Category: Christians working in Arts and Media

Should You and Your Family Follow ‘The Star’?

YES! Take your kids, take your grandparents, take your friends and maybe some strangers off the street and go see the heartwarming, and at times hilarious, Sony Animation film “The Star.”

Despite being animated, it really is a film for all ages. The movie is aimed at a core audience of little kids — 6 to 12 years old seems to be the sweet spot. That said, it is still engaging enough for older kids and adults, and could be appreciated by grandparents and viewers of any age.

WARNING for really little kids, there are some scary dogs and a menacing henchman, but that is about as “hard-edged” as it gets.

So, if there is one movie to top your list this weekend, I’m putting “The Star” in first place. That’s right, I put it above the “Justice League” and that’s coming from me – a serious comicbook fan!

For those of you who have never heard of “The Star,” the film tells the story of the birth of Christ – with a twist – it is taken from the perspective of the animals, in particular from a donkey named Bo (short for Boaz), who is voiced by “Walking Dead” star Steven Yuen.

But the cast of voice actors is sizeable and impressive, ranging from Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Zachary Levi, (Chuck and Tangled) as Mary and Joseph, to Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and even a voice cameo by mega-church pastor Joel Olsteen as a magi.

I am guessing that I don’t have to give a “spoiler alert” when talking about a film that follows the very familiar story of the first Christmas, but the movie literally kicks off with the Annunciation and goes all the way to the Nativity and Epiphany. The movie provides a highly entertaining way to connect, or reconnect, the whole family to the birth of Jesus.

However, don’t follow “The Star” too closely when it comes to pure scripture or theology. In fact, the filmmakers themselves were wise enough to state that, while nothing in the movie is anti-faith or against the Gospel, they took some “adventurous creative license” with the greatest story ever told. Therefore,

  • Do not look to this film to be an exact interpretation of scripture.  A line such as “Be it done unto me according to thy word” has been given the modern translation of “Let it be done, just as you said.”
  • Do not think this film follows an exact theological understanding of the bible. For example, the Wise Man, Caspar, presents his gift and says “I brought Frankincense. Do you like Frankincense? Oh, I never know what to get.” Now, the bible itself never specifies exactly what Caspar says, but theologically speaking, Catholics believe that the gifts the Magi gave of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very intentional. Gold represents royalty (the gold of a crown), frankincense represented deity (frankincense was used as incense to worship in the temple) and myrrh depicted death or mortality (it was a perfume used on cloths to wrap the dead). Therefore, these gifts foretell that Jesus Christ would be King, God and Sacrifice, so it is unlikely Caspar brought frankincense as a default gift. That said, the line plays as funny and is meant to be harmless.
  • Do not think that this film is a historical retelling of the Bible either. In the movie, Mary breaks the news of her miraculous pregnancy to Joseph, who understandably tells her that he needs time to think before agreeing to be the foster father of the King of Kings. Then, in prayer, Joseph gets his answer. It’s a sweet moment in the film, but it is not “Bible accurate.” In the Gospels, when Joseph hears of Mary being pregnant, he actually decides to divorce her, though, to be clear, they were betrothed, not married. He actually wants to separate quietly so as not to get Mary in trouble with the law, because we see later in the Gospels how women caught in adultery are treated under Hebrew law. Then, that night, Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream, and the angel confirms that Mary is carrying the Son of God. That is when Joseph takes Mary into his home and fully commits to his calling. “The Star” gets to the point much faster, and carefully maneuvers past such issues as unwed mothers being stoned to death in ancient Jewish culture for obvious reasons. That said, “The Star” is clearly not Bible history.

So what is it?

“The Star” is a fun, clever, beautifully rendered, fable that re-envisions the birth of Jesus as seen from the eyes of animals that could have been there. Yes, certain denominations and hardcore traditionalists may criticize this movie. However, it can’t be denied that this film takes into account the importance of faith– people are actually shown praying — and the movie reminds us that God becoming Man, and the God-Man Jesus coming into our lives, is the real meaning and gift of Christmas.

In fact, if you want some helpful ways to connect the movie to religion, you can find excellent resources created by the National Catholic Catechetical Leaders association on “The Star’s” website. If you go to the film’s home page, then click on “Menu” at the top left, you go down to the “Resource” tab and click on that selection, and you find a page full of suggestions.

This link gives families good resources and suggestions on how to connect “The Star” to their faith.

Seeing “The Star” is a great way to get the whole family to kick off Advent and get everyone into the true spirit of Christmas. Finally, a new, truly family film for the birth of Our Lord!

And, BTW, FTP donated 50,000 rosaries to help in the promotional efforts for “The Star.” Here’s Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., blessing a selection of them.

Image: Sony Animation

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Catholic Star Mark Wahlberg Shares His Faith in Chicago

As a former rapper and underwear model, who has battled drug addiction, and is a convicted felon who spent time in jail as a teen, Catholic Mark Wahlberg knows more than many about the power of faith and forgiveness.

On Friday, Oct. 20, the 46-year-old actor and producer joined Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 at the UIC Pavilion in the Windy City for the Chicago Archdiocese’s (re)ENCOUNTER event, designed to draw young adults into the Catholic faith.

After his time in prison, Wahlberg turned to his parish priest for help getting back on the straight and narrow, but it took a few years to extricate himself from that life. It also took time for Wahlberg to totally turn around his showbiz choices and devote himself to his faith.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, speaking prior to the (re)ENCOUNTER  event, Wahlberg said:

 I just always hope that God is a movie fan and also forgiving, because I’ve made some poor choices in my past.

In particular, he’s not especially proud of his role in the 1997 feature film “Boogie Nights,” in which he played a 1970s high-school dropout drawn into the porn industry. Chicago Inc. asked Wahlberg if he’d ever prayed for forgiveness for a particular movie, and he said:

 “Boogie Nights” is up there at the top of the list.

Regarding his troubled past, Wahlberg said:

I’ve never been shy about sharing my past and the bad decisions I’ve made and being affiliated with gangs, being incarcerated, so absolutely I think they can identify with me on a personal level, and that’s why I’ve continued to try to do as much as I can to help young people.

It’s one thing to give money, or to start programs, but to be there and be able to talk to them, and tell them there is someone who has been through the same things they are going through and was able to turn their life around, and turn it into a big positive. That’s always important.

Now living in Los Angeles, Wahlberg — whose brother, Donnie Wahlberg, stars in CBS’ “Blue Bloods” — is a husband and father of two daughters and two sons.

Here are a couple of clips related to the event — one of a press conference, and the other from the event itself.

And if you have the time, click here for the full video of the event, as streamed by CatholicChicago.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

5 Morally Decent Comedy Series: ABC’s ‘The Mayor,’ ‘Home Improvement’ and More

“The Mayor”

Need a laugh? Don’t we all. But unfortunately, a large portion of the comedy series available these days tend toward the crude and indecent. Half the the time, the comedy shows I try to watch end up containing material I’m not too crazy about watching myself, let alone allowing my kids to watch with me.

But don’t despair. Here are five titles that keep the laughs coming without so much filth as we often tend to find in modern comedies.

The Mayor

I’m optimistic about this one, though since it’s a new show that’s just premiered on Tuesdays on ABC (also available at the ABC Website and on Hulu), it’s a little early to say for sure that it’s a keeper. So far, this light comedy about Courtney Rose (Brandon Micheal Hall), an unknown rapper who runs for mayor of his California town to gain publicity, is pretty funny and surprisingly a little bit sweet, as he lives with his no-nonsense mom (Yvette Nicole Brown, an outspoken Christian) who gives him life advice and a swift kick in the backside as needed.

The mother character is a Christian, too, and her son gives at least lip service to faith. In a mayoral debate in the pilot, Courtney says, “There’s only one judge that matters” — points upward — “a young carpenter!”

The show is rated PG and so far has been pretty clean — and so far, eschewing partisan politics.

Read my full review here.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I just watched the second episode, and it continued charming, clean and heartwarming.)

Check it out:

Home Improvement

Hulu recently added this Tim Allen ’90s sitcom to their selection of streaming titles. It’s a show about a hapless handyman with his own tool show, three boys and a wife. I remember watching this show growing up, and while there is occasionally some “grown up” material (like a couple of later episodes in which Tim Allen’s character has to talk to his sons about sex and drugs), that content is pretty rare.

Most of the comedy comes from Tim’s building mistakes and his blunders with his wife, but the comedy almost never feels cheap or cheesy. Definitely a good option for some clean laughs. Check out its trailer (which, incidentally is much more 90s cheese-arific than the show itself).

The Office

Note I’m talking about the considerably cleaner U.S. version of this show starring Steve Carell (not the smuttier British one). Currently available on Netflix, this is a show that’s so funny I find myself sticking around to re-watch if someone else has it turned on. It’s essentially just the ins and outs of a group of office workers, who all have varying levels of eccentricity, and yet the comedy is often rather genius.

This show does occasionally have mild sexual material, but the good thing is that its standalone episodes make it easy to skip around past anything you’d rather not watch without getting lost plot-wise. Read my full review here.

Here’s a clip of some moments from several seasons:

Family Matters

Let’s head back to the late ’80s for a second, for a classic family sitcom. As goofy as this show about a family and their extremely nerdy, accident-prone neighbor, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) sometimes is, it also has some moments of hilarious comedy and creativity. This show really must have done quite a few things right to have lasted on ABC for nine years and 215 episodes.

Over all the show is pretty clean, though it does occasionally deal with some issues like drinking and racism. It’s currently available on Hulu.

Here’s a cheesy promo video:

Boy Meets World

If I didn’t already own all seven seasons of this show on DVD, I would be pretty excited about its recent arrival on Hulu. It’s a classic coming-of-age sitcom about a boy (Ben Savage) and his friends growing up, made before shows about teenagers had become incredibly lame — like most of today’s Disney-channel-type fare.

I’ll admit that this show does have some very occasional cheesiness, but it’s pretty clean and mostly just a whole lot of fun.

Image: Courtesy ABC

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Catholic in College — We Can Help With That

trinity-college-dublinIt’s fall, you’ve sent your Catholic kids off to — or back to — college. And many, if not most, of those young folks will be heading to something other than a faithful Catholic institution.

Unfortunately, a fair number of those kids will come home at Thanksgiving or Christmas or next summer, either having fallen off from the practice of their faith or abandoning it altogether. That can strain relationships in the family and provide a poor example to younger siblings, who can’t understand why a brother or sister doesn’t want to go to Mass, rails against the Church, starts expounding radically different beliefs, or just gives up on God.

It’s a hard world out there for serious Catholics, and secular college campuses may be among the toughest places around. But there are rays of hope. I have Millennial friends who returned to their faith at secular colleges, with the help of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries and Newman Centers, campus Catholic ministries named in honor of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

There’s also help in the literary and digital world.

Yesterday, Oct. 9, the National Catholic Register published a column by Aurora Griffin, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard graduate who wrote the 2016 book, “How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students,” which probably should be put in the hands of any Catholic collegian.

In her column, Griffin cites catechesis from her father, the witness of her parents’ marriage and weekly Mass attendance (no matter what). You can read the whole thing here; below find an excerpt.

If you do, and you live in the sacraments, grace will overflow from your life and touch everyone around you, including your children. That’s the supernatural benefit. There’s also a natural benefit. Children value authenticity. When you tell your kids not to smoke, and then sneak outside for a cigarette, they internalize it. When you say that your faith is important to you, you have to live a life that backs it up. There is nothing more compelling, on a human level, than the witness of a saint.

So how do you keep your kids Catholic in college? Be the saint that you were meant to be. It’s the simple formula that the Church has held throughout the ages and the narrow path on which we all must begin again every day.

She’s also written for Catholic World Report on keeping her faith at Oxford University; and here’s an interview with the U.K. Catholic Herald:

I had assumed that Harvard is a very secular environment, so this last remark surprised me. Aurora explains that “it was not a Catholic place, but part of the joy for me was feeling like a bit of a rebel. If Harvard has an ideology as an institution, it is secular.” She adds that “As a Catholic, I experienced very little pushback, except when I was defending the Church’s stance on abortion. When I wrote pro-life articles, for example, I neither expected nor received much support.”

And here she is discussing the subject with our friends at CatholicTV, a couple of times:

There’s also help from other sources, including peers such as the members of the New Catholic Generation YouTube Channel:

On the front lines of all this is Father Mike Schmitz, who aside from his YouTube stardom with Ascension Press, is the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth (a secular state school), and the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth.

Here’s an interview he did this past spring with CatholicTV:

This past January, nearly 13,000 college students, FOCUS missionaries, campus chaplains, alumni, benefactors and sponsors converged on San Antonio, Texas, for SEEK2017, FOCUS’ biennial national conference.

FOCUS’ YouTube channel offers lots of excerpts from the SEEK2017, including a lot from Fr. Schmitz. Click here for the whole playlist, and below find a clip (with the voice of Fr. Schmitz):

Click here and here for two more articles from young people on how to hold to the Faith in college.

I remember going to a special Latin Mass on Jan. 31, 2016, at the Our Savior Chapel at the Caruso Catholic Center at USC. I thought the subdeacon assisting the priests must be a seminarian, as he was so focused and flawless. But when I spoke to him afterward, I discovered he was just a student. He said he wasn’t really into his faith when he came to USC, but when the crush of collegiate life hit him, he discovered he needed Jesus, and that led him to Our Savior.

(That’s him at center, kneeling at the bottom of the steps.)

So, it can happen (and BTW, last time I saw him, he was assisting at another Mass and still going strong).

Image: Trinity College Dublin (Wikimedia Commons)

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Hobbit’ at 80: Joseph Pearce and Bishop Barron on the Catholicism of ‘Lord of the Rings’

In Sept. 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was published. leading to three more novels between 1937 and 1949 that became known as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In recent years, director Peter Jackson has helmed film versions of all the books, turning “The Lord of the Rings” into three movies, and the slender “Hobbit” into three movies of its own.

Underneath all of the fantasy trappings of the mythical Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien intended “The Lord of the Rings,” etc., to be Catholic allegories, although that may not be obvious to casual readers or casual viewers of the movies. Because they’re set in another reality, the stories don’t explicitly deal with Christ — or actual human history at all. Instead, Tolkien took such themes as sacrificial love, sin and redemption, and plays them out across an imaginative landscape.

But better than me explaining this to you — because, to be honest, I didn’t pick up on the implicit Catholicism of the books until it was pointed out to me — let me hand the stage over to two of the modern Church’s most talented media critics and Tolkien ‘splainers, English writer and biographer Joseph Pearce and Los Angeles’ own Bishop Robert Barron.

First, Pearce focuses on “The Hobbit” on EWTN:

Here, Pearce “unlocks” the Catholicism of “The Lord of the Rings” in a 2015 lecture at Christendom College:

And lastly, in a documentary, he looks at Tolkien’s Catholic worldview, with Kevin O’Brien as J.R.R. Tolkien, and Al Marsh as C.S. Lewis:

If you don’t have time right now for almost-one-hour videos, Bishop Barron wraps it up in 10 minutes or less.

Here’s a look at “The Hobbit” movie and book:

And a two-part look at “The Lord of the Rings”:

If you want to watch the movies, they air regularly on cablenet TNT, and a bunch of “LOTR” and “Hobbit” DVDs are clustered here on Amazon, and “The Hobbit” is here on Amazon Video. And, of course, you can also read the books, which are available in many places, including your local library.

Image: Courtesy Wing Nut Films/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner Bros.

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

5 for Friday: ‘Great British Baking Show,’ ‘Mulan,’ Hallmark, ‘Shark Tank’ and More

And they say there’s nothing good on television! We disagree, and if you want to gather round the flatscreen this weekend for some good family viewing, you don’t even need to use a screening app.

Here’s a selection of cable and broadcast shows suitable for Junior to Nana and everyone in between (all times ET/PT):

“Great British Baking Show” — Friday, 8 p.m., PBS (whose affiliates are allowed to air shows on their own schedules, so check local listings for time and station in your area)

As addictive as the baked goods produced on the show, this British import is simultaneously charming, relaxing and incredibly tense. Diverse contestants — who, despite differences in faith, ethnicity and background, seem chosen for being generally lovely people — gather under a large tent on the lawn of a high-end British estate to compete in the creation of a dizzying array of British and international cakes, pies, biscuits, rolls, muffins, buns and cookies. Then they face the judgment of two baking experts: well-tanned Paul Hollywood, and persnickety octogenarian Mary Berry (at top).

While the competition is nerve-wracking, the hosts — the comic team of Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc — keep it light, the judges are stern but loving, and there is zero backbiting or unpleasantness among the contestants.

As a bonus, if your kids wonder how math is used in the world, just have them watch the bakers working out amounts of ingredients and cooking times, and doing complex engineering for gingerbread houses and other towering creations.

The show is also available on Netflix.

“Mulan” (1998) — Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Freeform

One of the directors of this Disney animated film is Christian Tony Bancroft (read an interview with himself and a fellow Disney animator here), and the film got four out of five stars from watchdog group Common Sense Media, which wrote:

Parents need to know that although Mulan is a decidedly Disneyfied take on a Chinese fairy tale, elements of Chinese culture and history ring true. It also offers kids a strong female character who (like Moana and Merida) stands out from the Disney Princess pack and offers a positive gender representation for young viewers (even though gender-related stereotypes are also sometimes played for laughs). Expect some scary/intense battle scenes, weapons use, explosions, sad moments, and a very menacing bad guy. The Huns destroy Chinese villages and kill people (not shown). There’s a bit of flirting/romantic tension. While Mulan ultimately becomes a hero and helps her people, she does so by rebelling against authority, which is worth discussing. But in the end, this is a story about perseverance, teamwork, and courage that’s bound to choke up dads and daughters everywhere.

The site also offers 23 parent reviews and suggestions for how to discuss the movie with kids.

“Up” (2009): — Saturday, 9:35 p.m., and Sunday, 7:20 p.m., Freeform

Upon release, this charming and heartfelt Pixar animated film was just about universally loved, and to this day, it has a 98% positive score on film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes.

Ed Asner voices elderly man Carl Fredericksen, who, together with his wife Ellie, had always dreamed of traveling to Paradise Falls in South America. After Ellie dies, Carl decides to honor her by making their dream come true, so he lashes hundreds of helium balloons to his house and floats off to find Paradise Falls. Unbeknownst to Carl, he’s got an unintended stowaway — an eager scout (voice of Justin Nagai), who has more enthusiasm than skills.

A few caveats from Common Sense Media, which gives the film 5 out of 5 stars:

Parents need to know that Up is the second Pixar movie (after The Incredibles) to receive a PG rating, mostly due to a few potentially frightening scenes involving a band of trained talking dogs trying to get rid of the protagonists, some moments where characters almost fall from a floating house, and some guns firing. That said, it’s Disney/Pixar, so the violence is mild. Viewers should note that an early wordless sequence follows an emotional and potentially upsetting trajectory that could trigger questions about old age, illness, and death.

“Harvest Love” (2017) — Saturday, 9 p.m., Hallmark Channel

This is a romance, so younger kids will probably wrinkle up their noses, but at 9 p.m., it’s after the bedtime of a lot of little ones anyway. But preteens and up — and especially moms — may enjoy this story of love after loss. Here’s how Hallmark describes it:

A widowed surgeon visits her family’s pear orchard in hopes of taking a break from her overbooked life and reconnecting with her distant son. She starts to fall for the farm manager, Will, who is growing a new hybrid pear and teaches her the importance of her heritage. Stars Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey.

“Shark Tank” — Sunday, 8 p.m., ABC

Business magnate, inventor and philanthropist Richard Branson joins the “sharks” for the Mark Burnett-produced show’s 9th-season premiere, which runs for two hours. Here’s how ABC describes it:

An 11-year-old inventor from San Clemente, California, recycles a skateboard deck to fit inside lockers and backpacks; an entrepreneur from Meridianville, Alabama, revolutionizes aerial sports; a husband and wife team from Vicksburg, Mississippi create outdoor camping gear; and an entrepreneur from San Francisco, California, claims her five-minute meditation app will help the world reduce stress.

In “Shark Tank,” inventors pitch products and services in hopes of securing funding from the panel of wealthy potential investors. The “shark” element comes in as the panelists grill the hopefuls and also compete with each other for the most likely prospects.

While it wasn’t intended as a show for kids, it’s turned out to be one of the several reality shows that families watch together. While most of it will go over the heads of younger kids, middle-schoolers and up can get a quick masterclass on how business and investing work, and what it takes to recruit people to support your dreams.

And sometimes, as in this episode, kids come on to pitch their own ideas — and the panel doesn’t go easy on them.

Images: Courtesy BBC/PBS, Disney/Pixar, Hallmark Channel

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.