Risen (2016)

 

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth. Runtime: 1hr 47 min.

Risen is a Biblical tale that, if you can forgive the wordplay, rarely rises to the occasion.

We all know the story of Christ in some shape or form. Appreciatively, the writers understand that and immediately start the storyline on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. It saves the runtime considerably and is because this version of the tale is told from the side of the Romans. It breathes a bit of fresh air into an ancient narrative.

The Roman is Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes, who is a Tribune and the right-hand man to Peter Firth’s Pontius Pilate. He is tasked with finding out what happened to the body of the missing Jew that was just crucified three days ago. He is skeptical that the Jew simply rose from the dead, even though that’s what disciples tell him on the way to find the missing corpse.

It’s a bit of a journey of self-discovery for the Roman. But the character has little depth and the plot isn’t handled in an interesting manner. It is all about the manhunt and less about the miracles that Jesus performs.

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Joseph Fiennes as Clavius in Risen. (Source)

Heck, when he’s supposed to walk on water and give his disciples fish, he just shouts from the shore, “Check the right side!” and voila! There are fish. It’s like an uninspired budget cut or something. The other miracles aren’t special, either.

It feels as if Jesus takes a backseat to the film about His tale. This is mostly because we are delivered right into the narrative at the time of His crucifixion. He’s on a cross at the beginning, and then He comes back to life three days later. The bulk of the film is spent trying to find the dude and he disappears a lot, so his screen time is limited. But Cliff Curtis (TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) is effective as Him, all the same.

And in this version of the film he is not called Jesus, but Yeshua, apparently the name that He was called by friends. It doesn’t feel like they’re stripping at the identity, but it might be a bit of a change for those who aren’t familiar with the name.

On a side note, if I was crucified and then came back to life three days later, I’d take advantage and get revenge. Picture it: Jesus could be a man on a road to vengeance, looking to smite those who wronged Him. Instead of taking away leprosy, He can give it to those who crucified him. The Biblical thriller could be called Crossed. I’d watch it…

I am so going to Hell.

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Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton in Risen. (Source)

There are a few good scenes throughout, especially one where the Disciples give the enemies the old slip-a-roo. That was an entrancing scene, well-directed by Kevin Reynolds, that was good enough to work as the climax.

But that, in itself, poses a problem of pacing and how the film felt like it could have ended at any point.

There are scenes that are supposed to be brimming with action, but really it isn’t written well enough to be great. The score is used as a crutch to breathe action into those scenes through music.

Performances redeem the film, even if a boring screenplay cannot. Fiennes offers a good performance as Clavius, even though the character is nothing special.

Tom Felton (Harry Potter) is strong as Clavius’ right-hand man, Lucius. Alas – Felton doesn’t seem able to shake the connection to his Malfoy roots, as the patriarchal Malfoy was named Lucius. And now he’s basically acting alongside Lord Voldemort’s brother.

What really works against Risen is its impassionate filmmaking. Nothing inspires awe and it all feels like it goes through the motions. It’s as if telling it from a non-believer’s perspective was its limited ceiling, omitting any relative emotion from the picture, save the last 20 minutes. There are stints that feel as flat as a pancake. Still: It’s better than Son of God, which has to count for something.

3 outta 5

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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

 

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

Son of God (2014)

Son of GodReleased: February 28, 2014. Directed by: Christopher Spencer. Starring: Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose Revah, Sebastian Knapp. Runtime: 138 min.

“Son of God” is one of those films where one’s personal enjoyment is determined by their faith. That’s because this film depicts the life story of Jesus Christ, from his birth, to his teachings, to his crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. For the majority of people who believe in God, they’ll like this. The reason critics would see this is because they’re paid to, regardless of their faith. What brought me to see this film? Glad you asked imaginary voice in my head, because I believe in God and Jesus, and I try to see all of the films that I can muster.

Even though I do believe in the teachings of the Bible, this film isn’t that enjoyable to me – making me a case against the “if you believe in God, you’ll enjoy this film” argument. I think this is a poorly done, awful movie. I just hope God doesn’t smite me while I’m writing this review. If I’m still writing, it must mean I must be alive. Anyway, the film is just decently acted with only a few believable performances. The pacing skips jarringly ahead to his birth, to when he has followers – only his “recruiting sessions” with Matthew (Said Bey) and Peter (Darwin Shaw) are shown. One can tell which is John (Sebastian Knapp) because he is also part-narrator, and it’s obvious which one is Mary (Amber Rose Revah). Doubting Thomas (Matthew Gravelle) has his name spoken not until the end of the film, so for those of you who forget his name will be wondering the whole time. When Judas (Joe Wredden) speaks, and since Jesus’ disciples blend into the background, people might think, “Has he been here the whole time?” His body double was probably in his place until he had lines.

My favourite performance is Sebastian Knapp’s, the man who portrays John, because he captures the delicate emotions of the character – even though only some disciples have development but the people who are seeing this are probably those who have read the Bible. One believable performance is from Greg Hicks, who captures the cruelty of Pontius Pilate. Diogo Morgado isn’t a great Jesus. To play Jesus, the actor must have a magnetic presence that most of the characters would simply stop what they’re doing and listen to what he has to say. Morgado simply doesn’t portray that power, and when the main actor doesn’t give a believable performance, it’s all downhill from there. The only good aspects from his performance is the fear, pain and acceptance he portrays during the crucifixion portion of the film. Otherwise, he’s part of the reason I couldn’t believe the film.

The miracles Jesus conjures up are also a lot more believable on paper, especially with these awful visuals. The most only half-decent visuals are at the beginning showing the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses and Abraham. There’s miracle where Jesus simply holds up a basket of fish and bread and then he believes it would be filled with fish for the hungry, and – ta da – it is. This is a miracle I have trouble believing, because it would be better if fish just rained from the sky. I’d ask, “Does it taste more like fish… or air?” I have an easier time believing the food fight with imaginary food in 1991’s “Hook.” During another miracle, he says that if you believe in God, you’ll never die. I assume he’s talking about the spirit, but if he isn’t, how silly; this teaching seems wedged in. I love the teachings of God, but other films – perhaps “The Passion of the Christ,” which I still have to see – must depict his teachings better. Better yet, just stick to the Bible. In this film, the image of Jesus sitting on a side of a mountain with his disciples teaching them how to pray strikes me as more silly than inspiring.

Throughout, some might think that this all has a TV quality about it. Bad news. This film is literally a TV movie plastered on the big screen. It’s condensed and edited from the History channel’s “The Bible,” a 10-hour mini-series that is condensed into a 138-minute film. No wonder the editing has breaks in it where it goes to black, which must be an ending of an episode. The cinematography is also ugly in parts, where Jesus is out of focus for a good thirty seconds. There’s one ugly, ugly grainy shot that is of the Temple, and there’s always a bird flying in the same place… I think I’ve seen better visuals in films by Asylum Entertainment (“Sharknado,” “40 Days and Nights”).

The sets also have an unbelievable TV quality about them, too, and it just doesn’t work. When Jesus is walking on water, he literally does look like a ghost and it’s not a great scene because of the bad visuals. Looking at this at a technical perspective, it’s an ugly film. The film still portrays a message, but the randomized plotting is strange. There’s cuts in the plot where you can just tell there might have been important development cut out, the sort-of way films aired on TV are shortened so there can be time for commercials. It skips from him meeting Peter, to having all of his disciples rounded up, to the High Priests accusing him for blasphemy; and it really just goes from miracle, to miracle, to miracle. This plotting is boring, and since Morgado isn’t a good Jesus, and since the teachings are made so simplistic, some of the film’s emotional power (save the crucifixion) is squandered. By the way, some of the costume design seems so limited, it looks like a few of the Priests are just wearing bath towels.

This big screen experience masquerading as a film is completely deceiving. As an aspiring movie critic, I’m going to the theatre to review a film. Not a TV mini-series edited lazily into a film. This is just lazy filmmaking, if you can call it that. Making films and a TV series are two completely different processes, and have to be reviewed differently, so this is what is so strange about this flick – people expect to see a real film, first made for the theatres, not TV. This film is simply the Reader’s Digest version of TV’s “The Bible,” and I’m one of the types who want to watch the full story. Since you now know that this is just a TV show edited into a film, just stay home and watch the TV series. And if you don’t have ten hours on your hands, just skip this altogether, unless you’re a faithful person wanting your spirits raised. Otherwise, this just sucks.

Score: 38/100

Box Office Predictions: March 7-9

While “The Lego Movie” is still going strong, this weekend is seeing a release of some straight competition for it: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” It’s an animated time travel family comedy that looks like fun. Similar films open at $38.1 million, and I think this has potential to hit around there, probably not pass $40 million because of the competition from “LEGO” (now at about $213 million domestically), but hit around there nonetheless. My prediction is $35.3 million.

The other new release this weekend is “300: Rise of an Empire,” the sequel to 2007’s smash hit that opened on the same weekend to the sound of $70 million. People love their war movies, but I wonder if people won’t dig this as much without the direction of Zack Snyder. This was supposed to be released in August of last year but was postponed to this weekend, so hopefully it’s worth the wait. (I really hope it’s good because I love the poster and it’d look awesome on my wall.) Similar films open at $32 million, a little less than half of 300‘s opening weekend. With the difference of seven years between this and the first film, it’s been able to muster quite the fanbase (it stands at a 7.8 on IMDb from over 450 thousand ratings), but this won’t have nearly as great as an opening weekend. An opening of $44.7 million sounds more likely.

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. 300: Rise of an Empire$44.7 million
2. Mr. Peabody and Sherman$35.3 million
3. Non-Stop$15.68 million
4. The Lego Movie$15.621 million
5. Son of God$14.081 million (review coming in the a.m.)
6. The Monuments Men$3.211 million
7. Frozen$3.094 million
8. RoboCop $2.254 million
9. 3 Days to Kill$2.252 million
10. Pompeii $2.001 million