During this time of social isolation, we’ll be offering weekly recommendations to help put you in an upbeat mood. (In case you missed it, here's last week's list.)
This documentary, which faithfully follows an African herd on its search for water, is an ideal nature walk for the entire family. Just budget time afterward to explain to youngsters why they can’t adopt baby Jomo, the scene-stealing star of the movie. Meghan Markle (yes, that Meghan Markle) narrates as if she’s speaking to a 5-year-old, which isn’t nearly as annoying as it sounds. Disney Plus
‘Some Good News’
Who better than Jim from “The Office” to cool-headedly shrug off the insanity around us? Actor-director John Krasinski did just that with a pseudo talk show he launched from his home office this week after asking Twitter followers for actual good news to share. The virtual reunion with Steve Carell in Episode 1 wasn’t even the best news of all. YouTube
‘History of the Eagles’
If you’re still lamenting the cancellation of their concerts this weekend in St. Paul, take heart from this splendid four-hour documentary. It takes an in-depth look at the rise and temporary breakup of a band that helped create the California pop sound while living life in the fast lane. Warning: Comments from guitarist Joe Walsh are not accompanied by subtitles. Amazon Prime
‘Somebody Feed Phil’
There will never be another travel/food TV show host as cool as Anthony Bourdain. So it’s refreshing to see “Everybody Loves Raymond” co-creator Phil Rosenthal play his natural, dorky self in his own globe-trotting chow-hounding series hitting such seriously enticing locales as Tel Aviv, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and New Orleans. A good, light fix for those of us dorks dreaming about getting out again. Netflix
‘You’re Wrong About’
Think you know the truth about multiple personality disorder, Anna Nicole Smith, the dangers of poisoned Halloween candy, and acid rain? Think again. In each thoroughly researched episode, journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall debunk common misconceptions about events, people and trends that have been “miscast in the public imagination.” It’s illuminating and entertaining, and you’ll be prepared to interject the next time someone tries to say Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Listen at podcasts.apple.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’
The finest movie of 2019 didn’t arrive in the Twin Cities until 2020 but it was worth the wait. The best screenplay winner at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival is a slow-burner from France, a period romance that pretty much removes men from the equation as a female artist arrives on a remote island to paint an heiress who does not want to be painted. The fun is in writer/director Celine Sciamma’s mysterious storytelling and the women’s determination to carve out lives for themselves. Hulu
‘The Gift’/ ‘Hediye’
Young, beautiful Istanbul-based painter Atiye can’t stop drawing the same mysterious, key-like symbol, and she doesn’t know why. Her life is seemingly perfect in every other way — she has a normal, loving family, and a hot, rich boyfriend, but something is amiss. This Turkish drama fantasy series follows Atiye (Beren Saat) as she goes on a journey to not only find herself, but discover humanity’s hidden secrets. Netflix
Unjustly ignored in theaters, this thoughtful courtroom drama features standout performances from Michael B. Jordan, as attorney Bryan Stevenson, and Tim Blake Nelson, as a convict unwilling to help Stevenson. The former is the real-life crusader against the death penalty who, in “Mercy,” must work against a system that doesn’t care his client could not possibly have committed the murder that put him on Death Row. Amazon, Google Play, YouTube
‘The Office: The Untold Story’
Now that you’ve binged every episode of the beloved NBC sitcom, curl up with this page-turning oral history that takes you behind the scenes. Author Andy Greene didn’t get full cooperation from all the major players, but he makes the best of what he’s got, particularly in a chapter that breaks down James Spader’s ill-fitting stint at Dunder Mifflin.
This is the ideal time to plunge into Hilary Mantel’s remarkable trilogy of novels about Thomas Cromwell, starting with “Wolf Hall,” a tremendous read that’s historically accurate, thrilling, detailed, funny and tragic, filled with skulduggery and machinations. Set in the early 1500s, it takes the reader from Cromwell’s impoverished childhood to his rise in the court of Henry VIII. The 600-plus pages might leave you hungry for more; fortunately, Mantel has provided more. Follow it up with “Bring Up the Bodies” and last month’s “The Mirror and the Light.” And by the time you’re done we might all be allowed to go back to work.
‘Stars in the House’
The “Friends” reunion may be on hold, but veterans of hits ranging from “Fun House” to “Frasier” have been getting together via video for this upbeat talk show that’s raising money for the Actors Fund. Hosts Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley seem to know everyone in show business, but it’s still a pleasant surprise when Alan Alda and Jon Hamm pop in during a conversation with Tina Fey. It’s the best dinner party you’ll ever crash. starsinthehouse.com; new live shows 1 and 7 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Brush up your slapstick
After you’ve streamed all the guilty pleasures and schlocky docs, you might want to consider the “educate yourself” portion of your sentence. We don’t mean TED talks — no, explore some gaps in your film know-how. Comedy from previous eras is often perishable, but you might want to see if the Marx Brothers still hold up. (They do.) You could rent “A Night at the Opera” on YouTube for $2.99, but the best stand-alone routines are available for free. Want more than excerpts? Buster Keaton’s masterful “The General” is available in its entirety, as is Harold Lloyd’s thrill-comedy “Safety Last.” You might have seen the image of a bespectacled man hanging from a clock face high in the sky, and wondered how he got there. Now’s your chance to learn — and laugh.