Watching Harriet Made Me Long for an Adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred

harriet

While watching Kasi Lemmons’s new biopic about Harriet Tubman, I found myself thinking of the 1979 novel Kindred by Octavia Butler. Kindred is a time-travel story, set in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles. The protagonist, Dana, an African-American writer in her twenties, has fainting spells that cause her travel back in time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets her enslaved ancestors. The first time she is thrown back in time, she finds herself in a situation where a white boy, Rufus, is about to die, and it’s up to her to save him. She does, only to discover that he’s both a distant relative of hers, and the son of a slaveholder. Luckily, she figures out how to get back to present-day L.A. But then, just as suddenly, she’s back in nineteenth-century Maryland.

Every time Dana falls back in time, Rufus is older, while she stays the same age. And every time Dana falls back in time, Rufus is in trouble and Dana always saves him. To Rufus, Dana is his magical property who appears just when he needs her. To Dana, Rufus is a foolish, cruel man that she takes care of only to ensure the survival of her ancestors. All the while she feels psychically caught between worlds; she’s free in her time, but enslaved in Rufus’s. The novel ends when she is finally able to break free of Rufus.

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Review: Honey Boy

honey-boy

Honey Boy
Director: Alma Ha’rel
Writer: Shia LeBeouf

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie more steeped in therapeutic concepts than Honey Boy. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of actor Shia LaBeouf’s abusive upbringing as a child performer in thrall to his alcoholic father; his subsequent struggles with addiction; and his recovery in rehab. To a certain degree, it’s also a movie that reflects on its own making. LaBeouf wrote the script, or at least started it, while undergoing exposure therapy for PTSD, and he stars in the film playing a character based on his own father—a choice that seems, in addition to writing the script, its own kind of therapy.

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Review: Little Woods

little woods

Little Woods
Writer & Director: Nia DaCosta

Little Woods has been on my list of movies to see since April, when it was briefly in theaters. It’s a small, independent film with a first-time female director, Nia DaCosta, who also wrote the screenplay. I heard good things about it coming out of film festivals, and it also stars Tessa Thompson, who I really liked in Sorry To Bother You. This is all to say that I was primed to like this movie, but halfway through I was ready to turn it off. It was boring, despite having a relatively distinctive story with high stakes. The screenplay felt overwritten and conventional, especially in the second act as complications arose to force the protagonist to make a particular choice. I knew, intellectually, that I was supposed to feel that the main character was backed into a corner, but instead it felt like a narrative slog I had to wade through to get to the third act. And I wasn’t holding out hope that it would even be worth it.

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Retro Watch: 1994’s Little Women

Little-Women-1994

I decided to catch up with 1994’s Little Women as a way of preparing for Greta Gerwig’s forthcoming version. I saw it in the theaters when I was a teenager, but I’m sorry to say that it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The only reason I know I saw it is that my older sister, who remembers everything, tells me we went to see it in the theater with our mother.

I was 16 in 1994, which my mother probably saw as just the right age for a period romance. But it had to compete with the other movies burning into my adolescent cortex, a list that includes Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Reality Bites, The Mask, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall. 

Poor Little Women didn’t stand a chance.

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Review: Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Ben Burtt and Richard AndersonBen Burtt and Richard Anderson recording the voice of Chewbacca.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Director: Midge Costin
Writer: Bobette Buster

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is the perfect for someone (like me) who wants to learn more about the process of filmmaking. It’s also for anyone who has ever paused while filling out their Oscar ballot to wonder: what is the difference between “sound editing” and “sound mixing”? (In a nutshell: sound editing is the process of adding or subtracting sound, including voice, music, and effects into a movie after it has been filmed; sound mixing is about synthesizing everything into one soundtrack, sort of like the conductor of an orchestra.)

Producer/Director Midge Costin, a sound editor who is also a professor at USC’s film school, gives this documentary an academic bent. It often felt like a distillation of a semester’s worth of lectures, with special guest appearances from legendary sound editors like Walter Murch and Ben Burtt. Making Waves covers a lot of ground, including the history of film’s transition from the silent era to sound, the studio system approach to sound effects, the use of music in film, the process of making particular sound effects, and technological innovations in sound design such as stereo and surround sound. With behind-the-scenes interviews, photographs, and footage of sound designers at work, Costin makes visible a process that most filmgoers don’t give much thought to, but which must be executed with precision in order for a movie to cast its narrative spell. Even silence must be engineered by sound editors, who subtract ambient noises to create an artificial — but psychologically powerful — sense of quiet.

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Geena Davis’s Documentary Explains How Hollywood Fails Women Filmmakers

geena meryl shonda

This Changes Everything
Directed by Tom Donahue

This straightforward documentary tries to answer the questions that kicked off my blog: 1) Why are there so few female directors? 2) What can we do to change that? Produced by Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media, this in an activist work that concludes with a call to action for unions, studios, and individuals. For moviegoers, the challenge is to support female filmmakers by making sure that half the films you watch are either directed or written by women.

As someone who has been doing this for almost two years, I can tell you that it takes planning and deliberation to ensure that 50% of the movies you watch are made by women. You will have to seek them out, because they aren’t show in as many theaters as movies directed by men—and that’s one of the big reasons that women don’t advance in their directing careers. Their first films don’t receive as much publicity or distribution and then they don’t have a big box office. This makes it more difficult to secure financing for the second film or to be considered for studio jobs. Talent agencies are then less likely to promote female filmmakers. And so the vicious cycle goes.

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Catching Up: Extended Summer Edition

I’ve been neglectful of this blog because I finished a very rough draft of a novel and that took all my time for a few weeks. (Also, I’ve been freaking out about the climate crisis but that’s a post for another day–btw yesterday we set a heat record in NYC when it was 93 DEGREES.)  Amidst the artistic and existential meltdowns, I did manage to watch three new woman-directed movies:

hustlers

Hustlers
Writer and Director: Lorene Scafaria

To celebrate finishing a draft, Mike and I went out to see Hustlers at the Alamo Draft House. Although I’ve been aware of this movie since earlier this year, it wasn’t at the top of my list. After seeing The Big Short and Wolf of Wall Street, I felt like I was done with movies about Wall Street guys, even if this time it was from the perspective of the exotic dancers they socialized with. But then it got such great reviews and everyone was going nuts about J. Lo, saying that she was as good as she was in Out of Sight. So I went, I ordered a margarita, and . . . 

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