(Ch. 3) Response Post 1: An Interview with Film Critic Lawrence Toppman (due Sept. 17)

(Ch. 3) Response Post 1: An Interview with Film Critic Lawrence Toppman

Your response to this interview is due by 11:59 PM on September 17. 

Lawrence Toppman is the movie, TV & arts critic for The Charlotte Observer (since 1987) and has served as a critic for WCNC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Charlotte, N.C. He has acted in more than 50 stage productions, most of them as a singer with Opera Carolina in Charlotte, and can be seen playing a TV reporter in the movie “Atlantic City.” He did not earn one of the film’s five Academy Award nominations.

Listen to this interview & address the following response question below. The interview is posted here.

  1. What did you find most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman (his advice or his perspective on viewing and review films)? Why? How do you think that will help you in your approach to film criticism? If you repeat what someone else has already written, you must expand on those thoughts.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Celia García Martín says:

    1. What did you find most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman (his advice or his perspective on viewing and review films)? Why? How do you think that will help you in your approach to film criticism? If you repeat what someone else has already written, you must expand on those thoughts.
    From Larry Toppman’s interview there are several points that I would like to highlight. First, I like that he was aware from a very young age that many European or Asian quality films would not reach the United States due to the huge competitiveness in the filmmaking industry. Coming from Spain, I realize how there are wonderful Spanish films with magnificent Spanish actors that are only popular in Spain. The same happens with many non-English speaking countries. As for film critics, the more they expand their view and the more different types of films they watch, the better critics they will be. Each country, each culture, has a different way of considering cinema and filmmaking. Gaining all that knowledge as a film critic will have a direct impact on the quality of their reviews.
    Another important aspect about film reviewing is to not only focus on the surface. For me that is the main difference between a viewer and a film critic. As viewers, anyone can recognize what the plot of the movie is or if they have liked the movie or not. On the other hand, only a true film critic can go beyond those obvious facts and rather focus in other details such as photography, music or costumes. In this regard, he mentions that watching movies from this film critic prism has made him enjoy movies more over the years. For example, if the plot or the characters are not well developed, a film critic can focus in some other aspects of the movie that may be nicely carried out. This is a striking fact for me since I would have said the complete opposite. That is to say, I thought that film critics would often have the problem of not enjoying films as much because of having become too exigent with them.
    Toppman also mentions how film critics are often under the pressure of having to review a film after having watched it only once. I completely agree with him when he says that the best option is to watch a movie, at least, twice before doing the review. He mentions here what I consider to be an excellent example. That is Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”, which I really enjoyed. At the end of the movie there is a twist and the viewer discovers some information that change their whole perspective of the film. Therefore, when I watched the movie for the second time, I remember having searched for details that had gone unnoticed the first time. If I imagine myself writing a review of “Shutter Island”, I would have had two complete different versions depending on whether I had watched the film once or two times.
    Finally, one mistake that no film critic should make is being unfair when comparing movies. He mentions some film reviewer who would compare “Gone with the Wind” and some other masterpieces of cinema with any movie that he watched. That, apart from being extremely unfair, does not provide very accurate reviews. Thus, we should always be aware of what type of film we are watching, to what kind of audience is addressed and, consequently, use the right parameters to rate it.

    Celia García Martín

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      Celia – Expanding our filmmaking tastes will make us appreciate films in a different and deeper way, especially if we reach into films beyond our culture and languages.

      Films that have re-watch-abiltiy are the ones I’m drawn to for different reasons. Some films I want to re-watch because of the enjoyment factor, yet others I re-watch because of the many layers of content and context. Shutter Isle was a great observation for your point.

      The “Comparison” factor you noticed is something I feel strongly about. I always look at each film for what it is, and grade accordingly. There are some films like “Skyscraper” I watched last summer and gave a pretty solid grade (for an action/disaster film), because it did exactly what a film like that should do, and I was entertained. A few of my film critic friends gave me a hard time because I gave it a decent grade, but they were basically going into the film with intentional baggage, and wanted to make fun of it … and they did. They weren’t honest about what the “film was” … it was escape and entertainment.

      Thanks Celia -Noel Manning

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  2. What I find most interesting about Larry Toppman’s interview was his conversation with another film critic. The conversation surrounded how that critic compared award-winning films with animated kids movies. I personally relate to the other film critic. I tend to compare any film I watch to some of the best films of all time. I feel like I don’t purposely compare Shutter Island to 27 Dresses, but it happens. I compare all films to each other, based on how they keep my attention and how interesting they are (different types of plot twists). I personally hate predictable movies. But weirdly enough, I love 27 Dresses, but as Toppman said, romantic comedies have a timed recipe. Now, this isn’t fair to a good-quality romantic comedy in its own field when I compare it to an Oscar-winning film.

    In terms of looking at films differently, I think that I will be happier with the films that I do watch. I need to stop comparing movies like “Gone With The Wind” and “Avengers Infinity War”. “Gone With The Wind” is a great period drama and “The Avengers” is an incredible superhero movie. They are definitely in different genres but are each(in my mind) very good movies. In the future, I believe that if I critically look at a film within its genre that I will enjoy watching films more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      Sam -I think if you can find away to put aside the baggage, and explore each film for what “it is” or at least “what it’s trying to be” you’ll be able to separate the art films from the entertainment films … you may find that you can actually enjoy some films for escape. That doesn’t mean we should examine those films for the good and bad qualities, but we can at least measure them against “like” films instead of films that are completely different. Make sense? -Thanks Sam -Noel Manning

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  3. drewpeden says:

    1) What did you find most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman (his advice or his perspective on viewing and review films)? Why? How do you think that will help you in your approach to film criticism? If you repeat what someone else has already written, you must expand on those thoughts.

    The thing that I found most interesting after listening to the podcast with Larry Toppman was how he watches movies, sometimes instantly after watching it a first time. The first time he watches it for plot and story much as any non-movie critic would, and then go back and watch it a second time, after knowing the plot and story, and seeing how the logistics of the film are such as the acting, camera work, scene layout, and even post production editing. By doing this, it allows him to get more out of the movie than he would watching it only one time. I found this most interesting because I have never thought about doing something like that. I usually just watch a movie once and take it for face value and then try and go from there. I fully believe that by using this sort of strategy from now on when watching movies and writing reviews, I will be able to address more in my reviews, as well as be able to get a deeper meaning of a film. For example, if you look at “Inception”, the first time you watch it, you will notice that is an action packed film that leaves most viewers confused or with a headache after watching it, because yes it is a very complex film and takes a creative mind to open up to what is happening and understand what the director wanted to portray. After going back and watching it multiple other times, I have been able to analyze the hardware of the film and watch for more specific things such as the interesting camera work and cool editing that takes place throughout the film. It is a very well put together film in my opinion and now that I have gone back and watched it more than once, I can relate to what Larry Toppman was talking about when he goes back and views films multiple times, sometimes right after another, and looks for something different each time he sees it.

    9.16.18 – Drew Peden

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      Rewatching films is always helpful for film critics, just as is taking time to digest your thoughts before posting a review. That is more an more difficult in the age of “instant response.”

      “Inception” is a perfect example. Thanks Drew

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  4. Thomas Manning says:

    What did you find most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman (his advice or his perspective on viewing and review films)? Why? How do you think that will help you in your approach to film criticism?

    I was intrigued by the incredibly broad outlook that Toppman has of film. Growing up in a rural town with very limited access to film and entertainment, he devoured every bit of knowledge he could find. Toppman looked at international movies, as well as various filming styles and methods of camerawork. He discovered that there is so much more to the “art form” of the film industry than the big-time Hollywood films that dominate the box office and garner the most obvious critical praise. It was also very fascinating to hear him talk about looking for the positive aspects in all films, regardless of whether he’s enjoying them or not. If he is bored by the plot and acting, he might focus more on the music score or cinematography. Toppman is not just going to completely give up on a film without at least attempting to search for enjoyment.

    Personally, I could learn a lot from the fashion in which Toppman analyzes films. Many times, as I give my views on a film that I did not particularly like, I only point out the negatives that took away from my appreciation of the movie. Yet, there are very few if any films that I’ve seen without a single positive element to be taken away. All of the crew involved in a film put a tremendous amount of time and energy into their projects, and that should be respected, even if the final product was less than stellar. I’ve mentioned at other points throughout this course that I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons and checking out films that I might not have thought about before. Toppman is certainly a proponent of this aspect of viewing films. I look forward to possibly watching a movie or two in this course from a genre or style of filmmaking that I previously would never have paid any attention.

    – Thomas Manning

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      The more types of films that we are willing to explore, the more we’ll learn about culture, filmmaking styles, society, and the world at large.

      I’m also in Toppman’s camp to explore the positive aspects in films. I’m hoping each of you will take that approach as well; that’s why I’m asking each of you to look at the “strengths & weaknesses” of each film you view.

      I’ve said it before “For real filmmakers, those who are wanting to share their story and art; they never set out to make a bad film.”

      Thanks Thomas

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  5. 1) What did you find most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman (his advice or his perspective on viewing and review films)? Why? How do you think that will help you in your approach to film criticism? If you repeat what someone else has already written, you must expand on those thoughts.

    I think the one thing I found the most interesting with this interview was when Lawerence started to grasp the bigger impact of film. At one point in the interview, he talks about how important the story and the types of characters are to a movie, and that to me is the number one priority when watching a movie. Something I also found very interesting in this discussion was the idea of going back and watching a movie, that you like, but with a more critical angle. As a kid, being analytical was never a thing I had when watching movies, but once I started going to college my mind started to drastically develop and I have since then gone back and watched some movies I watched as a child, but with a more “actor/actress” focus or “director” focus. Lawerence’s perspective on this idea sort of felt like a great reminder of why I want to be a film critic because going back to movies you’ve seen before, I think, can expand your vocabulary, and it can also help see what you didn’t notice before and interpret it however you choose.

    Another thing from this conversation is when we go to certain movies for entertainment. I walk into to most movies expecting some form of entertainment because movies, for all intents and purposes, are purely entertainment. A movie like Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One or Star Wars are great examples of good movies with great entertainment. However, I think it’s interesting that movies like 12 Years a Slave, Passion of the Christ or Munich, can’t be viewed as entertainment, but as almost life-reflections. For me, acting has always been entertaining. Seeing something like a Michael Bay movie where there’s nothing but explosions happening every 5 seconds can be viewed as entertaining. I think this part conversation is something I had a slight disagreement with because something like Black Panther can have great action and wonderful effects, but it’s also got a great story and multi-dimensional characters. I think one can still get enjoyment from a heavy drama just like one could get enjoyment from a science-fiction movie.

    Zane Gray

    9/17/18

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      If a film has continued “rewatch-ability” we have to continue to ask ourselves why. Each time we rewatch we should continue to ask that question.

      Interesting thoughts about all films having the “entertainment factor.” Your disconnect with Toppman here may be that your definition of “entertainment” is different than his. Is that possible?

      Thanks Zane –

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  6. jalissa9 says:

    What I found interesting and caught my attention during the interview were just the techniques he uses when watching films. He described how when he first sees a movie he watches it see what the plot and sorry is all about and then right after if he is able to watch it a second time. The second time is more for about detail that went into the film. I feel like taking this type of approach will make me understand films more. I tend to watch it once and just take what I got from it and move on. I either rate the movie an A or F. Instead of depicting it bit by bit like how it should be. Being able to look at the movie for the plot, then going back for the rest helps you not miss anything rather than wondering oh what if.
    I also like how he said growing up he didn’t have much movie knowledge or even knew that Japanese, Latin, and other countries produced films and that we would pick the best of the best to be seen here. It’s fascinating how all of us have different backgrounds when it comes to recognizing film and how it came to be. I will also look into the background of films more before judging films. I don’t tend to judge films with others especially if the genres are different just because I feel that they all have a different message to portray. The hardest thing I need to learn is to actually focus more on the details and if the movies actually work. Did the director pick good content, location, cast? Did the plot make sense with the acting etc?

    Jalissa Herrera

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      The expansion of viewing (and reviewing films) beyond our general scope of interest (or country) can really help us understand the true power of filmmaking and telling stories across cultures and genres.

      I’ll be interested to talk with you at the end of the course to see if you’re able to break down that barrier of watching films deeper than just a “was it good or was it bad” approach.

      Thanks Jalissa

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  7. What did you find most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman (his advice or his perspective on viewing and review films)? Why? How do you think that will help you in your approach to film criticism? If you repeat what someone else has already written, you must expand on those thoughts.

    I so much appreciated the locality and down to earth personality that Mr. Toppman had to offer from this interview. It is refreshing to know that not all film critics live in Hollywood or Beverly Hills. I loved his Monty Python quote and his admiration for animated films. Maybe it is because I am a rom com junky, but when he mentioned that it’s the romantic movies where the guy doesn’t get the girl that we remember the most, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Before it even came out of his mouth, my mind immediately went to Titanic -arguably the most romantic movie of all times.

    Something else I found insightful was his advice or touch on watching a film multiple times. Some others have talked about this, but the more I think about it, it isn’t something I do commonly at all. Mr. Toppman had a lot of wisdom about how watching it a second time, maybe even right after the first, can help you see the small details in the movie you ignored trying to figure out the plot the first time. I could see myself starting to do this with the movies I like, in order to have a well rounded and refined opinion of a movie.

    Something else I recognized in his interview was how easy it was for him to dislike a movie, and then to actually say that. It scares me to offend anybody who works so hard but listening to him and learning more about film criticism in general has taught me that it really is okay to not like a movie. I think the important part of this is that if I don’t like a movie, I can’t just say I don’t like it. I have to specifically identify, just like he did, the aspects of the film I don’t enjoy.

    Kelsey Tanner

    Liked by 1 person

    1. noeltmanning says:

      Movie critics exist and report on films from all over the world, and if we look, we’ll discover those critics who click with us, and get films (and stories) the same way we do.

      You got the point exactly, it’s OK not to like a film, but our job in reviewing and evaluating is explaining the “why”.

      Thanks Kelsey

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  8. noeltmanning says:

    From Luke: Here is my response post for chapter 3 part 1!

    What I found most interesting about film critic Larry Toppman is the development of his interest in film, and his influences that lead him to where he is today. Mr. Toppman discussed the foreign movies that he saw from other countries and how he followed them throughout college and even how he watched them on a 16 mm projector. I think this had a big influence on the critic he is today simply because he is able to appreciate all types of movies in any format. I also find it interesting how he frequently reflects back on his previous film criticisms and how he recognizes how bad they were, but appreciates how it happened and the lessons learned. From how Mr. Toppmann talked about his old reviews it sounds like he had a lot to take away from it in terms of what will make his current or future reviews better. I think that personal reflection and looking back on his old reviews and movies he has seen is a big part of how Mr. Toppmann is where he is today. He talks about looking at different aspects of a film and the finer details as opposed to his first review on Monty Python where he simply stated facts and “snooty reviews”. Additionally, Mr. Toppman says he actually rereads every day the school paper from his senior year at Duke University and the reviews he had in the paper to somewhat reflect on where he came from, and why his reviews were so bad.

    I think that this advice and personal reflection is important to helping my film reviews as well as many other things in life or work. I think that looking back at my old reviews as I continue to write them will help me see what I was doing wrong, why it was wrong, and what I did to make it better. Almost like a personal quality control check I think reflecting on past works of mine could be very beneficial in continuing to make better reviews and work as a whole. Lastly, I think looking back at how my reviews began and what movies they began with like Mr. Toppmann and his foreign movies he saw in college. Will help my film criticism by understanding why I like certain movies and what sort of things from these movies or types of movies got me interested in reviewing them. Its comparable to going back through the halls of your old high school and reflecting on the beginning to improve the present. – Luke Gazak

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