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.
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 www.TheDatingProjectMovie.com. 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:
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.
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.
Unplanned, a new film chronicling the change of heart of Texan Abby Johnson from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life activist, has found a theatrical distributor and released a trailer.
PureFlix plans to release the film on 800 screens on March 29. It renews the company’s relationship with writer/directors Carey Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who wrote and co-produced God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2, which PureFlix also distributed theatrically.
Ashley Bratcher plays the feisty, outspoken Johnson. Here’s an interview they did for EWTN:
Also appearing in the film is Family Theater Productions’ own Kaiser Johnson, who stars, with Libby Slater, in our online series Catholic Central.
Johnson plays Jeff, a brash attorney who represents Abby as she disentagles herself from Planned Parenthood.
From the press release:
“I thought I was helping women,” said Abby Johnson, founder and director of And Then There Were None, the only group in the country that helps abortion workers exit the industry and find them new jobs. “But I was doing more harm than good. It wasn’t until I saw a child fight for its life that my world came crashing down and I understood the enormity of my actions. I had to leave. No one will be able to walk away after seeing this movie and say ‘I didn’t know.’”
During her time as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, Abby facilitated over 22,000 abortions. Since leaving, she has helped nearly 500 former abortion workers, including seven doctors, leave their jobs and find fulfilling careers outside of the abortion industry.
Bringing to life this powerful real-life story of redemption and love, UNPLANNED stars Ashley Bratcher (WAR ROOM, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN) as Johnson; Brooks Ryan as her husband, Doug; Robia Scott (CSI, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) as Abby’s superior at Planned Parenthood ; Emma Elle Roberts (HUNGER GAMES:MOCKING JAY, I AM NOT ASHAMED, ) as Marilisa Carney, Kaiser Johnson (LITTLE BOY, VAMPIRE DIARIES, SLEEPY HOLLOW); and Jared Lotz (OF LITTLE CONVENIENCE, THANKSGIVING) as Shawn Carney.
Actress Ashley Bratcher was nearly aborted by her own mother, which she didn’t find out until filming began. “I was born for this role,” said Bratcher.
“This is the most important movie anyone will ever see on the most controversial issue of our time,” said Solomon and Konzelman. “When UNPLANNED comes to theaters, this movie will make abortion unpopular.”
The film has also released a trailer:
Watch this space for more about the film as the release date grows nearer. Considering current headlines about legislation to relax abortion restrictions in New York State and elsewhere, the film couldn’t be more timely.
Fred Rogers in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”/Focus Features
The Academy Award nominations came out today, and as always, there are complaints about snubs, but the omission of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from the Best Documentary list is a sad moment for gentle, uplifting films.
This isn’t to say that the films that got nods are slackers. Here they are (with a link to something interesting about them):
Follows the free-climbing (that is, climbing precipitous heights without a rope) adventures of Alex Honnold, with a insight into his high-risk psychology.
Click here for an in-depth review from Climbing.com.
Minding the Gap
Filmmaker Bing Liu chronicles the bond among himself and his skateboarding buddies from the Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois — along with their family and personal issues.
Click here for a review from Justin Chang, the Los Angeles Times‘ critic (who’s also Christian).
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Directed by RaMell Ross, who moved to Hale County, Alabama, in 2009 to coach basketball and teach photography, and then created a lyrical portrait of African-American life in the South.
Click here for NPR‘s review, and here for one from National Review.
Of Fathers and Sons
Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki looks at a jihadi father raising sons in northern Syria.
Click here for a review from when it showed at Sundance.
Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West profile Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Click here for a review at AVClub.com that doesn’t exactly love it.
Short of asking individual Academy members, we may never know why Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — which received glowing reviews, even from me — didn’t make the cut.
But I do have some speculations:
Fred Rogers was a Christian. That isn’t overemphasized in the film, but it comes through clearly. On top of that, he was a Christian who acted like one. He wasn’t perfect, but he tried to live out his faith. That may be a plus with God or with us, but it doesn’t likely impress the average Academy voter. If he’d been a bad, hypocritical Christian, then maybe …
The documentary didn’t try to deconstruct Rogers, tear him down or reveal his dirty secrets. He didn’t really seem to have any of note. As I said, the film is “a love letter to a gentle, thoughtful, kind man who was pretty much as he appeared to be, and who cared deeply about small children.”
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? tackles issues like race and sexuality — in the person of Rogers’ adoring gay co-star Francois Clemmons — with great sensitivity and a minimum of rancor. So, it’s not courting controversy, and that’s not in its favor.
Rogers didn’t have a major fall from grace — prison, an illness, drug addiction and so on — that forced him to rise from the ashes. That always makes for more compelling film, especially with Oscar voters.
It’s a beautiful-looking film, but it doesn’t feature soaring vistas (like Free Solo) or take us to strange worlds (like Of Fathers and Sons) or profile a political and judicial icon with a job that affects all Americans (like RBG). It may be that Fred Rogers’ world just isn’t exciting enough to merit an Oscar nom.
No doubt there are many other worthy films that didn’t get nominations either. But wouldn’t it be great if a lovely film about a good and gentle man made the cut? After all, it’s not like we’re hearing about them every day.
The documentary will air Feb. 9 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series. It also debuts that night on HBO.
Image: Focus Features
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.
Neal McDonough has gotten a lot of attention lately for saying he lost a Hollywood job because he wouldn’t do a love scene — but this is nothing new for the devoutly Catholic actor.
McDonough currently stars as General James Harding in the History Channel Tuesday-night UFO drama Project Blue Book, but my entertainment-journalist history with him goes back to the 1990s (click here for one of those stories). In a recent interview with Yahoo.com, McDonough talked about being replaced on a short-lived ABC show called Scoundrels because he wouldn’t do a sex scene.
“I was [surprised], and it was a horrible situation for me,” McDonough said. “After that, I couldn’t get a job because everybody thought I was this religious zealot. I am very religious. I put God and family first and me second. That’s what I live by. It was hard for a few years. Then [Band of Brothersproducer] Graham Yost called me and said, ‘Hey, I want you to be the bad guy onJustified. I knew that was my shot back at the title.”
Back in 2016, I spoke to McDonough for Greater, the faith-and-football film he starred in and produced (currently available to stream on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and Hulu). Click here for what he had to say about the movie, but here are some excerpts from our conversation, originally posted right on this blog.
With his bleached-blond hair (first acquired to play World War II hero Buck Compton in Band of Brothers) and ice-blue eyes, McDonough often plays the bad guy. But in real life, he’s a devout Catholic and a political conservative — and one of the nicest guys I ever met in Hollywood.
But, being true to the Faith does carry a price in all aspects of life, and the entertainment industry is no different — especially when you’re a married man with mouths to feed.
Said McDonough on what he will and won’t do:
Two rules. I don’t use the Lord’s name in vain on TV or movies, and I don’t have sex scenes. How do I work as an actor after that? Okay, I’m the bad guy. I tell you, with five kids, I’ve got to keep working.
I’ve got to pay those bills. Every time I have a job, I have to figure out how to be the most creative and fun guy and great performance and all that stuff. Aside from that, I just love doing what I do. I have a great time doing it, and I’m blessed beyond belief to have the opportunity to keep working. I mean, this is 30 years in the business of constantly working on whatever. It’s been awesome.
On the advice given to him by Father Colm O’Ryan, pastor emeritus of Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills (where he married his South African wife, Ruve Robertson):
Go out and sin one less time today. Go out and drink one less drink today. Go out and do these things one less time today, and you’ll be doing your job as a child of God. That’s what he’s about. That’s what I try to do after I get to play bad guys on TVs and movies.
On working on Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, with fellow Catholic Kevin James:
We had Mass every day at lunch.
We hired the biggest suite at the Wynn Hotel. We’d fly priests in. We’d have Mass every day during the filming of this in Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel.
Not for gambling, but for God. It was phenomenal. Kevin James — not only one of the greatest actors on set, but one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. Gosh, what an amazing human being to do that. “All right, everyone in the cast, everyone in the crew. You want Mass? It’s going to be in suite 306. Let’s have at it. Every day.”
Is it a challenge to be a faithful Catholic in Hollywood? Sure. And sometimes you may have to make tough choices about roles. But as McDonough shows, it can be done.
As you can see from his role in Project Blue Book, McDonough is still making it work in Tinseltown. If you stand on principle, you’re going to lose some roles, but if you’re good, more will come.
Image: History Channel
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.