L.A. Weekly’s (Streaming) Movie Guide is your look at the hottest films and shows available on your TV sets and electronic devices — from indie art house gems to popcorn-perfect blockbusters to new movies garnering buzz that moved from theaters (still closed in L.A.) to digital Video on Demand (VOD) and streaming subscription services. Check this guide regularly as you shelter at home during the pandemic for our top picks.
AKA Jane Roe (FX on HULU)
As Norma McCorvey was on her deathbed, succumbing to heart failure three years ago, she filmed a confession. The 69-year-old was also known as Jane Roe, the woman whose unwanted pregnancy led to one of the most famous court cases in history, 1973’s Roe v. Wade. The film AKA Jane Roe looks at the precedent-setting decision to legalize abortion and the woman behind it, a controversial figure with quite a personal tale to tell. Though her case was and still is at the center of the reproductive rights debate, she in fact never even had an abortion.
By the time the decision was reached (it took three years) she had already had the child and given it up for adoption, so it had no real bearing on her life. Well, except for later, when Pro-Life and religious groups paid her to switch to their side and act as an anti-abortion activist. The ironic change of position was damaging to the pro-choice movement and feminism in general, and apparently, it was all for attention and money. Learning it was “all an act,” as McCorvey confesses in this revealing piece of reflection from director Nick Sweeney, probably won’t change minds on either side, but as the case continues to be in danger of getting overturned and our country remains divided on the issue, AKA Jane Roe’s unflinching look at the complexities here should resonate regardless. —L.L.
On the Record (HBO Max)
“It’s like pressing play on a movie I’d paused 22 years ago in the middle of the scariest scene.” That’s music executive Drew Dixon describing the experience of publicly revealing, after two decades, that she had been raped, at age 24, by her boss, hip-hop mogul, Russell Simmons. On the Record, the complex new documentary from directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (The Hunting Ground) bring in an array of female music executives and cultural scholars to place Dixon’s story in the context of its time, specifically the misogynist attitudes that existed (and still exist) in the music world. In their painstaking attention to defining the cultural landscape, it’s as if the filmmakers are attempting to create a safe space for Dixon to tell her story, and when she finally does, it’s wrenching. In all, 20 women came forward with allegations against Simmons, several of whom bear witness here and eventually befriend Dixon — a sisterhood of courage. —C.W.
Jeffrey Epstein- Filthy Rich (Netflix)
Filthy Rich, which documents the crimes of alleged molester Jeffrey Epstein, is a four-part nightmare that will probably be aggravating if not triggering for a lot of people, especially in our country’s current state of crisis, racial tension and class disparity. The sex offender’s privilege allowed him the means to do despicable acts and get away with them again and again, leaving a trail of trauma in his wake. Sharing the experiences of his survivors, dating back to the mid-’90s, and then onto 2005 (when police discovered Epstein was running a sex ring from his Palm Beach mansion), Rich explores how the now-deceased billionaire allegedly enticed teen girls (most as young as 14) to give “massages” to rich and powerful men for money. Some were also trafficked to his mansion in New York, his London townhouse and his private island in the Caribbean. If you’ve followed the case fairly closely, there’s nothing revelatory here, but the series does a good job of chronicling the sordid and complex saga and investigations that finally saw authorities nab Epstein (if not his powerful, equally perv-y buddies) leading to his jailing and eventual death by suicide. Of course that was a little too convenient for those he might have exposed in court, and for many, the questions posed as this one concludes makes the story far from resolved. —L.L.
Some friendships begin in shared power but gradually grow lopsided. One friend needs the other too much, and too often, and as time passes, the imbalance turns a good thing bad. In Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen, Mara (Tallie Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) spend their 20s and 30s trying to hold tight to the connection they made as adolescents but Jo’s flightiness, which gradually reveals itself as mental illness, continually tests Mara’s limits. Sallitt (The Unspeakable Act ) has made a movie that may frustrate those looking for high drama but exult those who relish in the power of the minimal, as when Mara berates Jo for standing her up (again) and an agitated Jo replies, “I need you to be nice to me.” In my own life, I’ve definitely been Mara in that situation, but I’ve surely been Jo, too. Figuring out if we can be can continue to be someone’s person in a steady continuum of such moments is the question Fourteen asks, artfully, and on its own terms. grasshopperfilm.com/. —C.W.
Lucky Grandma (VOD)
Don’t mess with Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin). Determined to avoid having to move in with her son in Brooklyn, the 80-year-old Chinatown widow takes a fortuneteller’s advice and bets her life savings at a Jersey casino. She wins big, only to lose it all, but scores again when a sack full of cash literally falls into her lap. With Chinatown gangsters chasing her for the dough, Grandma hires Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha, wonderful), a 7-foot-tall bodyguard who seems more lonely than threatening. He moves in, and this madcap caper comedy becomes a sweetly domestic one as well. This first feature from director Sasie Sealy becomes is goofy but nonetheless retains an air of gravitas thanks to Chin, an actress best known for playing the hyper-critical mother in The Joy Luck Club. More often than not, Grandma has no dialogue, but Chin’s expressive eyes speak volumes. The range of emotions that play across her face when she realizes she’s gambled away all her money is a master class in the art of acting. Here’s hoping that Chin and Grandma get a sequel. gooddeedentertainment.com/luckygrandma/ —C.W.
The Vast of Night (Amazon)
The swell new sci-fi flick The Vast of Night will stream on Prime beginning this weekend but last week, it played at drive-in movie theaters across the country and it’s hard to think of a better way to watch this film. A love letter to small town life, star-filled night skies and to movie-making itself, director Andrew Patterson’s virtuoso debut feature is set in late 1950s New Mexico. While most of the town is at the high-school basketball game, seniors Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick) are the first to hear reports of “something in the sky”. A piercing sound comes in over the radio and phone lines, followed by reports of strange objects hovering over a house outside of town. Racing pell-mell into the night, Everett and Fay track every lead with Patterson and cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz sending their camera zooming along behind them, and sometimes way out in front of them, as if to suggest that the filmmaker in charge is so jazzed to be telling this tale that he can’t get to the next story point fast enough. An oft-told alien invasion story that’s really a movie about being exuberantly young, and boundlessly curious — as alien trackers and first time directors alike must be — The Vast of Night is a nervy delight. Read a full review here. —C.W.