This year has presented more than its share of stresses and challenges, and many adults found cannabis helped them make it through. If you’ve got someone like that on your gift list (or are that someone yourself) read on. From luxurious self-care products infused with CBD, to mood-stabilizing smokable and edible THC items, to elegant lifestyle accessories, our annual guide to cannabis gifts for the holidays is full of treats sure to make spirits bright.
Packed with CBD-rich products to soothe and restore, this stylish pack includes lavender-scented CBD bath salts for a self-care soak, and two-month supply of daily tonic to kick off the new year with a focus on well-being.
Poppy-Apricot-Lemon Verbena Gummies by Nicole Rucker for Rose Delights
Fat + Flour chef Nicole Rucker worked with Rose Delights, a boutique local brand making single-strain cannabis confections, to develop this range of gummies, available in full-spectrum THC or CBD-only versions. The edibles rely on natural flavorings, courtesy of fruits grown on the 40-acre Dirty Girl Produce farm in the San Joaquin Valley.
Cannabis and lifestyle brand Old Pal Provisions collaborated with local artisan surfboard makers Album Surf on a three-piece collection of soft-top boards. The eye-catching graphics will make a statement on or off the waves.
For the friend who needs a little help managing the anxiety of this year, local cannabis retail chain Sweet Flower has assembled this gift set, which includes three different products designed to provide a moment of zen, packed into a cute little tote.
A box of fancy chocolates is always an easy, fun gift–but why not elevate the one you give out this year just a bit? CODA’s signature truffles are hand painted with colorful, artistic designs, and infused with 10 mg THC per serving.
Sackville’s whole line of smoking accessories is worthy of an Instagram flat-lay, but the limited-edition range of semi-precious pipes, like this rose quartz version, make for lovely giftables. The quartz is said to attract love, healing, and deeper relationships.
Piecework specializes in lush, design-centric, fashionable puzzles–an extremely 2020 kind of status symbol. For this edition, they collaborated with cannabis publication Broccoli and florist-photographer Carl Ostberg for a puzzle featuring blooms and bud.
Everybody’s into houseplants these days–maybe your recipient is ready to try putting some actual pot into all those ceramic pots they’ve got. Long Beach-based Clone Guy cultivates a variety of plants, suitable for maintaining indoors or out.
Know a weed mom who could use a little stocking stuffer? L.A.-based Highland Pantry pitches itself as a cannabis brand specifically for “Boomber babes.” Their signature mints come in colorful, vintage-inspired packaging, and offer three different dosages–mini (1 mg), midi (3 mg), and more (5 mg).
Cannabis growers Aster Farms teamed with Potli on this special-edition infused EVOO. Each can of California-grown olive oil contains 100 mg of THC, to heighten the experience of whatever you serve it with.
Super discreet and sleek, the Dose Dial by Dosist dispenses 30 dissolvable tablets, each delivering a modest 3.7 mg of THC. The container could be mistaken for an Apple product’s remote control, and the dispenser is designed to be child-resistant, so it’s a perfect gift for a canna-curious parent.
Cigar aficionados have their humidors and, thanks to Los Angeles-based Apothecarry, marijuana aficionados can now have equally high-end, humidity-controlled storage for their favorite flowers. The Spencer is a limited edition piece from the brand, crafted of glowing light wood with crocodile-texture lining.
» Los Angeles County plans to overhaul its juvenile justice system. Going forward, officials say, the priority will be a “care-first” model that helps youth rebuild their lives. [Los Angeles Times]
» Black Lives Matter activists gathered outside Eric Garcetti’s residence to express their concerns about him being eyed for a role in the Biden administration. The activists say the mayor has not done enough to address housing, homelessness, policing, and other problems in L.A. [CBS Los Angeles]
» Street food vendors, an iconic element of L.A. culture, have struggled acutely amid pandemic. Nonetheless, “tacos will prevail.” [KCRW]
» Christy Holsege will be sworn in on December 10 as the first female mayor of Palm Springs. The 34-year-old social justice advocate is also the city’s first mayor to identify as bisexual. [Q Voice News]
Sometimes you get lucky. J.D. Vance could hardly have picked a better moment than the summer of 2016 to publish Hillbilly Elegy, his memoir about overcoming a poverty-ridden, dysfunctional childhood in Rust Belt Ohio. Donald Trump had just shocked the political establishment by winning the Republican presidential nomination, propelled by the support of working and middle-class whites who cheered his message of grievance and cultural resentment. Journalists, who were scrambling to understand what happened, turned to Vance’s memoir for answers. The book leaned into anti-elitism and cultural grievance as an explanation and suggested that whatever poverty and problems afflicted “hillbillies” was the result of their own personal failings. Hillbilly Elegy became the book that launched a thousand think pieces about why Trump won.
Of course, Hollywood wanted in. Barely four years later–and just weeks after the 2020 election–the movie version hits Netflix in time for Thanksgiving weekend. Directed by everybody’s favorite all-American filmmaker Ron Howard and featuring strong performances from Amy Adams as Vance’s drug-addicted mother and Glenn Close as his loving but rough-around-the-edges grandmother, it would seem to be a sure thing. But the reviews have been savage, and no one seems interested anymore in the idea of that Hillbilly Elegy explains our current politics. A movie that a few years ago seemed like it would surf the cultural zeitgeist to box office success, now has all the signs of being an-out-of-step misfire. Where did it go so wrong?
The book traces Vance’s journey from a broken family in Middletown, Ohio, to success at Yale Law School. The story centers on his Appalachian-born grandparents–Mamaw and Papaw–who took him in to protect him from his mother, who was struggling with opioids, and who, despite their own troubled lives, instilled in him values that he says helped him succeed. But more than just one man’s inspirational story, Vance so wanted the book to be a larger sociological analysis of rural white poverty that he subtitled it “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.” With a bit of macho bluster, he held himself up as an expert about people he claimed most of his (presumably coastal elite) readers looked down on: “Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends and family.”
The conservative press loved it. Writing in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher arguedElegy “does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: Give them voice and presence in the public square.” But the positive voices didn’t only come from the right. A New York Times reviewer called it a “a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election” done “in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans.” Bill Gates blogged about the “new insights into the multifaceted cultural and family dynamics that contribute to poverty.” Columnist David Brooks said it was simply “essential reading for this moment in history.”
On the wave of this buzzy press, Ron Howard won a bidding war for the film rights. It sounded like the perfect match. Howard seemed to embody the Middle American goodness of his two most celebrated characters–Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham–that Elegy lamented as having disappeared. Plus he had carved out a niche as a skilled creator of broad commercially successful movies. On the other hand, it is easy see why Vance’s up-by-his-bootstraps tale to appealed to Howard, whose best work celebrated a similar kind of male hero who triumphed over long odds (Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind, Rush).
Imagine Entertainment president Erica Huggins who announced the acquisition made clear Howard was also cool with the book’s politics; indeed, they were a selling point. “Through the lens of a colorful, chaotic family, and with remarkable compassion and self-awareness,” she said in a statement, “J.D. has been able to look back on his own upbringing as a ‘hillbilly’ to illuminate the plight of America’s white working class, speaking directly to the turmoil of our current political climate.”
But even as Howard moved forward with the film, the ground under Hillbilly Elegy shifted. Vance’s background came under scrutiny as he took a CNN commentator gig and rumors circulated of a Senate run. The riches part of his rags-to-riches biography—the internship with a Republican state senator, the National Review bylines, the work at Trump mega-donor Peter Thiel’s hedge fund, his wife’s clerkship for Chief Justice John Roberts—got mentioned more and the fact that while his grandparents were from Appalachia, Vance had only spent parts of some summers there, leading some to question is hillbilly bona fides.
Most important, Appalachian activists and scholars pushed back, frustrated that reviewers treated Hillbilly Elegy as if Vance had discovered hillbillies and took his “blame the poor for being poor” ideas at face value. Whole books with titles like What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy and Appalachian Fall appeared to rebut Vance. Although the books varied in focus, common points carried across all of them: Vance ignored more than a century of writing about the region. Hillbilly culture was a debunked myth. Poverty had more to do with power concentrated in extractive industries that exported region’s natural resources but left little wealth behind than the bad decisions of individuals.
Perhaps sensing the shifting zeitgeist, Howard’s pitch evolved. He soft pedaled the politics when talking about his vision for the movie. “I didn’t view this any kind of polemical or societal overview,” he said at one point. Instead, his adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy was a tale of transformation and self-actualization. “It really is about being your best self,” he told Collider. “It’s a self-actualization story. It’s powerful.” This, he claimed, made it the “always relatable story of a young guy discovering himself, understanding the strengths he’s inherited but also overcoming some of the baggage.”
In lieu of the book’s politics, Howard talked about trying to capture the “authenticity” of “how they lived, where they lived, what they bought, what they watched, what they listened to” as way of suggesting he was remaining true to the story. Vance, who was conspicuously absent from the promotional rollout except for a joint interview in the conservative news site The Dispatch, was trotted out to vouch for the authenticity of the production values. He choked up talking about Glenn Close playing Mamaw—right down wearing her actual glasses. “She had a way about every little thing,” Vance waxed. “The way she held her cigarette, the way her face twitched, when she would get annoyed, the way she walked—it was just an incredible re-creation of Mamaw.”
The closer the movie’s November opening loomed, the more Howard tried to dodge the book’s politics. He linked the story to his family. Indeed, if you didn’t know better you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a movie about the Howards not the Vances. “I love family stories, but I’ve never had one before that was a true story that dealt with characters from rural America and that’s my family’s background,” he said in an interview. “My mom was from a very small town and my dad was a farm boy, and when I read this book I recognized that I had really been looking for a story that I could tell that would allow me to apply my own sensitivity to this aspect of our American culture,” Howard said. “I felt like I just connected with these characters and with this family dynamic and journey.”
Having pivoted away from Vance’s biography, Howard argued Hillbilly Elegy was really every family’s story. “I began to see more than ever just how universal this story was going to be: Rediscovering the potency and power of love.” This then wasn’t a movie so much about poverty and the politics surrounding it or about hillbilly folk or even the bad decisions Vance’s family made anymore. In Howard’s view, it was an opportunity to self-evaluate and examine one’s own family. “I think we need to be looking at our own families, our own relationships and understanding where love factors into that,” he said.
But as the reviews for the movie came in, it became clear Howard had failed to reposition the book or escape its politics. One review called it “a rich person’s idea of what it is like to be a poor person.” Another wondered if it was “poverty porn” and accused it of being “less insightful and less intellectually honest [about poverty] than the Dukes of Hazzard movie and Joker.” The Associated Press review cut to the heart of the criticism: “This Hillbilly Elegy has stripped away the most sermonizing, debatable parts of the book, but it’s also denuded it of any deeper purpose, leaving us with a cosplay shell of A-list actors chewing rural scenery.”
Hillbilly Elegy shows the tricky task for Hollywood in trying to surf the political zeitgeist in the age of Trump, where a divided American electorate and a working class that feels alienated from the American Dream defies easy analysis and where a book can seem to capture the spirit of the times one minute only to seem out of touch the next. Ron Howard got caught in a conundrum he couldn’t solve: The politics of the book are unpersuasive at best and possibly wrong at worst, but the story doesn’t work without those politics giving it a narrative backbone. Ironically, Howard probably would have made a better movie if he had been willing to make a controversial one. Sure some viewers would have disagreed with the message, but at least they would have something to disagree with instead of the anodyne offend-no-one-film that resulted. But that’s not the kind of movies Howard makes or Hollywood thinks can attract a mass audience. “Its about life,” said Howard ostensibly about the story but with advice he could easily have applied to the production process. “And life is pretty messy.”
It may not be the World Series victory parade some would prefer, but the Dodgers are still offering fans a way to celebrate their big year with a drive-thru holiday fest that kicks off on Friday. Expect baseball- and holiday-themed lights and installations. Admission starts at $55 a vehicle. [More info and tickets]
Patti Smith: A Black Friday Performance
Rock legend Patti Smith hosts a livestream concert on Black Friday. There are loads of reasons to skip the shopping rush. Here’s another. Tickets are $10 and the show kicks off at noon PST. [Tickets]
Independent music venues have been hit hard by the pandemic, and at the moment there’s no government relief in sight. This year, organizers of the online music festival Digital Mirage Friendsgiving have partnered with the National Independent Venue Association to raise funds for the country’s most imperiled live music spaces. The fest features headlining artists like Tiesto, NGHTMRE b2b ZHU, The Glitch Mob, Tchami b2b Dr. Fresch (Dark Knight set), and many more, and is free of charge (but of course donations are encouraged). [More info]
L.A.-bred electronic musician Flying Lotus teams up with labelmates Brandon Coleman, Teebs, and Salami Rose Joe Louis for a live concert, that’ll be streamed three times on Saturday to cover time zones worldwide. In L.A., you can catch it at 8 p.m.; and tickets are just $13. [More info]
Home for the Holidays & Planes, Trains, and Automobiles at the Drive-In at the Hollywood Roosevelt
Two of the best Thanksgiving movies of all time screen on Sunday at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s pop-up drive in. Jodie Foster-directed family dramedy Home for the Holidays kicks off at 5:15, and John Candy-Steve Martin classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles screens at 8:05. [Tickets]
Not even a deadly pandemic can stop social media-optimized immersive experiences from proliferating! Following two successful runs in L.A. in 2017 and 2018, respectively, Happy Place returns as a drive-thru experience at Westfield Century City. Cars will cruise through 18 immersive environments—windows down, masks on—including a giant, car-operated piano; a candy-filled wonderland; and the fan-fave Super Bloom, which features 40,000 handmade flowers. Tickets start at $49.50 per car, and entries are timed throughout the day and evening through January 10. [More info and tickets]
Six Flags Magic Mountain is rolling out a totally new holiday experience to accommodate the moment, transforming the park with millions of lights. You’ll drive through eight different environments with themes including Holiday Square and Gleampunk District. Holiday drinks, snacks, and merch items available. Tickets start at $20. [More info and tickets]
DTLA’s Corey Helford Gallery once again helps aspiring art collectors get their start with their seventh annual Art Collector Starter Kit group show, which features smaller, more affordable works by well-liked artists. This year’s lineup includes dozens of artists in the New Contemporary scene (and also Paris Hilton). The gallery is closed during the pandemic, but the show is viewable and shoppable virtually. [More info]
It’s been a year of drive-ins and drive-throughs, and you can pretty much expect that to continue through the holiday season, but the good news is that the holly jolly powers that be are whipping up some pretty magical stuff. Take Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey, an hour-long, two-mile immersive trip through a glittering winter wonderland (aka the Pomona Fairplex. For more on what to expect, click here. Or if you’re already sold, tickets are available here.
This group exhibition, which takes its name from Donald Trump’s now-famous description of Hillary Clinton, is timed to coincide with two major events: the 100th anniversary of 19th amendment and the 2020 election, which could very easily result in a man who’s known to brag about grabbing women by their pussies being reelected to the highest office in the land. The show, which is also dedicated to the memory of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, features work by Karen Carson (pictured below), Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Shinique Smith, Trulee Hall, and dozens more. [More info]
Movie theaters are still closed and all of those pop-up screenings sell out fast, but the L.A. area’s stationary drive-ins don’t require advance tickets and have plenty of great movies to check out—and double features galore. It’s a throwback that’s become very welcome during the era of social distancing.
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.
It’s been a year of hardship and loss for so many people in Los Angeles. If you’re in a position to share your blessings, these local charities could use your time and money this Thanksgiving.
Union Rescue Mission
Each year on Thanksgiving, hundreds of volunteers flock to feed the people of Skid Row. The Union Rescue Mission (URM), which serves an average of 2,300 meals each day to the homeless, is currently looking for volunteers to serve this year’s holiday meal. URM also operates a thrift store in Covina that needs volunteers to sort clothing and organize items. Volunteers are required to follow safety and social distancing guidelines at all events. 545 S. San Pedro St., downtown, 213-347-6300, urm.org.
Foothill Unity Center
Pasadena’s Foothill Unity Center hosts an annual food distribution event to provide families with everything they need to cook their own traditional Thanksgiving dinner. This year the program (which also includes serving lunch to homeschooled children and assisting pet owners with feeding their four-legged friends) will be altered to keep all volunteers six feet apart, but the center says their mission can’t be stopped. In 2019, the organization provided 7,525 bagged lunches to homeless men and women. The center also assists individuals in finding jobs and homes. 191 N. Oak Ave., Pasadena, 626-584-7420, foothillunitycenter.org.
Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP) feeds approximately 90 to 150 families every two weeks. The nonprofit is a collaboration of over 20 agencies that focus on providing resources for low-income families and communities. The CCNP also hosts a phone bank; volunteers can download an app and make calls on behalf of the organization for food and financial assistance. 501 S. Bixel St., Westlake, 213-482-8618, email@example.com.
Westside Food Bank
While the Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica (WSFB) is not currently accepting in-person volunteers due to COVID restrictions, the nonprofit is holding a virtual holiday turkey drive and asking for donations from corporations, grocery retailers, local farms, faith-based institutions, and neighborhood groups for bulk produce and pantry items. Individuals are encouraged to start an independent food drive, and the WSFB website has information on exactly what goods are needed most at this time. wsfb.org.
Manna Food Bank feeds an average of 1,400 people per month, which is impressive since it operates out of a 700-square-foot house in the Conjeo Valley. The small staff works alongside dozens of volunteers who bag groceries and organize donations. Individuals and families place their orders for groceries with a volunteer, and then pick up when ready. While closed on Thanksgiving Day, Manna is looking for volunteers to help during the week, and will be open before and after the holiday. 3020 Crescent Way, Thousand Oaks, 805-497-4959, mannaconejo.org.
In early March, I got an email that at the time felt as devastating than coming down with COVID-19, a virus that was still somewhat enigmatic: my hair salon wouldn’t be open until mid-May. Then May came and went and the salon remained shuddered. A gloomy June passed, and July and August went by in a blink as the nation underwent a racial reckoning and Los Angeles County’s virus infection rate continued to surge. Finally, on the cusp of Labor Day Weekend, Los Angeles County officials allowed salons to reopen (if they followed certain protocols, including limiting capacity to 25 percent, maintaining social distancing, and requiring employees and customers to wear masks). In a press conference, L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said the decision to reopen hair salons and barbershops was based on the county’s data trends, along with what the county learned during previous reopenings. I obviously wanted to be part of the solution, but why did L.A. hair (and nail) salons bear the burden of bringing down the numbers? At the time, I felt like I’d done my time. I wanted my blond back.
We all hung on to some “thing” when we realized we would be locked down for an indefinite amount of time. Maybe your “thing” was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup like your mom used to make, reconnecting with ex-boyfriends on Facebook, or re-watching The Office. My thing was hair. Specifically, Balayage, a French technique where blonde highlights are artfully painted onto the hair to create a beachy, sun-kissed look. My long, highlighted, ginger locks that matched my freckles had been my signature look for 25 years, and obsessing over it became something of a pandemic pastime.
I spent my first 20 years accompanying my beauty queen mom to Betty’s Mode de France in Houston, Texas, where the mantra was the blonder, the bigger, the better, Yes, I’m OK with product. “More hair spray, please” is what I learned while watching her coppery auburn get teased, tousled and sprayed aggressively with Elnet. Getting my “hair did” was not just a right, it was a responsibility.
I’d never gone more than eight weeks without getting my highlights touched up and that was a stretch. When my natural color—an ashy version of a mousy brown—made itself known, I got cranky. Good hair was my religion.
“You can’t mix the color yourself,” Kadi said after I emailed, left three voicemails, and slid into her DMs. Kadi, the owner of Highbrow Hippie on the stylish, beach-adjacent Abbot Kinney and colorist to stars, was an artist and took her work very seriously. “My blonds will have to wait,” she informed me.
I was willing to socially distance, work from home, wait in line at grocery stores for hours, and wear a mask, but I wasn’t sure how I would go back to my roots. Obsessing about my hair when the world was falling apart made no sense. And I couldn’t tell anyone. I felt ashamed for caring. But I wasn’t new to self-criticism. It had been my best friend growing up, beginning when I was an awkward 13-year-old with a mouth full of metal and plain-Jane brown hair.
Yet after a lifetime of filling my insides by fixating on my outsides, which left me a miserable shell of myself, I dismantled the Texas-sized belief that my appearance was my most valuable currency. I gave up my dearest companions—the scale, fat free yogurt, my thigh gap, and male approval—and replaced it with meditation, morning pages, and embodied affirmations in order to learn that my insides were what I had to offer the world—and they were more beautiful than any blond highlights. Then COVID started chipping away at my healthy, readjusted outlook.
What made my hair obsession even worse was that after my rebirth, if you will, I publicly chronicled my journey from self-loathing to self-love on Instagram. As a self-proclaimed self-love advocate, I was supposed to have it together. My mantras were “you are enough” and “screw perfect.” Certainly, I had done the soul searching necessary to deal with some root growth. Hadn’t I?
I don’t think my stylist understood that I mainlined the “just stepped out of the hair salon feeling” like addicts mainline heroin. I knew my blond gave me confidence and, in many ways, was the cost of entry to a life where I felt beautiful. But what I didn’t predict was how lost and out of control I would feel without it.
As the pandemic continued to alter our daily lives, all of the ways I made myself feel beautiful were suddenly off limits. My fingernails were naked; my toenails, usually coated in lilac gel polish, were suddenly au naturel, discolorations and all. My down-there hair reintroduced itself as a fluffy bush even mousier than my roots. The worst thing was I could see European Wax from my front door in Marina Del Rey. Alas, they were closed too. And a ten pack of Brazilians waited while a jungle grew inside my panties.
As the months wore on, I was looking rough and feeling even worse. Who would I be if I weren’t the bubbly Cali blond by way of Texas that everyone knew me to be? I wasn’t sure because I had never met that woman. From my perspective, she wasn’t worth being seen in my own mirror, much less on a Zoom call for the world to see. It was a lot harder to love myself looking like this.
Although it was disturbing to realize how integral my hair was to my self-worth, I wasn’t surprised. Life got good and my practice took a back seat to the blessings that “waking up” gave me. My morning pages were hit or miss. Setting daily intentions were non-existent. Meditation was no longer sacred, mostly happening in my car. In the self-love world, they call it “spiritual bypassing.” Simply put: I was coasting.
Each morning, I realized I had been participating in the almost unconscious habit of looking to my reflection to determine my mood. Were my eyes red? Was my face swollen? Even after ten hours of sleep, my broken perspective would convince me that I looked tired. I’m not sure when I fell into this newfangled self-evaluation ritual, but it fueled the old belief that my worth was rooted in my physical self—that I was merely “a thing” to be seen.
So, I did something very L.A.: I hired a captivating, loving, and truly spiritual-AF model-turned-coach from Topanga to help me level up my self-love game. And we started with mirror work. I started by writing everything about myself that I deemed unworthy. My roots were first, my hereditary jowls and hood eyes… I held nothing back. Next, I created declarations of love that connected to my being, such as, “I love your vulnerability, I love your resilience, I love that you’re doing this work.”
For two months and three minutes a day, I stared deeply into my eyes and, uncomfortable as it felt, professed love for the “me” I had ignored. I cried every time but forged on. And, slowly, the hateful voices quieted.
Four months into quarantine, I stopped fighting my roots. My natural hue was my new normal and I liked it. It made me more human. More like the teenage girl I was before external pressures got the best of me.
Most importantly, I forgave myself for the destructive self-criticism. I understood that tracking down hair color and keeping score in the mirror helped me feel in control amidst the helplessness and existential unknowns of COVID.
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday postponed consideration of an ordinance targeting homeless encampments following public outcry and indications of a divided council.
A vote still appears imminent, however. Council President Nury Martinez referred the proposal to the council’s Homelessness and Poverty committee and reminded her colleagues: “I do expect this item to return to council sometime in the near future.”
“We owe it to every single one of our neighborhoods, particularly those neighborhoods that have been impacted by the overwhelming number of encampments,” Martinez said. “It’s not sanitary, and it’s certainly not safe or part of public health to continue to live with the current status quo. That simply is not working for anyone.”
District 3 Councilman Bob Blumenfield proposed the ordinance following an outreach effort in his San Fernando Valley district that moved 60 people from 101 freeway underpasses into housing and services.
Blumenfield said the ordinance—which bans camping in most public spaces, including near freeways and buildings that offer homeless services—is needed to keep the underpasses clear of campers as part of a federal lawsuit against the city and county by downtown residents and business owners upset over growing homeless encampments and wasted taxpayer money.
At the most recent court hearing on November 5, the judge said that the council discussion about anti-camping enforcement and housing is “backwards.”
“I’m not going to let the city do anything until you’ve got the housing,” Carter said.
But Carter also said he’s never worked with a city that had no ordinances in place regarding camping in public places. Restrictions on public camping enable outreach workers to present unhoused people with what Carter calls “choice dates,” or dates by which they have the choice to access services or not. He and Blumenfield said these are key to motivating people to leave the San Fernando underpasses.
“It worked not just because we had intensive outreach, but because we had a choice date,” Blumenfield said. “We believe we would be able to humanely enforce this choice date and no police were involved; everyone was offered shelter.”
A similar outreach effort near the Penmar Golf Course in District 11 Councilman Mike Bonin’s Venice-area district took longer and was eventually aided by a planned tree trimming that required campers to move.
Blumenfield quoted Bonin telling Carter the public works project “did incentivize people to make a choice.”
And because the encampment was cleared due to tree trimming, the city erected a fence to keep people from camping there. Blumenfield can’t do that in his district because people were moved from the 101 freeways as part of the federal lawsuit, and the city has no ordinance to prevent people from camping there again.
“Consequently, abandoned property still litters my underpasses, and a few people are starting to set up camps again in the underpasses,” Blumenfield said Tuesday.
Bonin has proposed a substitute motion that focuses on commandeering hotels, expanding Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority programs, and asking Carter to broker a settlement similar to one he brokered in a 2018 lawsuit in Orange County, which led to new housing but no arrests.
“The people who are calling in and telling the council we’re taking the wrong approach, they were part of the agreement,” Bonin said, advocating “not a district-by-district approach where we push homelessness from district to district but a master agreement with Judge Carter.”
The cities with settlements under Carter include not only most of north Orange County but the Los Angeles County cities of Whittier and Bellflower as well. Whittier and Bellflower both voluntarily entered the Orange County lawsuit so they could strike settlements that include consent decrees with Carter, who is helping with outreach and shelter efforts.
Blumenfield said Los Angeles can’t reach a similar settlement unless it has enforcement options that give a “choice date” for services.
“We as a city should be able to regulate encampments without criminalizing them,” Blumenfield said. “If we cannot regulate them, we do a disservice to the people who live within them and we do a disservice to the people who live in the communities around them.”
Senior assistant city attorney Valerie Flores also recommended the council consider the proposal soon, telling the council members on Tuesday, “We do believe we need to fix our current ordinances, so we appreciate the speed in which you can look at this and make the policy calls we know are difficult.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee that will refine the proposal, said the city will eventually need “some level of enforcement…once we have the [housing] inventory.”
“And I know there are people who do not want to hear that,” O’Farrell said. “The enforcement we eventually adopt can and should be unarmed, and it should involve those teams who really work hard to help people get into shelter and wellness. But we’re not there yet.”
Martinez mentioned the loud opposition to the ordinance, which has included protests with megaphones outside council members’ homes.
“You’ve been personally threatened along with your family, and I completely sympathize with that,” Martinez said. “We are living through very uncertain times, but at the same time we have an obligation to make decisions; that’s what we were elected to do.”
Some residents say the ordinance is a necessary step toward cleaning streets and reclaiming public spaces, while others decry it as a cruel way of criminalizing poverty.
Activist groups celebrated the tabling of the ordinance. On Twitter, Los Angeles Community Action Network wrote that that the decision shows “grassroots power is on the rise in Los Angeles, and the criminalization button is no longer a guaranteed option.”
A few things are clear: 1) grassroots power is on the rise in Los Angeles, and the criminalization button is no longer a guaranteed option; 2) organizing has broken the practice of stacked votes and has forced public debate; 3) council seats are not safe, and a new LA is possible https://t.co/qpREV4ZK6y
No matter what’s going on outside, staying safer at home is always a good idea. Our weekly roundup of movies and shows to stream will keep you entertained while you flip on the platform of your choice and chill.
What to Stream This Week
Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker
This new documentary captures choreographer Debbie Allen as she prepares the young dancers at her Los Angeles conservatory for their annual Hot Chocolate Nutcracker holiday show. “She was one of the women, one of the female forces in the world out there who made me feel like I could be whatever I wanted to be,” producer Shonda Rhimes told People. “I hope that when people watch the documentary, they will see the power and the force and the magic that is Debbie.” Netflix.
This holiday rom-com is packed with star power, including Kristen Stewart, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Dan Levy. The plot centers on Stewart’s character planning to propose while visiting her girlfriend’s parents for Christmas–only to find out her girlfriend hasn’t come out to her conservative family, causing hijinks to ensue. Hulu.
Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 best-seller is structured a kind of long-form letter to his own son about his lived experience as a Black man in contemporary America. This film version, filmed over the summer of 2020, incorporates dozens of voices, Angela Bassett, Mahershala Ali, Phylicia Rashad, Mj Rodriguez, Angela Davis, and Oprah Winfrey. HBO will make the film available for free to non-subscribers November 25 to 30. HBO Max.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
A Charlie Brown Christmas might be the iconic Peanuts movie of the season, but before you go full-steam into Vince Guaraldi territory, take a moment to enjoy this charming chestnut from 1973. Amazon, PBS SoCal.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square
If there is one person who can bring this country together, it’s Dolly Parton. The musical icon, theme park mogul, philanthropist, and biotech investor (she’s a financial backer of promising COVID-19 vaccine research!) will drop her first holiday album in 30 years for this strange season, and is accompanying the release with this all-new movie musical, choreographed by Debbie Allen. Netflix
No Man’s Land
In this eight-episode drama co-created by Ron Leshem of Euphoria, a French man travels to Syria to search for his sister, whom he believes has joined the YPJ, an all-female, mostly Kurdish paramilitary organization. Hulu
Originally produced for the BBC, this anthology series from artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen highlights “little known stories of Black pride and resilience” from British history, particularly the West Indian community in London. The ensemble cast includes John Boyega (Star Wars), Letitia Wright (Black Panther), and Robbie Gee (Snatch). Amazon Prime
The Right Stuff
Based on the same 1979 nonfiction book by Tom Wolfe about the early days of the U.S. Space Program that inspired a 1983 film of the same title, this new version spins the Mercury 7 mission out into an eight-part series. Disney+
This 2019 film about the inner workings of Fox News in the era of Roger Ailes earned Oscar noms for Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, playing two of the three women–Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and a fictional female producer–at the center of the story. Amazon Prime
Season four of The Crown picks up with the British royal family in the late 1970s. Gillian Anderson appears as Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin as Princess Di in what some critics are calling the best season of the show so far. Netflix
Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut in 2013 immediately announced the arrival of an enormous talent–two talents if you also count the film’s lead, Michael B. Jordan, who broke out from his teen TV roles here to become a fully-formed movie star. Netflix
I Am Greta
This new documentary looks at why Greta Thunberg became fixated on climate activism, and how she has devoted her young life to inspiring people around the world to join her in sounding alarm bells about the crisis. Hulu
On the Rocks
American auteur Sofia Coppola reunites with Lost in Translation star Bill Murray for this new film, but reviewers have noted the resemblance to Coppola’s earlier works largely end there, and that the visual and storytelling style are a departure from what fans may have come to expect. Apple TV+
Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
This four-part documentary, created and hosted by Henry Louise Gates Jr., focuses on a period of American history that many have overlooked and misunderstood–but which has profound implications for where we are now. PBS SoCal / PBS Passport
Is this HBO’s Big Little Lies 2.0? Also from David E. Kelley, also starring Nicole Kidman, this new limited series finds a different set of elegant, rich people lying and hiding secrets, this time in Manhattan instead of Monterey. HBO Max
An eight-part HBO Max original, this limited-run drama follows the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle of a group of recent grads, competing for professional and personal success amid London’s high-stakes finance world. HBO Max
City So Real
From the director of Hoop Dreams and America to Me comes this five-part docuseries about the 2019 mayoral election in Chicago and what has happened in the city since. The New York Times deems the series “radically curious” in its examination of the complexity of urban politics. National Geographic Channel, Hulu
The Craft: Legacy
A long awaited sequel to the 1990s classic, The Craft: Legacy picks up with four new teen witches as they discover their supernatural powers–and struggle to control them. Blumhouse, the studio behind the production, has released an online “viewing party kit” with tips for staging a remote watch with your own coven. Video On Demand
Season two of this Star Wars series premieres on Disney+ this week. There had been speculation that Baby Yoda fans might be kept waiting for more of the saga due to the pandemic, but the show actually wrapped filming before production shutdowns began, and was able to complete post-production in time for the scheduled release. Disney+
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman
David Letterman, the acerbic late-night host-turned-Santa-bearded heir to the legacy of James Lipton, returns for a third series of his intimate celebrity chat show. This run of episodes finds him spending time with Lizzo, Kim Kardashian, Dave Chappelle, and Robert Downey Jr. for one-on-one conversations and visits to their private homes and workspaces. Netflix
This new Hulu original from Dear White People creator Justin Simien boasts an all-star cast, including Lena Waithe, Elle Lorraine, Laverne Cox, Nicole Byer, Kelly Rowland, Vanessa Williams, and Usher. The horror satire about a woman in the 1980s who gets a weave to fit in among image-obsessed entertainment types—an evil weave, that is—premiered to fanfare at Sundance just before the pandemic struck, and now hits Hulu just in time for Halloween. Hulu
The Queen’s Gambit
Set in the 1950s and ’60s, this limited series, based on the novel by Walter Tevis, follows the journey of a young orphan girl who becomes an astonishing chess champion. Along the way, she struggles with addiction, coming of age, and the classic tension between genius and madness. Critics have compared the look and feel to that of another Netflix period piece, The Crown.Netflix
Roald Dahl’s The Witches
Director Robert Zemeckis reboots the beloved 1980s screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book about evil sorceresses who turn children into mice. While it may not thrill people familiar with the story (or the original film), the Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney says that “for young audiences encountering the story for the first time, The Witches should cast a spell, while older viewers will enjoy the contrasting comic approaches of Hathaway and Spencer doing what they do best.”
Blackpink: Light Up the Sky
One of the biggest musical acts on the planet, all-female K-pop group Blackpink, get the rock doc treatment. The film shows how the group formed, the intensive training, and their meteoric rise, including the group’s electric performance at Coachella 2019, and is directed by Caroline Suh of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Netflix
This short-form “mockumentary” purports to follow the career of John Bronco, a rugged, 10-gallon-hat-wearing Ford car racer and spokesman of the late-1960s. In reality, the character is a fictional creation, played by Vice Principals and Righteous Gemstones actor Walton Goggins. Hulu
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The latest film from West Wing and Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin, this piece of historical fiction was in the works for over a decade–but ultimately seems to have dropped at a particularly resonant moment. Sacha Baron Cohen plays activist Abbie Hoffman, and Eddie Redmayne plays politician Tom Hayden, who would go on to represent the L.A. area in California politics for many years. Netflix
Raised by Wolves
Created by Ridley Scott, this series finds the human race near extinction, having torn the Earth apart amid conflict and religious strife. It is, we’re told, science fiction and definitely not a documentary. HBO Max
Based on the fantastic podcast of the same name, this limited series sits down with artists to talk through the process of creating one iconic song. Host Hrishikesh Hirway meets up with Lin-Manuel Miranda, R.E.M., Ty Dolla $ign, and Alicia Keys, along with a host of collaborators, for an inside look at the creative process. Netflix
The Haunting of Bly Manor
More spooky season content comes in the form of this new film, a follow up to The Haunting of Hill House, loosely adapted from Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw, updated to a modern setting. Netflix
In this eight-episode anthology series based on Nathan Ballingrund’s short story collection North American Lake Monsters, human characters run into a variety of strange beasts–from mermaids to internet conspiracists. Hulu
Created by Gone Girl‘s Gillian Flynn, and adapted from a U.K. show that ran in the 2010s, Utopia centers on a group of comic book lovers who discover that their favorite series about an apocalyptic viral pandemic (and wildfires) is actually true, and set out to save the world. Riann Wilson and John Cusack star. Amazon Prime
Emily in Paris
Lily Collins stars in this frothy new series from Sex and the City and Younger creator Darren Star. Collins plays Emily, a wide-eyed young American, sent to work in a (very romanticized) version of the Paris fashion world. Netflix
Savage x Fenty Show: Vol. 2
Rihanna has called on her celebrity friends for a second installment of her fun, fierce, music-video-slash-fashion-show extravaganza to showcase her Savage x Fenty lingerie line. Look for appearances and performances by Lizzo, Normani, Demi Moore, Paris Hilton, Big Sean, Indya Moore, Bad Bunny, Miguel, Roddy Ricch, Travis Scott, and so many more. Amazon Prime
The Good Lord Bird
A new mini-series based on the novel by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird is told from the point of view of a young freedman who finds himself at the side of abolitionist John Brown as he campaigns against slavery and stages the 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry. Ethan Hawke, Daveed Diggs, and Joshua Caleb Johnson star. Showtime
In this drama, a teenager confesses to murdering a friend. When her parents desperately work to help her cover it up, the family weaves a web of lies–which quickly begins to unravel. Amazon Prime
Fargo: Installment 4
Anthology series Fargo jumps to a new setting, era, and story for each season. This time around, the show finds itself in 1950s Kansas City, with two rival mobs–one Black, one Italian–vying for control of the territory, and observing racism in America in the process. Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman, and Timothy Olyphant lead a stylish ensemble. FX, Hulu
Taco Chronicles: Volume 2
Netflix returns to Mexico for another series of episodes highlighting regional variations of your favorite food. This time around, birria, suardero, and even the “American taco,” each get their shine. L.A. Taco editor and cookbook author Javier Cabral serves as the show’s associate producer and “taco scout” on the scene. Netflix
Agents of Chaos
This timely two-part doc from Alex Gibney (Going Clear) is the product of years of reporting on exactly how Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election–and how we remain vulnerable to foreign meddling in our democracy today. HBO
This 2018 documentary about the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is poignant viewing in light of the iconic justice’s passing. Hulu, YouTube
This new spy series from the director of Homeland was made for Israeli television, but picked up for U.S. audiences by Apple. The story of a female hacker-spy for the Mossad on a mission in Iran has won praise from Foreign Policy, where writer Jonathan Ferziger remarked on the show’s “flouting of stereotypes about life in a strict Islamic society.” Apple TV+
We Are Who We Are
Call Me By Your Name filmmaker Luca Guadagnino takes us back to Italy in his new series, We Are Who We Are, which follows two American teenagers as they come of age while living on a military base. HBO
Thirty-three-year-old middle schoolers Maya and Anna are back for season two of Pen15, the Emmy-nominated hit comedy about the travails of tweendom. As the BFFs confront slut shaming, the “seesawing between naïve, gleeful girlhood, and teenage growing pains is even more jarring than it was last season,” the New York Times says.
Chef’s Table: BBQ
The latest iteration of Netflix’s seductively-shot Chef’s Table series features chefs who play with fire. Episodes feature Rosalia Chay Chuc, the Mayan woman bringing new light to traditional cooking in the Yucatán, 85-year-old Texas pitmistress Tootsie Tomanetz, and others. Netflix
Janelle Monáe leads the cast of this time-travel thriller in which a modern-day author from Virginia finds herself transported back to the era of slavery against her will and attempts to escape the torture to which she’s subjected. Video on Demand
This One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest spin-off from Ryan Murphy focuses on the character of psychiatric hospital nurse Mildred Ratched. Sarah Paulson stars as the elegant-on-the-outside, troubled-on-the-inside nurse. Netflix
You Cannot Kill David Arquette
A dalliance with wrestling became a punchline that David Arquette blamed for the stalling of his acting career. This documentary catches up with him years after that first ill-fated bout, as he decides to go all in on a midlife pivot to pro-wrestling. Amazon Prime
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President
While many of us might think of Jimmy Carter as our most wholesome ex-prez, this doc sets out to show that he was a bit of a hipster. The film pieces together footage and recollections of Carter the music-lover and his encounters with Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and other ’70s stars. Laemmle Virtual Cinema
An Inconvenient Truth: Truth to Power
Al Gore produced this follow-up to his 2006 eco-doc in 2017, responding to the election of Donald Trump and the risk he poses to the environment. While the sequel never gained the popularity of the original, as we find ourselves amid heat, fire, and a climate crisis that is accelerating rather than coming under control, it seems like a good time to give it a watch. Amazon Prime
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) adapted and directed this new film based on the bestselling novel by author Iain Reid. The story of a woman’s unravelling emotions amid a surreal visit to her boyfriend’s family stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, and Toni Collette. Netflix
CNN described Love Fraud as “a Lifetime movie turned, for better and worse, into a salacious Showtime docuseries.” The true-life story involves a con man spent 20 years hooking women online to catfish them out of their life savings–and the female bounty hunter who ultimately attempts to bring him to justice. Showtime
Disney’s long-anticipated live action remake of Mulan finally arrives for at-home streaming on September 4. Beyond the lush filmmaking, the movie’s release will be a closely watched business story in Hollywood, as studios wait to see if audiences will shell out $29.99 on top of standard subscription fees to watch a new release online. Disney+
This six-part docuseries looks at America’s immigration system, sharing the stories of people seeking asylum, those living in the country without documentation, and the family of people who have been deported or disappeared while attempting to reach the United States. Filmmakers say they were granted unprecedented access to ICE to film operations. Netflix
Bill & Ted Face the Music
The long-anticipated third installment in the Bill & Ted franchise is landing in scattered cinemas around the country (including a handful of “secret” drive-in screenings around L.A.), but most of us will be catching up with Keanu and co. via streaming. Fandango, Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube
Anyone who lived through the “golden age” of video gaming–or just wants to learn how today’s super-sophisticated e-sports industry came to be–will enjoy the warm-hearted docuseries High Score. Featuring extensive interviews with key players dating back to the 1970s, the series delves into how the world fell in love with games. Netflix.
The Vow: A NXIVM Story
Stories of the NXIVM “self-improvement group” and its connection to sex trafficking, racketeering, conspiracy, and manipulation of vulnerable people played out in must-read headlines. Now filmmakers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer lay out the story in the words of the people who lived through it in this compelling series. HBO Max
H.P. Lovecraft was, in real life, a vicious racist. In Lovecraft Country, a fictional series based on a novel by Matt Ruff, Black people make their way across segregated, 1950s America, forced to face the terrors of a racist society–and monsters inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s tales. The show has an impressive behind-the-scenes crew, including producers J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele. HBO Max.
Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies
From the earliest silent films, the depicting–and regulating–on-screen skin is a story as old as Hollywood itself. This documentary examines how our culture has accepted and sanctioned filmmakers showing the human body in their work, and what that says about society’s values and power dynamics. Amazon Prime.
In this Netflix Original action flick, Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Dominique Fishback attempt to uncover and dismantle a shadowy group flooding the streets of New Orleans with pills that offer average humans five minutes of a surprise super power. Netflix.
Love in the Time of Corona
Too soon, or right on time? This four-part rom-com about “the hopeful search for love and connection during this time of quarantine” has received mixed reviews, but the concept of an entirely pandemic-made show (FaceTime calls as major narrative device, etc.) might be intriguing enough to try. Freeform.
Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante’s new film finds its setting amid his home country’s post-civil war upheaval, where ghosts of Indigenous victims haunt the perpetrators of rape and genocide. Not to be confused with last year’s The Curse of La Llorona, AV Club credits it with being a “more intelligent” take on the legend of the Weeping Woman. Shudder.
An original docuseries from Netflix takes a deep dive into wellness–from ancient practices to a modern, billion-dollar industry. Episodes look at subjects including ayahuasca shamans and a “cult-like pyramid scheme” selling essential oils. CNN’s Brian Lowry says that “the scientists and journalists interviewed paint a coherent picture of how people can be manipulated, and the…way these products are often promoted and sold through apparatus like multilevel marketing companies.” Netflix.
I Used to Go Here
Indie filmmaker Kris Rey (formerly Kris Swanberg) was set to debut this comedy about the angst of being in your mid-30s at SXSW in March, but those plans were derailed by the pandemic. Love’s Gillian Jacobs stars as a writer who’s overwhelmed with nostalgia when she returns to the town where she went to college. Sheila O’Malley of RogerEbert.com says the movie could have been dark, but definitely isn’t. “I Used to Go Here, grounded by a beautiful performance from Gillian Jacobs, treats its subject light-heartedly, while still managing to be honest,” she says. VOD on multiple platforms.
Produced by National Geographic, this documentary about Jane Goodall shows the her doing the work with chimpanzees that has come to define her life. Much of the archival footage of the young naturalist–shot on 16mm by Nat Geo photog (and later, Goodall’s husband) Hugo van Lawick–has never been previously released. Disney+, Hulu.
This 1992 satire of the movie business-slash-murder mystery, now on Criterion Channel, was directed by Robert Altman and features an “astonishing Hollywood who’s who” of the ’90s. Criterion recommends staging a double-feature of The Player along with Robert Townsend’s 1987 film, Hollywood Shuffle for best effect. Criterion Channel.
Each year, 1,100 teen boys from across Texas head to the state capitol in Austin to stage a mock government. This documentary, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance back in January, follows one session–including watching how Steven, a progressive child of Mexican immigrants, navigates the overwhelmingly white, conservative space. Apple TV+.
Slay the Dragon
As we enter yet another election year and wrap up the 2020 census, this documentary following a group of grassroots activists in their fight against partisan gerrymandering feels particularly timely. According to Variety, “it may prove to be one of the key political films of the decade.” Multiple Platforms.
An American Pickle
Based on Simon Rich’s novella of the same title, this fish-out-of-brine story follows Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogan), an immigrant laborer preserved in pickle brine for 100 years, who wakes up in modern-day Brooklyn. He meets up with his great-grandson (also Seth Rogan) for help navigating contemporary life. HBO Max.
The Speed Cubers
Maybe you feel like you’re just sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs–but you’re not on the twiddling level of Cerritos-reared Max Park and his friend–and arch rival–Feliks Zemdegs, the pair of superstar competitive Rubik’s Cube-solvers at the center of this new documentary. Netflix.
Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis, and Dolly Parton are among the ensemble of this classic 1989 mom-comedy/drama based on a true story. Southern twangs, pithy put-downs, and enormous ha(aaaa)ir abound. Amazon Prime.
Black Is King
Beyoncé’s third visual album is streaming on Disney+ and, according to Rolling Stone, it’s her “most elaborate visual work yet.” An abstract version of the Lion King narrative (which was based on Hamlet), Black Is King explores the idea of Africa, “paying respects to the continent’s very real inhabitants and cultures while also presenting it as a symbolic North Star for generations of Black people around the world to come.”
Set in the World War II-era English countryside, Summerland stars Gemma Artherton as a woman who doesn’t fit in—as explored in two different periods of her life. Her love interest is Gugu Mbatha-Raw in this soapy, grown-up drama by playwright-director Jessica Swale, whose “gentle creation allows for the possibility of magic—or, at the very least, good things—to work their way into even the worst of times,” says Indiewire’s Kate Erbland. “Even when the film leans toward predictability, the sense of reality melding into fantasy aids in digesting some of the film’s bigger risks.” VOD on multiple platforms.
The Muppets have been around since before the moon landing, and their adventures on the screen have been as dramatically up and down—especially after creator Jim Henson died and veterans like Frank Oz retired their puppeteering hands. But by all accounts Disney’s newest iteration, made in typical meta fashion for the YouTube era, restores the characters to their early, variety show glory. “In this beyond-stressful world, who doesn’t need some Muppets in their life?” says Jen Chaney of Vulture, who argues that any generation can enjoy this new series “and believe it connects directly to their own sensibility, a quality that the overly adult, straining-to-be-edgy The Muppets lacked.” Disney+.
This film about a family of Mexican immigrants in New Mexico, starring two real-life brothers and rooted in autobiography, reminded Eric Kohn of The Florida Project. “The bittersweet new feature from director Samuel Kishi plays like a thematic variation on the same beguiling premise in the context of the American immigrant experience. The result is an absorbing coming-of-age story about migrant life through the prism of its most innocent figures.” HBO Max.
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My MindandThe Go-Go’s
This weekend brings two new music documentaries with very little overlap. Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian troubadour who took American ears and emotions by storm in the 1970s, is celebrated by filmmakers Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni in “a thoroughly engaging retrospective of a hard-working, hard-living performer who survived to tell the tale,” says Kevin Crust. Meanwhile, the first all-girl band in America to write and perform their own songs are chronicled in all of their chart-topping highs and attendant lows (a misogynistic music industry, drug addiction). “The story of The Go-Go’s is prime fodder for a documentary like this one,” says Gwen Ihnat, “even if the stories behind the songs … are likely darker than some fans would have expected. [Director Alison] Ellwood’s most valuable views are these more candid, honest looks, as there’s something refreshing about the band coming clean, revealing all its dirty laundry in a no-holds-barred manner.” Virtual cinemas / Showtime.
Ron Howard continues to train his softhearted gaze on non-fiction stories with this documentary about the 2018 wildfires that turned Paradise, California into Dante’s inferno. The film opens with a montage of “devastatingly cinematic images” from that November day, says Ben Kenigsberg, and “while the subsequent visuals aren’t as striking, the drama scarcely ebbs.” Virtual cinemas.
She Dies Tomorrow (Drive-In Release)
Director-actress Amy Seimetz continues to prove her flair as a filmmaker with this darkly comic, apocalyptic thriller starring Kate Lynn Sheil as a broken, alcoholic woman living in a state of confusion (in suburban Los Angeles). She Dies Tomorrow “combines classic David Cronenberg body horror with the scathing surrealism of Luis Buñuel,” says Eric Kohn of Indiewire. “Envisioning a disease where the afflicted believe they’ll die by morning, the movie taps into a timeless anxiety with hilarious and disquieting results, often delivered in the same dose.” At Vineland Drive-In and Mission Tiki Drive-In and on VOD starting August 7.
We Are the Radical Monarchs
If your heart is weary from images of tear gas and violence, here’s an uplifting protest story about a troop of alternative Girl Scouts who are trying to save the world. The Oakland-based Radical Monarchs “create opportunities for young girls of color to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities, and contribute radically to their communities.” In this documentary, which was completed in 2018, director Linda Goldstein Knowlton “presents a vibrant view of the Oakland community,” says Kevin Crust of the L.A. Times. “To see the girls embrace subjects such as Radical Beauty and Radical Pride that speak to who they are and where they live and meet inspiration Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, is to feel a surge of optimism.” PBS.
It took five years and a few regime changes to come out, but this animated kids musical—which involves magical cookies and is filled with A-list vocal talent (John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Ian McKellan, Danny DeVito, Sylvester Stallone)—is finally here and it’s… fine. “If Animal Crackers is another hideous reminder of how aesthetically catastrophic the rise of computer-generated animation has been for low-budget kids fare,” David Elrich says with extreme lukewarmness, “[director Christian] Sava’s debut is also proof that a decent script, some delightful voicework, and a few choice Lord of the Rings references can blend into the kind of charm that money can’t buy. For all of its limitations, the movie is good. Ish.” Netflix.
Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist
Jim Gaffigan definitely has a lane—self-effacing jokes about being overweight, eating junk food, and raising five kids in New York City—and he owns it. But few veteran stand-ups are as reliably funny and endearing, and The Pale Tourist takes him out of his home and around the world for two specials based on his international travels…and the pale, American observations he made along the way. Since you’re unlikely to travel the world or see Gaffigan perform live anytime soon, this is a nice virtual substitute. Amazon Prime.
The filmmaking debut of actor Romola Garai (Atonement), this “feminist horror movie” is about a former soldier in London with guilt-loaded PTSD who becomes a live-in repairmen in a house with a dying old woman…who might just be cursed. The film slowly transforms “from an eerie cerebral horror fantasy into a full-blown rape-revenge parable of cowardice and sin,” says Toussaint Egan at AV Club. “Amulet elevates these themes of repentance and sin through deft editing, strong performances, and a chilling score. It’s an evocative, confident debut, recalling the metaphorical horror of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook or Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow, even as it announces the arrival of a singular new voice.” VOD.
This new noir—directed, written by, and starring Edward Norton—wasn’t well received by critics when it came out last fall, and was completely ignored by the Academy. But for my money, it’s a worthy successor to Chinatown, a jazzy, moody tale of bureaucratic corruption and double crossing, packed with an impeccable cast (including Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, and Cherry Jones), boasting a melancholic Thom Yorke ballad, and skating on the live wires of racial discrimination and Tourette syndrome with grace, humor, and sympathy. It’s a rarity: a smart, winning, romantic studio movie for grownups. HBO Max.
Before he returns as Bill (of the “excellent” Bill and Ted) this fall, Alex Winter directs this documentary about the light and dark sides of being a child actor—and the unique obstacles to surviving into adulthood, both literally and vocationally. Winter, a former showbiz kid himself, rallies the likes of Henry Thomas, Mara Wilson, Wil Wheaton, and Evan Rachel Wood for an unflinching, empathetic portrait of a glamorized but grueling way of being a kid. “While each of the grown actors has an individual story to tell, clear themes emerge from their collective memories,” says CNN’s Brian Lowry. “They’re the kind that make you want to grab the contemporary kids—the ones whose families still harbor those dreams of Technicolor stardom—and urge them to click their heels and go back home.” HBO Max.
30 Rock: A One-Time Special
Unlike the early pandemic reunion of its NBC sister Parks and Recreation, this hour-long special liberates the 30 Rock cast (Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan) from the halting horrors of Zoom and, somehow, brings them out into the remotely filmed sunshine. It’s partly a lavish commercial for NBC’s new streamer, Peacock—to the point of inspiring several local affiliates around the country to boycott airing it, though thankfully not in L.A.—but it wouldn’t be 30 Rock if it didn’t feature the TGS crew roasting its corporate daddy. Help us, Liz Lemon; you’re our only hope. Airs Thursday at 8 p.m. PT; Peacock on Friday.
Brave New World
Speaking of Peacock, NBC attempts to play with the big boys with this new adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian saga, starring Alden Ehrenreich and Jessica Brown Findlay. With some technological upgrades and lots of NSF-NBC orgies, the story about a drug that keeps citizens euphoric but numb feels all too timely—and maybe an apt metaphor for yet another streaming service. “You realize the show isn’t just commenting on the modern world, but its own role within it,” says Ben Travers of IndieWire. “As long as it’s not boring, people will keep watching, and if people keep watching, they’ll keep using Peacock, and the world will go round and round without anyone questioning the nature of this self-perpetuating hype cycle.” Thankfully, Travers argues, this Brave New World is “an emotionally intelligent thriller, and it looks damn good to boot.” Peacock.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
This quasi-documentary, about the motley regulars drinking out the last day at a Las Vegas dive bar, shakes and stirs the line between scripted drama and reality. But it’s so “bursting with humanity, grounded in humility, and in love with the poetry of faces,” says Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, that it doesn’t really matter what’s real and what’s not. “This movie appreciates every person that passes in front of its lens. It throws spotlights on magic moments even when the people they’re happening to don’t know they’re happening. It sees people’s potential even if they’ve never capitalized on it. It sees their pain when they can’t admit or describe it. It sees their struggle when they try to hide it. It’s a documentary of compassion.” VOD on multiple platforms.
Broadway sensation Cynthia Erivo emerged a full-fledged movie star from this biopic about Harriet Tubman, a real-life wonder woman whose superpowers include divine visions and a singing voice to call her sisters and brothers to safety. Directed by former actress Kasi Lemmons and co-starring Janelle Monáe and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., Harriet is “a rousing and powerful drama, respectful of both the historical record and the cravings of modern audiences,” says The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott. And despite the tale’s supernaturalism, “Erivo’s performance is grounded in the recognizable human emotions of grief, jealousy, anger, and love. There is also a formidable intelligence at work, both tactical and political, and an elusive, almost mysterious quality as well. This is someone you want to know more about.” HBO Max.
Before the world ended, this Lonely Island sci-fi-rom-com made headlines as the priciest purchase ever made at Sundance. No doubt Neon, who co-bought it with Hulu, had big theatrical plans for the film, about a guy (Andy Samberg) and a gal (Cristin Milioti) stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque infinite time loop at a wedding in the desert. But then, maybe our quarantine time loop is the perfect backdrop for watching such a story. “It’s certainly funny,” says Vince Mancini, “but seems to have more in common with Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry or the Coen Brothers—as stylish as those in its construction, but with a more internet-age sense of comedy and timing.” Hulu.
The Old Guard
Here to save the superhero genre from a slow, exhausting death of artlessness is Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of Love & Basketball, who infused this tale about immortal warriors with her own mortal sensibilities. Starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne, The Old Guard “is filled with such human moments, both frivolous and profound—quiet reveries, declarations of love, dreams about eternity, regrets over families and loves left behind and lost forever—and in the balance of the film, they hold equal weight with the action scenes, because ultimately everything feels connected,” says Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri. “I watch The Old Guard and try to imagine a new world, one where other comic-book movies are this well made and breathtaking.” Netflix.
Another female director offering a very different take on an old genre (the Western prefigured our current superhero glut), Kelly Reichardt slows the mythology of the frontier down to a gentle, soft-spoken trickle with a story whose central action is literally stealing milk to make biscuits. It’s sure not to be everyone’s cup of buttermilk, but critics went gaga for First Cow when it quietly played theaters in March. The L.A. Times‘ Justin Chang said it “may be the most suspenseful and entertaining demonstration yet of Reichardt’s rigorous attention to detail—her patient, genuine and remarkably cinematic fascination with the workings of process and minutiae. All of which makes First Cow both a captivating underdog story and a brilliant demonstration of the pluck and ingenuity of American enterprise in action.” VOD on multiple platforms.
A cynic could argue that, like Wes Anderson or Nicolas Cage, Tom Hanks has become a self parody—leaning so heavily into being America’s Dad that he’s folded into himself like a black hole. But Hanks gonna Hanks, and Greyhound finds him playing yet another good-guy daddy hero, a Navy captain guiding Allied boats across the Atlantic with German U-boats in hot pursuit. (The actor even wrote the screenplay.) “There’s enough juice in Hanks’ personal, human-scaled interest in ordinary heroism under fire to make the movie … work on its own terms,” says the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips. “At its sharpest Greyhound uses its preferred Law & Order pacing and frequent fade-outs and fade-ups between scenes to roll forward, while the actors keep the one-to-one interactions as honest as possible.” Apple TV+.
Mental illness meets haunted-house terror in this debut from director Natalie Erika James. Starring Emily Mortimer as a middle branch in a sick family tree, Relic fits into the “intergenerational trauma” subgenre of horror alongside Ari Aster’s Hereditary. “James’s slow-burn horror is an incredible achievement of patience for a first feature, and the gradual suspense…eventually builds to a monstrous climax,” says Dilara Elbir at the Playlist. “While horrifying and tense throughout, Relic has a sharp awareness of stigmatizing mental illness and disorders like dementia and refuses to lean into easy exploitation.” VOD on multiple platforms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Timescalls 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Vulturecompared 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.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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
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
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 TheNew York Times, “a thrilling and probing story of one woman’s personal defection.” Netflix
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
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
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. Timessays it “emerges a generally charming, sometimes cloying exercise in wildlife anthropomorphism.” (Also dropping this weekend is the Natalie Portman-narrated Dolphin Reef.) Disney+
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
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 Fairsays it’s “a portrait of a world that’s entirely alien, and yet also reflective, and diagnostic, of this country as a whole.” Netflix
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
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 Timescalls 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+
In October, Los Angeles magazine hosted FIT LA presented by Babe Wine, our first-ever live stream workout series. Set over three days, the virtual fitness sessions featured boxing, pilates, and cardio dance with HIIT workouts led by local L.A. studios including BoxUnion, Carrie’s Pilates, and Platefit. Each live stream included trivia questions for a chance to win workout gear. Those who attended all three workouts received a chance to win branded swag courtesy of Babe Wine.
Los Angeles is home to tens of thousands of unhoused individuals, and the situation could continue to deteriorate as COVID-19 ravages the economy. These local homeless charities—worthy of your money and time—are on the front lines of the crisis.
Bell Shelter is a Salvation Army program offering interim housing and supportive services—including state-licensed substance-abuse treatment and group therapy—to up to 500 homeless people. The shelter addresses the roots of homelessness by helping people find a higher quality of life through independence. Since many psychiatric hospitals no longer help homeless men and women manage mental illness, Bell Shelter fills that rehabilitation gap. bellshelter.salvationarmy.org.
The Dream Builders Project
Listed as a top-rated nonprofit group in 2019 by the national rating organization GreatNonprofits, the Dream Builders provides an array of services, but a staple of its program is its “Care Packages for the Homeless” events. Staff and volunteers assemble bags of 100-plus items, which are then distributed to more than 200 homeless men, women, and children. The bags include food, water, soap, toothpaste, first aid kits, clothing, and information about local shelters and food banks. dbpla.org.
The coalition’s Community Diner has served more than 1.5 million hot meals to the hungry since 1987. There are no breaks for this outfit: nutritious food is provided 365 days a year. On Wednesdays, a health check from the Mobile Clinic Project at UCLA is offered along with dinner. hofoco.org.
This Boyle Heights-based organization was founded in 1990 by good Samaritan Father Richard Estrada, well-known in the ’80s for providing asylum to homeless kids, and for backing the Chicano Rights movement. Jovenes honors Estrada’s work by helping young people ages 18 to 25 integrate into society—not only by providing basics like housing, healthcare, education, and employment, but by empowering them through trauma recovery programs. jovenesinc.org.
L.A. Family Housing
With 408 units, LAFH is one of the largest housing nonprofits in the country, transitioning more than 400 people into homes each year. Its beginnings were humble: in 1983, it converted a rundown, 40-room motel in North Hollywood into housing for the homeless. Now there’s a new campus on the site of that old motel that includes a health center, facilities for supportive services, and housing for 49 individuals. lafh.org.
People Assisting the Homeless
People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) works in six regions throughout California, using the “Housing First” model, where homeless folks are first given permanent housing, and then offered supportive services. Since 2013, PATH has built nearly 850 housing units and situated more than 3,000 people. With a retention rate of 90 percent, PATH is more successful at putting people in homes than some cities are. It also offers a reprieve via nine interim shelters. epath.org.
The People Concern
This nonprofit, founded in 2016 in a merger between two trusted social service organizations based in L.A. County, offers a variety of services to empower its participants. Last year the agency connected over 6,000 homeless people to services, referrals, and housing resources, and assisted over 1,900 others in finding permanent housing. thepeopleconcern.org.
Since it was founded in 1972, this downtown L.A.-based organization has focused on hunger relief and comprehensive services for homeless and low-income individuals in Los Angeles. In addition to managing a food pantry and youth camps, St. Francis refers people to health- and social-service agencies, and promotes access to opportunities not typically available to those with economic and geographic limitations. Its mission is “serving hope,” which is apt considering its spiritual and material approach to aid. stfranciscenterla.org.
St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles
Named after the French saint known for his heroic work with the poor, St. Vincent
de Paul of Los Angeles is a Catholic charity with 2,500 volunteers in Southern California. St. Vincent serves the poor and homeless free of charge, providing food, clothing, furniture, appliances, help with rent, and other forms of financial assistance, with the end goal being self-sufficiency for them and their families. Their Cardinal Manning Center houses 100 men from Skid Row. svdpla.org.
Union Rescue Mission
For nearly 130 years, Union Rescue Mission (URM) has provided food, shelter, education, counseling, and long-term recovery programs to homeless people on Skid Row. One of the largest rescue missions in America, URM offers four levels of service: outreach, emergency services, transformation, and restoration. URM has recently partnered with Wells Fargo to fund Hope Gardens Family Center, a transitional housing campus that helps single women and their children transition from homelessness to independence in 12 to 36 months. urm.org.
Weingart helps more than 40,000 people a year. Whether it’s homelessness, addiction, or mental illness, there’s a program. The center is run by Kevin Murray, formerly a state senator and William Morris executive, who knows how to wrangle financial support. That means comprehensive and tailored services and an open door policy that allows walk-ins. Special touches include a clothing boutique with professional attire to help ace that job interview. weingart.org.
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