Catholic Charities Bets on Super Bowl 50 to Help the Needy

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Obviously, God doesn’t take sides in who wins Super Bowl or any other sporting contest. His goal is the salvation of the players, and sometimes a win helps that, sometimes a loss. So, however Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 (or as we Latin-lovers would prefer it, Super Bowl L) turns out, we can be confident that God’s good with it.

But, if the game can be also used to do good, well, all the better. Here’s a press release that shows just how that is happening right now.

CHARITY BOWL 50:

Denver and Charlotte Catholic Charities kickoff a challenge for a cause

Denver, CO and Charlotte, NC—In anticipation of the big game next Sunday, Feb. 7, a friendly wager began between the heads of Catholic Charities in Denver and in Charlotte to face-off in Charity Bowl 50, an online fundraising challenge to help serve those in most need and show the most team spirit.

Last week, Catholic Charities of Charlotte CEO and Executive Director Gerry Carter and Catholic Charities of Denver CEO and President Larry Smith agreed to make a play to each raise $50,000 by the end of the game, when the two cities’ football teams will play each other Feb. 7.

“It’s a worthy cause that will have a major impact on the lives of the poor and needy in each of our communities,” Carter said. “All of our team’s fans and Catholic Charities in the Carolinas look forward to this challenge, and the inevitable victory that will be ours.”

Smith responded that Denver is not afraid of a challenge.

“Through Charity Bowl 50, Denver football fans have a real opportunity to show they have the best team spirit and a real passion for serving others,” Smith said.

“This challenge is a true win for both Denver and Charlotte, but there’s no doubt we will seize the victory.”

Anyone can participate in Charity Bowl 50 to help one of the charities raise the most money by donating online at CharityBowl50.org. The fun competition is intended for fans across the nation to give a gift for a worthy cause.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver has provided shelter and housing, women’s services, and family and child services to more than 77,000 people in the community in 2015. Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte offers services to transition families out of poverty, counseling, refugee assistance and resettlement, immigration, disaster relief and educational events to more than 19,000 people a year.

Before the challenge began, Smith and Carter agreed to some Charity Bowl rules. All donations made online at CharityBowl50.org from midnight January 31 through the end of the football game Feb. 7 will be tallied and counted toward the total amount raised.

The winning charity’s CEO will hold a victory celebration when charity employees will dump cold sports drink over him. The losing charity’s CEO will dress in the opposing team’s colors and send a message of congratulations to the other charity. The winning charity is not determined by the score of the actual football game. The donations received by each charity are visible on CharityBowl50.org. An hour after the football game ends, the final donation results will be tallied and published.

Denver and Charlotte’s Catholic Charities encourage media and the community to share this information and give to help those in need at CharityBowl50.org. The competition can be tracked on social media with the hashtag #CharityBowl50.

As of this writing, Denver is slightly ahead with $10, 279, with Charlotte trailing with $9,633. Come on, Panther fans, let’s get in this! And you Broncos fans — are you going to let them catch up?

We got people to feed here!

Image: Catholic Carolina Panthers player Luke Kuechly (YouTube screenshot)

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Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Prime and Hulu: Streaming Pope Francis

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As befits a pope of the digital age, there are plenty of opportunities to see the pontiff online, both in his own words and others’.

Today, in a piece called “The Francis Effect Hits Netflix,” Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Website takes a look at three short documentaries streaming right now on the subscription service: “The Rise of Hope” (English), “The Pope From the End of the World” (Spanish) and “A Pope for Everyone” (Spanish, click here for a preview). English subtitles are available.

The article (click here for the whole thing) offers capsule reviews, with mixed results. Here’s a sampling …

On “The Rise of Hope”:

[The film] is well-crafted and in-depth look at Francis’ years in Argentina, including an interview with one of his sisters. But early on, it frames Francis as an agent of social justice divorced from the dictates of orthodoxy.

On “The Pope From the End of the World”:

[It] sets off almost instantly on the wrong foot, offering a hyperpolitical reading of Benedict’s resignation and Francis’ early years in Buenos Aires. The scattered clips and melodramatic soundtrack land us in a hodgepodge of hysteria around the Jesuits and prophecies of Malachy and Nostradamus, giving the impression that Francis is, at best, a cunning political strategist, and at worst, a harbinger of the end times.

But, regarding “A Pope for Everyone”:

 [The film] soars far above the other two documentaries and should be the go-to choice. … the documentary never loses sight of the fact that Francis is impelled by, and thinks with, the Church’s teachings, liturgy and sacraments. When Bergoglio “takes flesh” in the suffering of his people (as the narrator puts it), he faces earthly issues in and through a keen awareness of spiritual reality, reflecting the sacramental logic of Catholicism.

Fortunately, “A Pope for Everyone” is also available from Amazon Prime Instant Video (click here; membership required, as with Netflix) and Google Play (click here).

Oddly, although the Word on Fire piece uses “The Francis Effect” in the title, it doesn’t mention the actual documentary by that name, produced by Salt and Light TV.

Here’s how it’s described at Amazon Prime, where it’s available for streaming with an Amazon Prime membership.

The Francis Effect takes a critical and in-depth look at how an ancient institution is rapidly changing under the leadership and vision of Pope Francis, and exclusive interviews with prominent Catholics and non-Catholics reveal that Francis is having a profound effect on the world as well.

But you don’t have to sign up to watch all long-form pieces featuring the pope.

Hulu offers NBC News’ coverage of his full address to a joint meeting of Congress, last September in Washington D.C. It launches with an ad and then can be streamed without a Hulu subscription. Click here for that. After it’s over, Hulu also offers other NBC News clips of the pontiff’s Apostolic Visit to the United States. There are also ABC News clips available.

In addition, Hulu offers for free-streaming the 2013 documentary “Francis: The Pope From the New World,” produced by the Knights of Columbus. It also begins with an ad. Click here.

The full film has been posted on YouTube as well, strangely under the category of “Autos & Vehicles,” which means the KofC could realize it’s there one of the days, and it may go away. In the meantime, click here.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Vatican Refutes Claim of Pope’s Big Movie Debut

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The other day, this blog (click here for that) and a host of entertainment sites and publications reported on a press release from AMBI Pictures, stating:

His Holiness Pope Francis portrays himself in the inspirational story based on the Gospels, told in several tales with Jesus’s message, so children can learn and incorporate Jesus’s parables.

The idea for the feature film emanated from Pope Francis asking the filmmakers to do a movie for children that communicates Jesus’s message.

Pope Francis is willing to participate in the movie to support charity as all profits from “Beyond the Sun” will be donated to two selected charities – El Almendro and Los Hogares de Cristo (located in Argentina) which support Pope Francis’ social and spiritual message within the film. These organizations help aid at-risk children and young adults in need.

It turns out that this bold claim is a bit less than it looks like — and it may just be a case of good old Hollywood hype.

From a report yesterday at Vatican Radio:

(Vatican Radio) The Prefect of the recently established Secretariat for Communications, Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, has refuted press reports claiming Pope Francis “will play himself” in an upcoming film.

The film production company ENVI Pictures issued a statement on Monday saying Pope Francis will appear in the film “Beyond the Sun.”

“The Pope is not an actor,” Msgr. Viganò said.

He added that no scenes for the movie were filmed “for purpose,” although he does not exclude “as has happened before, video clips of the Pope  could appear in the film.”

Any profits from the film are being used to support two Argentinian charities for children.

So, it looks like the pope will be in the movie, but he’s just not doing anything special for them.

Ah, well, that’s showbiz!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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FX’s ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story': The Kardashians and God

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Starting tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” is a 10-part miniseries dramatically recreating the 1994 murders of the former NFL player’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and an acquaintance of hers, Ron Goldman, the investigation, and Simpson’s subsequent murder trial.

Click here for a post I did at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos.com, in which I give my review and lay out more of the particulars about the production and cast (as you can see above, John Travolta plays Robert Shapiro, and David Schwimmer plays Robert Kardashian, two members of Simpson’s defense team, with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson).

I’ve seen six of the 10 episodes, and the series is top-notch, and nowhere near as racy and violent as a lot of FX’s other scripted fare (but definitely not suitable for kids younger than high school). But what caught my eye is something I didn’t expect — the presence of a Bible and prayer.

Robert Kardashian, who died in 2003 at the age of 59, was a Los Angeles lawyer and businessman whoRobert_Kardashian_Sr became friends with Simpson in the early 1970s. When Simpson panicked after the murders and failed to turn himself into authorities — later embarking on the famed “white Bronco chase” around L.A. with friend A.J. Cowling at the wheel — Kardashian had tried to calm him down.

In the miniseries, Simpson is seen frantic, threatening to kill himself with a handgun, at Kardashian’s home, as the lawyer pleads with him not to commit suicide “in Kimmy’s bedroom.”

(Incidentally, the scene was shot in the home where Kardashian lived at the time.)

“Kimmy” is Kim Kardashian West, wife of rapper Kanye West, and Simpson’s goddaughter. She is one of four siblings, with sisters Khloe and Kourtney, and brother Rob. They later became reality-TV stars with an E! series called “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which premiered a couple of years after their father died. Kardashian was married to their mother, the former Kris Houghton, now Kris Jenner, from 1978 to 1991.

The Kardashian children appear in a few scenes in the miniseries, when they ranged in age from teen to grade school.

A loyal friend, Kardashian reactivated his law license to volunteer to be at Simpson’s side during his murder trial.

In the miniseries, Kardashian — portrayed warmly by Schwimmer as a man very interested in being a father to his children — talks to his kids at a restaurant, saying, “We are Kardashians, and in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous. Fame is fleeting. It’s hollow. It means nothing at all without a virtuous heart.”

According to writers Larry Kraszewski and Scott Alexander, they took “creative liberties” with the dialogue, so we don’t know if Kardashian ever said anything like these exact words to his children. But they are poignant, in light of the determination shown by the Kardashian siblings and their mother to wring every drop of fame they could out of the family name and notoriety.

Later on, the siblings see Kardashian on television reading a note from Simpson that was interpreted as a suicide note, and begin chanting their name. As quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, Alexander said:

Larry and I love irony, and we thought what if we just heightened this idea that by watching him on the TV that one day inadvertently creates the Kardashian empire. [Robert] would be rolling over in his grave.

The Reporter also revealed that Schwimmer spent a good deal of time on the phone with Kris Jenner:

… from whom he says he learned “how much a man of faith Robert was, how he prayed at every meal and before every big business meeting and how he was this very compassionate, generous guy.”

Kardashian was of Armenian descent and a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church, into which he baptized his children. According to reports and photos at the time, Kim Kardashian West and her husband traveled to Jerusalem in the spring of 2015 to have their daughter, North, also baptized into the faith, at the 12th Century Saint James Cathedral, before visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As Schwimmer saw it, Kardashian — whatever his ex-wife and children did after his death — was the one member of Simpson’s legal entourage not seeking to spin it to his advantage.

At a press event in Pasadena in January, he said:

… so he was really only on the defense team to, in a way, babysit O.J., and be there for counsel to O.J., and to represent him and to look after his best interests.  And for me, the real appeal of the role was when it was presented to me as Robert being the heart and the conscience of the whole thing.  He’s the only person of the key players who has nothing to gain.

Gooding interjected:

And as a spiritual guide.

Schwimmer continued:

And, yeah, he was a deeply religious man.  A man of great faith.

At times in the miniseries, Kardashian is seen holding a Bible and heard praying out loud.

Regarding his conversations with Kris Jenner, Schwimmer said:

She was incredibly generous with her time, and very open about her relationship to Robert.  And I think the single greatest thing I got from her was the inside about how religious he was, how much a man of great faith he was, that he had a very personal strong, relationship to God, prayed every day, several times a day.

For me, that really helped inform the character and helped me understand the decisions he was making at the time.  And the challenge of ‑‑ or the question, rather, that we all kind of explored — was that faith challenged or did he have any kind of crisis of faith? Were his beliefs ever … did they waiver at any time, and did they change?  So that’s what the series dramatized and explored for Robert’s character at least.

I haven’t seen the final four episodes, so I can’t answer Schwimmer’s question, but one does wonder, if Kardashian had lived, whether his daughters — and to a lesser extent, his son — would have become pop-culture icons who, as it has often been said, have become famous simply for being famous.

Images: Courtesy FX, Wikimedia Commons

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Pope Francis Makes His Big-Screen Debut in Gospels-Inspired Movie (UPDATED)

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2/3/2016 UPDATE: Click here to read a message from the Vatican clarifying the details of this announcement — in short, “The Pope is not an actor.”

Today, Feb. 1, a press release revealed that the Bishop of Rome would be playing himself in a new film, marking the first time that a pontiff has played a part in a big-screen project.

From the press release:

His Holiness Pope Francis portrays himself in the inspirational story based on the Gospels, told in several tales with Jesus’s message, so children can learn and incorporate Jesus’s parables.

The idea for the feature film emanated from Pope Francis asking the filmmakers to do a movie for children that communicates Jesus’s message.

Pope Francis is willing to participate in the movie to support charity as all profits from “Beyond the Sun” will be donated to two selected charities – El Almendro and Los Hogares de Cristo (located in Argentina) which support Pope Francis’ social and spiritual message within the film. These organizations help aid at-risk children and young adults in need.

“Beyond the Sun” is a family adventure story where children from different cultures emulate the apostles while searching for Jesus in the world around them. The film will be uplifting and is intended to spiritually engage and encourage audiences of all ages to transmit Jesus words, to understand them and integrate them to live a better life, make good choices and help others.

Graciela Rodriguez wrote the film’s screenplay based on her own concept.

Financing and producing the film are Andrea Iervolino and Lady Monika Bacardi, co-founders of AMBI Pictures, which has offices in Rome and Los Angeles, with Rodriguez and Gabriel Leybu as co-producers.

Said Iervolino — who shot his first film at 15 in a church in his hometown of Cassino, Italy — in a statement:Pope-Francis-Andrea-Iervolino

Our excitement and gratitude toward His Holiness, Pope Francis participating in this film is beyond words. This is not just a movie for us, it’s a message, and who better to have on your side to deliver an important societal and spiritual message than the Pope. … This movie will provide funds to support extremely worthwhile causes that we take very seriously. This message and cause are very dear to the entire AMBI family and we are honored and inspired by the level of collaboration from the Vatican.

Lady Bacardi is the widow of Luis Adalbert Facundo Gomez de Campo Bacardi, a descendant of the Bacardi rum fortune, founded in Cuba in the late 19th century. Bacardi himself was born in Cuba in 1933 but left at the age of 29, and lived largely in Europe, primarily Monaco, until his death in 2005. Already at least twice-divorced, he married the Italian-born Monkia in 2000, and they have one daughter, Maria Luisa.

In 1988, Bacardi paid the British Earl of Kimberly the right to be called the Lord of the Manor of Bayfield Hall cum Coston. Hence, his widow has the right to be called Lady of Bayfield Hall, but she goes by Lady Bacardi.

In a statement, she said:

It is a great honor for Andrea and I to have the opportunity to work with His Holiness, Pope Francis, to spread the awareness of his message, through this film. We will make a movie everyone involved with can be proud of. Not only will families from around globe enjoy this film and be entertained, but they will be moved. There are creative ways to help those in need all over the world and we hope this film does just that. We appreciate Pope Francis’s permission to film him and use his image in our movie.

Principal photography is set to begin on “Beyond the Sun” in early 2016 in Italy. Monsignor Eduardo Garcia will act as the pope’s advisor. It’s not clear if he’s the same Eduardo Garcia who is the Bishop of San Justo, Argentina, the pope’s home country.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, courtesy AMBI Pictures

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Paramount’s ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Reboot & the Problem With Remakes

Little-House-on-the-Prairie-Logo

Weirdly, “Little House on the Prairie” fans may have hackers to thank if their beloved series winds up with a big-screen reboot.

Sony Pictures began the development process on a movie version of the long-running (1974-1983) NBC Western drama based on the semi-autobiographical series of children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The original starred Michael Landon and Karen Grassle, as Charles (Pa) and Caroline (Ma) Ingalls, who lived with their children, natural (Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush, Wendi and Brenda Turnbaugh) and adopted (Matthew Laborteaux, Jason Bateman, Missy Francis), on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s.

(Incidentally, Missy Francis now goes by Melissa Francis and is currently a business journalist for Fox Business Network and Fox News.)

In the wake of the epic hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment last year — called, in a Forbes article, “The Hack of the Century” — which included the release of many embarrassing and sensitive emails, Sony head Amy Pascal was forced to step down, with Tom Rothman replacing her. In June, Variety reported that Rothman looked at the $45M price tag on “Little House” and axed it.

Paramount Studios then picked up the project in turnaround, attaching director Sean Durkin and British writer Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady,” TV’s “The Hour”). There’s no casting yet announced, nor a projected release date.

Family- and faith-oriented films have had some recent successes at the box office — including “Mom’s Night Out,” “God’s Not Dead” and “The War Room” — and on TV, most notably with NBC’s big ratings for “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors” in December.

The “Little House” movie also represents a trend that I discussed here yesterday, with film and TV studios mining entertainment archives for projects to reboot or remake, that have instant name recognition and a built-in audience.

This has had decidedly mixed results. There have been some successes — such as A&E’s “Psycho” prequel, “Bates Motel,” and the recent reboot of “24” on Fox — but more often than not, the results are disappointing. If you think about it in terms of context, though, it’s not hard to understand.

A few fictional creations endure throughout time. For example, Shakespeare’s plays have been around for half a millennium, have been interpreted in many ways, and still remain relevant. The same is true of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who’s currently a hit in primetime TV with CBS’ “Elementary” and PBS’ “Sherlock.” Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” is still widely read and has been put on film and television in different forms (including a current one that adds zombies).

But there are plenty of other books, plays, movies and TV shows that were very much products of their time, and once that time has passed, it’s near-impossible to recapture the magic. That’s often due to the sensibilities of the executives and creative types brought in to manage the new version, and to changing times and tastes.

Those who turned “Little House” into a TV show back in the ’70s were raised in a different world than today’s filmmakers, and that world had different values, standards and expectations. This is a much more cynical time in entertainment, and there’s great pressure to include explicit sexuality (in many different forms), violence and profanity

Although “Little House,” like “The Waltons,” was hardly the fluffy-bunny-party some make it out to be, and dealt with a lot of difficult issues, the restraint and essential sweetness that made up its charm is hard to reproduce in the modern entertainment environment. Also, considering that this is a film from a major studio, expectations will be high for it to perform well, and a relatively quiet family drama like “Little House” doesn’t seem like blockbuster material.

More news if we have it …

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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