All posts by basilmarinerchase

New Shows + Movies by Women — June 18, 2021

There are two new series and eight new films to discuss this week. These come from Argentina, France, the Philippines, South Korea, the U.S., and Wales. Many have intriguing backgrounds and all that combined gives us a lot of exciting information to cover. Let’s dive straight in:

NEW SERIES

Physical (Apple TV)
showrunner Annie Weisman

Rose Byrne plays Sheila, a housewife in the 80s. Seeking an outlet, she gets swept up in the era’s aerobics craze. It’s not long before she builds a successful business out of it.

Showrunner Annie Weisman wrote and produced on “Desperate Housewives”, “Suburgatory”, and “The Path”. She got her start as a writer and story editor on “Dead Like Me”.

I’m unclear how many episodes they’re involved in, but directors include Liza Johnson and Stephanie Laing. Johnson directed feature films “Hateship, Loveship” and “Elvis & Nixon”. Laing directed 6 of the 8 episodes of my series of the year (so far), the conceptually terrifying “Made for Love”.

You can watch “Physical” on Apple TV.

Beyond Evil (Netflix)
directed by Shim Na Yeon

Two men turn their lives inside out pursuing a serial killer. Multiple candidates turn up as to the killers secret identity. The series aired earlier this year in South Korea to very favorable reviews.

This is the second series from Shim Na Yeon after the well received coming-of-age drama “Moment at Eighteen”. This isn’t simulcast; “Beyond Evil” is debuting all its episodes at once in the U.S.

You can watch “Beyond Evil” on Netflix.

NEW MOVIES

Censor (VOD)
directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Enid is a film censor. She’s strict, with a specialty for censoring moments of violence. When she’s tasked with reviewing a particular film, she becomes convinced its actress is her sister. Details in the movie spur childhood memories about her sister’s unsolved disappearance. Enid sets to work investigating the film’s origins, even as fiction and reality increasingly blur.

This is the first feature from director and co-writer Prano Bailey-Bond. It also marks another well-reviewed Welsh horror entry centered on family bringing to light generations-old wrongs. Welsh horror is carving an extremely unique voice with independent-styled films that focus on themes of characters who convey different realities based on privilege. These horror metaphors tend to center on gaslighting, often of women and often in relation to long-disappeared or dead family members.

I can’t help but notice the popularity of this theme, and wonder how much it might connect to a history of English abuses and cover-ups such as the culturally defining Aberfan disaster.

See where to rent “Censor”, or use Redbox.

Fan Girl (Netflix)
directed by Antoinette Jadaone

A girl stows away in the back of her idol’s pickup truck. He discovers her, and at first she’s taken with him. The more she sees, however, the more he doesn’t fit with his PR-polished image.

Writer-director Antoinette Jadaone is a noted director in the Philippines.

You can watch “Fan Girl” on Netflix.

Alice (OVID TV)
directed by Josephine Mackerras

Alice discovers her family’s bank accounts are drained. Her husband has gone broke hiring escorts, and has abandoned her and her son. She soon decides that escorting might be her own path back to controlling her life.

The French film is the first feature from writer-director Josephine Mackerras.

You can watch “Alice” on OVID TV.

A Call to Spy (Showtime)
directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher

“A Call to Spy” focuses on spy recruiter Vera Atkins and two of the most important Allied spies of World War 2: Virginia Hall and Noor Inayat Khan. They are each monumental historical figures who are often overlooked.

Virginia Hall had previously tried to become a diplomat, but the U.S. Department of State held a rule against hiring people with disabilities. You see, Hall had a wooden leg from a hunting accident years prior. Britain’s Special Operations Executive would hire her instead. Hall would go on to work in Nazi-occupied France, orchestrate a prison break, and escape as Nazis closed in by walking 50 miles in two days over the Pyrenees mountain range. Nazi Germany considered her the Allies’ single most dangerous spy.

Noor Inayat Khan was a Muslim woman who became an operator in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She would become the first woman sent to Nazi-occupied territory as a radio operator. This was considered the most dangerous job for a spy, since it was fairly easy for Germans to detect and quickly zero in on a radio operator. After initial success, she would be captured and executed at the Dachau concentration camp.

Lydia Dean Pilcher is an experienced producer, and her first two narrative features as director have told epic stories about overlooked women in history. She also helmed “Radium Girls”, and it’s apparent her skill as a producer also informs her directing. She’s conveyed historical movies more accurately than most, with a bare fraction of the budget and without losing their sense of scope or drama.

Sarah Megan Thomas writes the screenplay and stars as Virginia Hall. Lillie Rebecca McDonough composes the music for “A Call to Spy”.

This was previously featured when it came to VOD, but as it lands on a subscription service is no longer rentable.

You can watch “A Call to Spy” on Showtime.

Phobias (Hoopla, Hulu)
co-directed by Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Jess Varley

The horror anthology is one of the most difficult but fun genres to pull off. Here, five patients who suffer from extreme phobias are tested by a sadistic doctor.

Four of the six segments are directed by women: one each by Camilla Belle and Maritte Lee Go, and two by Jess Varley. Belle and Varley are both best known as actresses; this makes Belle’s directorial debut.

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

A Family Submerged (Kanopy, OVID TV)
directed by Maria Alche

Marcela becomes disconnected after the death of her sister. She’s isolated from family, and has to form new bonds in an attempt to deal with the sudden change in her life.

The Argentinean film is the first feature from writer-director Maria Alche, who’s better known as an actress in series and films from across South America.

You can watch “A Family Submerged” on Kanopy or OVID TV.

No Ordinary Love (VOD)
directed by Chyna Robinson

A woman discovers a secret about her husband, a police officer. She goes to her pastor’s wife for help, but the pastor is controlling in his own way. Both women seek to leave their marriages, but face risking their lives to do so.

I do not know how elements like these play out. The trailer reminds me of evangelical nonsense like the despicable “War Room”, a film that suggested victims of domestic violence could simply stay and pray their way to a solution. I lost a job when I refused to give that one a favorable review. It can be hard to tell what direction some smaller films go when they haven’t been reviewed yet, but user reviews and the trailer itself give me the idea that “No Ordinary Love” is more likely to be a criticism of those types of films. At least, I hope it is.

This is the first feature from writer-director Chyna Robinson.

You can rent “No Ordinary Love” on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, or YouTube.

One in a Thousand (MUBI)
directed by Clarisa Navas

(I can’t locate an embeddable trailer with English subtitles, but MUBI should have the translated version.)

Iris is expelled from school. She ends up meeting Renata, who’s surrounded by rumors. Nonetheless, Iris pursues spending time with her, and the two develop feelings for each other.

The Argentinean film is writer-director Clarisa Navas’s second feature. She’s also written and directed documentary mini-series, and got her start as a production manager.

You can watch “One in a Thousand” on MUBI.

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

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

The Sorcerer Detective We Need — “Trese”

As I started watching “Trese”, I immediately became worried. It paints its world broadly. The titular Trese tells us who she is a few times in a row in case we missed it. The animation obviously doesn’t have the largest budget. The supernatural “case a week” genre feels overdone by this point. Then Trese steps on the gas. Literally, at one point.

The minute the action happens it all starts to click. Disparate elements fall into place smoothly. Alexandra Trese cuts through monsters from the underworld at lightning pace, but not in a flashy, overstated way. She can take advantage of various magical powers and spells, but each of these is limited. It usually comes down to her and a knife that can harm monsters out of Filipino legend and myth.

Trese is a lakan for humanity, a leader and sorcerer tasked with maintaining peace between humans and a hidden underworld of mythological creatures. She alternates between investigating cases and kicking ass. She has a host of supernatural contacts, some explained and some not. One exchanges information for candy and, perhaps, simply because it’s fun. Others mix information with misinformation. Some respect an old balance between humans and underworld clans that Trese is solely empowered to maintain. Some seek to overthrow those agreements.

Neither is Trese a desperate vigilante. She follows a set of rules agreed upon between a council of underworld leaders. Some trust her, some fear her, some are simply betting for or against her. Many don’t like that she wields such power, or that she’s the one who’s upholding the balance after the death of her father.

She doesn’t protect humanity without question, though. A police friend often calls her in on supernatural cases, but corrupt officials and police are as much of an obstacle for her as any monster from the underworld.

Let’s go back to that action for a second. “Trese” takes advantage of its budget limitations. The whole thing feels animated on the off-beats, in other words at 12 frames-per-second in a style that values the intimation of movement over actual movement. It’s hard to get right. We’ve seen this recently in a big-budget animated film like “Into the Spider-Verse”, but the way “Trese” does it is reminiscent of one of the only animated projects even more hallowed: “Batman: The Animated Series”.

The more obvious comparison that every show like this gets might be “Supernatural”, but “Trese” is pretty far afield from that. Trese is a detective at work, hard-nosed and extremely serious, and the series leans far more into a noir-horror atmosphere. It’s also about the work of doing the job at hand; there’s almost no interpersonal drama. That Filipino myths haven’t really been featured in storytelling that’s made it to the U.S. also helps “Trese” feel unique to a viewer like me.

That’s about more than something simply coming from a foreign place. Horror often draws on myth that’s been built and retold for hundreds of years. American horror only has a few hundred years to draw on. During most of that time, it’s relied on racism, misogyny, ableism, and classism. As it’s forced to rely on those themes less and less, there’s really not much of a historical well left to draw from.

Horror from the U.S. goes a few different directions at this point. To do anything else, it needs to start inventing horror out of religious concerns, or more often co-opts horror from indigenous or exterior cultures in a way that often misunderstands it and strips it of the context that makes it frightening and meaningful. When horror from the U.S. is successful, it’s very often a meta commentary that corrects or critiques a past failure of American horror – think “You’re Next” and its inversion of the home invasion horror, or “It Follows” and how effectively it toys with sexual awakening horror.

It’s not just that Filipino folklore feels unique and different because we haven’t been exposed to it much here. It’s also that it feels different in “Trese” because it’s being told by Filipino creators and actors in a Filipino world that keeps the context of all that folklore intact. It hasn’t been adapted and stripped of what makes it unique. That is something we’re not very used to getting in the U.S.

I want to stress it’s not the style and content that remind me of “Batman: The Animated Series”. It’s the fights and pacing that do. “Trese” follows a solid pace of: she meets with her police contact, picks up the case, gathers evidence, follows a lead, talks to an informant, connects evidence to that information, tracks down where she needs to be, prepares for shit to go down, chaos ensues. That is, to a tee, the pace of any Batman-centered episode of “Batman: The Animated Series”.

That’s not really unique to those two series. A lot of series do this. What’s unique to them is that they both do it so well. It’s difficult to pull off because it’s a very streamlined approach. It requires the central character to be a complete and consistent anchor for a viewer’s trust. It also means that every interview with an informant or witness needs to be unexpected and tense. That requires an absolutely elite rogues gallery of unexpected characters and spaces in which to meet them. “Trese” has that in spades.

The setting needs to drip with so much atmosphere that you develop a sense for what you might see, hear, and feel off-screen. “Trese” can be a little inconsistent on this element at the beginning of some episodes, but the more she has to leave the mundane behind, it escalates into some superbly intriguing places.

The other part of this is that every time the chaos starts, there has to be something so strange and unexpected that it suspends your disbelief that the hero can handle it. Sometimes they don’t, and the solution is just as unexpected as the problem. Sometimes the hero is just a witness, the clean-up, a second too late in understanding something key. Someone gets away. A villain can only be warned, not stopped.

This adherence to story progression at a certain pace might seem strict, but it necessitates so much creativity within those strict spaces. You know the shape of the storytelling space every single time. What you don’t know is what’s going to be inside it. That carries its own intrigue and anticipation. You know how the story’s going to go, you probably know who’ll be standing at the end, but you don’t know everything you’ll see along the way, or what more you’ll understand about the world by that point.

“Trese” isn’t without flaws. The larger story arc to the season itself can slow down when an explanation is at hand, but it’s bolstered by a series of flashbacks strung as episode prologues through most of the season. This history builds Trese as a character for us, and into one of my favorite characters going in a series right now. Those flashbacks shape the larger arc, but they also shape our understanding of Trese, the accords she protects, the people around her, and the world we’re stepping into.

I mentioned at the beginning that the writing is often broad. Dialogue can feel generic in places. I think it works for the most part because we’re hearing those familiar phrases between characters such as a horselike god who disguises himself as a car and a sorcerer detective who kickboxes ghouls. The broadness of the dialogue is noticeable at times, but it also does a lot to ground us in the middle of so many other elements that are unfamiliar.

The more intimate fight scenes play best – a fight in a warehouse or restaurant, stalking through an abandoned studio. The larger a fight gets, the more it can get away from Trese as our anchor within it. This starts to involve powerful creatures and magic spells more, which is exciting but also feels more ordinary in a superhero-saturated market. It’s those more personal conflicts in tighter spaces that really escalate characters’ motives, talents, and tactics.

“Trese” is a good series. I don’t know if it’s a great series, but it’s great at all the things I want a series like this to do. Where it falters, it has enough built up around it to carry that moment through and still make it matter. I never felt my investment in these characters waning, and I was always engrossed in the world it depicts. In particular, Trese as a character quickly goes from a no-nonsense private eye archetype into being one of the more believably complex leads I’ve seen in an animation – not because she changes, but because the series catches us up with her complicated history.

One tip when you watch it: don’t skip the intro. The opening credits are genius. They house you within the show’s mood immediately. The visuals and music are fused perfectly. The opening carries both a sense of threat and enigmatic beauty that got me settled in the exact mindset I wanted to be in to enjoy each episode. I watched the opening credits every time, and I’m glad I did.

“Trese” is both ambitious and imperfect. It can take a minute to understand and sync into its pace and animation style. Once it gets going, though, it is beautifully unique and exciting.

Just as importantly, it fixes a problem in the genre. Many supernatural shows like this have worlds that are wishy-washy and fungible and chiefly exist to bring out the characters’ charm and wit, which in turn can make thin characters who feel less consistent over time.

“Trese” is a story that’s fully intact with its world, and grounded to Trese’s experiences. It’s not piecemeal, and for how structured it is, it doesn’t feel episodic. Instead, it feels like visits to a place, like uncovering a story as you read more, anticipating the next chapter. It asks us to learn about it as we go, which is what a supernatural show housed in mystery should do. Moments should be awe-inspiring, profound, intimidating, and Trese’s knowledge about these things should be impressive. The answers aren’t readily served to us, they’re caught up with – sometimes before we fully understand them. That’s the kind of exciting supernatural show I want, and that’s what “Trese” does best over its six half-hour episodes.

You can watch “Trese” on Netflix.

A Defiance / A Reassurance — “In the Heights”

Many musicals seem shy about the fact they’re, you know, musicals. They’re tentative about people breaking into song, and even then the songs are intentional set-pieces compartmentalized from dialogue scenes. They don’t seem to believe that people would come to a musical to witness music, and they certainly don’t want to risk any plot happening during the songs. They want to shift you gently – even slyly – into the fact that the film you’re about to watch contains singing. “In the Heights” is the complete opposite.

Don’t get me wrong; there is dialogue if that’s what you want. You can see it out the window, way out in the distance, as you speed by from one song to the next. Dialogue regularly drifts into song as if characters are reminding each other: do you even remember what movie you’re in? There are sequences within “In the Heights” that shift between three songs and set-pieces that actively tell the story rather than put it on hold.

We follow Usnavi, a young man who runs a corner bodega in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York. He has dreams of moving to the Dominican Republic and running a bar there, but he has ties that anchor him in New York. He cares for his young cousin Sonny, he can’t leave without him or his Abuela Claudia, and he’s in love with Vanessa – a friend he hasn’t really asked out. A lot of this is what you’d expect in a musical, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

First off, is it a good movie? “In the Heights” is the best live-action musical since “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. It isn’t just a spectacle, it isn’t just flash and song and dance. It’s all the heart that musicals have completely forgotten since well before I was born. It doesn’t enter screen scared that you might not appreciate a musical. It enters set on the idea that for these two-and-a-half hours, musicality is how the world works and speaks and feels.

And then it does so much more than that. Being Latino in the United States, I grew up with this seed of an idea in my head that I didn’t measure up. Everything in the entertainment media around me told me that if I worked hard and did everything right, at best I might one day be considered equal to white: if I deferred enough, if I kept quiet enough, if I passed well enough. The love and reassurance I had from my family only shields you so far in a culture set on wearing it away. My accomplishments were only ever catching up to where so many others started without accomplishing anything. I could get straight A’s, do taekwondo, band, 4-H, volunteer, be the tallest kid in class, be the one everyone wanted to be paired with on a project, the one everyone came to for answers – but the minute I stepped out of that class, that gym, that lab, I was one of the handful of Latine kids, who had to be tested, harassed, distrusted, confronted at every turn.

I heard at home I could be anything. I heard everywhere else that if I did everything right, maybe I could know the people who got to be anything, maybe I could hide the half of me that couldn’t be anything. Maybe I could perform and emulate the part of someone who got to be anything. I pushed the Mexican half of myself down throughout my childhood.

Author and activist bell hooks once wrote that “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem”.

Other forms of bigotry can work in similar ways. White supremacy, even in its polite suburban fashion, can ask a young Latino to carve away half of himself, to suppress a part of himself to act the part, to become white enough, in fear of the harassment, ostracizing, confrontation, and violence he faces.

As I became an adult, uncovering that half of myself I’d so buried, so disappeared, was like learning how to crawl, to walk, to run all over again. I’d denied half of myself real development, pride, trust, acknowledgment. That I made it far enough to do that is a testament to the support of my family and what community I did have, to lucking out and having one teacher who knew a school that allowed me to escape my town.

When I look at the impostor syndrome I struggle with, this is its root. It’s sunk into the foundations. I might know better now, I might’ve developed that other, buried half of myself and learned to love it and learn from it, but the training we get as kids is something we never fully leave behind. That sense that I am incapable of being good enough plagues nearly every task, effort, piece of writing. I have constant anxiety that I will lose the approval of anyone and everyone in my life. Why? Because I spent the first two decades of my life believing that about half of who I was, believing it so completely that I tried to erase it in myself. Do that to yourself through your entire childhood, believe that nothing you do will ever be good enough to get to the starting point, and even the perfect – the best job you can ever do – there’s a part of you that will always be convinced it only gets you to where everyone else starts before they even try.

At its heart, “In the Heights” is about a generation of Latines struggling with forms of impostor syndrome – not this form exactly, but one in which their humanity, their community, their legitimacy, their history is confronted with erasure and dismissal.

I think there’s a favorite character for everybody, but for me it was Nina, who comes home after having gone to Stanford, a prodigal daughter who bears the weight of everyone’s expectations. That burden is too much for her in a place that treats her as out of place; she’s dropped out.

Are there some issues with “In the Heights”? Sure. The focus on music and dance over dialogue means that the story can feel a bit loose, zooming out to a broad perspective and then focusing in on a much more personal one at the drop of a hat. The story is told in a way that can often mirror sensation. A scene doesn’t stop to have a musical number, it just progresses into one naturally. When this happens, the story can shift from precise dialogue to the feeling of how a conversation plays out. It requires some inference on the part of the audience. It’s as if we get the feelings and sensations a dialogue would create, without knowing exactly what the dialogue is.

In my book, that’s awesome. Others may not like that as much, or may prefer musicals with more compartmentalized set-pieces. Compartmentalization has been the go-to for the few big, modern musicals we get, so folks may not be as used to seeing this more expressionist approach. If you’re a fan of older musicals, particularly Gene Kelly ones that could shift a conversation into gigantic set-pieces or aching ballads where people dance into regionalist art and sing the feelings they dare not speak, that describes this approach better.

One major issue about representation has been brought up. Some Afro-Dominican critics and residents have said that the Washington Heights neighborhood isn’t represented in an accurate way. Pretty much everyone on-screen is Latine, but there are very few Afro-Latines. The approach may’ve been to represent a larger group of Latine communities – there’s one song that features multiple shout-outs to the ancestries that make up the community. At the same time, if that’s the goal, then it should be realized whose representation may have been sacrificed in reaching it.

I love “In the Heights”. It was a damn blurry movie cause I was crying the entire time. I hope it’s at the top of every awards list for pretty much any category you can name. But loving something this much does not mean it is magically free of problems. If Afro-Latine people were underrepresented in a story about a largely Afro-Latine community, that is a problem. And let’s be real – Afro-Latine people are regularly underrepresented in conversations about Latine communities and who composes them.

My representation is not worth the sacrifice of anyone else’s. I can still love this movie and argue for it, while also recognizing that there is a place it could have done better and that this is worth discussing and learning about. If I love this movie and what it does for representation, what it does for arguing about where home is and the value we do have, then it requires me to say it also could have done better representing this group of people. That doesn’t change the impact of this movie. It asks what’s next, what do we do better the next time, and how do we listen this time in order to achieve that, because I’ll be damned if a salve to my impostor syndrome is simply to shift it to someone else.

“In the Heights” is lovely and beautiful and brilliant. At the same time, this kind of representation is our starting point, and we do not treat that starting point as exclusive or dismissive of someone else. We know what that feels like, and we do not pass that on. It’s a brilliant, heartfelt movie that addresses a piece of me better than any other I’ve ever seen. It also could have done better in this one place. Both are true, and part of the same conversation.

“In the Heights” is available on HBO Max and in theaters.

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

New Shows + Movies by Women — June 11, 2021

This is a great week for indie films. There aren’t any major releases by women outside the premiere of “Loki”, but there’s a range of intriguing work spread pretty evenly across streaming platforms. A week like this may not be the one where everyone’s talking about the same film. That just means it’s a week where everyone gets to share something exciting, unique, and specific that they’ve found.

NEW SERIES

Loki (Disney+)
directed by Kate Herron

Marvel Cinematic Universe villain Loki gets his own show. Having just broken time in “Avengers: Endgame”, he is forcibly recruited to use his talents in order to put it back together – even as he plots his escape.

While writer Michael Waldron serves as showrunner, it’s Kate Herron who directs the six-episode series. She previously directed on Netflix series “Sex Education”.

You can watch new episodes of “Loki” weekly on Disney+.

Little Birds (Starz)
showrunner Ruth McCance
directed by Stacie Passon

“Little Birds” is an adaptation of Anais Nin’s posthumously published collection of erotic short stories. The series is set in the Tangier international zone, 1955. Lucy has arrived hoping to find a less conventional life. Juno Temple and Yumna Marwan star.

This is Ruth McCance’s first time showrunning. Director Stacie Passon helms all six episodes. She’s directed on “The Punisher”, “American Gods”, and “Dickinson”, so expect some visual bravura. Sophia Al-Maria writes most of the series.

You can watch “Little Birds” on STARZ.

NEW MOVIES

Shiva Baby (MUBI)
directed by Emma Seligman

Danielle is at a Jewish funeral service with her parents. She finds it a claustrophobic atmosphere of expectations and judgment even before she runs into her sugar daddy there.

This is the first feature from writer-director Emma Seligman. It’s based on her previous short film of the same name.

You can watch “Shiva Baby” on MUBI.

Tragic Jungle (Netflix)
directed by Yulene Olaizola

(Turn on Closed Captioning for subtitles.)

In 1920, a woman runs into the jungle of British Honduras (now Belize) to escape an arranged marriage to a British colonial. She happens on a group of gum workers, and what follows borders between myth, revenge.

Writer-director Yulene Olaizola has been recognized at the Ariel Awards in the past. Mexico’s equivalent to the Oscars saw her nominated for Best Documentary, Best Editing, and winning Best First Work for“Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies”. The film told the story of a schizophrenic artist who once lived at her grandmother’s boarding house.

You can watch “Tragic Jungle” on Netflix.

Skater Girl (Netflix)
directed by Manjari Makijany

Jessica is a Londoner who travels to rural India to learn more about her father’s childhood. Prerna is a teenage girl who learns about skateboarding from her. Prerna decides she wants to compete, in defiance of her parents’ wishes, even as Jessica decides to build a skate park there.

This is the first feature for writer-director Manjari Makijany, which may have also helped her produce an upcoming documentary “Skate Basti”, about how skateboarding helped a desert village in Rajasthan.

You can watch “Skater Girl” on Netflix.

So Pretty (OVID TV)
directed by Jessica Dunn Rovinelli

Four queer and trans youth try to maintain the community they’ve started. Their lives intertwine with a German novel, “So Schon”, as the outside world invades their attempt at a utopia.

This is the second feature by writer-director-actress-editor Jessica Dunn Rovinelli after her 2016 documentary “Empathy”. She is trans, which is worth highlighting here because it’s important for more stories to be told by trans directors, and for audiences to seek out more work from trans perspectives.

You can watch “So Pretty” on OVID TV.

Holler (VOD)
directed by Nicole Riegel

To pay for college, Ruth takes a dangerous job on a scrap metal crew. They spend the winter combing through scrap yards and stealing metal from defunct factories in rural Ohio.

This is Nicole Riegel’s first feature as director and second as writer.

You can rent “Holler” on Amazon, Google Play, or YouTube.

Young Hearts (HBO Max)
co-directed by Sarah Sherman

Harper is a freshman in high school. She connects with her brother’s best friend Tilly, and starts a relationship with him. The two deal with the criticism and social fallout that results. The film gets into their different experiences, as Harper gets the brunt of it as the younger girl and Tilly sees some of his male friends celebrate him as the older boy.

Sarah Sherman wrote the screenplay, and directs with Zachary Ray Sherman. This was previously featured but hard to find. You can now watch “Young Hearts” on HBO Max.

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

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

“The Fast and the Furious” Matters

Look, “The Fast and the Furious” is silly, but I saw a trailer for “F9” the other day that cut quickly between most of the leading heroes. There they were: Black, Latine, Asian.

It sent me spiraling back to what I was watching as a kid growing up in the 90s. Who saved the world and stopped the bad guys then? It was Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Harrison Ford, Pierce Brosnan, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sure, we had Keanu Reeves, but marketing departments knew in that world audiences should envision him as white, that discussion of his Native Hawaiian and Chinese descent might hurt his box office. It really wasn’t mentioned. Even John Travolta got a damn action career. John fucking Travolta.

If not for Will Smith, we wouldn’t have had a mainstream actor of color consistently lead action movies in the 90s. The best we had otherwise was the occasional Wesley Snipes movie, though he was as likely to be the villain as a hero. I grew up just outside Chicago, and WGN loved to run Carl Weathers TV movie actioners, mostly B-grade Schwarzenegger knockoffs. That was about it.

The first character of color I saw lead a dramatic show on a week-to-week basis was Ben Sisko on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”.

You could forget the concept of a Latine actor leading a mainstream movie or drama series. That was unthinkable. We were villains, and often silly ones. At best, we were the comic relief. But most often, we were portrayed as gangsters, the scenery in the background to prove how tough the hero was when he dared to step into our lair. We were bodies to be disposed of by that hero in the zeitgeist of a country that grew up on those narratives to believe that immigrant and refugee children must also be bodies to be disposed of before they too become gangsters.

Imagine being a young Latino, and everything you watch reinforcing that this part of you doesn’t matter, that there are no heroes in your blood, there’s just second-rate villainy and gang violence but not the white kind we celebrate in Mafia movies, and – if you really get lucky and work hard – you might be the comic relief. You know what, you can survive that. It instills a lot of weird shit you have to get over later in life, but it’s survivable.

Now imagine being a young Latino, and everyone around you having that view reinforced, everyone around you thinking you’re just a villain they can test their strength on, they can gang up against, that the best you’ll do is being an obstacle or sidekick in their story. Imagine the bruises that earns. Imagine coming home with a black-and-blue chest or a broken nose or a ringing headache because you’re the Latino kid. Imagine doing everything perfectly and getting straight A’s, at first because you liked it and enjoyed the challenge, but later because if you fought back, that academic standing was the only thing that made them believe you over the white kid.

I saw what happened to the kids of color who didn’t do well in school, how often they were believed, how often they were sent home for daring to punch back as they were hit again and again by three or four others. I went from being a good student because I loved learning, to being a good student because it afforded me protection and it was my ticket to having those with authority believe me. I went from loving learning to viewing it as a shield, and I went from enjoying doing well to viewing it as exhausting, a power exchange I struggled with resenting.

None of it was because that was my path. It was all because I had to react and manage what my peers and many of my teachers and administrators expected to be my path, because it was never about defending myself – I was the tallest kid in school who trained in taekwondo and kickboxing. I didn’t worry about defending myself. I worried whether others would defend me after I had. The greatest protection I had was being a Latino child who exceeded expectations so much that adults with power actually forgot what I was for a second and gave a shit about me. They forgot that I was supposed to be disposable, the bad guy, the foil for their white kids to succeed, the obstacle. That was the bar I had to clear.

I loved school, until it became less about learning and more about proving others wrong, until getting A’s was less about being proud of myself and more about making others forget I was supposed to be a dumb joke or a future threat to be beaten down until he knew his place. If I got A’s, you couldn’t make me that because it took the adults around us permitting it. And let me tell you, that burden on a kid makes it really hard to still do well.

Toward the end of the 90s, we started getting the “Blade” movies, often forgotten in the discussion of franchises that legitimized the comic book superhero movie. Keanu Reeves’s background started to become part of his appeal and less of an ‘issue’ in marketing. Jackie Chan made crossover films that took place in the U.S. Samuel L. Jackson began breaking into the mainstream more and more.

And yet, I still couldn’t imagine a major franchise being led by eight or nine actors of color. I couldn’t imagine an ensemble of actors of color having crowds cheer for them as they fight white villains. I might sit here in my 30s and roll my eyes at another “The Fast and the Furious” movie. But the part of me sitting there at 10 is in a quiet, needful sort of awe that such a thing is possible, that he could be viewed as a hero or just the protagonist in his own story. Imagine the other kids, the white kids, thinking that, treating that possibility as real. Imagine the white adults thinking that, maybe listening to the kids of color who don’t get straight A’s or perform whiteness or successfully hack their fucked up social system of power exchange.

Measured by worldwide box office, “The Fast and the Furious” is the fifth largest movie franchise in history (after the MCU/Spider-Man, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond). It’s the only one in the top 30 led by people of color. It might be silly action storytelling (just like those other franchises), but it matters. It matters to whoever’s sitting there as a child, thinking about how they view themselves as a person of color. It matters to whoever’s sitting there as a child, thinking about how they view others as people of color.

It matters as to how they’ll define and treat children of color when they’re adults. It matters what they’ll put them through, whether they’ll listen, whether that child has to do extra work and perform and learn to resent what they love just to visit equality, or whether they’ll start from the assumption of equality and just get to love what they love and be a kid.

“The Fast and the Furious” matters because it makes us matter, because it makes us central instead of disposable, heroic instead of a joke, decisive instead of dumb, worth listening to, worth admiring, worth your vision of humanness, leaders that white characters will listen to and work alongside. It promises we can be heroes in the eyes of children who will one day be making decisions about who will be listened to; who will tell their own children who gets to be a hero, a protagonist, a leader, who gets to be legitimate.

As a kid, I wanted to be human as a rule, not because I was the exception to someone’s stereotype. I’ll always carry that with me, and you can learn to live with it and compartmentalize it, but it still stretches veins into every part of who you are.

But look at this. Look at this movie, this franchise, these trailers that feature face after face from actors and characters of color. You can’t imagine how that lifts a burden people carry inside themselves, even if just for an hour or two. You can’t imagine that those veins that run through you can be turned to something else because they never have for so long. Representation makes you feel like maybe others can see you, want to see you, want to listen, like maybe what you have to say is worth something. People accepting and celebrating that representation, wanting to see more of it, wanting to seek out more that’s like it – that’s what confirms those feelings.

“The Fast and the Furious” is hardly complete representation, it’s not perfect representation, it’s certainly not as intersectional as it could be – but it is, by far, the most we’ve had in this medium, the most accepted we’ve been in the landscape of popular film. There’s a version of me, before that burden was carried, before those veins spread inside, before those exchanges and performances were asked, that sees these trailers, this movie, this franchise, and stares in awe that it is even possible. That is a calm place, and it’s one I miss because I don’t even remember it. It must’ve been there at some point. It has to have been.

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

New Shows + Movies by Women — June 4, 2021

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

NEW SERIES

We Are Lady Parts (Peacock)
showrunner Nida Manzoor

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

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

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

NEW MOVIES

Port Authority (VOD)
directed by Danielle Lessovitz

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

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

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

See where to rent “Port Authority”.

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

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

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

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

Kajillionaire (HBO Max)
directed by Miranda July

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

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

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

Sailor Moon Eternal (Netflix)
directed by Kon Chiaki

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

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

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

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

The World to Come (Hulu)
directed by Mona Fastvold

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

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

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

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

Kala Azar (MUBI)
directed by Janis Rafailidou

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

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

You can watch “Kala Azar” on MUBI.

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

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

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

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

Dancing Queens (Netflix)
directed by Helena Bergstrom

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

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

You can watch “Dancing Queens” on Netflix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Were May’s Best Music Videos?

May gives March a challenge as the best month for music videos we’ve seen this year. Our top 10 goes to all the way up to 12 today. It’s a particularly strong month for Korean artists and directors both in and out of K-pop, and for Black artists in the UK. I think any of the top four videos could have potentially won certain other months outright.

There are a few videos with potential epilepsy triggers – these are numbers 12, 11, and 1, and I’ve attached a CW to each. I’m being overly careful with these, since channels still aren’t consistent about being aware of and posting this information themselves.

In addition, the #2 video and its write-up discuss suicide and suicidal ideation. A CW prefaces this as a reminder if you feel more comfortable skipping it.

This month’s music videos were selected by S.C. Himura, Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez.

CW: potential epilepsy trigger

12. Mirror – Sigrid
directed by Femke Huurdeman

This works so well because of its frame story. The entire video existing as a reassuring internal monologue hits pretty hard. I think most of us have had an experience where we needed to pull into an empty parking lot or the side of the road and assess some shit. The part that hits hardest is that it becomes evening as she does this – you can lose track of time when you really need to think about yourself. The moment where she sees herself wink in the rear-view mirror pins down a feeling and reassurance we’ve all needed from ourselves at some point.

The music video inside that frame story needs to be strong to make this work. It’s creative and feels very DIY-with-a-budget.

If you haven’t heard of Sigrid, she’s a major Norwegian pop star.

CW: potential epilepsy trigger

11. Advice – Taemin

“Advice” hits a lot of K-Pop dance video tropes, but the choreo here is on point as hell. Taemin is also a member of SHINee (whose “Don’t Call Me” placed in our February countdown). Taemin and SHINee share some of the best choreo and dancing in the industry.

About five years ago, I hated K-pop’s overuse of motion-tracking within shots, but since then they’ve turned it into a science. “Advice” uses those sudden camera shifts and tilts that are added in editing to perfectly accentuate the hit on certain beats and moves. It adds to the choreography here.

“Advice” is also notable for K-pop fans because this is Taemin’s last music video before the 27 year-old’s enlistment in the South Korean military. South Korea has mandatory conscription for men between the ages of 18 and 28. They’re required to serve between 18 and 21 months depending on service branch. That means it might be a while before Taemin records again, on his own or with SHINee.

10. Woman – Little Simz ft. Cleo Sol
directed by Little Simz

Little Simz repurposed colonialist imagery in “Introvert” (which we named best video of April). Here, she re-purposes images of British wealth and religious frescoes to celebrate Black women.

A lot of her rap has concerned how Black people – and particularly Black women – are defined in Britain. She often takes hold of those definitions to challenge and rewrite them. It’s amazing to see this stretch into the settings and visuals of her MVs as well.

Little Simz has delivered great music videos for years, but this is her first time taking a shot at directing one. It’s hard to do much better your first time out.

9. Daydreamer – John Park
directed by Marey Krap

Normally, lyric videos don’t hold up to music videos. It’s not about being smaller or more limited in concept; it’s that they have a different function. They don’t want to overwhelm the lyrics, so a lot simply act like prettified read-alongs.

Occasionally, one completely breaks the mold and does something different – something that’s neither a straight-up music video nor lyric video. “Daydreamer” is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The techniques are familiar, sure, but Marey Krap’s animation makes them bold in such an exciting and calming way, without ever obscuring or backseating the lyrics.

I’ve watched this several times, and each time it lends me a sense of relaxation and slowing things down. It asks me to match its rhythm in a convincing way that doesn’t wear out.

8. Still Broke – Samm Henshaw ft. Keyon Harrold
directed by Jim Pilling

“Still Broke” is a continuation of Henshaw’s 2018 lyric video for “Broke”. In “Broke”, he’s just gotten fired from his job at Five Guys and has no money – but he’s happy and constantly stimulated.

In “Still Broke”, he lives in a mansion with servants at his beck and call, yet he’s lost any and all connection and joy. It’s rare to match such a patient presentation with this much playfulness, but it works beautifully. It lets the visual gags ease in rather than calling them out obviously as they happen.

7. Time 2 – half-alive
directed by JA Collective

Is “OK Go but with editing” too simple a description? What I love about “Time 2” is how well it uses a vast number of techniques. It’s reliant on match cuts that emulate composition from one shot to the next, but it doesn’t just do this with static shots. It repeats and mirrors camera movements themselves from sequence to sequence. This means that despite its constant movement, and shifts through CG and home video filters, we’re building visual cues for how the camera moves.

Something with this much movement and editing usually has a near-constant focal point – think of a dance video with a ton of edits like Taemin’s above. We usually have a central dancer to focus on, and the MV match cuts from setting to setting on specific dance movements. That helps ground us on the dancer, so we never lose our bearings from edit to edit.

This isn’t that kind of video, though. That swift movement and editing is often happening across visual spaces that lack a focal point. They’re either empty spaces or spaces filled with visual noise. By building our expectation of how the camera wants to move through these spaces, and then both repeating it and reversing it, we immediately have a familiarity with the visual language that grounds us. Without it, those match cuts on so much movement wouldn’t work. When we know what that movement’s going to be, when we already know how we’ll move through a space before we enter it, that gives us our bearings even across empty or noisy new spaces.

What is so impressive about “Time 2” is that it makes the viewer fluent in this visual language for how the camera interacts with those match edits inside of four minutes. That’s incredible. It is a brilliant job of cinematography and editing.

6. Me Without You – Ashe
directed by Jason Lester

There’s such an effective layering of metaphors in this video – punching through the door, dancing in broken glass, the repeated metaphor of Ashe watching herself perform on-screen. It’s a beautiful meld with the song’s lyrics about escaping a toxic or abusive relationship.

That experience of going back over your memories and witnessing from a distance how they took place is a stunning one that’s hard to capture in something like a music video. You can see just how much work you did to justify the abuses of a former partner in a way that was closed to you in that moment – specifically because you were so set on doing that work.

I think Ashe, director Jason Lester, choreographer Monika Felice Smith – they capture that sensation as well as anyone could, and they do it in a way that’s so unique to the medium of music videos, where a sensation and experience like this can be communicated in an emotionally whole way in just three minutes.

5. Pick Up Your Burning Cross – Sons of Kemet ft. Moor Mother, Angel Bat Dawid
directed by Ashleigh Jadee

Sons of Kemet’s anti-colonialist jazz is an astounding pairing to this story. Much of the world constantly tells Black women that they don’t measure up to white standards of beauty. The concept of ‘white is default’ is a poison to anyone who isn’t, and that poison is often something that’s implicitly agreed upon by those with privilege. It reinforces and protects that privilege, while giving those they marginalize that much more emotional work just to get to the same point where others start.

Finding an art you can do that lends affirmation, challenges those concepts, and builds community is crucial for anyone who’s marginalized. The video expresses each of those elements and why they’re so important. They provide a spiritual endurance amid elements of society that exist to wear that spirit down.

For potential tsk-tsk’ers in the audience, first off, pole dancing is legitimated as both performance art and as a fitness routine. It doesn’t strictly communicate exotic dancing any more than a variety of other normalized dances do.

Even where it does, welcome to music videos. There’s a connection between the art and its history of use in sex work, but let’s not pretend as if a huge element of dance in music videos hasn’t been based on the language of dance used in sex work. You can track it as far back as Madonna in the 80s, and that’s just within the inception of music videos as a popular medium. It’s just rarely acknowledged or credited that way when viewers can pretend the two are disconnected simply because one’s on TV or YouTube and the other’s taboo.

4. Motorbike – Leon Bridges
directed by Anderson .Paak

Who knew Anderson .Paak could direct like this? This is one of those music videos where everything feels trapped in amber, turning an evocation into a still moment. The shot where Lexi Carter raises her hand in the wind and the flock of birds emerges is one of those immediately classic cinematic moments that just sticks.

Many story-based music videos don’t nail the landing because they have to act out the moment in detail. What’s brilliant here is that it’s edited around, felt but never really seen, interpreted but never expressed. That indirectness lets us take the first step of closure but never gives us the next, which is exactly what the character’s feeling. That gives us a timelessness in the narrative that’s also reflected in the cinematography and beautifully captured settings.

It’s a beautiful video that would win some months, but like I said – May is giving March a run for its money as the best month for MVs we’ve seen yet.

3. Life is a Bi… – BIBI
directed by Kim Hyunsoo

If there’s one thing to know about South Korean singer BIBI, it’s that she gets weird fast in her videos. Take the 30-second drowning prologue of “Kazino”, or the two shorter music videos she released this month. Most artists don’t make MVs for those one-minute interludes on an album – BIBI released her severed head singing “Umm… Life” and a gutting performance as someone homeless and alone happening upon a birthday cake in “Birthday Cake” (we debated including that on the list and it would’ve joined “Life is a Bi…” in the top five if we had).

That’s the other thing to know about BIBI. She might be the best pure actor in the medium. “Life is a Bi…” is a good music video for most of its run, but it’s not exceptional until that turn in the middle where the music goes quiet and she just acts. That is a searing moment that makes everything around it resonate into a video that sneaks into your core and shakes it.

CW: references to suicide

2. Top Again – Audrey Nuna ft. Saba
directed by Trey Lyons

“Top Again” fuses so much of that 90s and early 00s style of indie R&B video. There’s an effortlessness here, but one that doesn’t make anything seem easy. That effortlessness also reflects the feelings of aimlessness, being overwhelmed, introversion, complacency, and self-harm that Nuna sings about.

In so doing, that effortlessness becomes a kind of cover, an outward appearance that deflects just how rough things are. It becomes a generational anthem for the moment, and one that reflects early Gen Z’s growing feelings of isolation and often pessimistic outlook for the world and their own future, complete with that profound sense of gallows humor that helps them cope with it.

The video becomes a code-switch for anxiety and suicidal ideation. The ease and smoothness with which Nuna performs and the video delivers these ideas belie the complexity and impact of what she’s really telling you.

I know this video can hit hard and trigger some shit. If you cope with thoughts about suicide, please reach out. Others want to hear and help. If you’re not sure where to turn, remember that you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. I don’t want to sound trite, but there really is always a way forward. There’s no magic wand that makes everything better, but there are steps that make things a little bit better piece by piece. Those steps build up and help form community, and that community becomes a part of your resilience. Please reach out to someone, even if you’re at that step of wondering whether you should.

CW: potential epilepsy trigger

1. Silo – Phondupe
directed by Alexander Leeway

You can take “Silo” by Phondupe a few different ways. I think the most apparent is as a metaphor for an abusive relationship. The male dancer, Thuba Ndibali, keeps coming back for those brief moments of respite, for those hits of relief that everything’s OK, before having his reality pulled out from under him by dancer Allie Graham and existing in constant anxiety.

The other way to interpret it looks at it along racial lines. Those same metaphors still apply, but that trust and reality are now pulled out from under entire communities. Of course, it can also convey both, and how racism and privilege inform uneven and abusive power dynamics in relationships.

In a strange way, it reminds me of Moses Sumney’s music video for “Quarrel”, which addressed many of those same questions. There’s a lyric there that speaks to the MV for “Silo”: “With you, half the battle is proving that we’re at war, I would give my life just for the privilege to ignore”.

Other music videos we liked in May:

“Harshest Critic” by Allison Ponthier expands upon the midnight drive-in, B-movie, yesteryear kitsch, and comforting vibe of the Allison Ponthier Music Video Universe.

“good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo has a late 90s/early 00s punk-pop vibe paired with a slyly funny grunge-inspired video.

“Build a Bitch” by Bella Poarch is a funny and stylized criticism of the male gaze. The Filipina-American singer built up a huge Tik Tok following last year that she’s converted into a record deal with Warner Records. “Build a Bitch” is her first single, and the music video features other major internet personalities like Valkyrae, Mia Khalifa, and Bretman Rock.

“A-O-K” by Tai Verdes is a cute video about an airline pilot who’s just too chill: he wants to read his paper and take a nap even as the plane is plummeting.

“Sun Goes Down” by Lil Nas X is a look back at the anxiety and isolation Lil Nas X has struggled with, and translates his persona as a being who cares for and looks out for him as a person.

“summer never ended the damage was all mine” by ionnalee is an often-unnerving experimental dance piece with a lot of questions left unanswered.

“First” by Everglow might be the most massively produced music video of the year thus far. It exemplifies how thoroughly K-pop has evolved the concept of the big-budget dance video.

It takes a lot of research every month to narrow down a list like this. If you read this far, you must have enjoyed what that work creates. Consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue researching and writing articles that are interesting enough to read the whole way through.

New Shows + Movies by Women — May 28, 2021

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

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

NEW SERIES

Panic (Amazon)
showrunner Lauren Oliver
mostly directed by women

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

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

You can watch “Panic” on Amazon.

Whitstable Pearl (Acorn TV)
showrunner Julie Wassmer

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

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

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

NEW MOVIES

Plan B (Hulu)
directed by Natalie Morales

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

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

You can watch “Plan B” on Hulu.

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

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

This is the second film directed by Letizia Lamartire.

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

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

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

New Shows + Movies by Women — May 21, 2021

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

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

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

NEW MOVIES

Cowboys (Hoopla, Hulu)
directed by Anna Kerrigan

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

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

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

Sardar Ka Grandson (Netflix)
directed by Kaashvie Nair

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

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

This is the first feature film from director Kaashvie Nair.

You can watch “Sardar Ka Grandson” on Netflix.

Scavenger (VOD)
co-directed by Luciana Garraza

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

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

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

Love or Money (Netflix)
directed by Mae Czarina Cruz

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

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

You can watch “Love or Money” on Netflix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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