Category: News & Trends

‘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.

BASED ON: Melissa McCarthy in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me’

Melissa McCarthy/Can You Ever Forgive Me/Fox Searchlight

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Screenplay written by Nicole Holofcener, directed by Marielle Heller, based on a memoir of the same title by Lee Israel.

This film has gotten a lot of awards notice. Most recently, it just landed a Writers Guild of America nomination for best adapted screenplay, for Nicole Holofcener and Josh Whitty.

Thus far, it’s won two Satellite Awards, for best supporting actor for Richard Grant; and for best adapted screenplay; and a New York Film Critics Circle Award, for Grant.

In nominations, Grant received nods from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Independent Spirit; National Society of Film Critics; and Critics’ Choice. McCarthy got best actress nods from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, National Society of Film Critics, Critics’ Choice and Satellite.

And now, Father Vince’s review …

The real-life Lee Israel enjoyed a bit of literary success in the 1980s, enough to pay New York rents, but not enough to cure her deluded thinking that her book advances should match those of a Tom Clancy. She wrote biographies of esoteric figures such as Estee Lauder, Kilgallen and Tallulah Bankhead.

When the 1990s arrive, life finds Lee Israel in much poorer circumstances. She lives alone in a decrepit apartment, having resorted to selling off her personal library of books after the legal firm where she once proofread let her go. Her penury remains her own doing, though as Israel pours her latest research into the long-forgotten actress, Fanny Brice. She finds a letter by the author in one of the books. A trip to one of New York’s famed bookstores reveal quite the market for such personalized memos. Israel falsely assumes the voice of various authors and begins her newfound “professional” life in forgery.

Reading Lee Israel’s memoir, one can see in hindsight how she soon found herself down on her luck. I would say that she writes in an “elevated” language, like a graduate student trying to impress some famous professor that they indeed, belong in that fancy MFA program. It’s not so much the words that a good writer uses, by how they arrange and use them that counts.

She employs “piratical” as a $64,000-dollar word, when a lesser adjective would better suffice. Her style somehow impressed the publishing world one decade, but come the next, they’ve shelved her for someone more marketable and digestible.

Melissa McCarthy brings some humanity to the role. The memoir in its current form would be almost unwatchable. The film centers around Israel and her gay friend, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Although, Hock’s promiscuous choices lead to his eventual sad, demise, it is Israel who oddly enough ends up in a more pathetic circumstance.

She shuns human relationships to the point that the accidental death of her cat ruins her more than any botched relationship could. The memoir is even less kind. While the film shows a genuine friendship between the two, Israel records Jack as little more than a hired hand, only utilized because word is getting out about her.

Perhaps, the saddest note comes on Israel’s reflecting about her misdeeds. Her own words are telling. She appends the line “Can you ever forgive me?” to a Dorothy Parker letter. Parker writes apologetically comparing her current hangover “to a museum piece.” Israel comments she wrote the line presuming Parker, “apologizes with no intention whatsoever of mending her wayward ways.”

I read the letter without Israel’s doctoring, however, as a sincere apology from someone who like many of us say stupid things at dinner parties having had a bit much to drink. So the appended line, then says more about Israel than the writer she’s impersonating.

Israel’s description of later crimes, some 400 forgeries in all, are scribbled in a matter-of-fact tone. If she evokes any emotions, they’re ones of self-satisfaction for pulling off the ruse for the few years she did. McCarthy delivers a heartfelt apology to a near-empty courtroom prior to her sentencing. It’s touching. She’s a phenomenal actress who moves us to sympathize with the least sympathetic of persons.

Israel writes, though, that she believed in maybe half of what she stated to the judge. The film’s title, then more than a mere plot point, asks the viewer as to whether can they extend mercy to the forger? For the character in the movie, I would cautiously say “Yes.” For the real-life, Lee Israel, unrepentant to the bitter end, I must sadly say, “No.”

Image: Fox Searchlight

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

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BASED ON: From ‘Black Panther’ to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ to ‘Dirty John’ — Nominees Drawn From Other Works

Black Panther (Marvel)/Crazy Rich Asians (Warner Bros.)/Patrick Melrose (Showtime)

Happy New Year — and Happy Awards Season!

The Golden Globes takes place this Sunday, Jan. 6, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom in Beverly Hills, California, and airs live on NBC. The nominees have been announced, and between now and then, it’s a guessing game.

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called Based On, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies. Here he looks at some of the nominated works he deems worthy, which originated in another form.

Film Nominees

BLACK PANTHER, based on the Marvel comic.
(Best Motion Picture — Drama)

The film works on a popular and critical level because it does not stray from the original arc of the comics. The strong traditional family values and political isolationism of the land of Wakanda was recipe for strong box office and a Golden Globe for best picture.

THE WIFE, based on a Meg Wolitzer novel.
(Glenn Close, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama)

A greater portion of the book version of the story takes place on a transatlantic flight to Stockholm, where Joan Castleman contemplates divorcing her writer husband, Joe. She’s the real writer behind his books, thus de-legitimizing any real claim he has to the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. The film works as a scenic Scandinavian travelogue, but the book better realizes the strained, yet still-hobbling-along marriage.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS, based on a Kevin Kwan novel.
(Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy; Constance Wu for Best Performance by an Actress in the category)

The book delves far deeper into the ugly underbelly of Singaporean high society. The novel features dogfighting as the main event of the bachelor party, while the film airbrushes this away. The film applies a similar cosmetic effect when Christianity is only given fleeting recognition. In the book, the magical sequence of the wedding becomes more a point of contention when the devout Christian aunts take issue with the church transforming into a lily pond.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, based on the Marvel comics.
(Best Motion Picture — Animated)

The panel format of comic books limits the number of characters and their development over a five- or six-issue arc. Each arc really can only handle one or two Spiderman characters. The medium of animation, especially on the big screen knows no such boundaries.

TV Nominees

SHARP OBJECTS, based on a Gillian Flynn novel.
(Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television; Amy Adams, for Best Performance by an Actress in the category; Patricia Clarkson, for Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in the category)

The HBO series succeeds because it doesn’t deviate from the novel — especially when the producers get the “spine” (pun intended) of the book right … the story is less about the detective procedural and more about the main character’s family dysfunction.

DIRTY JOHN. based on a true series of Los Angeles Times articles reported by Christopher Goffard.
(Connie Britton, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television)

The Bravo series about a confidence man deceiving a successful, yet naïve Orange County woman makes for an exalted Lifetime mini-series. The TV show failed to incorporate Debra Newell’s devout Christian faith. It would have provided far more texture and believable plot sequencing as Newell relies far too much on unconditional forgiveness, giving John Meehan’s facetious “mea culpa” one too many chances.

PATRICK MELROSE, based on a collection of short stories and novellas by Edward St. Aubyn.
(Benedict Cumberbatch, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television)

I was only able to make it through one novella of this leisure-class tale of decadence and addiction. Benedict Cumberbatch acts so well as the depraved titular character that I was only able to make it through one episode.

Images: Marvel Studios, Warner Bros., Showtime

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

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Based On: HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Throws a Brutal Italian Twist on a Female Coming-of-Age Story

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

My Brilliant Friend, an HBO series (Italian with English subtitles) directed by Saverio Costanzo, based on the first novel, “My Brilliant Friend,” of the Neapolitan Quartet written by Elena Ferrante; translated from the original Italian by Ann Goldstein. (TV-MA violence, some language, one scene of naturalistic nudity)

Imagine if one of Jane Austen’s female-coming-of-age works was relocated from genteel, well-appointed England and landed flat in the middle of brutal, poverty-ridden southern Italy, and you would have some inkling of the ferocity of the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.

Best friends Raffaella “Lila” Cerullo and Elena “Lenu” Greco meet in primary school and navigate the mean streets of 1950s Naples. The two are the smartest of their class and often singled out by their maestros as exemplary students. Despite the ubiquitous crucifixes that adorn every private business, public-school room and home, Neapolitans take most their social and moral cues, it seems, from the unofficial rulers of the day — black market mob bosses, embodied in this story by the aptly named Don Achille Carracci.

Violence marks many a public business transaction and informs the private dysfunction of the families who bear witness to it, day after miserable day. In the novel, a reader might almost miss the violence, the narrator; Lenu refers to it in fleeting, haunting prose. Adapting the material to the small screen, however, we see the brutality as the characters did, unflinching and in-your-face. HBO’s TV series (which recently ended its weekly run; and is now available On Demand and on HBO GO/HBO NOW) does not glorify it, but provides context for how scarred (and in some cases, inured) the townspeople become.

The childhood chapter ends with the murder of Don Achille. Some relief then is provided to the main characters by episode three, where we meet Lenu as she prepares to begin secondary school. Lila, the smarter of the two, can’t convince her parents to pay for her continued schooling and instead cobbles in their shoe-store, while voraciously reading books as an autodidact.

The story lost a layer of complexity when they changed Lenu’s course of studies from theology in the novel to Latin and Greek in the television series. Exposed to a world beyond the four-walled village, Lenu begins to question many things, the insularity of her hometown and the faith handed off to her. I’ve only read one novel, thus far, and hold a cautious optimism that the healthy questioning on her part will lead to greater faith later on.

The best part of both the novel and the TV series (and quite frankly in any TV show since Downton Abbey) are the courtship rituals. This staunchly Catholic neighborhood observes the most conservative of rites. Want to ask out the much fawned after Lila or Lenu? Ask one of their stern fathers, first. The old ways make for the best ways of storytelling. The period setting of the series requires the creative forces behind the series to eek out sexual tension and romance without peddling flesh.

Lenu and Lila arrive at Carracci’s to purchase their family’s Christmas grocery lists only to finds themselves at the end of an interminably long line. Brothers Stefano and Alfonso Carracci notice them and expedite their purchase. The charity does not happen without motive as Alfonso invites their families to the Carracci New Year’s Eve party. Teen crushes provide the setting for reconciliation of families otherwise opposed on the political spectrum and much stratified on the economic ladder.

I don’t speak Italian, but the writing and acting are so impeccably executed that I don’t feel I lose out on the rare humorous moments. Various suitors, including the most handsome of the village, Marcelo Solara, pursue Lila. Again, the social mores of the time demand Marcelo’s best-rehearsed flirt. He states he dreamt of her last night. Unimpressed, Lila responds: What of? That he proposed marriage to her. What was my response? Yes. Then, it really must have been a dream.

Image: HBO

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

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Golden Globes: Our Father Vince Examined Four Nominated Films

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

The Golden Globe nominations were announced today, Dec. 6 — and a happy St. Nicholas’ Day to all the lucky nominees.

Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., our own producer-at-large and USC film-school grad, earlier took a deep dive into a quartet of nominated films, comparing them to earlier versions of the stories.

Click here for the full list of nominations, but here’s a look at the top awards, with links to Fr. Vince’s posts …

Best Motion Picture — Drama

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Star Is Born

Father Vince look at both BlacKkKlansman (click here) and A Star Is Born (click here).

Of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, he wrote:

Real-life encounters between Zimmeran’s “Stallworth” and Klan members are well-executed by [Adam] Driver. He quite capably feigns a racist persona for the sake of the investigation. Both characters, in effect, do as Christ did, not fighting ugliness with more ugliness, but absorbing some of the worst parts of their enemies and turning it against them, exposing evil for what it is. “Infiltrate hate,” the tagline goes of the film goes. Not “flee” or “fight” hate as the world often demands.

And of A Star Is Born (and the earlier versions):

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.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama

Glenn Close, The Wife

Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

Nicole Kidman, Destroyer

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Rosamund Pike, A Private War

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Crazy Rich Asians

The Favourite

Green Book

Mary Poppins Returns

Vice

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Charlize Theron, Tully

Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Christian Bale, Vice

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Poppins Returns

Viggo Mortenson, Green Book

Robert Redford, The Old Man & the Gun

John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie

Click here for Father Vince’s take on Redford’s new movie; here’s a taste:

I feel the director, himself the son of a college professor from the robustly Catholic University of Dallas, did the main character and story better justice in filling in the origin story — even if that origin details the abandonment of faith. The film admittedly, states in its tagline: “based on mostly a true story.” The director’s embellishing of Tucker’s lack of faith, nonetheless tells a truer story about the nature of crime than Grann’s first-hand interviews of the criminal himself.

Best Motion Picture — Animated

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Director — Motion Picture

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Peter Farrelly, Green Book

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Adam McKay, Vice

Best Television Series — Drama

The Americans (FX)

Bodyguard (Netflix)

Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Killing Eve (BBC America)

Pose (FX)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama

Caitriona Balfe, Outlander (Starz)

Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Sandra Oh, Killing Eve (BBC America)

Julia Roberts, Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Keri Russell, The Americans (FX)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Drama

Jason Bateman, Ozark (Netflix)

Stephan James, Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Richard Madden, Bodyguard (Netflix)

Billy Porter, Pose (FX)

Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)

Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Barry (HBO)

The Good Place (NBC)

Kidding (Showtime)

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Kristen Bell, The Good Place (NBC)

Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown (CBS)

Alison Brie, GLOW (Netflix)

Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

Debra Messing, Will & Grace (NBC)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Sacha Baron Cohen, Who Is America (Showtime)

Jim Carrey, Kidding (Showtime)

Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)

Bill Hader, Barry (HBO)

Surprisingly, after being nominated and winning Globes the last two years, NBC’s This Is Us was snubbed this time around.

First Man, about Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, also didn’t fare well, only picking up nominations for Clare Foy, for her supporting role, and the original score. And as anyone in Hollywood knows, when almost the only positive thing someone says is they liked the music, it’s not good news.

Father Vince wasn’t impressed with First Man either. Click here for the whole piece; below find an excerpt.

Maybe [Apollo 13 director Ron] 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.

Movie awards season is officially underway. Let the games begin …

Image: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

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

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