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

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

Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9 — REVIEW

Galaxy BuckAfter you get past the first 20 minutes of nauseating repetition about Buck wanting to do something BIG for God, the “Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9” story finally settles into a worthwhile message. Even adults who enjoy Star Trek and Star Wars will appreciate the story nods to both franchises.

The story is about Buck Denver who has a big dream to save the galaxy by carrying God’s love to every corner of the Milky Way. Unfortunately, Buck is frustrated working for the Galactic Mission Board, as the only help he gives people is making sure they receive their donation premiums.

Buck finally gets his chance to do something big for God when a tech devise needs to be repaired in sector 9. He quickly gets a space ship, since he’s been taking online courses to learn how to be a captain, and puts together a crew to pilot the ship from his call center buddies. It was disappointing that fun and games didn’t ensue from this awkward crew trying to figure out how to fly the ship, as it’s automated to the point of driving itself to sector 9 before anyone can push a button.

The away team steps off of the ship’s shuttle on the “uninhabited” planet to fix the equipment and Buck is separated by a sand storm. Finding shelter in a cave with a wise man, Buck learns about what its really like to serve God, rather than focusing on doing something big. That’s when things heat up at the hand of the planet’s inhabitants and forces Buck to make a decision that will impact the future of all involved.

Phil Visher (Creator of VeggieTales®) did a great job developing the story in the second half of the show, which means that kids might want to jump to the middle of the show after watching it a few times. The galactic adventure attempts to teach kids a message about trusting God with everything, but the intense repetition of Buck wanting to do “big” things for God might overshadow a child’s memory of the message – At least it did for this big kid.

“Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9” has an approximate runtime of 40 minutes, is well-shot and enjoyable to watch for young children. The puppets and sets work well, and the story in the second half of the program makes owning the show worth it. The show releases tomorrow.

The Identical — Review

The IdenticalThe Identical (Blu-Ray/DVD release on January 13, 2015) is almost a “what if” story about Elvis and his stillborn twin. It’s almost a concert film. And, it’s almost a historical biopic. But, regardless of the scattered focus, the film delivers a story of an unknown twin that finds his true calling in life rising from the ashes of all that held him back.

But that’s not all.

The film is also about the father, an itinerant preacher, who adopts the twin and pushes his son to follow in his footsteps, but later sees the importance of having his son be what is right for him to be.

The story was a little confusing with dual storylines taking turns driving the film, rather than one being the subplot of the other. This directorial choice made me wonder if the film was actually about the father, especially since by the end we see a transformation in the father’s approach to wanting what’s best for his son.

Ray LiottaThe character that changes always gets our full attention and the twin never changes. From the beginning of the film he is a part of music and by the end of the film he is a part of music. Even when his father attempts to push him away from music, he secretly stays connected to it. He is always about music and continues to be about music through to the end.

Blake Rayne, a real life Elvis impersonator, is The Identical. But, in real, real life he is Ryan Pelton, as Blake Rayne is a stage name – the name he uses in the film industry. Now, if that isn’t weird enough, Rayne plays Drexel Hemsley (An alternate world Elvis) and Ryan Wade (The alternate world’s living twin of Elvis). Of course, by the climax of the film he learns that he is actually Drexel Ryan Hemsley.

I was also confused by two messages that the audience is left with:

1. It’s a man’s job to learn to stand in his truth.
2. If He (God) is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them.

The first theme is the most powerful, as the story follows Ryan’s struggle to learn who he is and his purpose in life. As for the second theme, it seemed to be added to help attract the faith-based market.

Instead of Ryan chasing a specific dream, he works hard to clear his confusion in life, surrounds himself with music, and attempts to figure out who he is – A great singer who’s not in it for the money. But, this storyline is greatly overshadowed by Ray Liotta’s (Goodfellas, Hannibal) performance as the father/itinerant preacher.

Once you get past the muddiness of who the picture is about, there are a lot of positive things in the movie worth enjoying.

The picture spans five decades and was well crafted by Production Designer, Keith Brian Burns (2 Fast 2 Furious, Abduction, Four Brothers). Each period is well executed and takes you back to the look and feel of the era. The only exception is the polished nostalgic look with new props and mint vintage cars instead of things carrying different ages of use and dirt.

Ashley JuddAshley Judd (Divergent, Double Jeopardy, A Time To Kill) commands attention on screen as the perfect woman who keeps her house together, while respecting everyone in it regardless of their mistakes and passions. Her performance even changed subtly to fit each decade’s style.

Seth Green (Austin Powers, The Italian Job) and Joe Pantoliano (Bad Boys I & II, Daredevil, The Matrix) gave great performances with new characterizations that added humor to the story. Erin Cottrel (Little House on the Prarie, The Janette Oke “Love” films), gave an inspiring performance as Wade’s wife that would cause any man to love her for eternity.

While I can understand why critics slammed the film for its muddied story, it’s worth a closer look now that its being released on video January 13, 2015. The best part of the Blu-Ray/DVD release is the 85 minutes of bonus content including a making of program, behind the scenes footage and deleted scenes. Hearing from the key players and what they tried to put into the movie was eye opening and made the film worth watching a second time.