Belle

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated PG for smoking, mature themes and ethnic insensitivity.

18th C. Biopic Revisits Life Of Ex-Slave Raised As Aristocrat

Born in theWest Indiesin 1761, Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the product of the taboo union of Mary Belle, an African slave, and John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a British ship captain. Upon Mary’s death, the concerned father brought his eight-year-old daughter to England to see whether his well-heeled aunt and uncle might be willing to take her in.

After all, Lady (Emily Watson) and Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) had just adopted another niece whose own mom had passed away. Plus, since Dido and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) were about the same age, the orphaned girls could conceivably keep each other company.

Captain Lindsay further argued that his daughter was entitled to live on the family estate by virtue of her noble birthright. This prompted a skeptical Lady Mansfield to speculate about whether skin color ranked above or below bloodline in polite society.

Ultimately, she did agree to raise Dido, and the young cousins proceeded to forge a close friendship that would last a lifetime. In fact, proof of their enduring bond would be preserved for posterity in a striking portrait of the pair commissioned in 1779.

That famous painting apparently served as the source of inspiration for Belle, a mesmerizing biopic based on a speculative script by Misan Sagay. Directed by Amma Asante, the riveting historical drama continues the recent cinematic trend of reexamining race from the black perspective, à la Django Unchained, The Retrieval and Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave.

Here, the picture focuses primarily on Dido andElizabeth’s coming-of-age against the backdrop of a country increasingly uneasy about its involvement in the slave trade. After being fairly protected during childhood, racism rears its ugly head when the boy-crazy girls start entertaining the overtures of appropriate suitors outside the safe confines of the family manse.

Meanwhile, tension builds around a legal decision set to be handed down by their uncle in his capacity as Chief Justice of England’s Supreme Court. The case revolved around a trading company that was seeking compensation from its insurance company for the loss of over a hundred Africans who had been deliberately drowned.

The question Judge Mansfield was being asked to settle was whether or not slaves should be considered human or mere cargo that could be thrown overboard for financial gain at the whim of the owner. The longer he agonizes over the ruling, the more pressure he feels to issue a far-reaching, landmark opinion likely to signal the death knell of an odious institution.

An 18th C. tale of race and romance told in a sophisticated fashion reminiscent of the best of Jane Austen.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 104 minutes

 

 

The M Word

Rainbow Releasing

Rated R for profanity and sexual references

Siblings Adjust To Menopause In Entertaining Tale Of Female Empowerment

Menopause apparently affects women differently, even if they happen to share the same genes, as is the case with Carson (Frances Fisher), Rita (Mary Crosby) and Louise (Eliza Roberts). Each of these sisters is struggling to maintain her dignity while dealing with the fallout from the so-called “Change of Life.”

FrustratedCarsondescribes feeling for months on end “like I don’t have any control.” By contrast, Rita’s body chemistry is so confused by the assortment of medicines and creams she uses that she wants to murder her husband one minute, and to make love to him the next. Meanwhile, relatively-macabre Lulu relies on humor to cope with her constant obsession with death.

At an informal gathering with her siblings,Carsonannounces that she just impulsively left her husband (Gregory Harrison) and moved in with her daughter (Tanna Frederick). But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be able to avoid Mack entirely, since he’s a sportscaster at the same local television station where Moxie plays a dog on a wacky kiddie series.

The plot thickens when network executive Charlie Moon (Michael Imperioli) arrives in town fromNew Yorkwith plans to implement programming changes to reverse the station’s plummeting ratings. However, he is distracted at first sight by foxy Moxie who is not above using her powers of seduction to save her own neck, if not her struggling show. Further complicating matters is the fact that she not only recently missed her period, but is stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with her producer (Corey Feldman).

That is the incestuously-intriguing point of departure of The M Word, a sophisticated ensemble dramedy written and directed by the legendary Henry Jaglom (Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?). The picture’s soap opera-style premise basically serves as a launching pad for frank discussions about the biologically-determined plight of women of a certain age.

As humorous as it is sobering, Jaglom proves as masterful as ever at creating fascinating characters designed to make you both laugh and reflect. His raw tale of female empowerment revolves around uncompromisingly-realistic discussions of menopause ranging from night sweats to mood swings to depression to atrophied vaginas to cramps to forgetfulness to a loss of skin elasticity.

After venting their angst interminably, our heroines eventually get around to resolving their crises in entertaining fashion before the curtain comes down on a decidedly upbeat note (“There is nothing like being a girl!”), thus allowing the audience to exit the theater with a big smile on its collective face.

Such a satisfying cinematic treat that the “M word” might very well be “Marvelous!”

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 111 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening May 2, 2014

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PG-13 for action and sci-fi violence) Second installment in re-booted Marvel Comics franchise finds your friendly neighborhood superhero (Andrew Garfield) wooing Gwen (Emma Stone) while protecting New York from a few formidable new foes (Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Paul Giamatti). With Sally Field, Chris Cooper, Denis Leary, Colm Feore and Embeth Davidtz.

 

Altered States Of Plaine (Unrated) Sci-fi thriller revolving around a young fugitive (George Gallagher) on the run from the government who is desperate for a cure from a mysterious affliction that has him waking up in a different place whenever he falls asleep. (In English and French with subtitles) With Kether Donohue, Michael P. Mathis and Donald Pritt.

 

The Bachelor Weekend (Unrated) Buddy comedy, set in Dublin, about a bride-to-be (Amy Huberman) who recruits her ex (Andrew Scott) to plan her fiance’s bachelor party, an overnight camping trip to the Irish countryside (Hugh O’Conor) with his friends and her obnoxious brother (Peter McDonald). Featuring Brian Gleeson, Michael Legge and Andrew Bennett.

 

Decoding Annie Parker (R for profanity and sexuality) Samantha Morton handles the title role in this fact-based drama about a woman’s fight against the same hereditary form of breast cancer that claimed the life of her mother and sister. With Helen Hunt, Rashida Jones, Marley Shelton, Maggie Grace and Alice Eve.

 

For A Woman (Unrated) Romance drama exploring the mystery of undying love from the perspective of a daughter (Sylvie Testud) deconstructing her parents’ (Benoit Magimel and Melanie Thierry) enduring marriage. Cast includes Nicolas Duvauchelle, Julie Ferrier and Denis Podalydes. (In French with subtitles)

 

Friended To Death (R for profanity and crude sexual references) Dark comedy revolving around a social media junkie (Ryan Hansen) who fakes his own death online just to see whether any of his supposed friends come to the funeral. With James Immekus, Zach McGowan, Pancho Moler and Angela Bullock.

 

Ida (PG-13 for mature themes, sexuality and smoking) Skeleton-out-of-the-closet drama, set in Poland in 1962, about an orphan (Agata Trzebuchowska) raised in a Catholic convent who learns that she was born Jewish just as she’s set to take her vows as a nun. Co-starring Jerzy Trela, Halina Skoczynska and Agata Kulesza. (In Polish with subtitles)

 

Jobriath A.D. (Unrated) “It’s better to flame out than to fade away” biopic recounting the brief career of Bruce Wayne Campbell (1946-1983), aka Jobriath, the first openly gay rock star, and the first to die of AIDS.

 

Mr. Jones (PG-13 for terror, frightening images, sexuality and brief profanity) Harrowing horror flick about an aspiring filmmaker (Jon Foster) who moves to the country with his girlfriend (Sarah Jones) where they get more than they bargain for when they sneak into the home of their new next-door neighbor (Mark Steger), a reclusive sculptor with a weird agenda. With Faran Tahir,Stanley B.Herman,Jordan Byrne and Ethan Sawyer.

 

The Protector 2 (R for profanity and violence) Tony Jaa reprises the title role in this martial arts sequel, set inThailand, as a retired Royal Guard now enlisted to crack a terrorist conspiracy to disrupt peace talks inBangkok. With RZA, Marreese Crump and JeeJa Yanin. (InThai with subtitles)

 

Walk Of Shame (R for profanity and sexuality) Elizabeth Banks stars in this romantic comedy, set in L.A., as an ambitious reporter whose dream of becoming a news anchor is imperiled after a one-night stand which leaves her stranded downtown without a phone, cash or car. With James Marsden, Gillian Jacobs and Sarah Wright.

 

Whitewash (Unrated) Convoluted crime thriller, set in the wintry woods of rural Quebec, about a drunk snowplow operator (Thomas Haden Church) who decides to hide in the forest the body of a man he accidentally hit while driving under the influence. Co-starring Anie Pascale, Marc Labreche and Isabelle Nelissse.

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