brain so that she can analyze right there so they don’t have to keep going back to analyze shit and…where was I? Right, they find the drawings, which everyone immediately forgets about because Master Chief redrew them all from memory last episode, so…why do they even need to be analyzed? Well, McElhone’s worried Master Chief might remember too much and she wants to get him out of there.

She insists one drawing’s new and guys? My fellow Halonlookers? It’s a circle. She’s like, “We have to go back and analyze this”. And it’s a circle. Just a plain circle. Not a fancy circle. Not a circle with extra fixings. Just a circle on a white page, no dimensions, no notes, no addendums, no other shapes, no accoutrements, it’s just a circle. She’s like, “We have to go back and analyze” a circle a kid drew on an otherwise blank page. I’ve seen more interesting fucking coffee rings.

I mean, look, fucking multifuck, I’m out here selecting “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” keywords, and when “Benny Hill” went on its nudity kick so I can make a British TV joke that references the right decade, and reading articles on all the production foibles, and I wrote a parody song to Fleetwood Mac. It’s not like I’m saving lives or anything but, guys, I’m trying. I really care about making some stupid jokes. And they drew a circle on a piece of paper and had Natascha Fucking McElhone read the line, “We have to go back and analyze this”. A fucking circle. A fucking circle. They had a guy drilling loose dirt.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be salty even though that’s what Halophiles love. Let’s take a lesson from the show and just not care. Let’s just have complete anarchy and guys drilling randomly in loose soil in a future where I assume they have metal detectors, and future supercomputers analyze a single shape on a white page like it’s Steve Kornacki trying out for “Marvel’s What If” on midterm night.

So Cortana uses her brain juice to juice Master Chief’s brain juice so that he can VR some memory times into his helmet and see his house as it once was. This helps him determine that his parents used to dress him like a Newsie.

He wanders around the Williams Sanoma catalog until he realizes what the showrunners don’t: that he’s just wasted 10 minutes of everyone’s time. Then he has a flashback about where the new alien wotsit he’s looking for is, which is a completely different place that didn’t necessitate these scenes in any way. Except! He briefly glimpses a younger McElhone with his child self. You can tell she’s younger because she’s got super long hair and they did her makeup differently this episode to highlight the rings under her eyes in the present.

McElcomb’s having Newsie Chief guess how a coin will land and apparently he’s gotten it right 11 times in a row. So…he’s precognitive now? Yeah, sure, why not?

Master Chief comes back to the present to realize McElcomb visited him before his parents died, when she’s always insisted they only met once he was an orphan. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, you guys. The most badass supersoldier in the galaxy who’s only gotten one action scene in four episodes realizes he’s been betrayed his entire life and he…gives her a nasty look. And then when he turns his back, she gives him a nasty look. You thought those conference meetings in the earlier episodes were spiteful?

There are some action scenes in this episode. Kwan Ha – remember her? She’s the kid that Master Chief spent the first two episodes saving from everybody before realizing they were just being “The Mandalorian” and dumping her off on his old friend Soren so he can be “The Mandalorian” instead. Kwan Ha and Soren have traveled back to her home planet of Madrigal, that she spent the first two episodes doing everything she could to escape. Her plan is to find freedom fighters to rebel against the rhyming dictator who was my favorite character except now he doesn’t rhyme anymore so I’m like what’s the point?

Well, turns out they held off on her dad’s memorial until the night she got back, which is awfully convenient and totally isn’t a trap. But it’s a trap! Motorcycles speed in from exactly one direction. And these fighters? You’ve never seen anything like them. They jump off and start attacking the gathered crowd with…canes? Sure.

This leads straight into the second ass. Whose could it be? I’ll give you a hint. He rhymes (or he used to). And he’s a dictator. That’s right, Rhyming Dictator’s back in the house!

Or rather, his pool. Did you want to see Burn Gorman who played the uptight, narcissistic scientist in “Pacific Rim” or the uptight, narcissistic womanizer in “Torchwood” play an uptight, narcissistic guy in a pool in “Halo”? Cause at first you’re like, “no, they’ve already showed the ass of the day in this episode, that space on my Halo bingo card is filled”. But after minutes of will-he or won’t-he that create the most sustained tension in “Halo” to date, he steps out of the pool while talking to his assassin/towel retriever and we cut to a prolonged shot of his ass. That’s right, there isn’t just one ass in this episode, there’s assassin this episode.

You did it again, “Halo”. Just when I thought I was done, you managed to pull me right back in. I never could have predicted this amazing twist. I mean, nothing else the fuck happens. Master Chief got to see a preview of the Williams Sanoma summer collection, Cortana showed up once to ask him if he knew about their monthly financing options, McElhone McElphoned “Ooh, look a circle, gotta analyze this exciting circle”, Kwan Ha got three chase scenes without ever actually escaping but lucking out that she ran into an edit to another character’s story each time.

Wait, wait, what about last episode’s best part? Makee and her carnivorous space worms! Who do they eat this time? Who does she go all Molly from Johnny Mnemonic on? Well…she’s not in this episode. They spent three episodes establishing her place with the Covenant culminating in her going full evil Sabrina, forfeiting people’s faces, and capturing a cruiser. And then they just forgot her.

I like to imagine Makee’s out there doing awesome shit in some other series. Maybe the Covenant’s production of “Halo”. That shit’s probably on HBO. Bet it’s awesome. Just Makee smirking and filleting humans for the crime of making this version of “Halo”. Going home and arguing with Space Dad who’s all like, “Makee, where were you this late at space night?” and she’s like, “I was out waging your war, Space Dad”. Probably a mockumentary so it cuts to him on the couch being like, “I didn’t realize she could capture a UNSC cruiser single-handedly. It’s cause space worms don’t have hands.” Ty Burrell can play any role.

OK, trying to stay positive, we’re almost halfway through this season of “Halo”.

What will we be Haloquacious about next time? Well, Kwan Ha’s off to see the Bene Gesserit so “Halo” can shove three full chosen ones into an adaptation of something that had zero chosen ones. Master Chief is in a cave with McElhone searching for a couples therapist. Cortana’s back in her bottle – can’t wait for the episode where she accidentally shrinks Master Chief and they almost get kicked out of Cocoa Beach.

Alas! What exquisite, horrible misery can make you suffer for eternity? You can watch “Halo” on Paramount Plus.

Brain, give me a tenner (just click my Patreon to go)

New Shows + Movies by Women — April 15, 2022

I want to take this week’s intro to talk about the range of new abortion restrictions that are sweeping state to state. As the news focuses on a hundred other things, please don’t lose sight of new abortion restrictions that just passed this week in Florida and Kentucky (this last overriding the governor’s veto). Kentucky’s is in effect, while Florida’s and an earlier ban passed in Arizona both take effect in July. Oklahoma and West Virginia have each passed a ban through one house of their legislature. Idaho’s is signed into law but is temporarily blocked by courts.

Texas-style bans have been introduced in state legislatures in 13 states. Trigger bans that would take effect upon Roe v. Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court have been passed in 12 states and introduced in six others.

Partial bans on abortion pills already exist in Indiana and Texas. New bans on medication abortions have been introduced in eight other states.

In some good news, Maryland overrode a governor’s veto to legislatively protect the right to abortion this week. Many states are in the process of doing so, and some are taking the next step of enshrining the right to abortion within their state constitutions. Some are also considering sanctuary bills that would make it easier for women to travel to their state in order to access an abortion.

Some states have competing bills, with bans and protections both introduced. Washington Post has a useful rundown of the different types of bills being considered, and what stage each is at. Many women are already familiar with this fight. Men read this article, too. I urge other men to join with and support this fight for women’s rights. Our voices don’t need to lead here, but they should encourage other men to support women’s rights, and we should be making those calls to our state legislators and governors that encourage them to protect women’s right to choose.

Most politicians are still men who hire other men, which means these offices habitually dismiss the voices of women. They need to hear men supporting women’s rights and also telling these offices that we expect them to listen to women’s voices and not just ours. If allied men don’t figure women’s rights are worth actively supporting, then assume that allied men with responsibility and positions of power also figure that. They don’t change that attitude unless we do. We need to shoulder more of the work in support of this fight.

Let’s talk about new series by women this week. There are no new films.

NEW SERIES

Roar (Apple TV+)
showrunners Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch
directed by women

The creators of “GLOW” adapt Cecelia Ahern’s collection of short stories in a dark comedy anthology about women’s often overlooked experiences.

Nicole Kidman, Cynthia Erivo, Issa Rae, Alison Brie, and Betty Gilpin all feature at some point in the anthology.

Liz Flahive has written and produced on “Homeland”. Carly Mensch has written and produced on “Weeds” and “Orange is the New Black”. The pair both worked on “Nurse Jackie” and “GLOW”. Halley Feiffer, Janine Nabers, and Vera Santamaria join them as directors on “Roar.”

You can watch “Roar” on Apple TV+. All eight episodes are available immediately.

Swimming with Sharks (Roku)
showrunner Kathleen Robertson

Kiernan Shipka and Diane Kruger star as an assistant and her abusive boss at a Hollywood studio. Shipka’s Lou quickly learns how to outwit the manipulations of her workplace.

Kathleen Robertson starred in “The Expanse”. This is her first time writing and second time producing on a series.

You can watch “Swimming with Sharks” on Roku. All episodes are available immediately.

CW: sexual assault

Anatomy of a Scandal (Netflix)
showrunner Melissa James Gibson
directed by S.J. Clarkson

A sexual assault scandal erupts around a British politician and his wife starts to question all of the stories he’s told her. Sienna Miller stars.

Showrunner Melissa James Gibson wrote on “The Americans” and wrote and produced on the U.S. “House of Cards”. Director S.J. Clarkson has helmed episodes of “Jessica Jones” and “Dexter”.

You can watch “Anatomy of a Scandal” on Netflix. All six episodes are available immediately.

CW: image of man on fire

Verdict (Amazon)
showrunner Paula Knudsen
directed by Anahi Berneri, Marina Meliande

This Uruguayan show involves the investigation of a terrible crime that goes viral on social media. (There’s currently no English trailer, but the series is subtitled.)

Showrunner Paula Knudsen has written on the Brazilian and U.S. versions of “Julie and the Phantoms”. Directors Anahi Berneri and Marina Meliande have each made several South American films.

You can watch “Verdict” on Amazon Prime. All six episodes are available immediately.

Aoashi (Crunchyroll)
directed by Satou Akira

In this anime, Aoi Ashito ruins his chances of being recruited by a quality high school soccer club when he creates on on-field incident. He does catch the eye of one recruiter, though.

This is Satou Akira’s second series as director.

You can watch “Aoashi” on Crunchyroll. New episodes arrive Saturdays.

Hard Cell (Netflix)
showrunner Catherine Tate

Catherine Tate writes, directs, and stars in multiple roles in this British mockumentary that follows inmates and staff at a women’s prison.

Catherine Tate is generally regarded as the best of the “Doctor Who” companions since its reboot. She also starred in “The Catherine Tate Show” and in later seasons of the American version of “The Office”.

You can watch “Hard Cell” on Netflix.

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

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.

Cortana Bad Romance

“Halo” finally nails the CGI and it’s complete rubbish. I mean it’s literal trash. We open on a garbage planet, and its effects are pretty cool. I forget what it was called, but the trash cops (is it Chicago?) are after a trash boy and a trash girl.

The garbage pail kids are hiding in a tent reading a book. The boy tells the girl, “There are worlds out there with grass and clouds” and she’s all like, “Cor blimey”. Then he goes, “See this word? It’s ‘kiss’ and when you read it you’re supposed to kiss someone”. I’m not sure if the “Halo” writers know how creepy this is or if it’s their idea of sad Dickensian romance, but either way that’s not how reading works.

Or is that how they got this show made?

STEVEN KANE: Please read that part of the script out loud, Mr. Spielberg.

SPIELBERG: “And then Master Chief gave Cortana ten million dollars an episode and didn’t mind when the producers spent it all on Five Guys and renewed them for a second season anyway.” Guys, this script doesn’t even make–

KANE: You read it aloud!

SPIELBERG: What? Oh no, not again!

KANE: You read the words, now you gotta do it. That’s how reading works!

SPIELBERG: Aw, this is exactly how David Koepp roped me into “Crystal Skull”.

The trash cops (really doesn’t narrow it down) find the Children of the Trash and scream at them, “Get back to work” (is it an Amazon facility?) so there’s a chase and the kids don’t fare too well. Meanwhile the Covenant have dropped in, but the absolute garbage cops (I give up, could be anywhere) are more concerned with beating the kids than with the 10-foot tall aliens tromping up loudly behind them. It doesn’t communicate as this kind of commentary, I think it’s just shoddy editing of the two things happening at once, but hey – even a broke clock’s right twice a day.

Turns out this is all a flashback for that little girl, who is now Makee. She’s skedaddled around the edges of “Halo” so far, but I guess I haven’t talked about her yet. Makee is a unique human capable of activating ancient extraterrestrial technology, just like the wotsit Master Chief spent the last two episodes accidentally activating. She’s been raised by the Covenant expressly for this – wait, did you forget who the Covenant are? It’s cool, so did “Halo” for two episodes. Out of two.

(Behind? Read the ramblings for the first and second episodes of “Halo”.)

The Covenant are the bad CGI aliens Master Chief and the Spartans came in feet all aflutter to fight at the beginning of the first episode. Actually, their leaders have pretty good CGI. Must be a hierarchical thing; you gotta earn your render time.

The Covenant covertly covet the wotsit and like the UNSC, they love a good conference meeting. Last episode, Makee yelled at alien dad until he signed her field trip slip so she could go hunt the wotsit and do a murder to Master Chief…just as soon as she briefly undressed to show that Paramount Plus can be like HBO, too.

At least they’re equal opportunity – if you want to see Master Chief’s ass, this is your episode. What’s he doing in the buff? Trying to spur online convers– trying to dig out his emotion suppressor. Oh boy, this gets complicated.

Master Chief tries out for Titane.
Master Chief tries out for the Vincent Lindon role in “Titane”.

Natascha McElhone’s Dr. Halsey had a brilliant idea to clone herself to cut her conference meeting time in half, but instead she’s going to extract her clone’s brain and put it in Master Chief’s to help control him. As you do. “Halo” briefly shows the heights it could have reached if Natascha McElhone played every part when she talks to herself. McElclone’s all like, “You gonna drink my brain juice” and McElhone’s pretty Daniel Plainview about it.

Why extract a brain and inject it into another brain? Because that’s how you get more brain. Master Chief’s new brain is Cortana, a spunky manic pixie dream girl written like the unattainable classmate Malcolm in the Middle is gonna embarrass himself in front of by the end of the episode. Life is unfair.

Despite being implanted in Master Chief’s head, Cortana can appear as a hologram who everyone else also sees. This raises a lot of interesting ethical questions, like is Master Chief rigged with projectors now? Imma just assume he’s been converted into a walking home theater, which means you could feasibly watch “Halo” on Master Chief to punish him for making “Halo”.

Cortana’s also made to look like a younger version of Dr. Halsey for reasons that aren’t super totes Freudian. She’s played by Jen Taylor, who also played Cortana in the game series (no relation).

The stoic Master Chief becomes so explosive on meeting Cortana it feels like Gordon Ramsay being upset the brain juice isn’t minty fresh. He insists she’s not the boss of him now, so our hero decides to strip down, ask if they’re HBO yet, and plink his emotional suppressor out of his own spine. McElhone wants his drama so she’s into it, and she orders Cortana to help.

"Halo" TV series Cortana design.
Centuries in the future, CGI faces massive budget constraints.

How is our brand new, emotional Master Chef? He’s basically the same. Mostly just blinks more. He does like wandering the city taking in the sights and sounds while blinking at them. And a kid accidentally loses his ball at a concert so Master Chef gives it back to…the high school kid who’s only wandering around with a nondescript ball so we can have this scene.

Meanwhile, Makee’s being a lot more productive on her field trip. She’s already grand theft spaceshipped a UNSC cruiser, which is the level of awesome shit Master Chef is supposed to be doing, and she does it by using giant carnivorous worms. Huh. She’s clearly seen this series and wants it to get a move on.

Master Chef is like, “Do I give you your ball back? I’ve never had emotions before so despite being called the most coordinated supersoldier in history earlier this episode, apparently I don’t know how to fucking toss an object”, while Makee’s all, “You want your spaceship back? I filled it with a writhing mass of betoothed worms. Also laser knives come out of my fingers”.

At this point, it’s not a tough choice. I’m rooting for Makee and the Covenant. Kick Master Chef’s ass! Oh wait, is this what British people who like Jamie Oliver feel like?

Do we see the rhyming dictator this episode? Only in a few posters. He’s taken over Kwan Ha’s home planet of Madrigal. Having seen Master Chef negate all his decisions in the first two episodes and abandon the kid he spent all that time saving, Kwan Ha thinks, “That’s a good trick” and decides that after two episodes of begging to get away from Madrigal, she’s going to make it everyone’s problem to go back.

Why did we have the first two episodes if all the characters from the first two episodes are motivated by the impulse, “Oh man, those first two episodes were a mistake”? That was two hours of my life. For what? Why do– Oh… Oh no. They’re doing this to melt my brain. They melted her brain…and then they’re going to melt my brain…oh my god! (If you make me into a GPS, I’d like to use port and starboard instead of left and right, please.)

Where does this leave us? Despite the bad CGI, inconsistent editing, and lack of action in this action series, the biggest problem remains the writing. Master Chef’s dialogue comes off with the numb insistence of Ben Shapiro tweeting about how his wife definitely thinks he’s good in bed, don’t ask her, why would you check he already told you he just told you! Or as this phenomenon was termed when the scientific community first observed it in 2010: writing Scott Caan’s dialogue in “Hawaii Five-0”.

The episode ends with McElhone, Master Chef, and some people who have names but are probably just there to die next episode heading to Master Chef’s birth planet cause now he remembers he grew up burying magical alien wotsits with his family, which is…convenient.

McElhone offers some mustache-twirling moral equivocation which starts as dialogue she’s saying in the scene but must turn into a voiceover mid-sentence because she talks about using Cortana to neutralize Master Chef while he’s standing right next to her. He’s used his ears to listen to the things people in the same room say to him thus far, but I guess he decided that was overrated as soon as McElhone said, “Next item: murdering Master Chef”.

In summation: Makee wants to murder Master Chef, McElhone wants to replace his brain with McElhone Pixie Twee Girl, Master Chef doesn’t really seem to mind either way, and he’s such a nonentity at this point neither do I, in which case it seems like all the major parties are in agreement. I do have to admit that “Halo” has achieved some spectacular suspense so far: I have no idea whose ass we’ll get to see next episode.

You can watch “Halo” on Paramount Plus if you’ve already watched all the “Star Trek” on it and for some reason don’t just wanna do re-runs.

If you like this, buy me a coffee for my suffering.

New Shows + Movies by Women — April 8, 2022

April means the spring anime season is upon us, so get ready for idols, isekai, and mecha. The anime industry drops nearly every premiere within a two-week span toward the start of each season. That means they get much more grouped up than Western shows. This week, there are three new anime series by women, a new K-drama, and new films from Norway and the U.S.

NEW SERIES

Heroines Run the Show (Crunchyroll)
directed by Noriko Hashimoto

Hiyori Suzumi moves to Tokyo to train as a track athlete. The job she gets stuck with is managing a male idol group. It’s difficult for her to balance school, track, work, and free time, especially when the pair she’s managing is in her class.

This is the first series Noriko Hashimoto is directing.

You can watch “Heroines Run the Show” on Crunchyroll. The first episode is available now and new episodes arrive Thursdays.

The Greatest Demon Lord is Reborn as a Typical Nobody (Crunchyroll)
directed by Minato Mirai

Varvatos has grown to become too powerful a sorcerer. The only option left is to travel into the future and become an average kid…who boasts tremendous powers.

Minato Mirai has directed extensively in the “Fate/Stay” universe and helmed last year’s “The Dungeon of Black Company”.

You can watch “The Greatest Demon Lord is Reborn as a Typical Nobody” on Crunchyroll. The premiere is available now and new episodes arrive on Wednesdays.

Tiger & Bunny 2 (Netflix)
directed by Kase Mitsuko

Netflix resurrects a classic anime series where superhumans are sponsored and climb annual rankings for their heroics. Veteran heroes Kotetsu and Barnaby may struggle to stay in the game after all these years.

I normally focus on series premieres and not second seasons, especially because anime universes can grow enough offshoots to make the MCU multiverse look tame, but given that there’ve been no new entries since 2011, this is a bit of a unique case.

Director Kase Mitsuko also helmed “Ristorante Paradiso” and “Saikano”. Her career stretches back to mecha series in the 70s and 80s.

You can watch “Tiger & Bunny 2” on Netflix. The series should be able to stand on its own, but Netflix does have the first season from 2011 if you want to start there. All 13 episodes are available immediately.

Green Mothers Club (Netflix)
directed by Ra Ha Na

In this Korean series, five mothers meet through their children’s school. Despite their different outlooks and experiences, they learn to support each other in ways they can’t find elsewhere.

Ra Ha Na directs. She’s also directed “Tinted with You”.

You can watch “Green Mothers Club” on Netflix. The premiere is available now and new episodes arrive every Wednesday for a total of 16.

NEW MOVIES

Freeland (MUBI)
co-directed by Kate McLean

An elderly, off-the-grid pot farmer sees her business dwindle when cannabis is made legal. She considers what to do next as she harvests her final crop.

Kate McLean writes and directs with Mario Furloni. McLean has primarily worked in documentary films up till now.

You can watch “Freeland” on MUBI, or see where to rent it.

Life After You (VOD)
directed by Sarah T. Schwab

After the death of their 19 year-old son from an overdose laced with fentanyl, a family struggles with who is responsible.

This is the first feature film from director and co-writer Sarah T. Schwab.

See where to rent “Life After You”.

Battle: Freestyle (Netflix)
directed by Ingvild Soderlind

Amalie is torn between love, an absent mother, and going with her dance team to the global finals in France. The Norwegian film is based on the novel by Maja Lunde.

This is the second feature film from director Ingvild Soderlind.

You can watch “Battle: Freestyle” on Netflix.

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

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.

Nicolas Cage and the Complexity of Gentleness in “Pig”

“Pig” is a story about the power of gentleness. It’s both sad and soothing. It sees humanity in the isolated, whether living alone in the woods or making deals surrounded by people. It recognizes how something as overpowering as love is stored in our memories so that its loss doesn’t break us day by day. It’s about that dam we create to stop love from overflowing us and to stop loss from overwhelming us, a cruelty and kindness to ourselves in turn.

The most fundamental bait-and-switch about “Pig” is that it stars Nicolas Cage. He plays Rob, a truffle hunter living in the backwoods with a truffle pig. High-end food suppliers prize truffles, and often pay hundreds of dollars an ounce for these mushrooms. A single find can rake in thousands; likewise a pig trained to find them. Rob’s pig is stolen, and he forms an awkward partnership with his slick buyer Amir (Alex Wolff). They head to Portland, Oregon to track down who has his pig.

That may feel like a set-up for a D-grade Nicolas Cage revenge film. I’ve heard “Pig” referred to as “John Wick with Nicolas Cage”, which is so far off-the-mark it feels like it’s intentionally trying to be the least accurate film comparison I’ve ever heard. “Pig” is a meditative drama about the precise intersection where love and memory are hollowed out by toxicity and trauma, seen through the lens of how food evokes memory. It feels much more like a vignette from “Tampopo” writ large.

This is also the best performance I’ve seen Nicolas Cage give. That may seem like faint praise, but let’s remember how remarkable he’s been in films like “Adaptation”, “Leaving Las Vegas”, “Lord of War”, and “Matchstick Men”. He makes a lot of crap, but when he really invests himself, Cage is nearly unparalleled.

I’ll avoid spoilers, but there’s a moment halfway through the film where you can see just how much anger is in his eyes. A physically imposing figure, you truly think Rob will just start pummeling someone into a pulp in front of onlookers. You can see his recognition of that anger, the struggle to quell it, and the exact moment it recedes. It turns into something else. He invokes a memory and uses it to deconstruct the man in front of him with understanding and kindness.

Plenty of films shock with violence and horror, and I love many of them. Yet when we think of films that are gentle, we tend to think of something sappy or – at best – reassuringly wholesome. Some of them are great, but they don’t necessarily shock us. There’s almost nothing out there that shocks us with its moments of gentleness and humanity. Plenty of films are empathetic, though perhaps not as many as there should be. I don’t think there are many that genuinely revere the power of understanding.

“Pig” reveres understanding to the point where it asks us to understand a protagonist who barely wants anything to do with us, an all-but-disowned son who wants nothing to do with him, his cruel and inhumane father, a restaurateur who’s turned his back to his dreams, a man who pays money to beat another, a woman willing to lend aid only because it helps her profit margin.

Writer Vanessa Block and writer-director Michael Sarnoski don’t justify these people. The film doesn’t seek to ennoble them or soften their harshness and harm. All it says is there’s something to understand here, something more than can be understood at first assumption. “Pig” doesn’t even fill in all the blanks, but in its disconnections, it provides evidence. It creates art not out of what we know, but from the shape of the spaces where what we know is missing.

There’s a line from “Doctor Who” I’ve always loved. “When something goes missing, you can always recreate it by the hole it left”. Memory fades and fails us, faces become what we know from photographs rather than the person who looked at us, a line or two of voice you can remember with clarity becomes a monument to years of conversations. It’s a desperate scramble to keep what’s real of someone who’s gone from disappearing. What’s increasingly missing is the shape of that person, and more and more their shape becomes the hole they left. Grief that they aren’t there anymore turns to guilt that you couldn’t maintain their detail in a way that matches reality – as if that’s even possible.

“Pig” not only understands how this transformation of grief to guilt motivates its characters, it offers its characters to us as half-missing shapes. We have to understand them not just by what the film tells us, but by what it specifically doesn’t. We’re asked to see people by what’s there and what isn’t, which is rare both on film and in life. What all of the characters in “Pig” share is their isolation, no matter how many others are around. What’s missing controls lives that can no longer progress and create new space.

The best thing I can say about “Pig” is that it made a part of me feel seen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a truffle hunter or a hermit. I don’t feel like I can’t progress or create that new space. Yet the last few years have felt incredibly isolating to many people. Overwhelming bigotry, the pandemic, new disasters every day, the concept that we have less and less control by the day. Our culture has incentivized isolation, hatred, and impersonality – brand image, the bottom line, everything’s fine no matter how much of what’s missing needs to be pasted over. It doesn’t matter if it’s real, or kind.

We all have a hole where a culture we believed to be a bit kinder creates a missing shape in us. Even if it never was so kind, we all have a grief that our belief in that kindness is lost, a guilt that no matter how hard we try we can’t seem to get far in reshaping it.

“Pig” is an allegory about the power of gentleness. I just hope it isn’t its eulogy as well. It clarifies that we can’t be gentle until we recognize what isn’t there in others, and can be real about what’s missing that we paste over in ourselves. How can you be kind if you deny that kindness to yourself? How can you be gentle if you don’t understand what gentleness someone else needs?

Kindness is often treated in a reductive way. Sometimes anger is legitimate and justified. Anger at an injustice is kindness. Kindness intersects every other emotion, and I believe in the full emotional set. We’re not short on anger these days. We haven’t forgotten that or pasted it over, nor should we. What we’re encouraged to forget isn’t just kindness and gentleness, however, it’s also the understanding and empathy that lets us recognize how to use them.

That’s not the excessive, performative, infantilized sentimentality that’s attached to kindness across our media; it’s a complex set of adult emotions that is one of the most demanding ways of being to learn. That’s what “Pig” clarifies – how easy it is to forget that, how difficult it is to remember, how necessary it is yet how commonly it’s dismissed.

How strange is it to see a man embody gentleness and believe it, as an actor we know for performing the opposite, in a tale that’s set up to be the opposite, in a way that compels those around him to have to face their own gentleness with a fear of how strange it is to see it after all these years. “Pig” is the best thing Nicolas Cage has done, but if that doesn’t seem like saying much, it’s the best thing most actors could ever hope to do because it’s something we almost never see. It’s something we almost never see on-screen, it’s something we rarely see for others, and it’s something threatened in how we envision ourselves.

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

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That Time I Reincarnated as Master Chief in a Puppet Universe Natascha McElhone Uses to Feed on Her Zombified Castmates

A man of few words walks into town. His immense stature makes him immediately recognizable, and his reputation has others eager to throw down. Thankfully, his skill at fighting and ability to analyze any danger is unparalleled. He’s spoken about with either hate or reverence. A few good people are willing to help him despite his taciturn demeanor. They don’t even mind when he overrides their suggestions. In fact, the few words he speaks hide a cutting intelligence in one of the most surprisingly good roles of the year. But that’s enough about “The Witcher”, “Reacher”, “The Mandalorian”, and Fox Mulder for now. We’re here to talk about Calculon’s greatest role and rubberneck at the wiki-how for capsizing that is “Halo”.

After last week’s update, we left Master Chief defying the UNSC and rescuing a rebel girl he was ordered to kill. Not sure if they’ve explained what the UNSC is, so I’ve just assumed it’s United North and South Carolina. “Halo” presents a truly terrifying vision of the future.

The rebel Kwan Ha has come to terms with finding out Master Chief once assassinated her mother, so now they’re best friends who joke around. Or she is. Master Chief is all like, “How dare you”, which you know, maybe the rest of us would have given a courtesy laugh in that situation but Master Chief doesn’t know how to take the win. It’s the kind of thing that could have been ironed out with another script draft, but whatevs.

Anyway, Master Chief just escaped from the UNSC base. It was armed to the teeth with space fighters, countless ships, and bazillions of soldiers, creating the perfect opportunity for a chase sequence or some of the over-the-top, ship-hopping space action that defines the “Halo” game series. What riveting show-off set piece do they have prepared to open the second episode and hook us into the show forevermore?

Cut to a conference meeting – but I don’t think you understand how well this conference meeting is done. All the side characters get to say exactly one thing they could have sent in an email while Natascha McElhone smiles like she’s gonna eat the last french fry on your plate and you can’t do shit to stop her. Few shows have ever captured so well the ennui of being prevented from leaving early that day.

Of course, this meeting is important because it establishes that McElhone’s Dr. Halsey is going to do something to Master Chief and the Spartans that easily could’ve been described in a much shorter scene. She’s going to brainwash their brainwashing to brainwash them even way more harder. In fact, maybe it didn’t even need to be mentioned. Brainwashing in general kinda covers that you’re going to do it some more. You know what, this is something else that could’ve been condensed with another script draft, but who has that kind of time?

Where are Master Chief and his new ward going? To a boss looking asteroid colony. This really highlights how good the background and location VFX are on “Halo”. Anything that’s too distant to make out properly looks great. The problem is, “Halo” then asks things to move – often in the foreground. This is what we generally call filmmaking, but it’s where “Halo” loses the thread. Anything moving in the foreground remains animated with such disconnection to physics that it makes you think it’s going to glitch out and crash your TV or phone or whatever it is you’re watching on and maybe some things you aren’t.

The asteroid colony is where Master Chief’s old friend Soren lives. See, Soren escaped the brainwashing facility that made Master Chief a superhuman Spartan in the first place. Having escaped, Soren has these things called emotions. It’s the first we’ve seen these “emotions” in the series outside of McElhone looking at the scenery and going, “I did miss lunch”.

Soren lives with his flapper space wife and their young son, who’s been raised for the sole purpose of being used as a guilt trip on Master Chief about not having kids. Wait, is Master Chief’s character development just Jessica Chastain’s* from “Jurassic World” without getting to fight dinosaurs in heels?

It obviously makes a deep impression on Master Chief since he goes everywhere without a helmet now. I know “Halo” is still extremely self-conscious about not being “The Mandalorian”, so it wants its character famous for never removing his helmet to spend more than half his screentime so far without it. Perhaps the wiser move might have been to avoid copying half the plot of “The Mandalorian”, but no, I’m sure whether he wears his helmet is the big difference. This is what happens when you just don’t have enough time to hammer out that script. Oh well.

How do we know Soren can really be trusted? Cause he stops at a street vendor and gets churros. My man. But then he gives away his churros. What the fuck? Airlock that traitor.

Also something about the end of the universe and how Master Chief is the key to unlocking it. Instead of taking some solid advice to destroy the ancient wotsit the aliens need to go all end-times, Master Chief is like, “What if I just take it and me back to United North and South Carolina that I spent all this time making sure didn’t get hold of it and make both episodes functionally meaningless”? Having never seen a sci-fi or fantasy movie before in my life, I’m sure that’ll go well.

It’s only at the end, when Master Chief returns to Dr. Halsey and is allowed to act for an entire five seconds in a show ostensibly based around acting with actors who are supposed to act that the real purpose of all that helmet doffing occurred to me. You’d think it’s so Pablo Schreiber could do some of that acting stuff that’s all the rage, but it’s already firmly established that “Halo” is against this kind of thing. Maybe we can dig deeper.

I’ll put this diplomatically: the plot of “Halo” makes no sense. Showrunner Steven Kane was proud of publicizing that this show went through 265 script drafts, and it shows. Oh shit, what? That’s…that’s millions in scripts for something with zero personality. In his defense, I guess it’s easy to lose the source material in that amount of time. Oh wait. He also said, “We didn’t look at the game. We didn’t talk about the game.” Uh.

Can you imagine doing that to a book or classic movie? ‘Imma adapt this without looking at it’ sure is a flex. Maybe the problem with so many video game adaptations not being good is that the people put in charge of them are too scared to adapt the actual source material that already exists and that other people worked their asses off to create. They look down on it or can’t understand why it draws people in. “I’ll just put my own thing on top of it, whoops I just made D-grade Mandalorian, I better take off his helmet” isn’t an achievement. I already wrote that when I was seven and it didn’t take me 265 drafts.

Look, I’m not particularly into “Halo”; it’s not like they’re adapting “Thief” or “System Shock” or “Dishonored”. I have no ship in this torpedo relay. What I do have is a morbid fascination with the anatomy of an anthropogenic hazard on this scale. We are talking about a franchise that’s earned $6.5 billion, which puts it on par with Fast & Furious and above the DCEU, Ice Age, Shrek, Beauty and the Beast, Game of Thrones…a hell of a lot that people expect to be treated with some amount of quality control and respect for what’s come before. Remember how upset people were when they realized “Game of Thrones” was never all that good– and of course I mean when it suddenly and unexpectedly became bad in a way no one could have predicted? That’s what’s coming at us straight out of the gate with “Halo”.

I find myself thinking a lot these days about “Vagrant Queen”, which was way better than this and made with a single box of pocket lint, duct tape, and high quality sneering. It was a failure, but it was such a fun failure I gladly would have watched seasons and seasons of it. We’re two episodes into “Halo” and I give up. But at the same time I still want to write excruciatingly niche jokes and, unlike the showrunners, I need source material and that means watching more of it. So now I choose to watch “Halo” as something else, something far more insidious and sinister.

I have chosen to watch “Halo” as a meta-narrative where Natascha McElhone has created a pocket dimension to trap her fellow actors and drain their very souls. It’s kind of like “House of Leaves” meets “The Thief of Always”, where McElhone is playing the house in both instances. “The Thief of Always” is a Clive Barker novel about a kid who stumbles on a vampire house that turns children into fish – it’s dope. “House of Leaves” is a frightening experiment in kerning.

The point is that instead of viewing “Halo” the way it’s told, which is to say while sleeping, it can instead be viewed as a man being trapped in Natascha McElhone’s puppet universe, a dimension of her own creation that she uses to harvest the energy from the souls of fellow actors. See, it makes sense because she’s the only one acting, while everyone else seems to have been drained of the impulse to try. How else is she the only one capable of escaping the deleterious effects “Halo” has on every other actor? She’s an energy vampire feeding on her castmates. What other explanation is there? Unfocused writing and lackadaisical direction on a project that has 265 script drafts and costs $10 million an episode? Well yes, obviously, but I need some continuing reason to make myself watch this crap.

So where does Master Chief come in? He’s trying to act like he can’t act so he can go unnoticed as long as possible. It turns whatever this is into a harrowing tale of survival. Can he make it long enough for Sam and Dean to burst in, punch up some thralls, and be all like, “Don’t worry, Master Chief, we’ll salt some saltshot into this salt circle to salt Natascha McElhone away saltily”. I mean did “Supernatural” get paid by the fucking National Salt Council? I’m not judging; renew the damn contract.

“Halo” the show is already spinning wheels and its second episode isn’t just pointless; it actively doubles back on nearly everything accomplished in the first and second episode. It’s filler that retroactively converts previous content to filler. But “Halo” the isekai? That’s just getting started, and I can’t wait to see more in the Natascha McElhone Energy Vampire Universe.

Oh shit, I didn’t even get to the rhyming dictator guy.

Master Chief could’ve walked around this, but that wouldn’t have taken up 30 seconds of my life:

*Yes, I know, she’s not Jessica Chastain.

You can watch “Halo” on Paramount Plus. Why you would is beyond me, but you can.

If you like this, buy me a coffee for my suffering.

Movies and how they change you.