BASED ON: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’: An Ending for Lorraine Warren, But for the Movie …

‘The Curse of La Llorona’/Warner Bros. Pictures

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

The Curse of La Llorona, a film written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis set within the The Conjuring Universe, whose films are based on the writings of the late Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Conjuring Universe is to me what the Marvel Universe is to everyone else. Presuming I, or my priest colleague at Family Theater Productions, haven’t already consulted on one of the films, I’m there on opening weekend for a good ‘ole-fashioned scare. This is true of the main Conjuring Warren-centered films: the Annabelle prequels, The Nun standalone, and this most recent offering, The Curse of La Llorona.

Interestingly enough, Lorraine Warren, a real-life lay Catholic exorcist died on Holy Thursday, in the Eastern time zone, which meant it was already Good Friday in other parts of the world — the only day of the year Catholics are forbidden from celebrating Mass. So unable to offer a Mass intention for the repose of her soul, I sought a more secular connection through the big screen.

According to Mexican folklore, the Weeping Woman, or “La Llorona,”in inspired by the story of a 17th-Century woman, who, through a case of jilted love, drowned her two sons in a river. Wracked with guilt, she took her own life. She now supposedly haunts children, looking for a new pair of siblings to take the place of her own departed kids. Obey your parents, or La Llorona will come for you, many Spanish-speaking parents warn their misbehaving offspring.

The filmmakers put a literal demonic twist to this folktale. The ghost seems to be possessed by a demonic spirit(s) and exhibits supernatural powers typically attributed to said spirit(s). The widowed mother (Linda Cardellini) and her son and daughter receive burns on their forearms from the Weeping Woman. Once attached to the family like spiritual glue, La Llorona antagonizes the poor family throughout the film.

The subject matter orbits a very contested realm of demonology: can the souls of a dead, wicked person become possessed by a demonic spirit? The greatest exorcist of modern time, the late Fr. Gabriele Amorth, SSP (of The Devil and Father Amorth fame) would say “No.” A soul goes to hell, heaven or purgatory upon death. A minority of Catholic exorcists disagrees. The film chooses this dissenting path for a new take on a familiar genre.

Father Perez (Tony Amendola, who also played the same character in the first Annabelle prequel) tells the widow the Archdiocese would take weeks to approve a spiritual intervention. Since the nature of the offending spirit remains murky, the family is left with the local curandero. Raymond Cruz plays Rafael Olvera, a former priest, still believing in most of Catholicism, but mixing it with the rituals of native spirituality, he’s a shaman of some Latin America kind. Logically, then, his syncretistic prayers prove only partially efficacious.

It’s ultimately fitting that I don’t know how the film resolved. In the film’s culminating scene, when one of the children drives a crucifix through the heart of La Llorona, the power in the movie theater cut out …

Here’s the trailer …

Image: Warner Bros.

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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‘Breakthrough’: DeVon Franklin and Chrissy Metz on the Powerful Prayer Story

(L to R) Topher Grace, Chrissy Metz, Marcel Ruiz of ‘Breakthrough’/Fox 2000/20th Century Fox

Hitting theaters on Wednesday, April 17, Breakthrough, from executive producer DeVon Franklin (The Star, Miracles From Heaven), is based on the true story of St. Louis teen John Smith, who broke through lake ice and was apparently dead for almost an hour, until, after his mother Joyce’s fervent prayer, he came back to life.

Directed by Roxann Dawson (the former actor’s first film, after directing lots of TV), and adapted by Grant Nieporte from Joyce Smith’s book, The Impossible, Breakthrough stars Marcel Ruiz as basketball-loving John; This Is Us star Chrissy Metz as Joyce; Josh Lucas as her husband, Brian; Topher Grace as their pastor, Jason; and Dennis Haysbert as John’s physician, Dr. Garrett.

BTW, John was taken to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, a Catholic pediatric medical center. The center’s website talks at length about the case here. And here’s a video:

Metz also did a song for the film, called I’m Standing With You, written by Diane Warren. Have a listen:

Thanks to Dawson, Breakthrough is more stylish than many faith-based films (it is a 20th Century Fox production), and its story does have the advantage of being true. It’s also backed up by a lot of medical evidence as to the unlikeliness of John’s survival and recovery.

The script lightly touches, but does not do a deep dive into, thorny issues like, why one person is miraculously saved and not another, or why not all prayers are answered.

Also lifting Breakthrough are the portrayals of the parents as less-than-perfect people. Metz’s plays Joyce as a fiercely devoted mother who can’t figure out how to make her Guatemalan-born adopted son feel wanted, but whose singleminded, almost manic determination that he would live rivals the emotional intensity of Metz’s high-drama This Is Us character. At the same time, Lucas’ Brian hangs back at the hospital, unable to match his wife’s intensity and refusing to face the situation head-on.

In the end, Breakthrough is affecting but not necessarily profound. We’re meant to celebrate the miracle without thinking about it too much. But it does leave room for people to draw their own conclusions, and that may make it interesting for secular audiences.

Recently, at a junket in Dallas, reporters got to sit down with the stars and producers. Here are some highlights:

From Franklin, on what he’d like people to take away:

The number one takeaway is that prayer works, love wins. Really when you think about it, it’s like why would Joyce pray that hard? ‘Cause of her love? I think that’s just so powerful. There’s so many films that celebrate superheroes that are great. Hey, those are billion dollar movies. But they’re all imagination; this is real. And what Joyce did is a real superhero doing a real superpower, which is faith and praying. So I really want people to take that away.

I want people to take away that they’re valued. We can go through life feeling that we’re alone, and that we don’t matter. This movie I think shows that we do matter. All of the people in the community that first responders, the pastor, the congregation, the basketball team, the teachers, the school, they all interceded for one. To me, if we do that, the whole culture changes for the better. We don’t do it enough. I think, I’m hoping, people will take that away when they leave the theater.

Metz on what she hopes people glean from the film:

That we’re stronger together than we are apart, and there’s all of these people on the planet to learn from, to teach, to learn, to grow, to evolve with each other, Otherwise there’d be one person on the planet. There’s a reason why we all look differently and like different things, come from different backgrounds, because we’re all here to teach each other, whether it’s empathy or tolerance or self-love in order to impart that on other people. So, I hope that that’s what people take away.

John Smith on what he’s heard since the story went public:

It’s just amazing to see how many responses we’ve gotten from atheists, from unbelievers. This has sparked curiosity regarding, “What is God?” And also the science part of it — that there is no answer for me. I say that respectfully. when there is 300-plus pages of medical documents of why I should be dead, but I’m alive.

So unbelievers see that and go “Oh, it can’t just be another God-based film.” Now we have doctors that are on our side to pull more unbelievers and to get them to believe that this is a bona-fide miracle. And the only person that can do this is God. And I truly believe that’s what separates us.

And, regarding his real mother, Smith said:

You mess with her, you’re in trouble. And her faith for God is just stronger than … I want to be like my mom, when it comes on to that sort of thing. Whether she is sick, ill, she never complains. It’s always “OK, God, I believe in you. This is just an attack. Let’s move forward. Let’s keep pushing back on the enemy.” That’s my mom in a nutshell.

Image: Fox 2000/20th Century Fox

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

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‘Eighth Grade’ Is a Well-Done Film, But Not for the Faint of Heart

Elsie Fisher, ‘Eighth Grade’/A24

I first heard about the coming-of-age indie film Eighth Grade some time ago when it was garnering a bunch of critical acclaim around the time it came out last year.

I stumbled upon an article about it that mentioned it was written and directed by a dude who is almost exactly my age, so I was immediately curious (and insecurely jealous, ahem …).

I’m not usually into coming-of-age stories about kids younger than mid-teens, and this one’s about a 13-year-old. But it came to Amazon Prime, so I figured I might as well see what all the fuss was about.

Eighth Grade Is Brutal

I mean that in every way you can imagine – I mean, except for, like, actual violence.

It’s the story of an awkward, insecure girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), as she nears the end of her eighth-grade school year. She has no friends, is tragically voted “most quiet” in her class. She basically hates her life. This girl wants desperately to fit in and has no idea how to do it.

Kayla makes online videos (which no one watches) to give “tips” about things like how to be confident, how to make friends, how to put yourself out there … the irony being that she herself doesn’t do any of these things.

We cringe for her over and over again, and honestly it’s kind of hard to watch at times.

My husband, who was doing homework nearby while I was watching this, asked me, “Is this movie funny?” And even though it’s supposed to be a dramedy, I responded without hesitation, “No.” There’s pretty much nothing funny about it.

Personally, I’d almost consider it more of horror movie than a comedy. Not horror in the normal sense of the term, but I was definitely horrified at it more than a few times.

A Real Eye-Opener

I don’t consider myself to exactly be estranged from, or oblivious, to the typical teen-aged existence these days. I love young-adult stories and I even spent a good amount of time as a middle-school substitute teacher. So I wasn’t really expecting to be shocked by anything in this movie.

But there are two areas that really stood out as shocking to me in this film. One is the sexual content.

Now it’s rated R and has a few nasty issues that might be kind of troublesome to some Catholic viewers – no actual sex scenes, but some sexual humor and a gross sequence where she’s looking up something sexual online.

But this 13-year-old girl’s whole social existence is so very wrapped up in sexuality.

The boy she likes is known for asking girls to send him nude photos. He asks her if she’ll do something sexual in order for him to go out with her.

Her acquaintances talk about sexting as if it’s nothing. And when an older teen guy tries to put moves on her, he references the future hook-ups he knows she will have.

I would expect this kind of content, and certainly not be shocked by it, if the people were, say, in their 20s. But these are 13-year-olds!

And we might say, “Oh that’s got to be exaggerated for dramatic effect.” I hope so. But I really doubt it is terribly exaggerated from what a lot of young teens are exposed to these days.

The other aspect that was kind of unexpected was how social media saturates this girl’s whole existence.

I had already read, before seeing it, that Eighth Grade made a bit of commentary on the social media and smartphone usage of today’s typical teen. So I was expecting some kind of cheesy, obvious, on-the-nose discussion of it, like in The Emoji Movie.

Instead, this movie showed social media and smartphones as almost like an extra body part for these characters.

There was no proselytizing on how we’ve lost our sense of real communication, etc. It was just that their lives were lived on and wrapped around this online world in a way that felt realistic, common, and still so very unhealthy. I’d say the movie does a good job making the point, without anyone really realizing it’s making a point.

This Is a Hard Movie to Watch

Eighth Grade is undoubtedly well-done and engrossing, with strong writing that avoids the trap of falling into cliché, and some pretty great acting. But its subject matter is hard.

You will cringe, a lot. And probably come away with a new appreciation for the fact that our modern society does not make it easy for a teen to be happy, emotionally healthy, or even good.

Perhaps I make it sound rather bleak. Well, so did this movie. Though it definitely offers some hope at the end, as we see that Kayla looks like she will be okay after all.

If you want to have a better idea of how teens live these days, watch this movie.

Personally, I’m glad I watched it. But I must admit that I am almost equal parts horrified and discouraged over it.

Image: A24

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter. Reposted with permission (and some minor edits) from A Thorne in the Flesh.

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‘Unplanned’ Surprises With a Strong Second Weekend

Ashley Brachter in ‘Unplanned’/PureFlix

In its first weekend after being released on March 29, the pro-life drama Unplanned grossed over $6M (recouping its production budget), but it didn’t disappoint in its second weekend.

The gross take was $3.2M (with 500 extra theaters), about half of weekend one, but good enough to keep the PureFlix-distributed film at number 8 on the BoxOfficeMojo.com list.

Obviously, people don’t just go to movies on weekends. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the current lifetime gross for Unplanned is about $12.5M.

Unplanned is based on a memoir by Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas who had a “road to Damascus” moment while watching an abortion procedure and became an ardent pro-life advocate.

The film’s success came about despite being turned down for advertising on almost all cable networks (except CBN and Fox News), receiving an R-rating, and having its Twitter account temporarily suspended on opening weekend.

Even the New York Times took notice:

“This movie tells the truth, and a lot of times we don’t get an opportunity to see that,” said Cheryl A. Riley, director of the Respect Life office for the Archdiocese of Newark, who organized the viewing and works with women who have had abortions.

Describing herself, like Johnson, as formerly in favor of abortion rights, Riley choked up while recalling her own experience terminating a pregnancy at 19: “I know that story, and I know that pain.”

From a story at Religion News Service:

“This film has been an overwhelming success,” said PureFlix CEO Michael Scott. “The amazing work of the filmmakers, actors and team behind bringing Abby Johnson’s story to audiences is helping to raise awareness to national and regional pro-life movements around the country. For one film to have such an impact with audiences that are showing up in such large numbers reinforces how important it is to bring this topic to audiences.”

The financial success of Unplanned may pave the way for other films presenting a view of hot-button topics that differs from that of most of Hollywood and the mainstream media.

And, by the way, appearing in the film as Abby’s attorney is Kaiser Johnson, who stars in our online series Catholic Central. More on him here.

Image: PureFlix Entertainment

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

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BASED ON: Father Vince Looks at the Catholic Soul of Netflix’s ‘Altered Carbon’

Joel Kinnaman in ‘Altered Carbon’/Netflix

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

Altered Carbon a Netflix series created by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel of the same title written by Richard K. Morgan.

Sci-fi writer Richard K. Morgan addresses the philosophy of extropy in his novel, Altered Carbon. A believer in this system trusts in improving the human condition until, one day in the future, science and technology advances to the point where humans live indefinitely. If this sounds farfetched, consider that Red Sox legend Ted Williams’ family chose cryogenic freezing upon his death in 2002.

So, for three years he held the mantle of “greatest living ballplayer” after Joe DiMaggio died in 1999 and willed a Catholic funeral Mass. Please forgive this cynical Yankee fan, but perhaps “Teddy Ballgame” intended to reacquire the mantle upon his “reactivation” in the year 2302.

Morgan’s novel, now adapted into a series on Netflix, indeed takes place 300 years in the future. The world’s technology has the ability to store consciousness in the brain, later downloading it into a body (or as the novel terms, “a sleeve”). The process is repeatable, affording denizens of this brave new world a type of immortality. Antihero Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), defeated in his first life leading a rebellion against the new world order, gets a second chance. If he solves a puzzling murder, he can keep his “sleeve.”

Engaging-noir-procedural aside, I thought the social commentary of the series to be the most intriguing aspect of the show. What would be the result of immortality? An Albert Camus quote came to mind, “A single sentence will suffice for modern man. He fornicated and read the papers.” The show gets the former correct. An Altered Carbon world reveals a society crazed with sex.

The culminating scene of season one ended up in a forbidden brothel floating above Earth and out of sight, named, literally, “Head in the Clouds.” With the latter, Camus overestimated man’s inclination towards the intellectual life. Characters in the show read not the papers, but blunt their minds with hard-core drugs. An interminable lifespan doesn’t seem as appealing as originally thought.

Enter into this spiritual wasteland, the Catholic Church. Other denominations accommodated the new technology, thereby compromising central Christian truths. Indistinguishable from anything else in the world, the denominations have long since disappeared. Only the Catholic Church remains, supporting the age-old truth that God gives us one life, pointing that one life to heaven.

A life without the promise of eternity is one thing; multiple lives without consequence further exacerbates the current degradation.

The Church in the future faces much of the criticism it absorbs now. The hot-button issue of the novel invites additional persecution. As the only institution seeking natural deaths, Catholics quickly become the only group of people murdered. If one kills a Catholic in this arrangement, the perpetrator has no fear of the deceased “re-sleeving” and seeking out revenge in their second life. Thus, the political subplot is an ironic one: outlaw the murder of those most critical of sleeving.

The television series adapts the book well and personalizes the Catholic faith. Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) loses her devout mother, a victim of one of the murders. The mother’s faithful witness brings Ortega back to belief. Without the recourse to re-sleeving and bringing her mother “back,” Ortega can only pray and assist her mother’s soul forward, to our Lord and eternal life with Him.

Ed. Note: Altered Carbon features plenty of sex, nudity and violence, and therefore is not suitable for the whole family. Click here for Common Sense Media’s analysis.

Image: Netflix

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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Ave Maria! A Dad Sings Schubert at Disney World and Brings Beauty to the Internet

Justin Gigliello/YouTube screenshot

A few days ago, Connecticut dad Justin Gigliello — who, as his Twitter bio states, is a private voice and piano teacher — mesmerized people in the lobby of the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney World with a rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria.

Now the clip has gone viral on Facebook and in news articles, and he’s mesmerized the world.

Here’s the YouTube version, with this description:

I am performing Ave Maria at Grand Floridian Resort in Walt Disney World. My daughter asked the pianist if I could sing with him while he played. I hope you enjoy!

Just look at how his daughter Lyla looks up at her dad, who has a bachelor’s degree in voice performance from the Boston Conservatory.

From Fox35Orlando (who didn’t quite get the name of the tune — or prayer — right):

The video shows Justin Gigliello singing ‘Ave Marie’ at the Grand Floridian. His daughter, Lyla, asked the man playing the piano if her dad could sing along while he played.

The original post of the video on Facebook has over 8,000 interactions and 5,900 shares. It has since been shared onto several different news outlets.

But what’s up with the jersey for former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman? Apparently, the current San Francisco 49er player noticed on Twitter:

Maybe Justin should be singing the National Anthem, either at Foxboro or in Seattle. What do you think?

Oh, and he’s also a volunteer firefighter.

To hear more from Justin Gigliello, here’s his YouTube channel and his Twitter.

Image: YouTube screenshot

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.