Caged No More – Review

Lisa_ArnoldLisa Arnold is at a turning point in her filmmaking career. Her directing chops in the faith-based genre are within reach of the Kendrick (Fireproof, Courageous, War Room) brothers’ skills. While she is still known for her acting, she’s quietly becoming a director to be reckoned with.

Caged No More demonstrated her passion for heart touching story. Her technical skills also exceeded the typical faith-based production techniques. Several scenes bumped up into the quality levels typical in TV movies and a few scenes were straight-out cinematic.

She relentlessly went after the audience in Caged No More, giving viewers little time to breath between heart wrenching scenes. She did present some humor to lighten the mood a third of the way into the story, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from gripping my heart as the story escalated. I actually had to pause the DVD twice to allow my emotions to calm down.

cagednomore-screenshots-0002Part of this emotional charge came from Arnold’s subject matter. Caged No More is about the abduction of Jr. High girls into sex trafficking. The last national record I read had >14,000 girls ages 12 – 14 sold annually. That does not include girls 15 – 18. Nor does it count girls from less secure countries. And, it doesn’t count the boys who are also sold.

Caged No More finds an interesting balance with Arnold’s passion, the elements in faith-based films required by churches, and a form of entertainment that keeps the plot moving. Her careful crafting of the message is ideal for introducing congregations to the horrific reality our girls face.

Unfortunately, the film is not one I’d watch again due to the lack of breather moments. Nor am I interested in seeing the sequel due out in 2017, just in case she hasn’t figured out how to lace in more humor for people like me.

cagednomore-screenshots-0030However, if you love to cry during movies, I highly recommend you watch Caged No More and watch the second film in the trilogy next year. It will also give you an opportunity to see why Arnold will soon become the “queen” of faith-based films, standing next to the king Kendrick brothers in the limelight.

As for me, I’ll be trying to figure out how to un-see what was presented so I can get back to a normal life. That’s not to say Arnold didn’t use extreme tact in her presentation, she did, but once you learn what she presents you’ll feel obligated to take some form of action to save at least one girl.

Well done, Arnold! Oh, and give me a call sometime if you want to brainstorm breather moments for your sequel – giving folks like me a chance to watch.

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.”
Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Star Trek 50th Expands Technologically

STB_Enterprise_Cloud_Beyond_Teaser_1SheetStar Trek Beyond released today on the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek television series. To celebrate the golden anniversary, the make-up team based in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Dubai, set out to create 50 unique alien races to appear in the film. In reality, the final count was 53 plus all the versions of characters within each race.

The movie was the first in the Star Trek series to step away from film. The digital equipment was selected for various reasons, but the most important was its ability to extend the frame with additional information. While there are only 30 theaters that will show the extended imagery, Star Trek is being lauded for its advancements with Barco Escape.

Barco Escape projection equipment allows the theater to show the movie not only on the main front screen, but also on the two sidewalls as well. This gives the audience a sense of being in the story or location that fills their periphery. Since most of the locations are created with CGI, it was easy to extend the scenes to incorporate additional information without having to worry about film grain.

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Selected theaters attached two additional screens on the sidewalls. This process was first tested with The Maze Runner in 15 theaters. Modifications from lessons learned were incorporated into the Star Trek release. It’s hard to say if the audience will appreciate being more absorbed in the visuals, or if it will just be the next gimmick in theatrical marketing.

STAR TREK BEYOND

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk, Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah and Anton Yelchin plays Chekov in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

The good news is that regardless of which of the five release formats you watch, including IMAX and 3D, the story is strong enough to stand on its own. The character development is in keeping with what made the series successful and the visual effects incorporate nods to Inception and Star Wars.

The story is easy to follow and the adventure fuels enough energy to excite the audience throughout the film. The character development including Scotty’s probable love interest is sufficient to make each character relatable to the audience. This juxtaposition of adrenalin, humor and honor is sure to make fans believe Rodenberry’s vision to be just around the corner: a huge society of all kinds of people and aliens co-existing peacefully.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Esther The Belle of Patience — Review

CoverEstherIt was refreshing to read a conservative lesson book for young girls, since most books for grade schoolers are liberal. Erin Weidemann’s The Adventures of Rooney Cruz series takes a modern day girl who experiences typical struggles and blesses her with a personal mini-angel that gives her a peek through the windows of time.

In Esther The Belle of Patience, Rooney is able to witness Esther’s efforts of helping her people survive. The principles learned allows Rooney to be a modern day hero by using the same patience that Esther exhibited.

Rooney’s personal mini-angel is Mari, who watches all of her soccer games and looks out for her personal life. She is similar to a Tinker Bell character, but with no grit, fight or stubbornness. She does everything in her power to help Rooney experience a gentle life.

The book is just as safe when it comes to conflict. The struggles are perspective based rather than confrontational. Even Mordecai’s issues with Haman are softly dealt with, not even mentioning the gallows.

The moral of the book is based on a scripture verse that talks about waiting on the Lord. The book fails to show enough conflict and the assertiveness of a prayer warrior, to make the story appear as anything more than passive waiting, rather than powerful patience.

But for those who like nice stories for their children that don’t require a discussion through difficult passages, the book is perfectly suited. The illustrations are fun and enjoyable, and the flow of words makes this book great for early readers to give it a go for themselves.

The book is currently available in bookstores and online. Weidemann also has a website with more information about the series that can be found at biblebelles.com. So, for those who want their kids to become the best kind of super hero – a Bible Belle, this book is for you.

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.”

Wise Guys – Review

WiseGuys book-and-logo3-500x637-2I was interested in reading Kent Evans’ new book, Wise Guys because the promotional copy said he “wanted to show you how to gather life-enriching truth from guys in your own circle.”

Learning how to draw out the wisdom from men, especially the ones I’ve hung out with, is a valuable skill worth learning. But, the book didn’t teach me how to do it until the last chapter. Instead, the author shared nuggets of wisdom he gained from a few guys in his circle.

I was also misled by the sub-title, “Unlocking Hidden Wisdom from the Men Around You.” I didn’t learn anything about drawing out wisdom that’s hidden deep within my friends. All I learned was numerous life lessons the author received from his friends.

Tossing the misleading promotional info to the side, this book is a great devotional for men – although its not promoted as a devotional.

Every nugget of wisdom shared is worth understanding and figuring out how to apply to ones own life. Each chapter provides the author’s experience, his learned life lessons and a few questions to help you think through its application in your own life.

The secondary benefit of the book comes from its position of stepping away from ego. This empowers the reader to grow stronger and more powerful as a man, without feeling humiliated. After several chapters of the book, it became normal to look humbly at my own circumstances and choices, in a way that I could grow. Introspection became a part of who I was during the reading of each lesson.

The questions at the end of each chapter are worth the price of the book. The stories and life lessons are also of value, as it helps provide a wholesome perspective in life. The end of the book is loaded with more information about how to join a Manhood Journey group, an organization the author uses for ministering to fathers and helping them build the next generation of godly men.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Awakened (Faith-Based Thriller) – Review

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I receive numerous films to critique, but I only take time to review the ones that have something unique to offer. So you can imagine my surprise to get a copy of a “faith-based thriller.” It was an oxymoron that I had to watch to satisfy my curiosity.

Faith-based films are slow, filled with preaching and mostly display low production value. Thrillers are mysterious, increase in intensity and speed of storytelling until the climax. The juxtaposition of the two made me curious, as I had to learn how the co-directors accomplished this feat.

The novelty of the concept peaked my interest when I learned the film won three festival awards and was awarded four Doves for family-friendly content. I had no idea how a thriller could be family-friendly, so I couldn’t wait to watch the film.

The faith-based elements of the film was certainly in place with a very slow pace that caused me to doze off three times. The preaching was intact with numerous quoted scriptures and a half dozen preaching moments. And, the production values were extremely poor.

The thriller side never ramped up its pace, nor did it compell me to watch the film until the last reveal. In fact, most of the thriller moments were more horror oriented and badly executed. I suppose I could say the film was horr-ible.

Co-directors Eugene Cuevas and Brian R. Reed shared the creation of several short films together, but this first feature length film of theirs was a bust. Hopefully they learned valuable insights into filmmaking from this disaster.

mediasI also hope that the three festivals that awarded the film for Best Visual Effects, Best Film and Best Feature Film have learned not to put their seal of approval on bad films. I can understand the desire to award the least worst film when a festival isn’t able to draw in great filmmakers, but the only way bad faith-based films and thrillers will ever improve is when only great films receive awards.

In case you’re wondering, the story is about a journalist who is captivated by a demon in the wake of losing his job. The demon appears in the form of a sexy 1960’s blues singer who convinces him to seek out the real story of her death. But thankfully, his spiritual wife realizes that sometimes the right hand has to help the left hand, so she does battle to save her husband.

The man feels like a “nobody” at the beginning of the film and demonstrates that he is a “nobody” at the end of the film. He doesn’t change or grow, so I’m not sure why the story was about him. She, on the other hand, is wise in the beginning and becomes more spiritual for her husband’s sake, by the end of the story.

For this film to receive four Doves for being family-friendly, someone had to have fallen asleep during its viewing and didn’t want anyone to know about it. With the poltergeist scenes of pictures flying off the wall and the bed sheet sitting up in the form of a dead woman, I’m not sure I’d view it as family-friendly. Not to mention the movement of the dead woman’s facial skin toward the end of the film.

My curiosity of how the co-directors merged faith-based and thriller genres has been quenched – They failed. Two diametrically opposed genres cannot be merged into anything worth watching. Rather than purchasing this DVD, take your family out to see The Jungle Book.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

The League and the Lantern – Review

League and Lanter Books 1200 x 800What do you get when you mix The Goonies with National Treasure? A new YA book series that I’d love to direct as a blockbuster feature titled: The League and the Lantern.

Author Brian Wells is an executive producer who has brought award-winning network television movies to the screen. His work has been seen by millions and supported by numerous family organizations. He is a man of character who puts the demonstration of good character into his story.

The League and the Lantern is not only the first book in the series, but it’s Wells’ first novel – A smash hit by my estimate. Not only are his readers eager for the book to be developed for the screen, but parents, homeschoolers and teachers love how he salted the 140 vocabulary words for middle school success into the story.

Brian Wells photo 2 1200 x 800Coming from a collaborative industry, Wells put the same effort that created his television success into the book. He teamed with kids, experts and parents to make sure his story held to his high quality standards. That’s not to say a few editorial misses won’t need to be corrected at the next printing, but the story is told in the highest respectful manner with a great demonstration of wholesome living.

The story is about an awkward Jake Herndon and his chance for a do-over that starts with the 7th grade sleepover. The team-building program quickly turns into a high-energy adventure complete with national secrets, new friendships, and unique twists. By the end of the book, Jake learns the truth about a mystery that dates back to the Civil War, giving him a new perspective on life – now ready to enter middle school.

The best part of the story for me personally was reliving all the locations that I’ve walked in life, well, except for the secret ones. Wells’ descriptions made it clear that he too walked in those same steps, creating a clear picture of the environment the students faced, while in the presence of the dangerous organization invading their program.

This is one book where I hope the author has already started to write the sequel. The book’s themes of friendship, compassion and courage will out last it’s fun filled read. This book is ideal for any young person, and the parents and grandparents who like to sneak a good read from there loved one’s bookshelf.

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.”
Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Ewan McGregor’s Last Days in the Desert — Review

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Finding out that Ewan McGreger stared in the film selected by AFI FEST and SUNDANCE, I felt it was a work that I needed to see during the launch of its limited release. I was also eager to see McGregor play both Jesus and Satan. While there were several moments of great value, the film was boring and diametrically opposed to scripture.

The premise of the film is a three-day journey for Jesus returning to Jerusalem after his 40 days of fasting in the desert. The exploration of this “what if” artistic expression found the filmmaker ignorant of the scriptures or not caring.

In fact, the inaccuracy and mishandling of scriptures was so bad, NPR raved about how excellent the film was and classified it to be as good as “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which Evangelical leaders declared blasphemous in 1988.

The first problem with this film is that Satan continues to tempt Jesus over the three-day journey back home. In the scriptures, after Jesus resisted the devil three times, using scripture, Satan flees. Their ongoing battle shows the two almost chummy in nature with Jesus calling on Satan to show him a boy’s future through divination. I counted seven of these types of inaccuracies.

The cinematography by Academy Award winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was very well done, but the beauty of the picture was not enough to offset the confusion of story and a bad story structure.

The film is clearly presented as a story of Jesus, but the story unfolds about a boy that Jesus encounters. While a person might jump to the conclusion that it’s a story within a story, the idea fails to launch.

The parents of the boy are the most interesting of characters, save for Satan. The boy comes next and Jesus is the most passive person of little interest. Even director Rodrigo García shared his fascination for the parents and Satan and how he tried to compensate, bringing more life to the character of Jesus.

The biggest shock to me was the reaction of the audience after the lights came up. Most people raved about the film, dismissing the long boring parts and the mishandling of scripture. One person said that they understood the director’s choices based on artistic license and hoped the film would generate more like it.

While the film was a great discussion starter, it failed to entertain and it took faith-based films back to the Stone Age – Although, it was not promoted as a faith-based film due to its inaccurate content. And, while it was a selection of two notable festivals, it didn’t win a single award.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers