Culture: Film Reviews

Screened Out

Director Jon Hyatt’s new documentary asks a very big question: Are we addicted to our screens? He starts out by turning off his devices and traveling across Canada and the United States to discover the answer. This can be a touchy question in this day and age, as parents manage their children’s schooling via computers, tablets, and other devices throughout the stay-at-home mandates. Screened Out’s focus is on how social media and online gaming industries know how to get us hooked on our screens, which they build into their software. Once they have us, they sell our information to advertisers.

According to Sean Parker, Facebook’s original president, when the social media giant launched, they knew that the dopamine loop, or “a social validation feedback loop,” is what ultimately sells the users to advertisers. This loop is the pleasure reward our brains experience when someone responds to something we post.

Do we have the strength to turn off notifications? Do we have the courage to limit our screen time? Knowing that Facebook and others sell our information to advertisers—and that these advertisers pay for every click we make online—should make us think.

Social media and gaming platforms create deep psychological needs for us that, when fulfilled, make us feel good. And lurking behind these social platforms and video games are consumer advertising and political ads from unknown sources. This is now an established science that the film adequately explores. The next big question is: What is the long-term effect of “screen addiction by design” on the developing brains of children? We simply do not know.

The downside is, of course, when users get negative feedback. The film shows one young teen girl who was saved from suicide because her father rescued her just in time. She got help through a screen rehab program. South Korea has 400 Internet and gaming rehabilitation centers, and these are a growing reality in this country, too, such as reSTART ( The ethics of what these technology companies are doing have yet to be explored in any meaningful way. But this film is a start.

Screened Out offers ideas for parents and adults to change how they model their relationships with their devices and give their children the attention they deserve. The film’s scope is focused on Canada and the United States. It does not address the screen time issues of other ethnic groups or low-income families. This is for the next film. Once I started watching Screened Out, I couldn’t stop. It is available on most streaming services.

Not yet rated • Suicide, bullying, addiction references.

The Stand at Paxton County

The Stand at Paxton County

Janna Connelly (Jacqueline Toboni) is a medic on active duty in Afghanistan when she receives news that her father, Dell (Michael O’Neill), has heart problems. She must return to their North Dakota ranch to care for him. She soon discovers that he and other ranchers are being harassed by the local sheriff, Roger (Christopher McDonald), who cites the farmers for animal cruelty based on a new law pushed through by an animal rights organization. A reporter for the local newspaper, Vin (Sean O’Bryan), reports on this, but only goes deeper when Janna confronts him.

When the ranch hand, Brock (Greg Parrow), disappears, Janna hires Matt (Tyler Jacob Moore) as the new foreman. Little by little, they discover that Brock had been giving information to the sheriff, who was working with a state-appointed veterinarian to sabotage the fencing and feed so that the horses and livestock would be confiscated for their own safety. This would eventually force the Connelly’s ranch into bankruptcy. When Vin reveals to Janna that he witnessed wrongdoing by the sheriff, she and her father are able to defend themselves legally.

The Stand at Paxton County is based on a true story that took place in Gladstone, North Dakota, in 2017. Both the case and the dramatized film have convoluted plots. Toboni’s solid performance carries this very watchable drama. Brett Hedlund creates a film that touches on drama and romance, but with a social justice edge. It is available on Netflix.

Not yet rated, R • Violence, lying, greed, language, some sexuality, brief nudity.

Judy & Punch

Judy and Punch

What I like about Australian cinema is that it is always just a little quirky. In writer/director Mirrah Foulkes’ dramatic comedy, we find the husband and wife puppeteer team of Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman), a deliberate inversion of the original “Punch and Judy” traveling puppet shows of 17th-century England. Here the couple returns home to Seaside because they are broke. At first it seems that they, with their baby, are happy. But Punch is an alcoholic, while Judy is the brains and talent of their act. The town is entertained by Judy and Punch, but executions of suspected witches and sorcerers draw a big crowd as well.

Punch cannot be trusted. He accidently tosses the baby out the window, beats Judy, and buries her in the forest where a motley crew of female heretics live. They save Judy, and together they all save the lives of a newly accused couple while our heroine gets her revenge.

The film’s production qualities are high, and Wasikowska is always good. There is an obvious theme of respect for women running through the narrative, but despite a few chuckles, I am not sure that is enough to save the film from itself.

Not yet rated • Violence, language, alcoholism.

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