Becoming (2020) ★★★
Director: Nadia Hallgren
Streaming on Netflix
Last year, along with ten million other people, I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. I picked it up expecting to get the inside story on what it’s like to live in the White House as First Lady, but Mrs. Obama doesn’t spend a lot of time on her years in Washington. Instead, she focuses on what grounds her: her family, her upbringing on the south side of Chicago, her education, and the early years of her marriage before Barack Obama was elected president. This turns out to be much more interesting and illuminating than anything she could have written about living in the White House.
One of the refreshing things about Becoming (both the memoir and documentary) is how open Michelle Obama is about the challenges she faced in her career and marriage, as well as on the campaign trail. It’s not only that she talks about her struggles, it’s that she describes what she did to address each difficulty. She gets specific about the little, day-to-day things, like how she found time to go to the gym or feed her children healthy meals. The truth, she explains, is that she often had help, and she gives a lot of credit to her mother, as well as her staff and assistants. The book had a self-help aspect that felt generous to her reader, a way of saying: look, it took a lot of work to become the person I am today, I’m not naturally this calm, cool, and collected.
Still, it’s clear that Michelle Obama has a lot more discipline and grit than most mortals.
Continue reading “Review: Becoming”
Whose Streets? (2017)
Directors: Sabaah Folyan and Damon Davis
Streaming on Hulu
I’ve spent a lot of time this week talking with my seven-year-old son about the protests that are happening across the country. We’ve discussed racism before, and he has studied the Black Lives Matter movement in school, so he has some context, but it’s still hard to talk with a child about police violence against Black people. Last night we watched the KidLit Rally For Black Lives sponsored by The Brown Bookshelf, where prominent children’s authors talked directly to kids about what’s going on. The authors read poetry, sang, and taught kids about the history of racism. My son was riveted; these authors know their audience and can break things down in a way that kids will understand–and also feel loved and protected. We watched it live, but they said they will be posting a video at some point. It was the most powerful thing I’ve seen all week.
Continue reading “Revisiting Whose Streets?”
Director Lynn Shelton died on Saturday and it hit home for me, for a lot of reasons. First: I really liked her movies, and reviewed two of them on this blog: Sword of Trust and Outside In. They were mellow, lived-in, gentle, kind, and deeply humane. Her characters felt real and her stories always had an interesting shape. She also directed a lot of TV shows I watched, including GLOW, Love, The Good Place, The Mindy Project, New Girl — to name just a few. She came to directing late in life, at age 39, but then she was prolific, directing eight feature films and numerous television shows. She was one of those directors I watched out for; I felt like her best work was ahead of her. I can’t believe she’s dead. She was only 54.
Continue reading “R.I.P. Lynn Shelton”
How To Build A Girl (2020) ★★1/2
Director: Coky Giedroyc
Writer: Caitlin Moran (based on Moran’s novel)
I know many people believe it’s always best to read the book before the movie, but I’m on the fence. Very often, the book outshines the movie by a long shot — especially if you read the book shortly before seeing the movie, as I did with How To Build A Girl, which is based on Caitlin Moran’s 2014 novel by the same title. I loved the book, loved its early 1990s setting and its teenage heroine, Johanna Morrigan, a working-class girl who is obsessed with sex and books and writing. She’s a girl so sure of her literary talent that she auditions to be a rock critic without knowing a thing about rock music. She gets CDs from the library to catch up and invents a rock critic persona, “Dolly Wilde.” Soon, she has a full-time magazine job, and is going to concerts, meeting rock stars and having lots of sex. It’s very, very fun reading. And then at the end, you cry!
So, look: the movie had a lot to live up to . . . Continue reading “Review: How To Build A Girl”
Blow the Man Down (2020) ★★★1/2
Writer-Directors: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Streaming on Amazon
Easter Cove, Maine seems like a picture perfect postcard of New England, complete with fishermen singing traditional sea shanties like “Blow the Man Down” and kindly old ladies who take fitness walks together every morning. But look a little closer and you’ll see the quaint old inns and weathered docks hide murder, prostitution, and money laundering. And those old ladies out walking? They’re patrolling, not exercising. Don’t cross them!
I don’t want to give too much away about this extremely entertaining noir, which was thrilling enough to keep me watching, but witty enough to quell any anxieties. Directed and written by a debut team, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, it’s stylized just enough to wink at the viewer and create visual interest, but not so much that the world seems fake or glib. I noticed that early reviews compared it to the Coen Brothers, but I kept thinking of writers like Alice Munro and Elena Ferrante, authors who bring you into the unseen and ignored realm of women to show you the covert ways girls and women learn to deal with criminality and abuse. As one character says, “A lot of people underestimate young women. That’s why they get away with a lot.”
The cast is marvelous, and makes excellent use of veteran actors like June Squibb and Margo Martindale. I also enjoyed the performances of his younger leads, Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor. If you’re looking for something to take your mind off the news, this is a great weekend watch. I’m eager to see what these filmmakers do next.
Hillary (2020) ★★★1/2
Director: Nanette Burstein
Streaming on Hulu
Ever since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with her, reading interviews and post-mortems, as well as Clinton’s own memoir about the 2016 campaign, What Happened? I also read Amy Chozick’s memoir, Chasing Hillary, about covering both of Clinton’s presidential runs for the New York Times. When I heard that Nanette Burstein had made a 4-hour documentary about Clinton’s life, I didn’t think I’d be interested in revisiting material that I already knew so well. At the beginning of the quarantine, I gave the first episode a try, but it didn’t grab me, especially when I saw how reliant it was on first-person interviews with Clinton, as well as Amy Chozick. I felt like I’d already heard from both of them and I wanted a new perspective.
But then quarantine started to wear on me. I kept thinking about what this period would be like if Clinton were president. . . Continue reading “My Quarantine Binge-watch: Hillary”
I was just finishing up a different post when I saw the news that Irrfan Khan had passed away. So, so sad. Today is for Irrfan Khan, an extraordinary actor. When I was looking at his IMDB profile, I realized I’ve only seen a handful of his performances, but he brings so much to every role that I feel I know him well.
I first noticed him in The Namesake, Mira Nair’s wonderful adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2003 novel by the same name. I loved the novel and worried that the movie would oversimplify it, but the moment Irrfan Khan came on screen, he not only lived up to the character in the book, he made it deeper. He was an actor who expressed himself in the way he moved and breathed, the dialogue was just icing on the cake. Every ounce of him was revealing of character and story. I am so sad that he has left this world. He was only 53. I wanted to see him in more roles as he got older. He was one of those actors who shows you how to live.
I’m reposting this movie calendar, since a lot of the release dates have shifted over the past couple of months. The blockbusters and big-budget pictures have been delayed, but many independent films are having digital premieres. I’m hoping to catch with some of them over the next few weeks . . .
In the meantime, here’s my ongoing list of 2020 movies written or directed by women. These are mostly narrative films, but I’ve thrown in some documentaries, too. I’ve included specific dates when available, and some color-coding to help make sense of all the postponements and streaming changes due to quarantine.
BLACK = theatrical release (this summer and fall most theatrical releases will probably also be available VOD on this date)
GREEN = originated in and/or intended for theaters, now available VOD
PURPLE = originating on streaming subscription platforms
Last updated: 7/30/20
Continue reading “UPDATE: 2020 Movies Directed or Written by Women”
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020) ★★★1/2
Directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham
Streaming on Netflix
Crip Camp is a Netflix film, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, but I had the unusual experience of seeing it on the big screen a few weeks ago for a press screening. I say unusual not only because this is a documentary that most people will watch at home but because I ventured out to see it when people were just starting to feel nervous about Coronavirus. I wasn’t even sure I should go, but at that time, my kids were still in school, my husband was still going into to work and out to evening events and except for everyone washing their hands a lot, things were relatively normal. It’s eerie how quickly things have changed.
Anyway, I went into the screening feeling anxious and scatterbrained but left feeling centered and full of hope. Crip Camp tells the story of the disability rights movement, which was seeded at a teen summer camp called Camp Jened. The camp itself, located in upstate New York near Woodstock, was ordinary and in terms of its offerings. There was a pool, arts and crafts, sports, and music. The usual. What made it extraordinary was that every kid who went was disabled, which meant that a bunch of teenagers who were used to being pushed to the side were suddenly front and center. For the first time in their lives, the kids experienced what it was like to be among people who were not put off or scared by their disabilities, and who saw them in terms of their personalities, interests, and dreams. It was so freeing that for many of the campers, it was a political awakening. As one camper puts it, there was a realization that “the problem with the disabled isn’t with the disabled, it’s with the outside world.”
Continue reading “Review: Crip Camp”
Originally slated for SXSW, the New York Times is now streaming Hysterical Girl, a documentary short about Freud’s classic case study, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Writer and director Kate Novack argues that instead of being a case study of sexual repression, Freud’s Dora is actually a classic example of how men ignore, misinterpret, and cover up reports of abuse from girls and women.
I just watched it and was impressed by how many ideas it crammed into 13 minutes. The movie is anchored by a dramatic monologue that uses Freud’s own notes to give voice to Dora’s side of the story. The monologue is illustrated by a rapid collage of images and clips from classic films and TV shows, news coverage of Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and other women who have stood up to men in power, and hand-drawn animations.