Reel Reviews

‘Miracles From Heaven’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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A fall into grace

The fact-based drama “Miracles From Heaven” (Columbia) tells a remarkable story.

Though director Patricia Riggen’s screen version of Christy Beam’s 2015 memoir is clearly designed for believers – and sometimes feels padded – even dedicated skeptics may have trouble dismissing its underlying narrative.

A wife and the mother of three daughters, Christy (Jennifer Garner) is going about her everyday life in the Fort Worth area of Texas when tragedy strikes without warning: Her 10-year-old middle daughter Annabel (Kylie Rogers) develops an unexplained but seemingly unshakable illness.

Alarmed, Christy refuses to accept the series of more or less casually delivered misdiagnoses from unfocused doctors with which she’s presented. And eventually, the grim truth emerges. Annabel’s symptoms are identified as stemming from pediatric chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, or CIPO, a rare, painful and incurable condition that prevents the body from digesting food and leads inevitably to death.

Persistent Christy now focuses on obtaining the care of one of the few specialists in CIPO, Dr. Samuel Nurko (Eugenio Derbez). Although kindly and caring, Dr. Nurko proves powerless to combat the disease – and Annabel’s death sentence stands.

Although Christy and her easygoing veterinarian husband, Kevin (Martin Henderson), are dedicated churchgoers – John Carroll Lynch plays their good-humored pastor – Christy’s faith crumbles in the face of Annabel’s condition. She finds herself unable to pray. She’s also deeply angered by the misguided notions of some fellow parishioners who seem to entertain a non-Christian view of the connection between sin and suffering.

Yet a startling, almost inexplicable, turnaround awaits Christy – one which is certainly providential if not indeed miraculous.

Though it may be aimed at a self-selecting audience of believers, the script minimizes neither the crisis of faith nor the larger mystery of innocent suffering.

The dialogue also takes a wide view of what counts as a divinely inspired marvel, highlighting the above-and-beyond kindness shown to Christy and her clan by an ensemble of secondary characters. The most significant of these is Angela (Queen Latifah), a gregarious waitress who takes an instant – and cheering – shine to Annabel.

While squeaky clean as far as the normal array of objectionable elements is concerned, “Miracles From Heaven” nonetheless includes both subjects and sights that make it inappropriate for the youngest viewers.

The film contains mature themes as well as potentially upsetting incidents and medical procedures. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

‘The Young Messiah’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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A well-done screen treatment of Jesus as a child

It’s a seemingly glaring omission likely to strike even casual readers of the New Testament as disappointing: With the notable exception of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Gospel writers are entirely silent about their subject’s childhood.

Apart from this single incident, our only canonical information about the years between the Holy Family’s return from exile in Egypt and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry consists of Luke’s general observation that, during this time, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

While frustrating for scholars – and a happy hunting ground for those given to wild theories – this period can, nonetheless, provide a fertile field for speculation if handled in a careful way. A case in point: the engaging dramatization “The Young Messiah” (Focus).

Director and co-writer Cyrus Nowrasteh’s screen version of Anne Rice’s 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt sensitively explores the mystery of the Incarnation. By remaining faithful to the underlying message of Scripture even as it tackles a topic on which the Bible itself is mute, Nowrasteh’s script, written in collaboration with his wife Betsy, avoids the many theological pitfalls that surround the union of Christ’s divine and human natures.

The result is an intriguing, devotion-friendly piece of entertainment suitable for viewers of most ages. Families will welcome it as especially appropriate fare for Lent as well as the Easter season.

As the film begins, a combination of both ordinary and supernatural circumstances indicate to Joseph (Vincent Walsh) that the time has come for his family to leave their temporary residence in Alexandria – the only home 7-year-old Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) has ever known – and return to Nazareth. Not for the first time, Joseph and Mary (Sara Lazzaro) are being forced to grapple with the concrete implications of their son’s unique identity.

Together with Jesus’ other close relatives – including his uncle, Cleopas (Christian McKay), and cousin, James (Finn McLeod Ireland) – Joseph and Mary understand, at least partially, that the lad is the promised Messiah and the Son of God. The fact that he possesses miraculous powers is, moreover, becoming apparent even to people outside the family circle.

Joseph and Mary’s dilemma is obvious: How can they properly guide a child who remains, in many ways, a mystery to them? And how are they to answer the many questions he himself keeps raising? As Joseph pointedly asks, “How do we explain God to his own Son?”

In the midst of their bafflement, Joseph and Mary are confronted with an even more urgent priority: keeping Jesus safe from the dangers that surround him. The notoriety resulting from the boy’s superhuman abilities has drawn the attention of corrupt King Herod (Jonathan Bailey) who dispatches a Roman centurion named Severus (Sean Bean) to track and kill him.

Jesus is also being dogged by the figure of Satan (Rory Keenan), though only he can sense the evil adversary’s presence.

While “The Young Messiah” can be warmly endorsed for a wide range of audiences, the mature elements listed below, although discreetly handled, bar recommendation for all.

The film contains combat violence with slight gore, scenes of crucifixion, an attempted rape and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June 2015)

CNS classifications: A-I: general patronage; A-II: adults and adolescents; A-III: adults; L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O: morally offensive.
MPAA ratings: G: general audiences. All ages admitted; PG: parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13: parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R: restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17: no one 17 and under admitted.

The Age of Adaline, A-III (PG-13)
Aloha, A-II (PG-13)
Avengers: Age of Ultron, A-III (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
The D Train, O (R)
Danny Collins, A-III (R)
The Divergent Series: Insurgent, A-III (PG-13)
Do You Believe?, A-II (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
The DUFF, A-III (PG-13)
Ex Machina, O (R)
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
It Follows, O (R)
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Lazarus Effect, A-III (PG-13)
Little Boy, A-II (PG-13)
The Longest Ride, A-III (PG-13)
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, A-I (PG)
Pitch Perfect 2, A-III (PG-13)
Poltergeist, A-III (PG-13)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
Run All Night, L (R)
San Andreas, A-III (PG-13)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A-III (PG)
Seventh Son, A-II (PG-13)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, A-I (PG)
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
The Water Diviner, A-III (R)
Woman in Gold, A-II (PG-13)

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops