Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heaven Is For Real - Review

Who in the hell is Randall Wallace? Well, according to IMDB, he's the nameless director of such films as THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, WE WERE SOLDIERS, and SECRETARIAT. He also bestowed on to the American public the script for Michael Bay's PEARL HARBOR, a story that famously caused every viewer to root for the Japanese to decimate an American love triangle. I asked this question not for the sake of starting off this review with a pun but for the fact that I couldn't accept HEAVEN IS FOR REAL as being a creation of any filmmaker beyond Jeff Nichols. Three years ago, he made a really good indie called TAKE SHELTER; this film featured a character actor in the lead role, a strawberry blonde-haired actress as his wife, people getting sick with multiple ailments in rapid succession, money troubles being a big plot point, a holiday venture ending with sheer consequences, but ultimately was about the struggle whether or not to accept visions that are experienced in some capacity. Guess what HEAVEN IS FOR REAL features?

This movie recounts the "amazing" true story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy from Nebraska whose father just so happens to be a town pastor. He suddenly is ailed by a case of having a burst appendix, so he's quickly pushed into emergency surgery. Some time after his operation, he begins to tell his dad Todd (played by Greg Kinnear) about what occurred during his hospital time, namely the period while he was under the knife. He states that he walked around Heaven, had angels sing to him, and got to sit on Jesus' lap. The medical reports reveal that he never flatlined on the table, so what happened to cause such an event? Could this have been a fantasy devised by his brain while unconscious or is it a true miracle, especially after further hidden secrets are revealed? And, could Mr. Burpo use such a story as to bring his community together while helping him pay off his debts?

Now let's stop being overtly critical about the believability of this story and focus strictly on this movie adaptation created in its wake. Unfortunately, I don't have any nice things to say about HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, so this train of negativity and cynicism will just keep on keeping on. You might respond that I should turn the other cheek and be nice to this supposedly wholesome movie. First off, I don't have to be because even the movie says its okay to fight and lambast: At one point, the other Burpo kid, a girl named Cassie, serves up a knuckle sandwich to two taunting boys on the playground, after they made fun of Colton. After she tells her parents of what she did, she's given a kiss on the head and the matters end right there. Not very Christian-like, huh? And secondly, this movie isn't wholesome at all. It is a gross production of standard Christian conventions, shallow craftsmanship, and tedious stretches of useless information and dialogue, all the while slathered with rampant product placement by Sony, who fronted the whole bill.

I'm going to start right off with the elephant in the room: Connor Corum, the child actor who plays Colton. He is very dreadful and seems to think that cuteness means to act like a shy Damien. His sole expression, which he utilizes whenever the situation calls for happiness, attentiveness, or sadness, can best be described as the "pissed in my pants" technique. Don't let his perky cheeks and cries for everyone to sing old Queen songs fool you, he is a very bad actor. Also, I have never seen a perfect four-year-old like this in real life, let alone in a church.

Now that I have cruelly mocked a little boy, let's move on to the rest of the junk present here. Though Wallace's previous films all had even a small sense of style and vibrancy, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is largely lifeless and so incredibly boring to tolerate, especially with a running time of 100 minutes. It takes practically takes thirty minutes or more until Colton is finally sent off to the hospital, preceded by two full sermons, a series of cloyingly bankrupt scenes of family fun, and several useless subplots that go right in the garbage bin. Those money troubles I touched upon? Always brought up by the wife but never resolved. Todd's injuries that misfortunately pop up one after the other? Kinnear is later seen walking around fine with no trouble at all. Some shots devised by veteran cinematographer Dean Semler seem to invoke some kind of beauty but it is then negated by some repetitive tableaus and some frankly horror-like images, like Colton walking up from the basement in heavy shadow or Colton sitting on the stairs while framed in a dutch angle. Semler's work is also hampered by the highly questionable editing, which follows the script's nature by also randomly switching gears in the mood and tempo.

The movie does at least try to be objective in the debate over Colton's experiences but fails quickly on both ends. Colton's story is easily thrown out and labelled to be false because of a later scene where he re-enters into heaven "for a short time" by staring straight into the sun. That's not a joke, it's a real scene. But the other side of the debate isn't even better: The skepticism and jeering by the other townsfolk is such a turn on the dime from has been established before. You see these people listen closely to the sermons, all mingle at the local diner and play baseball together and then boom, people like Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church are now unexpectedly prudish towards the Burpos. This type of bipolar characterization is customary for a Christian film and screenwriter Chris Parker has some more to stupidly deal out. For example, Kinnear at one point meets and talks with a female college professor and she, like other higher learning figures in these movies, is depicted to be a harsh atheist, who may or may not lost a loved one and just needs one good sermon to win them back into the flock. Then of course, there is the good old Christian film cliche of flat-out lying to the audience: Kinnear searches on Wikipedia for "near-death experience", in order to continue to find out any possible answers for Colton's behavior. The website instead re-directs him to the page of "hallucination". Anyone with half a brain and a working keyboard can spot this goof.

This is labelled as being set in the present day, yet the real-life story took place in 2004. If you accept the established timeline, it doesn't explain why someone as busy as Kinnear's character is still carrying around a flip-top cell phone. But if you accept the time-frame of 2004, then you are treated to seeing everyone possessing a Sony Vaio laptop computer, which were popular at the time, and the fact that the Brupo family owns a Sony PS3, which wasn't even shipped out until 2006. The presence of Vaio computers everywhere is eye-rolling, plus the many mentions of Kinnear working for Overheard Door is a bit understandable, but the utterly despicable hard shill of Spider-Man is unfathomable. Spider-Man is everywhere in this picture, often seen as an action figure being carried all-around by Colton. When Colton is really sick and they want to show the dread of losing a child, the makers don't focus on the parents, they focus on the falling Spider-Man figure in slow-motion. But the crowning "achievement" comes when Dad talks with Colton one night in his bed. The camera is pulled way, way back in order to showcase Colton's "Spider-Sense" lamp shade, an Amazing Fantasy #15 poster, a generic Spider-Man poster, and a Spider-Man kids book on his bedside table. In case you forgot, Sony owns the movie rights to the Spider-Man franchise, with one coming in a few weeks, and they want to remain holding on to them. What a disgrace.

This isn't a movie made to support love for religious bonding or community togetherness. It was made to sucker in money by the barrel-full. I feel so bad for Kinnear, Church, and Martindale for wasting their talents in the piece of Christian filth. I just hope that God will forgive all those who were involved in this tedious cash-grab.


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