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Parents Television Council: Shocking Results of New Study on TV Content Ratings

Posted on October 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Copyright Stylus 2014
It isn’t shocking to learn that television has become less and less child-friendly over the years. Anyone who has ever turned on a set knows that. What is shocking is how little has been done to give parents the information they need to protect their children from what they don’t want them to see. As my dad, who has been fighting for better television, especially for children, since he was Chairman of the FCC 1961-63 says, we spend a lot of time making sure our children know not to talk to strange and possibly dangerous people and yet we invite strange and dangerous content into our living rooms, kitchens, and, increasingly, unsupervised bedrooms, when we let them watch television. His book, Abandoned in the Wasteland, documented this in detail.

Today, the Parents Television Council has released a new report called A Decade of Deceit with some very disturbing findings that every parent should think about carefully. For example:

We found that on shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period. There was also a more than twice as much violence on shows rated TV-14 in the 2017-18 television season than in the 2007-08 season, both in per-episode averages and in absolute terms.

There were no G-rated programs on Fox, CW, or ABC (even though ABC is owned by Disney) in any of the “sweeps” periods, in either 2007-2008 or 2017-2018. The overall number of G-rated shows in 2017-2018 was almost identical to that a decade earlier: five or fewer. Some “sweeps” periods contained no G-rated programming at all.

Networks are packing substantially more profanity and violence into youth-rated shows than they did a decade ago; but that increase in adult-themed content has not affected the age-based ratings the networks apply. On shows rated TV-PG, there was a 28% increase in violence; and a 44% increase in profanity over a ten-year period.

Almost 90% said that they have never used the V-chip or parental controls to block programs, and an incredible 92% couldn’t explain what the industry’s D, L, S and V content descriptors stand for. This clearly demonstrates that parents WANT an effective and trustworthy content ratings system…but they don’t trust and don’t understand the one that exists now – and has existed for over 20 years. A 2014 poll in Costco Connection Magazine found an astonishing 97% of readers agreed that we should rethink the rating system for television and film. In fact, the only public opinion polls that show support for or satisfaction with the existing ratings system are those paid for by the industry.

Most astonishing is that there have been no changes to the rating system — in which the television network employees rate their own shows with no real oversight by those with expertise in child development — has not changed at all in 20 years, despite the fact that this period has had significant changes in media, technology, and culture.

The report concludes:

In a letter to the PTC dated June 3, 2019 – and which was sent just a few weeks after the FCC delivered its report to Congress – Michael Powell, President & CEO of the NCTA (The Internet and Television Association) and current chairman of the TVOMB stated, “The Monitoring Board shares your goal of ensuring that the TV ratings system remains a source of accurate and helpful information, and we are deeply committed to continuing to provide parents with the necessary resources to enable them to make informed choices about TV viewing in their homes.”

It sounds good; but this assertion is simply not true. Despite two decades of parental concerns about the TV content ratings system, the entertainment industry has consistently defied public calls for reform. There have been promises of improvement, but no improvement, as this report demonstrates.

We strongly support the PTC’s recommendations:

Ratings Accuracy
A symposium of pediatricians, children’s mental health experts, and child/family advocates should be convened to review the definitions of each age-based content rating (TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-14, et cetera) in order to ensure that each rating category definition accurately and effectively reflects contemporary knowledge. International best practices should be considered and incorporated into this review.

Because the entertainment industry stands to benefit financially when content is inaccurately rated for younger audiences, to avoid any potential conflict of interest, TVOMB industry members should be permitted to offer their opinion, but not to alter the outcome of this independent review of the rating definitions and their application.

Every exhibitor and distributor should commit to airing a minimum number of public service announcements about the content ratings system. Most parents have never heard of TVOMB, and most have no idea it is their obligation to complain to TVOMB about a rating that they may find to be inaccurate.

Public service announcements about the TV content ratings system should provide contact information and urge parents to communicate with TVOMB regarding any questions or concerns they might have. The mere existence of a TVOMB website and phone number provides absolutely zero value without public awareness.

Every effort should be made by TVOMB to bring more digital distribution platforms to the table. This would include the major independent players in the digital entertainment arena (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, et cetera) as well as those that are owned or controlled by TVOMB members (CBS All Access, Disney+, Pluto TV, and others).

TVOMB should expand its member composition to create a more balanced weighting of industry, health experts and parental groups.

Entertainment industry “front groups” which currently hold a number of the family advocate seats should be removed.
Formal terms, and term limits, should be applied to Board members, to ensure that fresh perspectives are represented.
Board member qualifications should be provided to the public.

Meetings should be regularly scheduled and announced to the public.

Meetings should be open to the public and to the press.

How to file a complaint about a program’s rating, and the TVOMB’s subsequent adjudication process, should be clearly explained.

It is time for the TV content ratings system to reflect the realities of today’s entertainment media technologies and cultural landscape. Bold, positive and comprehensive improvements to a 22-year old system are needed to bring it into the 21st century.

Critics Choice Documentary Award Nominees 2019

Posted on October 14, 2019 at 12:11 pm

The nominees for this year’s Documentary Awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association are:

American Factory (Netflix)
Apollo 11 (Neon)
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
The Cave (National Geographic)
Honeyland (Neon)
The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Knock Down the House (Netflix)
Leaving Neverland (HBO)
Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)

Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, For Sama (PBS)
Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, American Factory (Netflix)
John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Feras Fayyad, The Cave (National Geographic)
Peter Jackson, They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
Todd Douglas Miller, Apollo 11 (Neon)
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)

Ben Bernhard and Viktor Kossakovsky, Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)
John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, Honeyland (Neon)
Nicholas de Pencier, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Kino Lorber)
Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Suleiman, and Mohammad Eyad, The Cave (National Geographic)
Richard Ladkani, Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)

Georg Michael Fischer and Verena Schönauer, Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)
Todd Douglas Miller, Apollo 11 (Neon)
Jabez Olssen, They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
Amy Overbeck, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Lindsay Utz, American Factory (Netflix)
Nanfu Wang, One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)

Jeff Beal, The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
Matthew Herbert, The Cave (National Geographic)
Matt Morton, Apollo 11 (Neon)
Plan 9, They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
H. Scott Salinas, Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)
Eicca Toppinen, Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Kino Lorber)
Alicia Vikander, narrator
Jennifer Baichwal, writer
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
John Chester and Molly Chester, narrators
John Chester, writer
The Edge of Democracy (Netflix)
Petra Costa, narrator
Petra Costa, Carol Pires, David Barker and Moara Passoni, writers
The Elephant Queen (Apple)
Chiwetel Ejiofor, narrator
Mark Deeble, writer
For Sama (PBS)
Waad Al-Kateab, narrator
Waad Al-Kateab, writer
Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People (First Run)
Adam Driver, narrator
Oren Rudavsky and Bob Seidman, writers
One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)
Nanfu Wang, narrator
Nanfu Wang, writer
Western Stars (Warner Bros.)
Bruce Springsteen, narrator
Bruce Springsteen, writer

Midge Costin, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Matson Films)
A.J. Eaton, David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Pamela B. Green, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist Films)
Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, Honeyland (Neon)
Richard Miron, For the Birds (Dogwoof)
Garret Price, Love, Antosha (Lurker Films)

Amazing Grace (Neon)
Apollo 11 (Neon)
Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
Mike Wallace is Here (Magnolia)
Pavarotti (CBS Films)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (HBO)

David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich)
Love, Antosha (Lurker Films)
Mike Wallace is Here (Magnolia)
Pavarotti (CBS Films)
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (Magnolia)

Amazing Grace (Neon)
David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich)
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Abramorama)
Pavarotti (CBS Films)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
Western Stars (Warner Bros.)

American Factory (Netflix)
The Edge of Democracy (Netflix)
Hail Satan? (Magnolia)
The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Knock Down the House (Netflix)
One Child Nation (Amazon Studios)

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Kino Lorber)
Apollo 11 (Neon)
Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classic)
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon)
The Elephant Queen (Apple)
Honeyland (Neon)
Penguins (Disney)
Sea of Shadows (National Geographic)

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable (Entertainment Studios)
Diego Maradona (HBO)
Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
Rodman: For Better or Worse (ESPN)
The Spy Behind Home Plate (Ciesla Foundation)
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (HBO)

Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Magnolia)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
Screwball (Greenwich)
Serendipity (Cohen Media)
They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros.)

The Chapel at the Border (Atlantic Documentaries)
(Director and Producer: Jeremy Raff)
Death Row Doctor (The New York Times Op-Docs)
(Director: Lauren Knapp)
In the Absence (Field of Vision)
(Director: Yi Seung-Jun. Producer: Gary Byung-Seok Kam)
Lost World
(Director and Producer: Kalyanee Mam. Producers: Adam Loften and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee)
Mack Wrestles (ESPN)
(Directors and Producers: Taylor Hess and Erin Sanger. Producers: Erin Leyden and Gentry Kirby)
Period. End of Sentence. (Netflix)
(Director: Rayka Zehtabchi. Producers: Melissa Berton, Garrett K. Schiff and Lisa Taback)
The Polaroid Job (The New York Times Op-Docs)
(Director: Mike Plante)
Sam and the Plant Next Door (The Guardian)
(Director and Producer: Ömer Sami)
The Unconditional
(Director and Producer: Dave Adams. Producers: Adam Soltis, Renee Woodruff Adams, Josie Swantek Heitz, and Chris Tuss)
The Waiting Room (The Guardian)
(Director and Producer: Victoria Mapplebeck)

Dr. Amani Ballor – The Cave (National Geographic)
David Crosby – David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Tracy Edwards – Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics)
Imelda Marcos – The Kingmaker (Showtime)
Hatidze Muratova – Honeyland (Neon)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin – Knock Down the House (Netflix)
Linda Ronstadt – Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich)
Dr. Ruth Westheimer – Ask Dr. Ruth (Hulu)

The first-time winner of the new D.A. Pennebaker award for lifetime achievement will very appropriately go to the legendary Frederick Wiseman. There is hardly an institution in America, from high school to mental hospital to upscale department store to library that has not been the subject of one of and illuminated by his documentaries.

Another outstanding awardee is Michael Apted, who will receive the Landmark Award for the groundbreaking UP series. There’s never been anything like it. A documentary about school children turned into one of the most extraordinary longitudinal studies in the history of science. I always look forward to the next episode.

The Laundromat

Posted on October 10, 2019 at 5:46 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual content and disturbing images
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Some sexual references and situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Boat accident, electrical accident, murder characters killed, sad loss of spouse
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 18, 2019

Copyright 2019 Amazon Studios
The numbers are unimaginable. The vocabulary is mind-numbing — and intended to be so. One of the biggest financial scandals of all time is known as the Panama Papers, a global money laundering/tax evasion/corruption-concealing scheme involving some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people, including politicians and crooks. They hid their money in what are called “shell” corporations — shell as in “shell game,” where the pea is always under the shell you don’t pick. The interlocking network of these companies was revealed with the help of a still-undisclosed whistleblower thanks to the tireless work of a group of non-profit journalists who had to comb through millions of arcane legal documents to understand and explain it all.

Great journalistic coup. But unlike a simple straightforward fraud like the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, which was depicted in two different and very watchable film versions, starring Oscar winners Robert De Niro and Richard Dreyfuss, the Panama Papers mess was so big and complicated it seemed impossible to put into dramatic form. That was the challenge faced by journalist Jake Bernstein, who wrote the sober, meticulously detailed book, and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), who wrote the colorful, funny, and dramatic movie. Director Steven Soderbergh knows how to do a heist film following “Oceans 11” and “Logan Lucky,” and he wisely structures this as another story of clever thieves outwitting ordinary people. Except this time the people outwitting are not lovable underdogs and the people outwitted are us.

Our guide to this world is an irrepressible pair of lawyers played by Antonio Banderas (playing Ramón Fonseca) and Gary Oldman (as Jürgen Mossack). It is hard to say which is more charming, their impeccably bespoke suits, which get increasingly outrageous over the course of the film, or their cheerful frankness about their equally cheerful and highly lucrative lack of any shred of integrity or responsibility. The linked stories that illustrate different aspects of the scheme are introduced by Fonseca and Mossack who explain what is going on and tie the stories to “rules” that underly the legal and human realities that created this monster. They should have just quoted Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us. Or, as one of them says, “The world does not want to be saved.”

“Think of them as fairy tales that actually happened,” they tell us. “They’re not just about us. They’re about you.” Their first rule: “The meek are screwed.”

And that is how we meet a nice lady named Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep), devoted to her husband (James Cromwell). When the pilot of the tour boat ride they are on is distracted, there is an accident, it sinks, and her husband is killed. Ellen is devastated. And then she finds out that the tour boat’s insurance company will not pay, and then she finds out that it does not really exist. It exists on paper, but it is just a shell company used for money laundering, and it never pays out on claims. There are no claims officers, no offices. It’s a mail drop run by a man who gets paid $15 per signature for acting as representative for hundreds of shell companies.

We peek into other stories. A shakedown of a Chinese official does not go as planned. The literally shocking death of a low-lever functionary throws the whole system out of whack because she is — on paper — a director of 25,000 companies. And a betrayal leads to a brutal lesson in the value of values, which turns out to be less than we might hope.

It is briskly told, with a heightened, farcical tone that ends with not one smart twist, but two. Soderbergh knows how to entice us into paying attention, and entertain us until we are willing to think.

Parents should know that this movie concerns a real-life massive financial fraud, with many stories of betrayal and theft, peril, accidental death and murder, sexual references and non-explicit situations, personal and professional betrayal, drinking, drugs, and very strong language.

Family discussion: Who is in position to prevent this kind of abuse? What is the difference between privacy and secrecy?

If you like this, try: “The Big Short” and the books and documentary about the Panama Papers

The Addams Family

Posted on October 10, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Nudity/ Sex: Some potty humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic/action peril and violence, car accident, explosions, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 11, 2019

Copyright 2019 MGM
My full review of this film is at rogerebert.com.

An excerpt:

There are about half a dozen bright spots in the new animated feature “The Addams Family,” but in between them is the unbright and unoriginal storyline about how the real monsters are the ordinary people, not the weird people.

Parents should know that this film includes monsters and peril. It is more funny-scary than scary-scary but there are some images that might disturb sensitive viewers, as well as comic/action-style peril with no one hurt, bullies, a neglectful parent, potty humor. Some may be disturbed by a casual portrayal of child who decides to live with a different family

Family discussion: Which characters are really scary? What does “assimilation” mean? What does your family do to recognize adulthood?

If you like this, try: “Hotel Translyvania,” “Igor,” and the “Addams Family” television books, series and films

Thanks to Hollywood Genes at Zoe Krainik for This Lovely Interview

Posted on October 10, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Zoe Krianik from the wonderful Hollywood Genes blog was kind enough to interview me.

An excerpt:

What is your earliest memory of watching a classic film? What did it do for you? Why do you remember it?

My dad says the first movie I ever saw in a theater was the Disney film Westward Ho the Wagons when I was four, and that after that I wanted to see a movie every day. Now I do! But the first film I remember seeing in a theater was another Disney film: Snow White. I instantly became a fan of Disney animation, musicals, and sitting in a dark room watching stories on a big screen.

Which is your favorite (fictional) film family and why?

The Sycamores in You Can’t Take it With You— because they are all so encouraging of each other’s dreams. Runners-up: the Marches in Little Women, the Winstons in Houseboat (who would not want to have Sophia Loren and Cary Grant as parents?), the Gilbreths in Cheaper by the Dozenand Belles on Their Toes, the Mackays in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and the Browns in National Velvet because Anne Revere is my favorite movie mother.