24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Weinstein Company

Johnny Depp, Natalie Portman sign on for McCartney's 'My Valentine'

May 24, 2012 |  2:17 pm

If you have ever wanted to see Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp use their vast knowledge of sign language, now's your chance. Seems Paul McCartney has partnered with the two A-listers to translate the lyrics of his jazzy tune "My Valentine" for the hard-of-hearing crowd. McCartney's film, in which Portman and Depp appear via split screen and sign the lyrics in black-and-white, was first shown at a star-studded gala in Los Angeles.

Now the Weinstein Co. has announced that it will screen McCartney's video ahead of  "The Intouchables," which opens Friday in Los Angeles and New York.

Since it's a short film, it will not replace either of the trailers the company has attached to the French comedy, which has grossed over $340 million overseas. Rather, Weinstein will request that the theater owners play the film before the feature starts. The movie is about a quadriplegic, white Parisian millionaire who hires a black Senegalese troublemaker as his attendant. 

Since neither the millionaire nor the attendant is deaf, we're not quite sure what "My Valentine" has to do with "The Intouchables," but it does seem to help that Harvey Weinstein is pals with the former Beatle. The two got to know each other when Weinstein produced the 9/11 concert for New York and McCartney was the first musician to volunteer to perform.

Both films do run toward the saccharine — perhaps that's the common thread that united them in Weinstein's eyes.


Johnny Depp, Natalie Portman star in 3 new Paul McCartney videos

Paul McCartney gets his star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Grammys 2012: Paul McCartney rehearses 'My Valentine'

— Nicole Sperling



Cannes 2012: Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly': Anti-capitalist screed?

May 22, 2012 |  6:21 am

 Brad Pitt's "Killing Them Softly," directed by Andrew Dominik, has anti-capitalist themesMost feature filmmakers shy away from acknowledging overt political messages in their films, hiding behind platitudes such as "I just wanted to tell the best story" or "I'd rather let others be the ones to interpret my work."

Not "Killing Them Softly" writer-director Andrew Dominik and his star-producer, Brad Pitt, who offered with frankness -- both in the film and at a Cannes Film Festival news conference that followed on Tuesday morning -- their unfavorable opinion of capitalism as recently practiced in the U.S.

Everything you need to know about Dominik's worldview came with a moment in the news conference in which the Australian said that in his experience America is largely about making money, and that that went double for Hollywood.

PHOTOS: Scene at Cannes

Or, as the film's touchstone piece of dialogue has it: "America isn't a country -- it's a business.”

Pitt and Dominik reunited after 2007's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" for "Killing," which is set to be released commercially by the Weinstein Co. in September. Dominik said at the presser that if "Jesse James" was "a Leonard Cohen song," his new film is "a pop song."

Certainly that's true in terms of genre -- "Killing Them Softly" is a hit-man movie, albeit an arthouse one, and contains many of the schemes and stylized violence you might expect from a film with that label.

But the various criminal elements--including Pitt's Jackie Cogan, who likes to kill his marks from a distance, or "softly"--that try to rub each other out and protect their own interests are, well, often beside the point, their arcs followed slowly and circuitously. Instead, characters serve as symbols of, among other things, the hierarchy in a capitalist system. Dominik's larger notion is that U.S. capitalism is deeply flawed, and that government, whether Democrat or Republican, has let down its people.

CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival movies to see

Lest there be any doubt about his intentions, the director set his film in 2008, against the backdrop of the economic crisis and the Obama-McCain election. He allows empty campaign promises -- including plenty from Obama -- to play underneath much of the action. The result is a commentary on the cruel Darwinian dynamic of the have-and-have-not crime world; indeed, though it was written before the Occupy movement took hold, it is arguably the first post-Occupy film -- or, perhaps, what the documentary "Inside Job" might look like if it was a fictional feature.

Pitt even said at the news conference that it was "criminal that there still haven't been any criminal repercussions" for the financial crisis, pretty much channeling the spirit of "Inside Job" director Charles Ferguson, who on the 2011 Oscar stage famously said that "no single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong."

The actor was more muted than Dominik, but he didn't totally hold his fire either. Asked about the decision to get behind this film, he said that at the time  "we were at the apex of the home mortgage debacle and people were losing homes right and left," adding of this movie that "you believe you're watching a gangster film and it wasn't until the end when it coalesced [at the "America is not a country" volley, as well as a line about Thomas Jefferson that's best experienced firsthand] that you realized it was saying something about the larger world."

Dominik adapted the script from a 1974 novel titled "Cogan's Trade" that obviously lacks these contemporary political and economic elements. The fact that he's writing this as an outsider--an Aussie character is one of the few who gets away clean, which Dominik winkingly acknowledged was a comment on his home country's less rapacious form of capitalism--will only fuel the movie's critics, particularly on the right. On the other end of the spectrum, the film will no doubt go over big in Francois Hollande's France when it premieres Tuesday evening.

And then there's this peculiarity: "Killing Them Softly" is financed by Megan Ellison, who, as the very wealthy daughter of the very wealthy Larry Ellison, is of course a prime beneficiary of capitalism. Is this her attempt at repudiating her wealth or a deeper, more head-spinning contradiction? Dominik might say the latter -- but then, given his belief system, he would say that contradictions are nothing new in the American economic order.


Cannes 2012: Is "Sapphires" a fine gem or costume jewelry?

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's "Lawless,"' parable for the drug war?

Cannes 2012: Redoing Romeo and Juliet for the "Twilight" generation

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Cannes 2012: Is 'Sapphires' a fine gem or costume jewelry?

May 20, 2012 |  5:26 am

Last week at this time, even attentive Cannes-goers hadn't heard of "The Sapphires," an Australian comedy about an Aboriginese singing troupe that's directed by an unknown and featured no prominent stars.

But as is often the case at a festival, Wayne Blair's 1968-set movie -- which centers on a quartet of struggling Aussie singers who find unlikely fame in Vietnam performing for U.S. troops -- vaulted from obscurity in the blink of an eye. And as is also often the case at festivals, Harvey Weinstein was the reason for the jump.

As Cannes was getting underway last Wednesday, Weinstein bought the movie's U.S. distribution rights -- he would go on to pick up three movies in three days -- putting the film on the map for festival-goers. On Saturday "The Sapphires’" stock rose further after a spirited premiere screening that saw the  unknown Australians who play the singers (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) as well as Irish actor Chris O'Dowd (who plays their manager) get rousing ovations.

Weinstein stoked the flame further when, later that night at a party for his Cannes film "Lawless," he walked up to a reporter and, grabbing the reporter's arm, said: "Have you seen ‘The Sapphires’? ‘The Artist’ just happened again."

Fans of the film said that while it may be a little too soon to make that proclamation, the movie’s music, comedy and feel-good premise position it strongly for breakout success.

But not all Cannes-goers were on board. Around the festival's parties Saturday night and the screening halls Sunday morning, some said the whole thing had the feeling of classic Weinstein showmanship. While the naysayers acknowledged that the film (which is not yet dated for release) had crowd-pleasing elements, it was nothing that hadn't been done before or better in working-man comedies like "The Full Monty."

And others pointed out that it was unlikely to get anywhere close to the critical support of "The Artist." Indeed, a quick survey of critics around Cannes suggested that the film did not measure up to the festival’s top offerings. As Variety critic Justin Chang tweeted a few hours after he had seen Michael Haneke's "Love," "A film like 'Love' reminds you of the folly of festivals. Went straight to 'Sapphires' afterward, resented having Haneke's spell broken."

Festivals are often about the delicate game of managing expectations. The same movie can be a masterpiece or a disappointment depending on whether people see it believing it should or will be great. Weinstein has now set the bar high. We'll see if he meets it...or moves on to another acquisition.


Cannes 2012: Redoing Romeo and Juliet for the Twilight generation

Cannes 2012: Gael Garcia Bernal says 'No'

Cannes 2012: Shia LaBeouf's 'Lawless,' parable for the drug war?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Sapphires." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Deborah Mailman ... Gail 27,563 
Jessica Mauboy ... Julie 49,477 
Shari Sebbens ... Kay 44,598 
Miranda Tapsell ... Cynthia

Cannes 2012: An Osama bin Laden battle brews by the beach

May 16, 2012 |  7:35 pm



CANNES, France--The news today that Harvey Weinstein was poised to buy an assassination-of-Osama-bin-Laden movie called “Code Name Geronimo” brought a jolt of politics to the just-opened Cannes Film Festival, where the deal was being negotiated.

It also sets up one of the most epic film-meets-politics moments in a long time--not to mention a potential catfight with Sony Pictures. That studio  of course has its own Bin Laden movie, titled “Zero Dark Thirty” and directed by “The Hurt Locker” helmer Kathryn Bigelow,” due before the end of the year.

Weinstein has basically closed the rights deal for the independently made "Geronimo," according to a person familiar with the negotiations, and is talking as though he's pretty much decided to release the movie in late September or October. That’s a crucial period because it of course comes before Americans head to the polls--and while voters and talking-heads will be debating just how much credit President Obama deserves for the killing. The election could affect the film, and the film could certainly affect the election.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat sheet guide to Cannes films

(Already "Dark" has been the subject of scrutiny from congressional Republicans over whether the script benefited from classified information. It remains to be seen whether another movie, this one right before the election--and from a noted Hollywood liberal,  no less--spurs its own backlash.)

 In releasing the movie during the pre-election period, Weinstein would take a page from his own playbook. He famously pulled a similar move in bringing out Michael Moore’s “Farenheit 9/11" the summer before the Bush-Kerry contest in 2004. It didn’t sway the results for the Democrats, though it certainly paid off for the Weinsteins at the box office.

 “Geronimo” is directed by John Stockwell, the actor turned-director of water-themed commercial pictures such as “Dark Tide” and “Blue Crush” as well as the Kirsten Dunst romance “Crazy/Beautiful.” It stars Cam Gigandet, baddie from the first “Twilight,” as a key member of the team that assassinated the Al Qaeda leader.

Stockwell’s new movie, shot this winter and spring, isn’t finished — a sales trailer and limited additional footage is what's being shown to Weinstein and international distributors — so anyone buying it must really want a Bin Laden movie.

After talking to those here on the Croisette with knowledge of the production, here’s what we do know about the film.

The movie centers on three groups: the CIA, the U.S. military leadership and the SEALs who went on the risky mission. It takes its best shot at theorizing what final piece of intelligence tipped the decision for Obama to send in the SEALs. (No one has proved what exactly prompted him to pull the trigger on the operation.) There’s no footage of  Obama, actual or actorly, in the current cut of the film, though that may change. It doesn't take a heavily partisan position, though it does shine a light on an event that the administration touts as a major success. It's basically an indie action movie, and it's more modest in budget and scope than "Zero Dark Thirty."

So what would an October date for "Geronimo" do to Sony? It would certainly put the screws to the studio, which pointedly decided not release “Zero Dark Thirty” before the election, presumably out of fear of politicizing the film. 

Sony is now set to release its film Dec. 19, and while a spokesman said it had no plans of moving off that date, even a “Geronimo"  success could poison the well for another Bin Laden movie two months later. This isn’t two wildly different takes on Snow White, after all; it’s a dramatization of the same event.

Private grumbling will no doubt come from both sides about which version stands a better chance at the box office.

Weinstein executives and the film's producers will point out that they will have first-mover advantage. Sony will say that with Bigelow and fellow Oscar winner/screenwriter Mark Boal, they have the stronger pedigree. (Their movie, incidentally, stars Joel Edgerton and Mark Strong.)
Harvey Weinstein must also contend with his own very crowded calendar. With new movies from Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Andrew Dominik and others,Weinstein already has perhaps the most high-profile fall slate since breaking away from Disney seven years ago.

And if the chess match wasn’t complicated enough, “Geronimo" comes from financier-producer Voltage Pictures, which previously worked with Bigelow and Boal on "The Hurt Locker. (We're guessing that didn't all end well--especially after campaigning from the Voltage chief got him banned from the Oscars.)

And finally, there's this: One of the reasons Weinstein's fall slate is so crowded is that it's populated by a couple of movies from big-game financier Megan Ellison, with whom he's gone into business. And what other picture did Ellison produce for the fall? Sony's Bin Laden movie.

State Department politics don't get this complicated.


Canes 2012: Can any film reproduce 'The Artist' magic?

Cannes 2012: Claude Miller's last film will close festival

Cannes 2012: Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" to open fest

How should Hollywood react to the killing of Osama bin Laden?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Osama bin Laden. Credit: Rahimullah Yousafzai / Associated Press

'Bully': Which town wants it more?

April 4, 2012 |  6:44 pm

What city in America can't live without “Bully”?

According to a poll commissioned by distributor Weinstein Co., Cleveland is hot for the documentary— hotter than any other locale.

We don’t know what that says about the best location in the nation, but more than 3,000 people in  the city’s metro area have registered their preference that the company bring the movie there. Close behind  is Indianapolis, followed by Paducah, Ky., and DeKalb, Ill., residents of which think it important that the expose of teen bullying be shown in their towns.  (And here we thought everyone in the Midwest was a sweetheart.)

The poll is being overseen by Eventful.com, a company that conducts national surveys on behalf of entertainment companies to gauge how much a given city wants a movie or performer. Then it reports back to the studio. (Paramount famously used it for its “Paranormal Activity,” then turned the results into a “you demanded it” ad campaign.)

It’s up to studios and promoters how to use the information; in some cases they’ll change their release or live-event strategy as a result, giving a town that might get overlooked in a traditional roll-out an opportunity to make the case that they deserve a stop. Fox used it for its found-footage superhero movie "Chronicle" this year, bringing pre-release screenings to towns that requested them.

In this case, Weinstein Co. will bring “Bully,” which performed will in limited release last weekend, for one-off screenings to the top 10 cities int he Eventful poll, and director Lee Hirsch to the top three. (If cities in the top 10 are already in the company's release pattern, Weinstein will jump to the next spot on the list; you can see the full poll results here.)

"Bully" will open in 50 markets on April 13, regardless of whether anyone in those places demanded it.


"Bully" will get re-cut to land a PG-13, sources say

Is "Bully" a tipping point for the MPAA ratings system?

'Bully' does well in limited debut?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.


Carmike reverses course, will show ‘Bully’

March 29, 2012 | 11:45 am

The country’s fourth-largest theater chain has had a change of heart on "Bully."

After announcing it would not play the teen-oriented documentary because it had a policy against showing unrated films, Carmike Cinemas will indeed play the movie. It will treat the picture as an R-rated film and will not allow anyone under 17 to see it if not accompanied by an adult.

The move means that among the largest four theater chains, only Cinemark, the country’s third-largest exhibitor, will not show "Bully." Regal Cinemas said Wednesday it would show the film and treat it as an R; AMC will also show it, allowing minors who have written permission from an adult to see it on their own.

A person close to Carmike who was not authorized to talk about the matter publicly said that the company was moved to change its mind because of both the importance of the documentary about bullying and the decision by other chains to relax its policy against unrated movies in this case.

The Weinstein Co. decided to release the film without a rating after losing an appeal with the Motion Picture Assn. to overturn its R rating.

“Bully” opens in five theaters in Los Angeles and New York this weekend, including AMC outlets, in what will be a key test of how much the extensive ratings publicity has boosted its awareness among moviegoers. The documentary widens to two dozen markets on April 13, when it will screen at Carmike and Regal venues.


Regal Cinemas, country's largest chain, will play 'Bully'

Battle over 'Bully' rating heats up in nation's capital

A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.

'The Hunger Games,' 'Bully' prompt ratings fight 

Weinstein Co to release Bully documentary without MPAA rating

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Regal Cinemas, country’s largest theater chain, will play 'Bully'

March 28, 2012 |  2:17 pm

"Bully" to play at Regal theaters

The country’s largest theater chain will play the controversial documentary “Bully” — but will treat it as an R-rated film.

A spokesman for Regal Cinemas told 24 Frames that, unlike competitors Carmike and Cinemark, the company will play the documentary despite the fact that it is now being released without a rating after losing its appeal with the Motion Picture Assn.

But unlike AMC, Regal's biggest competitor and the country’s second-largest chain, Regal will not allow children under 17 to enter the theater by themselves under any circumstances. (AMC, which is playing the movie at its Century City and Manhattan locations this weekend, will admit minors with written permission from an adult.)

“Regal intends to play the film and respect the original R-rating decision of the MPAA,” said Regal’s Dick Westerling. “We will treat the film like it is rated R.

The film opens this weekend in limited release in Los Angeles and New York on a total of five screens, three of them art house theaters and the two AMC locations. It will play on Regal screens when it expands to 25 markets in two weeks.

Like the other chains, Regal’s decision reflects an attempt to strike a delicate balance. After the Harvey-Weinstein-distributed "Bully," a documentary about the dangers of teen bullying, saw its appeal for a PG-13 rejected, Weinstein said he would release the movie without a rating. He hoped the move would allow the theaters that did show it to let in teenagers without adults, which he said would encourage teens to see it.

Caught between a movie aimed at promoting a social good and the ruling of the MPAA, the four largest theater chains have adopted varying stances. Two of them won’t show it at all, and a third will now treat it like an R-rated film. Only AMC is relaxing its policy.

The National Assn. of Theatre Owners has advised members to treat the film as though it were rated R.

Even with the distribution issues, the ratings controversy has garnered a huge amount of attention for "Bully," with nearly 500,000 people signing a petition on behalf of a lower rating. If some of that interest translates into the box office, it could pay off in a big way for the film. The highest-grossing independent documentary last year, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” tallied just more than $5 million, and even a few million dollars is considered a win for most issue-oriented nonfiction films.


'Bully:' Does going unrated solve anything?

Weinstein Co. to release Bully without rating

Battle over 'Bully' rating heats up in nation's capital


-- Steven Zeitchik



Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.

‘Bully': Does going unrated solve anything?

March 27, 2012 |  4:02 pm

Harvey Weinstein seemed to have come up with a clever solution to “Bully’s” R-rating problem when he decided to release the documentary unrated. Sure, some chains won’t play unrated movies, but those theaters that do will be able to show it without the restrictive tag around their necks. (An R prohibits children younger than 17 from being admitted unless accompanied by an adult.) Teenagers could see “Bully,” which is largely about and for them,  unfettered.

Except he may not have eliminated the problem.

Even without a rating, theater chains can decide on their own not to allow unaccompanied teenagers into a movie, effectively giving it the force of an R.  And the National Assn. of Theatre Owners is advising its members to do just that.

“If [theaters] choose to play the movie, we have recommended to them that they treat it as an R-rated movie, because it was rated R originally and the content hasn't changed,” NATO chief John Fithian told 24 Frames in an email.

Weinstein Co. acknowledged Tuesday that  it could face an issue with theaters choosing on their own not to allow teenagers to see the Lee Hirsch film, which centers on five families affected by teen bullying.  “We have chosen not to accept the R rating,” said Erik Lomis, the company’s head of distribution. “We cannot force the theaters to accept it as a PG-13. We can only suggest.”

The movie opens in a total of five theaters in Los Angeles and New York this weekend. The country's second-largest chain, AMC, has said it will screen the film (two of the chain’s theaters will be part of the movie’s limited opening this weekend) and suggested that it will allow teenagers to see the movie unaccompanied.

[Updated, 6:54 p.m.: An AMC spokesman said it will indeed allow that, but only if the child presents a signed permission slip from a parent, either via a form letter made available by the theater or an improvised note on a standard piece of paper. The move is an apparent attempt to support the film -- AMC executive Gerry Lopez has two teenagers and has been vocal about its importance -- while still paying deference to the Motion Picture Assn. of America and its ratings system.

But how it will work -- will box-office employees and ticket-takers be trained to scrutinize those letters for authenticity? -- remains to be seen. Also an open question is whether teenagers will be any more willing to ask for a permission slip than they were to ask the parent to accompany them to the film in the first place.]

However, a source at theater company Cinemark, the country’s third-largest chain, said the exhibitor has a policy against showing unrated movies and won’t make an exception for this one. A source at Carmike, the nation’s fourth-largest chain, who also wasn’t authorized to talk about the issue publicly, said that the company also will not show an unrated film and will not be screening "Bully."

Those policies could inhibit the documentary as it widens on April 13 to more than two dozen markets. (A representative for Regal Cinemas, the country’s largest chain, did not reply to a request for comment on whether it would show the film, or how it would treat the movie if it did. )

Still, even with the distribution hurdles, there is already a high degree of awareness for the documentary. On Tuesday, a Twitter campaign elicited support from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Anderson Cooper and Ryan Seacrest. Some distribution experts say that the movie could enjoy a nice run at the box office, surprising for any documentary these days, let alone one about a difficult subject  and which quietly premiered at a festival nearly a year ago.


Battle over 'Bully' rating heats up in nation's capital

A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.

'The Hunger Games,' 'Bully' prompt ratings fight 

Weinstein Co to release Bully documentary without MPAA rating

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.

Battle over ‘Bully’ rating heats up in nation’s capital

March 15, 2012 |  8:58 pm

Alex Libby, one of the bullied children in "Bully"
A battle over film ratings continued to escalate Thursday, as a chorus of filmmakers and lawmakers called on the Motion Picture Assn. of America to replace the “R” given to the teen-bullying documentary “Bully” with a less severe PG-13.

Hoping to defuse the controversy, the MPAA's chief, former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd,  held a screening and panel discussion at the group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., that featured the movie's director, distributor and subject. But the event turned into a forum for further criticism, with panelists and audience members charging that the MPAA was failing in its mission to guide parents and protect children.
"[People] believe in the system, but the system is letting them down,” said director Lee Hirsch, addressing Dodd. “We need leadership and your faith … to overturn” this ruling.
“Bully,” which will be released by the Weinstein Co. in Los Angeles on March 30, centers on five families whose children have been victims of bullying. The fly-on-the-wall film does not contain an abundance of explicit content; however, in one scene,  one teen hurls harsh profanities at another child.

That prompted the R rating, which means that moviegoers under age 17 must be accompanied by an adult. The Weinstein Co. and subjects of the film say that the requirement to see the movie with an adult will deter many teens from going.

But the MPAA has held firm, saying that without a new edit of the film there is no provision for invalidating the rating.
In an interview, Dodd added that even if there was, he couldn’t ignore a perceptual issue. “I’m stuck,” he said. “If we change the ruling in this case, I’ll have 10 other filmmakers lined up saying they shouldn’t be given the R. And who are we to say why this film should be different than the others?”

The MPAA takes the position that it does not make qualitative judgments -- that is, it does not wade into the content of a film but merely uses a set of objective criteria to determine a rating. As long as the profanity-laden scene remains, Dodd said, the MPAA’s hands are tied.
The issue has turned into a hot-button issue for activists -- and a major publicity headache for the MPAA. After the group's ratings board denied a Weinstein Co. appeal, grass-roots organizers and the Weinstein Co. publicity machine went into overdrive. As Weinstein Co. issued statements about the unfairness of the ruling--they argue, among other things, that the scene comes in the context of a documentary and is there for authenticity's sake--a Michigan teenager who was a victim of bullying started an online petition to change the rating.
The petition soon came to the attention of Weinstein Co. chief Harvey Weinstein, who at this year’s Oscar ceremony alerted celebrities such as Meryl Streep. The actress signed the document, as have  Drew Brees, Ellen DeGenres and Justin Bieber. The number of signees now exceeds 300,000. (Many signatures also trigger personal emails to the MPAA; at least one official at the group has seen his in-box flooded with more than 200,000 such messages.)
The rating controversy has touched off a debate about the practices of an industry trade group that self-polices its content, prompting calls for more transparency and flexibility. “Why can’t [the movie] get a PG-13 with an ‘E’ for ‘Exception’ next to it?” Weinstein said in an interview at a D.C. hotel before he appeared on the panel Thursday. “There’s nothing stopping them from looking at this and doing something about it.”
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), who is part of a group of more than two dozen lawmakers drafting a letter to Dodd asking for the decision to be overturned, told The Times that she saw an irony in the MPAA’s ruling.
“This is a movie that’s all about protecting kids, and the fact that they would offer a rating that won’t let kids see it seems really counterintuitive,” she said.
Meanwhile, Weinstein and Hirsch have said they won’t edit the scene. To do so, they said, would be to dilute its impact, a position echoed by the film’s subjects.
“Our reality is not censored,” Kelby Johnson, a teen who appears in the film, said as she stood up to speak from the audience at the panel. “Since when did curse words become more important than children’s lives?"
As panelists and victims pressed Dodd, he sought to steer the subject back to the issues raised by the film. “I don’t want [the ratings issue] to step all over what Lee crafted,” the MPAA chief said.
But Hirsch remained steadfast. “The R is stepping over it, and that’s the problem,” he said.
The discussion grew sufficiently intense that Weinstein, who has a longstanding relationship with Dodd, came to his defense. “I just want people to understand that the senator is a good man,” Weinstein said. If he had a vote on the appeals board, Weinstein added, “I have a feeling...he would have voted our way.”

Weinstein said that he wants to use the film as a lever to help pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, an anti-bullying bill that has been stalled on Capitol Hill for several years.

The issue may yet gain steam in Congress in other ways: a mock hearing about both bullying and the rating is in the early stages of development, according to a congressional source who asked not to be identified because plans for it were not yet firm.
Weinstein said in an interview that if the MPAA didn’t lower the film to a PG-13 he would choose to release the movie without a rating, a risky move because, while it means teens could go by themselves, many theater chains shy away from showing unrated films in the first place. (The head of AMC, one of the nation's largest chains, has suggested that he would show it even if it was unrated.)
Parents who appear in the film also have criticized the MPAA’s decision. David Long, whose son Tyler hanged himself as a result of bullying, said that he was at a loss to explain the MPAA’s policy that multiple four-letters word net an R, but a single instance rates only a PG-13.
“If it can be said once, what's the difference between one and six?” he said on the panel, as he implored Dodd to change the rating so that schools will be more willing to show it. “I mean, [the obscenity] is already out there.”
Lawmakers say they see another false distinction, particularly when it comes to violent movies such as the upcoming “Hunger Games,” which did not get an R.
“The hypocrisy is that the very movies that contribute to violence can be seen by teenagers because they get a PG-13,” Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich) told The Times. “And the one film that actually teaches them to respect others is given an R.”


A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.

'Bully' seeks ratings change (and exposure)

With Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Brees, ‘Bully’ battle goes celeb

-- Steven Zeitchik in Washington, D.C.


Photo: Alex Libby, one of the bullied children in "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.


With Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Brees, 'Bully' cause goes celeb

March 12, 2012 | 10:40 am




This post has been updated. See note below for details.

The movement to knock down "Bully’s" R rating is gaining steam. On Monday, a website hosting a petition to change the film’s Motion Picture Assn. of America designation announced that a number of celebrities had signed on to its cause, including Ellen DeGeneres and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Change.org, which has hosted the campaign started by Michigan teenager Katy Butler to change the rating, said that the number of signatures had now reached nearly 270,000 and that other stars, such as teen singer-actress Demi Lovato, were also signing the petition. Both DeGeneres and Lovato were asking their Twitter followers to sign the Butler petition.

Butler had previously appeared on DeGeneres’ syndicated show to take up the cause.

Meanwhile, 26 members of Congress have signed on to a letter recently penned by Mike Honda (D-San Jose) to MPAA chief Christopher Dodd asking the organization to change the rating, Change.org said. Honda's office has released the names of the legislators. It is a largely Democratic affair, including such well-known members of the party as Charles Rangel of New York and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, though it does include one Republican, Tom Cole of Oklahoma. [Update, 1:17 p.m., March 12: An earlier version of this post reported that about 20 members of Congress had signed the letter, but that the group did not say who they were, though it noted that it was a bipartisan effort.]

In issuing a plea for signatures, Honda said he believed a new rating was essential  in getting teenagers to see the film.

“The new documentary film ‘Bully’… offers an unprecedented look into the lives of youth being bullied and harassed,” he wrote. “This acclaimed documentary is scheduled to be released on March 30th, 2012 and has been assigned a rating of R from the Motion Picture Association of America. I believe an R-rating excludes the very audience for whom this film is most important, and ask you to join us in calling upon the MPAA to reconsider their rating.”

Directed by Lee Hirsch, “Bully” is a documentary centering on five families that have been affected by teenage bullying. The Weinstein Co. is bringing out the film in several markets at the end of the month, and has been both organizing and capitalizing on the grassroots campaign to change the rating. The movie was given the R for profane language, which largely comes in one scene where a bully threatens his victim.

The public-relation battle was ratcheted up further Friday when the Parents Television Council applauded the MPAA's rating.

In response to the Butler-organized petition and the outcry from Weinstein Co. chief Harvey Weinstein, the MPAA has scheduled an unusual Washington, D.C., panel and screening Thursday that will be hosted by both Dodd and Weinstein, along with education experts.


A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.

'Bully' seeks ratings change (and exposure)

MPAA to host screening, discussion of 'Bully'

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo. "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


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