Category: Kate O’Hare

‘I Can Only Imagine’: Star Madeline Carroll Is Having a God Moment

Madeline Carroll turned 22 on Sunday, and she got a great birthday present — a $17M opening weekend for her movie, “I Can Only Imagine.”

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.

From IndieWire:

Among contemporary Christian community titles, only “Heaven Is for Real” had a better opening, scoring $22 million when it opened in 2014.

The film even earned a positive review from a critic at

I can only imagine why distributors Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate made the decision seemingly to hide, from most critics at least, their new faith-based film I Can Only Imagine. It became a surprise hit this weekend, making around $17 million, way over-performing estimates and earning an A+ CinemaScore audience rating. Apparently they had no faith themselves, at least as far as reviews go. Does this sound like a film where you try to keep critics at bay, especially since the precious few who did see it have it in positive territory over at Rotten Tomatoes?

I decided to find out for myself and caught it over the weekend at a commercial theater. I can only add to the good vibes it has been getting since that opening, with a bigger expansion coming later this week. It lifts the genre.

J. Michael Finley plays Bart; Dennis Quaid plays his abusive father, Art; Cloris Leachman plays Bart’s grandmother, Memaw; and country star Trace Adkins plays MercyMe’s manager, Brickell.

Carroll — whose short life contains a lengthy modeling and acting career, beginning in childhood — plays Shannon, Bart’s high-school girlfriend and eventual wife.

As she hit her teenage and early-adult years, though, the devoutly Christian Carroll began to run into issues — being asked to do things she just couldn’t.

At a recent press roundtable with me and other faith-based press, she said:

I had someone say this to me the other day, and I feel like it’s so much Shannon’s perspective. They said sometimes God’s dream for us is a lot bigger than our dreams for ourselves. It really hit me, because I feel like that, especially the past year for my life, it’s definitely been that. God’s dream for my life has been a lot bigger than my dream for my own.

It’s too hard. This industry is too hard to do what I’m trying to do. And it’s rare to say no to something. You’re in the minority if you’re saying no to a project; you’re crazy. And so I definitely face so much opposition.

But I love when someone said that to me the other day. Because I can’t believe that God gave me this part and gave me this opportunity.

There’s always someone more qualified to be an actress, there’s always someone more qualified for the part, there’s always someone who’s prettier, a better actress. And so the fact that I got the opportunity of being this woman is very… I recognize that it’s special and I recognize that it was a blessing from God to get to do it.

Carroll also said that she was on the verge of giving up acting, when the part of Shannon came along.

I was gonna give up acting, yeah. I was like this is it, I’m done, and so heartbroken. But I was like I don’t think this is what I’m meant to do anymore.

Turning down role after role after role, and my agency would get upset with me, angry because I wasn’t going to do nudity and stuff like that. I just stuck to my guns, but it got so hard, because I was like, “God, I’m making these choices for You. I’m stepping out. I’m doing something different. And I’m just not seeing You anymore.”

And I was like, “Okay, if this isn’t what You want, then I’m good to go. I’ll do whatever else that You have, whatever it is. Because I can’t take this anymore. It’s too hard.” …

And so I had this whole meltdown in my bathroom.

The next day, she got a text message from a director who remembered her for something else, and then, a couple of months later, “I Can Only Imagine” came along. She discovered that the Erwins had her in mind for Shannon, but couldn’t get in touch with her.

She said:

How ’bout that? How ’bout that? And so it was definitely a God thing, and completely revived my calling and my career and my dream.

How about that, indeed?

To learn more about “I Can Only Imagine,” click here for the official Website. There are no nude scenes, profanity or sexual situations, but the film does candidly portray Bart’s difficulties with his hard-drinking, sometimes violent father.

Image: Courtesy Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

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.

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Habemus Papam! Pope Francis’ Election: March 13, Five Years Ago

On March 13, 2013 — a k a 3/13/13 — Argentinian Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis: the first Francis, the first non-European pope in many centuries, and the first ever from the Western Hemisphere.

It was quite a day and night. Here’s how it unfolded, in videos.

First of all, how is a pope elected? Here’s the answer, courtesy of an excerpt from the “Popes 101” episode of our Web series “Catholic Central”:

The climactic moment that the white smoke belched from the Vatican smokestack:

How Raymond Arroyo and his crew at EWTN saw it at the time:

If you have a little over an hour and a half, here’s the whole shebang:

And lest you forget one of the unexpected stars of the day, a remembrance of the Sistine Seagull:

Habemus Papam! We have a pope!

Image: Family Theater Productions

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‘A Wrinkle In Time’: You Can’t Iron Out These Difficulties [UPDATED]

Up front, I have to say that I haven’t read Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 children’s fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in Time,” which inspired the megabudget Disney movie that came out on March 9. But I do know that the author’s Christian beliefs were woven throughout it.

If I hadn’t known that going in, I never would have been able to tell from this ramshackle, glitter-drenched mess of a movie.

Directed by Ava DuVernay from a screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, it follows the adventures of awkward but smart teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid), her adopted genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and her admiring pal Calvin (Levi Miller). They follow the lead of three powerful beings — vaguely goddess-y Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), mercurial Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and quote-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) — to find Meg’s missing scientist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), who mysteriously vanished four years earlier.

Also starring are Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Meg’s mother, Dr. Kate Murry; Zach Galifinakis as the Happy Medium; Michael Pena as Red; and David Oyelowo as The It.

The idea is that Alex discovered a way to hop between dimensions — called “tessering” — and in his desire to know the universe, got lost in it. The three Mrs.-es, decked out in a dizzying variety of big dresses, bigger hair and disco makeup, take the trio of kids on a weird trip to computer-generated worlds, ending in a confrontation with a big dark spidery thing, which … well, I don’t even know what exactly happened.

There’s a lot of hugging and declarations of love, but I honestly had no clue what was going on most of the time. Caleb gazes adoringly at Meg, who’s gutsy and clever, but generally cranky and out of sorts; while Charles Wallace alternates between precocious cuteness and radiating snarky menace like the demonic moppet from “The Omen.”

Other than some vague themes of valuing yourself and accepting your faults, the rest of the movie’s message — or a least as much of it as I could decipher — is mostly New Age-y, “be one with the universe” psychobabble.

L’Engle’s Christianity is entirely absent. Lots of figures from history get shout-outs, from Rumi to Outkast, but Jesus is jettisoned. Since this is a major-market movie from Disney, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Reid does a good job as Meg, considering the general wackiness of the situations she’s put in. Of the three Mrs.-es, Winfrey is vaguely inspirational and imposing; Kaling is slightly impish; but Witherspoon is resolutely puckish and comic (have to say she’s my favorite part of the movie because of that).

I suppose “A Wrinkle in Time” is, as Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” said of Earth, “mostly harmless,” but I can’t really recommend it.

But, I’m neither a L’Engle fan nor the target audience, so your results may vary.

UPDATE: There’s been a kerfuffle in the FB comments on the amount of Christianity in L’Engle’s book, and whether it was actually removed. Here’s what I found out:

There are some folks complaining that the book didn’t have overt Christian references. This post from Terry Mattingley’s On Religion blog disagrees:

It would be hard, explained L’Engle, to grasp this book’s cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

A key character is Mrs. Who, who speaks only in famous quotations. She is part of a trio of mysterious characters – guardian angels, according to L’Engle – who help the children in the novel. To explain the power of “light,” Mrs. Who quotes the Gospel of John: “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Also, in a climactic word of encouragement to heroine Meg Murray, Mrs. Who quotes St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.”

None of the novel’s Bible quotations made it into the Disney film, but there were new quotes from popular music and the musical “Hamilton.”

“L’Engle’s work is a highly imaginative one in which good and evil can literally be sensed and felt by the characters,” said Barbara Nicolosi Harrington, a former Catholic nun who now teaches screenwriting.

These kinds of inner, spiritual realities are hard to visualize on screen, plus it’s clear that the “heart of L’Engle’s work is deeply Christian,” she said. “Surely these themes would cause ambivalence or disgust in secular filmmakers. Now you have a recipe for the gutting of a beloved Christian classic into a weird, even creepy mess.”

In addition, screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) knew Christian references were in there and excised them. From Uproxx:

The book is pretty open about its Christian ideals and the movie doesn’t directly reference them. As a fan of the book how do you approach that aspect?

What I looked at, one of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle – as I’ve been told; I never got to meet her – but one of the reasons it had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it and she wanted to stay true to her faith. And I respect that and I understand those feelings of things you want to say in the world that need to be said that are out there. In a good way, I think there are a lot of elements of what she wrote that we have progressed as a society and we can move onto the other elements. In a sad way, some of the other elements are more important right now and bigger – sort of this fight of light against darkness. It’s a universal thing and timeless and seems to be a battle that has to keep being had.

It also feels like this is a movie that celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, so having it be about one religious denomination wouldn’t really be keeping with that theme. Does that make sense?

It does. And I can’t put words in her mouth – and I worked with one of our producers, Catherine Hand, who was very close to her – but that wasn’t her intention. Her intention was looking at the ordinary real hero in an extraordinary situation. The power of love in this world, and we stayed very true to that. And her lens through it was Christianity and everyone has a different lens in. And that’s what inclusiveness is to me in this film, is really looking at all of us have a role to play in this no matter where we come from or what we look like.

Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Company

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Nick Finds New Life for ‘Blue’s Clues’

Hollywood’s obsessed with rebooting past shows, and usually it’s a bad idea. It’s impossible to recreate the environment, sensibilities and culture that produced the original show, and as we all know, a lot of things about our culture and especially the entertainment industry have not improved over the last decade or so.

But, if Nickelodeon can resist the impulse to “update” its charming 1996-2006 hit series “Blue’s Clues,” there might actually be something safe for your preschoolers to watch.

The show focused on animated blue-spotted dog Blue and her human pal (played by Steve Burns and then Donovan Patton) as they went on a treasure hunt, seeking clues and learning reasoning skills and problem-solving. Inspire by “Sesame Street,” it was the result of research and field-testing with real two-to-six-year-olds.

Nickelodeon has ordered 20 new episodes and plans to air them on its Nick Jr. network, which is geared for preschoolers. Original producer Angela Santomero will return to supervise the reboot.

Blue will also get a new look. From Variety:

Producers will tweak the show very slightly for modern viewers. Blue looks a little different than she did after the first run ended, for example. She will look more three-dimensional and appear “even furrier and more huggable,” said the producer. And the show will have 30 seconds to 60 seconds shorter to accommodate advertising and network promos.. But reworking the premise in radical fashion would not spark the reaction executives want, said Santomero.  “There’s an inherent nostalgia from our audience,” she said. “I think they will probably be passionate about protecting it and making sure we do it right.”

The show is also looking for a new host. Nickeolodeon is holding an open-call audition for a new host on Saturday, April 14, in Burbank, California.

From the event page:

We are seeking females and males who can play 18-25 years old, all ethnicities. Talent must be 18 years old or older to audition. Our host will have a comedy background, a natural connection with the camera, and will empower the home viewer to feel important, respected, and smart. Playing the guitar, singing, and juggling are all a plus. We are committed to diverse, inclusive casting. Please submit qualified performers, without regard to disability, race, age, national origin, ethnic origin or any other basis prohibited by law.

Filming is set to begin this summer; no premiere date has yet been announced.

Considering the “progressive” influences that have been steadily creeping into children’s entertainment, a lot of Catholic parents have become understandably wary.

Nickelodeon did do a good job with its recent movie revival of “Hey, Arnold!”, so I remain cautiously optimistic that “Blue’s Clues” will come back to life with its original spirit intact.

Image: Courtesy Nickelodeon

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.

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CBS’ ‘Living Biblically’: Hope in the TV Wasteland

A man loses his best friend and then finds out he’s going to be a father. He decides to turn his life around, so, for guidance, he relies on … the Bible.

That’s the premise of a CBS series that premiered last week. Episode 2 airs tonight at 9:30 ET/PT. The pilot is available to view online here; episodes can also be streamed on CBS All Access.

The series premiered to less-than-stellar ratings, but did as well as an earlier series in the same slot. Since one of the executive producers is Johnny Galecki, star of CBS’ hit “Big Bang Theory,” the network might be inclined to give it a chance to find an audience. The other executive producer is Patrick Walsh, a self-described lapsed Catholic (who’s still a big Pope Francis fan).

Jay R. Ferguson stars as movie critic Chip Curry, whose trip through the Testaments is aided by two guides: Father Gene (Ian Gomez) and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), who quotes Thomas Aquinas in the course of the three episodes CBS provided for preview.

A.J. Jacobs, the author of the nonfiction book the series is loosely based on, “The Year of Living Biblically” is Jewish, but aside from taking the basic premise of a New York journalist devoting a period of time to living by Biblical precepts, the CBS show is entirely its own thing, It’s much more influenced by Walsh’s own Catholic upbringing.

In the three I saw, faith is treated humorously but respectfully; there’s no attempt or apparent intention to demean or mock Christianity; and those who know little or nothing about the Bible may learn a bit.

I found it charming and good-natured. Here’s what my pal Kathy Schiffer had to say at the National Catholic Register:

Unlike so many network shows that are outright hostile to faith, “Living Biblically” lets Catholics in on the fun, without flaunting sex and obscenity, and without besmirching the faith of the viewer. I’ll take it!

Thanks, CBS! So, give this show a try, and we’d love to know what you think in the comments, either here or on Facebook.

Image: Courtesy CBS

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.

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Our Producer Priest’s Top Oscars Picks

With political controversies and scandals likely to be talked about — and addressed from the stage — during the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, viewers could be forgiven for firing up the Netflix or playing board games instead.

But the irony is, in a movie year where off-topic speechmaking and awkward acknowledgements of Hollywood’s current peccadilloes might turn people off, some of the movies nominated are really good — and even one is friendly to Catholicism.

Click here for Variety‘s rundown of all the nominees — which we won’t discuss in their entirety, to your likely relief — but I asked Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest, producer here at Family Theater Productions, and a graduate of USC Film School, what his picks were for the winners of the top categories.

Aside from Best Picture, Father Kuna said: “For the other major awards, I liked what the guilds picked, and am going with that.”

His picks are in bold.

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”

Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”

Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”

Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”

(Note: Plummer came in at the last minute to replace Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty, after Spacey’s own troubles with sexual scandal caused him to exit the film.)

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”

Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Note: Unlike Father Kuna, I haven’t seen all the nominated films, but I did see this one twice. It’ll be a dang shame if Oldman doesn’t take this. He was astonishing as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Here’s what I had to say back in November.)

Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig

“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture:

“Call Me By Your Name”

“Darkest Hour”


“Get Out”

“Lady Bird”

“Phantom Thread”

“The Post”

“The Shape of Water”

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

And, for Best Picture, Father Kuna said:

In the newly instituted preferential ballot (rank 1 to 9), I see LADY BIRD being ranked in everyone’s top three.  With every other film, I could see the ranked votes being scattered from like to dislike and everything else in between.

This way of voting could propel a film that not everybody loved, but just about everybody liked, to best picture.

“Lady Bird” is a semi-autobiographical account of the Catholic-school years of a non-Catholic student and her fraught relationship with her mother.

Bishop Robert Barron said:

Now you might say, “okay, a typical coming of age story.” Yet running underneath this complex story of love and conflict is religion, more precisely, Catholicism. Though not a Catholic herself, Lady Bird attends a Catholic high school, with quite a number of priests and nuns on the faculty. At regular intervals in the film, we see Lady Bird and her classmates attending Mass and other religious services—and none of this is presented mockingly or ironically, as we’ve come to expect from most Hollywood productions. When Lady Bird auditions for the school’s fall musical, she discovers that an older priest is one of the drama coaches. This figure is presented very sympathetically as a man who, earlier in life, had been married and had lost a son, and who now wrestles with depression. When he goes away for treatment, he is replaced by a younger priest, who had served up to that point as football coach and who, to the amusement of his students, brings a good deal of fifty-yard-line enthusiasm to his new task.

But by far the most powerful and positive personages in the film are the religious sisters who staff the high school. To a person, they are bright, dedicated, funny, and wise, and provide strong role models for Lady Bird and her classmates. When one of the girls fixes a sign to the sisters’ car announcing, “married to Jesus for forty years,” the nuns privately enjoy the joke as much as the students. The pivotal scene in the film involves a conversation between the headmaster of the school and Lady Bird in the wake of Lady Bird’s truly insulting and objectionable behavior during an assembly. Whereas a more small-minded administrator would simply have dismissed the girl, this canny nun punishes Lady Bird but then invites her to explore her creativity as a writer. Throughout the film, the Catholic Church is an encouraging and illuminating presence.

Click here to read the rest, including his notes on the film’s climax.

I’d be equally happy with victory for “Darkest Hour,” a fact-based story that managed to achieve high drama and present a relatively accurate view of history while also being cracking good entertainment — and, short one mild profanity, perfectly fine for preteens and up.

You may not want to watch the awards — I’ll be doing so in the company of a group of film-loving Catholics — and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t (if I wasn’t at this party, I wouldn’t), but the fact that “Lady Bird” has made it all this way is encouraging.

A win for this faith-friendly, verging on faith-positive, little film would be sweet, indeed.

Image: Courtesy The Academy Awards; Father Vince Kuna; Focus Features; Scott Rudin Productions/Entertainment 360/IAC Films

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.