BASED ON: Father Vince Looks at the Best of the Rest at the Oscars, From ‘Free Solo’ to ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

Mary Poppins Returns/Walt Disney 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.

As Academy Awards night (February 24) approaches, here’s the skinny on the Oscar-nominated sequels of original movies or films based on the denoted source material. See previous posts for more detailed essays on the five films nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Incredibles 2

As much as I loved the first Incredibles movie, you’d think that after a decade plus interlude, the filmmakers would have come up with a more original plotline than the government suppression of vigilante justice that seems to drive most superhero franchises. Nevertheless, the movie redeems itself at film’s end by suggesting the foolhardy nature of a mother fighting villains by herself, as she eventually learns it takes a family of superheroes (baby Jack Jack included) to save the day.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Like the subject (video games) of its first movie, the Disney filmmakers consider the Internet to be a neutral entity in this sequel. As the second movie’s title suggests, it’s the use or misuse of the information superhighway where morality comes into play. I found myself at times disagreeing with what they found objectionable: i.e. Trolls. I think a few mischievous, inconvenient truth-tellers should roam the digital world, speech police be damned.

Avengers: Infinity War (based on the Marvel Comic book series)

I’m reserving judgment until the release of Avengers: End Game is released. To its credit, this truly felt like an intermediate chapter of a quartet, where nothing truly resolves. With so many characters hanging in the balance, the filmmakers did not even attempt an internal desire through line, the only focus is on an external want: defeating Thanos.

Christopher Robin

The title character growing up and re-visiting the stuffed animals come to life of his youth forms an intriguing premise even if the execution is sometimes stilted. Winnie the Pooh and friends offer wisdom that Christopher continues to draw from, but the childish playing with the stuffed animals is passed along to Christopher’s daughter, Madeline.

Ready Player One (based on the Ernest Cline novel)

Steven Spielberg adapts some of the more mature elements in the novel to a wider PG-13 audience. What’s not sacrificed in the movie is the long, complex journey Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) must undergo in finding an Easter Egg, actually a moral lesson, that our flesh and blood relationships, however messy, surpasses anything the virtual world could manufacture.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Finally, a chapter in the Star Wars saga that breaks the mold of the three-pronged culminating battle scene. That is, a one-on-one lightsaber fight scene, a limited ground battle, and an all-encompassing space battle with compulsory death star or its rough equivalent blowing up. Critics were mixed and box office relatively low, but I believe this was a step forward in developing characters and texture, in the same vein the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles traded action for the cerebral.

Mary Poppins Returns

This rebooted musical works because there’s a believable impetus for the characters bursting spontaneously into song. I took each song as analogous to prayer. And there’s an arc to the songs/prayers throughout the movie: an adult character sings by themselves when they think no one nearby can hear them. The singing progresses to feeling comfortable singing with others (communal worship). Within those ensemble numbers, they begin singing in “tongues” (“Leery”)…until finally singing all together up in the sky at the final scene. Whether intended or not, Disney ends up making the year’s most Catholic-themed film, and I didn’t even mention a certain Mary who seems to keep reappearing.

Mary, Queen of Scots (based on the John Guy book)

The book tries to tell the English Reformation (or Revolution, depending on your ecclesiastical politics) through the Catholic point of view, via the eyes of Mary, Queen of Scots. It does so with measured success. Relying on the opinion of my favorite critics, the film fails for much the same reasons I didn’t care for The Favourite. They excised the intrigue of whether England would permit the practice Catholicism or place it under state control in the form of the Church of England. This question needled England from Elizabeth’s reign until just before Anne assumed the throne, but neither film really takes it up with any seriousness, making a choice instead to “sex-up” both movies. A shame seeing that the theme is timely: see the Vatican’s recent concession to China in the appointing of bishops.

Free Solo (runs concurrently to the two new chapters of Alex Honnold’s memoir, Alone on the Wall)

Honnold’s memoir makes the case that rock climbing without safety ropes and climbing partners is the modern-day blood sport. It’s hard to argue with him as viewing the documentary had my stomach turning and hoping that he safely summit the world’s most harrowing climb, El Capitan in Yosemite. The film version tells the story in visual terms, avoiding the technical jargon in the memoir.

Detainment (live-action short film based on police interrogations)

I don’t think the short film format was the best medium for the adaptation of Great Britain’s youngest ever convicted murderers. And it’s questionable whether the true crime story should have been adapted at all. A largely verbatim film condensed into thirty minutes only allows the film to explain the “how” of the murders. The little transcripts I’ve read elude more to the “why.” And filming without notifying the victim’s mother leads me to think the short was produced for shock value alone.

Image: Walt Disney Pictures

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

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Pop Sensation Sister Cristina on Lady Gaga and Singing for $1M on CBS’ ‘The World’s Best’

Sister Cristina, ‘The World’s Best’/CBS

Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia, who won The Voice of Italy in 2014, makes her second appearance tonight — Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 9 p.m. ET/PT — on CBS’ new reality-competition series The World’s Best.

The show, which launched after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, with host James Corden, brings in performers from around the globe, judged by Americans Drew Barrymore, RuPaul Charles and Faith Hill, and by a panel of international experts. The ultimate prize is $1M.

Sister Cristina, a twentysomething Italian, wowed the judges on The Voice of Italy, and became a social-media sensation, for reinterpreting pop songs. Here’s her The World’s Best performance of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way

Over at my Pax Culturati blog, I have a new email interview with Sister Cristina (she doesn’t speak English fluently), in which she talks about why she chose Born This Way, and what she’d do if she met Lady Gaga — who, despite some views out of line with Church teaching, considers herself a Catholic:

Why did you pick Born This Way to sing at the show? What does it mean to you?

Born This Way deals with the theme of diversity, and, in my opinion, it is important to remind everyone that despite being different, we are as precious as we are, because God does not make mistakes with anyone, exactly as the song says. We live in one evolved society that often tends to make differences and exclusions due to life choices or simply because the other is different from us.

Instead it is good to remember how diversity can only be an instrument of enrichment towards one another, can serve to build a more colorful world where everyone can bring his own color and we should not be scared of them!

Lady Gaga has a Catholic background — if you haven’t met her yet, what would you most like to talk to her about?

Lady Gaga is one of my favorite artists, and what strikes me, and I mostly like of her, in addition to her extraordinary artistic skills, is the courage with which she shows her great humanity. If only one day I had the honor to meet and talk to her, first I should contain the emotions and then I would ask her for advice and ideas to make the message of love that I carry everywhere through music even stronger (artistically speaking) and accessible to everyone (not only those who believe in God)!

She talks a lot more about God, fame, the Church and her message to young people. Read the whole thing here.

Image: CBS

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.

‘The Dating Project’ is THE Movie You Need for Valentine’s Day

Boston College singles Matt and Shanzi, “The Dating Project”/PureFlix/MPower/Family Theater Productions

This Thursday is the first St. Valentine’s Day since the April 2018 release of Family Theater Productions’ groundbreaking documentary The Dating Project. It’s a frank, heartfelt look at modern dating, based on the work of Boston College professor Dr. Kerry Cronin, who’s been trying to reintroduce the nearly lost art of dating to her students.

Along the way, the film, directed by Millennial Jonathan Cipiti, talks to a two of Cronin’s students, a twentysomething woman in Chicago, a thirtysomething woman in New York and a fortysomething man in Los Angeles (which, we’re happy to report, has since married), about the challenges of looking for real love in the hookup culture.

And now, it’s Valentine’s Day. No pressure.

We don’t know a lot about the original St. Valentines (there are three), but we do know that they were all martyred for their love of the Lord. Along the way, that love came to represent love in general, especially romantic love. FTP’s online series Catholic Central explored just that and more in a new episode (more resources here):

If you’re one of those people whose Valentine’s Day is not all hearts and flowers, we think watching The Dating Project (website here) — whether streamed online or on DVD — will be eye-opening and ultimately uplifting. So, in honor of that, I fired off some questions to one of the movie’s producers, Megan Harrington (who’s also a co-producer of the upcoming pro-life film Unplanned, and is now an FTP staff producer) and here’s what she had to say:

What kinds of audience reactions have you heard since the release of the film in the Spring of 2018?

The feedback has been really encouraging from men and women across all age categories. Grandparents ask “How did this happen (state of dating)?” and want to get a copy for their grandkids. Parents who watch it with their children tell us how it opened up an honest and real conversation after. Single people have had an emotional reaction and been inspired. It really is a film for every single person, pun intended.

What’s surprised you about how the film has affected people?

I think what has surprised me is the film’s impact on married people. It has encouraged some to start dating their spouse again, which is awesome.

What more have you learned about the subject matter of modern dating?

I learned so much working on this film, both about myself and the world of modern dating. I believe the oversexualization of the culture has created chaos and uncertainty in what it means to be in relationship. We’ve replaced casual dating with casual sex, and the result is a profound sense of loneliness. I don’t see happier or more carefree people. I see brokenness and people who ache to have a real connection. Dr. Cronin’s “dating assignment” is an opportunity to reclaim the lost art of dating.

The work of Dr. Cronin to help young people relearn the art of dating goes on. Do you have any plans to work with her again on another project?

We would love to work with Dr. Cronin again, but her passion is teaching and I think that is where she will focus all of her energy. What a blessing for those kids who have the opportunity to sit in her classroom. They are receiving an education of the mind and heart, which is an incredible gift.

Did ‘The Dating Project’ accomplish what you hoped it would?

We wanted the film to be a conversation starter, and from the screenings and feedback received, it seems to have accomplished the goal. We hope the conversation continues to grow, and the film reaches colleges and communities far and wide. If you’re interested in group screenings, visit Yes, that was a shameless plug.

What’s been the most moving thing you’ve experienced as the film has made its way to audiences?

As the film has made its way to audiences, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to be part of this film and work side-by-side for endless hours with the most incredibly dedicated team. I’m grateful to God for introducing us to all the amazing people in the film. I’m grateful to God for every comment about how the film has changed someone’s perspective or direction.

Valentine’s Day is a source of joy for many, and pain for others. If your love life isn’t where you want it to be on Thursday, Feb. 14, is there any advice you can give for getting through it?

Well, my love life isn’t where I want so I’ll share what I’m going to do: eat chocolate and play sad songs. Kidding … about the sad songs. The only way to get through life is to live it. If Thursday is a painful reminder of the past, make it a day to bury those memories and embrace the present by inviting some friends over to watch “The Dating Project.”  And then…say yes to “The Dating Assignment.”

(The Dating Assignment is a literal assignment that Dr. Cronin hands out to students. You can try it yourself here.)

For a little more info, check out Dr. Cronin’s appearance on EWTN’s The World Over with Raymond Arroyo:

Click here to see Harrington herself on Fox News. Below find The Dating Project trailer:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Image: Pure Flix/MPower/FamilyTheater Productions

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.

‘I Still Believe’: ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Filmmakers Tackle the Jeremy Camp Story

After a $17M opening weekend,  I Can only Imagine became the surprise breakout faith-based hit of 2018, and now there’s more to come.

Inspired by the life story of Bart Millard of the band MercyMe, who penned its hit Christian-pop song, also called “I Can Only Imagine,” the film — directed by the brother team of Andrew and Jon Erwin (Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn) —  exceeded the expectations of the secular movie world.

The Erwins and producing partner Kevin Downes are re-teaming for a new film, called I Still Believe. Set to start shooting in the spring, it’s going for a March 20, 2020 wide theatrical release.

Both Erwin brothers will direct from a script by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Dubbed an uplifting and inspiring true-life story of Christian music mega-star Jeremy Camp, the film will follow the protagonist’s journey of love and loss.

Camp is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who has sold more than 5 million albums and has toured some 36 countries. He has received numerous accolades, including four RIAA-certified Gold albums, two American Music Awards nominations, multiple ASCAP awards, 38 No. 1 songs, a Gold digital single (“There Will Be a Day”), a multi-Platinum DVD and was named in Billboard’s Christian Artist of the Decade chart (No. 2).

I Still Believe represents the first project to come out of the Erwin brothers’ first-look film and TV deal with Lionsgate, which has produced such other faith-based fare as Hacksaw Ridge and The Shack.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

BASED ON: The Coen Brothers Re-Imagine the West in Oscar-Nominated ‘Ballad of Buster Scruggs’

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 Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a film anthology written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen based on short stories written by the Coen brothers, a short story: The Gal Who Got Rattled, by Stewart Edward White and a short story: All Gold Canyon, by Jack London.

Joel and Ethan Coen mostly flew under the radar this awards season. It’s a shame, because their latest project, the Western-themed film anthology, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs stands to be the most groundbreaking of the Oscar-nominated films. To the best of my knowledge, I believe this is the first English-language anthology of short films to be nominated for Oscars: best adapted screenplay, best costume design and best original song. Wild Tales from a few years back, was also an anthology film and competed in the foreign-language category as Argentina’s submission.

As one of my complaints with Oscar-baiting films lies in the often overly long running times, Buster Scruggs arrives as the perfect antidote. That the anthology plays on the streaming service Netflix, also shows that short film content has a place: watch one of the shorts ranging from 17 to 37 minutes over a lunch break, and over a week’s time, a viewer consumes some top-flight entertainment.

I can also say that with an octogenarian father in the early stages of dementia, the anthology format serves an overlooked demographic that would otherwise get lost in the storytelling of the longer feature format.

Four of the six short films were originally short stories written by the Coen brothers over the course of nearly two decades. As I couldn’t find the originals anywhere, I’ll presume the writer-directors were faithful to their own material. Every story entertains for sure, yet, as I’ve often claimed, the Coen brothers operating as the most (albeit subtly) religiously alert filmmakers, each tale offers some critique of the American experiment that transcends hobbyhorse political stances.

Questioning the obsession with firearms in the opening, titular short segment challenges right-wing America. Leftists likewise may feel needled with the points made in some of the intermediate stories. Indians were indeed as brutal to the white settlers (and other tribes) as these others were to them. A multiple-amputee character in the anthology’s best story is depicted with dignity and value, even with the underlying tension of his friend considering administering some Old West version of euthanasia.

The Coens adapt two other tales from turn-of-the-last century authors. They examine the limitations on individual liberty in Stewart Edward White’s The Gal Who Got Rattled, originally published in The Century Magazine (1901). A pioneer woman, after a week’s worth of wagon train travel, desires only a moment of solitude in the vast plains. Leaving the security of the circled wagons brings about its perils — her short-lived emancipation is interrupted with unsympathetic Sioux warriors appearing on the horizon. The Coens remain faithful to the story, while fleshing out the characterization of the Indian tribes. In the culminating battle scene, the Sioux appear better coordinated and bolder than the bumbling men Edward White originally depicted.

The two filmmaking brothers stay even truer to Jack London’s All Gold Canyon (1906). London writes the landscapes of the West with a heavily detailed style reminiscent of a Frederick Remington painting. The film’s cinematography captures these panoramas beautifully, leaving me wishing I had watched this on IMAX and not my laptop. Amidst this beauty, however, resides a dark tale of unbridled capitalism: a tragic gold rush between two competitors. The six stories intermix both glory and adventure with sorrow and brutality, lying bare, the good, the bad and the ugly of our nation’s untamed beginnings.

Image: Netflix

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

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