I’ve been able to learn and expand the scope of this feature in the first year of doing it. You might notice I’m covering a few additional services recently like MUBI, Sundance Now, and Kanopy.
However we refer to these services, get familiar with how they work. Take Kanopy, for instance. Do you have a library card or a log-in with a university? Then you probably already have Kanopy at no charge. This is because Kanopy is paid for by participating college and library systems. It provides people access to a huge library of films, with the cost already covered.
MUBI is also unique. If you see something on it that you like, you only have 30 days to watch it from its premiere on the service. MUBI is a constantly rotating curation of 30 movies. That may seem strange, but it gives the service the ability to license less-seen films, while maintaining those movies’ exclusivity to later strike a deal with a larger service.
Many services both major and niche offer free trial periods, so if you really want to see a film or series and you don’t have the service, consider just running it for a trial period. Or wait until a few things stack up on it, subscribe for a month, binge them all, and then cancel when next month rolls around.
There’s nothing wrong with that; there are services I keep constant access to and others I rotate through as needed.
When something is both on a service and still rentable individually, I also include a link to a list of where you can rent it. Keep an eye out for that – paying $3 or $4 for a digital rental is a lot less expensive than getting a service for a month just to see it.
If you don’t have to worry about these things, that is great – take a look at smaller streaming services featuring lesser-seen films and consider supporting them. (Or take a look at a certain writer’s Patreon, which helps me research and write this weekly feature and other articles.)
OK, ramble more than fully rambled, let’s get to this week’s new shows and movies by women:
The Luminaries (Starz)
showrunner Eleanor Catton
“The Luminaries” is set during New Zealand’s 1860s gold rush. In the novel by Eleanor Catton, a man travels to the South Island in order to strike it rich. Instead, he happens upon a meeting of others trying to discern a series of murders, thefts, and disappearances that involves them all.
The series is based on Catton’s novel, and she serves as showrunner and writer here. Claire McCarthy directs the entire series. McCarthy is known for Daisy Ridley-starrer “Ophelia”, a retelling of “Hamlet” from Ophelia’s perspective.
“The Luminaries” ran in New Zealand and the UK last year, and this is the first time it’s available in the U.S.
You can watch “The Luminaries” with a subscription to Starz, with new episodes of the 6-part series premiering every Sunday.
Young Rock (NBC)
showrunner Nahnatchka Khan
I’m going to be honest. I’m wary of the premise (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson looks back on his life as he runs for president in 2032; I think we’ve had enough celebrity presidents). While I like Johnson just fine, I’m not sure I was raring at the chance to see a show depicting him growing up. But then I looked up the name of the showrunner.
Nahnatchka Khan is an all-too-hidden legend in comedy television. She wrote some of the best episodes of “Malcolm in the Middle”. She’d follow this up by creating and showrunning two of the best sitcoms of the 2010s: “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” and “Fresh Off the Boat”.
I realize Dwayne Johnson is the name selling the series, but it’s Khan’s that takes it from something I would have let pass by to something I know I need to check out. Her involvement doesn’t guarantee a show will be special (she produced and wrote on “American Dad”, for instance), but it does give it a very good chance.
You can watch “Young Rock” on NBC, with new episodes premiering every Tuesday.
Tell Me Your Secrets (Amazon)
co-showrunner Harriet Warner
Emma covered up for her lover’s crimes – they just happened to be serial murder. When she’s finally released from prison on a deal to provide evidence, she’s put into witness protection in New Orleans. A grieving mother who believes Emma was involved in her daughter’s death decides to blackmail a man into tracking Emma down.
“Tell Me Your Secrets” is created by co-showrunner Harriet Warner. She’s previously written on “Call the Midwife” and consulted on “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness”.
You can watch “Tell Me Your Secrets” on Amazon with a subscription.
directed by Chloe Zhao
A woman loses her life and savings in the Great Recession. She lives out of her van, as a nomad looking for work where it comes. The film is based on the novel by Jessica Bruder.
This is getting a lot of award buzz and earned a mountain of Golden Globes nominations. Chloe Zhao’s nomination there as Best Director is the first for any Asian woman.
Award timing gets a little confusing in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic – “Nomadland” did a one week run at a single theater in December to qualify as a 2020 film for awards purposes. It technically comes out today, Feb. 19, 2021. Thus, the awards shows consider it a 2020 movie, while it’s coming out two months into 2021 for the rest of us. I’m just glad it’s getting attention.
Zhao both writes and directs, as she did on “The Rider” and “Songs My Brother Taught Me”. She’s also in post-production on a Marvel film, “Eternals”.
You can watch “Nomadland” on Hulu with a subscription.
Dead Pigs (MUBI)
directed by Cathy Yan
There’s an unlucky pig farmer trying to make ends meet. A woman is being threatened so that she’ll sell her home. There’s also the naive restaurant worker, a bored rich girl, and an American con-man. Every one of their paths brushes against the other in the absurdist satire by Cathy Yan. “Dead Pigs” revolves around a real event: when 16,000 dead pigs floated down China’s Huangpu River in 2013.
Cathy Yan directed one of last year’s most underrated films, “Birds of Prey”. Her “Dead Pigs” came out in 2018 in China, but this is the very first time it’s available in the U.S.
You can watch “Dead Pigs” on MUBI with a subscription.
Song Without a Name (MUBI)
directed by Melina Leon
CW: child abduction
Georgina goes to a health clinic to give birth. It promises free service. The problem is it’s fake – the moment she gives birth to her daughter, the baby is taken away. There’s no explanation for it; her daughter has simply been kidnapped. In her search for help, a journalist is the only one willing to aid her.
The Peruvian film is told in Quechua and Spanish. If you’re not watching Peruvian film, you’re missing one of the most interesting spaces confronting the long-lasting impacts and modern mutations of colonialism. This is the first feature film from Melina Leon.
You can watch “Song Without a Name” on MUBI with a subscription.
The Third Wife (multiple)
directed by Ash Mayfair
CW: child marriage, sexual assault
This Vietnamese film centers on a 14 year-old girl who is to become the third wife to a landowner. Set in the 19th century, it follows her experiences as she is married off and pressured to have a son.
This is writer-director Ash Mayfair’s first feature film. She’s worked variously as writer, director, producer, and as sound mixer in a range of short films.
“The Third Wife” technically had a U.S. theatrical release in 2019 – in all of 8 theaters. That’s not really accessible to U.S. viewers, and this is the first time it’s reached one of the semi-major subscription streamers.
You can watch “The Third Wife” on Sundance Now, Kanopy, or Hoopla. Kanopy is a service paid for by libraries and universities. It should work with most public library cards or college log-ins. Alternately, see where to rent “The Third Wife”.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale (multiple)
directed by Anca Damian
This French and Romanian animated film finds a dog remembering their life after an accident. They recount all their different masters, and the events that brought them together and took them apart.
Anca Damian is a Romanian director who’s helmed both animated and live-action films, as well as narrative and documentary films.
This came out briefly for a virtual theatrical release last June, and this is the first time it’s arriving on a subscription streaming service.
Flora & Ulysses (Disney+)
directed by Lena Khan
A girl and her superpowered squirrel take off on adventures. The film is based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo. She also wrote the book on which “The Tale of Despereaux” is based.
Director Lena Khan has created a wide-ranged resume in a short period of time. She followed 2016 period comedy “The Tiger Hunter” with “Schools of Torture”, directing re-enactments that shone a light on the methods of torture certain governments utilize. (Rest assured that “Flora & Ulysses” is listed as a family comedy.)
You can watch “Flora & Ulysses” on Disney+ with a subscription.
Namaste Wahala (Netflix)
directed by Hamisha Daryani Ahuja
This is the story of a Nigerian woman and an Indian man. They navigate a range of cultural differences and outside judgment in pursuing their relationship.
Hamisha Daryani Ahuja directs. She grew up in an Indian home in Nigeria, so aspects of the story reflect her own experiences. This is her first feature film.
You can watch “Namaste Wahala” on Netflix with a subscription.
directed by Jennifer Harrington
CW: potential epilepsy trigger, implied violence to an animal
An influencer is targeted online. She’ll have to solve riddles and play her stalker’s game in order to save the ones she loves.
Jennifer Harrington chiefly works as an editor and this is her second feature after indie horror “Housekeeping”.
You can watch “Shook” on Shudder with a subscription.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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