Film Reviews

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Directed by Kirby Dick

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is the lobbying organization for the film industry charged with advising filmgoers to the appropriateness of a film’s content for certain ages, and it wields enormous power over what gets seen in American theaters. If, for instance, members of its super-secret ratings board decide that a film is too mature for children, the MPAA can slap it with a restrictive rating (R or NC-17) that all but limits the potential audience and profitability of the film.

As Kirby Dick (the director of the Oscar-nominated Twist of Faith) points out in his new documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, the problem is that the MPAA operates almost entirely in a vacuum and rates films in a highly secretive and arbitrary fashion. As a result, filmmakers often find their works subjected to a subtle form of censorship: conform to what the MPAA wants or your film won’t reach the audience it could.

Through interviews with notable filmmakers who have all incurred the wrath of the ratings board – directors like John Waters, Kevin Smith, Kimberly Peirce and Matt Stone – Dick shows how unfair the ratings process can be and how it operates as a big brother-entity without even the simplest checks-and-balances or public oversight. Dick also hires a private investigator to identify all the members of the ratings board to establish their credentials as arbiters of America’s film culture, and he even shows what happens when he submits his own film to the MPAA for a rating.

While This Film Is Not Yet Rated includes a lot of strong sexual footage that was targeted by the MPAA – and as a consequence received an NC-17 rating itself, and shouldn’t be viewed by young children – Dick’s film is an important documentary that anyone interested in free expression should see. In an era marked by infringements on personal liberties, Kirby Dick’s latest exposé is a well-crafted indictment of an institution that maintains a benevolent exterior, while he instead offers concrete evidence of its manipulative intentions. –Andrew Rodgers

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Directed by Ken Loach

Irish history is cubist in character, viewable simultaneously from multiple and often competing perspectives. Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley adopts the singular perspective of two brothers (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney), who, in the grand Cainismo tradition of civil war movies, are leaders of an IRA faction fighting the Anglo-Irish War (1919–1921) and ultimately find themselves on opposite sides.

Loach’s Palme d’Or winner sides with the occupied over the occupier but reserves considerable ire for the mainstream Irish Republi-canism of the ’20s, which he depicts as morally and intellectually immature, propped up by bullying priests and greedy shopkeepers eager to pick up where the British left off. As with his earlier Carla’s Song, Loach seems willing to dare where angels and domestic filmmakers previously feared to tread by dealing with painful and highly controversial historical subjects. If Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins is a power ballad to the personality cult of its hero, then Loach’s film is an impassioned anthem to history’s foot soldiers, sung to a distinctly socialist tune (Scottish screenwriter Paul Laverty also penned Sweet Sixteen).

Murphy is superb as Damien O’Donovan, subtly reflecting his character’s painful journey from idealism to disillusionment. Delaney plays older brother Teddy as a bluff, Collins-like pragmatist, charismatic yet tormented. Together, the two leads provide an important emotional anchor to Laverty’s cerebral, ideologically heavy narrative.
Distinguished by subtle performances, authentic dialogue and Barry Ackroyd’s earth-tone cinematography, The Wind is an impressive film, only occasionally marred by heavy handed proselytising (Loach’s depiction of altruistic anti-Treaty Republicans and cynical Free Staters is overly simplistic, for instance). But at his best, Loach wrings moments of genuine poetic clarity. In a late scene, our protagonists learn of the Anglo-Irish Treaty from a cinema newsreel, and initial gasps of delight abruptly change to voices raised in anger between neighbors, ex-comrades and even brothers. In such moments the film’s brain and heart work in perfect tandem, with breathtaking results.
Mitchell Miller

Half Nelson

Directed by Ryan Fleck

Can one man change the world? An actor certainly cannot, but Ryan Gosling gives his best shot with a stirring performance in Ryan Fleck’s intimate and unforced feature debut Half Nelson. Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, a likable junior high school history teacher in a predominantly black neighborhood whose idealism is hindered by a nagging crack habit.

When one of his students, a mature young girl named Drey (Shareeka Epps), stumbles upon him high on the floor of a bathroom stall, they develop a tense bond tethered by this secret. Thanks to a subtle script by Fleck and his producing partner Anna Boden (who also co-wrote and edited the film), the story avoids the genre’s clichés: no hugs, no Coolio raps, and no lessons learned.

So much is understood from so little, particularly through Gosling’s conflicted expressions (such as wiping his face with his tie, or covering up a nosebleed in class) that try to hide his embarrassing actions. Later, after he is unable to prevent Drey from succumbing to the same sins that he’s committed, Gosling and Epps give a wordlessly heartbreaking performance in a climactic motel room scene where they’ve both hit rock bottom.

The film, a feature version of Fleck and Boden’s Sundance-winning short Gowanus, Brooklyn (also starring Epps), is supported by a moody electronica score from the Broken Social Scene and probing cinematography by Andrij Parekh. Intercut with epic historical clips depicting men who did change the world, the film implies that revolution is possible through tiny personal victories – like being polite to your date or remembering to pick up your daughter from school. Like the morals of the film, the title’s wrestling hold reference remains somewhat ambiguous. But by the end, you sense Dunne just might escape its grip. –Yon Motskin


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