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Mother's phone service offers movie advice to parents


Sharon Kissack doesn't pretend to be a film critic, but as a mother and retired schoolteacher, she believes she recognizes what parents want to know about movies their kids might want to see.

And for 99 cents a minute for a one- to two-minute taped review, the resident of Honeoye Falls, N.Y., is willing to share her observations on any film currently in national release.

Ms. Kissack's month-old 900-number service, Reel Review, offers details on sex, violence, profanity and anything else parents might find objectionable in a film -- or at least want to discuss with their kids ahead of time.

For example, in advising parents not to take their kids to PG-13-rated "Batman Returns," Ms. Kissack focused on the violence. ". . . not the slow-motion explicit stuff, but it is consistently unexpected, swift and heartless. It doesn't seem to matter if the violence is from the good guys or the bad guys -- it still felt the same." She also cited the film's portrayal of circus figures, traditionally associated with "fun and good times," as "cold-blooded killers."

On the other hand, Ms. Kissack did recommend the film for adults "who would enjoy the interesting visual effects" and a tale about the darker side of life.

In conclusion, she noted that the film had a fair amount of humor -- "I don't want you to think it is all violent and depressing."

Ms. Kissack, 52, got the idea for her service from a friend with a 14-year-old daughter who "was starting to ask to go to R-rated movies, and she [the friend] didn't have time to prescreen them."

Ms. Kissack, an artist who makes felt out of lambs wool, and her optometrist husband were already going to movies every weekend, so she began advising the friend, who was so pleased that after a few weeks she suggested Ms. Kissack start a business.

"This is a service that I would have liked to have had when my kids were smaller," said Ms. Kissack, who has a 24-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son.

With help from one sister in Columbus, Ohio, and another in Los Angeles, Ms. Kissack also has started a monthly Reel Review newsletter that dispenses similar guidance about videos, along with an assessment of the critical reception to the theatrical release. A year's subscription costs $10.

While the service primarily was created for parents, Ms. Kissack believes it may prove useful to adult filmgoers.

"Maybe they have some kind of violence they would like to avoid, or they don't like foul language," she said, citing as an example an attempted rape scene in "Stephen King's Sleepwalkers" that she thought would particularly upset a recent rape victim.

"I didn't read about it anywhere," she added.

Ms. Kissack, whose start-up costs were about $9,000, figures she needs 400 calls a week to break even. She's not yet familiar enough with the computer program that runs her service to check on how many calls she has received. She hasn't advertised the service, so people are hearing about it either through word of mouth or the news media.

Ms. Kissack's hometown, about 15 miles south of Rochester, N.Y., isn't exactly a major media center, and she doesn't get invited to any critics' screenings. So she pays her own way, either at sneak previews or at theaters the day new films open nationally, which sometimes means seeing three or four films on a Friday.

Although she is committed to having reviews available by the fourth day of a film's national release, she usually has finished taping her thoughts about the Friday crop by Saturday afternoon.

Ms. Kissack sees her reviews as supplements to the opinions of traditional critics.

"I don't think I'm in any way competing with the critics that are out there," she said. "I don't have the qualifications to do that. I just think I have a good sense of what people are concerned about."

Ms. Kissack does not even consider herself much of a film buff. That term, she said, is more descriptive of her husband, who was the one who wanted to go to the movies every weekend. He couldn't be happier about his wife's new business.

"It's his dream job for me," she said.

Reel Review's telephone number is (900) 903-1117.

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