Reel Reviews

‘90 Minutes in Heaven’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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Life after death

As its title suggests, a trip to the pearly gates and back is the highlight of “90 Minutes in Heaven” (Samuel Goldwyn). Writer-director Michael Polish's drama is based on the true story of a Baptist minister and his near-death experience.

Don Piper lived to tell the story of his celestial journey in a 2004 memoir, which has sold 7 million copies. The screen version of his best-seller underlines the power of Christian spirituality and the rewards of perseverance.

As portrayed by Hayden Christensen (light years removed from his starring turn in the “Star Wars” prequels), Don is an earnest and sincere pastor. He's also a loving husband to spouse Eva (Kate Bosworth) and an attentive father to his three children.

In 1989, returning home after speaking at a prayer meeting, Don has his date with destiny. On a rain-swept bridge, an 18-wheeler plows into his car, crushing the vehicle. Don is pronounced dead, and his car – with Don still trapped inside – is covered with a tarp, awaiting removal.

As the eponymous time period passes, Dick Onarecker (Michael Harding), a fellow minister, approaches and asks permission from law enforcement to pray over the body. He proclaims that Don's sins are forgiven, sings a song of praise over the supposed corpse – and then, inexplicably, Don stirs to life.

Don himself is bewildered and bemused, for he has spent the past hour-and-a-half in ecstasy above the clouds. In keeping with other near-death reports, heaven is portrayed as a place bathed in golden light, where loved ones approach to greet the new arrival. “Heaven was, without a doubt, the greatest family reunion of all,” Don says.

However, just as he is about to pass through the portals of paradise – approached via a yellow brick road – Don is returned to earth.

What follows is Don's personal Calvary, a torturous and protracted journey to recovery from devastating injuries. The physical pain is unbearable, and the emotional toll on his family even greater.

Over four months in the hospital and 34 surgeries, Don is wracked by his supernatural experience, telling no one of his vision. “Survival was going to be difficult, because heaven was so glorious,” he admits. He longs to return to the afterlife, rather than stick around on Earth.

It is up to Eva and a support system of family and friends – who organize around-the-clock prayer vigils – to restore Don's will to live.

A feisty hospital volunteer, Jay (Fred Dalton Thompson), doesn't mince words. “You're denying others the right to help,” he tells Don. “Let them in! People are God's hands to meet your needs and answer your prayers.”

They do, and eventually Don decides to share his “sacred secret.” But here, “90 Minutes” departs from a similar faith-based movie, 2014's “Heaven Is for Real.” By contrast with that earlier title's lively stories concerning 4-year-old Colton Burpo and his “visits” with Jesus, we learn precious little of Don's observations. The mere glimpse of “heaven” given us in this movie is, ultimately, unsatisfying.

Nonetheless, “90 Minutes” does offer an inspiring lesson for adults and older teens about faith, hope and persistence. Despite some hints at underlying theological differences, moreover, considered as a whole, the film's evangelical viewpoint on prayer and the promise of eternal life is mostly consonant with Catholic doctrine.

The film contains disturbing images and some mature themes. 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 Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

Copyright ©2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

‘War Room’

Audience: Adults and adolescents


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Spiritual battle stations for this third in a series

Prayer becomes the ultimate weapon to save a young family in crisis in "War Room" (TriStar). This Christian-themed drama is the latest offering from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the fraternal team behind 2008's "Fireproof" and 2011's "Courageous."

A McMansion in suburban North Carolina serves as the film's battleground. There, overtaxed wife and mother Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) finds that the demands of her job as a real estate agent leave her little time to focus on raising her daughter, Danielle (Alena Pitts).

Elizabeth's ambitious but inattentive husband, Tony (T.C. Stallings), isn't much help. His work as a salesman keeps him on the road where sinful temptations lurk, including opportunities to be unfaithful.

When Tony does come home, he and Elizabeth do nothing but argue. Frustration and depression take their toll on the family until the Jordan residence resembles an emotional war zone.

Riding to the rescue is elderly but feisty local character Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), who just happens to be selling her house. Elizabeth pays a visit and, as the coffee is served, pours out her heart, revealing her bitterness. Not one to beat around the bush with a perfect stranger, Clara, in response, immediately insists on a battle plan.

Clara shows Elizabeth her favorite hideaway: a walk-in closet, empty except for the letters, notes and photographs taped to the walls. "I call it my war room," Clara explains. Here Clara develops a "prayer strategy" for calling on God and seeking his grace.

"Give me one hour a week and I will teach you how to fight the right way with the right resources," Clara promises. "It's time for you to take off the gloves and fight for your marriage."

We follow Elizabeth's metamorphosis as she reads Scripture and posts prayer requests in her own empty closet. In a transformative moment, she storms through her home, denouncing Satan. "This house is under new management!" she proclaims. "You go back to hell where you belong and leave my family alone!"

Slowly but surely, the heaven-sent healing begins. A symbolic turning point comes at the dinner table, when Tony sets aside a bottle of his favorite brand of hot sauce, "Wrath of God."

Needless to say, subtlety is not the armament of choice in this cinematic crusade, and the proselytizing can be heavy-handed at times.

But the brothers' intentions – Alex directed, while Stephen collaborated with him on the script – are obviously sincere and worthy. And, though they approach their subject matter from an evangelical viewpoint, their emphasis on piety, forgiveness and redemption is compatible with Catholic teaching.

The film contains mild domestic discord and some mature themes. 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 Joseph McAleer, 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