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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A Christmas Snow (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Kathleen hates Christmas and thus likes to make her restaurant staff work all the time on the holidays.  But she likes Andrew, so she decides to help watch his Christmas-loving (and slightly obnoxious) daughter, Lucy, while he completes a business trip before the holiday.  So when Kathleen and Lucy get snowed in with a random guy who saved Kathleen from some hoodlums in a parking lot, Kathleen thinks her life is over, especially when they are forced to play board games that remind her of her parents.  Will they ever be able to make it through the day?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The good thing about this film is that is has high production quality.  Tracy Trost and her team are usually committed to this, and it shows again in A Christmas Snow.  The positive elements include good video quality and camera work, as well as adequate audio quality and an okay soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are fine and are mostly utilized well.  There are really no glaring errors to note here.  There are just some small issues pertaining to some choppy cuts and transitions, but this is not enough to derail the production.  On the whole, this is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the plot of this film.  It is based on a stereotypical holiday-hating-character-is-forced-to-like-the-holidays-because-of-some-outside-event plot sequence.  It would be one thing if the characters were fine, since this is a character-based plot, but that is not the case here.  The main character in particular is quite obnoxious, as are some of the supporting characters.  This is mostly due to absurd dialogue and ridiculously forced comedy, such as statements like ‘chickatarian.’  There is really nothing creative about this story as it depicts a collection of random characters stuck in a house during the holidays again.  While there are some attempts to use flashbacks to build the characters, they fall flat.  The character arcs are far too steep, and the Christian message is too vague.  Unfortunately, this is a swing and a miss.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

For a majority of the film, the lead actress and the child actress of this film are quite annoying, in keeping with the characters they play.  This is demonstrated through forceful emotions and stiff line delivery.  They are clearly trying too hard, while other cast members just come off as off-beat.  Needless to say, this movie will be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Conclusion

There was a good idea behind this movie, this much must be noted.  Trying to develop a grumpy character through establishing flashbacks can be a great way to present a nice holiday story, but A Christmas Snow does it all wrong.  Unfortunately, although the production was good in this film, it was wasted on a poorly written story and off-putting acting.  Maybe next time, Tracy Trost and her team will improve upon their past films.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Lamp [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After a tragedy takes their son from them, Stanley and Lisa’s marriage is on the rocks and they seemingly have no purpose in life.  As they try to sort through what’s left of their son’s possessions, Lisa is given a mysterious lamp by one of her neighbors, who tells her that it has special powers.  Though Stanley is skeptical and angry, Lisa chooses to believe that the lamp can help them.  Little do they know what is coming to them next.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, The Lamp has good funding behind it that produces a decently above average production.  All the typical elements are good, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also intriguing.  The editing is also fine as the story is presented well.  However, the sets and locations are fairly limited to a handful of neighborhood areas, houses, and a baseball field.  Also, the biggest nagging issue here is the use of odd special effects to ‘enhance’ the experience—yet they only end up coming off as cheesy.  Overall, this is a good enough production, but the cheesy special effects tend to put a damper on things.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Based on a novel by Jim Stovall, The Lamp is a very unique Christian storyline that, while it has an interesting point and purpose, it also has a slightly silly premise.  The plot is somewhat slow to develop, but the dialogue improves as it goes and helps to build the characters.  There is a good use of flashbacks, but they are sometimes too disorienting.  As previously mentioned, though there is a good point here, there are also too many goofy magical elements that are introduced and only downplayed later.  This makes for a confusing viewing experience.  Also, in the end, things are fixed too easily, although there is an interesting twist that many will find interesting.  Overall, many will enjoy the uniqueness of The Lamp and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it—we just feel it could have been better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

At first, the acting of this film is atrocious.  Emotions are very extreme at first and there is far too much yelling in the first half hour.  However, the acting does get better as it goes as the cast members settle into their roles better and deliver their lines more smoothly.  In the end, it becomes an above average performance.

Conclusion

The Lamp is a textbook average film—with good production backing, it looks good on the surface.  It’s based on a book by a popular author, so that also works in its favor.  It also has recognizable cast members.  While average is awesome in the Christian entertainment market, we want movies to take that next step into greatness.  It’s definitely difficult to do, but in the end, it’s so worth it.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points