One of Han Solo's best known lines in the original Star Wars isn't one of his many smart-assed one-liners—it's a quiet little prayer to his own spaceship, one that goes like this: "Hear me baby? Hold together." As we face another week of self-quarantine, sheltering in place, and doing what we can to slow the spread of COVID-19, "Holding together" is the task at hand, and if you click the links below you're going to find more than a few amazing ways to help yourself do that.
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Monday, May 4
Star Wars Day on Disney+
The history of Star Wars Day is interesting in that there's not really any history at all; It's a dumb pun that some fans turned into a self-perpetuating marketing celebration back in the "dark times" where liking Star Wars was unpopular (Ed. note: Those times never really existed, Star Wars has always been a billions-generating global media franchise). When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, people figured the company would finally graduate this fan celebration to the corporate big time, but it never really happened... until now. Disney+ has overhauled its entire look for the day, and is not only making The Rise of Skywalker available to stream, it's premiering a new behind-the-scenes documentary on their breakout hit
The Baby Yoda Show The Mandalorian, and streaming the series finale of The Clone Wars. That last bit is the crown jewel here: Even if the final part of this four-episode arc ending the seven-season animated epic doesn't quite stick the landing, the first three parts are so good that if it were edited into an actual movie (please do this, Lucasfilm) they would immediately become not just the best prequel film in the saga, but probably a top-tier Star Wars entry overall. Ahsoka Lives!
Looking for a good movie podcast chaser after pounding down all that Star Wars? Blank Check (starring The Atlantic's David Sims and The Tick's Griffin Newman) is one of the best deep dive talk shows available. It started as a Star Wars show from an alternate universe where The Phantom Menace was the only Star Wars movie that was ever made, and became what it is today: An intelligent, passionate investigation of your favorite directors' careers, going title-by-title through the filmographies of folks like Jonathan Demme, George Miller, James Cameron, Ang Lee, and more, with a rotating panel of special guests including Paul Scheer, Paul F. Tompkins, John Hodgman, Demi Adejuyigbe, and Chris Weitz. Oh, and if that Disney+ rewatch of Rise of Skywalker still leaves you wanting... maybe check out their post-mortem discussion on the film as a release valve.
Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama
Or maybe, after seeing Rise of Skywalker, no podcast-aided commisseration will help, and you're all like "hey, whatever, the inevitable reboot will be better." GUESS WHAT: That reboot already exists, has existed since 1981, and is available for free on Google Podcasts! George Lucas sold the audio rights to his alma mater USC for $1, and they—working with NPR—transformed Star Wars into 13 half-hour episodes of ridiculously-immersive radio drama. And wouldn't you know it, this reboot is better than the movie. Sure, you gotta get used to the mostly-recast roles, and if you're a "b-but canon!" kinda nerd you might get hung up on some details. But if you want to like Star Wars more, this radio drama oughta do it.
Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction
Remember in the very early first days of this quarantine, when social media still thought they could meme their way through this mess? One of the most popular posts was this supercut of Star Trek's Jonathan Frakes asking a barrage of questions. That video was the first time a lot of people realized Jonathan Frakes wasn't actually William Riker, but an actor who was on other TV shows in the '90s. That show? Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction. And whaddya know: It's actually pretty fun, especially if you're looking for the sort of casual background binge that's helping many get through their lockdowns. Beyond Belief is an anthology series that's equal parts Choose Your Own Adventure, Ripley's Believe it or Not and Amazing Stories, packed full of performances from your favorite "that guys"—all of whom are relishing the opportunity to be the star for once in their character acting careers. All four seasons of the show (narrated by trailer voice supreme Don LaFontaine) are available on imdb.tv for free, but if you're only here for the Frakes, skip season 1, hosted much more blandly by James Brolin.
Star Trek: First Contact Live Commentary w/ Jonathan Frakes
And just in case you can't get enough Frakes (there is no such observable state in the universe, btw) and you feel like there's a bit of a Star Wars imbalance on this day, why not grab a DVD, or a Blu-Ray, or rent a VOD stream of Star Trek: First Contact (Frakes directed it!) and then load up this live commentary of the film recorded last week on the CineFix YouTube channel, where Frakes shares behind-the-scenes stories of making the best Next Gen movie, and every now and again lapses into awestruck wonder at the Frakesian majesties he captured on film. Not even Frakes can withstand Riker's beardy charms.
Okay, enough about Number One—what's Captain Picard up to on Star Wars day, you say? Oh, you know, doing his whole Tony-nominated serious actor thing in this 2009 performance of director Rupert Goold's Macbeth, available to stream for free as part of PBS's Great Performances series. This Macbeth, filmed for television (and winning a 2011 Peabody award for it) is transplanted to the 20th century, and Stewart's portrayal is one of the single best in the character's very long history, matched perfectly to Kate Fleetwood's turn as the cold-as-ice Lady Macbeth.
The Mandalorian: The Complete Soundtrack
Let's just go ahead and close out May the 4th on a literal high note: The magnitude of Ludwig Goransson’s last four years as a musician can not be minimized. He helped Ryan Coogler restore the Rocky series to glory by re-contextualizing Bill Conti’s Oscar-winning score for the '76 original and turning it into Creed’s propulsive—but still plaintive—sound. His next at-bat produced the best Funkadelic record in 30 years with Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love, and then he provided Wakanda its beating heart in Coogler’s Black Panther, winning a Best Score Oscar for his efforts. Which begs the question: Just how in the fuck do you follow all that up? Well: you take a job with Lucasfilm, scoring their first live-action Star Wars show. No pressure. And then you make it even more interesting by voluntarily avoiding the use of any of John Williams. And then you go back to the '70s in your mind, and seek out the artists that legends like Williams and Ennio Morricone were listening to back then, and you create an entirely new musical vocabulary for the genre of “space western" to serve up complete, undeniable, album-length bangers, once a week, for every week that the show runs—a scoring feat that, so far as I know, has never been done before. Ludwig Goransson is a miracle, and The Mandalorian’s soundtrack is some of the best Star Wars music ever written, period.
Tuesday, May 5
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind
This HBO documentary premiering at 6pm tonight seeks to take a different tack in recounting the life of actor Natalie Wood. Most of her biographies tend to prominently fixate on her premature death, and the mystery surrounding it. Hell, even this blurb can't make it to its halfway point without bringing it up. But this doc, directed by Laurent Bouzereau (Five Came Back) and focused through the eyes of her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, is all about really looking at the very full, eventful, and transformative life she lived for 43 years, featuring footage from home movies, words from her private letters and diaries, and interviews with some of her closest friends, providing the chance to celebrate the star for no other reason than to appreciate how brightly she shined.
An all-day online festival supporting front-line farmworkers through donations generated by the finest Latin artists in music and pop culture. Hosted by Eva Longoria and Enrique Santos, the lineup includes names like Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, Los Tigres Del Norte, Las Cafeteras, Sofia Vergara, Steve Aoki, Tito Puente Jr., Dolores Huerta, Gloria & Emilio Estefan, Luis Guzman (the Guz!) and many, many more, including special appearances from J. Balvin, Alejandro Sanz, and Rosario Dawson. They're aiming to raise $3 million in one day, and they only want $5 from each viewer, so while you could just watch and dance and laugh for free, why not kick in a little if you can?
Little Fires Everywhere
Hulu's latest big, buzzy, original drama is this adaptation of Celeste Ng's best-selling book. Reviews have knocked the adaptation for essentially removing all nuance from Ng's novel, and it's hard to disagree that the story is a lot louder than it was on the page; Ng's novel is set in the mid-'90s, but never quite channeled it. This show doesn't feel like the book... but the sour, entitled, pretty-on-the-outside-but-mean-as-fuck-for-no-good-reason vibe it absolutely nails from its first 15 minutes on? That's some genuinely authentic '90s nastiness; the kind of sunshine-covered bitterness these characters would snidely razz as they watched their umpteenth hour of Ricki Lake from the comfort of their couch. The miniseries is now available in full for on-demand consumption, and the approach taken with the source material (an approach Ng herself applauded) makes a lot more sense when the reworked story is taken as a whole.
The Drunken Laboratory
If you're going to get tipsy and then start doing science experiments, why not do it from the safety and comfort of your own home while watching the mad lab rats from The Drunken Laboratory, who will be fulfilling many a kid's childhood dream tonight at 7pm and teaching everyone how to make quicksand with just starch and water. Now you can really put your G.I. Joe's and Star Wars toys through hell as scientifically accurately as possible!
Kentucky Route Zero
The feelings of cabin fever and the onset of stir-craziness can be offset satisfactorily depending on your mode of distraction in these locked-down days, and one of the best means to that end is this five-act video game that "plays" more like an actual play than anything else. Kentucky Route Zero (available on all PC and console platforms), is a point-and-click adventure game where the adventures and puzzles are tied directly to the interpersonal relationships you build and cultivate with the characters occupying its surreal settings. It starts as the story of an older truck driver just trying to get his cargo from point A to point B on a fictional Kentucky freeway, but becomes... well, hell, it basically becomes a dream. A playable dream, the kind of engrossing, inexplicable experience you wish you could have recorded and played back for others once you wake up. Except of course, in this case, you can.
The Florida Project
Director Sean Baker's most recent gem, 2017's The Florida Project (now streaming on Netflix), is must-see cinema for multiple reasons. There's Oscar-nominee Willem Dafoe showing his "softer side," as a budget hotel manager named Bobby, but the real reason Florida is such a success is due to child actor Brooklyn Prince. Prince plays a mischievous tyrant who spends her days terrorizing the Orlando hotel she calls home, harassing patrons and guilting tourists into buying ice cream. Prince—with considerable help from her costars, Baker, and screenwriter Chris Bergoch—resonates beyond the twee and cute. At the film's climax, Prince delivers a performance that would make even the surliest curmudgeon cry. Sometimes the tiniest underdog can beat the odds and become a star. CHASE BURNS
Caleb Landry Jones
Jones is one of the faces you'll spot in Florida Project too, playing Dafoe's estranged son—but you've probably seen him in a bunch of other great roles. The twisted younger brother in Get Out, the quiet dork in The Dead Don't Die, the billboard rental guy in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Becky's trailer trash husband in Twin Peaks... all Jones. Also all Jones? The "mind-blowing" (according to NPR) debut LP, The Mother Stone, a psych-rock freakout that features Jones summoning the spirits of Lennon, Zappa, Syd Barrett, and any other hippie visionaries you could probably think of, channeling their vibes through his guitar, drum, and keyboard-playing, and splashing that all over an ensemble that also includes a string section and a damn tuba too.
Wednesday, May 6
The Stranger's Silent Reading Party
Every Wednesday at 6 pm we're going to throw these parties, at least until stay-at-home is over. Attendees at the first Zoom silent-reading party included famous actors, writers, composers, artists, families, teenagers doing their homework, people staring into space listening to the music because it was just so beautiful, cats, and even one household on Orcas Island that was eating dinner and decided to broadcast the reading party as their background music. (What a brilliant idea!) It wasn't just a great party to be at. Behind the scenes, this was a roaring success as well. Our musician Paul Matthew Moore made ten times more on Venmo tips than he's ever made in the tip jar at the Sorrento (thank you for your generosity—he deserves it!), and hundreds of people at the party have written us emails, clamoring for more. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
The Left Hand of Darkness
Need a book for this week's Silent Reading Party? How about an absolute classic from Ursula K. Le Guin? Not that you need an excuse to crack the spine on any of her works, but The Left Hand of Darkness (available in ebook and audiobook form at MultCo Library, physical copies here at Powell's) in particular has had lasting influence as one of the defining works of feminist literature. The novel tells the story of a Genly Ai, a future human explorer on an icy planet called Winter whose inhabitants are all gender-fluid. Where other Science Fiction writers at the time used the latest innovations in technology to imagine the future, Le Guin developed a Science Fiction of Anthropology (a discipline in part founded by her father, Alfred Kroeber) that rejects gender as essential to ordering society. The novel remains a cherished guiding star for many queer and trans youth today. EDWARD WOLCHER
About a year ago, American treasure and cultural icon Michelle Obama came to the Moda Center as part of her national tour promoting her book Becoming. She covered key events in her life from career to motherhood, and discussed the lessons learned from becoming the first Black woman to serve as First Lady of the United States. This documentary, premiering on Netflix today (from the Obamas' production company Higher Ground, following up their acclaimed American Factory) is "an intimate documentary" for those who were able to attend last year's show, and for us broke folk who only got as close as catching a glimpse of the Secret Service cavalcade that drove through town. Not sure how “intimate” this “conversation” can get, but I also don’t doubt Michelle’s ability to surpass all expectations. JENNI MOORE
The The Bon Appétit Test Kitchen Variety Show
If you're one of many Bon Appétit stans, you know that the magazine's Test Kitchen crew is quarantined like the rest of us. They've been recording themselves in their home kitchens to keep the BA YouTube channel full of serotonin-boosting content, and this culminated in their biggest sheltered-in-place experiment thus far: A live variety show, loaded up with cooking challenges, catchphrases (mostly from Brad), and more fun surprises. If you missed it live last Friday, don't sweat it—it's archived on their YouTube channel, and you can watch along like you were there, and whatever donations you kick down after the fact will go towards World Central Kitchen's COVID-19 relief project, which aims to provide meals to those in need, put restaurants back to work, and feed frontline healthcare workers.
Live Wire! Radio House Party
The only way this could be even more perfect is if Kid 'n' Play were actually hosting Portland's world-famous live 'n' local public radio variety show. That might still happen, who knows, but in the latest installment of this socially-distanced version of Live Wire, the tried and true (and charming-as-hell) team of Luke Burbank and Elena Passarello welcome Cameron Esposito, who talks about the shift from the stage to streaming as a stand-up using Zoom; @RateMySkypeRoom account creator Claude Taylor, who will be rating Luke's home studio and presumably sparing no mercies while doing so; and The Lone Bellow, performing a new song created while quarantined!
If there were an award for music that’s “the best reminder to give your Mexican dad a phone call,” or one that makes you “most nostalgic for a time you never knew,” Chicano Batman would definitely win both. The Los Angeles-based quartet smoothly integrates two wistful genres: the romantic ’60s psychedelia so many brown kids grew up listening to on Saturday mornings, and the inescapably sun-soaked sound of Southern Californian indie. And nobody rocks the soulfulness of the organ like Chicano Batman. Their new album, Invisible People hit streaming last Friday—get a late pass and listen below. GUADALUPE TRIANA
Thursday, May 7
Once upon a time, a producer on the American remake of The Office decided he wanted to make mainstream sitcoms that were dedicated to being hilarious and sweet and smart. So he went off and made Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and his magnum opus of optimism and philosophy, The Good Place. This story isn't about him though, or his next show. It's about the guy who hired him way back in those Office days, Greg Daniels, and Greg's own attempt at the high-concept afterlife sitcom, Upload, now available on Amazon Prime. Combining sci-fi concepts as seen in Minority Report, Black Mirror, and yes, The Good Place, Daniels tells the story of a software designer who crashes into a garbage truck, and is uploaded into a digital hereafter. The show is a little less concerned with uplift, and a little more interested in using its setting to poke at our current notions of privilege and class. Angels work in call-centers, heavenly benefits come with microtransactions attached, and there's still no net neutrality, not even in the digital afterlife.
There are no lack of podcasts about The Internet being made right now—shows that cover the culture, politics, dark underbelly, and idiosyncrasies of being online are outnumbered only by mediocre true crime pods. Yet Rabbit Hole, the new weekly audio series from the New York Times (updates Thursdays) that explores the internet’s potential to radicalize its users, manages to stick out by pairing deep original reporting with a high degree of specificity. In the first two episodes alone, you will track the viewing history of a guy whose streaming habits went from Frozen parodies to right-wing YouTubers to outright white supremacists, and learn about the YouTube algorithm that favors the fringe. Episodes are kept at a succinct 30 minutes, leaving you wanting more each time. In a media landscape that’s oversaturated with hot takes about Twitter feuds and lacking in valuable reporting about the place where most Americans spend hours of their day, having a pod like Rabbit Hole is a good thing. BLAIR STENVICK
Kitty Green's The Assistant (starring Ozark's Julia Garner, now available for rent on VOD) works quietly in its condemnation of abusive men in power. There's no passionate monologue about how a system enables a predator like Harvey Weinstein to comfortably exploit women without question or cathartic scenes of abusers getting their comeuppance. Rather, the film focuses on the minutiae of office operations and existence, centering the person least in power—a female assistant—as a means of exploring exactly how abusers are enabled by everyone around them. JASMYNE KEIMIG
From Ex Machina's relatively realistic opening moments—it subtly calls to mind both Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs and David Fincher's The Social Network—things spiral to stranger, creepier places. It's not as if the themes explored in Ex Machina (now streaming on Netflix) are new—from Asimov to Blade Runner, we've pondered them before—but they're handled here with a depth and intelligence that gives them jarring impact, and that impact is only more pronounced when you note that it's effectively set inside a self-quarantine, and ends... maybe the only way it could end when two of its three main characters continually refuse to consider the possibility they're not the smartest person in the room.
The reason Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie (which, to clarify, is not what we're recommending here) feels like an airless simulacra of the book is due to a fundamental dissonance between its reverence for the original and the basic disrespect that comes with being a party to Watchmen's corporate exploitation. But showrunner Damon Lindelof has chosen instead to steer into that disrespect, openly and thoughtfully rearranging and replacing the building blocks of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' graphic novel by sequelizing it with his single-season miniseries. And as a result, HBO’s version investigates themes and ideas the book barely, if ever, touched on. The decision to reframe the whole of masked vigilantism as a form of therapy through the lens of America's fundamental, institutionalized, and unending traumatization of Black people feels alarming, shocking, and meaningful in ways Moore never got at. As an act of retconning, it's maybe the single most audacious and successful example in all genre fiction.
There might be no comedy series currently running that is as consistently cathartic as Pamela Adlon's Better Things. It was always good, but the leap the show has taken in its last two seasons (not coincidentally, the two seasons created sans-input from Adlon's former collaborator Louis C.K.) is something to behold. Not every character in the show—not Pamela's character, not her daughters, and certainly not the parade of people storming in and out of her already turbulent life—is likeable, but they're all in their own way extremely loveable, in the hard, complicated, but rewarding way you might recognize in relationships with your own (often-infuriating) family members. The fourth season (it's best yet) is now available in full on Hulu, so if you've been waiting for that binge, here you go.
Car Seat Headrest
Calling a band Car Seat Headrest might seem like an odd choice, but given some background, you’ll get it. The main brain behind the project is Seattle-ite Will Toledo, who recorded the vocals for his first few albums in the backseat of a car for privacy—hence the band name. Over the course of his career, that lo-fi/DIY quality is still present, but he’s been fine-tuning it. Most of his songs are specifically about our attempt to derive meaning from all of this (gesticulates wildly), and how sickeningly futile it often feels. In Toledo’s case, assigning a seemingly meaningless name like Car Seat Headrest to his life’s work actually makes perfect sense, and the latest chapter of that work, Making a Door Less Open, is now available for you to dive into. FIONA GABRIELLE WOODMAN
Don't forget to check out our Things To Do calendar for even more things to stream while you stay home and stay safe!