Film Forum

Streaming Surprises, Volume 29

Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old that our board members are watching. Titles are available from various streaming services.

“Her Smell” (2018)
Submitted by Cassandra R. McGuire. Streaming on Kanopy.

As a fan of riot grrrl music and sub-culture, I knew I had to check this one out. Moreover, the music-biopic is having its perennial moment with the popularity of films like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman.” “Her Smell,” while fictional, trots some of the typical music-biopic framework but smartly glosses over the rise in favor of messier topics such as the fall and a slow rebuilding. There are beats of “classic music-industry turmoil” such as substance abuse, mediocrity, writer’s block, and fatigue while also exploring new pressures such as motherhood and genre obsolescence. The film follows the band Something She and its enigmatic singer, Rebecca “Becky Something” (Elisabeth Moss) as she struggles with drug use, the changing times, and the responsibility of her young daughter, all while clashing with her faithful drummer and guitarist. The music genre shift is interesting from an anthropological perspective: Think a shift from Kathleen Hanna or Courtney Love to St. Vincent or Grimes. Becky Something is a dirty-beautiful punk princess all grease, glitter, and ego, unable to conform to the latest trend of the new sleek, art-house alt-rock, and unable to stand on her own without it. All of the music featured is incredible and sung by Moss, which adds to her kinetic, ferocious performance that is both repulsive and endearing.

“Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts” (2020-)
Submitted by Benjamin Woodcock. Streaming on Netflix.

Once in a while, a fresh show comes out of nowhere. Dreamworks’ latest animated series, “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts,” is one of those shows. Kipo Oak is a 13-year-old girl searching for her father after being forced to flee from her underground city. In this post-apocalyptic world, humans live underground and nature has aggressively reclaimed the land above. To find her father, Kipo must travel through the overgrown, colorful, and vibrant wild world that is ruled by sentient mutant animals. All along she makes new friends in her journey: Wolf, a young ferocious warrior; Mandu, a lovable pig with four eyes; Benson, a music-loving scavenger; and Dave, an insect who is constantly undergoing metamorphosis. While most post-apocalyptic worlds are desolate, bleak, and drab, Kipo’s aboveground world is alive with bright color. What also sets Kipo apart are the show’s score and soundtrack, which are just as colorful as the visuals. With each episode, there comes a new creature/beast to encounter while also strengthening the friendship of Kipo and company. While her friends prefer stealth and combat, Kipo leans toward making friends and the occasional chaos that may ensue. This is an enjoyable and bingeable show with an endearing story, vibrant world, and a truly amazing soundtrack. Netflix has several other hidden gems in its library of animated shows, including “Carmen Sandiego,” “The Dragon Prince,” and “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.”

“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” (2019)
Submitted by Cindy Peters Duzi. Streaming on Hulu.

Admirers of Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison will be inspired by this documentary film that chronicles important moments in her life. “The Pieces I Am” is an intimate portrait of Toni Morrison. It is filled with the voices of her longtime friends, as well as fellow writers and critics, but it is Morrison’s voice that draws us into her story. At 88, the regal Morrison looks directly into the camera and addresses viewers with intelligence and honesty. Included in the film is footage from interviews with Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose, and Bill Moyers. We see clips of her receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, presented by President Barack Obama. Director and renowned photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders shares a 38-year friendship with Morrison. His deep understanding of her is evident in the care he gives his treatment of her story. We are invited to listen to this literary legend speak about issues ranging from racism to her role in writing about the African-American experience. She shares anecdotes from her life, including my favorite, when she explains that she learned to write by spelling out words with pebbles in her front yard. She is fierce, funny, and incredibly eloquent. My favorite Toni Morrison quote is from her novel, “Beloved”: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” By the end of this film, you will feel that Morrison is a friend of your mind.

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