Women Movie Critics React to the Study About Kids and Horror Movies

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Thanks to Betsy Bozdech and Jennifer Merin for inviting me to join other members of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists in responding to the Cable.TV report on children’s exposure to horror films.

Here’s a slightly expanded version of what I sent them:

When I was researching The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies, I spoke to a number of people in their late teens or early 20’s because they were young enough to remember how they felt about the movies they saw as children and young teenagers but old enough to have some distance. I was very surprised to find that every single one of them immediately volunteered some scary movie that they still considered traumatizing, though the ones whose parents had allowed them to see the film, even mistakenly (“She had seen it on an airplane and didn’t realize that the worst parts were cut out”) were more upset than those who knew they were watching something their parents did not want them to see. I am always sorry when kids are upset by what they see, especially when they are so upset that they tear up or their voices shake when they talk about it years later. But I also recognize that no matter how careful parents are or how sheltered children are, whatever movie they see at exactly the moment when they are first able to understand the implications of scariness in a deeper way will always be considered especially upsetting. A concerned mother once told me that her two-year-old’s(!) favorite movie was “The Sound of Music,” and she wanted to see it every day but “I don’t want her to be scared by the Nazis.” I told her that a two-year-old has no ability to understand what Nazis are or even that the movie is more than a series of scenes of people singing, and cautioned her that in a few years, the child would suddenly see the movie in a different way as she reached a more mature developmental stage, and then she might find it scary.

I also want to note that every individual, including every child, has a very particular relationship to scary material. My own children were a boy and a girl, one who was never scared by anything he saw and really enjoyed scary movies and and one who, like me, still puts her hands over her eyes even in mildly scary movies. When my son was about 11 he told me he wanted to see more scary movies. I told him, “Lucky for you, you have a mother who is an expert on movies, so we’ll explore all the different kinds of scary — jump out at you, suspense, gore, etc. And so we did, and talked about what made something scary and how the filmmakers understood how audiences react and played into or didn’t play into our vulnerabilities and expectations. In my family, there was a boy whose parents were divorced, and it became his bonding time with his dad to go to horror movies together on weekends, ones I would have told them were completely inappropriate if they had asked me, which they did not. He loved them and is now a happy and healthy adult. So what I take away from all this is that parents need to know their children and listen to them about what kind of scares they are ready for and able to enjoy, but generally I recommend erring on the side of being protective.

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Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Millicent Simmonds of “Wonderstruck”

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“Wonderstruck,” based on the award-winning book by Brian Selznick, is the story of two deaf children, decades apart, who are both on their own in New York City and both end up hiding out at the Museum of Natural History. Selznick, who also wrote the screenplay, told me:

The picture story is set in 1927 at the end of the silent movie era. So I thought I could tell the story of Rose in 1927 as a black and white silent movie. We would think we’re watching it in silence because it’s 1927 but it would be revealed that we’re watching it like this because we’re watching it the way that the main character in that story experiences the world because she’s deaf. So we see the world the way she does. We hear the world the way she does.

Rose is played by a young deaf actress, Millicent Simmonds, who has a wonderfully expressive face.

He also told me that because a portion of the film is silent, they were able to use deaf actors to play hearing people:

I realized that with a silent section in our movie it gave us the opportunity to hire deaf actors to play hearing characters. Deaf actors were hired all the time in the silent movie era because they were so expressive. They knew how to tell a story without spoken language. And so we used six deaf actors as hearing people. We had these amazing days on the set with hearing actors, deaf actors, sign language interpreters. The rest of the cast, the crew and everybody worked together.

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Actors

Ebertfest 2017 and 2018

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As Ebertfest begins to prepare for its 20th anniversary in 2018, it has released a video from Shatterglass about last spring’s festival.  It is always one of the highlights of the year.

Roger Ebert’s 19th Annual Film Festival // A Retrospective Documentary from Shatterglass Studios on Vimeo.

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Festivals

Thank You For Your Service

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs and drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic wartime violence, suicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 27, 2017

Copyright 2017 Universal
Thank You for Your Service,” based on the book by David Finkel about returning servicemen and their feelings of dislocation when they try to adjust to civilian life, is so decent, respectful, sincere, and, most of all, so vitally needed that it is difficult to evaluate it as a movie. It follows in the tradition of one of the best American movies of all time, The Best Years of Our Lives, which won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Score, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Like that film, “Thank You for Your Service” follows three servicemen, one disabled by injuries and one not sure how to rejoin the civilian workforce when his last job before the military was as a teenager. But this movie is not nearly as optimistic.

Miles Teller plays Adam Schumann, who tells us in the movie’s first scene that he was a good soldier and he was proud of what he did. He was responsible for his squad and he was responsible for spotting improvised explosive devices, which he looked for under every scrap of trash in the road and learned to feel by instinct. This hyper-alertness to danger served him well in the military, but it was difficult to turn off, especially because some of his experiences left him with intense survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress. He comes home to a loving, wise, strong, and supportive wife (Haley Bennett as Saskia), who tells him that she can handle anything he has to tell her except not telling her anything about his experience. He barely knows his children, at first almost forgetting the baby who was born while he was away. He has no idea how to get a job other than the one he had before his service. But he assures Saskia that everything is “perfect.”

Solo (Beulah Koale) is struggling with a traumatic brain injury that has impaired his memory and cognitive function. He wants to stay in the military because being a part of his team was a major part of his identity, but they do not want him. That’s “Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes as his wife.

And there’s Will Wall (Joe Cole), excited about coming home to marry his fiancee. “No bachelor party,” he tells Adam and Solo. His girl does not approve. But it turns out that she has left him. He is devastated.

The movie’s most wrenching scene comes when the characters are finally willing to admit that they need help and they go to the VA, only to find soul-destroying bureaucracy and endless waits, up to 12 weeks to even see someone who can begin to treat them. The returning soldiers are given pills instead of support. While some people at the VA are sympathetic but overloaded, there are also those like one former commanding officer who tells Adam to buck up so that he does not affect the morale of the others. Real help comes from a phone number passed along by the survivor of a soldier who did not get any support, and from an act of selflessness from one of the vets that is one of the most effective ways to show himself that even at home, he can still serve.

Parents should know that this movie includes intense and graphic wartime violence, characters severely injured and killed, disturbing images, suicide, drinking, drugs, drug dealing, very strong language with crude epithets, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: What is the best way to honor the service of returning military? Why was it hard for the soldiers to talk about their experiences?

If you like this, try: “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Captain Newman M.D.” and the book and its predecessor by David Finkel

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Based on a book Based on a true story Drama Movies War

Suburbicon

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality
Profanity: Strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence including multiple murders, many grisly and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 27, 2017

Copyright 2017 Paramount
“Suburbicon” is like a beautifully gift-wrapped box that turns out to be empty or a shaggy-dog story that entices you with promising details and then it is supposed to be funny that there’s no ending. A script by the Coen brothers that plays like a correctly discarded early draft of “Fargo” has been tweaked by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, a long way from their brilliant “Good Night and Good Luck,” and directed by Clooney. Even full-on stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore (in a dual role!) cannot outshine the real star of the movie, the ironic air-quoting production design. The only member of the cast who makes any real impression is Oscar Isaac as an insurance investigator who calls himself a “professional skeptic” and provides a too-brief jolt of energy and interest in a movie that is otherwise way to amused by itself.

“Suburbicon” begins with a cute commercial for a idealized 1950’s planned community that ends with a cheery, “The only thing missing is YOU!” It looks like Walt Disney, Norman Rockwell, Dick and Jane readers, and all those sitcoms with cheery moms who vacuum in pearls and full makeup got together in all of their mid-century, postwar, consumerist, idealized, sanitized, and claustrophobically conformist and Everyone is welcome, it tells us, whether you’re from New York, Ohio, or Mississippi. But all of the people in the ad are white and all of the people in Suburbicon are white….until the Myers family moves in. They are black. This is a pointed reference to the real-life experience of the real-life black Myers family who moved to the conformist, consumerist planned community of Levittown in in 1957, resulting in constant harassment, threats, and a three-week-long riot, which the family endured with grace and patience.

That goes on here, as we see Mrs. Myers (Karimah Westbrook) told by the manager at the grocery that for her the price of a gallon of milk is $20, neighbors build a fence around their yard, and a crowd gathers outside their house, taunting them and setting their car on fire.

But that is not what the movie is about. The movie is mostly about what is going on next door, where armed intruders tie up and chloroform a family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose, who is confined to a wheelchair (Julianne Moore), her sister Maggie (more Moore), and his young son, Nick (an excellent Noah Jupe). Rose dies in the attack and Maggie moves into the house to help take care of Nick and Gardner.

And then things get really tangled. They just don’t get interesting. The production design and camera work are excellent, but what actually happens on screen is just a pointless escalation of deranged violence with cutaways to the poor Myers family to show how dumb it is that the neighbors are terrified of the black family while the white family is what should terrify them. But just making that point as people run around doing terrible things to each other and to a child is neither insightful nor effective.

Parents should know that this film is filled with horrifying violence, some of it very explicit and bloody. There are many murders and other bad behavior. A child is in peril, and he witnesses violence, sex, and bad behavior by the adults in his life. Virulent racism is a theme in the movie and characters use strong language including racist epithets.

Family discussion: Ask members of your family for their memories of the 1950’s. Why did the Myers family stay?

If you like this, try: “Fargo,” “Blood Simple,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and “Serial Mom”

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Comedy Crime movie review Movies Movies Thriller
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