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

 

 

 

 

Draft Day (2014)

Draft DayReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Ivan Reitman. Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Patrick St. Esprit. Runtime: 109 min.

Kevin Costner stars in Draft Day, the NFL’s answer to Moneyball. He portrays fictional General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr., as he goes through the motions of a generic, off-the-field sports drama. The story follows him on a stressful day: draft day. On this day, many college hopefuls are drafted into the NFL. To express the anticipation of the day, there’s a countdown to the televised event on the screen. Those who don’t like this movie can also use it as a way to estimate how much longer they’ll be in the theatre.

What may give this film a bit more punch is if it were based on a true story. This just feels too much like a commercial flick for the NFL and ESPN. I have nothing against sports dramas that aren’t true, at least if the fiction on-screen is noteworthy. This film is not bad, it just might be better to watch something that will matter history-wise. Football fans might find a stronger merit in this film. During, the pessimist inside me wondered if Ivan Reitman could make the draft day exciting. He does, working suspense into the finale, which is the strongest stretch of the film. It gives the movie more life, and makes it something more than just lightly entertaining. Prior to it, humour and a charming cast make the light entertainment run at a brisk pace.

Director Ivan Reitman tells this drama with style. There’s a main editing style used when characters are on the phone. Sonny will be on one side of the screen, and the person he’s talking to on the other side. Sometimes their arms will go on the other person’s side of the screen. It’s cool because it looks like they’re in the room together, but this effect also shows how much people talk on the phone. It’s a funny contrast to teens who would just text each other if they want to make a trade for their NFL fantasy draft. I’ve literally seen my brother do this so maybe one of the reasons he enjoyed this film is that he can relate to the stresses of having to get a good team together. Some food for thought: are fantasy drafts and this movie NFL draft really that different in this case? This film has fictional football players who have decent backstories, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the longrun, as far as history goes. Same as fantasy drafts, or maybe Madden video games would work better for my argument; if you have one player on your roster for the Cleveland Browns – that doesn’t mean they’re really going to be playing for the Browns in real life.

Anyway, about the characters. Jennifer Garner portrays a pretty exec who manages the salary cap for the Browns. She’s also in a relationship with Costner’s Weaver. He plays the character with charm. Weaver’s ass is on the line because he’s been general manager of the Browns for two seasons, and he hasn’t been leading the team to many victories. If he doesn’t do a good job this year, the city will request his head, so to speak. Sonny is a character living under his father’s shadow. He is the loved, recently deceased coach of the Browns, Sonny Weaver Senior. Junior has people in his ear all day telling him who to pick for the team, so they can be victorious. The film has a message of following you heart and doing what you think is best. This seems like a realistic portrayal of the job of a general manager on draft day. The generic characters in this off-the-field underdog story are likable enough to make viewers root for them to pull out a win. In this, there’s a deeper exploration of trying to differentiate personal and professional life. There’s a sub-plot that’s irritating. Sonny’s mother wants to spread the ashes of her deceased husband today, of all days. She could simply wait one day, but it’s too urgent as it is. It feels too uninspired to contribute to the story very much.

Draft Day has some interesting aspects. The assistants of Sonny spend hours looking for weaknesses of players they want for their team. If you know that weakness and no one else does, that’s an advantage. It’s entertaining to see these managers play mind games with each other and have different strategies of how to get really good players. These strategies are also ways to show some football playing (through archive footage of old games) in a film that largely takes place off-the-field. Draft Day shows that these type-of sports dramas have an okay future. They’re all right for those who enjoy easy viewings, but not usually as good as on-the-field sports films. This is just a harmless film that has good intentions, but ends up being average. You might be better off watching the real 2014 draft.

Score58/100

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers ClubReleased: November 22, 2013. Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto. Runtime: 117 min.

I haven’t seen many films about the AIDS disease, but one can sure tell it’s dealt with sensitively here by director Jean-Marc Vallée. Humour is able to be written into the screenplay because of the charming cast and the characters’ personalities.

The film follows real-life electrician and occasional bull rider Ron Woodroof, a stereotypical redneck who is racist and homophobic. His lifestyle consists of drinking, gambling, drug use, and casual sex. While in the hospital because of a work-related injury, Ron finds out he is HIV positive. Denial strikes and his homophobic personality makes him lash out at the doctor, since it is a disease that (mostly) homosexuals get. He is given thirty days to live. It turns out, he contracts the disease from unprotected sex. (Cloak the joker before you poke her!) In 1985, the drug called AZT that treats AIDS is still in clinical trials – so he has to get the drug somehow under the table. He learns from a doctor in Mexico that other medicines do the trick better than AZT, and this is his story of how he helps other people with AIDS to get better.

In 1985, the cure for AIDS was still trying to be found, so this is an ideal year for the film to be set in. The way hospitals went about testing the drug AZT for human trials is where HIV patients approved for the drug were divided into two groups. One group received the legitimate drug, while the other group received a placebo drug. It’s a little ethically questionable because the patients receiving either one of the drugs are dying, so… Some might be getting better, and the others are getting sugar pills. I guess it’s the only way to tell if it works. For the patients who are simply getting sugar pills, that’s where Ron Woodroof comes in. He offers the people of Dallas diagnosed with HIV a membership to the Dallas Buyers Club, where for $400 they can have access for all of the medication they need. The reason the hospitals are so frustrated with Woodroof is because the people taking the medication aren’t being monitored, and there’s no way to tell if they’d work or not. They’re filled with nutrients and proteins that help make more cells in the immune system.

Though, the film isn’t a boring pharmaceutical film, so that’s really good. I think the storytelling is very capable because mostly it is telling an inspiring and great story. Jennifer Garner’s Eve represents the doctors of the medical community understand Ron’s motivations to help people and himself. I think the way Ron opens up to the homosexual community is very charming. He’s an innovative and smart character, and McConaughey plays him so powerfully and with ease. But that’s not saying his body transformation to play the role wasn’t easy. It also musn’t have been easy for this actor to do the full actor transformation from rom-com star to full-fledged actor. It’s a great turn-around, and he’s becoming one of my favourites – where he plays a character who lives life to the fullest, and enjoys a new outlook on life.

McConaughey opens up to the community by doing business with them, but mostly by befriending a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto). They become business partners and friends, and the way Ron’s eyes are opened is beautiful. Homophobia is also depicted well and powerfully throughout the film, and often heartbreakingly. One can tell that Rayon has lived through a lot of discrimination, especially in one scene that I won’t spoil. It seems that there’s always been some controversy of Hollywood casting males in transsexual roles. I think that’s what might make the role so challenging for Leto, to let himself get enveloped by the role of Rayon, a flamboyant and hilarious character. But he absolutely nails the role. Most of the stuff coming out of Ray’s mouth made me smile, even if he has frustrating habits.

There’s a sort-of kindness to the character of Ron, where he wants to give medication to the people so they can survive and also live their life to the fullest. Even though many will struggle living a normal life with the unfortunate disease. In a film about survival, I think he represents those who can change over time. This great film also shows some of the most innovative ways to change society is by going under the law; and sometimes, it’s just a necessary thing, no matter what people say.

Score95/100