Gertrude Bell documentary Letters From Baghdad best choice

Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
New Releases For the Week of 6/30/17

Letters From Baghdad (NR)
Narrated by: Tilda Swinton
Directed by: Zeva Oelbaum, Sabine Kreyenbuhl
In 1921, the boundaries of the country that became Iraq were drawn by a British explorer, writer, spy and archaeologist named Gertrude Bell. Known to many at the time as “Gertrude of Arabia,” this real-life Wonder Woman was overshadowed by the exploits of a certain T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). In the documentary by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Kreyenbuhl, an historic photo shows Bell perched on a camel with Egypt’s Sphinx and Pyramids in the background. On the camel to her right, is an uncomfortable-looking Winston Churchill. To her left, in business suit and tie, is the unflappable T. E. Lawrence. Bell created over a thousand letters (read aloud by Tilda Swinton) and panoramic photographs that documented her work, and captured the way things really were in the Arabian Peninsula after WWI. These artifacts tell a tantalizingly fantastic tale of real Arabian Nights (and days) and are the best part of this movie. In contrast, the ill-considered, sepia-toned talking-head scenes of actors “recreating” historic figures only detracts from the endeavor and make it like a History Channel show.
3 pieces of a story about a “real” wonder woman toast

Despicable Me 3 (PG)
Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig, Pierre Coffin, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guilion
Cartoon shorts used to be a regular part of going to the movies. Some of these were masterpieces of artistic merit (i.e. Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers). Others were replays of familiar tropes (i.e. Wile Coyote and the Roadrunner). Now imagine a string of animated shorts about: Gru moving to his twin brother Dru’s pig farm; the little yellow Minions entering a singing contest with their unintelligible language; a visit to the Fredonian cheese festival, and a former child actor with a grudge against movie studios who uses both lasers and bubble gum as weapons. Then prepare to be unimpressed, as the bits and pieces are jumbled together without any visible story arc. They should have used the best bits as animated shorts instead of producing this pile of MEH!
1 piece of pieces badly stuck together toast

The Beguiled (R)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence,
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Despite the director’s protestations that this is not a remake of Don Siegel’s Civil War era horror film of the same name, it is. In 1971, Clint Eastwood starred as a wounded Yankee soldier nursed back to health by nubile young women—including a slave girl. In the latest version, Colin Farrell plays the soldier, and Sofia Coppola eliminated the slave girl and essentially any reference to slavery. She has stated that “she didn’t want to treat such an important topic lightly.” The result is like a Twilight Zone story set in an indeterminate time where the battles raging outside the gate are just backdrops for a tale steeped in Southern Gothic atmosphere. Sofia Coppola won the Best Director award at Cannes for The Beguiled, but I personally prefer Don Siegel’s version.
2 pieces of historically detailed yet still out of time and place toast

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