Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I Get Videolicious to Work

You don't have to use Videolicious, but you will be responsible for a video or audio slideshow some time in April.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Wildcard Review

English: A traffic controller at Michigan Aven...
English: A traffic controller at Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Français : Un agent de circulation dans la Michigan Avenue, à Chicago (Illinois, États-Unis). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anything that can be experienced and the experience recommended - or recommended against - can be reviewed. That is, it should be something that will happen again. But it must be an experience. Thus, you cannot review the new fashion season as a concept based on reading stories in fashion magazines, but you can review the fashion scene at an event or a place. You can review any venue open to public view like a cop directing traffic. That the "performer" be aware she/he is being observed is not necessary, though that is a judgment that will probably be part of the review.

Classify (This may be the review where the phrase "The art of ..." appears)

Guardian critics and sports writers swap jobs for a day.

Sport and culture are often thought to have nothing in common. But is this really true? What would happen if the Guardian's arts critics and sports writers swapped roles for a day? Today the critics get a taste of the sporting life, while tomorrow the sports team are set loose on the contemporary arts world.

And here's the second link.

Food for thought:

You had better refuse a favor gracefully, than to grant it clumsily. Manner is all, in everything. - Lord Chesterfield

Sprezzatura: A term defined in the Renaissance that simply means doing something extremely well without showing effort. A main synonym would be "grace." It also can apply to not trying too hard to achieve something - Urban Dictionary

Hmmmm. How about this:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I Follow My Own Model for Watching a Movie

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...
List of titles of works based on Shakespearean phrases (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Remember yesterday when I took Tim Corrigan's list of tips about analyzing movies and highlighted a handful, saying that I doubted I could keep the whole list in mind? Since Word has suddenly died on my computer (and it's too wet to plow), I decided to put my list to the test by applying it to the short film we viewed in class.

1) Convince others why you like or dislike a film: As I said, "convince" is a strong word with the connotation that you are trying to convince readers to seek out or avoid a particular film. In the case of SMILF, I have no strong feelings about exposing it to a wider audience so the most I'm trying to do is explain why I feel the way I feel after having seen it. And that suggests that in the review I will need to explain myself to my readers. In other words, my views are personal and possibly eccentric, and, of course, it shows an attractive modesty to acknowledge that. A shorthand for that might be, "If like me you are xxxxxxx, then you might xxxxxxxx." So here it is for SMILF, "If like me you are a person in late - very late - middle age, inclined to accept the fact today there are more and more single mothers out there and that sexual desire - certainly the desire to be desired - can coexist with motherhood, then you might appreciate SMILF'S gentle comedy."

2) Make a connection between the movie and other areas of culture: I think I just did, though I might add this. "It is also a movie about the ease of connection in the internet age - ease of connecting with information and ease of acting on it. Our young mother is on her laptop inspecting images of women struggling with the toll pregnancy and childbirth exact on the beautiful bodies of carefree youth. You can see her think: Am I still sexually desirable. And how easy the smartphone makes it to act on that thought. Because of instant messaging, we live in an age where to think is to act. Hey, GIUTF - 'Guy I used to fuck' - she texts. Hey, SMILF - 'Single Mother I'd Like to Fuck' - he replies. Well, that didn't take long, I think."

3) Why does the movie start the way it does? Photograph of a woman and her cute baby shortly after it was born. Then the two of them on a bed, her trying to sleep and the baby - nine months, right? - reaching out, touching her. So - when soon after that opener she wants another kind of touching - maybe this sets it up? Or is it a beautiful scene of mother and child, suggesting a bedrock reality that is only briefly interrupted by her failed assignation? I don't know, but it certainly seems profitable to focus on an initial image and what the viewer's initial expectations - and emotional state - were based on the film's beginning. It's easy to forget what that initial image was, so good to make an effort to fix it in your mind. There is a famous phrase from the start of Shakespeare's Richard III - "Now is the winter of our discontent..." In SMILF, it's not winter, and at the beginning our protagonist seems .... not exactly happy - but content? That quickly changes but then resets at the end, right?  It is the movie's baseline, I would argue.

4) How does the movie make you feel at the end? Happy? Depressed? Confused? And why? Well, that is a good question because after first viewing, my initial emotion was a reaction to the movie filtered through external reality, i.e., "I can show this to the class without putting them to sleep." But on subsequent viewings - complete with pause and replay - I turned off pedagogical mode. And I thought: That cheered me up. It's well made and clever, and craftsmanship is always comforting. It's actually pretty traditional. Motherhood is good. The young people are all right! My world view is intact. I saw nothing that disturbed or frightened me. And I felt curious: What will the students say? Maybe this will be a window into their world??? I can't imagine how I would have reacted had I seen this when I was their age. Yes, I can. It would have been porn and terribly threatening and exciting.

5) Does the music have any special relation, etc.? Yes, but there were no music credits at the end, and I didn't recognize the songs or artists. Leave this bit of analysis to the class.

6) When you start paying attention to how the movie cuts from image to image... (Jump cut. An abrupt transition from one scene to another.) In SMILF the guy has recoiled from the bed, having noticed there's a lump and IT'S ALIVE. It's just the kid. He says he can't "do it" there. Jump cut to bathroom in mid sex scene. Viewer must quickly reorient to place and impending action. Many things in this scene are surprising, incongruous, shocking even. And the guy is vulnerable and ridiculous as he tries to get back in the mood. All these elements are the very definition of humor, and so I laughed.

Conclusion: Works for me, though these six perspectives are not, in themselves, enough to produce a review that would satisfy me. But they were a nice start.

Online Movie Ratings Skew Male

What if Online Movie Ratings Weren't Based Almost Entirely on What Men Think

Pretend I’m the owner of a polling company that surveys political races. I prominently advertise my results: According to a Walt Hickey Polling Inc. survey of 600 likely voters, John Doe is beating Jane Doe 58 percent to 40 percent — John Doe will likely win the election. (Let’s say it’s a race for the U.S. Senate.)

But then you keep reading and you notice that the sample on which my poll is based consists of 400 men and 200 women. You can’t really tell whether I’m adjusting the numbers, and if so, how. Would you trust that number? Unless there’s some state I don’t know about where men outnumber women 2-to-1, you shouldn’t.

So why aren’t we more skeptical of movie ratings that do the same thing?


Attempting to reflect a target population is a common practice in many fields that use surveys. It’s not clear to me why movie rating sites don’t do it — or, at the least, why they don’t indicate that their scores are almost all based mostly on the opinions of male users.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Checklist for Labyrinth Walk

Laberinto 1 (del Nordisk familjebok)
Laberinto 1 (del Nordisk familjebok) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Begin with a scene from the labyrinth, or at least the church. You may follow that bookend with an evocative description of your past life and personal philosophy, but begin on the labyrinth. A majority of the labyrinth reviews do become metaphorical journeys of self-exploration, but anchor those journeys to the thing itself.

* At some point address these questions:
1) Did you find value in the experience. Why? 2) Who else might, and why?

* Answering these questions will lead into your final statement: I do/do not recommend walking the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral for these reasons.

* Should you interview other walkers? Some students do, and some don't. This effort can be as much feature story as a review.

* Here are some leads from past stories:

- Driving east up the hill on California Street, Grace Cathedral’s size and ruddy color loom from the surrounded buildings, playground and opulent hotels and venues. Inside, I find the architecture and artistry astonishing, busying with myself with taking photographs I might share with my mother. It was also to stall in participating in the “meditative labyrinth," something which made me feel the opposite of the enthusiasm I had about playing photographer.

This “meditative labyrinth” and its accommodating choir was exactly what I wanted to avoid. My mother said, “You should try it and take it seriously,” but I had already done such things in elementary school all the way through high school, completely being negative to the whole experience or what they call, “closing yourself from God."

- I can not remember the last time that my Grandpa broke-wind in a church.  I actually can not remember the last time he was even in a church.  But there he was, crop-dusting his lunch gas across the Grace Cathedral's candle-lit corridors.  My Grandma was quite embarrassed, but I believe that it added to the experience.

There we were, at the top of Nob Hill inside the old stone place of worship, where pigeons and bums take refuge and all religions are welcome.  It wasn't the devotion service or the architecture that drew us in, but what was built into the nave's floor. 

- Many people seek to find themselves. I’ll admit, growing up in my teens, I did not know who or what kind of person I wanted to be. In the Jewish Community, a Bar Mitzvah signifies as a rite of passage to who a boy is to become but I wasn’t Jewish. For others, finding self can occur through hot-stone yoga, a run at Golden Gate Park, or at the Labyrinth in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. 

There it lay, the labyrinth at the center of the church. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to be there when I heard that I was visiting a labyrinth. My first thought was that we were going to be lab rats in a maze in search of the cheese.

- I was raised a Christian Scientist – no, not Scientology (though I do favor the notion that aliens exist) – a religious practice that puts the power of healing into God’s hands and not a physicians. I would go to Sunday school, draw some pictures of God (who apparently looks like a firefly...), and not pay any attention to the Bible stories being taught. As the members of our church steadily began to die from old age, untreated sicknesses and suicide, I began cementing my notion that religion is utter garbage. This is the view I had all throughout my adolescence: that religion is a bunch of trite fiction that gets renamed and recombined; subsequently spurring people of “different” faiths to annihilate one another through endless warfare. As we all recall, adolescence is a time full of angst, and these notions were certainly fueled by my anti-authoritarian fervor. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

We Will Talk about the Avatar Reviews

Friday, March 2, 2018

You Will Do This for Our Movie

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A checklist for your Movie review - 3.1.18

English: Meryl Streep
English: Meryl Streep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

End your review with a rating and an indication of the audience at which your review is aimed.
At the end of the review make clear where the movie can be seen – if it can.
Do some plot summary but don’t bog down in a description of what happens without adding interpretation of what the action means. This is not a book report.
Do that standard thing of putting the name of the actor in brackets after the name of the character: Billy Brown (Gary Green). Sometimes it’s interesting to note what other productions actors have appeared in, particularly when past casting suggests that they are “types.” Awards may be worth mentioning.
Be entertaining. Write snappy and/or provocative leads. Write with the assumption your have to quickly win your reader’s attention.
Write at least 600 words. For the moment, I continue to set no top limit.
If, while doing research for some basic information such as other roles an actor has played, you stumble upon some provocative bit of specific information that you want to include in your review as a way of setting up a comment of your own, you would deftly work the source into your review. For instance, if you stumble upon a comment that “Meryl Streep is the most overrated actress of her generation,” you’d mention the source. It might be an obscure blog. It might be a top movie critic. The source would matter. Recently it was President Trump. Wow.

In addition: I love to talk about journalism’s “dirty secrets,” and one of the dirty secrets of reviewing is that more often than not you can use a movie, TV show, a book, a play, a musical performance to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about. Gender relations, parent-child relations, life in the city, male bonding, table manners, fashion choices, dating rituals, sexual etiquette, world peace, good dental hygiene – why not? Okay, sometimes you can go too far, and your review will just seem weird. Also, we are not blind to clues about how a movie’s creator may want us to take it, and we are smart enough to have some idea about how the “average viewer” may take a movie. But how you feel about a movie – what facet of it matters to you at a particular moment in time - is how you feel about it. We read certain critics not for guidance but because we are fascinated by how their mind works, the unique and surprising ways in which they react to something.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Manohla Dargis

Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Embraces the Magic and Mystery
There’s a trippy scene in which a character floats into a resurrection, an ethereal drift that borders on the surreal. It’s a fleeting bliss-out in a series that knows how to bring the weird but has too often neglected to do so amid its blaster zapping, machinations and Oedipal stressing and storming.

Some Points I Wanted to Make...

Eddie Izzard
Eddie Izzard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 ... as I graded your sitcom reviews.

1) I did want you to tell me the names of the actors who played the various parts and possibly to tell me other shows they appeared in. The point of that in this case would be to make clear the key participants in this project were all vets of film and TV, suggesting (among other things) that money was probably invested in this project upfront. These people had records of previous success. As flops go, this was a big one.

2) Also, talking about the careers of the actors provides a natural transition either out of or into a discussion of the acting.

3) But how would you know what these actors did earlier in their careers? I did NOT intend to use Turnitin as a bludgeon to discourage you from doing *any* research. A quick Google to discover who is this Eddie Izzard is acceptable - and won't ruin your T score anymore than using Google to find out the hours of the restaurants you reviewed. What I *don't* want you to do is use the internet to read reviews by others and turn your own review into a compilation rather than a fresh take.

4) Take a look at this review from the Chronicle that I linked to on the class blog several years ago. It's not great, but you see how David Wiegand has a catchy little lead that makes clear his focus. This review has a good old-fashioned thesis!! And then he lets us know who in the cast does what and what there backgrounds are. I actually think he puts all this info too high in the review. But notice how about 2/3rds in, he gives rich detail about the excellence of the detail in the background animation. Most reviews are a mixture of supported and unsupported generalizations. If you richly and persuasively support *some* of your generalizations, readers are more likely to take your unsupported ones on faith.