Nov 17

“Wonder” Movie Furthers “Choose Kind” Movement

‘Wonder’ Makes A Case For The Classic Tear-Jerker. Leigh Blickley, HuffPost

Anti-Bullying Tale Is a Tasteful Tear-Jerker. Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

…A Lightly Affecting Weeper For All Ages. Will Ashton, The Playlist

...a tear-jerker that earns your tears. Chris Nashawaty, ew.com

…proves that a movie that sounds mawkish on paper can earn honest tears. Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Get the picture? Stephen Chbosky‘s new film Wonder is a wonder-ful weepie.

Its power cast includes Jacob Tremblay (the boy in the critically acclaimed 2015 Room) as well as Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his parents.

Description of the plot from Rotten Tomatoes:

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to find their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

Gleiberman points out that the title of  R.J.Palacio’s novel (2012), on which the film is based, derived from Natalie Merchant‘s old song about a female overcoming a physical disability. I know it well: Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me/Stand over my bed, disbelieving what they’re seeing…

And the book, notes Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter, actually “sparked a ‘Choose Kind’ movement — ‘kind’ as in ‘kindness,’or what the world needs now…” Click Choose Kind for more info.

As for the film’s style, apparently it follows the book’s lead. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter:

The narrative is divided into chapters, each dedicated to the perspective of one of the young characters, and sometimes doubles back on events, lending new facets and dimension. First up is Auggie, who enters the fifth-grade fray with the slouch of someone who’d rather not face other people’s discomfort. His older sister, Via (sensitively played by Izabela Vidovic), gets a chapter, as do her former best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), and Auggie’s new school buddy Jack (Noah Jupe), a genial scholarship student with an unsteady sense of loyalty. With commendable concision and insight, the film sympathetically reveals the challenges they each face on the home front. Even the villainous Julian gets a redemptive aha moment.

The Trailer

Selected Reviews

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “…a celebration of empathy, a reminder that even the people who might be making us miserable have their own problems and their own people who are making them miserable.”

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “…a drama of disarmingly level-headed empathy that glides along with wit, assurance, and grace, and has something touching and resonant to say about the current climate of American bullying.”

Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction: “It’s probably not a shocker to learn [this] is gonna make you cry. What is a heartrending surprise is how gently it delivers its earnest profundity on the ripple effect of kindness.”

David Ehrlich, IndieWire: “It’s a how-to guide for kindness — a good lesson for kids, and a helpful reminder for adults. It’s not like the world couldn’t use one.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Despite all these people orbiting around him, Auggie remains ‘Wonder’s’ main event, and though its upbeat earnestness is ever-present, it has the integrity to understand that not even kindness can eliminate all problems.”

Nov 15

Conspiracy Theories and Our Minds That Produce Them

You can’t really argue with people who believe in conspiracy theories, because their beliefs aren’t rational. Instead, they are often fear- or paranoia-based beliefs that, when confronted with contrarian factual evidence, will dismiss both the evidence and the messenger who brings it. John Grohol, PsyD, Psych Central

Just for starters: If the statistics are right, we’re all just as likely to believe in at least one conspiracy theory as we are to be tempted to argue with someone who does.

Dr. Rob Brotherton, author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (2015), offers further info:

On the whole, women are just as conspiracy-minded as men. Education and income don’t make much difference either. The ranks of conspiracy theorists include slightly more high school dropouts than college graduates, but even professors, presidents, and Nobel Prize winners can succumb to conspiracism. And conspiracy theories appeal to all ages…

Furthermore, we all have cognitive biases that can set us up to believe unproven things. Adrien Chen, New York Times, citing Brotherton:

For example, psychologists have discovered that we possess an ‘intentionality bias,’ which tricks us into assuming every incidental event that happens in the world is the result of someone’s intention. A ‘proportionality bias’ convinces us that momentous events must have equally momentous causes, which is why some people vainly shake a die harder when they want to roll a large number as if it were a fairground strength tester. We are all predisposed to see patterns in coincidental events. Normally these biases help us navigate the world and stay out of danger, but left unchecked they can lead us astray.

Other research results regarding the minds of conspiracy theorists:

  • …(C)ertain personality traits such as Machiavellianism, openness to experience, narcissism, and low agreeability seem especially high in conspiracy believers. They also show lower levels of analytical thinking and a tendency to see “patterns” in often unrelated events…
  • …an underlying need for uniqueness
  • …the sense of personal identity that comes from belonging to a particular group…(above three points courtesy of Romeo Vitelli, PhD, Psychology Today)
  • Jan-Willem van Prooijen, researcher: “…(W)hen they lose their jobs, or when a terrorist strike or a natural disaster has occurred — then people have a tendency to want to understand what happened, and also a tendency to assume the worst.”
  • Van Prooijen: “Frequently oppressed minority groups in society are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, and one reason why they do so is because they’re trying to make sense of the actual problems they have.”
  • “The best predictor of believing in one conspiracy theory is believing in another. Once they firmly start to believe in one specific conspiracy theory, it opens the door to many others. Because then people start thinking, ‘Hey, there may be a lot more going on behind the scenes that I don’t know. What else is there’?” (Van Prooijen’s research as reported by Brian Resnick, Vox)

So, how can we lessen the incidence of conspiracy thinking? NPR interviewed another expert, Professor Viren Swami:

I think the first thing I would say is that we need to teach people and teach everyone how to be better critical thinkers, how to use information, how to understand pieces of information and how to look at information and work out whether it’s good or bad information…But I don’t think that’s going to be enough.

I think if you kind of go along with this idea that conspiracy theories are more likely to emerge when people feel disaffected, when people feel alienated, then the…the natural answer to what we should do is that we should be promoting greater democratic access. We should allow for everyone to be part of a democratic process in which they have a say, in which they have a voice. And once you start to have that, I think you will start to see the conspiracy theories start to diminish.

Nov 13

“Alias Grace”: Highly Relevant Series Set in 1800’s

As with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Alias Grace” manages to be a drama set in another time, written in another era by Margaret Atwood, that speaks specifically and almost uncannily to today’s audience. “Alias Grace” manages in its six episodes to address such issues as the reception of immigrants, the dangers of illegal abortion and, most of all, the predatory nature of powerful men and how others can conspire to keep their crimes hidden. David Bianculli, NPR

To call this series “of the moment” feels right. But it’s also incredibly depressing to do so. Acknowledging that Alias Grace taps into the Zeitgeist is essentially admitting that North American society in 2017 still has a lot in common with the North America of the mid-to-late 1800s.  Jen Chaney, Vulture

The creators of this remarkable series are also, notably, all women. Gwen Ihnat, AV Club

Six-part series Alias Grace, starring Sarah Gadon, has made its debut on Netflix and is winning high praise. As summarized on Rotten Tomatoes:

…Alias Grace tells the story of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a young, poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who – along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) – finds herself accused and convicted of the infamous 1843 double murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin).

How we the audience hear Grace’s story is accomplished via both her own narration and her daily talks with a particular gentleman. Patrick Schmidt, Netflix Life: “Grace is speaking with Dr. Simon Jordan, played by Edward Holcroft, who is more or less a therapist for Grace to speak about her involvement in the murder and the contradictory testimony she gave…”

Here’s how Dr. Jordan, who’s been hired by a group interested in gaining a prison pardon for Grace, explains his role: “I am a doctor that works not with bodies, but with the mind. Diseases of the mind and the brain, and the nerves.”

Jen Chaney (Vulture) reports that Grace’s sessions with Dr. Jordan “immerse us in the seemingly credible moments surrounding her mother’s death, her friendship with a vibrant fellow servant named Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), and her life at Kinnear’s farm, where Nancy’s dark moods foster enough strong resentment in both Grace and surly fellow worker James McDermott (Kerr Logan) to put killing on their minds.”

Hank Stuever, Washington Post: “The story comes to the viewer in complex chunks and unsettling layers…Innocent or guilty? There’s much more to it than that.”

Viewers won’t know for sure what really happened and to what extent Grace is truthful, it seems. Allison Shoemaker, rogerebert.com: “The ambiguities of Alias Grace are among its greatest strengths, and they’re handled with remarkable finesse by director Mary Harron and her top-flight cast.”

Get a glimpse of Alias Grace in the following trailer:

Selected Reviews

Sonia Saraiya, Variety: “In most of the ways that matter, Netflix’s Alias Grace presents an adaptation that delivers the gothic horror, social commentary, and domestic investigation of the novel.”

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times: “It’s so heavy throughout the first installment, you might wish for at least one of the characters to open a parlor window and let in some air, but as the story progresses it becomes too engrossing to turn away.”

Johanna Schneller, Toronto Star: “It feels right that The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace both aired in this, the year of Trump. The former shows what could happen to women. The latter shows what did.”
Nov 10

“Stress in America” APA Report: Yup, It’s So Real

“How stressed out have you been this past year?” Gist of APA survey leading to recent “Stress in America” report

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently issued “Stress in America: The State of Our Nation,” their report based on a major survey that’s been conducted annually since 2007.

About 63% currently “say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

This type of statistic prompted the APA’s press release title to contain these words: “US at ‘Lowest Point We Can Remember;’ Future of Nation Most Commonly Reported Source of Stress.” Stress levels, in fact, have actually increased for the first time in 10 years (US News & World Report).

Mostly Democrats and/or Never Trumpers, you speculate? Not so fast. Political affiliation and ideology turn out not to have been main influences.

On the other hand, females consistently report significantly higher levels of stress than men. Also higher on subjective responses, as compared to white men, are black and Hispanic males.

Here’s a breakdown of the top issues causing stress in America:

  • health care (43 percent)
  • the economy (35 percent)
  • trust in government (32 percent)
  • hate crimes (31 percent) and crime (31 percent)
  • wars/conflicts with other countries (30 percent)
  • terrorist attacks in the United States (30 percent)
  • unemployment and low wages (22 percent)
  • climate change and environmental issues (21 percent)

Considering that many of us rely on the media for information about such issues, there’s been considerable ambivalence about how to do so—how to follow the news, for example, without worsening one’s already high stress level. “While most adults (95 percent) say they follow the news regularly, 56 percent say that doing so causes them stress, and 72 percent believe the media blows things out of proportion.”

A (slight) majority of folks have been moved toward doing something constructive in response to all this stress. “…51 percent of Americans say that the state of the nation has inspired them to volunteer or support causes they value. More than half (59 percent) have taken some form of action in the past year, including 28 percent who signed a petition and 15 percent who boycotted a company or product in response to its social or political views or actions.”

As in the past, the APA is eager to offer their guidance for dealing with the reported stress. Below are “10 simple steps [that] can help you better face life’s uncertainties.” Click on the link for further details.

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Reflect on past successes.
  • Develop new skills.
  • Limit exposure to news.
  • Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control.
  • Take your own advice.
  • Engage in self-care.
  • Seek support from those you trust.
  • Control what you can.
  • Ask for help.
Nov 08

Domestic Violence Linked to Mass Shootings

 …(T)he majority of [mass] shootings occur in the home, between spouses, partners, and family members…Policymakers across the country should examine their state’s current laws, and address the gaps that make it too easy for dangerous individuals to arm themselves. This involves requiring background checks on all gun sales; ensuring that domestic abusers do not have access to firearms; and creating mechanisms that allow for the temporary removal of guns from individuals who have demonstrated a risk to themselves or others. Everytown for Gun Safety, “Mass Shootings in the United States: 2009-2016” (conclusion)

Increasingly, domestic violence is recognized by experts as significantly linked to many of the mass murders committed in the United States. The following are additional quotes from last year’s above-cited report, which emphasized certain points in bold type:

The majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic or family violence. In at least 54 percent of mass shootings (85), the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.

The connection between mass shootings and domestic violence may be explained, in part, by the role guns play in domestic violence generally. About 4.5 million American women report that they have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun. And guns make it more likely that domestic abuse will turn fatal—when a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the likelihood that a woman will be shot and killed increases fivefold.

The strongest state laws prohibit domestic abusers and stalkers from buying or possessing guns, require background checks for all gun sales, and create processes to ensure that abusers and stalkers relinquish guns already in their possession. When these laws are on the books and enforced properly, they save lives. For example, cities in states that restrict access to firearms for those under domestic violence protective orders see a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner gun deaths.

…(P)ublic health experts that study mass shootings and other acts of mass violence have identified certain dangerous behaviors that can serve as warning signs that an individual is a risk to themselves or others. These “red flags” include, but are not limited to recent acts, attempted acts, or threats of violence towards oneself or others; a violation of a protective order; or evidence of ongoing substance abuse.

In nearly half of mass shootings—42 percent of cases—the shooter exhibited at least one red flag prior to the shooting.

The vast majority of mass shootings—63 percent—took place entirely in private homes.

Below are a few strong excerpts from Nancy Leong‘s Chicago Tribune (June) article on this topic:

Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise domestic violence and mass shootings are correlated…(D)omestic violence is a form of violence, just one that we don’t always take as seriously as other kinds. People who are likely to act violently often start with those nearest to them, who are vulnerable due to proximity, and who are often financially, emotionally or legally dependent on their abuser.

The justice system also plays a role, treating domestic violence with less weight than “real” violence. Abusers are less likely to be incarcerated for a domestic violence incident than for an incident involving violence against someone other than a family member or an intimate partner, and are thus less likely to undergo the type of intensive rehabilitation that might deter violence in the future — either within or outside their family.

Despite research documenting a connection between domestic violence and mass shootings, we still don’t focus on domestic violence enough in the wake of such a shooting. A mass shooting tends to trigger passionate arguments about gun control and mental health services; discussion of how to respond to domestic violence often doesn’t even come up.