Archive for the ‘Rated R’ Category


In 2013, two dude-bro brothers named Mike and Dave posted an ad on Craigslist looking for dates to accompany them to a wedding. You likely heard the story, as the stunt quickly gained the viral ubiquity of our fleeting national attention.

And like clockwork, here we are three years later with an irreverent comedy based on Mike and Dave’s antics (an eventuality overtly prophesied in the Craiglist post in question). As the down-to-business title suggests, this is a movie about Mike and Dave, played by Zac Efron and Adam Devine, who need wedding dates, which they find in Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza through the miracle of the internet and daytime talk show television.

Both men are well-intentioned and affable manboys whose life-of-the-party aspirations are inevitably undone by flying too close to the sun. This premise is introduced in probably the only coherent and comedically consistent vignette of the film, as Mike and Dave’s family visits with a slide-show montage of their past destruction and a mandate to arrive to their sister’s upcoming nuptials with plus-ones in tow as a protective measure against their accidentally destructive nature.

There are a few more laughs to be had, but not many. The movie plays as if SNL devoted an entire episode to a single sketch: it’s largely improvised and occasionally funny, but most of the jokes fail to land and everything would be better with a few more celebrity cameos. To their credit, Efron, Devine, Kendrick and Plaza are committed to their bits, working overtime to squeeze a few more drops of comedy blood out of the stone that is the film’s outline of a script. But their performances are also grating, particularly Plaza, who is forced to relinquish her otherwise capable comedy timing in favor of a barely two-dimensional caricature of a “bad” girl playing nice.

At every turn “Mike and Dave” seems desperate to position itself as a spiritual extension of Wedding Crashers, going so far as to name-drop the earlier film in a particularly on-the-nose scene. But while leads Efron and Devine exhibit some of that Wilson/Vaughan chemistry, the surrounding film is severely lacking in the showmanship and ingenuity of better comedies.

It’s a failed attempt that barely entertains for its shorter-than-it-feels running time.

Grade: C+

*Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opens nationwide on Friday, July 8.


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'sex tape'

Comedies, by nature, are built on the basis of justifiable implausibility. That’s because life, by and large, isn’t particularly funny, which requires a level of pseudo-fantasy to generate the big laughs movie goers expect.

That’s why we allow a suspension of disbelief when, say, two 30-year-old men pose as high school students in the Jump Street films, or a crass teddy bear is brought to life by a child’s wish in Ted. That lapse of reality gets us in through the door, in order to take us on a wild ride of shenanigans and tomfoolery.

It’s unfortunate, then, when a movie has nowhere to go beyond its initial, unlikely premise. Such is the case with ‘Sex Tape,’ which manages to make an otherwise tight 90-minute running time feel like it’s dragging on endlessly through a series of meandering and asinine sequences only sporadically punctuated by the rarest glimpses of comedic ingenuity.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are suburban parents in a happy marriage that has lost the fiery passion of their younger years, which we see in flashback while Annie narrates the body of her latest mommy blog post. Because what R-Rated comedy about a sex tape is complete without a mommy blog sub-plot?

Jay is a loosely defined radio station manager, which is established solely to explain that because of his job he routinely upgrades to a new iPad and gives his old device away as a gift. He has apparently done this several times, because after a night of mommy-blog-related celebration produces an ill-advised recording of the pair recreating every pose in The Joy of Sex, the video in question is automatically synced to the tablets of his friends, family and mailman via the all-mysterious Cloud.

Thus begins a long and increasingly desperate attempt to retrieve all of the digital copies, which have found themselves in the hands of Annie’s potential employer (a surreal and unhinged Rob Lowe) and a teenage extortionist (naturally). And along the way Jay and Annie take stock of their dwindling physical relationship providing some sort of emotional undertone for a movie whose audience will be largely comprised of teenage boys who came for the promise of seeing Diaz naked (sorry boys, backside only).

It’s a bizarre amalgamation of disparate elements: part wandering heist film, part softcore skin-flick, part heart-happy love story, part mildly amusing and several parts endlessly boring. When the final evidence of their tawdry misdead is recovered and beaten with a hammer, it’s an all-too-fitting end.

Grade: C+

*Sex Tape opens nationwide on Friday, July 17.

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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.

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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+

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* note: While I always try to write my posts to have diverse readability, some topics inherently stem from my personal experience in my heavily LDS-saturated community.

*note #2: I have volumes that I wish I could say about this subject but am constrained by size. As such, this post comes off a bit choppy but I would love to discuss the subject further if anyone is interested.

I was going to put up a red Restricted screen to be more eye-catching but I didn’t want to mislabel this post (or my blog as a whole for that matter). Wood’s Stock is definitely PG-13. I would like to believe that some of the subject material (pornography, homosexuality, politics, just to name a recent few) go above those that are agedly challenged, but I hardly think that you need to be accompanied by an adult to read it.

As an avid consumer of entertainment with an emphasis in film, I have been involved with many conversations regarding the MPAA rating’s system. It’s not often that I hear someone praising the MPAA, rather, these chats tend to stem from a variation of

“Man, ______ should not have been rated R.”

Sometimes it’s a would-be fan upset that he will not be able to see a certain film. Other times it takes the form of a more liberal viewer defending their choice for watching a certain film.

I like to call it The Matrix Effect.

According to the MPAA, The Matrix is “rated R for sci-fi violence and brief language.” Essentially, there is non-stop death and destruction but no nudity and little swearing. The two big movie-no-nos of mainstream Mormonism: Boobies and F-Bombs.

Never mind the fact that Neo and his team of protagonists are essentially terrorists (In multiple scenes they either gun down or flying-kick-to-the-face dozens of innocent police officers), but it also presents an alternate reality where human beings have literally cast a shadow over the earth and are farmed for the energy our bodies produce by self-aware machines. On the sub-textual level, it calls to mind themes of ignorance vs knowledge, governmental oppression, righteous rebellion and the corruptive force of power.

Heavy stuff right?

Back when this came out I was a child, and my parents were well within their parental rights to say “No R.” Now, however, I am an adult (as are most of my associates) and yet I still hear the same cries. “That shouldn’t be rated R.”

The problem: MPAA ratings are not intended to be a perfect fit to Mormon standards of decency.

The Sub-Problem: Most members of the LDS church have created a filter in their mind that divides movies into two categories. PG-13=”Good” and R=”Naughty”

The system works splendidly for most Mormons, but creates a problem for those few that are somewhat cultured. I remember the agony of being forced to sit through “She’s The Man” by a girlfriend because it was her “favorite movie.” I suppose if you’d never seen Slumdog Millionaire, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Crash, or The Shawshank Redemption then Amanda Bynes might actually seem like a decent actress.

But here’s where it gets tricky. “The Notebook,” that sobfest that every girl clings to like it’s scripture, is rife with pre-marital sex, adultery, and infidelity: BIG no-no’s in Utah. Why then has every good mormon girl seen it when they haven’t seen “Amelie”? or “The King’s Speech?” Because Notebook, despite toeing the line incessantly, has neither Boobies nor F-Bombs. It is therefore “Good” while the darling french “Amelie” is Naughty and the true-story of King George is “Obsene”

History time. Back in the day Hollywood was getting into a lot of heat for showing indecent things so in 1930, studios adopted the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hayes Production Code. It was, in essence, a list of things that could not be shown in films in order to avoid promoting wickedness. They ranged from the physical (no kissing for more than 3 seconds) to the subjective (the bad guy can never, EVER, win).

It was to movies what the Jewish laws of the sabbath had become around the beginning of the Christian Era (you know, the tie your shoe with one hand stuff).

If you’ve ever seen an old black and white and been completely confused (for example, A Streetcar Named Desire) this is why.

After decades of this, writers and directors got tired of having their hands tied and said “FORGET IT.” They adopted the MPAA ratings code and essentially told the American public “If you don’t like what’s in the movie, DON’T SEE IT.”

A novel idea, no?

Back to today. Her’s the definition of an R rating, as noted on the MPAA website.

“An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.”

And let’s look at this statement about ratings in general, from the same site.

“Movie ratings provide parents with advance information about the content of films, so they can determine what movies are appropriate for their young children to see. Movie ratings do not determine whether a film is “good” or “bad.””

There’s many reasons why a film will land an R. People love to point out the more easily recognizable examples like “Only 1 F-bomb” or “Illegal drug use” but what they forget is that “Adult material” is not synonymous with porn. There was talk about rating “The Dark Knight” R due to its themes of anarchy, betrayal, corruption, brutality, general despair, and the capacity of every man to be both Evil and Great. My mother, who’s well over the 17-year-old limit of seeing a movie by herself, finds Dark Knight too dark for her taste. She’s seen it, and will fully admit that it’s a great movie, but she chooses not to watch again because it chills her.

No Boobies, no F-Bombs, just some heavy stuff. Heavy stuff that a parent should think twice about before taking their young children.

So, my point to end all of this. The motion picture ratings were never intended to be black and white, but merely a general recommendation and indication of what could be expected to show up on the screen. As such, they should not be treated as black and white, end-all authorities on what you can an can not watch. Most of the greatest films ever made are Rated R, films that educate, inspire, and change your perception of the world. At the same time, some of the most insipid intellectual trash ever conspired has been PG-13, or even PG (Monkeybone comes to mind, but there’s better examples)

Take each movie case by case, educate yourself on what it contains, and decide for yourself based on your values whether you will or will not watch. Then, afterwards, leave people alone who choose differently.

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