Thursday, January 29, 2015

Movie Review - The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (2014)
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox (boyfriend), Harry Lloyd (Hawking's friend), David Thewlis (professor), and Emily Watson
Directed by James March

I can't even begin to pretend that anything that comes out of the mind of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking makes any lick of sense to me.  Hence, I was a bit hesitant to venture into a viewing of The Theory of Everything which takes a look at his life, biopic-style.  However, much to my surprise, I found director James Marsh's film to be an engaging look at a young couple (Stephen and Jane Hawking) fighting the odds to try and make it despite the many hardships that accompanied Stephen's ALS diagnosis in his early twenties.

Marsh doesn't hide the fact at any point in time that The Theory of Everything is a romance.  We get beautiful shots of two people wooing each other, winning each other, and, however unfortunate, falling out with each other.  Still, Marsh has crafted a film that in many ways epitomizes what I'd like a lasting romance to be for me.  There's a connection between his two main characters that he manages to capture that's obvious from the very get-go that builds and blossoms as his film progresses.

Of course, there would be no romantic connection between characters if the two actors portraying said parts didn't exude some chemistry and Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones do just that.  I'll admit that I came into this film thinking that it was going to be a showcase for the young Mr. Redmayne (and it was...more on that in a bit), but I found myself pleasantly won over by the lovely Ms. Jones as Mr. Hawking's paramour Jane.  Jones has a very difficult part that I'll admit at first I believed was going to be one note.  Playing the young college age Jane, she's seemingly just your average student who's fallen for some guy.  However, as Stephen's disease begins to rear its ugly head and he gets progressively worse, the strength of character that someone like Jane needs to survive not only for herself but for her husband is overwhelmingly massive, and Ms. Jones exquisitely paints the picture of a woman with a huge weight on her shoulders.  We see the struggle in her every expression and her love for Stephen in each gesture.  Jane is not a cookie cutter person and we discover as the film progresses that she isn't perfect, either, but this well-rounded portrayal by Jones is one of the better female performances I've seen this year.

Of course, Eddie Redmayne rightfully deserves praise, too, in a fabulous portrayal of a man facing head-on a debilitating disease.  There's a joy and vigor imbued into Redmayne's Stephen Hawking at the film's onset that it becomes all the more painful to watch as Stephen is forced to reconcile with the notion that he will become incapable of completing the simplest tasks on his own.  Redmayne certainly captures the physicality -- both vocally and physically -- of an ALS patient, but he also captures the emotional pain that obviously must accompany such a horrible illness.  We see the glimmers of joy in his eyes as he remembers his jubilant past or his love for Jane, but Redmayne also captures the devastation of this extremely intelligent man being relegated to having someone else have to feed and clothe him.  This is an emotional performance -- perhaps the most emotional performance I've seen this year.

Granted, I think the film falters a bit in its final act -- I won't spoil things entirely, but the film asks us to infer a few things regarding possible speed bumps in Stephen and Jane's relationship and I think for a film that's been so honest with us throughout, this vagueness is a bit off-putting.  Still, the flick is full of passion and that emotion is the key to The Theory of Everything working as well as it does.  I've been waiting for a movie this year to hit me on that emotionally guttural level and The Theory of Everything does just that.  You'd be forgiven if your eyes well up a time or two by what you're seeing onscreen with the magnificent combination of two great performances and fantastic direction.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Movie Review - The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game (2014)
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Alex Lawther, and Mark Strong
Directed by Morten Tyldum

Paced extraordinarily well, fantastically acted, and cleverly written passing through three timelines which dramatically strengthen one other without feeling gimmicky, The Imitation Game is one of the surprise treats of the 2014 Oscar season.  The raves it received should seemingly negate the notion that it could ever be a "surprise," but it's the type of film -- an historical drama -- that one often finds difficult to feign excitement.  However, I found director Morten Tyldum's film to cast a light on a subject with which I was unfamiliar and do so in a manner that was engaging and extremely well executed.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, an incredibly intelligent young man only recently graduated from university with a talent for solving a wide variety of puzzles.  This piques the interest of the British Intelligence Agency who hire Turing to try and decode Germany's encoded messages to one another during the height of WWII.  Germany had created a machine known as Enigma which provided millions of different codings making it near impossible for the Allies to figure out what the Nazis were relaying to one another.  Cleverly, the Germans changed the settings on Enigma on a daily basis so unlike Turing's hired colleagues who put pen to paper in order to solve the intricate Enigma messages (only to be devastated at day's end having their work prove all for naught), Turing believed that the only way the Allies could fight Enigma was to build a machine that matched Enigma's prowess.  Although most thought the quirky sensibilities of Turing pointed towards him being crazy, the genius eventually managed to convince his fellow brainiacs (and the British government) that his plan would be a success.  Needless to say, the Nazis didn't overtake Europe, so -- spoiler alert -- he succeeds.

In and of itself, the historical plot of The Imitation Game is worth the price of admission, but there's a devastating personal aspect as well with Turing discovering his homosexuality as a teenager and having to hide his sexual orientation seeing as how being gay was a criminal offense in England through the 1950s.  This adds another layer to the story and makes Turing's life all the more painful in the end.

Director Morten Tyldum keeps the film moving at a surprisingly rapid clip without any lulls.  He very deftly moves the film from WWII era to Turing's youth (when he's played by the wonderful Alex Lawther) to the 1950s when Turing is being investigated by the police for indecency.  Each of these segments builds upon one another to give us an extremely well-rounded glimpse of the complicated individual that is Alan Turing.  Much credit goes to the young Mr. Lawther who makes it entirely believable that he was playing a younger version of Benedict Cumberbatch's Turing.  Through Lawther's portrayal, we can see the obvious evolution of Turing and I found this a pleasant addition to the film.

Benedict Cumberbatch is surprisingly soulful as the adult Alan Turing.  His unique tics and idiosyncrasies coupled with the extremely intelligent manner of speaking give us a character that while awkward is also heartbreaking without ever feeling treacly or emotionally forced.  His supporting cast includes Keira Knightley, quite good as an intelligent woman with whom Turing finds himself a bit infatuated, and Matthew Goode as another smart codebreaker who finds himself often at odds with the shy, introverted Turing.  There's truly not a bad performance in the bunch.

The Imitation Game could easily have been a boring historical docudrama, but, much like The King's Speech several years ago, it rises above the stolid, heavy feeling that sometimes accompanies period pieces and becomes a movie that emotionally resonates while also teaching a little bit about an important part of our past.

The RyMickey Rating:  A- 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Movie Review - Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale (2014)
Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, and Will Smith 
Directed by Akiva Goldsman

Savaged by critics and ending up on many "Worst of 2014" lists, Winter's Tale doesn't quite reach levels of awful offensiveness in terms of how bad it is, but it certainly misses the mark as an adult morality tale/fairy tale/fantasy/romance.  As the film opens, we see a foreign couple in the early 1900s being refused entrance into the United States because they have consumption.  Sent back to Europe on a boat, they leave their infant son behind in hopes that he'll have a better life.  The son grows up to be Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) who was raised on the rough New York City streets by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) and the two men couldn't be more different.  Despite rather oddly burying this lede and causing a bit of unnecessary confusion in the film's opening scenes, Pearly works for the Devil, while Peter is a bit more angelic and apparently has been granted the ability to truly help one person in his lifetime.  As Peter ages, this sets up conflict and Pearly sets out to take down the man whom he hoped at one time would be his successor.  This battle between good and evil is set against the backdrop of romance as Peter falls for Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a rich young woman who is dying of consumption.  And I haven't even begun to discuss the time jump that a little over halfway through the film moves the plot into modern times nor the mystical white horse that sprouts wings and saves the day multiple times.

There's simply too much going on in Winter's Tale to allow an audience to appreciate any aspect of it.   Based on a book that has had praise heaped upon it, I have to wonder if the fantastical meanderings work better on the page than played out visually on the screen.  This is Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's first feature film directorial gig and he can't formulate a singular vision here which is perhaps due to the fact that his screenplay feels haphazardly crafted.  The acting is okay, but that's admittedly faint praise.  Crowe is hamming it up at times although not necessarily in an awkward way as he is essentially playing an employee of the devil.  Farrell is fine, although he's a bit of a blank slate in some of the film's pivotal moments.  The rest of the cast makes do with what's given to them.

While Winter's Tale certainly isn't the worst film I've seen from 2014, it certainly isn't a winner by any means.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, January 26, 2015

Theater Review - The Millionairess

The Millionairess
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Ian Belknap
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, January 25, 2pm

Photos and images from the REP

So far, the 2014-15 season of the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players has been a bit of a disappointing one, but the company typically excels at comedy and while their production of George Bernard Shaw's 1936 piece The Millionairess isn't presenting a mind-blowingly hilarious romp, the play manages enough laughs (or at least respectful smiles) to create a pleasant afternoon at the theater.

Set in 1930s England, The Millionairess of the title is Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga (played by REP member Elizabeth Heflin), a rich woman married to Alastair Fitzfassenden (REP's Mic Matarrese), a man whom she feels is beneath her status and quality of life.  While Alastair isn't exactly faithful to Epifania -- he has a sweetie on the side named Patricia (the always reliable Kathleen Pirkl Tague) -- the millionairess herself isn't exactly tied down to one man either, finding herself prancing about town with Adrian Blenderbland (guest actor John Rensenhouse).  When all four of these characters meet in the law office of barrister Julius Sagamore (REP's Michael Gotch), schemes are hatched by Epifania from divorce proceedings to suicide attempts in order to figure out a way out of her marriage while still maintaining her dignified social status.  Oddly enough, although that seems like a rather elaborate summary, Shaw's play introduces yet another man to vie for Epifania's affections known only as "The Doctor" (REP member Lee Ernst) and it's this relationship between our title character and this mysterious Arabian medicine man that pushes along the remainder of the play.
Where The Millionairess falters is in Shaw's words.  While he certainly is the wordsmith and his humor was likely fitting for the era the work premiered, it feels a little loquacious today.  That isn't to say that as the second act enfolds that this excellent ensemble can't pick up steam from where a somewhat lackluster first act leaves off.  The cast certainly cranks things up a few notches and The Millionairess certainly ends on a high note.  It's not that the first act fails, it's just that the opening scene in particular seems to meander a bit with Shaw too fond of his pen and paper to allow the set-up of the play to be cut a tad bit shorter.  Credit to director Ian Belknap for milking the comedy (both physical and verbal) from Shaw's work.  In the hands of a lesser director, I could see most of humor falling flat for today's audiences and while I don't think everything clicked, considering the fact that the play is nearly a century old Belknap does a nice job.
As is nearly always the case with the REP, we are treated to some fantastic costumes and sets -- this time by Matthew J. LeFebvre.  The last time we saw Mr. LeFebvre's work, it was for the stunning stark scenic design of The Threepenny Opera.  Here, a completely rotating turntable set (a first, I believe for the REP) stunningly gives us three distinct scenes, all of which are beautiful to look at and, in the second act, get a chance to really shine in a funny, clever scene change which actually had the audience applauding.  The costumes are also gorgeous representations of a bygone era.
The acting ensemble does a nice job here as well with Elizabeth Heflin and Lee Ernst in particular stepping up their respective games and playing very nicely off one another.  (Heflin and Ernst also took lead roles in the REP's last production of Macbeth and I enjoyed their repartee here much more than in the disappointing Shakespearean drama.)  Heflin, in particular, is quite good at being obnoxiously self-centered as her Epifania is surprisingly engaging despite Shaw creating what could've been a basic stereotypical haughty caricature.  Guest artist John Rensenhouse also provides a nice counterpoint to Epifania as the uppity Blenderbland.

The Millionairess marks a significant improvement from the REP's earlier productions this season and although it doesn't match some of the hilarious works we've seen from them in the past, it's a solid presentation of the work of a well-known playwright.

Side Note:  It's such a shame that the REP, which started as a training program for UD's Professional Theater Training Program, is unable to continue that important task as of late.  While I truly enjoy the great ensemble of actors, the REP needs an infusion of youthful blood into it like it did in its initial seasons.  The ability to teach should be a university's goal and while I certainly appreciate the fact that the University of Delaware contributes to the wonderful organization that is the REP, I wish they would bring back the PTTP and allow these talented artists to aid up-and-coming onstage and offstage theatrical talent.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie Review - Into the Storm

Into the Storm (2014)
Starring Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callis, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, and Alycia Debnam Carey
Directed by Steven Quale

Were I to watch an action movie involving a bunch of tornado chasers again, I'd most certainly watch 1996's Twister if only to see Helen Hunt running around in a white tank top to satisfy my weird fascination with the actress that I used to harbor as a youth.  Is Twister any good?  I honestly don't remember, but I do remember Helen Hunt in a white tank top.  That said, Into the Storm was more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be with surprisingly good special effects considering what I can only assume was a much lower budget than most disaster pics that make it to the big screen.

Unfortunately, as is de rigueur these days, Into the Storm is told via video footage of people "on the ground" -- documentary filmmakers, students working on a time capsule, and two crazy rednecks who want Jackass levels of stardom.  Yes, those last two are legit "explanations" as to why we're watching the footage we're watching in this film.  It's a bit ridiculous.  I imagine the reasoning behind this scripting was to keep the budget lower -- less wide shots of twisters wreaking havoc the small town of Silverton (although we still get some of them which seem oddly out of place) -- but it's one of the film's most disappointing aspects.  When you couple the style of shooting with rather silly exposition for characters in an attempt to make us care about these people -- a father trying to reconcile with his sons, a mom trying to live to see her daughter again, a documentary videographer in it for the "shot of a lifetime" of the inside of the eye of tornado -- the film falls a bit on the flatter side.

Rather shockingly, however, I found Into the Storm to be an enjoyable watch.  Once the twisters start their descent on the small town, the film moves at a brisk pace, utilizing believable effects to depict nature's wrath.  There's certainly no need to go out and rush a rental on this one, but should it pop up streaming somewhere, it's a good enough diversion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Movie Review - A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down (2014)
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Rosamund Pike, Tuppence Middleton, and Sam Neill
Directed by Pascal Chaumeil
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Lacking any type of balance, A Long Way Down is a drama/comedy mash-up that's a big ole mess.  Four strangers meet each other on the roof of a high rise building in London on New Years' Eve.  All had the intention of jumping to their deaths because of how horrible their lives were, but none of them go through with it, instead making a pact with one another to keep themselves alive until Valentine's Day at which point they can reassess their standing in life.

This odd premise doesn't crystallize into a proper story at any point in time throughout director Pascal Chaumeil's film.  There are attempts by Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots to round out their characters into more fully realized souls, but they aren't given much with which to work.  Collette fares the best as the struggling mother of a twentysomething son with cerebral palsy, but her counterparts aren't so lucky.  Brosnan as a slimy news reporter, Paul as an introverted musician, and Poots as a politician's rambunctious daughter are all simply caricatures.  Granted, Collette's character's struggle is nothing more than a stereotype as well, but her character's intentions post-suicide attempt are the most believable which is much more than I can say for the rest of the film's depressed quartet.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movie Review - Into the Woods

Into the Woods (2014)
Starring James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Billy Magnussen, Mackenzie Mauzy, and Johnny Depp
Directed by Rob Marshall

Note: The Disney Discussion will return soon.  In its stead, a review of Disney's latest fairy tale musical -- in live action form this time around.

"Once upon a time in a far off kingdom, there lay a small village at the edge of the woods.  And in this village lived a young maiden, a carefree young lad, and a childless baker with his wife."  The opening line of Into the Woods sets up a broad view of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine's Broadway classic, but the film delves deeper into a world where some of the most well-known fairy tale characters interact with one another popping up into each others' familiar stories and creating some havoc.  Director Rob Marshall does a fantastic job allowing each character's storyline to shine, giving life to Sondheim's tricky lyrical melodies, and creating a film that flows effortlessly from one tale to another.

We have Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) whose evil stepmother (Christine Baranski) and nasty stepsisters (Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch) won't allow her to attend the Royal Ball of the Prince (Chris Pine).  Then there's Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) of Jack and the Beanstalk fame whose mother (Tracy Ullman) forces her son to sell his only friend -- Milky White, a cow -- in order to add to their measly income.  The third storyline deals with a Baker (James Corden) and His Wife (Emily Blunt) who have heretofore been unable to conceive a child.  They discover in the film's opening song, however, that the haggard and ugly Witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a spell on the Baker and His Wife which the couple can break if they bring her "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold" before three midnights pass.  Add in Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), a giant, and a horny wolf (Johnny Depp) and you've got a menagerie of characters.

The Baker, His Wife, and their plight are the impetus of much of the film's plot as they weave in and out of the various other characters' story lines in order to retrieve the objects from their Witch-sponsored scavenger hunt.  The first half of the film generally follows the familiar fairy tales in their typical fashion, however, as the flick progresses, things start to take a dark turn with these tried and true characters forced to do things that we typically aren't used to seeing them have to undertake.  Ultimately, Sondheim and Lapine seem to be telling us that life can't always be a fairy tale, but we still have to face the good and bad times in the best way we know how.  Yes, these are fractured fairy tales, but they're interesting twists on classics.

Sondheim's songs aren't exactly hummable and with the exception of the title number, you may very well not remember any of them upon the film's conclusion.  However, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  The film is filled to the brim with singing and the numbers flow effortlessly into one another and that's certainly attributed to Sondheim's songs, Lapine's book/screenplay, and Rob Marshall's direction.  Marshall isn't exactly a prolific director, but this is certainly his best film since his Chicago debut.  The film appears richly atmospheric (kudos to the costume and production designers) and places its audience squarely in the titular woods.

Sondheim's lyrics are a tricky beast to wrap your tongue around, but the cast gamely takes on the task of giving life to his words (and his uniquely syncopated rhythms).  James Corden and Emily Blunt are charming, witty, and carry the film admirably.  Lilla Crawford and Daniel Hiddleston are exactly what their young characters need to be -- adventurous, yet longing for guidance.  Meryl Streep hardly ever delivers a bad performance and this is no exception.  Award worthy?  I'm not quite sure, but she doesn't disappoint in the slightest.  Two of the film's best moments, however, belong to Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine whose romantic relationship as Cinderella and her Prince isn't exactly the epitome of perfection.  As Cinderella flees the ball, time stands still and Kendrick sings a lovely tune about how she's unsure of what she wants for her life.  Pine also gets a similarly-themed number about longing, although his slimy, though utterly charismatic and charming Prince has quite a different spin on his wishes and desires.

I will admit that I was expecting to be a little let down by Into the Woods.  Musicals are tough sells sometimes, often feeling hokey or corny unless the right tone is set right at the film's open.  However, from the opening two minutes, I could tell that Marshall was giving us a piece that wasn't ashamed of the notion that it was a musical.  It embraced the genre and, in turn, is the best live action musical since The Muppets in 2011.

It should be noted that I've been holding off writing this review for over a week now.  This is one of those movies that I really liked, yet can't quite get comfortable with expressing my thoughts on it.  Don't let my bland review (which flows so disappointingly for my taste) discourage you from seeing this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie Review - 3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill (2014)
Starring Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, and Connie Nielsen
Directed by McG
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

3 Days to Kill has no clue what it is.  Is it an action movie in which an older, grizzled CIA officer discovers he has three months to live and sets out begrudgingly on one final mission?  Is it a family drama in which the aforementioned older, grizzled CIA officer tries to reconnect with his ex-wife and now teenaged daughter whom he abandoned for his job?  Or is a quirky comedy starring an older grizzled Kevin Costner as an older, grizzled CIA officer who can't figure out why his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) finds him so repugnant?  As the film attempts to meld all three of these varied plots, it becomes a muddled mess with none of the three story lines panning out in any desirable fashion.

Although I thought the flick started out promisingly with a moderately intense opening action scene, things quickly devolve from there.  Costner is actually decent and Steinfeld is charismatic although her character is much too much of a stereotypical jerk of a teenager to give a damn about her various plights.  The less said about Amber Heard as Costner's boss, the better -- her character is just so nebulously vague and odd that I never quite understood who she was or why she was told to act like some S&M vixen throughout.  McG's direction doesn't do any of the actors any favors, failing to find any rhythm in the dramatic and comedic scenes.  (He fares a tiny bit better in the film's action moments, but they're so few and far between that it doesn't much matter.)  This one's big ole waste of time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, January 19, 2015

Movie Review - Coherence

Coherence (2014)
Starring Hugo Armstrong, Nicholas Brendon, Emily Foxler, Elizabeth Gracen, Lauren Maher, Alex Manugian, Lorene Scafaria, and Maury Sterling
Directed by James Ward Byrkit
***This film is streaming on AMAZON PRIME***

Holy smokes...this is a weird one that I desperately wish I had watched with someone else to get their opinion on it.  Coherence starts off rather normally with a group of eight adult friends gathering for a dinner party.  It just so happens that a rare comet is passing over earth on this evening and as the dinner party progresses, some weird things begin to happen with guests and their reality starts to bend out of control.

This low budget sci fi thriller is a doozy...and I mean that in the best way possible.  First time director and writer James Ward Byrkit has crafted a film that rather surprisingly pays off and -- I think -- resolves itself somewhat in the end which, considering the sometimes convoluted talk of quantum physics and Schrödinger's Cat, I can't believe I actually understood.  I realize that everything I'm saying thus far may be a huge turnoff to some, but Coherence is a film in which it pays to give it your full attention.  Quite frankly, that's not too difficult to do as I found the ensemble of eight actors -- none of whom you're likely familiar with except for Nicholas Brendan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame -- to be compelling, believable, and incredibly natural with their purportedly mostly improvised dialog.  Before "odd" things start to happen, Byrkit allows the characters to root themselves into the plot with backstories that seem logical and this initial basis upon which we get to know the characters is helpful as the film progresses.

I'm sure next to no one has seen this movie, but I highly recommend it.  It's a tad difficult to discuss without giving away too many details, but color me surprised that this film somehow makes physics comprehensible and oddly intriguing.  Someone please watch this one so we can have a discussion!

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movie Review - Belle

Belle (2014)
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid, Tom Felton, James Norton, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Sarah Gadon, and Matthew Goode
Directed by Amma Asante

Belle is by no means a bad movie, but I'm flabbergasted that this British period piece sits at an 83% Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.  While it's true that it tells a story we haven't seen before (not easy when it comes to this genre), the film is quite simplistic, lacking a fervent bite that I feel like it could have had.

Belle tells the tale of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of Captain John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a well-respected British naval officer who falls in love with a black woman while in Africa who ends up having his baby.  Upon her mother's death, Captain Lindsay takes Dido to England where he asks his uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson) to look after Dido while he's off at war.  Much to their initial chagrin for fear of how this mixed race child will appear to the rest of society, they agree to raise Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as a free woman along with their other niece Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon).  Years later, Captain Lindsay dies and leaves Dido a significant amount of money.  This dowry is quite appealing to some English men despite the impropriety that stems from the possibility of marrying a black woman.  Although Dido and Elizabeth were quite close growing up, Dido's bequeathment is more substantial than what Elizabeth can offer which sets up much tension amongst the Mansfield's nieces.

Ultimately, this PG-rated film tells an interesting tale -- one that next to no one is familiar with -- but it fails to lift itself to something truly appealing.  The acting is all quite good -- Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes the best of what I think is a surprisingly underwritten role -- but with the exception of one or two scenes, the flick lacks any drive or excitement.  What could've been a somewhat interesting take on racism in the late 1700s devolves into a love triangle that just doesn't carry the same weight as the story deserves.  A nice effort -- with well-done below-the-title craftsmanship and adequate direction -- but Belle misses the mark a little bit.

The RyMickey Rating:  C