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Saturday, May 05, 2007

This is no way to write a movie review

Cynthia Rockwell's "review" of Hannah Takes The Stairs is depressing not because she didn't like the movie but because after reading the entire thing, 6 small to medium sized paragraphs, I can't figure out the following: the plot of the movie or the situation or roughly what happens for 70 - 90 minutes, the main characters & any significant minor characters, who plays the characters, ideas that may have been expressed in the movie, similar ideas and situations that may have been explored in other movies or other art/entertainment and how those compare with the film being reviewed, the reviewer's opinion of the technical craftsmanship of the movie, how real life compares to the world being depicted in the movie. At the very least I would like to learn a few of those things about a movie from a review.

(and yes, Rockwell does consider her post re: Hannah a review, as noted here, not just a blog entry reflecting on the lack of female participation in indie film & a couple of related subjects using Hannah as an example; more on that below)

The stuff that Rockwell did talk about in her review; her belief that the lead actress was cast because she is cute, observation that there isn't enough female directors making movies, belief that the male gaze gets in the way of making good movies, are all interesting stuff to read & think about, but the essentials about the movie would be a very nice thing to find in a movie review. Even if it is just a blog entry movie review.

It's a good thing that newspapers still write reviews. Such coverage/press may be harder to get for real indies such as Hannah, but at least newspaper reviews, in my experience, impart the essential information about a movie that would help a reader decide if he/she wants to check the movie out even if the reviewer had tons of problems with the movie.

Also, several blogs & websites - GreenCine Daily, Filmmaker Blog, The Chutry Experiment, Hollywood Is Talking, indieWIRE, The House Next Door to name a few - do write reviews that provide the essential information plus a lot more to think about, so there is hope for more well written movie reviews on the web, all is not lost.

Indie filmmakers, even if they end up making a movie that makes very little sense to most audience members, put a lot of work into making their movies. It would be nice if bloggers who decide to review a movie can show a tiny bit of respect for the amount of work that goes into making a movie by sharing the basic and essential information about a movie with their readers.

Also, if you are a filmmaker/blogger/film reviewer, I am not very interested in hearing only or even mostly about what you would do differently on someone else's movie; deal with the movie as it exists and go from there. When you make a movie you will have plenty of time & opportunities, for many years to come hopefully, to discuss what you would have done differently on your movie. But when writing about other people's movies in a reviewer capacity, please give me the basics about the movie and then build from there. Thanksalot.

- Sujewa

22 comments:

cynthia said...

i'll write my 'reviews' as i like, thank you very much, i have no interest in recounting the plot on my blog, where i write the way i choose to and not the way an editor tells me to. that's what newspapers are for and that's why my blog is not a newspaper. you will never find the kind of dull review you want on my blog so feel free to never return. and i'll feel free to never view or review your film.

The Sujewa said...

definitely, as the blog's owner you'll do what you want. but as a reader, movie reviews on blogs would be better if they contained stuff on both the unique or special areas of concern for the blogger as well as the basic info. about the movie that i am used to getting from more traditional sources of info - such as newspapers. for some movies most of the reviews may come from blogs (specially when the film is in festival stage or a similar small release stage), so that makes it all the more important that bloggers think about orienting the reader properly & well by providing the basic info. & special opinion on the work. all that aside, i have read several excellent & thought provoking movie reviews on blogs. more would be nice.

- sujewa

Anonymous said...

Honestly Sujewa, the breadth of your idiocy is only topped by its depth. I don't know which is more absolutely idiotic -- your utterly childish critique of Rockwell's review (waaaah, where's the plot summary?) or your post on Spider-man 3. I'd say you were a disgrace to the indie film blogging community if anyone actually read your blog.

The Sujewa said...

great way to stand behind your strong feelings there ANONYMOUS.
and i guess we have the answer to if anyone actually reads my blog.
re: Spidey 3, i will have to go see it (saw the last two, and the ads all around me are pushing me to go see it, it might be fun), the color choice for Venom aside (but I'll be thinking about that issue while i watch the movie, no doubt). i would use "a disgrace to the indie film blogging community" to promote this blog, but alas, the source of that fine phrase is anonymous.

- sujewa

Chuck said...

I have to disagree with you very strongly on this one, Sujewa. Cynthia's review conveys one major "idea" about the film--its problematic gender politics, something that comes across in Cynthia's frustration with the lead actress's performance and the camera's approach to filming her. You can find plot summaries anywhere, but solid criticism like that is rare and takes the film far more seriously than any generic review ever could.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Chuck,

Nice to see you here.

Re: Hannah & several other small-plot or maybe we can say dialogue driven or character driven movies, many reviews completely ignore the fact that things actually happen to people/characters in the movie (i guess i am thinking about a lot of reviews of Mumblecore movies here), and that's frustrating to see if I am trying to figure out what the story or situation of the movie is (beyond a single sentence description or some hints) to decide if I should check it out or not. Rockwell's review only offers the criticism of the movie re: its perceived relationship to women & a possible reason why the lead was cast in her role - that's important, but its the kind of movie review that I find to be very frustrating since it is more about the ideas that the reviewer wants to talk about (using the existence of the film as a thin excuse) rather than a combination of what's actually in the movie plus stuff that the reviewer wants to talk about/stuff that may be related to the movie. I would say that Rockwell's review of Hannah is not actually a movie review but an essay inspired by one element of the movie. That is one way to write a review I guess (have seen that before in newspapers & elsewhere) but I don't think that's useful to many of the potential audience members.

But I guess that's what the generic reviews are for :) Except the generic reviews don't cover flicks like Hannah due to their limited release status. So there's my problem.

As an audience member who is interested in films like Hannah (i think), it would be cool if the rare reviews of those movies take a little bit of time to talk about what actually happens in the movie PLUS what the reviewer thinks it means or what the story may be related to. That would be very useful.

On the other hand, some movies inspire a very brief review or makes the reviewer want to focus entirely on one related subject but mainly not on the movie itself (plot, characters, dialogue, main ideas, etc.), and perhaps Hannah is one of those cases. I myself might have written such reviews in the past. But in the future, when I do write a full on review, I plan on giving both the "generic" info & any unique prespectives I can offer re: the movie.

- Sujewa

Chuck said...

Movies are more than plot summaries. Cynthia's review told me more about the film than any plot summary veer could.

Anonymous said...

Sujewa,
I'm sorry, but you're completely wrong about Cynthia and her review. It's very well written and it is interesting to hear a woman's viewpoint on this issue. While I like the fact that the so-called "mumblecore" moviemakers make their films on a low-budget, the truth is they're all vastly over-rated - especially Swanberg. But, you have to be able to say, "the emperor has no clothes" and I think that's what Cynthia is doing in her review. I also find it intriguing that you defend this group of "mumblecores," since you're not part of the upper middle class white soceity that seems to be spawning these works. The truth is, without SWSX's Matt Dentler's blind support of Swanberg and the others, the mumblecore movement wouldn't have the festival outlets/media attention and overhype it gets today. There's plenty of other filmmakers making low-no-budget movies...why aren't their works featured at SWSX and other major festivals? Some of these other films even have scripts and something to say about our society and world today. I think this "mumblecore" movement won't be able to sustain itself because their movies are about nothing really...they're as "formula" driven as any bad Hollywood or Indiewood feature. Oh, and any director who films himself masturbating in the shower and puts it in his movie ("Kissing on the Mouth") is suspect in my book.
But what else should we expect from the "children" of Kevin Smith?

Anonymous said...

i still think my 'review' was great. you can't control what i write or don't write on my own blog. it's up to me.

Filmbrain said...

Sujewa --

I see where you're coming from, but I strongly disagree. Cynthia's blog has always been a very first-person affair, and her piece was exactly what I (and no doubt her other regular readers) have come to expect from her writing.

The function of a "movie review" -- a bit of plot of summary and an overall yay or nay -- is to help those interested in determining "should I or shouldn't I see this movie." I don't think anybody is turning to Cynthia for that type of advice.

Sure, if she was writing about some obscure film a bit of summary would be helpful, but there's more than enough material out there on HANNAH should somebody wish to learn more.

The Sujewa said...

Chuck,

Re: "Movies are more than plot summaries. Cynthia's review told me more about the film than any plot summary veer could."

Sounds good, Rockwell's "review" worked for you.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

Anonymous,

Re: "I also find it intriguing that you defend this group of "mumblecores," since you're not part of the upper middle class white soceity that seems to be spawning these works."

I also liked Amelie, even though I am not French. A film, as a work of art/entertainment, can be judged or enjoyed or not enjoyed regardless of whatever groups the filmmaker(s) may belong to. At least I am able to do that.

Also, where I live & hang out (Montgomery County, MD & NW DC for the most part), there are no hard boundaries between ethnic & wealth groups - i've got friends who've got parents who make a TON of money & i've got friends who make not much money but are doing very interesting things with their lives, and I've got friends who make a TON of money and are also doing interesting things. It's all good - the individual can be dealt with outside of or regardless of the actual or perceived qualities of the group he/she comes from. There is, as that old saying goes, hope for everyone :)

Also, I doubt the Mumblecore kids have any great advantage over other indie filmmakers (re: the upper middle class thing) - as far as I can tell they, like many of the rest of us involved in the ultra-low budget end of indie filmmaking, M-core peeps have day jobs and are getting things done & out when & how they can.

Re: "I think this "mumblecore" movement won't be able to sustain itself because their movies are about nothing really...they're as "formula" driven as any bad Hollywood or Indiewood feature."

Who knows what will happen. Hollywood and Indiewood keeps making movies of various value and there does not seem to be any slowing down in their output. Also, pretty much all of the Mumblecore filmmakers have one of more movies coming out next year or are in the process of making one, from what I hear.

Anyone who is not happy with the amount of press coverage their films are getting or the fact that their films are not being selected for festivals can do the following:
generate their own publicity - start blogs, get their friends to write about their films, also do screenings & send out press releases - the screenings are news/something that is happening in the world, & press outlets will be inclined to cover them. also, re: fests - you can ignore them if they are ignoring you. set up DIY screenings, promote them all over the place, generate press, attention & revenue. anyone who is involved in indie film - real indie film - can't complain too much (they can, but it won't do much good) about things not happening for themselves or their projects if they are not out making the things happen - indie film (specially the ultra low budget DIY stuff) is a do-it-yourself medium. if something is not happening to your liking, then figure out how to do it & do it. at this point of time, after the 80's & the 90's, & after punk & indie rock, and after the boom of the internet, info. is easily available on how to make & promote & distribute indie movies & other indie art/entertainment.

- sujewa

The Sujewa said...

anonymous,

re: "i still think my 'review' was great. you can't control what i write or don't write on my own blog. it's up to me."

good for you. the 'review' did not work for me as a movie review.

- sujewa

Anonymous said...

If it didn't work for you, why didn't you write your own 'review' instead of just criticizing mine? i've never been so insulted in my life.

The Sujewa said...

Anonymous,

re:
"If it didn't work for you, why didn't you write your own 'review' instead of just criticizing mine? i've never been so insulted in my life."

If this is Cynthia Rockwell (can't tell, you are not logging in but are commenting as annonymous), here's the reply:

my blog entry re: your 'reveiw" of Hannah is not a personal insult or criticism of any other thing that has to do with you besides your Hannah 'review". that 'review' is posted on a publicly available forum (the web) for public consumption. and as a member of the public who saw your 'review', and also as a blogger & a filmmaker, i strongly disagreed with you labeling & offering your thoughts inspired by Hannah (but did not have much to do with the actual film) as a movie review. for example, you venture the guess that the filmmaker cast the lead actress in the role simply because she is attractive or considered to be attractive. that is, at best, a very minor (& completely without proof) note in a typical film review. such observations do not help me (someone who is looking at reviews to see if a given film is worthy of my attention & money) make a decision re: watching the film. the fact that you completely ignored what little plot the movie might have, along with other staples of a review (stuff i mentioned in my original post) tells me that: 1) your piece of writing is not a movie review in any traditional sense, and 2: you are more interested in your own ideas that relate to the movie & not what the movie is - what it contains, what it tries to do, where it succeeds & fails, etc. thus, i wrote a blog entry about it, in the hope that other bloggers who are interested in reviewing indie films or any film for that matter, think about my suggestions & also my needs as a consumer/film goer (which, I bet, are pretty universal) when they write their reviews. blogging is engaging with the public, it is a public activity, do not be shocked or insulted when people who read your blog have opinions of their own about your writing & they choose to express those in blog entries of their own.

on the bright side, as the comments above show, you have several fans & loyal readers. me writing about your review will probably send a few more readers your way.

- sujewa

franny said...

wow that anonymous is not me but seems to be pretending to be, that is very creepy. as you see from my very first comment, i have no fear of retaliating using my own name--i have no idea who this anonymous is.

beyond that, all i can say is you have a very prudish allegiance to the definition of the term "review", and for someone who says you dont' want to hear from reviewers how they would make a film differently, you sure have a lot of opinions about how i and others should write our reviews. perhaps take some of your own advice.

The Sujewa said...

Filmbrain,

Re: "I see where you're coming from, but I strongly disagree. Cynthia's blog has always been a very first-person affair, and her piece was exactly what I (and no doubt her other regular readers) have come to expect from her writing."

Sounds good.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

Franny,

Re: "beyond that, all i can say is you have a very prudish allegiance to the definition of the term "review","

there are certain things I expect from a good/well written review

Re: "and for someone who says you dont' want to hear from reviewers how they would make a film differently, you sure have a lot of opinions about how i and others should write our reviews. perhaps take some of your own advice."

Reviewers can provide all kinds of suggestions on improving a film in additon to dealing with the film as it exists, but in some cases, that is pretty much the total content of their review. That I see as an avoidance strategy. This, however, is not very common, but I have seen it a couple of times recently. Also, this is typically done by filmmakers who are reviewing films by other filmmakers, which I think is more of an expression of the filmmaker/reviewer's desire to make movies instead of doing the task that they have assigned themselves - which is to review a movie for the benefit of readers who want to find out about a movie.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

In "Reviewers can provide all kinds of suggestions on improving a film in additon to dealing with the film as it exists, but in some cases, that is pretty much the total content of their review.", by "that" I mean all they offer is how they would do it differently, not a review of the movie that exists.

- Sujewa

cynthia said...

whoa something really weird is happening, that 'franny' comment was left by me, cynthia rockwell. and to reiterate, none of those anonymous comments were me.

The Sujewa said...

sounds good Cynthia. unless a comment that looks like it is from you has your name on it, i'll consider it a fake one.

- sujewa

Anonymous said...

I am 'Franny,' but I did not intend to comment using Cynthia's name anonymously. She did it in purpose.

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