Tag Archives: Beast

Lion King


by Hope Madden

Idris Elba fights a lion. I don’t know what more you want from a movie.

Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, on a trip with his daughters to visit his late wife’s stomping grounds, the bush in South Africa. He and the girls (Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley) had become somewhat estranged during their mother’s illness, and he hopes that staying with family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley) and touring the animal reserve he manages will help them all heal.

It’s more likely to kill them, as it turns out, because poachers have pissed off a really big lion and he’s gone all Jaws IV on the lot of them.

How is Mr. Elba? He’s very handsome. Dreamy, even. He’s also weirdly believable as a vulnerable widower, protective dad, capable doctor and badass who kicks lions in the face.

And he’s not the only one kicking lions, either. Halley gets some badassery in as well, as does Copley. Copley also takes a lot of abuse. Jeffries gets to be the smart one in a film unafraid to deliver teenage girls with agency.

This is not to say Beast is a great film. It borrows a great deal from a great many films: Jaws and Cujo most notably.

Director Baltasar Kormákur is an interesting filmmaker, able to produce smart, visceral thrillers like The Oath. Even his more flawed films —Contraband, 2 Guns, Everest, Adrift — make a valiant attempt at more than action for the sake of action. It helps when he writes. He doesn’t write this one.

Ryan Engle writes this one, and he’s not especially good, as a rule. He’s not terrible. His previous efforts — Non-Stop, The Commuter, Rampage, Breaking In — range from mediocre to poor. But Kormákur pulls a few tricks to elevate this material.

Firstly, he turns genre tropes on end by bringing a Black family to Africa and having their white guide be their wise mentor. Beyond that, there are not a lot of surprises, just a competent if uninspired adventure thriller in which Idris Elba fights a lion.

I’m in.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of September 3

A bunch of new stuff in home entertainment this week, not one of them a dud. We have two of the year’s absolute best, followed by a slew of really solid flicks you may have missed during their brief stints in theaters. Now is the day to rectify! We’ll help you sequence your week’s viewing.

Click the film title for the full review.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


Ghost Stories

*new on DVD




by Hope Madden

An outsider love story, a chilly whodunit, a psychological thriller—Beast is all and none of these.

This remarkably assured first feature from writer/director Mark Pearce keeps its focus on Moll (Jessie Buckley), the highly-scrutinized woman living with her parents in a small island community.

We open serenely enough on an angelic church choir rehearsing, a peace that’s harshly broken by the choir leader’s remark: I need more from you, Moll.

Geraldine James is haughty Hilary Huntington, the choirmaster; Moll is her grown daughter.

Soon a rugged stranger draws Moll out of her unhappy life, makes her feel awake and seen. She is destined to love this boy regardless of the string of missing girls in her village, regardless of his shady past, and in spite of the warnings of the smothering community.

Pearce’s skills keep you entranced, no matter the tropes he so easily picks up, throws off or reinvents. Sunlight, shadow, earth, sea—all these serve the visual storyteller’s purpose, while angles and frames keep you off kilter as you puzzle through the tale at hand.

You’re as invested, cautious and curious as Moll, but it’s actually Buckley’s performance—her depiction of Moll’s internal conflict—that is the most compelling and mysterious. As Moll changes demeanor, exploring her own identity becomes more important than determining her lover’s.

Johnny Flynn impresses as well as the local no-account presumed guilty, sharing a misfit chemistry with Moll that is both primal and tender. Tenderness is not what she’s used to from her severe mother, an epic James.

Together with the washed out colors of the characters’ bleak world, the film offers a harsh backdrop for Moll’s dizzying grasp on her own reality. The conflict, duality and self-discovery in Beast cannot help but draw you in, asking you about your own inner beast.

Without hitting a single false note, no matter the choir leader’s opinion, Buckley ushers us through a moral quagmire with a fire and authenticity that is gorgeous to behold.