Category: Don Burt

Ellie Kemper of ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Talks Being Catholic With Stephen Colbert

Ellie-Kemper-Stephen-ColbertOn June 30, Ellie Kemper, star of the (not-family-suitable) Netflix comedy “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” made a guest appearance on CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

In “Kimmy Schmidt,” Kemper plays a woman who recently was rescued from the clutches of a doomsday cult — where she was imprisoned as a child — who attempts to rebuild her life in New York City with little more than her unconquerable optimism and sense of wonder.

In real life, Kemper’s life is also changing. In 2012, she married comedy writer David Koman at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in New York City, and now she’s pregnant with her first child.

While you may or may not agree with how celebrity Catholics live out the Faith — and who among us is perfect at that? — it’s refreshing to hear two smart, funny, talented adults speaking positively of the Church in such a public setting.

Here’s a selection of the conversation (click here for the whole video):

Colbert: Now, I understand that you’re, actually, a practicing Catholic.

Kemper: I do. Yes, I am. I am a practicing Catholic.

Colbert: ‘Cause I meet a lot of people in show business who are Catholics and they generally go, “I’m arecovering Catholic” or something like that.

Kemper: Yes, they’re always lapsed, right?

Colbert: Exactly. So, you’re still sticking in there?

Kemper: I’m in there for the long haul, just like you. If you drop out, I’ll consider dropping out, but as long as you’re in it, I will stay, too.

Colbert: I was only in it ‘cause you were in it.

Kemper: Oh, wait a minute … In fact, yes, I am in Catholic. In fact, my wedding anniversary is coming up in a week and my husband … Thanks guys … It’s very meaningful to me for many reasons, but my husband is not Catholic. He’s Jewish and that’s fine.

Unbreakable-Kimmy-SchmidtColbert: I hope he’s watching this, I hope he’s just found out that it’s fine.

Kemper: It’s fine.

Colbert: I know your husband, Mike Koman. He’s a great guy. He’s a hilarious writer.

Kemper: He is a great guy, thank you very much. He is.

Colbert: Please pass that on to him.

Kemper: I will pass it on to him. He’s also Jewish, and he, very gamely, agreed to get married in the Catholic Church, ’cause it meant a lot to me. We did all the things … I’m sure you did. You got married in the Catholic Church, I think?

Colbert: I didn’t.

Kemper: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Colbert: I got married by a Catholic priest who was one of my father’s older friends, and an Episcopal minister who is one of my father-in-law’s oldest friends, in a Presbyterian church. We had everything except Jews. That would have fun, but we shoveled everything into the pile, hoping one of them would listen.

Kemper: Right, exactly. I didn’t realize that. OK, so you, maybe, didn’t do pre-Cana?

Colbert: Oh, we definitely did pre-Cana.

Kemper: Oh, you did do pre-Cana.

Colbert: For the people who don’t know, pre-Cana is his thing in the Catholic Church where you have to go either on one retreat weekend or multiple weekends, and you’re taught about what it’s like to be married.

Kemper: Exactly, it’s actually very helpful.

Colbert: I loved it.

Kemper: It wasn’t necessarily even that religious. It was a lot of good premarital advice. What caught me by surprise is, Michael and I’ve been talking about, how will we raise our future children? In what faith? ‘Cause we’re different faiths. We hadn’t really reached a resolution.

During the ceremony itself, which was in a Catholic church, the priest, Father O’Connor — I adored [him]; soft-spoken, very wise, grounded Catholic priest — he was saying, “Will you honor each other all the days in your life?”

“Yes, I will.”

“You come here freely to join yourself in Holy Matrimony?””

“Yes, we do.”

Then it was, “Will you raise your children in accordance with the law of the Catholic Church?”

I was so worried that Michael, who can’t lie … I was so worried [that] he was going to say like, “I don’t know” or something, so I very loudly said, “I will.” I could hear Michael, like, softly, out of the corner of his mouth go, “OK.”

Colbert: You worked it out.

Kemper: Yeah, we worked it out.

As for for “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” itself, it has racy elements that make it unsuitable for a family audience, but it has earned praise from Catholic reviewers. From a July 2015 piece at USCatholic.com:

Though saturated with humor, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a message. “We’re not garbage. We’re human beings,” Kimmy tells Today Show’s Matt Lauer (playing himself) in an interview following her release from captivity. She stares right into the camera. It’s this conviction that drives Kimmy for the entire season, to help old friends, new friends, and, of course, herself. But it’s not about necessity and the need to survive in a cynical world. She left that life behind in the Rev. Wayne’s bunker. It’s because she believes people are worth it.

But it has come under criticism in the mainstream media. From an April 2016 piece in Time:

For a show whose central figure is a naif, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is poisonously savvy about the case it builds—that manners (or a perceived culture of political correctness) are the enemy of free discourse. That’s a point that’s well-made when Kimmy doesn’t get why her love interests think her childlike enthusiasm is a bit extra.

The second season isn’t just doubling down on a say-everything ethos that loses sight of character and plot in favor of being daring. It’s an elaborate defense of itself. Apologies may be the enemy of comedy. But demanding an apology as the price of admission is hardly much funnier.

We do, though, have a “Kimmy” fan right here at Family Theater Productions — post-production specialist Don Burt. Here’s what he had to say about the show:

I think it is worthwhile for a couple of reasons: first of all, even though unspoken, I believe there is a very subtle faith message in it – that there is always good in the world, that if you approach life with the eyes or wonderment of a child, you will be OK or “unbreakable.” Also, the value of being true to who you are is very important in this show. Kimmy becomes a mirror to her castmates and allows them to see who they really are, without the masks they have fashioned over the years. Kimmy displays a lot of the qualities that Christ has asked us to have: she is generous, trusting, forgiving and loving.  I think her faith has helped Ellie to shape the character this way.

There you have it!

Images: Courtesy CBS/Netflix

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

5 Movies of Mercy — and One ‘Daredevil’

Gravity-movie-Sandra-Bullock-George-ClooneyWe just had Divine Mercy Sunday, and we’re well into Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy, which continues until Nov. 20.

So, I took a little poll of the Family Theater Productions staff and asked them to name some mainstream movies that reflect the idea of divine mercy. .Some may be what you expect, and some may not — and use your judgement whether they’re suitable for any kids in the house.

Then last up, I’ll offer a choice of my own.

A Walk on the Moon: “Diane Lane has an extramarital affair … which is not a good message. BUT her husband stays with her, and they have an awkward yet truthful rebuilding of their family at the end.” (Sarah Kalb, Office Assistant)

Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi: “The conversion of Darth Vader in Luke’s arms.” (Kalb)

Gravity and Dead Man Walking: “In both of those films, there is Mercy after the character comes to faith. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock says her first prayer and her single tear is a sort of Baptismal moment, to be culminated in her “dip” in the primordial lake at the end. At that point, she recognizes where the Mercy came from and says a quiet “Thank-you” at the very end. In Dead Man, Sean Penn’s character finds peace (Mercy) only after he confesses to Sister Prejean. Both of these may be a stretch, I know, but they are what came to mind.” (Deacon Don Burt, Post-Production/Multimedia Specialist)

Les Miserables: “Mercy, that little word, reminds us that we are self-insufficient. We need others. In the end, our salvation must come from the outside. Salvation is a gift, a gift of free mercy. I think this is one profound reason Les Misérables has endured, and why it has attracted so many adaptations and performances.

Surrounding the romance and revolution in the middle, Les Misérables is really a story of profound theological contrast, a contrast in how sinners respond to the offer of free mercy. At a profound level, this is the story of two responses to mercy: one man is broken and lives, and one man is hardened and dies.” From “The Power of Les Miserables” (movie suggested by Hollywood Pastoral Outreach Assistant Laura Zambrana)

And my choice? It’s hard to top some of the team’s picks, and I tend to be more of a TV fan than a movie buff, so the thing that leaps immediately to my mind is the third episode of season two of Netflix’s “Marvel’s Daredevil” (which is very good but decidedly NOT family-friendly).

Charlie Cox plays blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock, who uses his heightened super-senses, fighting prowess — and, in the current Season 2, a protective suit — to take on criminals in his Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.

Daredevil-Punisher-Netflix

He’s also a Catholic, who has struggled to reconcile his violent vigilante ways — he does stop short of killing people, but only just — with his faith, but that’s turned on its head when a new vigilante, Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal), comes to town. He doles out merciless vengeance, killing people he considers bad without compunction.

In a confrontation in an episode called “New York’s Finest” (click here for a Season 2 trailer that’s NSFW and contains violence) Daredevil pleads with the Punisher to not kill, to leave that to God, to not snuff out people because they still might have good in them. In essence, he pleads for the Punisher to be merciful — then proceeds later in the episode to pretty brutally, but non-fatally, knock the stuffing out of a whole biker gang.

Mercy is hard, and sometimes, like Daredevil, it’s just as hard to discern when we are just telling ourselves we’re being merciful rather than really practicing it. That’s something the world knows, even if it doesn’t know or accept mercy’s divine origins.

Image: Courtesy Warner Bros.

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Redemption, Respect and the Environment in “Mr. Holmes”

Original Poster for Mr. Holmes.

Original Poster for Mr. Holmes.

When I think of a summer movie, I generally think of a movie that will involve either slapstick comedy or lots of explosions…or maybe a little of both. I did enjoy Pixels, Adam Sandler’s most recent contribution to sophomoric comedy, but I also found myself drawn to a film that has almost been hidden among the summer releases: Mr. Holmes. This film, starring two of my favorite actors: Ian McKellen and Laura Linney takes place soon after the end of WWII and gives us a ninety something, retired Sherlock Holmes, content to live in the country and tend to his bees. Linney plays the part of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro who is a war widow with a young son, Roger (played by Milo Parker).

Roger is drawn to Mr. Holmes and the two become friends. There is a natural feel to the interaction between McKellen and Parker. Their relationship grows organically and is pollinated by Roger’s fascination with both Holmes’ previous career and his bees.

The main plot of this film is set against the framework of a series of events that causes Holmes to re-examine his final case, one that he had not solved. It involves a young couple and the husband’s concern over the mental state of his wife. In his old age, Holmes has a tendency to forget things, names of those he is close to as well as the facts of this case. As a sort of mental calisthenics, he forces himself to find some closure in this case. He is prodded along by Roger, who pushes Holmes to fill in the gaps in his memory.

Mr. Holmes is not your typical summer movie. The humor is subtle; there are no robots and no explosions. But it is a beautiful movie, if not

Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

slower-paced than most people are used to seeing. It is a movie that has several messages that are relevant to Catholic Social Teaching; there is an overarching theme of respect for the elderly. Roger and Mrs. Munro always treat Holmes with the utmost respect and dignity. There is a respect for the living and the dead, and the conviction that those who have died before us (even in the womb) are still very much with us and part of our lives. There is also a nice sense of reconciliation, through a side story and a long forgotten person in Holmes’ life. Also, right on the heels of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si”, there is a strong sense of protecting the environment through Holmes’ love of beekeeping. In a nice moment towards the end, Holmes does something to ensure his housekeeper and her son (a widow and orphan in the biblical sense) always have a place to live.

So, yes, Mr. Holmes may not be your average summer movie, but it is a movie that is beautifully shot, acted and directed. The film is subtle in its message and its performances are like a cool ocean breeze on a hot summer day.

Film’s Impact

The Imitation GameI learned at an early age the profound impact that film could have on me. 

When I was about twelve years old, my dad bought a television for my room.  I quickly got into the habit of turning it on when I couldn’t sleep and soon discovered that PBS (among others) would run old movies until the wee small hours of the morning.  Remember, that was 1972 B.C. (before cable).  As yet, there was no HBO, AMC or Netflix, and most stations signed off soon after midnight. For someone who couldn’t sleep, prospects were bleak. On one particular night, I stumbled upon a movie titled The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jennings, about an elderly professor who falls for a cabaret singer. I remember sitting in my bed, watching as the film reached its climax; the singer humiliates the professor and causes him to break down.   I remember sitting in my bed and sobbing uncontrollably.  The Blue Angel really stayed with me and soon after, I saw (for the very first time) It’s a Wonderful Life.  Once again, I found myself sobbing after George Bailey opened Tom Sawyer to find a final message from his guardian angel, Clarence. 

A good film should move you, should elicit an emotion; from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Imitation Game, a really good film always provokes some sort of feeling.  It should leave you awash in emotion, if not completely drained.  Even a comedy can have the power to change you. 

Take a movie like Moonstruck or St. Vincent – at the end you have laughed…I hope, but you’ve also experienced the same emotions that the characters did.  This is the power of a good film: the catharsis that bubbles up from the experience, and that raw emotion is how you know you’ve seen a good film.  It doesn’t matter what the critics say or what awards it has been nominated (or passed over) for, what matters is whether or not the film has made an impact on you.  Did you laugh, did you cry, did you leave yourself for a couple of hours and return a little different?  Did it make you rethink your opinions?  For me, Dead Man Walking forced me to reconsider my support for the death penalty and Philadelphia really helped to put a face on the AIDS epidemic and helped to make me think about my own personal prejudices. A really good film has the power to change the way you think. 

In the brilliant but underappreciated documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies, Mr. Scorsese quotes another great director, Frank Capra: “Film is a disease.  When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone.  It plays Iago to your psyche, and (as with heroin) the antidote to film is more film.”  What an addiction!

"A Personal  Journey"

 

Ida: A Film about Discovery and Claiming Your Faith

IdaIda is a film about discovery and claiming your faith. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida tells the story of a Polish orphan who has been raised by nuns after the death of her parents toward the end of the Second World War, and goes on to explore her relationship with a newly-discovered aunt.  The film is set in 1962, a couple of weeks before Ida is to take her final vows.  The Mother Superior informs Ida of an aunt living in Poland, whom the Sisters feel that Ida should try to contact, though they themselves have been trying for years and have been met only with the aunt’s disinterest.  Ida meets her aunt, Wanda, and learns that she was born a Jew.  Wanda reluctantly agrees to accompany Ida on a journey to find out where her father and mother – Wanda’s sister – died.  Wanda, a hard-drinking, hard-living ex-Soviet judge, takes this journey for reasons we learn later in the film.  Ida is beautifully shot in black and white in the 4×3 format.  It looks as if it might have actually been produced in 1962, and every scene is composed almost as if it is a still photograph.  The framing of a lot of shots is very top-heavy and helps to add to the tension in the film.

The journey Ida takes with Wanda is more about finding out who she is than it is about finding the place where her parents died.  Along the way, they pick up a young saxophonist (Lis), and it is evident that there is an attraction between the innocent Ida and the worldly musician.  She tries very hard to cling to her vows, though you get a sense that there is a yearning to explore her own sexuality.   She struggles with what she has learned and with what her heart feels, as any seventeen year old would in that position.  Wanda has no such reservations about who she is, and perhaps it is Ida’s perception of her aunt that helps her to cling to the faith she has been brought up with; as a matter of fact, Ida’s Jewish roots do not figure in her journey, which comes to be more about the question of whether or not she will return to the convent.   Read More »

You Never Know Where Your Heart Will Lead You (How to Train Your Dragon 2)

How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_2_Poster(Special “thanks” to my daughter, Madelyn, who helped me write this post)

You can never go wrong if you follow your heart, even if you aren’t sure where your heart will take you.  I think that this is the important lesson that you get from How to Train Your Dragon 2.  I was a little concerned when I heard that there was going to be a sequel to Dragon; you see, the first is what I consider to be the best animated feature in recent memory (apologies to all of the Frozen fans).  My fears were unfounded, however, since this movie is in a lot of ways better than the first.  There is a much deeper, somewhat darker, story line, and the animation and color palette is exquisite.  This is not a simple movie by any stretch of the imagination: as a matter of fact, there is a lot going on in this movie.  Stripped to its barest foundations, this is a movie about discovering who you are and trusting in who you are meant to be.

We catch up with Hiccup soon after his father, Stoic, has announced that he expects Hiccup to be chief after he steps down. This sits a little uneasily with Hiccup, and he and Toothless take off for a little flying practice.  He is afraid to face the person he is meant to be, he is afraid that he might have to grow up and that when he does, he might not be able to be the person his father expects him to be (ohow-to-train-your-dragonr suspects that he already is).  Most of us can relate to this fear, and maybe even to Hiccup’s initial reaction:  he refuses to face it.  While out with Toothless, he learns that there is a group of men who are corralling dragons for a mysterious man named “Drago.”  Stoic has a history with this man and battens down the hatches while Hiccup decides to try to find him and convince him that dragons are not the creatures most fear them to be.  What Hiccup doesn’t realize is that while he thinks he is running away from his destiny, he is actually running right into it (obviously he has not read any of the Harry Potter books).  It is at this point that Astrid tells him that he has to follow his heart.  The more he embraces this idea, the more his destiny becomes clear to him…but at a cost.

How_to_Train_Your_DragonmotherThe other part of the story that I really loved focused on Hiccup’s long lost mother, who had been thought dead, but who had spent the last two decades living with dragons…sort of a Jane Goodall of the Vikings.  In a very touching scene, Stoic sees his lost wife for the first time in almost twenty years.  While we – and she – expect him to be furious when he sees her, he tenderly strokes her cheek.  His love for her has not diminished even though he, too, has undergone a substantial transformation.  Whereas the old Stoic would have been furious with the fact that she left him to care for dragons, there is no anger and he now just sees a person he loves and has missed.  They pick up where they left off and make plans to retire together in Berk.  As Stoic would attest, you are never too old to change.

This movie is the second in a planned trilogy and is built well on the characters and relationships established in the first.  It is a film about growth and change:  You can either fight it or accept it, but in the end change will happen.  Dragon 2 illustrates that if you follow your heart and do what is right, then change (some of which is inevitable) is not bad.  Hiccup and his friends still have a ways to go, but they are learning to trust each other and to trust their own hearts.  Each of them is growing into who they are meant to be in their world. If only we could all realize the same, we would all be a lot better off.