Movie Reviews: An Explanation

The movie reviews included on this site are nothing more than a small gift to friends, a monument to shameless self-rationalization (If I paid for the ticket, I might as well be able to boast of it!), a side-show to my more substantial book reviews, an easy barometer to better evaluate the nerd behind this site or simply some entertaining reading for curious virtual tourists.

I don’t have the patience to write full-length reviews, so you’ll have to do with one-paragraph capsules.  I don’t like star ratings, so you will also have to figure out if I liked the movies from the text itself.  Life is hard for everyone…

The reviews started in April 1997, and were included in the monthly book review files.  I have indicated when and how (Theaters, video, DVD, TV) I came to saw them since I believe this has a substantial impact on a film’s rating.  (Imagine, oh, STAR WARS in theaters in 1977 versus STAR WARS in 1999 on TV.  Not the same thing at all!)

A few words on movie reviewing, in general:

  • Good news: Thanks to the Internet, you can now find out more easily in recorded history what just about anyone thinks of popular (and not-so-popular) movies.
  • Bad News: You’ll soon find out that “just about anyone” isn’t qualified to spell correctly, let alone handle film criticism.

This won’t stop me from offering a few stale remarks on film to the Internet at large.  You’ll find elsewhere on this site a large array of various film capsule reviews, offered without much pretension and hopefully read in the same spirit.  The fact that these silly little reviews aren’t showcased as being the end of modern post-modernist cinematographic criticism shouldn’t blind anyone to the fact that they are based on a set of ideals that I’d like to see more widespread in the sad realm of Internet Movie Reviewland.

So, allow me to offer a set of thoughts entitled…

How to become a better movie reviewer while alienating friend and family.

1.  Introduction

Let’s face it; it’s painfully easy to “become” a movie reviewer:  Go to the nearest Blockbuster, rent a few films, watch them, write up what you thought of them and post the resulting mess to the Internet.  If you’re semi-competent, you won’t get flamed to a crisp.

But frankly, any properly-trained monkey can review movies (“CASABLANCA no good.  Not enough bananas.“) The problem is with improperly trained adults who lack the essential aptitudes required for reviewing.  It’s remarkably easy to find -say, at your next office party or family gathering- otherwise perfectly adjusted grown-ups who can’t be bothered to build a critical argument.  (“Sucks!” “Rules!“)

The elite corps of Movie Reviewers requires abilities that aren’t given to anyone:  A love of trivial discussion.  A memory for useless details.  A sufficiently asocial life that allows burning time -two hours a shot- in order to watch films.  Knowing how to write in a structured fashion.  A talent in distinguishing the substance from the wrapping. Original thinking bolstered by objective arguments.  The ability to empathize with popular taste without necessarily embracing it.  It is useful, but in no way required, to be sane.

2.  Investing time and money

There should be a requirement that no one could vent opinions about films without having seen at least, oh, 500 of them.  It’s impossible to criticize without comparing, and impossible to compare with a small data set.  If you see only one film a year, you’re virtually assured to see only your “best movie of the year!”  At a minimum, two years of critical movie-watching should be mandatory before putting pen to paper and publishing the results.

It’s also inevitable that you will have to spend money in order to become a good movie reviewer.  Television is not an option, what with commercial breaks, the fit-for-commercials editing and the limited options offered by the conservative TV networks.  Even cable doesn’t quite cut it.  You’ll have to rent and/or step in theaters in order to be serious about your hobby.

Also consider reading up on the subject.  Libraries can be invaluable sources of great film criticism, from Pauline Kael to Roger Ebert only for starters.  Thanks to the web, your best sources of film data are available for free, thanks to the superlative Internet Movie Database ( http://www.imdb.com/ ) and the innumerable other movie sites.

After that, it’s time to write.  Which brings me to…

3. Top Ten Movie Review Peeves

  • It’s nice to have an introduction and a related conclusion.
  • A plot summary isn’t a review!
  • Assertion?  Argument!
  • Big Assertion?  Big argument!
  • Don’t review other reviewers.
  • We don’t care if you think the film will make money.
  • We don’t care if you’re the lead actor’s #1 fan.
  • Distinguish fiction from reality, actor from character, writer from director, direction from cinematography, script from special effects…
  • Nothing’s perfect, nothing’s worthless
  • Is your review still going to be readable in in five years?  Film is forever; what about your review?

(Confession: I break most of those rules before breakfast.)

Of course, once you think you know how to be a good movie reviewer, the fun starts, because you now have to…

4. Stay humble.

As a movie buff, you’re now perilously close to the edge of sanity.  A steady regimen of BATMAN AND ROBIN, BABY GENIUS and BATTLEFIELD EARTH could drive a good human to drink in a ridiculous amount of time.  So pace yourself, exert some discretion, boycott films for real, past or imagined offenses (the DeCSS case is still a pretty good reason!) and specialize in genres that appeal to you.

If that’s not enough, never forget that even though you might become the best reviewer in the world (or at least near your water cooler), you’re nothing but a lowly reviewer. You have no way of influencing the art, you are an intellectual parasite on other people’s work and you can be replaced at any time with a properly-trained monkey.  (“MIGHTY JOE YOUNG rocks.  Me like Joe.“)

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