Iron Man 2 (2010)

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Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Justin Theroux

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Remember way back when the MCU just had a few films and we were shocked to find that there was already a sequel? Oh wait, we were still shocked that there was a cinematic universe…

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Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the first film (running somewhat concurrently to The Incredible Hulk) as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef) opens the Stark Expo to continue his father’s legacy to create new technology to change the world, but he is facing an internal problem: the palladium core in Tony’s arc reactor is slowly killing him. As Stark places Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Se7en, Mortdecai) in the role of CEO for Stark Industries, he is also faced with vengeance from a new villain: Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), the son of a man wronged by Howard Stark, who has taken on the moniker Whiplash, to punish Tony for the sins of his father. To put it short, Tony Stark is having a rough time.

Iron Man 2 gets a lot of flack for being a lesser film than its predecessor, but I prefer it. Tony Stark is faced with a lot of conflicts in the film and it gives him the opportunity to be a good person, something he wasn’t given the ability to do in Iron Man. I enjoyed the villains in the film (again, something that others didn’t care for), and I really liked how it set up the rest of Phase 1 of the MCU. It’s strange, that same tactic was unimpressive in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but here it really worked for me.

Iron Man 2 adds so much to the mythology with new heroes Rhodey (Don Cheadle, TV’s House of Lies, Crash) becoming War Machine and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Hail, Caesar!) showing up as Natalie Rushman. There’s the building up of SHIELD and the references to upcoming installments Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

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Iron Man 2 has detractors (the film hasn’t aged well), but overall its a pretty damn fun time, and while it was mostly a transitional film for the MCU as it found its footing. I liked it a lot, but I can kind of see what others don’t like.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Chef, click here.

 

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 13 – Piranha (2010)

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Director: Alexandre Aja

Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. Queen, Christopher Lloyd

Screenplay: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg

88 mins. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.

 

We’ve discussed remakes many times before, so I feel like you don’t need to know my thoughts. Essentially, you have to make a film that adds something to the story that you didn’t get before. Piranha, the 2010 remake of the Joe Dante film, sets out to be a great B-horror film, and the crazy thing, it actually succeeds.

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Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue, TV’s CSI, Back to the Future Part II) is determined to keep Lake Victoria safe during Spring Break as she has every year. This year, however, she has one more dangerous obstacle in the way of her mission: an underwater tremor looses thousands of bloodthirsty piranha upon the lake and the surrounding area. As she assists an group of seismologists in determining the cause and full effect of the fissure, her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen, TV’s The Vampire Diaries, Minutemen) is out on the water with amateur voyeur and professional pornographer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell, Stand By Me, Justice League vs. Teen Titans), right in the path of the deadly prehistoric fish.

People don’t seem to get my enthusiasm and real belief when it comes to Piranha: this movie is perfect. Now, does that mean Oscar-worthy? Not so, but I mean that this movie knows what it wants to be, and it perfectly embodies its goal: to be a fun and bloody homage of horror/comedies like the movie it is remaking. I’ve told many people that Piranha is one of the best horror movies of the 1980s and it came out twenty years too late.

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Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, The 9th Life of Louis Drax) just figured this movie out. His use of great actors and amazing cameos from legends like Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I am Not a Serial Killer) and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Madoff). Dreyfuss’s role even sends up his character from Jaws (and he puts forth a solid albeit small performance even though he didn’t really want to be in the movie). And if you pay close attention, you can even see horror director Eli Roth cameo as a wet T-shirt contest host. He even tried to include Joe Dante and James Cameron (director of Piranha II: The Spawning) as boat captains giving safety lessons, but the idea ultimately fell through.

Every plot thread of the film is fun and interesting. Shue’s work as the Sheriff helping to uncover the secret behind the piranha is great, and she has terrific chemistry with Novak, played by Adam Scott (TV’s Parks and Recreation, Krampus) and her Deputy, played by Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation). Unfortunately for them, nothing beats Jake’s story, as nobody beats Jerry O’Connell, who chews his scenes up and steals every moment onscreen.

The visual effects from Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are top notch, which only furthers the technical prowess of Piranha. In fact, just about everything technical in the movie works, from the visual flow of the cinematography matched with the perfectly-paced editing, to the musical score and Aja’s directing at the helm.

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It’s a shame that Piranha was not screened for critics. It may have given the film the necessary buzz to bring in more viewers. Sadly, the gains that Aja’s film received were only able to garner it a really shitty sequel instead of the franchise we fans deserved. Either way, Piranha is perfect for what it wants to be. It doesn’t want to make friends. It wants to show a lot of Booze, Babes and Blood, and if that isn’t for you, then this movie isn’t for you. However, for those of you looking for a fun cheese-fest of a horror film that satirizes and pays homage to what came before, Piranha will not disappoint.

 

5/5  (I’m Serious)

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 3 – Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

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Director: Eli Craig

Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

Screenplay: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson

89 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity.

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about horror and comedy. They are similar in a lot of ways but in order to meld the two, you don’t just make fun of horror elements. That isn’t how it works. Effective horror comedy comes from playing the comedic moments as seriously as possible, as if the characters are just in a regular horror film. Few films are able to master the art. One that does is 2010’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

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Tucker (Alan Tudyk, TV’s Con Man, I, Robot) and Dale (Tyler Labine, TV’s Deadbeat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) have one goal in mind: to enjoy their new vacation home, an aesthetically unpleasant cabin in the woods. But when a group of foolish college students mistakes them for monstrous murdering hillbillies, this tale of mistaken identity is about to go off the rails. Dale comes across injured swimmer Allison (Katrina Bowden, TV’s 30 Rock, Nurse) and rescues her. Chad (Jesse Moss, Final Destination 3, Extraterrestrial), who wants Allison for himself, believes them to be kidnapping her for their twisted pleasures and mounts a rescue mission, but these college students are rather clumsy, and as they accidentally die, Tucker and Dale seem to be at fault. This tale of judgment and mistaken assumption culminates in one of the more interesting horror comedies in recent years.

Gosh, not enough people have seen Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and that’s a damn shame. Folks, this movie is on Netflix. You’re already paying to watch it. First of all, our two leads are terrific. Tudyk and Labine play off each other so well. Add in Katrina Bowden, who does a fairly convincing performance as the attractive Allison, a woman who would never have anything in common with our Reddest-of-Neck leads. The other cliche college brats are worthy enough but don’t really get enough time to conjure up a real character. That being said, this movie isn’t really about them. It’s about Dale and Tucker and their quest to enjoy their lovely vacation home.

Director Eli Craig gave his actors free range to build their characters, and it’s one of the reasons that they are as enjoyable as they seem. His focus on turning the genre on its head works to wonders here, even if the ending falls apart a bit. Altogether, though, Craig does great work playing each scene for all its worth. He holds his camera on Tudyk and Labine to get the best reaction to each horrendous “accident” and pulls the uncomfortably tense moments to full effect.

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As I said before, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts, but all in all, this is one of the more enjoyable takes on the horror genre. Similar to Cabin in the Woods, this movie is more of a love letter to the genre as opposed to a slap in the face that some spoofs end up being. This is a worthy collection to your Halloween marathons.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 29 – Monsters (2010)

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Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

Screenplay: Gareth Edwards

94 mins. Rated R for language.

 

Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) is living proof that anyone can make a movie, even if they have to play multiple roles, which he did, as director/writer/cinematography/production designer/visual effects on the film. But how is the finished product?

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Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, 12 Years a Slave) is an American who has been hired to escort his boss’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, A Walk Among the Tombstones) from Mexico across to the U.S. The only way to get there? Go through the “infected zone” where alien creatures have taken over in a world where humans have adapted to the idea that they are no longer the dominant species on Earth.

The visual effects on the film, which were made on a single computer with store-bought software, are terrific. Director Edwards commands his film and doesn’t settle for less than great. As for our story, there isn’t much of one. I don’t think he realized how much the plot would have to fend for itself here, and the plot is nothing new.

McNairy and Able have great chemistry (they were dating at the time) but they just don’t have much to do. There is a lot of needless exposition of the characters that doesn’t make them very compelling. I’d rather learn about the world that has been built.

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Monsters is a pretty incredible film for its backstory, but as far as entertainment goes, general moviegoers won’t find much to love here. Filmmakers like myself love the idea that one man can be so driven by his need to create, but the film itself is less than remarkable.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 2 – Insidious (2010)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language.

 

On this second day of our 31 Days of Horror, I want to talk about a modern classic from one of my favorite filmmakers currently working: James Wan (Saw, Furious 7). The film is Insidious.

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The Lambert family is almost finished unpacking after their big move. Josh (Patrick Wilson, TV’s Fargo, The Conjuring) is busy with his new teaching position. Renai (Rose Byrne, X-Men: First Class, Spy) is juggling packing boxes, her infant child, and her struggling passion for music. But when her son Dalton mysterious enters a comatose state and she begins hearing loud noises and seeing suspicious figures around her home, she learns that her son has become a conduit that insidious and nefarious spirits are using to enter our realm. Now, Josh and Renai have enlisted the help of paranormal investigators Elise, Specs, and Tucker to rescue Dalton from a place called The Further.

Insidious is one of my absolute favorite recent horror films. Director James Wan utilizes tone and style to create his scares, launching some very effective jump scares because of it.

First of all, if you want to build an effective horror film, there are a few great ways to do it. Having Grade-A quality performers helps a lot. I’m talking about Wilson, Byrne, Barbara Hershey (Black Swan, Riding the Bullet), who plays Josh’s mother Lorraine, and of course veteran character actress Lin Shaye, who knocks it out of the park as Elise, the lead paranormal investigator.

The second way to build fear is through creating an effective and powerful tone. Wan balances his tone with heavy use of sound and music and juxtaposing them with scenes of more lighthearted fare featuring Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).

Now, it’s true that the film forces fear through its sound work (often, the music cues the scare before the scare actually happens) and the final reveal of the beast vying for Dalton’s vessel (played by orchestrator Joseph Bishara) could’ve been better if not fully revealed, but these are minor flaws that lessen over multiple views.

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Insidious builds a mythology very solidly over the course of its runtime and inhabits its world with interesting characters and frightful apparitions. This is a great film for those filmgoers that can’t handle the gore of heavier films that we see in today’s horror films. Big buy.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] The A-Team (2010)

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Director: Joe Carnahan

Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Patrick Wilson

Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking.

 

It is difficult to turn a popular television series into a movie. How do you condense years of storytelling into two hours? It has been attempted multiple times for multiple series, and while many of these attempts do not fare well, some happen to slip between the cracks. One of these rare finds is 2010’s The A-Team from director Joe Carnahan (The Grey, Stretch).

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In the adaptation of the popular 1980s series, viewers get to see how the famous team was formed by Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Entourage). We see the meeting of the team, the inciting incident behind their court-martialing, and their fight to reclaim their freedom. After they are betrayed during a mission, Hannibal, Face (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, Aloha), Murdock (Sharlto Copley, TV’s Powers, District 9) and B.A. (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, The Midnight Meat Train, Miss March) must outrun the cops, led by Face’s former flame Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist, Accidental Love) and try to prove their innocence with the help of the mysterious Lynch (Patrick Wilson, Insidious, Home Sweet Hell).

The A-Team is a perfect example of updating a classic scenario using all the bells and whistles of a big production. Getting strong performances from top names like Neeson, Cooper and Copley to play the infamous mercenaries (notice I didn’t mention Jackson here…) really elevates the level of excitement and fun had in this movie. We even get a unique and comedic performance from Wilson as Lynch, a notable character from the series.

Carnahan’s cinematography skill here is his ability to maneuver the camera constantly without resorting to shaky cam. It has a frenetic yet focused chaos to it. He also knows how to get a near-perfect flow from his films. The A-Team never lets up for the entirety of its near-two-hour runtime.

The subtle use of the original theme helps to homage the original musical cues. This is assisted by the great makeup and costuming. These characters are allowed to look damn cool no matter what they do. It is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s treatment of his characters. Everyone in this film is so cool it made me jealous.

The visual effects work quite well for a bulk of the film, but their overuse in the finale is noticeable aged and comes off much more cartoony than it should, making many of the stylized action pieces look a bit like a video game cut scene, which ultimately takes away from the “Wow” factor of the explosive ending.

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Thanks to some dated effects and the poor casting of Rampage Jackson as a carbon-copy attempt of Mr. T, The A-Team has some faults, but it is a rather underappreciated and sadly forgotten action spectacle. I suggest you take some time to revisit this oft-unloved film from a great but largely unnoticed director like Carnahan.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Furry Vengeance (2010)

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Director: Roger Kumble

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Brooke Shields, Matt Prokop, Ken Jeong, Angela Kinsey

Screenplay: Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert

92 mins. Rated PG for some rude humor, mild language and brief smoking.

 

In Furry Vengeance, from director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions, College Road Trip), Dan Sanders (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy, The Nut Job) has been brought in to turn a beautiful forest into a dense residential area by his boss Neal (Ken Jeong, TV’s Community, The Hangover). His wife Tammy (Brooke Shields, TV’s Suddenly Susan, The Other Guys) and son Tyler (Matt Prokop, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Struck by Lightning) are not fans of Dan’s new job, by the wildlife in the area prove to be the real problem. The many woodland creatures of the forest are out to stop Dan at all costs.

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I wish there were wildlife trying to stop the completion of this film. This is by far one of the worst pieces of garbage I have ever been forced to watch. Not a great time. These are some truly terrible performances. I think I giggled once at the opening featuring Rob Riggle in a cameo appearance, but then, literally, I think those animals straight up killed that guy. Dark turn for an opener. Later in the film, I would envy Riggle.

Roger Kumble fails on just about every level here. The film comes off as a horrible combination of a film promoting a good message and a crew destroying everything in sight. I’m trying to think of something good here. Someone ask me later, I have to go wash the smell of horseshit off me.

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Honestly, if you have Netflix, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, subject yourself to this. Please, go out and plant a tree and say you watched the film. You’ll be better off. Planet Earth will be better off. See, everyone wins.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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Director: Samuel Bayer

Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz

Screenplay: Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer

95 mins. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.

 

Earlier this month, I discussed Platinum Dunes and their remake of The Amityville Horror. In that review, I mentioned that I believe a remake was an unsuitable idea for that franchise and, indeed, the entire horror genre. Most horror fans understand that the endless barrage of sequels boils down to mostly remake material, but we love the thrill of an unstoppable horror that keeps coming back. By hitting the remake switch, we get stuck with a new thread that may not be strong enough to carry a film. I happen to think that, if you want to bring back a franchise, do it like Star Trek did, where the new film could constitute a beginning of a series while being honest to the fans. Easy? No, but did we ever want easy? No. Even Friday the 13th’s remake was a better choice than just the same movie over again. Friday the 13th took the route of rebooting the series by the taking the best parts of remaking the franchise rather than just the inciting film. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, we get a straight remake, so we don’t get scared, because we’ve seen it all before.

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The teenagers in town are dying when they fall asleep, and there’s not much that can be done about it. Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner, American Sniper, Dear White People) and Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara, The Social Network, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are willing to try anything to stay awake as they attempt to uncover the dark secret about their town, their parents, and the man who haunts their dreams, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen, RoboCop).

I really enjoy Jackie Earle Haley’s work here. I’ve often found him to be an interesting character actor who specializes in the darkness within humanity. As Freddy Krueger, he found a menacing voice and strong physical performance that adds something new to the character. He even improvised some truly disturbing dialogue to keep the actors unhinged during shooting. I particularly like the unsettling line about the how the brain still functions seven minutes after death. The problem with his character is that his face is half-CGI’d and that lead to a more wooden character than we should have had. The irritating part was that the reason for the CGI (from the same group involved with Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight) was meant to be true to actual burn victims. Then, at the last minute, they scaled it back, hindering Haley’s work without a reason, and effectively crushing the intensity of the film.

As for the teenagers of Springwood, I can’t be as happy about. Gallner and Mara tune in flat work, bolstered by some pretty good (if not completely cheesy) acting from Katie Cassidy (TV’s Arrow, Monte Carlo) and Kellan Lutz (TV’s The Comeback, Twilight).

The new addition of micro-dreaming is cool, but it boils down to jumping the shark here. Where does the story go if they can’t even stay awake.

New director Samuel Bayer takes his touch for music videos and applies it well to the cinematography of this film. He absolutely can’t handle using practical effects which result from the over-shiny quality of the picture. Where’s the brooding darkness? Good question.

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There is a lot of good that A Nightmare on Elm Street did (I don’t agree with Rooney Mara speaking out against the film once she “made it” as an actress). There, unfortunately, is too much that this remake did wrong. The entire film comes off as a flimsy reminder that we had better 30 years ago. It can’t carry the weight of a franchise, and now fanboys like me are waiting around to see if we will ever get another tour of Elm Street.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Letters to God (2010)

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Director: David Nixon, Patrick Doughtie

Cast: Robyn Lively, Jeffrey Johnson, Tanner Maguire, Bailee Madison, Michael Bolton

Screenplay: Patrick Doughtie, Art D’Alessandro, Sandra Thrift, Cullen Douglas

110 mins. Rated PG for thematic material.

 

The Dohertys are going through a rough period. The youngest son Tyler (Tanner Maguire, The Hangover Part II) has cancer. His older brother Ben (Michael Bolton, no not that one) is feeling neglected while worried about Tyler. The mother Maddy (Robyn Lively, The Karate Kid Part III, Ouija) doesn’t know how to process her son’s illness. When Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnson, Helter Skelter), a new mailman, takes up the Doherty route and begins receiving letters to God from Tyler, it sets them all on a course of learning, loving, and growing that none of them could have predicted.

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This film takes true events and shoehorns them into a goofy religious piece of schmaltz that doesn’t do the actual events justice. Granted, this is one of the better films of this particular subgenre in recent years, but the film is just too damn long. It is so boring for most of the later 2/3 of the film. The performances are disappointing, most of the characters come off as trying to be Disney characters and the entire film feels like it would be indiscernible from Lifetime channel dreck.

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I like the general idea of the movie, and I feel like under better hands, it would make a pretty nice short film. The fact is, the runtime is by far the worst part of this not-so-great time at the movies. There are better ways to spend two hours, so I’ve saved you from it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. Don’t get on my case about giving bad reviews to religious movies. I have seen a few really good religious films in my time but this was not one of them. This one is more in line with Mom’s Night Out and that is what earned it bad props. So there, got it?

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