Category: News & Trends

‘The Nun’: FTP’s Father Guffey Reviews the Horror Hit and Shares Memories From the Set

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the National Director of Family Theater Productions and our Head of Production — and he also writes movie reviews! Here he examines “The Nun,” the latest film in “The Conjuring” universe, which is proving a hit with audiences.

The Nun was the box-office favorite of last week ($54 million domestic). Starting with The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and the Anabelle films, this is the sixth film in The Conjuring series from producer James Wan, which feature demonic possession and the people brought in to expel it. As with other films in this series, there is a willingness to admit that evil exists in the world and that it looks for opportunities to insert itself into the life of unsuspecting, usually vulnerable people.

The Nun is rated R, mainly for gore, so it is not a kids’ film. The posters and trailers make it look as though it will be a hit job on the Church. If you see the film, reserve judgement to the end. You may be surprised, as you find that people of faith are the protagonists in the struggle to contain evil.

The Nun begins as Father Burke (Demian Bichir) is summoned to the Vatican and assigned to investigate a recent suicide death in a remote Romanian convent. From the look on the cardinals’ faces, there is more to it, but you knew that from the posters. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novice who has yet to take final vows, accompanies him.  They travel to a mountainous area in Romania, guided by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a local character who discovered a nun hanging from a ledge outside the convent walls.

Inside the walls, awaits a Gothic scare fest. The order of nuns holds evil at bay by their “Perpetual Adoration” (though there is no sign of a monstrance or a clear understanding of the Eucharist). Father Burke and Sister Irene work to solve the mystery of the convent, as they avoid the Demon Nun, which we first saw in a painting in the home of Catholic exorcists Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Taissa’s sister, Vera Farmiga) in the first film in The Conjuring series. Then the Demon Nun itself showed up in The Conjuring 2.

Thanks to Warner Brothers, I was invited to tour part of the set in Romania as the film was being shot. The sets were nearly as eerie on the tour we received as they were in the final cut of the film. Another priest had been called to set earlier to bless them. Director Corin Hardy comes from an artistic family and he was trained in art, sculpture and design. He told us, “In painting, I learned to begin with a dark page and then bring the light out of that.”

This vision clearly influences the design of the sets and lighting throughout the whole film. Shadows are thick with bits of light as the only guide and hope. There is, however, light. Light shines through the faith and courage of the good guys (and nuns). Bichir portrays Father Burke as a humbled man with a centeredness and sense of resolve. Farmiga’s Sister Irene brings light to the film with a sense of innocence and confidence that evil can be overcome.

As a Catholic priest and a member of a religious order, the film’s lack of Catholic cultural authenticity was striking, probably more so to me that the average church-going viewer. As a filmmaker, I would argue that more attention to the some of the customs, practices and objects of priests and sisters might have added texture to the beautiful production design, helped give more depth to the characters and accentuated the ultimate conflicts of the film.

The Nun would be a better horror film if it had been written with more Catholic details to add to the contrasts of darkness and light.

Nevertheless, it a watchable and exciting film. Horror fans proved their interest in this series of films, believers will find comfort in the power of faith and I hope there are more films like this coming.  There is evil in the world and it does prey on the most vulnerable.

Faith and the courage are the greatest weapons against such dark forces. Light shines forth in the darkness.

Images: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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 ‘Catholicism’ Marks 10 Years With Video and Free Online Screening

A decade ago, then-Father Robert Barron started filming his acclaimed “Catholicism” series, which premiered in the fall of 2011 on PBS, and has since gone on to become one of the most beloved and acclaimed presentations about the Faith.

Available on DVD and online, “Catholicism” not only became a mainstream media phenomenon but a catechetical one as well, with many Catholic educators using the show to teach both children and adults.

Emphasizing the scope, history, beauty and faces of the Church past and present, “Catholicism” set a gold standard for portraying the Catholic Church in the mainstream media. Beautifully shot all around the world and carefully researched, it’s leagues beyond many sensational popular documentaries and movies that often trivialize, sensationalize or outright misrepresent the Church, her teachings and her history.

From the original press release for the PBS debut:

“The filming of the Catholicism series was one of the most exciting and rewarding periods of my life,” said Fr. Barron. “Our team traveled the globe to capture some of the beauty, truth, and texture of Catholicism. I am thrilled that people across the country will have the opportunity to share in the series,  and I hope to engage the imaginations of both Catholics and non-Catholics.“

“This series changed the way I think and act. The global settings were stunning, but it was Fr. Barron s brilliant insights on life s most challenging issues that shook me to the core,’ admitted [executive producer and filmmaker] Mike Leonard. “Whatever your belief or background, there is much to gain from this deep and profound excursion into spirituality, logic and the human experience,” he added.

In this sweeping documentary, Father Barron tells the story of Catholicism around the world using art, architecture, literature, music and all the riches of the Catholic tradition. The production crew travels to some of the most magnificent and sacred sites in Jerusalem, Rome, Krakow, Warsaw, New York, Istanbul, Ephesus, Lourdes, Mexico City, Athens, Corinth, Mexico City, Uganda, Manila, Sao Paolo, Auschwitz, Kolkata, Philadelphia, Chicago, and beyond.

The team was granted exclusive access to film privately in many locations inaccessible to the general public. Highlights include some of the world s architectural and artistic masterpieces and most sacred places: The Dome of The Rock, the Hagia Sophia, the tomb of Mother Teresa, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, rare views of the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Pope’s private gardens, Chartres, Notre Dame, and Cologne Cathedrals, as well as one of the largest religious celebrations on the planet, the feast of the Ugandan martyrs.

To mark the occasion, now-Bishop Barron and executive producer Steve Grunow of Barron’s Word on Fire apostolate have released this video:

Word on Fire has also made the whole 10-part series free for viewing online for a limited time.

Click here to learn more.

Images: Courtesy Word on Fire

 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.

Catholic Patricia Heaton’s Company Signs Big Deal With CBS TV Studios

Catholic actor Patricia Heaton just finished a nine-year run on ABC with “The Middle,” and now she and her company, Four Boys Entertainment, have found a new studio home.

Heaton founded Four Boys in 2001 with British-born actor, producer and director David Hunt, and the name came from their four sons. The company has worked with ABC, Fox and NBC, along with Warner Bros. Television, and is currently in pre-production on an independent film called “Florence, Not Italy,” for Hunt to direct.

The new production overall deal is with CBS TV Studios, which has produced such shows as “The King of Queens,” the “CSI” and “NCIS” franchises, “The Amazing Race” and “The Good Wife.”

From Deadline.com:

Under the CBS Studios pact, FourBoys will develop and produce new series projects and will be seeking a TV vehicle for Heaton to develop and star in, though her acting services will remain non-exclusive to the studio.

The deal brings Heaton back in the CBS fold after her starring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, which earned her three Emmy awards. The hugely successful family comedy also aired for nine seasons.

There’s no word yet what projects FourBoys will be bringing to CBS, but the network has shown an openness to faith-based material, whether it’s last season’s “Living Biblically” or this coming fall’s “God Friended Me,” so it could get interesting.

Congrats, Patricia and David!

Images: Twitter:@PatriciaHeaton

 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.

‘Masterpiece’: ‘Les Miserables,’ Jane Austen and Big-Screen ‘Downton Abbey’

Long a TV haven for beautifully produced drama — frequently, but not universally, suitable for middle-schoolers and up — PBS “Masterpiece” has more great literature and family drama in the pipeline.

Just don’t expect any of these to appear soon.

Let’s take a look …

“Les Miserables” (currently in production to air in 2019)

Victor Hugo’s classic novel has already been adapted into a hit musical, which also became a hit movie — both of which maintained the Catholic core of the 1862 story, which culminates in the 1832 anti-monarchist June Rebellion in Paris (not the French Revolution, that was from 1789-1799).

The six-part BBC/”Masterpiece” production stars Dominic West (“The Wire”) as Jean Valjean, whose minor misdeed runs him afoul of the authorities — especially the relentless policeman Javert (David Oyelowo). But the kindness of a bishop, which the desperate Valjean repays by stealing from him, sets Valjean on a winding path that ultimately leads to his transformation and redemption.

Also starring are Lily Collins as Fantine, whose child Valjean later adopts.

The writer is Andrew Davies, who has adapted many classic novels for the screen, including the BBC’s acclaimed 1995 version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The BBC has released some pictures. In order: Collins, West and Oyelowo.

Lily Collins as Fantine. Credit: BBC

 

Dominic West as Jean Valjean. Credit: BBC

 

David Oyelowo as Javert. Credit: BBC

“Sanditon” (begins filming in Spring 2019)

Andrew Davies is also adopting Jane Austen’s “Sanditon,” left unfinished at her death at the age of 41. He’s expanding the 11-chapter fragment into eight 60-minute episodes, produced by “Masterpiece” in partnership with ITV, and distributed by BBC Studios.

From PBS:

Written only months before Austen’s death in 1817, Sanditon tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming (and slightly wild!) Sidney Parker. When a chance accident transports her from her rural hometown of Willingden to the would-be coastal resort of the eponymous title, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success. The twists and turns of the plot, which take viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, expose the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love.

ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill commented: “It’s a rich, romantic, family saga built upon the foundations Jane Austen laid. There is no one better to adapt her unfinished novel than Andrew who has an incredible track record for bold and original adaptations. We’re delighted to commission Sanditon from Belinda Campbell and her team at Red Planet Pictures.”

And, said Davies on assuming the task of channeling Austen:

Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment! Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing. It’s been a privilege and a thrill for me to develop Sanditon into a TV drama for a modern audience.

“Downton Abbey” (feature-film sequel planned; not in production yet)

All the major stars from “Masterpiece’s” megahit “Downton Abbey” are returning for the planned feature-film version, including Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham) — just confirmed by People on July 16; Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley); Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley); Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates); Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham); and Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham).

Directing is Brian Percival, who directed the series’ pilot; plot details are unknown. The writer is British Catholic Julian Fellowes, who’s also writing a 10-part series for NBC called “The Gilded Age.” Set in 1880s New York City, it follows the conflict as the city’s old-money families have to deal with a sudden influx of social-climbing nouveau riche.

Said Fellowes in the U.K. Guardian:

To write The Gilded Age is the fulfilment of a personal dream.

I have been fascinated by this period of American history for many years, and now NBC has given me the chance to bring it to a modern audience. I could not be more excited and thrilled.

The truth is, America is a wonderful country with a rich and varied history, and nothing could give me more pleasure than to be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen.

We’ll have to wait and see how many of these productions will be suitable for the whole family, but at least we know they’ll be intelligently written — and these days, that’s something.

Image: PBS/BBC

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.

‘Tag’: The Real ‘Tag Bro’ Priest on Family, Friendship and Sacrifice

Tag premiere — Father Sean Raftis (6th from the left)

Father Sean Raftis is an ordinary parish priest in Columbia Falls, Montana, but an extraordinary group of friends he’s maintained since grade school — and their decades-long game of tag — recently inspired a Hollywood movie.

Released on June 15, “Tag” is very loosely based on the real-life story, outlined in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article (which, to this day, is behind the WSJ’s paywall). What stays the same between reality and fiction is men well into midlife who still designate a period of time during each year, as outlined in a Tag Participation Agreement, to see who’s It.

What’s changed is that the 10 Tag Brothers are now five, and the tag time is in May instead of February. Also, while the Tag Brothers did do some wacky things to tag each other (as you can see in clips at the end of the film), the movie takes it to an extreme level, as four pals (Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson) try to tag the one who’s never been It (Jeremy Renner).

“Tag: is “40 to 50 percent more profane than it needs to be…”

As to the movie, here’s what I said in my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos (which also includes an account of going to the premiere with Father Raftis):

Frankly, the movie is 40 to 50 percent more profane than it needs to be; there’s a miscarriage gag that’s in seriously poor taste (not sure, though, how a miscarriage gag could ever be in anything but poor taste); and the breaking of a (not Catholic) church stained-glass window seemed both unnecessary and a lost opportunity for a laugh and a realization that maybe some things are still sacred. Oh, well.

But, it was funny (and I’m a hard sell on comedy), and the underlying sweetness of a story about male friendship enduring into adulthood somehow survived.

Needless to say, none of the pals in “Tag” is a priest or likely to become one, but Father Raftis was a bit of a hit at the premiere, especially with young viewers who wanted photos with him.

The priest as “every man,” and a nod to Father Peyton …

But, he hasn’t gotten a big head.

“I like the idea of the priest being every man,” he says. “I grew up on the north side of Spokane, as a regular kid, an ordinary kid, wasn’t that great in athletics. I had health issues, but I was still able to make great friends through grade school.”

Father Raftis also gives credit to the love and self-sacrifice of his parents, who sent him to Catholic school and to Gonzaga University (named after Jesuit St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose feast day is today, June 21).

He even tosses in a reference to Family Theater Productions’ founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., noting that his siblings also serve others: his brother, as a police officer, and his sister, as a caregiver.

“Therein lies the domestic church of Father Peyton,” he says. “The family that prays together, stays together.

“Having that domestic church and living that out made all the difference in my life, and I’m so grateful to God for everything. I wrote to [my friend, screenwriter Karen Hall], before I went to the premiere, and I said, ‘Any counseling you can give?’ Her counsel was exactly right. She said, ‘Soak it in and give all the glory to God, from whom all good things come.’

“That was an opportunity to try, as an ordinary guy. It’s kind of funny, because the monks saved Western civilization by preserving the great works of philosophy and Scripture. Here I am — I played a game of tag.

“Christ blesses that ordinary aspect, and that’s something that’s necessary for us priests. It was a great privilege and a blessing and a humbling lesson to be there as a priest. I’m not Cardinal Avery Dulles; I’m not Father Richard John Neuhaus; and I’m certainly not Karol Wojtyla, but being a Tag Brother, or a Tag Priest, is pretty cool.

“I’m trying to reach out to people who might not otherwise have had contact with a priest, because a lot of people don’t.”

Finding God in everything …

I watched Father Raftis take pictures with the young people, greet the actors, greet a couple of young police officers outside the premiere, shake hands with any number of folks who probably never see a priest except on TV.

The movie wasn’t especially holy, and certainly not for the whole family, but it did introduce a lot of people to Father Raftis and his friends.

“We’re to find God in everything,” he says, “especially in the small things. It’s like that tiny, whispering sound. I didn’t find God in the earthquake; I didn’t find God in the great noises; it was in that tiny, whispering sound.

“That’s something we need to reconnect with, and part of that is our association with our friends in Christ, our friends at the work place, where we’re called to witness to Christ.”

But don’t fear, Father Raftis has not gone Hollywood.

“I’m not a star, and that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. Fame is fleeting; time is fleeting. What matters is how we follow Christ. That’s the one thing I have to be very cautious about and very cognizant of, is my calling to be a priest. I’m not called to be a Hollywood star.

“That comes with its own set of talents, and its own set of disciplines. I have enough of a challenge being a priest and trying to be a good one.”

After his Hollywood adventure, Father Raftis returned to St. Richard Church in Columbia Falls.

“I had Mass on Sunday [after the premiere]. I did the Extraordinary Form only, and I did a homily, and I did an apologia [about the movie], saying, ‘Look, it’s R-rated.’ One of the guys came up — he’s a highly decorated retired Marine — and he said, ‘Father, look, the movie is going to do what it does. We know who you are. There are going to be good things happening because of this.’

“That’s my only hope, that something good happens for God out of it. … People yearn, they starve for brotherly or sisterly affection. When we yearn for friendship, we yearn for the Divine.”

Does the game go on?

“Yeah,” he says, “it goes on indefinitely, until one of us is standing.”

Images: Courtesy Kate O’Hare, Warner Bros., Father Sean Raftis

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.

‘The Dating Project’ on Digital and DVD: Can a Documentary Help You Find Love?

Dr. Kerry Cronin, “The Dating Project”

Think of all the great marriages you know. Each started with a moment of meeting. Maybe it went well; maybe it went badly. But there can be no potential of a happy ending without a beginning. That’s the message of the new documentary “The Dating Project,” which had a theatrical preview in April and is out now in digital HD and on DV

The feature-length film profiles five singles — between college-age and 40s — trying to find love in a culture where the entire social script of dating and mating has been deconstructed.

If you wonder why 50 percent of America is single, and why so many young people aren’t getting married, it may be because many don’t even know where to start, in terms of building a healthy relationship from the ground up.

“The Dating Project” is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, funny and forlorn. It doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of finding love in modern America, but it does offer some practical suggestions.

At the core of “The Dating Project” is the work of Boston College philosophy professor Dr. Kerry Cronin. About 12 years ago, responding to something she noticed about her students’ difficulty with forming relationships, she decided to challenge them to ask someone out on a date — no alcohol, no physical contact other than a hug, during the day, no more than 90 mins in length, etc.

To her amazement, this apparently simple task hit many of her students as an entirely novel idea, as opposed to just “hanging out” or “hooking up” with someone, which can mean anything from a drunken make-out session to sex.

Here’s Cronin’s assignment to her students (also available at the Website for the film, DatingProjectMovie.com):

Over the years, Cronin has seen the hookup culture only expand on campus, and the social script for dating steadily erode — not only in college, but in the adult working world as well. At the same time, the entertainment industry isn’t helping people form a realistic notion of romance.

“My students are convinced,” she says, “by some sort of formula of romantic comedies, maybe, that you’re going to hate somebody until you love that person, suddenly. The formula of seeing somebody across a room, or the bookstore, and then 10 years later you find that person.

“I like the idea of a soulmate, but guess what? We’re all souls, and we’re all searching for love and relationships and connection. The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of great possibilities out there. Attraction can grow; crushes can grow; feelings can change.

“But we’re mesmerized by the, ‘Oh, it was an instantaneous thing, and that’s it, the chemistry.’ A lot of college students especially will say to me, “I just figured, sometime in my 20s, it will just happen’ — as though, there’s nothing I have to do myself.

“It’s a version of, ‘God will drop someone in my lap, whom God picked for me from time immemorial.'”

Among many Christians, there’s the idea that dating is solely a precursor to marriage, and that you should not go on dates with anyone unless that person is a likely marriage prospect. Cronin disagrees with this all-or-nothing approach (with the understanding that, despite lax modern mores, dating someone isn’t necessarily synonymous with having sex).

“I like to advocate for low-stakes dating,” she says. “We learn a lot about ourselves in dating, and it’s not just simply utilitarian in that way. We learn about other people in the world, and God, in dating people outside our usual type.

“We learn how to put another person first, put another person’s cares and concerns maybe before our own. We learn how to navigate emotional landscapes that are different from the landscapes we’re dealing with in friendships and family relationships.

“You learn how to open your heart, and you learn about some things that you shouldn’t open your heart to, and things that don’t work with you and your values.”

While a first date that reveals seriously unpleasant or dangerous things about the other person should send you in the opposite direction, Cronin urges that a merely shaky first round might deserve a do-over.

She says, “There’s a lot that goes on in a first date about nerves, and we’re all awkward. We’re trying to make our way through the first-date conversation. It’s almost always worthwhile to go on a second and even a third date, just to really see if you can uncover in yourself, and another person, what’s really up with that person.”

Chris Meehan, “The Dating Project”

Asked what she’s like single people to take away from “The Dating Project,” Cronin says, “Just try. Just try. A lot of people are paralyzed by their fears and their past, and what went wrong in the past and could go wrong in the future. Sometimes you just have to try.”

If it doesn’t work out?

“You can try again,” Cronin says. “When you try, people around you find out that you’re trying, and so then they might be willing to ask you out. Dating begets dating. If you try, then other people might try with you.”

Not specifically a Christian film, “The Dating Project” counts many faithful Catholics among the filmmakers, and it’s suffused with Catholic values. There is a brief (but not explicit) discussion among friends about pornography. With that proviso in mind, it’s suitable for mature middle-schoolers and up, for youth groups, young-adult ministries, and anyone who’s free and willing to date or knows someone who is.

“The Dating Project” — from Paulist Productions, MPower Pictures and Family Theater Productions, and distributed by PureFlix — is currently available on DVD (including in Target and Walmart), and for digital rental or purchase from several platforms, including Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu and Google Play. Click here to learn more.

There’s even a discussion guide created by Focus on the Family’s Boundless young-adult ministry — click here to sign up.

Image: Courtesy PureFlix/Paulist Productions/MPower/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.