Category: Family Movies & Television

‘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.

BASED ON: The Four Incarnations of ‘A Star Is Born’

(L-R) Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

The latest in a series by Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions …

A Star Is Born: 2018 version written and directed by Bradley Cooper, based on an original screenplay by Robert Carson. Directed by William A. Wellman in the original 1937 version; remade as a musical by George Cukor in 1954; revisited again by Frank Pierson in 1976.

(SPOILER ALERT: The fate of the main character in every version of this film will be revealed. Also, the current and second-most-recent versions of the film are both rated R.)

Having never seen any previous version of A Star Is Born, I can now say I’ve seen the first three thanks to my Filmstruck subscription, where the 1937, 1954 and 1976 films reside. Walking to the theater to catch the most recent Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper iteration, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why Hollywood feels obligated to remake this story for seemingly every generation. Is there some universal principle (beyond the obvious financial one) for the series of adaptations?

Viewing all four in binge-like fashion makes for an unintentional history of film, of sorts, particularly in their consideration of morality.

The affair between Esther Hoffman (Janet Gaynor) and Norman Maine (Frederic March) from the 1930s version is really only eluded to conversationally. Seventeen years later, the Esther (Judy Garland) and Norman (James Mason) affair is contextualized within a musical. It’s hard to tell whether the choice of genre reflects then, the conservativism of the 1950s or portends the vanity-fair, wink-wink approach to sexual mores in the decade to come.

Nevertheless, the Barbara Streisand-Kris Kristofferson version lands in the wake of the sexual revolution. It harbors none of the reservations its predecessors did.

In the 2018 adaptation, the pendulum surprisingly begins to swing the other way. While the two main characters do end up cohabiting, Lady Gaga’s “Esther” (renamed Ally) makes clear on their first date that she’s not a one-night groupie. The relationship eventually progresses to marriage — and a Christian one at that — officiated by one of Jackson Maine’s (Bradley Cooper) ordained-Protestant-minister friends.

Depression, substance abuse and the classic “to be or not to be” question fuel the narrative of the film. Here, too, we see the most recent adaptation treat the subject matter with better complexity and nuance than any previous try.

The 1930s and 1950s versions show the male lead walking into the Pacific Ocean at film’s end. Is he going for a swim and later accidentally drowns?  Or does he take his own life? If so, no one told the writer that self-drowning must be the hardest way to choose to go.

The 1970s version doesn’t even take up the subject matter, dispatching Kristofferson’s character in a car accident.

Bradley Cooper, however, disappears into his character, playing not only a convincing drunk, (as only James Mason capably did before him) but a full-fledged alcoholic descending into hell. Cooper’s rewrite of the role establishes motivation for Jackson Maine’s heavy substance abuse, whereas the three previous films made the over-generalizing claim that success and fame come with their inevitable job hazards.

Jackson Maine reconciles some of those old hurts, showing even the most self-loathing of sinners can still serve as vessels of God’s grace. Maine also noticed Ally’s supreme talent and encouraged her to sing, to write, to perform, thus accompanying her as she overcame her own insecurities.

The treatment of Maine’s final, tragic decision comes with sobering meditation. In one sense, the “why” is a mystery. His death came at a point when he was seemingly capable of self-love and of asking for and receiving mercy.

At the same time, the film makes abundantly clear it was singularly Maine’s decision … a disease may attenuate some culpability, but never fully absolves what is ultimately the person’s own choice. And perhaps, that is what justifies the repeated telling of A Star Is Born.

The rise to fame of the four female leads enthralls, to be sure. But celebrity stars are more akin to what we see in the night sky: some stars may have died out long ago — the lack of light having yet to travel to our corner of the universe. So, our cinematic and cosmological fascination may not lie in when stars are born, but when, in fact, they mysteriously die.

Image: 2018 version, courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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ABC’s New Catholic-Family Comedy ‘The Kids Are Alright’: So Far, So Good

Ever since I first saw the trailer for the new ABC sitcom The Kids Are Alright, about a big Catholic family of all boys, I’ve been dying to see it.

It looked funny, well-done, and most importantly, didn’t really look like it was a Catholic-bashing vehicle. Could it be, I asked myself? Was it possible that someone finally figured out how many unending storylines are inherent in a comedy about a huge Catholic family?

I eagerly gave it a watch (it premiered Tuesday, Oct. 16) to find out (official website here).

The premise of The Kids Are Alright …

Eight boys, a mom and a dad. Set in the ’70s. Catholics. Oldest brother is in the seminary and thinking of leaving. Middle brother has a case of middle-child syndrome. Lots of squabbling, light conflict and shenanigans. A voice-over from the middle brother all grown up, a la The Wonder Years.

That’s about it, and it’s enough.

(Also, forget about the weird title. The show has nothing to do with the ’60s song or that movie from 2010 about a lesbian couple’s family life).

The Kids Are Alright is pretty well-done …

We laughed out loud more than once as we watched the pilot. And it’s mostly so fast-paced that you can miss some of the jokes if you aren’t listening close or don’t have the closed captions on.

Decent acting, good snappy dialogue, and so far the storylines feel fresh enough and pretty fun.

And so far, The Kids Are Alright is fairly clean …

It’s rated PG, though definitely on the harder end of the PG spectrum. For example, we see a guy in bed, with the insinuation that he’d been sleeping with the bathrobed girl nearby; some quick shots of prostitutes and strip clubs in the background when kids end up in the wrong part of town; and a dirty joke told in passing by a priest (which did feel in pretty poor taste …).

As far as portrayal of the Catholic faith, really the only thing in the pilot (other than the priest’s joke) that chafed at all was a rapid-fire delivered statement from the mom about raising money for some mission society that baptizes babies before they die so the babies don’t go to hell (I’m paraphrasing). It was said super-fast and almost in the kind of way a real Catholic might have summarized it for the sake of brevity, but definitely not theologically correct in her word choice. If anyone actually caught it, it would put us in a bit of a bad light, but it was definitely not a huge plot point by any means.

Overall …

We’ll see if they can keep it up. I found myself kind of holding my breath through the whole episode, afraid it would suddenly turn in to a Catholicism-bashing-fest similar to ABC’s last Catholic family sitcom, The Real O’Neals.

But so far, it was mostly just fun and good entertainment.

UPDATE! From Oct. 25: Watched the second episode of The Kids Are Alright on ABC last night, and it was still good! Funny, well-done, and not bashing Catholics.

Episodes air on Tuesdays on ABC at 8:30 pm. ET/PT

Image: Courtesy ABC

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

BASED ON: Our Father Vince Kuna Has Issues With ‘First Man’

Ryan Gosling (left) as Neil Armstrong

The latest in a series by Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions …

First Man screenplay written by Josh Singer and directed by Damien Chazelle. Based on First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, written by James R. Hansen

Neglecting the lineage of Neil Armstrong marked the first misstep (pun intended) of the filmmakers’ attempt to adapt the life of the famed astronaut.

Biographer James R. Hansen remarked that Neil absolutely insisted that his story begin centuries before, in the borderlands of Scotland and England. The “American Genesis” tale, as Armstrong termed it, led to his birth in our country’s heartland, the fine state of Ohio. It is no coincidence then, that the first moonwalker lays claim to a continent then Christian in heritage, and a community upbringing even more so.

The book’s opening chapter reminded me of the motto on my Spanish national soccer team warm-up jacket, “Plus Ultra.”  The national motto is a reversal of non terrae plus ultra (no further land beyond). Pre-Christian Spanish societies saw the Strait of Gibraltar as the edge of the known world. Following the Age of Exploration of Catholic Spain, King Charles V (also Holy Roman Emperor) adopted “further beyond” as his personal motto, in turn inspiring the astronauts of his day, the naval explorers who discovered the New World.

The film also makes no mention of Neil Armstrong’s military service in the Navy. He flew armed reconnaissance in the Korean War and once ejected from a damaged plane. I realize there’s only so much a filmmaker can reveal in a two-hour film, but Damien Chazelle’s omission makes for distracting storytelling. Before debarking for the Apollo 11 moon mission, Neil and his wife sit their boys down for a heavy-handed “Dad might not come back” talk. Wouldn’t this conversation have taken place awhile back, with the peril involved in any of the previous test missions?  The NASA Gemini programs were composed almost entirely of former military pilots. The pilots’ wives didn’t need a flight to the moon to initiate a conversation about the dangers of flight exploration.

The greatest flaw of the film adaptation, however, we find in the filmmaker’s unnecessary accretions. Neil (Ryan Gosling) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) tragically lost the life of their two-year old daughter. By all accounts, including his own, Neil stoically attended the funeral and burial and never made another mention about it. This caused a strain in the marriage (the two eventually divorced), culminating in Janet’s disappointment that her husband did not include any trinket of their daughter’s in his Personal Preference Kit.

The movie can’t resist centering Neil’s internal struggle around this non-story, going as far as inventing an infant bracelet that Neil reaches into his PPK and tosses into a moon crater. We see a tear drop fall from the reflection of his helmet visor. Again, a little deference to Neil’s actual raising up would have inspired better characterization.

Statistically speaking, the small-town Midwest produces astronauts at a vastly disproportionate clip to the rest of the country. The correlation is not entirely clear, but I’d take a guess to say bitter, harsh Middle West winters provide the gusto for the cold, rational, on-the-spot decisiveness required of space travel. Instead, we suffer through an emotional tearfest at movie’s end. If this were the historical case, newspapers would have shouted “Extra, extra read all about it: Man weeps on Moon!”

After all, these were “steely-eyed missile men,” a compliment bandied about in 1960s NASA, meaning hardened test pilots who could keep their cool and think fast in emergencies. This mindset was on display in Apollo 13 and in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (among the producers for that were Howard, along with Apollo 13 star Tom Hanks and producer Brian Grazer). Perhaps Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer didn’t extend themselves as much as the previous filmmakers did to understand the psychology of such men.

So, while the bulk of the film follows a similar path blazed by the Mercury missions in 1983’S The Right Stuff, Chazelle’s renders the Apollo subjects with the wrong constitution. Characterization aside, the film is not typically compelling as a space mission, either. Ron Howard creates much greater suspense in Apollo 13.

Maybe Howard made the smarter decision, to a pick a failed success mission where the astronauts bypassed their moon landing. Because when we arrive at the moon in First Man, it feels staged, like we never leave the green screen of the Hollywood stage at which it was shot. The real Neil Armstrong, facing the incredulity of moon-landing deniers, said the only thing harder to do than landing on the moon would be to realistically fabricate it. The Oscar winning director of La La Land proves just how difficult that task indeed is.

Image: Courtesy Universal Pictures/DreamWorks

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.