Review: CDI’s ‘Lost Heart’ is a family friendly, faith-based movie of forgiveness and redemption

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(Note: This review may contain spoilers) As we approach the end of the year, we must take stock of the great movies created here and released in Michigan in 2020.  This task was made more difficult as many of Michigan’s filmmakers had to press pause because of the pandemic. And yet  several released movies really stand out this year, granted many of them were started last year,

One such movie that deserves recognition is Collective Development Inc.’s (CDI) “Lost Heart.”  Written by Richard “DJ” Perry, CEO of CDI, and directed by Jesse Low (known for directing CDI’s Wild Faith (2018)  and 40 Nights (2016),  “Lost Heart” stars Melissa Anschutz in the lead role of Hannah Howard (her stage name Hannah Sweet), a mega-country music star who has completely gone off the rails as her career takes a nose-dive made worse by her open and public consumption of booze, This movie stars Don Most (of Happy Day’s fame), who stars as Preacher Milo Williams, a friend of the family, and Victoria Jackson of SNL fame, as Alma Howard the matriarch of the Howard clan.

As the movie opens,  Harrison Howard (played by Dean Teaster, (known for 40 Nights (2016), Ghost Town: The Movie (2007), and Division 19 (2017)) and Milo are sitting in a car on a dock in the dark watching the skies for UFAs (Unidentified Flying Angels).  A flash of light races across the sky. To photograph this light, the guys leave the car, and Harrison collapses.   (Note this acronym UFA as it is used throughout the movie.)

Change scene, and Hannah is being interviewed.  Before the interview is over, as the interviewer presses Hannah for details of her early life, she belligerently interrupts and starts barking orders at her attendants as she storms off the set.  In her dressing room, nursing a bandaged hand, she complains about the arrangements for that evening’s concert.  Her manager reminds her that she can no longer demand things as she has burnt too many bridges behind her.  On the set, her manager is informed that Hannah’s father has passed, and her presence has been requested to attend the service.

Back home in the sleepy story-book town of Lost Heart, MI, we are introduced to many of the other movie’s characters in rapid succession.  Note: if you have followed CDI’s productions over the years, you recognize these actors.   Although they can and have appeared in productions other than CDI’s, they have appeared in most CDI productions like a cohesive unit as tight as any who were contracted by the major studios of early cinema. Each are a SAG-AFTRA actor, and each in this production turn in a sterling performance.

As Hannah pulls her Porsche into the parking lot of a diner, she is confronted by a painful memory of her past as a couple spills out from the doors, the husband berating the wife in front of the children.   Entering the diner, she asks to speak to Verna, who had asked her home,  but will appear later, played by Christine Marie.  The waitress, Elsie Howard, played by Taylor Dupuis who played in the 2014 Ashes of Eden, recognizes Hannah, perhaps more from publicity photos than from any contact  that Hannah may have had with the Howard family over the years.  This is Hannah’s first visit home in years.

Sterling Langworthy, a kitchen hand, and Elsie’s boyfriend, played by Shane Hagedorn,  steps out from the kitchen. He is not impressed with Hannah. And Niles Cass, played by Richard DJ Perry walks down the hall from the men’s room.  Niles is a scientist/journalist from UFO Worldwide who covers strange and supernatural phenomenon. He approaches the counter where three guys are seated, among them Tony Hornus, another CDI regular. Told that Verna is at the Bed and Breakfast, Hannah leaves the diner. When she gets outside, she finds that her car has a flat.  She accepts a ride from Milo, and together they go to the B&B where Hannah’s father lies in wait for the funeral. Hannah’s car is taken to a garage in which Lauren LaStrada, another CDI regular is owner and sole mechanic.

When Hannah and Milo arrive at the B&B, Hannah meets her step-brother, Chip Howard, played by Josh Perry.  Although Josh may have down-syndrome, he is establishing himself as a talented actor.  He has not only appeared as Albus  in CDI’s production of the Christ Slayer, he has a strong 23 movie resume on IMDb, appearing alongside such Hollywood heavyweights as Val Kilmer, Rip Torn, Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, and the legendary Cloris Leachman. He has also appeared in numerous television roles.  In this role as Chip, Josh plays a Bigfoot enthusiast.

Inside the house, Hannah approaches the casket. Embittered and resentful of what her father had done to her, she spits on the corpse, unaware that he had changed in her absence.  After Hannah had left home, and Alma had left Harrison, he gave his life to Jesus.  He changed so much that he became one of the town’s favorite citizens.  Not only did Harrison donate land for a park in the city, but the town folk erected a statue to him in his honor.   He had also established himself as one of the foremost authorities on UFOs. He became a man Hannah had never known.

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Although I am not big on religious films, I am open minded enough to appreciate a faith-based film when it is presented as this one is.  This story is a well written script with believable characters who are played by actors who contribute much to the story. Each of the actors in this film brought their best to this movie, particularly Melissa Anschutz,  whose anger and resentment as Hannah for a drunk, abusive father is palpable.  Although her family works to convince her of Harrison’s worth, she is reluctant to accept it.   But her family does not give up.  They witnessed the change in Harris and eventually so did the whole city. They work to convince Hannah of what they had seen.

By and large this is great family movie. Although Melissa Anschutz plays a dramatic role, there are light moments in this film. One of my favorite parts in this movie is when the different characters, for different reasons descend on a point outside of town referred to as the Devil’s Cross Roads unaware that others were meeting there as well.   Milo and Hannah and Elsie were there because the women supposedly sold their souls to the devil in exchange for fame, fortune and an escape from Lost Heart. Hannah wanted Milo’s help to reverse it, nullify it, or “do one of those exorcisms.”  Chip and Niles venture out there in the dark, where Chip showed Niles a UFA landing site.  Camouflaged and Chip has a mega-phone with him,  Then everyone else shows up.

The cinematography for this movie should not be taken for granted.  Filmed almost entirely in Whitehall, MI,  a small community of approximately 2700 people located in the southwest corner of Whitehall Township, on White Lake Lost Heart was shot by Jesse Aragon.  Known best for his work on Can You Take My Picture (2018), Wild Faith (2018) and 40 Nights (2016)., Aragon has a credited 58 projects on IMDb for which he lent his lens. Kyle Brow was first assistant camera, with Kara Micalleff, and Jackson Swan both B-camera operators, with Micalleff second assistant camera, and Swan steady cam operator. Editing was by Jesse Low and Scott Magie.

Adding depth and nuance to award-winning composer/sound designer Dennis Therrian’s multi-faceted score for Lost Heart . are original songs performed by Nashville-based John Carter Cash, his wife Ana Cristina Cash and the popular touring band ‘Roanoke.’  Therrian has been a big of CDI since 2001, with him scoring a credited 34 productions.  He is best known for his work on 40 Nights (2016), Wild Faith (2018) and MBF: Man’s Best Friend (2019).

It’s exciting to see a plan come together, and the planning, preparation and work for Lost Heart is evident in every aspect of this production.  To think that this all came together without the aid of a Michigan film incentive, speaks volumes for the talent that exists in the Mitten State.  Lost Heart is movie to watch, and Collective Development Incorporated is a group of talented people to keep your eye on.  Although it is a faith-based movie, it is not an overtly, in-your-face in its religiosity, and is a great watch for everyone.

For those seeking religious, family-friendly fare, although Lost Heart does show a scene in which Hannah is upbraided by her father in the mirror when she was younger, there is no violence in this movie.  Although it does deal with alcoholism in dealing with Harrison’s abusive, alcoholic side, and does show Hannah drinking throughout.,  this is not overdone.  The movie does have some references to the Lord’s name in vain, which the preacher gently corrects; mild insults.

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