Watching and writing about APT’s 2021 Winter Words play readings from my home office in Escondido, California – with actors and directors from home (the Valley) and all over the country – has been, to quote APT’s artistic director, Brenda DeVita, “an unexpected gift of the pandemic.”
Based on the previews and trailers, I had moderate hopes for this movie and it’s always a nice surprise when a film exceeds expectations. Palmer is one of those films. It’s not perfect, but performances by Timberlake, as Eddie Palmer, a recently released convict, Ryder Allen as Sam, a seven-year boy who enthusiastically identifies as a girl, and Alisha Wainwright as Maggie, Sam’s grade school teacher, give this movie legs. Allen, eight-years old in real life, is a joy to watch in his movie debut. Sam is unexpectedly thrust upon Palmer who is already facing challenges reintegrating into society and must decide what is best for the boy. Juno Temple (Sam’s wayward and absent mother, Shelly) and June Squibb (Vivian, Palmer’s kind grandmother) also deliver outstanding performances. Directed by Fisher Stevens.
Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther, Get Out) gives a compelling performance as Fred Hampton, a trailblazer in the 1960s Black empowerment movement. At just 21 years of age, Hampton was a senior leader in the Black Panther party in Illinois and was known as a unifier. His ideas were viewed as radical by many and the FBI saw him as a threat. LaKeith Stanfield stars as Bill O’Neil, a small time criminal coerced by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to infiltrate the Black Panther party. Judas and the Black Messiah has six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (both Kaluuya and Stanfield). (Premiered on HBO Max. Still playing in theaters and should return to streaming by this summer).
This movie was recently in Netflix’s Top 10 Viewed list, so I checked it out. With Owen Wilson as the lead character, I was expecting action with a bit of light-hearted comedy: wrong. This film is frenetic and very intense. It doesn’t take long before the action starts, and it never stops. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) works for a US-based water infrastructure company and takes his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and family on a new assignment in an unnamed county bordering Vietnam. Pierce Brosnan stars as Hammond, someone that always seems to be around at the right time—is he good or bad? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Billed as a thriller, it’s more drama than thriller (although the conclusion is certainly suspenseful and builds to a crescendo). Deeply affected by the sexual assault of her friend Nina while both attended medical school, Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) launches a one-woman crusade to entrap and educate men (and women) on the gravity of their misconduct. Cassandra employs highly effective in-your-face strategies to drive her message home to those complicit in the sexual assault on Nina. Smartly done and a worthwhile message for all. Promising Young Woman has five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Carey Mulligan). Written and directed by Emerald Fennell. (Still in theaters, currently available for rental on online sources.)
An excellent, tastefully done documentary, the film chronicles the life of Audrey Hepburn from a young girl separated from her parents during World War II and suffering from malnutrition, to an overnight movie star, to her later years as the face of UNICEF. Lots of archival video and insightful interviews with family members, friends, and Hollywood associates. A worthwhile investment of your time.
Do you ever wish you could re-do a day? Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), an off -duty special forces operator stuck in a 24-hour time-loop definitely does because he gets killed every day. “Boss Level” (directed by Joe Carnahan, 2021) is non-stop action from start to finish. Along the way, Roy discovers what his real mission is, and we tag along for the ride. Naomi Watts stars as Jemma Wells, a scientist and Roy’s former wife, and Mel Gibson as Colonel Clive Ventor, the owner of the company Jemma works for.
When does the Russian mafia look like the good guys? When it faces off against the unscrupulous Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) in “I Care a Lot” (directed by J. Blakeson, 2020). Grayson is a court-appointed legal guardian and self-described “predator” that targets wealthy older people, putting them (unnecessarily) in elder care facilities, liquidating all their assets, and taking a cut for herself. Peter Dinklage co-stars as Roman Lunyou, a Russian-American mob boss with a connection to Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), one of Grayson’s more recent victims.
Ready for a drama down under? “Penguin Bloom” (directed by Glendyn Ivin, 2020) takes place in Australia and is based on the true story of Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts), a wife and mother of three whose emotional recovery from her traumatic life-changing accident is aided by an injured magpie.
American Players Theatre (APT) has returned its annual Winter Words play reading series that provides the audience with a unique glimpse into the minds and personalities of APT actors and directors.