Ash is Purest White (2018)
Written & Directed by Zhangke Jia
To have a love that is so devoted, you would give up your freedom for your partner to be free is rare. Qiao has that love for Bin, her boyfriend, and the organized crime boss of rural Datong, a small industrial town in northern China. Qiao takes full advantage of her place of power, thoroughly enjoying the nightlife of Datong and making sure people know who her man is. It becomes clear there is another faction making a move, and Qiao tries to persuade Bin to leave this place and start over somewhere with more opportunity. They don’t get a chance as one night their car is surrounded by motorcyclists out to kill Bin.
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The Farewell (2019)
Written & Directed by Lulu Wang
In 2013, Lulu Wang found out her grandmother was dying of cancer. Lulu knew this, but her grandmother did not. Wang’s parents, following a Chinese tradition, decided to refrain from telling the matriarch this until she was on her deathbed in order not to drive her into depression and ruin her otherwise upbeat demeanor. Finding this decision to be downright bizarre, Lulu conferred with her American friends and they assured her this was not the norm in the West. The experience caused Wang to contemplate her status as both a Chinese and American person, reflecting on her transition as an immigrant and return to mainland China. Out of this came a story for This American Life and now a feature film.
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Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (2019)
Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Fifty years ago on August 9th actress Sharon Tate and three of her friends were brutally murdered by three people sent to her home by Charles Manson. At the time, Tate was eight months pregnant with her first child by husband Roman Polanski. Polanksi was in London scouting locations for The Day of the Dolphin, a film he would have to abandon when word reached him of the massacre that occurred at his home on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. This has become a horror story retold countless times when the dark side of Hollywood is discussed, an allegory for the nightmare that can bubble up to the surface in a town so closely associated with dreams. But, what if…?
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Big Little Lies Season 2 (HBO)
Written by David E. Kelley & Liane Moriarty
Directed by Andrea Arnold
The stakes at the end of season one of Big Little Lies were cranked up so high it was hard to imagine how this second round would play out. When the season opens, everyone is in recovery mode from the death of Perry with Celeste naturally going through the toughest time. Perry rewired her way of thinking from years of abuse that she simultaneously misses him but is glad he’s gone. None of this is helped by the presence of Mary Louise, Perry’s mother, who has come to town to help Celeste with the boys. Mary Louise notices that Celeste is using sleep aids and making poor decisions around the house, but the breaking point comes when Celeste explains the extent of Perry’s abuse and that he raped Jane. Mary Louise cannot handle these facts about her son, and she quickly becomes the antagonist for this season.
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A Fantastic Woman (2017)
Written by Sebastián Lelio & Gonzalo Maza
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Grief is universal, an emotion while experienced as a result of certain life events; it has a profound resonance in our lives. You never feel grief is moderation; it cascades over you like waves leading you to feel as though grief may take you under. Being trans is not an experience we will all have; in fact, it’s estimated about 0.6% of the population is transgender. Trans people feel grief just like anyone else; they love and feel loss no different than any human being. A Fantastic Woman puts its protagonist in a universally-experienced situation, never ignoring what role her gender plays in the story, as a means to connect her to the very people in the film that seeks to undermine her grieving process.
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The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
Written by Jimmie Falls, Joe Talbot, and Rob Richert
Directed by Joe Talbot
San Francisco has existed since 1846, formerly the Spanish town of Yerba Buena renamed in the wake of the Mexican-American War. The city boomed with the Gold Rush and despite destructive earthquakes hasn’t seemed to stop growing ever since. These days, San Francisco is at the center of the tech boom, neighborhoods gobbled up by startups and associated service industries that cater to these companies. The long-time residents of San Fran, whose family lineages go back to the first boom of the Gold Rush and the subsequent migrations, are being pushed to the fringes. The gentrification is even crossing the Bay into Oakland. Like every city center in our nation afflicted by “urban revitalization,” the result is always the local is pushed out for the transplant or the tourist.
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Lady Macbeth (2016)
Written by Alice Birch and Nikolai Leskov
Directed by William Oldroyd
This is not a movie about Lady Macbeth. It’s not an adaptation of Shakespeare. It’s not a reimagining of the events of his play. This is a film noir, set in the English Victorian era, about a classic femme fatale, told from her perspective coldly and neutrally. She’s a child bride, sold off to a wealthy man so his son can have a wife. The problem is that the son has no attraction to her; we later learn why, and it’s not what you expect. Left alone in a dusty manor house, our protagonist seeks out the affections of a gruff stablehand, someone like she used to know before this life. The two engage in a torrid affair, the house staff knowing exactly what is going on, and this all leads to murder.
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