Reviewing

Something I’ve been meaning to write on for a while, since I just have to offer justifications for everything that I do here. Do I really review movies on this blog?

I mean, I put “Review” in the titles of such posts, but must people associate a “movie review” with a piece of writing designed to indicate whether somebody should go and watch a movie, or not as the case may be. Such reviews, as a matter of course, don’t say anything that could be construed as a “spoiler”, since that would defeat the purpose.

I find myself unable to do that. When I “review” a movie, I find it horribly limiting to be unable to discuss crucial plot points, as they are typically the most important parts of creating a positive or negative impression.

As such, I got out of the recommendation game a long time ago, and my movie reviews should really be seen as evaluations/discussions more than an exercise to promote or denigrate a movie. I am “reviewing” in the more literal sense of the word.

I mean, I often end my reviews with some word on recommendation, this is true. But that’s really more of a vehicle to provide the most basic expression of my opinion of any one movie without being drawn into giving it some sort of number or letter. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I find it impossible to give a numerical value to a complex opinion.

As such, my final words can generally be divided into

Fully Recommended: An excellent movie that you should go see.

Recommended: A good movie that you should go see, but that won’t destroy your life if you don’t.

Not recommended: A poor movie that you should avoid.

Run screaming: Self-explanatory.

That’s about as definitive as I can bring myself to get. I recognise there is an inherent hypocrisy in the way that I do things, since my reviews are framed as discussions that would basically outline in the entirety of a movie to a reader before telling them whether they should go see them, which would seem to defeat the purpose of the entire affair. But it is just a habit I have gotten into, and fine it as good a method of making a final, definitive evaluation as any.

When I evaluate movies, I often try and frame it in the form of three questions that I ask myself after watching one. These are:

Was I entertained?

The most important one, which supersedes all others, that makes a low-budget horror potentially match up to Oscar bait. The purpose of movies is to entertain, so if a film does that, it has succeeding in its primary goal and will be praised by me, as such. If it fails in that, nothing else matters, it’s already a dud.

Was I engaged?

Which is a nicer way of saying “Is it an intelligent movie?” Does it have depth, emotional resonance, themes really worth discussing? A movie can get along without this, but can’t reach the higher levels without “Yes” answers to both questions so far.

Would I pay money to watch a sequel/another movie from the same production team/cast?

How likely am I to go back for seconds? Has the film done enough to pique my curiosity? Even a “Yes” answer to the first two questions does not guarantee a “Yes” to the last one.

After answering those questions, I can move forward on the structure that has characterised my review process for the past year: A brief introduction, a brief synopsis, story (which includes plot, setting, characters, pacing, tension and any relevant discussion on use of female characters), acting, visuals (including camerawork, CGI, particular effects, gore and the like), script, music (both soundtrack and score), and themes, before finishing with a brief conclusion. Repetition and routine is a good thing I feel when it comes to writing of this nature, since it allows for a more level playing field when it comes to judging which film is better than another, something that has been causing me some mental wrangling.

In doing my reviews for this year, with a commitment to do a proper review for every 2013 film I see, I’ve found myself getting into difficulties with my rankings, which can be seen to the right. Namely, the difficulty in comparing two movies with drastically different styles, aims and positives, and then deciding which is better.

To give an example, I gave a glowing review to Despicable Me 2, and meant every word. But where to put it on the list? I usually start at the bottom and go up via process of “Was it better than XXX?” until I answer “No”.

But Despicable Me 2 was the latest in a long line of troublesome ones to figure out. I got as far up the chain as The Great Gatsby and Star Trek Into Darkness and got stuck. Neither of those films got perfect scores from me, though they were both positively reviewed in general. On the face of it, Despicable Me 2 was reviewed with greater approval than either.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to actually put it above either. It’s so hard to put something like Despicable Me 2 next to something like The Great Gatsby and judge to be of a higher quality, since the genres and ideas are so different. It comes right down to personal interpretation and, in the end, I couldn’t do it. While I loved Despciable Me 2, it isn’t in the same league as The Great Gatsby when it comes to Question 2, and that’s fairly important to me. In the end, I decided Gru and co had enough in them to be ranked higher than Kirk and Spock, but not Jay and Nick.

My point being that these things are hard to determine. Doing movie reviews on this blog site has given me a greater appreciation for the craft of reviewing, which I do my best to undertake, as comprehensively as possible.

You might excuse the rambling nature of all of the above, but it is just something I felt like writing.

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One Response to Reviewing

  1. Pingback: NFB’s Fourth Birthday | Never Felt Better

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