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Why you need to see the absolutely unhinged ‘Malignant’ before it gets spoiled

A woman looking horrified with her head on a pillow
Madison (Annabelle Wallis) can’t get horrifying murders out of her head in “Malignant,” now streaming on HBO Max.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who knew Regina Hall would get her moment on “Nine Perfect Strangers.”

In Hulu’s trippy mystery about a tony wellness retreat where the enigmatic guru, Masha (Nicole Kidman), doses the guests with psychedelics, Hall plays Carmel, a woman reeling from her recent divorce. With a warped sense of self and a penchant for sudden, dramatic outbursts, she’s a difficult character to get a handle on — in part, it must be said, because David E. Kelley and John-Henry Butterworth, who developed the series from Liane Moriarty’s novel, position Carmel more as a catalyst for action than someone ready for a journey of self-reflection.

Enter Hall (“Support the Girls,” “Black Monday”), who invests the character with a wide-eyed yearning for peace; in her hands, Carmel’s unsettling behavior is born of such convincing anguish that it becomes hard not to sympathize. And who among us would not want to throttle Masha?

No spoilers for those who’ve yet to see it, but suffice it to say that the penultimate episode gives Hall, and Carmel, a key role in the (increasingly chaotic) plot, teeing up what promises to be a finale full of fireworks, real and imagined. So grab that psychedelic smoothie and drink up.

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Turn On

A man and a woman sitting for an interview in a desert high-rise with clothing displayed behind them
DeAnne Stidham, left, and Mark Stidham in “LulaRich.”
(Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Another week, another movie-musical release! “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (Amazon Prime Video), based on a true story and adapted from the West End stage show, centers on a small-town teen as he makes his drag debut. My favorite part of this otherwise lighthearted, life-affirming movie is a sequence in which a former drag queen, played brilliantly by Richard E. Grant, recounts all the joys and pains of queer life in the ’80s and ’90s: the AIDS crisis, Freddie Mercury’s death, police raids in clubs; falling in love and embracing sexual freedom. Its historical reenactment of protests against Section 28 and archival footage of Princess Diana moved me to tears. —Ashley Lee

You likely know someone — or know someone who knows someone — who posts on social media about the latest, often dizzying, designs from LuLaRoe, the multilevel marketing company that sells women’s clothing. If you enjoy buttery soft leggings, but are dubious of questionable prints and possible pyramid schemes, curl up to this four-part docuseries. Directed by Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst, of Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud,” “LuLaRich” (Amazon Prime) digs into the billion-dollar clothing empire that has been accused of scheming thousands of women with its multilevel marketing strategy, which requires a whopping $5,000 buy-in from sellers. It’s a fascinating and scathing look at the rise and (partial) fall of the company, featuring interviews with the company’s cofounders, husband-and-wife duo DeAnne and Mark Stidham, as well as former employees, and some of the company’s women “retailers” — those who’ve cut ties and those who remain devoted. Fair warning: You’ll become shamefully invested in former LuLaRoe employee Derryl Trujillo’s boycott of Kelly Clarkson. —Yvonne Villarreal

“My Life Is Murder” (Acorn TV). Lucy Lawless, the heroine we will always need now, returns as consulting detective and sourdough baker Alexa Crowe for a second season of this spritely series, moved this year from the picturesque and cosmopolitan city of Melbourne, Australia, to the picturesque and cosmopolitan city of Auckland, New Zealand. Ebony Vagulans has happily made the jump with her as Madison Feliciano, Alexa’s lively, patient, tech-handy Watson — whom Alexa gives an inexplicable if somewhat affectionate hard time, even as she depends on her constantly. The tone is as light as a Kiwi accent, despite the requisite corpses; there is little in the way of grittiness. “Xena” fans will be stoked to see old partner Renee O’Connor, “Xena’s” Gabrielle, on the guest list this season, as lovers of the “what the?” effect will be to see William Shatner. —Robert Lloyd

Catch Up

A woman sits at a morning show anchor desk.
Reese Witherspoon in Season 2 of “The Morning Show.”
(Courtesy of Apple)

When “The Morning Show” premiered in the fall of 2019, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. One of the first offerings from then-fledgling streaming service Apple TV+, it had the air of a prestige drama. The series boasted behind-the-scenes pedigree, megawatt talent, a Silicon Valley budget, and a #MeToo-era premise: Newswomen Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) are swept up in the firestorm when morning-show stalwart Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) is ousted over allegations of sexual misconduct. And yet much of Season 1 was a clumsy mash-up of tones, capering when it needed seriousness and heavy-handed when it needed a laugh.

My, how times have changed.

Season 2 leans into the mayhem of the Season 1 finale, playing Monday morning quarterback on the events of 2020 (à la “The Newsroom”) while squeezing a “Scandal"-sized amount of interpersonal drama into its already fraught #MeToo framework. And the result, as TV critic Lorraine Ali writes in her review, is “a chaotic mix of topical satire and pressure-cooker entertainment.”

It’s also, as Lorraine points out, hugely disorienting — not least because the last episode of “The Morning Show” aired in December 2019. To sum it up (I think): At the end of Season 1, Alex and Bradley reveal the misconduct at the network that has been covered up by network executives, and led, in the case of producer Hannah Shoenfeld, to suicide. Season 2 opens with Alex, who has just resigned on air, promising Bradley she’ll stay in touch and the network brass firing their boss, Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), for letting it happen. Then we flash forward to images of an empty, locked-down New York City. Then we flash back again, to the final days of 2019, with Cory, desperate to boost ratings and facing a lawsuit from Hannah’s family, dragging Alex back into the studio and alienating Bradley in the process.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure any of it matters. “The Morning Show” has abandoned all pretense this season, emerging from the ashes of last year as a catch-all, can’t-look-away train wreck of a melodrama. I can’t in good conscience “recommend” it, but I’m begging you to watch it.

And once you do, let’s discuss. —Matt Brennan

Guest Spot

A woman in a red jacket holds a clipboard.
Mary McCormack in “Heels.”
(Quantrell Colbert / Starz)

On the marvelous “The Kids Are Alright,” whose single 2018-19 season is happily available to stream on Hulu, Mary McCormack (currently seen in the Starz wrestling drama “Heels”), plays the formidable Peggy Cleary, the practical, unsentimental, seen-it-all mother of eight. In real life, McCormack and her husband, director Michael Morris, have three daughters: Margaret, 17, Rose, 14, and Lillian, 10. Here she answers some questions about children, family and television.

Do you watch all together, or is everyone off on separate screens?

Young kids watch on their phones. “The Good Place,” they’ll watch that brushing their teeth, or Rose, my middle kid, watches “WandaVision.” She made me do that. As a family, our addiction now is “Alone” (History Channel). It’s a survivalist show where they send people out into really rough areas, actually alone, no camera crew, zero, hours from help. They can tap out at any time, and the last person who survives wins. These people are actual survivalists, like, “I got my doctorate in basket weaving and animal trapping.” There’s bears and cougars, people are crying from cold and they lose tons of weight. They trap a mouse and celebrate. You can’t take your eyes off it.

Are there any rituals that go along with TV time?

We have a thing we say: “Hey, Margaret, as you’re up,” when she’s sitting there, and it just means the person has to go get you something. “Hey, Lil, as you’re up.” And they’re like, “I’m not up!” It’s just a little passive-aggressive way of getting someone to get you something.

What was television for you as a kid?

I have a memory of every Monday watching “Little House on the Prairie” with my whole family and being embarrassed to cry — you didn’t want to get teased. So you’d always try to get the seat on the floor in front of the coffee table, where you were sort of hidden away. Inevitably that was a tearjerker. My kids love that show. What really holds up is “I Love Lucy.” They know every episode and could do every episode like a play, without a script. “Bewitched” they enjoyed, because it was sort of before effects, so we always laugh — “There’s a guy behind the couch pulling that lamp on a string.” “The Brady Bunch” they were sort of into, but it’s a little too gender-y. They’re a little too woke for “The Brady Bunch.”

Have they seen your shows?

We watched “The West Wing” recently, and they liked that, and that was a good antidote to Trump, because they didn’t know that presidents could be good and government not just complete scandal and drama. And “The Kids Are Alright” they loved. They think that I’m Peggy. The other day we were at a birthday and I was folding up wrapping paper cause it was perfectly good, and they were like, “Oh God, look at her go. Peggy’s back.” —Robert Lloyd

Break Down

A young woman looking terrified, her face illuminated in red
Annabelle Wallis in the horror thriller “Malignant,” now streaming on HBO Max.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Though it has received decidedly mixed reviews, Times film writers Mark Olsen and Jen Yamato saw the bananas new Warner Bros. horror movie “Malignant,” now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, and had to talk about it immediately.

Yamato: MARK. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT “MALIGNANT.” I saw it, you saw it, and now everyone must see it. But how do you talk about “Malignant” without revealing too much about “Malignant”?

Olsen: Typically, when a movie is not made available to critics until the night before it opens — or in the case of “Malignant,” mere hours before it also appears on a major streaming platform — it’s considered a sign that it’s being hidden for the specific reason of being bad. Yet part of what makes “Malignant” such an unexpected treat was that it arrived in theaters and on HBO Max last weekend with very little advance warning, meaning people were discovering it in real time over the weekend. You could almost hear the yelps of disbelief echoing around Los Angeles, remotes clattering to the floor as people stood up out of their seats and then read about it on social media.

Yamato: So true — it’s a wild surprise that really creeped up on audiences without betraying much of anything in the posters and trailers, and a major studio release that debuted with shockingly little fanfare. I was one of those people who went in not knowing what to expect, thinking maybe it’d be another airless studio chamber piece with a few restrained PG-13 scares, or one of those terminally broody gothic melodramas I fall asleep to on Netflix. I definitely did not expect what I got. OK, that’s an understatement. Once the credits rolled, all I could do was shout, “MALIGNANT!!!” over and over on end for days.

Olsen: Directed by James Wan, whose recent work includes the decidedly higher profile “Aquaman,” “The Conjuring 2” and “Furious 7,” from a screenplay by Akela Cooper, the movie has the charge of people being unleashed to make something they know is more than a little bonkers. “Malignant” feels delightfully disreputable like an old school, pre-“Scream” New Line horror movie — and in fact has New Line Cinema among its production credits.

Yamato: Wan, Cooper and Ingrid Bisu (who also appears onscreen in a winking turn as a crime scene tech) share story credit, paying homage to various corners of cult horror cinema. But what feels downright energizing is that “Malignant” exists at all — risky, unhinged, deceptively tongue-in-cheek — in a time when mainstream studio horror has settled into such rote predictability. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of those story conversations! We’re beating around the bush here a bit, because this is a film one deserves to go into unspoiled…

Olsen: The movie plays as about two-thirds of a semi-standard horror-thriller, as a woman named Madison (Annabelle Wallis) seems to have visions of local murders as they are happening in real time. Then comes The Twist, and the film launches itself immediately into the stuff of horror highlight reels (and likely many Halloween costumes). Even just calling the film a loving throwback to films like Frank Henenlotter’s “Basket Case” and Brian De Palma’s “Sisters” feels like it might be a spoiler, but “Malignant” is off-the-rails fun.

Yamato: If you’re more of a dabbler in genre or a fan of Wan’s more conventional “Conjuring” hits, “Malignant” might challenge your sensibilities in new ways. If you’re a deep cuts genre diehard with a love of giallo, Hammer horror, ’90s-’00s Dark Castle flicks, that viral video of cybergoth ravers dancing under a bridge and Wan’s own 2007 film “Dead Silence,” you will feel seen. Either way, see “Malignant” before it gets spoiled, dare to hope that we’re entering a new era of weird in movies and start working on those Halloween outfits now.

What’s Next

Clint Eastwood directs and stars in 'Cry Macho.'
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in “Cry Macho.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Fri., Sept. 17

“Cry Macho” (HBO Max). Clint Eastwood, who is old enough to be your grandfather even if you’re old enough to be a grandfather, directs and stars in this theatrical feature as a former ranch hand fetching his former boss’ son back from Mexico.

“Sex Education” (Netflix). British high school sex comedy embarks on a third season. Gillian Anderson is the inappropriate adult.

“Uprising” (Amazon Prime Video). Steve McQueen and James Rogan’s three-part documentary on London’s 1981 New Cross house fire, which killed 13 young Black Britons, and its political aftermath — some of which was fictionally portrayed and alluded to in McQueen’s “Small Axe” series.

Sun., Sept. 19

The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards (CBS). Hey, kids! Make TV! Win prizes!

“Muhammad Ali” (PBS). Eight hours still does not seem too many for what must be the hundredth Ali documentary. Director Ken Burns gets the pictures, the clips, the people.

Mon. Sept. 20

“The Big Leap” (FOX). “UnREAL,” with toe shoes. Fictional comedy-drama about a dance-based reality competition, with Scott Foley as the producer and Teri Polo and Piper Perabo among the contestants.

“Ordinary Joe” (NBC). Feel-the-feels “Sliding Doors” riff follows James Wolk as he lives life alternately as a cop, a nurse and, heaven help us, “the next Billy Joel.”

Tues. Sept. 21

“Our Kind of People” (FOX). The late Lawrence Otis Graham’s memoir/study of the Black upper class becomes a fictional family drama, set in a traditionally African American corner of Martha’s Vineyard. YaYa Da Costa, Morris Chestnut and Joe “This Show Must Be Worth Checking Out If Joe Morton’s In It” Morton.

Wed. Sept. 22

“Dear White People” (Netflix). The fourth and final “chapter” of this campus dramedy finds the Black students of fictional Winchester U putting on a show.

“The Wonder Years” (ABC). Lee Daniels turns the late ’80s-early ’90s ’60s nostalgia comedy Black, relocates the setting to Montgomery, Ala., for historical friction. Don Cheadle narrates from the future; Dulé Hill is dad. —Robert Lloyd

Mail Bag

Want to know more about one of the filmmakers we’ve interviewed? Need a new show to binge now that your fave is done for the season? If you have a question for the pop culture obsessives at The Times, send it to us at screengab@latimes.com and you may find the answer in next week’s edition.


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