Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Thoughtful Quote from a Review of a New Movie

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1952
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1952 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The reviewer is Alissa Wilkinson, writing for Vox.

That the expedition is populated by five women, played by five stellar actresses — it’s hard to pick a standout — adds a startling depth to the film. Instead of seeing an exploration of desire through the more typically male filter that often drives thrillers, action, science fiction, and horror, we see it through female eyes. And that makes each piece feel fresh and unexpected.

In fact, though its parallels to Stalker are undeniable and Garland has an established track record in the science-fiction genre, Annihilation feels wholly unexpected and raw. It is a disturbing film for reasons that are almost metaphysical. It rarely moves quickly, the camera lingering over images that are hard to forget because they’re so eerie, the story leaving just enough unexplained to evoke mystery and wonder.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The 60s Generation Sharing a TV Theme Song in an Ironic Way

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is, as one critic put it, a tale of "relentless discomfort and (the) complicated morality" of the war in Vietnam and perhaps a masterpiece. Is the final scene of the movie a comment on a generation united but infantile as the unit's depleted ranks walk away from the killing grounds of Hue?

Whatever the larger point, they all know the lyrics.

Getting Gangnam Style

Burger King, Seoul, South Korea.
Burger King, Seoul, South Korea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here is an analysis of Gangnam Style drawing on familiarity with the language and culture.

 "I have to admit I've watched it about 15 times," said a CNN anchor. "Of course, no one here in the U.S. has any idea what Psy is rapping about."

I certainly didn't, beyond the basics: Gangnam is a tony Seoul neighborhood, and Park's "Gangnam Style" video lampoons its self-importance and ostentatious wealth, with Psy playing a clownish caricature of a Gangnam man. That alone makes it practically operatic compared to most K-Pop. But I spoke with two regular observers of Korean culture to find out what I was missing, and it turns out that the video is rich with subtle references that, along with the song itself, suggest a subtext with a surprisingly subversive message about class and wealth in contemporary South Korean society. 

This type of analysis suggests several points:

1) In your reviews, I want you to do as little research as possible. (That's why I run all your reviews through Turnitin.) I want a fresh personal take in which you draw on what you already know - though if it happens you already know a great deal about the genre or the specific situations in the object reviewed, of course you draw on it. Some publications might want you to do research beforehand and create a combined review/cultural analysis. What I want is your "hot take." Personally, though I wanted at some point to do research and to track down the kind of analysis of the video contained in the Atlantic that I link to above, I wanted to take time to register my own reactions and my own reading of the video before seeking out informed interpretation.

2) I assume a natural inhibition in reviewing something like Gangnam Style because it is our wish - I hope your wish - not to seem culturally ignorant or racially insensitive. With all that in mind, my first take on the video was:

     * The music was catchy, what some would call an earworm, memorable to the point of irritation.

     * The music alone did not explain the video's appeal. Without the images and/or narrative, the music would quickly have faded from memory.

     * I was amused and impressed by Psy's comic physicality, by which I mean his posture and actions were awkwardly graceful - or gracefully awkward. I was comfortable judging that part of the video by what I considered to be widespread ideas concerning which styles of physical action are funny and which aren't - at least by Western standards - and the makers of the video seemed to understand the conventions of the music video as developed in the United States.

     * I appreciated the general technical mastery - the multiple cuts, the careful framing of shots, the choreography of dance and motion.

     * It did have a narrative through line. Psy falls in love, or at least in "like." Are we invited to judge the nature of that attraction? The young woman's blond hair seemed to invite judgment.

     * But I still felt at a loss in terms of getting all the themes and implications. I was not surprised to learn it was probably satire, but if I had learned that its creator thought it was a celebration of sexual freedom and material possessions, well, I would have been somewhat surprised - but not completely. Not to get too English Major-ish, there's a famous comment by the poet John Keats. “At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously. I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” I like to interpret this from a critic’s point of view to mean that a sense of fully getting a work of art is not desirable. A true work of art - the pundit said - is a mystery that we never quite solve.

      * The video made we want to initiate conversations with those whom I assumed were its target audience, you guys maybe? That is, I saw it as a kind of measuring stick against which I could evaluate differences in taste as determined by different class and age.

      * And, of course, when in doubt when it comes to music videos, we can fall back on the surreal by which I simply mean regarding image or images as dream-like and irrational. Why ask what it means when I can ask what does it mean to me? Was it not Freud - it was; I looked it up - who said, “What is common in all these dreams is obvious. They completely satisfy wishes excited during the day which remain unrealized. They are simply and undisguisedly realizations of wishes.”

      * The fact the video was for about two years the most watched video on Youtube has to mean something about the universality of ... something.


A Rhetorical Analysis of Lost Dog

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pete Wells

Pete Wells is one of The New York Times main restaurant/food reviewers; he's one of the "big guns" in the reviewing world. His review of Guy Fieri's restaurant has been dubbed "the most widely read food review ever." Wells is a gifted writer and conscious of more than just whats on his plate. Here is an excerpt from his recent review of "Salt Bae's" new eatery, Nusr-Et.

"A few years ago, restaurants were still a refuge from the electronic grid, places where we could eat and talk without converting existence into digital form. Phone cameras changed that, and now it often seems that the point of going out to eat is to post a digital image proving we were there."

Parul Seghal

"There’s not a trace of piety, however. “Mean” calls for a fat, fluorescent trigger warning start to finish — and I say this admiringly. Gurba likes the feel of radioactive substances on her bare hands. She wants to find new angles from which to report on this most ancient of stories, to zap you into feeling." - Parul Seghal

Wesley Morris

"Who would have thought that a series addicted to the high of movement could also summon a solemnity that leaves you moved?"‐ Wesley Morris

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Laura Snapes

Laura Snapes is based in London and has contributed to Pitchfork, NPR, the Guardian, and a whole lot more. This is a paragraph from her review of Priests' newest album that I really liked. It's compelling, creative, and says in words what I felt when I first listened to "Nothing Feels Natural."

"As we enter 2017, we’re in danger of tying every faintly despairing new piece of culture to the ascent of America’s Cheeto-in-Chief, as if January 20 flipped a switch that instantly soured all milk. But injustice wasn’t born earlier this month; it just became apparent to many who never had much cause to worry about it before. And the lyrics to Nothing Feels Natural show the existential weight of having spent a lifetime fighting. Priests’ debut has an entirely different energy from their previous releases, expanding into a rich diorama of stinging guitar, funk, yearning indie pop, and jazz. The leap in range and ambition from their 2015 EP Bodies and Control and Money and Power is huge: There hasn’t been a punk debut this certain and poised since SavagesSilence Yourself."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Twitter Panel Reviews Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Taylor Swift Sued But the Song Lyrics Too 'Banal' to Steal

Here's the link

“In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused with the concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas… gonna play’ or ‘haters… gonna hate,’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run’; ‘drummers gonna drum’; or ‘swimmers gonna swim,’” he wrote. “The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal....”

Not only is the concept not creative and banal, he wrote, the lyrics themselves “lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection.” Dancing in the hiss of the sizzle, he concluded that they are “too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act.