Unplanned [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and abortion rights advocate, was taken by God on an unforgettable journey of redemption and forgiveness that led her to reject her former way of life and trade it for a ministry of pro-life activism. Though no one could have ever dreamed that an abortion clinic supervisor would switch political sides and join her former enemies, there is no end to the power of prayer.

Production Quality (2 points)

As expected at this point from PureFlix, the production of Unplanned is above-average and hits all the right notes, for the most part. On the surface, it looks good due to high video quality, professional camera work, and adequate sets, locations, and props. Audio quality is also good. They’ve checked all the typical boxes, but there are some issues with the soundtrack as many of the songs don’t properly fit the situations they are played in. However, the most glaring problem is the horrific editing that takes the viewer all over the map of a story that could have been good but only ends up playing like an audio book, as we see next.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At this point, it’s painfully clear that the current PureFlix team can’t even properly portray a great true story even if it hit them in the face like Abby Johnson’s story did. Even if the book is already written for them, you can count on PureFlix to fumble the ball at the goal line by falling back on their old tried-and-failed pitfalls of trying to be too obvious without trusting the audience to read in to the subtlety and of crafting too many climax scenes for dramatic effect. The obvious goal was the hit all the high points of the story in order to maximize the most shock and awe possible with the hopes of scaring people about abortion. There’s no doubt that there were many powerful parts of Abby’s story, but we’ll never really know as the demonstrative elements are over-emphasized in the movie while the potential for character building is simply replaced with incessant and heavy-handed narration. They seem like great characters, but it’s impossible to know them due to the narration and the wild time jumps that leave the viewer disoriented. Since there’s a lot of content in this story, it could have been effectively laid out via flashbacks that built character motivation, yet instead, we were left with talking-points conversations and overly emphasized strawman villain moments. The film is written for basically one good scene near the end where we actually get realistic dialogue uninterrupted by Bratcher’s narration, but it’s too little too late. Unfortunately, where Abby Johnson’s story could have been a powerful treatise on prayer and a change of heart, all we’re given is a smile-and-wave, run-of-the-mill experience dedicated to grossing people out about abortion whose R-rating is warranted due to lack of balance.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, Ashley Bratcher is a bright spot in this cast, which suggests her performance in Princess Cut was heavily controlled by the creators of that film. While the supporting cast might have been interesting, it’s hard to tell due to the famine of lines and dialogue in this film. Even still, the casting and acting are mostly good without many glaring errors…it’s just basically unfinished and left wanting, like the overall feel of this movie.

Conclusion

There’s absolutely no doubt that Abby Johnson and David Bereit played integral roles in bringing the pro-life movement out of the dark ages through prayer and expert leadership, and Abby’s story is an amazing one that deserved a movie of its own. However, PureFlix’s treatment of the story doesn’t do it any justice. Moreover, Unplanned, in a way, represents the current state of the pro-life movement: lots of well-meaning people who want to do the right thing, along with a collection of more influential people who believe that ‘gotcha’ talking points and graphic displays of the evils of abortion will change things. The early marketing for this film proclaimed it to be (another) death knell for the corrupt Planned Parenthood, yet we beg to differ. Any success the pro-life movement will find moving forward is by both listening to and telling actual stories of real people, not by falling into the trap of unleashing smoking guns that will ‘sink’ your opposition. There was a massive opportunity to tell a real story in Unplanned that could actually reach people, but once again, PureFlix proves that they can’t tell stories properly because this requires actually knowing people. Unfortunately, while the gory moments of this film can be powerful if packaged properly, when they are separated from an emotional connection with the characters, they can re-traumatize those who have been hurt by abortion, which doesn’t win any ‘converts.’

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

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Movie Renovation: Do You Believe?

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

Much like other newer, more mainstream PureFlix releases, Do You Believe sports professional production quality with very few errors to speak of.  Naturally, due to the nature of this film, the editing is mostly a mess as each scene tries to be a dramatic climax with no resting periods or relief scenes.  Thus, the only issue with the production can be rectified by improving the plot.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

Much like God’s Not Dead, Do You Believe takes on far too many subplots than it can handle.  Easily half of them are unnecessary, as each of them try to insert a dramatic turn into nearly every scene that comes up.  The paramedic subplot is mostly unrealistic and unnecessary, and its deletion would have also rendered the Andrea Logan White\Sean Astin subplot useless.  The military veteran suffering from PTSD and the girl with the unknown past who tries to commit suicide belong in their own film, so they can be developed better as characters.  The criminal brothers subplot is awkward and stereotypical.  With the removing and reassignment of these subplots, the more pertinent elements of this storyline, namely the older couple who helps the homeless mother and daughter and the pastor and his wife who help the young homeless mother, could have been given more room to grow and be developed beyond their current state.  An alternate option to improve this plot would have been to start at the mass car accident scene and then work backward by following each character’s path to the accident, but this would take a lot of skill and discipline.  Also, the narration has to be totally eliminated.  In short, there is so much content in Do You Believe that there is bound to be potential in here somewhere.

Acting Improvements

While there are some good elements to the acting of this film, most casts would be improved in the absence of Liam Matthews, Andrea Logan White, and of course, Ted McGinley.  There are just so many cast members involved here that any good portions are cancelled out by poor performances.  However, if the storyline was pared down to a realistic medium, the cast would have also been trimmed to ensure quality of quantity.

Conclusion

Quality over quantity was truly the order of the day for this film.  Dumping every subplot you can think of into one film will make a film that a lot of people will see and perhaps like momentarily, but its lasting impact is blunted by its onslaught of content.  However, there are enough good ideas in this film to perhaps kickstart a better film in the future.

 

Movie Renovation: God’s Not Dead

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

There are really few production errors to note in the first God’s Not Dead film.  The primary issue with this production is, of course, the editing, due to the large and complex amount of content that is attempted to be used in this film.  Thus, if the plot categories were improved, the editing issue would likely also improve.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of God’s Not Dead needs some serious work.  For one, there are too many ideas shoved into one two-hour film.  A lot of these ideas really need to be movies of their own, such as the Muslim family subplot and the Chinese student subplot.  The blogger character and all of her connections (Dean Cain, the Robertsons, etc.) need to be deleted completely.  The woman with dementia is an interesting aside, but it needs better development.  Pastor Dave and his connections really wouldn’t be missed either; this area might be better if it was altered.  Finally, the portrayal of the atheist professor is noteworthy and better than most, but it still could be better and less over the top.  The “character who is an atheist because their mother died of cancer” trope is a bit thin.  Also, there are obviously instances of anti-Christian bias in academia, but this story could have been a bit more down to earth.  Thus, with a lot of separation, editing, organization, and focus, this plot could have pushed the film into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

While the acting of the original God’s Not Dead is actually a major improvement over most PureFlix casts, it still isn’t perfect.  For one, David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze rarely need to be acting.  Trisha LaFache is average at best and needs serious coaching.  Dean Cain should probably never be cast again.  Kevin Sorbo has his place, but not as a raging professor.  Otherwise, this cast is fine.

Conclusion

There was a reason the beginning of the God’s Not Dead saga was so popular, and it wasn’t because of its portrayal of atheists.  It has a lot of intriguing content and a lot of ideas that need further exploration in different venues.  Trying to lump all of it together in one film was a disappointment.  However, it was the first time PureFlix actually proved they could be at least somewhat responsible with their budget, including a high-quality production.  Perhaps one day someone will use some of the half-baked ideas of God’s Not Dead for greater purposes.

God’s Not Dead 2 (Movie Review)

Is this thing over yet?
Is this thing over yet?

Plot Summary

When Christian teacher Grace Wesley is sued by a student’s parents for daring to mention the name of Jesus in her classroom, she is confused as to what is even happening to her. Yet, inspired by the wisdom of her ailing father whom she takes care of, Grace refuses to back down and begins working with her union-appointed lawyer to fight back in court. With her faith under fire, Grace’s case draws the attention of many from the town of Hope Springs, including Pastor James White David Hill, who serves on the jury. As Grace’s beliefs are attacked and tested over and over again, she must dig deep to withstand the world’s onslaught so that Christianity is not snuffed out forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In the new era of PureFlix, video quality and camera work are no longer in question.  The sets, locations, and surroundings are respectable.  The musical score is average.  On the surface, God’s Not Dead 2 looks like a professional film, but there are many hidden issues therein.  Of the high profile Christian movies we have reviewed, this is possibly the worst edited one to date.  The many-subplots addiction from God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe? is back, and this time, they are more empty than ever.  As will be discussed next, there long sections of this movie that consist of characters staring into space and attempting to sing.  Essentially, this was just a lazy production effort that looks good on the outside but not on the inside.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In this plot, Christian characters are very perfect in every way while atheist characters are hopelessly evil.  What’s more, atheists are borderline ridiculed, giving an embarrassing feel to the film.  Subplots jump all over the place, confusing the viewer.  The premise and other plot happenings are unrealistic and cannot be reconciled with reality.  The storyline is saturated with legal rhetoric that is either only half-true or isolating to the audience.  Besides these glaringly obvious issues, the plot does not hold the attention and is very drab.  There are many slow and melancholy scenes that seem to be designed only to pad the runtime.  Large portions of the film are dedicated to advertising apologetic books and other Christian ‘celebrities’.  While there is a lot of good information in these product placements, it flies over the audience’s heads and is not remembered.  With all this wasted time, there is zero character development, therefore we cannot even appreciate the struggles that are portrayed.  In addition, the dialogue is chock-full of swipes at atheists and ‘worldly’ people.  The ending is very empty and anticlimactic (despite desperate attempts) and even includes an off-the-wall post-credits scene.  Basically, David A. R. White and company just phoned this one in, hoping that the title name recognition would garner them some more cash.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

While this section is not all bad, there is a lot of monotone acting in this film.  In another attempt to create buzz by trotting out C-grade ‘big name’ actors and actresses (in addition to the typical PureFlix clowns), this attempt basically flops.  Most of the characters carry a Hallmark-ish look to them, with far too much makeup and costuming.  Other cast members are just blank—even though they show potential, there’s no one to draw it out.  In the end, there is really nothing new here.

Conclusion

In our experience, the world portrayed in this film has never existed.  This is not to diminish the plights of some, but the realm PureFlix constructs in many of their films is over the top and outside of reality.  Rather than preaching to the choir with a juvenile us-against-the-world narrative that further divides Christians and atheists, the money spent on these types of films would be better spent on films that actually strengthen the church as a whole and tastefully address how American Christian behavior can improve.  No one will be saved as a result of God’s Not Dead 2.  Christians will not be inspired to grow closer to God as a result of viewing this movie.  I would never recommend this movie to a non-believer because the creators give no concern to opposing points of view.  Since we as Christians have the truth, we have no need to force it down people’s throats with no regard for their feelings.  Delegitimizing someone else’s beliefs has no place in the gospel message.  Yet with an awkwardly placed post-credits scene, we are all but promised more of the same nonsense from PureFlix.  This is not the direction Christian film needs to go in and now more than ever we need someone who will stand up and combat the image movies like this one project.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The Book of Daniel [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Taken from their cherished hometown Jerusalem as young men, Daniel and his three friends must learn to navigate their new culture, Babylon, without compromising their Jewish faith.  Even when it appears as though all hope is lost, Yahweh continues to give Daniel and his friends opportunities to influence their own captors for the better.  As Daniel’s life progressed, he was given more and more chances to influence world politics by simply serving and obeying Yahweh.  The life of Daniel is one that can be modeled by Christians of all generations and cultures.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, The Book of Daniel falls into the infamous Biblical film traps when it comes to production.  The sets and costuming scream church play and demonstrate a severely limited budget combined with lack of attention to historical authenticity.  There are no outside sequences, except for one, that are not replaced with extremely obvious CGI.  There are also some annoying special effects.  For what it’s worth, the camera work is not horrible and the editing is passable, even though the story is very choppy.  In summary, PureFlix Bible productions leave much to be desired.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

It is commendable to cover all the stories in the Biblical book of Daniel in one movie and to transpose it with Daniel’s God-given influence over historical monarchs.  But in this pursuit, the viewer gets lost in a very disjointed storyline.  There is simply too much content and not enough character development.  We at Box Office Revolution continually wonder why Biblical characters always have to be portrayed in the movies as inhuman and lofty—they were regular people!  The dialogue of The Book of Daniel also reminds one of a poorly written church play, very robotic.  The bottom line is that while there was a mountain of potential to be found in this sort of plot, it was never unearthed.  We are only left with a pathetic attempt.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While the acting is not glaringly bad, it is overly theatrical and overly practiced.  There are little to no emotions expressed.  Again, it gives off the impression that Bible characters were not real people, but like talking wax figures.  We believe that if these actors had been afforded better lines and better coaching, something more could have materialized.  But alas, we are once again left wondering what could have been.

Conclusion

Bible movies need to be made, but not like this.  So many audiences need to know what is in the Bible, but films like The Book of Daniel only serve to further turn people off, making them think that the Scriptures are boring and full of inaccessible characters we can’t relate to and fantastical events that will never happen again.  The truth is, nothing could be more of a lie.  The Bible has many historical and realistic narratives full of flawed and believable characters that need to be depicted on the big screen properly.  We look forward to the day when this will happen.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Finding Normal (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While driving to her destination wedding location in the Hamptons, Dr. Lisa Leland has an unfortunate run-in with the local law enforcement of Normal, Louisiana.  Due to her new speeding ticket and unpaid parking tickets, a local judge decides to give Lisa a choice between community service or jail time.  Lisa chooses community service and finds herself as the new town doctor.  While begrudgingly performing her duties, Lisa clashes with the town lawyer, who is in the middle of a heated legal battle.  Finally forced to slow down in her fast-paced life, Lisa realizes there is more to her existence than just making money.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production quality of Finding Normal is better than usual, but it is still only average.  The camera work is passable, as are the video and sound qualities.  The sets and locations are limited and seem cheap.  The editing is all right, but there is not really much to work with.  Overall, Normal is a step above other PureFlix movies that contain glaring errors, probably since it was made for TV, but it is still not as good as it should be, knowing how much funding PureFlix has available to them.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The plot content is really where this movie takes a nosedive.  For starters, it is a typical small town hostage plot in which a big city character gets stuck in a small town with every cliché imaginable: little to no cell phone coverage, a local judge with an agenda, a police officer that pulls over newcomers, a small church with typical church events, a predictable town event, and even fishing.  Besides this, the storyline is trumped up and inaccurate—local jurisdictions cannot enforce parking tickets in other states.  It is a stretch to believe that being a doctor could count as community service.  In other news, an unrealistic religious freedom case is inserted into the film, along with some save the farm plot elements.  In the wake of this nonsense, the characters are empty and the dialogue is painful.  The ending makes little to no sense—the whole movie seems like it was forced to happen.  Unfortunately, there is nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The acting is not as bad as it could be, but it is also not as good as it could be.  Candace Cameron Bure is average at best.  The surrounding cast tries too hard to have a ‘small-town feel’.  Overall, there is nothing dynamic enough here to warrant any more points.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that this type of movie has been done before, too many times.  There is nothing new about a big city character getting stuck in a backwards small town and being forced to slow down their fast-paced life.  When these types of movies are being pitched, creators need to be challenged to change it up and do something that hasn’t been done before, even something slightly different.  Christian films are already too replete with mediocre nonsense and we certainly do not need anymore.  We implore Christian film distributors everywhere to use the funding they have to make one truly dynamic movie, one that can change cultures, not five more that will be forgotten in a few years.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

What If… [2010] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In a moment of decision that altered his life’s course forever, Ben Walker left his chance to go into full-time ministry and marry his longtime girlfriend behind and instead entered the cutthroat business world to pursue a six-figure salary.  He achieved the salary and snagged a fiancée that looked good next to him, but he never found something to satisfy the emptiness within.  Hence, his car is hijacked by a mysterious tow truck driver who claims to be an angel and Ben is transported to an alternate timeline where he gets to live as if he had married his old girlfriend and gone into full-time ministry.  Unable to escape his alternate life, Ben is forced to play along and discover what the true meaning of life is.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

There are really no production errors to speak of in What If…  The camera work is professional and the editing is straightforward.  It is difficult to pull this type of plot without including cheesy production elements, but What If… avoids these pitfalls.  The sets are diverse and there are no video or sound quality errors.  The soundtrack is effective.  This film takes the route of not committing errors and while it does not do anything dynamic, it also does not turn off the viewer.  This is a well-done production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

While there is nothing original with this sort of parallel universe plot, this rendition is a good one.  The plot twists are minor but the dialogue is good.  The characters are believable, as are most of the events of the plot.  There are some predictable elements and while the overall plot is quite simple, there are once again few errors committed.  There is truly funny humor throughout that is not overdone.  The only caveat here is the confusing end that seems to force a certain conclusion to occur.  Otherwise, this is a very good plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with the theme of this movie, the acting is good without detracting from the overall movie.  This is perhaps Kevin Sorbo’s best lead role.  John Ratzenberger is cast very well.  The only issue Box Office Revolution has with the acting in What If… is the fact that there is no excellent acting, just great acting.  But when considering many Christian films, this is truly an accomplishment.

Conclusion

What If… is a Christian film that is recommendable and may even appeal to some non-Christian audiences.  In a field of poorly production Christian films, What If… stands out.  It is created well enough to join the ranks of the best Christian movies.  Christian film makers should delve deeper into these types of psychological genres without falling into typical plot patterns.  What If… can be an example to follow.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

Do You Believe (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Pastor Matthew has almost forgotten why he believes what he believes.  His spiritual life is stagnant and he wonders why he is even a pastor, until one day he when he encounters an eccentric man on the side of the road carrying a cross.  The man asks him if he truly believes in the cross he preaches about.  This prompts Matthew to alter his approach to ministry by assisting a homeless pregnant girl and by learning more about the lives of his congregants.  Outside of his realm of influence, events begin to take place that indirectly affect him and the people of his church.  They are all headed for an unexpected collision and are forced to truly look at the lives they are living—what do they truly believe?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In the same vein of God’s Not Dead, the production of Do You Believe is an improvement over previous PureFlix installments.  The camera work is good; several difficult action scenes are portrayed well.  The sets are realistic and diverse.  Audio quality is also good and the soundtrack is respectable.  There is not too much wasted time in the movie, but the editing is not the greatest.  However, this is most likely due to the high amount of plot content.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There are a lot of well-meaning intentions in the plot of Do You Believe.  There are a lot of good stories, but like God’s Not Dead, they are all crammed together, thus making it hard to focus on one or for each one to develop as they should.  There are more subplots in Do You Believe, and a handful of them are unnecessary and stereotypical.  There is also too much narration that replaces the value of developing a plot.  Due to the large amount of content, most of the characters are reduced to stereotypes and are therefore not accessible.  What would have greatly improved this movie would have been to start at Do You Believe’s climax and then work backward by integrating the past and the present.  As it is, a lot is left on the field.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Some actors are professional, while others seem unrealistic in delivery.  The cast is very diverse, which is a plus.  It is possible that the many characters crowded out the scene and did not give actors enough time to work through their characters, but it is also possible that not enough acting coaching was employed in Do You Believe.

Conclusion

Do You Believe has an excellent message, but it is too issues-based.  The better production quality and the action sequences do hold the attention of the target audience, but the movie is not as good as it could be.  There is plenty of potential with some of the better story lines, but they are drowned out by too much content.  It is noble that the creators wanted to address a lot of important issues in a Christian movie, but the point may be lost.  In the end, it will be interesting to see how this PureFlix saga plays out in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

God’s Not Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Josh Wheaton didn’t ask to be put in the philosophy class of the infamous Professor Radisson.  He also didn’t anticipate having to sign a piece of paper stating that God is dead in order to achieve a high grade in the class.  But prompted by the help of a local pastor, Wheaton decides to not only refuse to sign the paper but also to prove God’s existence in front of the class in addition to his other class assignments.  It’s something that those closest to him do not understand or agree with, but it brings him closer to God and to other people.  Little does he know that Professor Radisson and even those connected to him are being profoundly impacted in ways he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is perhaps the strongest area of the movie.  God’s Not Dead has better production than a majority of PureFlix movies, which shows great progress.  The camera work is great, and the editing is pretty good considering the many interconnected story lines.  The sets are authentic and varied and the lighting is good.  The soundtrack is effective.  The only real error to consider here is the fact that there may be too much content included.  In short, the money used for the movie is mostly put to good use.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the plot is a bit weak, mostly due to the large number of story lines.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a movie about the interconnected lives of people, and for the most part, God’s Not Dead does a fairly good job managing the content.  However, it seems like there are one too many subplots and one too many characters.  If one or two of these were eliminated and that time used to develop other more interesting characters, this movie would greatly improve.  As it is, the dialogue is pretty good considering the number of characters.  There are some interesting twists and not everything turns out as expected in the end.  Most of the characters are believable, but some seem to be caricatures.  In summary, the plot is a mixed bag with a lot of untapped potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

When compared to older PureFlix movies, the acting in God’s Not Dead is superb, for most of the actors.  This is David A. R. White’s best acting job to date.  Shane Harper is great in his major debut.  However, Dean Cain and Trisha LaFache are uninspiring.  But still, one could argue that they did not have much to work with.  All in all, the acting is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

God’s Not Dead is the best PureFlix-created movie in their existence.  Improved acting, improved production quality, and improved plot development all contributed to this rise.  However, they still have not hit their ceiling.  There is a lot of potential in this movie, and on its face, it is still an above average movie.  What is most important is that the core message of God’s Not Dead is driven home without being overly preachy or unwatchable.  This is success in and of itself.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points