Thursday, April 26, 2018
Movies

'Bully' no deeper than a TV episode

Bully (PG-13) (99 min.) — The recent controversy about the MPAA's initial R rating for Lee Hirsch's documentary loses steam when you see the movie. Bullying in schools is certainly an important topic deserving closer examination than this. Bully is no more incisive than a Dateline NBC segment on the subject, although with a PG-13 rating it now can be a classroom tool for discussion.

Hirsch focuses upon a handful of adolescent victims of bullying, especially Alex, 12, whose premature birth left him awkward in appearance and mannerism. Classmates call him Fishface, and even Alex's younger sister deems him "creepy." Cameras catch Alex absorbing physical and emotional abuse on the school bus, in hallways. Like many victims he doesn't tell his parents, who should guess it's happening and do something about it.

What is unsettling about Alex is that he seems grateful for the attention, no matter how rough or insulting. Alex gets punched and rather than walking away he follows the attacker like a puppy, waiting for the next notice. The personality trait isn't addressed; you wonder why Alex doesn't resist more, or if he isn't capable why others don't do it for him. (Nor is there any analysis of the kids pushing him around.)

There's also Kelby, 16, a lesbian in a Bible Belt community shunning her and her accepting family. Hirsch doesn't pay as much attention to Kelby since she's far more resilient than Alex, finding a group of misfit friends to hang around. But she underlines the cause of being bullied they share: ineffectual school authorities claiming to have the problem under control.

Two kids take matters into their own hands, with tragic results. Ja'maya, 12, carried her mother's pistol on a school bus, to scare her tormentors. She's facing a long prison sentence that the local sheriff sounds eager to press. Tyler, 17, hanged himself in his closet, leading his parents into activism in his memory. Hirsch's film should offer earlier glimpses of its final scenes, at an antibullying rally revealing both the toll and the hope.

Bully was originally rated R for profanity including several f-words. Three were excised to earn the more lenient PG-13. But the fact that a few bad words would cause the MPAA to shut out teenagers who should see Bully was a monumental gaffe, when violence and sexuality regularly get a PG-13. The Weinstein Co. passionately milked and won its appeal, making Bully seem much more provocative than it is. B (Showing at Regency 20 in Brandon, Veterans 24 in Tampa and Park Place 20 in Pinellas Park.)

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

Comments
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is stunningly dark, but it’s still wildly entertaining

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is stunningly dark, but it’s still wildly entertaining

What does Thanos want?That question lies at the heart of Avengers: Infinity War, the at-once dark, maddeningly open-ended yet fiercely entertaining new chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which pits the titular global do-gooders — still s...
Published: 04/25/18
Who’s going to die in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’? Here are the candidates

Who’s going to die in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’? Here are the candidates

On Monday night’s episode of Disney-owned "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," the late-night host asked his five guests promoting "Avengers: Infinity War" who might die in the new film, officially opens Thursday. After all, Kimmel noted, someone has to perish in a...
Published: 04/25/18
Documentary ‘The Human Race,’ which has Tampa Bay ties, celebrates running in 50s and well beyond

Documentary ‘The Human Race,’ which has Tampa Bay ties, celebrates running in 50s and well beyond

An 80-year-old woman runs half marathons to stay one step ahead of Alzheimer’s. A man in his 50s runs his first 5K. A cancer survivor celebrates her 60s by running the U.S. perimeter.Welcome to The Human Race, an upcoming documentary celebrating seni...
Published: 04/24/18
Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Do you see what I did there? The comma and extra "E" in my byline? One last pun, just for fun. It’s the end, fin in French, and something unfortunately ruder in Swedish. Time to retire, nearly 25 years to the day after starting work as the T...
Published: 04/19/18
This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

It’s a spring cleaning weekend at multiplexes, with studios vacuuming every dollar from current releases before the Avengers and Amy Schumer drop in next week. If you’ve seen A Quiet Place, Ready Player One and Black Panther, this is probably a good ...
Published: 04/18/18
R. Lee Ermey, drill sergeant in ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ dies at 74

R. Lee Ermey, drill sergeant in ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ dies at 74

.LOS ANGELES — R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine who made a career in Hollywood playing hard-nosed military men like Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s "Full Metal Jacket," has died. Ermey’s longtime manager Bill Rogin says he died Sunday morning ...
Published: 04/15/18
Rays stadium backers sponsor free screening of ‘Field of Dreams’ at Tampa Theatre

Rays stadium backers sponsor free screening of ‘Field of Dreams’ at Tampa Theatre

TAMPA — It would take hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and more than a few dreams, too.So a business group advocating for a stadium in Ybor City is joining with the Tampa Theatre for a free screening of t...
Published: 04/13/18
What’s in theaters: ‘Beirut,’ ‘Rampage,’ ‘Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare’

What’s in theaters: ‘Beirut,’ ‘Rampage,’ ‘Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare’

INDIE FLICKS:BEIRUTJon Hamm has no trouble looking like a movie star. Dapper or bedraggled, it doesn’t matter what kind of role. He’ll make it believable. What he doesn’t have yet is a starring role worthy of his talent, although Beirut (R) comes pre...
Published: 04/12/18
Helen Hunt plays my high school gym teacher in ‘The Miracle Season’

Helen Hunt plays my high school gym teacher in ‘The Miracle Season’

I never had school spirit. I didn’t go to many football games, and I never owned a West High shirt. (Green doesn’t look good on me.) Then I moved away, and tragedy struck my high school.The Miracle Season, now in theaters, is the tear-jerking true st...
Updated one month ago
Why it’d be even scarier to watch John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ at home instead of in theater

Why it’d be even scarier to watch John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ at home instead of in theater

A Quiet Place is where John Krasinski’s hushed experiment in terror should be watched, not at multiplexes where silence is easily broken.Krasinski’s movie wrings fright from silence so well that he accidentally makes a case for waiting until home vid...
Updated one month ago