March 30, 2012

The new theatrical releases Bully and Wrath of the Titans couldn’t be more different. One is a powerful and important look at the dangers of today’s rampant culture of hate in our schools. High-minded and eye-opening, the documentary finds strength in its simplicity, that should be seen by every young person, despite what the MPAA might think. The other is another underwhelming blockbuster sequel, a paltry action film with a superficial classical veneer, that pays more attention to imaginary computer generated beasts than it does to actual story. Anyway, don’t take our word for it. Here’s what the pros had to say.

Winner: Bully

After weeks of controversy over the rating, the documentary Bully—which was released today unrated after the MPAA refused to lower the film from R to PG-13—is finally being celebrated for a powerful cinematic work in its own right, rather than a flashpoint of conflict. Time called the film “as vivid as any horror film, as heartbreaking as any Oscar-worthy drama” in a review headlined “A Punishing Movie Your Kids Must See.” Kenneth Turan wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “Bully has an emotional impact that must be viewed to be understood,”  and New York magazine, even while calling the film “repetitive and not especially artful,” noted that “children who allow themselves to see the world through the eyes of the film’s victims will never be the same.”

A number of reviewers took the time to criticize the MPAA for its stubbornness, with David Denby writing in The New Yorker that it “effectively destroyed the possibility that the picture will do any good,” reasoning that “most public schools are not going to sponsor screenings of an R-rated film, no matter how high-minded, and somehow I can’t see bullies demanding that their parents take them to the mall to see Bully.” The Wall Street Journal called the MPAA’s decision “disappointing” and the New York Observer argued that the film is controversial only because the Association made it so. And Entertainment Weekly, which assigned the film a B+, was perhaps the most pointed when arguing, “That the MPAA is content to keep a film as humane and as deeply unsensational as Bully away from most of the adolescents whose lives it could possibly help is a folly and outrage,” and concluding, “As long as the MPAA is issuing its cavalier decrees, they’re the ones acting like bullies.”

Loser: Wrath of the Titans

The Sequel Season has, it seems, begun, kicking off today with the release of Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to 2010′s Clash of the Titans, itself a remake of the classic 1981 fantasy film. Sam Worthington, described by the A.V. Club as “eternally adequate” returns as the demigod Perseus in a movie that is “ragingly inessential” and “shopworn and derivative even by the degraded standards of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking.” USA Today called Wrath “mind-numbing” and a “hot mess,” but found it “a lot better than a predecessor because of a few key performances,” especially that of “new action star” Rosamund Pike. The Washington Post played off the film’s tagline, “Feel the Wrath,” writing that, “The only reason you’ll feel any wrath is because you shelled out 12 bucks for this steaming bucket of half-baked plot, cliched dialogue and disappointing 3-D special effects,” before asking, “Who exactly was clamoring for a follow-up?”

Slant, which assigned the movie an unsurprising zero stars, was especially brutal, calling it “a product of gross indifference in every respect.” Jaime Christley also wrote, “Watching Wrath of the Titans, I found myself second-guessing [director Jonathan] Liebesman’s every decision, down to his choice in lenses and the tiniest, most inconsequential camera movements,” before throwing in a dig at Worthington’s “dead eyes” and concluding, “The real responsibility for this monstrosity belongs to banal, calculated greed, the mercenary desire for money to change hands, at the expense of style, humor, and pleasure.”

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