Morgan Saylor and Sophie Low in Blow the Man Down

New Movies by Women — March 20, 2020

The original intent of this feature was to focus on movies by women that are new to theaters and streaming. Coronavirus and the need for social distancing makes this a strange time for new movies. Will films like Eliza Hittman’s unplanned pregnancy drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” or Kelly Reichardt’s period film “First Cow” become available for rent soon despite having just arrived in theaters? I don’t know.

I imagine other studios will follow Universal’s lead and begin shifting some movies in theaters over to a digital rental window (more on that under “Emma” below). Shifting to digital and rental is more reasonable for indie, international, and smaller movies, but studios won’t want to take a financial hit on event movies. I expect most films that are mid-budget or more expensive to be delayed. I’ll try to cover these shifts here as best as I can.

Social distancing is vital right now to stop the spread of coronavirus, so I’ll be expanding the coverage in this feature to include new shows by women. Finding new art and artists is important at all times, but in particular it can help us anchor ourselves in times of crisis. Sharing art you love with others is a way of maintaining community even in a time when we have to socially distance. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, keep on finding new art that you love and share it with the people you love. It’s one of the most important ways to keep yourself steady right now.

Blow the Man Down (Amazon)
directed by Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy

“Blow the Man Down” looks like the kind of dark, quirky independent film I love. In a strange way, trailers and films like this bring me back to the best indie filmmaking of the 00s. There’s not a lot of information out about “Blow the Man Down” yet, but it boasts a quietly impressive cast that includes Margo Martindale (“Justified”), Annette O’Toole (“Smallville”), and Gayle Rankin (“GLOW”).

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (Netflix limited series)
directed by DeMane Davis and Kasi Lemmons

We learn all about the Rockefellers and Carnegies in school. We’re taught they built this country up, and this perspective reinforces ideas of capitalism and millionaires having our backs that just aren’t true. It also overlooks the countless people of color who did so much of the actual building.

There aren’t enough celebratory movies about the creativity, ambition, and success of Black people. There’s just as long and impressive a history, but our culture doesn’t value it. That in turn teaches us not to value it. I’m looking forward to this 4-episode limited series because these stories need to be told. Octavia Spencer stars as Madam C.J. Walker and frankly, I have no idea how she’s still so underrated at this point in her career. Tiffany Haddish and Carmen Ejogo join her. The film’s based on the biography of Walker written by A’Lelia Bundles.

Emma. (digital rental)
directed by Autumn de Wilde

I can finally post about this again! The Jane Austen adaptation directed by Autumn de Wilde is still technically in theaters, but Universal is making their new films available to rent digitally because of the coronavirus pandemic. It should be available today on multiple streaming services. This is likely to include Amazon Video (as a separate rental, not included with the price of Amazon’s streaming service), iTunes, and Vudu, among others.

From my review for “Emma”: “The design in ‘Emma’ is a living, breathing thing. It’s constantly guiding the audience through the film. It doesn’t just accentuate the comedy, it often causes it. It subverts the characters even as they admire it. It undermines when it needs to and it gives support when no other element of the story – least of all its characters – will. This isn’t just a film that’s a successful exercise in design (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is a film that tells a story through the participation of its design. The design isn’t only accentuating or shaping a moment, it’s not only elevating a mood, it’s not only there to elicit emotional reactions. It’s here to tell the story itself. That’s what makes ‘Emma’ so good and so unique.”

NBC Universal is owned by Comcast, which has been interested in these kinds of releases for years. At $20 for a 48-hour rental, this is expensive if you’re living on your own. At the equivalent of two movie tickets, though, it makes some sense as the price for a new film that would’ve otherwise stayed solely in its theatrical run for weeks.

Feel Good (Netflix series)
showrunner Ally Pankiw

Charlotte Ritchie is the kind of actor who can make you a fan in one sitting. In my case, she acted as the core of a “Doctor Who” New Years episode called “Resolution”. Sometimes it’s lightning in a bottle and you never hear from that actor again. Sometimes, they turn up unexpectedly in something you’re already looking forward to.

Why was I already looking forward to this? Showrunner and director Ally Pankiw. She’s been an up-and-coming voice in music videos. Check out CYN’s “Holy Roller” to see the amount of visual confidence she brings as a director.

The core of the series is co-writer and lead Mae Martin, who is the voice in this that I know the least about. She’s had a good deal of success in Britain and has won two Canadian Screen Awards (the equivalent of Emmies in the U.S.) for writing on the “Baroness von Sketch Show”.

Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu miniseries)
showrunner Liz Tigelaar

This show is based on Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name. I don’t normally go in for big long lists of names but bear with me a moment. The script is adapted by Liz Tigelaar, who also acts as showrunner. Raamla Mohamed and Nancy Won also contribute episodes. It’s executive produced by Tigelaar, star Reese Witherspoon, star Kerry Washington, Lauren Neustadter, Pilar Savone, and Lynn Shelton – who also directs multiple episodes. In other words, the project is completely run by women.

It’s hard to get a grasp on exactly what the series will be like – how far it will shift between drama and melodrama, but the amount of talent from novel to crew to cast is considerable.

Frozen II (Disney+)
co-directed by Jennifer Lee

This was made available early, on Sunday, March 15. Disney collapsed the usual period between theatrical and home release because of coronavirus. It’s a boon for families who are learning how to navigate the social distancing that requires everyone stay home. It’s easy to start feeling underfoot of each other. The “Frozen” franchise is luckily one of those that children and adults can enjoy without rolling their eyes at the other one.

RECENT RELEASES

Lost Girls (Netflix)
directed by Liz Garbus

You may not have heard of Liz Garbus, but she’s been nominated for two Oscars as a director. This was for documentary films. “The Farm: Angola, USA” documented life in Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison. The second was “What Happened, Miss Simone?” It addressed the civil rights activism of singer Nina Simone. She also directed “Bobby Fischer Against the World” for HBO.

You may know some of her other films better. She executive produced “Street Fight”, about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark, as well as “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, which discussed the torture of prisoners and human rights violations conducted by U.S. Army and C.I.A. personnel at Abu Ghraib. Her list of documentaries both directed and produced makes her one of the most important filmmakers you probably haven’t heard about.

“Lost Girls” isn’t a documentary, but it is based on real events. That claim often gives me pause, as films tend to use this term to mislead and exaggerate more than present those real events. Such events aren’t always treated with respect. I do have hope that one of the most important documentary filmmakers we have can translate the story in an accurate manner.

Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse (Amazon)
directed by Leonora Lonsdale

This isn’t a film, but rather a two-part miniseries based on an Agatha Christie novel. It’s already aired in the UK, and received considerable praise. It’s one of those storytelling triumvirates which is rare in the film industry – a screenplay by a woman (Sarah Phelps), based off a woman’s novel, directed by a woman. This shouldn’t be notable – men are enabled to do it this way all the time – and yet it’s still seen seldom enough that it’s worth noting when it happens. The series itself looks stylish, moody, and tremendously well cast.

Sitara: Let Girls Dream (Netflix)
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

I’d also like to mention this short animated film out of Pakistan. It centers on two girls who one day hope to become pilots. To say much more would be to disrupt or ruin the film’s message. It’s only 15 minutes, and it’s well worth watching.

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

This is an Indian film by director Ruchi Narain. A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape and 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.

Knives and Skin (Hulu)
directed by Jennifer Reeder

This is one of the stranger ones on here. At first it seems it’s straight out of the vaporwave horror movement. The trailer reminds me quite a lot of “Lost River”, which most critics panned and I loved. It’s also reminiscent of “It Follows” and “Donnie Darko”. That may be the trailer trying to capitalize on those connections, but it’s hard to tell if the satirical throughline is more openly comedic than in those movies. All these films take place in a heightened sense of a satirized reality, but they still take themselves seriously enough to be tense and frightening – and films like this usually don’t get the kinds of theatrical pushes they deserve.

System Crasher (Netflix)
directed by Nora Fingscheidt

This is a German drama about a nine year-old girl who needs mental health issues addressed before returning to her mother. It was Germany’s entry for the Oscars under Best International Feature Film (previously the award was called Best Foreign Language Film). It earned nominations in the European Film Awards under Best Film, Best Actress, and the University Award (an award voted on by students).

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