Tag Archives: The Equalizer

New Shows + Movies by Women — February 12, 2021

I like to highlight some of the niche streaming services when they have a good run of older movies by women. Shudder has a range of outside-the-mainstream horror films directed by women coming to the service this week.

“The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” is a 2013 Belgian-French giallo that’s co-written and co-directed by Helene Cattet. A man returns home to discover his wife is missing. He chases possible leads into increasingly surreal situations. It’s difficult to replicate Dario Argento-style giallo today, but the film is a well regarded evolution.

“Wishing Stairs” is a 2003 South Korean horror hit by Jae-yeon Yun. A staircase of 28 steps occasionally counts 29. When it does, it grants wishes. It’s the third of a loose horror trilogy called “Whispering Corridors”.

Shudder is also getting an adaptation of “Carmilla”, the Irish vampire novel which pre-dated “Dracula” by 25 years. Seeing as that’s new, I’ll highlight it below.


Clarice (CBS)
showrunner Elizabeth Klaviter

“Clarice” follows the lead character of “Silence of the Lambs” after the events of the film, and before the decade-later sequel. You wouldn’t know either film is actually about Clarice Starling, given that the overwhelming number of comments on anything about this show follows the template of: “but why no daddy cannibal?”

You know what? Anthony Hopkins’s performance was masterful. It was also one of the least important components of the film, later fetishized as some sort of James Bond of serial killers in the sequel. The complaints often revolve around having a problem with a sequel series to “Silence of the Lambs” daring to follow the protagonist of “Silence of the Lambs”. What?

I can’t help but read these reactions as so many of the men staring Jodie Foster’s Clarice down in the original, wondering what she was doing in the space where they expected a man. Here, “Home and Away” star Rebecca Breeds plays Clarice, facing no less bullshit 30 years later.

The series looks like it’s nailed at least some of the tone. It’s reportedly done due diligence to start mitigating the largest negative consequence of “Silence” by including a trans character and examining more deeply the damage the original took in villainizing trans people.

Showrunner Elizabeth Klaviter previously produced on “The Resident” and “Grey’s Anatomy”.

You can watch “Clarice” on CBS, with new episodes every Thursday. The first episode is available to watch free on the CBS website.

The Equalizer (CBS)
co-showrunner Terri Miller

Like certain other vigilantes, the Equalizer’s had a few lives now. Originally an 80s series with an awesome theme song starring Edward Woodward, it was resurrected as a movie franchise with an awesome theme song starring Denzel Washington. Now, it returns to its roots as a TV series with an awesome theme song starring Queen Latifah.

In all forms, the Equalizer is a former CIA agent who quits that life and begins helping those who are threatened and can’t trust the police or a broken justice system to protect them. Some voices online complain about the re-casting, as if this is more difficult than keeping track of a dozen Batmen and we aren’t celebrating the entire “Spider-Man” franchise becoming a flow chart of alternate universe Spider-Whosits.

If I can believe Edward Woodward was beating fools up at 60 post heart-attack, I’m fine with Queen Latifah doing the same 10 years younger and an inch taller.

Terri Miller produces with her husband Andrew Marlowe. They worked together previously on “Castle” and “Take Two”, so they know how to make a fun network show.

You can watch “The Equalizer” on CBS, with new episodes every Sunday. The first episode is available to watch for free on the CBS website.


I Blame Society (VOD)
directed by Gillian Wallace Horvat

Gillian is good filmmaker, but like so many, she just can’t seem to break through. Then it comes to her: the skills to be a good filmmaker are the same as the skills to commit a perfect murder. They say do what you’re good at.

Writer-director Gillian Wallace Horvat is a prolific producer and director of video documentary shorts. Put another way, she directs those documentary featurettes that end up as extra features on DVD and Blu-ray releases. Some are historical, some are analytical, some confront problematic elements in classic films.

It’s funny, that’s such a unique skillset and fascinating window into film history. She has about 50 of these to her credit in just the last five years, along with occasional award-winning narrative shorts. That level of work probably teaches you more about making movies than film school.

See where to rent “I Blame Society”.

Cowboys (VOD)
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”.

See where to rent “Cowboys”.

Carmilla (Shudder)
directed by Emily Harris

The 1872 Irish gothic horror “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu is overlooked as one of the foundational vampire novels. The more famed “Dracula” would be inspired by key characteristics from it 25 years later.

“Carmilla” finds a lonely girl’s family taking in the victim of a carriage accident. Lara and the mysteriously uninjured Carmilla become fast friends, but Lara soon develops strange dreams as women in the surrounding towns begin to succumb to a strange disease.

“Carmilla” is written and directed by Emily Harris. Starting as a documentary editor, she’s also branched into experimental films like the POV “Borges and I” and modern Romeo and Juliet adaptation “Love Is Thicker Than Water”.

You can watch “Carmilla” on Shudder with a subscription, or see where to rent it.

How to Build a Girl (Showtime)
directed by Coky Giedroyc

A nerdy teen re-invents herself as an eccentric rock critic named Dolly Wilde. Her invented persona quickly catches up with her everyday life, and she has to make choices about who she wants to be.

With roles in “Booksmart”, “Lady Bird”, “What We Do in the Shadows”, starring as Monica Lewinsky in “American Crime Story”, and now this, Beanie Fieldstein is putting together a superb early resume as a comic actor.

Director Cody Giedroyc has an eclectic history that includes episodes of “The Virgin Queen”, “Oliver Twist”, “Penny Dreadful”, and “Harlots”.

This was previously featured when it came to VOD, but this is the first time it’s on a subscription streaming service. You can watch “How to Build a Girl” on Showtime with a subscription.

Young Hearts (VOD)
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 directs with Zachary Ray Sherman, and gets sole credit for the screenplay.

The only place I can find to rent “Young Hearts” so far is OnDemand through Spectrum. I suspect some other OnDemand services may also have it, but just haven’t created an online page for it.

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

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Full Vintage Keanu — “John Wick”

John Wick Keanu

by Gabriel Valdez

No one knows if the Russian mob will ever recover from this last month. First Denzel, now Keanu: their habit for angering our best action stars has cost them dearly. Never before have I seen so many secret gun cabinets, gangsters shot in totally legitimate business establishments, and henchmen hit by cars drifting sideways.

In October alone, the Russian mafia has been chased out of New York City twice now, first in The Equalizer and now in John Wick. At least it’s spurred business – the aluminum bat and tire iron industries are booming, while body shops are seeing record business from the number of SUVs driven into walls or off four-story drops. Rent on storage space has skyrocketed since so many empty warehouses and shipping yards have succumbed to awesome, slow-motion explosions.

Keanu Reeves has always been the sort of action hero who can heartlessly shoot a man in the face and turn around to save a kitten in a tree without breaking our suspension of disbelief. John Wick doesn’t take things that far – instead, Keanu’s titular Wick is briefly partnered with a charming puppy, the last gift from his late wife. When the Russian mob boss’s son breaks into Wick’s house to steal his vintage car, the puppy gets in the way and…well, now Wick is out for revenge. Turns out Wick was once a top assassin, and that’s unfortunate for the Russians.

John Wick Puppy Love

It sounds schmaltzy because it is, but Keanu plays it honestly. You can connect to his anger because he feels as if the universe has unjustly taken away what he loved most, and haven’t we all been in that place, willing to lash out at any target that presents itself?

John Wick itself is part of a 90s breed of movie I think of as gothic action, not as much for its gothic style (although this was popular) as its fatalistic worldview. These movies rely on their central actors and prioritize style over everything else. To them, the city at night is the ultimate human achievement, filled with unfeeling architecture, enough bright neon to make aging protagonists feel behind the times, and so much murder and mood that their own bloody story is just one of many. The over-the-top The Boondock Saints, a glammed out The Crow, or Keanu’s own heated, hazy debut to many Americans, Point Break, all fall into this category. These films have too short an attention span and are too aware of themselves to be noir – even the subtitles in John Wick announce themselves with colorful highlights and spill across the screen at odd angles.

Wick is exactly what you expect from the genre: simple premise, solid enough acting, and a heaping dose of cynical self-loathing. You came for the action, though, and the fight choreography is brilliant, taking advantage of Keanu’s matter-of-fact grace to create fights that are by turn balletic and brutal. The standout sequence involves Wick fighting his way through various floors of a Russian dance club. Each floor has its own mood lighting, music, and obstacles: a red-hued floor playing pop; a blue toned floor with private pools, serene new age music, and lots of glass to break; and finally a strobing dancefloor filled with unwitting civilians and dubstep. Wick fights his way through every lighting set-up and musical background as if he’s progressing through a video game (and assassins even exchange tokens for access), so you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

John Wick Adrianne Palicki

I’m tempted to say actors like Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki are brilliant as rival assassins, but they really aren’t. They’re good, sure, but it’s more that they’re excellent stylistic fits. They understand how to strut into a fight scene and chew the scenery. Palicki, in particular, enjoys the film’s best one-on-one fight versus Keanu.

The main weakness in Wick is that it doesn’t go far enough. You keep expecting it to throw in the kitchen sink, and it teases you with characters who nearly break the movie when they begin to bait each other just for the sake of upping the ante. Just as it’s doing this, however, Wick pulls back and gives you exactly the clichéd climax you’d expect. That’s fine, but for a while, I really believed Wick was about to be far madder than what results.

The action scenes are great, the black comedy is superb, and the style reminds you that action movies once took place in dark cities during nights teeming with possibility, instead of in superspy offices and sleek corporate headquarters. John Wick and Keanu himself are refreshingly vintage. It’s rated R for violence and language, but more specifically because 99% of the movie’s population gets shot in the face at some point.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does John Wick have more than one woman in it?

Yes, Wick’s wife (Bridget Moynahan), a rival assassin named Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), and a bartender named Addy (the underused Bridget Regan).

2. Do they talk to each other?


3. About something other than a man?


(There are additional women used as eye candy in the background for the pool scene, but there are men used as eye candy in this scene, too, and the movie gets over it pretty quickly in order to squeeze in a few more guys getting shot in the face.)

Ultimately, you’ve got to hold John Wick accountable for not prioritizing its women as much as its men. Palicki is a good step in the right direction: her malevolent Perkins is treated as the biggest single threat to Wick and when they inevitably fight, they go punch for punch. It is a brutal fight scene, but so are all the others. In a movie about fight scenes, I’m glad they feature her as Wick’s equal and let her beat Keanu up a bit, rather than finding a cop-out (as many movies do) to have a dangerous woman whose only threat is her cinematic sexiness. To Perkins, feminine wiles are slower than shooting a guy in the face. Palicki is good looking, sure, but so is Keanu, and the lithe silhouette he strikes is for more obsessed over than hers.

The movie doesn’t objectify women in any real way and although Wick’s angry about the loss of his wife, he’s really getting vengeance for his super-adorable puppy. I can get behind that. The movie momentarily wants to say something about cycles of violence, but it quickly backs off this in order for more guys to – you’ll never guess – get shot in the face.

Films as stylistic as these only make their worlds seem more fully realized when they cast women in equal proportion to men. John Wick misses an easy opportunity to give viewers more room to breathe inside its cinematic world.