Monday, December 11, 2017
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
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fairytale "The Shape of Water" swam away with a leading seven nominations from the Golden Globes, while the HBO drama "Big Little Lies" led the television nominees with six nods.The nominees for best picture drama ar...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Hollywood is backloading December, waiting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi to bring moviegoers back to multiplexes. After no major releases last week, only James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is making any new impression at box offices this weekend. (Cli...
Published: 12/06/17
Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Winter is still weeks away but everyone’s favorite snowman is already melting from view.In a cruel twist on Frozen’s showstopper, Olaf is being let go.Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the 21-minute animated "short" preceding Disney-Pixar’s Coco in theaters w...
Published: 12/05/17
‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco ...
Published: 12/04/17
That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...

That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...

For a few bewildering days, R. Presley Stephens thought his Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival would welcome a notorious celebrity.The fourth annual shoestring cinema showcase runs Thursday through Sunday at Britton 8 Theater, 3938 S Dale Mabry High...
Published: 11/29/17
What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

NOW IN THEATERS: COCO Disney-Pixar’s animated dramedy Coco (PG) is inspired by Mexico’s annual Dia de los Muertos, the "day of the dead" when departed ancestors are celebrated. Good for diversity, although the movie isn’t as good ...
Updated one month ago
If you’re going to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ redo, make it ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

If you’re going to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ redo, make it ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

The last thing this world needs is another rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, likely the most remade, reimagined and ripped off literary property ever. At the same time, the world would be poorer without seeing Ebenezer Scrooge i...
Updated one month ago
‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ is a sad waste of Denzel Washington

‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ is a sad waste of Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington’s labored portrayal of a shambling legal savant named Roman J. Israel, Esq. is the least of the movie’s worries. This is a story of shifting ethics that should be dramatic, but shaky logic prevents that from happening.Dan Gilroy’s f...
Updated one month ago
‘Last Flag Flying’ is kind of a puzzling follow-up to 1973’s ‘The Last Detail’

‘Last Flag Flying’ is kind of a puzzling follow-up to 1973’s ‘The Last Detail’

Richard Linklater called 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!! a "spiritual sequel" to his last-century breakout Dazed and Confused. Different characters, same youthful, life-exploring vibe.Linklater’s latest, Last Flag Flying, can be considered a spiritual ...
Updated one month ago
Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’ has a Dia de los Muertos theme and is, well, lifeless

Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’ has a Dia de los Muertos theme and is, well, lifeless

Disney-Pixar’s Coco was more enjoyable three years ago when it was titled The Book of Life and came from Twentieth Century Fox.Both animated features spring from Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos celebration, the annual "day of the dead" when departed rela...
Updated one month ago