OPENING THURSDAY: BLACK PANTHER
Like its real-life radical namesakes, Black Panther (PG-13) promises to be truly revolutionary. Marvel Comics' landmark African-American superhero comes to life with its blackness intact, no small feat in homogenized Hollywood.
Chadwick Boseman (42, Get on Up) stars as T'Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, who leaped in and out of Avengers: Civil War without much notice. Now he's headlining a cultural phenomenon in the making, directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) to give children of color a superhero who looks like them.
T'Challa returns from Civil War to his homeland Wakanda upon the death of his father, the king. After claiming the throne, T'Challa is challenged by old nemesis Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) to unleash Wakanda's advanced technology for world conquest.
The formidable supporting cast includes St. Petersburg's own Angela Bassett, Oscar winners Lupita Nyong'o and Forest Whitaker, this year's best actor nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), always dependable Martin Freeman and mo-cap legend Andy Serkis in the flesh. I'd take that crew in an act-off with the Avengers cast.
OPENING FRIDAY: EARLY MAN
Nick Park's stop-motion clay animation made famous with Wallace & Gromit seems prehistoric in a digital age. That makes it perfectly suited for Early Man, a throwback in both story and Aardman Studios style.
Early Man also keeps its punny British sense of humor in sight gags and jokes occasionally lost in transatlantic translation. This is a comedy about soccer but for 90 minutes doesn't call it that. Park concocts an irreverently sacred origin of football, the World Cup type, stretching back to when dinosaurs (briefly) roamed the Earth.
INDIE FLICKS: FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL
Annette Bening famously isn't an Oscar winner but plays one well in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (R), the true, tragic story of Gloria Grahame. Rather than a biopic, the story of a life, director Paul McGuigan focuses on Grahame's last days enchanting a man half her age and denying terminal cancer.
The younger man is Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), an aspiring actor in the 1980s renting a Liverpool flat when he meets a new, illustrious neighbor. Gloria is there doing a stage play, far away in place and fame from her Hollywood heyday, when she won a best supporting actress Academy Award for 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful.
They become fast friends and passionate lovers. Peter knows nothing of Gloria's career; her Oscar is news to him, delivered by a bartender. The age difference would make them a scandal in the United States, if anyone still cared about her. Bening embraces the melodramatic flourishes of a Hollywood has-been, for whom every entrance matters and indifference stings.
Gloria keeps her illness secret, brushing off lethal pain as gas cramps. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool plays the will-she/won't-she tell him and spoil a lovely romance too long. Yet the revelation is staged wonderfully by McGuigan as part of a breaking point quarrel, shown from both Gloria and Peter's perspectives with vital information delivered in-between.
Aside from the inevitable parting, Gloria and Peter are perfect together because he made it that way, at least according to the screenplay based on Turner's memoir. I'm guessing the source material accounts for this movie's faint suggestions to lift Peter to sainthood or martyrdom. Bell delivers a performance solidly in that range.
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is foremost Bening's chance to again prove her sublime talent. It's either a credit to this year's best actress Oscar nominees that she isn't among them, or a shame that Sony Pictures Classics didn't try harder. B
our Top 5
Current movies recommended
by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Black Panther: Marvel's latest superhero (Chadwick Boseman) is a cultural game changer.
2 The Shape of Water: Guillermo del Toro's Cold War fantasy netted a leading 13 Oscar nominations.
3 Call Me by Your Name: Remember the name Timothée Chalamet, an Oscar nominee for best actor.
4 Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig's best picture Oscar nominee also earned directing and writing nods.
5 Early Man: Nick Park's stop-motion clay animation style never gets old.
(Dates subject to change)
Feb. 23: Annihilation; Game Night; War With Grandpa; Every Day
March 2: Death Wish; Red Sparrow
March 9: A Wrinkle in Time; The Upside; The Hurricane Heist
March 16: Tomb Raider; Love, Simon
March 23: Isle of Dogs; Pacific Rim: Uprising; Sherlock Gnomes; Midnight Sun