Category: Family Movies & Television

5 Christmas Movies Streaming Now, Filled With Cheer, Innocence & Fun

The Star/Sony Animation

Is it just me, or does it seem like there is a glut of standard, made-for-TV-type Christmas movies on Netflix and the like right now? And they all kind of seem to blend together in a haze of mediocrity and Santa Clauses?

Well luckily, there is also a fairly good selection of newer and classic Christmas movie offerings streaming right now, for those of us who like a little more substance and meaning (and maybe production value!) in our Christmas entertainment programming.

Here are 5 Christmas movies on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime that are filled with actual Christmas themes– you know, like the birth of Christ! With a bit of life’s meaning and innocent fun thrown in as well!

The Star (2017)

A computer animated movie from Sony about some animals involved in the Nativity of Christ. Funny, entertaining, and it even gives some screen-time to the actual human characters in the story as well — Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, Herod, and Baby Jesus. It’s rated PG for some thematic elements, but this one is a great choice for the whole family. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The black-and-white Jimmy Stewart classic about a desperate man who wishes he’d never been born, and the angel who shows him what that life would have actually looked like for everyone he loves. Filled with Christmas-y atmosphere and worthwhile themes about the impact of one’s life and actions on others, this one has staying power for good reason. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime right now.

White Christmas (1954)

A Bing Crosby musical about two war buddies with a song-and-dance act who meet two sisters who have their own song-and-dance act. The two duos work together to put on a Christmas show that will hopefully save a failing lodge in Vermont. This one is mostly just old-timey fun with a lot of Christmas cheer thrown in, but it’s innocent and sweet as well. You can stream it on Netflix.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

The timeless Charles Dickens story about the miserly, friendless Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) learning how to care about others, when three ghosts visit him on Christmas Eve. This one — originally produced for CBS and one of the better versions — is rated PG and might be a little scary for younger viewers (a bit more intense than the Mickey Mouse version!), but it’s a great choice for those beyond the nightmare years. It’s currently on Amazon Prime Video.

The Nutcracker (1993)

If you’re thinking of going to see the new Disney adaptation of this classic Christmas ballet that’s in theaters now, you might want to check out the older version of the wonder-filled story about a little girl who dreams of her toys coming to life on Christmas Eve. Macaulay Culkin (of Home Alone) actually plays The Nutcracker in this one, and it’s pretty kid-friendly. It’s available to stream on Netflix right now.

Happy viewing!

Image: Sony Animation

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Kenneth Branagh Plays Shakespeare (Himself) in ‘All Is True’ [UPDATED WITH TRAILER]

All Is True/Sony Pictures Classics

Belfast-born British actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh is possibly the best friend the Bard of Avon has in movies today — and now he’s actually playing the playwright.

As director and star, Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations include Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Loves Labour’s Lost, As You Like It, Othello and Macbeth.

Now, quite quietly, he went about directing and starring in All Is True, a new period drama about the final years in the life of William Shakespeare, just acquired for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. Right before Christmas, the film will get a brief theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles — so it qualifies for awards — then sent to more theaters in 2019.

Taking on the daunting task of writing about possibly the greatest writer in the English language is comedian, screenwriter and author Ben Elton, better known for such funny stuff as The Young Ones and Blackadder (and for an acting role in Much Ado About Nothing).

From Deadline.com:

Penned by Ben Elton in his first original drama, All Is True is set in 1613 when Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age. But disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationships with his wife (Dench) and daughters. In so doing, he is forced to examine his own failings as husband and father. McKellen plays the Earl of Southampton.

And, from EmpireOnline.com:

Sony Pictures Classics picked up rights to distribute it worldwide. “We have known and worked with Ken for 25 years,” the company says in a statement. “We feel this is a movie he was destined to make. He conjures up for us the depth and dramatic richness of a character about whom we have always been fascinated. What we have seen has confirmed our excitement to plan a qualifying run at the end of this year and to open the movie fully in the new year. We believe audiences will embrace the freshness of All Is True.”

In 2017, the fanciful drama Will had a brief run on TNT, diving into oft-discussed Catholic background of Shakespeare. But, the 1998 comedy-drama Shakespeare in Love avoided the subject entirely.

Catholic writer and Shakespeare scholar Joseph Pearce has long defended the Bard’s Catholicism. In an April 2018 piece for the National Catholic Register, he writes:

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that Shakespeare had “so little of a Protestant about him that Catholics have been able, without extravagance, to claim him as their own.” Hilaire Belloc, echoing Newman, insisted that “the plays of Shakespeare were written by a man plainly Catholic in habit of mind.” G. K. Chesterton, reaching the same conclusion, stated that Shakespeare’s Catholicism was “a thing that every Catholic feels by every sort of convergent common sense to be true.”

Newman, Belloc and Chesterton drew their conclusions from their deep understanding of Shakespeare’s work, not having the benefit of the wealth of biographical evidence for the Bard’s Catholicism that has emerged in the past century or so. Today, those who claim that Shakespeare was a Catholic can employ the historical facts of his life and times, as well as the textual evidence to be gleaned from his poetry and plays.

Today it is widely accepted, albeit reluctantly by many, that Shakespeare was raised in a devoutly Catholic family at a time when the practice of the Faith was illegal.

Raised the son of working-class Protestant parents in a divided Belfast, Branagh — despite having directed what Bishop Robert Barron called a “very Christian Cinderella” — has not shied away from what faith exists in his Shakespeare films, but is not a man known for bringing up the subject himself.

And, writer Elton is not religious (but he doesn’t seem hostile to the notion of a Higher Power).

So, is the Shakespeare of All Is True a Catholic or a Protestant, or is it just not discussed? We shall see …

Here’s a peek …

Image: Sony Pictures Classics

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.

Discovery Joins With ‘Fixer-Upper’ Couple Chip and Joanna Gaines for a New Network

Chip and Joanna Gaines/Magnolia

On last Friday’s episode of The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Chip and Joanna Gaines, the Christian couple at the heart of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, revealed that they’ll be partnering with HGTV parent Discovery on a new branded network.

The two, who just had a fifth child, have been on a break since Sept. 2017, after juggling family, their design company Magnolia, various business ventures and television. But it looks like the time out is coming to an end.

From Deadline.com:

“We signed a non-disclosure and it said, quote/unquote, you can tell your mother but that’s it,” Chip said. “So mom, I just wanted to make a quick announcement, we are coming back to television. You are going to get to see the kids grow up, you are going to see us, well maybe a six-month delay like the rest of the world, but we are excited to be back.”

The couple’s Magnolia company also issued a statement. “We’re excited to share that we are currently in the early stages of talking with Discovery about a lifestyle-focused media network for Magnolia,” Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano said. “The details surrounding this opportunity remain a work in progress, but together, our hope is to build a different kind of platform for unique, inspiring and family-friendly content.”

Discovery then issued a statement to People, which read:

Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano also confirmed the news in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE: “We’re excited to share that we are currently in the early stages of talking with Discovery about a lifestyle-focused media network for Magnolia. The details surrounding this opportunity remain a work in progress, but together, our hope is to build a different kind of platform for unique, inspiring and family-friendly content.”

Chip Gaines says the plan is to have much of the busy parents’ filming done in their hometown of Waco, Texas, to minimize travel.

Along with Fixer Upper, the Gainses also have a lifestyle magazine called The Magnolia Journal, a new Magnolia Table restaurant, a product line at Target, and the Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco, along with memoirs, cookbooks and a design book by Joanna, called “Homebody: A Guide to Creating Places You Never Want to Leave.

Image: Magnolia

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.

‘Last Man Standing’ Is Back … And Perhaps a Little Better

I have to admit, I’ve never been a die-hard fan of Last Man Standing. I didn’t sign the petition to keep in on air when ABC cancelled it, and it wasn’t a show where I eagerly awaited a new episode every week. But I did catch up on it every now and then.

Mostly, I think I’d just grown cold on the multicamera, laugh-track heavy format where storylines are wrapped up neatly in 22 minutes. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the occasional cheesiness of the show.

Still, though, Fox picking up the show to air new episodes an entire season after ABC cancelled it … well, it felt like kind of a cool victory for family-oriented TV and the representation of conservative values. So I had to give the new season a shot.

Last Man Standing ran for six seasons on ABC …

Since its start on ABC in 2011, the comedy (official site here) been about a conservative outdoorsy guy named Mike Baxter (played by Tim Allen) who has three daughters and runs marketing for a store called Outdoor Man. The storylines are mostly men vs. women, conservatives vs. liberals, or other light family conflicts.

The show is not so very different from the Tim Allen sitcom of the ’90s, ABC’s Home Improvement, where he played a haphazard handyman dad of three boys. And Last Man Standing has even made the occasional joke comparing the two shows (my favorite being when they insinuated that Home Improvement had better writers, which I think is true, but it’s extra funny when you realize that the Last Man Standing writers were actually digging on themselves when they wrote the joke…).

Unlike most other shows on TV these days, Last Man Standing tends to show things like family values and morality in a positive light.

How the new season started …

The most obvious differences of this new season on Fox are some new actors in old roles. Middle daughter Mandy is played by a new chick who is, uh, not as good at playing a ditz? I’m not a fan of New Mandy … Grandson Boyd had been replaced too, but the new Boyd is pretty comparable to the old one, in my opinion.

Beyond that, it’s mostly the same blend of light family conflicts, occasional cheese, and good values. But so far there’ve been a couple noteworthy high points that make me wonder if they’re upping their game just a bit.

Episode 2 of this season is about Mike grieving (and really, about him not grieving) his deceased father. A comedy show episode about death can be really hard to pull off well, and they did it here. I actually almost cried. Granted, I’m full of pregnancy hormones right now, but still, I’ve never even come close to crying at this show before.

The other noteworthy high point is a subtle shout-out to Natural Family Planning in Episode 3, where middle daughter Mandy and mom Vanessa talk about Mandy’s hesitance to get pregnant. They surprisingly don’t mention contraception at all, and instead Mandy vaguely mentions abstaining from sex during times of fertility! I almost fell off the couch, I was so shocked. Conservative values and all, I never expected to hear NFP mentioned (let alone put in a positive, this-actually-works-to-prevent-pregnancy light!) on this show.

Overall …

The show is still a little cheesy here and there. And I find the new Mandy’s acting pretty cringe-worthy some of the time. But so far, this new season has me feeling happy that the show is back on the air.

Last Man Standing airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox; full episodes online and on Hulu.

Image: Courtesy Fox

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

From Hallmark to Netflix: TV Stuffs Your Stocking With Christmas Movies

Christmas in Love (Hallmark Channel)

Christmas movies are not just for Hallmark Channel anymore — several cable networks and streaming services are getting in on the holiday game. Not everyone may want to say Merry Christmas in public these days, but TV just can’t get enough of snow and mistletoe.

Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

Of course, Hallmark still pulling the biggest sleighload of Yuletide films. It was also the first, with the Jane Austen-inspired Christmas at Pemberley Manor on Oct. 27, before the Halloween candy had even been handed out. Close on its heels were Christmas Joy (Nov. 3) and Road to Christmas (Nov. 4). Next up is It’s Christmas, Eve, with country singer LeAnn Rimes, airing Nov. 10 (don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll repeat them all).

Between Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, there are more than 30 new movies this season. Here’s Hallmark Channel’s lineup; click here for more info; guide can be downloaded here.

As for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Miracles of Christmas schedule (downloadable here).

Here’s a full sneak-peek episode at Hallmark’s holiday offerings:

Lifetime

Lifetime launches its holiday-fest, called It’s a Wonderful Lifetime, on Nov. 21, with My Christmas Inn, an Alaska-set adventure starring Tia Mowry-Hardict (Sister, Sister). On Thanksgiving night, Nov. 22, rouse yourself from your turkey coma for One Tree Hill alums Hilarie Burton, Robert Buckley and Danneel Ackles for The Christmas Contract, followed by ‘Tis the Season: A One Tree Hill Cast Reunion.

Also in the mix is the musical romp Jingle Belle, starring Tatyana Ali, Cornelius Smith Jr. and Loretta Devine, premiering Nov. 25.

Click here for a quick rundown of Lifetime’s Christmas cornucopia; and here for more details.

Freeform

The Disney-affiliated network still isn’t quite sure what it is, but it is sure it wants in on the Christmas bonanza, with its Kickoff to Christmas (click here for the full schedule), which began Nov. 1.

You’re not going to find the romantic original movies dominating the other channels. Instead, Freeform has assembled existing favorites, including plenty from Disney and Pixar. Among the offerings (in heavy rotation) are The Nightmare Before Christmas, Disney’s Frozen, Mrs. Doubtfire, Alvin & the Chipmunks (and its Squeakwel), Beethoven, Storks, etc.

UPtv

The season also launched Nov. 1 on “uplifting” UPtv, but it continues for a total of 55 days, including seven premiere movies and a Gilmore the Merrier binge-a-thon, with host Scott Patterson.

Among the highlights are Second Chance Christmas on Nov. 8; A Christmas Switch on Nov. 9, and Naughty & Nice on Nov. 10 (proving that they don’t all HAVE to have Christmas in the title). Click here for the full rundown (there are even a couple with dogs!); and download the full Christmas calendar here.

INSP (said I-N-S-P)

Branded as faith- and family-friendly, INSP is also in the Yuletide game. On Nov. 25, it premieres Christmas on the Coast, starring Julie Ann Emery, Bonnie Bedelia and Clarence Gilyard Jr. (star of one of INSP’s most popular shows, Walker, Texas Ranger, and a Catholic board member of FTP’s parent organization, Holy Cross Family Ministries). Click here to learn more about it.

ION

Another family-oriented up-and-comer (available via broadcast, cable and satellite) is banking on Yule magic. Bring the Holidays Home starts off with Christmas Cupid’s Arrow, airing Nov. 25, a twist on the Cyrano tale (with a much cuter Cyrano). Click here for more information and a full schedule.

Netflix

The streaming juggernaut had a huge hit last year with The Christmas Prince, so it’s back this year with The Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding on Nov. 30.

While you’re waiting for the wedding, you can watch The Holiday Calendar, available to stream now.

It’s followed by The Princess Switch (Nov. 16), with Vanessa Hudgins; and The Christmas Chronicles on Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, starring Kurt Russell as Santa Claus. I know I’ve always wanted to see Snake Plissken as Santa — how about you?

There’s also an animated family short called Angela’s Christmas, coming out Nov. 30.

And Just for Fun …

The good folks at Vulture have sorted out this year’s offerings into “trope” categories, such as Let’s Fake a Relationship That — Spoiler Alert — Turns Out to Be Real, Every Girl Wants to Be a Princess … Or Does She?, and An Event Planner Didn’t Plan for THIS.

Get the popcorn, cocoa and sugar cookies, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Image: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

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.

Netflix’s ‘Dogs’ Will Give You All the Fido Feels

On Nov. 16, Netflix is going to set tails a’wagging with the streaming premiere of Dogs, a six-part cinema vérité series exploring bonds between humans and canines around the world. So, sit, stay and learn what it’s all about.

The Netflix Original Documentary Series — a real switch from such recent true-crime fare as Making a Murderer and The Keepers — travels to Syria, Japan, Costa Rica, Italy and the U.S. to profile the love between dogs and people.

It’s gonna be a heart-tugger, so get out those hankies (and grab a warm puppy, if you have one).

Who’s Behind Dogs?

If you’re wondering if the folks producing this series really love dogs, meet executive producer Glen Zipper, a former criminal prosecutor whose life was forever changed by his encounter with a shelter puppy named Anthony. After adopting Anthony days before he was to be euthanized, Zipper was inspired to become a shelter volunteer.

Eventually, that led him to leave his job as a lawyer, pack up Anthony and drive cross-country to L.A. to tell stories. In an essay provided by Netflix, he writes:

For the last 14 years — through successes and many more frequent failures — Anthony has always been there for me. With his wagging tail at the door after a long, hard day; with his smiling face always managing to pierce the gloomiest of moods; and most importantly, with his constant, unrelenting, unconditional love.

Dogs don’t just make us feel loved; dogs make us feel safe. They allow us to venture out into the world, take our lumps and come back to the best friend any of us could ever want or imagine.

In the world we live in today, no matter how divided we are, we should take care to realize how dogs can bring us together. Our love for them speaks to our unanimity of needs: love, friendship, companionship, loyalty. We all want these qualities in our lives, and dogs are the only souls on this planet who guarantee us each and every one of them in spades.

Our series Dogs is created in this spirit — to honor our dogs, and to help us realize that a love for dogs is something we all have in common. Understanding this, it is also our hope that sharing these stories might help us find more ways to love each other.

How Should Christians Think About Dogs?

I’ve always believed that dogs offer a mirror of our relationship with God. As God made us to love and serve Him, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him, so we have made dogs to love and serve us, and their hearts are restless unless they’re getting a belly rub.

As Christians, we should always put our fellow humans first, especially children. But caring for dogs, and being cared for by them, can open up windows in hardened human hearts and teach us much about the nature of love. One has to think every wagging tail is pleasing to God.

Here’s more on the episodes:

1: The Kid With a Dog

Directed by Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, One of Us)

Corrine, an 11-year-old girl with traumatic seizures, is paired with Rory, a dog trained to detect an oncoming seizure.

2: Bravo, Zeus

Directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil)

Ayham fled war-torn Syria for Germany, but had to leave his husky, Zeus, behind. He and his friends risk everything to bring Zeus out of Syria to safety.

3: Ice on the Water

Directed by Richard Hankin (The Jinx)

Italian fisherman Alessandro relies on his partner, Labrador retriever Ice, to be his companion and help in the family business.

4: Scissors Down

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (Life Animated)

Renowned California dog groomers fly to Japan to compete in a high-level grooming competition.

5: Territorio de Zeguates

Directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay (Undefeated, LA 92)

Dedicated people sustain a sanctuary deep in the Costa Rican rainforest that saves street dogs.

And, last but  not least …

6: Second Chances

Directed by Berg

The New York City charity Hearts and Bones travels to the south to return dogs to the Big Apple for adoption.

 

Will you be watching? Here’s a peek:

Images: Courtesy Netflix

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.