Tag Archives: Christina Ricci

New Shows + Movies by Women — November 19, 2021

There are a number of deeply promising series this week, including one of the most anticipated fantasy adaptations, one of the most accomplished ensembles ever cast, and a new Mindy Kaling comedy. The films this week come from a range of cultures that aren’t often featured in the U.S. They’re made by filmmakers who are Salvadoran-Mexican, Cree-Metis, and Trinidadian, not to mention an Australian Aboriginal revenge western.

November and December introduce a wealth of new projects, and it can be easy to get locked into the ones that see the most marketing and are created by filmmakers with established names. Yet studios rarely invest in marketing films made by women and people of color. That means they don’t invest in establishing their names, which means most of the “awards competitors” that get pushed at us come from a narrow range of perspective.

Many films by women and directors of color will be lucky to see a push for a single nomination in major awards meant to get them on the map. Most will go without the kind of awards marketing blitzes that middling films by men will see much more easily. This means that when it comes to buzz, it’s easy to believe the films that need to be seen this time of year are mostly by white, male directors. It becomes even easier than usual for viewers to completely overlook work that comes from other voices.

Make sure you seek out the work of women and people of color, especially in these months where some of the best films you’ll see in your life get even more buried than is usual.

NEW SERIES

The Wheel of Time (Amazon)
mostly directed by women

The long, long-awaited adaptation of Robert Jordan’s fantasy novel series finally arrives. “The Wheel of Time” centers on Rosamund Pike’s Moiraine, who gathers five people for an adventurous journey. She believes one of them is the reincarnation of the Dragon, who will either save the world or destroy it.

While the showrunner is Rafe Judkins, at least five of the first season’s eight episodes are directed by women. This includes Uta Briesewitz, Sanaa Hamri, and Salli Richardson. Briesewitz has directed on “Orange is the New Black”, “Stranger Things”, “Jessica Jones”, and “UnREAL”, as well as being the cinematographer for “Hung”. Hamri has helmed on “Shameless” and directed more episodes of “Empire” than any other director. Richardson has directed on “Luke Cage”, “American Gods”, and “Dear White People”.

“The Wheel of Time” premieres today on Amazon with three episodes. The remaining five episodes will drop every Friday.

Yellowjackets (Showtime)
mostly directed by women

A plane carrying a high school soccer team once crashed into the Ontario wilderness. Not all of the girls on the team made it out alive. Years later, someone is sending them postcards that suggest they know what really happened. It’s up to a small group of survivors to piece it back together.

This is one of the best series casts ever assembled. Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, and Christina Ricci are the big names, but Samantha Hanratty, Keeya King, Sophie Nelisse, and Ella Purnell shouldn’t be overlooked.

While Jonathan Lisco serves as showrunner, the series is mostly directed by women. Eva Sorhaug directs three episodes. She’s also directed episodes of “Witch Hunt”, “American Gods”, and “Your Honor”. “Jennifer’s Body” director Karyn Kusama helms the premiere. Deepa Mehta and Daisy von Scherler Mayer also direct.

“Yellowjackets” premiered its first episode this week on Showtime. You can also watch that first episode for free on YouTube to see if it sparks your interest. New episodes will drop on Showtime every Sunday.

The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO Max)
co-showrunner Mindy Kaling

Freshman roommates at Evermore College navigate student life in an acidic comedy.

Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble showrun. Kaling is, of course, known as a writer, producer, and lead actress on “The Office” and “The Mindy Project”. (I’d also recommend “Never Have I Ever”, which she co-created, produces, and writes on, but doesn’t star.)

The release schedule for “The Sex Lives of College Girls” can be summed up as multiple episodes dropping on HBO Max every Thursday. Two episodes are available now, with three more on November 25, three more on December 2, and then the final two on December 9. And, you know, be careful if you Google the series.

The Madame Blanc Mysteries (Acorn TV)
showrunner Sally Lindsay

An antiques dealer loses her savings when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. She relocates to France to begin investigating his death.

Sally Lindsay created, writes, and stars in “The Madame Blanc Mysteries”. The former “Coronation Street” actress also conceived of and starred in “Scott & Bailey”.

The first two episodes of “The Madame Blanc Mysteries” premiered on Acorn TV this week, with new episodes dropping every Monday.

Christmas Flow (Netflix)
directed by Nadege Loiseau

In this three-episode French series, a rapper and journalist fall for each other. His music is misogynist and she resents him for that. I don’t know how thoroughly the series will address that premise. Shirine Boutella and Tayc star.

Nadege Loiseau has directed on a few French series, including an episode of crime drama “Profilage”.

You can watch “Christmas Flow” on Netflix.

Hollington Drive (Sundance Now)
directed by Carolina Giammetta

Two sisters investigate the disappearance of a child in this British thriller.

Carolina Giammetta is a British series director who also helmed this year’s “The Drowning”.

All four episodes are available to watch on Sundance Now.

NEW MOVIES

Prayers for the Stolen (Netflix)
directed by Tatiana Huezo

“Prayers for the Stolen” follows the lives of three girls growing up in a town at war. Girls are stolen from the poor town by soldiers, and it’s only a matter of time before one of them is taken.

Tatiana Huezo is one of the most important directors working today. She’s chiefly worked in documentaries before this. Her “Tempestad” investigated the experiences of women who had been trafficked, and won Best Documentary, Director, Cinematography, and Sound at the Ariel Awards (Mexico’s equivalent to our Oscars). “Prayers for the Stolen” is her first dramatic feature.

You can watch “Prayers for the Stolen” on Netflix.

Freeland (VOD)
co-directed by Kate McLean

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

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

See where to rent “Freeland”.

The Flood (VOD)
directed by Victoria Wharfe McIntyre

In this anachronistic western, an indigenous Australian wife and husband set out for revenge after they lose their daughter.

This is the first feature from writer-director Victoria Wharfe McIntyre.

You can rent “The Flood” on Redbox.

Hope (VOD)
directed by Maria Sodahl

Andrea Braein Hovig and Stellan Skarsgard star as Anja and Tomas, partners who have grown into their own separate worlds over the years. When she’s diagnosed with cancer, Anja needs Tomas to come back into her world and help support her.

The Norwegian film is written and directed by Maria Sodahl, who got her start in the 90s as a casting director.

See where to rent “Hope”.

Night Raiders (VOD)
directed by Danis Goulet

Blackfoot and Sami actress Elle-Maija Tailfeathers stars as a mother whose daughter is kidnapped by a war-obsessed government. She joins a band of vigilantes to rescue their children.

Danis Goulet is a Cree-Metis filmmaker. This is her debut feature. Goulet has served for several years as the artistic director for imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival, the world’s largest indigenous film festival.

See where to rent “Night Raiders”.

She Paradise (VOD)
directed by Maya Cozier

A teenager takes up with a dance crew. She’s not prepared for the world of money and predation that it opens up to her, though.

This is the first feature from writer-director Maya Cozier.

See where to rent “She Paradise”.

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

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

10 Things I Thought While Watching “Speed Racer”

I was supposed to appear on some panels at a convention this last weekend. I wasn’t able to and had to bow out at the last minute. One of the panels was called “Box Office Bombs That are Better Than You Think”. Early discussion before the con cited one beloved box office bomb above all others: the Wachowski sisters’ “Speed Racer”.

Even if I had to miss the panel, it’s something I still want to write about.

1. We Weren’t Ready for “Speed Racer”

“Speed Racer” is exceptionally good. You may not remember it that way. It was the first film after the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” trilogy. People expected something dark and gothic, full of dour characters enacting sleek violence on each other. What they got was a sugar rush of color in a live-action cartoon that relied on sight gags and long set-ups to bad puns. In other words, an ideal movie. Just not one we were ready for. Imagine expecting something akin to “The Matrix” and then seeing this:

It also featured one of the best casts assembled that no one will ever think of that way: Emile Hirsch as ambitious racecar driver Speed, Christina Ricci as mechanic and spotter Trixie, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon as his parents, Matthew Fox as the controversial Racer X, and the deceptively rangy Roger Allam as villain Royalton.

The supporting cast was both eclectic and diverse, featuring Korean pop heartthrob Rain, original “Shaft” actor Richard Roundtree, and German TV actor Benno Furmann.

2. The Editing is Incredible

This isn’t a perfect film, but one thing I will argue is that the opening 17 minutes is one of the best edited sequences ever put to film. There’s a really magical alternate universe where pop filmmaking looks and feels like this. It didn’t die off with Tim Burton’s taste or get relegated to the Barry Sonnenfeld made-for-TV circuit.

The Wachowskis are two of the few directors who have really taken on this mantle, where CG doesn’t serve to make something look more real, but less so. One of the reasons I love “Speed Racer” is because it looks like it was lifted from someone’s imagination. It’s silly, it’s fun, it’s ridiculous. It has zero interest in telling you how important it is.

The Wachowskis consistently impress because they want to show you what’s sprouting out of their imaginations. We were happy to praise it when it connected to our angst, wore black trench coats, and whipped out guns for slow-motion shootouts. Yet we routinely reject it when it wears bright colors and tells us to be hopeful.

Editing and CG shouldn’t just be used to push the technical limits of the reality we can present – it should also push the imaginative limits, and that’s something that studios haven’t often prioritized in event filmmaking.

3. Rain & the Tragedy of “Ninja Assassin”

A bit more about Korean pop sensation Rain is in order. He plays a racer and an inheritor of a car company that rivals Royalton’s. Unfortunately, this is probably the movie that got him the lead role in James McTeigue’s “Ninja Assassin”. McTeigue is a frequent collaborator with the Wachowski sisters. He was the first assistant director on “The Matrix” trilogy, and a second unit director on “Speed Racer”. His own debut was the surprisingly good “V for Vendetta”.

Here’s what we’re talking about when it comes to “Ninja Assassin”.

The trailer makes it look like the film is constructed entirely of perpetually underlit scenes of bullet-time style throwing stars. It is. It’s actually a really accurate trailer. That trailer just saved you 99 minutes of your life.

The same patience for storytelling and skill for suspense in “V for Vendetta” was not replicated in “Ninja Assassin” (nor in any of McTeigue’s other films). Since it was Rain’s crossover attempt at Western stardom, the film shot down any real chance he’d have at additional lead roles in American films.

4. One Wachowskis Batman, Please

I’d watch a Wachowskis-directed Batman. Just saying. (I once would’ve suggested Matthew Fox for the lead, but am uncomfortable with a past allegation of violence he’s faced.)

The Wachowski sisters know how to build an atmospheric universe and direct a range of fast-paced fight choreography, and they have a wicked sense of casting that would fit the rogues gallery well. “The Matrix”, “Cloud Atlas”, and “Sense8” all prove they know how to make the kind of Batman that would continue to evolve the character and make him relevant, unlike the overstuffed meandering Zack Snyder did with it.

I have confidence in director Matt Reeves (and Robert Pattinson is an inspired choice as his upcoming Batman). I also can’t imagine producers would feel entirely safe trusting the Wachowskis with DC’s most reliable franchise. Still it’d be something I’d like to see.

5. Mini-John Goodman

Paulie Litt’s work in “Speed Racer” is really overlooked. He’d have been 12-ish when this was filmed. Litt plays Spritle Racer, Speed’s little brother, but damned if he’s not doing a spot-on impression of John Goodman at times. He’s doing the cheesy comedic sidekick role in a film overstocked with cheesy comedic sidekicks, and he might be doing the most effective work.

6. There is No Better Dialogue

“Inspector Detector suspected foul play.” Line of the century.

Dialogue of the century?

Trixie: Oh my god, was that a ninja?
Pops: More like a non-ja. Terrible what passes for a ninja these days.
Trixie: Cool beans.

Behold the greatest moment in modern cinema:

What’s best about this is that there’s an entire two minute fight scene that leads up to it. The fight scene is more Three Stooges than Matrix, and it doesn’t ramp up in choreography. It basically exists for a few sight gags, and to create a super-lame pun at the end. In other words, the perfect film does exist.

7. Trixie Keeps Bailing Everyone Out

The part doing the most to make this all work is Christina Ricci’s Trixie. It would have been remarkably easy to just have her there as eye candy, which is where you think her character’s going at first. Then it turns out she’s the most capable person in the film. She’s a helicopter pilot who spots for Speed in his races. She takes over as a race car driver in a death-defying cross-country rally when one driver is incapacitated. She breaks out kung fu skills and beats up henchmen in the middle of a larger brawl. And when the team needs to build a new car in less than a day-and-a-half, she’s front and center welding the thing together.

8. Christina Ricci is Overlooked as Hell

It helps a lot that Ricci has an incredible amount of experience in films that don’t take themselves overly seriously. Her career started with movies like “The Addams Family” and “Casper”, and she’s blazed a trail of leading roles in independent films that challenge the way audiences are used to watching movies. Emile Hirsch was so disgusted with the box office performance of “Speed Racer” that he fired his agent. He never understood the value of a film like this; he only saw it as a career opportunity. That’s ironic, given the theme of the film.

What’s even more ironic is that he starred next to a woman who’s built a successful career out of films that don’t fit particular molds, with box office surprises and failures. Ricci’s done so across a wide range of genres, at a time when it’s been nearly impossible for a woman to put together the resume of leading roles that she’s had.

It occurs to me she doesn’t get near her due when it comes to talking about the greatest actors of her generation. She should be in that conversation. Come to think of it, the same discipline for gaining and losing weight for roles that we routinely celebrate Christian Bale for is something that’s been used against her as a criticism. I can think of only a handful of actors alive today – of any generation – who can so deftly step back and forth between dramatic, indie, comedy, and B-movies with as sure a sense of what to bring to each.

9. A Balanced Gaze

Ricci does serve the male gaze now and again in the film, but they don’t overdo it. The film isn’t too interested in making anyone particularly sexy, but at least there’s equal opportunity here. Rain, Hirsch, and Fox all bare far more skin in this than Trixie does in the occasional mini-skirt. It’s important for films to show this kind of balance.

10. This Editing, Though

I keep thinking of that opening, that first 17-minute sequence that swoops through time and space to introduce us to the major protagonists and their emotional stakes. The Wachowskis do for editing in “Speed Racer” what they did for visual effects in “The Matrix”. The only difference is that it didn’t set the industry on fire. It’s a shame, because their approach is inventive, emotional, and energetic in ways that more traditional editing isn’t. It also challenges the way we’re used to watching movies. I wish I’d seen it inspire others to follow their example. I wouldn’t want all editing to look like this, but I think filmmaking would be a more exciting place if some of these lessons had grown roots and found their way into other projects.

If nothing else, it would take a marketplace where everyone’s trying to create their own connected universe and it would make it feel more aesthetically varied. We’ve got Marvel, DC, X-Men, Star Wars everything, Universal making a mess of its monster properties, LEGO, Hasbro, the Transformers shared universe idiocy, Sony still working on their Valiant Comics thing, and Tom Holland playing therapist between Sony and Disney to hold the Spider-Man universe(s) together by the seams.

Instead, we’re left with most of these franchises trying to do what the last did, with the bar for acceptance being “good enough”. I wouldn’t mind a few more films like “Speed Racer” challenging the sameness and middle ground so many of these franchises fall into. “Speed Racer” may have been a box office bomb, but at least it developed new cinematic language. There are a lot of franchises that haven’t done so much in half a dozen films, let alone one.

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