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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2010

    What does it take to review a film?

    Just what does it take to be a film critic?

    One position is that anyone can be a film reviewer. But would they same the same about a stage play? An opera? A rodeo or sporting event?

    On another film forum a film making teacher asserts that a minimum requirement is not only a detailed knowledge of the technology, including lighting temperatures and musical science, but an in depth knowledge of European drama directors.

    As a news reporter, then editor and then news director, and even when I taught journalism, I found the film beat unique in all of the industry, defying definition. It is not news, but contains the 5 “w’s”[who, what, when, where, how”] of reporting while at the same time it absolutely demands editorialization. Like sports, it must deliver some analysis of the game, but unlike sports reporting, giving away the score could get you fired.

    Reduced to simple definition, if news reporting is the answer to the question “what happened?”, then the film critic’s role is to answer the question: “what did you think of the film?” Just as anyone can answer the former, so can anyone answer the latter. In both, the validity of the answer is be determined by two things: the reviewer’s understanding of the subject and his ability to communicate it effectively.

    But how well versed do we want our observers? In a review of, say, "The Magnificent Seven" is the opinion of a professionally trained filmmaker better than say a film lover with a knowledge of the Japanese lore that spurred the original "Seven Samourai"? While a review of the technical aspects of “The Da Vinci Code” is certainly appreciated, the one I enjoyed most documented the errors and inconsistencies in the film’s theological motif, which was an adulterous perversion and libelous. With that as a foundation I could enjoy the fantasy, which is what it was.

    If the objective is to see a film to study it, then those minimums outlined are, indeed, prerequisites. But most people see films to be entertained, amused, made to feel, perhaps made cry, be surprised, amazed or horrified and often just to escape life for a time through a laugh.

    If I’ve gone to a horror flick, what my questioner wants to know is “were you horrified?” And if I can tell him why, how the director set it up with, say, a reverse pan al a Hitchcock, all the better, and yet even better if I instead simply say the scene is “richly enhanced” by a very tried and true Hitchcockian effect].

    And therin, as the grandmaster of stage would say, lies the rub: to communicate the answer effectively, perhaps beautifully, so as to move your audience. To do that, I would suggest some elements of study in the core medium, literature, is needed along with an advanced working knowledge of and talent for writing.

    Next would come understanding of the human condition, because regardless of genre, every film is either about people or for them. If we are to answer the question "how was the film" we had better have enough life experience and education to convey an understanding of the feelings being portrayed by the actors and whether they successfully did so. Did we feel for The Fugitive when he cringes in the grass and cries over the loss of his wife, or do we want a critique of the lighting of the shot?

    But, at the same time we need to adequately convey the feelings experienced in the viewing of the film. We need to be able to say that it moved us, that, yes, that damn alien monster was terrifying because we never got to see it [Alien, Signs], or that it was too lame to even mention [The Lady in the Water]. and we need to be able to admit that we teared up in Miss Congeniality even though it was kind of cheesy.

    The final, but most important ingredient, though, is something that cannot be taught nor learned, cannot be studied in any book, nor obtained in any way for that matter, is a deep and profound love of film. A love so deep that we already have, through fulfilling that love, obtained an understanding of the complexities of filmmaking, and an innate knowledge of what has come before simply because we loved film so much we watched it all.

    We were there for the inanity of “Planet 51” and giggled at claymation. We flocked to to “The Godfather” and “Miller’s Crossing” and while others avoided “Ishtar” we dropped in anyway. We watched John Wayne keep the town safe with a little help from his friends Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson and George C. Scott conquer the Nazis. We left in shock after "American Beauty" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and laughed insanely at "Blazing Saddles" and tried not to demand our money back after "The Wild, Wild, West". We flocked to the Die Hards and Lethal Weapons and secretly thought Arnold was kind of neat in his stupid way. And we really were taken into space with Stanley's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which changed the sci fi world forever. We knew we were in another industry altering situation when "Verbal" unmasked in The Usual Suspects, and were surprised when the likes Lucy Lieu and Josh Hartnel actually turned in fine performances in unfortunately named The Lucky Number Slevin.

    We’ve seen it all and will watch it again [with the exception of anything Oceans] just because it’s a film.

    But mainstream media has failed in the review arena. Too often the “review” is a studio-fed promo that doesn’t tell you George Clooney did an other one of his mailed in, scenery chewing performances [hey everyone out there, did you see how I twinkled my eyes!". Or it might mention that Nell was a departure for Michael Apted, but not provide a critical look at whether he succeeded, only that Jodie Foster was "fantastic". And almost no one mentions script or dialogue; the reviews on The Street Kings mentioned James Ellroy "contributed" on the script but give no mention of some of the most realistic snappy dialogue in film or that Keannu Reeves bitched it completely, only that he looked good with his shirt off.

    In an interview many years ago, Michael Mann told me that a good director can fix a lot, even bad acting, but even a great director with great actors can’t fix a bad script. And I agree. So I will accept the criticism that I am writer centric, and absolute hell on bad writing.

    I very much appreciate the role of the director, and like to think I can see times when the director has raised the talent to new heights. Having produced and directed live television under some of the most challenging lighting conditions imaginable I know when lighting works, and when it doesn't. I have an understanding of what goes into acting, I've done it, but never well enough to make a living. But in the final inning, it is the written word that makes both the film and the review.

    But then, would you have expected anything else from a person whose taken the handle "Barton Fink”?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2001
    I can answer that question with ease.

    "willing to take a bribe from studio"
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  3. #3
    j7wild Guest
    or you can start a website started years ago in 1997 as a movie hobby; now their reviews are posted in the movie's print ads and trailers

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    I don't really know when I watch something I usually post what I thought online. it is nothing big I don't write big ones maybe a paragraph or 2. I comment on thing like editing and lighting the music/sound design, production/art design as well as story and acting. I also include my thought and feelings that I had about the film I watched. I personally don't think it is hard . if you were going to do it professionally like for the newspaper they would probably want some journalistic expertise, but in the case of someone like me who comes more from a graphical/technical background who enjoys creative writing posting stuff on the internet is an easy way to be heard.

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