Category: Family Movies & Television

‘I Still Believe’: ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Filmmakers Tackle the Jeremy Camp Story

After a $17M opening weekend,  I Can only Imagine became the surprise breakout faith-based hit of 2018, and now there’s more to come.

Inspired by the life story of Bart Millard of the band MercyMe, who penned its hit Christian-pop song, also called “I Can Only Imagine,” the film — directed by the brother team of Andrew and Jon Erwin (Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn) —  exceeded the expectations of the secular movie world.

The Erwins and producing partner Kevin Downes are re-teaming for a new film, called I Still Believe. Set to start shooting in the spring, it’s going for a March 20, 2020 wide theatrical release.

Both Erwin brothers will direct from a script by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Dubbed an uplifting and inspiring true-life story of Christian music mega-star Jeremy Camp, the film will follow the protagonist’s journey of love and loss.

Camp is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who has sold more than 5 million albums and has toured some 36 countries. He has received numerous accolades, including four RIAA-certified Gold albums, two American Music Awards nominations, multiple ASCAP awards, 38 No. 1 songs, a Gold digital single (“There Will Be a Day”), a multi-Platinum DVD and was named in Billboard’s Christian Artist of the Decade chart (No. 2).

I Still Believe represents the first project to come out of the Erwin brothers’ first-look film and TV deal with Lionsgate, which has produced such other faith-based fare as Hacksaw Ridge and The Shack.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

‘Unplanned’: Planned Parenthood Drama Lands Distribution, Releases Trailer

UnplannedFilm.com

Unplanned, a new film chronicling the change of heart of Texan Abby Johnson from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life activist, has found a theatrical distributor and released a trailer.

PureFlix plans to release the film on 800 screens on March 29. It renews the company’s relationship with writer/directors Carey Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who wrote and co-produced God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2, which PureFlix also distributed theatrically.

The film (click here for the official Website) is based on Johnson’s 2011 book Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.

Ashley Bratcher plays the feisty, outspoken Johnson. Here’s an interview they did for EWTN:

Kaiser Johnson

Also appearing in the film is Family Theater Productions’ own Kaiser Johnson, who stars, with Libby Slater, in our online series Catholic Central.

Johnson plays Jeff, a brash attorney who represents Abby as she disentagles herself from Planned Parenthood.

From the press release:

“I thought I was helping women,” said Abby Johnson, founder and director of And Then There Were None,  the only group in the country that helps abortion workers exit the industry and find them new jobs. “But I was doing more harm than good. It wasn’t until I saw a child fight for its life that my world came crashing down and I understood the enormity of my actions. I had to leave. No one will be able to walk away after seeing this movie and say ‘I didn’t know.’”

During her time as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, Abby facilitated over 22,000 abortions. Since leaving, she has helped nearly 500 former abortion workers, including seven doctors, leave their jobs and find fulfilling careers outside of the abortion industry.

Bringing to life this powerful real-life story of redemption and love, UNPLANNED stars Ashley Bratcher (WAR ROOM, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN) as Johnson; Brooks Ryan as her husband, Doug; Robia Scott (CSI, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) as Abby’s superior at Planned Parenthood ; Emma Elle Roberts (HUNGER GAMES:MOCKING JAY, I AM NOT ASHAMED, ) as Marilisa Carney, Kaiser Johnson (LITTLE BOY, VAMPIRE DIARIES, SLEEPY HOLLOW); and Jared Lotz (OF LITTLE CONVENIENCE, THANKSGIVING) as Shawn Carney.

Actress Ashley Bratcher was nearly aborted by her own mother, which she didn’t find out until filming began. “I was born for this role,” said Bratcher.

“This is the most important movie anyone will ever see on the most controversial issue of our time,” said Solomon and Konzelman. “When UNPLANNED comes to theaters, this movie will make abortion unpopular.”

The film has also released a trailer:

Watch this space for more about the film as the release date grows nearer. Considering current headlines about legislation to relax abortion restrictions in New York State and elsewhere, the film couldn’t be more timely.

Image: UnplannedFilm.com/Family Theater Productions (Johnson)

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.

‘God Friended Me’ Gets a Second Season on CBS

(L-R) Violett Bean, Suraj Sharma, Brandon Micheal Hall/CBS

CBS announced today that it’s given the Sunday-night faith-and-Facebook comedy-drama God Friended Me a second season.

Family Theater Productions hosted a screening of the show’s pilot for invited guests from the local faith (primarily Catholic) community, and it was given near-universal thumbs up (click here to read what they had to say).

Brandon Micheal Hall stars as Miles Finer, a computer-security-company employee and podcaster who received a friend request from a Facebook account called “God.” That began a series of coincidences (?) and friend suggestions from the “God account,” that have sent him and his friends (Suraj Sharma, Violett Beane) on an adventure of helping others, self-discovery and attempts to uncover the mystery of the account.

Along the way, Finer has moved from militant atheism to turning his podcast into an open conversation on faith.

Joe Morton also stars as Finer’s father, an Episcopalian minister; with Javicia Leslie as his lesbian sister, a bartender.

In the ensuing weeks, God Friended Me has managed to maintain a delicate balance of character drama, comedy and respectfully discussing issues of faith from a variety of perspectives.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

“We’re thrilled with how God Friended Me has performed on Sundays. It’s one of the top three new series on television, has improved its time period significantly, and continues a long tradition of prestige dramas for CBS on the night,” CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl said in a statement announcing the news Tuesday.

Added Thom Sherman, senior exec vp programming: “Our amazing cast and producers have done a wonderful job of bringing this series to life each week with humorous and inspirational storylines. Viewers have clearly embraced our characters and the positive message the show delivers.”

In its first season, God Friended Me has been CBS’ second-most-watched new series. Click here to learn why Kahl thought the show was worth picking up in the first place.

Image: CBS

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.

Oscars Not Neighborly to Mr. Rogers Doc ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Fred Rogers in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”/Focus Features

The Academy Award nominations came out today, and as always, there are complaints about snubs, but the omission of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from the Best Documentary list is a sad moment for gentle, uplifting films.

This isn’t to say that the films that got nods are slackers. Here they are (with a link to something interesting about them):

Free Solo

Follows the free-climbing (that is, climbing precipitous heights without a rope) adventures of Alex Honnold, with a insight into his high-risk psychology.

Click here for an in-depth review from Climbing.com.

Minding the Gap

Filmmaker Bing Liu chronicles the bond among himself and his skateboarding buddies from the Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois — along with their family and personal issues.

Click here for a review from Justin Chang, the Los Angeles Times‘ critic (who’s also Christian).

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Directed by RaMell Ross, who moved to Hale County, Alabama, in 2009 to coach basketball and teach photography, and then created a lyrical portrait of African-American life in the South.

Click here for NPR‘s review, and here for one from National Review.

Of Fathers and Sons

Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki looks at a jihadi father raising sons in northern Syria.

Click here for a review from when it showed at Sundance.

RBG

Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West profile Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Click here for a review at AVClub.com that doesn’t exactly love it.

Short of asking individual Academy members, we may never know why Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — which received glowing reviews, even from me — didn’t make the cut.

But I do have some speculations:

  • Fred Rogers was a Christian. That isn’t overemphasized in the film, but it comes through clearly. On top of that, he was a Christian who acted like one. He wasn’t perfect, but he tried to live out his faith. That may be a plus with God or with us, but it doesn’t likely impress the average Academy voter. If he’d been a bad, hypocritical Christian, then maybe …
  • The documentary didn’t try to deconstruct Rogers, tear him down or reveal his dirty secrets. He didn’t really seem to have any of note. As I said, the film is “a love letter to a gentle, thoughtful, kind man who was pretty much as he appeared to be, and who cared deeply about small children.”
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? tackles issues like race and sexuality — in the person of Rogers’ adoring gay co-star Francois Clemmons — with great sensitivity and a minimum of rancor. So, it’s not courting controversy, and that’s not in its favor.
  • Rogers didn’t have a major fall from grace — prison, an illness, drug addiction and so on — that forced him to rise from the ashes. That always makes for more compelling film, especially with Oscar voters.
  • It’s a beautiful-looking film, but it doesn’t feature soaring vistas (like Free Solo) or take us to strange worlds (like Of Fathers and Sons) or profile a political and judicial icon with a job that affects all Americans (like RBG). It may be that Fred Rogers’ world just isn’t exciting enough to merit an Oscar nom.

No doubt there are many other worthy films that didn’t get nominations either. But wouldn’t it be great if a lovely film about a good and gentle man made the cut? After all, it’s not like we’re hearing about them every day.

The documentary will air Feb. 9 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series. It also debuts that night on HBO.

Image: Focus Features

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘Project Blue Book’s’ Catholic Actor Neal McDonough: ‘Go Out and Sin One Less Time Today’

Neal McDonough has gotten a lot of attention lately for saying he lost a Hollywood job because he wouldn’t do a love scene — but this is nothing new for the devoutly Catholic actor.

McDonough currently stars as General James Harding in the History Channel Tuesday-night UFO drama Project Blue Book, but my entertainment-journalist history with him goes back to the 1990s (click here for one of those stories). In a recent interview with Yahoo.com, McDonough talked about being replaced on a short-lived ABC show called Scoundrels because he wouldn’t do a sex scene.

“I was [surprised], and it was a horrible situation for me,” McDonough said. “After that, I couldn’t get a job because everybody thought I was this religious zealot. I am very religious. I put God and family first and me second. That’s what I live by. It was hard for a few years. Then [Band of Brothers producer] Graham Yost called me and said, ‘Hey, I want you to be the bad guy on Justified. I knew that was my shot back at the title.”

Back in 2016, I spoke to McDonough for Greater, the faith-and-football film he starred in and produced (currently available to stream on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and Hulu). Click here for what he had to say about the movie, but here are some excerpts from our conversation, originally posted right on this blog.

With his bleached-blond hair (first acquired to play World War II hero Buck Compton in Band of Brothers) and ice-blue eyes, McDonough often plays the bad guy. But in real life, he’s a devout Catholic and a political conservative — and one of the nicest guys I ever met in Hollywood.

But, being true to the Faith does carry a price in all aspects of life, and the entertainment industry is no different — especially when you’re a married man with mouths to feed.

Said McDonough on what he will and won’t do:

Two rules. I don’t use the Lord’s name in vain on TV or movies, and I don’t have sex scenes. How do I work as an actor after that? Okay, I’m the bad guy. I tell you, with five kids, I’ve got to keep working.

I’ve got to pay those bills. Every time I have a job, I have to figure out how to be the most creative and fun guy and great performance and all that stuff. Aside from that, I just love doing what I do. I have a great time doing it, and I’m blessed beyond belief to have the opportunity to keep working. I mean, this is 30 years in the business of constantly working on whatever. It’s been awesome.

On the advice given to him by Father Colm O’Ryan, pastor emeritus of Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills (where he married his South African wife, Ruve Robertson):

Go out and sin one less time today. Go out and drink one less drink today. Go out and do these things one less time today, and you’ll be doing your job as a child of God. That’s what he’s about. That’s what I try to do after I get to play bad guys on TVs and movies.

On working on Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, with fellow Catholic Kevin James:

We had Mass every day at lunch.

We hired the biggest suite at the Wynn Hotel. We’d fly priests in. We’d have Mass every day during the filming of this in Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel.

Not for gambling, but for God. It was phenomenal. Kevin James — not only one of the greatest actors on set, but one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. Gosh, what an amazing human being to do that. “All right, everyone in the cast, everyone in the crew. You want Mass? It’s going to be in suite 306. Let’s have at it. Every day.”

Is it a challenge to be a faithful Catholic in Hollywood? Sure. And sometimes you may have to make tough choices about roles. But as McDonough shows, it can be done.

As you can see from his role in Project Blue Book, McDonough is still making it work in Tinseltown. If you stand on principle, you’re going to lose some roles, but if you’re good, more will come.

Image: History Channel

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘The Star’: Producer DeVon Franklin on the Christmas Film’s Future

DeVon Franklin/The Star

Last year, The Star returned Christ to the Christmas-movie season — but when will it be back on the big screen?

Released in November 2017, the Sony Animation feature tells the story of the Nativity from the POV of the animals, along with Mary and Joseph. It’s earned 62.8M worldwide, and it’s available on DVD and for streaming on Netflix and other platforms.

Voice talent for The Star includes Zach Levi as the voice of Joseph; Gina Rodriguez as Mary; Steven Yuen as their faithful donkey, Bo; and Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan and Tyler Perry as the Wise Men’s camels.

Other voice talent includes Patrica Heaton (Edith the cow); Anthony Anderson (Zach the goat); Kris Kristofferson (old donkey); Ving Rhames (Thaddeus the dog); Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse); Kristen Chenoweth (Abby the pygmy gerboa); and Christopher Plummer (King Herod).

I recently had a chat with Christian executive producer DeVon Franklin, whose next faith-based movie, Breakthrough, is hitting theaters at Easter.

Franklin was pleased with The Star‘s performance in theaters, but said, “Animated films can be released in theaters, but they really find their audience in home video. So, so many people have come to me saying their families have watched it.”

But what about putting Bo the Donkey and pals back on the big screen?

Franklin said, “We were going to re-release it this year, but for a variety of reasons, we’re going to hold the re-release until next year, so that we actually have enough time to plan for it.

“But, as an anecdote, my nephew, who is four years old, my younger brother’s son, the only thing he wanted to watch a week ago was The Star. He was like, ‘We got to watch The Star!’ Kids love it.

“If Malachi Franklin loves The Star, that’s good enough for me.”

If your family has loved and seen The Star — or watches it because you read this — we’d love to hear what you think. Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

Merry Christmas, and remember to follow the Star (of Bethlehem, that is) …

Image: The Star …Sony Pictures Animation/DeVon Franklin … TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

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.