Category: Tony Sands

Fun, Facts and Faith About ‘The Young Messiah’

The-Young-Messiah-FFMBlogHitting theaters this weekend, right in the heart of Lent, is a new movie ostensibly about the childhood of Jesus Christ, “The Young Messiah.” With any movie about our Lord and Savior, it comes with its share of controversy; therefore, if you are considering seeing this film, here is some food for thought, especially for parents and families.

The Fun: “The Young Messiah” is not theology. It is not Gospel. It is only loosely historical. However, it is fun! It is a family adventure of biblical proportions, it’s a coming of age film about the King of the Ages, and it’s a road movie with donkeys and boats instead of a Winnebago or the family station wagon. Seen in the light of entertainment, the film is sweet, heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable.

Warning! There are some scenes that may be too intense for little kids. The devil appears, played by Rory Keenan.

Though he is never named as Satan and looks more like an ‘80s rock star with long blond hair rather than the horned Lord of the Flies, he is spooky and menacing. So is King Herod Archelaus who keeps seeing snakes everywhere.

Also, there are depictions of people being crucified. The last is shown in a mostly bloodless, sanitized way; however, seeing any living person hung from a cross may be too intense for any child below a certain age. Actually, Mary averts the gaze of Jesus in the movie, and he is supposed to be seven years old at the time. Perhaps this is a good guide for parents, so you can be warned depending on the sensitivity of your children.

Aside from these aspects, the film has definitely been created for families and was produced by the same company, 1492, with Christopher Columbus, that brought us the first “Harry Potter” movies and another children’s book series, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”

From the standpoint of family entertainment, “The Young Messiah” is certainly worth watching, and as you will constantly hear me preach, go see the film its opening weekend, or very soon after, because a movie’s opening box office means everything to Hollywood. This is the way to ensure that more faith and family films will come out in the future.

The Facts: While this film provides engaging family entertainment, Do NOT look to it for the facts. Do not assume that this is a biblically or historically accurate portrayal of Christ’s childhood. The movie tells the story of a year in the life of a seven-year-old Jesus, but it is a fiction.

Of course, this is largely not the film’s fault. The simple truth is we know very little, for sure, about the life of Christ between his birth and Presentation at the Temple and the beginning of his public ministry, usually understood to take place after Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist, when Christ was about 30 years old.

The one exclusive exception is when Jesus visits Jerusalem with his parents when he is 12, and stays behind after they leave, forcing them to search for him for three days before finding him in the temple.

What we do know about Christ’s birth and childhood can be found almost exclusively in the Gospel of Matthew — Chapter 1, Verse 18, to Chapter 2, Verse 23; and in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, Verse 5, to Chapter 2, Verse 52 — that is the sum total. It is upon these less than 200 verses that our knowledge about Christ’s childhood rests.

Getting back to the Facts, what the movie is based upon is a book titled “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice, an author probably best known for her “Interview with the Vampire” series. Rice wrote the book in 2005 shortly after a re-version back to Catholicism that took place in the early 2000s (and which, unfortunately, ended in 2010). Rice based her fiction novel on historical texts about Egypt and the Holy Land during the First Century A.D., and books from the Apocrypha, specifically the Gnostic Gospels.

If you have never heard of these books, that is in part intentional, because they often claim to be by same famous disciple and claim to reveal some part of Christ’s life, but are in fact of dubious authorship, dubious authenticity, dubious historical accuracy and are simply dubious in general. Some of the most famous of these books are the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

One of the reasons we don’t give them much weight is that the earliest versions of these texts date to the Second Century, and since Christ died between 28 and 40 A.D., and his disciples died in the First Century, these books are written by authors who certainly never met Christ and almost as certainly never met the people they are claimed to be written by – whoops!

However, sometimes there are interesting tidbits to be taken even from ancient works of fiction. They include interesting stories such as a young Jesus bringing a dead bird back to life, which is shown in the film, and more disturbing stories, such as Jesus killing another boy by accidentally using his “God  powers” and then bringing him back to life. This is also depicted in the film but in a sanitized way.

In fact, we don’t even know Christ’s age when his family returns from Egypt. The film says seven years old, but he could have been far younger since the Bible says they returned after Herod’s death during the reign of Archelaus in Judea, and Archelaus was king from 4BC to 6 A.D., so the oldest that Christ would have been is seven. The key thing is to not take the movie as historical truth, and don’t get bogged down by the dates and exact facts. In that light, the film is loosely historically accurate but mostly just fun.

Two additional fun facts to note:

1) To show the universal power of Christ’s story, one of the primary producers of the film is Michael Barnathan, who is himself actually Jewish. He points out that is the story of a Jewish family, which is correct. Though, it is the story of the very first Christian family, as well.

2) If you are wondering why everyone speaks with a British accent when they are supposed to be Middle Eastern, that is a fair question. The fact is that the producers looked at over 5,000 boys to play the role of Jesus. The child they chose, Adam Greaves-Neal — whom I think gives a solid performance for someone so young, and who is supposed to be the son of God — is from England. The producers then cast around him, keeping everyone with similar accents to maintain consistency and avoid a mish-mash of voices.

Finally, Faith: To be clear, “The Young Messiah” is not a theological treatise on Jesus, and should NOT be taken as Gospel truth. If you want to see Gospel truth, please take a look at the links above – to the actual Gospels.

That said, the film can raise a number of questions, one of the most obvious being, what did Jesus know about himself and when? To answer this most simply, Catholic doctrine is that Jesus the Christ is fully human and fully divine, fully man and fully God. Therefore, he knew he was the Son of the God and the Messiah. That being said, exactly how much he knew and when he knew it is not quite so clear.

We do know, again by the Gospels, that when Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12, they asked Him what He was doing, and didn’t He know they would be looking for Him? He responds, “Didn’t  you know I would be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Notice, he‘s not in a carpenter’s shop working on some furniture (which would make sense if He thought He was Joseph’s child). Instead, He is in the one and only Temple of the Lord God, debating with the Jewish teachers. Clearly, He knows quite a bit of who He is by that age.

Also, it says one verse later, that His parents “did not understand what He said to them,” showing that He had this knowledge by some means beyond His parents.

To further clarify, some people claim that Christ did not know He was God, or the son of God, or the Messiah, until the Resurrection and possibly not even then. That is NOT backed up by the Bible and that is certainly NOT Catholic teaching. However, could Christ’s knowledge of himself been fuzzy before He was 12 and in the temple? It is possible, and certainly there is enough wiggle room where one can watch “The Young Messiah” and not worry about it being heresy.

Therefore, if you have the time, take your family and enjoy the film. If you have questions, take this as an opportunity to open a Bible – with a Catholic good commentary – and share the Good News of Our Lord and Savior with each other.

*NOTE: the US Council of Catholic Bishops provides not only the entire Bible online, but it is accompanied a pretty good commentary.

Please feel free to ask us any follow up questions as well. Happy watching and have a blessed Lent!

8 Ways You Can Think About, and React to, the Oscar Win by ‘Spotlight’

SpotlightSo, “Spotlight”– the searing drama about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the priest sex-abuse scandal in Boston, published in early 2002 — won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Why?

What do we do now?

At my Pax Culturati blog over at Patheos Catholic, I tackle the technicalities of the why, and what anti-Catholicism did or didn’t have to do with it. Click here for the whole thing (which includes some reaction to the film from the Vatican), but here’s a taste:

…here are some showbiz things to know about why “Spotlight” won, and the reasons have more to do with the voters and how they voted than a Tinseltown conspiracy to throw more mud on the Church.

Here’s one explanation from The Hollywood Reporter:

Spotlight was a beneficiary of the preferential ballot employed by the Academy and only one other major awards group, the Producers Guild of America. This system is intended to produce a winner that everyone at least likes — a film that might appear at No. 2 or 3 on most ballots — as opposed to one that the largest fraction of people loved but most others did not, like DGA Award winner The Revenant.

The PGA’s employment of this system produced a PGA Award win for The Big Short, which, for a time, put that dramedy in the pole position for the Oscar in the view of most pundits. But there was a difference that many of us failed to account for: The PGA is comprised of producers, whereas the largest branch of the Academy is comprised of actors, whose clear preference was Spotlight, as evidenced by the SAG Awards. Pundits should be forgiven, though: On the four other occasions in which the top three guilds each picked a different winner, the best picture Oscar twice went to the PGA’s pick and twice to the DGA’s pick, but never to SAG’s pick — until Sunday.

“Spotlight” had some other things going for it. It’s an ensemble cast; it employed people who were more working actors than big movie stars; and it was dialogue-heavy, as opposed to action-heavy. All of these things appeal to other actors, who make up the largest voting bloc in the Motion Picture Academy.

Critics might have preferred outdoor action drama “The Revenant” and its big star turn for Leonardo DiCaprio (who finally took home his long-awaited Best Actor Oscar), but it evidently didn’t appeal as much to actors.

On Oscar Sunday, Feb. 28, Tony Sands, the Senior Producer here at Family Theater Productions, and I livetweeted the awards from @FamilyTheater1 on Twitter. Here’s his take — informed both by faith and by his showbiz knowledge — on what we should do going forward. Take it away, Tony.

Thank you, Kate, and to our readers, I would make a handful of suggestions:

  1. Own It (the Bad and the Good): Say, especially if someone confronts you, “Yes, it happened, it was terrible, and the fact that it occurred to even one child is a tragedy.” The silver lining is, it is helping to purify the church, both of sexual predators but also of those who protected them. It helped us all become more aware of our duty to defend the most vulnerable. Also, we have made huge strides now making us one of the safest institutions that regularly interacts with minors.
  2. Know It: Educate yourself on what the Church is doing to address this issue. As EWTN writer Joan Desmond details in this piece for the National Catholic Register, the Church has implemented many programs, from the Safeguard the Children program in this diocese, to the “Zero Tolerance” policy in most dioceses. Due to this stance, if a religious or priest is even accused of molestation, the first step is to remove the person from ministry involving children. Then, investigations begin to see if the claim is valid. American Catholics have decided to err on the side of caution.
  3. Confront It: Identify the lies and know the truth, then share it. It has been said, “you may be the only gospel somebody ever reads.” To that end, if someone brings up this issue, in a loving way, acknowledge their thoughts. Listen. But also feel free to address misconceptions or explain the facts. Examples of misconceptions to address: *Note, I’m going to use the word “they” in my example below because people often don’t actually know who they’re speaking about when referring to the clergy scandal.
  4. “They all knew. They were all a part of it”: That’s a lie. The majority of reliable, secular news sources, like Newsweek, identify the percentage of priests accused of abuse at 3-5%. To clarify, that is not the number convicted of abuse but the number accused. By definition the very definition, this is not “all.” This means the great majority of priests and religious had no involvement and no knowledge of what was going on, until the story broke in the media.
  5. “They let it happen”: Also a lie. In nearly every case of abuse that was settled, the priest or religious involved was sent some type of counseling or rehabilitation program. It was commonly believed that pedophilia, and many such disorders could be “cured”; it wasn’t until the mid- to late ’90s that it became generally accepted that pedophilia couldn’t be eradicated. This is especially important to remember because the majority of abuse cases took place 30, 40 and sometimes 50 years ago. In many instances, a diocese had spent tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars “rehabilitating” a priest or priests. This is a huge answer to a question that plagued me. Why return a molester back to service? The answer: because thousands of dollars had been spent to “fix” the priest, who swore he was “better” and this statement was backed by a clean bill of health given by a trained and licensed psychiatrist.
  6. “This is a Catholic problem.” I mention this in particular because of the participation by people involved in the film in a “protest” in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles (protest is in quotes because only 20 people attended). Also, I mention it because of the direct call out during the Oscars to the Vatican, when producer Michael Sugar said, “Pope Francis, it is time to protect the children and restore the faith.” Yes, these abuses must be addressed, but if these actors and filmmakers sincerely cared about children and the truth, then they fell far short. At the very least, the protest should have moved from the cathedral to the nearest Protestant community, the neighborhood Jewish synagogue, and then it certainly needed to make a stop in front of headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Finally, if the protesters were really being honest, they would have ended in front of Kodak Theater protesting the Oscars themselves. Why? Because preconceptions must be met with facts. The rate of abuse in the Catholic Church is tragic, but it is about equal to that of all other major denomination, and that in the Jewish faith. If you’re thinking maybe it’s a religious issue, think again. The percentage of molestation is twice that high in public schools. Child abuse occurs in Hollywood, and is depicted in the recent documentary “Hush.” Please remember that while the Academy voted for “Spotlight” yesterday, it awarded an Oscar in 2003 to the director Roman Polanski. While Polanski is famous for the classic movie “Chinatown,” he is also infamous for fleeing the U.S. to escape sentencing for molesting a 13-year-old girl. While the Academy honored a film that condemned molestation last night, it had literally given a standing ovation to an admitted child molester just one year after the church scandals broke. These facts are not brought up in effort to spread dirt, but to remind us that we need to fight against injustice everywhere, not just where it’s convenient for us to see it.
  7. Stand Up: If you feel the issue portrayed truly bothers you, say something about it. A number of celebrities, including the very well-paid Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith complained about an injustice — the lack of diversity — they saw in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While the president of the Academy, the host of the Oscars, and multiple award presenters were all African-American, these voices were heard. Feel free to use your voice if you truly feel led to do so. They may not listen, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
  8. (Lastly) Stay Calm: The Academy represents a very small percentage of people. They are people with a VERY loud microphone, but they are still a minority. Thank goodness above all of us is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Light. Despite all that has happened, God has graced the Catholic Church with ever increasing members as He calls all people to Himself. In the U.S., last year alone, more people joined the Catholic Church through RCIA than all the other denominations combined. I say this not to promote some sense of superiority but to remind us to have peace in our hearts because God’s grace prevails.

To end, it is the responsibility of every Christian to listen when truth is spoken, whether by a priest from a pulpit or a producer from an awards stage. We must always strive for the justice our Savior calls each of us to show, but ultimately our duty is to pray, to love, and to be faithful — the rest we trust to God.

Image: Courtesy Open Road Films

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Family Film Alert: ‘Deadpool’ Kills at the Box Office, But This Hitman Is No Hero

Deadpool-poster-Ryan-Reynolds

Why am I writing this blog? Because, with our focus on parents and children here at Family Theater, I want to make sure you know that “Deadpool” is not a family film!

That may seem like I’m stating the obvious, especially when the movie has an “R” rating.

However, I know how the mind works, and how marketing works, and what current statistics indicate. Putting this knowledge together with the fact that “Deadpool” has made $491.9 million in just under two weeks tells me that it is not just 18-35-year-old males who are going to this film, but many others, including parents bringing along their kids– yes, it happens — and under 17-year-old kids convincing their parents to buy them tickets and let them see it alone.

This often occurs because of the argument that can be summed up as, “Well, the movie probably isn’t that bad.”

It is an argument I have seen used, that has been used on me, and that I have used myself in the pre-17 years.

And while I leave it up to the formed conscious of each and every parent to determine what is, and is not, suitable for their children, I want to make it clear that the current number #1 movie in America is not one of those borderline films that is just a little bit worse that PG-13, or a smidge too adult for teens.

It is NOT a family film. In industry terms it is a “hard R”. It doesn’t just cross the line, it pole vaults over it after lighting the line on fire.

Part of my reason for this blog is because this rating fact may not be obvious to the average, incredibly busy parent who doesn’t have time to watch every movie trailer or follow every piece of media and promotion about a film. You may have just seen the film trailer in front of the Super Bowl and thought, “It’s funny. It’s action-packed. Maybe it’s just an edgy super hero film.”

Wrong.

“Deadpool” is not a super hero movie. The film’s narrator tells you that after Deadpool impales an adversary on two samurai swords. The narrator quips, “Wait, I thought this was a super hero film, but that guy (Deadpool) just turned that man into a f-(expletive) shish-ka-bob.” And, that is because, while this film has superheroes in it, like Colossus from the X-Men, the star is not a good guy, but a borderline amoral mercenary who just happens to have superhuman powers.

Yes, “Deadpool” is a Marvel movie (it even has the flipping-pages comic-book logo at the start of the film) and Marvel is owned by Disney (whose logo is very conspicuously not at the start of this film), and the character Deadpool wears a costume and fights bad guys.

But this is where the similarities to a superhero movie end, and this is where our responsibility to be good media consumers begins.

In the film, Deadpool doesn’t just fight bad guys — he kills, maims and dismembers them. There isn’t just some swearing in this film. Deadpool and the other characters throw around the f-word as casually and copiously as they spray bullets. Being as this is an action film – they spray a lot of bullets.

There is nudity – female back and full frontal; male back and mostly full frontal. Oh, and sex — graphic and extreme enough that one scene made a theater full of grown men groan aloud, and which will literally be painfully awkward to explain to your kids should they see it, especially with you present.

That said, I am not writing to condemn “Deadpool.” Thousands of people clearly enjoy it, which explains the box-office numbers. Also, there were many parts that appealed to my inner delinquent teenager, who dreamed of beating up every bully who ever tormented me and who would have given his left arm to date a girl as attractive as the love interest, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) .

However, I can say that “Deadpool” is a movie no teenager should watch, especially knowing that biologically speaking, we actually can’t un-see something. Once an image hits the optic nerve and makes it to the cerebral cortex, we may forget it for a time, but it is somewhere in our brains forever.

What “Deadpool” provides is a perfect example of how we should be savvy and informed media consumers, safeguarding what we watch and what we allow our children to see. To the casual observer, it could easily appear as a slightly over-the-top comic-book film. The well-formed audience member would know better.

As a society obsessed with reading food labels, we should spend at least as much time vetting what goes into our brains as what goes into our mouths.

Here’s  a few tips on how to get informed and how we can form ourselves.

1) Closely read the film’s Motion Picture (MPAA) rating. Thanks to diligent parents and a responsive MPAA board, next to a movie’s rating is a brief explanation on why it received its designation. For example “Deadpool” is Rated R for “strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity.”  This should appear on the trailer or on the poster. You can also find it on sites such as IMDB.com (stands for Internet Movie Database) if you type in the title of the movie.

2) Watch the trailer in advance. They are usually available on YouTube if you type in the name of the movie and the word “trailer”. Especially pay attention if the film has a “Red Band” trailer, this is a term that means instead of the trailer having that signature green opening screen that says “This trailer has been approved for all audiences”, which is the most common, that screen is instead red and reads “for restricted audiences only” meaning 17 or older. The red band indicates that the trailer itself is rated R and will contain an adult level of anything from swearing and violence to sex and nudity. Red trailers give a much better idea to the true nature of the film, but do not view it in the presence of anyone you are trying to shield from adult material.

3) Find a reviewer you trust who also describes why something received the rating it was assigned. IMDB has a Parents Guide section that describes in clinical detail the moments that earned a film its rating. When you are on a film’s particular IMDB page, scroll down past the list of actors and under a section titled “Storyline,” you will see a sub-section called “Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)”. In that sub-section is the “Parents Guide” link which will take you to page listing all of the gritty details of the rating.  The Catholic News Service also has a website that reviews films and gives a moral assessment of the movies themselves.

4) In addition, writers/commentators like Bishop Robert Baron, who is a filmmaker in his own right, is also known for creating video commentaries on popular films and modern culture. Search YouTube for Robert Barron, or go his media ministry WordonFire.org.

The key to all of this is not to be thought police, but to be informed. Each person must ultimately determine what is and is not appropriate for him or her to see by developing a relationship with God and forming his or her conscience. But an essential part of that process is being educated and aware.

Taking these steps helps us become the real superheroes as we strive to guard our own souls and protect the hearts and minds of our families and the ones we love.

Image: Courtesy Sony Pictures/20th Century Fox/Marvel Studios

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

“The Fault in Our Stars”: Love, Death… & Faith?

fault-in-our-stars-landscape-poster webWARNING – this blog contains many plot spoilers! Now out on DVD, The Fault in Our Stars, known as TFOS by its fans, is a best-selling book adapted to film that has been proclaimed by many to be this generation’s Love Story. Don’t tell this to the movie’s creator or cast who have publicly cringed from the comparison. However, like that film, TFOS is about a young couple who fall in love against the odds, only to have their love tested by terminal illness, all in a tragic tale designed to have the audience leave the theater in tears. Both even have a signature line. In Love Story, the line is, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, and (maybe as the biggest indicator of the difference in generations) it has been swapped with “Okay”. Yes, you read it correctly – “Okay”. In this movie, “Okay” takes on a special meaning– and it actually plays surprisingly well, but you sort of need to see it to believe it.  Read More »

“The Maze Runner”: Intense Action but a Family Film Puzzle

the-maze-runner webYou may have noticed, September is a strange time for movies. All the big action blockbusters opened in the summer, and all the horror films won’t come out until October when it’s close to Halloween. That leaves September as a no-man’s land somewhere in between, and that is the feel of The Maze Runner. Based on a book with the same name, The Maze Runner is part thriller and part action movie, but it also stars teen-age protagonists (or at least ones from teen oriented TV and films), so it seems aimed at a youth or family audience. However, it falls in between all of these genres – except, it is definitely not a family movie. It has scenes and themes far too intense for children and probably most pre-teens. That said, it is an engaging, entertaining story, and though it suffers from a number of flaws, it is a fun film for an older teen to young adult audience. Read More »

“Christmas for a Dollar”, Worth it!

Christmas for a Dollar

Coming out in time for the holiday season, Christmas for a Dollar is a family and faith friendly movie that is already available on DVD and will be aired on the UP! Network on December 15th at 7pm. Now you may be wondering if this is one of those sugary, feel-good movies that shamelessly tugs at your heartstrings. And it is! But it knows that and it nails its genre. While the movie may not be nominated for any Oscars it delivers a wholesome, heartwarming story, with great values, legitimately touching and funny moments,   and a happy holiday ending that just might make Ebenezer Scrooge smile. Christmas for a Dollar tells the tale of a family living during the Great Depression and they face their first Christmas after the loss of their mother. While money is tight, the father, played by Brian Krause, puts up a dollar for each of the children to borrow from so they can get, or make, a gift for a sibling they drew in a Secret Santa fashion. In the effort of creating Christmas on a budget, the children learn the value of honesty, gratitude and reaching out to those in need – whether it’s the financially or emotionally poor.  The film also stars well known TV stars such as Nancy Stafford. A “congratulations” is in order for Paulist Productions, a faith-based media company, like our own, who co-produced this film.  An interesting fact is that Paulist Productions is a Catholic sponsored ministry but their production partners are Mormon, making this possibly one of season’s few inter-faith based films.  What better way to celebrate the birth of our savior than with a truly Christian story made by companies who were able to work together, seeing past what divides us and focusing instead on what we have in common.

 brian-krause-for-cover   Nancy Stafford