The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Hundred-Foot JourneyReleased: August 8, 2014. Directed by: Lasse Hallströme. Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal. Runtime: 122 min.

Lasse Hallströme helms another adaptation (his follow-up to the awfully silly “Safe Haven”), this time written by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”) and adapted from The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais; a novel about cooking, not walking.

It follows the Kadam family, who move to France from India to both start anew (especially after the main character’s mother dies) and escape local political violence. Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the main protagonist who has a passion for food. He and his family open up a traditional Indian restaurant next door to Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) French cuisine restaurant that has received one out of a three possible Michelin stars from the annual Michelin Guidebook.

The one star is to say that “it is a very good restaurant in its category.” The film basically depicts the uptight Mallory wanting another Michelin star (which says the restaurant has “excellent cooking and is worth a detour”). She can’t get her hopes up too high for a third star, because as one character describes it – that is for “the Gods.”

Officially, the guidebook says that it has “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” This leads me to believe the film’s title has a dual meaning – saying that Mallory’s restaurant is worth the journey to eat at; and the main meaning is that the Kadam family opens their restaurant one-hundred feet away from hers. As if the struggles of opening an Indian restaurant in France were not difficult enough.

Mirren is good as Mallory, and it’s interesting to see her relax throughout the film. Also good is Om Puri as Hassan’s grandfather, whose stubborn nature brings humour to the lightly entertaining film – especially matched against Mallory’s stubborn nature. The stand-out is the young Manish Dayal who plays the passionate cook who doesn’t believe recipes necessarily have to stay the same.

This adds diversity when the film starts to merge Indian cuisine with traditional French cuisine. It also breaks barriers between the cultures, enabling lovely multiculturalism, always a welcome theme in Disney films. Also notable is the memorable Charlotte Le Bon as Hassan’s friend, and employee of Madame Mallory, Marguerite. When the two friends get too competitive, it interrupts the easy-going flow with troubling and frustrating conflict. There’s enough conflict without it, with the constant, but amusing, ways both restaurant owners attract customers. This sub-plot just isn’t enjoyable. At least it’s better than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child voice in “Julie & Julia.”

Score80/100

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

 

X-Men Days of Future PastReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender. Runtime: 133 min.

X-Men of the old age and the new age team up in the franchise’s most outstanding and most ambitious film to date. I am ecstatic to report that this film doesn’t disappoint. Simon Kinberg writes the characters into such a sound and absorbing atmosphere that is honestly impossible to resist. He writes the screenplay so well with some phenomenal pacing that never let’s your attention span waver. The story follows Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in a strong outing) as he goes back in time to prevent an occurrence that will create a weapon that could wipe out mutants and humans alike. 

What is perhaps most impressive about Kinberg’s screenplay that he is able to pace the film so well, that it never let’s your attention waver. He is also able to make up for past mistakes. For a time travel film, the plot is easy to follow – and mildly simplistic. That is not to say that it’s nothing short of brilliant, however. This is a true treat for comic book fans and the casual movie-goer because it balances vibrant and intelligent entertainment with great storytelling. It’s fascinating to see James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart give different takes on the character of Charles Xavier in the same film.

It’s such a treat to see Charles Xavier at a time where he didn’t quite know where he was a person. It’s great to see Logan and future Charles guide him, in scenes that are so well-written. The humour hits on every mark, even in dazzling action sequences. There’s a scene-stealer found in Evan Peters’ Quiksilver, who I think might be worth the price of admission alone. Back to James McAvoy: He gives such an interesting and vulnerable performance as Charles Xavier. It reminds us that, as a character, even the most intelligent people can lose their way. I think it adds such a great layer to the character of Charles. It’s also interesting that Charles chooses his legs over his powers. Nicholas Hoult portrays Hank McCoy/Beast, and I thought the creature design for him is stronger than in First Class

Also great is Michael Fassbender as Magneto as a young man. Even when Charles and Magneto are on the same side, Erik is like the mischievous Loki of the X-Men universe. Fassbender is still charming as the character. Jennifer Lawrence brings it as the younger Mystique. She is confident as a character who has also lost their way after parting from Charles, a person in her life who has always tried to guide her. That aspect also gives Charles an appealing layer. Mystique is so interesting this time around, and I am so glad to see the character in the spotlight in these youngster X-Men movies. I always thought her characterization was mildly weak in the original trilogy, and I just feel honoured getting to see her grow as a phenomenal villain that feels extremely easy to relate with. She also looks so much better with shorter hair. The diverse Lawrence is the right actress to tackle the role.

It’s fantastic to see the X-Men franchise back in its right form. Bryan Singer is the man to do that because of his touch in the original franchise. He brings his style to the original characters, and with the help of Matthew Vaughn’s wit, Singer is able to keep the great style that made X-Men: First Class so damn great. It’s also really fun seeing these superhero flicks drop the F-bomb each time. I don’t think this feels completely like a super hero film. It feels like a great action film boasting on-point storytelling that audiences everywhere can enjoy. It’s a great feeling. One reason why the X-Men universe is my favourite amongst comic book movies, is because of its compelling character work.

There’s not one boring character. The villain in this film is mastermind is Doctor Boliver Trask, a mastermind trying to get a weapon project called Centinnels to protect against mutants. He is portrayed by Peter Dinklage, a small man with a booming presence. He plays a smart and effective villain. There’s also never a boring action sequence. By the way, this film features some of the most memorable action sequences put onto screen this year. The opening scene is just crazy good. It’s delightful seeing all of these original characters take the screen again, too. It follows that with a bunch of nifty action sequences that boast phenomenal direction by Singer. 

I cannot wait to see this near-perfect film again. It might leave you with a few questions, but I can’t take any marks off for that. It’s a time-travel film, and sometimes that gets confusing, but I think it handles its concepts with brilliance. The third act only gives you the most questions, but I think they’ll be answered in later films. There’s just one thing that I had to question during the third act: Was there a major league baseball stadium in Washington in 1973? (I learn the team moved to Texas in 1971, so the stadium wasn’t being used for baseball.)

I guess the facts aren’t important, because how the stadium plays into the story is just outstanding. My questioning of that factual error is just me being a logic monster. I was also disappointed by the fact we don’t get to see any more action from Banshee or Azazel from First Class. At least it makes up for it with a lot of great new mutants. The film is visually dazzling and just all-around enjoyable. See it, and see it often. This is the film that demands the most views out of the franchise thus far, for its entertainment value, emotional connectivity, and sheer brilliance. 

Score: 95/100

 

 

Blended (2014)

BlendedReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Runtime: 117 min.

Adam Sandler and co bring us a rom-com that’s heavy on the romance, light on the comedy. Six or seven good laughs throughout the feature is no impressive feat, but is okay for Sandler’s current streak, considering six laughs is around my personal combined tally for how many times I laughed during That’s My Boy, Jack and JillGrown Ups 2 and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. You could say the film is funny on occasion. Sandler portrays Jim, a family guy with no wife and three daughters. He goes on an awful blind date with Lauren (Drew Barrymore), as his first attempt at dating since his wife passed. When Lauren’s best friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) breaks off her relationship with Jim’s boss, Lauren pounces at the opportunity to take her kids to Africa. Jim does too, and the trip is conveniently a getaway just for blended families! 

Blended is pretty much Just Go With It with a twist: the characters hate each other at first, but everyone’s still just bonding on vacation in an exotic place. Writers Ivan Menchell bring so many components of Sandler’s previous films to get Blended, which is a film that just steals from stronger movies. At least Sandler knows what works to still get work. Some of the laughs that hit are amusing song choices, at least when they’re not completely obvious. Before I get onto what jokes do work, I’ll say what doesn’t make this a family-friendly movie. There are so many sex jokes and some of this is just plain gross. Some of it’s even worse than a deer pissing on Sandler’s face in Grown Ups 2. Take this for example: A giraffe’s very long tongue goes down a character’s throat, practically, when a character is going in for the kiss. This abysmal attempt at comedy is cringe-worthy.  

What work best are some cameos and bit roles. Shaquille O’Neal shows up in a not that funny cameo, because his acting is as strong as his free throwing ability. Terry Crews constantly shows up to sing a song about blended families and whatever else is on the caricature’s mind. He is funny at first, but the film gets a bit desperate to use him so many times during the film. It’s somehow amusing on a minor level throughout, even after his signature titty dance. It’s partly due to his energy, and partly due to the fact that the film gets boring and energy is welcome. I’ll keep the most amusing cameo under wraps. 

It seems to me that Sandler is trying to get laughs by channeling aspects of his comedies that have worked in the past. I counted seven occasions where characters channel aspects from his other films. I guess if it works, many people won’t notice – but those who do, it’s going to seem a bit lazy. Sandler brings slapstick humour and adult-oriented jokes that get the bigger laughs, while parents will think “As if this looked family-friendly.” Kevin Nealon portrays one half of a strange Canadian couple. He channels his character from Happy Gilmore at times. His wife is a bimbo named Ginger; a character who doesn’t get one laugh. She shimmies a lot, which makes Lauren’s eldest son Brandon horny. 

He’s a walking joke; as he resembles Frodo, he’s a masturbating fiend, and he calls his mom hot on two occasions – which might be a subconscious reason for his hostility against Jim. I detect an Oedipus complex. Lauren’s other son Tyler is a temperamental kid who might only have few lonely brain cells left, due to the amount of times his mother hits his head on walls in one week’s span. Barrymore can’t save this because she gets only about two laughs. Her chemistry with Sandler is only able to give audiences so much enjoyment because it’s gotten old. It also doesn’t help that they don’t like each other for the first half. Wendi McLendon-Covey is cast in a lame sidekick role where she can’t exhibit much talent, and Joel McHale portrays Lauren’s ex. He’s been largely unfunny in every film I’ve seen him in thus far. I think he’s funny on TV’s Community, but now that it’s been cancelled – he needs to be picking stronger roles to star in, now more than ever. His schtick seems to be asshole characters, but he’s just not funny as them. 

Bella Thorne’s character Hilary is a tomboy who only sportswear and is nicknamed Larry by her father. Can you tell he wanted a boy? She experiences an ugly duckling arc, which isn’t believable because even with that hideous curly bowl cut wig, she’s still mildly pretty. Put some extensions on her and slap on some make-up, and wow, she now has confidence because no one will mistake her for a boy or an ugly lesbian! The song choices for her transformation are obvious and just not that funny. Sandler’s middle daughter Espn (idiotically named after his favourite network ESPN) has a strange arc: She carries on conversations with her dead mom. Emma Fuhrmann’s performance helps it ring true occasionally, and it adds sincerity to the film, but it’s weird throughout. I guess there’s a big problem when the weird girl’s arc is the strongest. 

Elsewhere, there is sporadic sweetness in the film – but the film’s attempt to tackle realities of today’s day and age are forgettable, and the writers stretch it when they attempt to show that even in nature, families are blended. (A tiger and lion proceed to eat a baby hippo.) For Blended, predictable is fiercely boring and all the extraneous crap makes this run at nearly two hours. Films like these just shouldn’t be that long, unless it’s entertaining.

Score: 45/100

Godzilla (2014)

GodzillaReleased: May 16, 2014. Directed by: Gareth Edwards. Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston. Runtime: 123 min.

Gareth Edwards brings his latest film to life with ambition and a great scope. Edwards previously dabbled in the monster genre with his refreshing low-budget film called Monsters, which was impressive in its effectiveness. This time, Edwards gets a gargantuan budget of $160 million for Godzilla, which only seems right for the King of the monsters. Godzilla thrives in its cinematography, visuals and score. It’s a visually stunning film, but it’s disappointing that there’s only twenty seconds of daylight monster clashes. At least there isn’t as much rain as in Pacific Rim, but it’s a bit disappointing that the monster clashes are basically all at night. It must be less expensive to render the creature effects in a darker setting. 

The plot is that Godzilla has to stop these malevolent creatures who threaten humanity. They gain their strength by absorbing radiation as a food source, and there’s no short amount of that in 2014. The strange creature design makes them look like hybrids of a praying mantis and a pterodactyl covered in some sort-of metal coating. Well, that might be the worst explanation of what they look like, but trust me – they look weird. A team of anthropologists and scientists were experimenting on the radiation beasts to learn about their species. Ken Watanabe is only okay but that’s basically because his character, the boss behind the research in Japan, is so boring. David Strathairn has a role as a military general who orders bombs to be brought into this whole situation. Their interference is how the film suggests that humans only make matters worse. Just let the giant lizard handle it. Why not, right? 

Godzilla is the star of the show, even if his screen time is basically the same amount as Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. But when he’s on-screen, the film is an absolute blast. And when fire-breathing is brought into the mix, it’s truly exciting. Director Gareth Edwards is able to orchestrate fine intensity throughout the film. He does it like a master with the film’s phenomenal score. Edwards has Godzilla swim beneath boats, teasing characters like Bruce the Shark of Jaws might. (Edwards is smart to take tension building inspiration from Spielberg’s films.) Since Godzilla has mildly limited screen time, Edwards spaces out four nifty action set pieces with intelligence – the HALO jump is awe-inspiring, made even better being set to the Monolith scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey – teasing us with little tastes of what’s to come before a memorable finale. 

His direction is the film’s saving grace. Godzilla’s most disappointing aspect is that it is phenomenal in so many areas but just awful in so many others. When action isn’t happening, or when Godzilla isn’t on-screen, this is so boring – save a great opening half an hour, because they are emotionally charged and gripping. During those thirty minutes, Bryan Cranston compels as Joe, the film’s strongest character. He delivers the film’s only strong performance. Joe becomes obsessed with a project after a loss (his drive as a character, as well as sacrifice and love) which leads his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to assume that he’s bat sh-t crazy. The strong character development for one person is strange, because this way you’re allowed to expect other characters to be solid as well, but nope – the others are quite poor.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle Brody is mediocre. She’s okay for what she is, either a crying or smiling character. She’s only elevated by Olsen’s appealing tenderness as an actress. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is a different story. After the death of his mother, he picks the basic human reaction of the latter of the fight or flight concept, while his father goes deep into the former. Ford, a military Lieutenant whose expertise is bombs, initially gets separated from his wife when he is called to Japan to pay his dad’s bail after he is arrested for trespassing on an evacuated radiation site, which is the location of his old home. Ford’s motivations are his family – and that’s the only reason you’ll want him to get home safely and see his lovely movie family again. He’s one of those average guy characters plunged into a greater situation, but he’s so freaking boring. Taylor-Johnson isn’t able to make this character remotely interesting. Where’s his charisma from Kick-Ass? He doesn’t bring any of that to the table, and he’s like a different actor with little charisma. The only strong aspect of his performance is his chemistry with Olsen. 

The boring characters might stem from the film’s grave tone and Gareth Evans’ inability to make his film consistently fun. I haven’t felt this dead inside since August: Osage County. This is like the monster movie equivalent of Man of Steel because it will either be perceived as fun or boring, and if anyone makes a joke, it feels foreign. You will beg for the so-called comic relief character that is usually a point on the modern summer blockbuster checklist. Couldn’t have they broken tone by having a well-known comedian roaring back at Godzilla? That would be welcome as one of his long roars feels empty. Maybe Godzilla could have broken the fourth wall and said something witty. Like this for example: “If I’m monster royalty, I need a stronger Hollywood film for me to headline next time.” 

Score: 58/100

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

The Grand Budapest HotelReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe. Runtime: 100 min.

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. It is a taste that I am starting to like after two of his films. I think 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is good, but boring when the laughs weren’t there. This isn’t the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a consistently funny film that boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast. The film follows the adventures of a legendary concierge named Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) at a popular hotel in Eastern Europe called the Grand Budapest Hotel. It also follows closely his relationship with his lobby boy Zero (a funny Tony Revolori, making his film debut), who becomes a trusted friend. 

The comedy at hand might not work for everyone. Some of the comedy might be dry to some, but I think it’s witty. Take for instance: While this film made me laugh at least 20 times, I never once heard the woman sitting in front of me laugh. At points I was almost convinced she fell asleep – but she kept moving. I’m really not sure why she stayed the whole way if she wasn’t laughing very often. Anyway, the reason the film’s comedy works is because of the pure lunacy of everything on-screen. It’s a compelling crime caper with a lot of situational comedy.

Anderson directs the film with his signature signature, which some accuse of being just style over substance. I think the story at hand is engaging, if a bit bizarre – but that’s what is so entertaining about it. Why have a car chase when you can have a sled chase? The vastly different landscapes also make this worthwhile, as the settings are always as beautiful as the exquisite cinematography that captures it. The visual style is also great, and so is the set design. One thing I do not like about the film: A bit of an uninspired animal death to get a laugh or two. Now, this scene did make me laugh, but Anderson takes the situation too far for my tastes.

I like the narration by both Jude Law and F. Abraham Murray. Murray plays an adult Zero, who shares his and Gustave’s experiences to a Young Writer (portrayed by Law), who later writes about the man’s experiences. I like the poignancy of Zero wanting Gustave’s approval. I think they have a great chemistry together, and a realistic relationship. Gustave is a peculiar character but Ralph Fiennes brings him to life so well with a hysterical, energetic and flamboyant portrayal that is beyond charming. I think the fact that he has a palette for older women is weird – he states he’s had women older than the age of 84 – but perhaps he’s only searching for the approval of a grandmother figure; and I think it works into the story’s favour in other ways, by using it as a character device. Due to this it’s not as strange, but little oddities are part of this film’s charm. 

The chemistry shared between Saoirse Ronan (portraying Agatha, who has a “birthmark shaped like Mexico”) and Tony Revolori portraying Zero is lovely. Revolori shows promise in his first outing, and takes to the subtle humour like an expert. Willem Dafoe also has an amusing performance as a maniacal character. Adrien Brody plays his villainous character well, and Anderson makes some good musical decisions when he’s on-screen. Many of Anderson’s favourites have small roles, including Edward Norton as a main investigator. Thanks to great storytelling, and the performers’ fun performances, it will make your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel enjoyable. I would like to check in again soon.

Score80/100

Neighbors (2014)

NeighborsReleased: May 4, 2014. Directed by: Nicholas Stoller. Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron. Runtime: 96 min. 

Nicholas Stoller, a graduate of the so-called Apatow school of comedy, directs Neighbors, a film that is uncharacteristically short for Apatow’s brand of filmmaking. In this way, Stoller makes this film his own. The film follows a couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), who are severely bored, and are experiencing arrested development because of their extremely amusing new-born baby Stella. Soon enough, some spice in their life moves in next door, but it’s keeping them up at night. It’s a frat house, led by a charismatic Zac Efron. When Mac “violates the circle of trust” (as Dave Franco puts it at an inconsistent Robert De Niro party – which is the joke) by calling the cops to file a noise complaint, the war is on – which consists of the family trying to get the frat to get enough strikes to get them out of the neighborhood, among other things.

The film has a quick pace and the falling-out is mildly realistic. Rogen and Efron bond initially – sharing joints (a Seth Rogen comedy essential), impressions of Batman, and even talk about getting walkie talkies – but Efron’s Teddy doesn’t like it when people break promises. He takes it as a form of extreme disrespect and an act of war. It could be perceived as a bit of a childish reason, but the war of comedy that ensues is insanely entertaining. And not to mention very funny. While some of the humour misses, like the frat repeatedly saying a line of dialogue (“Standing around with our dicks in our hands”) seems a bit nonsensical at the time and not that funny, but the accuracy rate of humour hitting is a good 90 per cent. 

For the comedy genre, that’s great – because there are so many comedies that are just not that funny these days. This is memorable and hilarious, and its raunchiness potent. So avoid seeing this one with your parents, boys and girls. Because, like Apatow, this director doesn’t fear to show the penis. The film’s raunchiness is apparent with a running joke that Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character’s penis is very large. McLovin is surprisingly under-utilized otherwise, and he’s literally just there for that running joke – which does get some big laughs. Though, that joke might come to you as a selling point to get you to see this film, or as an aspect to make you avoid this. A few comments on the visuals: The cinematography looks pure, which is nice for a comedy – and some of the visuals are interesting. The party scenes might be hard on the eyes because of all of the lights, but they’re still very fun. I was a fan of the set design and I was a personal fan of a “Carpe that f**king diem” pillow.

This is a funny movie to watch with a few friends. If you’re Under 25, you’ll really enjoy this – but anyone older, it all depends on your sense of humour. The film is evident that the older crowd still knows how to have fun with the younger crowd, shown through Rogen and Bryne. Rogen didn’t have to prove that with this film though, because we’ve already known it for awhile. Byrne holds her own incredibly well, and even though her character is awkward at times, it’s the point. With this and Get Him to the Greek (and Bridesmaids), she has proved again and again that she could find a lot of success as a comedic actress. She uses improvisation with everyone else well, and so does Zac Efron – whose funny performance is as much of a discovery role as Channing Tatum’s was in 21 Jump Street. Dave Franco is funny in his role. A newcomer named Jerrod Carmichael is funny in his role as Garf, a primary frat member. The only person who feels like a stranger to the chemistry of everyone else is Ike Barinholtz. It’s nice to see the MadTV alum (who does do a fun Mark Wahlberg impression), but it was hard for me to buy into the fact that he’s supposed to be best friends with Rogen’s character. He gets a laugh or two, but his role is only sporadically useful.

Some good characterization is found in the film. Some themes of the fear of the future and trying to make your mark in history is nice. It’s nice to see that this situation is actually mildly beneficial to both parties. When the film threatens to all gooey, it jumps back with raunchiness. It might annoy some, but it helps the film stay true to its conflict-filled plot and raunchy tone. 

Score88/100

God’s Not Dead (2014)

God's Not DeadReleased: March 21, 2014. Directed by: Harold Cronk. Starring: Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain. Runtime: 113 min. 

God’s Not Dead is yet another weak Christian drama, and a simplistic narrative and a repetitive nature is partly to blame. It follows university freshman Josh Wheaton (a half-decent Shane Harper) who enters a philosophy course taught by a devout atheist named Jeffrey Raddison (a good Kevin Sorbo). The teacher insists God is dead. Wheaton is the only student to fight back and say that God exists. The premise is where this largely falls apart, as its perspective is so basic, and the platform it uses to portray its ideas (a classroom setting) is uninteresting. All of this film’s boring lectures makes this feel like a high school debate. I do learn that the American university system has made attempts to silence student’s beliefs in the past, so this is how it depicts that. This teacher is allowed to force his students to disavow the existence of God or face a failing grade. It’s obvious that this teacher has a reputation, so it’s baffling that he’s still teaching. A parent in the film says that if your teacher says something agree with it because he’s a power of authority. It’s all annoyingly bureaucratic. Philosophy is an opinionated subject where the students make up their own minds about the subject matter; much similar to the film, which allows its viewer to decide what they believe in.

Yet, this feels like it’s strongly trying to get non-believers to believe in God. It makes good arguments for the Christianity side, and a good retort when the atheists come up with a decent argument, but it never feels reciprocal for the atheist side. This film, while it does prove its declarative title mildly well, is so one-sided. It treats atheists as the enemy, as they’re depicted as largely immoral people with little regard for others. They’ll be offended by how they’re portrayed. Even if they don’t believe in God, wouldn’t they have morals because of a role model or a parent? The film never entertains that possibility. It’s manipulative. This would have benefited from an atheist or an agnostic being on the film or research crew. If they were on the research crew, the arguments for the atheist side wouldn’t feel like they were taken right off of Wikipedia. 

This is a frustrating experience that says you can practice your free and think what you want but never goes through with it. The end says: “Join the movement – text your friends and spread the word that God’s not dead.” I think it makes this largely a promotional film for a movement; a chain e-mail in cinematic form. I always felt obligated to do send those because they’d threaten with bad luck. They annoyed me. I believe in God, and He gives me hope – but I’m not going to text people that God’s not dead just because some crappy filmmakers think I should, as it might cause happiness in Heaven. I’d do it if this were a good film, but not a bad one.

The amount of the film’s characters and its melodrama makes this feel like a religious soap opera. The narrative finds coherence in how the characters piece together, but it takes awhile to do so. Josh Wheaton (are the filmmakers Joss Whedon fans?) inspires some with his willingness to stand up for his faith. One thing I think is a bit off about the main character: He only wears his cross pendant for the first scene and then abandons it. If he’s trying to prove that God exists, it seems to me that this is a situation where one might need that symbol and guidance the most. Regardless, he’s the film’s strongest character, but only because he’s the most likable.

All of the film’s unlikable characters are atheists. Two characters represent those who don’t believe in God because they don’t understand how He allows some things to happen. Both atheists, Mark (an okay Dean Cain) and Professor Raddison don’t receive strong arcs, as Raddison’s motivations are handled too predictably to be anything special. A sometimes likable character is an agnostic journalist/blogger named Amy (a strong Trisha LaFache) who is open to the concept of God, so she isn’t portrayed as a mean person. Willie and Korie Robertson appear briefly to be interviewed by her for controversy on their show TV’s Duck Dynasty. I’m curious to know if this is filmed ninety minutes away from where they live just so it could be convenient for them to be in this.

LaFache shows strength as an actress in a genuine and moving scene as a later reaction to some bad news. Another scene where a Muslim character stands up to her father’s traditional beliefs is also strong. These two scenes say that God’s Not Dead is strongest when it isn’t jamming basic messages down its audience’s throats. As you can see, there is an occasional power in the film; but it just misses way too much to get a recommendation. This whole situation could fit into 45 minutes without the added sub-plots. This feels like it’s been fleshed out from a 4 and a half minute song (a good song of the same name by a Christian rock band called the Newsboys, who show up at the end to give you a fun finale) to an exhausting 113 minutes. Simply listening to the song will save you from this film that is more propaganda than art.

Score: 35/100