News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.
It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us sane (or somewhere close).
As an American, if you haven’t heard of Middle Eastern political thriller Fauda, you get a pass. In Israel, where the show is based and produced, you’d get some serious side-eye: that country’s YES Network reported some 1 million views within the first 48 hours of the third season’s air date. Fauda, Arabic for “chaos,” focuses on an Israeli army unit working undercover in Palestine to hunt down terrorists and preempt crimes. (Netflix picked up the show for US audiences in 2016, seeing its potential as a kind of Israeli Homeland.)
Written by journalist Avi Issacharoff and former Israeli special forces fighter Lior Raz (he also stars), Fauda provides brutal, white-knuckle action, and tribal heartbreak without the patented Claire Danes crazy face. It’s also a controversial show, simultaneously praised and criticized for its portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the humanization of perceived terrorists and above-the-law Israeli intelligence. Fauda’s third season hits Netflix April 16. —Benjamin Tepler, senior editor
Sometimes it is nice to drop the bullshit and remember that underneath it all, you are a theatre gay in tastemaker’s clothing. Huge thanks to the Criterion Channel—without whom, it must be said, I would have drowned in a puddle of my own drool weeks ago—and, more specifically, its Rita Hayworth series, for letting me be me this week.
Cover Girl is an insane 1944 Technicolor musical where Hayworth plays her own grandmother(!) and stars opposite Gene Kelly(!!) as a showgirl with incredibly murky dreams of appearing on a magazine and then on Broadway or something. The dresses are immaculate, the gender politics are hideous, and the dancing is sublime. Check out this sequence, where Kelly (who got to appear in the film only after some intense pushback from Columbia’s studio head Harry Cohn: “That tough Irishman with his tough Irish mug? You couldn’t put him in the same frame as my Rita!”) dances with his own reflection on a Brooklyn-by-way-of-Hollywood “side street”:
A major technical feat in pre-Parent Trap Hollywood, the sequence went on to influence Kelly’s choreo for That Dance in Singin’ in the Rain, which hit screens eight years later. I love that I know this now. I love that I know Cover Girl came out the same year Oklahoma! premiered on Broadway, and both helped firm up the idea that the songs in a musical might further its plot. I love that I have seen Rita Hayworth flee a room in a very tall hat, shouting, “If you ever want to see me again, Danny Maguire, you just come to Broadway! Oh, BIG SHOW!” I love that, for one night, I dropped the act and watched this obliteratingly dumb movie with perfect colors and instantly forgettable songs and so many fans blowing so, so many strands of hair. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
In my 10-year tenure as our style editor, I have added several subcategories to my job title: Style/Activism/Religion/Big Cats/Local Gossip/Drag Queens/Business Funding/Head of Shenanigans/Would Like to Hold the Microphone/1990s Editor is a more accurate description (but too long for a card), with a distinct emphasis on the final tidbit. Our senior editor Ben Tepler has fairly roasted me for the better part of a decade anytime I begin a story with, “Wait, did this happen in the '90s?” And though I like to think I have good current stories, a lot of them are at least rooted in my love of something from that easy-breezy time, so I have to tip my hat to him before I flip him off when his back is turned.
Such is the case here when I attempt to champion the reboot of Beverly Hills 90210. Look, I’m not going to explain the allure of the original. You’re either old enough to know about Brenda and Brandon Walsh, the Peach Pit, “Donna Martin graduates!” and the love triangles, or you’re not. But what you might not know is that last August, the entire gang (minus our collectively beloved and deeply missed Luke Perry) put out a six-episode reboot, which you can snag now on Amazon. Yes, I adored the original show, and obsessing over their looks might’ve cajoled me into my career—but, friends, this reboot is a damn delight.
Instead of the typical premise of just gathering characters together in the future for a wedding or a funeral (by law it seems to be one of these two options), they get meta with it. The actors are parody versions of themselves: Tori Spelling a reality television brat who can’t pay her bills, Jason Priestley a philandering pretty boy with a bad temper, Gabrielle Carteris now the confused head of the actors guild (she actually is the current president of the Screen Actors Guild), and Jennie Garth as an ever-divorced drama queen. The six-episode arc takes place 19 years after the original 90210 ended and the gang is strong-armed into rebooting the show to get their careers going. The episodes are filled with joyful self-mocking, as they use real-life stories of themselves from the “I Hate Brenda” club for Shannon Doherty to Brian Austin Green’s failed rap career as fodder.
Over the course of the miniseries, spliced with lots of content from the old show as they try to get the revival off the ground, a series of mishaps occur. True to the original formula, scandal, drama, and even the gang’s horniness get them into trouble again. It feels like catching up with old friends and nary a mention of the virus to be found. —Eden Dawn, style editor
Confession: I am occasionally (often?) the one in the book club who has not finished the book/speed-read the ending/forgotten the deadline entirely. But come COVID and the need to take news breaks in order to quiet an overactive brain, I found myself returning to the lost-to-me art of unhurried reading. And Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other was a warm place to start. Rich and real, with a deep, full love for people emanating from every page, it took me to a different place—away from a pandemic, into a word of rooted human ties and powerful friendship that reminded me of how we all lean on each other in some way or other. Seems like the right time to remember that. Bonus: I finished the book in time for our virtual meet up. Hashtag corona perks, I guess. —Fiona McCann, senior editor-at-large
Let’s all remember when we get out of this thing we’re all collectively experiencing that it was movies and television that helped save us. After all the rounds of Scrabble and Zoom happy hours, we turned to the boob tube—to entertain and enlighten, to distract and delight. Think about that next time you’re trying to illegally stream HBO content. (I’m saying this to myself—can somebody please give me their account info so I can finally watch Watchmen?)
For me, one of the sure signs of whether I enjoy a movie or show is if I, immediately after watching, read about it on Wikipedia or watch some analysis video on YouTube. Regarding the latter, you’re sure to find plenty of “I’m 15 and this is deep” type content, but two channels I’ve found to be as insightful as they are entertaining are The Take and Lessons from the Screenplay.
The former takes a broad approach to video essays, exploring common themes, tropes, and ideas within a range of films and TV shows. Recently, The Take has been exploring tropes in television and movies, and how they change over time. Their recent essay on outbreak movies helps us understand what we can learn from pandemics.
The latter is a bit more of a focused video essay series, zeroing in on one film and exploring ideas and concepts within it. Lessons from the Screenplay looks at the methods and techniques of storytelling and explores how by recognizing and honing them we can become better storytellers ourselves. Most recently, they talked about the power of symbols within the 2019 Best Picture Parasite. —Gabriel Granillo, digital editor
Coronavirus has brought the sanctimommies (and their counterpart smug dads) out in full force. Every time I venture onto Facebook, I find another post encouraging me to “slow down” and “enjoy” this time of quarantine with my kids. Make a podcast together, I am urged, or learn to crochet! Tackle the Swedish princess cake from that one episode of The Great British Baking Show, gather fallen leaves and grass clippings and blossoms to make nature-inspired self-portraits or, at the very least, choreograph an adorably costumed dance that will absolutely go viral on TikTok.
From me, this all earns a big fat NOPE. Here’s what I do have time for: board game night. On Saturdays, from now until no-one-knows-when-but-please-do-not-let-it-be-2022, you can find us playing the newly released family-friendly edition of Cards Against Humanity, available for free download here. The original version of this game, a grown-up version of Apples to Apples where you fill in the blank of a prompt, is absolutely NSFW. In fact, it is often downright filthy and best played in a loud crowd of other grown-ups while pleasantly, veeringly on dangerously, drunk.
Since that is obviously not possible for the moment, the family-friendly version is here to tide us over, subbing the BDSM references for many, many fart jokes. (Sample fill-in-the-blank choices include “Taking a dump in the pool,” “Using boobies as balloons,” and “Saving up my boogers for 10 years and then building the world’s largest booger,” all of which would work nicely with prompts like “My dad and I enjoy ____ together.”) My 11-year-olds were howling with laughter when we played; jokes about using your butt as a microwave are just what the doctor ordered right now, and every Saturday night for the foreseeable future. —Julia Silverman, news editor
DIY Double Feature
I am of the physical media generation. I’m also a member of Generation X, born in the time span between Mary Poppins and Star Wars, but the physical media generation is less bound by time—it’s more of an ethos, or maybe just a minor hoarding disorder. That means even though our family is blessed with Netflix and Disney+ (a Mandalorian-induced splurge that’s hard to get rid of), we also have a closet full of DVDs: gifts, yard-sale scores, Goodwill finds, a trove inherited from my late sister-in-law, some actual purchases, all ripe for rediscovery while we #StayHomeSaveLives.
If you’re part of the physical media generation, too, turn the raiding of your own DVD library into an intellectual exercise of sorts with a DIY double feature and then discuss, compare, contrast—even just with yourself. There’s no algorithm suggesting what you watch next, so the choice is really up to you and all the happenstance that has brought these particular DVDs into your life. Some pairings from my collection are obvious: baitless-catfish-catcher documentary Okie Noodling with Roger Corman horror classic Piranha; witchy Practical Magic with Hocus Pocus; Strange Brew, a Canadian, Hamlet-inspired film about two men’s quest for free beer, with The Saddest Music in the World, a Canadian film in which Isabella Rossellini’s character has prosthetic glass legs full of beer. But some are trickier.
To go with Queen Latifah’s sublime rom-com Last Holiday, for example, I don’t actually own the 1950 Last Holiday with Sir Alec Guinness, the film on which it’s based. (Guinness’s George Bird was reconceived for the 2006 remake as the Queen’s Georgia Byrd, and I should warn you the old one is not exactly a romantic comedy.) Of the movies I do have, should I pair it with The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz in another story of frustrated women crossing the Atlantic in hope of renewal? Or the Portland-set Are We There Yet?, also starring a hip-hop artist (Ice Cube)? Or the J-Lo-rific Maid in Manhattan, another class-conscious tale of mistaken identity in a hotel setting and also directed by Wayne Wang? That one might be the winner. —Margaret Seiler, managing editor
This week, in the continuing chronicles of What To Watch With the People/Pets/Houseplants We’re Stuck at Home With, we’ve been enjoying Kim’s Convenience on Netflix. It’s kid-friendly, at least for a 9-year-old, and simple fair for our troubling times. On the surface, Kim’s is a hackneyed sitcom setup: a Korean-Canadian family runs a convenience store in Toronto and has hilarious misadventures as they figure out how to live, learn, and love each other. The truth is more complex and offers a stealth lesson about the immigrant experience through the lens of comedy.
The show broadly focuses on the Kim family through their interactions with each other and their multicultural community, and the characters at first seem simplistic but turn out to have surprising depth. From parents not speaking to their estranged children to dealing with the feeling of not being viewed as Korean “enough,” there’s a real authenticity to the storylines that strays far from typical sitcom territory. The writing is tight and funny, and the plotlines deal with heavy topics in an approachable, fresh way. —Mike Novak, art director