Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Released: March 16, 2016. Directed by: Patricia Riggen. Starring: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson. Runtime: 1hr 49 min.

Thank you, Miracles from Heaven, for finally showing me why I haven’t been thoroughly entertained while going to church all these years.

It’s because there’s never been a Christian rock band at my church to get me in the spirit of things. Apparently they have all the fun in small Texas towns.

Miracles from Heaven, based on the memoir by Christy Beam, follows the Beam family in Burleson, Texas, as the 10-year-old daughter, Annabel (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with a rare digestive disorder for which there is no cure.

The family prays for a miracle and it gets answered in a big and rather bizarre way. If it wasn’t a true story, it would be pretty far-fetched, but I won’t spoil it here in case you haven’t seen the trailer. The film is really about the journey and perseverance throughout the disease, and her mom Christy’s (Jennifer Garner) perseverance into getting Ana the best help available.

Garner is great as the mom in an emotionally powerful performance – crying her way through the film, but doing so in a believable way. She may cross the line of crying one too many times – as it seems like she could have filled a Jacuzzi with her tears. Kylie Rogers as Ana also holds her own very well.

The power is in the characterization, as well, and the fact that the pain her daughter is going through makes Christy question her faith. There’s a laughable moment where people at her Church ask if Ana hasn’t been cured yet because of the family’s sins. It’s laughable for me, but evidently not for Christy.

Anyway, faith is a big thing touched on the film, to a point where it is, admittedly, preachy, but not in the same proselytizing way God’s Not Dead is – trying to force the beliefs down its audience’s throat. That’s the difference between God’s Not Dead’s really bad writing and the fact-based writing of Miracles from Heaven that goes between melodrama and some strong heartbreaking and emotional moments.

Miracles from Heaven1

Queen Latifah, Kylie Rogers and Jennifer Garner in Miracles from Heaven. (Source)

There’s really just something works about this movie by the end of it all. It’s charming and Eugenio Derbez is amusing as Dr. Nurko and balances entertaining Ana and being a serious doctor dude well, even while wearing an Elmo tie. Queen Latifah is also quite a welcome player in the film, adding a lot of humour.

Martin Henderson is a good supporting player as Ana’s father, he adds a sense of optimism to the film, actually thinking everything will be okay. There’s a lot of money troubles since he’s started a new animal clinic business and they had to put all of the home’s equity into it.

That adds a new element to the film. He’s working and taking care of his two other daughters, the youngest Adelynn (Courtney Fansler), and the oldest daughter Abbie (Brighton Sharbino, TV’s The Walking Dead). They don’t get as much characterization as Ana or Christy, which is okay since those two are the core, but there could have been a bit more effort to make the supporting players have more dimensions.

The film’s cinematography is strong, and the sequences in Heaven look nice – there are a lot of bright colours and lots of butterflies. It looks unique enough, basking in outdoor settings instead of a Church like in Heaven is for Real. The two films share producers T.D. Lakes, Joe Roth and Derrick Williams.

I think this was more effectively handled having the miraculous happening a bit after the halfway mark instead of Colton Burpo in Heaven is For Real having his near-death experience at the beginning. That film’s main conflict was the skepticism of it – but this has a more natural conflict of a longer lasting disease. The skepticism is touched on really just once in Miracles from Heaven and then is forgotten with one of the film’s most moving moments.

I did like the aspect of the film that suggested miracles aren’t always huge, but can sometimes be found in simple kindnesses. The film has a good soundtrack and the Beam family is an inspiration. It’s feel-good throughout, particularly so in the last 25 minutes, which was the film’s strongest area. The journey there takes long, but the pay-off is great.

Score: 70/100

 

 

 

 

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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

March 28-30 Box Office Predictions: Swear words and Sabotage of biblical proportions

box office (1)Jason Bateman’s Bad Words is one of the new releases coming out this weekend, but it’s been in limited release since the 14th of March, and has grossed $837 thousand. It premiered at TIFF back in September, and it looks pretty awesome. Since one of the taglines is “suck my dictionary,” I’m really excited. I think it looks hilarious. I don’t think this will gross a lot this weekend; but I think $6.7 million is a good enough expectation.

Noah will be the winner this weekend. I think it’s more than guaranteed it’ll gross around $30 million this weekend, and $40 million is very likely, but I think it’ll be a huge surprise hit, much like last year’s World War Z. It’s of one of the three Biblical movies this weekend; it’s the second one after Son of God, and the next one will be Exodus. This stars Russell Crowe as the titular Noah; and it also stars Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman. It’s directed by Darren Aronofsky. I’m ecstatic to see this. The story of Noah fascinates me, and I’m excited to see a new film about it, and I love Aronofsky’s style. I’ve only seen his film Black Swan, but I’m excited to see more. Similar films open to $33.49 million. My prediction for this film is $56.5 million.

Sabotage is David Ayer’s newest film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Malin Akerman and Sam Worthington. I think this film looks promising. Movies similar to this open at $13.86 million. I’m curious to see if Schwarzenegger’s star power and Ayer’s direction will allow this to gross near End of Watch‘s $13.15 million. Both of Schwarzenegger’s starring vehicles since his comeback haven’t grossed double digits in its opening weekend (excluding The Expendables 2). The Last Stand was a fun movie that made $6.3 million in its opening, and Escape Plan made $9.9 million (so close). Since Arnie obviously doesn’t have as much star power as he once did, but I’m going to say this grosses $9.5 million in its opening weekend.

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. Noah: $56.5 million
2. Divergent: $28 million
3. Muppets Most Wanted: $10.883 million
4. Sabotage: $9.5 million
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel: $9 million
6. Bad Words: $6.7 million
7. Mr. Peabody & Sherman: $6.3 million
8. God’s Not Dead: $6 million
9. 300: Rise of An Empire: $4.2 million
10. Need for Speed: $3.8 million