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Netflix’s ‘Dogs’ Will Give You All the Fido Feels

On Nov. 16, Netflix is going to set tails a’wagging with the streaming premiere of Dogs, a six-part cinema vérité series exploring bonds between humans and canines around the world. So, sit, stay and learn what it’s all about.

The Netflix Original Documentary Series — a real switch from such recent true-crime fare as Making a Murderer and The Keepers — travels to Syria, Japan, Costa Rica, Italy and the U.S. to profile the love between dogs and people.

It’s gonna be a heart-tugger, so get out those hankies (and grab a warm puppy, if you have one).

Who’s Behind Dogs?

If you’re wondering if the folks producing this series really love dogs, meet executive producer Glen Zipper, a former criminal prosecutor whose life was forever changed by his encounter with a shelter puppy named Anthony. After adopting Anthony days before he was to be euthanized, Zipper was inspired to become a shelter volunteer.

Eventually, that led him to leave his job as a lawyer, pack up Anthony and drive cross-country to L.A. to tell stories. In an essay provided by Netflix, he writes:

For the last 14 years — through successes and many more frequent failures — Anthony has always been there for me. With his wagging tail at the door after a long, hard day; with his smiling face always managing to pierce the gloomiest of moods; and most importantly, with his constant, unrelenting, unconditional love.

Dogs don’t just make us feel loved; dogs make us feel safe. They allow us to venture out into the world, take our lumps and come back to the best friend any of us could ever want or imagine.

In the world we live in today, no matter how divided we are, we should take care to realize how dogs can bring us together. Our love for them speaks to our unanimity of needs: love, friendship, companionship, loyalty. We all want these qualities in our lives, and dogs are the only souls on this planet who guarantee us each and every one of them in spades.

Our series Dogs is created in this spirit — to honor our dogs, and to help us realize that a love for dogs is something we all have in common. Understanding this, it is also our hope that sharing these stories might help us find more ways to love each other.

How Should Christians Think About Dogs?

I’ve always believed that dogs offer a mirror of our relationship with God. As God made us to love and serve Him, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him, so we have made dogs to love and serve us, and their hearts are restless unless they’re getting a belly rub.

As Christians, we should always put our fellow humans first, especially children. But caring for dogs, and being cared for by them, can open up windows in hardened human hearts and teach us much about the nature of love. One has to think every wagging tail is pleasing to God.

Here’s more on the episodes:

1: The Kid With a Dog

Directed by Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, One of Us)

Corrine, an 11-year-old girl with traumatic seizures, is paired with Rory, a dog trained to detect an oncoming seizure.

2: Bravo, Zeus

Directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil)

Ayham fled war-torn Syria for Germany, but had to leave his husky, Zeus, behind. He and his friends risk everything to bring Zeus out of Syria to safety.

3: Ice on the Water

Directed by Richard Hankin (The Jinx)

Italian fisherman Alessandro relies on his partner, Labrador retriever Ice, to be his companion and help in the family business.

4: Scissors Down

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (Life Animated)

Renowned California dog groomers fly to Japan to compete in a high-level grooming competition.

5: Territorio de Zeguates

Directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay (Undefeated, LA 92)

Dedicated people sustain a sanctuary deep in the Costa Rican rainforest that saves street dogs.

And, last but  not least …

6: Second Chances

Directed by Berg

The New York City charity Hearts and Bones travels to the south to return dogs to the Big Apple for adoption.

 

Will you be watching? Here’s a peek:

Images: Courtesy Netflix

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.

Halloween for Kids: Monsters, Kratts, Cat in the Hat & Veggie Tales

Wild Kratts: Creepy Creatures

Halloween prep for most families is well underway. This holiday provides a lot of opportunity for family bonding through decorating, planning costumes, visiting the pumpkin patch and watching Halloween-themed programming. However, for little kids, much of the available content can be too scary. Because of that, we’re providing a handful of viewing options that even the youngest of children can enjoy without worry …

Brand New!

Super Monsters Save HalloweenNetflix, began streaming 10/5

Created this year with the low “scare-threshold” of little kids in mind, Super Monsters Save Halloween is a sweet 24-minute special about getting everyone into the Halloween spirit and understanding that there’s really nothing to be afraid of.

Wild Kratts Halloween Movie: Creepy Creatures – Online and at the PBS KIDS Video App, began streaming 10/22

In an all-new movie special, the Kratt Brothers find themselves trying to figure out the best way to celebrate Halloween. In true Wild Kratts fashion, they decide that discovering some new creepy creatures is the best idea. But along the way, they run into some trouble that threatens to ruin Halloween.

Also check out all-new Halloween episodes of Ready Jet Go (started streaming 10/15, and online) and Pinkalicious & Peterrific (started streaming 10/22, and online) on the PBS KIDS Video App.

Returning Favorites

Room on the BroomNetflix, Amazon Prime

A kind witch, with her cat in tow, is on her broom and in search of a few lost items. In this 25 minute movie (released in 2012, but based on the 2003 book by Julia Donaldson), the good witch offers rides to a dog, a bird and a frog, who help her along the way. Though her cat is annoyed, everyone learns the benefit of including others when all the creatures band together to overcome a serious obstacle.

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About HalloweenAmazon Prime, the PBS KIDS Video App

First released in 2016, this one-hour special from the The Cat in the Hat Knows A lot About That! series, takes main characters Nick, Sally and their friend Fish on a crazy adventure (with mom’s permission!) to find Halloween costumes. Tackling the subject of being scared, the Martin Short-voiced Cat teaches the kids about its benefits and some antidotes too.

Religious Pick

VeggieTales: Where’s God When I’m ScaredYouTube

Though the animation is simplistic and will look dated to you, this VeggieTales episode provides a great lesson and a new game plan for young children who are having trouble dealing with the scary sights and sounds of Halloween and spooky things in general.

Here’s the whole thing:

Image: Courtesy PBS Kids

Korbi Ghosh Biggins is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo! She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

BASED ON: The Four Incarnations of ‘A Star Is Born’

(L-R) Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

The latest in a series by Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions …

A Star Is Born: 2018 version written and directed by Bradley Cooper, based on an original screenplay by Robert Carson. Directed by William A. Wellman in the original 1937 version; remade as a musical by George Cukor in 1954; revisited again by Frank Pierson in 1976.

(SPOILER ALERT: The fate of the main character in every version of this film will be revealed. Also, the current and second-most-recent versions of the film are both rated R.)

Having never seen any previous version of A Star Is Born, I can now say I’ve seen the first three thanks to my Filmstruck subscription, where the 1937, 1954 and 1976 films reside. Walking to the theater to catch the most recent Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper iteration, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why Hollywood feels obligated to remake this story for seemingly every generation. Is there some universal principle (beyond the obvious financial one) for the series of adaptations?

Viewing all four in binge-like fashion makes for an unintentional history of film, of sorts, particularly in their consideration of morality.

The affair between Esther Hoffman (Janet Gaynor) and Norman Maine (Frederic March) from the 1930s version is really only eluded to conversationally. Seventeen years later, the Esther (Judy Garland) and Norman (James Mason) affair is contextualized within a musical. It’s hard to tell whether the choice of genre reflects then, the conservativism of the 1950s or portends the vanity-fair, wink-wink approach to sexual mores in the decade to come.

Nevertheless, the Barbara Streisand-Kris Kristofferson version lands in the wake of the sexual revolution. It harbors none of the reservations its predecessors did.

In the 2018 adaptation, the pendulum surprisingly begins to swing the other way. While the two main characters do end up cohabiting, Lady Gaga’s “Esther” (renamed Ally) makes clear on their first date that she’s not a one-night groupie. The relationship eventually progresses to marriage — and a Christian one at that — officiated by one of Jackson Maine’s (Bradley Cooper) ordained-Protestant-minister friends.

Depression, substance abuse and the classic “to be or not to be” question fuel the narrative of the film. Here, too, we see the most recent adaptation treat the subject matter with better complexity and nuance than any previous try.

The 1930s and 1950s versions show the male lead walking into the Pacific Ocean at film’s end. Is he going for a swim and later accidentally drowns?  Or does he take his own life? If so, no one told the writer that self-drowning must be the hardest way to choose to go.

The 1970s version doesn’t even take up the subject matter, dispatching Kristofferson’s character in a car accident.

Bradley Cooper, however, disappears into his character, playing not only a convincing drunk, (as only James Mason capably did before him) but a full-fledged alcoholic descending into hell. Cooper’s rewrite of the role establishes motivation for Jackson Maine’s heavy substance abuse, whereas the three previous films made the over-generalizing claim that success and fame come with their inevitable job hazards.

Jackson Maine reconciles some of those old hurts, showing even the most self-loathing of sinners can still serve as vessels of God’s grace. Maine also noticed Ally’s supreme talent and encouraged her to sing, to write, to perform, thus accompanying her as she overcame her own insecurities.

The treatment of Maine’s final, tragic decision comes with sobering meditation. In one sense, the “why” is a mystery. His death came at a point when he was seemingly capable of self-love and of asking for and receiving mercy.

At the same time, the film makes abundantly clear it was singularly Maine’s decision … a disease may attenuate some culpability, but never fully absolves what is ultimately the person’s own choice. And perhaps, that is what justifies the repeated telling of A Star Is Born.

The rise to fame of the four female leads enthralls, to be sure. But celebrity stars are more akin to what we see in the night sky: some stars may have died out long ago — the lack of light having yet to travel to our corner of the universe. So, our cinematic and cosmological fascination may not lie in when stars are born, but when, in fact, they mysteriously die.

Image: 2018 version, courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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

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ABC’s New Catholic-Family Comedy ‘The Kids Are Alright’: So Far, So Good

Ever since I first saw the trailer for the new ABC sitcom The Kids Are Alright, about a big Catholic family of all boys, I’ve been dying to see it.

It looked funny, well-done, and most importantly, didn’t really look like it was a Catholic-bashing vehicle. Could it be, I asked myself? Was it possible that someone finally figured out how many unending storylines are inherent in a comedy about a huge Catholic family?

I eagerly gave it a watch (it premiered Tuesday, Oct. 16) to find out (official website here).

The premise of The Kids Are Alright …

Eight boys, a mom and a dad. Set in the ’70s. Catholics. Oldest brother is in the seminary and thinking of leaving. Middle brother has a case of middle-child syndrome. Lots of squabbling, light conflict and shenanigans. A voice-over from the middle brother all grown up, a la The Wonder Years.

That’s about it, and it’s enough.

(Also, forget about the weird title. The show has nothing to do with the ’60s song or that movie from 2010 about a lesbian couple’s family life).

The Kids Are Alright is pretty well-done …

We laughed out loud more than once as we watched the pilot. And it’s mostly so fast-paced that you can miss some of the jokes if you aren’t listening close or don’t have the closed captions on.

Decent acting, good snappy dialogue, and so far the storylines feel fresh enough and pretty fun.

And so far, The Kids Are Alright is fairly clean …

It’s rated PG, though definitely on the harder end of the PG spectrum. For example, we see a guy in bed, with the insinuation that he’d been sleeping with the bathrobed girl nearby; some quick shots of prostitutes and strip clubs in the background when kids end up in the wrong part of town; and a dirty joke told in passing by a priest (which did feel in pretty poor taste …).

As far as portrayal of the Catholic faith, really the only thing in the pilot (other than the priest’s joke) that chafed at all was a rapid-fire delivered statement from the mom about raising money for some mission society that baptizes babies before they die so the babies don’t go to hell (I’m paraphrasing). It was said super-fast and almost in the kind of way a real Catholic might have summarized it for the sake of brevity, but definitely not theologically correct in her word choice. If anyone actually caught it, it would put us in a bit of a bad light, but it was definitely not a huge plot point by any means.

Overall …

We’ll see if they can keep it up. I found myself kind of holding my breath through the whole episode, afraid it would suddenly turn in to a Catholicism-bashing-fest similar to ABC’s last Catholic family sitcom, The Real O’Neals.

But so far, it was mostly just fun and good entertainment.

UPDATE! From Oct. 25: Watched the second episode of The Kids Are Alright on ABC last night, and it was still good! Funny, well-done, and not bashing Catholics.

Episodes air on Tuesdays on ABC at 8:30 pm. ET/PT

Image: Courtesy ABC

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

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Martin Scorsese and Pope Francis Talk About Faith, Violence and the ‘Wisdom of Tears’

Earlier today (Oct. 23) in Rome, famed film director Martin Scorsese asked a question of Pope Francis, drawing on the Catholicism of his own childhood in New York and asking what older people can do to help young people maintain their faith “in this maelstrom.”

Have a look:

The Q&A came during an event for a new book called Sharing the Wisdom of Time, by Pope Francis and others, edited in English by Loyola Press and coinciding with the current Vatican synod focusing on young people.

Scorsese referenced the violence and suffering he saw on the streets as youngster and how that contrasted with the message of Christ, imparted through a favorite priest at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in the part of Manhattan currently called SoHo.

Interestingly, though Scorsese was asking about helping young people keep their Catholic faith — something he’s struggled with in his life and through his movies — the pope didn’t directly address that issue. Instead, he went for something a bit deeper in human psychology.

From Crux:

“Today we see more cruelty,” said Francis, answering a question posed by Scorsese.

“People act with more cruelty … cold cruelty, calculated to ruin someone else’s life. One of the forms of cruelty in this world that touch me in this world of human rights is torture. Torture is our daily bread, and it seems normal. No one talks about it. Torture is the destruction of human dignity.”

Francis said the key is in teaching young people that cruelty is the “wrong path,” helping them to have the “wisdom and gift to cry in the face of so much violence, cruelty, [and] destruction of human life. To cry is human and Christian.”

The pontiff suggested “empathy, closeness, non-violence, tenderness, all human virtues that seem small but are capable of putting an end to the most violent of events,” Francis said.

Scorsese’s relationship with Catholicism has been constant (he once was in minor seminary) but unsteady. In recent years, though, he seems to be drawing closer to the faith of his childhood.

In 2017, at a Catholic media conference in Quebec City, Canada, he appeared in person to answer questions from Paul Elie (who wrote this profile of Scorsese for New York Times Magazine) after a screening for attendees of his 2016 film Silence, about the cruel oppression of Catholics in 17th-century Japan (and the apostasy of a Jesuit priest, played by Andrew Garfield).

In late 2016, Scorsese said to the U.K. Catholic Herald:

“[Catholicism is] always in you,” he shrugs. “My search for faith has never really ended from when I became aware that there was such a thing as faith and started to look at how it’s acted out in your daily life. It’s in Mean Streets and it’s in Taxi Driver and it’s in Raging Bull, ultimately. And then The Last Temptation of Christ was a major step for me in trying to come to terms with these themes, these ideas of the Incarnation of Christ – what does it really mean?”

In the evening, after the Q&A, Scorsese joined the conference attendees at Mass, and later also at a dinner, where he accepted an award. Considering that, at the time, Silence had been neither a financial nor critical success, and the event wouldn’t change either of those — and that the journalists at the conference weren’t allowed to participate in the Q&A — I wondered that Scorsese made the trip all the way to Quebec City.

But, perhaps there was a deeper motive than just continuing to promote a movie, connected to Scorsese’s lifelong search to confirm faith. Click here for an extensive exploration by Catholic World Report of faith themes in Scorsese’s work (including the very controversial The Last Temptation of Christ) — which often, as Silence did, center on the theme of doubt.

From the Catholic World Report piece:

Yet what I call Scorsese’s “faith and doubt triptych” ultimately does affirm faith. This is consistent with Scorsese’s own attitude to his faith. In an interview published in Antonio Monda’s book Do You Believe?, containing interviews with famous artists and intellectuals, the filmmaker is asked if he considers himself to be a lapsed Catholic.

“Maybe ‘lapsed’ is too strong a term, and then I don’t know who can call himself both lapsed and Catholic,” Scorsese responded. “But what I meant is that I am not strictly orthodox, and in many ways I feel I haven’t respected the requirements of the Christian message. And yet I think that my Catholicism is part of my innermost self, and I’m sure it will always be that way.” When Monda asks Scorsese if he believes in God, he replies: “I don’t think I can give a precise answer. I think that my faith in God lies in my constant searching. But certainly I call myself a Catholic.”

It’s certainly paradoxical to consider oneself a Catholic and yet not be able to affirm a belief in God. On the other hand, remaining in a place of public doubt, or “constant searching,” can allow a person to give themselves permission to ignore Church teachings and live life according to their own inner dictates, while still maintaining an outward connection to faith.

There is value in the search for faith, but there is greater value in finding it — even if that means you might have to change your life. Maybe Scorsese could make a movie about that.

Image: YouTube screenshot/Catholic News Service

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.