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Belle

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Inspired by true events, BELLE tells the story of a mixed race woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle who is born the illegitimate daughter of a British Royal Navy Admiral. Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) only knows her father for a few moments before he sets sail, leaving her in the care of her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson). With wealth and lineage supporting her, Dido exists in a unique yet lonely layer of England’s class-conscious society, above slaves and commoners, but never truly accepted by the aristocracy because of the color of her skin. After meeting a vicar’s son, Dido finds both her passions and her convictions ignited, and her beliefs are soon pitted against Lord Mansfield’s as the fate of slavery in England hangs in the balance.

Often with dramatic period pieces, performances are stilted and dialogue is unwieldy, a symptom of filmmakers struggling with showcasing propriety while still allowing characters to be believable and engaging. BELLE avoided such conventions, allowing the cast to wear their characters as comfortably as an old, broken-in jacket. The dialogue at the beginning of the film is perhaps a bit stilted, but this seems intentional as a means to show Dido conforming to high-society’s guidelines. As she finds her own path, the film progressively opens up, allowing a full range of emotions, from joy, to self-hatred, to love, to uncertainty to rule the characters.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

The comedic beats in BELLE were the most surprising, and most welcome, addition. Penelope Wilton has very little overall screen time, but every second that she portrays Lady Mary Murray, the spinster governess who manages Kenwood House, is comedic gold. Director Amma Asante allows Wilton’s nuanced facial expressions and impeccable sense of timing provide mirth to a film the juggles weighty issues. Miranda Richardson is also at the top of her game here, playing a money-hungry noble with her eyes on Dido’s fortune.

As the titular Belle, Gugu Mbatha-Raw emerges as a powerhouse of an actress with the right blend of charisma and poise to nail her performance. Perhaps the most powerful scene of the film features Mbatha-Raw facing a mirror, slowly and mournfully trying to wipe away her skin color. While this isn’t exactly a novel sequence in and of itself, Mbatha-Raw wisely chooses to use a subtle hand during this scene instead of giving way to maudlin over-acting or histrionics. This helps cement Dido’s confusion; she feels both cursed by her skin color, and blessed than she is awarded freedoms that are awarded to neither black women nor wealthy white women who are forced to marry as soon as they come of age.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Despite my praise, BELLE is not a perfect movie. The sound design is awkward, with the film’s beautiful score often blaring over scenes that might thrive with a more subtle approach, and Tom Felton is a bit too on-the-nose as the dastardly James Ashford. Still, these are minor quibbles. BELLE is a most satisfying film, one that is pleasing to both the eye and to the heart, and should not be missed by any fans of historical dramas.

BELLE can be seen in limited markets now, with theatrical openings in Austin at Violet Crown Cinema and Regal Arbor Cinemas on 5/23/14.

4 / 5

William Lindus
williamlindus@moviebears.com
thelinduslist.jux.com
thelinduslist.com
moviebearspodcast.com
#moviebears

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Wise Guys Don’t ROB THE MOB

ROB THE MOBFilled with more bravado than common sense, young lovers Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie (Nina Arianda) embark on a series of robberies targeting Mafia social clubs Raymond de Felitta’s ROB THE MOB. Armed with an uzi and a get away car, Tommy and Rosie discover that mobsters don’t bring guns to their social clubs, making them easy marks. Since the Mafia is an illegal operation that thrives by staying just off the radar, reporting these robberies to the police is impossible. However, when Tommy and Rosie stumble across a list outlining the names and ranks of the entire operation, they find themselves the focal point of the attention of the mob, law enforcement agencies, and a curious reporter. 

ROB THE MOBIt is a challenge to classify a film like ROB THE MOB. The absurdity of Tommy’s actions, and his unwillingness to believe that he might be making obvious mistakes, adds an awkward humor to the script, amplified by his near-bumbled heists. One of the funniest sequences of the film occurs as Tommy struggles with his uzi during a robbery, then accidentally sprays bullets recklessly around the bar. ROB THE MOB also showcases poignant dramatic sequences that ground the story and keep it from going off the rails. In a way, this lack of focus could be viewed as confusion on the part of the filmmaker, and indeed, some of the film’s pacing felt a tad clumsy. That said, the film’s identity confusion provides a happy accident of sorts, keeping it from straying too far into either screwball or maudlin territory.

Be it a drama or a comedy, at its core, ROB THE MOB is a love story between a pair of young lovers who simply don’t know any better. It would be easy to paint the pair as simple, clueless thieves who bite of more than they can chew, but ROB THE MOB lets the characters display exuberant passion and a dim charm that makes them impossible to root against. Fans of films like TRUE ROMANCE or BONNIE AND CLYDE should appreciate the spirit of the romance, even if the lovers find themselves involved in a self-inflicted precarious balancing act between what’s right and what’s profitable. Nina Arianda stands out amongst an already talented cast, cracking a sincere, if goofy grin whenever the film starts to take itself too seriously.

ROB THE MOB
The film suffers a bit by trying to provide too many emotional layers to its supporting cast. From the weary mob boss (Andy Garcia) to the special agent (Frank Whaley) to the investigative report (Ray Ramano), everyone whose lives are touched by Tommy and Rosie ends up embarking on an emotional journey to evaluate their own actions. With more balance, this might have been effective, but here, it comes across as merely ham-fisted. This results in a defanged Mafia that are viewed in a bizarrely nostalgic light in some sequences of the film, surely against de Felitta’s intentions.

ROB THE MOB tries to be too many things to be considered a great film, but the love affair between Tommy and Rosie and the charismatic performances by Pitt and Arianda are enough to make it a good film. If you’re the type of person that enjoys seeing love thrive despite challenging circumstances, ROB THE MOB might just steal your heart.

7 / 10

William Lindus
williamlindus@moviebears.com
thelinduslist.jux.com
thelinduslist.com
moviebearspodcast.com
#moviebears

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NOAH and the Return of the Biblical Hollywood Extravaganza

NOAH

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead. Nothing major, but still… you’ve been warned.

It is a fallacy to think that the technical and narrative strengths of a film can be completely divorced from the social context that often shades our emotional reaction to that film. In a lot of ways, I would love to simply dive in to a review of Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH. Is it a good film? Is it entertaining? Does it leave an impact? Unfortunately, the social context of this film, as well as the many lenses through which this film can possibly be viewed, colors my answer. I ask that you indulge me as I explore some of these lenses before I give my own personal reaction to the film.

Biblical films come pre-weighted with a good deal of bias these days, and have ever since the Moral Majority placed its stamp on popular media in the 1980s. Modern Biblical films like the Kirk Cameron LEFT BEHIND series, FIREPROOF, and to a lesser degree, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, garner large amounts of attention from a niche audience comprising heavily of extreme fundamentalists, while also invoking the ire of the smug anti-religious type. Both groups are at polar opposite ends of the spectrum; most people fall somewhere in between, caring very little if the films succeed or fail. This makes Biblical films difficult to market outside of the niche crowd, and presented Darren Aronofsky with a peculiar problem: do you design a film for the fundamentalist, or do you create a subversive work designed to get the anti-religious type in your corner? To his credit, Aronofsky did neither, but we’ll get back to that in a moment. Read the rest of this entry »

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