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

Awakened (Faith-Based Thriller) – Review

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 9.35.19 PM
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

Ewan McGregor’s Last Days in the Desert — Review

LDD_01006.CR2

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