Tag Archives: Luke Evans

Oh, Mama


by Hope Madden

Oh my God, you guys. Did you know Tate Taylor directed the new Octavia Spencer horror flick, Ma?

You know, Tate Taylor. Girl on a Train. Get On Up. The effing Help – that Tate Taylor.

No wonder Octavia Spencer is in it, and God bless her for it because she commits to a role that, in other hands, could have been utterly, laughably predictable.

In fact, were it not for a breathtakingly better-than-this-material cast, Ma would have devolved quickly into every other “get back at the popular kids – oh, wait, maybe let’s vilify and re-victimize the unpopular instead” horror.

Spencer’s Sue Ann, or Ma, as the kids call her, is just an easy mark for teens wanting alcohol. Yes, she’ll buy it as long as you drink it at her house where she knows you’re safe.

Does she have nefarious motives?

She does.

For her part, the Oscar-winner (for Taylor’s The Help) convinces, drawing both sympathy and fear. She’s joined in small roles by another Oscar winner (an almost jarringly funny Allison Janney) and an Oscar nominee (Juliette Lewis) as well as Luke Evans and a set of talented young actors led by Booksmart’s Diana Silvers.

How on earth did this by-the-numbers outsider/don’t trust the lonely older lady horror flick draw this cast?!

I do not know, because Ma has nothing really new to say, so it relies in its entirety on this cast to entertain. But there are two reasons that this story and this particular cast are actually Ma’s problems.

One is something that still surprises me about horror. On the whole, horror appeals to outcasts. And yet, from Carrie White to the coven in The Craft to Sue Ann in Ma, horror films reestablish the status quo by putting outcasts in their place. Sure, they get that grand few moments of terrorizing the beautiful, popular kids, but things end badly in horror movies for the outcast.

Here’s what troubles me even more about Tate Taylor, and to a degree, Octavia Spencer films. (Note that Spencer executive produced the racially problematic and utterly mediocre Green Book.)

Ma is racially tone deaf. I have no idea why this wealthy Southern white man insists on telling stories exclusively about African Americans, but he truly should not. A story that vilifies the lonely middle aged woman, seeing her as a broken psychotic based on her generally pathetic nature, is misogynistic. When this villain is also the only African American woman in the film, that problem is heightened dramatically.

Don’t get me wrong—I am a fanatical horror fan, and when an Oscar -winner (and multiple nominee) chooses to star, let alone star as the villain (the most important character) in a horror film, I am all in.

But this was the wrong movie.

Super More Than Friends

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

by George Wolf

My my, turns out Wonder Woman’s lasso was designed for a little bit more than just truth-telling.

Writer/director Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the fascinating story of the birth of an iconic superhero, told with enough earnest emotion and sly subversion to craft a captivating, entertaining history lesson with a naughty side.

Anchored in 1945, when Wonder Woman creator William Marston (Luke Evans) is defending his comic against charges of indecency, the film flashes back often to the 1920s, as Marston and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) were psychologists at Radcliffe college. After taking on a young teaching assistant (Bella Heathcote), the three develop a relationship that launches both scandal and inspiration.

A mix of Saving Mr. Banks and A Dangerous Method, PMATWW boasts excellent performances and a refreshing, if a bit idealized worldview.

Call it Super More Than Friends.


Ask the Dishes

Beauty and the Beast

by George Wolf

Word is, the early plan for Disney’s live-action remake of their 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast did not involve a musical production.

Um, that’s crazy.

That soundtrack from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is in the team picture of Disney’s all-time best, and director Bill Condon politely reminded studio bosses that without it…what’s the point? Sanity prevailed, and Condon brings the familiar tale to life again with a lush, layered, often gorgeous vision, celebrating the brilliant songs that helped make the original the first animated film to garner a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Condon’s directing his first musical since the excellent Dreamgirls, and he hasn’t lost the instinct for staging a show-stopper or two. His camera pans and zooms during “Gaston,” revealing a village full of buoyant choreography, while the title song gets an intimate, classic treatment that builds upon a possible decades long investment in these characters.

“Be Our Guest,” the early request from various castle housewares to the captive Belle (Emma Watson), emerges as a joyous Catch-22. We can’t wait for Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and the gang to start singing…but it is a hard act to follow.

Watson delivers a spunky Belle who’s more industrious than the animated version, yet at times bland next to the gregarious Gaston (a scene-stealing Luke Evans) and the often distracting face of the Beast (Dan Stevens). Even as wondrous visuals fill frame after frame (see the 3-D IMAX version if you can), CGI facial features can’t quite keep up, and choosing this tract over makeup artistry feels like an ambitious misstep.

The supporting cast, including Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald and Josh Gad, is delightful at every turn, and shows more welcome diversity from Disney. The brouhaha over the sexuality of LeFou (Gad) proves as inane as expected, though it does add some sly gravity to Gaston’s campaign against the Beast. As he rallies the villagers by exclaiming there is “a threat to our very existence!” Gaston leans in to LeFou and asks, “Do you want to be next?” Well played.

Add to this a diverse array of townspeople, two high-profile mixed-race couples, and LeFou’s partners during the dance finale, and Disney’s path to progress grows more concrete.

Devotees of the original Beauty and the Beast will have their nostalgia rewarded, but Condon’s vision has the flair and substance to earn its own keep. Though not quite as magical, there is something here that wasn’t there before.

Call it maturity, call it pizzazz….or just ask the dishes.





High Society


by Hope Madden

Set inside a skyscraper in a gloriously retro London, Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise is a dystopia full of misanthropic humor.

Laing (Tom Hiddleston) narrates his own story of life inside the “grand social experiment” – a high rise where the higher the floor, the higher the tenant’s social status. Laing lives keenly alone, somewhere in the middle floors. Socialite Charlotte (a fantastic Sienna Miller) lives one floor above; put upon wife and philandering husband Helen and Wilder (Elizabeth Moss and Luke Evans, respectively) live near the bottom. And at the tippy top, The Architect (Jeremy Irons, magnificent as always).

The film treads some of the same ground as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, only Ballard’s feelings were less respectful of the lowly. The author’s interest was always in peeling that last layer that separates civility from savagery in every member of every class. No one is blameless, no one is incorruptible. It can make his material difficult because no character is entirely sympathetic, which is certainly the case in High-Rise.

Our protagonist holds himself at a distance from all tenants, seeing himself as that singular soul that can fit almost anonymously within every strata, when, in fact, he fits nowhere. And as chaos descends and carnality and carnage, it’s very hard to decide whether anyone is worth rooting for.

The film brings to mind David Cronenberg’s gem, Shivers. The Canadian auteur’s first film saw a high end high rise taken down from within by a parasite that turned its victims into voracious pleasure seekers. Always the Ballard enthusiast (Cronenberg adapted the author’s Crash into a chilly NC-17 adaptation in 1996), the filmmaker’s 1975 flick eerily predicted the British cult novelist’s plot of the same year.

High-Rise’s performances range from slyly understated (Hiddleston, Moss) to powerful (Miller, Evans) to alarmingly hammy (James Purefoy), but each contributes entertainingly to this particular brand of dystopia.

Ballard’s prose is tough to bring to life on the big screen. While Cronenberg’s 1996 adaptation breathed the author’s chilly, disgusted detachment, Wheatley’s version mines Ballard’s humor in a film that is wildly alive but terrifically flawed.

The class war has not waned since Ballard set its microcosm inside his London skyscraper. Its flame burns as bright and toxic today as it ever has, but somehow Wheatley’s film lacks that heat. It’s a fascinating mess without the punch of relevance.

Still, the wicked humor and wild chaos will certainly keep your attention.


Not Worth Telling

Dracula Untold

by Hope Madden

Who’s eager for another Dracula movie? Because that is not the single most worn out, overused, tired storyline in cinematic history. But wait – what if there was something you didn’t yet know about Dracula? Something untold?

If you’re thinking not even then, well Dracula Untold goes to show just how wise you are.

What amounts to the love child of Bram Stoker and George R. R. Martin, Dracula Untold takes a decidedly Game of Thrones angle to share the old bloodsucker’s origins story. Full of epic battles, impaling, damsels in distress, and even two Thrones actors (Art Parkinson and a woefully underused Charles Dance), it’s a medieval bloodbath and unfortunate snoozefest.

An oh-so-earnest Luke Evans (The Hobbit) trades in Middle Earth for the Middle Ages as Vlad, once The Impaler, now the peace-seeking prince of Transylvania. He had a crisis of conscience after all that impaling with the Turkish army and now just wants to live peaceably with his lovely wife and son. But the Turks are having none of it, and without a real army of his own, he turns to an evil force to help him protect his kingdom and his family.

Evans makes for a fine dreamy, noble, tragic vampire if you’re into that kind of thing, and if that’s your bag you might enjoy the first 60 minutes or so of this film. But then – by the time the rest of us are fidgeting in our seats, having abandoned all hope for a film with real bite – first time director Gary Shore throws some creepy, gory bits at you.

It’s not enough to make the film tolerable for horror fans, but probably too much for the romance lovers.

For anyone interested in a lucid film, first time screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless leave you with more questions than answers as they bend, introduce and retool vampire lore to suit them. Look past the moony love story and there’s a whole lot of silliness underneath.

Worse still are the dialog profundities. At one point, the Turks employ some Jedi shit, blindfolding the entire army because, “You can’t fear what you can’t see.”

What kind of counter intuitive nonsense is that? Plus, imagine how idiotic it looks to march an entirely blindfolded army up the side of a mountain. Ridiculous.

I know Game of Thrones Season 5 is a long way off, but Dracula Untold won’t satisfy your jones.