In this age of MPAA hypocrisy and marketing campaigns that tweak trailers for tone, you don't always get what you pay for at the movies -- or what you expect.

The MPAA saw fit to warn audiences that the PG-13 horror movie 'The Roommate' contains teen partying -- that social menace -- but not animal abuse, a move so cavalier in a movie so devoid of dimension that hardened horror lover (and friend to felines) Scott Weinberg walked out in a fury. As he wrote in his piece, Memo to the MPAA: Animal Cruelty Isn't Kids' Stuff, "In 'Roommate,' the kitten is sacrificed in stupidly mercenary fashion simply because the film has no humans worth caring about. Classy, eh?" A ratings system that punishes honest depictions of human sexuality with harsh ratings and lets kitty-killers slide isn't one I'd turn to for guidance, and it's unfortunate that many do, only because there's not a better system in place.

Audiences are also being misled by marketing campaigns that cherry-pick scenes with a certain tone that, woven together into a trailer, lead the viewer to believe they're off to see a feel-good flick or an average thriller when that's not what they're in for at all.

Take 'The Company Men,' for instance, with Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper. It's a drama about upper middle class business execs who are left floundering after they're all laid off. The knee-jerk reaction is, "Whatever, white dudes who make a lot of money lose their jobs and can't find new ones and have to cancel their membership to the country club -- wah!" The reality portrayed in the movie is actually quite moving and intense, with a nugget of hope held out at the end as a sort of peace offering. However, you'd be hard-pressed to guess that from the trailer's more light-hearted touch.
As someone who watches and writes about movies for a living, I find it incredibly frustrating to see viewers being misled about what they're paying their hard-earned cash to see. At the same time, I don't think audiences should be infantilized and that plots should necessarily be spoiled at every turn in case it upsets someone.

What I've found instead is that my friends and I trade info on movies, or that we're clearinghouses of sorts for our other friends and family. We have a buddy system. My friend told me about an upcoming movie and recommended it with a caveat: That one of the characters is an elderly man dying of cancer, something I find excruciating to watch in the movies since my own father died of cancer. In return, I told her about the kitty death in 'Dogtooth,' and we rethought our plans to watch it together before the Oscars. Another friend commented that she wished someone had warned her about the grisliness of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' before watching it, even though the MPAA warning does mention graphic violence and rape. (This is a great example of how people don't pay attention to MPAA ratings any more because they're often so arbitrary.) There are also plenty of websites dedicated to classifying movies in terms of religion, age-appropriateness, gender bias, or different triggers for abuse survivors or others with post-traumatic stress disorder.

While it's not perfect, social media has stepped up to fill in the blanks that the studios and the MPAA leave wide open. At the end of the day, though, the responsibility is left to the adult viewer to be informed about what they watch.

Are you more likely to base your decisions on reviews, trailers, ratings, or info from friends online and in real life?
The Company Men
Based on 34 critics

Three men try to survive during a year in which their company undergoes corporate downsizing. Read More

The Roommate
In Theaters on February 4th, 2011

An unstable college student (Leighton Meester) becomes dangerously obsessed with her roommate. Read More

categories Cinematical