“Boyhood” and “When the Game Stands Tall”: Cinema Looks at Boys Growing Up












It might seem odd to put Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking film Boyhood next to the fairly straightforward inspirational sports film When the Game Stands Tall directed by Thomas Carter, but both from very different perspectives show young men growing up and the mixed roles the adults in their lives play.

When the Game Stands Tall tells the story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and his De La Salle High School power house football team whose winning streak reached to 151 games.   The coach played by Jim Caviezel, repeats over and over that the winning streak is not the most important thing about the program he runs.   A reporter asks him “25 years coaching this team, favored to win your 12th consecutive championship, 150 wins, how’d you pull it off?”  Coach responds, “Winning a lot of games is doable, teaching kids there is more to life, that’s hard.”  Ladouceur creates a culture of pride, of accountability and of love of community in his players by his own example, by his teaching and attentiveness to them.   He is an adult who is present as an adult to the needs of the children entrusted to him as students and players.


When watching Boyhood, you keep wishing and hoping that Mason will have this kind of adult in his life.  Linklater’s film chronicles the life of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane from the age of 6 to 18 and was filmed over 12 years with the cast including Ethan Hawke as the boy’s here-and-not-here father and Patricia Arquette as his struggling single mother.   The adults in Mason’s world drag him along as a bystander or baggage on their journey to find themselves.   His father played by Ethan Hawke is the largely absent, cool dad who shows up when he is in town, with gifts and advice and laughs.  Mason observes his hard-working Mother’s romances turn into marriages and implode into alcohol fused disasters.  He lives ever in someone else’s home and without a safe place of his own.  He forms friendships and then is repeatedly torn from them in successive moves.

The adults in his life love him in their own way, but they are not accountable to each other and not to him or his sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater).   They parent on their own terms almost as a sideline to the bigger work of finding themselves.  Mason and his sister seem to get in their way at times.  In fact, in several separate cringe-worthy, Mason’s parents tell him that he was “a mistake.”  The words come in the guise of advice to use contraception, “you don’t want to make the same mistake your mom and I did.”

With the little guidance he gets from his family and the force of his own lovely personality, grace works in boy and you see an artist developing from the chaos of life.  After the credits role, you care enough about him to wonder how he will form family and navigate his way to adult life when he has had so few positive role models.   Will Mason find a home?  Is he prepared to create one?

There is no one really who calls him to excellence or to be his best self.  Would that the Mason’s of the world could have one of the Coach Bob Ladouceurs of the world as a mentor to help them believe in the meaning and purpose of life and experience the power of sacrificial love.

Coach Ladouceur gives a locker room speech in which he says that his mission is to help them grow up to be men that others can depend on.   Sadly, Mason in Boyhood, is not alone among teenagers in lacking adults in their lives with such a mission.


“The Giver” Raises Questions

In Theaters Now

In Theaters Now

Lois Lowry’s award winning book turned feature film, The Giver, hit theaters this month in the Weinstein Company release.

Memory plays a key role in how we see ourselves, our families, our culture, country, the world and faith. Memory helps us to discover our identity, purpose and meaning in life. The family is the primary place where memories get passed on, “Oh, when you were little…” “Hey, remember the time…” “I will never forget when…”  The Giver is a dystopian fable of a society that has purposely cut off its people from their collective memory and sense of history.

In The Giver, the families (which are not biologically connected: children come from a lab and are placed with parents who are not related to them) have no sense of shared memory and neither does the society at large. There is no opportunity for faith, as faith presupposes a cultural memory.

In the film, there is a graduation/rite of passage scene where each student receives a career assignment from the authorities. Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) is the last to hear of his placement, and finds out that he is to be the apprentice to the Receiver (played by Jeff Bridges).  The Receiver’s sole responsibility is to curate the memories of days past and, if called upon, to assist the elders in decision making with his extensive knowledge of the past. He alone bears the collective memory of the people, even of things omitted from the official history of the community.  When Jonas becomes the apprentice Receiver, he dubs his teacher, “The Giver.”Unknown

The fascinating thing about the role of the “Giver” is that he alone retains the culture’s memory.  He literally hands over the memories from the past. The gestures used Bridge’s character imitates the same gestures of a priest or bishop in the sacraments of confirmation or ordination.  He lays hands on Jonas and “hands over” the memory. Jonas can then see beyond. This gift of “sight” is connected to faith, as faith is a seeing beyond. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11). Jonas embodies this sense of “sight”.

The word “tradition” comes from the Latin word “trahere” meaning “to hand over.” In the collective Christian memory, the apostles hand over the stories, images, memories of Jesus to the disciples, who then hand over these to future generations. Just as families are primary place that memories are passed along, so too families are where the faith is passed on.

The man who is the Giver is a symbol for those people in society and in our lives –most notably our families—who pass along our culture’s values, ideals and stories. Families will enjoy talking with their children after this movie especially about how movies, books, media all shape our collective memories and how the history of past cultures are relevant to our lives now. Learning that we are part of a greater story is an essential—and beautiful—part of being human.

The Giver shares thematic elements with other recent dystopian novels-made-movie franchises such as the Hunger Games and Divergent...The main character(s) in each of these tries to sort out who they are and how they fit into their particular societies. They don’t fit in, are seen as different and unique and are considered “special” by authorities and peers – much to their own dismay.

Jeff Bridges as the Mentor

Jeff Bridges as the Mentor

The society in The Giver has been intentionally created and is highly regulated in response to unnamed, but easy to imagine global tragedy.   In the name of the common good, emotion and passion (including anger and envy but also the ability to notice and enjoy art and beauty) are numbed through daily injections.  Uniformity and usefulness are prized to the extent that those who do not fit are “released” from the community.

As he begins his training, Jonas discovers through his mentor, the world of color, love, family, music and emotions for the first time. One of the first memories that the Giver shows Jonas is a warm glowing sunset with vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Jonas has never seen anything so beautiful. Overjoyed and inquisitive, he tries to reconcile why the elders would have constructed a society deprived of all of beauty, emotion and diversity. As the viewer, you find a new appreciation for all of these simple things that really do make life beautiful.

Jonas’ recognizes that his society is lukewarm: ordered, clean, tidy, dutiful and well-mannered, but empty.  They are all “yes-men” who don’t know how to think for themselves or sacrifice for another.  Everything has a utilitarian overtone—nothing is beautiful or is delighted in for its own sake: from clothes to people to nature.  His awakening sparks a rebellion which neither he nor the authorities are prepared to handle.

The film will lead to family discussions with older teens of perennial questions about the meaning of human life, the role of memory, free will, identity and our role in the greater human experience.

Guardians of the Galaxy

gaurdiansposterwebGuardians of the Galaxy opened as the highest- ever grossing film in August, and has continued to top the charts at the box office.  It is a thrill ride that families, particularly those with teens and young adults, are sure to enjoy.

The 10th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy features a team of superheroes with Chris Pratt (LEGO Movie and Parks and Recreation) as Peter Quinn/StarLord, Zoe Saldana as an alien assassin, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, a fast talking raccoon, and Groot, his talking-tree side kick. This band of multicolored misfits haphazardly teams up to save a distant planet from Ronan the Accuser, who plans to destroy planets and control the galaxy with the coveted Infinity Stone.  Peter Quinn, a rogue space pirate, steals the orb which secretly contains the Infinity Stone.

Photo credit: Marvel

Photo credit: Marvel.com

All the action is set to a soundtrack of classic 70s music.  Peter Quinn holds preciously onto a cassette of 70s music that his mother made for him before he was abducted from Earth in 1988.  The music adds a note of goofy nostalgia, keeping the film fresh and grounded.

Starting out as independent and selfish individuals, Peter Quinn and the other Guardians, learn to sacrifice themselves for the others.  In the course of the story, each character pursues the Infinity Stone for his own  selfish reasons.  By teaming up, the Guardians, not only discover there is more to life than self-interest,  but that they are not alone in their problems,  a valuable message for any teen and adult alike.  Using the uniqueness of each, they overcome Ronan and save the galaxy.  The film’s eclectic visuals and sound blend to serve the film and reflect the misfits coming together.

Photo credit: Marvel

Photo credit: Marvel.com

This is a fun action film grounded in a strong story and characters with visual effects that are just icing on the cake.

Families who enjoy comic books, 70’s music, and an unconventional hero will surely enjoy this film.

Heads up to families with young children:  the movie contains comic book violence and some crude and sexually themed language and humor. This film would be best for teens and up.

For more Catholic/Christian reviews:



This post is co-authored with James Zambrana.



The Hundred-Foot Journey is a Flavorful Treat

posterwebOver the past few years, I’ve become quite the foodie.  So I was delighted to see a new film from producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey that stars…well, food!  I was excited to see The Hundred-Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren (The Queen) and wasn’t disappointed.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is a charming film (based on the best-selling novel) about the Kadam family, who was forced from their home of India and make their way to a quiet village in France to open their family restaurant.  But there is one problem…they are opening it next door to a very respected and celebrated French establishment run by Madame Mallory, played by the always fabulous Helen Mirren.  Madame Mallory wants them gone, until she discovers that the young Hassan Kadam has potential to be the next 3-star chef, and she takes him under her wing.

fathersonhelenwebIt’s a wonderful story about love.  Love is found all around…in the bond between father and son, in the blossoming relationship between the son and his neighbor, and of course, in the love of food.

The love of food is what draws all the film’s characters together as a family.  The love of food is what helps them to discover, that although they are all different culturally, they are all part of the same human family.  And it’s the love of food that brings them home to their family.  As Papa Kadam notes when asked by his son where was home, “Home is where your family is.”helenofferingsweetsweb

Audiences will find this film to be a lovely two hour retreat into the French countryside, a film that doesn’t have any unnecessary sex, violence, or bad language…a rarity these days.  But a word of advice before watching this film in the theater: DON’T GO HUNGRY!  This film will make you want to run right out and eat at the best French restaurant in town.

EWTN, the Global Catholic Television Network, Set to Open West Coast Studio at the new Christ Cathedral in Orange County

EWTN LogowebWe here at Family Theater Productions are excited to hear EWTN is opening a west coast studio at the new Christ Cathedral in Orange County.  EWTN broadcasts Catholic and family programming around the world, through television, radio, and the internet, while inspiring and educating the faithful.

The announcement was made by EWTN Chief Executive Officer, Michael Warsaw and Bishop Kevin Van of the Diocese of Orange at the Napa Institute being held this week.

Christ Cathedral. Photo credit: Diocese of Orange

Christ Cathedral. Photo credit: Diocese of Orange

Christ Cathedral is the formal Crystal Cathedral that was built by Dr. Robert Schuller , the television evangelist who hosted the “Hour of Power”.  After the TV ministry went bankrupt in 2010, the Cathedral was bought by the Diocese of Orange to be turned into a center of Catholic worship and outreach throughout Southern California and beyond.

The new studio will be operational and begin broadcasting news and Masses by the end of 2014.

Michael Warsaw added that the new west coast studio location will be an asset to the development of their programming by giving “EWTN a presence in an area of the country where the Network will be able to execute programs that would be difficult to produce elsewhere, particularly for our Spanish-language channels.”

We welcome EWTN to the west coast and offer them our prayers in this new endeavor.  National Director of Family Theater Productions, Father David Guffey, C.S.C. adds “EWTN has been a long time friend of Family Theater, one of our major broadcast partners who regularly play our TV and film content.  We congratulate EWTN and welcome them to the very rich, sometimes challenging media environment of Southern California.  Our prayers are with them in this new venture.”

Chef – The Word of Mouth Foodie Film that Could have been the Family Film of the Summer

Stars Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony and John Leguizamo in Chef

Stars Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony and John Leguizamo in Chef

Jon Favreau’s film Chef opened in theaters May 9, 2014, and it is still in theaters today, performing solidly against more intensely marketed summer block buster fair.  So far it has brought in almost $26 million, not bad for an independent film.  Word of mouth has brought adult audiences to the film in much the way that it did for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the summer of 2012.

I was one of the people who plopped down the twelve bucks to see it and was happy I did.  I am glad the film has done as well as it has.  It could have done so much better.

On coming out of theater amid a crowd of middle-aged film buffs and food lovers, I thought to myself this film is about 50 f-words and two short scenes away from being the family film of the summer.  This could have been a +$100 million dollar film and a tremendous gift to audiences.

Still in Theaters.   Dont' go hungry.

Still in Theaters.
Don’t go hungry.

In the film, chef Carl Casper (played by writer/director Jon Favreau) has an angry melt-down at a harsh food critic in the middle of the restaurant in front of his employer (played by Dustin Hoffman) and a room full of customers.   The chef is fired and left without prospects for his career.  At the same time, he has been the stereotypic neglectful divorced dad, arriving up late to pick-up his son (Emjay Anthony), not showing up for events.  At the suggestion of his ex-wife, played by Sophia Vergara, he starts a food truck business, involving his friends (including one played by the great John Leguizamo) and more importantly, his son.  They drive the truck from Miami to LA, cooking all the way.

The film is not a deep story but an enjoyable father-son, on the road, rags to riches, buddy film.  People who love any of these will love this movie, but they have to be over 18.  This film has an R rating, for language, a mild drug scene and some crude references.  Yes, most kids have seen and heard worse, but also yes, there are parents who still will not consciously choose to expose their children to these, especially when paying movie theater prices.

If the language had been tempered just a little, and a few scenes altered this could have been a hit family film in a summer where the cineplex has not offered much to parents with children.  A filmmaker with the talent of John Favreau, (IronMan, Elf, upcoming Disney Junglebook)  could have made this as real as it was but with language that would have made for a more inclusive audience.

I wish he had, because I would have loved to take my niece, who in her early teens is a fan of the food channel and loves cooking.  I encounter more and more kids who tell me they want to be a chef when they grow up.  It would have been great to send them and their parents to a movie about a chef in the process of growing up himself.

Instead their parents and grandparents will go alone and they are in for a treat.