Feb 26, 2009

Zen and the art of reviewing movies

Last year, when I was reading the book 'Thinking about movies', the phrase 'There is nothing called a bad movie' caught my attention and stayed for a long time. Most of us are aware that movie-making is a tedious process that involves the working of hundreds of hands and minds over a period of several months to years. I have also heard that 'one must watch a movie shooting' to understand how difficult it is, so that one will a) think twice before branding a movie rubbish, b) watch it only in theaters, in considerate of the hundreds of families that rely on the film business, c) learn to look at the movie in a perspective different than that of a layman.
Having said all that, does it mean that just because a movie has been made, it should deserve our unanimous acclaim? Obviously NO! Over 80% movies end up as flops, which is a verdict by the people who have seen that it is not recommended. A layman's movie review will be through word-of-mouth, which is very powerful in this age of superconnectivity between the people. When the movie is reviewed in the media, though, the review itself is open to debates and discussions.
As a side-track, lemme just say my two cents about blog-reviewing: In the blogs, it is a tricky thing. If a blogger rubbishes a movie and someone refutes it, the blogger, IMHO, has to provide a 'suitable' explanation. Now, how 'suitable' the response is, depends on the personality and mood of the blogger in question. Some reviewers are arrogant - they simply say 'this is my blog, I can write whatever I wish, you agree to what I say or if not just shut your mouth and leave'. I would say that, if it is the prerogative of the blogger on his post, the same can be said about an open 'Comments' section. Of course the blogger has the right to moderate/edit/delete the comments, but they cant question a commenter 'how dare you oppose my review?'
Another etiquette about reviewing is to do so without any spoilers, or to put a warning note if any spoiler is present. Sometimes it is unavoidable to discuss an aspect of the movie without the mention of an important scene. Also, a good review is one which highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a movie quite explicitly. Watching different genres of movies made in different parts of the world and at different periods, and analyzing the movies would help the reviewing a lot. Moreover, it is better to have an idea of the intelligence level of the director white sitting to watch a movie or to review one. That would prevent one from over-analyzing it or missing the director's touch. Much of my thoughts arose during the discussion in the previous post. ;)
Now, when a person as experienced as Suhasini chooses to review a film, that review itself deserves a review. An example is from her last week's review of Naan kadavul. I honestly dont know if she reads the blogs, including this, but I found a lot of specific terms that were discussed here in my post and the comments thereof. After praising the movie like there is no end, she said that the movie is not without its flaws, but pointing out at the flaws would prevent the good film-makers from creating 'such good' movies in the future. That remark took me by surprise totally. I felt that she was better off not mentioning about the presence of flaws rather than simply mentioning and not explaining what they are.
My philosophy is very simple: While watching it, I see if I like the movie or not. If the movie in its entirety or in parts doesnt appeal to me, I put it down in words as to why I didn't like it. Like every human, I am biased towards certain people. That bias might make me to watch it in the first place, or to interpret some things in a particular way. Whatever it be, I welcome any criticism for my review. Only I dont want it to be vague like someone in the previous review commented, but to be more specific to the details.


i think therefore i am said...

very interesting read. That is why I usually stay away from reviewing movies. I think there were maybe three movies which I reviewed in totality. Others are just my two cents worth about some scenes assuming that the reader has watched the movie!

Anonymous said...

Hi Raju,

I absolutely understand your dilemma. It took me a while to understand the psychology of bloggers . Mr.X once blogged Jyothika as " Tamil Cinema's Most Lovable Heroine", now anyone in the right mind would disagree with it, so did I. When I expressed my disagreement in a non-derogatory manner, Mr.X said " this is my blog , so am entitled to pen what I want". Period ! Such shut-ur-mouth statement, makes one stagnate. When the rest repeated my "mistake", I warned them of Mr.X's possible replies to them by quoting him. And this time, he called me names - Snarky.

Mr.Y is claims he's the most sharp sighted person by far one can come across, but aft spending some time in his blog, I doubted if he's one- eyed jack. One can never get a better example of a narcissist than him. He's a firm believer in anything and everything, it's either they are good or bad, 1 or zero. If your reply is against what he's written, he attacks you with shut-your-mouth-plus-a** statement.

There isn't much difference between the real world and the blog world. Everyone wants to be praised, If you praise their writing, they pat you. When you say otherwise, you are trying to hurt his ego. I now stopped commenting in those blogs considering their adverse replies.

Writing to satisfying others is like a dog trying to bite it's tail, how non-bias you think you write, still people like Gopinath would crop up.

Suhasini is a highly opinionated person. She's very defensive of those whom she likes. She tries to bring in feminism in places which it's not required. For someone who makes issues out of petty stuffs, it took me by surprise of her justification for Naan Kadavul.

Anonymous said...

anon, I'm pretty sure who Mr.X is and I think I know who you are too. I'm honestly surprised that you took our conversation in this manner. On Jo, I just said that the fact that she's Tamil cinema's most loveable heroine was my opinion just like the fact that she wasn't was your opinion. It wasn't a "shut your mouth" statement at all. Just that it was a like/dislike thing and not something that could be explained (btw, the snarky comment didn't come when u warned others of my reply. it came on a different review when u said u were expecting another blogger to "come to my rescue" after a series of criticisms about my review. and it was made in jest too). On the other hand, my reviews are opinions too and there have been several dissents/criticisms of those. But I have responded to those by explaing what I liked, why I liked it, etc. since the review is about something concrete that can be analyzed.

That said, I still stick to my point that reviews are essentially a person's opinions about a movie and their biases will show in them. A non-biased review can do nothing more than state the story and that wouldn't be very interesting. What makes a review interesting is the person's unique interpretation of the movie and that uniqueness comes from the person's likes, dislikes, preferences, etc. which constitute bias :)

Raju said...

Cogito, hmm.. I feel now that one downside of having watched too many movies is, it's very difficult to not find faults in a movie, however good it is. Having said that, there are some movies which impress me due to one or more of story, presentation, direction, performance and technical aspects. So, in general, in any year, I usuallly dont have more than a handful of movies which I can classify as 'really good'. Good scenes - usually yes for most movies.
Anons, peace out! Hope you both have understood each other better after these two comments. I see both your points.
Anon@Saturday: One thing I have observed in the blogosphere is, there is not a single blogger to whose writings one will agree 100%. It made me to once think that, even if two clones created from the same source are allowed to pen their views through blogs, one can find differences in their views on certain subjects. As I wrote it in the blog, how one responds to such blogs and to the differing comments is highly dependent on the mood at the precise moment of response. Moreover, what is fun without provoking a coolest-looking person in a subtle fashion? ;)

Anon@Monday: I do understand your situation, though i must say I have disagreed with you on quite a lot of things recently but ignored to tell you. Nevertheless, the combination of all your preferences is unique to only you, so I have agreed to disagree and moved on. The only thing I felt like telling you during the Jo episode was that, even though 'IMHO' is a oft-used and cliche-sounding term on the blogworld, it is still better to use it rather than assume that the reader will assume the obvious. Sometimes, the assumptions do not appear obvious. :)

Me too said...

Lately Suhasini is in a very 'encouraging directors' mood, I guess! In most of her recent reviews(including SMS - is it that good, huh?), she seem to be writing off the -ves!

Raju said...

Aparna, yeah, I agree with you. I was also shocked at the raving reviews she gave for SMS.. One other thing with her is, when the director/producer/DOP is talking to her, she hardly asks them any tough questions, and after they leave, she decides to attack them.