PG-13 Versus R – Bully Edition

I HATE the PG-13 rating so I wanted to talk about it. It did not take long before I realized that this would encompass more than a single post.

Bully (listed as The Bully Project on Netflix) (2011)

Exploring the subject of school bullying from a personal angle, this eye-opening documentary tracks the stories of five different families whose children are struggling to defend themselves on a near-daily basis.

Bully is due to be released in theaters at the end of March. I have not seen this film but the MPAA has rated it R for “some language”. I imagine it is quite a bit of language (word is that it is for six expletives) as the academy appears to have dropped their unwritten rule of ‘only one F-bomb per PG-13 film’ quite some time ago. As far back as 1989, the movie Tremors was absolutely chock full of profanity and managed a PG-13 rating (though it did avoid sexual profanity).

This is very much a message movie, though how important I’m not sure, not having seen it. I will admit that I was bullied in high school and I imagine almost everyone has been a bully, bullied or has at the very least witnessed bullying. With a number of recent suicides from bullying making the news, this is certainly a timely documentary.

Bully was well-received by Anderson Cooper who featured it on his eponymous program Anderson Cooper 360 last October. The Weinsteins received an R rating from the MPAA. They appealed and I guess not surprisingly, their appeal was denied. Ostensibly Harvey Weinstein wants this rated PG-13 so that schools will be able to show it as a public service and that teens will be able to see it on their own in theaters.

Harvey Weinstein has taken his fight to the press and has even threatened, toothlessly, to no longer submit his films to the ratings board. Of course that would mean that mainstream theaters would no longer carry his films as the National Association of Theater Owners works hand in glove with the MPAA.

Harvey Weinstein went around and around with the MPAA over their decision to slap last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech with an ‘R” rating (for ‘some language’). After it won, Harvey capitulated and had the film re-cut for a PG-13 rating (for ‘language’). I have seen the R-rated version and while there is plenty of language, I did not find any of it objectionable with the context. Besides, prior to its win, were teens likely to go see this?

The 2004 Iraq War documentary, Gunner Palace, dropped the F-bomb a record 42 times. In addition to that and other strong language, the film also contains violent situations and some drug references. In spite of that, the MPAA reversed its original ‘R’ rating and gave Gunner Palace a PG-13 on appeal. So does this mean in eight years, we have actually become a more restrictive society? That language is somehow naughtier now?

Note: While Gunner Palace set the record for F-bombs in a PG-13 movie, I believe South Park – Bigger, Longer, Uncut still holds the R rated record of 146 F-bombs. If you want to know what a film is rated and why, there is a nice site here, Reasons for Movie Ratings.


R Versus NC-17 – This Film is Not Yet Rated

I HATE the PG-13 rating so I wanted to talk about it. It did not take long before I realized that this would encompass more than a single post.

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) – Not rated (seriously what did you expect?)

“Kirby Dick’s provocative documentary investigates the secretive and inconsistent process by which the Motion Picture Association of America rates films, revealing the organization’s underhanded efforts to control culture. Dick questions whether certain studios get preferential treatment and exposes the discrepancies in how the MPAA views sex and violence. Interviewees include John Waters, Darren Aronofsky, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan and more.”

If you don’t understand how movies are rated then this is an excellent crash course. The opening fifteen minutes are brilliant, contrasting hypocritical statements and outright untruths (why does that word exist? are people afraid to say lies? it’s just like the stupid phrase pre-owned that Gamestop uses) by Jack Valenti and others with filmmaker experiences such as Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Kevin Smith (Clerks), and Matt Stone (South Park). If the movie had continued in this vein and been more in-depth, I feel This Film is Not Yet Rated would have been a lot better and much more damning of the system.

Instead Kirby Dick takes the investigative journalist approach and hires private detectives to find out who is on the board. It is not that this isn’t a worthy objective – it is. It is just that so much screen-time is wasted on basic detective skills and what would have made for a very entertaining second movie.

Thankfully the detective parts are interspersed with the ‘meatier’ bits. There is a marvelous use of split-screen to show almost identical sex acts with same-sex partner movies receiving an NC-17 and their hetero counterparts receiving an ‘R’ rating. Another marvelous example were the cuts needed in Boys Don’t Cry to give it an ‘R’ rating and the part that strangely did not need to be cut.

I do recommend this documentary as it is fun and informative but it could have been so much better and less superficial. Please be aware that this movie is very sexually explicit as it does show the scenes that determined the rating issues discussed.


Oscar Nominees for Best Documentary

The Academy Awards nominations were announced this week. None of the nominees are available yet on Netflix streaming except for two of the movies nominated for Best Documentary. The other three nominated documentary  films are Undefeated, Pina and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. I hope Netflix adds the others soon, particularly Paradise Lost 3 as it was instrumental in freeing three accused murderers. The two nominees currently available are:

Hell and Back Again (2011) – NR

“In this unvarnished documentary set on the Afghan front line, U.S. Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris is wounded by Taliban machine-gun fire, then returns to his North Carolina home to grapple with the stress of civilian life.”

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011) – NR

“Filmmakers Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman examine the case of Daniel McGowan, a member of the radical environmental group Earth Liberation Front who was arrested for committing arson against two Oregon timber companies. Dissecting ELF’s self-described use of “economic sabotage” to stop deforestation and other damage to the planet, the film also explores the ramifications of the FBI’s decision to classify them as terrorists.”