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Michael Bay’s New Pandemic Epic Hits a Speed Bump Over Pandemic Protocols

Michael Bay had ambitious plans to be among the first filmmakers to shoot a movie in L.A. during the coronavirus outbreak as the producer of the would-be pandemic epic Songbird, but SAG-AFTRA has ordered its members not to participate in the project, claiming that Bay and his collaborators have not agreed to conform to any COVID-19 safety protocols.

As Deadline reports, the union said in a statement that the production, “failed to complete the signatory process and is therefore not signed to any applicable SAG-AFTRA agreement.”

A rep for Bay’s production company, Invisible Narratives, countered that the Do Not Work order is just run-of-the-mill legal boilerplate that can easily be ironed over with the union, saying, “We are actively working to resolve this paperwork issue with the guild.”

A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson, however, contends that the filmmakers are being flippant regarding the safety of their performers, telling Deadline, “The producers have not been transparent about their safety protocols and that is something we obviously take very seriously. Also, as noted in the Do Not Work order, the producers have not yet become signatory to our agreement. We have no further comment.”

It now seems that filmmakers were a bit too optimistic—and vague—in their predictions that Songbird would take flight without a hitch. In a May story about the production, a Deadline writer reported, “None of the participants would say exactly how they plan to shoot a movie at a time when the guilds are still compiling their own safety protocols so that production can resume. I’m told that the filmmakers behind Songbird have screened their plans by the guilds, and they are good to go.”

In its order to union members, SAG-AFTRA claimed that, “On A Lark Productions, LLC, the producer of the picture entitled Songbird, has failed to complete the signatory process and is therefore not signed to any applicable SAG-AFTRA agreement. As such, SAG-AFTRA members are hereby instructed to withhold any acting services or perform any covered work for this production until further notice from the union. Please note, accepting employment or rendering services on Songbird may be considered a violation of Global Rule One. Violating this order may result in disciplinary action in accordance with the SAG-AFTRA Constitution.”

As Rule One states, “No member shall render any services or make an agreement to perform services for any employer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union, which is in full force and effect, in any jurisdiction in which there is a SAG-AFTRA national collective bargaining agreement in place. This provision applies worldwide.”


RELATED: Cinematographers Guild Releases COVID-19 Protocols for Returning to Work


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Morning Brief: Texts and Other Records Piece Together Kobe’s Final Flight

» A new batch of records in the investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people on board include text messages between the person who brokered the flight, the charter company, and Bryant’s drivers. “Are you OK?” the broker asked pilot Ara Zobayan, but never got a response. [Los Angeles Times]

» L.A. has a new color-coded indicator meant to communicate coronavirus infection risk. Right now we’re orange, which means “extremely high risk.” [Los Angeles Times]

» USC confirms that most undergrad classes will be online-only come fall. On-campus housing and services will be limited as well. [CNN]

» Talent agency CAA has announced it will keep its L.A. and other U.S. offices closed until 2021. Many workplaces are reassessing their office reopening plans as the surge shows no sign of ending.  [The Hollywood Reporter]

» A group of women who sued Harvey Weinstein for misconduct have reached a $19 million settlement with the disgraced mogul. “Harvey avoided accountability for decades, and it was a powerful moment for us to band together and demand justice,” one plaintiff said. [Buzzfeed]

» Miguel Lara is allergic to chiles–but that hasn’t stopped him from making L.A.’s spiciest tortas ahogadas. The food he serves from his pop-up restaurant is “born out of this resilience and passion.”  [L.A. Taco]


TOP STORIES FROM L.A. MAG

» Alleged Epstein Recruiter Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested for ‘Almost Unspeakable’ Crimes The British socialite was taken into FBI custody at a rural New Hampshire estate today

» Local Beaches Will Be Closed Over 4th of July Weekend The temporary shutdown lasts from July 3 through 6

» Two Californians Are on Joe Biden’s VP Shortlist. What Are Their Chances? Insiders say Senator Kamala Harris and L.A. Congresswoman Karen Bass both have upsides and downsides


ONE MORE THING

 

The Best Things to Do for July 4 Weekend in L.A.

This Fourth of July is certainly going to be a weird one. Nonetheless, for many of us it’s a (probably much-needed) long weekend, best spent in the company of household-sharing loved ones, distancing out in nature, or enjoying some great entertainment at home. Here are our picks for things to do this weekend. Have fun, but be safe.

 [FULL STORY]


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35 Years Ago, ‘The Goonies’ Came to Life on This Massive Burbank Soundstage

If the walls of a particular soundstage could talk, many of us ’80s kids would likely perform the Truffle Shuffle in exchange for the stories of the full-scale pirate ship once trapped inside.

The Goonies, released 35 years ago in the summer of 1985, is bookended by scenes shot on location in Astoria and Cannon Beach, Oregon, and Bodega Bay, California, but the bulk of the film was shot on a series of soundstages at Warner Bros. Studios, known then as the Burbank Studios, when Columbia Pictures shared the lot.

goonies filming locations
Stage 16 (center)

Warner Bros.

Towering above the other stages at Warner Bros., Stage 16 is monumental both in size and the enormity of the projects it’s hosted over the years.

“It’s kind of like a crown jewel of studio space for creativity because it’s so big and there’s a big [water] tank,” says Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter, who worked as the art director on The Goonies under the late, Oscar-nominated production designer J. Michael Riva.

Stage 16 measures 32,130 square feet and is 65 feet from the floor to the lighting grid, making it the largest stage on the Warner Bros. lot. A combination of two separate water tanks provides a total capacity of up to 95 feet of unobstructed production height.

“There’s something about Stage 16 that feels like if you can’t do it in there then your set is actually maybe too big,” says Carter.

the goonies filming locations
Stage 16 with upper and lower tanks exposed

Warner Bros.

Stage 16 wasn’t conceived as the monolith that’s standing today. It was built as Stage 7 in 1935 and became Stage 16 in 1972 when Columbia moved in. While it had an impressive footprint from the start, its 35-foot height was on par with other stages lining the Warner Bros. lot. Less than a year after its completion, the musical comedy Cain and Mabel (1936) was assigned to the stage. Starring Clark Gable and Marion Davies, the mistress of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the film called for camera angles and expansive set pieces that no stage on the lot could accommodate. It’s said that Davies went to studio head Jack Warner and asked him to heighten the stage. Warner balked at the $100,000 price tag, but relented when Hearst, whose production company had a stake in the film, agreed to foot the bill.

Not long after the historic renovation, films including Dark Victory (1939), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and The Big Sleep (1946) shot on the stage. In 1953, the first of two water tanks were installed on the stage, and The 1953 installation of the first of two water tanks attracted filmmakers for decades to come. Though a handful of stages have eclipsed Stage 16 in square footage, it has remained one of the tallest active soundstages in the world.

Throughout much of the 1970s, when the escapism of the previous decades went on hiatus, the titanic stage nearly became obsolete. “People weren’t making big sets like that, or hadn’t been for awhile,” says Carter.

In a 1976 Honolulu Star Bulletin-Advertiser article about the Warner Bros. lot, the writer noted that the projects he observed shooting on soundstages were TV shows, and that the studio’s feature films were shooting on location. “In Stage 16,” the author writes, “there was nothing but empty space. Here once stood the interior of the Camelot castle.”

It’s a sight you’re not likely to see today, says Ian Corrigan, senior manager of studio operations at Warner Bros. Crews are always working in Stage 16, at least when there isn’t a pandemic. “The town is so busy and there’s so much production activity going on. Finding any stage availability is tough right now, but especially a stage of that size,” says Corrigan. “Stage 16 is unique enough that there are only a handful of other stages in all California that have that kind of capacity.”

The plaque that lists highlights from Stage 16’s history features only one film from the 1970s, the WWII-set comedy 1941 (1979), directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, would later conceive of and produce The Goonies.

Carter, who has designed ten Spielberg-directed films, notes that the landing site from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) was one of the rare large sets built in the ‘70s. That year, Star Wars also came out and officially ushered in the era of the blockbuster and an amplified film aesthetic.

By the time he directed The Goonies, Richard Donner was no stranger to working on big sets built inside gigantic soundstages. His 1978 film Superman was partly shot on the largest soundstage in Europe. “It was called the 007 Stage. It was built for Bond,” says Donner. There, at Pinewood Studios outside of London, the exterior of the Fortress of Solitude was constructed.

Donner says that when it came to the Inferno, the ship of The Goonies’ famed 17th-century pirate, One-Eyed Willy, there was some discussion as to whether the ship would be built in pieces and filmed separately. He credits Riva for having the vision to create what would become one of the greatest sets of all time. “Michael had it in his mind, no matter what, that he was going to build a full-scale pirate ship,” says Donner. “That was it, and Michael was the kind of guy that wore blinders and delivered the best of the best.”

“It was Michael’s imagination, I think, that sparked it into a whole new level of Goonieness,” adds Carter. “I think Michael Riva was one of the prime Goonies.” Riva passed away in 2012 at the age of 63, while working on Django Unchained.

One-Eyed Willy’s ship

Warner Bros.

The discovery of the ship, finding the treasure, the reemergence of the bickering Fratellis and, finally, the Goonies’ escape, transpire over 18 minutes of screen time. “I think the idea of doing it as a big set came because there was just so much action on it,” says Carter. In pure Goonies fashion, Carter and Riva would have mock sword fights on pieces of plywood, prior to construction, to determine the most comfortable angle at which to anchor the ship.

Building the ship, interiors and all, as one gigantic set piece is self-reflexive of Stage 16’s history and the Errol Flynn-starring swashbuckler films from Warner Bros., like Captain Blood (1935), which is referenced in The Goonies. Carter says, “It’s a reference to movies, but it’s movies as history that is now being drawn upon to create a modern-day, real-life version of that fantasy.”

Mikey (Sean Astin) explores the lower deck of the Inferno

Warner Bros.

The script not only dictated the need for a pirate ship, but also a towering, enclosed cave surrounding a large pool of water in which the Inferno rested. As the story goes, One-Eyed Willy stole vast amounts of treasure and loaded it onto the Inferno. The British king sent an armada of ships to track down Willy and the treasure. After a battle of massive scale, the Inferno fled, but the British tracked Willy to a cave and blew up the walls around the ship, trapping Willy, his crew, and the treasure.

In the mid-80s, before major production hubs sprouted all over the world, the crews and infrastructure for building and shooting such a large scale set were only available in Los Angeles and London. Ghostbusters (1984), a quintessential New York film, shot most of its interiors in Los Angeles. The rooftop of Dana Barrett’s Central Park West apartment building was constructed on Stage 16. It was the only soundstage that provided the necessary height and a massive water tank in which to maroon One-Eyed Willy’s ship.

The tank on Stage 16 can hold almost 2.3 million gallons of water when using both the upper and lower tanks. It features an integrated water system and it takes about 16 hours to fill when both tanks are being employed. Corrigan says, “The studio has a great relationship with the city of Burbank. So we give them a courtesy heads up of when we want to do this stuff, so they’re aware 2.3 million gallons of water is about to leave the city’s infrastructure system.”

When a production wraps, draining the tank is not something the studio does lightly. First, it’s determined if the next production may require the use of the water in the tank. If not, communication between the studio and Burbank Water and Power is most important when the tank is pumped, as the city’s filtration system sees a spike in returned water supply.

“It is a lot of water for production purposes, but I would argue that most of that water comes back to the studio anyway as reclaimed water for all the grass, the foliage. Reclaimed water is used all over the lot,” says Corrigan.

The Fratellis invade the Inferno

Warner Bros.

The One-Eyed Willy set took about six months to build on Stage 16 estimates Jamie Orendorff, who was the stage foreman on The Goonies and was responsible for coordinating the construction of the set. Due to the required amount of crew, construction was done around the clock, in shifts. “Once we got into the ship, and the stage got too crowded for everybody, we started on twenty-four hours a day, where I would work on the ship with about a hundred guys during the daytime and another fifty guys came in on the night shift to work on the cave part,” says Orendorff.

The cave walls were built almost all the way up to the “perms,” or permanents, the grid system at the top of the soundstage. Today, Carter says, creating rock wall facades like those seen in The Goonies would be done by carving Styrofoam or using fiberglass formed by molds. But in the mid-‘80s it had to be done the old fashioned way – plaster. “It hadn’t been done in Hollywood for about a decade at that point…maybe a decade-and-a-half,” says Carter. “There hadn’t been any really big sets with rock walls and there weren’t as many plasterers as you would have thought that knew how to do it.” The plaster foreman, Carter says, had to call his father out of retirement because there weren’t enough experienced plasterers for a job of this magnitude. “I think they probably hired almost everybody in town because it was just wasn’t the kind of thing that people were used to,” says Carter.

A glimpse of the “perms” (upper right) as the Fratelli brothers are hoisted

Warner Bros.

Thirty-five years later, some details have muddied over time, but Orendorff says, without hesitation, that the Inferno was 138 feet long and 42 feet from the tank floor to the highest point of the rear deck. The mast extended to the perms.

It’s fairly well known among Goonies fans that Donner wanted to capture the actors’ natural reactions of seeing the ship for the first time. In order to keep the set under wraps, a giant curtain was hung inside the elephant door of Stage 16 so that no one, especially the kids, could see what was transpiring. “Some of the little buggers tried to sneak in,” says Donner, affectionately, “but the guards all had pictures of them.” On the day of shooting the reveal, the Goonies were led into the water, blindfolded, and faced away from the ship. “They were told they were going to jump down and come up and turn around, and what [you] saw was going to be the first expression on [their faces] of this entire, beautiful Willy’s pirate ship,” says Donner. “We had cameras on each one of them. So that’s what I was looking for, the amazement of a child.”

In 2020, it’s fair to assume that if the ship were recreated in this day and age, filmmakers might opt for visual effects as a method to build the Inferno. “I’m not sure it would be the right choice,” says Carter, “because there is something that’s still quite intangible as a difference between something that is really there physically and something that is added in to the film digitally, or optically, or in whatever way, to create the final look of it.”

Mikey, Data, Mouth, all of the Goonies, are actually inside that ship. Gun ports in the hull reveal a physical space where waterfalls create a mist of atmospheric perspective inside a cinematic playground in which the actors can immerse themselves. The childlike wonder that Donner wanted to capture comes through on screen naturally.

“If you wanted to do it a different way, like, say, ‘Well, we’re just going to build part of it, and we’re just going to shoot this part over here and this over here,’ people can do that and then it shows up in the final film,” says Carter. “Physical presence has something that we just respond to, even when it’s photographed.”

The Goonies escape the cave

Warner Bros.

Following The Goonies, Stage 16 has been home for some equally large sets.

After shooting Batman (1989) in London, Tim Burton brought Batman Returns (1992) to his hometown of Burbank where, inside Stage 16, the production created a snow-covered Gotham Plaza complete with a 40-foot Christmas tree.

Carter returned to Stage 16, this time as production designer, on Jurassic Park (1993) for the rainy nighttime sequence in which the T-rex ferociously breaks loose from its pen. Interestingly, an article from the Harrisburg Sunday Courier from 1936 reported that Warner Bros. was using the stage as “weather headquarters,” as the height of the newly remodeled space provided sufficient elevation for rain effects to gain realistic momentum.

Las Vegas has been created on Stage 16 on a couple of occasions. Ocean’s 13 (2007) constructed a three-level, 360 degree casino complete with slot machines, escalators and a koi pond. For The Hangover Part III (2013), the roof of Caesars Palace was built for a scene in which Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) repel into the penthouse suite.

Christopher Nolan shot parts of Inception (2010), Dunkirk (2017) and his new film Tenet (2020) inside Stage 16.

While the on-screen reveal of One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship has lived on as part of Goonies lore, it’s Donner’s summation of the set that is of note.

“It was probably the biggest build I was ever on that I remember being kind of emotionally committed to,” says Donner. “It stopped you in your tracks. It was probably what Hollywood once was. And in a strange way, when you were looking at it, as when you left it, you were hoping you’d save the ship. But you weren’t going to save the set—the design—and probably no one was going to build anything like that again. It was an emotional experience.”

In fact, Donner tried saving the ship. “I called every amusement park in the United States and offered to deliver that ship to them,” says Donner.

Orendorff recalls talking to Six Flags. “They were very interested, and wanted to take it and turn it into a restaurant. I pointed out to them that it wasn’t built to move. It could be moved, but it would be very expensive to move, and I think they just weren’t prepared to pay that much at the time,” says Orendorff. Of course, nobody knew how successful the film would be.

“It had to be destroyed, and that was heartbreaking,” says Donner.

An inquiry with he studio revealed that, to the best of their knowledge, remnants of the ship do not exist in the studio archives, which, though disappointing, is understandable. With the advent of eBay in the ‘90s, precious movie memorabilia would often show up for sale on the Internet. Today, studio archives are thorough and protective when it comes to preserving artifacts from their productions.

But is there ever a chance we’d see One-Eyed Willy’s ship return to Stage 16 for a long-speculated Goonies sequel? “Hard to say. You won’t see it from me,” says Donner, who recently turned 90. “There could be the search for the ship itself. Where did it go? Did it sink? Did it sail off on its own? Who knows? It’s up to the creators. If they do it—I hope they don’t, but if they do—I wish them all the success in the world because we’re the ones who set it free.”

The Inferno breaks free

 

What to Stream This Weekend: Hamilton, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and More

As California dials back its reopening efforts, staying safer at home is good policy now more than ever. Our weekly roundup of movies and shows to stream will keep you entertained while you keep yourself safe from the COVID.


Hamilton

Have you heard of this musical? OF COURSE YOU HAVE. But you may not have been one of the lucky ones to score an exorbitantly priced ticket to see the original cast, and now you get a prime seat at the feet of Lin-Manuel Miranda and company in New York, circa 2016, from the comfort of your own butt-dimpled couch. “It’s hard to imagine a more receptive backdrop for a drama that ingeniously recasts the Founding Fathers as people of color, placing America’s oft-repeated ‘nation of immigrants’ rhetoric into the most literal terms imaginable,” Justin Chang says about watching Hamilton in July 2020. “Nor can I think of a better moment for a musical that reminds us anew that the language of hip-hop is a language of protest.” Disney Plus.

John Lewis: Good Trouble

The 17-term congressman who marched with MLK in Selma, who’s been making waves and getting arrested for all manner of “good trouble” during his incredible life, gets a well-deserved documentary from Dawn Porter—a former attorney who has trained her legal eagle eye on the camera (see: Bobby Kennedy for President). “Unlike King, Malcolm X and other assassinated civil rights figures, Lewis isn’t frozen in time as a symbol. He’s a living, legislating link to our recent history, and a reminder that the battles fought for desegregation and voting rights weren’t all that long ago,” says Katie Walsh, who called the film “a lovely tribute to Lewis, with so many moments from his story remaining urgent and relevant.” VOD on multiple platforms.

Family Romance, LLC

Werner Herzog is back and weirder than ever in this quasi-scripted documentary about the Japanese industry of rental families (and other social units). Blurring the line between fact and fiction, a man who runs one of those operations plays a version of himself, hired to play the father of a girl whose real dad abandoned her when she was little. “They may not be professional actors, but they are very much acting, and their interactions nonetheless tap into something quite authentic and emotional,” says Diego Semerene. “It’s as though Herzog were more witness than author, more passerby than gawker, simply registering Japan being Japan.” MUBI.

The Truth

Another film from Japan (sort of) about actors playing actors, this is writer-director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s follow-up to Shoplifters, which won the Palme d’Or in 2018. The Truth is actually his first non-native feature, and stars French acting legend Catherine Deneuve as a French acting legend, Juliette Binoche as her daughter, and Ethan Hawke as her son-in-law. It’s a story about “the permanence of film versus the impermanence of memory,” says David Erlich, “suggesting that even the living can entomb themselves in the memories we invent for ourselves. Memories are what moor us to the world, and they’re also what make it so difficult for us to move through it freely. They may not be accurate, but they tend not to change once the die is cast; when something is printed on the film of our minds, it’s often projected through us for the rest of our lives.” VOD on multiple platforms.

The Baby-Sitters Club

“You couldn’t be a young girl in the 1990s and not know of Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club,” says Kristen Lopez. Well, I was not, and I did not—although I did laugh (a lot) at The Baby-Sitters Club Club, a podcast where two lovable idiots tackle it book by baby-sitting book. Regardless, Netflix’s new adaptation of the beloved series, created by Glow producer Rachel Shukert, is drawing raves. Lopez says it “isn’t just the perfect show for girls right now, it’s the balm for the soul we need as an audience. Watching a group of intrepid young women start a business, deal with irresponsible teens, and get their homework done is a level of responsibility to which we should all aspire.” Netflix.


Past recs …

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Michelle McNamara introduced herself to the world in the pages of this magazine, with a 2013 investigative essay about a serial rapist and murderer from the 1970s and ’80s that she dubbed the “Golden State Killer”—a disturbingly prolific predator most of us had never heard about. That led to a book deal, and she was hard at work on I’ll Be Gone in the Dark when she died in her sleep in 2016. Her passing was tragic for many reasons—not least because, soon after the book came out posthumously, the killer was captured. This six-part HBO docuseries is as much McNamara’s story as it is the killer’s, and much like the author’s powerful and deeply empathetic writing, the focus is on the beautiful lives that were lost. Premieres Sunday on HBO.

Search Party

The third season of this murder mystery-slash-comedy, starring Alia Shawkat and John Early, moves from TBS to HBO Max after a hiatus of more than two years—and it arrives as a breath of pandemic-free fresh air. “Search Party’s earlier seasons found joltingly dark humor in the absurdity of four clueless, sheltered, relatively young adults playing detective and then committing and covering up a murder,” writes Niv M. Sultan at Slate. This season, which features Louie Anderson in a small part, “rivals its predecessors in its intoxicating blend of bleak cynicism and irreverent comedy, but embraces a more exaggerated, madcap sensibility.” HBO Max.

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

The great jazz singer gets her due with this documentary, which features a trove of archival footage and interviews with family members and famous admirers. “A suitably affectionate documentary portrait that walks us through her life and career, from her first appearance, as a skinny, nervous teen, on the stage of the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, to her death in 1996,” says Michael O’Sullivan at the Washington Post. “The film’s most satisfying passages are when the talking heads shut up for a moment and let us listen to Fitzgerald, who … ‘almost single-handedly elevated the American popular song to the status of art.’” Streaming at theavalon.org, afisilver.afi.com, themiracletheatre.com, and cinemaartstheatre.com.

Athlete A

Not an easy watch, but an important excavation of the case against predatory Olympian doctor Larry Nassar and the system that protected him for so long. Told through the lens of the complaint brought against him by American swimmer Maggie Nichols, “Athlete A works as both a meticulous unpacking of the case against Nassar,” says IndieWire’s Kate Erbland, “and an emotional unburdening for his many victims. By its end, however, its revelations demand nothing short of the full-scale dismantling of every facet of USA Gymnastics.” Netflix.

St. Elmo’s Fire

Joel Schumacher died this week, causing many people to revisit his long and wildly diverse filmography. Even though it was poorly reviewed at the time, one of his most cherished films is about a group of 20-something friends who run up against the difficult, and even tragic, reality of adulting. As L.A. Times’ Mary McNamara wrote this week, St. Elmo’s Fire offered “the relatively new notion that friend groups could save us, even from ourselves. Adult friends were, in fact, the new, improved family.” Showtime.

The Princess and the Frog

An underrated, post-’90s renaissance film from Disney, this was their first fairytale to feature a Black princess, a return to hand-drawn animation, and a vibrant celebration of New Orleans music, food, and culture. It also undoes some retrograde princess morals, and features one of the creepiest, most seductive villains in the canon and a rollicking songbook by the Louisiana-loving Randy Newman. Disney just announced that they will re-theme the ride Splash Mountain from its current Song of the South trappings (a film so tainted by racist stereotypes that the company buried it long ago) to a Princess and the Frog theme—a great excuse to remember this latter-day classic. Disney Plus.

(In)Visible Portraits

First-time filmmaker Oge Egbuonu was ready to share this timely documentary with the world before the pandemic hit, and now it only feels more crucial. “A love letter to Black women,” the film “brings to light the invisible otherizing of African American women in America,” according to Julie Miller at Vanity Fair. “It features Black female academics and everywomen looking back on the historical oppression of Black women, honoring the strength and perseverance of generations rendered invisible by society, and reframing the narrative around the population in their own words. As Egbuonu, an associate producer on 2016’s Loving, [said], “This is me saying, ‘I hear you. I see you, and you matter.’” VOD on multiple platforms.

Miss Juneteenth

A former beauty queen and single mother tries to convince her teenage daughter to sign up for the Miss Juneteenth pageant she won—the top prize being a scholarship to a historically black college. This debut feature by Channing Godfrey Peoples contends with the legacy of slavery and racism in the more intimate context of black girlhood. “Instead of just depicting the myriad ways black women carry their communities,” writes Lovia Gyarkye at the New York Times, “the movie goes further to explore how these women and black girls support each other in a world that often fails them. VOD on multiple platforms.

You Should Have Left

Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried vacation in a cool house in Wales—and, in the grand tradition of haunted house stories, the home has other plans. Directed by David Koepp (better known as the screenwriter behind movies like Jurassic Park), it’s a concise, tightly wound thriller and a “rare horror film that makes more sense the more you think about it,” says the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle. “It’s more than an adrenaline rush. There are ideas here.” VOD on multiple platforms.

Perry Mason

This ain’t your grandmother’s Perry Mason. The new HBO series casts Matthew Rhys (The Americans) as the famous defense attorney in his younger years—before he was a bear in the courtroom and still a scrappy private eye investigating lurid crimes in 1930s Los Angeles. Also starring John Lithgow, Tatiana Maslany, Juliet Rylance, and Stephen Root, “the greatest joy of viewing Perry Mason comes just from having so many amazing performers playing off of each other,” says AV Club’s Gwen Ihnat. “Rhys deftly unfurls the enigmatic character layer by layer, crafting this degenerate into a more recognizable version of the legal icon revered for decades.” Premieres Sunday on HBO.

7500

Joseph Gordon-Levitt hasn’t been seen on the screen since 2016, and this claustrophobic thriller gives the actor a welcome showcase for his return. A tense story of a hijacked airplane, told entirely from the confines of the pilot’s cockpit, “the result overcomes the reductive premise and archetypal characters through its adrenaline-pumping pace, dexterous camerawork, and a frantic performance by [Gordon-Levitt] that ranks as one of his subtlest turns,” says IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. Amazon Prime.

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee doesn’t pussyfoot around. His last film, BlacKkKlansman—which earned the director his first Oscar nomination—may have found humor and undercover-caper fun in the true story of detective Ron Stallworth, but it was also angry, political, and finally a gut punch of denuded racism. His newest, Da Five Bloods, is a treasure-hunting adventure set in Vietnam with its own funny bone—but it, too, is mainlined Spike. “This long, anguished, funny, violent excursion into a hidden chamber of the nation’s heart of darkness,” says the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, “isn’t like anything else.” Netflix.

Selma

Far from a staid history lesson your substitute teacher might wheel in on a sleepy afternoon, Ava DuVernay’s film—about Martin Luther King Jr.’s (David Oyelowo) strategic campaign of nonviolent protest to force America’s hand on suppressing black votes—is a poetic, subtle, beautiful film full of channeled rage and optimism, and the herald of a major talent (even if the Academy ignored it out of spite). The Oscar-winning end song by Common namechecks the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri—a fierce declaration that this story doesn’t reside in the past. Amazon Prime.

Amazing Grace

Aretha Franklin returned to her gospel roots and gave the performance of a lifetime at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts in January 1972. Amazingly, it was captured for posterity on film—even though it took 40 years to be seen—and it is a church service that might convert the devil himself. “The lift-you-to-the-rafters intensity of Franklin’s voice remains so pure and galvanic that Amazing Grace is one of the few movies you could watch with your eyes closed,” wrote Justin Chang at the L.A. Times, “though you would hardly want to.” Hulu.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The Academy completely and inexplicably ignored this gem from last year, about a young man named Jimmie Fails (played by… Jimmie Fails) squeezed out of his beloved but rapidly gentrifying city, trying to hold on to the last remnant of his little piece of it—an old house that once belonged to his family. Stylized almost like a fairy tale, but grounded in hardscrabble reality, it’s a gorgeous and moving film that features a glorious score and a stunning performance by Jonathan Majors. Amazon Prime.

Quincy

The influential jazzman, mogul, record producer, film composer, mentor, and legend, “Q” has been there from “bebop to doo-wop to hip-hop to laptop,” in his words, and this touching documentary is a celebration of his legacy that also captures the magic and inspiration he seems to effortlessly exude, despite an unthinkably painful childhood and no shortage of racist BS. Watching the film is like sitting by Quincy’s side, wrote IndieWire’s Jude Dry, “holding his hand as he narrates one of countless stories stored away in his ever-sharp and creative mind.” Netflix.

Just Mercy

This film escaped a lot of 2019 year-end lists and the Academy Awards conversation, which is a shame. Destin Daniel Cretton’s drama is about real-life civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, played by a riveting Michael B. Jordan, trying to free an Alabama man (a stellar Jamie Foxx) wrongfully on death row. The film “keeps its emotions on a low simmer,” wrote the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, “its absorbing, tautly designed drama finally coming to a climax that is satisfying on one level, and absolutely shattering on another.” Free on VOD in June.

Malcolm X

Spike Lee’s newest joint, Da Five Bloods, drops next weekend on Netflix. In the meantime, catch his 1992 opus about one of the defining black leaders in American history, played by Denzel Washington in an Oscar-nominated performance. It “showed that epic filmmaking could be politically urgent, and that a biopic could contain multitudes,” A.O. Scott writes in the New York Times. “Malcolm X, changing its visual palette and its mood to match each decade of the story, is a comedy, a love story, an almost-musical and a whodunit, held together by Denzel Washington’s somber, witty, altogether electrifying performance.” Netflix.

13th

If you want to understand just how much the deck is stacked against anyone born black in this country, watch Ava DuVernay’s gripping, righteous documentary about the legacy of slavery in our modern incarceration system. “Powerful, infuriating, and at times overwhelming,” the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote, the film “will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking. It shakes you up, but it also challenges your ideas about the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States.” Netflix.

I Am Not Your Negro

One of America’s most insightful, incisive writers on the subject of race was James Baldwin (If Beale Street Could Talk), who is both the subject and posthumous author of this 2016 documentary directed by Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson from Baldwin’s own words. “By assembling the scattered images and historical clips suggested by Baldwin’s writing, I Am Not Your Negro is a cinematic séance,” wrote The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman, “and one of the best movies about the civil rights era ever made.” Amazon Prime.

Shirley

This Sundance winner from director Josephine Decker, an imaginative portrait of horror novelist Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) told through the prism of the author’s gothic style, features an original score by Tamar-kali—a composer who made her scoring debut with Dee Rees’ Mudbound. Tamar-kali’s background as a punk rocker and classically trained singer lends a unique vibe to her scores, which also never forget the importance of subtle suggestion and storytelling. Shirley was one of three films she scored that premiered at Sundance (The Assistant and The Last Thing He Wanted being the other two), and together they “announce her as a major player in the almost lost art of old-fashioned (in the best sense) film scores,” says Sheila O’Malley at RogerEbert.com. VOD on multiple platforms.

Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992

“What’s past is prologue,” Shakespeare said, and this sober, human documentary from 2017 about the Rodney King uprising—and the accumulating mountain of grievances and tension that formed in the decade prior—is incredibly enlightening in our city’s current moment of protest. The two events differ in many ways, but there are so many echoes, it’s eerie. Director John Ridley deftly wove archival footage into an extensive oral history with a vast number of former police officers, South Central residents, key witnesses, and bereft family members—resulting in an opus that is “so powerfully elucidated by the movie’s commitment to context and nuance,” wrote the New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis, “that even too-familiar tragedies—like the agonizing beatings of Rodney King and Reginald Denny—arrive freighted with fresh insight.” Netflix.

The Vast of Night

A paranormal mystery set in 1950s New Mexico, this debut feature by Andrew Patterson stirs a little bit of The Twilight Zone, H.G. Wells, vintage Spielberg, and even the Coen brothers into a throwback to classic drive-in fare. (You can, in fact, see it at the Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair tonight.) Justin Chang at the L.A. Times calls it “ingenious,” and says the film “exists somewhere at the intersection of radio, television and cinema, and … excavates some of our fondest old-timey memories of all three in order to build something playfully, strikingly new.” Amazon Prime.

HBO Max

Yes, this is a recommendation for an entire streaming service. The latest heavyweight to enter an overcrowded ring—mustering the armies of HBO, Warner Bros., DC, New Line, and the Turner family—debuted this week, and it offers a feast to just about every taste. Whether you love classic films (from Casablanca to Apocalypse Now), classic sitcoms (from Friends to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Studio Ghibli anime, dramatic TV masterworks (The Sopranos), Batman, Harry Potter… you get the idea. If you don’t already have free access through an existing HBO subscription, you can sign up for a seven-day trial.

On the Record

One of several new offerings on HBO Max is this “absorbing, emotional gut-punch of a documentary,” according to the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, about music executive Drew Dixon and her 2017 sexual assault allegations against Russell Simmons. “On the Record would be mesmerizing enough simply as a portrait of a young woman who, having majored in history at Stanford University, pursued the music she loved all the way to its sizzling epicenter in the 1990s,” Hornaday says. But directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering “wisely pull the lens back to enlist an impressive group of black feminist intellectuals to comment throughout,” turning “an already worthy portrait of individual courage into a breathtaking and deeply moving survey of the precarious position occupied by women of color throughout history.” HBO Max.

Somebody Feed Phil

On the way lighter end of the spectrum is the new third season of this travelogue food show, hosted by the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. Phil Rosenthal is a goofy, lanky, lovable embodiment of dadhood, and he is admittedly far from an expert on culture or cuisine. Instead, he brings boundless enthusiasm, curiosity, and wry humor to his adventures—this season, that includes to Seoul, Marrakesh, and Montreal. Skype calls to his adorable parents and an emphasis on our planet’s shared humanity just add to the delight. Netflix.

End of Sentence

This father-son drama stars John Hawkes and Logan Lerman, here playing against type as a hardened criminal, in a story about inherited trauma and the fallout from bad parenting. “Lighter than it sounds,” says IndieWire’s David Erlich, the film is “casually cathartic at times, cathartically casual at others, [and] knows that some wounds never heal, but it’s never too late to stop the bleeding.” VOD on multiple platforms.

Homecoming

In a phrase that was unimaginable ten years ago, Julia Roberts starred in the first season of this Amazon original series based on the popular podcast. Season two subs in Janelle Monáe as an amnesiac trying to piece together the mystery of who she is and why she wakes up on a rowboat in a lake. It continues the first season’s narrative about the Geist Group and its meticulous homage to 1970s thrillers, but expands more into psychological territory, surrounding Monáe with the luminous likes of Chris Cooper and Joan Cusack. It’s a handsomely made, deliciously bingeable (30-minute episodes!) throwback to tight, old-school mysteries, and it also features a glorious musical score. Amazon Prime.

The Lovebirds

Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, writer Emily V. Gordon, have been keeping my wife and I sane and laughing in sync with their quarantine podcast, so the least I can do is recommend his new movie. Originally scheduled for theaters (weren’t we all?), this action rom-com reteams Nanjiani with The Big Sick director Michael Showalter, and pairs him with Insecure star Issa Rae. “A farcical murder mystery, it turns out, provides just the right backdrop for an exploration of why long-term relationships can fizzle out—and why doing the work necessary to maintain them can be worth it,” says Beandrea July at the Hollywood Reporter. Netflix.

The Trip to Greece

Dueling celebrity impressions, bromance road trips, five-star cuisine, and gorgeous travelogues, The Trip films are also sneakily somber meditations on aging, marriage, and grief. The fourth and final trip finds Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing exaggerated versions of themselves, in the land of Odysseus. “The film doesn’t try too hard to adhere to any kind of mythic structure,” says Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “But what does remain at the end of this final and most despairing of the Trip entries is a sense that the past is never quite done with us, that today’s heartbreaks and passions and tragedies are merely variations on ancient patterns.” VOD on multiple platforms.

The Wolf House

Ben Wyatt expressed his cooped-up depression through stop-motion animation, and now you can relieve your own with someone else’s. Two Chilean filmmakers created this strange, surreal nod to the Three Little Pigs story—from the pigs’ perspectives—using painstaking stop-motion and hand-drawn animation. “How does one go about describing the stomach-churning terrors of Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León’s The Wolf House?” asks Matt Fagerholm at RogerEbert.com. “Its visual landscape is unlike any I’ve experienced, and though everything about it is aggressively repellant, it still managed to hold me in a constant state of gobsmacked awe.” “These filmmakers have a perspective and a voice that feels entirely new,” says the New York Times’ Glenn Kenny. “The film surprises, with incredible force, in every one of its 75 minutes.” KimStim Virtual Cinema.

Mascots

Another week, another heartbreaking loss—this time it was funnyman Fred Willard. (I’m lucky enough to have interviewed Fred a few times, as recently as April.) There are plenty of great performances to remember him by, but I’m going to recommend a less celebrated but no less deserving one. Christopher Guest’s most recent (and possibly last) faux-documentary took the competition conceit of Best in Show to the world of mascots, and features many of his regular players and an all-timer, cry-laughing routine involving a plumber and an oversized toilet (trust me). And as with basically every movie he ever graced, the funniest scenes are the ones with Fred Willard, here playing an aging mascot trainer with no filter. Netflix.

Capone

Josh Trank had gloriously ascended from directing his first feature at 27 (Chronicle) to being handed the keys to his own Star Wars film and the star-studded Fantastic Four reboot…before he gloriously flamed out on the set of the latter bomb. Now the local prodigy is back with a vengeance—writing and directing a brash, ballsy tale of the final days of Al Capone, played by Tom Hardy. The actor is known for going to extremes (Rob Harvilla describes his voice here as sounding “like a Muppet gargling the remains of another Muppet.”) But “Trank and Hardy are firmly entrenched on the same earnestly grim wavelength,” says Scout Tafoya at Consequence of Sound, “and their joint creation…is so unwieldily that even if it didn’t work (it does), the sheer volume of effort to create something so deliciously antisocial and grotesque would still have to be commended.” VOD on multiple platforms.

Muppet Guys Talking

Jim Henson died 30 years ago this weekend, and his old pals Frank Oz and Dave Goelz are reuniting with two other Muppet veterans (Bill Barretta and Fran Brill) to talk about him and his legacy—via laptop cameras, of course. Oz (the Bert to Henson’s Ernie, the Fozzie to his Kermit) directed the similarly themed documentary Muppet Guys Talking in 2018—but if you’re like me, you can’t get enough of Henson and his merry band of misfits. Oz, who’s using the event to raise money for non-medical hospital workers in Queens, told Los Angeles’s Jared Cowan, “I’m going to find out things about Jim that I didn’t know, I betcha.” Streams Saturday at 1 p.m. PT at muppetguystalking.com/jim.

I Know This Much Is True

A number of actors have played twins on screen: Nicolas Cage, Jeremy Irons, Armie Hammer, Zach Galifianakis. Add to the list Mark Ruffalo, blessedly freed from Marvel prison to do some dramatic heavy-lifting as Dominic and Thomas Birdsey in this six-part HBO adaptation of a 1998 novel by Wally Lamb. It’s a dark story about abuse and trauma, and “often a tough watch,” says Sheila O’Malley at RogerEbert.com. “There are times when ‘compassion fatigue’ sets in, particularly in the final episode. But seeing actors do what they do best, with [writer/director Derek] Cianfrance giving them the space to do it, makes I Know This Much is True a real feast.” HBO Go.

The Great

Marie Antoinette meets The Favourite meets an R-rated The Princess Bride in this loosey-goosey telling of Catherine the Great’s mission to enlighten a barbarous Russia. Elle Fanning stars (she’s also an executive producer) alongside a grinningly, callously awful Nicholas Hoult as Peter III. Written by The Favourite’s Tony McNamara, it’s a crude, contemporary spin on history that—at ten nearly hour-long episodes—may be a bit too long. Still, “the caustic brilliance of McNamara’s scripting cannot be overstated,” says Paste’s Allison Keene, “but I was also truly emotionally invested in the season’s final crescendo to Catherine’s desperate power grab. … The Great’s exceptional, understated cast made me genuinely care for all of these madcap players, and the stakes became incredibly high.” Hulu.

Notes on an American Film Director at Work: Martin Scorsese

A detailed peek behind the scenes of one of our great directors, Martin Scorsese, collaborating with one of our great actors, Leonardo DiCaprio, on one of the great modern crime dramas, The Departed, is now streaming for free. The late avant-garde director Jonas Mekas was given VIP access on the set of the 2005 film, and the result “gives Martin Scorsese fans an up close and personal look at the filmmaker,” says Zach Sharf at IndieWire. “Mekas’ approach is unobtrusive and much of the documentary is real-time footage, providing one of the best windows into Scorsese and his cast and crew at work.” Vimeo.

Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

For Angelenos, one of the most crushing casualties of the pandemic was announced this week: the complete and utter cancellation of the Hollywood Bowl’s 2020 season. It’s almost too painful to imagine a whole “summer” (for now it can only be summer in name only) without it—but thankfully, the iconic amphitheater has appeared in many films, TV shows, and Bugs Bunny cartoons over the last century, so why not take a virtual trip to the Bowl? This 1980 concert film “may be accurately described as Python lunacy of a purer grade,” wrote the New York Times’ Vincent Canby when it was released in 1982. “This photographed recording of the stage show is not a conventional film, but it’s the next best thing to seeing the Python troupe in person.” Amazon Prime.

The Eddy

Damien Chazelle clearly loves jazz. The director introduced himself with Whiplash, a blood-soaked diary about the highs and lows of being a jazz drummer, and he won an Oscar for La La Land—which let Ryan Gosling (a guy from the Mormon, Canadian suburbs) explain why jazz is so great. Chazelle directed the first two episodes of The Eddy, a new miniseries about an American musician (André Holland) who runs a struggling jazz club in Paris, and Vulture’s Jen Chaney says the show itself “behaves like a work of improvisation. It meanders into various lives and musical performances while telling a story that bops from crime thriller to meditation on grief to portrait of the thrilling agony of being a musical artist.” Netflix.

Driveways

Brian Dennehy, the great bear of a character actor, died in April—and one of his final roles was in Driveways, an indie movie about grief and the unlikely bond between a little boy and Dennehy’s gruff widower, Del. Far from a cliché retelling of similar stories, Justin Chang at the L.A. Times says the movie often lingers “in that rueful gray zone between humor and sorrow,” and called Del “as forceful and tender a creation as any in this great actor’s body of work.” VOD on multiple platforms

Dead to Me

For many of us, dark humor is the best humor—especially in dark times. This Netflix series, starring Christina Applegate as a new widow and Linda Cardellini as her new friend (with a secret), likes to splash around in the inkiest part of the comedy ocean. “A funny thing happened between Dead to Me’s very good first season and its second,” writes CNN’s Brian Lowry. “[It] became an even better, twistier show, with—in very Big Little Lies-like fashion—a female friendship frequently tested by one impulsive act, and the escalating consequences that flow from it.” Netflix.

Brockmire

In Brockmire, Hank Azaria—best known for his circus of Simpsons character—plays a disgraced baseball commentator who has gone from the minors to the majors, to now flat-out running Major League Baseball. The series came to an end on Wednesday, and even though the fourth season depicts a blisteringly bleak near future (riddled with scorching climate, lawlessness, food shortages, and “supercancer”), Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall argues that “among the amazing accomplishments of these last eight episodes is how they wind up feeling oddly comforting for this strange and scary moment in which we all find ourselves.” First three seasons streaming on Hulu, fourth season on IFC.

How to Build a Girl

Beanie Feldstein, whose supernova charm expanded from a supporting role in Lady Bird to co-leading last year’s Booksmart, is finally headlining her own movie. And doing it in a convincing British (specifically Wolverhampton) accent to boot. Adapted from British music journalist Caitlin Moran’s memoir-novel, How to Build a Girl is a coming-of-age comedy that’s “as fun as a night in the mosh pit with your best mate,” according to Leslie Felperin at the Hollywood Reporter. “[S]upercharged by Feldstein’s intense charisma, this crowd-pleasing comedy has smart things to say about class, sex, and female identity.” VOD on multiple platforms.

Trying

In the “sadcom” spirit of Fleabag and Catastrophe comes Trying, a new series about a young couple (played by Esther Smith and Rafe Spall) who work humdrum jobs and, having failing to conceive a baby, decide to adopt. What begins with “a simmering goofy energy,” says IndieWire’s Steve Greene, crystallizes “into truer, more endearing doses of reality.” Apple TV+.

A Parks & Recreation Special

Only a pandemic could convince this band to get back together. And even though the lousy legacy of TV reunion specials—and the prospect of an ensemble comedy shot on iPhones where every actor is isolated from each other in their own actual homes—doesn’t necessarily portend success…doggone it, this is one of the best comedies ever made, and it’ll just be nice to see everyone in character again. As someone currently on their fourth rewatch of the series on Netflix, I can attest to the salve of escaping into a consistently funny utopia where hardworking, unfailingly optimistic people work in American government. Hopefully this special will, if nothing else, provide a taste of that delicious sauce. Airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC; streaming on NBC.com and Peacock starting May 1.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live Riff-Along

At this point we’re probably all riffing movies, both good and bad, at home—so why not let the professionals take over? Forced off the road but running on the momentum of their recent live tour, a new traveling company of human and robot riffers will apply their sarcastic craft to the short Circus Day (circus-related shorts are a grand tradition in MST3K), and will riff an ancient 1990 episode, Moon Zero Two, alongside the original joke track from the show’s OG Comedy Channel cast. “We tend to ignore the first season, because we got so much better the next season,” Joel Hodgson told AV Club, but “there’s so much in there.” The creator and original host of MST3K will also be on hand to answer fan-submitted questions on social media. Airs on Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook on May 3 at 3 p.m. PDT.

Slumdog Millionaire

We lost the respected Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan this week—a great excuse to rewatch some of his films and pay special attention to his quiet, unassuming charisma. Khan was already well into his acting career in 2008, but Danny Boyle’s vibrant, Oscar-sweeping film introduced him to American audiences. As the detective who questions Dev Patel’s teenage character, “Khan’s mixture of tough, careworn authority with a hint of gentleness makes him just right for the role,” says Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian. HBO Go.

Never Have I Ever

Mindy Kaling co-created this teen rom-com, loosely based on her own experience as a first-generation Indian growing up in America. Kathryn VanArendonk at Vulture compared it to Jane the Virgin, both shows possessing “a fizzy combination of a slightly heightened fictional world that’s grounded in insistently realistic emotions.” “I watched every episode as quickly as I possibly could,” VanArendonk says, “and when it ended I was furious I hadn’t forced myself to slow down.” Netflix.

Star Wars Day on Disney+

Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion may be a literal ghost town right now, but don’t feel bad for the colossal corporation: they’re still printing money thanks to endless new Star Wars content. But some of that content’s pretty good! On May the Fourth (get it?), you can watch the finale of the popular animated series The Clone Wars, stream the “final” entry of the nine-part movie saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and dive back into Baby Yoda’s world courtesy of the eight-part documentary series, Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian. Mandalorian is arguably the best thing to come out of the galaxy far, far away in a long, long time, and this promises a rich bounty of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of Werner Herzog interacting with adorable puppets. Disney+ starting May 4th.

Upload

Since we’re all thinking about death a little more these days, it might as well be funny. Greg Daniels applies his satirical skewer to the afterlife in this sci-fi comedy about a man at death’s door, after a terrible car accident, who opts to “upload” himself into a virtual heaven. It’s a darker and more adult show than Daniels’s previous creations, Parks & Recreation and The Office—and than co-creator Mike Schur’s cousin series, The Good Place—but “despite the big concept central to the show’s premise,” says Adam Chitwood at Collider, “deep down Upload is very much a show that’s interested in humanity—the best and worst of us, and how we persevere in the face of a stacked deck and insurmountable odds.” Amazon Prime.

Better Call Saul

It’s gone from a suspect, even foolish-sounding concept—a prequel series to the untouchably great Breaking Bad, centered on the fun but almost cartoonish lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk—to proving one of the best dramas ever made. Better Call Saul wrapped its penultimate season this week, in cliffhanging fashion, so if you haven’t caught up with the whole series yet, now’s the perfect time. Season five “was a bleak, beautiful masterpiece,” says Miles Surrey at the Ringer, “a triumph on the levels of writing, performance, cinematography, direction, and, of course, dank montages. This was always a great, if somewhat underappreciated show, but there’s never been a better time to say the other quiet part out loud: Better Call Saul has surpassed Breaking Bad.” First four seasons streaming on Netflix; season five available on AMC.

Little Fires Everywhere

Another critically hailed drama wrapped up this week. It may sound like something Hulu executives cooked up while playing Big Little Lies bingo—adapting a popular airplane read with a similar-sounding title, starring Reese Witherspoon in a women-centric melodrama. But this series is its own midwestern animal, which has “gone from a slow start to a straight-up explosive drama,” says AV Club’s Saloni Gajjar. “The show overall acts as quite a showcase for [Witherspoon] and Kerry Washington’s talent. Every expression they serve up, ranging from despair to heartbreak to seething rage, is spectacular.” All episodes now streaming on Hulu.

The Willoughbys

An animated film, starring the voices of Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Will Forte, and Maya Rudolph, adapted from a Lois Lowry children’s book about a kooky family cooped up in their house together. Too soon? Maybe, but this darkly comic tale in the spirit of Roald Dahl is a movie that Monica Castillo at RogerEbert.com argues, “For all its candy-colored silliness, The Willoughbys is a surprisingly sweet story about chosen families. … It’s a message both timely and timeless told through a whimsical story fit for most children of any age.” Now streaming on Netflix.

Bad Education

Peter Debruge at Variety calls this HBO film, based on a true story, the best work Hugh Jackman has ever done. The charming Aussie plays a charming superintendent of a New Jersey school district who is secretly embezzling millions of dollars, with the help of a superb Allison Janney. “Here’s a star at the height of his powers leveraging his own appeal to remind that even our heroes are fallible and that you can never really judge someone from the outside.” Premieres Saturday on HBO.

Beastie Boys Story

Spike Jonze started out as a music video director, working with bands including the Beastie Boys, before “going pro” with feature films like Being John Malkovich and Her. Now, Jonze has reunited with the surviving Beastie boys, Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, for a “live documentary” filmed in Brooklyn last year, which A.O. Scott at the New York Times says is “a jaunt down memory lane and also a moving and generous elegy.” Streaming on Apple TV+.

Baskets

It’s never too late to visit Bakersfield, where Zach Galifianakis plays twin brothers—Chip, a sad sack rodeo clown, and Dale, the dean of “the first open-carry career college”—and Louie Anderson plays their exasperated mother, Christine. In the fourth and final season, Christine “continues to anchor the series with an immense amount of heart,” says Allison Keene at Paste, “which has helped turn Baskets from just an experimental comedy to an essential, emotional watch.” All seasons now streaming on Hulu.

After Life

Ricky Gervais is one of the more polarizing comedians in the biz. You either find his acerbic, take-the-piss-out-of-Hollywood shtick insufferable…or hilarious. You either find his performance as Derek, a nursing home worker with special needs, heartwarming and hysterical…or saccharine and obnoxious. But if you like the cut of his jib, you’ll likely love After Life, another Netflix series he created where he plays a caustic widower in a small English town. Allison Shoemaker at RogerEbert.com says the new season continues to feature “a career-best turn from Ricky Gervais; a willingness to let tart and even bitter punchlines rub alongside things much more fragile; ongoing acknowledgment of the complexity and messiness of grief; a complete disinterest in saintly suffering.” Both seasons now streaming on Netflix.

Mrs. America

Cate Blanchett plays anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly in this ten-part miniseries about the 1970s feminism movement, with Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem and a host of other great actors including Uzo Aduba, Margo Martindale, Tracey Ullman, and Elizabeth Banks. “At its best, the series gives you the contact high of a heist picture,” writes Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz. “The vault is patriarchy, the locked-up fortune is equal rights and equal wages, and the recurring strategic question is whether to keep gently turning the lock back and forth until the right combination reveals itself, or just blow the bloody doors off.” First three episodes are streaming on Hulu.

The Last Show on Earth

Saturday Night Live is having to adapt to the new abnormal, and now one of its farm teams—the Second City—is doing it too. Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock fame hosts this home-quarantined version of a weekly sketch show, featuring new sketches by current cast members and famous alumni, musical performances, and even rare archival footage. The premiere episode has Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Fred Willard (one of sketch comedy’s elder statesmen), and Saff from Tiger King. Airs Thursdays on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

What We Do in the Shadows

TV adaptations of films don’t always work, but Jemaine Clement figured out a way to turn his and Taika Waititi’s 2014 film, a mockumentary about the quotidian grind of a group of vampires, into episodic gold. The second season premiered this week, and AV Club’s Katie Rife says that “it’s exciting to see that the show is getting a little more ambitious in its action scenes and with its special effects—ghost-Jesk’s demonic severed head looked great!—while keeping all the things that made the first season click.” Airs Wednesdays on FX; first two episodes are streaming on Hulu.

The Innocence Files

Netflix has been as responsible for the recent glut of true crime documentaries as any other entertainment company. But in contrast to some of the more salacious fare it’s produced, this new series focuses on the consequential work of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that’s been fighting to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners since 1992 (mostly through DNA evidence). Across nine episodes, the series “delivers a captivating and powerful exposé that balances frustration and outrage alongside triumph and hope,” says Tom Reimann at Collider. “In short, it’s some of the best nonfiction television Netflix has ever produced.” Streaming on Netflix.

The Last Dance

For anyone missing live sports—or anyone (like me) who prefers a riveting sports documentary to an actual game—ESPN is here to scratch your itch with a sprawling, ten-part docuseries about the glory days of Michael Jordan’s 1997-98 season with the Chicago Bulls. The show, which features rare footage and interviews and has been compared to O.J.: Made in America, is “both a perfect diversion and a tribute to shared sacrifice,” writes Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune. Premieres Sunday on ESPN.

Tales from the Loop

This American spin on a Swedish sci-fi art book about a midwestern town built on top of a device “built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe” is part Twilight Zone, part ’80s Amblin movie, with a uniquely ponderous and melancholy tone. The series features Jonathan Pryce and Rebecca Hall, and “is that rare sci-fi show,” according to Jacob Oller at Paste, “that trusts us to breathe in deep the oddities of its world, accept that we aren’t going to know everything, and climb aboard anyways. That trust, built with its tactful scene-setting and human-sized troubles, allows for easy investment in deceivingly simple dramas.” Streaming on Amazon Prime.

A Goofy Movie

It’s the goofy, gawky little brother of the Disney animation renaissance, slipping out in the wake of pretty princesses and dashing boy heroes. But for a certain wave of ’90s kids, A Goofy Movie is up there with the best of cartoon releases. The father-son-road-trip musical turns 25 this week, and Disney fan club D23 is throwing a virtual watch party and cast-crew reunion Friday night. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager can relate to Max’s feelings of embarrassment about his, well, goofy dad—and anyone with a heart will enjoy their journey to warm understanding. (And Powerline still slays.) The reunion starts at 4:30 p.m. PDT on Disney+.

Schitt’s Creek

The slow-burn-to-beloved series came to an end this week, which means you can finally binge the entire run from start to finish. Starring Canadian comedy royalty Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara and introducing new talent—including two of Levy’s children, Sarah and Dan, who cocreated the show with his dad—Schitt’s Creek was the little Pop TV series that could and a welcome escape from pandemic panic into a rustic wonderland of heart-filled humor. While it began as a somewhat broad, rich-people-out-of-water farce, over the course of six seasons, “everything about Schitt’s Creek has grown warmer,” writes Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk. “The Rose family has become a bedrock of supportive love for one another and the community.” Seasons 1–5 are on Netflix; season 6 is on the Pop Now app.

Run

Her Royal Highness, Dame Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is back on the small screen. After a dizzying victory lap for her show Fleabag, Waller-Bridge reteams with creator-director Vicky Jones (who helmed the stage production of Fleabag) as an executive producer and in a small supporting role in Run, a new HBO limited series about two old flames (Merrit Weaver and Domhnall Gleeson) on a train, which mixes comedy and Hitchcockian mystery. But this is really Weaver’s show, as Alan Sepinwall writes in Rolling Stone, “the star vehicle she’s earned through years of endearingly loopy scene-stealing work in TV and film.” Premieres Sunday on HBO

Parasite

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen the Best Picture-winning, buzz-heavy black comedy from South Korea; it was one of the rare non-English-language films to find a broad audience in America, a film that seduced every last critic—like Justin Chang, who says it “begins in exhilaration and ends in devastation, but the triumph of the movie is that it fully lives and breathes at every moment, even when you might find yourself struggling to exhale.” But in case you haven’t seen it, or you just want to go back inside the Park mansion to revel in the Rube Goldbergian twists and turns in Bong Joon Ho’s serrated dissection of class war, Parasite is now streaming. Watch it before HBO turns it into an American miniseries. Hulu

Unorthodox

Just in time for the first Passover via Zoom, this four-part series, loosely based on a popular memoir, is about a teenage bride who escapes her marriage and her uber-conservative Hasidic community in Brooklyn, fleeing to Berlin to find her estranged mother. Detailed, sympathetic, and timely, “it’s a kind of espionage caper,” writes James Poniewozik in The New York Times, “a thrilling and probing story of one woman’s personal defection.” Netflix

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The CW musical comedy ended last year after four seasons, but now’s as good a time as any to discover Rachel Bloom’s messy antiheroine fantasia—which Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz praises for “going the distance,” “digging progressively deeper into its heroine’s psyche, and continuing to deliver consistently clever, sometimes dazzling musical numbers.” Most of those songs were cowritten by Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, who, at just 52, was one of COVID-19’s victims. Schlesinger earned five Emmy nominations for his work on the show; watch it for his hilarious and catchy numbers if for no other reason. Netflix

Beef House

Tim and Eric are back on Adult Swim, this time skewering the ’80s/’90s family-sitcom format. They’ve played with these conventions (phony laugh tracks, corny theme songs) before, but Beef House is a full-on series in the Full House mold—they even employed the same cameras used on Fuller House—only here that mold is filled with the funky Jell-o of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s cockamamie, cheerily dark style of non sequitur humor. The cast features several Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! alumni, and the AV Club says it’s “cooked to perfection.” Airs Sundays at 12:15 a.m. on AdultSwim.com; first episode can be streamed at AdultSwim

Some Good News with John Krasinski

Fighting off the pandemic of bad news (and his own encroaching cabin fever), Krasinski created a YouTube show to supplement your seventh time binge watching him as Jim on The Office. In the first episode (of how many, and how often, we don’t know), he highlights several recent acts of kindness and humanity that were shared on the internet, interviews a teen girl who recently finished chemo, and reunites with Michael Scott himself, Steve Carrell (via Zoom). Uplift yourself! YouTube

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

One of many buzzed-about films set adrift in the lockdown’s shuttered theatrical release market, this intimate drama concerns two teenage girls on a journey from rural Pennsylvania to an abortion clinic in Manhattan. Critics gave the film, directed by Eliza Hittman, near-unanimous high marks—with Variety’s Andrew Barker writing: “At once dreamlike and ruthlessly naturalistic, steadily composed yet shot through with roiling currents of anxiety, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a quietly devastating gem.” VOD on multiple platforms

Elephant

Want to escape humans for a while? Travel somewhere exotic? Hear the silky strain of your new Angeleno neighbor, Meghan Markle? Elephant checks off all the boxes, as the Duchess of Sussex narrates a Disneyfied story built from sumptuously shot footage of real elephants (in the grand tradition of Disney nature documentaries, going back to Walt’s day—many of which can also be found on Disney+). Justin Chang of the L.A. Times says it “emerges a generally charming, sometimes cloying exercise in wildlife anthropomorphism.” (Also dropping this weekend is the Natalie Portman-narrated Dolphin Reef.) Disney+

Cursed Films

Shudder, the one-stop-shop horror streamer, offers a free seven-day trial—and now is a good time to bite. Its new original series, Cursed Films, explores the freaky accidents, deaths, and (possibly) supernatural shenanigans that have plagued several famous horror movies. The first episode delves into The Exorcist and the many mysterious deaths and on-set traumas linked to William Friedkin’s 1973 classic; future episodes will cover The Omen, Poltergeist, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com says the series “isn’t some cheapo scare tactic, focusing just as much on human stories and on-set details as it does the rumors of curses and bad karma around these movies.” First episode on Shudder.com

Tiger King

This seven-part docuseries is like the wildest of white-trash reality shows … but it’s actual reality, told in prestige documentary style. The addictively bingeable story has polygamous sex cults, throuples, guns, amputations, blood feuds, contract killings, bad country music videos, mullets, expired meat—and lots and lots of tigers. Vanity Fair says it’s “a portrait of a world that’s entirely alien, and yet also reflective, and diagnostic, of this country as a whole.” Netflix

Outbreak

Some of us like to imagine worst-case scenarios in the midst of a disaster—or at least commiserate with A-list actors in a similar situation. Contagion may be the bleaker and more recent pandemic movie, but Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak has 1995-era Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo … and monkeys. Its fictional virus kills you within 24 hours by liquefying your organs, so it might actually cheer you up about COVID-19. In his review, Roger Ebert calls it “the kind of movie you enjoy even while you observe yourself being manipulated.” Netflix

The O.J. Simpson Trial

Speaking of 1995: that summer was a simpler time, when the world was sheltered in place not because of a pandemic, but to watch the “trial of the century.” Now you can watch the actual murder trial of O.J. Simpson, unedited and in all of its undramatized, VHS-era glory. YouTube

Devs

Alex Garland, the writer-director mastermind behind modern sci-fi gems Ex Machina and Annihilation, takes to the small screen (via FX and Hulu) for a slow-burn murder mystery set at a mysterious tech company. The series id led by Nick Offerman with serious ancient-prophet hair energy. The New York Times calls it “a cold and beautiful machine.” Hulu

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

This Sundance darling documentary, produced by the Obamas, is a time machine to the Catskills in the 1970s, at “a summer camp for the handicapped run by hippies.” Directed by a former camper and using a bounty of archival footage, it’s a feel-good sleepover that has a social activism motor. It’s “buoyant and inspiring,” according to Vox, “a tale of people working together through difficulty and opposition to change the world.” Netflix

The Way Back

You may have missed it in theaters, where it came out way back on March 6, so Warner Bros. has conveniently made it available to view in your home-quarantine theater. Ben Affleck plays a divorced alcoholic who gets conscripted to coach a boy’s basketball team at his old Catholic high school. What sounds like a recipe for cornball cliché is actually an understated, complicated character study that feels like it’s flowing out of Affleck’s actual opened veins. “[T]his sober little studio movie is so uncommonly effective because of its steady insistence that life can’t be lived in reverse,” IndieWire says; “that, contrary to its title, there’s no going back.” VOD on multiple services

The Imagineering Story

If you’re one of the many people desperately missing Disneyland and other Disney parks, you can scratch that itch with The Imagineering Story on Disney+. The six-episode series is a delightful well of archival and behind-the-scenes footage, tracing the story of cutting-edge animatronics and family-friendly thrill rides from Walt’s original vision to occasional missteps to the latest innovations. It may be “sentimental” and “self-congratulating,” The Hollywood Reporter writes, but it’s also “by far, the most appealing and intellectually engaging offering from Disney’s new nostalgia-driven SVOD streaming service.” Disney+


RELATED: Inside Guide: What to Watch, Play, and Do Now


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Things to Do (Inside and Outside) in L.A. This July 4 Weekend

This Fourth of July is certainly going to be a weird one. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are getting worse, not better, and any early-pandemic hopes that we might be celebrating with friends and family by now have long ago been dashed. Add to that, the inherent unease of a “patriotic” display at a time when this country’s dark history and present-day struggles are so visible and raw. Nonetheless, for many of us it’s a (probably much-needed) long weekend, best spent in the company of household-sharing loved ones, distancing out in nature, or enjoying some great entertainment at home. Here are our picks for things to do this weekend. Have fun, but be safe.


The 94th Rose Bowl AmericaFest

Saturday, July 4

The Rose Bowl is still hosting its annual AmericaFest, albeit in a virtual form. Tune in throughout the program for live music from Andy Grammer, a cello performance by Cecilia Tsan (broadcasting from the telescope dome at Mt. Wilson Observatory), and a prism art installation designed to shoot colored light visible across Pasadena.

Grand Park July 4th Block Party

Saturday, July 4

While the fireworks aren’t happening, Grand Park is still hosting an online block party, complete with live appearances from local artists including D Smoke, winner of Netflix’s reality series Rhythm & Flow, San Cha, Danny Trejo, and many more.

Lucques Americana Fourth of July Celebration Meals

Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4

Sure, we would all rather be picnicking at the Hollywood Bowl, but since that’s not an option, maybe the next best thing is dining on some Americana fare from Lucques Group, the project of power-duo Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne that’s behind food at the Bowl as well as classic restaurants a.o.c., Tavern, and Larder. Their celebration meal kits come packed with your selections of summer favorites including fried chicken, hot dogs, lobster rolls, and cobbler.

Tribeca Drive-In

Through July 26

Tribeca Drive-In kicks off its outdoor film series at the Rose Bowl on July 2 with screenings of John Lewis: Good Trouble, Jaws, and E.T. Thanks to a nifty visible-in-daylight projector, the series runs multiple films per day, starting in the afternoon. Other showings this weekend include The Wizard of Oz, Apollo 13, Space Jam, and more.

“The Sky Beneath Our Feet” at Descanso Gardens

Through September 3

Descanso Gardens is offering a special experience for those who stop by for a stroll. Five times each day, Pete Wyer’s musical composition “The Sky Beneath Our Feet” will play from 72 speakers sited among the garden’s coast live oak tree grove which inspired the work.

“Def Jam: Through the Lens”

Ongoing

Ever wonder how the most iconic images in hip hop history came to be? Iconic record label Def Jam has just dropped the first two episodes in a three-part series of mini-documentaries, going behind the camera with era-defining photographers. RIYL 2019’s “Contact High” at the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Biking in Marina del Rey

Ongoing

Beaches are closed to avoid the type of coronavirus exposure that happened over Memorial Day, but if you really want to catch a glimpse of the water, consider a ride down Marina del Rey’s paved bike path. Because it’s not along beach sand, officials say it will be allowed to stay open this weekend–just be sure to wear your mask and recreate responsibly!

Stream away …

Ongoing

It feels like we’re living through one interminable Monday under this global house arrest, but it technically is the weekend. So why not take a break from the news and the glitchy Zoom meetings and watch something fun? Check out what we have in this week’s roundup of streaming recommendations because sometimes the best things to do are the most low-effort of all.

Looking for even more things to watch, eat, and do during the COVID-19 outbreak? Check out our Inside Guide.


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Alleged Epstein Recruiter Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested for ‘Almost Unspeakable’ Crimes

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After years of eluding justice in connection with her alleged role as disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s madam, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in the tiny rural town of Bradford, New Hampshire, where the Assistant Director of the New York FBI William Sweeney said “she slithered away to a gorgeous property and continued to live a life of privilege.”

After she was taken into custody at that estate this morning, Maxwell, 58, was hit with a six-count indictment on federal charges related to “the sexual exploitation and abuse of multiple minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein,” prosecutors filed in Manhattan’s Southern District, the federal U.S. Attorney’s office where President Trump’s hand-picked prosecutor was pushed out.

Geoffrey Berman’s replacement, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, announced the “almost unspeakable” crimes committed against girls as young as 14. “Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims.” Maxwell, prosecutors said, “would try to normalize the abuse for a minor victim.”

Epstein, 66, died in his jail cell in August 2019, just over a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. The convicted sex offender’s death was ruled a suicide, though his lawyers and others disputed that ruling. Maxwell has been named in 15 civil suits filed by Epstein victims.

Over the last year, Maxwell, who holds French, U.K., and U.S. passports and is thought to have some $20 million stashed in various bank accounts, had been spotted hiding in an oceanfront mansion in the tony Massachusetts town of Manchester by the Sea and at a luxury condo Paris, France, as well as the 156-acre estate where she was arrested. Some have speculated she may have been involved with Bonston-based tech CEO Scott Borgerson; when asked if he would confirm the involvement, Borgerson told the Boston Globe only that “my private life is my private life.”

According to Sweeney, the task force was aware of Maxwell’s movements and swooped in to New Hampshire to make the arrest once the indictment was filed. “We moved when we were ready,” Sweeney said.

For nearly a year the task force has built its case using the Mann Act, which targets sex traffickers, subpoenaing former Epstein pilots and raiding his island home to prove allegations that between 1994 and 1997, Maxwell and Epstein abused young girls at his Upper East Side townhouse, his Palm Beach estate, his ranch in Santa Fe, and at Maxwell’s home in London.

Maxwell is now also charged with perjury for allegedly lying about her role in Epstein’s perversions, and her own abuse of underage girls, in a deposition as part of a 2016 civil litigation. She was asked if Epstein had a “scheme to recruit underage girls for sexual massages.” She responded: “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” according to the indictment. Maxwell also denied interacting with anyone under the age of 17 at Epstein’s properties or her own, and said she wasn’t aware that Epstein had a substantial collection of sex toys at his properties.

Today Strauss told reporters investigators have requested an interview with Prince Andrew, one of several high-profile Epstein affiliates who have appeared on his private plane logs. Others include former President Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump, actor Kevin Spacey, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

The investigation into other potential abusers continues, Strauss said.


RELATED: The Trailer for Netflix’s New Jeffrey Epstein Doc Doesn’t Bode Well for Ghislaine Maxwell


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Two Californians Are on Joe Biden’s VP Shortlist. What Are Their Chances?

The 2020 “Veepstakes” are underway, with presumptive Democratic party presidential nominee Joe Biden reportedly considering approximately a dozen women as running mates. In addition to big names like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Florida Congressional rep Val Demings, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the list includes a pair of Californians: Senator Kamala Harris, who exploded on the national scene during her own run for the White House, and Karen Bass, the Los Angeles congresswoman and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who has received significant attention as the nation has wrestled with racial justice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Both Harris and Bass are widely praised in local Democratic circles, and each has deep ties and fervent supporters in Los Angeles. But the matter of who area power players are lining up behind is a secondary concern.

“The overarching thing that I keep hearing is that active Democrats are focused on winning the White House in the fall. That’s their priority,” says attorney Darry Sragow, a Democratic political strategist and publisher of the California Target Book. “Their angst over Donald Trump transcends everything.”

Michael Trujillo, a Democratic strategist whose work includes the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, adds, “I don’t know that people are picking sides, because it’s really Biden’s choice. Picking a side doesn’t do so much.”

One potential strike against the Californians is that, well, they’re Californians. The state is destined to deliver its 55 electoral votes to Biden in November, meaning neither Harris nor Bass would provide the type of home-court bounce that a choice from a battleground state could offer. Plus, many voters in other states fall back on the tired thinking that all Californians are liberal kooks.

“We’re the state everyone loves to hate. We’re called La La Land, the Left Coast,” comments Garry South, a consultant and strategist with more than four decades of experience in Democratic party circles. “A lot of that is overblown, but I do think there is a certain amount of suspicion if not animus in a lot of other places in the country.”

The Golden State’s reputation aside, there’s the question of how either Harris or Bass would complement Biden, and what each would bring to the table when it comes to serving with someone who apparently wants a formidable VP.

Harris is better known than Bass, and seems to have more applicable experience, as well as more potential baggage. Last year she attacked Biden during a presidential debate for working with segregationist lawmakers to oppose school busing in the 1970s, and her relationship with Biden’s wife Jill has been questioned, although the two have recently made appearances together. There are also critiques that, in her eight years as San Francisco District Attorney and six as California Attorney General, she was not quite the “progressive prosecutor” she’s made herself out to be. Her criminal justice record prompts speculation that some Black voters might prefer a different candidate.

A counter is that Harris boasts significant leadership experience, gained the adoration of many Democrats by grilling U.S. Attorney General William Barr following the release of the Mueller report last year, and had a strong relationship with Biden’s late son, Beau (they were both state attorneys general).

Bass, whose resume includes a stint as speaker of the California Assembly, is only now emerging on the national radar screen, but the five-term Congresswoman has many ardent fans. Political observers think she’d work well with Biden. Trujillo calls her a “perfect” choice, and notes that in her pre-politics life she founded the Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles social justice nonprofit.

“The thing about Karen Bass is that she uniformly, and without exception, is liked and respected,” says Sragow. “All I’ve ever heard are things that are very positive—she is smart, disciplined, she cares about the right things.”

A negative may be less about Bass than her position—South points out that being one of the 435 members of Congress doesn’t historically pull in a lot of voters when it’s time to pick a president.

Harris is high on the tote board of potential nominees, but Biden may wait until August 1 to make his selection, and observers point out that a lot can change in a month.

If either Harris or Bass goes to Washington with Biden, a new line of dominos could fall, particularly if Harris’s seat opens—Rep. Adam Schiff, Mayor Eric Garcetti (who has helped vet VP candidates for Biden), and Secretary of State Alex Padilla are often discussed as having Senate dreams.

Even if neither woman makes the ticket, a Biden win could still put California in a strong position.

“With Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein in the Senate, we have a pretty loud voice in D.C.,” Sragow says, “and a Biden presidential team would probably have a lot of prominent people from California.”


RELATED: Will Kamala Harris Be Joe Biden’s VP Pick?


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Michael’s, the Launching Pad for California Cuisine, Faces an Uncertain Future

The thought running through my head, as my dad and I raided our restaurant’s wine cellar after Santa Monica implemented its COVID-19 stay-at-home measure, was: at least there’s toilet paper. I grabbed three rolls for myself and gave the rest to the prep cook vac sealing and pickling what little provisions were left from the weekend. There wasn’t much, as we’d cut ordering by 75 percent the week before. Loading up on a few bottles of golden balsamic vinegar courtesy of our executive chef, Brian Bornemann, I had a feeling we weren’t looking at two weeks of social distancing. “Better grab the good shit,” my dad said. “2015 Cahors?” “Fantastic!”

My father, Michael McCarty, started Michael’s, his restaurant in Santa Monica, 41 years ago, when he was 25, with my mother, the painter Kim McCarty. His restaurant in New York City, also called Michael’s, is comparatively youthful at a mere 30 years old. Michael’s served as the springboard for an uncanny number of celebrity L.A. chefs: Jonathan Waxman, Mark Peel, Nancy Silverton, Roy Yamaguchi, Sang Yoon, Ken Frank, and Brooke Williamson all got their start here. Trained as a chef in Paris, Mike was hyper and enthusiastic, Armani-suited, talking to every guest about the inspiration behind his food—clean, cutting-edge, a California twist on French nouvelle cuisine—the walls of the restaurant resplendent with California modernist art curated by my mother. Decades before farm-to-table, Mike worked with local farmers to plant French heirloom seeds and even had his own duck farm with Jean Bertranou, his mentor from L’Ermitage. Michael’s promoted the first digitized wine list—produced on a supercomputer the size of a room by a mad scientist named Phil Reich—and was the first to offer seating in a lush outdoor garden and waiters dressed in Burberry ties and pink Ralph Lauren outfits instead of tuxedos. Depending on your point of view, Michael’s is an overrated piece of history or nothing short of the birthplace of modern American cuisine. However you lean, the restaurant has been difficult to kill off no matter who the executive chef was at the time.

Michael’s served as the springboard for an uncanny number of celebrity L.A. chefs, from jonathan waxman to nancy silverton and mark peel.

Before the shutdown in March, Michael’s had survived fires, recessions, riots, the ’80s, earthquakes, 9/11, both Bushes, and almost the entire first term of Donald Trump. Mike is a master at reinventing his restaurants. During the 1994 recession, on the brink of closing Michael’s, he did a sweep of his head management and brought in 22-year-old Sang Yoon as chef (now of Father’s Office and Lukshon) and David Rossoff (formerly of Mozza, now at Hippo) as general manager.

michaels
Chas McCarty at Michael’s during the shutdown

Dan Busta

Michael’s survived for the next 14 years, but the 2008 recession leveled its business. Five years ago I came in and cleaned up a heavily coke-snorting staff in a dead-empty restaurant. I beat the shit out of my already severely compromised body by running the floor every night (I was born with a spinal cord injury and deal with severe chronic pain). I figured out how to run a restaurant with very little experience. I had uneasy conversations with cooks and managers and waiters who couldn’t pull their weight, and got chewed out by my fair share of old-guard diners. Night after night, getting yelled at for not being a tapas restaurant or not having brussels sprouts. Learning when to back down and take the heat and when to tell someone they can’t sit in the garden on a Saturday because they made their reservation that afternoon and every school in the city just graduated. Saying, “Yes, I know, we’re all friends of Michael.” I came to understand that if a staff member had a weak point, it was my fault as their leader. I experienced epiphanies out of sheer exhaustion while driving back to Echo Park in the middle of the night, hallucinating faster platings and easier service techniques and smiling wide when I finally cracked the expediting problem that was destroying the nights service. I spoke to everyone—friends, partners, coworkers, parents—about quitting to take care of my body, then talked myself into saying the answer lay in finding the right team. If we had the right chef and right manager, I wouldn’t have to beat myself to a pulp. The problem was, chefs and managers were increasingly hard to find and at most lasted two years before they burned out or opened their own place. Even with my dad as my partner, I never could find stability, and I never could quit.

I stayed because I had worked very hard to create a place I enjoyed being at, with people I enjoyed being around and cared about—I had known many since I was a kid. The cooks taught me kitchen Spanish, how to peel beets, and how to hold three plates. In my twenties, our staff taught me how to run a restaurant, and it troubled me knowing my employees could make more money somewhere else. Often if felt like our neighborhood didn’t catch our message, favoring factory chain takeout instead. Whenever I confessed this to a staff member, they said, “Why? I like working here. Most people are assholes.” There was at least some form of acceptance in the shared sentiment.

The vibe of the place kept me: sitting outside, in the insanely overgrown garden, the Cy Twomblys on the walls and actual good music playing in the background and not in your face, watching people sit for hours talking and enjoying their food; the team I had worked so hard to put together never quite nailing every move but every second performing better than the previous; every talking head at the restaurant personable, but never too many words. The majority of the nights something went wrong: the internet blew out, or some hothead wanted to bring in nine bottles of $14 gas station wine and didn’t want to pay corkage. But we sprinted forward to high publicity, near profit, and praise from our previous chef, the very inventive and talented Miles Thompson, before finding a balance of Cal-Mediterranean with Brian. The only thing I had failed to do was to regularly get the guest count up to at least 100 every weeknight—we were in a sleepy neighborhood. Finally, the week before the COVID-19 closure, we had gotten it there.

We had found stability. My team had made Michael’s a destination restaurant one would want to eat at every night. This coronavirus was a different beast, though. It was going to bleed us out and forever change dining in every city across the globe.

Two weeks before the shutdown, we saw our numbers plummet from 240 guests to 40 the following Saturday.

The news alone of the pandemic had a massive impact on guest count and profit. Two weeks before the shutdown, we saw our numbers plummet by 80 percent, from our highest dinner count of the past nine months—240 guests—to 40 by the following Saturday. I had the staff wearing gloves and went heavy on the sanitation for their protection as much as the guests’, but it felt like we were fooling ourselves. I was waiting for the city to call the shots just so we could stop hemorrhaging money and putting our staff at risk. When the mayor called it, I was relieved. We furloughed all of our employees, including myself. We advised the team to get on unemployment as soon as possible. The last two weeks had already cut their tips in half. Jorge Romero, a food runner I have known since I was six years old, asked me what he should do: “I don’t want to panic, Chas, but should I stock up on groceries?” I wondered how it came to be that in the absence of appropriate presidential leadership, I was now the go-to for advice in a pandemic. Julian Adame, our general manager, canceled the internet and phones before he locked the door behind him. He was a godsend of a manager—I almost cried when we’d hired him the month before. I’d worked for five years to find the proper team for the restaurant. Now they no longer worked for me. All my dad and I had was a big empty room with a rent check due.

At our managers’ meeting the day before, we had groused about restaurants being expected to reopen at 25 percent capacity. We all laughed, as I’m sure every other restaurant team did, both out of sheer nervousness and at the presumption of those who think restaurants print money, when in reality most restaurants can’t break even while operating at 100 percent capacity. Factor in a $15 minimum wage for front-of-house employees, high city and state taxes, increasingly expensive sustainable and guilt-free product, Trump’s wine tariffs, workman’s comp, repairs and maintenance, and best of all, incredibly expensive metropolitan rent. Asking restaurants to open at 25 percent capacity, like it’s a favor, just doesn’t make sense. As Mike put it, “Talk about beating a dead horse.” We sighed. About a million dollars a year in sales—just enough to pay our rent—comes from private events. With all of our weddings and large gatherings canceled for the year and customers demanding their deposits back, we just sat in silence.

McCarty and his young staff  in the restaurant’s early years—the minimalist decor, cordial service, and fresh, innovative California cuisine would be emulated by restaurateurs around the world
The original Michael’s team poses in the restaurant’s garden—Jonathan Waxman, who later opened Jams in New York; founder Michael McCarty’s New York Michael’s became the canteen for Manhattan publishing swells; Mark Peel met Nancy Silverton in the Michael’s kitchen before they opened Campanile and La Brea Bakery; Ken Frank today runs the Michelin-starred La Toque in Napa

We struck down the possibility of staying open for takeout even though Brian had whipped up a three-page “to-go” menu in about six hours. Julian signed up the restaurant for delivery services, all of them mandating a 30 percent chunk of the sales for themselves. Calculating how many roast chickens we’d have to sell just to cover the hourly grill cook while risking his health and, by proxy, that of his family, we said, “Fuck that.” The grill cook is already the sacrifice of the restaurant. Laws that prohibit sharing tips with back-of-house employees allow a cook’s pay to be capped at 20 bucks an hour; most cooks work doubles to support their families and never take vacation time. There’s a common saying that your restaurant is only as good as your grill cook, but, of course, you can’t run a restaurant with just one cook, even in a pandemic. Mike wisely added, “It goes against the point of keeping people safe at home if we’re calling them in to work.” The majority of our front-of-house employees are tipped, so they’d make more on unemployment with the $600 weekly stimulus than from any measly job we’d be able to provide one or two of them fishing out bags of cappelletti with house-smoked salmon roe to some guy excited to eat cold pasta when he got home.

My head raced to the most panic-inducing part of all this. Documented workers would be fine if they were capable of receiving unemployment insurance. (After about six weeks of furlough, 80 percent of my employees, including myself, still hadn’t received checks, but would eventually.) Undocumented workers, and it doesn’t help to fool ourselves into thinking they don’t exist, make up a significant portion of food service employees. In 2017, it was estimated that 37 percent of America’s small-restaurant owners were immigrants, while 22 percent of food service workers were foreign-born—more, I imagine, in California. These were the people who would be forgotten by the country and treated with disdain. I spoke with a DACA recipient, unsure if he could go on unemployment, as he expressed fear of dipping into the savings he’s accumulated since he was 16. DACA recipients can technically apply for unemployment insurance, but the majority of foreign-born workers do not hold any status at all. We set up a GoFundMe campaign and called our attorneys to see what could be done. California finally passed a motion to acknowledge that undocumented workers exist in the midst of a pandemic.

COVID-19 is just another testament to the truth of the restaurant industry. Unless you’re a Bestia or a République or one of the other successful restaurants you can count on one hand, it’s not the ’80s and you can’t make a killing anymore. If your place hits a grand slam with a scallop dish that everyone steals after you publish the recipe in a cookbook, no one will ever pay you royalties. With business as usual, a restaurant owner is just surfing on blind luck for a couple of breaths until the chef or manager quits. A few nights of low guest count because of a Dodger game or a debate are enough to push you into debt. All these years we’d been curling our toes against the edge of the cliff. Coronavirus pushed us off. Maybe it’s good to see that after years of working so hard and confusing stress with security, we’ve been kidding ourselves all along. Ask any dishwasher or busboy—they’ll say that’s a lesson they’ve always known.

When the city ordered us to shut down Michael’s, I collapsed and so did my dad. It was the vacation we had both dreamed of and dreaded, and it was creepy. No alarms tripping in the middle of the night and no pipes blowing out. No lost soul fresh from a bender to babysit. Just the bureaucracy of trying to get an SBA loan, which was a job and a half in itself. I had spent five years trying to make the restaurant work and to support my employees who looked to me for a living because they believed me when I said I was bringing in a chef or a manager who would move the place forward. I had bled myself to do whatever I could for the restaurant. Now I couldn’t do anything for anyone anymore if it wasn’t safe outside. All my farmers were down 80 percent, slaughtering their pigs because it was cheaper than feeding them. I checked in every week with the vulnerable members of my staff. Everyone was fine, bored, and eager to get back to work. The relinquishing of responsibility, by global collapse and by force, is a weird thing. The news never got better, but the upside was that the average person started to understand how hard it is to run a restaurant because so many restaurant owners have finally come out and confirmed it.

Amid the thrill Mike and I felt in looting the remains of our restaurant’s stock—an oddly cathartic experience I can only imagine is the same as smashing a guitar after playing a great set with it—we both silently assumed that the restaurant would probably be there when we popped out of this. We had no reason to take the thought seriously, as we didn’t own our real estate, had no corporate or financial backing or even money left of our own, and I definitely didn’t trust the Trump administration to properly bail us out or handle the pandemic responsibly. But we are crazy people—restaurant people through and through—and even though Michael’s had not made any money in ten years, we just assumed we’d be back because it’s the only thing we know how to do. As I piled my notebooks and work clothes, along with a pack of nylon gloves, sherry vinegar, and a few bottles of mezcal into the trunk, a strange rush overtook me from the past two weeks of chaos, and really my past five years trying to make this place work. Whatever sweeping sentimental thought I had was interrupted when Mike walked by, chuckled out loud at the trunk, and said, “It’s lookin’ like LaGuardia on a bad day!


RELATED: The Amazing, True Story of How Nancy Silverton Became a Living Food Legend


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Morning Brief: Sheriff’s Officers Will Fine People Who Flout Mask Order in WeHo

» Not wearing a mask in West Hollywood could cost you. The sheriff’s station issued a notice saying it will start issuing “Administrative Citations for people who are not conforming to the Order to wear a face cover/mask in public.” The fine plus a fee totals $300. [ABC7]

» A Lake Elsinore man reportedly died of COVID-19 one day after posting regrets on social media about attending a party two weeks earlier. Thomas Macias, 51, wrote, “I went out a couple of weeks ago … because of my stupidity I put my mom and sisters and my family’s health in jeopardy. This has been a very painful experience. This is no joke. If you have to go out, wear a mask, and practice social distancing. … Hopefully with God’s help, I’ll be able to survive this.” [CNN]

» L.A. will extend relaxed parking enforcement through at least August 1. Street sweeping tickets were previously set to resume on July 6. [KTLA]

» Pressure is on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department after the recent deaths of Andres Guardado and Robert Fuller. The department’s dark history of misconduct and scandal is being scrutinized.  [The Guardian]

» At least 176 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at a single farming complex in Ventura County. Agricultural workers have raised alarms since the early days of the pandemic over the lack of protections they’re provided. [Los Angeles Times]

» The family of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen is calling for an investigation to what happened to the missing soldier. One suspect has been taken into custody, and another suspect is reported to have committed suicide on Tuesday. [New York Times]

» Lancaster has stated its intention to defy a county ban on public fireworks displays. “Unless the National Guard is knocking on my door, we’re going forward,” Mayor Rex Parris stated. [Daily News] 


TOP STORIES FROM L.A. MAG

» Peter Meehan to Resign as Los Angeles Times Food Editor Critics say Meehan mistreated staff, created a toxic workplace, and failed to truly understand L.A.’s diverse food culture

» Defamation Suit Against the ‘Shitty Media Men’ List Creator Can Move Forward, Judge Rules 
What happens next might expose every person who used the list to out an alleged abuser

» Bars and Restaurant Dining Rooms Must Close as COVID Cases Surge Governor Newsom ordered immediate closures in 19 counties, including L.A.


ONE MORE THING

 

july things to do los angeles

The Best Things to Watch, Read, and Do in July

It’s another month in the bunker, L.A. Despite our collective eagerness to rejoin society, we’re still very much in the midst of a pandemic, and staying in (or going outdoors but avoiding crowds) whenever possible is still the best policy. The good news? There are plenty of ways to stay entertained.

 [FULL STORY]


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Echo Park’s Iconic House of Spirits Sign Has Been Rescued by the Museum of Neon Art

Folks wandering by Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue this morning may have noticed that the puffy clouds drifting overhead were made of steel and hanging from a crane. The iconic collection of vintage 1950s signage was removed from the House of Spirits today by Glendale’s Museum of Neon Art and will be restored by the museum, which hopes to eventually put them on display near their current location.

The Telis family, who has owned the building for 50 years and ran the neighborhood store for much of that time, donated the storybook house with the crooked chimney, white picket fence, and neon tree after many months of negotiations with the museum.

“They took great pains to protect the sign and put it in good hands,” says museum director Corrie Siegel. “They know that we have the best interest of the community at heart.”

The store closed after a major fire last year and the ruins have been ransacked. A neon liquor bottle that was once part of the composition was stolen and is still missing, so the museum knew it was time to act. “We’re putting up a banner in English and Spanish,” says Siegel. “We wanted to explain where the sign is going and that we hope to return it.”

The bucolic tiny house and streamline “House of Spirits” lettering measures about 50 feet long and fills the entire face of the building. “It’s beaten and weathered,” says museum president Eric Lynxwiler. “But the tubes are intact, and we will clean it up until we find a new home for it in Echo Park.” The museum owns several of the classic signs on display at Universal Citywalk and leases them to the shopping center.

Potential buyers had approached the family, including a developer who wanted the house to promote their business and one with an idea to change the lettering. “We want to put it back in its entirety,” Lynxwiler said. “We don’t want to see it changed to ‘House of Burgers.’”


RELATED: The Happy Foot/Sad Foot Sign Is Safe and Sound Inside a Los Feliz Boutique


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