Dorian's Movie Reviews & Critiques

Reviews Copyright 2004
by Dorian Scott Cole

Reviews: Is the movie worth seeing? Is it entertaining? See the end for an explanation of Entertainment

Critiques: Critiques accompany the reviews. Critiques describe what did and didn't work so that writers can profit from it, and beginning in 2002 will feature a semiotic approach to understanding the effectiveness of the visual media. See the end for an explanation of writer and visual and semiotic.

Movies for TV or video prior to 2002

Movies for TV or video prior to 2000

Writer: I use the term writer loosely in these critiques. Creating a movie is a collaborative effort, and the original writer does not have a lot of control over the finished work, unlike a novel in which the reader sees exactly what the writer wrote (except for editing, which is less common). The producer, director, other writers, actors, film editors, cinematographers, musicians, and a myriad of other creative people have their own vision of the story and influence what goes on the screen. If the director and film editor cut portions out, then what the writer put there might not be there. So when I say writer, I am really refering to the many creative people who are telling a story on screen. And it is a lesson for the rest of us writers.

Visual and semiotic: The word "visual," as I use it on this site, means "the totality of the visual medium in creating an effect," including all things that accompany a visual image - a reflection of life. This applies to books as well because the author's descriptions create mental images. The Visual Writer site will include an emphasis on a semiotic approach to evaluating and understanding stories. Semiotics is the study of signs (symbols*). This emphasis is because the vehicle of communication is symbols, both verbal and visual, which each person (both sender and receiver) interprets uniquely. These symbols attempt to convey experience, which is difficult at best, however they immediately touch related experiences within the audience. These symbols participate in our experience in significant ways. What then is effective, and what are the implications?

* I use the word "symbol" to mean a sign (pointer) that actually participates in experience.

Entertainment: I believe films should be reviewed by their entertainment value. I don't define entertaining, or decide what is "entertaining," but only report if I think it is entertaining to a significant number of people. I think the reviewer has to realize that entertainment is a very subjective experience, and he has to have a very broad understanding of what people find entertaining.

For example, personally I am put off by the "Shaft" style films that glorify police brutality, and didn't feel I could review it objectively. During that film the audience literally cheered, and clapped at the end of it - I rarely see audience reaction like that, and I think that it was just the audience that the film attracted. Apparently those people needed to see instantaneous resolution of intractible people and problems. I think that films are basically a reflection of life and peoples needs or fantasies.

I don't believe that films are the moral guide of society, or can often be effective at that (some are), or that people want moral guidance from film. I'm not looking for a deep socially redeeming quality in stories. Perhaps some writers are effective at planting a message along the way, but... some messages are good, some bad.

Calling the movie experience "escapism" trivializes and demeans what is desired by people. People want to be "entertained." They want to laugh, cry, vicariously experience a great ride, be adventurous, see spectacular things, get "jolted," have positive outcomes affirmed, see drama that challenges them and makes them think about their world, be inspired... and, in short, have some experience that temporarily displaces them from everyday life and changes their mood. The experience(s) you choose are your entertainment. It's a less expensive thrill than Las Vegas or a theme park, and maybe more fun.

To entertain, movies produce an aesthetic effect (art emotional reactions), movies carry messages (reflect, comment on, and amplify the human conditon, and sometimes even influence), and they displace the viewer from everyday life into another world and mood. These inseperately converge as the creative artist expresses these with varying emphases through the communication of movies. My concern in reviewing is whether the creative artist communicated his emphases effectively with the audience, and was it entertaining.

As a creative, I am sympathetic to the difficult (but enjoyable) task of the film industry. The target of "what is entertaining," will always be a barely visible moving target. Hopefully other creatives will be challenged by this constructive feedback and not regard these reviews as attacks or unwarranted and biased criticism. It is continued knowledgeable experimentation and experience that I want to encourage.

Other distribution restrictions: None

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