A&E » Film

Freedom of speech, watch what you say



Censorship is big news these days (says the guy who just got the word "cunnilingus" printed in the paper after 12 years of trying). In December, the Sony hack was attributed (but never proven) to North Korea and said to be a ploy to stop Seth Rogen's anti-North Korean farce The Interview from being released on Christmas Day. More recently, and far more tragically, four cartoonists and eight others were murdered in the brutal Charlie Hebdo magazine attacks in Paris by terrorists unhappy with that publication's continued portrayal of their prophet. A police officer and hostages were also killed in the subsequent manhunt for the Charlie Hebdo suspects.

Here at home, the increasingly corrupt Harper government continues to muzzle scientists and last summer, PEN Canada, a small charity devoted to protecting writers from censorship, was hit with a political activities audit courtesy of Revenue Canada. This kind of censorship, based on ideologies and political agendas, is much more concerning than the riled-up mothers fighting evil rap music lyrics or 16-bit video game violence of yesteryear.

Of course, censorship has a long and storied history in the film industry. In 1915, it was determined that motion pictures were purely commerce and not art, so the U.S. First Amendment did not apply. This ruling held until 1952, until then local, state and city censorship boards had the power to censor and edit films.

Few did, however, because the Hollywood studios, scared of losing money by being seen as purveyors of "immoral content," got together in 1922 and established what would become the Motion Pictures Association of America, the MPAA. By the late '20s the MPAA honchos had created a code of "don'ts and be carefuls" concerning the content of films. By 1968, movies were considered art and the code was replaced by a rating system (essentially the G, PG, R, X system we know today). Since its inception the system has been called "voluntary," but for decades nearly all theatre owners refused to exhibit non-rated films. Few films make money without playing by the rules.

Which brings us back to The Interview, which the MPAA had no problem with (public morals have definitely slipped since 1922) but was held from theatrical release in fear of terrorist backlash. Terrible right? Except it went straight to on-demand outlets like iTunes or VOD and made $15 million. Granted it had pretty unique worldwide publicity behind it but The Interview showed everyone that a film can make real money without a theatrical release. It's a bit of a game changer because direct digital delivery can make even the most niche films profitable, and potentially censor-proof. Just ask the porn industry.

In the theatres this week, Clint Eastwood's American Sniper opens at the Whistler Village 8. Based on the memoir of actual Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who served four tours in Iraq and became somewhat of a legend for his prowess with a rifle and scope, American Sniper is a very personal story and Eastwood tells it with lots of hyper-vivid close-ups and moments of silence that feel more like a western than a war flick. It's a tale of vengeance and justice and how "war is hell" but it's also all about procedure without getting into the larger politics of the conflict.

American Sniper is also an interesting look at heroism and the psychological toll that comes with it. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover) impresses as the title character and Sienna Miller (Factory Girl) is pretty good as the wife left at home spewing lines of dialogue like, "even when you're here, you're not here." This one is making a lot of noise on the awards circuit.

Also opening, Paddington a cute-and-clumsy flick with the right amounts of whimsy and mayhem to woo the younger audience but also enough Wes-Andersonesque detail to impress the parents and The Wedding Ringer, wherein the usually hilarious Kevin Hart stars as a Best-Man-for-hire who has to fake his way through his toughest wedding yet. No pre-screenings on this one (it looks pretty dumb) but you can bet real friendship wins in the end.

Give Hart the benefit of the doubt though and go in with limited expectations. Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth as a computer hacker in a film that makes almost no sense but is still elevated by director Michael Mann's camerawork and panache. Hackers are hot these days though, and Big Brother is watching.