‘Unplanned’ – It’s Not Pro-Life, it is Anti-Woman

It is only with morbid curiosity and the fact it was available to view for free on Tubi that I found myself watching the 2019 anti-abortion drama “Unplanned.” Now those who know me know I am forever pro-choice, am very angry at the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, and I am a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood, so clearly this film was not made for someone like me. Still, I dared myself to sit through this motion picture to see if I can provide any sort of objective criticism on it. So, whatever side of this issue you are on, pray for me.

“Unplanned” is based on the memoir by Abby Johnson who worked for years at a Planned Parenthood clinic before eventually becoming a staunch anti-abortion activist. Abby is played by Ashley Bratcher, and the film opens up on her being asked to assist in an ultrasound-guided suction aspiration abortion for a patient who is 13 weeks pregnant. As she assists, she watches the monitor and sees the fetus trying to fight back against the doctor’s attempts to remove it. So overwhelmed by what she sees, she goes straight to bathroom and cries her eyes out. From there, the film flashes back to eight years earlier when Abby first joined Planned Parenthood and of her experiences with both management and the anti-abortion protesters she later befriends.

Okay, let me start with what I like about “Unplanned,” and that is Ashley Bratcher’s performance. Regardless of how you feel about the subject matter, she does give a strong and convincingly emotional performance as she makes Abby’s inner conflicts quite palpable. In the process, she gives us one of the best performances you could ever hope to find in a Pure Flix production. And let’s face it, their films are not known for having Oscar caliber performances.

Also, the filmmakers do feature a scene which, ever so briefly, serves to separate certain pro-lifers from others. One ani-abortionist screams at a woman entering the clinic for not keeping her legs crossed, but others are not quick to engage such unnecessarily harsh language.

And I do have to say that “Unplanned” does end with one of the biggest laughs I have had at the movies recently as the filmmakers give us an end card stating that Planned Parenthood had no involvement or participation in this film’s production. Wow! Really?! You think?!

Well, I have clearly reached the tipping point here, haven’t I? While everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs to where all need to be heard, none of this changes the fact that “Unplanned” is shamelessly manipulative, full of propaganda and outright lies, and its presentation of Planned Parenthood as being like the evil Empire from “Star Wars” is defamatory and borderline criminal. Clearly the filmmakers were not the least bit interested in being unbiased, and I am obligated to hold them accountable for the bullshit parade they have given us here.

Let us start with the opening ultrasound abortion scene. The special effects are truly awful as no fetus recoils like that at 13 weeks, and this is a scientific fact. If a fetus could recoil in such a way, I have no doubt the filmmakers would have used real ultrasound footage to bolster their case. Also, we never do learn exactly why this patient is getting this specific kind of abortion. Was she raped? Is her overall health in danger? Was there a strong chance of her dying if she didn’t get this abortion? Well, no one here seems interested in such questions.

As for the scenes of Abby’s abortions, particularly her second one, writers and directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman are completely shameless in making it look both bloody as hell and life-threatening. With all the blood on display, it’s no wonder this is the first Pure Flix production to earn an R rating. The truth is, abortions are actually safer than childbirth, which itself can be very dangerous. But yeah, there are people who hate science for all the wrong reasons and are determined to remain willfully ignorant.

I also found its portrayal of Planned Parenthood as nothing more than a corporate monolith interested in profiting from abortion not just repellent, but completely and inescapably reprehensible. Much of this is corrupted view of the non-profit organization illustrated through the character of Cheryl, director of the clinic Abby works at. Played by Robia Scott, Cheryl comes as a smug as hell individual who is far too cold hearted to be the least bit believable as a fighter for abortion rights. For the filmmakers, Cheryl is essentially a Darth Vader-like character who spouts a lot of crap about how abortions are Planned Parenthood’s cash cow, and that the organization should be run no differently than a fast-food restaurant. Seriously, I kept waiting for her to tell Abby, “I find your lack of abortions at this clinic disturbing.”

And, like many faith-based features, “Unplanned” suffers from a low budget, cheap cinematography, a music score designed to assault your emotions as opposed to simply manipulating them and, as expected, a lot of bad acting. While Bratcher shines, everyone else emotes or acts as if they are reading off of cue cards which are just a few feet away. Granted, they are reduced to spouting many ridiculous and dangerous talking points, particularly towards the movie’s conclusion, but they are in serious need of acting lessons more than anything else. As for Brooks Ryan who plays Abby’s second husband, Doug, he acts as though he barely has a pulse. In the scene where she gives birth to their daughter, he is far too serene and calm to be the least bit believable as an expectant father, and it got to where I wanted Abby to, as Robin Williams once said, grab his scrotum and pull it up over his head.

But what enraged me the most about “Unplanned” is how the filmmakers deny Abby not just her personhood, but her womanhood more than anything else. While she has a loving husband and parents, they cannot help but look down on her as they are defiantly pro-life while she spends most of this movie being pro-choice. When Abby eventually does her 180 on abortion, they come to embrace her fully in a way that they always should have regardless of their differences. Plus, there is a scene in which Doug forgives Abby for her past abortions, and it feels like he is saying to her, “It’s okay. Because you are pro-life now, I can truly see you as a woman now.”

That’s right folks, “Unplanned” is not as pro-life as it is anti-woman. The implications of this are so deep that I have a feeling the filmmakers may not even realize this. The women here are viewed as being selfish and thoughtless for taking on jobs instead of being stay at home mothers. The men, however, are portrayed as such angelic creatures who look to save these women from their own ghastly impulses. Look, not everyone needs to be saved, and if history has taught me anything, it is that women have never been the gentler or weaker sex, ever. Seriously, this is as chauvinistic and misogynistic as any film I have seen in recent years, and there is no excuse for that.

Oh, and Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy and one of “Unplanned’s” executive producers, has a cameo as a tractor driver who gleefully pulls down a Planned Parenthood sign after the clinic is shut down. But looking deep into his eyes, Lindell looks more like he is vicariously destroying a sign of a local chapter of the Better Business Bureau, and we know how the Better Business Bureau feels about him.

Well, have I given you all an objective review of “Unplanned?” I want to say yes, but with movies like these, is almost impossible not take a side, and this one will simply reinforce those on both aisles of the abortion debate.

Look, maybe the world would be a better place with no abortions, and it should be clear that no one really wants to get one. There has to be a movie out there somewhere in which people on both sides of the abortion debate can find some common ground, and it would be great to find any common ground in such divisive times. “Unplanned” is not that movie, and it was never designed to be as it was made by people who choose to be willfully ignorant, and those people end up making life more difficult for everyone.

To be completely honest with you, “Unplanned” proves to be one of the most infuriating and intellectually insulting motion pictures ever made by human beings. Then again, it was made by the same people who gave us “God’s Not Dead.”

* out of * * * *

Elstree 1976

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There have been countless documentaries on the “Star Wars” movies, most of which feature interviews with actors who will forever be associated with the famous characters they first brought to the screen many years ago in a galaxy far, far away. But with Jon Spira’s documentary, “Elstree 1976,” we finally get to meet the supporting actors who were either hiding behind a stormtrooper mask or were on the screen for only mere seconds. Regardless of how small their roles were, they got to be part of a movie phenomenon which remains as popular as ever, and this documentary allows them to tell their stories and get out of the shadows for a change.

The documentary’s title refers to Elstree Studios where “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” was filmed back in 1976. Spira takes his time to talk with 10 actors who were cast in various roles in the classic movie, and any fan of George Lucas’ space opera will find their conversations fascinating. Some of these actors played characters who are fan favorites, but we never got to see them with their masks off. Others played roles where, if you blinked, you will miss them, but Spira does take the time to capture their moments in a near-freeze frame to show their big moments for everyone to see.

Perhaps the best way to approach “Elstree 1976” is to not go in expecting a “Star Wars” documentary. Yes, “Star Wars” plays a big part here, but it’s not really the point. It’s about working class actors who don’t have the same name recognition as Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill, and of how they managed to carve a career for themselves in a business where only a tiny few can possibly make a living. The fact they were in a “Star Wars” movie, however, has come to define their careers in more ways than one. There are scenes from “A New Hope” here as well as ones from other movies, but John Williams’ classic music is never heard.

One of the most fascinating moments comes early on as each actor discusses how they got cast in “A New Hope” and of how none of them had any idea of what they were about to be a part of. For all they knew, they were acting in some TV film or Grade Z science fiction movie which would be lucky to get any kind of distribution. While any of us would have killed to be on the set of this movie like these actors were, their reactions are easy to understand as they had yet to see the impact this one movie would have on generations of moviegoers. David Prowse, who inhabited the costume of Darth Vader, even remarked, “Maybe it won’t be as terrible as it promised to be.”

Prowse is one of the better-known actors featured here, and we learn of how he started off his career as a bodybuilder but was told he wouldn’t win any competitions because of his “ugly feet.” He would later go on to work with filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick who cast him as a bodyguard in “A Clockwork Orange,” and he played the Black Knight in Terry Gilliam’s “Jabberwocky.” But the role he is proudest of, even more so than Darth Vader, is that of the Green Cross Code man, a character used in British road safety television commercials. At least you got to see his face in those.

If there’s anything disappointing about “Elstree 1976,” it’s that I came out of it wanting to know more about what went on during the making of “A New Hope.” Again, this is not meant to be a “Star Wars” documentary, but the fan inside of me was eager to hear more behind the scenes stories of what went on. Indeed, there are a few told here such as from one actor who didn’t realize he had just asked Lucas to get him a cup of coffee, and of how the stormtroopers kept falling over one another on the set. In terms of introducing the actors to us, their names are shown next to the action figures of the characters they played, but it is hard to keep up with who is who after a while.

The last half deals with these actors’ lives after “Star Wars” as some went on to act in other movies while others found another career path for themselves. Whatever the case, many of them have gone on the convention circuit to talk with fans who want to know every single detail about the making of one of their all-time favorite movies. Just being in any “Star Wars” movie has had a major impact on their lives, but while some fans love meeting these people, others see them as nothing more than “bit part actors” which is a bit dispiriting.

But the real strength of “Elstree 1976” comes in how Spira shows us what the life of a working-class actor is like, and it’s a nice gesture how he brings these 10 people out of the shadows to give them the recognition they have long deserved. Whether they had big scenes, small scenes or scenes which sadly got left on the cutting room floor, “Star Wars” impacted their lives and for the better in many ways. They may never get the fanfare of the bigger name actors, but they still get to put this movie on their resumes which must have made a big difference.

Coming out of “Elstree 1976,” I felt like the documentary could have gone deeper in certain areas and revealed more, but we have here is still entertaining and a must for “Star Wars” fans as they will want to know about everything connected to this cinematic universe. And this is regardless of the fact it does commit the one unforgivable sin no “Star Wars” related movie has any right to make: it shows Greedo shooting first. Damn you Lucas!

* * * out of * * * *

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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I went into “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” with the hope it would be a true spinoff and not just a “Star Wars” sequel in disguise. This is the first in a series of “Star Wars” anthology movies which are meant to exist outside the main saga we have all grown up on. While “The Force Awakens” was heavy with nostalgia, this can’t be the case with “Rogue One.” Otherwise, what would be the point of making this one other than to make a gazillion dollars and sell a lot of toys?

Well, “Rogue One” proves to be an excellent “Star Wars” movie as it breaks new ground in the infinitely popular franchise. Set before the events of “Episode IV: A New Hope,” it follows a band of rebels as they attempt to steal the design plans for the just-completed Death Star, something which might be mistaken for a moon but is actually a space station capable of destroying planets. While we go into this movie knowing they will succeed in getting these plans to the Rebel Alliance, we have yet to see how they will pull this off and how bad the odds are, something our heroes never want to be told about.

The main character of “Rogue One” is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and we meet her as a child when she is separated from her mother and father. Her father, research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is one of the main designers of the Death Star, and as we catch up with Jyn years later when this deadly space station has finally reached its final stage of completion. Along with a ragged platoon which includes intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), blind warrior and die hard believer in the Force Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), warrior and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) whose sarcasm knows no bounds.

One thing which really struck me about this “Star Wars” spin-off is how many Jedis it has in its character roster, which is just one. Darth Vader shows up for a spell, but he is too enamored with the dark side to help our heroes in any way, shape or form. Essentially, this group of rebels are on their own. The force is strong with them, but they are not as desirable to the Rebel Alliance as Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia. For the Rebels, they are basically a means to an end.

I liked how “Rogue One” focused on the power struggles which take place within the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Both factions deal with inner turmoil as they do what is necessary to gain the upper hand in a galactic war bound to have many casualties. Even the Rebels come across as dubious as they are willing to sacrifice their own to achieve victory. With the Empire, the power struggle is all the more intense as Director of Advanced Weapons Research Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) looks to claim all the credit for the Death Star even as Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing, brought back to life through some incredible CGI) is not about to let that happen.

The movie also deals strongly with the themes of sacrifice and courage as our main characters fight for a cause so much bigger than themselves. Seeing them do what is necessary to achieve peace in the galaxy actually hit me harder on an emotional level than I expected, and it made “Rogue One” all the more exciting and invigorating to sit through. Granted, seeing what happens to these characters might make it seem like an emotional endurance test for the youngest audience members, but many “Star Wars” fans will be quick to appreciate what Jyn Erso and company are willing to do for the sake of so many others.

Directing “Rogue One” is Gareth Edwards who previously gave us “Godzilla,” the good one, a few years back. His direction of this spin-off feels very confident as he gives fans a good dose of what they expect from a “Star Wars” movie, but he also gives it a gritty feel none of the other episodes had. There are many sweeping shots of grandeur throughout “Rogue One,” thanks to Director of Photography Greig Fraser, as we go from one planet to the next, but this feels a lot more down and dirty as these characters do not live in a world of glamour and never will.

It’s also refreshing to see a “Star Wars” movie with a female lead as comic book movies have yet to offer the same thing. Felicity Jones, so good in “The Theory of Everything,” turns in a strong performance as Jyn Erso, and she makes the character a formidable warrior even as she sneaks around dozens of stormtroopers who would be quick to take her down if they ever discover her true identity. There are also some nice supporting turns by Diego Luna whose Cassian Andor finds his conscience getting in the way of his orders, Mads Mikkelsen who plays a scientist caught between duty and family, Ben Mendelsohn whose villainous character is ever so ruthless and eager to climb up the Empire food chain of power, and Donnie Yen is especially good as a blind warrior whose faith in the force is never misplaced.

It’s also great to see Forest Whitaker on board here as Saw Gerrera, a Clone Wars veteran who raised Jyn from a girl into a fighter. I do have to say, however, that watching him breathe through his oxygen mask quickly reminded me of Dennis Hopper’s character from “Blue Velvet.” I don’t know if it was the intention of the director or screenwriters to draw inspiration from Frank Booth, but it definitely crossed my mind every time I saw Whitaker onscreen.

“Rogue One” also contains some eerily effective CGI which allowed the filmmakers to bring actors like Peter Cushing back to life in a way which feels all too real. Cushing has been dead for two decades, but here he looks like he just rose from the grave. On top of Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” which also contained a number of photorealistic characters, it makes me worry how soon actors could be replaced with CGI creations. Here’s hoping it’s not for a very, very, very long time.

“Rogue One” is by no means perfect as the movie rushes us from one planet to the next to where we have a hard time keeping up with all the places we have been to, but I admired what the filmmakers were able to accomplish. They have succeeded in giving us a fresh take on a franchise which has lived on from one decade to the next, and it bodes well for future installments like “Episode VIII” and the Han Solo movie as well. I very much enjoyed it, and I have no doubt the fans will as well as there are many easter eggs to discover. Plus, with us all living in such a volatile political climate which begs for a rebellion of some sort, this movie could not have come out at a better time. Timing is everything, and the time to rebel against our oppressors is at hand.

“Rogue One” definitely ensures that the “Star Wars” franchise will live long and prosper. Yes, that’s a saying from “Star Trek,” but it feels very appropriate to use here.

* * * ½ out of * * * *