Redemption, Respect and the Environment in “Mr. Holmes”

Original Poster for Mr. Holmes.

Original Poster for Mr. Holmes.

When I think of a summer movie, I generally think of a movie that will involve either slapstick comedy or lots of explosions…or maybe a little of both. I did enjoy Pixels, Adam Sandler’s most recent contribution to sophomoric comedy, but I also found myself drawn to a film that has almost been hidden among the summer releases: Mr. Holmes. This film, starring two of my favorite actors: Ian McKellen and Laura Linney takes place soon after the end of WWII and gives us a ninety something, retired Sherlock Holmes, content to live in the country and tend to his bees. Linney plays the part of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro who is a war widow with a young son, Roger (played by Milo Parker).

Roger is drawn to Mr. Holmes and the two become friends. There is a natural feel to the interaction between McKellen and Parker. Their relationship grows organically and is pollinated by Roger’s fascination with both Holmes’ previous career and his bees.

The main plot of this film is set against the framework of a series of events that causes Holmes to re-examine his final case, one that he had not solved. It involves a young couple and the husband’s concern over the mental state of his wife. In his old age, Holmes has a tendency to forget things, names of those he is close to as well as the facts of this case. As a sort of mental calisthenics, he forces himself to find some closure in this case. He is prodded along by Roger, who pushes Holmes to fill in the gaps in his memory.

Mr. Holmes is not your typical summer movie. The humor is subtle; there are no robots and no explosions. But it is a beautiful movie, if not

Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

slower-paced than most people are used to seeing. It is a movie that has several messages that are relevant to Catholic Social Teaching; there is an overarching theme of respect for the elderly. Roger and Mrs. Munro always treat Holmes with the utmost respect and dignity. There is a respect for the living and the dead, and the conviction that those who have died before us (even in the womb) are still very much with us and part of our lives. There is also a nice sense of reconciliation, through a side story and a long forgotten person in Holmes’ life. Also, right on the heels of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si”, there is a strong sense of protecting the environment through Holmes’ love of beekeeping. In a nice moment towards the end, Holmes does something to ensure his housekeeper and her son (a widow and orphan in the biblical sense) always have a place to live.

So, yes, Mr. Holmes may not be your average summer movie, but it is a movie that is beautifully shot, acted and directed. The film is subtle in its message and its performances are like a cool ocean breeze on a hot summer day.

UnREAL: Behind the Scenes of Reality Television

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

The Lifetime Channel shows the reality of reality in a scripted series, UnREAL, airing new episodes on Monday nights with the entire season available at the Lifetime Channel website.

Ten years ago a guy walked into my office looking tired and heavy hearted and needing to talk.  He was in a process of discernment.  He loved making films but hated his current job, which he found soul-crushing on the on one hand, but too lucrative to leave on the other.   We talked for awhile before he would even admit that he worked on a reality television program.  He was tired of creating and exaggerating conflict, of manipulating people and making people who were basically good, look like buffoons or villains.

Monday night I felt like I got a glimpse into the world he had described when I watched latest episode of UnREAL on the Lifetime Channel.  This is not a family show, be warned.

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Rachel (played by Shiri Appleby) produces a fictional reality show called “Everlasting.”  Think, “The Bachelor.”    She always appears weary, on the edge of a deep sadness as she skillfully, if not reluctantly, uses her intuition to get close to contestants, learn their vulnerabilities and then manipulate them to create conflict and further the storyline for the show.

She knows how to induce tears or a cat fight, a tender moment of personal revelation and romance, or a devastating scene of rejection.  All of this is part of her job and she is good at it and miserable for it.


At one point her executive producer Quinn,  played by Constance Zimmer, rallies the crew saying, “We want tears people, bonuses for nudity and for 911 calls.”   The producers want us to believe we are seeing a competition  for true romance.  In fact what the edited episodes of reality shows that end up on the air are contrived by cynical, calloused methods, with little regard to the human dignity of the people cast as contestants.

The show is probably exaggerated but not as much as fans of the genre might hope.   The conversation I had with that man ten years ago was not the last I have had with many other people working reality and discerning a new career path.

Let’s be Real

Here are five things reality show fans need to remember:

  1. Reality” on TV is highly manipulated.  The contestants are carefully cast, the situations contrived, viewers often do not see the context for the shots they see.
  2. If your life was filmed for a week, a skilled editor and producer could make you look however they wanted.  The programs reflect more the agenda of the producers than the reality of the lives of the contestants.
  3. Judging people is never good for the soul.   If I watch reality TV so that I can  let myself be drawn into indignation at their excesses it may seem harmless, but that feeds a dangerous tendency to condemn others and feel self-righteous.
  4. The joyful moments are easy to fake, the suffering is often real.   Try to have compassion for contestants.
  5. Think very, very hard before you would ever consider being part of a reality show.

Live in the fullness of your own reality, Family Theater You Tube and look for the ways that our loving God is always trying to send people and circumstances into your path to invite you to a deeper and fuller life, even if it is not one that would sell on television.





Love: Avengers Style!


More than just comic book heros.

More than just comic book heros.

The other day my brother, Kevin, was relating a conversation he had with his younger son about the lack of a discernible plot in so many recent movies.  He bemoaned the fact that so many movies today are mere montages of effects under the guise of telling a story.  My nephew countered (as I believe most teenagers would) that it didn’t matter, that he liked going to the movies for the spectacle of the show.  In his mind, plot was secondary to explosions, car chases, and things jumping off of the screen at you.  After much discussion, Kevin and I concluded that we were probably not much different in our youth. 

That discussion was part of a larger one we were having about The Avengers: The Age of Ultron. Kevin brought up a good point; this movie (as are many in this genre) was a movie without a really strong plot…but I loved it!  Granted, the whole “technology is going to take over our lives” thing is a tale as old as time or, at the very least, a story that is as old as the movies themselves — just watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 to see that this type of paranoia is nothing new.  But Avengers makes this fear fun.  It is a slick, gimmicky movie with an almost cartoonish feel in its palette and CGI treatment, and it moves along at a roller-coaster pace with only a few spots for the viewer to catch his breath.  It also has my favorite Stan Lee cameo to date…but then, his appearance in Winter Soldier comes in a close second.

But, buried beneath all of the explosions and fight sequences is a subplot that is very relevant to today’s world. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with technology, but everything to do with the importance of family and friends.  In a world that is becoming very impersonal, even in our closest relationships, this movie really emphasizes the importance of family and friends.  The Avengers genuinely enjoy each other’s company.  They love and support each other.  They fight and make up.  We see this group of superheroes and techno-nerds as a tightly knit group of friends (some would say a dysfunctional family) who would do anything to save one another, even if it leads to disagreements.  We also see that regardless of what they have to do in their day-to-day, nine-to-five-world, their family is what is most important—just as ours should be.  One of the main characters is revealed to be a family man at heart: he and his wife have decided to keep this family away from a world that they feel is too violent for their children, and he keeps them anonymous to protect them from the violent life he must lead.  He would do anything he can to shield them from harm, even if it means hiding his family from everyone else.   So, perhaps, my dear nephew, there is a strong plot after all.  Perhaps, if you strip out all of the 3D effects, the violence and the car chases from this movie, what you end up with is a nice film about relationships and the importance of staying true to your friends and family – no matter the cost.

Oscar 2015 Observations from Father David



Outside the Dolby Theater just before the 87th Oscars

Outside the Dolby Theater just before the 87th Oscars

Our Family Theater office is only about 6 blocks from the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards take place.   About 25 film enthusiasts gathered in our screening room to watch the ceremony.  Here are my 8 Award Observations about the 87th Academy Awards:

  • More than beautiful dresses.  On the Red Carpet it seemed that reporters were going deeper than “What are  you wearing?”  asking questions about the films the actors played in, causes that they are passionate about and family.
  • Hollywood gives love to Family.  Perhaps inspired by the speech given by Best Supporting Actor winner JK Simmons, almost every Oscar winner mentioned and thanked their family as important to their creative process and career success.  It seems that being a good parent is something people consider important and a sign of success and status.
  • Bigger than Me.  Many stars used their moment in the spotlight to point to issues bigger than themselves.   Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette  (Boyhood) talked about her developing-world, water project and about equal pay for women.  Eddie Redmayne who won Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything paid homage to those with ALS and those working to find treatments and a cure.  Jullianne Moore who won Best Actress for Still Alice, also acknowledged those with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • I didn’t see it yet.   This year there were only 8 movies nominated for best picture (out of a potential of 10) and still I found very few people, even among my Hollywood film-buff friends who bothered to see all the films.  I did not find many people rooting for films for Best Picture in part because they did not think their favorite would win even if it had been nominated.   Birdman may have been the darling of the ball (Best Picture, Director and Screenplay), but it was not a great box office draw (only $38 million domestic).
  • What are we going to about the Animation Category?  I have a theory:  I do not think Academy voters really watch the Animated Films either in the nomination process or in the final balloting.  How did The Lego Movie not get nominated and not win best animated picture?  It was a more entertaining film with sophisticated humor that could reach children and adults.   If you did not enjoy The Lego Movie, chances are you did not see it.  Big Hero 6 was fun and touching but it had huge marketing that drove the voting.
  • Hollywood Remembers their Dead.    In the Catholic Tradition we remember the dead in the month of November.   Every year the Oscars have an In Memoriam Segment.  As the month of November falls in the year, so the segment falls near the end of the program.  It was touch to see people and remember the work they had done.

  • A great film released early can still get attention.  Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy Grand Budapest Hotel was released in late March 2014 and yet still was a contender for many awards and took home two statuettes on Sunday.   For marketing reasons, distribut0rs load up the end of the year with their most award worthy films which crowds up the month of November, December and to some extent January.  All of these are holiday times, busy for most people.   People pick and choose the films they can afford to fit in.  Some great films go unseen, even though they generate considerable buzz. Please give some great films in April and May this year.
  • Richard Linklater made film history with Boyhood.  We not only watched a boy grow up over the course of 12 years, but also his parents.  I am often saddened and disturbed by some of the aspects of relationships, marriage and family that Linklater portrays in his films (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise) but he really captures a sense of our culture in the times we live.  They are very real.  He points out the struggles but also the joy, wonder and power of love, of reconciliation and of communication.

Hollywood Boulevard is open again the red carpet is rolled up and on its way to storage.  Got any predictions for Oscar 2016 yet?


Family Website Review: What’s Up Moms?

A great Mom who created a great website

A great Mom who created a great website

The What’s up Moms? website breaks every mom-stereotype and creates a haven of humor for mothers who are seeking a refuge from judgments and self-inflicted high standards, all the while giving them useful tips on how to become better Mommies.

Elle, the founder and main mom, is “passionate about filmmaking and finding ways to be a great mom”-as she says at the start of every clip. She is the new “Everyman,” or shall we say, “Everymom.”  At a time when motherhood is sometimes considered inferior to having career, Elle and her friends show us that being a great Mom is a great life – that having a social life and balance is necessary to being a great mommy.  You see them going to YouTube conventions, going on friend dates and concerts, and working from home around the kids’ sleep schedules.    Elle makes a convincing case that it’s one of the most fulfilling job a woman could have.

Her YouTube Channel is made up of very creative and entertaining videos of all genres, from parodies of popular songs to clever home-made short films;  from arts and crafts to cooking segments; and videos pertaining to everything a mom needs to know from keeping a routine,  brushing a toddlers’ teeth,  keeping an organized car, and celebrating holidays and traditions.  The Dads also join in on the fun.  No, they are NOT made to look like buffoons, but like the heroic lovers, providers, and amazing babysitters that they are.All the family gets in the shot

“Late for Preschool” is one of Elle’s most viewed clips, and my personal favorite.  It shows Elle trying to get her daughter Presley to pre-school on time but getting stuck in a “Ground Hog’s Day”/”Edge of Tomorrow” kind of time-vortex.  She will have to relive that morning until she gets every part of her routine perfect.  This clip combines Elle’s two passions very effectively – as does the “Home Backwards” video  where she goes as far as learning a song backwards in order to make the special effects work.

While some of her earlier segments, like  “How to get hit on while pregnant”, slightly pushes the envelope, the Catholic spirit of motherhood abounds.  She doesn’t talk about religion, however her motherhood seems to be pushing her in the direction of virtue.  In the Halloween segment, she mourns the death of her partying days.  While She is pregnant with Ford and Presley is 2, she marries their Dad making her “unofficial husband” official. But at the start of that clip she states: “I think you should go in the correct order for SO many reasons maybe the silliest of which is that it’s really, really hard to plan a wedding once you have a baby.”

The success of this channel is staggering, advertisers line up for Elle to endorse their brands.  The record breaker with over 16 million views, is “I’m so Pregnant” – a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “I’m so Fancy”.  It features Meg while she is 9 months pregnant, making light of the discomforts of pregnancy. In an age when there seems to be so many attacks on the family, it is so great to know that there are more than 200,000 subscribers.

Only moms can understand how tough it is putting up with sleep deprivation, crazy routines, and difficulties, but from that comes the greatness of the life.  You make a mistake, you laugh, you learn, and if you are like Elle, you chronicle it with a video-selfie, you add a little mommy-magic (which sometimes involves a special effect or two), you post it on line so other moms will benefit, and you become a YouTube sensation in the process… :-)


You Tube to Launch a Kids App: Fun for kids, a relief to Parents

imagesWe at Family Theater Productions have  watched the growing demand for family content across almost every media platform.  You Tube is the latest media company to recognize the need  for family content and so the potential for wider audiences.  USA Today reports that You Tube is prepared to launch a kid friendly App on February 23, 2015.

USA Today quoted the project’s group product manager, Shimrit Ben-Yair: “Parents were constantly asking us, can you make YouTube a better place for our kids,”  He further noted that family-friendly fare is a booming business on YouTube. “(Year over year) we’ve seen 50% growth in viewing time on YouTube, but for our family entertainment channels, it’s more like 200%.”YouTube_Kids_Screenshot.0

The App will feature curated content just for small children with filters to keep them from seeing scary or more adult material.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the App will have content from favorites like Thomas the Train and Sesame Street  It reportedly will also allow parents to follow what their children watch and to set timers on the use of the App.  You Tube opens up for itself a new market to the youngest  audience members, getting them while their young to be lifelong users of the site.

Initially the App will only be available  for Android devices, but it is expected that there will be an Apple friendly version available sometime in future.