Do You Have A "Style" When It Comes To Reviewing Movies?

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I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
The score is important for me, so much that I use a 1-10 scale.. If a movie is solid but reminiscent of many other movies, I write very little, sometimes nothing.. It's usually the first thing I ask if a person recommends me a movie, or if I realize they've seen a movie I enjoyed.


If I see a movie that was similar to another, I usually point that out. If I know of certain stories about a movie, conditions of the filming, I like to point it out instead of assuming everyone will go research it on their own.



I've always enjoyed user critics over professional critics, who seem to be spending more time with a thesaurus instead of just talking to the people, since that's what they say they're trying to do. So communicate! I even got Chomsky to admit that there are academics who are speaking to each other, despite saying (in his case, political discussion) how the working-class needs to be involved.

I rarely comment on cinematography/photography.. I'm more interested in the script and the acting. I also distinguish when I know about certain actors personal lives, maybe also in relation to the director and others vs. a movie I watch out of the blue where I don't know anyone, which has an element of surprise... If I find a great movie, I'll try to retrace the director's steps, and review them chronologically, to see if they get better (not always the case, Pasolini in my opinion), and mention the financial and critical success and to see if a director (or a producer, actor, writer, etc) becomes formulaic and tries to cash in on his current trendiness, or if they instead go a different direction and make an entirely different kind of movie. Sometimes after a director makes a lot of money, he/she knows they'll have more freedom and most likely a greater budget and access to better actors and crew, and sometimes they make a personal non-commercial movie because they know it might be their only chance. Or if a director is struggling after having great success, do they do something radical, or try and revert to original success (Scorsese).

If I write a review about a movie, I use the same language I would use if I were talking to a friend. I usually add personal things about myself so you can see it from my angle.. I might describe the circumstances. How, when, and why I saw a movie.. If I've seen it before, I like to contrast, but also try and remember the details of the previous viewing. I'll even mention if I was tired while watching a certain movie, or in a bad mood, or having a similar story. Sometimes I'll mention the latest movies I've seen. I like to write-up a primal reaction and not worry much about editing, just as long as the spelling/grammar are good enough. I focus a lot on when the movie was made, to compare it to real life major (or minor) events in the country the movie was made, or the language/s the dialogue.

If I'm watching a Swedish movie from 1967 about a time during the late 1920s, I keep in mind of the interpretation. "Oh, that's how this Swedish director thought of the 1920s from a 1967 perspective". Speaking of 1967, I like to stratify within and beyond. For example, if I'm curious in a particular's country counter-culture demonstrated on film, I'll check out an assortment of movies (let's say Sweden just for the sake of example/consistency) by different directors, but at the same year. I won't seek out something like "Easy Rider", which I won't avoid, but I also like to see how prevalent that supposed counter-culture is from a traditional middle-class, and their take on things. I compare to what is being shown to see what they stress, and maybe things they leave out.. As an aside, if I'm reading about a band where multiple members write an autobiography. I'll read them side by side, reading one, and then reading the other during a certain time/event to see any possible bias, to read what the author feels is essential, and what (and why) is being omitted.....

Then I'll watch all sorts of movie (from 1967) from countries within close proximity geographically, but I'll also add the political landscape of a country. I would watch a movie from Cuba and Russia from the early-to-mid 1960s; both traditional, and possibly social/political.... Same thing with war movies. It's nice to compare movies that were made at the time of a certain war (WWII especially) and then a modern movie, sometimes just to find historical revisionism (or other kinds that are in or out of style.. political correctness).

It's not very common, but I love comparing an actor (or even a director) who was a star in the 1940s, and then to see them in the 1970s, like Robert Mitchum, who made the transition well. Completely different kinds of movies, and acting. My one criticism of the 1930/40s was the acting. Overacting, too much movement, more aggressive, but also understanding movies were a new art; and knowing the habits and tradition of the theater, where an actor had to project to the entire audience, even those in the back. I think Marlon Brando acted like a human, instead of an actor, which is a big reason I think he is our best.

An with each movie, I don't break it down to three acts, but praise and criticize the decisions made. It's great to find the script (like Taxi Driver, which is so descriptive) and to see how it's transposed from text to video.

The one thing I haven't done is read a book and THEN watch the movie, and try to compare my initial imagination to what is on the screen.



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
I don't have style, but I am trying to develop one. Will be watching this thread.
I think your lack of style is probably the best style. Unique is the best way to go. Just type without thinking... It's much better than reading twenty professional critics who all sound the same.It seems like the critics are talking to each other... One half are evaluating the other half (but no one is getting better).

Speaking of critics, there was one good scene in the movie "Birdman" which is basically quid pro quo.


I also noticed that critics like Pauline Kael (and many others) seem to think the quality of movies was diminishing, but of course, if you are honest and criticize them as you see it, you won't get access, thus, not being able to make a living. John Simon is probably the only one who didn't mind criticizing almost every movie, which also made me interested in the few movies he did like.



Yes, but it's different depending on whether or not I'm forming an opinion, talking about the film, or writing a "formal" review I intend to post/share.

For that last one, writing a review, I think my style is look for cinematic influences, points of comparisons, and cultural throughlines. I like trying to pinpoint why a thing did (or didn't work) on its own terms, from a shared premise with the movie and its goals, rather than just critiquing the type of movie it is altogether (with some rare exceptions if the type of movie it wants to be is objectionable in some way).

Beyond that, case-by-case, but I think that's the biggest thing: taking the movie's premise as a given, and critiquing it based on what it's trying to be, rather than what I would want it to be or what I would prefer if I were making a movie myself.

That and I go out of my way to setup one-liners and puns. Sorry.
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I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
Yes, but it's different depending on whether or not I'm forming an opinion, talking about the film, or writing a "formal" review I intend to post/share.

For that last one, writing a review, I think my style is look for cinematic influences, points of comparisons, and cultural throughlines. I like trying to pinpoint why a thing did (or didn't work) on its own terms, from a shared premise with the movie and its goals, rather than just critiquing the type of movie it is altogether (with some rare exceptions if the type of movie it wants to be is objectionable in some way).

Beyond that, case-by-case, but I think that's the biggest thing: taking the movie's premise as a given, and critiquing it based on what it's trying to be, rather than what I would want it to be or what I would prefer if I were making a movie myself.

That and I go out of my way to setup one-liners and puns. Sorry.
Cinematic influences is something I should be aware of (more at least).. Do you look for directors influenced by other directors, or say perhaps movies influenced by movements (neo-realism, new wave), and/or their contemporaries?

Could you talk about "points of comparison".. It sounds like something I'm interested in, or would be interested in. "Cultural throughlines" is a term I'm not very familiar with, other than cultural habits. Do you compare these over time with the date of the movie's release, or the intended story's timeline in history? Could you expand a bit, maybe using an example?

As for what a movie is trying to be, it's hard for me to understand. I guess all art has a message. It seems many critics retrospectively intellectualize movies, especially if the director has a reputation for being symbolic, intellectual, and if the director's personality and work is known more. I remember Kiarostami saying how others intellectualized scenes of his movies, trying to decode something that was happenstance. I'm referring to the movie, "Close-Up".. There's a scene on an empty road with the can being kicked down (or something to that extent) and he said it was just the wind at that particular moment, and that he gave it no thought.. Of course, most directors seem to avoid going into meaning to say, "I want the audience to take it any way they want", but I like someone with definite goals, regardless if they reached them or not. But, it's also nice to dissect what went wrong. If a certain character in a movie is written for the audience to empathize with, I like to equate and quantify responsibility. For example.. was it the lack of writing? Was it the director not taking certain things into account like the photography/atmosphere. An actor can also take a great line and with every try, give entire meaning, or enough subtlety to make it a better (or worse) performance. I love to know how much an actor contributed (ad-libs, etc) and if a director will allow his ego to get into the way of his curiosity.

Speaking of actors with reputations, I wonder if it helps certain movies. Take, "Flight of the Phoenix".. We all know Jimmy Stewart as a noble man on the screen who will always do the right thing. It's a good movie, but could it have been better with another actor because of the predictability?



When I write a review, I try to let the review write itself, literally. There's even been times when I set out to pan a movie, but my review made me change my mind to praise instead. I swear it's like they have a mind of their own.



This is a simplistic way to review, but it is what I have been doing so far. I rate a movie 1-3 based on weather I liked it or not. Than I allow up to 2 points for various film elements such as script, lighting, sound, etc. and finally on its universal appeal.

I then try to defend my rating in the written part of the review.



Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
I usually set off to write a serious full-blown review, but end up either with a half-assed rant analysis or a one-sentence joke.
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Yeah, I often try to incorporate a story or a point, to explain my motivation for reviewing that specific movie. It gives some heart to my reviews, and helps me break away from the robotic "I liked X, I didn't like Y, overall this film's a Z" formula.


As for my rating scale, it goes like this:


10 - the gold standard by which other films of its genre are judged.
E.g. Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, No Man's Land, Stalker


9 - so good you wanna shill it to everyone
E.g. The Terminator, A Wonderful Night in Split, Švankmajer's Faust, The World's End, Sherlock Jr.


8 - just a rock-solid film, no bs inbetween
E.g. Apocalypto, Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Rango, Harakiri


7 - flawed, but still leaves a good impression
E.g. the Lion King, Ciguli Miguli, Armin, Conan the Barbarian


6 - didn't mind watching it, but wouldn't watch it again
E.g. The Social Network, Time of the Gypsies, Švankmajer's Alice


5 - it's like flushing 2 hours of your life down the toilet
E.g. Endgame, When Father was Away on Official Business


4 - has redeeming qualities, but it's not good
E.g. Birdman, Princess Mononoke


3 - so bad it makes you wonder why you're still warching it
E.g. The Avengers (2012), Even I met Happy Gypsies


2 - so bad it ruins your entire day
E.g. A Serbian Film


1 - so bad it provokes active harted
E.g. Ghost in the Shell, Underground

It's not always exact, some there's films like The General which could pass for either an 8 or a 9, but it works as a set of guidelines



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
a 5/10 to me means I broke even with my time.. It means I didn't regret watching it.. So on and so forth.


6 - Alright
7 - Pretty Good
8 - Very Good
9 - Great
10 - Perfect
with halves in between..... I usually use precedent (just like a SC justice), and will compare movies with similar scores when I'm struggling for accuracy.



My Rating System:
1/10 - 4/10 = Negative
5/10 = Average
6/10 - 10/10 = Positive

*Depending on the degree of the flaw, a film can be marked down more than one point.

1/10: No matter how hard I try, I can't think of anything I liked about these movies whatsoever.

2/10: Movies with this rating barely have anything I liked about them. Sometimes, the only thing I can say I liked are a few minor things. However, I can't say I liked nothing about these movies.

3/10: Movies with this rating have a couple solid aspects I liked. However, the bad outweighs the good quite a bit.

4/10: Movies with this rating have several things I disliked and a fair amount of things I liked. However, the bad slightly outweighs the good and I wouldn't say they're average or okay.

5/10: Movies with this rating may have a few flaws, but there are just enough things I like about them for me to consider them as something I like. I likely won't revisit any of these movies though.

6/10: I like movies which get this rating. They may have a few flaws, but overall, I find these movies to be pretty good. I have little issue with revisiting these movies as long as it's only a few spread out viewings.

7/10: I really like movies which receive this rating. Movies with this rating usually have only one thing I disliked about them or a few minor things I disliked. I'd be okay with revisiting these movies every now and then.

8/10: I can't find anything major I disliked about these films. There may be one or two minor issues I had, but they're usually insignificant when factored against everything I liked about them. These movies may not give me a feeling of "I couldn't have enjoyed this any more". However, I have no issue with revisiting them as my opinion may possibly grow.

9/10: Like films I give 8/10 to, I can't find anything I disliked about these movies as well. I also don't have any minor issues with them. However, what sets these films apart from films I give 8/10 to is that I find more merits with them and feel a far greater connection to them. They still don't give me a sense of perfection, but they sure come close to doing so.

*A film has to be at least one year old in order to receive this rating.

10/10: I can't think of anything I disliked about these movies. Not only do I think these movies are perfect, but I also think they're untouchable and awe-inspiring. I doubt I could've enjoyed them anymore.

*A film has to be at least five years old in order to receive this rating and I have to watch it at least twice.



Cinematic influences is something I should be aware of (more at least).. Do you look for directors influenced by other directors, or say perhaps movies influenced by movements (neo-realism, new wave), and/or their contemporaries?
More the former, because while I'm not much of an expert in either, I'm more likely to be able to draw a comparison to a director than a movement. But more than either, I try to look for similar films.

Could you talk about "points of comparison".. It sounds like something I'm interested in, or would be interested in.
I'm usually trying to do a few things with a review:

1) Entertain the reader.
2) Express some kind of insight about the film.
3) Help the reader decide whether it's something they might want to watch.

That last bit, at least for me, is best accomplished through comparisons to other films or, barring that, whichever well-known director feels like they most could have directed this instead of whoever did. For example, in my review of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri I said:
Whether a director is constantly reinventing or constantly refining, the question is what they're capable of at their upper bounds. Even the best possible version of a Uwe Boll film will not be good, nevermind Oscar worthy. But the best version of a Quentin Tarantino film is, even while its worst version is borderline schlock.

Tarantino is a good comp for Martin McDonagh, whose fondness for elevated brutality follows the same black-and-blueprint, and who has perhaps realized the upper bounds of his potential in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.
I feel like this accomplishes a few things for the reader: it tells them there's violence in it, it tells them it's kind of ridiculous to the point of being comical, and it gives them a well-known director they can use to figure out if McDonagh's work is at least the kind of thing they might like. It also tells them that this is the best thing he's done, so if they really liked the style of In Bruges but found the film as a whole lacking, it's a signal to them that this has similarities, but is better realized.

"Cultural throughlines" is a term I'm not very familiar with, other than cultural habits. Do you compare these over time with the date of the movie's release, or the intended story's timeline in history? Could you expand a bit, maybe using an example?
Certainly. By "cultural throughlines" I mean anything in the film that expresses, subverts, or references a cultural trend. Sometimes (often) I'll end up noting that it's clumsy and shoehorned in, but sometimes it's graceful and subtle, subtle enough that someone else might not have noticed it. Sometimes it's a connection I've made that maybe wasn't even intended, but which I think will be interesting.

Here's an example, from a review of The Avengers:
It's easy to look at the Avengers as a stand-in for America; spread out, occasionally wildly at odds with its individual parts, but ultimately bound together. Stark lives in Malibu; he is glitz and glamour. Steve Rogers is from Brooklyn; he is duty and modesty. They have as much in common as California and New York, or Connecticut and Kansas. But when a common threat emerges, the pluribus' waste no time unum-ing. Modern hero stories, at their best, reflect this higher cultural truce; they are an expression of the things we still agree on.
This paragraph isn't really about the movie at all: it's about why the movie is popular. It's noting that achieving this kind of universal appeal is particularly difficult in a fractured media (and political) landscape, and trying to pinpoint what shared values it's expressing that's managing to unite diametrically opposed ideologies.

As for what a movie is trying to be, it's hard for me to understand. I guess all art has a message.
I should clarify that when I say "what a movie is trying to be," I mean asking whether it achieves it's goals, rather than asking whether I personally like those goals. I might not like silly comedies, but it'd be silly to review a Jim Carrey movie and critique it for that reason. If I'm going to review something like that, my job is to ask whether it's a good example of a silly comedy, rather than just rip into it for not being an historical drama, or whatever I might be more interested in.

I think this distinction is really, really important to criticism in general.

It seems many critics retrospectively intellectualize movies, especially if the director has a reputation for being symbolic, intellectual, and if the director's personality and work is known more.
Totally agree with this. We talk about this on the podcast a lot, about how easy it is to read meaning into things if you try. We also talk about the idea that maybe being a good storyteller just means having a nose for the kinds of topics and themes that lend themselves to that, so that it's still to the director's credit even if it's not explicitly intended. Hard to say!



My approach to writing about film often involves a lot of entanglements with not only what I'm watching, but the memories it evokes in me, my past experiences watching other movies, random thoughts that pop into my head and confessions of moments I wasn't paying attention. I'm rarely interested in summarizing the story itself and I frequently make it hazy what my actual verdict on the film is (I often don't even know myself). I am particularly focused on the moments that confound me, that obliterate tone, that annihilate narrative expectations, that fart all over consistency.

In short, my style could be thought of as entirely self absorbed film watching. As I feel it should be, not just for me, but for everyone. My goal is, in short, to articulate exactly what I just watched did to my brain. This can lead to me either just completely taking the piss about the notion of daring to review art at all, or being painfully meticulous in unravelling the thematic glue of some piece of low rent trash that probably doesn't deserve the attention I'm giving it.

I recently came across a quote of a film critic summarizing his profession and it went something like "A man walks into a movie theatre. I am that man". Exactly! I am that man too. And this man is a deeply contradictory and flawed watcher of films. My 'style' hopes to accurately reflect this. And I probably do a pretty good job of it.

And, yes, I'm another refugee from RT/Corrie.



I tend to write highly "subjective" reviews (I mean, all reviews are subjective if they express any opinion about any element of the film).

While I can recognize, to a degree, technical capability and style, I'm more interested in how the film struck me and in what ways it resonated with me as a person and with my broader experience with cinema/art. I figure there are plenty of people out there who are much wiser and much more articulate in the art of technical analysis.

I'm currently reading a book about how to engage children in reading, and the author said something really neat about books that I think also applies to movies. There are "ways in which literature can serve as windows, sliding glass doors, and mirrors." So, what did a movie show me that expands my understanding of the world or that is incredibly different from my life/experience? What did a movie show me that connects or resonates with me as an individual?

I try to be very clear about elements that I liked or disliked that might not be a general issue--for example if I might bump a film's rating because it stars someone I like or if I ding a film for unrealistic portrayals of people with disabilities (a pet peeve of mine). Since star scores/ratings are personal anyways, I try to make it clear that my ratings are a measure of my personal experience with a movie and not some universal judgement of quality.



I tend to mostly talk about aspects of the film that really grabbed me or that I was compelled to chew over. I'm not all that interested in writing a comprehensive "review" about all aspects of the film, just the ones that I found interesting to chew over. What exactly that tends to be differs from film to film.



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
My approach to writing about film often involves a lot of entanglements with not only what I'm watching, but the memories it evokes in me, my past experiences watching other movies, random thoughts that pop into my head and confessions of moments I wasn't paying attention. I'm rarely interested in summarizing the story itself and I frequently make it hazy what my actual verdict on the film is (I often don't even know myself). I am particularly focused on the moments that confound me, that obliterate tone, that annihilate narrative expectations, that fart all over consistency.

In short, my style could be thought of as entirely self absorbed film watching. As I feel it should be, not just for me, but for everyone. My goal is, in short, to articulate exactly what I just watched did to my brain. This can lead to me either just completely taking the piss about the notion of daring to review art at all, or being painfully meticulous in unravelling the thematic glue of some piece of low rent trash that probably doesn't deserve the attention I'm giving it.

I recently came across a quote of a film critic summarizing his profession and it went something like "A man walks into a movie theatre. I am that man". Exactly! I am that man too. And this man is a deeply contradictory and flawed watcher of films. My 'style' hopes to accurately reflect this. And I probably do a pretty good job of it.

And, yes, I'm another refugee from RT/Corrie.
Welcome, Corrie.. Great movie taste! Cassavetes and Altman are two of my favorite directors, and were next-door neighbors. "Nashville" is my #3.


I liked your post.. I also try to incorporate personal/subjective stuff, memories, and basically anything you WONT read from the average film critic. I also don't summarize. I don't want "spoil" it, even if they aren't technically spoilers, but I like to go in a movie knowing as little as possible. I don't see the purpose of giving a play-by-play analysis, anyway. I also have a tendency to mention the high and low points, but trying to avoid the plot, by making a more general critique.


I tend to write highly "subjective" reviews (I mean, all reviews are subjective if they express any opinion about any element of the film).

While I can recognize, to a degree, technical capability and style, I'm more interested in how the film struck me and in what ways it resonated with me as a person and with my broader experience with cinema/art. I figure there are plenty of people out there who are much wiser and much more articulate in the art of technical analysis.

I'm currently reading a book about how to engage children in reading, and the author said something really neat about books that I think also applies to movies. There are "ways in which literature can serve as windows, sliding glass doors, and mirrors." So, what did a movie show me that expands my understanding of the world or that is incredibly different from my life/experience? What did a movie show me that connects or resonates with me as an individual?

I try to be very clear about elements that I liked or disliked that might not be a general issue--for example if I might bump a film's rating because it stars someone I like or if I ding a film for unrealistic portrayals of people with disabilities (a pet peeve of mine). Since star scores/ratings are personal anyways, I try to make it clear that my ratings are a measure of my personal experience with a movie and not some universal judgement of quality.
I completely agree about technical analysis - someone else (and probably many) have already done that, and so I try to avoid the standard type of review. I'm usually bored by the first few sentences, but I also understand a professional has to "show off" their language skills, and to blend in with the established norms of who they're writing for.


I like to parse as much as I can, because every time I make a broad statement, there's always exceptions to the rule, and I never want to misrepresent myself or the movie. I'm always trying to find and be accurate. For example, I just watched a movie, "The and I didn't like some of believability and predictability, but that is probably the first time I had that critique. I didn't mention it, because it would be such an anomaly..



I must admit to giving certain movies a 1/10 (usually if they're new) to have more influence, and also giving a 10/10 to maybe give a lesser known movie a boost. Sometimes I'll change it later just so my IMDB scores are more organized.


I must end it there.. It's taken me 15 minutes to get that little bit complete (laptop is constantly freezing)... See, it's just like my reviews - meta! Actually, I don't like using that word or the trendiest "smart" words, but I like the reader to be in my living room when I'm watching a movie, and a little into my head and life to understand my understanding.



I hate reading summaries of movies in a review. Hell usually I've already seen the movie, so I don't need to hear a blow by blow accounting of the entire story. And if I haven't seen it, then I don't want to know what the story is.



I am particularly focused on the moments that confound me, that obliterate tone, that annihilate narrative expectations, that fart all over consistency.
So . . . The Headless Eyes.

In short, my style could be thought of as entirely self absorbed film watching. As I feel it should be, not just for me, but for everyone.
Yup.



I must admit to giving certain movies a 1/10 (usually if they're new) to have more influence, and also giving a 10/10 to maybe give a lesser known movie a boost.
I'm fine with giving underseen films a little boost, but why down vote other movies? Why not just give a "honest" score to newer stuff and maybe a generous extra star or two to the stuff you love?



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
I'm fine with giving underseen films a little boost, but why down vote other movies? Why not just give a "honest" score to newer stuff and maybe a generous extra star or two to the stuff you love?
I'm not a fan of newer stuff. 1930-70s is for me. I can say the same about music.