Holiday Movie Preview: The Best New Films To Watch From Home

We’re updating our what-to-watch list throughout the month of December. The following titles are now streaming. Check back soon for reviews of more titles like Disney-Pixar’s Soul, the long-anticipated sequel to Wonder Woman and Regina King’s buzzy period piece One Night In Miami.

Modern Persuasion

Alicia Witt stars in this delightfully funny spin on Jane Austen’s 1817 novel “Persuasion.” Set in a young-and-trendy lens of New York, the modern romantic comedy finds workaholic publicist Wren Cosgrove coming home to her cat every night. It isn’t until her firm is hired by an ex-love that old feelings resurface and their past is slowly revealed. What sets Modern Persuasion apart from other been-there, done-that stories is the laugh-out-loud humor consistently evident in the script and executed by an endearing cast. Adrienne C. Moore as the new receptionist Denise is a talent to watch (When she gets a raise and whispers “about time” and then is asked how long she’s worked there, she embodies a Mindy Kaling-like delivery by saying, “This is my second day.”) The entire cast, including lead actress Witt and supporting actors Bebe Neuwirth and Shane McRae, have a familiarity that’s fun to watch and light-hearted when we need it most. Modern Persuasion is directed by Alex Appel and Jonathan Lisecki and written by Lisecki and Barbara Radecki.  It is now available to stream on most digital platforms.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chadwick Boseman’s final performance is a central reason to watch this new Netflix period drama. The late actor died this summer after a longtime battle with colon cancer, but will be remembered for this role as well as iconic turns in Black Panther, 42 and Get On Up. In this latest work, Viola Davis stars as the trailblazing titular blues singer at a recording studio in the late 1920s. Written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and directed by George C. Wolfe, the already-nominated movie is available now on Netflix. (Photo: David Lee/NETFLIX)

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NYWIFT Muse Awards Feature Diverse Slate of Honorees

The 41st Annual New York Women In Film & Television Muse Awards were held virtually Dec. 17, featuring a diverse slate of honorees, including trailblazing directors, groundbreaking news reporters and notable actors. The women were selected as “muses” because of the inspiration they have provided in their various fields.

“Our honorees for the 41st Annual NYWIFT Muse Awards showcase numerous and astounding talents in various roles across many mediums of the entertainment industry,” NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez said. “We are delighted to celebrate and recognize their revolutionary and influential accomplishments, and pay tribute to those who use their platform to advocate for a more inclusive, safe and equitable world.” 

Typically held in-person in Manhattan, the event was started more than 40 years ago “to celebrate women back when women were not being recognized in the way they deserved,” Lopez said.

This year’s honorees included Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan, Tony winner Ali Stroker and Grammy winner Rashida Jones. All three actors were recognized not only for their diverse portfolios, but their work to open doors for women creators, homeless youth and people with disabilities. These women supported NYWIFT’s theme for the 2020 ceremony, “Art & Advocacy,” recognizing the role of the creative community in advancing positive social change. 

Other muses included President Of Orion Pictures Alana Mayo and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual violence story and co-authored the best-selling book “She Said.”

Honoree Awkwafina discussed her upbringing in Queens and the importance of New York City to her art and life. “New York is a part of my history…it’s in every fiber of my being,” she said. “I grew up in a city where there were constantly things happening. There was art all around you being thrust upon you. There was always something. So to have, years later, been given the honor of shooting my show in the city where I’m from was beyond believable.”

A trailblazer for women in film and creators of color, Gina Prince-Bythewood won the Nancy Malone Award recognizing women directors who provide opportunities for others. The “Love & Basketball” and “The Old Guard” director spoke to the importance of on-screen representation. “My entire career has been just being in a sustained fight to center Black women in our stories in an authentic and truthful way,” Prince-Bythewood said. “And this is the first time that it hasn’t been a fight.”

“I hope, in a way, ‘women in film’ doesn’t have to exist, eventually. That we just get to be ‘people in film.’ But it’s going to be a long time before that happens,” Jones said. “But I hope that we find power with each other and for each other and we really do have a sense of community and greater good.”

Each speaker mentioned the importance of art in a trying year, when we need to be inspired more than ever. “The creative process right now, like so many other things, is one day at a time. One hour at a time, some days,” Brosnahan said. “It’s also been an important reminder to do what you can, how you can, with what you can. And to try to remember that that’s enough.”

“The women we honor today are making a difference with their creativity and wit, and they provide hope for our future,” Lopez said at the end of the ceremony. “Thank you for leading the way during this period of darkness and uncertainty.”

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Quirky ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ Dares to Get Real About Love, Loneliness

Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan star as Irish neighbors in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” from prolific writer-director John Patrick Shanley. Most known for his Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Moonstruck,” the iconic New York playwright adapted the new film from his 2014 stage play “Outside Mullingar.” Despite some baffling plot points that can be chalked up to symbolic significance, this oddball dramedy is worth watching for its scenic backdrop, compelling lead actors and daringly unique dialogue that actually says something about life, love and loneliness.

Rosemary Muldoon (Blunt) has long harbored feelings for the boy – now man – who lives on the neighboring farm, introverted Anthony Reilly (Dornan). When it appears that Anthony’s father, played with signature strangeness by a brogue-bearing Christopher Walken, does not plan to leave the land to Anthony in his will unless he marries, Anthony has to make a choice – act on his long friendship and feelings for Rosemary, or let them both continue to suffer lonely, monotonous lives on neighboring farms. 

“Rosemary and Anthony…Romeo’s not able to climb the balcony and Juliet won’t come down. They’re in the second half of their 30s, and what’s going to happen?” Shanley said. “I couldn’t let these characters go. So when the opportunity came to go at it again as a film, and then to be able to actually go to Ireland and shoot in that unbelievably beautiful country, among the wonderful and eccentric people who live there — that was thrilling to me.”

Filmed last fall in County Mayo, “Wild Mountain Thyme” is incredibly picturesque and will make viewers long for the “green fields” that make Anthony stick around despite dreams of leaving. 

With the beautiful countryside captured by cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt and a stunning score courtesy of Amelia Warner in her third turn as composer, Shanley’s film adaptation is an eccentric story about the difference between fate and choices, destiny and action. But it’s ultimately a love story about two people who must act in order to realize a better future – a story of acceptance and loving “all” of someone. It’s incredibly rare to see two people onscreen who are hesitant to act on their feelings for each other, especially after a life-long kinship, with shared experiences of loss and feeling misunderstood. It’s a non-traditional narrative to say the least, but what real love story is traditional?

Jon Hamm co-stars as a money-mongering American nephew who could inherit the family’s land if Anthony doesn’t act fast. As always, he is an actor who effortlessly embodies exactly what he is supposed to: in this case, the American obsession with numbers, possessions and things. His Irish counterparts have refreshingly different priorities that exude a calm confidence – if not always satisfaction with their lives. Anthony puts it best: they do “what they must,” and America could sure use some of that perspective these days – but it’s actually the very thing that keeps his character from Rosemary, his inability to go for what he wants.

Emily Blunt stars as Rosemary in John Patrik Shanley’s WILD MOUNTAIN THYME, a Bleecker Street release.
Credit: Kerry Brown / Bleecker Street

What Anthony sees as dreary and dark, Rosemary sees as sunny and possible – at least at first. With hints of Irish wisdom and beautiful musical moments including the moving song that inspired the film title, “Wild Mountain Thyme” allows us to travel to a peaceful far-away farm with funny, unique inhabitants. But it’s the dialogue, so clearly meant for the sounds of a stage, that allow Shanley to examine how two people who live so close and have known each other for so long can view their lives so differently.  

The densely-packed rhythm of the words could only be penned by an award-winning playwright, even when the plot doesn’t translate fluently to the screen. The exchange of wit and words between Blunt and Dornan and the frustration of their long-anticipated union is palpable and interesting. 

“Reading it was a completely singular experience, like one beautiful poem on love and loneliness,” Blunt said of the story. “I instantaneously wanted to do it.”

“It has a mystical, magical quality to it that is truly its own thing in the best possible way,” Dornan said. “He has a knack for bringing out the oddities in people that make them their brilliant selves. The script has a quirky sense of reality and snappy, unbelievable dialogue. The sense of loss, the heart, the humor — so much humor — all feel totally authentically Irish.”

At the very least, the film is timely because it is about two lonely people contemplating their futures. A release at likely the loneliest collective time in modern history is only fitting, and the idea of finding someone who was there all along is comforting – and at times, wildly entertaining. 

Jamie Dornan (L) stars as Anthony and Emily Blunt (R) stars as Rosemary in John Patrick
Shanley’s WILD MOUNTAIN THYME, a Bleecker Street release
Credit: Kerry Brown / Bleecker Street
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‘The Test & The Art Of Thinking’ Examines History of Standardized Testing

ap·ti·tude/ˈaptəˌt(y)o͞od/: a natural ability to do something; suitability or fitness.

From filmmaker Michael Arlen Davis, “The Test & The Art of Thinking” questions the age-old practice of gauging student success and college admission through standardized testing.

Long considered antiquated by educators, students and administrators, the SAT is pulled apart in this documentary that will either comfort or frustrate students and parents, depending on how they view their test-taking ability. The documentary tackles why and how a single test is supposed to determine a student’s knowledge, intelligence, worth and future.

Of course, no test could do all that. But Davis makes the case that the SAT certainly doesn’t. “The Test & The Art of Thinking” leans heavily on the well-supported argument that it’s more a test of pattern, strategy and aptitude than one of knowledge and intelligence. Davis attempts to reprogram our preconceived notions about what makes a student “smart.”

“The SAT is not a test of what you know, it’s a test of how you think,” a student says one point in the film. Using testimonials and footage of real tutoring sessions, Davis breaks down how the SAT is a test of aptitude rather than knowledge, dating back to its 1920s origins. (Though it was initially designed to open education to everyone, it has actually narrowed access through the years, with some high-caliber institutions blindly accepting only students with high scores.)

Tutors weigh different strategies and approaches to help students boost a number that they – and their parents – believe determines their future, whether or not it has anything to do with the curriculum they’re learning in school. The effects of the timed test, the trickiness of the questions and the skew of the results are all discussed in detail from every corner of the education community. 

Thankfully the film is not a mere take-down: it provides examples of actions that have been taken to dismantle the old ways. Some colleges have even opted to make submitting test scores “optional” for applicants. It has become increasingly common as the COVID-19 pandemic forces students to stay home and learn on their laptops, away from the classroom and in-person testing.

If this pandemic and election have proven anything, it’s that this country needs vast education reform for its citizens to better understand the society in which they live, from science to government to ethics. Davis’ film examines the higher ed system as a whole, ultimately showing that “intellect” is subjective – and often difficult to measure. This informative documentary, just like a student’s life, is about far more than a test. 

Many attitudes about school and study are examined in “The Test & The Art of Thinking,” ranging from outrage to acceptance. But there’s one thing no student, tutor, teacher or administrator is about the SAT, and the importance of learning: apathetic. 

The film will have a TVOD release on iTunes, Amazon and GATHR Nov. 17. A Watch @ Home Cinema release from Abramorama is set for Nov. 20. Photos courtesy of Canobie Films.

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Bond of Brothers Tested In ‘Jungleland’

Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell give understated performances as brothers in “Jungleland,” a new film from director Max Winkler. Stan (Hunnam) and Lion (O’Connell) are facing poverty, working at a sewing factory and squatting in empty homes. Lion’s skills as a bare-knuckle boxer are their only way out. 

Stan ropes them into driving cross-country from Boston to be part of a fighting tournament in San Francisco, with an added catch from a bad-news bookie: they have to deliver Sky (Jessica Barden) to Reno on their way, for reasons they don’t know yet.

With $100,000 on the line and a long drive West, the true nature of Stanley and Lion’s relationship is revealed – and their newly-strained family dynamic might just be their most important fight. 

“Jungleland” thankfully never ventures into boring old tropes: there are no delays in their travels, only tension and interpersonal conflict that makes the writing far more interesting than the car repairs and detours. The 92-minute run-time provides the perfect framework for this journey, described as “a love story between two brothers.”

Both actors are eminently watchable, making for a realistic and sometimes tragic pair. O’Connell in particular exudes something special, the same way he did as a prisoner of war in Angelina Jolie’s woefully underrated “Unbroken” about the remarkable true story of Louie Zamperini. Both lead actors are refreshingly easy to watch, even when the plot feels painful. The stakes are refreshingly low – though they’re in debt and tied to sketchy characters, the small moments of humor and detail on their trip makes it feel like more of a character study of two brothers and a troubled girl than a plot-driven drama.

With remnants of “The Fighter,” “Jungleland” is not a boxing movie as much as it is a story of brothers with conflicting motivations, and varying levels of decency. Though it lags in the last half-hour, Winkler’s film co-written with Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith is ultimately a compelling story about family ties, desperate poverty and deciding between what’s right and what’s necessary. 

“Jungleland” debuts in select theaters Nov. 6; on premium VOD and digital platforms Nov. 10.

Photos courtesy of Romulus Entertainment
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In Loud Year, Gripping Drama ‘Let Him Go’ Captures Lost Art of Quiet Strength

From writer-director Thomas Bezucha, “Let Him Go” is a gripping new family drama about a couple’s journey to save their grandson from abuse and hardship.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner reunite as an onscreen married couple in the stirring film from Focus Features, based on the 2013 novel by Larry Watson. They are not Superman’s parents this time; Margaret and George Blackledge’s son is just a regular decent man who dies suddenly, leaving behind a young wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter) and infant son, Jimmy. 

“Let Him Go” centers on the consequences of Lorna’s decision three years later to marry an abusive husband. George and Margaret are determined to ensure three-year-old Jimmy knows he is safe and loved despite toxic, borderline barbaric new relatives led by matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville).

Diane Lane (left) stars as “Margaret Blackledge” and Kevin Costner (right) stars as “George Blackledge” in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Kimberley French / Focus Features

Bezucha zooms in on the grief of a well-meaning couple who have experienced profound loss and still somehow maintain their quiet toughness. Michael Giacchino’s score transforms from poignant to haunting when necessary, filling in the blanks between the sparse dialogue and complementing Guy Godfree’s stunning cinematography, as George and Margaret drop everything to travel and help their daughter-in-law and grandson.

Slow and deliberate, Bezucha takes his time telling its layered story, the same way the main characters would. They exude calm dignity despite slow-burning impatience – a desperation executed perfectly by veteran actors who say so much with so little.

Kevin Costner (left) stars as “George Blackledge” and Nils Allen ‘Booboo’ Stewart Jr. (right) stars as “Peter Dragwolf” in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Kimberley French / Focus Features

But what is perhaps most moving about “Let Him Go” is its timeliness in November 2020, as coronavirus cases surge in the U.S. and the tumultuous presidential election dawns. We live in a time when the daily death of thousands of Americans has become numbing and “normal,” and the simple act of wearing masks to save lives has become a political pawn.

 “Let Him Go” is an old-school movie, framed by classic actors playing strong people at a time when we all need strength. The story has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with decency, and the frustration that comes with feeling it slip from your grasp. Costner and Lane evoke salt-of-the-earth goodness, the John-and-Olivia-Walton essence of 1970s television, right down to their signature green truck and weathered stoicism.

But it’s the Weboys that echo the kind of faux “toughness” we see in certain voters this election season. An artificial, in-your-face kind of “strong” that is hollow beneath its violent, belligerent surface. Manville portrays this boorish insecurity expertly, a far cry from the dignified cancer patient she played in last year’s “Ordinary Love.”

Lesley Manville stars as “Blanche Weboy” in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Kimberly French / Focus Features

Costner and Lane are especially impactful, capturing the feeling of powerlessness in the face of cruelty. The more the violent Weboys exert their control over Jimmy and Lorna’s lives, the more the Blackledges stand their ground, leading to an ugly division between the groups that feels all too familiar this year.

At a time when the health and safety of our loved ones is out of our control and being endangered by stubborn ignorance, George and Margaret are a comfort. To know we’re not alone in our sadness, anger, and all too often, helplessness. As the actions of others determine our well-being, “Let Him Go” might just be the movie we need to feel seen. It’s about character, and how kindness and common sense can be mistaken for weakness. The timing of its release feels like fate, showing how people of similar backgrounds can somehow have vastly different views on raising children and handling tension. 

Bezucha and his gifted cast seamlessly show the difference between silent, gentle strength and loud, stubborn buffoonery. Between people who care, and people who don’t. People who live respectfully and fairly, and people who swing weapons and use gas-lighting to feel powerful, just because they can. The kind of people who call being rude and unreasonable being “opinionated,” or “telling it like it is.” The kind of people who need to win, and they don’t even know why — and they certainly don’t care who gets hurt along the way.

As half of the country grieves and the rest express a brutal, bitingly ignorant lack of empathy, this is a film about trying to say goodbye with grace. About trying your best to get through a situation that seems impossible. This couple’s approach to an unspeakably difficult time in their lives is more than just great cinema: it feels necessary, and cathartic.

A Western-style film evoking a different era, “Let Him Go” is as heartbreaking and frustrating as the year of its release – but it’s also about love, and the lengths we’ll go to protect it. 

Focus Features will release “Let Him Go” in theaters Nov. 6.

Diane Lane (left) stars as “Margaret Blackledge” and Kevin Costner (right) stars as “George Blackledge” in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Kimberley French / Focus Features
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‘The Crown’ Sneak Peek: Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher Stars of Season 4

Season four of “The Crown” doesn’t hit Netflix until Nov. 15, but at an online event this week, new cast members Emma Corrin and Gillian Anderson discussed embodying iconic British women alongside Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth.

Chief TV Critic Caroline Framke interviewed the actresses as part of Variety’s Power Of Women Conversations presented by Lifetime, two days of virtual events surrounding women in the entertainment industry.

Art courtesy of Variety Power of Women Conversations Presented by Lifetime

Corrin spoke of her experience embodying Princess Diana in the upcoming season. “I have no living memory of her,” she said of the late Duchess of Wales. “Which I think in retrospect I’m grateful for, because I think it made it easier with doing this season, to kind of bring my own interpretation to her. Growing up my general impression was just how enamored people were by her. I had a sense of tragedy of what had happened to her, and her spirit…her being this generous empathetic person who kind of broke the mold of the royal family.”

Playing Diana between the ages of 17 to 28 didn’t pose as much of a challenge as Corrin expected. “I am in the middle of those ages, so I felt like it was quite a good place to have an appreciation for [both ages],” she told Framke. “I’d have days when she was 19 and when she was 28. But I really enjoyed that because it made me have to understand exactly where she’d come from and exactly where she was going. So I began to get a really clear idea of those different stages of her life in my mind.”

She was especially struck by how young she was when she became a public figure who was beloved worldwide – and under immense pressure upon entering the royal family.

“‘The Crown’ costume designer wanted to create something that wasn’t an exact replica of Lady Diana’s original dress but which captured the same spirit and style of David & Elizabeth Emanuel’s iconic design. Amy Roberts spoke to David Emanuel in depth about the Emanuel’s original sketches and designs. He was fantastically collaborative and helpful to the design team and talked through the detail of many of the original drawings.” (Courtesy of Netflix/Des Wille)

“I mean, she was 19 when she got married. I’m 24 now and I feel so young. On a daily basis I’m always…making so many mistakes all the time. We’re still learning, even now. And I think back to how I was when I was 19 and I didn’t have a clue,” Corrin said. “And to think something so monumental happens to her at that stage of her life, she’s really plucked from the normal trajectory of how a person grows and evolves into this very extraordinary circumstance, into a very public and pressure-filled marriage, and I can’t imagine what that does to to someone’s personal growth.” 

Anderson portrays Margaret Thatcher, who she described as “divisive and multifaceted,” but she “put aside all preconceptions and opinions” to be able to channel Great Britain’s first female prime minister. She found motivation in Thatcher’s upbringing, going from a shopkeeper’s daughter to a high position of power. “Essentially she’s a self-made woman. It’s got to be complicated, and the fact that she was as divisive as she was tells you just how complicated a character she was. Which is fun as an actor.”

Despite her trailblazing victory in 1979, Thatcher didn’t really consider herself a feminist.

“As far as she was concerned, she was just putting one foot in front of the other and following what she knew she was good at,” Anderson said. “The conversation about feminism in her world probably wouldn’t have applied to her. We don’t really enter into the battle about feminist or not feminist [this season]…back then, the fact that she was even a prime minister as a woman was enough.” 

Photos courtesy of Netflix/Des Willie

Though Anderson and Corrin do not share a scene together in the upcoming season, they described similar approaches to playing such recognizable women, referring to research and drawing from their well-documented upbringings in order to analyze how they behaved later in life. Their emotion came from the inside out, long before entering the Emmy-nominated hair, makeup and costumes that brought them to life. 

“It does help a huge amount when you’re on set and you step into those clothes. It’s suddenly like the bit that seals you up into the character, I think,” Corrin said.

Both women historically loved fashion – though one was more known for her clothing choices than the other – and both actresses wanted to understand the psychology and physicality of their characters’ movements.

“Understanding her mannerisms and behavior, and those recognizable Diana things that we all know, understanding where they came from and being able to justify them before I embodied them was something that I really loved looking into,” Corrin said, mentioning movement coach Pollyanna Bennett (who also lent her skills to the cast of “Bohemian Rhapsody”).

Anderson laughed at her costume’s heavily-sprayed hair and old-fashioned nylons. “Getting into that wig definitely helped. Walking in her particular shoes, for instance…never in my life would I wear any of the shoes that she wore. Walking in the way that I learned to walk as her and then in those shoes just added so much pleasure and helped so much.”

She also explained that “The Crown” is as much about personal life as history and politics.

“You have to remember that in a way when you’re filming ‘The Crown,’ all of the characters are through the prism of the crown. So we don’t really get into her politics; we as much get into her personal life with her husband and children as we do into her politics,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Netflix/Des Willie

“Clothes underline the fact that they are outside the royal family, that they are never quite part of it,” Framke added. “That’s very much part of both your characters that they can’t quite crack this group of people.” 

Corrin contrasted her experience on “The Crown” set to her character’s experience meeting their real-life counterparts. “Everyone was so welcoming…it was very hard to play those scenes where Diana is meeting everyone for the first time, having to feel like an outsider. Because from the get-go everyone was exceptionally welcoming. To get into the mindset of those scenes was interesting, especially for Diana.”

Ultimately, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher will be fascinating additions to an already superb television series about real people already audiences feel like they know. “Even if you do all the research in the world, there’s only so much you can ever really know a person,” Corrin said. “But I suppose I have a new understanding and appreciation of what she went through and the nuances of her experience.”

Photos courtesy of Netflix/Des Willie
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Variety Power of Women Conversations To Highlight Female Change-Makers

In partnership with Lifetime, Variety is presenting two days of virtual discussions with female industry leaders in several creative fields. “Variety Power of Women Conversations” will be held online Oct. 28-29; registration is free but required for access. Additional sponsors include Providence St. Joseph’s Health, Cadillac and MGO CPA.

A week ahead of Election Day, the event kicks off with a timely talk on women’s role in democracy and voting. Tracee Ellis Ross will moderate a conversation with “All In: The Fight for Democracy” documentarians Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes, along with the film’s central figure and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. An event centered on “Getting Out the Vote for Health and Wellness” will feature Laila Ali and Tia Mowry.

Television fans will get a sneak peek of the upcoming season of “The Crown” with its two new additions: Gillian Anderson portrays Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin plays the iconic figure of Princess Diana. Variety’s Chief TV Critic Caroline Framke will discuss their roles and show exclusive early clips from the series’ fourth season, coming to Netflix Nov. 15.

Lena Waithe, Rashida Jones, Gina Prince-Bythewood and more will participate in the “#Represent Black Female Creators Roundtable” set for 11:45 a.m. PT Wednesday. The panel “will focus on the successes each woman has had in the industry and advice for young women looking to create content.”

Fans of the new comedy “PEN15” and long-running drama “Grey’s Anatomy” will also be treated to conversations with the showrunners. Chelsea Peretti will moderate a conversation with “PEN15” showrunners and stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle Thursday at 12 p.m. PT about the show’s second season, now streaming on Hulu.

Ellen Pompeo and Chandra Wilson will be on hand to discuss the upcoming 17th (!!!) season of “Grey’s Anatomy” along with producers Krista Vernoff and Debbie Allen.

Several keynote conversations are on the event agenda, including a chat with Jessica Chastain and Kelly Carmichael discussing upcoming projects and their production company Freckle Films. Jennifer Lopez and Sia also have keynote events on the schedule, along with separate events on music and podcasts, sponsored by iHeart Media.

Decision-making on the business side of the industry will be discussed with leaders like Mellody Hobson (Co-CEO and President of Ariel Investments) and Ann Sarnoff (Chair and CEO of Warnermedia Studios and Networks Group). A panel of female founders includes women entrepreneurs who run well-known successful brands like Poshmark,  FabFitFun and more. 

Women creating content in all aspects of entertainment and business will be represented over the two-day schedule to inject some much-needed inspiration into these tumultuous times. Register here.

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Dark Comedy ‘Spontaneous’ Provides Rare Intelligence For Teen Genre

From writer-director Brian Duffield and based on the novel by Aaron Starmer, Spontaneous is the rare teen dramedy that comes along at the perfect time. Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer star as high school seniors whose classmates are dying in gruesome explosions for no apparent reasons.

Though the filmmakers could not have foreseen opening during a global pandemic, especially prescient in the U.S. where coronavirus cases continue to surge, Spontaneous is a fitting reminder for 2020: all we have is now. Duffield’s entertaining and thoughtful dramedy will undoubtedly provide comfort to young and old adults alike. 

“Comforting” is a strange adjective to describe a film in which multiple teenagers literally explode in a volcano of blood and gore in front of their peers. But it couldn’t be more relevant: the randomness of the event, the unlikelihood of people dying all around us at random rates is extremely fitting for the world we live in now. No one knows what’s causing the explosions, when they could happen next and what could potentially stop it – not unlike the virus ending so many lives at a rapid pace all over the world.

Courtesy of Paramount

With funny dialogue that echoes the voices of actual teenagers,  Spontaneous is the rare teen film that really works – and despite the outlandish plot and an undertone of impending doom, it never takes itself too seriously. Langford and Plummer are talented and dynamic leads in a story about young love, being yourself and living for today. And yes, mixed in with its cleverness and tightly-written moments are the gruesome images of teenagers violently dying, for no apparent reason. Comparisons could be drawn to rising anxiety rates in teenagers and the disturbing epidemic of school shootings – but in actuality, Spoontaneous is one of those movies where you have to decide for yourself what it means – and be surprised by how much it means, despite its premise on the surface. 

Mind blown.

Spontaneous premieres at select drive-ins Oct. 2; available to stream on digital and VOD Oct. 6.

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‘The Glorias’ Brings Humanity To The Face Of Feminism

From writer-director Julie Taymor, the ambitious new film The Glorias follows the life of iconic feminist Gloria Steinem. Based on Steinem’s writing, the film intertwines different eras of the subject’s life, connecting the dots that led her to becoming the public figure, activist and writer we know today. 

Four actors play Gloria at various stages of her evolution. Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore play versions of Steinem as she evolves into the familiar figure of a trailblazing women’s rights advocate who famously echoed the Irinna Dunn sentiment: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Gloria Steinem, and Director Julie Taymor behind the scenes of THE GLORIAS
Photo Credit: Dan McFadden
Courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

Ryan Keira Armstrong and Lulu Wilson round out the younger cast, creating some of the more touching aspects of the film when the older Gloria sits down next to her younger self on a moving bus. These surreal moments resonate with the parts of us that wish we could sit down beside our younger selves and take them by the hand, to let them know what’s coming. 

Director Taymor brings the same imagination she brought to Across the Universe, keeping The Glorias from being a straightforward biopic – along with a lack of chronological narrative. With the help of debut screenwriter Sarah Ruhl, Taymor brings us inside the life of Gloria the person – not the public figure, not the activist, but the human being.

Julianne Moore (as Gloria Steinem) and Bette Midler (as Bella Abzug) in THE GLORIAS.
Courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

When people are “icons” they’re often viewed as less than real people. It’s easy to forget that life decisions and hard events shaped the person who would become Gloria Steinem. The film reminds us that the arc of a person’s life is rarely straightforward. From her small house with a sick mother who never fulfilled her journalistic dreams, to a crowded train in India, to graduating Smith College and becoming a young writer assigned to the fashion and dating beat, we follow her. When a male editor critiques her approach to a story, she retorts: “You didn’t say it had to be symmetrical.” Taymor’s story is far from symmetrical, but when it works, it’s an important watch. A portrait of a woman who has lived a full and fascinating life, if the film at times drifts in and out of being fascinating.

As spot-on as Moore’s portrayal is as the women’s movement takes off and Ms. Magazine finds an audience, the most inspiring and interesting moments of The Glorias belong to Vikander: when we see how she learned to find her voice – how much she had to learn before she knew how to speak up, and what to say. Though it might seem like it, she didn’t find it overnight – she wasn’t born with certainty. This film proves how her young life informed her later work, and the chronicles events that planted the seeds which led to her life’s message.

Alicia Vikander (as Gloria Steinem) and Janelle Monáe (as Dorothy Pitman Hughes) in THE GLORIAS. Courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

Women everywhere can be thankful for Gloria’s journey – after the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the disturbing political climate, her work for women needs to be remembered. Her life needs to be celebrated. 

Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment will release THE GLORIAS on Digital and Streaming Exclusively on Prime Video Sept. 30.

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