Clemency (2019) ★★★1/2
Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu
Clemency looks closely at the bureaucratic processes and day-to-day workplace politics behind the administration of the death penalty. In doing so, it powerfully argues that the death penalty is psychologically cruel to the prisoners who receive it as a sentence, the prison workers who carry out the executions, and even the families of those victimized by crime. It’s one of the most intellectually engaging movies I’ve seen over the past year, one that forced me to sit with a lot of difficult questions that went beyond whether or not the death penalty should exist.
The movie opens on the evening of an execution, overseen by the Prison Warden, Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). Warden Williams is pensive as she manages the people who will join her in the execution room: a priest, a security officer, her deputy, and a medic who will give the convicted man with a lethal chemical injection. Everyone seems tense as they strive to follow set procedures. When the medic has difficulty finding a good vein, the injection goes shockingly wrong, resulting in a cruel, painful death that leaves everyone shaken.
Continue reading “Review: Clemency”
Here we are, on the very last day of the year, and I have for you my five favorite woman-directed movies of 2019. I was worried that this post was hopelessly late, but then I checked last year’s list and saw that I didn’t write it until January 21, so I’m actually ahead of myself. The truth is that many of the best movies come out during the last few weeks of December, so unless you have screeners, it’s hard to draw up lists like these before the year is over.
Over the past year, I saw 29 new movies directed or written by women, and 18 new movies directed and written by men. With only 29 movies to choose from, I decided to choose only five favorites — which meant I had to leave Little Women off the list. Which was surprising! With all the buzz, I thought for sure I’d adore it, but I’m not sure I like it any better than the 1994 version. I have more to say on that, and will be reviewing it for The Common, but I wanted to give it an honorable mention. Two other movies that also deserve a shout-out are Atlantics and The Farewell.
Before I dive into the list, I want to mention several movies that I didn’t get a chance to see that might have made the list: Fast Color, One Child Nation, Hail Satan?, Little Joe, and Varda by Agnès.
Okay, with those caveats out of the way, here we go, in no particular order, my favorite woman-directed films of 2019 . . .
Continue reading “Favorite Women-directed Films of 2019”
Wow, this month has gone by quickly. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks catching up on movies in order to vote for the OAFFC awards and also to compile my own list of year-end favorites. I’m holding off on sharing that because I haven’t yet seen Little Women, and from all the advance raves, I have a feeling it might make my list. We’ll see. In the meantime, here are some brief reviews of three movies I saw recently . . .
Atlantics (2019) ★★★1/2
Director: Mati Diop
Writer: Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel
Streaming on Netflix
I heard someone describe Atlantics as a zombie movie, but it’s more like a ghost story. Really, it’s a love story, with a classic structure that follows two clandestine lovers who are briefly together only to be torn apart. They spend the rest of the movie trying to find their way back to each other. The story is set in an unnamed port city in Senegal, where a giant, futuristic glass-and-steel tower is under construction. The film opens upon a group of angry construction workers, who have stormed their foreman’s office to complain about three months’ of wages still owed to them. They set off to Spain in search of paying work, only to drown in the Atlantic Ocean. One of the lost sailors is Souleiman, the secret boyfriend of a young woman, Ada, who is engaged to marry a wealthy businessman, Omar. When Souleiman reappears on Ada’s wedding night, a series of strange, supernatural events are set into motion.
Continue reading “Three Movie Reviews, or: Two Love Stories and a Mr. Rogers Episode”
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) ★★★★1/2
Writer & Director: Céline Sciamma
In 1770, Brittany, France, a young female painter, Marianne, is hired to paint a wedding portrait of a noblewoman. But the assignment is unusual: she must make the painting in secret because the bride, Héloïse, is reluctant to marry. Héloïse and her mother live in an isolated seaside estate, and her mother explains to the young painter that the portrait is necessary to entice the bridegroom, who lives in Milan. Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is arrestingly beautiful, and I can imagine many movies that might begin with the groom’s approving gaze upon receiving Héloïse’s portrait, kicking off a storyline that would take viewers into Milanese high society. But Portrait of a Lady on Fire instead focuses on the two weeks that Héloïse and Marianne spend together in a nearly empty house by the sea (the bridegroom in question never appears on screen). Written and directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, and with a nearly all-female cast, Portrait is both a romantic story of two people falling in love, and a sensitive depiction of a female painter’s life and artistic practice in the eighteenth century.
(Read the rest over at The Common. . .)
A League Of Their Own (1992) ★★★★
Director: Penny Marshall
Writers: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel
I had my sister over for Thanksgiving and she wanted to know when I was going to write about A League of Their Own, which we saw together last week at Alamo Drafthouse for a special “champagne screening.” She said, “I saw you making notes . . .”
It’s true, I made notes—and then I lost them, which my sister will tell is typical of me. I wrote them on the back of the paper advertising the drink special: “There’s No Crying in Cocktails,” which is a mix of Maker’s Mark, lemon, sugar, and cava, and which I ordered. It was actually my second cocktail of the night, because my sister and I met before the movie to get a drink at the bar outside of the theater. We sat down next to a group of four women who were clearly going to the same screening as us, because they were all wearing the pink skirted baseball uniforms from the movie. As it happened, we were seated next to them in the theater. My sister asked the woman closest to us when she had last seen the movie, and she said, ‘Oh, a couple of months ago? I watch it all the time.’ The other women had also seen the movie many, many times. It was their comfort watch.
Meanwhile, my sister and I had not seen the movie since 1992, when it was in the theaters. Continue reading “Retrowatch: A League of Their Own”
Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc Smith, Kristin Anderson-Lopez, and Robert Lopez
Over the weekend, our entire family went to 9:15 a.m. screening packed with Frozen devotees. It was an all-ages show, which probably sounds like hell to many but there was actually a childless couple behind us in line, so I guess it’s not too noisy – or else they really, really wanted to see the sequel to Frozen and couldn’t fit it in at any other time. I have grown to like the all-ages screening, in part because they turn the sound down, but mainly because it’s sweet to hear kids responding to what is on screen, especially a movie like this one, which was For The Fans.
If you want my two-second review, Frozen II was a lot of fun but not a great sequel, on par with Toy Story 2 or even, um, let me see here, I realize I haven’t actually seen a lot of sequels to kids’ movies. My relationship to kids movies is, generally: something to put on while I clean and I need my children to stay in one place. However, I have a soft spot for Frozen. Continue reading “Frozen II with a Two-Year-Old”
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.
Continue reading “Watching Harriet Made Me Long for an Adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred”