Breakthrough [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through the ice one fateful winter day, she feels like she’s lost him forever. However, after praying over him in the intensive care unit, she witnesses a seeming miracle as her son is able to be stabilized into a coma rather than be on death’s door. Afterward, a battle for healing begins as Joyce faces perceived opposition on every side of her as her son keeps fighting for his life.

Production Quality (2 points)

Breakthrough falls in line with other inspirational productions DeVon Franklin has been involved with, such as Heaven is For Real and Miracles From Heaven. As such, Breakthrough hits all the right proverbial notes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality. While the soundtrack is sometimes too loud and invasive, for the most part, the sets, props, and locations are fine. This film is really just a by-the-book, run-of-the-mill inspirational production with nothing to set it apart either good or bad. The biggest glaring error therein is the poor editing, but this is mainly due to its plot problems. As a whole, Breakthrough is a safe, non-dynamic film through and through.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

On the surface, the message of the plot is fine as it blatantly panders to an inspirational audience, yet Breakthrough sets itself apart by portraying the main character in unusually perfect and un-flawed ways even though she has plenty of issues in her behavior. This premise is likely due to the original book’s content, but empowering someone who seemingly believes she never really did anything wrong and feels like everyone else in the world needs to change except for her is very suspect. The storyline and characters are required to change according to her (sometimes judgmental) standards, and she never really learns anything as she continues to live in her own little world. This is the real hidden problem with Breakthrough besides the typical spoon-feeding of inspirational messages to a hand-picked audience. While there were some interesting psychological elements in this film that had the potential to make an interesting story about the miracles of God, we are instead left with the miracles of Joyce Smith; in doing so, prayer is mis-handled and poorly portrayed as people deciding what’s doing to happen. Elsewhere, random subplots are thrown together that cause a lot of story confusion and disorganization. In the midst of the swirl, there aren’t any substantial characters to relate to because dialogue is bland and pedestrian. Even though this was a small, focused time frame, we don’t really know who these people are beyond the molds the main character puts them into. Had this story been more about miracles and prayer, we would have had another Miracles From Heaven, which was safe, standard inspirational movie designed to target a specific audience. Breakthrough tries to follow in its footsteps, yet the dictates of the main character decide otherwise.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s understandable that this mainly Hollywood cast is professional and appears to know what they’re doing. However, some cast members who have more potential, like Josh Lucas, come off as underwhelming and downplayed, which suggests they’ve been cast wrong. It feels like more could have been done with this cast even though there aren’t any glaring problems. With the money and expertise behind the film, the acting needed to be more dynamic than this, but it overall rounds out a mediocre effort designed as a quick cash grab.

Conclusion

DeVon Franklin loves to make money off of the inspirational audience, and he’s clearly good at it. He’s found something that works, so good for him. Nonetheless, with all the marketing and fluff of this film, there’s no real substance to back it up. We were promised a movie about a miracle, yet we can’t connect with the real story due to tainted views of the main character. What’s more, the disjointed subplots make for a confusing viewing experience as it mostly just boils down to a collection of platitudes you could find in a generic white Christian book for sale at Lifeway. There’s nothing special here, but then again, Franklin never intended to do anything further, so he’s sticking with his business model, which is at least upfront and honest. Regardless, Christian entertainment can do better than this.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

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Breakthrough (April 2019)

Based on Joyce Smith’s book The Impossible, coming to theaters April 17, 2019

Writer(s): Grant Nieporte, Joyce Smith

Director(s): Roxann Dawson

Producer(s): Becki Cross Trujillo, DeVon Franklin, Pastor Samual Rodriguez

Starring: Rebecca Staab, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Josh Lucas, Chrissy Metz, Dennis Haysbert, Nancy Sorel, Sam Trammell, Victor Zinck Jr., Marcel Ruiz, Ali Skovbye, Lisa Durupt, Kristen Harris, Isaac Kragten, Stephanie Czakowski, Nikolas Dukic, Taylor Mosby, Alicia Johnston, Callie Lane, Stephanie Sy, Maddy Martin, Mel Marginet, Scott Johnson, Geoff Banjavich, Miriam Smith, Will Woytowich, Lecrae Moore, Logan Creran, Jordan Kronis, Robin Ruel, Erik Athavale, Lauren Cochrane, Jason Wishnowski, Isla Gorton, Beverly Ndukwu, Karl Thordarson, Tristan Mackid, Kevin P. Gabel, Phil Wickham, Jemma Griffith, Kerry Grace Tait, Phil Hepner, Jim Kirby, Steve Pacaud, Connor Peterson, Derek James Trapp

Plot Synopsis: When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope looks lost. Even though John lies lifeless for more than an hour, his mother refuses to lose faith and prays for a miracle. To the astonishment of everyone present, her prayers are answered as John’s heart suddenly begins to beat again, defying every expert, every case history, and every scientific prediction. Mere days after the accident, he will walk out of the hospital under his own power, completely healed. The movie is based on Joyce Smith‘s book The Impossible.

Hope Island, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

As penance for his past indiscretions, Revered Daniel Cooper is sentenced to take over a small church on the small island community of Hope Island, off the coast of the northwestern United States.  Though skeptical at first, he finds a charming town of quirky people who accept him with open arms.  The days on Hope Island are not without intrigue and conflict, but at the end of the day, they all like each other and everything stays pretty much the same all the time.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a late 90s\early 2000s production, Hope Island can look archaic at times, but it’s not all bad.  On paper, the production is fine, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however, and there are some dumb sound effects used throughout.  The opening sequence is long and boring, and most of the flashbacks have a very strange and almost un-watchable quality about them.  Further, the editing is pretty standard, and overall, this production is just above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s really no surprise this vaguely Christian series on the old PAX channel didn’t get renewed.  It contains nothing creative and settles for many predictable small-town concepts, elements, subplots, characters, and tropes.  The storylines therein are very safe and pedestrian as each character fits perfectly into their molds: the main character with a secret past who comes to a new area for a new start, his obvious love interest (who doubles as the diner character) who doesn’t like him at first, the young white couple whose relationship we’re supposed to be interested in, the quirky self-seeking schemer and his clueless sidekick, and all those one-episode characters who appear only once in over twenty episodes, even though this is a tiny island with a couple hundred people on it.  Besides this, there are far too many attempts at comedy that aren’t even funny and are actually quite juvenile.  Also, there are some odd attempts at ‘edgy’ content that fall completely flat and feel out of place and desperate.  Christian themes are only used when convenient, and conflicts are easily resolved with coincidences and convenient turns.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to note here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a professional cast, these cast members are mostly fine and typical.  However, they have some odd, head-scratching moments at times.  Other times, they are too awkward, especially when they are trying too hard to be funny.  However, there are enough good moments here to make this section average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Hope Island follows the predetermined inspirational series formula that rolls out one thing after the next.  Each episode is its own 45-minute bubble of time that has little effect on the following episode and receives little effect from the previous episode, except for the predictable romantic subplot arcs, which are the only notable story or characters arcs present here.  This series is basically a collection of shallow conflicts that are introduced and quickly resolved and never mentioned again, thus not warranting any points in this section.

Conclusion

PAX was trying to blaze new trails in Christian\inspirational made-for-TV entertainment before UP existed and before Hallmark rebranded themselves as a plastic dollhouse.  Now PAX has turned into that absurd channel called ION and has even more laughable content than Hallmark.  Hope Island is a microcosm of the late 90s\early 2000s attempts at mainstream Christian content that didn’t work out, not only because of its split personality of trying to please two different audiences or because of its underwhelming production and acting quality, but mostly because it’s so boring.  It was hard enough to sit through over twenty episodes of this; I can’t even imagine what another season would be like.  Alas, we never saw another season, which is a blessing.  Now, as I continually say, it’s time for a real, truly quality Christian series to be made.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

Heaven is for Real (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Colton Burpo is forced to undergo an emergency surgery at a young age, his parents’ worst nightmare comes true when he flat-lines on the operating table.  But Colton survives the procedure and lives to tell about his near-death experience with Jesus in Heaven.  The young boy claims to have met dead relatives he never knew and his miscarried sister, whom he never knew about.  As a pastor of a small Nebraska church, Colton’s father Todd is faced with the tough decision to make this news public and risk ridicule or to keep silent about it.  Do miracles really exist or are they just stories?  Ultimately, this is what they will have to decide.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With obvious backing from big Hollywood names and the right amount of funding, Heaven is for Real looks good on the surface.  The video quality is top notch, as is the camera work and audio quality.  The soundtrack could use a little work, but this is only a minor problem.  The sets and locations are professionally done and the surroundings are authentic.  Prop usage is appropriate and adds to the plot.  The use of special effects is intriguing, especially those that accompany the spiritual\psychological elements.  The only complaints here pertain to the editing, which of course goes hand in hand with the plot.  There is little continuity as the creators try to cover too much ground at once.  But otherwise, whatever you might think about those behind the movie or their motives, this is the almost ideal production quality for a Christian-themed film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Heaven is for Real is about far more than just an attempt to prove or discuss the existence of the afterlife.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but there is just too much content that is forced into this film.  One would expect the real people that are supposed to be portrayed in this film to have multiple facets to their lives, but there is no focus among the various ideas that are floated throughout the storyline.  In the nearly two-hour runtime, you can learn a lot about small town stuff, small church issues, financial struggles, the counseling process, philosophical discussions on miracles, the ins and outs of a volunteer fire department, the daily issues that face a rural working class family, a girl that claims to have painted Jesus, and oh yeah, a boy who had a near-death experience with heaven.  With the proper continuity, all of these issues would have been pertinent and interesting to watch, but this does not exist in Heaven is for Real.  Despite spending a lot of time with the characters, by the end of the film, we don’t really know them.  Dialogue is flat and only serves the purpose of driving the plot along.  While the spiritual\psychological elements regarding the afterlife and the spiritual realm are inspiring, they are passive and are not given enough attention.  The end is fairly interesting, but there is little buildup to it.  Basically, there was a lot of potential here, but it was poorly handled.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With ‘big name’ cast members and clear money spent here, there are few errors to point out.  Coaching is obvious present and a general air of professionalism is evident.  Even though the lines aren’t very good, they are delivered well.  Emotions are believable.  In short, this is the way the cast of a Christian-themed film should be.

Conclusion

This movie was marketed on an inspirational platform that promised to rally Christians and ‘prove’ that Heaven is for real (duh).  But in reality, Heaven is a very small player in this film as runtime is spent on other various topics.  Whatever you might believe about near-death experiences and their plausibility, it’s still something that needs to be discussed in the context of film—and we’re still waiting.  Heaven is for Real did not deliver on what it advertised, and while it was obviously well-funded and well-marketed, it did not leave a lasting effect on the field.  It takes meaning and heart to do this, and when it comes down to it, it feels like all the creators of this movie wanted to do was make easy money.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points