Category: Christians working in Arts and Media

‘Breakthrough’ and ‘Emanuel’: New Ways to Watch Two Faith-Related Films

Chrissy Metz in ‘Breakthrough’ (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment); ‘Breakthrough’ (Fathom Events)

If you’ve heard about the faith-related feature film Breakthrough or documentary Emanuel, but haven’t been able to watch either, you now have second chances to see both — one on DVD, and the other in theaters.

Breakthrough (coming to streaming and DVD in July)

Released in theaters in April, Breakthrough — based on the true story of a teen boy’s apparently miraculous recovery from drowning in icy water — is available for streaming on July 2, but it’s also coming to DVD. On July 16, the film, starring This Is Us star Chrissy Metz as fiercely faith-filled mother Joyce Smith, hits 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD, from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Among the bonus features are:

  • A Tapestry of Miracles: Making Breakthrough
  • Carry My Soul Phil Wickham deleted scene, and optional audio commentary by producer DeVon Franklin and director Roxann Dawson
  • Short documentary Trapped in Icy Waters
  • Audio commentary by Franklin and Dawson
  • Photo gallery

From an earlier story:

From Franklin, on what he’d like people to take away:

The number one takeaway is that prayer works, love wins. Really when you think about it, it’s like why would Joyce pray that hard? ‘Cause of her love? I think that’s just so powerful. There’s so many films that celebrate superheroes that are great. Hey, those are billion dollar movies. But they’re all imagination; this is real. And what Joyce did is a real superhero doing a real superpower, which is faith and praying. So I really want people to take that away.

Metz on what she hopes people glean from the film:

That we’re stronger together than we are apart, and there’s all of these people on the planet to learn from, to teach, to learn, to grow, to evolve with each other, Otherwise there’d be one person on the planet. There’s a reason why we all look differently and like different things, come from different backgrounds, because we’re all here to teach each other, whether it’s empathy or tolerance or self-love in order to impart that on other people. So, I hope that that’s what people take away.

Click here for the DVD on Amazon.com; and here for the film’s official site.

Emanuel (hitting theaters in June)

Executive-produced by Christian NBA star Stephen Curry and actress Viola Davis, and co-produced by actress Mariska Hargitay and director Brian Ivie, Emanuel documents the aftermath of the June 17, 2015, racially-motivated mass shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina — nicknamed “Mother Emanuel.”

The film features interviews with witnesses, survivors and family members, along with the remarkable story of the strength and willingness to forgive shown by the church community.

Now, the film hits the big screen as a two-night Fathom Event on June 17 and 19. Along with individual tickets (click here to find participating theaters), group or whole-showing sales are available for churches and other organizations (click here for that).

From the website:

National headlines blazed the story: Churchgoers Gunned Down During Prayer Service in Charleston, South Carolina. After a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire in the church, nine African Americans lay dead—leaving their families and the nation to grapple with this senseless act of terror.

Forty-eight hours later, in the midst of unspeakable grief and suffering, the families of the Emanuel Nine stood in court facing the killer … and offered words of forgiveness. Their demonstration of grace ushered the way for hope and healing across a city and the nation.

It’s the story that rocked a city and a nation as it happened … and in the days that followed. Marking the fourth anniversary of the event, executive producers Stephen Curry and Viola Davis, co-producer Mariska Hargitay, and director Brian Ivie (The Drop Box) present EMANUEL. The documentary powerfully weaves the history of race relations in Charleston, the significance and impact of Mother Emanuel Church, and the hope that somehow emerges in the aftermath.

Featuring intimate interviews with survivors and family members, EMANUEL is a poignant story of justice and faith, love and hate, examining the healing power of forgiveness. Marking the fourth anniversary, EMANUEL will be in movie theaters across the country for two nights only.

From Deadline.com:

“The documentary highlights how a horrible tragedy can bring a community together, and spreads an important message about the power of forgiveness,” said Curry. “Stories like this are the reason we created Unanimous and entered the entertainment space. I hope the film inspires others like it does me.”

“We, along with the country, grieved each family’s loss,” add Davis and Tennon. “Yet, miraculously, from this devastation we witnessed tremendous benchmarks of humanity. The survivors found courage to love in the face of hate.”

Click here for the official website.

Images: Fox 2000/2oth Century Fox; Fathom Events

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.

RIP Tim Conway, Actor, Funnyman, ‘Carol Burnett’ Star … and Catholic

Tim Conway on ‘The World Over’/EWTN

A bit of laughter has gone out of the world, with the announcement of the death of Tim Conway at the age of 85 this morning, May 14, in the Los Angeles area.

A native of Chagrin Falls, Ohio (he has something to say about that in the video below), Conway volunteered for the Army and later pursued show business. He was beloved as a funnyman but also as star of such classic TV shows as McHale’s Navy and The Carol Burnett Show. For younger viewers, he was also the voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob Squarepants and won Emmy awards for guest appearances on the sitcoms Coach and 30 Rock.

From People:

Conway is survived by his wife of 35 years, his stepdaughter, his six biological children and two granddaughters. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family would like donations to be made to The Lou Ruvo Brain Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The beloved actor is best known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, winning viewers over with characters like the Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball, whose accent he has said was inspired by his Romanian mother. He was known to ad-lib his sketches — even surprising his scene partners — and won a Golden Globe Award for the series in 1976, along with Emmys in 1973, 1977 and 1978.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, to an Irish father and a Romanian mother, Conway was baptized into the Romanian Orthodox Church but converted to Catholicism for a girl while in college. Faith wasn’t almost foremost in his mind, though, until back spasms later in life led Conway to discover that a high-school football injury could have left him paralyzed … but didn’t.

From a 2013 post at Tony Rossi’s Christopher Closeup blog:

That was a watershed moment for Tim, spiritually speaking. He writes, “Ever since that incident on the football field, which might have altered the course of my life, Jesus and I have stayed in constant touch. I never stop saying thank you.”

Though Tim, who converted to Catholicism in college because of a girl he liked, doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve, his relationship with God remains important to him. He admits that his journey of faith hasn’t always been a straight line, but adds, “All straight lines get a little crooked from time to time, but I tried to maintain a decent life.”

In the same year, Conway went on Raymond Arroyo’s World Over show on EWTN to discuss his career and his memoir, What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life — and his conversion to Catholicism …

Here’s just a taste of Conway’s comic genius on The Carol Burnett Show, with co-star (and frequent victim of Conway’s efforts to crack him up) Harvey Korman:

Conway was married twice. Among his six biological children and one stepdaughter is Tim Conway Jr., who currently has a radio show on L.A. station KFI AM 640.

Here’s a clip of Conway Jr. as emcee of the Orange (County, California) Catholic Foundation’s 15th Annual Conference on Business & Ethics, from 2017, including a selfie with Bishop Vann of the Diocese of Orange — and showing the comic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree:

Image: EWTN (screenshot)

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.

Patricia Heaton, Bradley Whitford and Kim Cattrall Headline Faith-Adjacent Fall 2019 Shows [UPDATED]

‘Perfect Harmony’/NBC

The broadcast networks have announced their plans for the fall, and there are a few shows of possible interest to people of faith. Just remember, a lot can change between a show being picked up and actually making it on the air.

Perfect Harmony (NBC)

Former West Wing star Bradley Whitford — who reportedly is involved with All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California — stars as former Princeton music professor who winds up working with a small-town church choir.

Carol’s Second Act (CBS)

After talking a break following the end of The Middle on ABC, Catholic star Patricia Heaton returns to her Everybody Loves Raymond home of CBS for a new multicamera comedy. She plays a retired teacher who, now that her children are grown, decides to become a doctor. Kyle MacLachlan also stars.

Patricia Heaton (right) in ‘Carol’s Second Act’/CBS

Evil (CBS)

Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) are behind this new drama, starring Katja Herbers (Westworld), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Aasif Mandvi and Michael Emerson (Lost, the upcoming The Name of the Rose). It’s described as a psychological thriller exploring the origins of evil and the (Catholics believe false) dichotomy between science and religion (some descriptions have Colter’s character as a “priest-in-training,” and the team working for the Catholic Church). The husband-and-wife duo bring their own theological perspectives, since Robert is Catholic, and Michelle is Jewish.

Filthy Rich (Fox)

Kim Cattrall headlines the cast of a show described as a soapy Southern Gothic family drama. When the patriarch (Gerald McRaney) of a Southern family, which got rich from creating a Christian TV network, dies in a plane crash, his stunned family learns that he fathered three children out of wedlock — and they’re all written into the will.

Also, just added today (May 14) …

United We Fall (ABC)

The multicamera comedy stars Will Sasso and Christina Vidal as parents of two young children dealing with overzealous extended families — including the Latina mother’s large Catholic one. Also starring are Jane Curtin and Jason Michael Snow.

Christina Vidal, Will Sasso in ‘United We Fall’/ABC

Also, among the shows axed was ABC’s Catholic-family comedy The Kids Are Alright, that our blogger Adrienne Thorne didn’t dislike.

But, in good news, NBC’s acclaimed family drama This Is Us was picked up for three more seasons. From Variety:

“In a television landscape with nearly 500 original scripted series, there are very few, if any, that have the critical and cultural impact of ‘This Is Us’ and we couldn’t be more proud to bring fans three more seasons of a show that so well represents the NBC brand,” said Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, presidents of scripted programming for NBC Entertainment. “A huge thank you and congratulations to our executive producers, cast and crew who reach new heights every week with the show’s inventive and compelling storytelling.”

Images: NBC, CBS, ABC

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.

For Oxygen: Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg Projects Tackle Prisons and Sex Trafficking

Photo: Adobe Stock

Oxygen Media, which has shifted its focus from female-oriented lifestyle programming to true crime (also a favorite with female viewers) has just announced its slate of new programming and shows in development, with such stars as Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg.

Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project

Among the projects given a greenlight is a documentary from socialite, entrepreneur, reality and social-media megastar Kardashian, reflecting her newfound interest in prison reform. She’s also apparently now in the midst of a four-year law apprenticeship, with the goal of taking the bar exam in 2020, following in the footsteps of her late father, attorney Robert Kardashian.

A attendee of Catholic Marymount High School in Los Angeles, Kardashian has — despite her racy public persona and multiple marriages — claims to be a Christian. She and current husband Kanye West had their daughter, North, baptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church, at the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem (more here on that).

In between her social, entertainment and family obligations, Kardashian has become involved with a group seeking to advance causes for clemency and prison reform. She was among those instrumental last summer in the release of 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, who’d been in an Alabama prison on a nonviolent drug charge since 1996. President Trump commuted her sentence last June.

According to TMZ, Kardashian and her legal allies have gained freedom for 17 inmates over the last few months, and now her efforts — as might be expected from a reality-show star — are coming to TV.

From Oxygen:

“Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” (working title)

Executive produced by Kim Kardashian and Bunim Murray Productions with Gil Goldschein, Julie Pizzi and Farnaz Farjam serving as executive producers.

In June 2018, Kim Kardashian used her global fame to publicly campaign for criminal justice reform by convincing the White House to grant Alice Marie Johnson clemency.

Inspired by her work with Johnson, Kardashian has made it her personal mission to lobby for systematic change and advocate for the men and women who she and her legal experts believe have been unfairly sentenced.  Now, as she pursues her own career in law, Kardashian is dedicating both personal resources and her public platform to the cause.

In this compelling 2-hour documentary, Oxygen will capture Kardashian’s efforts to secure freedom for Americans who she believes have been wronged by the justice system. “Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” is an exclusive, never-before-seen look inside her mission to tackle one of America’s most controversial subjects.

Mark Wahlberg’s Exploited

Among the projects currently in development is one from Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas company. Wahlberg, a former rapper who spent time in prison for felony assault and had other run-ins with the law, has found a new life as an actor, producer, husband, father and devout Catholic.

He’s spoken about his conversion in many venues, including this 2010 interview with the U.K.’s Catholic Herald:

“Being a Catholic is the most important aspect of my life,” the A-list actor tells me firmly when we meet for tea in a posh hotel near his home in Beverly Hills. “The first thing I do when I start my day is, I get down on my hands and knees and give thanks to God. Whenever I go outside of my house, the first thing I do is stop at the church. The kids will be mad with me. ‘Daddy! It takes too long!’ I’m saying: ‘It’s only 10 minutes and this is something I really need to do.’ Because I do. If I can start my day out by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That 10 minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.”

“Once I focused on my faith wonderful things started happening for me,” he says now. “And I don’t mean professionally – that’s not what it’s about. These days, I’ll be in church and people will come up to me and say: ‘Do you mind if I sit and pray with you?’ And they’ll start praying and it’ll turn out they’re praying for their new movie to be a success or whatever, and I’m like, this is not what I come here for. For me to sit down and ask for material things is ridiculous. It’s a much bigger picture than that. I want to serve God and to be a good human being and to make up for the mistakes I made and the pain I put people through. That’s what I’m praying for, and I recommend it to anybody.”

Now, he’s looking to have an impact on one of the most compelling issues of our time — sex trafficking.

From Oxygen:

“Exploited” (working title)

Produced by Unrealistic Ideas and Blue Pacific. Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Archie Gips serve as executive producers for Unrealistic Ideas and Matt Bartley, Michael Janke and Chris Campbell serve as executive producers for Blue Pacific.

From Mark Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas production company comes the new active crime investigation series that follows the on-going work of the DeliverFund, as they tackle the current US sex trafficking epidemic. In each episode the DeliverFund, comprised of ex-CIA, NSA and Navy Seal operatives Nic McKinley, Kara Smith and Jeremy Mahugh, take viewers on a journey to what victims call the center of hell. They will locate victims, work with local law enforcement and ultimately rescue sex trafficked victims and return them to their families.

Here’s wishing both celebrities luck with projects tackling important issues.

Images: HBO/Twitter

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.

Indie Film ‘Evergreen’ Is Something New in Catholic Filmmaking

Amanda Maddox, Tanner Kalina in ‘Evergreen’/The Daffy

I know I’m not alone in my typical dislike of most movies that are considered “Christian” or “faith-based” films. As much as I respect the good intentions that are probably behind most of those preach-to-the-choir-type stories, I usually can’t stomach the cheesiness and poor quality.

When one of the producers of the indie film Evergreen emailed me to see if I’d be interested in reviewing their “Catholic film” that he claimed was not like most Christian films, I didn’t make any promises. I said I would gladly watch it, but I figured if I didn’t like it, I’d just gracefully refrain from following up with a review.

But then I watched it. And I was kind of blown away by it for a few different reasons.

Evergreen’s premise

It’s a very simple, kind of unexciting-sounding idea: a dating couple (Tanner Kalina, Amanda Maddox) spends a Christmas-season weekend together by themselves in Colorado and decide to dig deep into the questions they need to answer for one another before their relationship can progress.

The entire thing has only four actors, and it’s mostly dialogue. And yet, it’s compelling and entertaining, and ultimately kind of heart-wrenching.

Kalina co-created the story with producer Marshall Kistner and Catholic director Joe Duca (who also wrote the screenplay).

The Catholic part

So the guy is a Catholic. He wears a cloth rosary around his wrist and has a copy of Saint Pope John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility on his bedside table. But he has a complicated past, which includes an annulment and a lot of pain.

The girl is not Catholic, but she once was. And she’s had experiences with Catholics in the past that make her view the religion in a not-so-great light.

This is very much a story about sex. In some respects, it’s almost a how-not-to guide when it comes to setting yourself up for success in chastity.

And I’ll be honest, the sexual aspect of this movie is not going to be for everyone. Some Catholic viewers are more sensitive than others when it comes to this type of thing. And while there are no actual scenes of sex in this movie, some more sensitive viewers might find the sensuality too much (the movie’s not rated yet, but my guess is it’d be PG-13 …).

But the difference here is that it’s all to a point. There’s no gratuitous sex thrown in for no reason. It very much has to do with the morality and mindset of these two people who are trying to figure out if they can be on the same page with things enough to make a relationship work.

And I feel like the struggles and moral shortcomings of these characters, even the Catholic whose reading material suggests he’s trying to live virtuously, are very real. I know a lot of Catholics who try to be faithful but have nevertheless fallen into temptations and situations very similar to what this story shows.

We don’t have a lot of movies like this…

Evergreen really isn’t a typical Christian or Catholic movie. It doesn’t preach its point, and things aren’t wrapped up too tidily.

This film feels very realistic and accessible, not only to Catholics and other Christians, but probably to a lot of people who are struggling in a romantic relationship.

The story is kind of uncomfortable in its honesty about how imperfect Catholics can be. But it’s a very well-done indie movie, and definitely a compelling, worthwhile watch.

Right now, Evergreen is playing at film festivals (it just won pretty big at Houston’s WorldFest Film Festival), and has been well-reviewed (like here). Watch for updates when it hopefully gets picked up for some sort of distribution, either to theatrical release, streaming service, or DVD.

Image: The Daffy

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter. Reposted with permission (and some minor edits) from A Thorne in the Flesh.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘Breakthrough’: DeVon Franklin and Chrissy Metz on the Powerful Prayer Story

(L to R) Topher Grace, Chrissy Metz, Marcel Ruiz of ‘Breakthrough’/Fox 2000/20th Century Fox

Hitting theaters on Wednesday, April 17, Breakthrough, from executive producer DeVon Franklin (The Star, Miracles From Heaven), is based on the true story of St. Louis teen John Smith, who broke through lake ice and was apparently dead for almost an hour, until, after his mother Joyce’s fervent prayer, he came back to life.

Directed by Roxann Dawson (the former actor’s first film, after directing lots of TV), and adapted by Grant Nieporte from Joyce Smith’s book, The Impossible, Breakthrough stars Marcel Ruiz as basketball-loving John; This Is Us star Chrissy Metz as Joyce; Josh Lucas as her husband, Brian; Topher Grace as their pastor, Jason; and Dennis Haysbert as John’s physician, Dr. Garrett.

BTW, John was taken to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, a Catholic pediatric medical center. The center’s website talks at length about the case here. And here’s a video:

Metz also did a song for the film, called I’m Standing With You, written by Diane Warren. Have a listen:

Thanks to Dawson, Breakthrough is more stylish than many faith-based films (it is a 20th Century Fox production), and its story does have the advantage of being true. It’s also backed up by a lot of medical evidence as to the unlikeliness of John’s survival and recovery.

The script lightly touches, but does not do a deep dive into, thorny issues like, why one person is miraculously saved and not another, or why not all prayers are answered.

Also lifting Breakthrough are the portrayals of the parents as less-than-perfect people. Metz’s plays Joyce as a fiercely devoted mother who can’t figure out how to make her Guatemalan-born adopted son feel wanted, but whose singleminded, almost manic determination that he would live rivals the emotional intensity of Metz’s high-drama This Is Us character. At the same time, Lucas’ Brian hangs back at the hospital, unable to match his wife’s intensity and refusing to face the situation head-on.

In the end, Breakthrough is affecting but not necessarily profound. We’re meant to celebrate the miracle without thinking about it too much. But it does leave room for people to draw their own conclusions, and that may make it interesting for secular audiences.

Recently, at a junket in Dallas, reporters got to sit down with the stars and producers. Here are some highlights:

From Franklin, on what he’d like people to take away:

The number one takeaway is that prayer works, love wins. Really when you think about it, it’s like why would Joyce pray that hard? ‘Cause of her love? I think that’s just so powerful. There’s so many films that celebrate superheroes that are great. Hey, those are billion dollar movies. But they’re all imagination; this is real. And what Joyce did is a real superhero doing a real superpower, which is faith and praying. So I really want people to take that away.

I want people to take away that they’re valued. We can go through life feeling that we’re alone, and that we don’t matter. This movie I think shows that we do matter. All of the people in the community that first responders, the pastor, the congregation, the basketball team, the teachers, the school, they all interceded for one. To me, if we do that, the whole culture changes for the better. We don’t do it enough. I think, I’m hoping, people will take that away when they leave the theater.

Metz on what she hopes people glean from the film:

That we’re stronger together than we are apart, and there’s all of these people on the planet to learn from, to teach, to learn, to grow, to evolve with each other, Otherwise there’d be one person on the planet. There’s a reason why we all look differently and like different things, come from different backgrounds, because we’re all here to teach each other, whether it’s empathy or tolerance or self-love in order to impart that on other people. So, I hope that that’s what people take away.

John Smith on what he’s heard since the story went public:

It’s just amazing to see how many responses we’ve gotten from atheists, from unbelievers. This has sparked curiosity regarding, “What is God?” And also the science part of it — that there is no answer for me. I say that respectfully. when there is 300-plus pages of medical documents of why I should be dead, but I’m alive.

So unbelievers see that and go “Oh, it can’t just be another God-based film.” Now we have doctors that are on our side to pull more unbelievers and to get them to believe that this is a bona-fide miracle. And the only person that can do this is God. And I truly believe that’s what separates us.

And, regarding his real mother, Smith said:

You mess with her, you’re in trouble. And her faith for God is just stronger than … I want to be like my mom, when it comes on to that sort of thing. Whether she is sick, ill, she never complains. It’s always “OK, God, I believe in you. This is just an attack. Let’s move forward. Let’s keep pushing back on the enemy.” That’s my mom in a nutshell.

Image: Fox 2000/20th Century Fox

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.