After “Mulan” and “Cuties” it’s nice to have a week that’s relatively controversy-free. I know I’m particularly excited for some of the movies listed here. One thing I’ve noticed is that Netflix’s international focus has done a better job on acquiring and producing films by women from outside the U.S. than other streaming services. I say a “better job” rather than a “good job” because it’s hard to assess when all you have to compare it to are streaming services that barely do it.
Nearly every week, Netflix has entries from South Asia – this week one from India and one from Thailand. “Bulbbul”, “Cargo”, and “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” are all Indian Hindi-language films directed by women that have interested me recently.
Netflix also does a better job than other major streaming services of acquiring African films – particularly Nigerian and South African from what I’ve seen. They also have an extremely solid range of Korean and Japanese live-action TV and movies, though they won’t compare to services like Crunchyroll when it comes to animation. (European fare seems doled out more equally with Amazon and Hulu.)
As we watch our country mismanage the pandemic in the U.S., and shelter as in-place as we can for the sixth month in a row, it’s particularly tempting to fall back on watching what’s predictable. Yet if you feel your perspective is uncomfortably limited by this lifestyle, art is one of the primary ways in our lives that we throw our perspectives wide open again. It’s not a fix-all to a larger situation that is costing lives, but in terms of mental health it is something I’d argue we need to better cope and connect with a world that’s been more closed off to us than ever before.
Please don’t limit your viewing to English-language series and movies I feature here. When something else looks interesting to you and it’s accessible, go watch it.
The Third Day (HBO)
half-directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
If TV has taught me anything, it’s that I should never go to an island. Only strange and inexplicable things will happen there, and the local populace will probably murder me, or draft me into a cult, or make me commune with smoke monsters. In “The Third Day”, Jude Law and Naomie Harris don’t know any better. They go not just to an island, but to a mysterious one – Law’s Sam has just suffered a loss and Harris’s Helen arrives with her family while seeking information. Each character takes up half of the show – Law stars in the first three episodes, and Harris in the last three. Their arcs are separate but intersecting.
Philippa Lowthorpe directs the last half of the limited series, the three episodes with Harris. She’s won BAFTA’s directing award for television twice: first for “Call the Midwife” in 2013 and then for “Three Girls” in 2018. She’s also directed episodes on “The Crown”. You may also know her for helming “The Other Boleyn Girl”.
You can watch “The Third Day” on HBO Max with a subscription.
Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars (Netflix)
directed by Alankrita Shrivastava
Dolly is a wife and mother who is trying to hide a secret. Her cousin Kajal has just moved to the city. Kajal ends up working at a phone sex parlor under the name Kitty. The two alternately grow close and clash in their off-hours, winding a tricky path of trust and wariness of the other’s place in their lives.
Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava has hit the ground running in recent years. Her “Lipstick Under My Burkha” won award after award on a major festival circuit, and she wrote nine episodes and directed two for Amazon original series “Made in Heaven”.
I want to note one of the actors in here, for some choices he’s making. Vikrant Massey is becoming a major Indian star, and he’s doing it working almost entirely with women directors. Last week, I featured Hindi sci-fi film “Cargo”, where he played the lead. Seven of his last eight movies have been directed by women. He’s spoken before on the strength of women directors being able to tell stories from different perspectives than we’re used to seeing on film.
Obviously, women don’t need a man to legitimize their career choices, but an up-and-coming star in India choosing to work almost entirely on films with women directors because they’re telling stories from fresher angles is important. So is his interviewing in publications both major and regional in order to describe the strengths of women in leadership positions.
The women stars and director here may have made similar choices, or may be barred by studios from making such choices. I realize I’ve written more on him than them in a feature that’s meant to highlight the work of women. The point I want to make is that it can’t just be on women to legitimize women in leadership. Men need to choose it and talk about it just as normally as we would about men in leadership. Until we seek it and normalize it, we’re not really following through on our thoughts with meaningful actions as allies.
You can watch “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” on Netflix with a subscription.
directed by Shannon Murphy
“Babyteeth” is an Australian film about a chronically ill teenager who befriends a drug dealer. Her family has to make adjustments in confronting and tolerating aspects of the friendship.
Director Shannon Murphy has helmed episodes for multiple series, including “Killing Eve” and “Rake”. “Babyteeth” is based on a screenplay by Rita Kalnejais, adapted from her own stage play. The film serves as the feature debut for both.
I previously featured this on June 19 when it came available for VOD rental, but this is the first time it’s come to a subscription service
The Grizzlies (VOD)
directed by Miranda de Pencier
A teacher moves to Nunavut, in the north of Canada. As with many indigenous communities that have been sidelined and under-resourced by a government that took their lands, their rural community is struggling. There’s a youth suicide problem. The teacher decides to start a lacrosse team to give the students there something new to work toward.
“The Grizzlies” is based on a true story, but of course takes dramatic liberties. There’s been controversy over the film as to whether it subscribes to or fights against a white savior narrative. Director Miranda de Pencier worked with indigenous producers to avoid such problems in the story and presentation, but it’s possible to avoid some pitfalls and still succumb to others. Criticism seems to both commend the film on some fronts while still pointing out issues on others.
You can see where to rent “The Grizzlies” via streaming right here.
The Etruscan Smile (Starz)
co-directed by Mihal Brezis
“The Etruscan Smile” follows Brian Cox’s Rory in one last trip before he dies. Rory travels to San Francisco for medical treatment and reconnecting with his family. The film also stars Rosanna Arquette and Thora Birch.
Mihal Brezis directs with Oded Binnun. “The Etruscan Smile” is her feature debut.
Technically, “The Etruscan Smile” had a limited release last November in all of four theaters. This is the first time it’s widely accessible through a subscription service.
You can watch “The Etruscan Smile” on Starz with a subscription. (You may already have such a subscription through Hulu or a cable provider.) You can also see where to rent it via streaming right here.
All In: The Fight for Democracy (Amazon)
directed by Lisa Cortes, Liz Garbus
“All In: The Fight for Democracy” examines forms of voter suppression and the various fights that are being waged to protect the right to vote.
Director Liz Garbus is a legend who’s specialized in documentaries about justice system abuses, racial inequity, and human rights violations. She is perhaps the most important documentary filmmaker of her generation. Both “The Farm: Angola, USA” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” were nominated for directing Oscars, and she earned a third nomination for producing “Killing in the Name”.
She also directed “The Execution of Wanda Jean”, “The Nazi Officer’s Wife”, “Bobby Fischer Against the World”, and the list goes on and on. She produced yet more crucial documentaries of the past two decades: “Street Fight”, “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, “The Fence”. Garbus should be in the conversation when we talk about the greatest filmmakers.
Director Lisa Cortes has taken the reverse course of many filmmakers, starting out as a producer in narrative film and later shifting over to documentaries. She’s recently started directing as well as producing.
I dislike review aggregating sites, but nonetheless, it’s always worth noting when a film has a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes like “All In: The Fight for Democracy” does.
You can watch “All In: The Fight for Democracy” on Amazon with a subscription.
Hope Frozen: A Quest to Live Twice (Netflix)
directed by Pailin Wedel
The daughter of a scientist in Thailand was suffering from an incurable brain cancer. His family made the decision to cryogenically freeze her upon her death. To them, their daughter is frozen between death and a potential future life. The technology doesn’t exist to revive and cure her today, but perhaps it will in the future.
Their choice is controversial in their own community, as is the judgment of whether it subscribes more to faith than science.
This is the first documentary from director Pailin Wedel.
You can watch “Hope Frozen: A Quest to Live Twice” on Netflix with a subscription.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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