Archive for the ‘MPAA ratings’ Category


Let’s start with some caveats, as few summer blockbusters arrive with the baggage that “The Mummy” is carrying on its shoulders. Not content to simply launch a new franchise, the fat cats at Universal are pinning the hopes of a brand new Cinematic Universe — the de riguer requirement of all major studios in the post-Avengers world — on the merits of this modern retelling of the old Boris Karloff ambling menace.

First, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a new mummy (lowercase) movie, just as there’s nothing wrong with telling stories on screen that feature ghosts, ghouls, trolls, chupacabra, giant snakes, giant spiders, or any other fantastical antagonists.

Second, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cinematic universes. If the movies are good, the movies are good: that’s really all there is too it.

That said, “The Mummy” is not good, and it suggests Universal maybe shouldn’t have cashed its chips so early on its so-called “Dark Universe” (with a slate of films announced already and Johnny Depp cast as The Invisible Man). Russel Crowe pops in as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in a few heavy-handed scenes that hint at his potential menace and one of the better-choreographed sequences, but to little impact.

What “The Mummy” does well is make the already-good 1999 version starring Brendon Frasier and Rachel Weisz look resplendent in comparison. New protagonist Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) passively trips toward the film’s convoluted and undercooked finale, driven by a combination of demonic possession and a desire to rescue a romantic interest (Annabelle Wallis) with whom he shares all the chemistry of an elementary school science fair project. There’s a dagger and a red stone and crusader tombs and a lot of talk of Set, the Egyptian god of war, all of which is thrown at the viewer like obstacles in an Asian game show.

There are exactly two things this movie does well: the zero-gravity plane crash in Act I that was aired *in its entirety* during the film’s trailers and a chase scene underneath London’s streets that features a brief scene of eye-poppingly impressive underwater photography. Beyond that, it’s a muddled mess of corporate cash-grabbing.

As for the mummy herself, gender-swapped for the modern era, Sofia Boutella does as good as can be expected with the material, but is robbed of any her predecessor’s menace and mystique by the movie’s rush to make her telegenic. Compared to the genuinely chilling Act II of the 1999 film, in which Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep slowly regenerates while haunting his human prey, Boutella’s reanimated corpse makes light work of a few nameless meat sacks before she’s back to her old, strategically-shrouded-to-appease-the-MPAA-rating self.

It’s a rushed, narratively delinquent disappointment that could have injected some of that old-fashioned movie magic into the modern cinema landscape, but instead falls victim to the paint-by-numbers CGI malaise we’ve all grown fatigued of.

Grade: C+

*The Mummy opens nationwide on Friday, June 9.


Read Full Post »


The recent gangbusters success of “Frozen” and “The Lego Movie” has given rise to a popular argument that goes something like this:

The average G- and PG-Rated movie makes more money than the average PG-13 and R-Rated movie, but every year more R and PG-13 movies are released than G and PG-Rated movies. Therefore, Hollywood should listen to the audience and make more family friendly films.

It’s a perennial talking point every time a family flick breaks 9 figures at the box office. It’s also completely bogus.

Now, I’m not arguing with their numbers. The average G and PG-rated movie does in fact take in a decent haul at the box office. But averages can be tricky things and as they say, there’s three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:51:56

Supply vs Demand

Imagine you’re a grocer and one of your venders offers you a deal on Stroopwafels, a product that you don’t regularly carry. It’s a good deal and the things are freaking delicious, so you buy 100 units.

You stock the Stroopwafels on your shelves and they sell out within a couple of days. Intrigued, you order 1,000 units on your next product cycle but are dismayed when only 100 units sell and the remaining 9,900 units have to be hawked at a loss at checkout.

The mistake you made was assuming that with increased supply would come increased demand, when in fact your store just happened to have 100 regular shoppers that enjoy Stroopwafels.

It’s a simplistic, and somewhat hyperbolic, metaphor, but it illustrates the root flaw of the Make More Cartoons argument.

It’s no coincidence that The Lego Movie was released a month and a half after Frozen. Studios learned a long time ago that they could maximize profits by having a single family friendly film in theaters at any given time.

If you suddenly flooded the market with G- and PG-rated films, there would not suddenly be more movie-going families in America. Instead, you would only force those films to compete with each other for the same audience rather than serving as counter-programming to the mass audience Marquee titles that carry a more adult rating.

A deluge of family friendly films would bifurcate the audience in a manner much similar to what we’re currently seeing on TV. Ten years ago, Friends drew an average of 22.8 million weekly viewers in its ninth season. Today, with original programming on the broadcast networks, cable, and streaming outlets like Amazon and Netflix, the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother draws an average 9 million viewers, which is the envy of literally everything on NBC (except The Voice).


Box Office Does Not Equal Profit

In June of 2013, The Purge debuted with an opening weekend box office of $34 million before going on to a domestic gross of $64 million. It was heralded as a runaway success and the greenlight was immediately given for a sequel, which will be released later this year.

One month later, Pacific Rim launched to an opening weekend of $37 million on its way to a domestic tally of just over $100 million. It was lambasted as an embarrassing failure before decent worldwide sales ($411 million all told) changed the conversation to one of muted indifference.

The difference is obvious, but under the context it bears repeating. The Purge cost a measly $3 million dollars to make and paid for itself twenty-fold. I repeat twenty-fold.

Pacific Rim cost $190 million and, were it not for the growing Asian movie market, would have forced a write-down on its distributor.

Film fans know this. It’s Box Office 101. But what people sometimes forget is that family friendly movies don’t come cheap. The production budget on The Lego Movie was reportedly $60 million. Frozen was even higher, with a reported budget of $150 million.

Also, as a general rule of them, the cost of marketing a film is roughly half of its production budget, meaning that just to turn a profit Frozen would have to break $200 million at the box office. It’s done that, with room to spare, but it illustrates why basing your argument on average box office receipts never tells the whole story.

Simply put, the most profitable genre in Hollywood is not family friendly films. It’s horror films. That’s why there’s 7 Saw films and 5 (so far) Paranormal Activities. You can make them for a song and they turn a profit within hours of their release.

So to anyone who argues that Hollywood should “listen to the audience,” be careful what you wish for. It ain’t gonna be Toy Story 4 that gets the green light.


Box Office Does Not Equal Quality

This third part of my rebuttal is more emotion-based than logic-based, but it’s also why I get so irritated. I understad that parents want to take their kids to the movies (heaven knows why, but that’s their prerogative) and I understand they may feel there’s not a lot of options. But the implicit nature of their “Make more family friendly movies” rhetoric is one that suggests a value judgement based on a film’s rating.

That line of reasoning completely disregards the artistic nature of film as a medium that educates, challenges and inspires. I love an explosion-heavy popcorn flick as much as the next late-20s bachelor, but what keeps me coming back to the movies are the stories that show me the world in a way I’ve never seen it before. Movies like 12 Years A Slave, or Gravity.

Do we really want a world with less Lincoln and more Croods? Fewer Before Midnights at the expense of Cars 3? No Schindler’s List but another Oogieloves movie? (It should be noted, the G-rated Oogieloves movie had one of the worst opening weekends in box office history).

I suppose there are some that want to live in that world. A Tarantino- and Scorcese-less landscape peppered with Shrek derivatives. That world is my nightmare.

It’s also no coincidence that all 9 of this year’s Best Picture nominees are rated PG-13 and R, or that the glowing critical reception for The Lego Movie is the exception and not the rule. For the most part, family friendly content comes at the expense of story, and at the expense of quality.

I’m not a parent. I have no idea if I ever will be or what the movie-viewing rules will be in my household. But when I think about sitting down in front of the television with my son, I’d rather it be Slumdog Millionaire on the screen and not Megamind.

Oh, and if I see one more cover of “Let it Go” on my Facebook feed I’m going to start hurting people.

Read Full Post »


I know, this post is more than a month late but the Utah Legislative session began the freaking day after Sundance ended so cut me some slack. I already posted my Sundance wrap up post so I’ll try to keep the redundancies to a minimum but there are just some things that deserve more than a camera phone.

Things like, Main Street’s Egyptian Theater.



As a member of the press, I’m mostly relegated to the Holiday Village Cinemas during the festival but I always try to see at least one movie in the old Egyptian at the top of Main. This theater, along with its sister in Ogden, are hands down my two favorite cinemas in all of Utah (now that the Cinedome is closed, sigh). They have that amazing feel of nostalgia for Hollywood’s Golden Age, before HD television when going to the theater for a talkie was an experience. For some of us it still is, and theaters like the Egyptians reward us for our cinephilia.


My screening at the Egyptian this years was Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess, wife to and co-writer of Napolean Dynomite. Besides a week of amazing independent film and the ability to see the year’s best movies before anyone else, the true magic of Sundance is the post-screening Q&A’s that the filmmakers and cast hold with the audience. Sadly, Hess’ Q&A was hijacked by a bunch of twi-hards who wanted to know what it was like working with Stephanie Meyer (who produced the film), but Hess nonetheless seemed very charming.


Speaking of charm, there’s no topping Sundance-regular, wunderkind and all-that-is-man Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His film, Don Jon’s Addiction, made its worldwide premiere at Sundance and the versatile writer-director-actor stopped by to chat with the audience about feminism, sexism in Hollywood and how to carefully trim pornographic clips to technically not exceed the bounds of an MPAA “R” rating. Don Jon’s will be hitting theaters soon, it will be interesting to see if they pulled it off.



This here is Stu Zicherman, who directed and co-wrote A.C.O.D., which stands for Adult Children of Divorce and was quite possibly my favorite film of the festival (I can’t make up my mind. Too Much Good!) After I gave the movie an A rating on Wood’s Stock they were nice enough to retweet my blog post. Hashtags people, get on that train.

As always I can’t choose between color and B&W. I love the balance of the big red screen but I also love how Stu comes out of the dark in the BW picture, almost like a giant Ying Yang. Thoughts?


This is the team behind “Breathe In,” particularly the film’s director Drake Doremus (the man with the microphone). Drake is the writer-director of Like Crazy, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen at Sundance and one of the best films of 2011. I had the chance to briefly meet Drake during Film Church of Sundance 2011. I wouldn’t expect him to remember, I just felt like mentioning that. Most people brag about getting a high five from Justin Bieber, I get star struck by indie filmmakers.

The Breathe In Q&A was interesting because a man called the film predictable and then got booed by the crowd. I wouldn’t call it predictable as much as I would call it familiar or natural, but either way it is a beautifully-captured story.


And, as always, between movies there’s the chance to catch some amazing music. Like The Head and The Heart (above) who closed out the festival at the ASCAP music cafe. THATH, if you haven’t discovered them yet, is (are?) amazing but if you like Justin Bieber then just do us all a favor and stay away. The last thing I need is to see Down In The Valley covered on Glee. After losing fun. I’m not sure my heart could take it.

When I took this shot I was cursing that yellow ball hanging from the ceiling. Now that I see the picture though, I kind of love it. I wish it was brighter.


I was also able to catch a bar-set by my cousin’s band Van Lady Love. My cousin has two bands (The other being Lady And Gent, a folkier outfit). I’d like to tell you where to go to find them but I’m not entirely sure. Google it, that usually works.


And then, there’s always Main Street. People often ask me “Ben, I’m heading to Sundance, what should I do?” and more often than not they haven’t exactly planned ahead to buy screening tickets, aren’t willing to wait list and buy screening tickets and, frankly, have no interest in attending a screening. That, admittedly, limits your choices.

But Main Street, especially on opening weekend, is buzzing: art galleries, live music, restaurants and great people watching. I’m always struck by the dedication of the club-going crowd. The fact that women will brave strapless mini-dresses in the dead of Utah winter is nothing short of heroic. Also, if you’re lucky, you might see a star or two, if you’re in to that sort of thing. To be honest, you probably won’t see anyone, or at least anyone you recognize. I brushed shoulders with the girl from The Mob Doctor and it took me more than an hour to figure out why she looked so familiar, then again, it is The Mob Doctor.


And how awesome are these windows? I’m a sucker for silhouette (and empty benches, but that’s not important right now) so I stood across the street from the Kimball Arts Center for about 30 minutes just snapping people walking by.


Read Full Post »


With all the MPAA ratings hullabaloo that surrounded the release of “Bully” it’s easy to forget that before a movie needs to worry about reaching an audience, it needs to worry about being good. After a few weeks in larger markets the movie finally opened in a theater near me and I made my way down to see just what all the fuss was about.

The result was an emotionally satisfying yet somewhat underwhelming look into today’s public school system. Unlike other social-issue documentaries that say “Here is a problem, here is why it needs to be fixed, here is what people are doing to fix it” bully meanders somewhat disjointedly through a series of vignettes examining the lives of real-life victims. It makes some strides in diversity, giving us an outed gay student, a child born premature and never expected to survive and a few examples of what happens when kids are finally pushed to far, whether that be retaliation or suicide.

There is one glaring flaw, however, that my friend Emily pointed out more articulately than I was able to. Every story takes place in the bible-belt heartland, so even though they talk about the universal problem of bullying, the sub-text is that the issue is limited to simple, backwoods folk. City dwellers, it would appear, are immune to the humiliation and terror that their country peers are able to bestow.

The stories that are shown are heartbreaking, but after so much talk about the content of this movie I was, frankly, expecting to be more shocked. In one scene we see what could be described as the “main” character being punched, choked and stabbed and it is effective. Beyond that, however, we mostly walk through hallways or through fields as subject talk about their torment. Most of the horrors of bullying, then, are told to us instead of shown.

Obviously, showing is hard, and I do not mean to dismiss the efforts of the filmmakers in shining a light in dark corners. I only mean to say that for all the talk, you never arrive at a point where your eyes are opened. Yes, kids can be cruel. Yes, schools often do not do enough to punish bullies and sometimes turn a blind eye. But at that point, the difficult discussion between “boys will be boys” and “book ’em Dano” needs to take place yet it doesn’t. Should an elementary or Jr. High school student receive criminal aggravated assault charges? Should a victim who pulls a gun on her abusers in a schoolbus be charged with kidnapping? It’s fascinating because there is not a clear answer, and it is exactly that argument that needs to take place for change to occur and exactly where “Bully” falls short.

Do not mistake my meaning, this is a great film. Sadly, where much hype is given, much is required. For a movie, it is moving and shows an exceptional display of tone, mood, and sincerity. For a documentary, it is a commendable piece of art and deserves to be seen. For many viewers, I suspect it will start a conversation that would otherwise not take place. What is absent, however, are the framing issues that would guide that conversation and the destination that we, as a society can hope for. B+

Read Full Post »

I am an ardent supporter of the MPAA rating system, mostly for three reasons. First, I’m older than 17 and capable of independent thought, so the ratings system doesn’t really effect me in any way. Second, I’ve have enough experience with the system to actually use the guidelines in informing my movie choices. And thirdly, because someone has to be.

The big “R” is back in the headlines once again because of the documentary “Bully” which, because of language, requires someone younger than 17 to be accompanied by an adult in order to view the film — there’s talk of releasing the film as “unrated” which would eliminate that requirement but also limit the number of theaters that carry the film.

For the uninitiated, generally speaking a movie can get away with one F-bomb and still secure a rating of PG-13 (two if neither are used in a sexual connotation). Meanwhile, PG-13 movies can have a fair amount of nudity (i.e. Titanic), violence (i.e. Lord of the Rings) and sappy melodramatic nonsense (i.e. anything starring Katherine Heigl).

A whole stink has been made about Bully’s “R” rating, with advocates saying that it limits the amount of teenagers — who would otherwise benefit from seeing the gritty realism of bullying in schools — that will be able to see the movie. The Weinstein Company hired the prop 8 lawyers to appeal the rating to the MPAA and I’ve read that it came within one vote of the 2/3 majority necessary to overturn the “R”. Similar petitions have also been launched by anti-bullying advocacy groups, lobbyists, and concerned would-be viewers.

It is, by my perspective, nothing but smoke and mirrors and much ado about nothing.

First off, no “R” rating is going to stop a kid from seeing a movie they want to see. Theater security is nonexistent and as any 15-year-old will tell you, once you buy a ticket to see “The Lorax” you have free reign to see just about anything you want to. The big “R” didn’t keep me out of Blade 2 and The Matrix when I was a kid. Anyone, and I repeat anyone, who wants to see Bully in theaters will find away.

Secondly (and more importantly) how many teenage kids are really dying to see a documentary about bullying? Scratch that, how many teenage kids are dying to see ANY documentary? Teenagers want to see the 3D Jonas Brothers Concert movie and the umpteenth Transformers sequel. They do NOT want to pay to see a 2-hour education piece about how they should be nicer to the nerds at school. I’m the first one to advocate that EVERYONE should watch more documentaries, but it’s not a fluke that Avatar makes a billion dollars while Waiting For Superman slowly trickles across the country in art-house theaters.

That leads to my third point. Since no one watches docs and the rating won’t stop anyone that does, why all the fuss? TWC makes a good point that the R rating stops the film from being shown in schools (for example) and other educational settings, but all the rallies and protest boil down to one big grin on Harvey’s face: Free Publicity.

TWC knows that even though hundreds of Docs are made each year, only a handful gain name recognition — Super Size Me, The Cove, Bowling For Columbine, Man on Wire, etc. The “alleged” viewership loss ascribed to the dreaded “R” is dwarfed in comparison to the hundreds — if not thousands — of movie-goers that will buy a ticket to Bully due to the simple fact that they’ve heard so much about it. This isn’t a crusade, it’s a hedge bet.

What is easier, after all? Spending 20 million dollars on a multi-platform advertising campaign or hiring two lawyers to spend one day arguing before a jury of conservative movie-raters? The petitions by lay-people is just delicious gravy.

All bully would have to do to secure a PG-13 is beep out a couple of F-bombs. That’s it. Six or Seven beeps and children of every age would be able to watch Bully in just about any setting. Does it compromise the integrity of the film’s storytelling? Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is that the filmmakers care more about making a fuss about the system and ganing notoriety than actually presenting the film in a format that would be acceptable to the common denominator. Is that censorship? No, because they have every right to release their F-Bomb dropping R-Rated movie and hope enough kids sneak in for a double-header after Mirror Mirror.

Could the rating system be improved? Arguable. Does it succeed in differentiating between movies to inform, but not dictate, a customers viewing choices? Yes. If you want to go see Bully, go see bully. If you think a few F-Bombs is less objectionable than the stylized violence and sex in PG-13 films than don’t see the PG-13 action-sex blockbuster and take your kids to the artsy R-rated doc instead. The rating doesn’t change the content, just the color of the wrapping paper.

*UPDATE: The Weinstein Company announced Friday that an edited, PG-13 rated version of the film will be released nationwide on April 13.

Read Full Post »

First off, I wanted to make a note of something interesting about this year’s Oscar race. Since I live in a Red State, I am constantly hearing the moans and gripes from social conservatives about the steady moral decline shown in modern cinema. “Hollywood is nothing but Filth!” they scream, clutching their children to them and running from darkened theaters as the 20th Century Fox fanfare begins to play.

In their minds, every year movies are getting worse and worse, unlike the good wholesome entertainment that they were used to when they were younger. The explanation for this is obvious, when they were younger they didn’t watch every movie that was made. Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde lately? or Scarface? You’re right, compared to Bambi, The Hangover Part II seems a little crude but even the old Rock Hudson/Doris Day rom-coms are pretty much 118 minutes of sexual innuendo. I mean, Pillow Talk? Come on.

Why am I talking about this? Because amazingly, 8 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees are rated PG-13 and the lone R-rated offering, The Descendants, is far from a prurient romp. It’s actually a touching story about a family dealing with the loss of their mother and gets the big “R” because, understandably, the characters use a few F-bombs as they try to vocalize their emotions.

It’s unprecedented. Besides the fact that 8 “13s” is a statistical first — due to only 3 years of 5+ nominees — you would probably have to go back to the days of the Hays Production Code to find a crop of candidates that would please the Parents Television Council this much. I can actually talk about the nominees, all of the them, with my mom. This has never happened before in my lifetime.

So, to all the easily offended, take advantage of the one year when you can actually go and watch all of the Oscar nominees during AMC’s marathon (this weekend). And just remember that next year, when you talk about how bad movies are getting, I will shove 2011 in your face. The proof is in the pudding.

OH, you want to know who’s going to win? That’s easy.

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michael Hazavanicious (I probably spelled that wrong)
Best Actor: George Clooney
Best Actress: Viola Davis (Meryl has enough, don’t you think?)
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (conventional wisdom would suggest Christopher Plummer but something in me thinks Hill will be the surprise of the night)
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (most people are betting Spencer, but 2011 was the year of Chastain and I think it will be a message award for her entire body of work, then again, this is the Oscars not The Globes so I’m only 60% confident on this one)
Best Animated Feature: Rango (you can hear Gore Verbinski saying “Thank you Cars 2 for sucking so bad”)
Best Foreign: A Separation (this was on soooo many top 10 lists this year, EW’s Owen Gleiberman would have put it in the top category)
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris, FTW!
Best Adapted Screenplay: My man Jim Rash (I interviewed him, he’s a complete stud)
Best Song: “Man or Muppet” (I mean seriously, Rio? Please)

And…no one cares about the rest.

Read Full Post »

I don’t really understand this new tactic where network shows post their pilots on Hulu pre-debut for a free full-form stream. With the ever-widening gap between what Americans watch and what the Nielson ratings say Americans watch, it doesn’t seem like you’d want to give anyone a reason to NOT tune in live.

That said, it sure worked for New Girl so as long as the word of mouth you generate is greater than the loss of potential live viewers than hey, why not? Plus, it gives us the chance to discuss our impressions of a new show before it technically “airs”.

From a purely strategic perspective, I think “Smash” is a genius move by NBC. The execs over at the Peacock obviously green-lit this project as an answer to the season 2 zeitgeist of Glee. As luck would have it, season 3 of Glee has disappointed and viewers seem tired of the inconsistent characters and the circular storytelling and, I would assume, are ready for something new and fresh to take over their musical itch.

At the same time, interest in reality programming has also dimmed this year. With an overabundance of talent competitions competing for our less-than-thrilled attention it makes perfect sense why a viewer would seek out something scripted that provides their weekly fix of musical talent and pizzaz but spares us the delusions of grandeur and bickering judges.

From a quality perspective, I was charmed by the way that Smash was both traditional and unique. In the post-Lost world it is so rare to find an hour-long scripted drama that doesn’t beat us over the head with the elusive promise of “mythology” or involve solving a murder every week. Our characters have their task — put on a Broadway show — and we are going to watch them do it. It’s that simple and after the first 44 minutes I couldn’t help but wonder why every new show feels like it has to be complex to entertain.

The cast is superb. Katharine McPhee is simply adorable — I stopped watching Idol long before her debut so she’s a completely new face to me — Angelica Houston is as fascinating as always and, most surprising to me, I liked Debra Messing much more than I ever thought I would. I know her only from her former sitcom Will and Grace so I expected Grace 2.0, instead her character, part of the writing team the birth the Marilyn idea, is a mature, understated, down to earth family woman who Messing inhabits with complete comfort.

It’s also nice to see that Jack Davenport was able to crawl out of the black hole that was Flash Forward and fine some work. His character is, so far, the least 3-dimensional — he plays the swarmy, hard-to-work-with Director who ‘discovers’ McPhee and essentially propositions her in exchange for her casting — but hey, you can only do so much in a pilot.

Bottom line, the only other pilots that impressed me this much this season were Revenge and American Horror Story, and those shows turned out to be completely delicious. Smash is a gamble, but one that I think should, and hope will, pay off. Here’s hoping that Smash is the medicine that NBC’s doctor ordered. B+

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »