Film and TV

The Year in Film

Swearing In: Year of the R-Rated Comedy

It's an unavoidable trend -- if two movies make a trend, that is -- so much so, that if you Google the phrase "the return of the R-rated movie," the first hit takes you to the tsk-tsking Family Media Guide's article on the very topic, along with its list of some 3,000 titles touted as profanity-free, family-friendly alternatives. To which, of course, we offer a hearty "Fuck that shit."

Those who would damn the R-rated comedy as more evidence of the coarsening of America miss the point of films such as Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which are essentially chick flicks only masquerading as dick flicks. Both movies -- the former about two horndogs reluctantly settling down, the latter about a virgin reluctantly getting down -- bury within their vulgar exteriors mushy, conventional love stories. They use the word "fuck" as often as the word "the," but they can't help ditching the crudity for a four-letter word even the Family Media Guide would approve of: love (awwwwww).

R-rated comedies are a necessary evil because they offer a more truthful version of their audience's everyday life; the 21-year-old is more likely to see himself (or herself, for that matter) reflected in the nasty, desperate shenanigans of Virgin than in the beautiful, timeworn poetry of Pride & Prejudice. Someone you know is far more likely to go off on a rant about "cocks and ass and tits and butthole pleasuresŠand the Cincinnati bow ties and the pussy-juice cocktail and the shit-stained balls" than to proclaim his love on bended knee by insisting, "I would have to tell you, you have bewitched me body and soul, and I love and love and love you and never wish to be parted from you from this day forward."

Fact is, the R loses money by cutting its target audience by half, but sometimes that's a risk worth taking. Richard Linklater's PG-13 Bad News Bears remake was gutless and irrelevant because it wanted so badly to say something, to tread the same debauched but illuminating territory as Terry Zwigoff's crude classic Bad Santa, but it felt emasculated and self-censored by its rating. There's a reason National Lampoon's Animal House, Stripes, Caddyshack and even the first American Pie endure: We speak in R-rated language, think R-rated thoughts and express R-rated feelings. -- Robert Wilonsky

The War on Film: Iraq Hits the Big Screen

War is hell, but it can also be high drama. In boots-on-the-ground documentaries like Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland, we got a discomfiting look at the brutal realities and moral ambiguities of America's war in Iraq, where the death toll rises along with the administration's rhetoric. "I want some answers," an army private says in Dreamland (directed by Garrett Scott and Ian Olds), which chronicles a few months of infantry action in the doomed city of Fallujah. "I want some clarification of what we're doing." Stephen Marshall's Battleground provides some bewildering hints as insurgents talk openly about their hatred of the U.S. and an Iraqi interpreter blithely explains that the invasion was a result of an American economic collapse. Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories, is a lesser piece of work. Its maker, ABC-TV freelancer Mike Shiley, has cluelessly boasted that he joined an army tank unit as a gunner and earned a civilian combat award after firing on a village along the Syrian border.

The Iraqi-made doc The Dream of Sparrows may be the most disturbing of all, a glimpse of life under occupation in which Iraqis directly address Western viewers in tones ranging from despair to anger to guarded hope. The Control Room is a revealing portrait of Al-Jazeera, the satellite news giant that attracts forty million Arab viewers every day and gives a far bloodier (and more local) view of the war than American TV.

With truths like these, there's scant need for fiction. But Sam Mendes's star-studded Jarhead (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx) provides a look at Marine Corps culture in the first Gulf War, and writer-director Stephen Gaghan's Syriana (with George Clooney and Chris Cooper), a political thriller set in an unnamed Persian Gulf nation, has plenty of harsh things to say about intrigue and corruption in the global oil industry.

Given 2005's output, can filmmakers now declare "mission accomplished" where Iraq is concerned? Hardly. -- Bill Gallo

The Penguin Factor: Why Them, Why Now?

Until this year, nature documentaries generally found their homes at PBS and Animal Planet, enjoying modest audiences made up of children and scientists. Then came March of the Penguins, which earned close to $80 million at the box office and is still playing in some areas six months after its release. That's a long run for a bunch of tubby butlers Charlie-Chaplining their way across the ice. So why the fuss? Here are four answers: