Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sample Critic Interviews with Additional Questions

                                                Chatting up Kimberly Chun
            Sitting in a dimly lit coffee shop in the Mission on a Friday afternoon, Kimberly Chun recalls her early post-college days in San Francisco working at Tower Records, drifting around, and working on DIY zines. “I was just out of college, and didn’t know what I wanted to do yet,” Chun said as she remembers the early 90s. (Written in feature style using scene setting and dialogue. That’s fine. Also, the writer immediately starts asking about how the critic began her career.)
            It’s been almost two decades since Chun graduated from the University of Hawaii and made her way east to San Francisco. Since then, Chun has made a name for herself among the pop art junkies of San Francisco, (Generous background on exactly where the critic publishes. Also, the writer characterizes the critic’s style. Writer could ‘add value’ to her interview by quoting illustrative example from critic’s work. ) writing snarky and smart music and film reviews for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Her expertise is music criticism, particularly reviewing local Bay Area bands and musicians. Her official title at the SF Bay Guardian is Senior Editor of Arts and Entertainment. Considering that the Bay Guardian is known for its arts and culture, Chun arguably has the most important job at the weekly paper, where she has been writing for over seven years.
            (Nice. The writer understands a critic’s ‘voice’ or on-page persona may not be her own.) Chun’s in-person demeanor is different from her critic personality. On paper, she is sassy, wisecracking, and hilarious. In person, Chun is more reserved, insightful, and soft-spoken. She doesn’t look like someone who spends three days a week at rock shows in slimy smoke-filled dive bars. Instead, Chun looks like she has showered, has brushed her hair, and has immaculately clean fingernails. In some ways, she’s not your typical music critic, and in other ways she is the ideal music critic.
            (Summary of characteristics of a good critic.) “You have to have a certain credibility for people to listen to you. You have to be a good writer, know your music history, and make references that people understand,” Chun said, “A lot of criticism is about trust.” (Could keep going and ask about how critic loses trust.)
            (More specifics about how critic got into reviewing.) Chun did not start out as a music critic. It wasn’t until years after working traditional journalism jobs and getting her masters in writing did Chun get (At some point ask how much the critic makes. In many cases, the critic will be a freelancer and will be paid per item. Remember: You get full credit for asking the question even if the critic declines to answer. You get extra credit if you try the old trick of making a low-ball guess or a high-ball guess: I’d think you make about $20,000 a year/I’d think you make about $80,000 a year. Sometimes that will elicit further response.) paid to review music and film. She always had a passion for music and writing. “ I remember as a teenager just going to the library and checking out old issues of Cream and Rolling Stone, and just reading them cover to cover.” Chun said. She played in Hawaii’s first all-girl punk band and worked as a college radio DJ.
            (We are getting lots of personal history.) After working at Tower Records and trying to write about music, Chun said she needed more motivation and structure. She packed her bags and moved to Iowa City where she received her masters at the prestigious University of Iowa Writing Program. While living in Iowa City, Chun worked on the college newspaper as an arts editor and started working on zines with her friends and classmates. “It was the first time I got paid to write,” Chun recalls. (Nice detail would be how much for that first review and what she reviewed.) She said she learned a lot about voice, writing style, and working with others to create a paper.
            She returned to San Francisco with a better understanding of what she wanted to do. She started working at the San Francisco Chronicle as a features writer, where she learned about the structure of being in a newsroom. Though she wrote features stories, she found the job of being in a traditional newsroom limiting. (I like this. The critic is explaining how she likes to write by characterizing how she doesn’t like to write.)“Even though I was writing fun fluffy stories, I still had to follow this structure-the inverted pyramid, which is stupid.” Chun wrote some reviews while she was at the Chronicle, but was never allowed to take her voice as far she wanted to.
            After five years at the Chronicle, Chun switched over to work at the newly formed SF Gate, an online version of the newspaper. “At the time, no one at the Chronicle took the Gate seriously. They were just like ‘Oh, it’s so cute. It’s the little sister,’ which now is funny because the Gate is huge-bigger than the Chronicle.” After being at SF Gate for a year, September 11th happened and the economy went under. Chun lost her job and continued to freelance. SF Gate asked her to come back to work for them, but by that time she started writing full time for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
            “I didn’t want to come back to them. Writing for the Guardian was just more fun. There weren’t as many rules, and it wasn’t so limiting. I had more freedom and creativity,” Chun said. As an arts writer and a music editor, Chun was able to do what she really likes-“covering the underground, the stuff that is off the radar.” (Why? Examples?)
            Chun also likes working for the Guardian, because she said it is unlike any other newspaper. “It’s the last, true, independent paper,” Chun said. The Guardian is still owned by its founder and publisher, Bruce Brugmann, a man Chun describes as the ultimate leftist who still wears his hair in a long gray ponytail, who has a huge poster of Trotsky in the office.
            “The Guardian is the artifact of counter-culture,” Chun said. She also said that it seems like the more out there she is with her writing, the better it is. (A question I enjoy: What is a typical day in your life like?) As the senior arts and entertainment editor, she spends most of her time preparing to write- listening to bands, going to shows and movies, and going through emails. (Good detail: What parts of a critic’s life will surprise us? What part of a critic’s life bores the critic?) One of the challenges, Chun said, is that she is just inundated with information from emails from publicists and record companies to fans and critics of Chun’s column. She spends a good part of her workday responding to email and editing other writers’ stories.
            (Writer is now indirectly approaching one of our basic questions: How do you become a critic?) To improve herself as a critic, Chun said she reads a lot of criticism, especially music criticism from the 70’s. (Who?) She learns a lot about bands, music history, film history, and film directors in order to give her work more credibility. She said the best thing for an aspiring critic is to develop a voice, learn how to write well, and brush up on their history. “Journalism school isn’t necessary unless you want to be a part of the Old Boys Network. (Put this on your question list: What critics do you admire and why?) Some of the best critics didn’t even go to college,” Chun adds. She likes critics who know their music and film history, and who have strong voices. In the early 90s, she said she disliked most stuff that (Who is now teaching at USF. Next fall she’s doing a 400-level music seminar for Media Studies. She’s a candidate for interviewing.) rock critic Gina Arnold (who was known for interviewing Nirvana) wrote, because she never judged the music, only the musicians.
            “She was so judgmental. She would be like Sonic Youth-oh, they’re bunch a junkies. Nirvana-a bunch of junkies. She was weirdly uptight and dismissive of a lot of good music based on the performers,” Chun recalls.
            Chun stands out as a critic, because her voice is so hers. (Very good. Writer gives something specific from a recent review.) In a film review for the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chun writes, “ I guess Asians and Asian Americans should feel fortune that, at the very least, Asian actresses had the central roles of Memoirs, rather than, oh, Christina Ricci kitted out with the fake Japanese accent she “perfected” for the last Beck album.”  The reason so many people read Chun is because they trust her opinion, and that she can make them laugh. She is a familiar voice of authority on arts and culture. Her commentary is largely culture based, making references to politics and history, rather than just critiquing the art piece.  (Good point: How does the critic’s work – style and choice of subject – reflect her audience? Get your critic to describe his/her audience.) Chun’s writing and popularity relies on her audience, she said. “The Guardian has a more city audience. They are younger, hipper, more culturally aware as opposed to the Chronicle, where you are really writing for old people living in San Mateo.”
            (Now the critic is indirectly addressing the issue of whether or not there’s a future in being a critic. I’d like even more on that topic.) Chun thinks people still enjoy reading about music criticism in magazines and papers, even if there are hundreds of blogs and music sites online. She said she reads some blogs, but find that most blogs are too promotional of a band. “There’s no journalism involved. It’s like a big PR thing.” Chun also zones out the bloggers, because she feels that there is too much opinion and not enough credibility online. She is aware though that there might be a day where she solely works online.
            “It’s very possible that the Guardian will be an online only thing one day. With this economy, people are really changing how journalism and papers work,” she said.
            It is obvious Chun enjoys her job. “I get paid to go to shows and write about music,” she said incredulously. Chun also adds that she likes the freedom of working from home and coming into the office at her own time. For now, Chun doesn’t have to worry about money, which is unusual for most journalists and critics. She does a lot of freelance work, has some side project, and says she is lucky enough to have a partner with a secure job. It wasn’t always this way though. (Dynamite kicker. She says there is no future in music criticism.) Chun said that music critics can only work if they expect not to get paid.
            “If you want to do criticism or write, you don’t do it for the money, because you’re not going to make any. Do it for free and write for anyone. Create a body of work, and get yourself out there,” she advises.
Basic questions you might ask:

  • Do you think music (or whatever the critic reviews) is art? What is the critic’s personal definition of art? The critic may not engage on the topic, but I still want you to ask it. Throw in a statement like, “In class we’ve talked about xxxxxxxx and yyyyyyyy as being possible ways to talk about art.”
  • The best thing you ever reviewed and the worst – and why you thought so?
  • What specific advice do you give to someone who wants to be a critic?
  • Do you recommend it as a career?
  • Age!!!! Which leads into: Will you still be a critic in 5/10 years? If not, why not?
  • Define an ethical critic. Give examples of ethical/unethical conduct.
  • Who are your favorite critics? Who are your biggest influences? (Sometimes the answers aren’t the same.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sullivan's Travels

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What the Coen Brothers Missed

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

All the Videolicious Tips Most of Us Will Ever Need

from Videolicious Academy

A Music Review I Liked

Community comes to show at Blackbeard’s Delight

(nice *specific* lead – good scene)The speakers were breaking with ear crunching distortion, my feet stuck to a grimy glazed with spilt beer, the room was hot and moist, the vocals were overpowered by a constant sound of feedback , and the only thing that ran through my head was how good the show was.

Yeah, that’s right - I was actually impressed.

Snuggled in between a bar and an apartment, SubMission Art Space is located at 18the  and Mission in the Mission district. It’s (nice) quiet in size but loud in color and the events that usually take place there. (an insight based on experience which builds credibility)It is home usually to punk and hardcore shows that require less elegance and more room for the audience and the band. It wasn’t a surprise that on May 1, WAG, Hibbity Dibbity, Native and Plastic Villains decided to take over the space for a show titled Blackbeard’s Delight.

(nice) The show started late due with the usual, “band isn’t ready quite yet,” explanation. Crowds of college-aged students flooded the entrance of SubMission showing (a cynic would change this to “tickets and IDs,  not all of them fake”) their ID’s and tickets, he usual scenario that usually takes place at shows as small as these.

It wasn’t until the first band, WAG, came onto stage that I realized I had just stepped into a downward spiral of lo-fi music. The band consisted of four members who came onto stage playing a combined flavor of blues mixed with twangy folk – immediately recognized as a very odd genre for a space such as SubMission. Regardless of the odd combination of music against setting, the crowd chanted along with the ballad-sounding songs that Wag brought to the stage. Again, I was mildly impressed though more anxious for some harder music than really enjoying what Wag had to offer.

(I love the next two grafs. It is rich in detail. Among other things, it builds credibility. It takes the stale notion of 'been to a lot of  shows' and justifies its inclusion.) However, something interesting (let the 'interesting' be implicit in the detail) caught my attention during their set, and it wasn’t what was happening on stage Everyone in the audience was captivated. Every. Single. Person. Including the bands that were playing the rest of the night.

Now, I have to add that I’ve been a fair number of shows in my time. I have seen very different sights while looking around during bands’ sets; There have been people texting, people crowding at the bar,  few watching and the others talking amongst themselves, and so on. However, I have never seen such connection betweeen the band and the audience and – it became clear – the camaraderie between each of the bands that were playing that night.

Throughout each of the sets, there was a spark of genuine interest in???? for each person playing that night. After WAG’s set, Natives came on. Natives has a louder grunge sound. Distorted guitars and acid-rock vocals bring together a very swiftly moving sound that has enough rhythm to get people dancing, but enough vocals to still keep the lyrics relevant.

Right after, Hibbity Dibbity, a psychedelic garage rock group, went up to the stage and got people dancing and singing along to their 60’s style music. The crowd went wild, and I found myself dancing as well. Continuing with the same grungy feel, Hibbity Dibbity played through the horrible sound quality of SubMission with funk and ease.

However, the best part was seeing the audience so captivated and so involved with their music: the mass of heads bobbing and swaying to the sound of music, the heat (‘heat resonating’ - do I like your moving a ‘sound’ word into another context? You know, I think I do)resonating from bodies in the crowd, and the chorus of voices singing along to verses from each band. At one point, the singer for Hibbity Dibbity announced that it was May Day and to remember the importance of its meaning – (I’d love it if you right here included your interpretation of its meaning. To me May Day is international worker’s day, a *socialist*  holiday. Same for you???). Immediately, people yelled in celebration and rounds of drinks were ordered for everyone in the space.

This show embodied the communal value that the San Francisco Bay Area has (says who??? maybe you need to reiterate your experience) that does not exist in most places. These are the tight-knit scenes that begin to (you mean afterwards in memory???)fray in most people’s minds.  

(A judgment a confident, well-informed reviewer who knows ‘the scene’ is entitled to make. You write with authority and you support most of your judgments with detail. Thus, when you make a Big Statement, I figure you have been out and about enough to make it. Also, it comes late in the review after you have established such authority. You have 'earned' the right to say this.)This was a prime example that residents of the Bay Area like to keep things local and community based – including their music.

Hibbity Dibbity finished their set, and the clock showed the time where most people would be ready to head on home and call it a night.

But of course, this wasn’t an option for the attendees of Blackbeard’s Delight.

Plastic Villains, the final and most renowned band of the night, came on stage to the roar of applause and screams from the crowd.

“Don’t stop making music!” someone screamed from my right.

And like clockwork, the band started playing while the eyes of each and every (too much? First time I read this I intended to write, ‘Oh come on. Each one?’ But next graf shows you know exactly what  you are up to) audience member glistened while watching the band.

That was the beauty of this show. Each person was there in his or her (the old grammarian in me) entirety. Texting was at a minimum, people weren’t walled off into groups or standing by themselves. The crowd was engaged in the show to their full ability. And it felt like a community. It felt as if everyone knew each other before coming into SubMission and was spending time together as they usually do.

(Notice that I’m tightening this just a little. The fewer words, the stronger the point, I think)The best part of this show may not have been the venue, the music (dash for ‘haha’ emphasis)- or the alcohol. It was the people who took the time to make it out to the show and create an experience consisting of numerous conversations, indelible engagement, and lots of group singing.

I really like the way you give me the experience, the effect. Detailing the music is fine, but I like your taking me into the experience of the live show, which is so much more than just the music. It's mostly chronological, but your two-graf lead makes a strong general point before you 'start the clock.' Your point seemed to be that the evening worked as a whole, every part contributing to a total experience. I'll buy that.)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Some random thoughts about plays versus movies and TV

Movies are "hyper real" - generally speaking.

* close ups
* cuts that tell us where to look
* tracking shots that maintain the illusion we are watching reality from the most advantageous vantage point
* with the huge exception of CGI, set in the real world but a framed - and thus idealized - world in that almost every shot is composed
* a performance can be discovered on the cutting room floor

Plays are actually real - except obviously not (though 'fourth-wall' theater aims at that illusion - I assume Echo Brown will break the fourth wall)

* live and thus unique performance - play is created by actor and audience combined
* we have to decide what to pay attention to, though careful staging and acting can control our attention
* plays have a stronger sense of the now- though some jumping around is possible
* plays have a stronger sense of place - though some jumping around is possible as in the case of Shakespeare
* sets are clearly artificial, no matter how well done - the proscenium arch is a frame and a thrust stage drastically limits what can be done with setting
* for stage acting - as for daring circus acts - the possibility of error and thus disaster is always there

The goal of both (mostly) - to some degree a willing suspension of disbelief in which one becomes invested in the reality of the characters.

Some thoughts from playwriting class:

Dramatic writing is fundamentally about people. It is a way to understand people.

* Dramatic characters are people who WANT things. Consider: 1) What they want; 2) Who they want them from; 3) How badly they want them; 4) When they want them, which in a play is most often Right Now; 5) Their use of words as ammunition to achieve these ends. 6) We pay attention not primarily to what the character says but what the character is trying to do, to the subtext, to the motives, to the manipulations of others - or of self..

*Remember that desire leads to action. Find the action to reveal the desire

*People are in relationships: with whom and how strong to what end, to what desire. How do you show relationships? Plays are about "word acts," BUT actors use their entire body. Writers work from the neck up.

*You have to decide how much to trust characters. They can twist facts, distort, lack reliability.
*Show motivation. Let the audience discover. When the character "tells," we can choose to disbelieve.

In the case of one-person shows with multiple characters, it is always about virtuosity.

Here's the best review of a one-person show I could find. It deals with the power of one actor doing several parts. 

This is where the show’s solo nature proves so crucial to its appeal. Watching Jones demands a kind of triple vision: We’re aware of her as a performer, the character she’s playing, and, most important, all the other characters that have come before. By allowing so much difference to share the same space—the same body—she comes to personify her theme of peaceful coexistence.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Question for critic: Do you ever write a positive review even though you didn't like the film (or vice versa) because of trying to screen out personal bias?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Wesley Morris Reviews 'Fast 7'

"… And in the seventh part, they refused to die. Still. It’s true that two early scenes in Furious 7 occur at cemeteries. But by the second trip, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) makes everyone in his government-sponsored car club promise that this is it for graveyards, and it is. Two characters go tumbling down a mountain in an armored car, and a couple of scenes later are chatting on a beach. When one speeding car needs to deposit its hotly pursued passenger into another speeding car, the transfer requires each vehicle to swerve into a parallel formation so that the body can slip from one window through the other. (It took longer to type that than it did to watch.) A physicist might say of the deposited, “See you at the morgue.” But physics are to the Fast & Furious movies what term limits are to dictators: something to be flouted. That transfer is but one of the dozen or so incidents in this movie that drop your jaw, steal your breath, and make you want to say “I do.”
Characters, of course, have died in these films. They just don’t stay dead. And there’s a glorious soapiness to some of that. Furious 7 has Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) standing over her own grave, struggling to remember all the driving and snarling she’d previously done. She tells Dom (Vin Diesel) she needs time for self-rediscovery, which would seem to entail relearning that this bald, muscle-bound man with the Anthony Quinn mumbles is her husband."

Wesley Morris is a great critic, one reason being that he puts so much more into a review than the average movie reviewer. Grantland, a now-defunct site where sportswriters and cultural experts could practice a more traditional long form journalism that is getting harder and harder to find, was the perfect place for Morris' drawn-out, multi-layered analysis, and it's a real shame that the website was discontinued. But questionable ESPN decisions aside, Morris' reviews stand out because they're a whole lot more than just a summary and reaction to a certain movie. He picks a distinct angle from which he decides to review a film, as seen by this 'Fast 7' review, in which he chooses to dissect the movie with a sharp focus on the late Paul Walker's character, and the emotionally resonant way in which he was retired from the series. Morris always does his research, and here he goes through the earlier movies in the saga, recalling the film-to-film transformation of Walker's Brian, so that when he tells us how moving Brian's decision to choose family over friends at the end was, the reader already has a fully fleshed out vision of that character to support the statement. Morris goes deeper than most critics, but he also keeps things light and entertaining. I love how he points out the fact that it takes so much longer to describe an action scene in writing than it takes to watch it on screen. And also, the 'Physics are to Fast and Furious movies what term limits are to dictators' line gave me a good chuckle. Ultimately, Morris can take you deep into a movie's backstory, analyze its characters, and also assess a film's relevancy in the modern world, all while making the reader laugh in the process.

The Witch - LA Times

"It's the rare horror film that sows suspicion into nearly every frame, so intent on a darkening mood that the stillness of trees at the edge of a wood, or a child's face in demonic thrall, even an ambling goat, carries the same capacity to unnerve. Such is the detail that Robert Eggers brings to his impressive debut feature "The Witch," a grim wade into the disintegration of a besieged God-fearing New England family in the early 17th century. If ever a chiller deserved that overused foodie tag "artisanal," this painstakingly crafted bid for naturalistic creeps does. (Are we surprised that Eggers, who won last year's directing award at Sundance for "The Witch," is based in that epicenter of the culturally authentic, Brooklyn?)
 Set decades before Salem stamped the ravages of devil hysteria into the history books, "The Witch" opens with English farmer William (Ralph Ineson), his stern-faced wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), and their brood of five, banished from their Puritan community over a religious disagreement. They decamp to an open stretch of land next to a menacing forest that might as well have an "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" sign out front to go with the shrieky-strings music score. After the family's newborn goes missing during an outing with restless teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), an already charged atmosphere of financial hardship, rigorous piety and social exile turns rancorous when a barely coping, grieving Katherine suspects Thomasin of witchcraft. Beleaguered William initially defends his daughter, but even his faith is tested when the next-oldest, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), ventures into the woods to hunt and disappears too."

I love watching scary movies, but I was unsure if The Witch would actually be frightening. After reading this review, however, I think I will give it a chance. The writer was very descriptive and convincing. I liked how he kept asserting that this scary movie is different from others, making me very curious about the film. 

Post-a-Review: "Review: 'The Danish Girl,' About a Transgender Pioneer" by A.O. Scott

"Written for the screen by Lucinda Coxon and based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same title, “The Danish Girl” is a fictionalized biography of Lili Elbe (as Einar Wegener came to be known), one of the first people to attempt sex reassignment surgery. Lili’s encounters with prevailing medical wisdom, culminating in her meeting with a sympathetic doctor (Sebastian Koch), form a harrowing subplot. And her bravery makes this film a welcome tribute to a heroic forerunner of the current movement for transgender rights. It’s impossible not to be moved by Lili’s self-recognition and by her demand to be recognized by those who care most about her.
But it’s also hard not to wish that “The Danish Girl” were a better movie, a more daring and emotionally open exploration of Lili’s emergence. As it is, the film, like its heroine for most of her life, is trapped by conventional expectations and ways of being. If, that is, Lili is really the heroine at all. The film’s title phrase is uttered on screen once, by Einar’s childhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), a Paris art dealer, in reference to Gerda. And it is Gerda’s ordeal that provides the narrative with its emotional center of gravity.
When “The Danish Girl” was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, Kyle Buchanan, writing for Vulture, complained that it was part of a trend of “queer and trans films that are actually about straight people.” Not that the emphasis on Gerda’s experience is illegitimate. She is called upon to support the man she loves as he erases himself from her life, and Ms. Vikander registers the anguish and ambivalence, as well as the passionate loyalty, that Gerda feels as Einar gives way to Lili (Scott, 2015)."

When I first watched 'The Danish Girl', I was moved, hopeful, and ultimately touched by Lili Elbe's story and that there is actually a movie about the trans-community. After reading this review, I started to look at the movie in a different way. Scott writes, "As it is, the film, like its heroine for most of her life, is trapped by conventional expectations and ways of being. If, that is, Lili is really the heroine at all." So 'The Danish Girl' was Gerda all along? This is a "'queer and trans film[s] that [is] actually about straight people'"??? Come to think of it... The movie did show the Lili's struggle through transition, but its showed more of Gerda's struggle to accept that her husband wants to transition. Scott's review made me think twice about the film, discover multiple layers, and critique its intent. Nonetheless, I still feel as though it's a great film in support of the trans community.

'Room' Review--The Guardian

"Despite parallels with appalling real-life news storiesRoom is neither a horror movie nor a film about crime and/or captivity. (If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll already know more than I shall reveal here; Abrahamson is clear that “we’re not marketing it as a thriller”, and stresses that potential viewers should be “pretty clear where it ends up”.) Instead, it focuses on how the human spirit may transcend physical boundaries, and the disparity between external and internal freedom. In the early stages of the film, Stephen Rennicks’s superbly empathetic score emphasises the gentle domesticity, rather than the shrieking claustrophobia, of Jack and Ma’s circumstances, later giving way to sustained ambient chimes that lend an unearthly edge to our own alien world. (This Will Destroy You’s The Mighty Rio Grande is also employed to devastating effect.)

"That domesticity is a source of both reassurance and disturbance, and is indeed one of the film’s most brilliantly balanced elements. Behind the modern gothic trappings, this tale of an imprisoned woman resourcefully protecting her child from a violent male presence has a universal edge. Just as fantastical fairytales so often unpick the conflicts of family life, so Room owes less to the lurid legacy of the Josef Fritzl case (or to films such as Markus Schleinzer’s Michael) than to the more everyday experiences of women and children who rise above domestic abuse. When Ma’s captor, “Old Nick”, bleats that she has no idea how hard the world is for him, he sounds less like a kidnapper than a self-justifying wife-beater. And just as Jack’s mother protects him, so Abrahamson and Donoghue shield us too – not with the dewy eyes of cod sentimentality, but with the steely resolve of those determined to look the world in the face without succumbing to exploitation."

Though this particular review (and all the others I've seen of this movie) haven't been as specific as I'd like them to be, I think that these two paragraphs from The Guardian's review do a fantastic job of summing up why this story is different from what one might expect a kidnapping story to be. It's also different than thriller-style stories, or thriller-style/whimsical ones around the subject (looking at you, The Lovely Bones). 

What this review and others miss, however, is the opportunity to focus in on a theme. Yes, anyone with empathy can see the arch and idea of the film from the trailer. Watching it, you get more. I want a review to focus on Ma's inability to let go of bitterness after their escape, to discuss her slight disdain for Jack as she looks for independence back in the world. It begs the question: Why do we expect perfection out of our mothers, even ones who themselves were scared children when they became one? 

I want a review to focus on Ma's father, and how he couldn't even look at Jack because he saw him only as a product of the violence Ma lived through.

I want a review to focus more, as I hear the novel it's self does, on Jack's perspective as a (rightfully) selfish child who thinks of Room as a safe place, his world, even after he's left. How he makes Ma return their to say goodbye. 

These are places where I think the film truly succeeds in showing the complex nature of the characters, and not just focus on the "beauty" that is found in such a terrible situation. There is ugly there, too, and it's just as powerful.

Monday, February 22, 2016

'Joy' Review

"And if “Joy” seems to move toward a foreordained conclusion, it zigzags and covers its tracks along the way, sending its heroine on a roller-coaster ride of raised hopes and brutal disappointments and playing tricks with the audience’s expectations. What kind of spark will ignite between Joy and Neil Walker, a big shot in the world of home-shopping cable television? Since he’s played by Bradley Cooper, the answer could be anything.

But the movie, in all its mess and glory, belongs almost entirely to Ms. Lawrence. She is the kind of movie star who turns everyone else into a character actor. This is not a complaint but an acknowledgment of both her charisma and her generosity. The rest of the cast members have the freedom to be weird, awful and lovable in spite of themselves, to orbit eccentrically around her celestial presence. Mr. De Niro and Ms. Rossellini in particular seem to be having the time of their lives playing parental grotesques who might have wandered out of a Roald Dahl novel.

And Mr. Russell gives this meat-and-potatoes parable of upward mobility, set in the early 1990s, a children’s-book quality. I don’t mean that the story is simplified, but rather that its magical, improbable and cruel elements are heavily underlined, so that Joy feels more like a princess laboring under a terrible spell than like a struggling working-class mother. The trolls, witches and ogres she must beguile and vanquish are, for the most part, her own kin. She is, like a fairy-tale hero or heroine, on a long and complicated quest, relying on spells and charms as well as her innate goodness to deliver her."

I had read this review before going to see the movie, Joy, and since I am a fan of David O. Russell movies, I had already known I wanted to. But this review from the NY Times, by A.O. Scott, made me even more excited. While at times the review seemed to focus more on Russell and his career by comparing Joy to his more recent films, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle,  it was extremely well-written and captured everything that I felt while watching the film. Mainly, I found it easy to relate to what Scott had to say about sometimes being confused throughout the film...wondering what the point of the film/a character was,  only to have everything make sense in some weird way. This smart, smooth review gave a nice, in-depth look into the film without giving too much away. 

A Pulitzer Prize Winning Movie Critic

Mindless Eating
Mindless Eating (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here's her winning package.

One of her entries describes how TV helped her son after spinal surgery which ended his career as a high school football player.

We watch television for many reasons, in many different ways, not all of them healthy. Certainly it can be a sedentary activity, especially when combined with mindless eating. In a society where most bodies are already at rest more than they are in motion, it's easy to target television, especially given the American belief that too much of a good thing is never quite enough.
But television, especially nowadays, is an art form, and there are times we need to lose ourselves in art. To open ourselves wide to the thoughts and emotions of others, to see different sides of the human story unfurl slowly before us.
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are among the most important things we create, and sometimes it takes a while for them to sink in.

Rolling Stone Review - Whiplash

Of course, I was very easily persuaded in to watching Whiplash because Miles Teller is the star, but there was no turning back when this movie started moving. This review takes me because it is short and sharp. It uses just enough words to get you amped about the movie, and does no more.  It quickly sums up the two main characters, and why their dynamic is something that absolutely needs to be seen. "Beat the drums for Simmons Oscar, and add a cymbal crash for Whiplash. Itʻs electrifying."

Film Review I Like!

I love this review of E.T. The Extraterrestrial, written by Roger Ebert when he added the film to his Great Films collection in 1997. He writes the review as it if he's writing a letter to his grandchildren, and he describes the first time all of them sat down and watched the film, explaining to them what makes the film so great (and why the kids found it so great).

This technique is what elevates the review; because E.T. is, all acclaim aside, a children's film, reviewing the movie with children introduces their perspective. This makes the reader understand how talented Steven Spielberg is, to make a brilliant film that even a child could understand (Ebert praises the film's POV and the story's reliability). Ebert's writing is child-like and simple (so his grandkids could understand), which emphasizes this idea.

Lastly, I think that the emotionally charged writing (a grandfather addressing his grandchildren) works especially well for E.T. Most people who love the film love it for simple reasons: it's a heartwarming story about a lost alien who makes friends with some earth-born children. It's a fun, lovable film. Writing with the almost academic candor of some of his other pieces would have been a bit inappropriate for such an innocent film.