Movie Review – “The Glass Castle”

“The Glass Castle” is an emotional and thought-provoking train wreck.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Headlined by a trio of Hollywood heavyweights, this film adaptation of the 2005 best-seller by Jeannette Walls presents a riveting and raw look inside her real-life nomadic upbringing. Riding the same harrowing dysfunctional and shocking family details that kept Walls’ novel on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 261 weeks, “The Glass Castle” shakes moviegoers with inspirational pep talks and heartbreaking results.

Emmy winner and Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson portrays the patriarch of the Walls family, relocating his wife (Naomi Watts) and their four small children from one abandoned home to the next. As the brilliant thinker and even better talker Rex, Harrelson teeters between providing love and neglect to family. Keeping score of his abusive behavior and the unkept promises of her father is daughter Jeannette Walls, played by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson (“Room”).

“The Glass Castle” is an emotional and thought-provoking train wreck. Never a dull moment, the film smartly focuses on the father-daughter relationship between Harrelson and Larson. Cleverly, the deceptive and manipulative ways of Harrelson’s character sways everyone initially…the young children, his accomplice wife, and us, the viewers. As Harrelson’s flaws emerge, his love for his kids is overshadowed by abuse, alcohol, and an inability to provide for his family.

This film explores the correlation between one’s tumultuous upbringing and how a child turns out in the end. It delves into the psyche of a young girl given assurances and promises by her father, who has no ability to make either come true. “The Glass Castle” is a testament to the fact that despite one’s difficult childhood under abusive and irresponsible parenting, it’s still possible for children to love their parents. And to get out from under that turmoil and thrive.

Sensational performances abound in this true story. Larson does an excellent job as Jeannette, the teenager and grown-up author and gossip columnist. It’s the younger versions of “Jeannette”, though, that carry this fascinating film using standout set-up work from Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. A disillusioned mother, Rose Marie (Watts), confidently steps aside to let Harrelson’s Oscar-worthy role sputter and falter for all to see.

“The Glass Castle” raises awareness of parental responsibilities and offers hope to children seeking to outcome life’s hurdles. Substandard upbringing does not mean the circle of abuse and poverty can’t still be broken. And a heartbreaking story can have an inspiring, loving end. Look for Woody Harrelson (and perhaps Brie Larson) to get Academy Award nominations from his outstanding performance in this emotional film.

Grade: A

“The Glass Castle” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking. Its running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Detroit”

“In one of the most disturbing movie accounts in recent years, “Detroit” may be too much and too soon for Americans overwhelmed by the current Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter battle on U.S. highways and streets.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

The mega successful Academy Award-winning duo of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal team up for a third time in this true 1967 civil unrest story. The director and screenwriter from “The Hurt Locker” (2009) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2013) once again raise viewer eyebrows over what’s fact and fiction in their big-screen adaptation. Regardless, “Detroit” proves to be a film that grabs your attention as we watch urban race relations boil into death and destruction.

“Detroit” takes us back fifty years to the 12th Street Riots, when local police break-up an unlicensed, after-hours bar. Black protesters gather and turn violent to resist and bring attention to growing racial unrest. As tensions escalate in the city over the next 5 days, National Guard troops, U.S. Army 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, Michigan Highway Patrol, and Detroit police all attempt to regain control as the violence spirals into a war zone.

In one of the most disturbing movie accounts in recent years, “Detroit” may be too much and too soon for Americans overwhelmed by the current Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter battle on U.S. highways and streets. It’s here, in the real world, where the facts and truth must be debated and presented accurately by filmmakers and the media. No more misleading “Hands up, don’t shoot” slogans and conjecture of events like the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Detroit” and Bigelow lose some historical street credibility as challenges to the movie’s accuracy is sparked by a vague, post-film disclaimer that appears to cast doubt on some facts and testimony. Changing the names of the real characters shouldn’t translate into changing history using a director’s creative license. This country, and those who survived the five days of riots, deserve nothing less than full transparency. Bigelow herself has admitted to “moments of fiction” in this latest interpretative film, underscoring the dramatization of the true event.

With fifty years of hindsight and police actions never more scrutinized than today, “Detroit” needed to get this story 100% right. The 12th Street Riots killed 43 people and injured nearly 1,200. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed in less than one week. Everyone will leave this film angry. Upset that five decades later, the same accusations and disturbing behavior exists in American neighborhoods.

Bigelow deserves credit for illustrating how important it is for both sides of the race riots to police themselves. Blacks attempting to stop looting and violence in black neighborhoods, while white police officers arrest and charge bad cops. Each side’s violence, though, promulgated by the unlawful few. Bigelow’s torture scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” pale in comparison to the harmful events that unfold inside the Algiers Motel, as seven black men and two white women are victimized by several white police officers. Perhaps it’s that raw depiction of events, despite small bouts of fiction, that will further our national conversation on race relations to avoid repeating this painful chapter in our country’s history.

Grade: B+

“Detroit” is rated R for strong violence and pervasive language. It’s running time is 2 hours and 22 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Atomic Blonde”

“With her own trust issues, a willingness to bed attractive female foreign nationals, and rapid-fire hand-to-hand combat skills to boot, Theron’s ready right now to be crowned the next 007.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Movie lovers have always appreciated Charlize Theron’s willingness to take on the most challenging of acting roles. Those leading parts that push the beautiful actress well beyond her comfort zone and into shocking film territory. No one will soon forget her captivating and jaw-dropping Academy Award-winning performance in the grisly narrative “Monster” (2003) playing a serial killer. Now the actress, named by Time in 2016 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world, steps up her game in an action-packed thriller that continues to test Theron on-camera–both emotionally and physically.

As one of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service agents, Theron plays a British spy who must quickly identify friend from foe within her MI6 organization as well as other foreign operatives in 1986 Berlin. Everyone, including Theron’s Lorraine Broughton character, attempts to gain control of an invaluable list of undercover agents that’s fallen into the wrong hands.

David Leitch, who co-directed (uncredited) 2014’s wildly successful “John Wick” movie, takes the helm of “Atomic Blonde” in his first feature-length film as sole director. Fans of the former stunt coordinator and Brad Pitt stunt double will applaud Leitch’s drawn out fight scenes in “Atomic Blonde”. Leitch’s penchant for long, brutal, beat downs between Theron and her enemies nicely captures the formidable leading lady exhausted after each challenge–with compounding wounds to prove it.

Theron’s charming and smart “Atomic Blonde” spy character draws immediate comparison to another British MI6 big-screen star: Bond, James Bond. With her own trust issues, a willingness to bed attractive female foreign nationals, and rapid-fire hand-to-hand combat skills to boot, Theron’s ready right now to be crowned the next 007.

“Atomic Blonde” succeeds with a two-punch delivery that consists of timely action sequences and a soundtrack dating back to chart-topping hits from the 1980s. A few slower moments in the storyline quickly get jump-started using several significant plot twists to keep viewers guessing until the final scene.

Between the various accents and foreign government power grabs, rests a powerful and bloodied performance (once again) from the versatile Theron. James McAvoy, whose multiple personalities earlier this year in “Split” caused audiences to collectively wince, conveniently rides shotgun to Theron in this spy story. But it’s the great John Goodman, who once again shines bright in a lesser role, that brings out the best in “Atomic Blonde”.

Grade: B-

“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. Its running length is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Dunkirk”

“Nolan missed the boat (pun intended) on the true heroes over those nine days in 1940. The great reveal at the end–where true civilian heroics emerge–comes too little and too late.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

“Disappointing” was my first thought after seeing this latest story from unconventional director Christopher Nolan. Like most of you, seeing this film’s gripping World War II movie trailer earlier this year instantly made it one of my most anticipated films of 2017.

Moviegoers and hardcore Nolan fans know that the atypical and Academy Award-nominated director has a fetish with time and risky storytelling techniques in his films. Nolan’s affection towards temporal distortions, timestamps, and wormholes is well-known and earmarked much of his work, most notably 2000’s “Memento” and 2014’s “Interstellar”. He even cited time in his decision to depart from the successful Batman superhero line after three blockbuster Dark Knight hits. Which brings us to the director’s most unorthodox movie to date…”Dunkirk”.

Based on the true-life beach-side evacuation of soldiers between May 26 and June 4 in 1940, “Dunkirk” packs a powerful cinematographic punch for viewers’ eyes. Unfortunately, it offers little historical education on the setting and background leading up to, and including, the evacuation itself.

I found “Dunkirk” a muddled presentation of shallow, incoherent sub-stories with absolutely no character development. Nolan thinly presents three intertwined perspectives of the evacuation using one hour, one day, and one-week timestamps to narrate the siege from the surrounding Nazi army. Realism abounds as the film’s camerawork and attention to military details (aircraft, uniforms, etc.) capture these competing segments.

My biggest heartburn in “Dunkirk” is Nolan’s storytelling process being disjointed and having characters that are not only difficult to tell apart, but also share so little about themselves to the audience. Nolan’s constant focus on enemy suppressive fire (from random German bullets and precision bombing a la “Saving Private Ryan”) for ninety-plus minutes ultimately leaves the audience numb–particularly without any historical context or adequate dialogue for further explanation.

Nolan missed the boat (pun intended) on the true heroes over those nine days in 1940. All we see and hear in Dunkirk, France, is a defeated, demoralized, and hopeless Allied force of 400K stranded by military strategic incompetence. The great reveal at the end–where true civilian heroics emerge–comes too little and too late. Which is a shame to the people of Dover, England, and their amazing maritime flotilla story to tell. Churchill was right, “wars aren’t won by evacuations”. And neither are great movies that simply try to shell shock viewers with drawn out, intense, violence that provides no investment in its characters.

Grade: C+

“Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language. Its running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes. The film opens nationwide this Friday.

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Movie Review – “War for the Planet of the Apes”

“War for the Planet of the Apes” has many positive attributes, none more so than the appealing realism of walking, talking, and horseback-riding chimpanzees, gorillas, and one thoughtful orangutan. These special effects are the foundation to an enjoyable, entertaining, and fast-paced movie!

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Every dog or cat owner, at one time or another, has found themselves in a what appears to be a role reversal with their family pet. Perhaps it’s the large canine taking ownership over the family room sofa, leaving the head of the household to find comfort elsewhere. Or maybe it’s the family feline refusing to budge on anyone’s time clock but their own. Looking down from another planet, observers would easily place these four-legged creatures at the top of Earth’s hierarchy. After all, us bottom feeders find ourselves chauffeuring these animals everywhere. Taking this fight for supremacy to the extreme is this reboot of the “Planet of the Apes” five-film series set back in the late 1960s and early 70s.

With a ferocious and heart-pounding first scene, “War for the Planet of the Apes” finds chimpanzee Caesar leading his reclusive tribe against human attacks deep inside the Muir Woods National Monument…located a dozen miles north of San Francisco. In this Man vs. Ape saga, both species are fighting each other and against certain extinction for the loser.

Fans of the original “Planet of the Apes” (1968), starring Charlton Heston as astronaut George Taylor, will find this latest threequel perplexing in the way humans are wholly depicted. These contemporary ape films, starting off with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” (2014), and now this survival of the fittest ride, all cast humans as the villainous, opposing force to the good primates. We’ve seen the bad humans use these apes as lab specimens before. Here, they’re used as slave labor or discarded altogether.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” has many positive attributes, none more so than the appealing realism of walking, talking, and horseback-riding chimpanzees, gorillas, and one thoughtful orangutan. These special effects are the foundation to an enjoyable, entertaining, and fast-paced movie! “War” is easily the most character-focused journey in the series since James Franco’s appearance in “Rise”. The clamor heard three years ago for award consideration to Andy Serkis (as Caesar) in “Dawn” should only intensify this Oscar season. Yes, he’s that good and effortlessly carries this intense showdown.

While the movie provides shocking special effects and timely humor to stop the hemorrhage of on-screen violence, the singular flaw in “War for the Planet of the Apes” is in its one-sided narrative. Nearly overshadowed completely is Woody Harrelson’s portrayal as the “Colonel”, a psychotic and dangerous front man to a band of henchmen opposing both certain humans and all primates.

Overall, “War” is time well spent at the theater and mirrors the Simian Flu virus that started the whole conflict. The spectacular 1968 start to the “Planet of the Apes” franchise has now evolved to the point where humans are regressing back into a primate state, mute and all—and we’re no longer the good guys.

Grade: B

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.  Its running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

“the film’s last 10 minutes evoke deadpan laughter to give us the best Marvel cameo and ending seen in years!”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Fans of last year’s “Captain America: Civil War” will rejoice knowing that the same raw, yet spirited, Spider-Man returns in “Homecoming”. Brit and former gymnast Tom Holland once again provides an infectious charismatic face to the Marvel brand as Peter Parker…aka Spider-Man. His youthful exuberance swings from buildings doling out justice to street crime as he learns what it takes to be a member of the elusive Avengers team.

Under the tutorship of none other than Mr. Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man’s high school days in Queens, New York, embodies the pursuit of a romantic dating interest, a hilarious BFF rapport, extracurricular school activities, and a coveted internship at Stark Industries. It’s Tony, though, who starkly questions Parker as to whether he has the maturity to become a bona fide Avenger. Or, perhaps, Peter’s temperament might be better suited filling the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” niche instead.

The film’s two best features are a quick-witted script that Holland & crew deliver with flawless comedic timing and an up-close look at the young superhero still learning the (web) ropes. While the “in-training” Spider-Man conjures up his own action blunders to poke fun at himself, most of the movie’s one-liners come from a strong supporting cast of fellow high schoolers. From his bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) to outcast Michelle (Zendaya), Parker’s classmates steal every scene. Likewise, the film’s last 10 minutes evoke deadpan laughter to give us the best Marvel cameo and ending seen in years!

No one exudes or takes on the 24/7 persona of an Avenger in the real world better than Downey as Iron Man. From his personal Instagram account to the more important nuances like movie interviews talking up other films, Downey can always be relied upon to self-endorse the edgy Tony Stark and Marvel product line. With time, I believe we may see Holland embrace this same pride in his Spidey character, to include showing up in children’s hospitals to help promote a good fight and ignite smiles everywhere.

Despite nauseating iPhone video footage early on and a love interest never completely sold to the audience, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” delivers for comic book-to-movie fans. After spectacular hits in “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “Wonder Women”, this fast-moving story dutifully makes it a winning 2017 superhero film trifecta.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” packs high energy, near-constant laughs, and a steady resolve from its young leading man. While there’s a bad apple (Michael Keaton’s Vulture) and criminal element to take down, this movie’s rampant success is the result of a likeable newbie with very watchable friends and his own inquisitive knack to explore the Marvel Universe.

Be sure to stay in your seat for the two post-film bonus scenes!

Grade: A-

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments.  Its running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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Thriving Indie film expands to Tucson this week!

“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is a bold, rich take on Native American history that is catching fire with audiences throughout Arizona. We’re fortunate to have this unforgettable story come to Tucson this week.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

As a comic book heroine continues her blockbuster dominance this summer, a much lesser known film has also grabbed moviegoers’ full attention. The self-distributed Native American story “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” has quietly sold out nearly every one of its appearances at multiplex theaters across the U.S. over the past 2 weeks. This box office winner, with an amazing and authentic star, has touched so many hearts that theaters are extending their movie runs in cities and while expanding into new markets. Due to the overwhelmingly positive reception in Phoenix to “Neither Wolf Nor Dog”, the independent film has just added Tucson to its growing list of cities for wider release–set now to premiere at Harkins Theatres Tucson Spectrum 18 on July 7 for at least one week of showings.

Based on Kent Nerburn’s critically acclaimed novel by the same name, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” tells the unforgettable Indian story of a 95-year old Lakota elder named Dan, played perfectly by Dave Bald Eagle. Getting too old, the Native American leader wants his personal notes formally recorded for history’s sake. Tasked to compile the leader’s lifelong journey is none other than fair-minded author and white man Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney).

Modestly filmed by a crew of 2 over only eighteen days, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is an incredible look inside the Lakota Country of South Dakota. The movie powerfully captures the culture, hardships, and obstacles that Native Americans have endured over the years. It also highlights the graciousness, humor, and pride still vibrant throughout the Lakota people.

The excellence and shear power of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is found in its main star, Dave Bald Eagle, who died post-production at the age of 97. Left for dead on D-Day in real life, Bald Eagle leads a stellar cast that’s both believable and fascinating to watch. The interaction of the characters, particularly Sweeney’s as Nerburn opposite Bald Eagle’s robust Dan, is what keeps this dialogue-heavy movie rolling and interesting.

“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is an education for viewers throughout. It presents the beauty and tragedy of Lakota life in simple terms, right down to the cinematography and filmmaking techniques used to tell one man’s iconic journey. A historical account that goes back to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. All events and relationships that must be remembered forever.  And that’s the true importance of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog”…the deeply seeded history lesson of our nation’s past and present with the Lakota culture.

This film isn’t bringing home the box office sales of “Wonder Women”, but it’s selling out theaters everywhere it’s shown. “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is a bold, rich take on Native American history that is catching fire with audiences throughout Arizona. We’re fortunate to have this unforgettable story come to Tucson this week.

Grade: B

“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is unrated and will be shown at the Harkins Theatres Tucson Spectrum 18, beginning on July 7. Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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5 Heartwarming, Powerful Movie Rentals

“Five heartwarming and powerful stories available to rent.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Film enthusiasts looking for “must-see” movies to rent over the Fourth of July holiday will enjoy these winners:

The Way (2010)

Martin Sheen plays an ophthalmologist living the country club lifestyle when he gets the terrible news that every parent dreads and is never prepared for. This film follows Sheen as he attempts to complete the hike his son started on foot, traveling from France to Spain, but never finished. An excellent cast and brilliant photography provide ‘The Way‘ to an emotional trek–with frequent stops for rest and humility. This film is not about choosing a life, but living one. Somewhere along this El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) journey you’ll find yourself wanting to complete the pilgrimage.

Rated PG-13. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, On Demand, and Vudu.

 

Million Dollar Arm (2014)

This feel-good story follows the search for the first Indian to sign a professional sports contract in the United States. Based upon real events, “Million Dollar Arm” spans more than just the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. It captures India’s customs and traditions as much as it portrays America’s pastime. And for that, “Million Dollar Arm” delivers a perfect, 94-mph fastball.

Rated PG. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, On Demand, and Vudu.

 

Concussion (2015)

A spectacular Will Smith confirms for us that there are no coincidences in life. As Dr. Bennet Omalu, Smith uses his own vast talent to expose and highlight the dangers caused from repeated head trauma. “Concussion” isn’t a movie about the National Football League. Rather, it’s a story about a brilliant Nigerian immigrant, thankful for his many opportunities in America. His reverence towards our ideals and principles get tested by the very system he relishes. We should all be thankful for professionals such as Doctor Bennet Omalu–willing to do his job fully and unapologetically, without taking shortcuts. And that’s all we can ask for.

Rated PG-13. Available at On Demand (STARZ – Free) and iTunes (buy).

 

Noble (2015)

A glass full, overflowing with emotion, movie. This film brings hope to the homeless and answers to the faithful. The true story of Christina Noble, a strong, spirited and determined woman who overcomes adversity and poverty on the streets of Ireland growing up. During her youth, she experiences dreams of Vietnam and understands that her life’s calling is in that country. To fulfill her desire, she must first survive impossible odds and struggles no person should ever endure–particularly a child. She begins a conversation with God, asking Him why she’s been dealt so much, so early in her life. The answer to that question can only be found in Vietnam. An uplifting and heartfelt story!

Rated PG-13. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu.

 

Sing Street (2016)

Director John Carney, who gave us the 2007 romantic music trifecta of guitar, piano, and vocals in the Irish movie “Once”, returns to Dublin for a stellar encore performance involving a teenage boy dealing with the pressures of school while starting up a rock band to get closer to a girl. Carney knows how to bring music and romance together better than anyone else and we find a heartfelt story that feels both charming and real at the same time. This generation’s “Breakfast Club” movie! An above average cast and a 1980s soundtrack launch this movie into instant Classic status and onto my Top 10 Films for 2016.

Rated PG-13. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix.



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Movie Review – “The Hero”

“One of the best films of the year!”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Veteran actor Sam Elliott has that famous authoritative deep voice we can all recognize on television from the other room. He also has that legendary bushy mustache that seems to walk into movie scenes minutes ahead of the star—like in 1993’s “Tombstone” as Virgil Earp. But Elliott’s six-foot two-inch cowboy frame, chiseled facial features, and booming voice have mostly led to supporting movie and TV characters over his vast career. Until now. In “The Hero”, we find Elliott’s emergence into the leading role gig a comfortable and relaxing match for the grizzled performer—like the perfect fit of a well-worn leather glove on a gunfighter’s hand.

In one of the best films of the year, Elliott plays an iconic Western movie star named Lee Hayden, who hasn’t had a quality film in 40 years. Left doing voice-overs for barbecue sauce commercials, Elliott’s aging character unexpectedly gets notified that Hayden is being presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from his rabid fan-base.

The brilliance of “The Hero” is that it looks back at Hayden’s past life as much as it peers forward. This perspective offers us short glimpses into Hayden’s relationship with his family and career over the years. We also see what lies ahead for the struggling actor with the recognizable voice. A washed up, reclusive man with many flaws gets exposed, but he never fails to acknowledge or take responsibility for his actions.

A film that moves at the pace of its 72-year old headliner, moviegoers will find its slow, straight-talk and problematic issues dealt with in a head-on and fresh manner, mesmerizing viewers. The uncertainty in Hayden’s life feels wholly believable and never rushed for the sake of getting to the next line of a scene. Instead, “The Hero” engulfs us with the same vulnerability and real-life problems that age throws at everyone. It even gets us to ponder our impact on others’ lives and contemplate our achievements over a lifetime.

“The Hero” will leave you wanting more. Much more. Clever storytelling takes us back to only parts of leading man Lee Hayden’s past and several relationships he fosters. Problems are dealt with like tumble weed on a gusty horse trail. They’re out of mind and sight for now…but never gone entirely.

This spectacular–yet plain talking–movie could easily transform itself into a weekly TV series or a Showtime 10-part miniseries. That voice of his. The crazy mustache. And his stoic cowboy persona could easily achieve it. In the meantime, grab yourself some Lone Star barbecue sauce, the perfect partner for your chicken.

“The Hero” is in limited theaters but is scheduled for wide release on July 4.

Grade: A

“The Hero” is rated R for drug use, language, and some sexual content. Its running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Megan Leavey”

“Easily, the best performance of the movie belongs to the German Shepherd “Rex”. His K9 bomb-sniffing training and bonding experience with Leavey leading up to Iraq is fascinating and suspenseful to watch.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Feeling more like a Hallmark made-for-television movie than a Hollywood big-screen production, “Megan Leavey” offers up a real-life Marine heroine and her military working dog injured in 2006 Afghanistan. This latest war narrative examines the personal growth of the young Corporal Leavey, who enlists into the Marine Corps to escape several relationships…only to find one special rapport with a four-legged dog named Rex.

“Megan Leavey” is a heart-warming and, at times, gut-wrenching true story. Unfortunately, the best parts of the movie are presented far too quickly to be fully effective. While portions of Leavey’s family past are rightfully mentioned, it comes with the very steep price of losing further emotional connection between the dog handler, her partner, and the theater audience.

Megan’s interaction with her mother (Edie Falco from HBO’s “The Sopranos”) and step-father (Will Patton) although important, never matures enough to be of a higher value to the overall film. The bland script also dampens the girl’s special bond with her father (played by this year’s “Get Out” film star Bradley Whitford). Despite a proven all-around cast led by “House of Cards” TV-standout and Emmy Award-nominated Kate Mara, “Megan Leavey” never taps into the film’s several strengths long enough to truly impact viewers.

Easily, the best performance of the movie belongs to the German Shepherd “Rex”. His K9 bomb-sniffing training and bonding experience with Leavey leading up to Iraq is fascinating and suspenseful to watch. The other, lesser relationships explored between the corporal and her family and a budding boyfriend, though, take away from the critical job shared by this military working dog team.

The film illustrates the dangers posed to our military forces deployed overseas and the importance dogs have played in our nation’s wars for over two-hundred years. It reminded me of my last combat tour to Afghanistan, over the latter part of 2010 and into 2011. Attending a senior leadership meeting at a U.S. base that November, we were notified that a military working dog at an Army outpost had developed a life-threatening sickness (non-combat related).

Aircrews, intelligence briefers, operations planners, and ground support all moved with the same urgency to save this K9 as we had done countless times before for a human soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. Immediately an air package consisting of A-10, F-15 and drone aircraft gave top-cover for a pair of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters that carried Pedro combat medics through a heavily occupied valley of enemy Taliban fighters. At the same time, a giant C-17 aeromedical jet on standby was generated to airlift the dog across the country to the finest U.S. veterinary hospital available. That’s the respect K9 warriors are given within our U.S. military. I only wish “Megan Leavey” had delved deeper into that special bond–and at more times–throughout the film.

Grade: C+

“Megan Leavey” is rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements. Its running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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