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Reviews for June 28th, 2019

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith

Directed by Mitch Davis

      In the 1960s, John Groberg (Christopher Gorham), a Mormon missionary, accepts a job as a mission president and moves from Idaho Falls to the islands of Tonga in the South Pacific. He brings his wife, Jean (Natalie Medlock), and five daughters along with him on his journey to spread the gospel and convert the people of Tonga to Mormonism. A Methodist minister, Sione Pela’tua (Ben Baker), treats John with hostility and makes his mission very difficult. Sione is estranged from his son Toutai (Alex Tarrant) who converted to Mormonism. When tragedy befalls Jean's newborn baby and Toutai, it's up to the Grobergs and the Tongans to come together and use the power of faith to pray for a miracle.

      The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith The film offers some thrills as John and his family set out to sea to Tonga while battling the elements. At its core, though, the story is about a decent human being who inspires others to not only have faith, but to be compassionate and empathetic as well. John's courage, conviction, selflessness and compassion makes him a very likable character and a great role model---the kind that's missing from too many films these days with too many annoying, self-involved characters who you never want to meet again. Fortunately, Christopher Gorham is just the right actor to bring John to life because he has charisma and warmth onscreen. Thanks to his convincingly moving performance, you can sense that there's an inner life within him.

      To be fair, it's the performances, not the screenplay by writer/director Mitch Davis that adds emotional depth to film. Davis wisely avoids preachiness and melodrama, although there are a few scenes that feel saccharine, but not enough to give you a cavity like the cloying Breakthrough did. He should also be commended for adding just the right amount of comic relief which helps to set the tone and to find the balance between light and dark elements. A less sensitively written screenplay would've resulted in clunkiness, unevenness or, worse, lethargy. Both adults and children will be equally moved and entertained from start to finish.

      To top it all off, there's also plenty of eye candy to be found because the scenery of the South Pacific looks breathtaking with all of its bright, pretty colors and picturesque sights that make the film poetic, awe-inspiring and a must-see on the big screen. Moreover, the musical score and songs are very well-chosen without being intrusive or hitting you over the head. The camerawork and editing are also worth mentioning because they help to make the film a truly cinematic experience. The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is an exhilarating, thrilling and genuinely heartfelt epic for the entire family. It will make you stand up and cheer.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by ArtAffects Entertainment.
Opens at AMC Empire.

Three Peaks

Directed by Jan Zabeil

      Lea (Bérénice Bejo) brings her eight-year-old son, Tristan (Arian Montgomery), and her boyfriend, Aaron (Alexander Fehling), on a vacation at a remote cabin located in the mountains near the Three Peaks of Laverado. Tristan's biological father calls Lea on her cellphone frequently which eventually starts to annoy her. Aaron wants Tristan to recognize him as his father and tries his best to strengthen their bond, but Tristan doesn't warm up to the new father figure in his life so easily.

      On the surface, very little happens during the first hour of Three Peaks as writer/director Jan Zabeil introduces audiences to Lea, Aaron and Tristan with a lengthy first act and very little exposition. You gradually get the essence of what their dynamics are like. You wonder where the wafer-thin narrative will be headed, but good luck predicting the final 30 minutes of the film because it takes a turn that's least expected. Beneath the surface, though, there are a lot of emotions brewing, but the actors rarely express how they feel explicitly. Zabeil avoids melodrama as he eschews a conventional narrative. Three Peaks is often a lyrical film with its picturesque scenes of nature serving as both its atmosphere and as a metaphor. There's a quiet power to the many contemplative moments throughout the first hour, and some of those scenes, like Tristan releasing a mouse into the wild, don't seem very significant until later on.

      Kudos to Zabeil for not spoon-feeding the audience and for trusting their patience. Once the thrills escalate in ways that won't be spoiled here during the final 30 minutes, Three Peaks already demands a lot of patience as the pace moves very slowly. There's no musical score to try to tell you how to feel, although there is an ephemeral scenes with music when Aaron and Tristan play the piano. If you're a fan of Antonioni's films, such as L'Avventura, you'll appreciate the pacing and elliptical narrative of the film as well as the way that nature becomes a character. Both L'Avventura and Three Peaks remain take unexpected turns and have thriller elements, but they're subdued and just a means to an end that's more about exploring human nature. Tristan's biological father remains offscreen as the tension between Tristan and Adrian boils beneath the surface. Zabeil understands the power of visuals and that dialogue is not the only way to communicate with the audience; the dialogue here is often sparse with occasional non-sequiturs. At a lean running time of only 90 minutes, Three Peaks is refreshingly un-Hollywood, poetic and understated with breathtaking cinematography and scenery worth seeing on the big screen.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Greenwich Entertainment.
Opens at IFC Center.


Directed by Danny Boyle


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.
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