Tag Archives: Liz Garbus

New Shows + Movies by Women — September 18, 2020

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.

NEW SERIES

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.

NEW MOVIES

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.

Babyteeth (Hulu)
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

You can watch “Babyteeth” on Hulu with a subscription, or see where to rent it via streaming right here.

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.

NEW DOCUMENTARIES

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.

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

New Films by Women — March 13, 2020

This idea was originally to share new films made by women in theaters and on streaming. With the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, I don’t want to encourage people to go to theaters. Social distancing is a proven way of mitigating a pandemic’s spread through a community. In an effort to encourage that, I’ll focus on what’s new or recent in streaming.

I may add theatrical release films that are digitally rentable in future weeks. It’ll shift around a bit as I get it figured out. In the long-term, once the coronavirus pandemic has passed and the need for social distancing passes with it, I’ll go back to covering theatrical films as well.

I find this especially frustrating because one of the films I was looking forward to most is director Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”. I also really enjoy the theatrical experience, seeing something on the big screen with an audience. Yet it is far more important to limit social movement for the time being. My own desire to see a film should never supersede the safety of others, so I’ll hope to cover it when it becomes available to stream or rent.

There are countless opportunities to cover other films by women that you can access while maintaining the social distancing practices that can keep yourself and others in your community safe.

Lost Girls (Netflix)
directed by Liz Garbus

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

 

This is an Indian film by director Ruchi Narain. A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape and what follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming. It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.

Knives and Skin (Hulu)
directed by Jennifer Reeder

 

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

System Crasher (Netflix)
directed by Nora Fingscheidt

 

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

The new theatrical films I hoped to cover this week are films I will instead wait to cover until they come out on streaming and digital rental. They include Eliza Hittman’s unplanned pregnancy drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”, Sally Potter’s film about dementia “The Roads Not Taken”, and Tucia Lyman’s found footage horror “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters”. I’ll list them so they can be on your radar, but please heed social distancing practices.

Some recent releases I got a chance to see and review before coronavirus became a public health danger. They include Cathy Yan’s tremendously fun and subversive super-antihero film “Birds of Prey”, and Autumn de Wilde’s extremely smart and expertly designed Jane Austen adaptation “Emma”.

Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow”, Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, Stelle Meghie’s “The Photograph”, Kitty Green’s “The Assistant”, Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”, and co-director Jennifer Lee’s “Frozen II” are all recent releases that should make it to streaming and digital rental in a few months.

I do know Marielle Heller’s Mr. Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is on streaming platforms already, and I hope to re-frame future weeks to focus a little bit more on what’s already accessible. I hope the top section covering streaming originals is a good start to what you can watch now without having to leave home.

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