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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Cause we needed an updated version of a buffalo and human falling in love.

Belle (Emma Watson) is a bright, young, and beautiful girl who loves to read, doesn’t have herself a man, and doesn’t really know if she wants to have a family just yet. Due to this, everyone around her treats her like she’s a silly little girl, who doesn’t know much about the real world, except for what she reads in books. Her father (Kevin Kline), however, knows, understands, and loves her no matter what, which is why when he turns out to be captured and held hostage by the Beast in the big castle (Dan Stevens), she saves his life by sacrificing her own. And at first, for Belle, it’s a pretty terrible time – the Beast is mean, grumpy, and not all that fun to be around, and it seems like Belle will probably live the rest of her days miserable and depressed. Sure, there’s the talking objects around her that constantly console her and let her know that it’s all going to be okay, but for some reason, Belle just can’t get past the fact that she’s being held prisoner. Until, of course, her and the Beast begin to actually get to know one another, and then everything changes. For her, for him, and for everyone else surrounding them.

Oh, Belle. So innocent. So sweet. So feminist.

Did we really need a live-action Beauty and the Beast, considering that the original animated flick is downright perfect? Probably not, but hey, it’s Hollywood, so why not get one, eh? And honestly, the live-action update isn’t a soulless, boring and total manipulative cash cow that you’d expect – there’s some fun, some light, and some enjoyment to be had. But for the most part, it feels like the kind of movie that tries so much, for no real reason.

For instance, take the run-time. At just a little over two hours, this live-action update doesn’t just feel overlong, but rather unnecessarily plodding at times. There’s added-on songs, scenes, and even story-bits that, okay, do show some effort, but they really don’t go anywhere; the original movie was barely even 90 minutes and it was perfect for that reason alone. Adding on another 30 minutes doesn’t do much but just add more time for people to get bored and start realize that there’s more problems underneath it all.

Which isn’t to say that this live-action can’t be fun, because it definitely can.

It’s just that for a movie like this, if you’re looking for problems, you’ll find them. There’s a whole gay subtext involving Lefou, as played by Josh Gad, and Gaston, as played by Luke Evans, that just feels shoe-horned in and way too silly for its own good. Sure, I’m fine with gay characters in Disney movies and would definitely love more of them, but in this instance, it just feels forced – it’s almost as if those behind the screen were just deliberately trying to mess with the studio-heads and took the easy way out in doing so. Gad’s fine in the role and can be funny, but Evans, while hunky, charming and can belt them out like no tomorrow, also doesn’t feel right for this role because he’s, well, not necessarily as jacked or as huge as he’s supposed to be.

And that goes for a lot of the other cast-members, too. Everyone playing the objects in the castle are fine, with Ewan McGregor stealing the show as the most Scottish French candlestick ever, but others, like Watson and Stevens, for some reason, just don’t fit. Watson herself seems bland, and Stevens, depending on how much of the movie was him and not just CGI, tries what he can, but overall, it’s a thankless role left to voice-over. Also, their voices do leave a lot to be desired – why we’re not using voice-dubs anymore is totally beyond me and it proves to be a problem for this movie because, a good portion of the people here can’t really sing as much as they should. These songs, while definitely memorable, still need that huge, loud operatic voice that the original had, and with Watson, Stevens, Gad and others, it’s just not there.

Gay or not gay, it don’t matter.

The only heart and soul found here is from Kevin Kline’s Maurice, who gets to be sad and emotional, while also have some fun, too. It’s the true sign that above it all, Kline will always come out on top, because he’s not just a pro who can do it all, but proves why he’s always better than the material that he’s working with.

In other words, they should have just given the movie to him.

And trust me, I know that I’m doing a lot of hating on this flick, but it’s not totally the case. It’s still enjoyable, Bill Condon is a good director who knows how to make material like this click and pop, and the production-design, above everything, is a downright orgy of glitz and glam. It’s just that there are issues, none of which were found in the amazing, still watchable, still great, and always so lovely original.

So yeah Disney, stop trying so hard.

Consensus: Undeniably light, charming and often times, fun, Beauty and the Beast also suffers from being unnecessary and a little too long.

6 / 10

Tale as old as time? Between a buffalo and a human being?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Miss Sloane (2016)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to stick it to ’em.

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is one of the more infamous and controversial lobbyists working Washington. That has less to do with the fact that she actually gets her bills passed, as much as it has to do with her brash, cocky and sometimes incredibly arrogant attitude that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. When the company she’s working for decides that they want to get a gun-bill passed, Elizabeth’s good intentions kick in and it makes her realize that she doesn’t like the bill and wants her own gun-reform bill to pass instead. So, what does Elizabeth Sloane do? Well, she joins up with a rival company, gathers up her team of new and old coworkers, and sets out to take down the new bill, garnering as many votes for her own gun-reform bill that can. However, when you’re going up against so many big dogs on the hill, there comes a point where you may have to put up, or shut up – something that Elizabeth doesn’t want to do, and it may as well cost her, not just her career, but even her life.

Miss Sloane sounds so incredibly boring and lame. It’s as if all the grand-parents got together in a room, decided that they needed a movie that only they cared about, gathered together a huge crowd of talented people to work in it, and yeah, just watch the movie for themselves. But Miss Sloane, if anything, is not at all like that; the best way I can describe it is as being a cross between David Mamet, Aaron Sorkin, and Alan J. Pakula.

"I'm not terrible. Okay, maybe a little bit."

“I’m not terrible. Okay, maybe a little bit.”

Intrigued yet?

Well, if not, that’s okay. Miss Sloane, on-paper, doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would actually work or better yet, be entertaining in the slightest bit, but for some reason, director John Madden and first-time writer Jonathan Perera, come together so perfectly, matching their styles, needs and wants like a couple who’s been together for five decades, that it hardly ever bored me. It’s snappy, quick, jumpy, sometimes random, a little crazy, surprisingly very funny, and yeah, when they decide to slow things down every once and awhile, actually kind of heartfelt. Actually, not really, but that’s kind of what works.

See, Miss Sloane takes place in this all-too-real world where politics is a dirty and unforgiving game, where rich, powerful and corrupt people will continue to always crack down and ruin the much poorer and less-connected civilians who are, honestly, just trying to make the world a better place. It’s the typical worldview we see painted so very much, but it still works because, well, that’s exactly what happens in the sick, cruel and usually evil world of politics.

Because it paints this portrait so vividly, Miss Sloane never for once feels like it’s taking any cheap shots; it’s easy to get wrapped-up in this world of fast money, fast people, and fast crime, and almost forget that, oh yeah, this movie’s actually about getting a bill passed. Madden, as a director, has shown that he usually loves to take his movies as slow and as melodically as possible, actually keeps up the pace here, which as a result, helps ensure that no matter how many times it gets off-course, Perera’s score stays crackling and fun.

Most of that, of course, has to do with the fact that from the very beginning, the movie makes it awfully clear that, yes, these are smart people, doing smart things, in smart jobs, so why shouldn’t they sound smart?

It’s actually a lot of what follows Sorkin in his career and works so damn well for him, which is why I’ve been getting a little shocked by all of the criticism towards this movie. Most of the complaints seem to come from the fact that no real characters have any actual development to them, whereas the plot does, and it’s a pretty lame one at that. For one, it’s a two-hour long movie that, quite frankly, moved by so quick that I hardly noticed and/or cared about the lack of character-development and as for the other, well, yeah, the plot can be pretty lame.

"Man up, dammit!"

“Man up, dammit!”

I’m still not sure whether or not Perera’s original script had as many silly twists and turns in it, or if it was just another case of studio interference, but either way, the ones that do eventually come around in the later-portion of the movie are, for lack of a better term, silly. Sure, it’s hard to not expect a movie such as this to eventually fall into the melodramatic-trappings that it does, but it’s also not hard to expect a movie that’s as smart, that seems to know what it’s doing from the very bat, not roll into them to keep the audience excited and on-edge. It’s hard to talk about these few twists and turns without giving stuff away, but just know this: The twists and turns are silly and definitely keep Miss Sloane away from being an otherwise perfectly solid and exciting piece of thinking-man’s entertainment.

And yes, while I’m at it, I may as well talk about the character-development that I alluded to before, because well, yeah, there isn’t much here, but at the same time, I don’t feel that there needs to be.

Miss Sloane, the movie, from the very beginning makes it very clear that a good portion of these characters have no lives outside of their work; they are utterly and completely consumed by it and it takes over what exactly makes them who they are. In that sense, it’s understandable why we don’t get to know much about these characters, or the way they are, or how they act, outside of the idea of their professions. In a way, it’s kind of sad, but the movie doesn’t harp on that aspect too much and instead, shows us exactly why these characters have no lives, are so dedicated to their jobs, and more importantly, care so passionately about getting this bill passed.

And because of that, the amazing ensemble is better off for it, too. Everyone assembled here, honestly, is quite great, with hardly a single bad apple to be found in the pack – Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Allison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Douglas Smith – but really, the one to outshine them all is Jessica Chastain, playing our titled-lobbyist. Honestly, Chastain has never been better, mostly because her roles have never been nearly as daring as this; here, she gets the chance to play someone who is unlikable, doesn’t make excuses for it, and if someone has a problem with it, always has a snappy comeback, primed and ready to hit back with. The movie does make some attempt to develop her more, but mostly gets rid of that idea once it realizes that it’s sometimes best to just let Chastain do her thing and own every scene she’s in.

More roles like this for her, please. And also, more movies like this, please.

Consensus: Even if it does take some odd twists in the later-half, Miss Sloane is a fun, crackling, and spitfire thriller that may be about something as boring as getting a bill passed, but has just as many explosions and battles than any summer blockbuster.

8 / 10

Fourth-wall already broken?!? This movie has no rules!

Fourth-wall already broken?!? This movie has no rules!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Collider

Free States of Jones (2016)

Turns out, most racists don’t enjoy being on the end-side of a gun.

In 1863, Mississippi farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) served as a medic for the Confederate Army, where he treated and helped all sorts of soldiers who were either severely injured, slowly dying, or dead on arrival. Either way, it was terrible for Newt to be around and it made him see some unimaginable things that no man should ever have to see. And once his nephew dies in battle, Newt decides that he’s had it with the war and returns home to Jones County, his hometown. There, he safeguards his family, but therefore, is branded a deserter and chased by all army officials who are either looking to steal citizens goods and crops, or just looking to capture Newt and whoever else may be ducking the war. So now Newt has to run for the swamps and in there, he finds a fellow band of slaves, also trying to hide out and be free from the slavers, leading both Newt, as well as the slaves to create a union where they’ll fight-off the evil and corrupt army with all that they’ve got. It’s dangerous, but it leads to one of the biggest uprisings in U.S. history.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Director Gary Ross clearly has good intentions with Free State of Jones; in fact, so much so that it actually comes close to ruining the movie. There’s a lot that Ross has to cover and talk about here, and because of that, the movie runs in at nearly two-hours-and-19-minutes. For some, this may not be much of an issue, because there’s plenty to watch and learn about, but for mostly everyone else, it will just be a long, boring slog that never seems to end, never knows where it wants to go, nor ever seems any interest in actually exploring anything deeper than its message, which is, essentially, slavery was bad.

That’s it.

Free State of Jones, for its whole run-time, narrative choices, tricks, trades, and detours, eventually ends on a typical note that racism was bad, hating people for their skin-color is bad, and yeah, you should just be nicer to people. While this is definitely a fine statement to have in everyday life, this doesn’t really seem to break any new ground, nor open people’s minds up, especially when the movie is as long as this one is. And while I’m sure that this makes it appear that I didn’t like this flick, I’ll have you know, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, it’s messy, odd, confusing at points, and flawed, but there were bits and pieces of it that worked and interested me, long after having seen it.

Ross definitely has a lot he wants to talk about here and because of that, the movie can sometimes feel like a jumble; it’s also made even worse by the fact that his narrative-structure isn’t always the smartest to use. For example, he uses a lot of typeface that tells us what historical moments/occurrences are happening between scenes, as well as using a bunch of old-timey photos of certain characters and settings. And heck, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also frames it all with a story taking place in 1949, where a descendant of Newt Knight is trying to argue his race and family’s history.

They’re all interesting ideas to bring to a movie that covers as much ground as this one does, but are they the right ones?

Well, that’s kind of the issue with Free State of Jones – it takes a lot of risky steps, but doesn’t find a lot of them paying-off in the end. If anything, they seem to take away from the strength and the power of the actual, true story itself, in which a lot of bad things happen to good people and for all idiotic, except that, once again, this is all from history. Ross has an agenda and has something that he wants to say about the South, America’s history, and racism as a whole, and they’re all noble, but at the same time, it also keeps Free State of Jones from being a better movie. Sometimes, it’s just a little too messy and disjointed to really keep moving at a certain pace.

But for me, the pace actually worked for me. Ross isn’t trying to cram everything down our throats and at our eye-sockets all at one time – he takes his time, allowing for certain details about the story and these characters to come out, slowly, but surely. It’s very rare to get a big-budget, summer flick that doesn’t feel the need to go all crazy with explosions, guns, violence and a big, screeching score right off the bat; sometimes, all a movie needs to do is settle itself down to keep us on-track with everything that’s going on. Does it always work? Not really, but the times that it does, it helps make Free State of Jones a more interesting piece of history that, quite frankly, Hollywood seems to get wrong, or steer away from.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he's the man.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he’s the man.

And this is all to say that yes, Free State of Jones is violent, bloody, gruesome, and ugly, but in all the right ways. The movie is depicting a time in U.S. history that we all don’t like to look back on with smiles, so therefore, Free State of Jones gets as graphic as it humanly can about all of the mean and nasty injustices and deaths that occurred during this time. After awhile, it all gets to be a bit jarring, but that’s sort of the point; war, or even for that matter, violence, isn’t pretty, so why should a movie depicting it so much be?

Well, to answer that question: It shouldn’t.

And yes, the cast is quite good, even if it does sometimes feel as if they don’t always have a whole lot to do. Matthew McConaughey is as charming and likable as he can possibly be as Newt Knight, and it works in the character’s favor. You want to love his winning and charismatic smile, but you also want to believe that he is absolutely willing to sink to the lowest depths of humanity to protect himself, as well as those that he loves so much. Mahershala Ali plays Moses, a former slave who has some of the more emotional moments of the movie and quite frankly, they’re definitely needed. As for the women, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell, play two interesting characters in Newt Knight’s life that, honestly, I would have liked to see their own movie about.

Maybe in another flick, perhaps?

Or then again, maybe not.

Consensus: Disjointed, uneven and a bit nonsensical, Free States of Jones doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, narratively speaking, but still offers up plenty of interesting truths about America’s bloody, brutal, and sometimes upsetting history.

6 / 10

"To freedom! I think!"

“To freedom! I think!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Sorry, aliens. But Earth is kinda lame.

Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, only to then get to her job where she scrubs toilets for a living as a maid. It’s not an ideal life, but it’s the one she was handed. Which is why when she hears that she is, according to a galactic family, the powerful mother of Earth, she’s excited. Confused, but excited nonetheless. However, her excitement dies down once she relies that one of the members of the galactic family (Eddie Redmayne) wants her dead so that he can take over Earth and be the most powerful member of his family. Jupiter should have no fear, though, because a genetically-spliced ex-military member named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) comes to the rescue with his anti-gravity boots and all. So now, it becomes clear that Jupiter’s life is in danger and that Wise is there to protect her life so that she can reign supreme as Mother Earth, but there’s more political back-stabbing going on behind her back and, even if she doesn’t know it yet, her life still is in danger, no matter what.

There’s a problem with this plot that’s hard for me to fully out-line here. Not because I don’t want to give any of its juiciest secrets away, but because I myself sincerely haven’t the slightest clue as to what was really going on in this film half of the time. Sure, it can be somewhat simple to just label down the “baddies”, from the “goodies”, and work from there, but there’s a bigger problem with Jupiter Ascending that makes it feel like maybe the the Wachowskis were fighting for something a bit deeper here.

Something that yes, may definitely be relevant, but doesn’t quite work well for this movie in the long-run. Let me explain.

"Good evening, Jackie."

“Good evening, Jackie.”

We’re told to believe that Earth, as well as many other planets, are owned by a very powerful family; one that contains two brothers and a sister, none of which seem to fully get along well enough (sort of like real siblings). One sibling wants more control than the others, and because Earth is apparently the most prestigious planet to own, he goes for that one right away. Makes sense, but then the movie starts to get stranger and stranger as it runs along.

This is where I won’t spoil it for most of you out there, except to say that the Wachowskis, as much as I credit them with definitely thinking outside of the box here, as they often do, seem like they’re making most of this up as they go along. It’s hard to figure out who does what, to whom, for what reasons, and where, all inside this universe, which makes it more difficult to not only figure things out, but get invested in the story a whole lot more. There’s many scenes where the Wachowskis want the audience to get up, cheer and be absolutely shocked by whatever has just happened, but because the story is so all-over-the-place at times, it never clicks inside the audience’s head that, “Oh yeah! The good guy’s are winning! Woo-hoo!”.

I’m not saying that we need to be spoon-fed every single detail about a new universe we’re being introduced to, but it would help if there was just a bit more help in figuring certain things out about it.

That said, Jupiter Ascending is a pretty fun movie. Get past all of the problems with the plot and its mechanisms, and believe it or not, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Which is, yet again, much to the credit of the Wachowskis, because they always seem to know when the right time is to throw an action scene for good measure, wake its audience up, and keep them wanting more. Because not only does the movie look wonderful, but it also feels like its own kind of breed of sci-fi – sure, it’s confusing sci-fi, but it’s one of the rare sci-fi movies to come out in recent time where I didn’t feel like that they ripped so many other movies off, that it’s an absolute wonder how a bunch of lawyers didn’t get called-up.

The Wachowskis know better and for that, the movie moves at a steady-pace that keeps most of its plot easy-to-disregard, especially during the action-bits. One sequence that excited me the most was a high-flying chase in/and around the skies of Chicago, which apparently took six months to shoot, and with good reason. It seems like a lot of time was dedicated to this sequence looked, felt, and came off the screen, and same goes for the rest of the look of the movie.

Now, if only the Wachowskis paid as much as attention to their story, then we’d probably have a bigger winner on our hands here, but sadly we do not. Instead, Jupiter Ascending is serviceable at best. The Wachowskis have a weird, almost off-kilter sense of humor that sometimes translates well into their pieces (see Cloud Atlas), and sometimes doesn’t even show up (see Speed Racer), but here, they seem like they have the right fit for the tone; they don’t throw a joke in there for an easy-gag to liven everything up when it gets too serious. Because the world is as crazy and slap-dash as they created it to be, they’re practically given free reign to throw any wild gags at us that they want. Sometimes, it’s never clear whether the gags they present are meant to be taken seriously, but regardless, it’s always a joy to laugh, look and point at something incredibly ridiculous as this.

Seriously. Who comes up with that kind of stuff?

I am sworn to secrecy on whether or not this dude dies.

I am sworn to secrecy on whether or not this dude dies.

Speaking of such ridiculous-looking beings here, Channing Tatum is saddled with a goofy-attire as half-man, half-wolf and it actually works for him. This is probably because Tatum himself moves and jostles himself around with the same ability of a member of the wolf pack, but because his character seems like a true bad-ass. You can tell that the Wachowskis are going for some sort of Han Solo anti-hero with Caine Wise, and while he’s not nearly that interesting of a character, it’s still fun to watch as C-Tates flies through the sky on those anti-gravity boots, kicking ass, taking names, and still being able to charm even the most heterosexual man out of his boots.

But don’t be fooled, Jupiter Ascending is more of Mila Kunis’ movie than anything, and with good reason – the girl’s downright cute. Kunis’ character acts us, in that everything being taught to her, is being taught to us, as well, and she works well with that role; she’s easily relatable and feels like a normal human being, without being overly-annoying or surprised by this wacky world she’s thrown into. You could make the argument that maybe her character is a tad too comfortable with this new, crazy, and insane world she’s been thrown into, but it’s hard to have any problems with a character played by Kunis, which also made it better to see that she’s not the typical female you see in these kinds of movies. Sure, she needs the help of Caine Wise every so often, but for the most part, she makes her own decisions and, when push comes to shove, takes some matters into her own hands. Right on, girl.

The rest of the cast is an interesting ensemble, even if most of them feel as if they’re hamming it up for the rafters to hear. Oscar-nominated Eddie Redmayne gives a campy performance as Balem, the bad brother of the family that’s trying to go after Jupiter and feels like he’s been plucked right out of a drag show, and thrown right onto our screens, with perfect delight; Douglas Booth is another bro who may, or may not be a baddie, and the mystery surrounding him is a bit of fun; Sean Bean shows up as one of Wise’s old pals and confidantes, and feels like the rough and ragged dude who has seen, and done it all; and randomly enough, in what I’m sure was a role she did before her career was about to take off, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has a bit role as a kick-ass security-guard. It’s small, but man, it made me wish there was more of her to see.

Consensus: The overly-convoluted plot may be hard to get past, but as a sci-fi, action-thriller from the wicked mind of the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending is still fun and well-paced enough to make the two hours slip on by. Even if you’re still scratching your head by the end of it all.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Just imagine some Chris Brown playing in the background, and you're set, ladies.

Just imagine some Chris Brown playing in the background, and you’re set, ladies.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Beyond the Lights (2014)

If only Britney answered my calls, then this could have been my story.

Ever since she was a little girl, Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knew she had a talent. She didn’t know quite where to go with that talent, but she didn’t have any fear, because her mother (Minnie Driver) always did. Many years later, Noni is the new, hot, young thing that graces screens with her sexy looks, rapper-boyfriend, and highly glamorous life. However though, while it all looks perfect for Noni on the outside, underneath it all, therein lies a hurt, pained woman that just wants the world to look at her for what she is, not what she appears to be. Knowing that this isn’t a possibility, she decides to hell with it, looks over her hotel room’s ledge and thinks about taking the leap, but her assigned bodyguard for the night, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), rescues her and remind her that he sees her for what she is. This brings all sorts of publicity and though the two don’t quite know what to do with it, a relationship between them blossoms. But when you’re life is constantly under scrutiny, like most celebrity’s lives are, it’s hard to get the truth from someone you think you’ve really grown connected to.

When it comes to me and romance movies, there’s a deal between two parties that has to be made: If you are able to give me a believable enough romance between two human specimens that feels real, then you can do all that you want. The meet-cute; the blossoming of the relationship; the witty, yet supportive best friends; the first usages of the “L word”; the eventual conflict that comes between the two; the argument that separates the two from one another; the possibility of moving on; and, of course, the getting back together, where everybody, especially the couple at the center, live happily together and forever. These are the types of cliches I’ve come to know and expect from these types of romance films, which, for the most part, hardly ever do anything to me.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

It’s not that I’ve never been in a loving relationship with another human being, and it’s not that I don’t have the capability of loving anybody in this world, it’s more that I find it incredibly difficult to buy into whatever conventions a movie will throw at me, concerning the ideas of why a romance starts in the first place. Some movies have come by my eyes and surprised the hell out of me; not because they’ve actually used these ideas in a refreshing way, but because they’ve actually made it feel relatable, even to those who haven’t yet had a love in their life. Then again though, these movies are the same kinds that hardly ever get made and, for the most part, fall by the waist side, only to be seen by a few of those “cool, hip kids” that think love is too mainstream, man.

But this what surprised me the most about Beyond the Lights – it’s a movie based in all of these corny, manipulative cliches and conventions I’ve seen nearly a hundred times before, the romance at the center is still rich enough to win me over at the end of the day. One could definitely compare this to the Bodyguard, or A Star is Born, or any other movie that concerns a superstar celebrity hooking up with a normal, everyday person and realizing how perfect the simple life is, but there’s a feeling to this film that not only knows these comparisons will be made, but also doesn’t care because it has a story to tell. It’s a very by-the-numbers story, at that, but one that’s easy to get behind, solely because of the solid chemistry between co-stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker; two young talents that are clearly on the verge of breaking out and really making a dent in the film world.

When these two aren’t together, they still do very good jobs in portraying their characters in an honest, understandable manner that makes it easy to point out the identifiable character-troupes, but still fall for regardless. Mbatha-Raw plays Noni as who she appears to be: A Rihanna-like pop star that’s slowly, but surely making that transition from being the one artist that’s constantly featured on big name’s tracks, to being the one who people want to get featured on her songs. She’s sort of like how Nicki Minaj started out – constantly being featured on these records and making an impression with whatever she does or says, and eventually, getting her own chance to break out on her own.

With less booty, but still, a pop star nonetheless.

Anyway, with Noni, Mbatha-Raw channels a hurt, tendered soul who, in all honesty, just wants to stop feeling the pressure from all those around her and live a simple, drama-free life. It’s easy for us, the audience, to scoff at this kind of character, and tell her to shut up and just enjoy her millions and millions of dollars, never-ending bottles of crystal, and opportunities to bang some of the hottest stars in the mainstream media, but because Mbatha-Raw looks so innocent, we sympathize with Noni and it’s not hard to. We know that there’s possibly more to her than what’s presented in all the glitz and glamour, and because of this, we want to see her at least succeed in getting out of it, if only it’s for a little while.

Same goes for Parker’s Kaz; though he’s a simple guy, living a simple life, who has a simple job as a cop, he still feels the pressure from his dad and constituents who want him to run for mayor and succeed at that to. This part of the story is a little tacked-on, I felt, but it still brought out some depth within this Kaz character that I don’t think we would have gotten otherwise, so it was okay enough. But Parker’s the main reason why this character works as well as he does; he seems like a nice guy, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t want him to get taken advantage of, just so that this Noni gal could a little bit of an escape away.

I can assure you, he's not a stripper. Wouldn't be surprised though.

I can assure you, ladies, he’s not a stripper. Wouldn’t be surprised though.

Together though, the two bring out so much within the opposite performer, that their relationship together feels honest, down-to-Earth, and a hell of a lot more raw than I was expecting it to. There’s this lovely 20-minute sequence where both of these characters decide to take a trip out to Mexico and you can tell that it’s meant to be peaceful, sweet, and altogether, a very romantic time together, and that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t hit us over the head or anything, but much rather, tell us that these characters deserve to be together, and forever, so long so as that they don’t get bogged down by all of the gossip publications out there.

That said, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite keep up with them. There’s about four different endings here, and hardly any of them were satisfying. Rather than allowing the movie to end on a tender, small note, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood constantly feels the need to have to end this story on a huge, over-dramatized note, that we see most Hollywood films use. It gets tiresome real quick and after awhile, you’ll begin to wish that the movie continued to fall back on its leads, especially considering they were so watchable and interesting to begin with.

Consensus: Sometimes manipulative, sometimes not, Beyond the Lights mostly gets by on its co-star’s honest chemistry together, but too many times, feels like it’s trying too hard to give everybody in the audience what they want, and actually forgetting about its main characters in the first place.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Belle (2014)

Good thing she didn’t have to wear one of those horrendous powdered-wigs.

When Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)’s mother dies, her white, Royal Navy officer father (Matthew Goode) takes her in and leaves her at his uncle and aunt’s (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) place, in hopes that she’ll not only be treated fairly, but also have the same wealth, tender, love and care that he had. It’s hard considering that Dido is of mixed-race, which means that more than a few people will whispering about her, but the Mansfield’s get by and allow Dido to dine with them when nobody else is around, and be, essentially, a playmate of sorts for Dido’s own cousin, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon), whose father left her with absolutely nothing but shambles. As Dido and Elizabeth grow older, they both realize that it’s time for a man in their lives, which also means getting hitched-off to somebody whom has more, or at least as much, money as you do. Since Dido’s father left her with a lot of cash-money to get cozy with, all sorts of men come knocking at her door-step. However, to Dido, it doesn’t matter how rich, how powerful, or how cool any of these men are, all she wants is somebody who is smart, nice, and respectful to her; which, from what it seems like, she has found. Except it’s not with somebody of a very high status, it’s a young, but ambitious lawyer by the name of John Davinier (Sam Reid), who seems to be working on a case with Dido’s uncle that may strike as some importance, especially to her.

Anytime a person thinks about racism, better yet, slavery, where is the place they most often connect that disgusting term to? The dirty, deep and dark South. However, what’s strange to find out is that not only was slavery happening all around us, but in different parts of the world as well. This may not seem like as much of a shocker to anybody with half-a-brain, but after all of the constant talking and loving of 12 Years a Slave, it’s kind of a nice change-of-pace to get a movie that not only deals with the same themes as that movie, but done so in a way that isn’t nearly as brutal, nor isn’t anywhere to be found in the South with Michael Fassbender yelling, preaching, dancing and raping all over the place.

Of course every woman's dream guy looks like 17th Century Rob Van Dam .

Of course every woman’s dream guy looks like 17th Century Rob Van Dam .

Thank heavens for that, too. Because honestly, I think I can only handle watching something like that every so often.

Anyway, what makes Belle so unique, isn’t just the idea that it takes place in Britain and deals with an dark-skinned lady having to get used to the old school, preppy British ways these people were so accustomed to; it’s that the movie doesn’t try to preach its heart out about what it is trying to get across. Sure, there are plenty of moments where it seems like the script is just yelling at us, “Pay attention to how important and powerful I am!!!”, but other times, it felt like the movie was going for more of a character-study about who this Belle woman was, and why the position she was thrown into, sort of sucked. But by the same token, why she was lucky that she wasn’t worse off.

In fact, if there was any problem I had with this movie, it was that the tone and overall mood of this thing was a bit off. I get that costume dramas are supposed to be quiet and filled with emotional moments of people professing their love one another in the pouring rain, but there were too many times here where I felt like director Amma Asante wanted to go in one direction with this movie, but then, for some odd reason, decided to say, “Aw, fuck it!”, and changed everything up. It’s hard to explain for somebody who hasn’t seen this movie and doesn’t want it to be spoiled for them, but it goes a little something like this: For every quiet, subtle moment of either racism or class-warfare, there’s a loud, over-the-top scene in which somebody is saying something emotional, and totally meaning it.

In a way, it’s part-Jane Eyre (the 2011 version), and part-Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth-starring version). Easy comparisons I know, but they’re both costume-dramas that feel like they have one set mood/tone, and they absolutely stick with it. No changing up from scene-to-scene; just one, cohesive thread. However here, with Belle, it always felt like that thread was being pulled this way, then put back into place, and then pulled again. It never seemed to do its story as much justice as it should have.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some juicy bits to be found, especially whenever a character would get into a shouting argument with another character, in what I can only describe as “19th century rich people fighting”; however, they didn’t always last. The story itself may all be true, however, that still doesn’t keep it away from being a tad corny and made for somebody who can appreciate these types of Jane Austen period-pieces.

Notice how I said “somebody”, and not just “women”. Trying to keep it safe over here, people.

Anyway, the only aspect in which this flick really seemed to hit its stride, was with the ensemble cast of characters. For some odd reason, Matthew Goode gets his name high up there on the poster, despite practically being in the movie for less than five minutes. Guess he was just too charming and handsome to let go of for good. As for the two peeps playing his aunt and uncle, as predicted, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are terrific and show us two sides to the way in which Belle needed to be brought-up. Watson’s character is more of a prickly, stern woman, whereas Wilkinson’s is a bit more about expressing one’s self, being who you are and not letting up for anyone, no matter what they say. In fact, Wilkinson saves this movie’s script a couple of times from sounding so hokey, that it could have been “laugh-out-loud hilurrious”. However, that’s just what you get when you sign Tom Wilkinson to a movie: He’s always going to assure you that you get the best that he can deliver on.

Oh ladies! You must stop looking so revealing!

Oh ladies! You must stop looking so revealing!

However, the stand-out of this cast is the one who plays our titled-character Belle herself, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Yes, the name is a bit hard to pronounce (Goo-goo M-Bath-a-Ra), but once you can get past that fact, you’ll realize that there is a lot to this gal that’s just waiting to be revealed. If nobody remembers just who exactly Mbatha-Raw is, she’s that cool, hip chick from Larry Crowne. The movie itself wasn’t anything at all close to being special, but she made something about it seem so everytime she showed up, getting us away from the fact that she also happened to be playing the girlfriend of Wilmer Valderrama’s character for some odd reason.

But the past is the past, people! We, as a society, must get past that and take her for what she is, and what Gugu Mbatha-Raw is, is a great actress. She’s a name not too many people know about, but I feel like she may be able to get out there now and show the world what she’s got, because her performance as Dido is pretty stunning. She, just like Wilkinson and Watson, seems to come from the same school of “subtle acting” that really helps her character develop and morph as time goes on. At first, she’s a small, naive girl that doesn’t really know how she feels about anything in the world, including herself, but as time goes on, she starts to see the world for the wide, wonderful canvas that it has, with sometimes beautiful, and sometimes ugly things happening in it. Once she starts to see everything there is to see about this world around her, it’s not only done well, but makes us see Dido for what she is: A young woman who has been sheltered her whole life and is ready to take it on with all she’s got. She”s a bit of a cliche, but Mbatha-Raw helps her get past that and have us believe in her.

Hopefully this means bigger, better, and brighter things for our gal, Gugu. Maybe now is the time she should get the rare advice to, in fact, “stay away from Tom Hanks.” Just saying.

Consensus: Sometimes, Belle is thought-provoking, smart and subtle, whereas other times, it’s obvious, cloying and all too much like other costume-dramas of the same vein, however, the cast is always consistently great and make this totally worth watching, especially if you want to be the person who says that they “knew that Gugu chick before everybody else did”.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Why's her hat fresher than mine? Is it because I'm black?!!?!"

“Why’s her hat sexier than mine? Is it because I’m black?!!?!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Larry Crowne (2011)

Forrest is all old now, and out of a job.

After being laid off from his longtime job at a soulless retail giant, average middle-aged guy Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) decides it’s time to change up his life, so he heads back to college. There, he finds a new perspective — and a new romance with a professor (Julia Roberts).

This is Tom Hank’s big return to the director’s chair after almost 14 years, and although it’s not a perfect welcome back, I still have to say that I’m glad he’s still happy.

The screenplay was co-written by Hanks and buddy Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and for the most part it had me smiling more than I actually rolled my eyes. What I liked about this film is how it was sort of a comedy, with just the slightest hint of romance, but in the end it was about a dude re-discovering himself amidst this huge recession the country is going through.

For the most part, I liked watching Larry Crowne just interact with everybody around him and just go about his day with such a smile, and mainly because it had me going on through this film with a smile as well myself. There were a couple of chuckles here and there but to say the least, it’s nothing hilarious which isn’t really what this film was gunning for.

However, there still are plenty of problems to be had with this one. I thought this was a cute little movie, but there were too many parts where I felt like this film just had the forced “cuteness” to it. Like the snapping motorcycle gang, or the romance with Roberts and Hanks, and the little supporting characters that chime in every once and awhile. This sort of bothered me because I didn’t think the film had many fresh ideas that could actually be viewed as funny, so instead Hanks and Vardalos just aimed for sweet and thought they could get away with it. Not so much.

I also still don’t know why this film is being hugely advertised as a rom-com when the whole romantic angle only comes in the film when there’s only 30 minutes left. Once the romance gets started, you know exactly where it’s going from there, which is no surprise to anyone who goes to see a romantic comedy in today’s world. They could have left that angle totally out of the film, or done something with Roberts’ character that would make her less of a romantic lead and more of a bigger part of the story that had to do with Larry Crowne’s impact on the others around him.

Tom Hanks is still incredibly likable no matter what here as Larry Crowne. In some ways, it would have been very creepy watching this 50-year old guy walk around with kids 20 years younger than him, but Hanks just has that appeal that makes it seem less strange and more cool. Hanks is a pro no matter what, and he makes Larry Crowne so damn likable that I just wanted to hang with him more throughout this film. Julia Roberts is playing her usual hot and sexy, but still sassy and spicy diva as  the always drunken teacher Mercedes Tainot. Roberts has that appeal about her that even though she’s playing a bitch she still knows how to make her character so damn likable despite her looks. These two chemistry feels easy and relaxed to work with which really benefited a lot of their scenes together.

The rest of the supporting cast is filled with a whole bunch of crazy names like Wilmer Valderrama (could have swore he was dead), George Takei, Pam Grier, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, and Taraji P. Henson. They all do a good job but I have to say that I was incredibly surprised by a really good performance from this chick named Gugu Mbatha-Raw (a name I still can’t pronounce). She’s cute, funny, and keeps the film’s heart running the whole time. Hope to see more of her.

Consensus: With it’s problem’s of being way too cute for no reason, Larry Crowne may not be the funniest thing to see, but the cast, especially an always likable Hanks, a cool and relaxed pace, and good themes make this a good watch for people who just had their mid-life crisis’, as well as for people who just want a smile.

6/10=Rental!!