Category: News & Trends

BASED ON: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’: An Ending for Lorraine Warren, But for the Movie …

‘The Curse of La Llorona’/Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

The Curse of La Llorona, a film written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis set within the The Conjuring Universe, whose films are based on the writings of the late Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Conjuring Universe is to me what the Marvel Universe is to everyone else. Presuming I, or my priest colleague at Family Theater Productions, haven’t already consulted on one of the films, I’m there on opening weekend for a good ‘ole-fashioned scare. This is true of the main Conjuring Warren-centered films: the Annabelle prequels, The Nun standalone, and this most recent offering, The Curse of La Llorona.

Interestingly enough, Lorraine Warren, a real-life lay Catholic exorcist died on Holy Thursday, in the Eastern time zone, which meant it was already Good Friday in other parts of the world — the only day of the year Catholics are forbidden from celebrating Mass. So unable to offer a Mass intention for the repose of her soul, I sought a more secular connection through the big screen.

According to Mexican folklore, the Weeping Woman, or “La Llorona,”in inspired by the story of a 17th-Century woman, who, through a case of jilted love, drowned her two sons in a river. Wracked with guilt, she took her own life. She now supposedly haunts children, looking for a new pair of siblings to take the place of her own departed kids. Obey your parents, or La Llorona will come for you, many Spanish-speaking parents warn their misbehaving offspring.

The filmmakers put a literal demonic twist to this folktale. The ghost seems to be possessed by a demonic spirit(s) and exhibits supernatural powers typically attributed to said spirit(s). The widowed mother (Linda Cardellini) and her son and daughter receive burns on their forearms from the Weeping Woman. Once attached to the family like spiritual glue, La Llorona antagonizes the poor family throughout the film.

The subject matter orbits a very contested realm of demonology: can the souls of a dead, wicked person become possessed by a demonic spirit? The greatest exorcist of modern time, the late Fr. Gabriele Amorth, SSP (of The Devil and Father Amorth fame) would say “No.” A soul goes to hell, heaven or purgatory upon death. A minority of Catholic exorcists disagrees. The film chooses this dissenting path for a new take on a familiar genre.

Father Perez (Tony Amendola, who also played the same character in the first Annabelle prequel) tells the widow the Archdiocese would take weeks to approve a spiritual intervention. Since the nature of the offending spirit remains murky, the family is left with the local curandero. Raymond Cruz plays Rafael Olvera, a former priest, still believing in most of Catholicism, but mixing it with the rituals of native spirituality, he’s a shaman of some Latin America kind. Logically, then, his syncretistic prayers prove only partially efficacious.

It’s ultimately fitting that I don’t know how the film resolved. In the film’s culminating scene, when one of the children drives a crucifix through the heart of La Llorona, the power in the movie theater cut out …

Here’s the trailer …

Image: Warner Bros.

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

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Ave Maria! A Dad Sings Schubert at Disney World and Brings Beauty to the Internet

Justin Gigliello/YouTube screenshot

A few days ago, Connecticut dad Justin Gigliello — who, as his Twitter bio states, is a private voice and piano teacher — mesmerized people in the lobby of the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disney World with a rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria.

Now the clip has gone viral on Facebook and in news articles, and he’s mesmerized the world.

Here’s the YouTube version, with this description:

I am performing Ave Maria at Grand Floridian Resort in Walt Disney World. My daughter asked the pianist if I could sing with him while he played. I hope you enjoy!

Just look at how his daughter Lyla looks up at her dad, who has a bachelor’s degree in voice performance from the Boston Conservatory.

From Fox35Orlando (who didn’t quite get the name of the tune — or prayer — right):

The video shows Justin Gigliello singing ‘Ave Marie’ at the Grand Floridian. His daughter, Lyla, asked the man playing the piano if her dad could sing along while he played.

The original post of the video on Facebook has over 8,000 interactions and 5,900 shares. It has since been shared onto several different news outlets.

But what’s up with the jersey for former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman? Apparently, the current San Francisco 49er player noticed on Twitter:

Maybe Justin should be singing the National Anthem, either at Foxboro or in Seattle. What do you think?

Oh, and he’s also a volunteer firefighter.

To hear more from Justin Gigliello, here’s his YouTube channel and his Twitter.

Image: YouTube screenshot

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.

History’s ‘Jesus: His Life’: Is It Worthwhile Lenten Watching?

Photo: History Channel

Sorry to say it, The Bible miniseries notwithstanding, but History Channel is not always the best place to hear about Christianity. Jesus: His Life, premiering tonight, Monday, March 25, is no exception.

The four-week, eight-episode series aims to tell the story of Christ (and, to its credit, it emphasizes how important it is to understand that story, even for unbelievers, if one is to understand Western civilization) through the eyes of those who knew him. The first two episodes were made available to critics — Joseph: The Nativity and John the Baptist: The Mission.

There are the usual sword-and-sandal Biblical recreations, but at least actors were cast in the major roles, including Jesus, that are much more robust and expressive than the overly reverent stiffs that are too often found in these documentaries. Interspersed with the dramatic segments is an array of talking heads, including clerics and academics.

It’s a mixed bag, with the clerics including the controversial Father James Martin, S.J., and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen; along with Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry (famous for preaching at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle), Father Jonathan Morris, and Trinity United Church of Christ senior Pastor Rev. Otis Moss III.

Among the academics is Dr. Robert Cargill of the University of Iowa. At several points, he offers an, um, novel interpretation of Scripture, only to be followed by fellow scholar Dr. Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary, who disagrees with him. Being the resident skeptic appears to be Cargill’s self-proclaimed function.

As Kathy Schiffer noted in her detailed review at the National Catholic Register:

But the expert who seems intent on dredging up controversy – and who is given a primary role in the series – is Dr. Robert Cargill. I should not be surprised by Cargill’s questioning: Cargill, who has been called the “Skeptic in the Sanctuary,” sees his role as asking difficult questions. “This is where I stand,” Cargill wrote,

“…atop the continental divide between faith and science, with one foot in the range of rigorous academic inquiry and skeptical scrutiny, and the other on the often slippery slope of competing religious worldviews. And from this marvelous vantage point I can survey both directions and ask difficult questions of both faith and reason. I imagine that I’ll spend the remainder of my career here, the ever-searching soul attempting to mediate between the two.”

Lent is a favorite time for TV networks to run Christian-themed programming, often with a strong undercurrent of doubt and skepticism. They love to draw in the Christian audience but too often can’t resist the impulse to throw shade on their faith.

Jesus: His Life isn’t as bad as some, and there is some lively commentary that doesn’t make you feel like you’re sitting in the back of a dusty lecture hall. But, for faithful Christians, it doesn’t add much to the conversation. For the unchurched, it does put flesh and blood on Biblical figures, and that’s a good place to start.

It would be better for these folks if they watched The Bible, or Bishop Barron’s Catholicism. But, Jesus: His Life isn’t the worst thing on Christianity ever — and it’s way better than History’s fanciful drama Knightfall, the first season of which was about as much about the real Knights Templar as James Bond movies are about actual espionage.

Just remember that most, if not almost all, mainstream productions about Christianity are not designed to encourage or confirm people in faith. Often, it’s just the opposite.

Jesus: His Life doesn’t go that far, but frankly, I’d rather spice up my Lent by rewatching Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (here’s the whole thing) or The Ten Commandments.

Here are History’s episode descriptions and airdates:

Episode 1 – Joseph: The Nativity
Premieres Monday, March 25 at 8pm ET/PT on HISTORY
The Roman Empire occupies the land of Judea in a time of turbulent unrest. A simple craftsman named Joseph faces a personal test of faith in the small town of Nazareth, when his fiancée Mary tells him she is expecting a child, who is the Son of God. Joseph vows to love and protect his son Jesus through many dangers: his birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, and the flight to Egypt to escape death at the hands of mad King Herod.

Episode 2 – John the Baptist: The Mission
Premieres Monday, March 25 at 9pm ET/PT on HISTORY
Some thirty years after Jesus is born, his life intersects with that of John the Baptist, a radical preaching in the desert against Judea’s rulers, including Herod’s son, Herod Antipas. John baptizes Jesus, starting his divine mission, but loses his own life, beheaded in a famous conflict with Herod Antipas’ step-daughter, Salome.

Episode 3 – Mary: The First Miracles
Premieres Monday, April 1 at 8pm ET/PT on HISTORY
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is torn between wanting to protect her son and letting him go to fulfill his sacrificial destiny when the time is right; until Jesus is thirty, only she and Joseph know his mysterious mission. Jesus performs his first public miracle at her request at the Wedding Feast of Cana. But as Jesus’ work becomes public, he puts his life – and that of his family – in increasing danger. When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath in Capernaum, he enrages the authorities and reaches an important crossroad.

Episode 4 – Caiaphas: The Raising of Lazarus
Premieres Monday, April 1 at 9pm ET/PT on HISTORY
Caiaphas, High Priest of Jerusalem and religious leader of the Jewish people, faces an impossible dilemma. Caught between determination to preserve his faith and the repressive might of Rome, Caiaphas must judge how great a provocation Jesus of Nazareth might pose. Jesus’ astonishing raising of Lazarus from the dead marks a turning point. Afraid that Jesus could prompt an uprising and possible brutal retaliation from Rome’s prefect, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas decides Jesus must be stopped.

Episode 5 – Judas: The Betrayal
Premieres Monday, April 8 at 8pm ET/PT on HISTORY
His name a synonym for traitor even to this day, Judas is known as the devoted disciple who ultimately betrays Jesus. What prompted one of Jesus’ closest friends to turn on him remains one of the Bible’s great mysteries, one explored as Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem for Passover and what will become the Last Supper.

Episode 6 – Pilate: The Trial
Premieres Monday, April 8 at 9pm ET/PT on HISTORY
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, has to make a decision about a troublesome preacher called Jesus. As pressure builds to execute Jesus, Pilate’s wife, inspired by a prophetic nightmare, urges him to leave Jesus alone. Instead, Pilate sends him away to be crucified, and publicly washes his hands of responsibility.

Episode 7 – Mary Magdalene: The Crucifixion
Premieres Monday, April 15 at 8pm ET/PT on HISTORY
Cured of “seven demons” by Jesus, Mary Magdalene is among his best-known female followers. With his mother, Mary Magdalene witnesses the torment of the crucifixion at the foot of the cross. But her faith is rewarded the most when she is the first to witness the seemingly unbelievable: His resurrection.

Episode 8 – Peter: The Resurrection
Premieres Monday, April 15 at 9pm ET/PT on HISTORY
A simple fisherman, Peter was Jesus’ most devoted disciple, his “rock.” But when a frightened Peter disavows Jesus three times during Jesus’ arrest, Peter despairs. The resurrected Jesus appears to Peter and restores him by commanding him to spread his gospel, and Peter takes on that mission, becoming perhaps the most important of Jesus’ disciples.

Image: History Channel

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

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

‘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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