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.



Film’s Impact

The Imitation GameI learned at an early age the profound impact that film could have on me. 

When I was about twelve years old, my dad bought a television for my room.  I quickly got into the habit of turning it on when I couldn’t sleep and soon discovered that PBS (among others) would run old movies until the wee small hours of the morning.  Remember, that was 1972 B.C. (before cable).  As yet, there was no HBO, AMC or Netflix, and most stations signed off soon after midnight. For someone who couldn’t sleep, prospects were bleak. On one particular night, I stumbled upon a movie titled The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jennings, about an elderly professor who falls for a cabaret singer. I remember sitting in my bed, watching as the film reached its climax; the singer humiliates the professor and causes him to break down.   I remember sitting in my bed and sobbing uncontrollably.  The Blue Angel really stayed with me and soon after, I saw (for the very first time) It’s a Wonderful Life.  Once again, I found myself sobbing after George Bailey opened Tom Sawyer to find a final message from his guardian angel, Clarence. 

A good film should move you, should elicit an emotion; from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Imitation Game, a really good film always provokes some sort of feeling.  It should leave you awash in emotion, if not completely drained.  Even a comedy can have the power to change you. 

Take a movie like Moonstruck or St. Vincent – at the end you have laughed…I hope, but you’ve also experienced the same emotions that the characters did.  This is the power of a good film: the catharsis that bubbles up from the experience, and that raw emotion is how you know you’ve seen a good film.  It doesn’t matter what the critics say or what awards it has been nominated (or passed over) for, what matters is whether or not the film has made an impact on you.  Did you laugh, did you cry, did you leave yourself for a couple of hours and return a little different?  Did it make you rethink your opinions?  For me, Dead Man Walking forced me to reconsider my support for the death penalty and Philadelphia really helped to put a face on the AIDS epidemic and helped to make me think about my own personal prejudices. A really good film has the power to change the way you think. 

In the brilliant but underappreciated documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies, Mr. Scorsese quotes another great director, Frank Capra: “Film is a disease.  When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone.  It plays Iago to your psyche, and (as with heroin) the antidote to film is more film.”  What an addiction!

"A Personal  Journey"


“Paddington” Keeps the Whole Family Entertained

UnknownPaddington, the hit film directed by Paul King, has been in the box office top five for weeks.  It shows that a family that welcomes life reaps many blessings, in spite of and even because of all the perceived inconveniences that come with it.  Selflessness and heroic generosity as Paddington Bear illustrates, result in greater love and a stronger family. The film does justice to the vision of the book author, Michael Bond, whose lovable character has stolen the hearts of children for over half a century and will reach even more fans through this sure-to-become-a-classic, big-screen version.

The film begins deep in Peru, where expeditionist  Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie), trains two bears in British customs: the English Language and various Anglo traditions, including the making of Orange Marmalade.  Time elapses in the jungle, and this training sticks with the two smarter-than-it-seems bears.   Enter the sweet and loving, yet accident prone Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who is brought up in a proper English manner by these two bears who raise him to be a polite, big hearted and oh so British Paddington Bear.

After Paddington sufficiently steals viewers’ hearts, a traumatizing event rips his family apart.  In search of a new home, young Paddington travels to London.  Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, and waiting for a helping hand, Paddington starts to see that city life in London was not nearly all that it was cracked up to be.  Just then, Paddington is found by the very loving Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins), her rigid husband (Hugh Bonneville), and two teen children (Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin).  Intrigued by the label around his neck (‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’) by his politeness, his thoughtfulness, and unique demeanor  – I mean, how often does one find a bear that can talk in the middle of a train station –  the Browns offer Paddington a temporary place to stay until he can find a home . The determined Paddington strives to find his new home, and in the process finds that a home isn’t only a place to live. It is a place of rest and order.  It is a haven in the big city and the potentially dangerous characters that live therein such as Millicent (Nicole Kidman), an unscrupulous taxidermist who relentlessly pursues Paddington. A family moved by a bear.

But as the movie progresses, the Brown family, whom Paddington has strengthened and blessed becomes a stronger unit, a force to be reckoned with, and (Spoiler Alert) the very haven he had sought when he came London.

Paddington is quality, wholesome family entertainment.   As a mother of 3 little ones under the age of five, it is always a gamble to risk ten dollars going to the movies with a toddler who might cause a ruckus to a fellow viewer.  However my precocious 5 year old girl was riveted – as was her 4 year-old sister.  My 20-month-old music and gadget loving toddler-boy was engaged with the film’s colorful visuals and beautiful score; other than a prevention of climbing the seats to play peek-a-boo with another spectator – he required minimal motherly intervention.  My husband, an avid book reader, moviegoer, and harsh critic of all things story was laughing out loud at all the punch lines.   As for Mom’s verdict – there was never a time when I asked myself if my smart daughter could understand any offensive double entendres.    I would say the risk was worth the price of admission.

Paddington, the movie, shows family as a haven from potential threats of the big bad world that surrounds us, but even more a place of love and acceptance, the kind of place we hope that every child and bear could experience.