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

 

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The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone RangerRelease Date: July 3, 2013

Director: Gore Verbinski

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner

Runtime: 149 min

Do you remember the days of your childhood when you’d invite some friends over, and play a good old game of Cops and Robbers? Or maybe you played Cowboys and Indians. Either way, it’s the same thing. Well, that’s precisely what Verbinski’s latest “The Lone Ranger” feels like. A 149-minute game of Cops and Robbers – only it’s about as entertaining as two friends bickering and saying “No! I shot you first!”

Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

This isn’t a terrible movie. I’ve seen quite a few terrible films in my day, and I would never call this a terrible movie. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s good or worth anyone’s time, either. It’s an old-school Westerner that has lots of action and humour. But the movie’s purpose is never crystal clear. It tries to be fun and serious all at once, and that muddles its themes of vengeance, justice and greed. It’s a comedy, a dull actioner, and and old-school Westerner all in one. Since it doesn’t seem that even the film-makers themselves know what type of movie they’re trying to make; it surely won’t be clear to the audience.

There aren’t many surprises in this plot. At all. It’s one of those stories that, if you nod off for ten minutes, you won’t miss a damned thing. All of the action scenes are Cowboys and Indians/Road Runner & Wile. E. Coyote styled. By the time the Lone Ranger shouts “Hi-yo, Silver!” I expected him to say “Meep-meep!” instead. This is an exhausting movie that never feels as if it’ll end. The finale could be a romping good time if it would have happened an hour earlier. But by the time the 90-minute mark comes by, it shouldn’t be called the “The Lone Ranger” any longer. “The Long and Boring Ranger” is a more appropriate title. (And that folks, is why I don’t have a future in coming up with movie titles.)

Johnny Depp delivers that same sort-of eccentric shtick he’s been handing out since his Jack Sparrow years. That isn’t saying it won’t be amusing. It’s quite hilarious and he gets some big laughs – and as much as they are wedged in, the laughs become welcome in this overly dull screenplay. The five big laughs that he produces isn’t worth two and a half hours of your valuable time, however. Depp’s performance is becoming less effective since he’s played Jack Sparrow four times, and Tonto once (but it feels like he’s just felt Sparrow five times). He breaks the fourth wall once or twice by recounting his tale to a small boy at a carnival he’s at. He’s in an Old-Western themed attraction, standing in a Native American cubby. Some carnivals like to use wax figures, but apparently others like to use real, ancient-looking Native Americans named Tonto to scare the shit out of kids.

The kid portrayed by Mason Cook (“Spy Kids 4”, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”)  is annoying. I don’t know how this kid keeps getting work. I may be biased because I’m not a fan of anyone under the age of ten (except if they’re related to me, or really cute, or animated), but when a child delivers a stellar performance, I’ll praise the hell out of it. (Like Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” or the little Pierce Gagnon in last year’s “Looper”.) But if the kid just stands there with a “Oh no mister, say it ain’t so” kinda look on his face, I’ll trash the hell outta it. He didn’t really have to be in the movie at all – and Disney could have saved a lot of money by taking a different route with the story, and not have to use the CGI-aging technology for Depp. (They could have used lots of make-up, though.)

Armie Hammer is nothing to praise. He doesn’t have enough oomph to either make an iconic character feel iconic again, nor does he have enough star power to co-carry a $215-million blockbuster. Depp helps a lot, but even he cannot make this dull screenplay come to life very well; no matter how hard he tries. James Badge Dale feels as if he’s the real star here – but he’s not in enough to make this worthwhile. William Fichtner portrays the shockingly forgettable Butch Cavendish. Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Root and Barry Pepper are ay-okay in supporting turns; and Ruth Wilson is mostly just eye candy.

Gore Verbinski needs to learn the definition of an editing room. I hate mediocre movies that dare run past the 120-minute mark. Quentin Tarantino is easily forgiven for not having stepped into an editing room since 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs”, because his movies are so, so entertaining. Speaking of filmmakers somewhat similar to Tarantino, I could have sworn Helena Bonham Carter stepped onto the wrong set. As soon as she shoots her one-shot pistol attached at the end of her ivory leg, that woman with the machine gun leg from Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror” immediately comes to mind.

One last thing before this review comes to an end, here are just a few theories of where I think the hefty $215 million buckaroos went. All of the big names have to be paid; two trains get destroyed; and there’s an unnecessary usage of CGI-aging technology that could be avoided with rewrites. But I think this where most of the money went: The bird seed needed for the dead bird on Tonto’s head. Seriously, he feeds it and feeds it, and its appetite is never going to be satisfied because the bird’s pretty freaking dead. And do you know how else Disney could have saved a bunch of money? By just not making this mess of a film.

If this is good for anything it’s an eccentric and particularly hilarious turn from Mr. Depp, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen in the “Pirates” universe. There’s also a great score by Hans Zimmer. I’m struggling to think of anything better; and whenver I liked a character, they just got killed off. When this feature gallops on generic blockbuster territory, there’s no saving Reid and his fashionably-challenged pal, Tonto. This could be good fun for the casual movie-goer, but to me, it’s somewhat boring and torturous.

44/100

Looper (2012)

Looper

Release Date: September 28, 2012

Director: Rian Johnson

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

Runtime: 118 min

Tagline: Face your future. Fight your past.

Johnson brings us action, and science fiction, moviegoers one heck of a unique ride.

It is the year 2042, where time travel hasn’t been invented quite yet. Thirty years in the future, though, it has been – and criminals send back people they no longer want to deal with. They send them back illegally to a group called ‘Loopers’, where a Looper awaits the victim with a gun. Joe is one of the best Looper’s there is, despite his drug problem. One day, Joe’s future victim turns out to be his future self. In turn, it puts both Joe’s on the run from their once trusted group.

Looper offers a fairly unique experience, and a lot of great action sequences. The character development is pretty awesome, too. It’s a fairly awesome story that can drag on in areas, but is still quite enjoyable.

There isn’t a lot of material that has been done before. This time travel story is fresh and unique. There are a lot of moral dilemmas thrown into the screenplay, so that makes for really good character development.  Jeff Daniels’ character of Abe was sort of awesome; he had the whole nice-crime-boss-who-could-be-ruthless-when-he-wanted-to-be bravado going on. Some of the subplots are a little tired and not explored quite enough.

The performances from the cast are really good, and the whole thing is easily enjoyable and entertaining. Bruce Willis definitely brings his great badass-ness to the feature. Looper brings together elements of great action, science fiction because of the time travel concept, thrilling moments, and there are even a few laughs to be offered.

Even some of the supporting actors did well, like Paul Dano as Seth, Noah Segan as Kid Blue and Pierce Gagnon as the cute child, Cid. The numerous antagonists tended to make some parts of the screenplay a little crowded. It is a film that has a cool concept and it executed itself quite well. That’s admirable because a lot of films have cool concepts, but wasted the opportunity – like Clockstoppers, for example.

Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (with some really cool makeup on to make him look like a younger Willis), Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Qing Xu and Garret Dillahunt.

Looper offers quite an action experience that should be cherished because of its unique entertainment value, along with a memorable story and characters. It is one of the finest action films of the year thus far, and the only other great action film so far this year that is nearly as good as this is The Dark Knight Rises. Looper may beflawed because of its crowded areas, numerous antagonists and sometimes lack of non-stop carnage.  It really can be quite easy to follow despite one scene, but I was back on track in a hurry. I thought that was impressive because it seems like a concept that could easily confuse if it got much too complex. The concept is intelligent, and it doesn’t aspire to be any smarter than it has the right to be. Its action sequences are extremely memorable, and don’t drag on too long. It’s a flawed film, that nonetheless offers one of the most entertaining action experiences of the year.

88/100