The latest and greatest on CNN iReport, brought to you by Team iReport.
We’re honored this week to have two very special guests - Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum - joining us to take your questions on film criticism. We hope you’ll be able to join us for the roundtable today at 3 p.m. ET. In the meantime, check out 10 top tips from EW's finest.
Tips from Owen:
1. Try not to go in with any expectations. Don¹t do any “research,” or read about it on the Web. Just let the movie wash over you, and take it all in.
2. Don¹t grade on a curve. Give each film the absolute honest assessment it deserves.
3. Take notes. The main reason to do so is to remember details. Write down lines of dialogue, song choices, jokes, types of automobiles, the color of wallpaper. Anything that really strikes you.
4. In writing a review, don¹t just offer a judgment; try to capture, in your review, the flavor of a movie and what’s most distinctive about it. Remember: Every movie is different. A review should capture what¹s unique about each one.
5. Ignore everyone else’s opinion but your own. A review should be a pure expression of what YOU think, not a fancy form of channeling other people¹s thoughts and feelings. It doesn¹t matter if you¹re in the majority, the minority, or even if you¹re a minority of one: What matters, above all, is your personal experience of the movie in question.
Tips from Lisa:
1. Go into every movie with an open, receptive mind: You’re writing about the movie on the screen, not the movie you wish you saw.
2. Tell your reader what you see so she or he can see it clearly too.
3. Remember you’re writing for a smart, interested reader and no one else. You¹re not writing to settle scores or to compete with other reviewers or to curry favor with filmmakers.
4. Without authoritative synthesis and analysis, a review is merely an inconsequential statement of opinion, i.e., I liked this movie or I didn¹t like that one. So do your homework and state your case.
5. See a lot of movies. Watch TV --- it¹s the daily visual record of popular culture. Then go outside and get fresh air and exercise.
With all of these tips in mind, we look forward to your questions for our guests. We'll open comments right here at 3 p.m. ET. See you then!
Hi @all and welcome to our special guests today.
Hi, I'm happy to be here, especially because I've just handed my editor two reviews.
Hi @jbaetke welcome
Hello Owne & Lisa. A pleasure to hear your wisdom.
Oh, what did you just review Lisa? And how often do you see films?
Hi @LisaEW - welcome!
We have an early question from @melmel21 who couldn't make it today: "What makes a good movie critique? How do you pull the readers in and make them want to read the whole critique?"
I have to say I am a long-time reader of EW...I cannot get enough. It's the gold standard and I pray one day I'll be working there...what fun! OW and LS are my go-to peeps for reviews. Your reviews mean a lot, not just because of the letter grade but also a fresh perspective from my own
We'll see if it's wisdom of not, but I certainly love to talk about movies and what I do. Part of the fun of this job is that it's about a subject that people get so passionate about.
@tyson I've got the interesting challenge of writing about an Everest mountain-climbing epic called "The Wildest Dream," and boiling down thoughts to a very small space. And then I've got the equally interesting challenge of writing about a messed-up-young-people drama called "Twelve," and explaining what I thought was lost in the transfer of book to screen. I won't give away my review conclusions
you'll have to read EW!but I'll say this: I do enjoy the discipline of writing to fit all kinds of space. (Owen and I are forever asking for more space.)
Hey Owen - thanks for sharing your list of tips. I was kinda surprised by #1 "Try not to go in with any expectations. Don't do any “research,” or read about it on the Web. Just let the movie wash over you, and take it all in."
Could you tell us a little more about why that's important? Seems that many reviewers would want to research ahead of time.
The floor is open to everyone for questions as well! Welcome @Patricia0117 and @JoyfulGypsy!
@melmel21, I think a good movie critique will 1) make the movie in question understandable and 2) interest the reader in the critic's thought process. The least important thing is whether you agree with the critic or not!
One of the key things that I always try to do is to capture the movie on the page. It's always a challenge -- and a fun one -- but if you can invite readers who've seen a film to sort of bounce their experience off yours, that makes the whole act of writing a review (as Lisa said in her 5 Tips) so much more than just tossing out another opinion. In a strange way, what matters most isn't the opinion itself. It's how insightfully that opinion is grounded in your moment-to-moment experience of a movie.
How do you choose which movies to review? Or is it your choice?
I'm going to throw the question back to all iReporters: What makes a good review?
Hello, everyone. :o)
Yesterday, I heard about the meet up taking place this weekeknd in New Orleans. I would have loved to have gone but it was pretty short notice. Any plans for a meet up in NYC?
Our meetup was fun in NYC :) We were even on the jumbo tron. That was cool!
@JoyfulGypsy we'd love to host a meetup in NYC. We're planning one this fall.
@LisaEW I think a good movie review doesn't give away the plot :)
Same thing for movie trailers!
@Chris. Yes, it was a blast meeting you and hanging out in NYC. I had a great time. :o)
It would be great to do it again and include some iReport staff, too.
After you've actually seen a film, doing research about it is fine. In fact, essential: You of course want to know the deep background of what you're talking about. But I really do think that the purest way to experience a movie is to let it speak for itself. To not go in waiting for this scene or that scene, or to know that the filmmakers chose to take this angle on adapting that novel. etc. You can learn that kind of stuff later on. And too much knowledge can throw you outside of the movie. You want to be right there where your audience is -- in a state of blissful, innocent expectation.
Another iReport question from @melmel21 - "Do you have any personal 'no-nos' when it comes to movie criticism, something you should never do?"
To me a good review is one that gives a broad view of the film and a general since of quality. Film is subjective and each individual will get something different from any given movie. A good review lets you know if the film is successful onto itself, is it true to itself and is there entertainment value. A bad review tends to cloud the film with the reviewer's own subjective taste - which may or may not accurately reflect the taste of the target audience.
@Tyson - Can you tell me more or less when you are planning a NYC meetup in NYC? I'll be travel quite a bit in the next few months and I want to be sure be around for it.
What makes a good review.....honesty on the part of the reviewer.
true, having the ireport staff there gives it a different element. You might even get a flip camera.
Oh yeah - those flip cameras are great - have mine right here. Thanks guys!
@tyson. You make a good point about not giving away the plot. There's an art to presenting what the movie is about so the reader has basic info, without doing anything to spill any beans.
How difficult was the Inception review to wrote. How long did it take to develop?
@LisaEW @ogleiberman Thanks for joining us today! I bet you get lots of email about your reviews. Do you ever read it? Has it ever made you change your mind about a movie?
@JoyfulGypsy we're thinking early October. We'll be sure to let you know the details once we have it locked down.
@everyone let's please stick to films for today's discussion.
Here's a question - how can someone get their film reviewed by someone like you guys?
@Chris - I could really use one. I (heart) swag.
another answer for @melmel21. Don't use a lighted pen or your lighted smartphone or your lighted laptop or your lighted anything at a screening! scribble in the dark and hope you've made sense in your notebook!
Thanks for your answers.
I'll leave you to your movie critics discussion now.
@lisa & Owen
How do you choose which movie to see and review? And do you attend film festivals?
Lisa and I trade off on lead reviews, so the question of who gets to write about Inception or Eclipse or Toy Story 3 or Dinner For Schmucks is almost totally random: It comes down to who was lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to draw a particular movie on their week.
But after that, we divide stuff up based on the movies we're each drawn to, but also with a careful sense on our part of not letting ourselves drift into overly proscribed roles. Lisa doesn't review all the "chick flicks." I don't review all the dumb action films aimed at 13-year-old boys. And we try to mix stuff up in other ways: If I did the last two animated films, or the last Tom Hanks movie, or the last film by such-and-such a director, then it's probably Lisa's turn to do the next one. If one of us reviewed The Da Vinci Code, then it makes sense for the other critic to do the sequel. And so on.
With EW's presence on the Web, is there more pressure to get a review out faster? Are deadlines more stringent?
@jbaetke. Good question about Inception. I thought the only way to approach it was to say that no one can make a full analysis of the movie after one screening. Well, at least I couldn't. In fact, I went back and "re-reviewed" it when our magazine ran a feature story about the movie's popularity. I definitely saw different aspects the second time around. It didn't however, change my basic feeling about the movie, which is that it's a feast for the head (especially a head that enjoys games) but not as nourishing for the heart (or for a moviegoer who craves narrative coherence).
Time to review some movies? :)
@lisa & Owen,
Do you look at screeners or do you go to the theater? Is there a specific area in the theater you like to sit (a ritual)? Do you base some of your review on the crowd reactions during the film?
@lisa loved the review...I agreed with much of it. I hated the beginning and wish there was more of a believable connection between husband and wife somehow. The cinematography was brilliant
@lila - I do read mail/email/posts about reviews. (Not regularly--I'd cry from some of the meaner comments!) And I remind myself it's not personal. To quote someone or other in Inception, I'm a projection! Anyhow, I think that once I've made my case, the comments are really conversations that readers are enjoying among one another. Even if a reader is critical of something I've written, it's her or his turn to speak, not mine.
@LisaEW and @ogleiberman you both gave advice about going into films without preconceptions. But certain directors carry an expectation based on their previous work. How do you handle that?
@jbaetke. Web presence has definitely changed the pace at which many publications post reviews, but I don't think that's necessarily for the better. The rush to be first! first! first! can override thoughtful analysis. (Owen and I are always incredibly thoughtful, however!)
Not to be overly cranky (then again, why not? -- I'm a critic!), but I have to respectfully disagree with one of the central points you made. You said that you thought a review shouldn't be clouded with "the reviewer's own subjective taste -- which may or may not accurately reflect the taste of the target audience."
Quite simply: I think that all reviews ARE subjective, and that a critic needn't shy away from that. For instance, I just reviewed the new Zac Efron movie, Charlie St. Cloud (which I thought was dismally bad), and believe me, I wasn't thinking for a moment about whether Zac Efron's core audience would like the movie or not. If I had, I suppose I might have given it a good review. But then, on that basis, you could probably give more or less ANY movie a good review.
Will Efron's fans -- i.e., teenage girls who love to swoon over him -- like Charlie St. Cloud? Maybe. But that's not my concern. I'm interested in whether I thought it worked as a movie. And since I didn't, that's what I said. And I think that's all, really, that a critic can do. Otherwise, he or she is just writing glorified advertising copy aimed at this or that fan base.
2 questions BOTH for Owen and Lisa.
1) What are the Top 3, things that you look for in any movie?
2) What are 3 movies that are techincally BEST you ever watched or have written about?
Your answer will help immensely.
I have a question for both Owen and Lisa. Do you sometimes find that during your note taking, it detracts from parts of the movie that you may have missed by taking those notes? I do, I miss seeing things while note taking sometimes.
(Welcome new folks! Glad you're here. Quick reminder: Refresh the page to see new comments.)
Hey Lisa & Owen,
With technology these days, do you get to watch these movies at home on your computer or TV, or do you still go to the movie theater to review them?
@ChrisMorrow - Although seeing a film on a big screen is still the ideal, we do inevitably watch some movies (smaller films, indies, etc) on screeners, because there are only so many movie-theater hours in a day, but I can stack up screeners at home and watch late into the night. Certainly we never see anything big and Hollywoody (Inception, Salt, etc) anywhere except in a big theater, and often the audience includes, er, "regular" people as well as professional critics. I'm tall and restless, so I like sitting on an aisle. When I buy a ticket and the theater is packed, though, I sometimes like a seat next to a wall.
You make a fair point and I do agree to a certain extent. I'm a filmmaker and have worked in the studio system for a long time now (not as a filmmaker necessarily :) ) and there are times where I read a review, and like you guys I think eluded to, it's clear the critic just doesn't' care for the genre - but that doesn't necessarily mean that the film is not good - like you said it's subjective and a critic who is a fan of horror may not like a period drama. That's what I was primarily eluding to.
@LisaEW and @ogleiberman Do your opinions change about movies over time? Have you ever reviewed a movie and then watched it years later and had an entirely different reaction? I find that movies I may have liked or disliked at one point effect me differently when I watch them again now that I'm older.
@KCRep - you just need to learn the art of scribbling, I mean really scribbling, without looking down. So I keep turning notebook pages to be sure I haven't written something on top of something else. My eyes never leave the screen! I'm a professional!
I think a big problem among reviewers today is that there's way too much collective loyalty to certain filmmakers, and they become critics' darlings. This, to me, is second-rate criticism. Directors from Michael Mann to Wong Kar-wai seem, at times, to get almost automatic good reviews. It's presumed that they are artists working on a very high level, and that that level has to be respected, given the benefit of the doubt.
I, however, am not an auteurist. To me, I'm not reviewing directors -- I'm reviewing individual movies. And lots of times, even great directors fail. It's not that I don't have filmmakers I'm passionate about, and am rooting for to succeed. Of course I do. It's just that I think it's incumbent upon a good critic to not let that kind of sentiment get in the way of taking an honest look at the movie that's actually up there on screen. In a funny way, there's a part of me that thinks we would all be better critics if we could review movies WITHOUT knowing who directed them.
@Lisa....cool trick, don't look down, just scribble, I can do that! Thanks for the answer, I really never thought of that :)
@cooligloo. 1) a pulse 2) something to care about 3) legibility within whatever visual language the filmmaker has chosen
How often do you field calls and notes from actors, directors and film staffers after an unsavory or savory review?
@ogleiberman - What you often find, though, is even without knowing who the director of a film is...you know who the director is, right?
@lisa & Owen
3d movies. what are you thoughts on them? Here to stay?
Loving this thread today. Great to hear from @lisaEW and @ogleiberman! (very helpful to us filmmakers ;) )
Since you watch movies all the time for work, do you ever watch 'em for fun anymore?
Thanks Lisa and Owen..This really was a very interesting meeting.
@lisaEW & @ogleiberman
How does a filmmaker get reviewed by EW or you two? Especially for indie films or films with small distribution?
@lila I was wondering the same thing. Also, do you get popcorn when you're on duty?
Lisa, Can you please throw some lights on 1) a pulse 2) something to care about 3) legibility within whatever visual language the filmmaker has chosen.
Thanks for your quick reply.
One more from @melmel21: "What's your best advice when it comes to breaking out in the business?" Thanks!
@ogleiberman and @ LisaEW Have you ever dreaded doing a review on a particular movie?
@ChrisMorrow - 3D was here to stay since the 1950s, right? I think the technology is still - still -- finding its uses. At the moment, I think the frenzy is overblown, and has more to do with commerce (getting theaters to upgrade their equipment, raising ticket prices) than aesthetic value.
to add to @Lila comment.... do you look at reviews before you watch a movie for fun?
Sadly I have to check out ... sure was nice to have you with us, Lisa and Owen! I look forward to reading the rest of the thread later today. Bye, everyone!
@davidw - no popcorn! (We'd all be blimps.)
@lila - there's nothing more fun than going to a movie when I'm off duty!
I love to go back and watch movies again -- and sometimes, yes, my opinions will change over time. I think that the biggest change of heart I've ever had in the years I've been at EW is about Moulin Rouge. The first time I saw it, I liked parts of it, but I also found it shrill, jarring, not cohesive, and a bit too stylized for my taste.
I saw it again, and absolutely fell in love with it. Had I had that second-time experience before the end of the year (I believe it was 2000), I would absolutely have chosen Moulin Rouge as my movie of the year, pushing my original choice, Memento (which I still adore), to number two.
Fortunately, that kind of switchback opinion-changing doesn't happen to me all that often. But when I dislike a movie that turns out to be very popular, or that other critics adore (the most recent example would have to be Inception), I KNOW I've got a second date with that movie in the not-so-distant future. It's for two reasons: 1) I'm intensely curious if my reaction will remain the same as what it was, and 2) I don't want to risk repeating the mistake I made with Moulin Rouge!
@lila - bye, thanks for your great questions.
@ccostello3 - Owen can attest that I can't/won't watch torture-porn movies.
Hello LisaEW! Sorry I was late!
Hey Henry! Hi Chris!! Hello Katie!!
@chrismorrow - Like many movielovers, I don't read reviews of any movie I'm interested in seeing for fun - not until after I've seen the movie and I can compare my reactions with those I'm reading.
Lisa, Owen do we have time for one or two more questions?
Welcome @Rajiim - Got any questions in the remaining moments with our special guests?
One Question.......When Rating films do you find it hard not to place your own personal feeling on your rating???
I try to be as technical as possible!
@lisa & Owen
Is it important for a reviewer to go to a junket? Or is that more marketing than anything else? Or do you base your entire review on what you see on screen?
@ Lisa & Owen
Question.......When Rating films do you find it hard not to place your own personal feeling on your rating???
I try to be as technical as possible!
Once in a while, you DO hear from actors, writers, and directors. Usually, they're very nice -- but I've gotten a few nasty notes. Dennis Leary (who I knew casually in Boston, before he was a star) threatened to punch me out once because he thought I had a vendetta against him.
Actually, I just thought that he'd gone from being a terrific comedian to a hammy overactor. He's a much, much better actor now! So I'd like to think that maybe, even though he was mad, it's possible that he took my advice to heart.
@Rajiim - Hi, glad you could stop by for dessert. Quick answer: after I've stated my case, I don't have trouble rating a film on its own merits. But I've got to analyze the why before I get to the rating.
Hi all, it's been a pleasure chatting with you this afternoon. Turn off your cell phones and I'll see you at the multiplex.
@lisa - That's how I try to be! Yippie!! On The Right Track I Am!! :-)
Thank you Lisa & Owen.
Thank's for dessert! See You At The Movies!! :-)
Thanks @LisaEW and thanks @ogleiberman for joining us today! Thanks @all for the great discussion! Looking forward to more iReport movie reviews. This week we'll be looking for reviews of "Dinner for Schmucks!"
Take Care Lisa & Owen!!
Let's give a big hand to Lisa and Owen. Thanks so much for stopping by. And thanks to everyone in iReportland for joining today's roundtable. We hope see you again next week.
What are 3 movies that are techincally BEST you ever watched or have written about?
That we all should watch. :-)
YEeeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh!!!!! For Our Guests!!!
Actually, the rating -- in our case, grades -- turns out to be a GREAT vehicle for expressing your personal feelings. Unlike, say, a star rating, which just sort of sits there, floating on top of a review, the grade comes at the end, and if it's well used, it can almost be like a little sentence -- a perfectly placed exclamation point of approval or disdain.
When you give out that D or F rating, it has a little sting to it. That's why you can't give it out lightly. But you'd better believe that that grade has your personal feeling in it. So does an A, of course. When you slap that sticker of approval onto the end of a review, it expresses something so jmuch more than a detached opinion. It expresses joy -- the fact that our jobs don't get any better than that.
Hi. Thanks for the tips.
I notice Owen says "don't do any research" but Lisa says "do your homework". Who's right?
Thanks again @ogleiberman!
Great talking to you all! This was a blast...
I have to disagree with Owen's #4. You should grade some movies on a curve because you might not be the intended audience. For example, an audience for a horror movie can be more forgiving of bad movies than a film critic.
I don't think I could be a good critic. I'm too focused on enjoying the experience to take notes, lol.
That's great, but isn't trying to be a "budding film reviewer" sort of a product of a bygone era?
Case in point: Siskel & Ebert's old show was recently canceled. Ebert himself is writing some interesting stuff, but there hasn't been an injection of life blood into that profession in quite some time. Movie critics are have increasingly becoming a faceless "they" that either collectively like or dislike the movie.
I'm not even sure how one would get into reviewing movies as a career. I think most of those people know somebody who gave them a spot in the newspaper, or were really lucky and landed a noticed gig at a college newspaper.
See you @ The Movies! Excellent round table!
In order to combat racism, we need to recognize one of many important aspects of racism, namely, “ingrained racism.” By ingrained racism, I mean racism instilled, and I say, ingrained and embedded in many of us, including myself. It was firmly ingrained in our psyche. It began in our youth resulting in becoming a racist as adults. Some of the imbedding facets, particularly prior to 1940, that helped create racists were:
• African American* history neglected, probably because it was considered unimportant, by white educators,
• anti-racist rhetoric prevalent throughout our culture,
• little or no good news about African-Americans,
• negative images of African Americans*,
• overt racist stories of African-Americans like “Little Black Sambo,”
• racist and scary slogans about African-American using the “N” word, and
• scaring children with “the boogey man.”
• text books void of images of African Americans
This is an educational process at its best, but with a terrible outcome.
As in my case, personal racism can be overcome by education. Educators in my church helped me to understand why I felt the way I did. What was most helpful was the doctrine of the church that we are all God’s children. Also, it was taught that God gave us an intellect, and we should use it when the “ingrained racism” feelings surface.
*I agree we should refer to all Americans as Americans rather than German American German, or Cuban American Cuban, African American.