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Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

OK, so who here is dealing with seasonal allergies right now?

Aaaand who here is being freaked out by those seasonal allergies right now?

Any other year, the congestion, the occasional runny nose and the couple-times-per-day sneezes would be mere minor annoyances—I’d take a Claritin and move on with my day. But the universe has made it annoyingly freaking clear this is NOT any other year, and as a result, every time I have the slightest sniffle, my paranoid brain goes OMG! I MIGHT HAVE THE VIRUS OMG HELP ME, further damaging my already-wobbly psyche.

Who’s with me here?

Of course, logically, I have no reason to actually believe I have the virus. I’ve been having the same damn allergies every spring for more than a decade now. My temperature is normal. I’ve been basically staying home, and have been washing my hands, on average, 34 times per hour. Aaaand then there’s the fact that these damn allergy symptoms aren’t the standard COVID-19 symptoms.

Yet I just sneezed—and damn near had a panic attack. I repeat: Who’s with me here?

My fellow allergy sufferers: You’re fine. Really. I promise. Probably. Anyway, the next time a light congestion sniffle causes you to freak out a little, please know: You’re not alone. (Even if you actually, well, are alone.) Your fellow allergy suffers, like me, are right there with you. So hang in there. Now go wash your hands.

Meanwhile … a huge thank you to all of you who have joined the ranks of Supporters of the Independent in recent days. In tomorrow’s Daily Digest, I’ll list the names of all of you who have chipped in during the month of March (which was a doozy of a month, no?) to help us keep doing what we’re doing. I am truly grateful to all of you.

To those of you who have requested mail delivery of the print edition: I’ll be sending out the orders we have so far tomorrow. Before I do, I am going to attack my desk with Lysol wipes; wash my hands four times (minimum); put on fresh gloves; and get everything together. (Not joking!) In other words, they’ll go out, as safely as possible, in tomorrow’s mail. If you want a copy or copies sent to you, details can be found here.

To those of you who get some yummy takeout/delivery from a local restaurant: We’re looking for Reader Indy Endorsements! Our Indy Endorsement feature has always showcased fantastic dishes at Coachella Valley restaurants … and now we’re asking you to help. If you enjoy an amazing appetizer, entrée, dessert or drink from a local restaurant, please 1) take a pic of the dish (unless you’ve already devoured it and have no plans to get another, in which case we’ll either go without a pic or request one from the restaurant); and 2) send us your writeup on why the dish is so gosh-darned splendid (250-350 words, usually … but we won’t be sticklers); and 3) we’ll edit it and publish it at CVIndependent.com, and link to it in a Daily Digest! We’ll also run a selection of them in our May print edition, room permitting. The goal here is to give our give our fantastic local restaurants a PR boost—and build community while doing so. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

And now, on with the news:

• The state is asking recently retired health professionals AND medical and nursing students—yes, current students who have yet to graduate—to sign up to join the fight (paid!) against COVID-19.

• Some Instacart and Amazon workers are on strike. Here’s why.

• If you’re looking for an academic deep dive into the reasons why the U.S. is behind on COVID-19 testing, the Harvard Business Review has you covered.

• MIT is developing plans to show people how to build emergency ventilators for about $100.

John Krasinski has launched a new YouTube series called Some Good News which, well, highlights good news during these messed-up times. For his first episode, he talked The Office with Steve Carell.

• If you’re obsessed with how the nationwide COVID-19 stats curve is going, Time magazine is updating its Coronavirus Chart—for the U.S. and five other countries—on a daily basis.

• Good news: Johnson and Johnson has announced a rapid COVID-19 vaccine-development plan, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Unfortunately, “rapid” means it still would not be available until early 2021.

• Palm Springs favorite TRIO Restaurant is planning a virtual happy hour at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1—no foolin’.

• Here’s an update from Friday on what Riverside County courts are and aren’t doing right now.

• Wow, this is awesome: Palm Desert’s City Wok restaurant is feeding unemployed restaurant workers for free.

• The Atlantic has been doing an amazing job at covering the pandemic in a thoughtful, intelligent, telling-hard-truths way. Here’s another fantastic piece, on the dangers of the coronavirus culture wars we’ve all seen sprouting up on social media.

• In Spanish: Here’s a primer on Spanish-language films being offered online—many for free.

• The San Francisco Chronicle offers up this primer on manners in this age of coronavirus.

Is it safe to take ibuprofen during the pandemic? According to Wired, it probably is.

That’s enough news for today. Wash your hands. Support local journalism. Send us your Reader Indy Endorsements! Enjoy life. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Noise-intolerant neighbors are taken to all-new levels in A Quiet Place, a new horror film from director John Krasinski.

Krasinski also stars as Lee, a father trying to protect his family in a post-apocalyptic world besieged by horrific aliens who will tear you apart if you make so much as a peep. The opening sequence shows Lee, wife Evelyn (Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt, aka the next Mary Poppins) and three children taking a very quiet walk home from a drug store. One of them makes a sudden noise—and the results are pretty scary for a PG-13 movie.

The aliens are blind, so they hunt by sound—not, say, the sound of a river running or a bird chirping, but sounds that are more “interruptive,” like fireworks, a person screaming after stepping on a nail, etc. The gimmick lends itself to some faulty logic at times, but it does provide an interesting premise: If you speak audibly in relatively quiet surroundings, you will get your head bitten off. It’s as if everyday life is a hellish library where the penalty for gabbing or dropping something is death.

Krasinski’s film gives no real back-story about the aliens. A few glimpses of newspaper front pages share that the world has been wiped out by the species. One look at them (they are a cross between Ridley Scott’s aliens and the Cloverfield monster), and you know that just a few days with these things running around would decimate the population.

Blunt gives the film’s standout performance as somebody forced to keep quiet after not only a painful injury—but while giving birth in a bathtub while an alien claws nearby. It’s scenes like this, and one involving a crying baby in a flooded basement, that give Blunt a chance to call upon myriad facial expressions that will chill your blood. She pulls you into every moment with an earnestness that is real and relatable.

The film, Krasinski’s second as a director, shows true ingenuity behind the camera. He’s done well with family drama before (2016’s The Hollars was a good if little-noticed movie), but this one takes his directorial value into the stratosphere.

The monsters themselves are stellar CGI creations—a nice achievement, considering the movie was made on a relatively low budget. Charlotte Bruus Christensen provides excellent camerawork, while Marco Beltrami’s score actually offers something to listen to. The performers communicate mostly through sign language and whispering, which makes for a pretty quiet movie (unless you are watching the movie next door to an IMAX screening of Ready Player One—bad planning from the theater manager, I say).

Krasinski complements his directing chops with a fine performance as a guy doing everything to keep his sanity and protect his family, which includes a young deaf daughter (the superb Millicent Simmonds, who is actually deaf) and son (Noah Jupe, the little guy who broke your heart in Wonder). The kids are terrific, so Krasinski gets more kudos for casting. Did I mention he co-wrote the screenplay, too?

Apparently, there was some talk of making this a Cloverfield movie, but that got scrapped early in production. That’s a good thing, because this one stands on its own. Given it made a big pile of dough on its opening weekend, it’s a safe bet a sequel will get the green light. Lee observes signal fires from other survivors during the early part of the movie, so perhaps a story with another family could happen. I hope not; they should leave well enough alone.

While there are some “Yeah, right!” moments in which the screenplay’s own rules about the aliens are broken, there are far more sequences that are extremely well-done. Krasinski and Blunt combine for a movie that you won’t soon forget—one that will have you being a little quieter around the house after seeing it.

A Quiet Place is showing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Actor John Krasinski’s second directorial effort is a decent film with a first-rate cast. Krasinski stars in The Hollars as John Hollar, a man working a dead-end job for a publishing company when his girlfriend (the always-great Anna Kendrick) informs him his mom (a terrific Margo Martindale) is sick—and that he needs to fly home to see her.

Once there, John has to deal with his weird brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), the oddball nurse who is also his old girlfriend’s new husband (Charlie Day) and his weepy dad (Richard Jenkins). The script goes through some familiar territory, but the performers put new spins on the situations—especially Martindale, who takes the part and really runs with it.

Krasinski does a good job of handling the script’s many mood swings, and the relationships feel real … that strange kind of real.

The film manages to get laughs, even when the subject matter goes to dark places. It deals with the lousier side of life without getting totally depressing—something that could’ve happened easily. Krasinski makes it all work.

The supporting cast includes Randall Park, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Josh Groban in small but memorable roles. The soundtrack is stellar, featuring Josh Ritter, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Wilco.

The Hollars opens Friday, Sept. 30, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews

I have liked exactly three Michael Bay films in the past: Bad Boys 2, The Island and the goofy Pain and Gain. That’s it. No Transformers. No The Rock. Keep that spastic shit far away from me.

Today, I like exactly four Michael Bay films: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is Bay’s best film yet. Is it the great film this true story deserves? No, it isn’t. It is, however, a strong, competent effort from a guy whose action films are usually incomprehensible and schmaltzy.

Why is it his best film? Because the cast totally rocks from start to finish, and, to put it bluntly, Bay keeps himself … uh, at bay with this one. He actually tells a story—a harrowing one—and keeps over-baked action-film trickery to something resembling a minimum. There’s real, palpable tension in this movie, something I’ve never felt during a Bay film before (unless frustrated, confused nausea counts as tension).

Bay’s tricks are still there: We have rapid-paced editing, gratuitous shots of a buff John Krasinski glistening in the moonlight (Lucky girl, Emily Blunt!) and unnecessary slow-motion shots that make everything look like a car commercial. However, these tricks aren’t as distracting as they were in previous Bay action films; this one seems properly modulated. It also has an appropriately gritty feel, as opposed to the shimmering sheen of most of his previous efforts.

The film is based on the book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, written by Mitchell Zuckoff with the cooperation of the CIA contractors who fought during the attacks. Some of the characters in the film retain the actual names of those contractors, while others have aliases.

The movie gets right to it: A CIA security force in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, must try to protect an American ambassador during a terrorist attack on U.S. compounds. The security force finds itself dealing with a bunch of red tape that prohibits it from flying into action—and possibly preventing it from receiving assistance from the U.S. military.

Krasinski plays Jack Silva (an alias for one of the contractors), a former Navy SEAL stationed in Benghazi who deeply misses his family back in the U.S. Amid reports of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds, Silva remains on security detail, walking through the streets of Libya posing as an American agent’s husband.

Other CIA contractors depicted in the film include Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber, half-brother of Liev), Dave “Boon” Benton (David Denman), John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini).

When a Libyan gang busts through a security gate and attacks the compound where ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) is staying, the contractors, after unfortunate delays, try in vain to rescue him. The action then goes to another outpost, where the contractors battle hordes of attackers all night—a night that culminates in fatal mortar attacks.

There’s going to be a lot of back and forth on what’s fact, embellished fact and pure fiction in this film. Bob (David Costabile), the CIA chief portrayed in the movie, is already crying foul about the depiction of his actions, so it would be a stretch to call 13 Hours a definitive portrayal of the Benghazi events.

It isn’t a stretch, however, to say the actors are all quite good, especially Krasinski and Schreiber. The attacks are terrifying, with the soldiers often not knowing whether the people approaching them are friends or enemies. Bay does a nice job of keeping things off-balance and scary.

In the end, Bay delivers a fine action film. While there’s a certain lack of depth to this movie—it lacks the heft of Zero Dark Thirty, for example—there’s no denying it’s a fairly strong piece of action entertainment.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Promised Land wants to be a message movie, but it's too messy to deliver that message coherently.

Originally slated to be Matt Damon's directorial debut, it was instead directed by his pal Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), who, with this and last year's mawkish Restless, finds himself in a bit of a slump. Although Damon relinquished the director's chair, he shared screenwriting duties with John Krasinski, and both have big roles in the film.

Damon plays Steve Butler, a likable corporate pawn for a natural-gas company who is sent to a farming town with a mandate to sell the community on allowing its presence. That presence would mean a lot of "fracking," a natural-gas extraction process that involves deep drilling—and some possible environmental side effects.

Steve is presented as a virtuous fellow who looks to do well and get ahead. He's just about to get a big promotion, and with a wisecracking co-worker at his side (Frances McDormand), he's set to sell fracking to a town filled with differing opinions on what to do with the land. Some, like Paul (Lucas Black), are looking for a big payday, while others, like Frank (a well-placed Hal Holbrook), look to get in Steve's way.

Also looking to get in Steve's way is Dustin (Krasinski), an environmentalist who claims that fracking wrecks farms and kills livestock. He posts pictures of dead cows around town and playfully intimidates Steve at local bars. He even makes a move on Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), the small-town girl Steve has his eyes on.

Is Promised Land trying to preach that fracking and natural gas are bad choices? I really couldn't tell you. The film is more preoccupied with giving us a nice, happy, pleasant outcome for Steve. Van Sant wants you to leave this movie thinking Damon's Steve is just swell—even if he did put people's livelihoods and land in jeopardy.

There's also a big twist that is nothing but a screenwriting stunt to throw viewers off-course. It completely undermines any "message" the film is trying to deliver, and comes off as something that would never, ever happen.

It's too bad. I liked the idea of Van Sant tackling a simple farm-town story—but the Damon/Krasinski screenplay betrays him in the end. Damn your pen, Matt Damon!

Damon's acting is OK. He's playing somebody similar in mannerisms to the character he played in We Bought a Zoo. (He wrote Promised Land with Krasinski while taking breaks from making Zoo.) His acting is better than his writing. The same can't be said for Krasinski, who both writes and acts badly here. Love the dude on The Office, but I'm lukewarm on him at the movies thus far.

As for McDormand, she rises above the material and makes her moments worth watching. The same can be said for DeWitt, who made a habit this year of showing her face in movies unworthy of her. She also starred in the mediocre Nobody Walks, the lousy The Odd Life of Timothy Green and The Watch. (I am one of the few critics who actually liked that one.)

Promised Land left me feeling weird, and I don't think that was its intention. Sure, it made me curious about fracking, but the film chickened out and failed to deliver a meaningful statement on anything. Van Sant has made an awkward movie that will be fracking forgotten by this time next year.

Promised Land is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A Los Angeles family lets a really pretty girl into their house for an elongated visit, and—surprise surprise—infidelity and other sorts of trouble ensue.

Nobody Walks is the latest from co-writer Lena Dunham, who penned and directed the very-good Tiny Furniture. While the movie has some tasty visuals and a dreamy soundtrack, the story doesn’t quite cut it. In fact, it’s quite predictable and boring.

The really pretty girl is Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a supposed artist looking to finish her art film with the help of a freelance sound engineer, Peter (John Krasinski). This is one of those films that present an “artist” who is supposed to be very talented—but the film she’s working on is stupid. It’s just black-and-white footage of bugs that is meant to be “deep.” Well, it’s not. It’s just a bunch of bugs running around.

Nothing Martine says is all that enlightening or profound, especially when she’s directing her movie. Peter instantly finds her talented, which I suppose is a direct sign that he wants to cheat on his wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt).
Julie has her own potential infidelity storm brewing. She’s a therapist with a sleazy screenwriter client (Justin Kirk) who tells her about the sex dreams he’s having. Of course, she’s in them. This is all well-worn, run-of-the-mill territory.

The movie lights up a bit in the story of young Kolt (India Ennenga), a budding writer with a crush on Peter’s assistant (Rhys Wakefield). Ennenga delivers the film’s best performance as a teenager with the biggest brain in the house. Had the film been more about her, it might’ve been interesting. Ennenga is a featured actress on HBO’s Treme, if you are looking for her beyond this movie. I think she has a future.

Director Ry Russo-Young is trying to show us a quiet Southern California in her film. While the family does attend a party at one point, most of this film takes place in a Silver Lake home hidden quietly in the hills. This part of the country is always portrayed as a little insane, so it’s refreshing to see a film that acknowledges that all parts of Los Angeles aren’t out of hand.

Thirlby is one of those actresses who I want to like so much, but I just haven’t been given a good enough reason. I liked her just fine in Juno; and she was OK in Dredd, but she’s failed to knock me out so far. Unfortunately, her Martine is not a well-written, engaging character. She’s basically an insecure person who can’t help but make out with any decent-looking man within mouth range. If there was a way to make this stereotypical character someone worth rooting for, Thirlby, the director and her crew did not find it. She’s actually diabolical, yet remarkably dull at the same time.

Krasinski does much of the film’s heavy lifting as the cheating hubby. While the film doesn’t necessarily offer a reason for why Peter would cheat (he seems happy in his marriage), these sort of things just happen sometimes. But Peter’s eventual downward spiral into jealous rage seems a little forced and out of place. Krasinski does these scenes well enough, but they feel silly.

Dylan McDermott has an unmemorable, small part as Leroy, Julie’s famous musician ex-husband and Kolt’s father. His presence is another attempt by the movie to show this family as forward=thinking and “free.” They are so cool to let the ex come over and sit at the dinner table! Too bad that ex is Dylan McDermott in autopilot mode.

Nobody Walks isn’t a total loss. I liked the soundtrack music by Will Bates and Fall on Your Sword, along with the excellent cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt. As dopey and mundane as the film can get, it looks and sounds good.

But good music and nice visuals aside, this feels like a movie that has been done before—and done better.

Now playing at Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert, 779-0430).

 

Published in Reviews