New Releases for the Week of Aptil 12, 2019


HELLBOY

(Summit) David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Neil Marshall

Hellboy, the cigar-chomping half-demon entity and operative for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, must go up against Nimue, a resurrected sorceress with a grudge. She seeks to avenge a past betrayal; he seeks to stop her without bringing about the end of days.

See the trailer, video featurettes, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action/Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language)

After

(Aviron) Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Jennifer Beals. Based on the Anna Todd bestseller, After follows the dutiful, lawyer and well-behaved Tessa as she enters her first semester of college. Unusual for her age in that she has a clear idea of who she is and what her goals are in life, she meets a brooding, handsome young rebel who throws her carefully planned life and future into absolute chaos.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and college partying)

Little

(Universal) Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin, Tone Bell. A young woman feels the stresses of adult life getting to her to the point she can’t stand it anymore. She longs to relive her carefree childhood days and this being the movies, it comes to pass. Think of this as the anti-Big.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for some suggestive content)

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

(Well Go USA) Jin Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa. After suffering defeat at the hands of Ip Man in a martial arts battle, Cheung Tin Chi turns his back on fighting to raise his young son and run a small store. However, he’s reluctantly drawn back when the hotheaded brother of a gang leader has a run-in with him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Mia and the White Lion

(Ledafilms) Daniah de Villiers, Mėlanie Laurent, Langley Kirkwood, Ryan McLennan. 10-year-old Mia’s life is turned upside down when her family decides to move from London to manage a lion farm in South Africa. Mia is heartbroken to leave everything she knows but develops a close friendship with a rare white lion cub. As the cub grows to full maturity, Mia uncovers a family secret. Distraught, she decides to run away with her white lion on a desperate journey to find somewhere her friend can live in peace and freedom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cobb Plaza Cinema, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, peril and some language)

Missing Link

(Annapurna/United Artists) Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson. The latest from the inventive animation house Laika, an anthropological wonder who lives in the Pacific Northwest longs to find others of his kind in the fabled valley of Shangri-La and recruits a famous adventurer to take him there.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril and some mild rude humor)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Acres & Acres
American Warfighter
Chitralahari
Diane
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Chitralahari
Diane
Ferrante Fever
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Manje Bistre 2
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound
Penguin Highway
Sherdil
The Sower

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

A Dark Place
Chitralahari
Diane
Gangs of Madras
Kavacha
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chitralahari
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound
Transit

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hellboy
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Florida Film Festival, Maitland/Winter Park FL
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota FL

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New Releases for the Week of October 27, 2017


JIGSAW

(Lionsgate) Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson, Clé Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Josiah Black. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

The police are baffled when a series of murders have all the earmarks of the Jigsaw Killer, who has been dead for almost a decade. As the cops chase a dead man, the corpses begin to pile up. Is this a copycat killer hell bent on continuing the mission of John Kramer, or does he have some darker agenda in mind?

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language)

A Silent Voice

(Eleven Arts) Starring the voices of Michael Sinterniklaas, Melissa Hope, Kira Buckland, Amber Lee Connors. After bullying a deaf girl so badly that she moves away, a young boy ends up being ostracized by his schoolmates. Years later, bothered by his own behavior and wanting to make amends, he sets out to find the girl hopefully to find a way to redeem himself for his cruel actions as a boy.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

All I See is You

(Open Road) Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O’Reilly, Yvonne Strahovski. A woman blinded since childhood after a horrific car crash relies on her husband to help her “see” the world through his descriptions. When a new type of surgery restores her sight, she finds that the world isn’t as she imagined it was – and neither was her husband.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: R (for strong sexual content/nudity, and language)

Crash Pad

(Vertical) Nina Dobrev, Domhnall Gleeson, Christina Applegate, Thomas Haden Church. A young man whose hopeless romanticism has stopped previous relationships dead in their tracks thinks he’s finally found The One; a beautiful older woman. However, he learns that she’s married and is using their affair as a means of getting back at her neglectful husband.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, language. some nudity, drug use and alcohol abuse)

Goodbye Christopher Robin

(Fox Searchlight) Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther. Alan, a British author, learns to appreciate the imagination of his son Christopher and is inspired to write stories about his son and his beloved stuffed bear Pooh. This is the story of A.A. Milne and how he came to invent the 100 Acre Wood and Winnie the Pooh.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language)

Suburbicon

(Paramount) Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Jack Conley. A quiet suburb in the 1950s is shaken when a home is invaded and a housewife murdered. Shocking as that was, the more details about the crime that come out, the more twisted it becomes. From the warped minds of the Coen Brothers and director George Clooney comes this much-anticipated gem.

See the trailer and interviews here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Black Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality)

Thank You for Your Service

(New Line) Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kate Lyn Shell. Back from a tour in Iraq, a group of soldiers try to reintegrate themselves back into civilian life. For one heroic soldier, that task is much more difficult than going to war was.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Let There Be Light
Lucky
Seven Sundays
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Aida’s Secrets
California Typewriter
Calle 54
Chavela
El Amparo
Let There Be Light
The Queen of Spain
Ramaleela
Seven Sundays
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Let There Be Light
Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela
Ramaleela
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Let There Be Light
Seven Sundays
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Goodbye Christopher Robin
Jigsaw
Lucky
Suburbicon
Thank You For Your Service

New Releases for the Week of December 25, 2015


ConcussionCONCUSSION

(Columbia) Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Mike O’Malley, Eddie Marsan, Luke Wilson. Directed by Peter Landesman

Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic Neuropathologist working in Pittsburgh, is presented with a strange situation; a favored son of the city, a former football star, dies suddenly penniless, his very personality rumored to have changed completely. As he investigates he discovers something shocking; repeated head traumas, such as those routinely suffered by football players, leads to some terrifying consequences. However in bringing his findings to the public, he finds himself in a fight with a corporation that owns a day of the week – the National Football League. However, Dr. Omalu refuses to back down and becomes maybe the greatest advocate that pro athletes have ever had.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language)

The Big Short

(Paramount) Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei. As the economy came to the verge of collapse in 2008, a group of financial outsiders, seeing what the big banks had done to the economy knew that they would likely not get much more than a slap on the wrist. They decided on a bold scheme to get their share, taking on some of the biggest crooks in the history of mankind – and winning.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity)

Daddy’s Home

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church. A white bread radio executive has married a divorced woman with two kids, and is trying to be the best dad possible to them, although frankly they don’t want anything to do with him. Still, he tries and hopes for the best – until their biological father shows up, forcing him to compete with the guy for the attention of the kids. The ante gets upped again and again until the stakes become ridiculous.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language)

The Danish Girl

(Focus) Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw. Danish painter Einar Wegener was married to a fellow painter and seemingly happy with his life. However, a request from his wife, seemingly simple and innocuous, leads him to a profound change and the realization that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Desperate to find a solution, he takes a risk that at the time was unthinkable – but may be his only hope for happiness and peace.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and Q&A sessions here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexuality and full nudity)

The Hateful Eight

(Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern. A bounty hunter, taking his quarry back to Red Rock, Wyoming to hang shortly after the end of the Civil War, finds himself snowed in with six other strangers in a Rocky Mountain stagecoach stop. Soon it becomes clear that not all of the men are being completely candid about who they are – and that not everyone holed up to wait out the storm is going to make it out alive. The movie will be playing in digital 70mm print approximation (few theaters across the country will have the real thing), and will be opening in wide release on January 8th in standard 35mm digital.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, a featurette, B-roll video and a Q&A session here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)

Joy

(20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Rohm. Coming from a working class background, nobody ever figured Joy would ever amount to much but nobody counted on her unshakable will. She goes on to found a business empire, navigating the cutthroat waters of modern business to become one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the United States. This is the latest offering from director David O. Russell, who has become the nearest thing to a sure Oscar nominee as there’s been in the last few years.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Point Break

(Warner Brothers) Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer. A young maverick FBI Agent infiltrates a group of extreme athletes who are suspected of pulling off daring robberies utilizing skills involving some of the most dangerous activities known to humans. The deeper the agent gets, the more he gets swept into their world. Eager to prove their innocence he begins to lose sight of his job and the protection of innocent lives. Can he bring these guys to justice before people die for their thrill-seeking ways – or will he ultimately prove their innocence?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, thematic material involving perilous activity, some sexuality, language and drug material)

Youth

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz. Two lifelong friends vacation at a resort in the Swiss Alps as they contemplate oncoming retirement. Befriended by a young actor struggling to make sense of his latest role, one – a musician – is urged by his daughter not to retire just yet while the other – a screenwriter – labors to finish what may well be his last screenplay aided by his muse, who may or may not be true inspiration.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language)

Max


Max prefers kidfingers over ladyfingers.

Max prefers kidfingers over ladyfingers.

(2015) Family Drama (Warner Brothers/MGM) Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank, Lauren Graham, Robbie Amell, Mia Xitlali, Dejon LaQuake, Jay Hernandez, Owen Harn, Joseph Julian Soria, Raymond W. Beal, Edgar Arreola, Jason Davis, Pete Burns, Miles Mussenden, Joan Q. Scott, Ian Gregg, Andrene Ward-Hammond. Directed by Boaz Yakin

]It is a Hollywood truism that it is never a good idea to work as an actor with children and animals, unless you like getting upstaged. Sometimes, of course, it’s unavoidable – families must have their films and they are often crawling with kids and pets.

Max is a dog working for the military. He and his handler, Kyle Wincott (Amell) are in Afghanistan, where Max faithfully sniffs out weapon caches for the Taliban and alerts the platoon when there’s trouble. However, all of Max’s training can’t save Kyle from a Taliban ambush.

Back home in Texas, Kyle’s family is living day to day; his ex-marine Dad Ray (Church) bears his wounds that he got in Desert Storm and runs a storage facility. His wife Pam (Graham) relies on her faith in God to get her eldest son back home safely and to keep the peace between Ray and their youngest son Justin (Wiggins). Justin is at an age where he is, quite frankly, a jerk – like most teenage boys. He has little or no respect for either parent (less for his demanding Dad than his Mom), plays videogames all day long and has no interest in spending his summer working for his Dad who really needs the help. He is also burning bootlegged copies of videogames that haven’t come out yet for a local hoodlum named Emilio (Soria), who is the cousin of his best friend Chuy (LaQuake).

The Wincott family is devastated by the news of Kyle’s passing. It is Max, however, who is the most inconsolable. His relationship with Kyle and devotion to him is such that he is of no use back in the field; he suffers from PTSD (and yes, dogs can be afflicted by it) and won’t let any other handler near him. The Army ships him back to Texas where he was first trained to see if anyone can deal with him. They bring the dog to Kyle’s funeral, where he breaks hearts by running up to the casket, pawing at it and with a piteous whimper lies down at the foot of it. Why don’t you go get a tissue now, I’m sure you need it.

Anyway, the only person Max responds to is the sullen Justin. As it turns out, Justin is beginning to respond to Max, too – after his mom forces him to take care of the dog on his own. It would seem an insurmountable obstacle for Justin, who doesn’t know the first thing about caring for a dog. Fortunately for him, another cousin of Chuy – this one not involved in anything illegal – named Carmen (Xitlali) – has raised pit bulls in her family for ages, so she agrees to help Justin out. The two start to take a shine to each other.

However, things get complicated when Kyle’s buddy – Tyler Harne (Kleintank) returns from duty early and gives Ray an account of Kyle’s death that puts the blame squarely on Max. Ray is all for putting a bullet in the dog’s head after that but cooler heads prevail. Max clearly doesn’t like Harne – he gets upset whenever he’s close by, barking and trying to break his chain to get at the former Marine. Justin thinks Harne is up to something. When Justin’s suspicions prove correct, Harne has Max taken away by animal control to be put down and when Ray finally figures out that his younger son has been right all along, kidnaps Ray to hand over to the drug cartel that he is selling weapons that he liberated in Afghanistan to with the express instructions to take his buddy’s dad to Mexico and make him disappear permanent-like. It’s up to Max to escape doggie death row and aid Justin in finding his dad.

I liked the first part of the premise – bringing a military dog home and helping the dog heal from his PTSD, while simultaneously helping the family heal from the grief of their loss. Had they stuck to that story this might have been an excellent family film. Unfortunately, they add the whole far-fetched junior detective angle that just turns the movie into an Afterschool Special and not a particularly good one.

What saves the movie is Max himself; the dog is absolutely wonderful, the kind of dog that epitomizes why the species is Man’s Best Friend. One can see why the military and law enforcement both rely heavily on dogs, particularly those of Max’s breed. Max will definitely tug on your heartstrings and in a movie like this one, frankly that’s his job.

I didn’t talk much about Carmen in the story summary but let me tell you, Mia Xitlali may have an unusual last name but she also has unusual talent to back it up. She’s absolutely a knockout in the looks department but she has plenty of screen presence to make her a talent to watch out for, so long as she doesn’t go down the Selena Gomez path. Latin actresses don’t often get really juicy roles but hopefully one will come this lady’s way – I know she’ll make the most of it when one does. Mark my words, this girl has a future ahead of her.

Wiggins, who was impressive in the far better Hellion, is less so here. Mostly, he’s the victim of awful writing; Justin is so sullen and so angry at the world that it is absolutely excruciating to spend time with him. Sure, this might be more typical of teenage boy behavior – and I helped raise one as well as having been one, so I know they can be real jerks – but most teen boys, even my son, had redeeming qualities. Eventually Max turns Justin around but by the time he does, you’re pretty much already over Justin. Sadly, Yakin gave Wiggins some cringe-inducing dialogue to speak and you can almost see Wiggins wincing when he says it.

I get that this isn’t meant to be a work of art but it could have been so much better. I think the story that takes up most of the first part of the movie is far more compelling than the Disney Channel detective show that makes up the second. I wish Yakin had trusted his main story to carry him through although to be fair, it’s quite possible (and even likely) that the studio may have had something to do with adding the kids save the day second half. In addition, when a filmmaker casts actors the caliber of Graham and Church and then gives them little to do but look stern or sad, that’s a bad sign. Still, those looking for family entertainment that isn’t animated in a year in which it seems like the only good option for families is Inside Out could do worse than seeing this as a break from multiple viewings of Pixar.

REASONS TO GO: Max is terrific. Some nice cinematography. Xitlali shows some legitimate talent.
REASONS TO STAY: Pedantic story. Church and Graham criminally underused. Justin may be a “typical” teen but far too abrasive to get much audience sympathy.
FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and peril, disturbing war sequence and some thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Five dogs play Max, who is a Belgian Malinois (not a Belgian Shepard as is at least once remarked upon in the movie) which are a breed used often by the military and police; the primary canine actor, whose name is Carlos (great name!) also appeared in the movie Project Almanac.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bolt
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Meet Me in Montenegro

New Releases for the Week of June 26, 2015


Ted 2TED 2

(Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman, Sam J. Jones, Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn. Directed by Seth MacFarlane

The magically animated teddy bear Ted is living the good life now. Although his thunder buddy has broken up with his girlfriend, Ted’s relationship has blossomed and he is going to get married, and the two are even thinking about having a kid. The trouble is, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts needs Ted to prove that he is human. That’s going to require some legal-type stuff and there’s a hottie named Samantha L. Jackson who might just be the ticket to Ted’s happiness – and his pal John’s as well.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use)

Max

(Warner Brothers/MGM) Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Lauren Graham, Robbie Amell. Max is a specially trained dog that sniffs out bombs and mines for the army in Afghanistan. When his handler is killed in action, Max is severely traumatized and is taken out of service. He is shipped back stateside to the family of his beloved handler and makes a bond with their teenage son. However, when a dangerous situation threatens the family, the hero in Max will need to re-emerge if he and his new friend are to save the day.

See the trailer, a clip, an interview and a music video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action violence, peril, brief language and thematic elements)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

(Fox Searchlight) Thomas Mann, R.J. Cryler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman. A high school senior tries to remain as invisible as possible to avoid any sort of relationship which might cause him discomfort. He spends most of his free time making film parodies of classic movies with his only friend, who he describes as a co-worker rather than a best friend. However, when his mom insists that he spend time with a girl in school who has just been diagnosed with cancer, he finds something that is worth all the trouble he had tried to avoid. This was perhaps the most acclaimed film to come out of Sundance this year.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater, AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)

Heaven is For Real


A little father and son talk.

A little father and son talk.

(2014) Faith (TriStar) Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Marge Martindale, Thomas Haden Church, Lane Styles, Jacob Vargas, Thanya Romero, Danso Gordon, Rob Moran, Nancy Sorel, Darcy Fehr, Vivian Winther, Pete Hudson, Ursula Clark, Mike Mohrhardt, Bryan Clark, Randy Apostle, Julia Arkos, Candace Smith, Cruise Brown, Amber Lynn Partridge. Directed by Randall Wallace

Disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of organized religion or of faith-based movies. I have an aversion to being preached to. Not that I have an issue with people having faith or even religion – there are a lot of good things that organized religions do, but there are also some questionable things and I’m talking about all faiths here, not just one in particular. When someone tells me that there is only one way to get to heaven, I smell flim-flammery.

However, faith and religion are different things entirely. While religion tends to codify our faith, faith can exist without religion (but not vice versa). Religion helps those with faith understand just what it is they have faith in. However, when that faith is confronted with something that we can’t really explain, that faith is shaken to the core, severely tested. It all comes down to belief.

Todd Burpo (Kinnear) is a Wesleyan pastor in the small farming community of Imperial, Nebraska. Besides that, he repairs garage door openers, coaches wrestling and the local high school and is a volunteer fireman. If that wasn’t enough to fill up his day, he dotes on his four-year-old son Colton (Corum), his older sister Cassie (Styles) and his wife Sonja (Reilly) who also directs the music group at the church. If there ever was a Norman Rockwell life, Pastor Burpo was living it.

During a softball game, the pastor slides hard into third base and suffers a severe spiral fracture in his right leg, forcing him to the sidelines on all his endeavors for a few weeks. No sooner has he come back to work when he collapses on the altar during his sermon, felled by kidney stones. The medical bills begin to pile up and there isn’t enough money.

Things go from bad to worse. After a family trip to Denver, both Cassie and Colton come down with the flu. Cassie recovers but Colton doesn’t. He starts to get worse. His parents rush him to the hospital (which is a bit of a hike from Imperial) and once there, it is determined that Colton’s appendix had burst. He is rushed into surgery, but the outlook isn’t hopeful.

However, the little boy manages to pull through. Cue big sigh of relief from everyone involved. But then little Colton starts telling his Dad about his experience; how he found himself floating above the operating table and watching the doctors work on him. How he could see his mother calling friends on the phone and asking them to pray for him. How he saw his Dad in the chapel, yelling at God and venting. Todd is at first bemused by this; these types of experiences are not unheard of after all.

But then he tells his father that he actually visited heaven, and goes on to describe it. While he was there, he heard choirs of angels singing to him, giggling when young Colton asked if they could sing “We Will Rock You” by Queen (a Burpo family sing-along favorite). He also sees Jesus, riding on a horse that is all the colors of the rainbow. He sits in Jesus’ lap, and describes him as having blue/green eyes.

Todd passes this off as his son’s vivid imagination coupled with being surrounded with religious imagery all his life. Then Colton starts giving some details about people he meets in Heaven including a sister whom his mother had miscarried; neither Todd nor Sonja had told him anything about that incident. Todd’s faith is shaken to the core. How can he continue to be the effective pastor he has always been when he isn’t sure that his son has really had this experience he is so sure he’s had?

Wallace, who wrote Braveheart and directed such fine movies as The Man in the Iron Mask and Secretariat  makes some smart choices here. He allows viewers to make their own decisions as to whether Colton’s experience was legitimate and if he’d actually been to Heaven. His father believes it, that is for certain. Clearly, it’s not something that can be proven but it must be taken on faith.

That can be difficult. Church and Martindale play friends of the Burpos as well as members of the board of the church who have a difficult time in accepting Colton’s story (and both do bang-up jobs for the record), and worry about the effect that the growing media circus will have on their small town and their church. I found myself wondering why devout Christians would be anything but thrilled at “proof” that heaven is for real. I guess it’s as hard to see your beliefs proven to be true as it is to see them proven to be false.

Kinnear is the glue that holds the film together. He is rock solid, charismatic and crazy likable. We are reminded once again that he is one of those actors who should be an A-lister but for whatever reason has never gotten the role that pushes him over the top. Given the box office success of this film, we may finally get to see that happen.

As for the actor that played young Colton, I have to be honest although it doesn’t make me happy to do so – he is stiff and unnatural. I try to give leeway to young actors because it’s not fair to hold them to standards that you would hold an adult to. However, in this case because he’s so integral to the story and to the film, I would be amiss in not at least mentioning that you need to expect that his line readings can sometimes remind you that he is a kid reading words rather than a character saying them. There is a huge difference and it did for me at least take me out of the movie at times.

The movie and the book that it came from has sparked a certain amount of controversy. Some Christian publications have condemned the book for not having a Biblical version of Heaven – some film critics have panned the film for its depiction of billowing clouds, WASP-ish Jesus (although the painting of him that Colton identified as the Jesus he saw in heaven that was painted by a Serbian girl who had a similar experience looked distinctly Semitic to my eyes) and  angelic chorales was too over-the-top. I never realized that Heaven was such a controversial subject.

And of course, atheists and non-believers have been smug and snarky in their contempt for the film. It’s this kind of treatment that adds fuel for the Fox News assertion that there is a war on Christianity, albeit that on Fox News there’s always a war on something. People have the right to believe as they choose; just because you believe in one thing doesn’t make you automatically better than people who believe in another. Belief is not about being superior to everyone else; it’s about how you choose to live your life and what you choose to embrace as fact even if you cannot prove it as such.

Living in the Bible Belt gives me a certain perspective. Certainly most of the audience that is seeing this movie is Christian or leans that way. During many points in the film, there was audible sniffling and I’ll admit to getting misty-eyed myself. I suspect few atheists will go to see this and I can’t see a lot of non-Christians making the effort either. This is certainly aimed at one segment of the movie-going audience but it serves them well, yet for those who are less religious at least it treats the subject with respect and as I said earlier, allows us to reach our own conclusions.

I have my own conclusions and my own beliefs as to what happens after we die. The fact of the matter is, as Kinnear’s character says during the film quoting his grandfather, is that by the time we know for sure what does happen to us it’s too late to tell anybody about it. Maybe Colton actually did visit heaven; maybe it’s something that his mind did to help him cope with a crisis he couldn’t understand. We will never know for certain either way. Whichever explanation you choose to believe you have to take on faith. And that my friends is the crux of that human ability to accept things we cannot prove.

REASONS TO GO: Kinnear is solid. Raises some real questions about faith.

REASONS TO STAY: Gets preachy in places. Corum not the most natural of actors.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some medical situations involving a child as well as some thematic elements which small children may not understand or be disturbed about.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed mostly around Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Five People You Meet in Heaven

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Love Me

New Releases for the Week of April 18, 2014


Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCE

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Lukas Haas. Directed by Wally Pfister

A brilliant A.I. engineer is on the verge of a game-changing breakthrough when he is shot with a radioactive bullet by members of an anti-technology group. His wife and best friend know his only chance for survival is to finish his experiment – to download his intelligence and essence into a computer. Unsure about the ethics of such an endeavor, they nonetheless proceed – and soon discover their worst fears being realized.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality)

2 States

(UTV) Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amrita Singh, Revathy. A Punjabi boy and a Tamil girl face overwhelming obstacles in trying to get their parents to allow a marriage between the two of them. This is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Chetan Bhagat.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Bears

(DisneyNature) John C. Reilly (voice). Follows two new mama bears in the rugged, majestic and often dangerous terrain of Alaska as they try to teach their cubs everything they need to know to survive – while protecting them from the many dangers of the Alaskan wilderness.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G

A Haunted House 2

(Open Road) Marlon Wayans, Gabriel Iglesias, Jaime Pressly, Essence Atkins. After exorcising the demons from his last girlfriend, a man starts fresh with his new girlfriend and her two children in a new house. Unfortunately, supernatural trouble follows him as he starts to realize that it may not be the house that’s haunted – maybe it IS him!

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror Spoof

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violent images)

Heaven is For Real

(Tri-Star) Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church. Based on actual events, this details the story of a young boy who lies near death’s door and makes a miraculous recovery. When he comes to, he claims he has been to heaven and while there are those who are skeptical, his pastor father is disturbed that his son knows things that happened before he was born – things he couldn’t possibly know, providing a challenge to his faith and his beliefs.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Faith-Based Drama

Rating: PG (for thematic material including some medical situations)

Le Week-End

(Music Box) Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Judith Davis. A British company, married for umpteen years, returns to the scene of the crime – their honeymoon in Paris. Trying to rekindle the romance that has been missing from their relationship, they succeed and then some as the romance of the City of Lights takes hold.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Lotoman 003

(Panamericana) Dalisa Alegria, Fernando Carrillo, Julian Gil, Fausto Mata. This hit comedy franchise from the Dominican Republic makes it’s American debut in select theaters in the U.S.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: NR

The Lunchbox

(Sony Classics) Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nakul Vaid, Lillette Dubey.A frustrated housewife cooks lunch for her increasingly distant husband. When her lunchbox is inadvertently sent to the wrong recipient, a correspondence ensues between two lonely souls.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and smoking)

Make Your Move

(High Top) Derek Hough, BoA, Wesley Jonathan, Will Yun Lee.Two young people from completely different worlds meet in one of New York’s hottest underground clubs and discover that they have common ground in dance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for language including sexual references, and brief violence)

Race Gurram

(Ficus) Shruti K. Haasan, Ravi Kishan, Prikash Raj, Allu Arjun. Two brothers who are polar opposites and constantly squabble and play increasingly spiteful pranks on one another are forced to unite when a corrupt politician wants revenge against the one brother who contested his election.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Under the Skin

(A24) Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell.  An alien masquerades as a human woman, using her amazing sexuality to snare human prey. As she spends more time on Earth however, she begins to change as she finds the complexity and joy of human life irresistible, putting her on a collision course with her own kind.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: R (for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language)