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Posts Tagged ‘Idris Elba’

Taylor Swift

“CATS” My rating:  C+

110  minutes | MPAA rating: PG

It’s taken the musical “Cats” nearly 40 years to make its way from the stage to the big screen. Now we know why.

Just as there are some novels that defy dramatization, so there are stage productions that derive their power from the interaction of audience and performer, that work precisely because the viewer realizes that all the magic unfolding in front of him/her is being created by real people in real time.

Tom Hooper’s movie version, on the other hand, has been so digitally diddled with that we can’t be sure that anything we’re seeing — from the settings to the performers’ faces — is even remotely real. Characters do impossible flips in the air,  cockroaches march in formation…it’s all so artificial that the film might as well have been done as pure animation (actually that was the plan, back in the ’90s).

That said, the movie “Cats” isn’t a total wipeout. The score (the tunes are by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the lyrics derived from T.S. Eliot’s book of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats) remains humworthy and at least a couple of the performers manage to transcend their hairy makeup (all too often they look like werewolves from a ’60s Hammer film) and establish an emotional connection with the audience.

A big problem is that “Cats” lacks a real story.  On stage this wasn’t a deal breaker…the show was a musical revue with different “cats” taking center stage to sing and dance their signature numbers.  What plot there was dealt with the approaching Jellicle Ball where one lucky feline will be chosen by the ancient Deuteronomy to be reincarnated into a new life (cats get nine of them, after all).

The screenplay by Lee Hall and Hooper  centers on Victoria (ballerina Francesca Hayward, who seems capable of expressing only a quizzical attitude), abandoned by her owner in a dirty alley and adopted into the Jellicle tribe.  Her guide and guardian is Munkstrap (Robbie Fairchild), who introduces her to various other characters and the rundown corner of London they call home.

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Kate Winslet, Idris Elba

“THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US”  My rating: C+

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

He’s a neurosurgeon desperate to get back to Baltimore for a big operation.

She’s a photojournalist desperate to get back east for her wedding.

With an incoming blizzard grounding commercial air traffic, they rent a charter plane to take them home.

Nope.

“The Mountain Between Us” is a survival tale/love story set in the Colorado Rockies and starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet as Ben and Alex, total strangers who must work together to survive when their plane crashes on a remote mountain top.

As an outdoor adventure crammed with drop-dead scenery and a plethora of adversity (hungry mountain lion, freezing temperatures, starvation, a fall through cracking lake ice) this film from director Hany Abu-Assad (an Israeli making his Hollywood debut) works well enough.

As a romance, though, it’s iffy.  J. Mills Goodie’s screenplay (from Charles Martin’s novel) doesn’t really give us that much to work with, character-wise.  Elba and Winslet are charismatic performers capable of suggesting depth where there is relatively little, but the script is skimpy with details, and what there is is a bit hokey. For way too long the state of Ben’s marriage is dangled before us like a mystery carrot.

Speaking of way too long…the movie continues a good 15 minutes after it should have ended; many viewers will develop a case of ants in their pants.

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Abraham Attah

Abraham Attah

“BEASTS OF NO NATION” My rating: A-

137 minutes | No MPAA rating

To the small handful of brilliant movies about the madness of war — among them “Apocalypse Now” and the Soviet “Come and See” — we must now add Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” a ghastly but hugely moving story about child soldiers in an African civil war.

In this sobering feature — a Netflix original that is also being booked into theaters — we never do learn the nationality of Agu (Abraham Attah), our young protagonist.  Only that he lives with his family in a demilitarized zone where civilians are safe from the violence that swirls around them.

But their sanctuary doesn’t last long. Soldiers — apparently they represent the central government — show up to do a bit of cleansing.  Agu’s mother and younger siblings have already fled to the big city, but now he watches as his unarmed father and older brother are gunned down.

The boy races into the bush, living like an animal. Then’s he’s captured by a band of rebels led by Commandant (a hypnotic Idris Elba) and slowly indoctrinated into their martial ranks.

Commandant is the only adult in sight. His next-in-command is a teenager and most of the troops under him are mere children playing soldier. It’s like “Lord of the Flies”
with machine guns.

But Commandant is a charismatic leader for whom his “men” would do anything. So when newbie Agu is ordered to execute a captive with a machete, he obeys. Reluctantly at first, and then in a frenzy as the lust to kill takes over.

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Idris Elba as the imprisoned Nelson Mandela

Idris Elba as the imprisoned Nelson Mandela

“MANDELLA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM”  My rating: B- (Opens wide Dec. 25)

139 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is an honorable stab at a screen biography of a much-revered individual. On one level it’s inspiring, sure…how could a movie about the late Nelson Mandela not be inspiring?

But it’s also pedestrian…not in terms of production value but in its low-keyed sensibilities. Director Justin Chadwick, a veteran of British television with only two other features to his credit (“The Other Boleyn Girl,” “The First Grader”), is aiming for an intimate epic but comes up short. As a huge admirer of Mandela, I wanted to be deeply moved by this film. I wasn’t.

For starters, there’s the casting of Idris Elba in the title role. I know, I know…Elba is a terrific actor and extraordinarily studly, which is part of the problem. Look at the brooding look he gives in the poster for the movie…it’s more “The Wire” than peace, love and brotherhood.

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