Tag Archives: The Rhythm Section

New Movies + Shows by Women — April 17, 2020

I hope everyone’s doing well, maintaining social distancing, and taking care of themselves and others. Oh, and calling Congresspeople to get our healthcare workers PPE and otherwise tell them what they need to be doing. Some days are worth a preamble, others are worth diving right in. On to the movies and shows:

Selah and the Spades (Amazon)
directed by Tayarisha Poe

When researching something, you look for certain pieces of information. Sometimes, what doesn’t agree jumps out at you. I don’t like how we’re taught to use review aggregating sites like Metacritic. The number itself will often disagree with whether you like a film or not. These sites can be most useful in looking for trends, though. Are male critics loving a movie while women critics dislike it, or vice versa? That can begin to tell you something about how a movie plays.

“Selah and the Spades” is a film that blends high school, politics, and either high concept crime or something very much like it. I haven’t seen it yet, so it’s hard to tell if it’s more “Brick” or “Election”. It has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 70 (of 100) on Metacritic, but just a 3.5 (out of 10) on IMDB. This is why I dislike review aggregators and the numbers they spit out. They can be manipulated and brigaded. It wouldn’t be the first time audiences honestly disagreed with critics on a film. It also wouldn’t be the first time IMDB scoring was brigaded in opposition to a film about Black voices by a Black woman director.

Either of these can shape how people walk into the film and view it, as well as what they take away from it. If I tell you a movie’s scoring 89% on Rotten Tomatoes before you watch it, chances are you’ll view it with more trust toward where it wants to take you than if I told you it’s scoring a 3.5 on IMDB before you see it. The movie itself doesn’t change, but you as a viewer may very well change your perception of the movie. I don’t know if those scores are honest disagreement, or the result of brigading, which of course makes me all the more interested in watching “Selah and the Spades”.

Mrs. America (FX / Hulu miniseries)
showrunner Dahvi Waller

“Mrs. America” takes place during the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. It centers on the voices of the women who shaped the women’s liberation movement – not all of whom agreed on the approach that should be taken – and on the conservative woman who became a cause celebre in opposing it. This would be Phyllis Schlafly – here played by Cate Blanchett.

While she’s dominated the advertising and it looks like her performance is exceptional, it’s worth recognizing that this is one of the best casts in recent history: including Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Margo Martindale, Melanie Lynskey, Tracey Ullman, Sarah Paulson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Elizabeth Banks, and John Slattery, not to mention Blanchett.

The line-up of directors is similarly impressive. The first two episodes are directed by “Captain Marvel” co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (the pair direct four in total). The following two are helmed by “Belle” director Amma Asante. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is another name to look out for. The actress-turned-director is just off her first feature in “The Mustang”.

Run (HBO series)
showrunner Vicky Jones

Vicky Jones is the lesser known half of DryWrite Theatre Company. Chances are good you know the other half – “Fleabag” writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Jones was the director when the concept was strictly a stage affair.

Jones has written for “Killing Eve” and was script editor for the first season of “Fleabag”, but “Run” is the first show where she’s taken charge. “Run” sees Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson as college sweethearts who have since drifted apart. They once made a pact – if either of them texts the other one “Run” and the other responds, they’ll drop their lives and run off together. It’s been posed as defying genre, blending elements of romantic comedy, thriller, and satire.

The Rhythm Section (digital purchase)
directed by Reed Morano

Blake Lively came to prominence through “Gossip Girl”. Since then, she’s been trying to challenge the threat of typecasting. “The Rhythm Section” arrives as her run at a Jason Bourne/James Bond-style actioner. Instead of a spy, however, she’s playing a woman out for vengeance – an assassin who’s learning on the job.

Chances are good you’ve already seen something director Reed Morano’s done that wowed you. She directed the first three episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, which won her an Emmy. She was the cinematographer for Beyonce’s “Lemonade”. She’s also directed episodes for “Halt and Catch Fire” and “Billions”. She’s been one of the hardest working cinematographers of the last decade, and filled that role for indie films ranging from “Frozen River” to “Kill Your Darlings”. She’s a talent to watch, and “The Rhythm Section” feels like a good place to start.

“The Rhythm Section” is available for digital purchase (to own) at $15 from Amazon Prime, Google Play, RedBox, Vudu, and YouTube. It should come available to rent on April 28.

The Roads Not Taken (digital rental)
directed by Sally Potter

Javier Bardem stars as a man suffering dementia. His daughter, played by Elle Fanning, helps him through his day, as he lives fragmented parallel versions of his life that don’t match up. Released on March 13, just as the pandemic was closing things down in the U.S., it never really got a chance in theaters.

You may know writer-director Sally Potter best for her 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”, starring Tilda Swinton. Most directors of classic and stunningly unique films from this era would be remembered, their name immediately recognized like a Terry Gilliam, Jim Jarmusch, or Richard Linklater. Not so for Potter and a number of women who came to directing in the 1980s and 90s. The indie fringes and the places where avant garde and meta could burrow into the mainstream were reserved for men.

In the 90s, a man who had directed a film as visionary as “Orlando” would’ve been embraced, championed as a counter-culture auteur, perhaps by someone like Harvey Weinstein. When a woman like Sally Potter did it, there was no follow-through by powerful producers, no corresponding interest in what she did next, no financiers or studio heads chasing them down with dreams of Oscar-season ad campaigns. I wonder at the career Sally Potter might have had after “Orlando”. How would film be different if doors had been thrown open for her and other women directors the way they were being thrown open for men.

“The Roads Not Taken” is available to rent at a theatrical release price of $12 at studio Bleecker Street’s website.

Bias (digital rental)
directed by Robin Hauser

Talk about a lead-in. “Bias” examines, well, some of what I just talked about regarding Sally Potter. It examines the implicit or unconscious side of the way we make decisions regarding people who are different from us.

Sometimes it takes a person discussing and criticizing their own unconscious biases before others will start to recognize – let alone come to terms with – their own. When I write this piece, there’s a pretty constant awareness in my head that as a man, I may be choosing angles or making language choices that arise from bias. Even if I’m trying to feature the work of women, there’s a strong chance that I screw that up or undermine it from time to time in a way I don’t recognize.

I’ve even asked myself whether I’m the right voice to be compiling this, but I can’t find anyone else doing it weekly, let alone diving into less-advertised and indie work – which is where a lot of great work by women ends up because it’s still men who are overwhelmingly making those advertising budget decisions.

I also think it’s important for men to be seen valuing the work of women. The way our culture’s built, men won’t take women’s work as seriously unless other men are seen doing so as well.

It’s also an genuine interest. The voices that haven’t gotten a chance to tell stories as widely are the ones telling the more original stories from perspectives that haven’t been worn out by now. If you want movies and TV to be more interesting, and you’ve chiefly limited the people who produce and direct movies and TV to the 30% of our population that’s white and male (in the U.S.), then you’ve denied 70% of the talent pool from telling stories with the same production levels, studio confidence, and advertising behind them. If you want to find the most interesting storytelling happening today, you have to pay attention to groups who haven’t had as much access to tell their stories.

Yet while I may be up on all that, none of that changes that I still come to writing this every week with biases. No matter how many I’ve challenged in myself or done the work to overcome, there will always still be some bias in me because of our culture. It’s not something you simply fix, it’s something that you always have to work on from the stance of any privilege. After all, our culture is always doing the work to re-introduce that bias in us, and much of what we confront was ingrained in our perceptions from youth.

While I hope and am fairly confident this feature is a net benefit, that doesn’t change that I need to be aware of, honest with myself, and self-critical about my own potential implicit biases when writing it. That’s the only approach that can keep it a net benefit. This is the kind of thing that “Bias” discusses, and it’s a very difficult concept for many people who come from stances of privilege to understand and treat as legitimate.

“Bias” is available for rent for $4 from Google Play and $6 from Amazon Prime.

Take a look at new movies and shows 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 Movies + Shows by Women — April 10, 2020

The big hitters are coming up dry this week. New originals on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are pretty spare. Only biohorror movie “Little Joe” arrives as part of an already-paid subscription. That said, there are some interesting films when it comes to low- and mid-budget arrivals for digital rental. I want to start by featuring a film I’ve already championed pretty strongly on this site.

Birds of Prey (digital rental)
directed by Cathy Yan

The Harley Quinn supervillain movie was rentable two weeks ago if you were willing to pay $20. Now it’s a much more affordable $6 to digitally rent. I’ve hailed the movie as a film I expect to still be talking about at the end of the year. It’s bluntly subversive, funny, and phenomenally well told as both a traditional narrative and a meta-version. The fight choreography is exceptional, the set design is superb, and Margot Robbie’s Quinn stands out as a generationally good action-comedy performance.

Check out my spoiler-free review. If you’re interested in why “Birds of Prey” was described as a box office failure while similarly budgeted and performing films directed by men were described as successes, I wrote about that here (I mean, the answer’s in the sentence, it’s because they were directed by men, but the link has stats and stats are fun!) If you’ve seen “Birds of Prey” and want to read criticism by women about the film’s meaning and production, I compiled a few articles right here.

“Birds of Prey” is rentable for $6 through Amazon, Fandango Now, GooglePlay, iTunes, and Vudu. I highly recommend it, especially if you need something to escape into for 2 hours that’s still going to respect your anger at the state of the world.

Little Joe (Hulu)
directed by Jessica Hausner

Australian writer-director Jessica Hausner has directed a number of off-kilter films about personal obsessions and emotional compulsions. “Little Joe” is a film built around a houseplant engineered to make you happy…but it might not be doing that right. The concept is simple, but plays to all of Hausner’s strengths.

I appreciate that more films are moving into brightly lit horror. It feels more reflective and applicable for modern sensibilities. We’re still scared by what could jump out of the shadows, but we also live with overwhelming and obvious fears that threaten to become normalized every day. It feels like a needed trend in horror.

You can see this free with a Hulu subscription, rent it for $4 from Amazon or Vudu, or for $5 from GooglePlay or YouTube.

Stray Dolls (digital rental)
directed by Sonejuhi Sinha

Writer-director Sonejuhi Sinha is a relatively new voice. “Stray Dolls” fuses immigrant experience to crime thriller, with a protagonist who leaves India only to find abuse and corruption in the U.S. What follows is a story about two women trying to break free of a cycle of escalating violence.

You can rent it for $4 through Redbox on Demand, or $5 through Amazon or FandangoNow.

Sea Fever (digital rental)
directed by Neasa Hardiman

Escape from feeling trapped by quarantines with this horror movie about a group of people trapped on a boat and having to quarantine themselves. It’s strange the way that horror reflective of a horror we’re going through is appealing. There’s probably a German word for that, but I’ve got to say Neasa Hardiman’s “Sea Fever” looks pretty good.

The Irish writer-director has a long history in TV, with her most recent work as a director on Netflix’s sadly defunct “Jessica Jones”. While the trailer for “Sea Fever” looks action packed, it’s been described as more of a slow burn exercise in building tension.

You can rent this from Amazon, Fandango Now, Redbox on Demand, or Vudu for $7.

The Lost Husband (digital rental)
directed by Vicky Wight

Then again, maybe quarantine at sea isn’t your thing. Maybe a woman going through a process of self-discovery and being rewarded with Josh Duhamel as a hot farmer (there’s probably a German word for that, too) – maybe that’s your thing.

Yes, this looks like a totally predictable Hallmark-style movie, but there’s a place for the things that are predictable and enjoyable in all our lives. For me, it’s Irish sea quarantine movies with glowy infecto-tentacles. For someone else, it’s two attractive people with completely opposite backgrounds gradually falling in love amidst relaxing scenery. Neither’s better nor worse as a form of escapism, and these days…the relaxing scenery’s sounding better and better.

You can rent “The Lost Husband” from Amazon or Redbox on Demand for $6.

Take a look at new movies and shows 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.