No, "praise" and "admire" are not synonyms. "Praise" means to say (or write) good or nice things about something. One reason for praising something could be because you do admire it. You can look up "praise" and "admire" in the WR dictionary.
Whoever he is, he said favorable things about the film to someone named "Simon," and he did the same thing to a group of people assembled at the American Film Institute. It's probable, but not certain, that he did this simultaneously, that Simon and the audience were all in the same room together, but that's not certain. If he had done it separately, it would have been better to have written, "to Simon and to an audience . . .," but not all writers are meticulous in such matters.