religion

“Inferno” Review, Books vs. Movies, and The Robert Langdon Series

Prepare to be ripped apart you pathetic excuses for adaptations!  Back in February of 2016, I watched The Da Vinci Code on Netflix for no particular reason.  By the time it was over, my “Confusion-o-Meter” was off the charts.  I knew it was an adaptation (one with some interesting ideas), so I got my hands on the original novel by Dan Brown and gave it a shot.  Wow.  I couldn’t put that book down!  Interesting characters, great suspense, and a spiritual setting unlike any I’ve seen in a novel (the epilogue still gives me the chills).  What followed was a marathon of reading both the books in the series and watching their film adaptations.  I wanted to write this thing when the Inferno movie was released in theaters last year, but I hadn’t finished the book, and Ron Howard was NOT going to ruin another one of these incredible endings for me!  I finally got a copy and watched it… oh my gosh.  Had I seen it in time, this pile of cinematic waste would rank pretty dang high on my Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016 list.

Anyway, today we are doing something special.  In addition to reviewing Inferno, I’m going to throw my twenty-two cents (inflation) into the hat on the “books vs. movies” debate, as well as Dan Brown’s controversial books.  It’s gonna be awhile, so strap in and grab your popcorn because this is going to be a very emotional experience.

Inferno is directed by Ron Howard and written by David Koepp.  Stars-Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, and Irfan Khan.  Premise-After waking up in a hospital, with amnesia, in Italy, Professor Robert Langdon must elude a secret service agency whilst trying to recall what he was doing before he lost his memory.  All he knows is that whatever he was doing was worth a billionaire’s suicide, a strangely curious doctor’s assistance, and the lives of billions.

This is going to be a spoiler-filled hybrid review, but I am going to avoid spoiling the books as much as possible because you should read them regardless of how badly the movies basterdize them.  That said, they changed the second half of Inferno so much that you’d swear they adapted a different book!  The very first scene is only the beginning of the torrent of crappyness we are about to be subjected to.  Billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) is being chased through the city of Florence, Italy (in a very poorly shot chase scene).  When he is cornered atop a tower, Zobrist intentionally falls off to his death.  We then cut to Langdon in a hospital where he is experiencing migraines and memory flashes.  Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) informs him that he was shot in the head and left with amnesia from the bullet (which grazed his skull).  After an assassin shows up (obviously for Robert) and shoots a supervising doctor, Brooks helps Langdon escape the hospital.

This brings me to my first of far too many issues with Inferno; Robert Langdon is a freaking moron!  Never once does he question why a seemingly random doctor keeps helping him on his quest to find out why he’s being hunted.  I can buy her taking him out of harm’s way, but she takes him to her apartment, gives him some clothes (that fit too perfectly), and when he produces a biotube from his bag she helps him decipher it.  At some point, any human with half a wit would ask, “Why the heck are you joining me on this quest across Europe to find a secret cave?  Especially when I’m being pursued by secret service agents, and my only lead is a map of Dante’s Inferno (the first third of poet Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’)?”  In case you’re wondering, amnesia doesn’t take away the ability to ask basic questions.

Robert Langdon may not be a superhero, or a historical revolutionary, but he is one of my favorite literary protagonists.  I’m not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Brown’s novels demand quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, as well as faith and focus.  There are MAAAAANY people who dislike these stories because of their “impossible premises.”  Either that or easily enraged immature audiences who claim these books are “anti-religious propaganda” or that all seculars/atheists are idiots.  Both of these arguments are ridiculous and invalidated by Langdon alone.  He is a Harvard symbology professor with an incredibly likable personality.  As you would expect, he’s a bit of a skeptic.  Not against the idea of religion, but his intellectual mind doesn’t “allow” him to believe in such things (if you want to hear some mind-blowing debate on science vs. God, read Angels & Demons).  A quote from Langdon himself, “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”  It is Langdon’s down-to-earth views that make him an excellent character to follow on these, admittedly improbable, adventures.  He’s kinda like Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, only Langdon is brought along because he can decipher cryptic clues and, well, he is the central hero.  The books are worth reading purely for this well-written character.

Back to Inferno, we get some *ahem* “disturbing” imagery that is taken right out of Dante’s Map of Hell.  Only problem is, they CGI’d the heck out of it, and the result looks horrible!  If the crazy editing wasn’t annoying enough, we get at least a dozen mini-flashbacks from Langdon’s fragmented memory.  Half of those flashbacks contain these ugly looking effects that come right the heck out of nowhere.  Despite how bad What Dreams May Come is; at the very least they nailed the set design and visuals.  Inferno looks cheap as heck.  I considered going through as much of the story as possible, but then I realized that most of it was pure exposition.  That’s another problem; this movie treats its audience like children.  In addition to dialogue that only exists to explain the plot, there are a few instances where text on the screen will be spoken by a character. As if to say, “We [the filmmakers] don’t think you have the brain capacity to read, or recall information.  Have a nice day, and thanks for your money, we’ll use it to fund the remake of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Dwayne Johnson.”  While I would be satisfied with giving this film two “birds,” I’d like to point out that these novels are not for younger audiences.  If the religious and historical themes aren’t enough, we also have issues like international terrorism, insanity, and mass genocide in the plot!  In addition, this movie was directed by the guy who made: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind (which won him two Oscars!).  Each of these dealt with adult themes and complex issues with grace and maturity, you’d think he could use some of the ol’ talent with a series that he apparently loves.  The final nail in the proverbial coffin would be the writer, David Koepp who penned: Snake Eyes, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Premium Rush, and Jurassic Park!  You’d think he could craft an entertaining thriller!

If you were wondering why they didn’t adapt The Lost Symbol book before Inferno, then ask Ron Howard who replied with, “We didn’t know how to make something that would really feel fresh and exciting, on a cinematic level for audiences.”  I don’t buy that.  You guys adapted the first two, why was The Lost Symbol so difficult?  Also, you’re one of Hollywood’s most famous/best actors-turned-directors.  Your movies have collectively grossed over 3.3 billion dollars, and you beat Peter Jackson, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch for Best Director.  I’m pretty sure you can take on a historical thriller set in Washington D.C.  Barring that, we all know the real reason why they skipped The Lost Symbol, it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous two books.  There is no amount of well-researched rhetoric that can convince me that the producers weren’t drooling over the sales of The Da Vinci Code in theaters (as it was #1 in the box office opening weekend and made over $700 million worldwide).  What I am saying is, Howard, you’re better than this.

Inferno reeks of laziness.  I don’t know how they managed to convolute the plot even more than they did with The Da Vinci Code.  That movie’s biggest problem was how boring it was.  Angels & Demons’ biggest problem was how forgettable it was.  Inferno’s biggest problem is EVERYTHING.  Ron Howard’s only Razzie nomination was for The Da Vinci Code (in all seriousness, the lackluster direction led to most of the issues), but the amount of failure present in Inferno rivals that of Miracles from Heaven.  If you want a perfect example, Langdon’s amnesia is wildly inconsistent.  In two separate scenes, Langdon states that he cannot remember his middle name, and what coffee is (it is explicitly stated that his memory is short-term, those two things should not be affected).  All this does is embarrass Tom Hanks, who has to spend most of the movie with this ridiculous expression on his face (and needs to fire his agent).  The performances can’t save this picture either.  Hanks is stumbling his way through every scene (at least they got rid of his stupid haircut from the first two films), Foster doesn’t have enough screentime to shine, and Jones is atrocious!  Again, Howard’s direction was probably a hindrance on the set rather than a help because these actors are not trying.

In keeping with being unfaithful to the source material, literally NONE of the characters are the same as they are in the novel.  I’d use that old critic saying, “I know it’s an adaptation, obviously some things have to be changed” but that is both obvious and kinda giving the filmmakers an excuse to change something that’s already perfect.  I will admit that these particular books would be difficult to adapt to the big screen, but that’s why you have to try.  Especially if these are not studio mandated projects as Howard claims.  The movie has no concept of logic or pacing.  It’s even more difficult to get pacing right in books because everyone reads at their own pace as opposed to everyone watching the same screen in real time.  While the adaptations of Angels & Demons and Inferno are mercifully fast-paced, they cut out the best things in each book.  With Angels & Demons, they took away all the great humor and character moments, neutered the villain, and brushed over the incredible religious/political/scientific/cultural commentary.  In the case of Inferno, it barely resembles the novel.  Let’s get back to the movie.

After completely cutting out one of the most suspenseful scenes in the book and replacing it with, “Hey look, there’s the way out,” Langdon and Brooks learn what is going on.  To sum it up: Zobrist was a transhumanist, someone who believes that humans can evolve through the use of technology, who’s strongest belief was that the human race will destroy itself if overpopulation continues to inflate.  After being ignored by the world’s top scientific minds (and most of the public), Zobrist went into hiding through the use of an organization called The Consortium.   After committing suicide, he left cryptic clues as to where his genetically created “inferno” (that he states will solve the humanity problem for good) is located.  Yes, we have yet another bad guy who hates humans and whose master plan is to kill a bunch of ’em (you may recall this unique-but-tired plot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Kingsman: The Secret Service).  This isn’t the movie’s fault-just like the fact that it’s an amnesia storyline-the book used these clichés first.  Despite that, the movie made some major deviations from the character arcs.  The climax particularly is beyond infuriating, especially to someone who loves the novels.

You see, Sienna Brooks was apparently Zobrist’s lover, and she has been leading Robert on the whole trip so she could ensure his device will be undisturbed.  She betrays him back in Italy and he is captured by his pursuers.  These enemies turn out to be an organization (that I’m not going to spoil) that denounced Zobrist’s overpopulation concerns.  They quickly explain why they were after him, and what is at stake.  An hour of exposition later, they fly to Istanbul where Zobrist’s “inferno” is going to be released, the Basilica Cistern specifically, which would make a great breeding ground for a deadly plague. After a horribly choreographed fight scene involving Irfan Khan (director of The Consortium), 2 random stuntmen henchmen, and Felicity Jones phoning it in (which is hilarious because her character is a thespian in the book), Brooks pulls the pin on a grenade in an attempt to rupture the bag that “inferno” is contained in.  She kills herself in the process and fails to release the plague.  Oh boy, time to go on a rant!

First of all, Sienna does not kill herself in the book, nor is “inferno” a plague.  Of all the characters in the movie, she was the one they changed the most.  In the book, she is: calculated, sympathetic, extremely resourceful, quick-thinking, blonde, and a great character.  In the film, she’s: a brunette, doesn’t contribute much, and everything interesting about her was completely written-out.  Considering that 2016 was the year of the feminist agenda, I’m amazed that so little fuss was made over the butchering of Sienna Brooks’ character.  It could have something to do with the pitiful $34 million it made domestically, but still.  Inferno isn’t the best book in the series, but it has the best female protagonist out of them.  Pretty much all the intelligence and maturity from the book was replaced with cheap thrills and action movie clichés that is the intellectual equivalent to junk food for the mind.  When you read the climax of the novel, it will leave you speechless.  It’s so monumental that it will take a few minutes for your mind to process it.  Ok, I can’t take any more, let’s wrap this up.

Typically, when one reviews an adaptation, they cannot compare it to the original source material.  An adaptation can be reviewed by someone who has seen the original, and someone who has not seen the original.  The only difference is opinion.  I wanted to write this because these great literary works have been thoroughly ruined 3 times too many.  The only thing that remained decent in all three films is Hans Zimmer’s music (for reference, listen to the buildup in this, the intensity of this, and the mystery of this) which provided me with a much needed reminder that even the worst films can contain a diamond in the rough.  When all is over and done with, the sacred novels are still here, and still awesome.  But for now, Inferno gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F.

This was the first of many projects I have planned for 2017.  Yep, the fun/experimentation didn’t stop with Brian De Palma Month, we have many more to go.  Comment and tell me what you thought of this post.  Or say nothing and let me pretend that I did a good job.  Thank you.

The Robert Langdon Series Ranked

Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+

A perfect mix of action, science, historical art, religious commentary, character, humor, and pacing make this book one of the best I have ever read.  It remains timeless/relevant to this day, and I recommend that everyone should read it.  Also, the villains in Angels & Demons are frighteningly effective.

The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-

It’s more subtle (i.e. slower and more detailed) than Angels & Demons, but still thrilling and creative.

The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D

This movie is ungodly boring!  The (seemingly perfect) cast is wasted, the screenplay is lifeless, and it’s shot like garbage.

Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-

The only reason this movie is better than the predecessor is the faster pace.  Otherwise, the villains are underdeveloped, the suspense is weak, and the commentary is ground-level easy.

The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-

Removing the religious elements from this one lowered the stakes/interest, but on its own, The Lost Symbol is a decent mystery that takes full advantage of the setting, (and a shocking twist).

Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-

The amnesia cliché and pre-established formula hold it back, but the urgency, art references, and amazing ending make it more than just a simple action thriller.

Inferno (2016 Film)-F

Did you not read the review?

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Top Ten Best Movies of 2016

I don’t know what to write here, so let’s just talk about some dang good movies!

 

Rules: This list contains movies from 2016 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (links to the movies I have written about will be provided).  Only theatrical releases can be on this list.  The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the best movies form last year that I saw.  Finally, this is my list, with my opinions, and my praise, so enjoy!

 

#10 – Zootopia

Yes, that “rules” paragraph was copy-pasted from my other list (problem?), but here is a movie without a shred of redundancy.  My opinion has wavered over how rock solid the commentary is, but one thing is certain, Zootopia is a clever look at society with the charm and likability of a Disney renaissance film.  The characters (if they are not a stereotype) are brimming with personality, the voice acting is amiable, and the animation is some of the best 3D has to offer.  Zootopia is overrated, but for very good reason.

#9 – The Lobster/Swiss Army Man

What is dis?  Two movies for one spot?  How dare I!  It’s my list, so roll with it.  I was in a major state of hopelessness before I watched these movies.  I really needed to see something original to combat the slew of pandering garbage.  I was excited and apprehensive to see both of these films because their trailers left much to the imagination.  I’ve been meaning to talk about both of these movies since I first watched the last year, but other things took priority.  By now, you probably know the plots of these movies, and you should watch them if not.  What’s fascinating is how eerily similar they are.  Both are love stories, they each have fantasy elements, they both have a 7.1 IMDb rating, neither of them follow “traditional” writing, and they were both incredible refreshers in a crappy film year.  The casts are given a lot to work with, the soundtracks are magnificent, and the oddball humor almost always hits it’s mark.  Most critics prefer The Lobster and most audiences prefer Swiss Army Man, but as far as this Internet nobody is concerned, they are equally original, equally entertaining, and equally important.

#8 – The Magnificent Seven

Many a time has passed when I fantasize about Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne entering reality, hunting down the people who gave this movie a poor rating, and asking them in a half-friendly tone (while brandishing an axe), “Now why did y’all have to do that?”  Is that normal?  Can you blame me?  The Magnificent Seven is one of the best action movies of last year, but it is quite possibly the most underrated gem of that year.  The performances are memorable, the action is brutal, the score is incredible, the cinematography is resplendent, and the mere fact that this movie is not only the rare, “remake of a remake,” but one that manages to be good as well… it’s awesome!  This is Antoine Fuqua’s best film since Shooter in 2007.  And yet, people still call it a worse remake than Ghostbusters 2016.  For those of you who believe that, refer to this list, then this review, then get your brain checked out.  Don’t give me that look; this is a list of movies that I love.  Of course I’m going to defend them!  You get the point, you’re in for some great action when you watch this movie.

#7 – Kung Fu Panda 3

I spent at least 30 minutes debating the order of this movie and the next one on the list.  After re-reading the reviews, thus recalling why I love both of them, I still can’t decide.  I’d put them both in the same spot, but I already did that with The Lobster/Swiss Army Man, and I don’t want to annoy you that much.  Let’s just say that #7 and #6 are interchangeable.

Oops, almost forgot to talk about Kung Fu Panda 3.  I still stand by what I said in the review, “Kung Fu Panda is one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time!”  I cannot think of a film trilogy that improved each time.  Return of the Jedi isn’t as good as its predecessors, nor was Temple of Doom or Dark Knight Rises, and the individual films in the Toy Story and Lord of the Rings trilogies are equally great (at least to me).  I am thoroughly triggered over the Oscar snubbery of this film.  There was not an animated film that looked more beautiful than this one.  Nobody will agree with me, but while Kubo and the Two Strings was detailed, Sing was colorful, and Zootopia was wonderfully designed, the visual appeal in Kung Fu Panda 3 (especially during the spirit world sequences) is not to be missed.  The animation is backed by likable characters, progressive writing, and upbeat humor.  I don’t know what they’ll do with the next movie but I have confidence in this team.  Their effort shows through the finished product, which is entertainment with a big heart.

#6 – Doctor Strange

Superhero movies cannot grow old as long as Marvel keeps churning out exceptional stuff like Doctor Strange!  From the acrobatic choreography, to the charming cast, to the philosophy, to the incredible production quality (i.e. makeup, F/X, costumes, and sets), everything is impressive.  You’ll notice that there are many movies on this list that could be considered “basic entertainment,” but that is perfectly acceptable.  There seems to be two radical thoughts on how “deep” movies can be.  Either “every movie is mindless entertainment,” or “everything has to be Manchester by the Sea levels of emotionally complicated.”  There is such a thing as a lighthearted action flick with some character or moral depth.  There can also be a serious movie with a decent helping of fun action/comedy.  One of the finest examples of this is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If you think about it, the whole point of the movie was to stop the Nazis (the freaking Nazis!) from getting their hands on a weapon that would allow them to take over the world.  Clever writing and Steven Spielberg’s direction gave the movie more of a “fun adventure” tone, despite the many aspects of it that are not meant for kids.  On the surface, Doctor Strange is a thrilling spectacle of magic, but the developed characters all have very adult reasons for what they believe in.  Bottom line, if you want a superhero flick with the excitement of a summer blockbuster but with the attention to detail of a character piece, Doctor Strange is your movie.  After all, there will be plenty of mature movies now that we are in the top 5.

#5 – La La Land

We wanted a movie with style.  We wanted a movie with originality.  We wanted a movie with effort.  In response, we got La La Land, a beautiful throwback to the musicals of the past.  I never explained how bad of an experience I had at the theater when I watched the movie.  It was… very unpleasant.  After watching more reviews, clips from the film, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat, I’ve grown to like it more.  I still don’t think that “fantasy” thing near the end should have happened, but La La Land is still a feel-good musical with irresistible actors and a soundtrack that is just as great as everyone says.  It’s a movie that sparkles with style, delivers pure entertainment, and radiates passion/effort.

#4 – Hidden Figures

This one has grown on me over time.  The cast brims with talent, every character’s dialogue is intelligent, the score is wonderful, and the pacing is really good.  It felt like I had endured the amount of time the women in the movie did.  When justice is served, it felt earned.  The lighthearted tone mirrors the movie’s most valuable asset… a sense of hope.

#3 – Captain America: Civil War

In a world when audiences across the world are massively disappointed by one of 2016’s biggest misfires (Batman v Superman), Marvel will release a film (no, an event) that will remind us that superhero movies can have compelling story arcs, characters with character, mind-blowing visuals, incredible fight choreography, and a perfect balance of comedy and drama.  To those who have been picking apart every single word in the script, aren’t you taking this superhero movie (that doesn’t’ take itself that seriously) too seriously?  I really like Daniel Brühl’s villain, he had a plan that is legitimately intelligent.  The tension between the 10+ main characters (I’m still amazed at how well they wrote everyone) created more suspense than waiting for the airport scene (that takes really competent direction), and of course, the freaking battle sequences alone make life worth living.

#2 – Hacksaw Ridge

It came down to a tough decision between this move and number 1.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the two movies of 2016 that drove me to tears (the other was Patriots Day, specifically the ending).  There are so many things this war drama does right… only the direction of Mel Gibson could have done it.  Andrew Garfield shines (as does the rest of the cast), the character’s actions support the message, the technical aspects are a spectacle, and that M.M.M montage cannot be forgotten.  This movie spends it’s time setting up the compelling characters before throwing them into the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge.  It is very hard to watch this movie, but the amount of care and respect that went into it is awe-inspiring.

 

Honorable Mentions

A sequel that ups the characters as much as the production quality, The Conjuring 2 has the dramatic heft to support the terrifying story.

Why wasn’t this nominated for any Oscars?  Seriously, Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter are spot on, their relationship progression felt natural, the time period is captured very well, and the movie doesn’t focus purely on politics.  As far as romances go, it’s one of the best.

After Barbershop 2: Back in Business, this movie had very little to live up to.  But under the competent direction of Malcom D. Lee, a fully-utilized cast, fast-paced humor, relatable characters, and engaging social commentary, The Next Cut became the best film in the trilogy.

  • Arrival

I never got around to reviewing this one because I couldn’t’ form an actual opinion.  One (or four) thing’s for sure, the story is original, the visuals can’t be beat, the score is chilling, and it requires you to use your brain.

  • Nocturnal Animals

This is one of the most elegant movies I have ever seen.  The score (especially “Wayward Sisters”) is beautiful, Tom Ford’s vision is remarkable, the performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon) are excellent, and the story is intriguing.  Nocturnal Animals is one experience you won’t soon forget.

  • Loving

It suffers from Jeff Nichols trademarked slow pacing, but Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga’s performances are unbelievably endearing.

Top notch technicals are really second to the incredibly respectful direction, intense acting, and genuine drama.

It has plenty of issues, but the climax is awesome, the characters are likable, and the presentation is amazing.

This movie wasn’t meant for me, but I still appreciate what it accomplished.  It’s a superbly acted drama about regular people (something we don’t get enough of).

  • Lion

The first third is quite boring, but the second Dev Patel (congrats on the Oscar nomination man, you deserve it) arrives on screen, the movie gets better and better.  Not to mention Nicole Kidman’s heartbreaking acting and a tear-jerking climax.

Sing is one of the most innocently enjoyable films I’ve seen in quite some time.  Energetic animation backs up extremely likable (and perfectly casted) characters, completed with a terrific soundtrack.

 

#1 – Hell or High Water

While Hacksaw Ridge was tear-jerkingly dramatic, Hell or High Water is a slow-building, character-driven film about family, banks, old age, regret, and morality.  I can’t describe how detailed the screenplay is.  I’m’ looking forward to Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River because this guy knows what makes any compelling movie… characters.  In Hell or High Water, there is the black and white law, but there are also desperate people who have to break that law to survive.  None of the awards for this movie truly tell you how exceptional the cast is.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster have incredible chemistry, as do Jeff Bridges and Gil Bermingham.  There is such an attention to character in this movie, it is amazing.  This is the type of mature, important film that was so sorely needed in a year of “junk food movies.”

 

There you have it.  We went through a crappy film year, but made it out (as we always do).  I appreciate each and every one of your viewership.  There was more than one personal challenge for me last year, but when I get notified that “X liked your post,” it tells me that someone listened, and it motivates me to work harder.  – Erick

Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016

If I hear one more person say that 2016 was the worst year ever, I will create a time machine just so I can take them back to when the Plague killed off half of Europe.  If that ain’t scary enough for you, we’ll make a pit stop in 1944 Nazi Germany!

I’m sorry.  I really can’t stand the internet over the last couple of months.  Not helping is the fact that I had to sift through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of garbage to make this list (which you better enjoy son!).  Last year brought us a slew of audience-insulting immaturity, bland redundancies, and soul-crushing disappointments.  This list is going to identify and properly bash the worst offenders.

Rules: This list contains movies from 2016 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (links to the movies I have written about will be provided).  Only theatrical releases can be on this list.  The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the worst movies I saw.  Finally, this is my list, with my opinions, and my rage, so enjoy!

 

#10 – Suicide Squad

I’d make a joke about fanboy backlash, but: A, I don’t have enough followers to validate that joke, and B; the followers I do have are thinking people with a maturity level above that of a 6th-grader.  Suicide Squad is awful.  I left the theater in shock, unable to accept that a movie this anticipated, with a cast this impeccable, and a director who I really like, could be as disappointing as it was.  As time went on, I liked this movie less and less.  Whatever leeway I had left for this movie was destroyed by David Ayer’s pretentious responses to naysayers of his oh so precious flick.  The cast is wasted, the plot is a jumbled mess, and the F/X are pathetic.  Somehow, DC managed to produce not one, not two, but three incredibly disappointing bombs last year (Batman v Superman, Batman: The Killing Joke, and this movie).  Suicide Squad is the worst because it had the most potential.  Not only was the cast on-point, but this script had the potential to be funny (much more funny than it was), and the characters all had time to be developed.  What we got was one of 2015’s biggest misfires.

#9 – Alice Through the Looking Glass

Does anyone remember this pointless treacle?  Thought not.  As the year went on, we got better F/X from better movies (Miss Peregrine and Rogue One specifically) so the one thing this movie has going for it is outdated.  I never even brought up the utterly pointless mental hospital scene that is never brought up again in the movie.  What was the plot of Through the Looking Glass?  Why was it made?  Why is Borat the master of time?  All I can say is thank God this movie bombed.

#8 – The Boy

Good gosh there were a lot of bad horror movies in 2016!  While I could see the ideas and slight bit of effort behind Blair Witch (that’s why it’s not on the list), I don’t think anyone in the production team of The Boy had a clue.  The very idea of this movie is a cliché, and the twist (unlike the one in Dead Silence which was also a horror movie about creepy dolls) makes the plot even worse.  I watched The Boy on Netflix a while back cuz I craved some scary thrills.  I was treated to boring characters muddling their way through a plot with barely enough substance to make it to the 90 minute mark.  The few scenes with the doll are occasionally creepy, but there were never any white-knuckling moments.  Basically, this is a horror movie with little substance and poor direction… and the title sucks.

#7 – Triple 9

You will see many movies on this list with great casts.  I cannot overstate this, a stellar cast does not equal a good movie!  With the finished product in mind, literally anyone could have played these cardboard cutouts.  The plot is so incoherent and confusing, you’d swear it was the rough draft before any revisions.   The acting itself is lifeless.  The only one who looks like he’s trying is Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the only one with actual character is Casey Affleck.  At least the screenwriter went on to do Patriots Day.  Actually, that makes me wonder if the whole point of this movie was a paycheck for everyone.  Half of the cast went on to make better movies last year, so let’s just forget this utterly forgettable action flick.

#6 – The Secret Life of Pets

Forgive me if I get a bit too angry at Rotten Tomatoes ratings at times.  Essentially, the website is an amalgamation of critical reviews and ratings on most movies.  Technically a movie could be considered better than another if it has a higher percentage.  You have probably read my review of The Secret Life of Pets (since it was one of my most popular reviews from last year), so you know that I hate this movie with a passion.  I think the last time I got that angry at a kid’s movie was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Seriously, The Secret Life of Pets can burn and die.  The plot is copy-pasted Toy Story with no effort, humor, or intelligence, the voice acting is nothing but shouting and wasted talent, and the whole thing reeks of pandering to children.  Sing was produced by the same company, but written by people with passion and the finished product had effort put into it!  This movie’s success is a bad message to production companies that essentially says, “You can still rip off better movies and the returns will extremely high.  All you have to do is include a lot of dumb slapstick for the kids, and cast actors (that no one hates) like Louis C. K. and the Gen X critics will go easy on it.”  Not to mention this movie’s biggest WTFrick aspect… animated cat buttholes.  I rest my case.

#5 – Ben-Hur

I’m sorry, who the heck asked for this movie?  I guess the producers thought they could remake a movie from the 50s and assumed younger audience members wouldn’t notice.  How many more crappy remakes that try to ignore the existence of the original are we going to get?  This movie is beyond saving.  If the shaky cinematography, awful editing, wooden performances, lackluster direction, and ugly effects weren’t enough, we also have a script with literally no new ideas.  Instead of subtlety and an epic scale, we have Jesus popping up every other scene like a Jehovah’s Witness, and a claustrophobic feeling (due to the lack of wide, sweeping shots).  How the same director of the extremely entertaining Wanted created this boring retread is beyond me.  The best thing I can say about this waste is that it reminded people how well-constructed the original is.

#4 – Independence Day: Resurgence

Ab-so-lute-ly EVERYTHING about this movie can be summed up in one word, “No.”  The premise?  No.  The acting?  No.  The F/X?  No.  The release date?  Really?  This movie isn’t even bad enough to be considered a throwback to the cheesiness of the 90s.  I should have given it an F, but I digress.  Hopefully Emmerich won’t ever direct again.  What?  They’ve already announced the third sequel and a Stargate remake?  That does it, I’m raiding 20th Century Fox HQ with a shotgun in one hand and bubblegum in the other.

#3 – Ghostbusters

Hey Sony, you racist/sexist scum of the earth, how does box office failure taste?  Somehow I think that the director and writers had a lot less control over the movie than they should have.  I made it very clear in my review that I hate the response to this movie more than the movie itself (but I still hate it).  I thank God everyday this movie was not a box office success, maybe it will tell companies that audiences are NOT THAT FREAKING STUPID.  The jokes (with very little exception) are insulting and juvenile, and the characters are either stereotypes, clichés, nonentities, or pathetic cameos.  On a few levels, I can see this movie working.  For example, the designs of the ghosts have a unique style, but even that was ruined by studio-forced 3D.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this movie to make it so far in this list, but that’s what happens when most of a year’s bad movies are remakes, rip-offs, and sequels.  Hey guys, I have an idea, instead of remaking classics with all-women casts, why don’t you make something original with female heroes?  Maybe then your agenda message would work.

#2 – The Legend of Tarzan

Among the many movies I didn’t see in time to review, this gorilla poop was one of the worst.  Who in the name of Alexander Skarsgård’s pecs thought up this movie and how did they get it made?  Even by Hollywood’s egregious redundancy standards, what was the target audience for this boorfest?  It’s not for fans of the 1999 animated Tarzan since it’s not animated and the plot deals with adult issues, it’s not for hardcore survival enthusiasts because of the PG-13 neutering, and it’s not for people with functioning brains because of how unimaginably ridiculous it is.  While watching this movie, I never once felt like I was watching a Tarzan movie.  In an attempt to be “edgy” The Legend of Tarzan loses the fun adventure that makes up the characters’ personality.  Instead, we get all the clichés, muscly guys saving pretty women whose makeup never smears, a comedic/complaining sidekick (why L. Jackson, why?), a rich white villain who is only after money, and a whole lot a crappy CGI.  Director David Yates has a great talent of blending practical sets (the costumes, makeup, and sets are very impressive) with computer generated effects, but the CGI is way too overused in this movie.  After Mad Max: Fury Road, there is no excuse for choosing F/X over practical stunts (especially if the budget is $180 million).  Every time not-Tarzan is jumping around in the jungle, they zoom the camera out (or shake it around) and cover up the horrendous effect.  It takes the audience out of the experience when we can’t see Tarzan do Tarzan things!  The cast play caricatures instead of characters, and the plot is incoherent and redundant.  This load of idiocy gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D-.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

  • Demolition

Pretentious and confused, Demolition wastes its talented cast (and a couple of decent ideas) on a script with no idea what to say.

Some decent voice acting and smooth animation can’t overcome shoddy character arcs, plot incoherence, and inappropriate sex puns.

If its predecessor didn’t exist, this unnecessary sequel would definitely be on the list.  That said, I stand by my belief that this movie did have more effort put into it than I thought possible.

All fan service and no direction makes movie disappoint.

Kevin Costner is legitimately good, but the movie lacks action, and the concept is half-baked.  By being shorter than Triple 9 (and less confusing), Criminal made it out alive.

If there was ever an example of DC’s ineptitude to deliver on a product, it’s this disappointing exposition dump.  Even Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons’ performances are all cancelled out by Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy nonsense.

  • Now You See Me 2

When it’s not kissing the feet of China (gotta get those box office greenbacks), this sequel is farting up plotholes, unnecessary new characters, and stupid visual gimmicks.  Fun Fact: the audience cannot be tricked if they are asleep.

  • Batman: The Killing Joke

From the absolutely baffling relationship between Batman and Batgirl, to the forgettable mobster villain, this adaptation fails from the very first scene.  Then again, if you cut the first 30 minutes, it would be identical to the original comic.

 

#1 – Miracles from Heaven

The cinematographer of Dances with Wolves (one of the most beautiful films of all time) shot this unfocused mess.  Yes, I am still on that!  I can’t believe how bad this movie turned out.  I was a bit hard on Jennifer Garner in the review, so I’d like to say that she was trying.  Unfortunately her character is poor and I really couldn’t have cared less.  The secondary characters are forgettable, and the overall message is contrived at best and lazy at worst.  If this movie’s message was about something like homosexuality, it would have been crucified by audiences.  I haven’t read the book, so it could be as poorly structured as 50 Shades of Grey, or as monumental as To Kill a Mockingbird.  What I do know is that the screenplay can’t create a sense of realism if it tried.  The characters are stereotypes, underdeveloped, or just poorly written.  A fatal flaw of Christian films (this is coming from a Christian, mind you), especially the ones who go out of their way to argue religion, is their one-sided rhetoric.  Obviously the movie is made for a specific audience, but at some point you have to acknowledge the counter-arguments and opposing viewpoints.  Even though the skeptic from The Conjuring 2 was a bit of a strawman, it helped ground the movie in reality and added to the drama.  In the eyes of a secular, this movie could be nothing but unexplained coincidence and forced drama.  Miracles from Heaven is definitely the worst movie of 2016.

 

In contrast to the poor films on the list you just read, the movies on my Top Test Best list are marvelous.  That list will be published in the next few days.  Your viewership has played a part in making 2016 a decent year for me, and for that I thank you.

“Frailty” Review

In 2002, Bill Paxton released his directorial feature to the masses.  What audiences got out of the film was not at all what they expected going in.  Of all the actor-to-director stories that have happened (Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, and soooooooo many more), Bill Paxton’s Frailty is one of the best directorial debuts from an actor that I have ever seen.  Since it’s the month of Halloween (that iconic holiday based off of witchcraft and devil worship), and horror is my favorite genre, I think a horror review is in order.  Don’t blame me for the lack of horror reviews this month, for some reason Hollywood dropped the ball and forgot to exploit use the opportunity to release some scary movies.  For the record, I didn’t see Ouija 2 because the first movie destroyed any interest I had in the franchise.

Frailty is directed by Bill Paxton and written by Brent Hanley.  Stars-Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, and Jeremy Sumpter.  Premise-A father (Paxton) explains to his sons that God has (supposedly) revealed their divine purpose, to hunt down and destroy hidden demons.  Years later, one of the sons (McConaughey) confesses to an FBI agent (Boothe) that his brother is a serial murderer the agent has been hunting for.

The many subjects that Frailty juggles is staggering, but the really impressive thing is how well the movie is made.  The script, the cinematography, the acting, the religious themes, the horror, everything is just… brilliant!  I guess we should start with the basics, because the story is going to take quite a while to cover.

I have to admit, I’m disappointed that Paxton didn’t go on to direct more movies because his understanding of the art form is flabbergasting (yes, that is a word)!  The use of lighting and shadows in this movie rivals that of some of the best noir films of all time, the pacing is suspenseful and transitions fluently, and the performances are authentic.  People say McConaughey doesn’t have any talent, but those people clearly haven’t seen Amistad, A Time to Kill, or Frailty.  He narrates some of the story through (very well-utilized) flashbacks and every second he is on screen, you are trying to figure out “what’s up with him.”  His performance is very reserved and calm so you can’t tell what he’s going to do.  The rest of the cast is great as well.  Sumpter gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen in a horror film, and Paxton’s likability feels genuine since he plays a single father who believes that he has been given a monumental task from his Lord.

Before I get into the story, I need to make this very clear; Frailty is a religious movie.  No, not the Miracles from Heaven or God’s Not Dead kind.  This movie is a psychological horror that uses religious themes as building blocks to support the story, not as a preachy message.  This is the type of movie that many people (most of them immature) would instantly call preachy or pretentious without even watching the whole thing.  Here is what Paxton and his sons are supposedly assigned; they must hunt down and destroy (not kill) demons.  They are given 3 weapons (one is an axe), and a list of “human beings” to find.  Most of the tension in the movie comes from the uncertainty.  Are these people humans or demons in disguise?  Trust me, the movie does an excellent job of keeping you (and the characters in the movie) guessing.

There is also an honorable amount of relatable drama in this horror.  Much like The Visit, there is an emotional connection between the characters and the audience because the characters are just as confused as we are.  Sumpter plays one of the sons, and he is the skeptic of the movie.  He doesn’t believe his father, and they grow apart spiritually, emotionally, and convincingly.  You’ll find yourself caring for these characters, which is a crucial step that is often forgotten in horror movies.

Frailty has 2 twists, the first becomes more predictable as the movie goes on, but the second twist is a doozy!  The movie pulls a Rashomon on you since you can’t be entirely certain that the perspective of the story is correct.  Since I really want you to watch this movie, I won’t spoil it, but just know that the horror of the second twist is devastatingly effective and very thought-provoking.

By no means was this movie a flop, it grossed $17 million (on an $11 million budget), and received a 4/4 from Roger Ebert himself.  However, it was released in the same year as Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo, Ice Age, and Attack of the Clones (all very goofy), and Insomnia, Red Dragon, Signs, and The Ring (much more popular horror movies).  Then there is the religious aspect, to which some people have made very “tasteful” jokes involving 9/11 and God telling people to murder others.  I’ll say it again, Frailty does not push an agenda, it tells its original story and doesn’t hold back for the sake of not offending anyone.  Heck, there is very little blood or gore.  Even if you don’t agree with the themes, you can still be disturbed by Paxton’s excellent direction and some terrifying suspense.  Frailty gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

“Ben-Hur” (2016) Review

It has been quite a year for Christian movies hasn’t it?  Miracles from Heaven and God’s Not Dead 2 sucked, Risen was decent, and no one saw The Young Messiah.  Alright totally unnecessary Ben-Hur remake, it looks like it’s up to you to remind people that all Bible movies DON’T have to make religion look like the worst film genre of all time.  Let’s decide if you’ve succeeded.

Ben-Hur (2016) is directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by John Ridley and Keith R. Clarke.  Stars-Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbæk, and Morgan Freeman.  Premise-A Jewish prince (Judah Ben-Hur) is falsely accused by his once-friend Messala (a roman captain) and sentenced to be a slave.

William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959) is one of the greatest classics of all time.  It was the first film to win 11 Oscars (followed by Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), it almost single-handedly made Charlton Heston a star, and it is one of the few “religion” movies that critics actually like!  The chariot race is one of the best sequences in the history of film, and if you call yourself a film buff, then you need to see it. There have been other adaptations of the book the movie was based on, but this 2016 version feels more like a remake than anything else.  Scratch that, this movie feels like The Prince of Egypt (one of my favorite films) and Wyler’s Ben-Hur smashed together.  Seriously, the first half of this movie feels like the writers (one of whom wrote 12 Years a Slave) copy-pasted the script of The Price of Egypt to the script of Ben-Hur.  The film begins with a Jew and a Roman racing each other on chariots.  Then it shows what happened once each brother had to take on responsibilities until their beliefs (and loyalty to their people) ruin their friendship and they become enemies.  The rest of the film is essentially a worse version of Ben-Hur.

There are a plethora of issues with this movie, but the absolute biggest problem is the direction.  My gosh, this movie is so poorly directed.  The acting is stale, the camerawork is always shaky and close-up, the lighting is grim and muggy; everything is so amateurly done.  Wyler knew how to shoot an epic, wide shots accompanied by bright, full color.  Not cinematography that belongs in a Bourne Identity movie.  Yes, I know the cinematographer shot the Bourne Trilogy, but he also shot Face/Off, which was directed by a man who knows what a tripod is.  Wyler also knew how to direct his actors.  Heston is not the most emotionally convincing actor, but you can feel his passion in Ben-Hur.  It was his acting that brought the character to life.  Not to mention Oscar-winning Hugh Griffith giving the most entertaining performance in the film.  Yes, he was a white British man in blackface playing an Arab, but his charisma was enjoyable nonetheless.  The acting in the remake is mostly bland.  Even Morgan Freeman (who takes the place of Griffith), comes across as halfhearted.  It doesn’t help that he is sporting a Battlefield Earth style haircut.

All that said, the writing could still save the movie if it is clever, well-paced, and filled with great characters.  Oh, wait, I’m thinking about the original Ben-Hur.  Yeah, the writing in this here remake is some of the choppiest writing of 2016.  To start, Judah is an unengaging protagonist.  Here is a man who is falsely accused of treason by his once best friend, has his mother and sister taken away, and is kept a slave for 5 years.  Heston did such a great job acting like his actual family was locked away, like he has been planning for years how to get his vengeance.  This “updated” Judah is not one quarter of what he should be.  The rest of the characters aren’t much better, each of the supportive characters are just bland, or there to move the plot along.

This movie is not subtle.  One of the most powerful scenes in Ben-Hur (1959) was when Judah collapses of heat exhaustion near the famous carpenter.  When Jesus gives Judah water, a roman guard tries to stop Him.  The guard looks into His face (with no dialogue), thinks about something, and walks away.  The film was very wise never to show Jesus’ face, and never to jam His message down your throat.  The remake does the opposite.  I wouldn’t mind the addition of more Jesus scenes if: the actor playing Him was convincing, the scenes weren’t so preachy (and this is coming from a Christian), and if they had a point.  You could cut so much of this movie and the plot would be unchanged.  Take a lesson from Risen; every scene with Jesus in it was iconic, emotionally powerful, and had a point.

The last thing I want to rip apart are the action scenes.  Every dang fight scene in this movie is done with atrocious shaky cam!  This is especially annoying when we get to the chariot race.  The race is more brutal than the original, but that’s only because they have CGI.  The race is also much shorter than the original (which had great pacing), which is not what you want during what is supposed to be the climax of a 2 hour epic.  In addition, you don’t want the bloody camera to be in close-up mode the whole time.  Just watch the original race, and notice how well it set up tension, used real effects and stunts, convinced you that the actors were in danger, and how good it felt at the end of the race.

Is this one of the worst remakes ever?  No, but it is definitely one of the most pointless of all time, more so than Ghostbusters.  Whatever, I have other movies to see this week, but until then, Ben-Hur (2016) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D+.

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God’s Not Dead 2 Review

I was originally going to review God’s Not Dead before the sequel, but I quickly realized that there was far too much wrong with the first movie.  The review would be about 6 pages long (can’t waste that much of your time), and I would not be able to accurately describe how badly it represents Christianity with words.  I’m going to save that review for a later date (when I am ready to initiate my next phase of reviewing), but for now I’m going to go over God’s Not Dead 2 because it is slightly better than the first one, but still leaves much to be desired.

God’s Not Dead 2 is directed by Harold Cronk and written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon.  Stars-Melissa Joan Hart, Maria Canals-Barrera, Ernie Hudson, Hayley Orrantia, and Pat Boone.  Premise-A high school teacher (who is a Christian) is reprimanded for bringing up the Bible in her history class.  She has the option to apologize and never bring up Jesus again, or fight the school system in court.  She hires Jesse Metcalfe as her defense attorney and the court case begins.

Even though this movie is much better than its predecessor, there are still many problems with it. The story takes a while to get going, some of the pointless subplots/side characters return, and while they do have slightly more to do with the main plot, their screentime doesn’t amount to much (granted we do see a bit of what happened to them after the first movie).  The awkward transitions from the first movie are still here, and many scenes could have been cut completely.  Also, this movie has little to no connection to Josh’s struggles from the first movie.  Professor Radisson is never brought up (nor do we see Josh’s whereabouts), and Reverend Dave never interacts with the main protagonist.  The villains of this movie are just as obvious as the ones in the first, and Melissa Joan Hart’s acting could be much better, and the movie contradicts itself a few times when it presents its arguments, but never in a fatal way.

I’m not including spoilers for this movie, because I would actually recommend watching it, for a few reasons.  First, the humor.  Yes, it would appear that the filmmakers learned that audiences typically don’t like to be depressed for 2 hours when they watch a religious film.  God’s Not Dead 2 has some well-timed jokes evenly dispersed throughout the movie so the tone doesn’t completely overwhelm you (a well-utilized Pat Boone is the source of most of those funny jokes).  The cinematography is decent, the music is pleasant, and the (one of the many) moral is much more relatable, so it wouldn’t be a movie that only Christians can connect to.  Also, thanks to a bigger budget, they were able to hire Ernie Hudson, who gives the best performance in the movie as the judge of the case.

I was very worried that God’s Not Dead 2 was taking its message to a political level.  Can you blame me?  We all know how well it turned out when they tried it with a college setting.  However, I think that because they went with a more important setting, it makes the story even more suspenseful because the stakes are higher.  I’m a sucker for movies that take place largely in courts or ones that have to do with law (A Few Good Men, Liar Liar, 12 Angry Men), and God’s Not Dead 2 takes place in the courtroom for a large amount of the second/third act.  Despite the fact that you know who is going to win in the end, the movie cleverly uses its characters to throw you off.  The prosecutor (despite his obvious bad guyness) makes compelling cases (almost as if the writers were trying to craft a professional argument) and arguments against Hart’s character (Grace).  However, Grace’s attorney (Tom) makes even stronger arguments, utilizing real life authors (Lee Strobel, and Rice Broocks to name a few) to prove both his case, and the existence of God.  This is how you tell a story and teach a message simultaneously without looking like a preacher.  You won’t believe what holds this movie together, it is actually Jesse Metcalfe!  Seriously, the first time he appears on screen he is presented as an amateur lawyer, but a diligent one.  We quickly see that he is committed to win, and uses many different tactics to strengthen his case (and he’s not even a Christian!).  Metcalfe’s acting makes him sort of a Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men type (if you removed the smarta** part of the character), young but confident.  The ultimate way he wins, is in a scene so dramatic, so well-acted, so well shot, and so full of tension, that I would call it a M.M.M. if my grade of the movie were higher (a film has to get an A- or higher in order to receive a Triple M).  The movie is worth the price of admission just to see the final court scene.

Honestly, this movie only looks good because it followed (what many consider to be) the worst Christian movie ever made; otherwise it would be taken as subpar.  Not to say that it doesn’t have its moments, but not up to the quality that it could have been, had the screenplay been stronger.  I can’t imagine the message will convert many atheists to Jesus, but for what it turned out to be, I’d say we’re blessed 😉God’s Not Dead 2 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

Miracles from Heaven Review

I am a Christian who understands the fundamentals of Christianity.  At the age of 7 I accepted Jesus as my savior and Lord, so I would consider myself knowledgeable in the subject (although I still have a lot to learn).  I am also a passionate lover of film who knows how to tell the difference between a respectable movie, and a useless pile of garbage (I have much to learn in that regard as well).  Some of you probably think that just because I am Christian, all Christian movies get a free pass with me.  If anything, I will be even more meticulous with my judgements of the movie.  Bottom line: if your movie is teaching a moral lesson (Dances with Wolves), making an argument (Philadelphia), providing commentary (Zootopia), or trying to faithfully adapt a story (Spotlight), if the movie can pull it off with tact, respect, and of course succeed in being a decent movie, then the film has done something truly admirable.  Miracles from Heaven has failed in nearly every one of those aspects.

Miracles from Heaven is directed by Patricia Riggen, and adapted from Christy Beam’s book by Randy Brown (who also wrote Trouble with the Curve).  Stars-Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, and Queen Latifah.  Premise-A young girl contracts an incurable intestinal disease, but one day she falls into a hollowed out tree which miraculously heals her.

I’m going to start off this review with a warning.  This is going to be a SPOILER review (the theatrical trailer gave away the climax, so there’s little reason to avoid details, or even watch the movie), a very passionate review, and I am going to go in depth with the problems this movie has, both technical and spiritual.  Keep in mind that most of what I say about this movie does not go for the book or the actual Beam family (who I am sure are nice people).

This movie is one of the most horribly shot films I have ever seen!  The reason why is because if a cinematographer-who knew what they were doing-was hired, this movie could have looked stunning, Roger Deakins levels of stunning!  There is an overuse of close-up shots, and the camera never keeps focus whenever there is an establishing shot.  Yeah, it’s hard to believe, but there are some possibilities for stunning shots in this movie (granted, every now and then there will be a decent shot).  The acting isn’t much better.  The supporting cast is either over-the-top silly or as dull as Wonder Bread.  It may just be me, but I really don’t like Jennifer Garner as an actress (it doesn’t help that her movie choices are often terrible).  She comes across as “faking it” and she only has 3 different facial expressions throughout the movie.  However, there is one saving grace (besides a whimsical score) and that is Kylie Rogers.  She plays Anna (the girl who gets sick) and she completely convinced me of every emotion her character was going through.  There is one scene in a hospital where Anna talks to her roommate (a girl Anna’s age with cancer) about family, faith, and the afterlife.  This scene is well-acted, well-shot, and it provides the most heartfelt moment in the movie.  By the way, Queen Latifah is in this movie.  She does absolutely NOTHING (and the depiction of her may come across as slightly offensive)!  If her character is a real person, that’s fine.  But in a movie, a character that does nothing is what we call, “a waste of time.”  By the way, this is a Sony movie.  You know what that means?  Self-indulgent product placement everywhere!  This time, the product placement is done with stupid references to other Sony movies such as: Open Season, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the upcoming Angry Birds movie.  At least it’s not as egregiously prominent like with Goosebumps.

How about the characters?  Oh boy, this is where the meat of this movie’s problems begins.  For one, Anna’s character.  This girl’s dialog is written like she was a wise adult rather than a child who just contracted a fatal (and incurable) digestive dysfunction.  She gets better character development later on, but I found her dialog to be too perfect to be a real child.  Besides the mother (Christy), the other members of the family get next to no development (I can’t even remember their names).  If the filmmakers wanted the mother to be the “mother who never gives up and doesn’t care what she has to do to help her child” (like Kate McCallister from Home Alone), then they should have actually done that.  Instead, we get a whiny parent who loses her faith in God a few days after her daughter begins to show signs of an illness.  Yes, I know it is not my place to judge a person’s faith, but this is an interpretation intended to inspire faith.  More time should have been devoted to Christy losing her faith after her limits were reached and she truly lost hope.  We don’t even get a scene where she regains her faith, which is absolutely necessary, because she actually denounces God in one scene (or at least comes close to insulting Him).

Miracles from Heaven has a chronic condition of poorly representing authority figures.  The pastor of the Beam family’s hometown church acts more like a stereotype of the modern pastor, rather than an actual pastor.  In a crucial scene, Christy visits him looking for help.  He replies with, “I can’t help you with your faith.”  Yes you can sir, yes you can.  A pastor is supposed to minister the Word and help those who seek Jesus.  Building faith is not that difficult!  Reading the Bible, praying, and fellowship with others who believe what you do (e.g. your churches’ pastor) build faith incredibly well.  The doctors in the movie are also portrayed terribly.  The first doctor Christy visits reassures that there is nothing wrong with Anna (although there clearly is) and that they have run all the tests.  After some begging, the doctor (who looks like he just got out of college and should probably be a model) runs some more tests and then discovers something wrong with Anna (epic fail).

Finally we get to the climax.  When Anna falls down the tree, she dies.  Yeah, straight up deadified!  It is explained that God Himself spoke to Anna and said that she was healed, and to return to her body.  What’s contrived about this scenario is that the movie makes a big deal about a bunch of people praying around the tree that Anna is trapped in while she is rescued by the fire department.  What shoots this potentially powerful scene in the foot is the fact that the movie brought up the question, “if God is good, then why is [insert beloved person here] suffering?”  Yes, God does heal people out of the blue sometimes, and sometimes it is not so easy.  Patience and faith are required and suffering may happen, but it will all be worth it in the end.  But when you bring up that argument and then have God heal her after Anna suffered for so long only reinforces that age-old argument.  What I’m saying is, this climax is horribly written.

Religion (especially Christianity) is hard to write because there is always an element of the supernatural involved that cannot be explained rationally.  But that is why you have to try your absolute hardest.  Details cannot be left out, and that’s why making up a screenplay that stretches the true story will not work out.  If you want to make a movie (or painting, PSA, book, etc.) that explains and showcases something you believe in, more power to ya!  Just make sure what you’re doing is in sound judgement, otherwise blind passion will lead you to slip up and tarnish the message you were trying to convey to the audience.  In a worst case scenario, that slip up will actually hurt the cause you’re fighting for.  Christianity is hardly ever correctly portrayed in media, whether by incompetence (as displayed by this movie), or by people who are against Christianity and stereotype the heck out of it (sitcoms like Family Guy especially).

I have not seen as many Christian films as I should, and I am striving to correct that.  If Miracles from Heaven is anything to go by, then it’s no wonder why so many people hate the constantly flowing amount of Christian films.  Besides: Ben-Hur, The Mission, The Ten Commandments, and The Prince of Egypt (all of which came out before 2000), nearly every other Christian movie has terrible ratings (God’s Not Dead, The Young Messiah, Faith of Our Fathers, Heaven is for Real, and anything directed by Alex Kendrick).  Here’s me hoping that the Ben-Hur remake will be decent.  Miracles from Heaven gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D-.