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‘Bears’ bores, ‘Heaven’ is harmless and ‘Transcendence’ troubles

"Bears," "Heaven is for Real" and "Transcendence"
"Bears," "Heaven is for Real" and "Transcendence"
DisneyNature, TriStar Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

Among the new movies that were released Friday, April 18 are a nature documentary about bears, a faith-based flick about a boy’s near-death experience and a science-fiction film in which Johnny Depp downloads his consciousness to a computer.

13 Sins

Mark Webber plays a down-on-his-luck salesman who embarks on a dangerous game of risks prompted by a cryptic phone call. The game promises increasing rewards for completing 13 tasks - each more sinister than the last. (R - 92 minutes)

Despite being riddled with plot holes - or at least sketchy logic that has been twisted to the tale’s convenience - “13 Sins” is a riveting thriller that reflects that fact that anyone and everyone is capable of becoming a monster for money. Following in the footsteps of recent releases “Would You Rather,” “The Brass Teapot” and best of all “Cheap Thrills,” this remake of Thai flick “13 Beloved” barrels forward at a ferocious pace through challenges that are sure to shock and probably compel you to consider whether or not you would be willing to complete them for quick cash. (Thumbs Up!)

Bears

John C. Reilly narrates as a film crew documents a year in the life of a bear family as two impressionable young cubs are taught life's most important lessons. (G - 100 minutes)

“Bears” may look adorable at first glance but before long it becomes unbearably boring. Much like most of DisneyNature’s previous efforts, with 2011’s “African Cats” being the sole exception, the new documentary lacks the entertainment value needed to keep audiences interested and engaged. A repetitious cycle of a mama bear seeking salmon for her cubs is used here in lieu of any actual story while the burden of amusement is placed on narrator John C. Reilly, whose commentary comes across as so silly that it could be passed off as material for the actor’s Dr. Steve Brule character on Adult Swim. (Thumbs Down!)

Heaven is for Real

Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly portray a real-life married couple whose son (Connor Corum) claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience, recounting the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaking matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth. (PG - 100 minutes)

One’s enjoyment of “Heaven is for Real” hinges on their willingness to go blindly into the light, taking each and every thing that is suggested over the course of its story as gospel without asking any questions or challenging its far-fetched hypotheses with any number of more logical explanations. The new drama based on author Todd Burpo’s bestselling book will therefore go down extremely easily for Christian audiences but all others may find it all a bit too hard to swallow. Granted, it is well-meaning and harmless but ultimately a little annoying and anticlimactic. (Thumbs Down!)

Joe

Nicolas Cage plays an ex-con - the unlikeliest of role models - who meets a 15-year-old boy (Tye Sheridan) and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin. (R - 117 minutes)

Although its artistic qualities are occasionally a bit overbearing and its ugly reflection of Southern gothic may make it impossible for some to stomach the movie through to the end, “Joe” is a powerful piece of cinema that redefines what star Nicolas Cage is capable of conveying with a performance. The new drama has something significant to say about clearing away what’s old and unstable to make room for what’s new and full of potential but it is also a gripping portrayal of one man’s futile effort to outrun his own nature. It’s real, it’s raw and it’s remarkable. (Thumbs Up!)

Small Time

Devon Bostick plays a young man who decides to skip college in favor of joining his father (Christopher Meloni) on the lot of his used-car business. (R - 100 minutes)

Unfortunately, despite having tremendous talent both in front of the camera and behind it, “Small Time” is far from a success. The new dramedy, which is “24” co-creator Joel Surnow’s directorial debut, stumbles along from beginning to end with very little focus therefore making it almost impossible for viewers to remain invested. Stars Devon Bostick, Christopher Meloni, Dean Norris, Bridget Moynahan and Amaury Nolasco play characters that are as endearing as they are entertaining but the movie meanders through to its eventual conclusion and the significance of its story - a young man’s coming of age - gets lost along the way. (Thumbs Down!)

Transcendence

Johnny Depp plays a terminally ill scientist who downloads his mind into a computer, granting him power beyond his wildest dreams before eventually becoming unstoppable. (PG-13 - 120 minutes)

Transcendence” is both boring and bizarre - qualities that get increasingly worse with each passing minute of the new science-fiction flick’s runtime. It would be bad enough if the movie’s only unfavorable trait was star Johnny Depp’s monotonous pontificating about using technology to expand his consciousness. But then nanotechnology begins rising from out of the soil, healing some people and resurrecting others, and the entire project’s preposterousness hits heights rarely ever seen on the big screen. While watching it, one wishes that they could upload their own mind to a computer far, far away from the theater to escape the experience. (Thumbs Down!)