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‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Garners Six Oscar Nominations, Including for Mel Gibson

andrew-garfield-hacksaw-ridge-ffbMel Gibson appears to have found his feet again in Hollywood, and it took his very Catholic movie about a Seventh-Day Adventist World War II hero to do it.

In the Academy Awards nominations, released in the early hours of Tuesday, Jan. 24, Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” took nods for best picture, lead actor (Andrew Garfield), best director (Gibson), film editing (John Gilbert), sound editing (Robert Mackenzie, Andy Wright) and sound mixing (Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, Peter Grace).

This makes it the third highest-nominated film (tied with “Lion” and “Manchester by the Sea”), behind “La La Land,” which got 14, and “Moonlight and “Arrival,” which both earned eight (click here for the full list of nominations).

But before you get too excited, “Hacksaw Ridge” also received three Golden Globe nominations — for the film, Gibson and Garfield — but walked away empty-handed.

HacksawRidgeTeaserPoster_2016June39The film also earned one SAG Awards nod, for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role (Garfield).

The Oscar nod for Gibson marks his first nomination since 1996’s “Braveheart,” which earned him best director and best picture. He did receive acting nominations, for “Ransom” in 1997, and “What Women Want,” in 2001.

In the 21st century, Gibson was embroiled in several scandals, including a drunken rant after a DUI bust, the breakup of his marriage and his tempestuous relationship with girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, with whom he has a daughter.

And recently, on Jan. 20, the 60-year-old Gibson welcomed child number nine, a son, Lars Gerard, with girlfriend Rosalind Ross.

On the scale of Hollywood misdeeds, this is relatively minor stuff, but it does point up Gibson’s issues with alcohol and his troubled relationship with the Faith.

At a press conference for “Hacksaw Ridge” a few months ago, Gibson (wearing a large Miraculous Medal) described himself as “a poor practitioner.” He also said he was attracted to stories like “Hacksaw” — a portrait of unarmed medic Desmond Doss, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for singlehandedly saving 75 soldiers on Okinawa — as inspiration, saying, “maybe I could take a leaf out of his book on some level.”

From Variety:

Gibson thanked his cast and crew in a statement and said the Academy’s recognition of the film is “a testament to every single person who worked on Hacksaw Ridge, and to every soldier who made the sacrifices they made to fight for their country, including Desmond Doss.”

“What could be more exciting than listening to the nominations being announced while holding my newborn son!” added Gibson. “This is a truly wonderful honor. I’m especially happy for Andrew Garfield, our producers Bill Mechanic and David Permut, our editor John Gilbert and our incredible sound teams.”

Producer Bill Mechanic tells THR he spent 15 years trying to convince Gibson to direct Hacksaw Ridge. “The first two times he passed.” “The third time, he read the script overnight and committed in the morning.” He says Hacksaw is a tribute to Gibson’s incredible talent. “I think it also shows there is forgiveness in Hollywood even if it might not seem that way.”

Notable, too, is that “Hacksaw” was an independent film, not a big blockbuster. But its quality was so evident that Hollywood somehow swallowed its animus against Gibson and took notice.

In box-office terms, “Hacksaw” ranked 51st for the year in worldwide grosses, with with $157.9M, not that far behind top nomination-getter “La La Land,” at 45, with 174.3M, and above some other nominated films, including “Hidden Figures,” at 80, “Manchester by the Sea,” at 105 and “Lion,” at 146.

Actually, none of the nominated films is anything like a box-office blockbuster.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Not to rain on the parade of this year’s many highly worthy Oscar nominees, but the fact is, most of the best picture nominees have not been all that widely seen, at least by the standards of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters.

As of Tuesday morning, none of the nine films nominated for best picture have crossed the $100 million mark so far at the domestic box office.

While that’s not unprecedented, it’s only the fifth time that’s been the case in the past 20 years. (In 2009, the motion picture academy expanded the best picture race from five nominees to as many as 10, in large part to try to open the Oscars up to more broadly appealing films.)

Three of this year’s best picture nominees —  “La La Land,” “Hidden Figures” and “Arrival” — are within striking distance of the $100 million mark domestically. “Arrival” is the top earner at this point with more than $95 million, but it is in a dwindling number of theaters at this point after two months in release, while “La La Land” and “Hidden Figures,” which have fresher legs, should easily chug past $100 million.

Despite a lot of buzz and early interest, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” about Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan — which also starred Garfield — got only one Academy Award nomination, for cinematography. It’s also performed poorly at the box office.

The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday, Feb. 26. Prior to that, the Feb. 8 edition of Family Theater Productions’ monthly Prayer & Pasta event will feature a panel — Head of Production Father David Guffey, C.S.C.; Catholic movie reviewer Carl Kozlowski; and Sister Nancy Usselman of the Pauline Center for Media Studies — to discuss and analyze the nominees.

Image: Courtesy Lionsgate

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.

Fox’s ‘The Exorcist’: Should Your Family Be Watching?

exorcist-fox-patheosAs with many things in popular culture having to do with the Church, there’s no easy answer to the question of watching Fox’s supernatural drama “The Exorcist,” airing Fridays at 9 p.m. ET.

You’re free to ignore it altogether, of course, but that doesn’t mean young people you care about aren’t seeing it.

Inspired by William Peter Blatty’s novel and the 1973 film based on it — and, as of episode five, directly linked to the original film — “The Exorcist” stars Alfonso Herrera as Father Tomas, a young Chicago priest who is drawn into the apparent demonic possession of the teenage daughter of a parishioner (Geena Davis).

Visions send him to the disgraced Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), who has fought demons before, the last time unsuccessfully.

The possession of the girl is but the first salvo in an apparent all-out demonic war in Chicago, which is awaiting the arrival of Pope Sebastian (only seen from the back in posters that say, “He is coming.”).

It should be obvious to anyone who’s seen even clips or a trailer from the show that it’s absolutely not for grade-school-age children and probably not for most preteens. Even for older teens and young adults, it raises questions about the Faith and the Church that need to be addressed.

First, before you even consider letting the young people in your life watch it, you need to watch it.

As Catholic author Charles Coulombe said to me recently:

So much depends up on the person. One individual reads “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings,” and it makes them a Catholic. Another person goes all whooey. It’s never a one-size-fits-all thing. Given the example of the “Harry Potter” thing, people would call me and say, “Should I let my kid read it?” I said, “I give you a rule my father had — read one of the books yourself, and if you approve of it, think it’s fine, then great. Let the kid read it. But if you have a problem with it, then don’t.

They say, “Oh, I don’t have time to read a book like that.” “Well, then, stop pretending it’s important, because you know it isn’t. You just want to talk. It’s not important to you.”

If you’ve been missing the show, it’s available at Fox’s homepage  and on Hulu.

“The Exorcist” is interesting on two levels, especially for a show about the Faith coming from secular writer/producers. A lot of what young people see and hear about Catholicism comes from secular sources, and now is as good a time as any to teach them to discern the difference between entertainment and Truth, between something like “The Exorcist” and Bishop Barron’s “Catholicism.”

First, in a positive sense, the show absolutely avers the existence of supernatural evil and the power of Christ over it. Both Father Tomas and Father Marcus use prayer to battle the demon, and the possessed girl’s family is seen praying and struggling.

It’s not every day you see a rosary and hear the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary,” and “The Blood of Christ compels you!” in a primetime network TV show.

So, “The Exorcist” says that evil is real, and that Christ is real, that prayer has power, and that exorcist priests are warriors in the fight for human souls.

All this is good.

On the other hand, this is a TV show, it’s a story, and it’s hoping to garner ratings (so far, they’re not abysmal, but they’re not high). So, the writers are going to throw in juicy twists to keep us watching — and it’s here that the Church gets a black eye.

Father Tomas had a platonic but emotional relationship with a married woman. Last week, it tipped over into a sexual relationship. He’s deeply remorseful but doesn’t seem prepared to leave it all behind. (Frankly, in situations like this, I’d like as many hard questions to be asked about the woman’s motives as the priest’s.)

Also, Father Marcus is a bit off the rails himself, but the power of faith is still in him. His relationship with the institutional Church, as is Father Tomas’, is strained. People seem to forget there wouldn’t be exorcists if the Church didn’t deem them necessary, but safeguards have to be put in place.

You saw some of this push-and-pull in the original “Exorcist” movie, but that was the 1970s. Exorcism is much more in the open than it was a few decades ago, but secular TV producers may not be aware of that. The Church prefers it be a private matter, but the Vatican is hardly pretending possession isn’t real. It may not be the source of most people’s problems, but it’s not dismissed out of hand as superstition.

Blatty even says the Vatican invited him to document a real exorcism in Rome.

Talking to an audience at the Cannes Film Festival in France on Thursday, the 80-year-old filmmaker said that the Vatican invited him to film an exorcism earlier in May. The version he constructed for the 1973 supernatural horror film, Friedkin added, was not that far from the actual rite he recently documented.

“I don’t think I will ever be the same having seen this astonishing thing,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I am not talking about some cult, I am talking about an exorcism by the Catholic Church in Rome.”

The Vatican says it’s not the specific entity that invited Blatty, but thinks it may just have been a different Catholic group.

In tonight’s “Exorcist” episode, though, an over-the-top scene just kicks the Church — or at least some public members of it — into the demonic dumpster. We understand that they’re not good or faithful people, but even so … really?

Poorly formed Catholics, anti-Catholics, non-Catholics who know little about the Church, and those who think that Dan Brown novels are real, are ripe to be drawn in by this kind of hyperbolic silliness.

But if you can teach your young people to discern that, while the story says some positive things about the power of prayer and faith, it’s also a yarn meant to entertain and titillate, you’re giving them skills that will serve them well as they navigate our confused culture.

Images: Courtesy Fox

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.

Who Was Mary Magdalene? Fact, Fiction and Films

Mary-Magdalene-RisenToday (July 22) is the inaugural Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, upgraded from a memorial. But there long has been a confusion about who she was, with many assuming she was a reformed prostitute — even though there’s no direct evidence of that.

From a post at EWTN:

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute and where in the Bible does it say that?

Answer by Catholic Answers on 9/27/2006:


Although it is a popular assumption, the Bible does not say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. It says only that Jesus cast out seven devils from her (Mark 16:9). 

Mary was also one of the people at the foot of the Cross, with Christ’s mother Mary and John, the “beloved disciple.” And, going to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ after the Crucifixion, she is the first to encounter the Risen Christ, as shown in this painting, “Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene After the Resurrection,” by Alexander Ivanov (posted today, with a quote from today’s Mass readings, at our Facebook page):


There was a woman who led a “sinful life” who anointed Christ’s feet with oil and her tears, and dried them with her hair. She is not named, and while someone living “a sinful life” might be a prostitute, she might also be an adulteress or a woman living with a man to whom she is not married (or even a fortune teller, etc.).

While tradition in the past leaned toward this woman and Mary Magdalene being one and the same, we lack a direct connection (and there are several different Marys in the New Testament).

From the blog at CatholicFaithStore:

Fact or Fiction: Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair

Fiction: It’s often believed that Mary Magdalene repented before Jesus for her “sinful life” by washing his feet with her tears and hair (Luke 7:36-50).

In those times, it was believed that a woman who led a “sinful life” was a prostitute or adulterer. Historians argue that Mary Magdalene’s name is never mentioned as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. All that the verses say is, “A woman in that town who lived a sinful life” learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Since there is no mention of the woman’s name, scholars say they can’t say with certainty that the woman was Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is also believed to be the adulterous woman who was saved by Jesus from being stoned to death (John 8:3-11). Again, there’s no mention of the adulterous woman’s name.

Why did so many believe Mary Magdalene was a prostitute?

The belief that Mary Magdalene was the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet gained stronghold in the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great declared in one of his sermons that he believed the unnamed woman to be Mary Magdalene. Furthermore, Pope Gregory believed that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene was the same person. It was not until centuries later, in 1969, when the Catholic Church declared that Pope Gregory was mistaken and that Mary Magdalene was not the penitent woman in Luke 7:36-50. Furthermore, the Church clarified that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were two different people.

And now, this “Apostle to the Apostles” has her own feast day. From a story today at Catholic News Agency:

The reason (for a feast), according to Archbishop Arthur Roche, is that she “has the honor to be the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection.”

“She is the witness to the risen Christ and announces the message of the Lord’s resurrection just like the rest of the Apostles,” he said, explaining that for this reason “it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar.”

Nevertheless, the notion that she was a prostitute persists.

As recently as the movie “Risen,” which hit theaters in January, Mary Magdalene has been identified as a prostitute — which led to one of the biggest jokes in the film. As the Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is seeking Mary, he enters a house of ill repute and asks who knows her, and all the men’s hands go up.

Here’s a scene of her interrogation:

The notion of a repentant sinner, especially a prostitute, becoming the first witness to the Resurrection is a powerful and romantic one. It makes for a great story, but as with many things that sound good, it may not be true.

Regardless of her history, what we know for certain is that Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the Good News, and if nothing else, that alone accords her a place of honor in salvation history.

What do do know for sure is she was NOT Jesus’ wife, as portrayed in the silly film “The Da Vinci Code.” In 2012, Harvard historian Karen King claimed that a tiny scrap of papyrus was evidence that of the nuptial relationship — leading the Smithsonian Channel to rush out a breathless documentary — but even King now admits it’s probably a fake.

From a June 16 report in The Atlantic (whose investigation of the papyrus caused King to question her findings — meaning a popular magazine successfully refuted an Ivy League academic):

She reached this conclusion, she said, after reading The Atlantic’s investigation into the papyrus’s origins, which appears in the magazine’s July/August issue and was posted to its website Wednesday night.

“It tips the balance towards forgery,” she said.

King said she would need scientific proof—or a confession—to make a definitive finding of forgery. It’s theoretically possible that the papyrus itself is authentic, she said, even if its provenance story is bogus. But the preponderance of the evidence, she said, now “presses in the direction of forgery.

Now, the saint is going to get her own movie, “Mary Magdalene.” But as this is a Hollywood film, there’s no way to tell whether it will bear any resemblance to the Bible. Also, as in some other recent Bible films, the casting may not match the actual ethnicity of the characters. Here’s what we know so far, from CinemaBlend:

The planned film will follow the life of Mary Magdalene, one of the female followers of Jesus Christ. Rooney Mara will play the title role, while Joaquin Phoenix will portray Jesus. Now, The Wrap is reporting that Chiwetel Ejiofor is in talks to take the role of Peter. In Roman Catholicism, Peter is recognized as the first Pope, making him a major figure in modern western Christianity.

Stay tuned!

As a bonus, here’s a homily on Mary Magdalene from EWTN:

Images: Affirm Films, Wikimedia Commons, Family Theater Productions

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.

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Meet the ‘Papal Ninja’


One of the better reality shows for families is NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” and this season, it’s also a great show for Catholics.

Based on a Japanese format, “ANW” pits incredibly fit and dedicated contestants against an elaborately constructed obstacle course that changes each time they compete on it. If they survive the preliminary rounds without fouling or falling, contestants face more rounds, on their way to the finals course — called Mount Midoriyama — in Las Vegas, and a $1 million prize (only for the winner; everyone else goes home empty-handed).

While few people will be in the shape or have the motivation to compete in something as challenging as “ANW,” it teaches lessons about rewards for hard work, courage and perseverance. The way the show is edited, it also emphasizes competitors’ personal lives, especially difficulties they overcome, and their connections with friends and family.

The show has also shown itself to be faith-friendly, with no effort made to downplay the beliefs of Christian competitors.

In the the Los Angeles qualifying rounds — you can watch the whole episode here — which aired on Wednesday, June 1, Californian Sean Bryan, who calls himself the “Papal Ninja,” completed the course and will move on to the next round, the “City Finals.”

On his Facebook page, here’s how he describes himself:

Cal Physics GYMNAST turned NINJA with an MA in Theology. Dominican by education & Salesian at heart. Works to animate the sleeping giant of Catholic laity.

And here’s how he’s described at

Curriculum Team,Development Team,Project Director

Sean is the Lay Mission Project Director and curriculum team member. Sean received his bachelor’s of arts degree at UC Berkeley, where he studies physics and was on the men’s gymnastics team. After graduation, he spent four years in various Salesian ministerial settings while discerning his vocation. In 2015 Sean completed his Master of Arts in Theology with a Salesian Studies concentration at the Dominican School of Phillosophy & Theology. His Masters thesis analyzed the ecclesiology inherent to documents of the Second Vatican Council, and proposes the Scriptural notion of liturgy as an interpretive lens that elucidates the relationship between formal ritual worship and its integrated expression in everyday life. His exploration led to practical applications geared toward the animation of the faithful, including the Lay Mission Project itself.

Sean is also known for his participation in the NBC show American Ninja Warrior, where he has taken on the identity of the Papal Ninja, stealthily accomplishing the mission of the One who sent him on a mission to the secular realm.


He’s also a pretty amazing athlete. Take a look (he’s the second contestant featured, after “Abs McGee,” as the Yahoo! host calls him:

And here’s what “American Ninja Warrior’s” official Twitter had to say:


There’s no way to know how far Bryan can go, but for now, he’s honoring the yellow-and-white Vatican colors. Go Papal Ninja!

Image: Courtesy NBC

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 Pope Uses Instagram to Reach Out to Belgium Terror Victims

Franciscus-InstagramPope Emeritus Benedict XVI launched the papacy on Twitter in early December 2012, and starting in March 2013, Pope Francis launched it into the social-media stratosphere.

Curently, @Pontifex boasts over 26M followers on all the various accounts in different languages, with 8.49M on the English account alone.

Then, a couple of days go, the pope — known for taking selfies with fans — has launched an account on the visually oriented Instagram app. The account, under Franciscus — which already has nearly 2M followers — is headlined with this quote:

“I want to walk with you along the way of God’s mercy and tenderness.”

Today (March 21), the the second video was posted (the first depicts the pontiff launching the account on a tablet). It reaches out to the victims of the March 22 Islamist terror attack on an airport and subway in Brussels, Belgium, for which the pope has already offered prayers, saying:

To all, I ask that you persevere in prayer and in asking the Lord in this Holy Week to comfort the hearts of the afflicted and to convert the hearts of those people taken in by cruel fundamentalism.

Click here to watch it.


Right now, Franciscus isn’t following anyone else on Instagram — but it’ll be big news if that happens (especially if it’s FamilyTheaterProds).

Image: Franciscus Official Instagram account

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.

Hey Father, “Wake up. You’re on Candid Camera.”


With more and more Masses being televised and live streamed, some priests and bishops may need reminding that we, the faithful, are watching from the pews if not from our screens.  Bored looks and distracting behaviors may seem invisible in big events, but cameras highlight them.

Last week, I was reminded of this when I tuned in to the live webcast of the ordination of the three new bishops in Los Angeles.   I did not get a ticket to the event so I watched from my computer at Family Theater Productions.  I was struck by the facial expressions and the body language of some of the clergy.

If you have been to an ordination (whether it is a deacon, priest or bishop) you may recall the beautiful part in the middle of the ceremony called the Litany of the Saints. The soon-to-be ordained lay prostrate on the ground facing the altar and the people all kneel. It is powerful to watch fully grown men laying face down in the Church at the foot of the altar.  During this time, the choir chants a series of saints’ name:  e.g. “St. Joseph” and the people respond “Pray for us”.  The community in heaven and on earth together give their prayers together for the soon-to-be ordained and all the people their ministry will affect.

As I looked at the bishops and priests, in the live stream broadcast last week, I was saddened to see how many of the bishops and priests looked bored, uncomfortable, tired and distracted. Now, I am not saying that they were, but just how they looked.

With the new technology of broadcasting Mass on the internet, we get to see everything more closely than even in person. I have a feeling that these priests and bishops would have sat up a little straighter and been much more cognizant of their posture and body language if they could see what I was seeing on camera.   For many people watching on-line, this might be their first experience of Mass this is and we ought to take advantage of the evangelical moment.

I admire the priests in my life and encourage them all to be aware of what their non-verbal language in the sanctuary communicates.  After all, the presider at Mass acts as a model for the laity. Whether it be singing, praying, or listening, the presider is your first cue at how to reverently and joyfully celebrate the Mass-our greatest prayer to God and God’s greatest gift to us.

Thank you to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for live webcasting the ordination of our 3 new bishops.  Please Fathers, mind the camera and the people, who with the saints in heaven, the congregation in the pews and the people on-line who will be watching.