Saturday, February 26, 2005

'Ratings creep' concerns observers of Hollywood

PG-13 means "parental guidance suggested" but there is no attempt to keep kids out of the movie, even if no adult is buying the ticket. This article looks at the Oscar nominees to see if PG-13 fits most parents' idea of what is appropriate for middle-schoolers and younger kids.

'Ratings creep' concerns observers of Hollywood
MPAA system's looser standards of what kids should be allowed to see give parents new worry.

Clint Eastwood (from left), Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank appear in the gritty boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby." -- Photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures

By Martin F. Kohn
Knight Ridder Newspapers
February 26, 2005

In one, a man injects heroin frequently and cheats on his wife repeatedly.

In another, a man seriously considers killing somebody, and then does.

In the third, a mentally ill man locks himself in a room where he collects his own urine in jars.

If you're going to see any of these Academy Award-nominated films, why not bring along your favorite 13-year-old? The Motion Picture Association of America says it's OK.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn't, depending on how mature the teenager is. But the MPAA has given its PG-13 rating to "Ray," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator," the three films described -- sketchily -- above. All three are in the hunt for Oscar's Best Picture award Sunday night.

They also are cited by some Hollywood observers and critics as examples of what is called ratings creep, the belief that over the years more questionable, affecting and offensive material has made its way into movies available to kids just reaching their teens.

Leah Rosenbaum, executive vice president of a nonprofit group in Southfield, Mich., and the mother of a 13-year-old girl, says she often has to negotiate with her daughter over what the girl will see. Rating or no, anything with excessive violence is out -- meaning, at the least, "Million Dollar Baby" is nonnegotiable. They haven't seen any of the movies.

Ratings alone don't provide enough information. "I read the reviews every Friday," Rosenbaum says. The other Best Picture nominees, "Sideways" and "Finding Neverland," are rated R and PG, respectively, so there's not much doubt about where they fit. PG warns parents that while it shouldn't shock most children, a movie may have some material unsuitable for kids; R means if you're under 17 you need a parent or guardian with you, The rationale is that the adult shows by participating that the teenager is ready for, say, the cursing, nudity and sex in "Sideways."

PG-13 is more vague. The MPAA says it means that "Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children."

Last summer, Harvard University released a study confirming what many filmgoers suspected, that movies today contain "significantly more violence, sex and profanity on average" than movies of the same rating 10 years ago. Many of today's PG-13 films might have earned an R in 1994, the study says.

Maybe the kids of today are better suited to the material, more mature. Maybe not, say critics.

"I wish there was a rating of PG-50, or PG-25," says Nell Minow, movie critic for the Web site Common Sense Media (, which evaluates movies, TV, games, music, books and Internet offerings from a parental point of view. She's exaggerating, but until there is a more specific system, Common Sense Media uses its own. A heading with age recommendation and colors -- green indicates "good stuff," yellow "pause," red means "turn it off" -- accompanies each review.

"Ray," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" all received yellow tags from Common Sense Media, indicating that parents should proceed with caution. "Ray" and "Million Dollar Baby" were suggested for ages 14 and older, "The Aviator" for ages 15 and up. "Son of the Mask," rated PG, received a red tag ("Strong language for a PG," says Common Sense Media) and an age suggestion of 9 and up.

"All of the ratings have ratcheted down," Minow says. "I think our culture has ratcheted down. My sense of things is that the PG-13 for movies is about comparable to what you see on television. If you look at an episode of 'CSI,' 'Desperate Housewives' or various reality shows, there's not that much difference."

Minow says she believes ratings creep reflects changes in society. "When the ratings got started, the idea that we would be talking about the DNA content of Monica Lewinsky's dress on TV would be unthinkable." Jim Judy, who operates the Web site Screen It (, says teens are exposed to increasing amounts of sex and violence from movies, TV, video games, music videos and the Internet.

Judy's Web site reviews movies, videos and music, listing instances of potentially objectionable language, violence, frightening scenes, bad behavior, sexual situations, drug and alcohol use and disrespectful attitudes. About "Million Dollar Baby," Screen It cites racial epithets, derogatory comments about women and one F-word, three S-words, four slang terms for breasts, 22 "hells" and nine "damns."

Screen It also makes note of comments that take God's name in vain and remarks that demean gay people. Judy says the site is intended to help parents make viewing choices based on their beliefs and opinions.

With the only choice being between PG-13 and R, Judy says it makes sense that "Ray," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" are rated PG-13. However, "There's no doubt that some of the various elements in those three films . . . will raise eyebrows for some parents."

Although many movie ads carry only the basic rating, some include the MPAA's longer version. "Ray" got its PG-13 for "drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements"; "Million Dollar Baby" for "violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language"; "The Aviator" for "thematic elements, sexual content, nudity and a crash sequence." The same information is available on the association's Web site,

"I think all these films were rated correctly," says Jack Valenti, the former MPAA president who created the system and still supervises it. Parents should use ratings as a beginning, he says. "Read the reviews, look on the Internet, talk to neighbors."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Interview with Gurinder Chada about "Bride and Prejudice"

Gurinder Chadha, the writer/director of “Bend it Like Beckham,” is back with another movie culture-combining movie. This time she has moved Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from 17th century England to the colorful world of the Bollywood musical. It’s called “Bride and Prejudice.” It has an international cast that includes the first English-language appearance by Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, Anglo-Indian Naveen Andrews from television’s Lost, and Martin Henderson, from New Zealand, with an appearance by American pop star Ashanti. In a telephone interview, Chadha talked about the universal themes of Austen’s novel and the challenges and pleasures of cross-cultural movie-making.

Why is “Pride and Prejudice” especially suitable for the Bollywood treatment?

Originally when I came up with it, I thought it was very cheeky and no one else would think of doing it, combining two elements each the antithesis of the other. But it was incredible how close the world that Jane Austen was writing was to contemporary small town India. That was especially true in the role of women, who were not considered whole unless they were married, and were supposed to be very coy and not use their brains. Their mothers pushed them out and tried to introduce them to men, typical of small town Indian culture. Lizzy Bennett sides-steps all of this to be independent. There are a lot of Lizzy Bennetts. Jane Austen herself was not allowed to put her name on her books, but she managed to tell her stories.

How do you work with a co-author, especially in adapting a work by an absent co-author in Austen?

We were always going back to the novel, adapting Pemberton, Mr. Collins, and everything else in today’s terms. The pleasure in watching this movie is in knowing the novel very well. If you’re a fan of the book you can’t wait to re-live it. I was delighted to be made an honorary lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, because it showed that people who love Austen thought I did her justice. We were always very aware we were giving an English literary classic a global makeover, transcending culture, time and space, that’s all I do, being part of a new cultural paradigm myself, because I’m equally English and Indian and my husband is American and Japanese.

The film is not Euro- or Indio-centric. It is Diaspora-centric. “Bend it Like Beckham” did so well because it appeals to Diasporic people and their friends, to anyone who comes from someplace else. Celebrating different sides of ourselves, but aware of what we’re losing -- those feelings are not often articulated in film, but they relate as much to Greeks in Australia or Koreans in America as the cultures that appear in the movie.

You made some significant changes from the book, giving happier endings to some of the characters. Why was that?

We did not have the time and space to give to Wyckham as in the novel, so we had to prioritize. In the novel Darcy saves the day and does the right thing, and we kept that part of it. And we wanted to show the Collins and Lucas characters happy at the end. We took the mickey out of it because we wanted to show that his wife changed him and he was sort of endearing at the end. So we had them kiss each other and be lovey-dovey for that reason.

Were you influenced by Hollywood musicals as well as Bollywood?
It was a balance between the two. My music director and choreographer were Indian, but once they started doing their bit it was up to me to bring it back to Western eyes and ears, There are elements of Hollywood musicals throughout the movie. One musical number was my nod to “Fiddler on the Roof,” the “Tradition” song. Another, with the girls in pajamas, was a reference to “Grease.”

What’s next?
I am producing a movie called “Mistress of Spices," directed by my husband, who wrote it with me. It stars Aishwarya Rai. And in June I start filming a prequel to “I Dream of Jeannie,” set in ancient Persia. It’s an Arabian Nights-style fairy tale romp!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Interview with Jamie Kennedy about "Son of the Mask"

Jamie Kennedy stars in “Son of the Mask,” the sequel to 1994 Jim Carry movie. Kennedy plays a would-be animator whose infant son inherits the magical powers of the mask belonging to Loki, the Norse god of mischief. In a telephone interview, he talked about making the movie and his other projects.

In this movie, you violated the two laws of show business: “never work with children or animals.” Your character spends most of his time with a baby and a dog. What was that like?

The hard part wasn’t so much working with the dog and the babies; it was the handlers. The dog was ready to hit its mark but the trainer was always there waving a piece of cheese, saying, “Over here! Over here!” The baby’s handler was always there with a rattle going, “Look here!” So it was fine working with the dog and the babies, but the tough thing was keeping my focus with all of that distraction. If you are going to work with animals or children, you have to prepare to be second fiddle, and prepare to wait.

There was also a weird pecking order with the baby, who was played by twins. We had real babies, called the hero babies, and then we had a robot baby for over-the-shoulder shots, and a third baby, called the stunt baby, for being carried while we were running. Of course, the stunt baby didn’t actually do anything dangerous!

The original movie was PG-13, but the sequel is PG. Why go for a different audience?

It was very freeing because I knew the movie would be very different, a sequel in terms of the concept but not a direct sequel with the same characters. I was glad to gear it for a broader audience, and I think the movie can appeal to kids and to adults.

At one point in the movie, your character wears the mask and gets to be transformed. What’s the most fun about being The Mask?

The best part was taking it off! But the dancing and singing was the most fun – I worked on it for quite a while; even though we pre-recorded the singing, it was hard to do because I had to lip-synch and dance at the same time. I’m happy with the way it came out.

In your television show on the WB, “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” you “X” people by playing elaborate, “Candid Camera”-style pranks. Did you do that to anyone on the set?

No, but we felt like we were getting X’ed all the time by the baby. If the baby doesn’t want to work, you don’t work.

What’s the silliest question a fan ever asked you?

Did it hurt when you were killed in Scream 2?”

There are a lot of special effects in this movie. How do you act when you can’t see what it’s all going to look like after the computer graphics are added?

There was a lot of green screen [a blank screen used for filming live action so that the graphics can be superimposed later]. The trick was keeping some frame of reference so we could visualize if not what it would look like at least where we should look and how we should react. There’s a scene at the end where Loki gets a big hammer, but the hammer was done by computer so we had to run in the warehouse with no idea where the hammer was, and 100 degree heat. All we had was the director saying, “Now!” You’ve just got to let go.

How do you prepare for a part like this?

As I read the script, I saw that my character was always getting surprised in the movie, and that the surprises were increasingly more bizarre and weird. There are seven places where the baby does something peculiar that I had to react to. So, I numbered the different levels of emotion so that I could keep track of the intensity. This was really important because between having to work with a baby and a dog, in a sequel to a movie from eleven years ago, special effects to be filled in later, prosthetic make-up to work around, and everything being shot totally out of sequence, going from a love scene to a fireball thrown by monsters, it was hard to stay consistent. I also worked out to stay in shape, and worked on ideas about how my voice would change.

How did the director, Lawrence Guterman, help you?

He’s very funny as a director, very dramatic. In one scene, where I needed to act very upset about losing the baby, he asked, “What do you care about? Do you have any kids?” “No.” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “No.” “Well, think of something you love very much and would hate to lose. Pretend someone took your Ipod!”

And what’s on your Ipod, by the way?

I like every kind of music except for Country & Western, and even there I like Johnny Cash. I listen to Frank, Far Side, Led Zeppelin, Ozzie Osborne, old Wham songs, everything. Music, food, and women -- I like all kinds!

What does pranking teach you about human nature?

It never ceases to astound me. Human beings want to believe the right thing, want to believe in good, and when you do something that’s different, they don’t understand it, but they go along with it. And they are generally relieved, not angry, to find out it was a joke. People have a standard they measure human beings by. When they see something that “is not in the box” they question whether human nature is what they thought it was, so they are happy to find out that the rules they thought they understood really do apply.

People will listen to pretty much all authoritative figures, a cop, a judge, someone in a cloak. They will say, “This guy must be someone; he has a cloak on.” People are gullible. I’m not that way. I like to question authority. If someone says drinking Coke and eating pop-rocks at the same time is bad I want to test it to see.

You once worked as a maid. Are you neat?

Very neat, almost to the point of being compulsive. Something to be said for those navy guys, a place for everything and everything in its place. A cluttered place is a sign of a cluttered mind.

What did you watch when you were a kid?

The “Tonight” show, sitcom reruns -- Don Rickles, Three’s Company, McHale’s Navy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show with Ted Knight, everything.

How did you first make people laugh?

Imitating people, especially my mother’s friends and the nuns at my school. My mom loved it when I imitated her friends. I was always aware of hypocrisy and felt that going to Catholic school I was never allowed to be funny. I couldn’t wait to get out of school to be super-crazy, and I’m still blowing off steam from 1st grade, trying to catch up.

What are you working on now, and what’s coming up next?

I’m producing two shows. One is called “Starlet.” Faye Dunaway will be in a house with ten young actresses. It’s a reality show but really good. The other is a sitcom with Fran Drescher called “Living with Fran,” about a woman who has a 25 year old boyfriend and a 25 year old son.