LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

letters from baghdad posterIf there was any justice in the world, T.E. Lawrence — aka Lawrence of Arabia — would be known as “the male Gertrude Bell,” instead of Bell being spoken of, when she is spoken of at all, as “the female Lawrence of Arabia.” Lawrence, 20 years her junior, was barely out of diapers when Bell first journeyed from England to the Middle East, and by the time he was traipsing around the desert, he was using intelligence on the local landscape — political and well as geographical — that she had gathered by living and working among the Arab tribes and gaining their enormous respect. By the post World War I period that saw the end of Ottoman rule of the Middle East and the beginning of the West deciding how to carve up the region, Bell — traveler, adventurer, diplomat, spy — was the one English person, of any gender, who knew the most about the region and who was best able to advise on how not to make a mess of it. When Lawrence of Arabia hit the desert, he used intelligence about the landscape that Gertrude Bell had gathered. And yet, a mess it quickly became, and still remains… which Bell foresaw, as we learn in the stunning Letters from Baghdad. Read full review.

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LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD — Review by Cate Marquis

Middle East experts often point to how national boundaries were drawn by European colonial powers after World War I as essential to understanding region’s modern tensions. A little known fact is that a British woman played a central role in the shaping of those boundaries – Iraq in particular. That woman, Gertrude Bell, is the focus of the documentary LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD from directors Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbuhl. Continue reading…

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THE WOMEN’S BALCONY — Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

the women's balconyIt is with a light and generous heart that I suggest anyone within reach of a movie theater showing The Women’s Balcony pack up your necessities and head there at your earliest convenience. What will unfold over your 96 minutes in the dark is a comedy so droll, so full of love and celebration, and so wise in its mild cautions that you may see the world much differently when you emerge into the light. The Women’s Balcony, a major hit in Israel, offers a look at an orthodox Jewish community—and community is what makes this film so endearing and healing. Continue reading…

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ROUGH NIGHT — Review by Susan Granger

Feminism takes a couple of steps backward with this estrogen-forced comedy in which a Miami bachelorette weekend goes awry. Trying for a gender-flipping reversal on “The Hangover” and “Very Bad Things,” blended with “Bridesmaids,” the raucous riff revolves around Jess Thayer (Scarlett Johansson), who is running for the Florida state senate. While she projects a strait-laced image, Jess wasn’t always a goody-two-shoes. Continue reading…

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE — Review by Susan Granger

Today’s conundrum: Why did Bruce Willis want to make this wannabe action-comedy caper that turns out to be neither? Money is the only answer. Willis plays Steve Ford, a disgraced former police officer-turned private detective, who works with his bumbling millennial protégé, John (Thomas Middleditch), serving as narrator, in the kooky underworld of the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles, where Steve warns local kids against the dangers of drugs and hookers. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 30-July 6: THE BEGUILED

motw logo 1-35With her sixth feature, director Sofia Coppola can no longer be denied the appellation of auteur… if she ever could. The lush visuals, sultry atmosphere, and almost serene sense of the sinister that infuses The Beguiled add intriguing new layers to the distinctive signature approach to cinematic storytelling Coppola has been developing since her debut with 1999’s The Virgin Suicides. Continue reading…

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Ana Lily and Sofia and the Diversity Issue — Jennifer Merin comments

Ana Lily Amirpour and Sofia Coppola are female directors whose unique perspectives in filmmaking have attached the term auteur to their names and bodies of work. Yet, both directors are being tagged as ‘racist’ in criticism of their current productions. Continue reading…

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THE BEGUILED – Review by Cate Marquis

Sophia Coppola’s atmospheric period thriller THE BEGUILED is a re-make of a 1971 psycho-sexual thriller starring Clint Eastwood. Coppola re-frames the Civil War story from a woman’s viewpoint, where a wounded Union soldier is taken in by a house full of Southern women and girls at a young ladies’ boarding school in the rural South. What looks like a sexual fantasy come true for the soldier turns out less than dreamy. Continue reading…

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BEATRIZ AT DINNER — Review by Susan Granger

It’s always a shame when superb performances get mired down in melodrama – like serving a tantalizing appetizer with an indigestible meal. Altruistic holistic healer Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a middle-aged Mexican-born divorcee, is having a rough time. Her Los Angeles neighbor objects to the incessant bleating of her pet goat, and her old Volkswagen barely starts when she turns the ignition. Continue reading…

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THE BEGUILED — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

the beguiled posterThe original 1971 “The Beguiled” pitted Clint Eastwood’s wounded Union solider Corp. John McBurney against the residents of a Southern girls’ school during the Civil War who treat him like a prisoner while fantasizing how he could be the man of their dreams. This handsome and wily manipulator seems to know his effect on the woman folk from the opening scene as he steals a kiss from the 12-year-old student who has found him. As directed by Don Siegel, the jealousies and rivalries that develop are deliberately stirred up by Eastwood’s male interloper who acts like a rooster in a hen house who can’t fly away. This is clearly a war of the sexes, and despite igniting an ongoing catfight atmosphere, his McBurney fails to see he is outnumbered nine to one, including a head mistress, a teacher, a slave and six students. Continue reading…

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CARS 3 — Review by Susan Granger

If you thought it was weird seeing a young Carrie Fisher and resurrected Peter Cushing in “Star Wars: Rogue One,” wait ‘till you hear Paul Newman’s gruff voice as Doc Hudson in outtakes from the first “Cars” outing in 2006. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 23-30: BAND AID

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“Love is hell” might very well be the title of one of the original songs featured in the new romantic comedy Band Aid, this week’s Movie of the Week. Although in the parlance of Zoe Lister-Jones’ directorial debut, calling the song “Love is heck” might actually be more fitting. Continue reading…

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BAND AID — Review by Cate Marquis

A young married couple who just can’t stop arguing decide to turn their fights into songs, in the indie comedy BAND AID. Writer/director/producer Zoe Lister-Jones also stars in this film, her directorial debut. BAND AID is lifted by its well-done musical sequences, tuneful and surprisingly enjoyable, but the humor is more uneven. Continue reading…

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MAUDIE — Review by Susan Granger

Sally Hawkins delivers an exquisite performance as eccentric Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. Set in the late 1930s in rural Nova Scotia, Maud has been crippled since childhood with rheumatoid arthritis. Cheated out of her parents’ inheritance by her selfish brother Charles (Zachary Bennett), she’s sent to live in Digby with her stern, spinster Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), who treats her as if she’s feeble-minded. Continue reading…

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MAUDIE — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

“Slim pickins applied for the job.” Everett (Ethan Hawke) is disappointed. A fishmonger in Nova Scotia, he’s put up an advertisement in search of a live-in housecleaner. Times are hard during the 1930s, and as he insists more than once, Everett doesn’t plan to pay much or change his routine. The one person who does apply is Maud (Sally Hawkins), looking to support herself for the first time, after her brother Charlie (Zachary Bennett) sold their house without consulting her. Neither Everett nor Maud can imagine the future they’re about to share. Continue reading…

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THE HUNTER’S PRAYER — Review by Susan Granger

When her wealthy parents are murdered in their suburban New York, home, teenage Ella Hatto (Odeya Rush) is thousands of miles away at a posh Swiss boarding school, sneaking out to a trendy nightclub with her boyfriend Sergio, unaware that she’s next on the assassin’s hit list. Continue reading…

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ROUGH NIGHT — Review by Martha Baker

From the Changed Mind Department: “Rough Night” is not just a female version of “Hangover.” Yes, there are vulgarities, but women talk dirty, too. Yes, there is bawdiness, but women are fully capable of being nasty. Most of all, “Rough Night” is about women’s true and evolving friendships. ‘Rough Night’ involves spinsters at play. Continue reading…

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THE JOURNEY — Review by Susan Granger

Perhaps better suited to the History Channel, this film imagines a car ride during which Ireland’s sworn enemies, Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney), began to communicate after decades of hostility and violence in Northern Ireland. In October, 2006, while trying to work out what became known as the St. Andrews Agreement, Rev. Paisley needed to fly from the famed Scottish golf resort to Belfast to celebrate his Golden Wedding anniversary with his wife. For security reasons, McGuiness insists on accompanying him. Continue reading…

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MY COUSIN RACHEL — Review by Susan Granger

Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel is the epitome of Gothic melodrama, filled with an insidious sense of danger and death. Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) was raised by his bachelor uncle Ambrose on a picturesque country estate on England’s Cornish coast. Content with his horses and dogs, Ambrose “never had much need for women.” Yet on a trip to Florence, Italy, elderly Ambrose met and married his distant cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Soon after, he fell ill and died. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 16 – 23: MAUDIE

motw logo 1-35 Director Aisling Walsh’s film Maudie centres around the life and work of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis. Lewis is familiar to Canadians and to art lovers around the world from her iconic paintings, made during the latter part of her life, but the film actually begins with the portrait of the artist as a young woman. Continue reading…

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THE MUMMY — Review by Susan Granger

This fantasy-adventure was designed as the first entry in an upcoming Universal franchise to be called the “Dark Universe,” featuring interconnected classic horror monsters from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Opening with an Egyptian proverb that specifies “we never die” but, instead, reincarnate again and again, it introduces a pharaoh’s treacherous daughter, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who murdered her father, his second wife and their infant son after making a pact with Set, god of the dead. Continue reading…

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I LOVE YOU BOTH — Review by Martha K. Baker

Everyone knows that twins are tight. They sometimes employ a private language, code words. They know each other better than they know others and often have trouble letting anyone else into their twin world. They know better than to exclude others, but they relate so well to one another. That is the case with Donnie and Krystal. Continue reading…

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CHURCHILL — Review by Susan Granger

According to a BBC poll taken in 2002, Winston Churchill is “the greatest Briton that ever lived.” That being said, working from historian Alex von Tunzelmann’s screenplay, Jonathan Teplitzky imagines the turmoil that may have occurred a few days before D Day, as the Allied Forces prepare to liberate Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944. Continue reading…

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MEGAN LEAVEY — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

MEGAN LEAVEY POSTER“I left this place a thousand times in my mind, but I never actually went anywhere,” says Megan Leavey (Kate Mara). That place is home, a small town in upstate New York with an unsupportive mother (Edie Falco) and a kindly but mostly absent father (Bradley Whitford). Megan’s sense of confinement shapes the early scenes in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s movie: trucks, railroad tracks, and a hulking factory form internal frames as she looks off-screen. Her escape is the Marines: it’s 2003 and the war in Iraq is underway, a war the movie uses a backdrop for the story of Megan’s coming of age. Continue reading…

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MEGAN LEAVEY — Review by Martha K. Baker

“Megan Leavey” teaches about a dog’s life. The title is the name of a woman without direction. Leavey is treated poorly by her mother and step-father in a small New York town. She has no where to go. She’s going there fast, fueled by drugs and alcohol. She joins the Marines to get out of town. Once in the corps, even as she trains, Leavey continues making poor decisions. As punishment, she is sent to the kennels to clean dog poop. Continue reading…

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