Managing Preconceptions and expectations
- Stay away from early reviews if you can. If you’re unable to, try not to let the early audience or critics buzz add to your baggage or influence your critical opinion.
- Draw your own conclusions. Remember, this is your review, your critique.
- Confess it – if buzz or your own bias or baggage creeps in – admit it. But, don’t use this as a crutch or an easy way out. Ultimately, the review is still yours. Own it. Deliver it with critical thought and perspective.
Subjectivity vs. Objectivity
Reviews by their very nature are personal and unique to the reviewer’s voice and tone, and comes with unique baggage, both positive and negative (subjective). But you want to balance all of those thoughts and observations with a solid defense and research (objective). The more that you come to understand about the filmmaking process itself (the stages of filmmaking, the responsibilities of cast and crew), cinema history, current trends in the movie world, and the actual cast and crew of the films you are reviewing – the more valid and well-reasoned your reviews will be. Back up your points with well-defined examples and with a strong defense. Cover your bases.
Inaccuracy in movies
Should you mention inaccuracies in films you review as a movie critic? Take this on as a personal choice and a case by case basis. This is usually a question that comes up in bio-pics, period films or based on a true story flicks. You may also discover inaccuracies in films of specialized natures (courtroom dramas, hospital-themed, computer facility settings, or science-related films). Sometimes the director decides to make changes in film that aren’t completely true-to-life because of artistic license or condensed time/narrative constraints.
Ultimately, the decision on which incorrect facts a reviewer mentions (or when to mention them) boils down to the audience’ impact. Would these inaccuracies be something that the “average movie-goer” would notice or really even care about? Does it take away from the story or the message? If the only reason you’re planning to offer a “history vs. non-history lesson” is to show your knowledge, expertise and/or pompous snobbery … then you may want to reconsider the use of it. But, again, this is a decision each individual critic/reviewer should make for themselves. If the inaccuracies truly bother you, mention them, but you should also share that these items may or may not impact the casual filmgoer. This is when your subjectivity and objectivity will come together.
Rating your films (options available)
Each reviewer discovers a “grading system” they feel most in tune with (or that their editor has assigned them). There is no universal reviewing report card system. But here are a few to consider.
- Yea/Nay Systems (Thumbs up or thumbs down approach)
- Star Ratings (three-star, four-star, five-star methods)
- Letter Grades (Think of the school report card A+ to F ratings)
- 1-100 Percentage Systems (This is the Rotten Tomatoes concept)
- 1-10 Point Systems
- Oddball Systems (3 of out five popcorn boxes, Worth Your $10, Sleeping audience members, Wait for Redbox)
Audience, Influence, Note taking the Law of Averages?
- Approach each film going in as if it will be at least average and then start grading up or down based on your reviewing techniques.
- Then compare that grade to other films in the same genre –how does this rank against other comedies, dramas, thrillers, etc.?
- Make notes during the film and refer to them when refining your thoughts on the film.
- Make sure that your review matches your grade.
- When should the audience influence your review? If the audience is laughing at all the jokes, or they seem genuinely surprised or scared by a horror film –you can mention that –but don’t let it sway your ultimate evaluation.
- Also, it is best to write a full review six-24 hours after you’ve seen the film (if possible). But, in the world of instant thoughts, social media review feed expectations, and review deadlines for professional critics, it is more and more difficult to wait.
Waiting can be an important factor in reviewing (if you’ve got the time) because it gives you a chance to let the film soak in. That reflective time allows you to digest your thoughts; this time provides you with a chance to remember and revisit key facts, and it also gives time for some in-depth research on the film. I’m not saying you shouldn’t tweet or even post your immediate thoughts and reflections, I’m just saying take the time to really “think” about why this film is or isn’t worthy of someone paying money to see it or invest a couple of hours of their precious time to view it. In my experience of critiquing hundreds of films over the years, I’ve had to share reviews almost immediately after the movie was over, and other times I’ve had several weeks to prepare a critical evaluation. Given a choice between the two, I’d take the extra time … every time.
- The Headline should be creative and should let your audience know something about the movie (or the tone of your review):
“Sam Levinson’s “Malcolm & Marie” is a declarative statement of artistic talent”
“Shazam is a Pure Jolt of Superhero Fun”
“Antebellum Offers a Revisionist Take on History with a Twist”
“Pet Sematary Remake Resurrects the Classic Horror Genre”
“The Mauritanian presents the moral failings of a country who mistakes vengeance for justice”
“Dumbo Live Action Remake Offers Larger Than Life Heart, Soul & Imagination
Keeping the Leads Fresh (6 ways)
- Trivia about the film, cast and crew – Examples: Offer Obscure facts about the cast or crew; mention directors previous work; share trivia about the making of the film; chat about technical breakthroughs/advances in filmmaking this film offers; mention if there a major message, theme or nagging feeling you couldn’t shake after the film was over.
- The origins of the story – Is it an original, a remake, a sequel or an adaptation?
- Pop culture or historical references – You can tie in items that provide context to trends, thoughts or societal patterns or ideas (past and present).
- Personal anecdotes – Share a personal story that may have happened during the film viewing or even a story/event/memory that this film may have re-stimulated within you.
- Jokes (only if you’re funny) – You can use puns to tease out your thoughts in connection to the film (the title, characters, narrative), or you make reference to previous bad roles for cast/crew related to the film.
- The In Your Face Approach: “This is the worst film of the year;” “I’ve never seen a film so odd, strange and disconcerting;” “It has been a long time since I’ve laughed this much in a movie;” “This was supposed to be a horror film, but I just found it horrible.” These sentences are also called film blurbs and are sometimes used for websites, film publicists, and promotional content for film marketing. If you go this route, then you must make sure that the rest of your review will back up these ideas with defense and critical thought.
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