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
Advertisements

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.

wonder-woman-1680x1050-2017-movies-gal-gadot-hd-2087

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.”

The Student Body – Review

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-14-36-pmThe rebirth of ethical journalism was evident in this controversial documentary. The filmmaker held nothing back in pushing to get truth and perspective from lawmakers that launched the measuring of embarrassed children to obtain countywide obesity numbers for political purposes.

The Student Body follows student journalist Bailey Webber as she seeks to learn why her friend received a terrible letter from the school administration stating that she was obese. Lawmakers had implemented controversial mandates requiring students to have their body mass index (BMI) recorded in the name of reducing the student obesity epidemic.

Webber battled months of red tape and chased after political figures to learn that the government hadn’t consulted a single doctor or child psychologist during the development of the law. Her perseverance finally landed an interview with the man that led the development of the law, after being turned down by him dozens of times.

Not only did the film open the viewer’s eyes to the controversial program that now includes 20 plus states (Webber’s state no longer on the list), but also it unearthed the fact that lawmakers are no longer concerned about the public’s viewpoint. And, they have changed enough laws to control the public’s freedom of speech so it no longer interferes with their tactics.

This politically charged documentary told from a teenager’s perspective premieres October 5th in New York City. While there are several slow segments, the most compelling elements are tied to a passionate teenager who drives the audience’s thirst for truth and justice.

There is no doubt in my mind that Webber has earned the right to produce a sequel. Her earthy style demands the audience’s attention, as she initiates authentic encounters that produce truth regardless of the person’s choice to remain silent or politically correct.

It’s been years since a journalist sought after the truth regardless of viewpoints or political positioning. Webber’s gift to the audience also includes her growing awareness that our government does not work like she was taught in school.

The awakening from her innocence is readily shared with the audience, not as a girl who is crushed under the weightily system, but as a young woman emerging into a person of strength—ready to straighten out our government and realign it to the constitution.

The Student Body is a must see documentary if you want hope that the next generation is capable of correcting our distorted government.

©2016 by CJ Powers