Beirut — Review

BER_156_M2_0V3_1_rgb“Thinking films” are far and few between, mostly because a small percentage of people take in a movie to be mentally challenged. However, those who kept their mind active during Dunkirk were well rewarded. And, with a bit less effort, many enjoyed Gary Oldman’s brilliant Oscar winning performance in The Darkest Hour.

The next installment of thinking films has arrived for this weekend in the movie Beirut. It’s a fascinating historical picture about several different countries and factions leveraging people and circumstances. They all share common goals of leaning the outcome of the war in their favor, not for justice or humanitarian ideals, but for selfish reasons that include revenge and the control of power.

The simple event is so entangled in the quagmire of jargon and hard-to-follow gibberish that the story seems far more complex than it is. If you’re able to follow the key plot points, you’ll realize that there wasn’t much of a story worth telling. On the other hand, if you were not able to sort through the bad accents and the dingy sets that all looked alike, the picture would seem far more complex.

The compelling situations that brought shock and awe to the American public during the Reagan years were not well captured in the film. The political intrigue was also left out, with the exception of a couple of interesting scenes suggesting how allies might have taken advantage of each other for their own gain.

But the interesting chess-like battle for information between the Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans was not handled well. Nor did the film reference or make use of additional political intrigue surrounding the multinational troops from France and Italy.

beirut_02415_r_rgb.jpgThe story focuses on a former U.S. diplomat (Jon Hamm of Mad Men and Baby Driver) being sucked in by CIA operatives (Rosamund Pike of Gone Girl and Hostiles, and Dean Norris of Breaking Bad and Under the Dome) to return to Beirut and negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

The quasi-historical story was written by Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton). “At the time, Beirut was a hot topic because Tom Friedman’s book From Beirut to Jerusalem had just come out,” said Gilroy. “We wanted to put a negotiator in a historical setting where it could feel true to life without actually being a true story.”

Most of Gilroy’s fictional script was built around the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley. “For me, that was very much the model for what would happen if a high-level CIA officer were kidnapped,” Gilroy said. “Buckley’s body actually turned up just as I was finishing the script, and there was a lot of reporting about that case that I drew on. It was all very garish and gothic and horrifying and dramatic.”

Unfortunately, Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) didn’t understand the realities of the horrifying, dramatic historical events, and it shows. “I was very taken by the world of Tony’s story. I frankly didn’t know very much about Beirut, so for me it was more the character elements that drew me in,” Anderson said. “I was fascinated with Mason (Jon Hamm) as this tortured soul who’s trying to redeem himself by saving his friend.”

beirut_03881_r_crop_rgb.jpgNot all veteran indie film writer-directors are able to express reality-based stories in a way that helps the audience experience or relive the historical moments. Anderson failed miserably at visualizing Gilroy’s fictional account, boring the veteran sitting one row in front of me. He actually pulled out his cell phone and engaged in 5-10 minutes of texting.

As for being spellbound by the characters that Anderson suggested drove the film, I found Hamm’s character to be flat and one dimensional. While Pike gave a great performance, her character was also limited, mostly by too little screen time.

For those who love political intrigue and deep thinking films, this one is a pass in my book. Even with thin character development, Hamm and Pike fans will not be disappointed in their performances, but they’ll have to keep in mind that the script and director tied their hands.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ powers

 

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Easter Movies to Watch and Avoid

This Easter season will once again bring an influx of faith-based films to a theater near you. Several of the films will gear up with tremendous hype and false marketing, not out of choice, but rather out of ignorance—blind to the promotional materials not matching their films.

Since I’ve already endured the bad films, there’s no reason why you should find yourself suffering, too. Here are a few tips of what to watch and avoid.

I-CanI Can Only Imagine—WATCH

(March 16, 2018—I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars)

Out of all the faith-based films being released this season, I Can Only Imagine is the one worth seeing. The film tells the true life story of how the band Mercy Me got started and how the title song became the number one Contemporary Christian hit single of all time.

The best part of the film was watching Dennis Quaid (The Rookie; The Parent Trap; Yours, Mine and Ours), known for happy protagonist roles, play the antagonist—showing off his true acting chops. In fact, his performance was so good that I bought into his creepiness and got a little weirded out, wondering what in his life he might have drawn from to pull off such a nasty character. Quaid’s performance alone is worth the ticket price.

That’s not to say the entire film was great. The story had a hard time getting started and the director clearly struggled with how to end the film, resulting in three back-to-back endings. The standard practice for creating a clean ending is done by making sure all of the subplots resolve prior to the start of the ending sequence. If you only have time to see one Easter movie, pick this one.

PaulPaul Apostle of Christ—AVOID

(March 23, 2018—I’ll give it 2.5 out of 5 stars)

All of the eggs were placed in this big budget Easter basket and stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) who plays Luke. With so much at risk, there will be a lot of promotional money thrown at the public to launch this costly production. Unfortunately, the funds didn’t show up on the screen. And the story… you’ll be confused during the first 30-40 minutes as you try to figure out what the film is about.

The secret… the film is a story about Luke, but it’s being promoted as a story about Paul. The main character that interacts with the supporting characters is Luke, and Paul is only used as the archetype or the wise counsellor—the Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you will. The story takes place in Paul’s last week before his beheading, a time when he has Luke write his final letters.

There is a tremendous amount of artistic license taken in the film, so don’t expect to drink in the moments as if you’re watching the reenactment of Scripture. The reality of Christian suffering is softened with all the bad scenes taking place off camera. And, the number of people nodding off during the screening I attended was massive. Can you say boring and confusing? Don’t waste your time on this one.

Gods_Not_DeadGod’s Not Dead 3—AVOID

(March 29, 2018—I’ll give it a generous 3 out of 5 stars)

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness never gets the audience to care about the main character. Nor does the audience know why the film is supposed to be important. In other words, this is a TV movie that’s been placed on the silver screen in hopes of it becoming an event film for Easter. Or, the producers are trying to force the trilogy to become a franchise, even though it’s not trending in social media or at the box office (Film 1 $60MM, Film 2 $20MM, Film 3 TBD).

The film gets close to touching on some important issues, but it never takes the time to explore any of it in a depth useful for the audience.

While the budget is supposed to be bigger than its freshman and sophomore counterparts, the story wasn’t properly crafted for the big screen. The film used small screen story structure and stereotypical character development. Within the first five minutes of the film you know how the story will end. In a case like that, the director must get the audience desiring to see how it will unfold, but he didn’t.

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)Non-Religious Films Competing for Audiences

The films with the greatest chance of drawing in families, regardless of controversy, are the following:

  • Tomb Raider—March 16, 2018
  • A Wrinkle in Time—March 23, 2018
  • Ready Player One—March 30, 2018

These movies are all being promoted as event films for the entire family, but be careful to discuss the stories after watching, so no one accepts the liberal messages without due consideration. The studios know that making high quality, popular films is ideal for delivering their agenda and changing the culture, so expect an attempt for clear, easy to swallow messages being salted into the movies.

Please consider supporting the costs of a new, free webinar designed to help filmmakers craft strong stories, fill in story gaps, and strengthen their story structure—giving them a shot at creating a 5-star film. Click the button below to donate!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

 

The Humanity of Dunkirk—Review

Nolan_at_CameraChristopher Nolan has another success on his hands with Dunkirk. While it won’t drive the box office like The Dark Knight, audiences will marvel at the humanity of self-sacrifice demonstrated. But before I say much more, I have to warn you that this film requires a lot of thinking and possibly a second viewing to fully comprehend.

Nolan’s artistic choices, which will not surprise fans, were spot on and amazing. However, his decision to tell three complete stories simultaneously, which all converge in act three, forces the audience to pay close attention during the entire two-hour film. This is not the type of film you’d want to excuse yourself from to take a call, get a refill, or use the restroom.

The story is about the actual events in May of 1940. Germany advanced into France and trapped Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. British and French forces provided air and ground cover, while troops were methodically evacuated using every naval and civilian vessel that could be found.

The orders were to evacuate 30,000 men leaving the rest as acceptable losses, but the man in charge demanded 45,000. Thanks to the self-sacrificing actions of many that evolved into heroes as the events unfolded, about 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were actually evacuated.

BeachThe movie opens with no credits and what appears to be a boring scene, until you realize it was one of the few lulls in an intense battle that catapults you back to the reality of World War II. The film alternates between three stories told from the perspective of land, air and sea. Each story focuses on only one hero in the making based on the significant self-sacrificing choices made.

While the film has little dialog, due to the circumstances that prevail on screen, each story rises in intensity to the point where you demand to know the outcome. You soon realize that your body is contorting in a rhythm that cheers on each protagonist to make the right choice, not the safe one. Warning: No one under five feet tall should ride this intense emotional rollercoaster.

I can’t remember a film that caused me to flinch, duck and squirm in synchronicity with the protagonist for some time. And when my favorite of the three storylines climaxed, my heart felt every pounding second of contemplating the young man’s decision. He did what was right for the war efforts, not what was right for his own soul. His self-sacrifice gave rise within me to rejoice at the epilogue of that storyline—and, determine for myself to consider the greater good of those around me over my own need for survival.

Dunkirk was a stirring and uplifting film worthy of an Oscar. But, most who attend the screening will get lost in the braided stories and wonder what I saw in the film. To them I heartily say, “Watch it a second and third time until you get it.” Yes, it is worth your time. But, if you only enjoy movies where you don’t have to think, avoid this one no matter what the cost. The value of this film only rises out of thought and ones ability to relate to one of the three main heroes.

AirMy friend emotionally clicked with the air story and I related to the sea story. But both of us took much needed time after the film to discuss what we saw, as the film’s complexities were similar to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Our discussion allowed us to better comprehend what we missed and the other had caught.

If it weren’t for the difficult-to-follow braided storylines, I’d give this film a 5-star rating, but its complexities reduces it to a solid 4-star rating. However, for those who don’t struggle to follow the three intertwined stories, you’ll certainly give it a 5-star rating, no questions asked.

As we reflected on the film my friend said, “I’m not sure what we just watched, but it’s obvious it was something really great. I think this is the kind of film you can watch over and over again, picking up on all the subtleties you missed in previous viewings.” I agreed. Dunkirk will be as great as you can keep up.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Niche Groups Claim Wonder Woman

Subcultures Support Wonder Woman’s Messages

Social Media was abuzz for the past two weeks as various subcultures claimed that the Wonder Woman movie supported their cause. From feminists to Christians, niche audiences praised director Patty Jenkins for creating the long awaited female superhero.

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I watched the movie on opening night to get the story’s full impact followed by a second viewing where I could deconstruct the film to understand its underlying messages and structure. I was pleasantly surprised at how Jenkins crafted the story with feminine and masculine scenes, including several mash up scenes with reversed roles.

But more fascinating to me was the reaction of various niche groups claiming the film was the first superhero movie that included their subculture ideologies. I hadn’t seen such a response since the first Star Wars film released. Neither Star Wars’ George Lucas nor Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins acknowledged the attempts.

In fact, Jenkins denied the question of purposely supporting the feminist groups.

“I can’t take on history of 50 percent of the population just because I’m a woman,” Jenkins said to the Hollywood Reporter.

“I don’t care about that at all. I just want to make great movies,” she said in another interview.

Subcultures are not aware of how much their social media comments can build up pressure that battles a director’s artistic choices. When considering what film to direct, Jenkins walked away from Thor: The Dark World because it wasn’t the right fit, which led her to the Wonder Woman opportunity.

“There have been things that have come across my path that seemed like troubled projects,” she said to Reporter Tatiana Siegel. “And I thought, ‘If I take this, it’ll be a disservice to women. If I take this knowing it’s going to be trouble and then it looks like it was me, that’s going to be a problem. If they do it with a man, it will just be yet another mistake the studio made. But with me, it’s going to look like I dropped the ball, and its going to send a very bad message.’ So I’ve been very careful about what I take for that reason.”

Jenkins is another director who creates movies for the general audience. She is diligent in how each scene comes together and what works on screen. Jenkins crafts each scene as a gift of love for all ticket holders.

“I hope they feel inspired to be a hero in their own life and learn love, thoughtfulness and strength,” Jenkins said on GMA.

She has also been humbled by the experience and hopes that she lived up to what the fan base requires, while expanding the film to a more universal audience.

“I couldn’t believe the entire time we were making the movie what was in our hands. I thought, ‘Yes, I love Wonder Woman,’ but also we’re making a movie about someone who wants to teach love and truth in the world right now—and who is incredible—and we want to live up to everything in a superhero movie, but her message is, ‘but lay down those weapons. I believe in a better you in the future,’ which I love,” Jenkins said on CBS This Morning.

After watching several of Jenkins’ interviews, I realized that her work was focused on creating an effective mythology that might stand the test of time. It wasn’t about a woman in the main role, but a story that audiences could understand from their own perspective.

“It’s not about being a woman or being a man, it’s a person’s story that everyone can relate to,” Jenkins said to Tome correspondent Eliana Dockterman.

Just as Lucas did with Star Wars, Jenkins built a mythology that was easily adaptable by all niche groups wanting to claim the film as their own. The power of the film was based on the viewers’ perception, not the specific content. All Jenkins did was direct the film to the best of her ability. It’s the subcultures that claimed the film was made with them in mind.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Surprise Request to Screen Megan Leavey—Review

MEGAN LEAVEYRegal Cinema contacted me with the hopes of attending a prerelease screening of Megan Leavy. The invitation was not the standard film review request, as veterans were also invited to attend. Surrounded by heroes, my expectations quickly grew. I wondered if director Gabriela Cowperthwaite might be the next Oscar winning female director along side of Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty).

Megan Leavey receives a wide release on June 9, 2017. The film is based on a true life story of a young Marine Corporal (Kate Mara: House of Cards, The Martian, Iron Man 2) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their 100 plus missions in Iraq.

While the film takes you on a journey with Leavey and Rex training to be warriors, and even highlights a few missions, the film is not a war movie.

“I think of Megan Leavey as a relationship movie about someone learning to value themselves by virtue of valuing and caring about something else,” said director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Known for her documentaries on the protection of animals, Cowperthwaite made sure the audience experienced what the dogs and their partners work through during their bomb sniffing duties.

MEGAN LEAVEYThe film opens with Leavey living a hot mess of a life. She runs away from it by joining the Marines. Through a series of circumstances, Leavey is assigned to partner with Rex, her military German shepherd. They train hard together and build a relationship that helps Leavey understand what love and devotion is about.

Midway through the film they face an attack and both suffer an IED injury that puts their partnership in jeopardy. Leavey puts in for retirement and seeks to adopt Rex so they can work through their healing process together as civilians, but Rex gets redeployed making Leavey’s PTSD recovery extremely difficult.

For Rex’s sake, Leavey steps up her life, as a Marine would, and goes to battle for Rex’s retirement and his adoption. Her shear will and passion for Rex is enough to spark her creativity and she does what no one had every done before. The outcome will bring pride to your heart and a tear to your eye, especially if you are a dog lover or know a veteran who had a hard time adapting to civilian life.

Unfortunately the film has several unnecessary scenes that make it feel about 20 minutes too long. And, a few scenes that you’d love to see in depth were only alluded to instead of being shown. However, the acting is top notch by most of the cast and the love between Leavey and Rex will keep your interest.

PosterAfter the screening several veterans sitting nearby shared how they knew a person just like Leavey and felt the overall story was accurate concerning their attempts to reintegrate into civilian life. They also loved watching the end credits featuring footage of the real Megan Leavey and Rex.

Also in attendance was a millennial filmmaker who discussed the film with me as we left the theater. We debated about the holes in the story and the lack of exploration in the areas of Leavey’s life that I wanted to better understand. But we quickly agreed that this moderately budgeted film was well worth supporting, as non-blockbuster films (the theater staples of the past century) seem to be few and far between.

We also agreed that Cowperthwaite was not the next Oscar contender, nor was the film a war movie. Megan Leavey is a dog lover’s movie about finding oneself through the caring of another. While the intensity of the battle scenes should be avoided by children, the film is of value to older kids.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Fake News and Faith-Based “Gavin Stone”—Review

gavinstoneThe Resurrection of Gavin Stone was released this past weekend with a great deal of grassroots fanfare. I was bombarded by people telling me that the film was “HILARIOUS” and that I needed to support it because the “Christian film genre needs help.” I was skeptical about the film being that funny, but I trusted my sources and watched it.

When the theater lights came up after the end credits, I realized that all the social media entries about the “HILARIOUS” film were all fake news. My friends were duped, or they’ve learned how to lie for the sake of a good cause. Nah, they were duped.

It seems that the more a person watches campy films to support a cause, the more the bar of their artistic scale lowers. They loose track of what is great cinema and what should’ve been relegated to a TV Movie of the Week (MOW) on a small cable network.

But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ll suppose they hadn’t watched La La Land or Hidden Figures yet, which would have shifted their skewed perspective back to a healthy norm. And, they probably hadn’t recently watched videos of The Blind Side, Gravity or Les Misérables.

Then again, maybe they’re stuck on squishy Hallmark movies, where in the first three minutes of the film you know exactly where the plot is headed—comfortably taking away any unwanted surprises. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone did that very thing, lifting its tired plots directly from Hallmark Christmas and Winterfest movies.

I don’t slight director Dallas Jenkins for using a Hallmark format for a campy story in the least, but I do find it interesting that he was quoted as saying his desire was that the movie “drives people to church on Sunday morning,” when the film was clearly made for the proverbial choir.

The film was loaded with Christian jargon that wasn’t understood by the general public, making it impossible to create any desire in a non-believer to attend church. The “inside jokes” also made it difficult for the audience to feel compelled to join the click, rather than being repulsed by it. That’s not to say Jenkins didn’t have the right to make a film for the choir, but to say he hopes it reaches unbelievers sounds like the perfect set up for fake news.

When a film’s language is campy Christian, gritty secular crowds won’t get it. Most won’t even buy the ticket. In fact, the moment Christians hear that the film is yet another faith-based campy story that belongs on a small cable network, box office sales will dry up. But, it won’t really matter, as Jenkins got his two weeks in theaters to increase video sales.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the film was a flop at the box office. Opening weekend saw less than $2,500 per screen average; a number that once a normal film drops to is clearly on its way out.

But the film isn’t all bad. The good news is that the choir will laugh hardily when watching this comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, the choir might finally be able to poke fun at themselves after watching this film that takes the starch out of the up-tight ministry leader. Jenkins did a great job at getting the proverbial choir to look at themselves from an outsider’s viewpoint.

There were even several great moments of acting aside from the purposeful cheeky scenes filled with self-deprecating choir humor and campy fun. Had the title been better suited toward comedy and the film shot as a television special, I’m convinced it would’ve had much higher viewership.

The timing of the film might have added to the film’s death, since many in the choir are still trying to see award winning films like La La Land and Hidden Figures – Both are must sees in my book.

So let me be clear … stating that the film is “HILARIOUS” is fake news. Saying that the film will “delight members of the choir and their friends” is truth. Saying that the film is “original” is fake news. Saying that the film is heartwarming is truth. Are you getting the picture?

My recommendation, go see La La Land and Hidden Figures first.

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

When Calls the Heart – Season 3 Boxset—Review

boxsetThe third season of When Calls The Heart is now available in a 10 DVD collectors edition set. The high moral fiber throughout the season and the low retail price makes this set worth collecting for both families and Hearties.

The show’s inspiration comes from the best-selling series by Janette Oke and brought to life by a great cast in Erin Krakow (Army Wives), Daniel Lissing (Eye Candy), Jack Wagner (Melrose Place), and Lori Loughlin (Full House, 90210). The on screen chemistry between the main characters suggests strong behind the scenes friendships and a deeper belief in the types of stories each character portrays.

Historical family values are given new life in this series. Each episode is produced in a way that allows parents and kids to enjoy watching the shows together. The writing of the shows also gives families great discussion points to dive into heartfelt conversations. But the bonding process doesn’t stop there, as many episodes demonstrate how to take courage in difficult situations with the support of ones faith and community.

I enjoyed the behind the scenes featurettes that demonstrate a cast and crew who heartily believe in their work of producing high moral programing. The redemptive storylines encourage and inspire viewers to use these characters as role models, bringing a new demonstrative sacrificial love into our communities.

In a year of 5,000 first run shows airing on too numerous to count networks, it’s great to find a series currently available in stores and online that will benefit the viewers and their families. And, for those who are die hard Hearties, the boxset includes footage from the Hearties Family Reunion.

Plus, a Hearties trivia game is included on the final DVD to test your Hearties IQ. All of these features and the great episodes make the boxset value much higher than the low price its currently available for in stores and online. For anyone interested in high moral programming, there isn’t a better offer in the market today.

Its time to consider who you might want to bless this holiday season by gifting the complete 10 DVD set. I’ve got mine and I’m ready for a cold January weekend when I can snuggle up with a loved one and binge watch the series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”