Thursday, June 30, 2016

What We've Been Watching: Theeb, Cinderella, 13 Hours, Joyeux Noel, Kingsman


In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin boy tags along behind his older brother on a perilous desert journey.

Simple storytelling, that nevertheless works, in this tale which was dubbed an Arab Western by some film critics. The actors are all genuine Bedouin tribesmen and it was shot in gorgeous Jordanian surroundings. It's not all action and you have to let yourself move at the pace of the tribesmen but it works. If I had boys who'd read captions, I'd corral them to watch this.


Kenneth Branagh's live-action Cinderella. Sumptuous, gorgeous, thoughtfully told, with surprising depth, charm, and a dash of humor. Perfect!

I was especially impressed with the moral underpinning and the way the evil stepmother's story subtly intertwines with Cinderella's by the end. Never has one had a better example of the reason to "have courage and be kind." This is so simple but so all encompassing that I've found it echoing through my head as I face difficult situations in my own life. I didn't expect to be motivated by Cinderella but that is the power of this telling of the classic fairytale.

Joyeux Noël 

About the World War I Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers. Quite well done with characterizations that help flesh out the details of the Christmas Peace ... as well as the problems that resulted. I found adding the woman to the mix was distracting and annoying (much like the German commander did, in fact!). However, it would make a terrific Christmas movie for those who don't mind reading captions, since it is done in the three authentic languages (the Scots almost require captions since their accent is so broad).

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

No one was more surprised than we were to really like this movie. At its most basic it is a war movie about the real-life events in the overrunning of the Benghazi US embassy and the attack on the CIA annex. We follow the security team as they struggle to get the Americans out.

Super intense, but did a terrific job of putting the viewer in the "fog of war," as so many others have observed. I was also impressed (and relieved) that we were spared the up close gore of many modern movies. A study in frustration at how much went wrong but also a look at warriors in action.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

A light feeling spy movie that made me think of the Roger Moore days in the James Bond franchise. I also liked that the violence was not gory or shown close-up, though it can't be denied that there was an awful lot of violence.

The predictable plot has a troubled kid recruited by Colin Firth for a super-secret spy organization. He goes through training. Firth uncovers a villainous plan to destroy the world.

Well, actually it is a villainous plan to save the world. Go figure. And that was the least of the subversive surprises. I didn't expect Kingsman to take on know-it-all environmentalists, churches preaching hate, obsession with technology, consumer culture, and the glorification of killing.

I was stunned to see the pro-human, pro-life underpinning to this fun spy thriller. It's rated R for good reason. There's violence, language, and a really offensive sexual reference. This movie isn't for everyone. In fact, I'm not sure it really was for me. Nonetheless, it was heartening to find that there's something very worthwhile in Kingsman.

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