It’s Idris Elba vs. a deranged lion in ‘Beast’

A man sits behind the wheel of a car looking terrified. The side window is cracked.
Idris Elba in the movie “Beast.”
(Lauren Mulligan / Universal Pictures)

Hey! It’s Sonaiya Kelley covering for Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Button-making at the Academy Museum. The museum’s Youth Programs team will host family-friendly drop-in workshops on Saturday in celebration of its latest exhibition, “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971,” on view from Sunday through April 9, 2023. Museum patrons are invited to create buttons and postcards featuring some of the Hollywood icons highlighted in the exhibition, including Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong and Hattie McDaniel. The workshops will be held from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the museum’s Shirley Temple Education Studio.

Sanaa Lathan in El Segundo … and the Arts District. This month, Rooftop Cinema Club is putting a spotlight on romance with love stories screening every week. On Saturday night, RCC will show two of Sanaa Lathan’s classic early aughts romantic movies, “Brown Sugar” (2002) and “Love & Basketball” (2000) at its El Segundo and downtown L.A. Arts District locations, respectively.

“Grease” under the stars. Street Food Cinema is hosting an outdoor screening of “Grease” on Saturday evening at Los Angeles State Historic Park. The screening, held in tribute to the late Olivia Newton-John, will kick off with a dance party featuring her top Billboard hits including “Physical,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Xanadu.” Proceeds will benefit the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, an independent charity that sponsors research into plant-based cancer treatments.

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Idris Elba goes up against a rogue Cujo-esque lion in Baltasar Kormákur’s “Beast,” which stars the British actor as Nathan, a recent widower on vacation in South Africa to reconnect with his grieving teenage daughters. The film, which relies on visual effects for its big cats, packs suspense and (intentional?) laughs into a tight 90-minute thriller that maintains a strong anti-poaching message despite the aforementioned Elba vs. lion wrestling match.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Most of the mayhem in ‘Beast’ is staged in lengthy, serpentine tracking shots that keep pace with the characters as they try to detect, evade and flee from a predator that might always be just a few lunges away. As his camera prowls the rugged terrain in precisely choreographed movements, Kormákur (working with cinematographer Philippe Rousselot) achieves a physical groundedness that makes even a digitally engineered predator seem palpably real.”

For USA Today, Brian Truitt wrote, “The over-the-top survival thriller definitely fits into the aesthetic of Hollywood’s August burn-off period, where bad (and so-bad-they’re-good) movies reign, though Elba’s charisma goes a long way in terms of enjoyability as do some hair-raising animal attacks. ... It isn’t Elba’s ‘Sharknado’ but also not exactly his ‘Out of Africa,’ so just enjoy this late-summer flick for what it does well: a primal fight between man and very mad lion that brings unhinged beauty to a rousing ‘Beast.’”

For the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney wrote, “As man vs. beast stories go, this one is neither the best nor the worst. Steven Price’s score keeps the tension high, and Elba and [Sharlto] Copley are good enough actors to deliver even the most pedestrian dialogue with conviction. ... [E]ven if it takes itself a tad too seriously, it delivers enough nail-biting stress and terror to justify a trip to the multiplex for action-thriller fans.”

For the Guardian, Benjamin Lee wrote, “‘Beast’ isn’t going anywhere you can’t predict from the trailer or even a simple logline but it’s a straight line confidently drawn, directed with more flair [than] one often gets from such material. ... There’s a string of intricate, if often cheated, ‘oners,’ swirling tracking shots that take us in and around characters and locations in ways we don’t expect. It’s not exactly ‘1917’ but it’s refreshing to see a piece of pulp such as this squeezed so carefully, involving us in the horror of it rather than leaving us at a distance.”

A man with sunglasses talks to a father and his two daughters outside a safari vehicle.
Sharlto Copley, left, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries and Idris Elba in “Beast.”
(Universal Pictures)

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‘Spin Me Round’

The charming and unpredictable “Spin Me Round” stars Alison Brie as the manager of an Olive Garden-knockoff Italian chain restaurant who is sent on a corporate retreat to Italy and soon attracts the ardor of the franchise’s CEO. Directed by Jeff Baena from a screenplay he co-wrote with Brie, the film boasts an ensemble cast including Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, Lil Rel Howery, Ego Nwodim and Fred Armisen.

For Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “‘Spin Me Round’ pays homage to, and lightly parodies, ’70s European erotic thrillers — it’s an indie comedy that flirts with the idea of being a giallo film but doesn’t quite go all the way. … [It] is engaging, thanks to the large cast of talented comedians, but it’s not really a parody, not quite an homage … meaning it never has to be earnest or pick a tone or deliver the splashy aesthetic excess of the genres that it indicates.”

For the Wrap, Carlos Aguilar wrote, “An Olive Garden commercial that devolves into ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ the film fluctuates between the two distinct modes of these tomes: the artificial, improbable fantasy of a vibrant European trip where all inhibitions are put on hold, and the fear-inducing suspicion that something perverse and worthy of uncovering might be unfolding right under the surface.”

For Variety, Peter Debruge wrote, “When you go to a restaurant like Olive Garden, you can take comfort in knowing what you’re going to get. The ‘Tour of Italy’ tastes the same in Times Square as it does in Tallahassee — which is true for most romantic comedies as well. Not this one. When it works, ‘Spin Me Round’ feels like finding a scorpion in your spaghetti.”

For IndieWire, Kate Erbland wrote, “Really, have you ever seen a Jeff Baena film? Five films into this directing thing, he’s not suddenly going to veer into easily digestible offerings, though ‘Spin Me Round’ offers enough wacky diversions to appeal to anyone looking for a chuckle.”

Three women and a man stand together, smiling, for a photo. Two women wear chef's uniforms.
From left, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Alessandro Nivola and Ayden Mayeri in “Spin Me Round.”
(IFC Films)

‘Delia’s Gone’

Stephan James stars as a man with an intellectual disability who is made to believe he killed his older sister in this murder-mystery from writer-director Robert Budreau. “Delia’s Gone” also features performances from Marisa Tomei and Paul Walter Hauser (now on the other side of the law after his chilling performance in the Apple TV+ limited series “Black Bird”).

For Movie Nation, Roger Moore wrote, “Too many ‘on the spectrum’ performances seem artificial, with behavioral parameters dictated by the necessities of the screenplay. James makes every word Louis says and every impulse he follows feel in the moment and organic.”

For AV Club, Luke Thompson wrote, “Though one might hope that ‘Delia’s Gone’ has something novel to offer, sadly it’s just another minor variation on the ‘sympathetic fugitive pursued by bickering lawmen’ formula that ‘Hell or High Water briefly reinvigorated.”

For the New York Times, Glen Kenny wrote, “One watches this movie with a persistent ‘this is just … wrong’ feeling. It’s not just the superficial depiction of Louis’s condition, or the facile depiction of racial dynamics, although those factors don’t help. Maybe it’s the pervasive self-seriousness in pursuit of what turns out to be nothing much at all.”

Stephan James and Genelle Williams in "Delia's Gone."
(Vertical Entertainment)