‘Crawl’ REVIEW

I bet I will be the only critic that compares the new creature scares movie Crawl to a good Hallmark movie but that’s just what I’m going to do. I spend many hours watching Hallmark movies for my podcast The Hallmarkies Podcast and I’ve learned that the good ones know what they are and execute it well. They don’t try to be anything other than a sweet romcom, with nice chemistry between the leads, and a warm holiday message.

It’s the same idea in Crawl. It absolutely knows what it is and executes it well. It doesn’t try to be campy or silly. It doesn’t add annoying characters or convoluted subplots. Crawl knows it is a creature scares movie with 2 people dealing with gators and it executes that concept very well. It’s as simple as that.

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Crawl stars Kaya Scodelario who starts out the film trying to rescue her father from the basement crawl space of his Florida home. Unfortunately when she gets there she learns he is stuck with 2 gators in the basement (behind some large pipes). Getting out is then the main plot of the movie. Unfortunately, this task is made more difficult by a huge hurricane that threatens to drown them before the gators can eat them.

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Director Alexandre Aja does a great job moving the characters around enough within the small space to create different set pieces by which to fight the gators. They also keep the movie a lean 87 minutes so you never have time to get bored. It feels relatively grounded and realistic and for a small budget film the gators/special effects look great.

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Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario do great work as a father and daughter and the film gives us just enough of their backstory and relationship to attach us to them without becoming boring. As they are basically the only characters on screen, their chemistry also adds a ton to the film’s success. It kind of reminds me of 10 Cloverfield Lane in that respect. I was rooting for both of them throughout the entire movie which made the scenes with the gators more intense and fun.

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I suppose if there are negatives to Crawl, there are some moments where we must suspend disbelief. In particular the injuries the 2 lead characters have seem to ebb and flow depending on the needs of the script. However, I was invested enough in the story and characters to not care. There are also definitely side characters introduced to be kill candy for the gators, which gets a little predictable.

All that said, I had a great time watching Crawl. It’d be a wonderful choice to go with all your friends and have a good tense time at the movies. Nobody will be too traumatized, and they will all have fun.

Go see it! It’s a blast

8 out of 10

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‘Us’ Review

Anyone who follows my reviews knows I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. I get scared very easily and I particularly hate anything that has exorcisms or involves the rape/murder of women. However, in the last few years I have been trying to expand my pallet so that I am a well-rounded critic. For the most part this has been a great experience and one of the highlights of this journey is Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out. It’s a movie I liked well enough to start but it stayed with me and I kept thinking about new layers beyond the fun scares. In the end, it ended up being one of my favorite movies of 2017.

Naturally I was pretty hyped for Pelle’s follow up film Us (especially after a fantastic trailer!).

So with all that hype what did I think of Us? Well for the most part I really enjoyed it. I also think, like Get Out, the problems I have could become less important upon multiple viewings so take this review with a bit of a grain of salt.

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Let’s start with the positives. Us is centered around a family of 4 that goes to the beach for a summer holiday.  Unfortunately their family fun is interrupted by a zombie-like doppelganger family just like them attacks their home. This makes it both a home invasion and zombie horror movie and there are a lot of chilling moments. I was definitely very scared by Us and that’s a fun experience when done well.

I also thought the entire cast did an amazing job playing both normal and zombie versions of their characters. Lupita Nyong’o is especially strong pulling off so many notes in her 2 characters. But everyone was good including all the child performances.

Us also uses music (Michael Abels) very well with a wonderful haunting score and carefully selected soundtrack tunes.

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What didn’t work as well for me in Us is the final act where we get a lot of the allegory explained to us but I honestly still didn’t quite get what Peele was trying to say. Perhaps he meant it to be a little ambiguous or maybe I’m just dumb but it didn’t quite make sense. Subsequent viewings may elaborate this for me but for now I don’t really get it.

Also, my audience kept laughing and for the most part I didn’t really understand why? I was scared but never laughed  so who knows? The humor in Get Out wasn’t my favorite so perhaps it’s just my sense of humor doesn’t jive with this style? Who knows?

But overall, Us is a good time at the theaters. It’s scary with great performances and engaging kills/action. It definitely earns its R rating with strong language and violence but if you can stomach that then check it out.

 

7.5/10

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Greta Review

More than any other genre I find writing a review for a horror movie to be particularly difficult. With my relative newness to the genre I don’t have the perspective to know what concepts are fresh and what tropes have been done a million times. For example, people complain about jump scares and I suppose I can see a very bad one but for the most part I think they are fun and they make me jump at my silly startled reaction (I’m an easy scare). I say all this to explain why my review for Greta may or may not be different than many others you read (I saw it at an early screening so I do not know what others will think). All I can say is that little old me, the horror amateur, thought it was a great time and very scary!

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It’s a simple story about a girl named Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) living in NYC who one day finds a purse lost on the subway. Trying to be a kind soul she returns the purse to the owner who happens to be a seemingly kind older woman named Greta (the amazing Isabelle Huppert!). She serves her tea and they bond over their mutual loss (Greta a lost daughter, Frances her Mother) and love of music.

This innocent lunch leads to more contact and things seem to be going great but all is not as it seems to be with sweet little Greta…it turns out she’s a crazy person and most of the movie is a game of cat and mouse between Greta and Frances with things getting very desperate for poor Frances!

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The thing that makes Greta work so well is it builds tension slowly and it preys on our human desires to trust (especially sweet old ladies) and our fear of loneliness. Moretz does a good job showing the lonely and desperate for attention side of Frances and who can’t relate to that? As a single woman living on my own I certainly can. I’ve always been very scared of movies involving stalking or preyed upon and this certainly fit the bill in that behalf.

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Zawe Ashton plays the more world-weary Alexa and she’s a nice counterpoint to the sweet and innocent Frances. She reminded me a lot of my last roommate who was sassy and quick to come to my defense.

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In many ways Greta is a horror movie made for women. It stars women and it relies on many of the insecurities women feel both in growing old and being young and vulnerable to get scares. A man may never know the fear a woman can have in just walking home or taking a subway ride depending on the situation. We sometimes like to pretend it’s the same for men and women but most women I know have more fears than men. Greta gets that. It also gets away with quite a bit because it is all women but a little bit of crazy makes this kind of horror movie more fun. I like a good table overturned in the fancy restaurant and the stalker acting like a crazy person. I’m in!

Finally Greta is only 98 minutes. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and just gives us a creepy entertaining horror movie that had me engaged from beginning to end. If you can stomach the scares than I highly recommend it.

8 out of 10

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Blind Spot 34: Scream

As I was planning my blind spot picks for 2018 I wanted to challenge myself with a few picks and step outside my comfort zone. And no pick did that as much as this month’s pick Scream. Directed by Wes Craven, Scream has become an iconic slasher film which went on to inspire 3 sequels and the Scary Movie spoof series.

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One of the interesting things about Scream is it is not just a scary movie but it is a critique of the horror genre. There are many references throughout the movie both visually and in the script to classic horror franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Unfortunately since I am a newbie to the genre a lot of the references were lost on me, but I can see why many fans really enjoyed them.

The story to Scream is simple. A man in a scream mask (called Ghostface) is calling teens, talking to them in an increasingly chilling manner and then stabbing them with a knife. Most people are probably most alarmed by the killings in the movie, but to me, the phone calls were the creepiest part. It is especially chilling in an opening scene with Drew Barrymore when the caller is giving her movie trivia to keep her and her boyfriend alive. That was pretty scary!

Most of the violence is done with a wink and isn’t especially scary. It’s more meant to be fun and silly. It’s not the kind of thing I am going to get nightmares of because it is very over-the-top.

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Neve Campbell plays a girl named Sidney who is hesitant to give up her virginity because of her Mother being murdered (and raped I think) a year earlier. Her boyfriend Billy struggles with her choice but seems to respect it. There is also a sheriff (David Arquette), a reporter (Courtney Cox), a principal (Henry Winkler) and friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, and more).

The last act of Scream is a bit chaotic for my liking. I prefer the opening scene with Drew Barrymore over the messiness. It’s  much scarier when tension has time to build and bubble up until you can’t help but respond. The never-ending mayhem gets tired even as it is increasing in violence. The only thing that really creeped me out (or grossed me out) in the last part is a death involving a garage door.

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But that said, Scream is an enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a winking sensibility to it and while I think I would enjoy it more if I knew what the jokes were referencing it still was a fun enough ride.

Of course, Scream is rated R so it won’t be for everyone but if you are up for a light-hearted slasher movie (such a weird description but it’s true) than this is the movie for you! I’m glad I saw it even if I don’t think I’d ever watch it again. Always good to get out of your comfort zone!

Have any of you seen Scream? What do you think of it and its sequels?

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Get Out Review (No Spoilers)

get-out5Today I got the chance to see the new horror film from director Jordan Peele called Get Out. This film has received much praise and currently has a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, which is very rare. I’m not the biggest horror fan, but I like good movies so I decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

get-outGet Out stars Daniel Kaluuya, as a black man named Chris who is dating a white woman (Allison Williams) named Rose. She is taking him to meet her white parents and he is anxious about any prejudices they might have. She reassures him they are progressives who would vote for Obama a third time (as if that means you aren’t racist!) and they head off.

get-out2Once they arrive, her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are liberal yuppies just like she’d described but there’s something strange going on…

get-out3I won’t tell you any more so that you won’t be spoiled. Suffice it to say Get Out does a good job weaving together traditional horror tropes with pointed satire about racism and modern white and black fears of each other. It’s something I will definitely want to see again to pick up on all the clues, messaging and moments I missed the first time (my brother was with me and he noticed a lot more than I did).

I must admit it was refreshing for me as a conservative to finally see the parents weren’t rich Republicans but liberal yuppies. Yep, they can be racist too. It was a nice change of pace, and I think made the satire a bit more subtle and biting than it might have been otherwise.

get-out4That’s not to say Get Out is a masterpiece as a 100% might imply. I found the introduction to be pretty slow going and I was beginning to wonder if this was super over-hyped. Then it picks up and becomes very entertaining.

My only other caveat is it’s not that scary. If you are expecting a horror movie that makes you jump and gives you nightmares this isn’t it. It is pretty bloody but everything that happens is a bit over the top (hence it being a satire). In general, horror movies that are very realistic are the scariest for me. For example, Norman Bates in Psycho feels like a real man who could be working at a dumpy hotel and everything he does is fairly pedestrian like how he kills, buries the car etc .Things that happen in Get Out are not realistic in that way. (I hope that is cryptic enough for you!)

I think there are a couple places they could have made it a little more realistic and not sacrificed humor and made it scarier but it’s nitpicking. You kind of have to go with it and for the most part I did.

As far as content it can be bloody and there is some strong language to be aware of. Probably for mature teens and adults only.

Overall Grade- B+

The Visit Review

the visitYesterday was a very sad day for me at the movies.  I was going to see the Iron Giant special release and went to the Draper theater instead of The District and by the time I noticed it  I was too late to make the film. 😦

I had my popcorn and icee in tow and not wanting to just leave I decided to go see The Visit. My brother really liked it as well as some friends and I have been trying to expand my movie comfort zone a little bit with a few more scary movies.  So I guess take this review with a grain of salt because it after all wasn’t Iron Giant…wa, wa, wa.

So what did I think of The Visit?

Well, I thought it was a thoroughly generic predictable horror movie.  I am not the most versed in the genre but I could predict everything that was going to happen.  And of course because it is M Night Shyamalan we get a big twisteroo that was  so obvious even for him.  So no I wasn’t really a fan.

There are some good things about it.  First, the performances are all fine.  Most of Shyamalan’s movies have fine performances.  The two kids are particularly good with Olivia DeJonge as Rebecca and Ed Oxenbound (from Alexander Terrible Day).

the visit4The Visit is also much tighter than the typical Shyamalan film.  There are no speeches and philosophizing and thank goodness he doesn’t cast himself in the movie (I’m talking to you Lady in the Water).   This may be Shyamalan’s tightest film with really no dead time where the story isn’t moving along.

But just because something is better than garbage doesn’t mean it is good.  I’d rather watch the transformers movies than watch most of Shyamalan’s films and that’s saying something.  I’d sit through Nut Job, Legends of Oz and Hero of Color City before watching The Last Airbender or After Earth again (those were the 3 worst animated films of 2014).

I feel like a lot of people are giving The Visit a pass because it isn’t as bad as The Village or The Happening.  I’d agree with them but if it was Johnny Movie Man making the film I think 90% of critics would be giving it a lower score as a generic predictable horror film.  I mean is it really as good as The Conjuring or something like that?

the visit3I don’t want to give any spoilers away but basically the film is about 2 kids that go for a visit to see their grandparents.  Their mother is estranged from them but they want to see the grandkids.  She sends them off without showing them a picture.  Don’t you think a mother who is estranged from her parents would want to show the kids a picture of the parents?  Especially if they are getting on a train and having to meet strangers?  I found that highly improbable.  And if things were so bad between mother and parents with no pictures or physical contact wouldn’t she have them watched out for by a friend of hers from high school or something like that?  It all seemed hard to believe.

But fine accept that the Grandparents seem lovable at first but then weird stuff starts happening and at first they discount it as old people stuff, but it keeps building to a point where they really should be asking more questions and seeking help.  We also find out where the Grandparents volunteer each week, which I won’t give  away because it gives away a lot.

the visit6The thing with most horror movies is that characters get signs to leave or get out of the house and then they make the wrong decision every time.  This movie is no different.  The ending is tense but the kids had so many opportunities to leave and they keep going back for another interview or another discussion that it defies credulity even for children.

the visit5The other bone I have to pick with this film is it is shot in found footage style which is annoying but also makes no sense to the story.  There is no way the Grandparent characters would allow the filming to take place or participate in it.  It doesn’t make sense with their characters or personality traits in every other way in the film.  The found footage also causes a lot of telling rather than showing and it just makes the whole movie seem so unbelievable. I understand they shoot films this way because it is cheap but it comes off looking just that and again it doesn’t work with the characters and story we are being told.  It would have been so much better if it  had been shot like a regular film.  I haven’t been a fan of Shyamalan’s films but he usually shoots them adequately.

So that’s why in the end the movie felt really stupid to me. The characters behaved in nonsensical or stupid ways and the story didn’t really make sense or was completely obvious so not very scary (and I get scared pretty easily).

the visit2Like I said, I really feel like people are giving this a pass because it isn’t as bad as Shyamalan’s other films but is it really good?  I guess if you like generic predictable horror movies than this is for you.  As for me I thought it was lame but then again I was expecting to see Iron Giant so take it for what it’s worth. Sigh…

If you want to be scared I think The Gift is much better.  It is still creeping me out when I think about it.  It’s way more realistic, surprising and scary with really good performances.

Overall Grade- C- for the good performances and tightness of story.

My Take on Darkness in Disney

One thing which has been continually  brought up on the blog is the issue of darkness or evil in a movie and when does it cross the line into disturbing and violent.  It’s a hard question to answer to be honest.  It is kind of a ‘I know it when I see it’  situation but I will try to explain.

Few things to keep in mind.

1.  I am not a fan of scary movies or horror- I personally do not like the sensation of being scared, never have, never will.  I recognize that is my personal preference and there is nothing inherently wrong with horror movies, but everyone comes to movie viewing with a set of likes and dislikes such as disliking musicals or romantic comedies.  I am Legend, Rear Window, Wait Until Dark are about as scary as I get.

Even a very popular super hero franchise is too scary and intense for my taste.  I find violent content sticks in my brain and I have a hard time getting rid of it.

2. I am also a deeply religious person with conservative values so some things I do not care for because it crosses a line between ghost story and evil such as exorcism movies. I can’t really take off that hat because it’s who I am so I can only look at films through that perspective and try to learn from others who see through a different lens (that’s the whole point of blogging like this!).

Ghost stories are usually OK-

What I mean by this is a story can be set in an all dark world, a ghostly world and it usually is pretty good.  For example, I like:

Corpse Bride-

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ParaNorman-paranorman-hero2

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Spirited Away-

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These types of movies are not as upsetting to children or me because they are entirely within their world so the characters become likable and have nuances within the darkness.  There is usually a protagonist in these types of movies who is very easy to relate to despite their crazy environment.

Coraline I wasn’t as big a fan of not because of the images but I felt the story dragged and I didn’t feel that connection to the lead I needed for the dark imagery.

Good vs Evil is OK-

Many children stories are about the battle of good vs evil and I think that is great.  Kids should not grow up believing the world is gumdrops and rainbows.  In fact, being a religious person an understanding of Satan and evil is very important with of course an understanding of Christ and His goodness to compliment it.

I think that balance is the key to my liking a good vs evil movie.  There should be hope throughout the film mixed in with moments of real peril.  When it is all evil, evil, evil, evil and then finally the good guy wins I grow frustrated.

One of the great things about the Harry Potter movies is evil is a real palatable force but there is always hope, friendship, love and kindness.

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The Wicked Witch of the West is a pretty scary villain.  It is unclear how Dorthy is going to make it out of the situation alive. I know kids where Wizard of Oz is too much for them, so a lot of this depends on the kid (or adult watching).  I would say Wizard of Oz pushes the line for small children but she is so over-the-top to be almost more funny than scary that I think it’s fine for most kids.  Most of the Disney villains fall into the category of the Wicked Witch.  They are villains but so over-the-top that they don’t bring us down but entertain us with their evil ways.  The heroine or hero is never completely without hope and there are enough moments of peace and safety to make it all work.wicked witch

Return to Oz on the other hand did not work for me and petrified me as s child.  It’s one thing to have a wicked witch.  It’s another to have a witch who has a hallway of her collection of heads, with wheelies and electroshock therapy on Dorothy.  That’s crossing the line and it gave me nightmares as a little girl.

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Don’t be mean spirited!-

You’ve heard me say on the blog, particularly about The Rescuers, is I thought it was a ‘mean spirited’ film.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it goes back to tone.  Villains can exist and should exist in a movie, especially a fairytale but when a character is picked on to the point of being an unempowered victim than the movie starts to lose me.  Penny is treated so badly in The Rescuers.  She is told she is worthless, unadoptable, homely, shot at several times, and forced to go down the cave.  To me there is no sense of empowerment or hope for the character.  It’s just beat her, beat her, beat her until she is rescued.  That’s where it crosses the line to me and becomes mean spirited, when it loses its hope.

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So not only do you have to get the right kind of villain but you have to use them in the right dosage.  Rescuers Down Under I loved because it kept its hope and used McLeach very little- just enough to be menacing without being shrill or overbearing.

Again, this is just my perspective but I thought it might helpful when reading my blog.   I was scared of Medusa (not in the good way) as a little girl because nothing that happens in The Rescuers (except for the mice rescuing Penny) is really that outrageous.  It could totally happen and probably has happened that a little girl has been abducted by mean people to help them with a task like going down the cave (or some other scheme to make money).

The music and color palate can also have a big influence on creating tone (and nothing is harder as a writer than creating the right tone).   The Rescuers had music which made me feel even worse for Penny and it was all very unpleasant.  Not exciting, funny or shocking like a good creepy villain or scary scene will do.

In Rescuers Down Under Cody immediately has friends when he’s abducted and there is a hope and light that makes it less dark and mean spirited.

Pinocchio was too far over the line for me as a child.  Pleasure Island is very disturbing and no resolution is ever made.  Evil is not defeated, the kids are never changed back to kids from being donkeys.  This was terrifying.  It has only been as an adult I can appreciate it for the morality play it is but I still couldn’t give it an A because I just know I didn’t enjoy it as a child and that has to count for something.

The thing about Pinocchio is it also maintains its tone throughout, which was terrifying as a child but as an adult I can appreciate it more; whereas, other movies try to swing around more and so they aren’t pleasant as an adult or a child.  Pinocchio does have Jimminy but for most of the movie it is a dark, scary tone.  I hated it as a child but like it all right now.

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Don’t Be R Rated in G Rated Film-

Occasionally a film will come out using childlike themes or settings but for adults.  I think this is great! A perfect example is Pan’s Labyrinth.  I admire Guillermo del Toro for not trying to wedge his vision into a G rated movie but just making the hard R he wanted to make.  I wish Disney would at least once be brave enough to make an adults only movie.  I think with Hunchback the artists wanted to but the studio toned it down creating a tonal mess.

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I was lucky enough to be somewhat sheltered as a child and it served me quite well.  While I think it is healthy for children to learn about evil and that bad things can happen there are certain subjects I don’t feel a little boy or girl needs to know about until they are older.  Rape and violent murder are in that discussion.  That was my main issue with Hunchback.  I do not want to have to explain to my 7-year-old about lust, rape, assault and burning a family alive.  To me that crosses a line which kids don’t need to cross.  It doesn’t make them a better person or inspire their imagination like a Wizard of Oz or a Nightmare Before Christmas.

Like I said before, there are also certain things because of my religious views that I don’t really want to explain to children until they are older.  For example, in Princess in the Frog the villain is a voodoo man (won’t give away my review).  If I had kids that would be a concern for me because I don’t really want them to know about voodoo, possession, exorcism, heathen practices.  My parents would never let us play with Ouija boards for the same reason.  I recognize everyone does not have the same beliefs but those are mine and they affect my enjoyment of a movie.

Kids can be Sad-

You might think I only like movies which are happy Christian films and that is not the case.  I love movies that take children’s feelings seriously.  It is fine for children to be sad and to learn about themselves as full people.  I love Where the Wild Things Are and many people feel that is a depressing picture but I remember being that thoughtful, sometimes sad kid, wondering about life. wild things areI wrote up a defense of Where the Wild Things Are on my other blog:

http://smilingldsgirl.com/2014/02/20/where-the-wild-things-are-defended/

But it also gets a bit of a pass for me because like Pans Labyrinth it wasn’t really marketed or made for kids.  There are moments which are kid-like but they are still enjoyable to adults not like the gargoyles made clearly to appeal to only kids.   If I had kids I would have to weigh the type of child and maturity levels (and ability to handle a slower paced movie) before watching Where the Wild Things Are..

I love stories about people who don’t feel at home in their environment, who break free and find out who they really are.  That’s why I love The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Where the Wild Things Are . I could go on and on…

Who Knows…

Perhaps when I have kids I will go even further away from darker pictures.  I don’t know but I know what I like now, what I liked as a child and how certain pictures come off to me.  If I say something feels mean-spirited or hateful it doesn’t mean I don’t like darkness in children’s films.  I’ve just given you a number dark films I do like.  It just means that on the particular day with that particular film it was too much.  It was too hateful. It was too mean.

I think part of it also has to do with having been bullied as a child badly.   I know people roll their eyes know when they hear bullying stories but it was a profound experience in my life.  I guess that’s why I am more sensitive to situations where I feel a character is being victimized not merely threatened.

I also know I have become softer and less tolerant in some ways as an adult.  A few years ago I reread a bunch of Roald Dahl books I loved as a child and they seemed very violent to me.  I was shocked.  So, who knows! I just do my best to give and defend my responses and what I would feel if I had a daughter viewing the films.

That’s all I can do and I’m having a great time doing it, so thanks for reading!

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And I realize I am probably in the minority and a bit of a wimp in these views but it’s me and hopefully I still have positive things to say about any movie even if I don’t like the dark tones (no F’s yet! Always something I like).