Film Ratings

How movies are assigned their ratings has become something of a hot topic in the past few years. Although I have never seen much written about the subject, listening to the commentaries on several DVD’s (Kevin Smith’s in particular) have offered some insight into how the MPAA rates films. There is of course the documentary This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated which I could watch about twenty minutes of before becoming bored with the director and his need to be in front of the camera.

This article pertains to the rating system in Ontario. What is of interest is how forthcoming their ratings board is and how well defined their categories are for determining the ratings of their films. This is a link to their site ––how-a-movie-is-rated-in-ontario

On this note there is another ratings group, independent of any government as far as I can tell, called Common Sense Media. I find this site and the ratings they have posted on Netflix to be very helpful. They offer detailed explanations for each film so that the reader can understand why this film is deemed 16+ and how it differs from another film with the same rating.

Oliver Stapleton

Whether you are a casual moviegoer or a film buff chances are unless you are also a cinematographer you don’t pay too much attention to this particular profession. Certainly we all notice the way films look and when it is either exceptionally beautiful or painfully drab the credit nearly always falls on the person making the final decisions: the director.

Although I have little experience and no training in either photography or cinematography I have come to follow the works of one cinematographer in particular: Oliver Stapleton. Chances are you have seen his work.

Mr. Stapleton is unusual in that he writes at length. In addition to writing about his own projects —, he also has attempted to write a guide for others interested in getting started in film. He comes across as very down-to-Earth and is a pleasure to read.

I recommend anyone interested in film, whether as a career or if you are looking for a non-sensational read about the decisions that go into how movies are photographed to visit his site. There is a large amount of material to look through. Below is an excerpt from his article on the Shipping News that I feel best captures what the site has to offer.

Stapleton’s sensitivity to landscape also impacted discussions about the film’s aspect ratio. He felt that Newfoundland’s rugged features deserved a widescreen format, but conceded that the height differences among actors could make 2.35:1 framing awkward. That Hallstrom had only worked with widescreen once before (on The Cider House Rules) also created concern.

“Right up to the last week, we were still tussling about which format suited the film,” Stapleton recalls. “It’s simply easier to shoot in 1.85:1, but that format doesn’t give you the same kind of tension when you go out into the land. So I got Steve Dunn to produce both actors [Spacey and Moore?] and the child for me four days before we were to start shooting. We were lucky that the child was quite tall, and neither of the actors was. We went to the set with a viewfinder, and I kept switching it between 1.85 and 2.35 and handing it to Lasse. In the end, he said, ‘You know, 2.35 is just cooler.’”

Marcia Angell and Mental Illness

This summer the New York Review of Books published a two-part article written by Marcia Angell. Ostensibly the article was a review of three new books concerning mental illness and pharmaceutical companies. Ms. Angell offers more than reviews of these three books, this article provides a brief history of the DSM, an understanding of how medical professionals categorize and view mental illness and the role pharmaceutical companies play in both processes.

Everyone should read this, not only is the piece well written and even-handed but it will undoubtedly educate every reader on topics like autism, vaccinations and treatments of the mentally ill.

3D and Your Eyes

James Cameron defending 3D technology.

I want to preface this by saying the last movie I saw in theaters was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Needless to say I have not seen any films, including Avatar, in 3D.

The first link is to Roger Ebert’s blog. It is no secret that Mr. Ebert does not like 3D. This particular post contains a piece by editor Walter Murch explaining why 3D will never actually work. The short version is — our eyes are not designed to readjust repeatedly.

The second link is to screenwriter John August’s website where I found myself wandering about for several hours today. Mr. August has a post that centers around an interview James Cameron gave to Variety Magazine. The excerpts Mr. August has are very good but if this interests you at all you should go on to Variety magazine and fill out their new registration form so you can access the interview in its entirety. It is worth the read.

I found it interesting enough that I have continued looking for interviews with Mr. Cameron concerning 3D and I am going to paste one more below. This is to the site for Popular Mechanics and is more concise than the previous link.

What has most impressed me in reading these interviews with Mr. Cameron is his technical knowledge and frankness concerning the 3D conversions that have been done. At no point does he shy away from any of the concerns regarding 3D and is at his most convincing when discussing the technical aspects of how this process actually works.

I was under the misconception prior to reading these interviews that Mr. Cameron had gone the way of George Lucas. That is to say that he was so enamored with this new technology that he had lost his grasp on what movies should be. This is clearly not the case. The point that Mr. Cameron makes again and again is that the story is always the most import aspect of filmmaking. In his opinion 3D is a means to help enhance a good story but can do little to help a poorly conceived one. I would like to conclude this post with a few quotes from Mr. Cameron.

I do agree that there’s a consumer backlash and I actually think it’s a good thing, because what they’re lashing back against is some pretty crappy stuff. The consumer position is that if I’m going to pay premium for this ticket, you better show me the money, you know?

The other thing that people need to keep in mind is that 3D doesn’t make a good movie. Good movies are made by good scripts, great acting and a lot of other things besides just being in 3D. 3D can only make a great movie a little bit better.

Term of the Day: Effort Shock

While visiting  I came across a link titled, “How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World” and I figured wherever I wound up I would find a mildly amusing read. The link opened to the website for Cracked magazine and my prejudice kicked in and all hope for amusement curled up and quietly died.

However, with a title such as this how could I not attempt to read this article? In just a paragraph my snobbish instincts had to admit this was an insightful and well written article. Did I mention this is on the website for Cracked magazine?

This article is about  our perceptions of reality and how most of us have unrealistic expectations. It’s worth a gander.

Lack of Definition

I have recently discovered that I am attracted to and yearn for rules and definitions. Whether in social settings, the workplace or areas of study I find that rules and definitions allow everyone to behave, work and learn more effectively. That is the reason for this post (for I admit it does seem a bit random).

In college my major was Sociology. I have encountered many people since who have asked what, exactly, Sociology is. I have typically responded with the definition I learned in my first course — “Sociology is the study of groups of people.”

This was a clear distinction from my understanding of Psychology, which is the study of individuals.

Lately I have been watching the television show Bones and enjoying it very much. The central character of the show is a forensic anthropologist. She has explained what it is she does and can do numerous times on the show. The more explaining she has done (regarding the non-forensic aspects of her field of study) the more confused I have become concerning the differences between Sociology and Anthropology.

I decided today to try and find definitions of each discipline in order to have clarity on the subject. To my dismay I find myself more confused. Below are the definitions  I have come across. The formatting is not uniform and for that I apologize.


  • the study of society
  • a social science involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies
  • the study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes
  • the scientific study of social aggregations, the entities through which humans move throughout their lives’
  • an overarching unification of all studies of humankind, including history, psychology, and economics

Taken from the website of the American Sociological Association —


Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, Anthropology draws upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. Historically, in the US, anthropologists usually have been trained in one of four areas, socio-cultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. Often, however, anthropologists integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their work.

Taken from the American Anthropological Association website —


Psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life.  Some psychologists do basic research, developing theories and testing them through carefully honed research methods involving observation, experimentation and analysis. Other psychologists apply the discipline’s scientific knowledge to help people, organizations and communities function better.

Taken from the American Psychological Association website —

I find this last definition lacking so I went to another site — Merriam-Webster.

Main Entry: psy·chol·o·gy Pronunciation: \-jē\Function: nounInflected Form(s): plural psy·chol·o·giesEtymology: New Latin psychologia, from psych- + -logia -logyDate: 1653

1 : the science of mind and behavior
2 a : the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group b: the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity
3 : a theory or system of psychology <Freudian psychology> <the psychology of Jung>

What’s Wrong with Sentiment?

While visiting the trailers page on Apple’s website today I saw the poster of the film The Father of My Children. On it is a quote from Gavin Smith, editor of Film Comment magazine which reads — “Deeply Moving. Incredibly tender and heartbreaking without ever getting sentimental.”

I am, admittedly, a bit picky about some words. One of these words, especially pertaining to art, is sentimental. Why am I picky about this word? Because I am never quite sure what the person using it means. In an attempt to cure myself of my own ignorance I have decided to try and solve this matter once and for all.

Let us look to the definition as provided by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

Main Entry: sen·ti·men·tal

Pronunciation: \ˌsen-tə-ˈmen-təl\

Function: adjective

Date: 1749

1 a : marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism b : resulting from feeling rather than reason or thought <a sentimental attachment> <a sentimental favorite>
2 : having an excess of sentiment or sensibility

Let us assume that people like Mr. Smith take issue with the second definition of this term. How then is sentiment defined?

Main Entry: sen·ti·ment

Pronunciation: \ˈsen-tə-mənt\

Function: noun

Etymology: French or Medieval Latin; French, from Medieval Latin sentimentum, from Latin sentire

Date: 1639

1 a : an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling : predilection b : a specific view or notion : opinion
2 a : emotion b : refined feeling : delicate sensibility especially as expressed in a work of art c : emotional idealism d : a romantic or nostalgic feeling verging on sentimentality
3 a : an idea colored by emotion b : the emotional significance of a passage or expression as distinguished from its verbal context

I am assuming again but I believe Mr. Smith is using definition 2d and the real issue here is sentimentality. Merriam-Webster does not have a definition of this term so I have gone elsewhere.

Wikipedia has given a rather long-winded definition of the term.

Sentimentality is both a literary device used to induce a tender emotional response disproportionate to the situation,[1] and thus to substitute heightened and generally uncritical feeling for normal ethical and intellectual judgments, and a heightened reader response willing to invest previously prepared emotions to respond disproportionately to a literary situation.

The article quotes Oscar Wilde as defining a sentimentalist as “one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.”

So we all get it, a sentimentalist relies on a short-hand of sorts to elicit responses from the viewer/reader/audience that their work does not necessarily merit.

The article on Wikipedia goes on to say “Complications enter into the ordinary view of sentimentality when changes in fashion and setting— the “climate of thought”[7]—intrude between the work and the reader.”

That is to say that sentimentality is relative.  The article concludes, “The example of the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens‘ The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41), “a scene that for many readers today might represent a defining instance of sentimentality”,[7]brought tears to the eye of many highly critical readers of the day.”

So here is what we have learned – Mr. Smith is pleased with the film because it does not take any cheap, emotional shortcuts to achieve its goal of being moving, tender and heartbreaking. What undermines his statement is that in the future it is entirely probable that critics and viewers alike will find the work contrived, sappy and emotionally manipulative.

To my mind the use of this term by critics is as useful as other popular phrases such as “tour-de-force” and” adrenaline-fueled” because it is nothing more than an editorial shortcut that desires to have the impact of a critique without earning it.

John August – Workspaces

John August has a very nice site. There is a new section on his site called Workspace. Screenwriters give provide answers to questions concerning where they write and what they use to write. It is interesting and provides what I am always looking for online, whether it is about writing, filmmaking or how to change the oil in my car: actual thoughts and opinions about the products and processes. So often there seems to be an assumption that the people reading reviews and how-to articles have a considerable knowledge base and that the basics can be skipped. Not so here.

So if you are interested in writing and curious about specific hardware, software or and office furnishings you should check out this section of his site. You may just find a new kind of pen to use or a new office chair.

Music Reworked for Film, #2

The cover of Black Sheep by the band Metric is really quite something. In addition to building a scene around the song, the actress who replaces the original vocals does a fantastic job giving a performance. I would argue that she does a better job than the original singer.

To be fair she has Edgar Wright behind her whereas the band most likely has little more than a stationary camera to capture their performances. That being said it really is something that they chose to bring in an actress to pass off this song as her own.

It’s fantastic for the film but I can’t help wonder if the members of Metric were giving one another sideways glances after this.