Category: Family Movies & Television

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Good for Kids, Good for the Whole Family

Want a show to watch with the whole family, that might inspire kids to get off the couch and away from video games? Try “American Ninja Warrior,” airing this Thursday on NBC.

Once upon a time, there were secular comedies and dramas that the parents and kids sat down and watched together. Everyone was entertained; no one was scandalized. Those shows aren’t entirely gone, but increasingly they’re not scripted anymore.

One of the best unscripted mainstream-TV shows for Catholic families is NBC and Esquire Network’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

This competition series, based on a Japanese format, sees men and women vying together on a series of challenging obstacle courses, in hopes of advancing to the finals in Las Vegas. Along the way, the show profiles the often-inspiring personal lives of the contestants, spotlighting their hard work, dedication and perseverance.

Some of them have families, and they’re seen training with their kids, while many others are coaches for kids.

When contestants are people of faith, that isn’t entirely hidden.

Among them have been rabbinical student Akiva Neuman, the “Rabbi Ninja,” who competed in a kippa and a tzitzit; Christian Michelle Warnky, who stencils Bible verses on her leg; and perennial favorite and top competitor,  the “Ninja Weatherman,” a k a faithful Catholic Joe Moravsky (who’s also in “Team Ninja Warrior,” airing Tuesdays on NBC’s corporate sibling, USA Network).

I did an interview with him last year for the FFM blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I believe there is a link between athletic discipline and Faith. I always trust in God to provide the path for me … and my job is to be open to any changes (even if I might not like them). It’s hard but it’s important.

It says in your Twitter bio that God is #1 — how does that play out in daily life?

“God is #1” is important because it’s a reminder for me (and my fans) to put God first … especially in times of need!

There’s also Sean Bryan, the “Papal Ninja,” who competes for the glory of God and the Catholic Church. We talked to him at an event this past winter, and expect to see that video right around the time of the new-season premiere on Monday, June 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s a quote from an earlier, extensive interview I did with Bryan, published at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos:

I see the role of all laypeople as that of a papal ninja.

In an analogical sense, think of what a ninja is: a gifted person who stealthily helps to accomplish the mission of the one who sent him. Laypeople are likewise called by Christ to partake in the secular mission of His Church by using their gifts to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.” As such, I am called to simply be myself, and live out the Gospel faithfully in the “ordinary circumstances” of my life, which in this particular case includes trying my best to witness the faith quite publicly.

Personally, I like being behind the camera (filming and editing), but the words of John the Baptist are encouraging, so long as I take them to heart, “I must decrease, that he may increase” (Jn 3:30).

Paradoxically – which is often the case with our Lord – in this situation my decreasing involves being on broadcast television, and growing beyond the discomfort for the sake of my calling, so that He may increase.

You don’t, though, have to wait until June to see “American Ninja Warrior.” There’s a special episode on Thursday, May 25, as part of a night-long event to benefit “Red Nose Day.”

A fundraising campaign run by the nonprofit Comic Relief, Inc. — a registered U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity — “Red Nose Day” urges people to don red clown noses as part of a variety of events to raise funds to support children in need, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“American Ninja Warrior” is joining in.

From NBC:

In the first celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” nine brave stars will tackle the course, all in the name of charity.

Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila serve as hosts, along with Kristine Leahy who co-hosts. The intrepid celebrity ninjas include Stephen Amell (“Arrow”), Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”), Jeff Dye (“Better Late Than Never”), two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, Nikki Glaser ( “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser”), Derek Hough (“World of Dance”), Natalie Morales (“TODAY” and “Access Hollywood”) former New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher (“Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge”) and Mena Suvari (“American Woman”).

Each of the celebrities will be paired with an elite ninja who serves as both coach and cheerleader — helping them prepare mentally and physically for their run.

From the Floating Steps to the Warped Wall, each of the celebs will have to face up to six challenging obstacles that call upon their upper body strength, agility and stamina.

The elite ninja advisers include fan favorites and National “finalists” Kevin Bull (coaching Ashton Eaton); Kacy Catanzaro (coaching Stephen Amell), Drew Drechsel (coaching Nick Swisher), Natalie Duran (coaching Mena Suvari), Daniel Gil (coaching Derek Hough), Jessie Graff (coaching Nikki Glaser), Grant McCartney (coaching Natalie Morales), Meagan Martin (coaching Jeff Dye) and Flip Rodriguez (coaching Erika Christensen).

“American Ninja Warrior” is executive-produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions’ founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed along with Brian Richardson and Anthony Storm.

Also that night is “Running Wild With Bear Grylls for Red Nose Day,” featuring actress Julia Roberts on a trip to deliver life-saving vaccines in Africa; and “The Red Nose Day Special,” with host Chris Hardwick, featuring comedy, music and films about kids in need.

Before you choose to donate money to Red Nose Day, be aware that there has been controversy over it, especially in the U.K., where it began, concerning whether some of the charities supported were also involved in providing abortions (a charge Comic Relief has largely denied, irritating some political progressives.)

Anytime you’re dealing with a secular charity, it’s always a good idea to dig in a little bit and see exactly where the money goes … so, donor beware.

Images: Courtesy NBC

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.

‘This Is Us’: Scores Super-Bowl Slot and Christmas Special

NBC’s hit family drama “This Is Us,” already renewed for two more seasons, is taking its place as a celebrated centerpiece of the network’s fall and winter schedule.

For its sophomore season, the Christopher Award-winning “This is Us” — which simultaneously focuses on young marrieds Jack and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia) and their triplets during the ’80s and beyond, and on the siblings (Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley) as mid-30s adults — is moving from Tuesday to Thursday night, perhaps in a bid by NBC to revive its “Must-See TV” tagline.

From Variety:

“If there is one show we could move it would be this one,” explained NBC entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt of the show’s move to 9pm on Thursdays during a conference call with reporters. “There is a case for keeping the show where it was. It’s a little risky, but there’s a bigger case for redoing Thursday nights.”

The drama is also being given the plum post-Super Bowl slot on Feb. 4, 2018. But, being moved to Thursdays also means that there will be interruptions in the schedule for Thursday-night NFL games. Since the Pearsons are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, Greenblatt said to Variety:

“There will hopefully be some Pittsburgh Steelers games in there,” said Greenblatt,” since the team factors into the show. “I’d love the Steelers to go to the Super Bowl.”

There’s also going to be a Christmas episode to airing during the holiday season, followed by another schedule interruption in February for the Winter Olympics.

Despite all this, NBC seems all in on this emotional, touching, family-centered show, which seems to melt even the stoniest of TV-critic hearts.

The fact that it’s on NBC is confusing me to no end.

The show is great, but it’s so unlike anything NBC has picked up in recent years — but it does follow the network’s success with two faith-friendly Dolly Parton Christmas movies. And now, the Peacock network is doing a live version of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the spring of 2018.

Is NBC having a come-to-Jesus moment? I doubt it, but something’s up. Whatever it is, I hope it keeps on going.

Surprisingly though, it doesn’t appear that the other broadcast networks have rushed to develop more multigenerational family dramas in the vein of “This Is Us.”

I recently ran into a friend who spent many years in a senior PR position at another network, and she said, “They think it’s a fluke.”

Well, if we want more positive, heartwarming shows like “This Is Us,” we may have to be a little more vociferous in convincing TV execs that it’s not.

Related stories:

NBC’s ‘Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love’ Airs Wednesday

NBC to Do ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Live Musical in Spring 2018

Christopher Awards: ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ ‘This Is Us,’ Dolly Parton and More …

What ‘This Is Us’ and Jack Teach Us About Fatherhood on St. Joseph’s Day

Image: Courtesy NBC

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.

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima With Film

Saturday, May 13, is the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Portugal in 1917. When you’re not watching coverage of the papal visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima on EWTN, you can slip in a few movies.

“The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” (1952; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): As described by Deacon Steven Greydanus:

[It] is an old-fashioned production in the Golden Age tradition of religious fare like The Song of Bernadette. It’s not as good a movie as The Song of Bernadette (the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age piety, in my opinion), but it’s well made, entertaining, and fairly faithful to the main facts (despite liberties such as Gilbert Roland’s fictional rascal with a heart of gold, added to help mediate the story for mainstream audiences).

“The 13th Day” (2009; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): The editorial review at Amazon describes this British production thus:

In a world torn apart by persecution, war and oppression, 3 children in Fatima, Portugal were chosen by God to offer an urgent message of hope to the world. Based on the memoirs of the oldest seer, Lucia Santos, and many thousands of independent eye-witness accounts, The 13th Day dramatizes the true story of three young shepherds who experienced six apparitions of Our Lady between May and October 1917, which culminated in the final prophesied Miracle of the Sun on October 13th. Abducted from their homes, thrown into prison and interrogated under the threat of death in the government’s attempt to silence them, the children remained true to their story about the crucial messages from Mary of prayer, repentance and conversion for the world.

Our Lady gave a secret to the children told in three parts, from a harrowing vision of hell, to prophetic warnings of future events including the advent and timing of the Second World War, the spread of communism, and the attempted assassination of the Pope.

Stylistically beautiful and technically innovative, the film uses state-of-the-art digital effects to create stunning images of the visions and the final miracle that have never before been fully realized on screen. Shot on location in Portugal and in the UK, the film has a cast of hundreds to re-create the scenes of the 70,000 strong crowds, with 3 young Portuguese actors playing the iconic roles of the Seers.

Witness the greatest miracle of the 20th Century, and experience the incredible, emotionally-charged and harrowing world of three young children whose choice to remain loyal to their beliefs, even in the face of death, would inspire thousands.

Filmed in High Definition with Dolby Surround Sound. Stars Jane Lesley, Michael D’Cruze, Filipa Fernandes and Tarek Merlin.

“Finding Fatima” (2010; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): If your tastes run more to documentary, here’s one from the same filmmakers who produced “The 13th Day.” It combines archival footage, dramatic reenactments, interviews with experts and visual effects to tell the whole story of the the apparitions, which began with an angel and continued on the 13th of each month between May and Oct. 1917 (when the Miracle of the Sun is reported to have happened in front of scores of onlookers).

“The Song of Bernadette” (1943; available to stream via Amazon Prime): Of course, Fatima isn’t the only place Our Lady is reported to have appeared. This Hollywood classic stars Jennifer Jones as peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who reported 18 visions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, between February and July 1858. Having been based on a novel about the events, it’s not perfectly historically accurate, but it is moving and won four Academy Awards, including best actress for Jones.

One pope associated strongly with Fatima is John Paul II, and for good reason. On May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of Fatima, Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca fired on the pope at point-blank range at the Vatican.

From a 2016 story at Crux:

Yet the two bullets Agca fired at the pope somehow went wide of their targets, one grazing off John Paul’s elbow and the other penetrating his abdomen but narrowly missing a major artery.

To John Paul II, it was no mystery at all why he survived: the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.

On the anniversary of the assassination attempt, John Paul II traveled to the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to give thanks to Mary for saving his life, placing the bullet doctors had removed from his body in the crown of the Virgin’s statue, where it remains to this day.

There have been a few films about JPII, but one of the best is a 2005 CBS miniseries, called, unsurprisingly, “John Paul II.” Available on DVD from Amazon Prime, it stars Cary Elwes as the young Karol Wojtyla, and Jon Voight as the elder Wojtyla, when he was Pope John Paul II.

From a review by Deacon Steven Greydanus:

Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering both halves of its subject’s life as could be hoped for in a TV movie. The miniseries neatly splits its two nights between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) playing Wojtyla from his youth to the 1978 conclave and Jon Voight (Holes) playing John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.

Both actors do a remarkably good job at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion, and Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve. Both actors effectively tackle the physicality of the role, Elwes energetic and athletic as the younger Wojtyla and Voight giving an impressively controlled performance from the vigor of the early years of the papacy through the slow decline to that painful final public appearance when all the pope’s immense willpower could not coax speech from his throat.

Have a Blessed Feast of Our Lady of Fatima!

Images: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0; Kristyn Brown

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.

NBC to Do ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Live Musical in Spring 2018

NBC — home to the hit family drama “This Is Us,” and the network that aired one season of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” — has chosen “Jesus Christ Superstar” as its next live TV musical, to air in Spring 2018.

Staged on Broadway in 1971, “Superstar” follows NBC’s other live musical events, including adaptations of “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan,” “The Wiz” and “Hairspray.”

Original show creators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are executive producers for the event, and will oversee any new music or lyrics for the NBC vision. The other executive producers — Mark Platt (“La La Land”), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — are also veterans of musical productions.

Says Variety:

“As we continue to expand the profile of our live musicals, we are thrilled to be partnering with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to bring a new live staging of the iconic ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to NBC,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment. “Casting has just begun, but we want to fill out this classic show with as many recording artists as possible to give proper voice to what is the original rock opera score.”

The choice of “Superstar” follows Fox’s Palm Sunday, 2016, presentation of Tyler Perry’s “The Passion.” The live event was based on a Dutch production chronicling the last hours of Christ’s life, staged in New Orleans and featuring a panoply of pop-music performers.

Apparently NBC is also on the hunt for authentic music stars to fill out the cast.

We don’t have an airdate for “Superstar” either, but if it’s Spring 2018, odds are very good it will air either on Palm or Easter Sunday.

For those too young to remember “Superstar,” it’s a rock-musical take on the last week leading up to the Crucifixion, largely from Judas’ perspective (or at least the perspective assigned to him in this version of the Passion narrative).

Most people who know “Superstar” have either heard the original cast album or seen the 1973 film version, starring Ted Neeley as Jesus, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. But at its heart, it’s still a stage show.

Also from Variety:

The musical first opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway in 1971 and starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Ben Vereen as Judas, and was nominated for five Tony Awards that year. Prior to making its way to the stage, the musical was originally conceived as a concept album that hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts. Since then, the show has been performed in nearly 20 countries and translated into 18 different languages. In the 46 years since its debut, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been revived many times, including Tony-nominated runs in 2000 and 2012.

From a Catholic perspective, “Superstar” is not good catechesis, but then, why would anyone expect a 1970s rock musical to be that, anyway? But it is an engaging, very human portrayal of Christ, and many folks — myself included — have found it spiritually uplifting and effective.

NBC’s version could be great, or awful, or somewhere in between, but throwing up a few prayers starting now can’t hurt.

Many Christians have decried “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but the Vatican did approve a version for pilgrims back in 1999.

From the U.K. Guardian:

Gerald O’Collins, a professor of theology at Gregorian university in Rome, said that accusations that the musical demeaned or trivialised Jesus were misplaced. “Christians have been depicting Him on stage since the passion plays of the middle ages,” he said. “This is no different.”

Here’s a peek at Ted Neeley’s performance:

Here’s Elliman, with Mary Magdalene’s signature song:

And Carl Anderson, as Judas, singing the musical’s signature song:

And here’s the entire 1973 movie, filmed in Israel (it’s not a great quality video; for better, grab it off Amazon Prime):

Image: Original Broadway logo

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.

Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Interviews Our Own Kaiser Johnson

This fall, actor and Spartan racer Kaiser Johnson (“Vampire Diaries,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Team Spartan”) makes his co-hosting debut, with Libby Slater, in Family Theater Productions’ YouTube series, “Catholic Central.”

Intended for teens and young adults, the short (less than 10 minutes) episodes explore all aspects of the Faith. Here’s how it’s described on the official Website (where you can sign up for the latest information and watch a trailer):

“Catholic Central” offers entertaining and authoritative answers to your questions about Catholic thought, spirituality and practice. To do that, we’ve assembled a team of witty writers, appealing hosts and learned theologians to produce a collection of videos that entertain, enlighten and inspire.

Here’s a shot of Johnson and Slater on set, during production of an early episode:

 

This isn’t the first Catholic project that Johnson has done. A few years ago, he appeared in “Young Catholic Minute” on EWTN, and most recently, he returned to that network, playing Friedrich Nietzche on “Saints vs. Scoundrels.”

He’s also the head of the Hollywood Chesterton Society, an offshoot of the American Chesterton Society — a group dedicated to the life, works and sainthood campaign of Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton — and the co-creator, with Slater, of an upcoming online sketch-comedy show called “Butch Duotang.”

On May 8, the blog of Los Angeles Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire published an interview with Johnson, who discusses his love of obstacle-course racing (click here for our Facebook video page, where we feature a couple short videos with him on the same subject), G.K. Chesterton and acting.

Check out some excerpts:

I think all the lessons one learns in physical fitness tie into faith. I’ve learned self-discipline, the importance of a daily practice, the constant need to grow and adapt, the value of enduring suffering and deprivation of consolation… heck, in analyzing what is going well or needs to change in my training, I almost go through a type of examination of conscience!

I began acting in 6th grade, in school plays and the like, but it’s really only in recent years that I’ve gotten to do it professionally. My first piece of advice would be: don’t do it. My second piece of advice would be: don’t do it. My third piece of advice is: okay, if you are willing to have the very smallest part of your career as an actor actually be acting, are an absolute glutton for hard work with little discernable payoff, have an actual talent that others consistently mention, and are willing to do whatever you can to grow and foster that talent, then start considering it. I’m sure that sounds harsh, but the fact of it is, many people try to break into acting for the wrong reasons (or at least unsustainable ones), and they only realize it a ways down the road, when they could have been spending their time more profitably.

[Chesterton] has a beautiful way of reminding me all the things I’ve forgotten I’ve always believed, and sharing them in a beautiful way that makes me grateful for all the small things in life.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Images: Family Theater Productions

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.

EWTN to Premiere ‘The Message of Fatima’ On May 10

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal — and EWTN is rolling out a new miniseries to mark the occasion, called “The Message of Fatima.”

Between May 13 and Oct. 13, 1917, three Portuguese shepherd children — Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and their cousin Lucia dos Santos — saw monthly visions of Our Lady.

Mary instructed the children to pray the rosary for world peace, to end World War I, to convert sinners, and to bring Russia back to the Faith.

From Franciscan Media:

Mary gave the children three secrets. Following the deaths of Francisco and Jacinta in 1919 and 1920 respectively, Lucia revealed the first secret in 1927. It concerned devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second secret was a vision of hell. When Lucia grew up she became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005 at the age of 97.

Pope John Paul II directed the Holy See’s Secretary of State to reveal the third secret in 2000; it spoke of a “bishop in white” who was shot by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows into him. Many people linked this vision to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

The feast of Our Lady of Fatima was approved by the local bishop in 1930; it was added to the Church’s worldwide calendar in 2002.

The Feast of Our Lady of Fatima is Saturday, May 13 … and the very next day, Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day — so that weekend, we celebrate both our Mother in Heaven and all the mothers on Earth.

In a May 4 blog post, EWTN revealed extensive details about its docudrama miniseries “The Message of Fatima,” written, produced and directed by Stefano Mazzeo.

From the EWTN blog:

Not everyone knows that an Angel appeared to the three shepherd children in 1916 to prepare them for the apparitions from the Mother of God the following year. Episode 1 of this important docu-drama, which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, May 10, prepares viewers for what is to come by conveying the Angel’s messages. At 8 p.m. ET that same evening, Fr. Mitch Pacwa will interview Writer/Director Mazzeo on “EWTN Live.”

Then, just as at Fatima in 1917, EWTN will air an account of one of the six apparitions on the 13th of the same month in which they originally occurred. Each monthly episode will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, beginning Saturday, May 13 and ending Friday, Oct. 13 with the Miracle of the Sun.

The production was filmed on location in Fatima, featuring a trio of young actors that looks strikingly like the original seers, along with such authentic settings as the church in which the children were baptized, went to First Confession and First Holy Communion.

Said Mazzeo:

“Pope Benedict XVI said, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete. The message will continue to be lived out as long as there are people on earth. It’s a private revelation, so we don’t have to believe it, but it does lead us to and re-emphasize the deposit of faith. I cannot say for sure that anything will happen this year, but I believe that the message of Fatima is not finished yet. The prophesies are ongoing.”

Click here to read the whole thing, which includes several stills from the production.

There are also reports that Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta — who died while still children — during an upcoming visit to the Fatima shrine in Portugal on May 12-23. The sainthood cause for Servant of God Sister Lucia is ongoing, and in February, it passed an important milestone on the way to beatification, the last step before canonization.

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.