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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Heaven is for Real (2014)

Heaven is for RealReleased: April 16, 2014. Directed by: Randall Wallace. Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church. Runtime: 99 min.

Each year in cinema, trends pop up. May they be post-apocalyptic films, last year’s McConaissance, and Young Adult adaptations that just aren’t going away – sometimes these trends are here to stay. One trend of 2014 is religious and faith-based films. This year has seen the release of Son of God and the controversial Noah. The latest faith-based film is called Heaven is for Real

It’s a film set in the town of Imperial, Nebraska; based on an event that occurred back in 2004. A four-year-old boy (Connor Corum) has a near-death experience and claims to have seen Heaven. His parents Todd (Greg Kinnear) and Sonja (Kelly Reilly, Flight) don’t know how to interpret it. They don’t want their kid to become a laughing stock or just a piece of controversy. He soon does find the courage to share his son’s life-changing experience with his parish and then the world six years later, when he wrote a novel about it.

This does seem like a life-changing experience; seeing Heaven could give someone a whole new perspective on life. The concept of Heaven being a concrete fact could frighten some people. I find that hard to understand because it’s an idea that gives me great comfort. They could be afraid to know if their loved ones are or are not in Heaven. Some people believe they see Heaven in the little things on Earth. Some of these ideas are portrayed through Margo Martindale’s character. One aspect of the film isn’t handled with the most realism. I could understand why non-religious people might be maddened by the controversy, but why do the religious folks of this town seem to be so disturbed by it? It’s not like he had a near-death experience and visited Hell instead, and spoke of Hitler being flogged.

I understand where Colton’s parents are coming from, because no one wants to see their kid be ridiculed or seen as vastly different. Colton goes from being an ordinary kid to a sorta ordinary kid with an incredible story. Conveniently, Colton isn’t in pre-school yet, so it’s his parents and older sister who receive the tame backlash of the people who bother to say something. Kinnear’s good in a few scenes and just adequate in others. He’s believable as a father figure and a pastor. I think Reilly is particularly great in two scenes and good the rest of the time. I felt their pain when they thought their son was going to die – it seems like a horrifying experience. Parents will really feel their pain.

Connor CorumConnor Corum is convincing in the way that we could believe he sees Heaven. Another notable aspect is his facial expressions during a rendition of “We Will Rock You,” which border on funny and downright creepy. Otherwise, his performance as Colton is quite distracting. After he halfheartedly delivers his line, he just vacantly looks at his scene partner. When he’s watching his father on stage at Church, he’s vacant with a “I want to be somewhere else” look on his face – the way I looked when I was a kid going to Church. He’s realistic in the way that he’s a kid and he just wants to play– but it’s going to take people out of the movie. Can’t Pierce Gagnon (Looper) portray every kid under the age of 10? Corum is surely cast for his cuteness and resemblance to the real-life Colton Burpo. By the way, you can tell Burpo isn’t a fictional last name because no one can make that shit up. No one’s that cruel! If that was a fictional last name, that would be more humour to accompany the flairs of lite comedy found throughout.

Your enjoyment of the film might depend on your personal faith and tolerance for films with no antagonists. The conflicts are largely man vs. self; people wrestling with their beliefs of this situation. There’s not one antagonist. The sometimes slack narrative could have benefited from one or two. I’m surprised this film is able to milk 99 minutes out of this material. The first twenty minutes is practically all filler. The father is a pastor who works a lot of jobs to make a living and improve his small church in any way he can. The film actually gets into the plot when Colton is rushed to the emergency room after a ruptured appendix that started on the way home from a trip in Denver. 

Without this filler the film would be quite short. Even at its length now, it feels slow, with only self-conflicts to keep the film going. Two sub-plots arise that don’t get consistent focus or a conclusion. They might have helped advance the story a bit. You cannot fault the film for staying focused on the story at-hand. One of the sub-plots is money troubles, where solutions are offered but then the sub-plot is dropped completely. 

Heaven is for Real does prove that films can still be mildly successful with no major antagonists. If screenwriters Randall Wallace and Chris Parker offered an adaptation with a few fictional antagonists, perhaps the narrative would be more compelling. We see so many films that take minor detours from true stories, so what would have been the harm in one more? God forbid the Burpo vision becomes tainted! 

All in all, this is a lovely little drama with a lot of meaning. It could have a more engaging story with some more substance, other than strictly thematic substance. Hey, at least the Nebraska settings make the film look nice. Granted, some people still are not going to believe the story at hand. Since so many sub-plots go unsolved, this still might have the same effect if some opinionated person just stood up and said before the end credits, “I still call bullshit on all of this.” Now, putting that in a Hollywood film would be brave and courageous.

Score65/100

 

Box Office Predictions April 25-27: Brick Mansions, The Quiet Ones and The Other Woman

Quirky title that was too long for a headline: The wife didn’t find out about The Other Woman until he took her to one of their many Brick Mansions. It took the wife awhile to find out because he only screws The Quiet Ones.

Brick MansionsThe Other WomanThe Quiet Ones

Brick Mansions comes to theatres this weekend, an action thriller that is one of Paul Walker’s final film roles. It looks pretty awesome and explosive, and it’s another film from popular French filmmaker Luc Besson, the man behind Taken and Taken 2Leon: The Professional and this year’s 3 Days to Kill. I think Paul Walker’s involvement will give this a bigger push than if he were not in it. This is a remake of a French film called District B13, which stars David Belle in the same role. Anyway, films similar to this open at $18 million. I think this will be a bit lower so I’m going to predict $14 million.

The Other Woman strikes me as a MILF version (plus Kate Upton) of John Tucker Must Die. Maybe it’ll be a bit more mature?  This is director Nick Cassavetes’ first attempt at comedy, and sometimes that’s harder to do than drama. I really have loved a good amount of his work; he’s directed The Notebook, My Sister’s KeeperJohn Q., and one of my personal favourites, Alpha Dog. Those are all dramatically strong films, so I’m interested to see how Cassavetes does with this film. Films similar to this open at $20.23 million. I think this is going to hit right at $20 million.

The other big release of the weekend is The Quiet Ones. I like the look of this film, Jared Harris is an appealing factor for me and I like Olivia Cooke on TV’s Bates Motel. I hope the college psychology experiment doesn’t make this look too similar to the god-awful horror film The Apparition which was released in August of 2012. That one opened to $2.8 million. Films similar to this open at $19.3 million. I don’t think this would reach that number, because this doesn’t look like the film that will bring horror out of its brief drought – but it looks pretty cool. I’m going to go around the number Oculus did two weekends ago, which was $12 million. I haven’t felt any big marketing push or anticipation for this, but I think it’ll draw a decent-sized crowd. My prediction is $11 million.

As for the holdovers, Captain America 2 could four-peat if The Other Woman doesn’t hit $20 million (I think it will, though). I’m thinking a weekend of $19 million looks likely for Cap in his fourth weekend. Heaven is for Real won second place last weekend, beating Rio 2 by a margin of $0.4 million. I’m curious to see who will win this weekend. I’m going in favour of Heaven, which grossed $22.522 million, for those who want to know the number. It seems that it Heaven was met with mediocrity from trolls on IMDb, with a rating of 5.6. It did receive an ‘A’ Cinemascore, however — so it was a hit with Christian audiences. They’re who it’s for, mostly. I think Rio 2 will gross $14.5 million, and Heaven to gross $15 million. 

As for the status on reviews for the weekend, I’m going to post Heaven is for Real (which I enjoyed) and Oculus (which I loved). At least I’ll try to post Oculus. You see, my computer stopped charging so I’m getting a new one and they’re transferring the files over to my new one, and I’m picking it up tomorrow. That’s why I haven’t posted very much this week. I’m writing this article on my mom’s laptop. Anyway, thanks for reading!

1. The Other Woman – $20 million

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – $19 million

3. Heaven is for Real – $15 million

4. Rio 2 – $14.5 million

5. Brick Mansions – $14 million

6. The Quiet Ones – $11 million