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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I Can Only Imagine (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bart Millard always loved to sing, but he grew up in a broken home.  His mother left while he was young, and his father beat him and told him he would never amount to much.  When Bart failed high school football due to injuries, he and his father spent as little time around each other as possible.  Out of this, Bart began singing in high school plays and was told that he had a special talent for the stage.  This led Bart to pursue a career in Christian music, but life on the road was hard.  When he was forced to make a pivotal decision at a crossroads in his career, Bart was finally faced with having to go back to reconcile with the person he came to hate the most: his father.

Production Quality (3 points)

What else can be said about the talent of the Erwin Brothers at this point?  They have clearly mastered production quality, especially when it comes to historical epics.  The attention to detail in I Can Only Imagine is exquisite.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are flawless.  With Brent McCorkle involved, the soundtrack is always going to be a hit.  Sets, locations, and props in I Can Only Imagine are excellent and demonstrate wonderful historical authenticity.  This content-packed epic is edited nearly to perfection.  In short, it’s rare to have a perfect production, but the Erwin Brothers are still schooling the industry in how it’s done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

Naturally following their epic film Woodlawn, the Erwin Brothers seem to have found a niche in biopics.  The story of Bart Millard is one that is absolutely worth being told, especially since so many people are familiar with MercyMe and their original breakout hit single, which is the title of this film.  What some audiences may not expect is the profound and timely message this film has to offer.  This film is more than just another inspirational film to grab cash from a willing audience.  In typical Erwin fashion, I Can Only Imagine is the film the western church needs now.  Besides this, the characters are very realistic, authentic, and easy to access via believable dialogue and back stories.  Each character is flawed and gray rather than black and white.  There are really no errors to point out here as the Erwins have masterfully captured another poignant true story in the context of film.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Masters of Casting did their homework once again in crafting a cast that was true-to-life to the real people behind the story.  Each actor and actress is cast appropriately and assume their roles very well.  Costuming is excellent and correct for the time period.  Dennis Quaid likely posts one of the performances of the year as a very complex three-part role.  In the end, there are little to no errors to raise about this film, which has become the norm of the Erwin brand.

Conclusion

I Can Only Imagine receives an x-factor point for presenting an extremely important issue in a realistic way.  Audiences will flock to this film on the basis of its title recognition alone, but many will receive a message they least expected, yet one that the church as a whole desperately needs.  Many, many Christians and those associated with the church are running from parts of their lives that are broken and are not always their fault because they do not know how to deal with them.  I Can Only Imagine brings this paradigm to front and center at a time when the message of redemption for broken families needs to be heard.  Also, in keeping with their perfect record, the Erwins have notched another one on the Hall of Fame and have possibly taken the top spot of Christian film.

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

Coffee Shop [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Donovan has always loved her dream job as the owner of a local coffee shop, but she fears that her mortgage is about to cause her dream to end prematurely.  What’s worse is a hotshot playwright comes to town and starts off completely on the wrong foot with her, all the while Donovan’s sister is trying to get her to run back to the boyfriend who left Donovan for a big time Chicago job.  Will Donovan be able to sort out all the confusion in time to save her dreams?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Up Entertainment has perfected the Hallmark model of putting out a consistent amount of films with fairly professional production quality in each one.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too generic, however, which fits this genre to a T.  What also typically comes with this sort of made for television movie is relatively good sets, locations, and props, yet some minor editing issues that plague it, all in the name of making the runtime trim.  All of these typical elements are present in Coffee Shop, making it seem like it was made on an assembly line.  Overall, though the production is great, there are plenty of other predictable elements to point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is trying a bit harder than most made for TV romantic comedies, Coffee Shop is still an extremely typical story about a jilted girlfriend who has to save her ______ and then both her old boyfriend and a new well-groomed man whom she doesn’t like at first but grows to like show up in the small town she lives in with other quirky characters.  Though some of the characters demonstrate attempts to be creative, probably mostly the influence of the Erwin brothers, there are just too many predictable elements for this section to warrant any more points.  The entire plot follows a predictable progression and the end can be seen from the beginning.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for yet another one of these sorts of films.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Despite all of other issues, the Erwin brothers still do their thing and win out when it comes to casting and acting coaching.  There are virtually no errors in this section as line delivery is on point and emotions are very natural.  UP and Hallmark should consider hiring the Erwins as permanent casting help.

Conclusion

We realize the machine of cable television demands certain movies that fit into certain molds, so perhaps there is really no solution to this problem until cable is no longer relied upon as a source of entertainment revenue.  Creative Christian film makers need a better outlet for their films so that they can showcase their talent outside of the confines of a revenue-seeking machine.  Perhaps one day we will see more of these sorts of films on streaming services such as PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On a small youth group retreat, Pastor Stuart senses that something is amiss with the group of kids he is responsible for.  A new non-Christian girl is among them, and her presence is causing divisions among the Christian teens.  He decides to try to get through to them by telling them his creative and family-friendly rendering of the Biblical story of Hosea and his tenuous relationship with his wife Gomer.  Ultimately, each person must decide how they are going to respond and to show God’s unconditional love for all people.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Christiano Brothers and Kevin Downes usually know how to produce a movie so that it passes as above average.  Amazing Love is no exception.  There are few overt errors in this film’s production quality.  The camera work is simple but not detracting.  The video and sound quality are fine.  The editing is fine, considering there is just not much content here.  The biggest problems with production pertain to the limited and cheap looking sets.  Some of the Biblical props and costuming seem low quality.  Overall, Amazing Love is good enough to make viewers watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The premise of Amazing Love is intriguing.  Youth group issues need to be discussed in movies.  Biblical narratives need to be explored.  One has to wonder if Hosea was the best choice, but Box Office Revolution believes it was handled tastefully, even if it is slightly unrealistic.  Due to the dual narrative, dialogue is simplistic and characters are shallow.  The fact that there are two stories in this movie show that there is just not enough content to make this a dynamic film.  But the creators did the best they could with what they had, and sometimes that is all we can ask.  There are some interesting twists that keep the attention.  This plot will make people think and it is better than a lot of Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The actors seem either wooden or childish.  Some of the acting is good, but some is not.  The more experienced actors deliver their lines better than others.  Casting might have been an issue in this modestly budgeted production.  Overall, the acting is just average.

Conclusion

Everyone needs to know that God’s love is unconditional, especially teenagers from broken homes.  The story of Hosea reminds everyone that God loves even those we considered to be hopeless and unreachable.  For a simple family film, Amazing Love passes the test.  Audiences need to be informed of Bible stories that are not often focused on.  Unfortunately, there was a low ceiling for this movie and it hit it.  But in the end, this is definitely not a movie to be ashamed of.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points