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Lee Hirsch
Writing Credits:
Lee Hirsch, Cynthia Lowen

Be a Hero. Take a Stand.

From Sundance Award-winning filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, comes a beautifully cinematic, character-driven documentary following five kids and families over the course of a school year. Offering insight into different facets of America’s bullying crisis, the stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter, who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate and often shocking glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals' offices, this is a powerful and inspiring film that every educator, parent and teenager should see.

Box Office:
$1.1 million.
Opening Weekend
$116.472 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$3.483 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/12/2013

• Special Version of Bully Edited for a Younger Audience
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Bully Project At Work” Featurette
• “Alex After Bully” Featurette
• “Alex’s Character Sketch” Featurette
• “Alex Raps” Featurette
• “Kelby’s Original Sketch” Featurette
• “Meryl Streep On Bullying” Featurette
• “Communities in Motion” Featurette
• “Sioux City After Bully” Featurette
Good Morning America Segment
• “Kevin Jennings: An Advocate’s Perspective” Featurette
• “We Are Daniel Cui” Featurette
• Previews
• DVD Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Bully [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 7, 2013)

In the face of increased public discussion of the topic, 2012’s Bully looks at how bullying affects today’s kids. The movie follows a few different students and the impact bullying has on them.

We meet:

12-year-old Alex, an Iowan with social difficulties who becomes awkward around other kids;

16-year-old Kelby lives in Oklahoma and encounters problems due to her self-admitted status as a lesbian;

14-year-old Mississippian Ja’Meya got sent to the juvenile detention center after she brought a gun onto a school bus;

14-year-old Devon, a classmate of Tyler Long, a Georgia boy who killed himself after being bullied. We also spend time with the Long family and how they deal with the loss of their son. In a similar vein, we see the family of Ty Smalley, another youngster who committed suicide due to bullying, and we meet his friend Trey.

Despite the breadth of subjects, one shouldn’t expect them to get equal screen time. By far, Alex’s story dominates the film; none of the others come close. Not only do we see Alex and his family, but we also watch administrators at his middle school as they attempt to deal with bullying.

Perhaps I should put quotes around “attempt”, as the staff members show feeble skills when it comes to the bullying problem, even though the folks at Alex’s school represent virtually the film’s entire attempt to represent the “official response” to the issue.

And I think that’s a flaw. Bully is able to point out the problems but it does little to show solutions. Somewhere in this vast country, the filmmakers could’ve located a school with productive anti-bullying programs, but we get no sign of that here. Instead, we see a variety of clueless/impotent administrators who seem more like part of the problem than part of the solution.

I’ve worked for a school system for 20 years, and I’ve seen plenty of teachers and administrators who do fall into that “clueless/impotent” category, but I’ve also seen many who work double-time to solve/prevent problems. I think it’s a shame – and a major weakness – that the filmmakers offer no ideas for how to deal with bullying; we see some parents who do nice gestures like remembrance vigils but there’s virtually no time devoted to useful programs.

The sequences that show the lives of the kids work better, but with the exception of Alex, even those tend to be superficial. The film spends very little time with Kelby, Ja’Meya, or any of the others. They appear briefly, give us basic snapshots of their stories and that’s it. This tends to rob their tales of much impact, as we don’t get to know them well enough to invest much.

At least the sequences with Alex compensate to some degree, as they prove to be by far the most complete in Bully. We actually feel like we get fairly well-acquainted with Alex and his family, and we see the school/bus environment that affect him. These moments provide the movie’s most emotional and impactful.

They also make me think Bully should’ve been about Alex and that’s it. It touches on the others in such a superficial manner that they almost become afterthoughts. I assume the filmmakers included them because they wanted to present a broader picture of the impact of bullying, and I get that, but I wish they’d done so in a more complete manner. As depicted, no one but Alex receives enough screen time to tell an involving tale.

Honestly, the Alex scenes are what redeems Bully. If the movie had treated him with the same lack of depth accorded the other kids, it’d be much weaker, but since it manages to invest in his story, it occasionally becomes a frank and moving effort.

Without a doubt, Bully investigates an important issue, and at the very least, I hope it prompts more public discussion. I just wish it’d been a richer exploration of its subject matter, one that spent more time with all its subjects and also showed potential solutions. As it stands, the movie offers a sporadically strong but often frustrating effort.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Bully appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The image looked good for a documentary like this.

As always, I viewed the archival material and the new shots with different expectations. I thought the new footage offered nice visuals. Sharpness was quite good, as virtually no softness impacted on this footage. Those elements appeared concise and accurate. Colors were reasonably natural, and no notable defects affected the new footage. Blacks and shadows followed suit, as they seemed perfectly positive.

Older material was represented by occasional home videos of the movie’s subjects. These showed the mushiness one would expect of consumer-grade footage, so I didn’t feel surprised with the bland visuals and didn’t downgrade my picture quality mark due to those occasional shots. Overall, this was a solid presentation.

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Bully, its reliance on music made it a little more involving than I’d expect from a documentary. Score was a frequent companion, and those components spread to the side and rear speakers. Stereo delineation was nice, and the use of the back channels added some zing. Speech remained centered, and effects were a minor component; some vehicles moved around the room, but the track usually focused on ambiance.

Audio quality was solid. The interview comments sounded just fine, as they offered perfectly acceptable clarity. No issues with edginess or intelligibility occurred, as they provided warm and natural tones. Music also demonstrated good range and definition, while the rare effects appeared decent. This mix did enough right to earn a “B-“.

When we shift to the set’s extras, the most unusual component offers a Special Version of Bully Edited for a Younger Audience. This runs 47 minutes, 11 seconds and delivers a condensed cut of the film. It eliminates or shortens some of the rougher language and sequences; there’s still profanity and violence, but not as much as in the longer cut.

It also completely eliminates all of the theatrical version’s characters except for those related to Alex and Kelby. Actually, Alex still dominates; we get a little about Kelby but the shorter cut spends at least 80 percent of its time with Alex. In many ways, this makes it superior to the final version, as it’s tighter and better focused. It still has some of the finished edition’s flaws – ie, nothing about successful anti-bullying programs – and it lacks some of the impact because it doesn’t show the potentially fatal consequences of bullying, but at least it’s more concise and not as scattered.

Six Deleted Scenes run a total of 12 minutes, 35 seconds. We see “Alex Singing at Home” (2:13), “Popularity Scale” (1:50), “Kelby’s Last Day At School” (1:28), “A Day Without Bullies” (1:51), “Caine’s Story” (3:36) and “Jake Stands Up” (1:37). “Caine’s Story” lets us see a bullied child absent from the final film; it’s unclear why his segments didn’t make the movie. “Jake” also shows a brave moment from a child; it probably should’ve been in the end cut.

None of the others are especially consequential, but their omission seems notable because they show more positive aspects of the kids’ lives. In particular, we can see that Alex’s life wasn’t quite as miserable as the final film leads us to believe.

A bunch of featurettes follow. The Bully Project At Work lasts seven minutes, 17 seconds and lets us see how Taylor Middle School in California tried to address the bullying problem. Essentially this means they went to see Bully and talked about it later. It’s kind of interesting to hear kids’ reactions to the flick – and I like the one student’s “Anti-Bullying Club” - but I’m disappointed because I hoped to learn about something more comprehensive.

We get an update via Alex After Bully. This four-minute, 27-second TV news piece lets us catch up with Alex a few years after the movie’s shoot. It’s nice to see that he seems to be better off, but we don’t learn a whole lot about his later life.

More from that participant shows up with the one-minute, 45-second Alex’s Character Sketch. He tells us a little about himself and his concerns. This is essentially an extended scene, as some of the material shows up in the final film; it doesn’t add much to what we already see.

Alex comes back again with Alex Raps. It fills two minutes, 27 seconds and takes us to the NO BULL Teen Video Awards, where we see Alex rap with Sean Kingston. It’s not especially interesting.

For more on another participant, Kelby’s Original Sketch occupies one minute, 26 seconds and allows Kelby to tell us a little more about herself. Like “Alex’s Character Sketch”, it’s basically an elongated version of an existing sequence that doesn’t flesh out anything much.

The prominent actress weighs in with Meryl Streep On Bullying. This runs two minutes, seven seconds and shows Streep as she discusses her reaction to the film as well as her experiences with childhood bullying. Streep’s stories are decent, but this clip mostly seems like a self-serving addition to the package.

Additional information about programs comes in Communities in Motion. The five-minute, 16-second reel talks about a Sioux City school’s efforts to fight bullying. Some interesting thoughts emerge, but it mainly feels like a PSA, as it doesn’t tell us much about the actual techniques used.

Sioux City After Bully goes for six minutes, 32 seconds and offers a TV report about that locale’s work following the film’s shoot. This is one of the more informative pieces here, as it digs into some actual specifics.

Next comes a seven-minute, 57-second Good Morning America Segment. It features filmmaker Lee Hirsch, student Alex Libby and his mother Jackie, and David Long, the father of a child who committed suicide. The snippet offers our only insight into the actual filmmaking process and throws in some other nice observations.

Kevin Jennings: An Advocate’s Perspective lasts two minutes, 27 seconds and provides info from the former Assistant US Secretary of Education. It’s essentially a PSA, but it’s a useful one for parents.

With We Are Daniel Cui, we get a three-minute, 17-second reel. It lets us know what happened via some cyber-bullying that affected high school soccer goalie Cui – and how his friends helped fight it. This delivers a pretty interesting tale.

The disc starts with an ad for Undefeated. No trailer for Bully shows up here.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Bully. This gives us a retail version of the DVD with many of the Blu-ray’s extras.

While I respect the filmmakers’ attempts to draw attention to a serious problem, Bully feels like an incomplete documentary to me. It lacks much depth and also tends toward a perplexing avoidance of positive efforts to combat bullying; the film really should’ve given us a look at efforts that’ve worked rather than focus solely on all the failures. The Blu-ray provides very good visuals, more than adequate audio and a long but only sporadically informative set of supplements. Bully tackles a worthwhile subject but lacks the substance I’d like to see.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 4
2 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main