INDIE FLICKS: ELVIS, NIXON, MILES & NINA
Purely by coincidence, a trio of biopics arrive Friday with varying approaches to recreating truth, each interesting in its own way.
The seductive Miles Ahead (R) is the most successfully ambitious, intended by its writer-director-star Don Cheadle to be as formless yet converging as one of Miles Davis' jazz trumpet excursions. Unlike most biopics, it doesn't cover Davis' entire life, but a creatively blocked period in the 1970s telling plenty.
Another mercurial musician gets a more conventionally flawed tribute in Nina (R), starring Zoe Saldana as soul singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, whose estate protests the casting of lighter-skinned actor as the proudly Afrocrentric subject. Cynthia Mort's movie is more linear than Cheadle's, exposing its shallowness in reducing a complex legend to an addicted crank.
Then there's Elvis & Nixon (R), looking and sounding like neither of the other two biopics or one of its subjects. Michael Shannon is a terrific actor, but he doesn't pass muster as Elvis Presley circa 1970, with his lean features and reedy voice. Kevin Spacey is a much more accurate Richard Nixon, in Liza Johnson's cartoon conjecture of the true, bizarre meeting of a president and the King.
Considered together, these three movies form a Venn diagram of sorts, of creative license in telling someone's story. Cheadle's portrayal of Davis is a model of impersonation, affecting the musician's tobacco rasp and not faking the trumpet riffs. Spacey's Nixon is next-closest to its target, in a movie requiring only caricature. Saldana can sing like Simone, but undercuts the effect with her polished looks, the opposite of Shannon's gauntness not doing Elvis justice.
Miles Ahead rises above the rest on Cheadle's confident feature directing debut, establishing an indigo blue mood with surprising tonal shifts. More so than Nina, Miles Ahead views its subject's genius as unexplainable, yet makes that worth trying. Davis and Simone aren't as famous or funny as Elvis & Nixon, but inspire the better biopics. Grades: Miles Ahead B+, Nina B-, Elvis & Nixon C+
SPEAK-ALONG MOVIE: 'LABYRINTH'
Singing along karaoke-style with The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and Grease is old hat. Speaking along with Jim Henson's 1986 fairy tale Labyrinth? Now, that's a new one.
Tampa Theatre hosts the interactive event Sunday at 3 p.m., part of the venue's Family Favorites Classics series. Tickets are $12 and $10 for kids, including props to use during the movie.
Aside from the 30th anniversary of Labyrinth, the speak-along tour honors its star David Bowie, who died in January. Bowie plays Jareth the Goblin King, who kidnaps a boy, taunting his older sister (Jennifer Connelly) with a maze she must complete to save the child.
Can't say I've ever heard anyone quote Labyrinth, but Bowie's cheekily charismatic performance is worth seeing again.
In theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Miles Ahead: Writer-director-star Don Cheadle reveals music legend Miles Davis.
2 Demolition: No more interesting actor working today than Jake Gyllenhaal.
3 Midnight Special: Three-quarters great, the rest merely gripping.
4 Eye in the Sky: Antiterrorism military officer (Helen Mirren) conducts drone warfare.
5 10 Cloverfield Lane: Can John Goodman earn his first Oscar nod for a genre flick? Hope so.
(dates subject to change)
April 29: Keanu, Mother's Day, Ratchet & Clank and Same Kind of Different as Me
May 6: Captain America: Civil War
May 13: The Darkness, Free State of Jones, Money Monster and Kidnap
May 20: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Angry Birds and The Nice Guys
May 27: X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through the Looking Glass and The Lobster