With the St. Louis theater community continuing to be severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Louis Theater Circle has officially canceled its 2021 awards event.

The St. Louis area is now nearing the one-year anniversary of pandemic protocol, including the virtual shutdown of all in-person theatrical events since mid-March 2020, less than one-fourth of the way through the calendar year, on which nominations are based. So few productions were mounted in 2020 that there is no way to have an awards ceremony on a scale similar to the previous eight ceremonies hosted by the organization.

Some, if not most, of the more than 30 categories wouldn’t even have a full set of our traditional five nominees. After reviewing the numbers, Theater Circle members thus have voted not to hold our traditional presentation in 2021.

Gary Wayne Barker and Jerome Davis won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for “District Merchants” at New Jewish Theater in 2020.

With more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day in St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois as well as elsewhere, we look forward to the eventual return of live theater. Our hope at this time is to combine shows produced in 2020 with any mounted later in 2021 for consideration for nominations for our ninth annual event, which is tentatively scheduled for 2022.

The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.

For more information, contact [email protected] or the St. Louis Theater Circle’s Facebook page.

The St. Louis Theater Circle members are: Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Tanya Seale at Broadway World; Tina Farmer at KDHX; Michelle Kenyon at Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts; and founding members Steve Allen, Stage Door STL; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Gerry Kowarsky, HEC Two on the Aisle; Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Judy Newmark, Judy’s Second Act; Ann Lemons Pollack, St. Louis Eats; Lynn Venhaus, www.PopLifeSTL.com; and Bob Wilcox, HEC Two on the Aisle. Eleanor Mullin is the group administrator.

Laurie McConnell won her second Supporting Actress Award for “The Little Foxes” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio in 2019.

Last year’s virtual ceremony can be viewed here:

https://images.app.goo.gl/PPXhBF8AbSoNcbBh9

Photo of St Louis Theater Circle taken in 2017.

By Lynn Venhaus

All grown up now, Tom Holland, the current movie action hero Spider-Man, tackles the troubled title character in “Cherry.”

It is a fierce performance and challenging role for the likable actor, who is the main reason to watch this undisciplined misfire from the Russo Brothers, gods of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for their work on “The Avengers” series.

But even Holland’s monumental efforts cannot save this generic story from itself. He does the heavy lifting, but the dark material is as airless as his blacked-out home during drug binges. The romance is run-of-the-mill – eventually two co-dependent junkies – and heroin addict stories are a dime a dozen in movies.

Based on Nico Walker’s 2018 semi-autographical book, which he wrote in federal prison while serving time for bank robberies to feed his drug addiction, the adaptation takes a literary approach by dividing his life story (35 years!) into chapters.

They are marked by title cards and Holland serves as the straight-shooting narrator who breaks the fourth wall and is candid about the sordid details.

The 336-page book was adapted by screenwriters Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot into a 2-hour, 20-minute movie that could have benefitted from better editing. The book was praised for coming out during the opioid epidemic.

The film wants to be an epic journey, but doesn’t set itself apart in any way, except for some stylized shots, and the characters lack appeal to sustain any momentum.

The dope life – high, strung out, needing drugs, scoring drugs, drifting through life in a haze – drags out the inevitable narrative. Not sure how many times we need to see addicts vomiting — but have at it.

The story begins in suburban Cleveland. His younger man phase is as generic as possible – partying, trying to find purpose, falling in love. He is an aimless college dropout who joins the Army after his girlfriend breaks up with him. However, he reunites with Emily (Ciara Bravo), and they marry before he goes to boot camp. At 19, he is sent to Iraq and the story turns very dark. He is forever traumatized by his medic duties and personal tragedies.

Cherry is not an interesting character until his combat experience in the fiery hell of Iraq makes him grow up fast.

Joe and Anthony Russo set up the “War is Hell” message well – after all, they are good at the male camaraderie and action sequences.

Upon his return to Ohio, Cherry becomes a mess – sleepless, self-medicating and angry, he starts popping oxycontin, and things go from bad to worse. His wife, still looking very young, starts shooting heroin with him.

Walker was released early from prison in 2019, and the Ohio-born Russo Brothers began their movie journey in 2020.

For an unlikable character, Holland impressively shows a genuine range of emotions, displaying how much he can stretch from saving the world devotion.

Since 2016, he has played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avenger series and his own spin-offs, starting with “Captain America: Civil War.”

The movie’s hefty supporting cast includes an impressive turn by Jack Wahlberg as Army buddy Jimenez, but there are a lot of characters who scream here – drill sergeants, scumbag low-life friends and upset girlfriends.

The point is? War is hell and drugs are bad? Don’t we already know this? Tell us a new version by illuminating rehabilitation after frittering most of your life away.

Will people walk away with fresh insight or just walk away? 

“Cherry” is a crime drama directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, based on Nico Walker’s 2018 novel. Starring Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Gandolfini and Jack Wahlberg, it is rated R for graphic drug abuse, disturbing and violent images, pervasive language and sexual content. In theatres Feb. 26 and on Apple + TV on March 12.

By Lynn Venhaus
Feb 22, 2021. In personal remarks, President Biden led a tribute for the 500,000+ lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic that had tp resonate with all those grappling with bereavement.

In a candlelight ceremony, with a moment of silence for all those who have died this past year — more lives lost than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined — we were able to mark this enormous loss.

Biden’s empathy and firsthand experience with heart-shattering grief are important now, meaningful words to comfort those grieving. He is the man for the moment.

Around 2,000 people die from the disease every day on average (data from Johns Hopkins University), which is down from a high of more than 3,000 a day on average in mid-January. Last month, the coronavirus was the leading cause of death in America. To date, 28 million people have tested positive in U.S.

The eloquence today consoled a nation, with sincerity and sympathy. Throughout the year, though, we knew how wise and heartfelt his words on grief were. — really ever since his book on his son Beau’s death from cancer at age 46. And in a first, the night before the inauguration, they light Lincoln Memorial in a ceremony that was so very touching.

Collective grief is important. I am still grieving two major losses in 2018 and 2019, and all I can say is, it’s hard. So many triggers. It is not something you ever get over. Some days are better than others. But the kindness and compassion of friends and family help.

Joe Biden’s words have helped me navigate mourning, time and time again.

Ok, critics will say he’s longwinded, and whatever else they want to hurl at him, but he rolled up his sleeves and went to work for all Americans. Actions do speak louder than words. And we see that it’s about us, not him. His teams are working to reset some sort of normalcy to American life. And to try to end the political angle and disinformation about the virus.

His approval rating was 62% last week, which is remarkable. I ask all those who didn’t vote for him to give him a chance – I have always done that with people I didn’t vote for (even #45, but then after a few weeks, it was worse than I could ever imagine in a bizarro world that have been documented many times and we don’t have time to rehash. Moving forward. But the contrast is stunning.

Joe is a devout Catholic, a man of faith. It’s refreshing to have a president who actually prays daily — and without a big show or arranging a photo op. People can tell he is a decent man who really cares about others. Attack his policies, his viewpoint, and work towards solutions if you do, but as a country, he is addressing what needs to be done, and we need to do our part. He inherited a huge mess, not to mention the deep scars of the Big Lie.

We are desperate for leadership, strength, peace, support and reassurance.

The pandemic has changed us all. I experienced a mild case of it, and it’s terrifying, but thankfully, I recovered, and pray for many people daily who are hospitalized or for their families who have lost loved ones — a number in that growing statistic. It’s devastating and it’s real. Biden said: “Resist becoming numb.” We must. We must fight.

Godspeed, frontline workers, first responders, those dealing with coronavirus, our leaders to help get the vaccines to as many people as possible, and all those concerned about our fellow man in these dark times. Need something positive? Look for the helpers.

Here’s the whole ceremony:

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/biden-honors-lost-covid-19-76054180

By Lynn Venhaus
In a powerful feature-length film debut, Shatara Michelle Ford presents a gripping, relevant view of how traumatized women are still treated in the aftermath of sexual assault and the prevailing patriarchy about womanhood and consent.

Ford, who grew up in St. Louis, wrote and directed “Test Pattern,” which was shown at last year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. It won the inaugural Essy Award for best narrative feature, which is given to a film shot in St. Louis or made by a St. Louisan.

It’s about how an interracial couple’s relationship is tested after Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) is sexually assaulted and her live-in boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) drives her to several hospitals in pursuit of a rape kit.

Defying stereotypes, and with its exploration of identity and race, this work has flourished on the festival circuit, and as of Feb. 19, Kino Lorber is distributing it as a video on demand through their Kino Lorber Marquee platform (https://kinomarquee.com)

Ford’s realistic drama veers into psychological horror as everything about Renesha’s girls’ night with best friend Amber (Gail Bean) turns into a nightmare, from the predatory actions of brash e-commerce entrepreneur (Drew Fuller) to its day-after blurry, drugged, foggy trauma.

Not only does Ford delve into these ongoing systemic issues, but also features a frustrating quest to seek answers and justice that serves as an eye-opening indictment of health care inequities.

It is a lot to take on in one film, and Ford has much to say, but she uses one couple’s experiences as an intimate portrait of modern relationships and the framework to look at external forces affecting life today.

Using flashbacks in key moments, self-assured Ford establishes a loving opposite-attracts relationship between an easy-going white tattoo artist, Evan, a superb Will Brill, and a bright, beautiful black development director, Renesha, played shrewdly and delicately by Brittany S. Hall.

Interestingly, they meet during an innocuous girls’ night out of drinking and dancing. Their awkward encounters lead to a first date, then a first night together, then fast-forward to ‘now.’

As their mutual attraction has led to commitment, they have moved in together in a small starter house in Austin. Convincing in every way, their performances are intertwined in a truth.

Bored with the corporate world, Renesha has started a new job working for a non-profit, the Humane Society.  

That night, her pal Amber wants to celebrate, so she reluctantly goes to the Hacienda Social Club. Everything that unfolds screams “bad idea” – Amber, eager to party and already losing her inhibitions, falls prey to a pushy guy, Chris, (Ben Levin), who is toasting a business deal with his friend.

The flashy white guys keep the champagne flowing as they pressure each girl to drink more and dance – and despite Renesha’s repeated attempts at no, and that “I have a boyfriend,” she is stuck in this situation with her fun-loving friend, who is having a good time.

At some point, Renesha is slipped a “roofie,” the illegal date-rape drug Rohypnol, and when incapacitated, she is taken to Mike’s apartment, where he rapes her. She wakes up with little knowledge of how she got there or what happened.

A concerned and devastated Evan wants answers, insistently pursues a rape kit, but Renesha doesn’t want to go through the process. The tense journey does not go well, as each deal with their own emotional responses while facing the bureaucratic red tape of health care hell and a police report.

What is in no doubt is that they have been forever changed as a couple, tested both by gender roles and prejudice.

At only 88 minutes, the film leaves out some pertinent details, and the abrupt ending is not satisfying. But Ford’s flair for dialogue and crafting authentic characters is strong.

Cinematographer Ludovici Isodori’s has contrasted the two storylines masterfully, locations are well-chosen for a low-budget indie, while Robert Oyuang Rusli’s string-heavy score accents an entire gamut of emotions. Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of Flowers” from “The Nutcracker Suite” is a clever choice for a compelling scene.

Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power,” is used as the film’s tagline, and Ford has wisely applied it to a modern exploration of how women are conditioned about sex and consent. Add institutional racism from a black woman’s perspective and the power shifts between couples, and you get one potent thought-provoking film.

“Test Pattern” addresses similar territory that “Promising Young Woman” tackles and will add more to the national conversation.

Like the impressive female-directed and written 2020 social commentaries “The Assistant” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” with this film, Ford proves she is an exciting new voice. Her name can be included in the growing list of formidable female directors with something to say.

Shatara Michelle Ford

“Test Pattern” is a 2019 drama written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, starring Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill. It is not rated and the run time is 1 hour, 22 min. The film is available as a video on demand through Kino Lorber Marquee. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus
Borrowing elements of “Groundhog Day” and “Palm Springs,” “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is a charming teen rom-com that does not feel forced or derivative.

That is mainly due to the appealing couple at its center – Kyle Allen is Mark and Kathryn Newton, last seen in “Freaky,” is Margaret. The two teens live the same day repeatedly, so after they discover that they share a time loop, they go on a quest to find “tiny perfect things” in their town and create a map. He is more open book and she is more secretive, but together they make a fun couple to hang out with for 98 minutes.

With rapid-paced pop culture-inspired dialogue, the pair banter about a myriad of topics as they explore their city together. References to “Doctor Who” and “Edge of Tomorrow” come up.

Mark has decided that discovering every “tiny perfect thing” in their ordinary small town would be ideal, and they could make a map full of memories.

The pair have terrific chemistry and keep us entertained, when really, we can’t figure out the astrophysics of their predicament, which always makes my head hurt.

What feels familiar in this coming-of-age tale, with its time travel tropes, yields to warm-hearted insights and clever results. There is something special in its sameness.

However, the jaunty tone is not always sustained, which is on purpose, and there is a serious streak about what really matters in life. Mark, who glides through his morning using his repetitive life for good, discovers at 17, the world does not always revolve around you.

The way empathy is introduced midway is not jarring, but rather integral to the plot and their journeys. By then, the couple had us at hello.

Director Ian Samuels has deftly told screenwriter Lev Grossman’s script, which is based on a 2016 short story. He’s aided by Andrew Wehde’s crisp cinematography, with some nifty long takes, as well as Tom Bromley’s in-the-moment indie music score.

The supporting cast is another bright spot, with Jermaine Harris as Mark’s best friend, Josh Hamilton as his dad, Cleo Fraser as his sister Emma, and Al Madrigal as his math teacher.

The film has a pleasant small-town setting, and production designer Kara Lindstrom has captured the rhythms of everyday life in depicting personal space and the town’s endearing framework.

With an emphasis on life lessons for young folk, such as live in the present and make moments count, the story is not routine, but sells its points in convincing fashion. Its mindful and positive focus set it apart.

“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is a comedy, romance and fantasy, directed by Ian Samuels. The cast includes Kyle Allen, Kathryn Newton, Jermaine Harris and Josh Hamilton. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some teen drinking and sexual references, its run-time is 1 hour, 28 minutes. An Amazon original film. it began on Prime Feb. 12. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus
A semi-autobiographical journey about his childhood in Arkansas in the 1980s, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a series of genuine remembered moments that resonate, especially from young son David’s point of view. The story may be slender but its sensitivity is significant.

A Korean American family has moved to a rural Arkansas farm in search of its own American dream. Trying to adapt to a new life, with its challenges and unfamiliar terrain, they learn how resilient they can be and what really makes a home.

As precocious David, Alan S. Kim stomps around in cowboy boots, soaking up everything as he drinks Mountain Dew and blurts out exactly how he feels and what he means. Kim is a natural, and just watching how he looks at everything in a curious light, is just one of the film’s many delights. He translates his emotions subtly and superbly.

At first, David has a testy relationship with his grandmother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jong), his mom’s mother who has come over from Korea to live with them. But their relationship blossoms and their bond is tight – and neither has a filter.

Youn Yuh-jong delivers one of the best performances of the year as the grandma, whose love, strength and wisdom is a saving grace. She is also wickedly funny, providing welcome moments of comic relief.

In a poignant performance, Steven Yeun plays Jacob, who tries to hold on to his farm and his family in the face of great adversity. He moves them from California to the middle of nowhere because he wants more for them – and himself.

But his wife, Monica (Yeri Han), has a harder time and is frustrated that she is forced to fit in to a life she is apprehensive about, and worries about everything. After all, David was born with a heart murmur and a hospital is miles away.

The fine ensemble sincerely draws us in to their heartbreaks, happiness and sorrows. Character actor Will Patton plays a Pentecostal neighbor who helps Jacob with the farm, and the character is based on Chung’s father’s friend.

“Minari” won both the Audience and the Grand Jury Awards at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and as a contender in the current awards season, audiences are discovering how relatable a film, which is in English subtitles for about half of it, is. The family is bilingual.

The production elements are also outstanding in helping to strike a universal chord, with lyrical cinematography by Lachlan Milne and crisp editing by Harry Yoon. Production designer Yong Ok Lee creates the ‘80s home from a ramshackle trailer to a family of four’s personalities within their economic means.

Composer Emile Mosseri’s beautiful score evokes youthful memories and warmth.

The film’s namesake, minari, also known as “water dropwort,” is a resilient plant with an herbal flavor, tasting like parsley. With its crisp stems and leafy tops, it can grow pretty much anywhere, and is sold as a vegetable in Korean markets. Its meaning is obvious.

With its poetic small moments, what the deeply personal “Minari” says about roots and family echoes with all of us.

“Minari” is a drama written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. It stars Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yeri Han, Youn Yuh-jung, Noel Cho and Will Patton. Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture, it’s run time is 1 hr. 58 min. Lynn’s Grade: A. In theaters Feb. 12 and video on demand Feb. 26.

By Lynn Venhaus
“Palmer” may be predictable, but it’s a heartwarming relatable story about acceptance and second chances.

After 12 years in prison, former high school football star Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) returns home to put his life back together, Living with his grandma (June Squibb), he forms an unlikely bond with neighbor Sam (Ryder Allen), an outcast boy from a troubled home.

This modest film uses the trope of small minds in a small town as its setting in Louisiana, which works for the character of a young nonconformist who doesn’t care about fitting into a gender lane. And leads to the bond he forms with an ex-con starting over.

Cheryl Guerriero’s screenplay has created roles that the cast plays convincingly. Newcomer Ryder Allen delivers a poignant performance as Sam, who is bullied for his feminine-leaning proclivities, like wearing a princess costume for Halloween and playing with dolls.

Justin Timberlake, the Tennessee-born music superstar, is strong as straightened out Eddie Palmer trying to fly right. He’s always been a likeable personality, from his days on “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club” to his boy band popularity to his five times hosting “Saturday Night Live” and his Grammy-winning solo career (10 wins, 39 nominations).

In his few movie appearances, he’s been a natural. Here, he must carry the movie, and he’s believable at every step. He becomes the father figure to Sam, and there isn’t a false move from either of them.

Their bond is genuine. Over time, they become to rely on each other as Sam stays at Palmer’s house – his drug-addict mom Shelly (Juno Temple) has taken off with her boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters) – and Eddie has been hired as a janitor at Sam’s elementary school. Eddie becomes his watchdog and caretaker.

The supporting cast is strong, too, with Alisha Wainwright as helpful third grade teacher Miss Maggie, who begins dating Eddie, and Juno Temple as Sam’s irresponsible mother.

Ninety-year-old June Squibb, from Vandalia, Ill., is Eddie’s crotchety but loving grandmother Vivian, a devout churchgoer and benevolent neighbor to Sam and his mother.

Actor-director Fisher Stevens directed fluidly, simply letting the story be told.

Once in a while, you discover a sweet story about people struggling to make things right in their world. “Palmer” succeeds in bringing together people who need each other, whose lives are changed because of their association. 

“Palmer” is a drama directed by Fisher Stevens and starring Justin Timberlake, Ryder Allen, June Squibb, Juno Temple, Alisha Wainwright and Dean Winters. Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity, and brief violence, it runs 1 hour, 50 minutes. Available Jan. 29 on Apple TV+. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus
A hot mess of a movie, “Bliss” travels between reality and computer simulation, but do we ever know what is real? And more importantly, do we care?
No.

A mysterious woman (Salma Hayek) convinces a troubled man (Owen Wilson) that they are living in a simulated reality, but even with chemical enhancement, their newfound merry world begins to bleed into a cruel ugly world. So, what is real and where do they belong?

Owen Wilson is Greg, a glum, recently divorced guy who goofs off at work and takes pills for an undisclosed ailment. His boss has been trying to get his attention, and certainly does when he fires him.

After a shocking development, he meets Salma Hayek’s difficult Isabel across the street in a bar, Plato’s Dive, and for the next hour and a half, we have philosophical drivel, a nonsensical love story and a bizarro world that alternates between utopian and dystopian.

The writer-director Mike Cahill, whose earlier low-budget movies, “Another Earth” and “I Origins,” put him on the indie map, has crafted what started as an ambitious sci-fi into a complex narrative that spirals out of control.

One can’t keep up with intentions – and why would you keep trying – because at every turn, characters leaps into the rabbit hole. They are on the street, then they are in paradise – it’s jarring and jerky.

“Bliss” is more like an abyss. There is so much confusing “Matrix”-like mumbo-jumbo and the main characters are irritating. Hard-shell Isabel is taxing and selfish, her motivations suspect and very often, cruel. She’s more loathsome than lazy Greg, who is just a tool.

And miscast. Wilson and Hayek do nothing for their careers with these unsympathetic roles. When they play with their powers, people get hurt – and that is painful to watch them derive pleasure from it.

Do we ever know the endgame here? “Bliss” is a superficial movie that aimed high, but its concept could not be executed in any believable way. I want 103 minutes of my life back.

“Bliss” is a sci-fi drama written and directed by Mike Cahill, starring Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper and Ronny Chieng. It’s
rated: R for drug content, language, some sexual material and violence, and runs 1 hour, 43 minutes. An Amazon Original movie, it is available on Prime Feb. 5. Lynn’s Grade: F

By Lynn Venhaus
The long-winded intimate relationship drama “Malcolm & Marie” explores both the public and the private side of a young power couple in Hollywood, as well as the minefield of working together or choosing not to, during one long night.

When a filmmaker (John David Washington) returns to the lush seaside home the studio has rented for him in Malibu, along with his girlfriend (Zendaya), after his successful movie premiere, they wait for the reviews. Their conversation begins to break down the events of the night as they affect their relationship, and some ugly truths are revealed. Their love is tested by forces within and the career paths they have chosen.

The tone and the temperature shift as Malcolm and Marie, rising stars John David Washington, 36, and Zendaya, 24, talk through festering resentments, bruised egos and their personal and career choices for 1 hour and 46 minutes. By mid-film, it feels like one long tedious and repetitive domestic argument, as they roam about the place, venting, defensive and tired, with pent-up passion.

How much you buy into their union will depend on whose side you’re on, and I’m on Team Marie.

The pair – who also produced – have an interesting dynamic together, but as the relationship is the definition of complicated – and frustrating, it’s hard to understand the commitment. There is plenty of navel-gazing. What happens when daylight breaks can be anyone’s guess.

Zendaya is a natural force destined for a huge career, and she is relentless here, displaying anger, pain and exasperation. Marie is not just going to be the girl on his arm, demanding that she not be ignored.

She is mad because Malcolm – self-absorbed, vain – forgot to thank her and appropriated her life story for the film. But didn’t cast her. Oh, does she have some questions. He is very reliant on her as a partner who attends to his needs and has a short lease. But does that translate to appreciating her?

John David Washington, who exploded onto the scene with “BlacKkKlansman” but was miscast in “Tenet,” has a tougher time gaining our sympathy here as he tries to explain/excuse his behavior. Their delivery is rat-a-tat-tat, so hang on, because the dialogue can leave little time for coming up for air, and at times, is exhausting.

Writer-director Sam Levinson, creator of HBO series “Euphoria,” which stars Emmy-winning Zendaya, took pen to paper during the pandemic. He is the son of Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson, so he’s been around the business his entire life. This script is very inside Hollywood – and in a good way, tackles systemic racism in showbiz. Malcolm takes issue with a certain white female critic, who actually fawned over his brilliance.

One of the drawbacks here is that Malcolm is supposed to be this hotshot phenom, but we can’t see if his work is any good – we can only take the opinions of critics (wink).

And why does he treat Marie in an unequal manner while professing his love?

Shooting in a stylish contemporary home in Carmel, Calif., in black-and-white, cinematographer Marvell Rev’s silky work is exquisite. The black-and-white aspect keeps our focus on the couple, not the accoutrements.

The self-indulgent script needed more context for the characters. I wanted characters with some gravitas. Malcolm’s character never struggled.

“Malcolm & Marie” succeeds as a showcase for two young talents but the overstuffed script is hard to get behind.

“Malcolm & Marie” is a drama directed and written by Sam Levinson, and stars John David Washington and Zendaya. Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content, the movie runs 1 hour and 46 minutes. In theaters now and on Netflix beginning Feb. 5. Lynn’s Grade is C+.

By Lynn Venhaus
Who knew watching people digging in the dirt would be so fascinating? That’s one of the surprising things about “The Dig,” which is based in fact and never dull.

Another revelation is how compelling the characters are – and that’s a credit to the fine performances, but also the script by Moira Buffini, who adapted John Preston’s 2007 book.

Seen through the eyes of the property owner and the modest working-class excavator, this thoroughly engaging film gives us an authentic account of how a 6th century ship is discovered underground and the battles it provokes.

In1938, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hired local excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig into those mysterious mounds of earth on her Sutton Hoo property, near Suffolk. What he discovers is remarkable in its historical significance – an Anglo-Saxon ship, with a burial chamber, from the 6th century. It would become the largest archeological find in England. Museum officials start fighting over it, as do university archeologists. At this same time, the country is on the verge of going to war with Germany after Hitler invades Poland.

Mulligan is terrific as Pretty, the fiercely loyal wealthy widow who won’t allow Brown’s contributions to be minimized, even though the snobby museum professionals demean his lack of training.

Brown is a bit unorthodox. An expert digger, Fiennes convincingly conveys this humble man — his eccentricities, prowess and gratitude over Mrs. Pretty’s kindness.

This much-lauded duo delivers nuanced portraits of the real people who gave the story its heart, and their friendship is one of the story’s best elements. Child actor Archie Barnes is an important component as young Robert Pretty, Edith’s son who forms a strong bond with Brown.

The supporting cast is also strong. Lily James is a bright spot as a capable academic, Peggy Piggott, whose unhappiness with her inattentive husband (Ben Chaplin) grows.

Johnny Flynn, so good in “Emma” and “Beast,” shows his versatility as Rory Lomax, Edith’s relative who preserves the scene with his camera but joins the RAF during the big activity on the grounds. Monica Dolan plays sweet May Brown, Basil’s supportive wife.

Australian director Simon Stone respects both the history and the human nature in telling the story, and lets the atmosphere speak for itself.

The creative work is important in keeping us riveted. Maria Djurkovic’s earthy production design is one of awe and wonder, with cinematographer Michael Eley capturing the stunning landscapes. Costume designer Alice Babidge’s period work is impressive, and Stefan Gregory’s music score punctuates the action well.

In not-so-subtle ways, “The Dig” emphasizes life, death and time in a smart, richly textured and endearing work. Dig in!

THE DIG (L-R): CAREY MULLIGAN as EDITH PRETTY, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

“The Dig” is an historical drama directed by Simon Stone and starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin and Monica Dolan. Rated: PG-13 for brief sensuality and partial nudity, the film runs 1 hour, 52 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A. In select theaters and on Netflix Jan. 29.