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Quik Flix Hit

Get Out (2017)

Rated R

Blumhouse Productions

Get Out has the suspense, creepiness, violence and jumps scares one would want from a good horror film. Written and directed by Jordan Peele (half of the “Key & Peele” sketch comedy duo), the film’s also insidious with its coiling use of racial themes to enhance its effect.

A chilling opening sequence evokes the Trayvon Martin tragedy as we watch a young black man walking lost in the suburbs at nightfall. Peele immediately establishes a knack for tone and subtext. A character walking alone in the dark is a horror film trope, but certainly the specificity of a lone black man in a white neighborhood adds another dimension of dread to the scene. Notice, in quick, quiet cellphone dialogue, that the man knows how he looks and where he’s at invites danger.

Next we’re introduced to engaging interracial couple Chris and Rose (Daniel Kaluuya, “Black Mirror,” and Allison Williams, “Girls”) preparing for a weekend trip to Rose’s parent’s palatial estate deep in the exurbs. Rose seems nonplused that her mom and dad are unaware Chris is black; Chris is obviously more concerned about the oversight. Peele plays with racial notions of Rose’s privilege vs. Chris’ realistic concerns here, and in a later scene on the road when they are visited by a police officer. Rose doesn’t hesitate to cut into the officer for what she perceives is racist treatment of Chris, while Chris simply wants to deescalate a situation he’s likely experienced on more than an occasion. The opening sequence, police encounter and an accident en route cleverly set the viewer on edge even before the anticipated visit with the parents.

Said parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are welcoming in their liberal righteousness. Rose’s father, a successful neurosurgeon, declares he’d vote for Barack Obama for a third term if he could. Her hypnotherapist mother says all the right things but they land with a disingenuousness not lost on Chris. And what to make of Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones, Antiviral), a disheveled rich kid quaking uneasily, speaking inappropriately, like he’s always on the verge of blurting out spoilers?

Back home, Chris’ best friend Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA officer, is a Greek chorus of sorts, humorously braying about Chris’ naivety of race relations. But Chris—and the audience—isn’t naïve, simply hopeful for the best while laughing at Rod’s over-the-top rantings. You see, Rod says all the things black movie-goers say about white horror movies. He can smell a setup a mile away. Peele, working so effectively as a director of horror, here reminds us he made his bones in comedy.

Over the course of the weekend, Peele quietly but assuredly reels the viewer into a delicious web paranoia. Suddenly there’s an annual gathering of friends and family. The winding driveway his lined with black, expensive SUVs, the expansive lawn is a sea of gawking white faces. Chris’ and our time in exurbia grows curiouser and curiouser. His solo trips around the huge house and vast grounds bring unease. The way he’s regarded and how he reacts as the lone black man amongst throngs of old-money white people is a master’s class on how black folks navigate—sometimes moment to moment—competing worlds of racial divide. Chris’ intriguing hypnosis session with Rose’s mom—fantastically visualized as Chris floating in the cosmos with the real world hovering on a big screen TV just out of reach—sets the plot on a course not fully understood until the finale.

Most interesting is the portrayal of the other black faces Chris meets at the house. Every time he talks with or bumps into Stepford-like persons of color, Peele intrigues with the interactions—are they friends or foes, captives or themselves commanding some scheme? In this cauldron of supposed post-racial ennui, we nervously and giddily wait for the shoe to drop. Does Peele’s mixed race heritage inform the proceedings? Perhaps. The film, in my view, knowingly winks at both sides of the racial coin. What an assured directorial debut!

If there’s a wobbly spot in an otherwise outstanding film, it’s a half-realized backstory concerning the death of Chris’ mother. The moment seems to exist mostly to justify an unlikely act of kindness late in the movie.

In the finale, with the curtains pulled back, the film burst with absurd conflict and straight-up horror and humor. The dangers are far afield from where we would have imagined, and yet with clever insight Peele suggests cultural appropriation is always hiding in plain sight.

This is the second “black” film in a row I’ve seen that, while presenting pointed issues on race, nevertheless with topical, effective storytelling and capable acting and directing taps into American commonality and manages to connect more broadly. Like Hidden Figures, this film seems to have admirers across the board.

 

 

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Quik Flix Hit

Hidden Figures (2016)

Rated PG

Levantine Films/Chernin Entertainment

That Hidden Figures rights a wrong by dramatizing the little-known history of brilliant African-American women, whose work proved instrumental in putting Americans into outer space, is enough to make this essential viewing. But I was surprised the film isn’t content to quit while it’s ahead.

Directed by Theodore Melfi, the film also inspires and entertains with its unabashed appreciation of science and intelligence, and with the heady competition between the U.S. and the Russians to reach the stars—the space race. I was surprised again when it took another lap around the screenplay to explore the gender inequality of the era.

Figures even finds time, briefly but pointedly, for romance, parenting issues, and marital concerns, giving particular space to black men as providers for, supporters and admirers of these intelligent women. I love movies that celebrate intelligence and imagination. I reflect that despite the film’s risk of biting off more than it can chew, it succeeds because it’s well-written (from strong source material), directed and acted.

At so young an age, Katherine’s (Lidya Jewett) fluency with numbers grants her stamina and opportunities against the liabilities of her era: being black and female. Katherine G. Johnson’s beautiful mind ultimately leads her to NASA where as a widowed mother (now marvelously portrayed by Taraji P. Henson) she joins other black women with dazzling intellect (they are called human computers by their NASA bosses). It’s refreshing that the film takes their intelligence as a given. We know they’re smart, everyone in the building knows they’re smart, their families and friends know it too.

These women and others like them work in the far reaches of the intellectual caste—rocket scientists, physicists, mathematicians and engineers—yet they live in a time of segregated restrooms and eager suspicions. Katherine’s colleagues and carpool mates include Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer, The Help) and Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monaé). The commute to and from work allows the women time to let down their hair and air grievances to each other.

Dorothy is a mathematician and supervisor in all but title, while Mary is an aspiring engineer, capable enough, but held back by her gender and race. Katherine’s undeniable gifts lead her to become the first “colored” woman on the Space Task Group charged with sending an American astronaut into space.

At work, it’s all business all the time, with little room for error, having at least as much to do with NASA’s exacting standards as it does the discriminatory practices of the day. Just as I’m wondering how such smart, analytical folks could waste time with petty, irrational racism, Kevin Costner’s hardnosed task force leader Al Harrison grows furious that his ace computer, Katherine, has to waste time daily running across campus to use the “colors only” restroom instead of the one right down the hall.

The women’s work intensifies with news that Russians have successfully launched a satellite into space—and then a cosmonaut. America’s history of being first, best, a global leader is on the line. The nation is stirred by the possibilities of touching the stars. It’s an era of racial shame, sure, but also a unique one in which astronauts (Ohio’s own, John Glenn!) were superheroes. At some point, the united cause to be the first nation to blast off the planet brings temporary racial reprieve. I’m reminded of how a champion sports team or Olympic squad can unite a city, state, nation of racially diverse people for the common cause of victory. The outcome of the space race might be celebrated history, but not the legacy of these amazing women. Their place in NASA and American history is equally impressive. The film gets that on the record.

The cast is a balancing act of great performances. The lead actors are, of course, exceptional—Henson and Spencer build on solid careers; Monaé emerges as a talent to watch. And note Kirsten Dunst’s (The Virgin Suicides) subtle but impactful portrayal of a tired subjugated white women who has more in common with her subjugated black subordinates than she can say. The men shine as well. Costner’s stern, all-business egghead never breaks character, but we find his humanity in the growing respect he gains for Katherine’s intellect and determination. Jim Parsons (TV’s The Big Bang Theory) gives a shaded performance as a mathematician growing bitter in the shadow of Katherine’s gifts, torn by his respect and jealousy. Mahershala Ali, who’s having a good year with this film and the acclaimed film Moonlight (which also features Monaé), is wonderful as a stereotype-busting upstanding veteran who pulls Katherine back to a long-abandoned world of romance.

Hidden Figures is entertaining, informative, a bit suspenseful and important. It’s rare to see a “black” film not involving sports that so personifies the American spirit. It’s hard to see anyone not finding elements that hook them into this outstanding film.

 

 

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Age of Consequences Interview

DOCUMENTARY PRODUCER SEES PURPOSE IN DIRE WARNINGS

Sophie Robinson, executive producer of The Age of Consequences/PF Films

It is not your father’s global warming documentary, or even your former vice president’s. The Age of Consequences is a stark analysis of the faltering care-taking of the planet and of the resulting horrific consequences that have occurred and that lie ahead.

Director Jared P. Scott’s film positions itself outside the expected framework of liberal lecturing and scientists’ admonishments as it reaches for a broader audience by using hard-hitting visuals, unnerving data and, most critically, support from military experts. To be sure, its tone is bleak. While introducing the doc at a screening, executive producer Sophie Robinson warned viewers that they were about to see a horror film.

CHECK OUT MY REVIEW OF THE DOCUMENTARY HERE

Professionally assembled, Scott’s film doesn’t simply highlight the environmental hazards from climate change, but also examines dangers that cascade from them.

“It’s called a threat multiplier,” Robinson says. There term, used in the documentary by military officials, explains how a cluster of catastrophes—international conflicts, mass population migration, resource scarcity and even terrorism—emerge from the escalating threat of global warming.

Before she spent a year and a half producing the searing documentary for PF Films, Robinson got her start as a grassroots climate change organizer in Massachusetts. She was involved in a statewide network battling the environmental crisis. She also spent time as a science teacher.

A catalysis for her work on The Age of Consequences was another PF Films: Do the Math. That 2013 documentary, directed by Scott and Kelly Nyks, detailed the hazards of the fossil fuel industry. Its against-the-grain style got noticed, Robinson says.

“It got people excited.”

The film drew Robinson to PF Films, where she worked with Scott and his team fashion a unique take on the issue of global warming.

“We decided to make a film for people sick of seeing the same climate change films,” she says. “We wanted a ‘conversation opener.’ We asked ourselves what are some new angles?”

PF Films

A new angle was to seek a bipartisan one. Along with scientists and environmentalists, Age looks to admirals, generals and veterans to bolster its theme that environmental abuses and neglect can spiral into civil conflict, migration catastrophes, food shortages, terrorism recruitment—all while overwhelming humanitarian efforts.

Does Robinson think the matter-of-factly scary tone will be a liability for the film? She laughs. “Luckily, people don’t know how scary it is before they watch it.” It’s frightening stuff, she says, but that’s necessary to convey the seriousness of climate change.

One could think such a documentary would receive pushback in conservative circles, but interestingly the film’s strong representation of the military ruffled some feathers in liberal corners, Robinson says. “Some environmental groups thought we were too soft on the military.” But the military and security community are strong believers in the importance of taking serious climate change and its consequences. Those experts lend gravity to the film in a way a dozens of scientist cannot.

Despite its bleak presentation, the film’s ultimate aim is to encourage a positive change.

“We try to leave people with hope,” Robinson says. “There is an opportunity to change things. I actually feel lucky: I can make a difference in the outcome of our future. This is an opportunity to step up.”

The film debuted on Jan. 27.

 

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Quik Flix Hit

The Age of Consequences (2016)

Unrated

 

PF Films

We’ve seen climate change documentaries that present us with the unnerving prospects of global environmental dangers, real and theorized, pushing our ecosystem past a bleak point of no return. Have we seen one arguing that a cluster of catastrophes—international conflicts, migration, scarcity of resources, even terrorism—emanate out from the epicenter of a man-made ground zero: global warming?

I might be slightly exaggerating when I say The Age of Consequences edges into the realm of a horror film.

The new documentary, professional and smartly directed by Jared P. Scott from PF Films, arrives Jan. 27 in an intense political season that either amplifies the stakes of its dire message, or will work against the film just as its call for cultural and legislative action is needed most. You know where you stand on the issue of climate change.

READ MY INTERVIEW WITH EXECUTIVE PRODUCER SOPHIE ROBINSON

Age works to tilt viewers away from partisan perspectives, hoping that fact-of-the-matter, up-to-moment catastrophes will speak louder than political talking points. The doc gets a big lift by featuring military experts speaking convincingly of their beliefs and, more importantly, experiences in the real cause-and-effect of environmental destruction. We’ve heard environmentalists and left-leaning politicians’ pleas for action, but Scott’s film mostly looks to admirals, generals, veterans to bolster an overarching theme that environmental abuses/neglect can cascade into civil conflict, migration catastrophes, food shortages, terrorism recruitment, and overwhelm humanitarian efforts.

What was once laughed off as “tree-hugger” hyperbole has been termed in some corners of the military as a “threat multiplier.” The film follows the dominoes as they fall: Climate change exacerbated one of the worst droughts in Syrian history. The three-year drought begun at the end of 2006 ultimately triggered 1.5 million Syrian men to leave their farmlands and move to city locations, seeking jobs and food. Additionally, Iraqi refugees were at the time migrating into Syria. These two factors alone spurred a 30 percent population growth in urban areas, which in turn drove up food and apartment prices, as well as drained the health-care system. Such strife is cited by officials in the film as a factor giving rise to civil war. Broken social structures leave openings for terrorist recruitment. The film suggests climate-change hazards will increase such migrations and their consequences.

And look at the threat multiplier from a financial perspective: A 2010 Russia-China drought, the film states, lead to wheat shortages in those countries. The countries responded by purchasing wheat on the global food market, which drove up prices across the planet, spurring economic chaos.

And from a humanitarian perspective: When global warming wreaks havoc on populated regions, getting aid to displaced millions increasingly is becoming a logistical nightmare, and soon, the film suggests, an unsustainable effort. The U.S. military alone spends increasing amounts of time exclusively on humanitarian and recovery efforts. It would take but a small cluster of these catastrophes occurring simultaneously to break the back a nation or create a devastating domino effect across the globe.

Scott and his cameraman Michael McSweeney keep the film moving by using sharp visuals. A reoccurring radar chart graphic works well as a visual interpretation of the tangled arms of environmental and social threats across the globe. The film makes good use of archival footage from current conflicts and catastrophes. Hurricane Katrina footage still chills to the bone. A technique of placing a subject center frame and at a distance (to highlight beautiful corridors and staterooms of power) subvert the common method of using standard shots of talking heads.

The Age of Consequences left me wrung out and the solutions belatedly offered—better stewardship of the planet, alternative resources, a more aggressive timeline to confront environmental hazards—are of the stripe we’ve heard before and don’t completely mitigate all the dread it previously piled on. Perhaps they can’t. Maybe the film hopes to shock the viewer out of complacency. What remains to be seen is how it lands in an era in which those in seats of power and their supporters don’t exactly seem like cheerleaders for climate-change activism.

 

 

 

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‘The Field’ among Year’s Best

My short story “The Field” has been selected for the upcoming anthology Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Vol. 2. I am excited to be among some of the genre’s best! More information to come.

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Web We Weave

It’s not a mirage if you saw something on this website yesterday and then came back today and it’s gone—or in a different location, or is different color. Maybe a photo’s gone, or it’s gotten bigger. Change is good, right? And I’m on the world wide learning curve.

In maintaining marvincbrown.com, we tweak as we go. And we’re taking suggestions from visitors, which also accounts for some changes.

If the Internet’s a web, it’s a sticky one. The task is to get things user-friendly, interesting and add in enough redundancies to keep you from getting lost.

Purchase books at the Store. Read samples in the Works section. Learn more than you ever needed to know about me in About Marvin. You can slide your white-gloved hand right on past the Media Kit (unless you’re with the press), but Events will keep you up to date on where I’ll be, and News will let you know what I’m up to. My writings not defined as fiction, nonfiction and short stories (essays, features and reviews) can be found in Features. Comments are (almost) always welcome and feel free to email me at Contact.

Here In The Bloghouse I’ll serve up general observations and opinions, while also offering specific blogging like book reviews (Open Book), movie reviews (Quik Flix Hit), current events (On Point) and, with restraint, politics (Swing State).

Thanks for your input so far.

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Step into The Field

thefield-cover

Artwork by Chris Bentley

“The Field,” my latest short story, a haunting and timely parable, appears in Insomnia & Obsession magazine. Click here to read an excerpt. Click here to purchase the story.

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Apparition Hill Interview

EXPERIENCES ON THE HILL KEEPS BRINGING DIRECTORY BACK

sean_bloomfield

Sean Bloomfield

Before he made a film that follows seven strangers as they travel to a spiritual village in Bosnia-Herzegovina to investigate its miracles, Sean Bloomfield made the journey himself. “Something there moved me,” he recalls.

The filmmaker and author has explored religion and spirituality in previous works, but his experiences in the village of Medjugorje remained with him. In 1981, the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before six local youths there. In the years since, thousands seeking miracles and enlightenment walk the village’s jagged hillside to the spot marked with a statue of Mary.

“It was either the biggest hoax or a miracle,” Bloomfield remembers thinking. He would make more trips there.

In returning last year to Apparition Hill—the name given the sacred spot and the title of his new documentary—Bloomfield wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible for viewers.

READ MY REVIEW OF THE DOCUMENTARY

Bloomfield, a Florida native, selected his cast from a slew of video submissions. He settled on seven from the United States and London: two atheists; a widowed father of nine; a Catholic latecomer; a terminally ill wife and mother; an on-and-off drug abuser; and a man suffering from the debilitating disease ALS.

Bloomfield’s camera watches these volunteers as they embark on a two-week pilgrimage, each seeking something—a renewal of faith, a pull into something beyond secular security, self-awareness, a life-saving miracle.

Besides peeking into the lives of the cast, Bloomfield’s camera allows us to peer into a specific place, this small village, which seems to glow in its spirituality. As we watch, we get accustomed to the village’s geography and the rhythms of the community—priests, tourists, visionaries and filmmakers alike move through Medjugorje with a sense of intimate purpose.

“There are so many stories there,” Bloomfield says. “There’s something about this place, but more so the people.”

In addition to the cast, the documentary weaves in a tapestry of locals: an area physician who begins to believe in a power beyond her medical training; a recovering addict who makes the place his home and now helps others; a tour guide and mentor who lends a sense of history; and of course the “visionaries” who first claimed to see the Virgin Mary.

One such visionary, Mirjana Soldo, is significantly featured in the documentary. Sixteen at the time of her visitation, Soldo has devoted her life to her pilgrimages and to bringing a message of hope to the world-weary. Her story captivated Bloomfield.

“As a teen she was persecuted,” he says.

apparition-hill

Stella Mar Films

It wasn’t easy being a person claiming to have met the Virgin Mary, much less so when that person is a teenager. In the documentary, as Soldo communes with Mary, a look overtakes her, tears stream down her cheeks, she begins to smile like she’s tapped into something profound. She has told her story in a book; Bloomfield feels there is more to tell. “I would like to continue her story,” he says.

How will a film so unapologetically spiritual be received?

“We tried to make it objective,” Bloomfield says. “We just tried to record the story. We didn’t want to impose on the audience what to take away from the film.”

Audiences seem to be responding positively. It’s gaining a word-of-mouth following on social media and is selling out limited screenings.

And what about his cast? Most seem changed by the experience.

“We stay in touch,” Bloomfield says. The group maintains a private Facebook page to stay abreast of each other’s lives. “We’re like family,” he adds.

Up next for the director are plans to document the experiences of a youth festival on Cross Mountain in the same village. It was shot by a second crew at the same time Bloomfield was filming Apparition Hill.

In this time of a bruising presidential campaign and a divided nation Bloomfield believes the film is timely.

“There are things that transcend human problems,” he suggests.

Check here for screening dates and locations.

 

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Quick Flix Hit

Apparition Hill (2016)

Rated PG-13

apparition-hill

Stella Mar Films

Apparition Hill, the site where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before six local youths in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, is without doubt a place of inspiration. Is it also a place of healing, enlightenment and miracles? Well, every year, thousands seeking those rewards trek up a jagged hillside in the village of Medjugorje to the spot marked with a statue of the Blessed Mary.

Director Sean Bloomfield joined seven strangers on a two-week trip to Medjugorje and up so-called Apparition Hill to document experiences filled with urgency and desperation, curiosity and skepticism, hope and joy—ultimately providing the cast, and possibly viewers, with multiple levels of insight.

READ MY INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR SEAN BLOOMFIELD

Bloomfield selects his cast from a potpourri of video submissions: two atheists, Pete, who prefers finding life’s meaning in science and logic, and Mark, who craves knowledge beyond understanding but can’t get there through spirituality; Rich, a widowed father of nine; Jill, a Catholic latecomer needing to strengthen her weakening belief; Holly, a terminally ill wife and mother whose husband Matt decides to join her on the trip; and Ryan, a sad on-off drug abuser who’s been in and out of prison. There’s an eighth participant, Darryl, who suffers from ALS. His condition confines him to a wheelchair, necessitating a separate, earlier journey to Medjugorje for him that serves as a side story in the documentary. He has a video chat with the rest of the gang to express his views on the journey he’s taken as it prepares to trace his steps.

Along the way we meet Ben, a former addict who now resides in the community, and Miki Musa, a local guide who was featured in a previous Bloomfield documentary.

We take several pilgrimages with the cast—to the weeping Statue of the Risen Christ that resides behind the town’s St. James Church, to the Blue Cross at the base of Apparition Hill, to the sacred spot itself and still further up to the hilltop where we find a holy site honoring Christ Himself—and we learn more about each along the way. The members seem to approach the experience with open minds, I must note. Certainly, our attention is drawn to the two atheists and Holly, who has Stage 4 cancer.

We regard Pete and Mark closely because we sense if they change, if they believe, there is something powerful going on here. They’re both presented as skeptical but fair-minded enough to give the pilgrimage a chance. We regard Molly, who comes dangerously close to missing the trip due to her health, as the ultimate test case for these proceedings because of her bright smile, because of her relentless optimism, because she seems to be a wonderful wife and a loving mother. With her, as she smile through tears, we truly hope for miracles (even as Holly claims she’s seeking only peace and enlightenment). Her struggle gives the film an undercurrent of suspense and sadness that might not have been the director’s intentions.

The documentary attempts to take a nonjudgmental look at the cast and the community, but it’s a hard sell. Peeking into these lives is personal, and you just can’t move through Medjugorje without being swept along on its spiritual current. Catholicism runs deeply in this village. The cast attends Mass repeatedly, prayers are spoken, rosaries are counted, novenas are undertaken.

Of the six Herzegovinian children who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1981, the documentary focuses most on Mirjana Soldo. Sixteen at the time of her visitation, Soldo has basically devoted her life to her pilgrimages where she communes with Mary. We watch this visionary immerse herself in prayer and are simultaneously perplexed and moved. She is in a place beyond us as tears stream down her cheeks, her eyes look through this world and a knowing smile overtakes her. And yet, she later expresses what she sees, hears and feels is not beyond us.

The film’s ending, powerful and raw, brings a journey to its inevitable conclusion, then Bloomfield tags on a sweet coda as a salve.

Lives have been challenged and changed, and clearly, the film hopes, not just for the cast we’ve observed.

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Quik Flix Hit

Letters from Baghdad (2016)

Unrated

letters-from-baghdad

Between the Rivers Productions

Gertrude Bell, unknown by me, was an English writer, traveler, spy and archaeologist who seemingly conquered the Middle East at a time when women were hardly seen fit to gain higher education.

 Letters from Baghdad details her remarkable movements though the Mideast, growing in legend as she did so, culminating in her taking a vital role in establishing the modern state of Iraq. That’s right, a British woman of the 1900s blazed a trail through Syria, Arabia and Mesopotamia while many woman of her age and upbringing were married, raising children and defined by their husbands.

toonMarvinBlogThe documentary, codirected by Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum, is presented in an epistolary format in an effort to squeeze history and texture from Bell’s actual letters. The method is further supported though cinematic techniques: as Bell speaks (voiced by actors Rose Leslie as a girl and Tilda Swinton as a woman) her missives are brought to life via filmstock-aging effects, vistas rendered in sepia tone and still photos given the Ken Burns effect. The film’s like an ancient postcard brought to life. Actor reenactments and spectacular archival footage round out the illusion we’re watching a documentary of the day.

Since her early years, Bell seemed to possess not only a thirst for knowledge, but an obsession with the otherworldliness of the Middle East—its people and culture, landscapes and, eventually, politics. Very quickly her twin passions are evident: the foreign culture she couldn’t shake and her accommodating father Sir Hugh Bell. Gertrude seemed to cleave closer to her father after the death of her mother when she was but 3 years old. She wasn’t without a woman’s touch, however. Her eventual stepmother Florence Bell, an author and progressive woman in her own right, pushed her to expand her mind.

As Bell spent increasingly more time in the Middle East, with guides in tow, she traversed sandy nations as a cartologist and documentarian; her writings, photography and maps would become assets during World War I. She became a British spy and an outspoken critic and enemy of the Ottoman Empire.

That modern-day Iraq and its strife has connection-points to her long-ago adventures is startling, a reminder in this uncertain election season that an individual dabbling on the world stage can trigger long-reaching consequences in the geo-political theater. Hear that, Mr. Trump?

Letters is certainly palatable to history buffs and Arabophiles, but those with a malfunctioning attention-span gene might not find this diverting enough to join Bell on her journey.

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