CBS News: Dr. Phil Lands Faith-Based Drama; Garth Brooks at Notre Dame

Garth Brooks (L); Dr. Phil McGraw (R)

TV personality and psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw and son Jay McGraw, via their Stage 29 Productions banner, have sold the faith-based medical drama Chaplain to CBS.


Written by [Nick] Weiss and [Isaac] Laskin, Chaplain centers around a talented, scientifically minded ICU doctor and her free-thinking, faith-oriented brother[, who] clash over the best approach to the business of saving lives when he is hired as chaplain at her hospital.

Weiss executive produces with McCarthy, while Laskin is co-executive producer.

Well, gosh, we’d hope that a hospital chaplain would be “faith-oriented,” at the very least.

The duo has also sold a legal drama called Melanie. Both projects are coming from CBS TV Studios, where Stage 29 has an existing deal.

In other CBS news, country singer Garth Brooks will be at the center of Garth: Live at Notre Dame, set to air on Dec. 2, during the pre-Christmas season on CBS. To be taped tomorrow, Oct. 20, at the University of Notre Dame’s legendary football stadium, it marks the first standalone concert in the facility’s 88-year history. According to the South Bend Tribune, the 84,000+ tickets went on sale in mid-September and sold out in two hours.

Brooks has put out Christmas albums, but despite the December airdate, there’s no indication in the CBS release of any holiday music being included.

Incidentally, Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross, the same order in which Family Theater Productions’ founder, Venerable Patrick Peyton, was ordained a priest, and of which FTP remains a vital part.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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

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BASED ON: True Life vs. Reel Life in Robert Redford’s ‘The Old Man & the Gun’

Robert Redford

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

The Old Man & the Gun, written and directed by David Lowrey (based on a New Yorker article of the same name, written by David Grann).

David Grann, author of the engaging account of explorer Percy Fawcett (Lost City of Z, also adapted into a feature film) wrote a brisk abstract in 2003 for the New Yorker of another real life, but lesser known historical figure, Forrest Tucker. Grann’s history takes the reader on Tucker’s six-decade pattern of bank robberies and prison escapes.

Tucker’s life of crime started in teenage adolescence, when he stole a car “just for a thrill,” in Tucker’s own words. To interviewer Grann (click here for the original article), Tucker similarly reduces the description of his subsequent first break from prison to a stark, existential, “Such as it was.” The bank robber’s own self-reflection then, isn’t much of one in terms of introspection. He realized a useful (albeit unlawful) skill for flashing a gun and strong-arming unlucky bank tellers. This was equaled and perhaps surpassed by an uncanny ability to slither out of the tightest controlled prisons –one time spiriting away on a canoe from California’s San Quentin.

Later in life, Tucker would gather a few others into his nefarious band, nicknamed “The Over the Hill Gang.” The three hit larger banks with greater efficiency and of course, bigger scores. During his last years in prison, the article mentions he regretted his life: the betrayal of various wives and a sobering record for absentee parenting. I would tend to believe this, if his statement wasn’t belied by his last robbery at the age of 78, done seemingly for, in my opinion, “the thrill of it.”  He and his wife’s car and house were paid up, so there wasn’t a true monetary impulse for robbing again. Tucker died in prison in his 80s. Had he not been too old to finagle himself out from behind bars a final time, I suspect he would have robbed again.

Whereas the article allows Tucker to pass judgement on himself, director David Lowery provides a better backstory and thus impetus for a life of crime on the behalf of our roguish protagonist.

On the initial heist of the movie, an Over the Hill Gang member (Tom Waits) crosses himself, and the getaway driver (Danny Glover) asks him, who is he praying to now? His tongue-in-cheek response? “Our Lady of Rare and Periodic Attendance.” The robber absorbed something then of faith, but largely dismissed it except in favor of blasphemy on the occasions he sought “spiritual” protection from law enforcement.

This pales somewhat, to the criminal in question, Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford). Tucker boldly confronts detective John Hurt (Casey Affleck) asking if he’s caught the suspects yet. John hesitates to answer, and in that moment, Tucker straightens John’s tie, citing a sartorial habit he learned in Catholic school.

The only theology useful to Tucker lies in its misuse. Looking sharp and charming eases the facility to rob, completing the costuming of a wolf in sheepskin.

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.

Released by Fox Searchlight pictures on Sept. 28, The Old Man & the Gun is currently in theaters. Click here to find a showtime near you.

Image: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Films

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

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‘Romero’: Re-Released Film About a Bishop Who Becomes a Martyr and Saint

Raul Julia as Archbishop Oscar Romero

Transformation is possible. People can learn to see the world and the issues of their times in new ways. This is one of the great insights of the recently re-released Collector’s Edition of Romero from Paulist Productions. This was just in time for the October 14, 2018, canonization of Archbishop Romero.

Oscar Romero (played by Raul Julia) had been a middle-of-the-road, make-no-waves priest and bishop in the hot political environment of El Salvador. For this reason, he was a “safe choice” when they needed someone to be the Archbishop of San Salvador. A few ruling families tightly controlled the land and economy of the country. There was a communist guerilla movement, the FMLN, but there was also a growing protest movement from within the Church. Poor people were being kidnapped and killed or conscripted into militia groups. Many priests and religious called attention to these disappearances. One of them was Father Rutilio Grande, S.J (played by Richard Jordan). Grande’s protests lead to his assassination by a government death squad.

It was his death and the torture of several other priests that was a turning point for Archbishop Romero. He began to listen carefully and observe the plight of the people, especially the poor.This changed him. He began to see how the poor were caught between the rebels and the government militias. He saw the damage violence was doing to the people (everyone), the country and even the Church.

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., attends a screening of “Romero”

Romero started preaching boldly for an end to violence, for peaceful resolutions to address injustices and conflicts. As his public words grew more direct, he became a target. They accused him of being a communist (he was not). Eventually, in March of 1980, he was shot while saying Mass. Romero is revered as a beloved martyr. This prayerful, quiet, bookish man was transformed into a voice for peace, for respect for life and for justice.

At the time of his Beatification, Pope Francis wrote about Archbishop Romero:

In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church. His ministry was distinguished by particular attention to the most poor and marginalized. And at the moment of his death, while he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with the One who gave his life for his sheep.

Last week, Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P., of Paulist Productions, presented a copy of the film to Pope Francis in Rome.

Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P. (left) and Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., give Pope Francis a copy of “Romero.”

The newly released film, Romero: Collector’s Edition, is available on DVD and download. It’s entertaining and, though it is 30 years old, seems relevant given the news from around the world today. It stands as one of the great saint movies of all time.

Images: Courtesy Paulist Productions, Family Theater Productions

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the Head of Production for Family Theater Productions.

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BASED ON: ‘Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer’ and the Book That Preceded It


Earl Billings as Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, reviews the new true-crime procedural film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, released Oct. 12, and the book that preceded it, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer — both were based on grand-jury testimony, news reports and trial transcripts.

Married couple Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney produced the film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, basing it on a book of a similar title. The style of filmmaking follows the book closely, a verbatim account of Philadelphia abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, convicted of grisly murders at his decrepit abortion clinic.

(Note: While the film discusses grisly and horrific crimes, it is not gory or sensationalized. There is no sex or overt violence. Its PG-13 rating refers to adult themes and things more implied than shown. That said, it’s probably not suitable for anyone under its stated age range.)

The book and film rely on police reports, grand-jury testimony, the court stenographer and interviews with Gosnell himself (subsequent to his conviction). The account of Gosnell’s misdeeds left me speechless as the crimes were unraveled in 2010; the movie elicits the same response now. One illustration of the banality: Gosnell felt it appropriate to gleefully play classical music on his grand piano as Feds search his home, following a more recent search of his clinic which uncovered jarred baby parts from previous abortions.

The verbatim approach follows a rarely utilized adaptation style most famously realized in The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, this silent film’s source material was based entirely on St. Joan of Arc’s heresy trial transcript. The stark, silent format that 1920s technology demanded actually worked to the film’s advantage. The back-and-forth interrogation between the saint and her inquisitors needed no embellishment from a screenwriter. The story speaks for itself. An innocent young woman dies at the hands of an overweening religious tribunal. The viewer, then has the opportunity to respond to St. Joan’s witness or not.

Philadelphia and federal law enforcement, city prosecutors, a journalist blogger and later, filmmakers, faced Gosnell’s brutal crimes in their verbatim form. They all played parts in not shirking from this evil, but instead exposed it in all its gruesome literalism and brutality.

Most suspiciously absent from the expose was (ironically enough) the institution most entrusted with uncovering truth and exposing lies … the mainstream media. As documented in the film and book, one journalist blogger snapped a photo of any empty journalist gallery and posted it to social media. A lay Twitter campaign publicly shamed traditional media outlets into sending their journalists to cover the trial. I would posit blame at human knuckleheadedness and typical shying-away from admitting some conspiratorial media blackout, but recent events might prove me wrong.

The book’s release immediately made it a bestseller, but the New York Times initially refused to place it on its list, despite empirical book sales demonstrating otherwise. Perhaps, more jaw-dropping was National Public Radio’s denial of the filmmakers’ attempt to pay for ad spots referring to Gosnell as an abortion doctor, even though the radio station’s own previous scant reporting on the case used the very same title.

I prefer themes subtly massaged into the media I both consume and produce. After all, our own Savior spoke through parables, metaphors and good ole-fashioned stories. When confronted with evil so depraved, there’s something to be said about lifting high the Cross and exposing evil in all its lurid detail. Does one respond with facing evil head on and administering justice, or retreat back into a bed of lies, blanketed by sins of omission?

Image: Courtesy Hat Tip Films

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

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BASED ON: Netflix’s ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,’ and the Book That Inspired It

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

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, screenplay by Don Roos, directed by Mike Newell based on a novel of the same title written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (Now streaming on Netflix.)

The Netflix original movie tells the story of the German occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey during WWII and the ways in which the tiny island community copes with their situation. In some ways, they’re creative in their predicament: one small band forms a reading group, of sorts. In other ways, occupation becomes a veritable prison for the inhabitants and boredom ensues, evidenced by the serving of potato-peel pies as the culinary staple of choice.

The novel executes the story by way of written letters between the main characters. After the conclusion of the war, Juliet Ashton (played by the lovely Lily James of Downton Abbey fame) hears of the underground literary society and begins a written dialogue with the former members, in hopes of impressing her publisher in London. The entire novel then, alternates in these back and forth letters between her and the society. When she arrives at the island at novel’s mid-point, correspondence in this same letter form continues between her and her publisher, Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode).

The novel’s chosen medium is essentially personal narration for nearly 300 pages — it’s like reading dialogue the entire time, without there actually existing a line of dialogue. It makes for a tedious read to say the least. To borrow language from the translation field, I’m glad the filmmakers decided not to adapt this using formal equivalence. For had the film told the story entirely through letters, as the novel did, it would have required tremendous amounts of voiceover … a smart choice only if Terrence Malick directs your film.

Don Roos’ best adaptation technique is to write the story more in real time — Juliet interviews the islanders on past events, and her poking and prodding create the effect of an engaging procedural. Juliet soon uncovers the central tension between society members. They provide cover for Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay, also from Downton Abbey) who mothered an out-of-wedlock daughter with one of the German officers.

Reading these events in the novel’s letters format produced what I would call a “settled effect.” Since the letters reference a past sin, the only thing left to do on the other side of its committal is to offer forgiveness. With the filmmakers’ adaptation choice to dispense with most of the letter writing, the morality takes on a more immediate effect. When Juliet first learns of Elizabeth cavorting with the Germans, an innkeepers’ judgmental quip on the whole indiscretion takes on a more considerable bite.

A wise screenwriting professor once told me when adapting material, try to answer the question: “What is the one thing the story is about?” The filmmakers accomplished that in capably updating this story of mercy and forgiveness. Discerning the “form” through which the novel tells the story, and determining whether or not that suited the big screen, was an even better question the filmmakers answered.

Image: Courtesy Netflix

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

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My Take on ABC’s ‘A Million Little Things’… Meh

The description for the new ABC drama A Million Little Things is extremely vague. I kid you not, Hulu merely says something like, “A group of friends bond.”

Sounds like kind of a snooze-fest to me.

I might not have even watched the pilot except that, when I looked it up online for more info than the oh-so-helpful Hulu description (Hulu streams many network shows after they first air on broadcast), I thought the show sounded very vaguely like an attempt to be something like This Is Us.

So I gave it a shot.

A big group of friends…

So it centers around these friends, in case you missed that by this point, as they deal with various life circumstances in their late 20s-early 30s. And the title is supposedly a riff on the saying, “Friendship isn’t a big thing – it’s a million little things.”

The thing is though (how many times can we say “thing” here?), maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ve definitely never heard that saying.

There are four guys (who are all Boston Bruins hockey fans and make a big deal about going to games together) and their wives/girlfriends. So essentially, it’s an ensemble show about eight different people and their drama.

And I’ll be honest, it feels a little unwieldy. They’re a little hard to keep track of (at least in the pilot episode that aired last week), and none of them really pulled me in enough that I was immediately rooting for them.

Now there is a suicide, and there are some big, life-and-death stakes here. And yet, the show to me never really felt like it got anywhere near the level of suck-you-in, oh-my-gosh-I’m-crying-here-and-have-to-know-where-this-goes drama that you’d see in something like This Is Us.

The message

What’s kind of odd about it, in a good way (at least on the surface), is that this show does have a definite theme, or a couple, that are good and wholesome. Along the lines of “live your life to the fullest.” But it felt forced.

Perhaps the reason for this was that it was mixed up with the repeatedly stated theme of “everything happens for a reason,” which is great, especially as it hints toward God and His Providence. But the characters legit said it, over and over, in a way that felt a little off-putting.

Other shortcomings

Not to compare it excessively to This Is Us, (but I mean come on, you can’t get around comparing an ensemble drama to it, you just can’t…), but this show definitely didn’t have such a great take on marriage and family life being awesome.

There’s a character here who’s kind of promiscuous, but whatever, what show doesn’t have that? And then there’s another set of characters having an extramarital affair.

And probably worst, there’s one guy who is “trapped” in a “toxic” marriage, and his friends tell him that he should have gotten out long ago, like that this is his “live your life to the fullest” thing that should be done.

So morally, it’s not terrible – no actual sex scenes or anything (just some pre-hookup making out business, and a shot of a couple covered up in bed). But it’s definitely not quite as great as its high and mighty, overtly stated messages seem to be trying for.


If it were quite entertaining, I’d be able to overlook the moral shortcomings of the pilot and give it at least a few more episodes. But, well, it just wasn’t that entertaining.

Unless I fall into a severe show hole where all my other options go bad, I probably won’t be going back to this one.

A Million Little Things airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC (and on Hulu). Click here for the official website, which does contain a page on suicide prevention.

Image: Courtesy ABC

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

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