Premature opinionation
Jessica Zafra (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2016 - 9:00am

Movie reviews can be many things, but they are primarily their authors’ reactions to the movie they just saw. I underscore they just saw because while it seems obvious that you have to see something before you can pass judgment on it, a lot of people have opinions on the movie before they’ve even seen it. These premature opinions are cut-and-pasted together out of press releases, online reviews, tweets, and stuff overheard in traffic. There are other people’s opinions. You are told that a movie is important, and you swallow it without checking.

Why would you repeat what you’ve heard without thinking for yourself? Because this is the Information Age, the medium is the message, and we’re afraid to admit that we don’t know. Basta lang may masabi. We live in fear of being left behind, out of the loop, and not trending. The 21st century mediaverse has turned everyone into a D-list celebrity perpetually in danger of slipping into obscurity.

But I digress, because I always digress.

There are many kinds of movie reviewers. There are summarizers — the ones who discuss the plot in such detail, including the spoilers, that you feel like you’ve already seen the movie. Revealing spoilers is a health risk — remember what happened to the people who exited an early screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, yelling out a major shocker. Granted, people are too sensitive about what constitutes a spoiler. If it’s general knowledge, it’s only a spoiler to the ignorant. It is a fact that the Titanic sank. The spoiler is: Who dies?

There are reviewers who champion their favorite filmmakers, and reviewers who take every opportunity to tell you how much cooler and more knowledgeable they are than you. I recommend that when you write, you imagine that you are the reader. It is harder to condescend to yourself, or to kick yourself in the head. There are reviewers who lecture you on how they would’ve made a better movie. The only proper response to them is: Why didn’t you?

Others approach reviews as personal memoirs of moviegoing. I’ve always loved the movies — along with books, they make up my parallel life, which is way more exciting than the real one. For starters, I never have to drive an oil tanker across the desert, pursued by pale speed wackos including a guitarist with a flamethrower attached to a wall of amps with bungee cords, and taiko drummers. The movies satisfy my need to drive an oil tanker at top speed across the desert — and to drive, period.

I try to evoke my movie experience for the reader, sometimes including the irritation of being pulled away from the parallel universe by some jerk live-tweeting the movie on a very bright phone screen. It follows that the quality of my writing varies with how much I was affected by the movie. If I admire a movie for its style but it doesn’t make me feel anything, the review is not going to be fun to read. It will sound like homework.

For instance, the cinematography of The Revenant is spectacular, but the movie is two and a half hours of watching a guy suffer. My main reaction is: Para ninyo nang awa, bigyan n’yo na ng Oscar si Leonardo. (Then why do I love Gravity, which has a similar premise? Because its heroine had a character, and because it’s set in space.) I appreciate the fact that Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight tackles an important issue. It’s about time films talk about how the Church covered up over a thousand cases of priests sexually abusing children in Boston alone. Still, it’s over two hours of watching journalists knock on doors and interview people. It’s static. I don’t believe in praising movies because they tackle socially relevant themes — what is it, the Cinema of the Intent? Movies don’t get points for meaning well. Look at the movie itself, because a good movie is a good movie whatever its subject, and a mediocre movie is still mediocre no matter how many social ills it denounces.

Conversely, a movie created mainly for entertainment is not diminished by the fact that it ignores contemporary social problems. It doesn’t even have to be grounded in reality, come to think of it. When you’re watching Mad Max: Fury Road, you’re too busy trying to keep your eyeballs in your head to ask why George Miller does not address injustice and terrorism. Only afterwards, when you resume breathing normally, does it occur to you that Mad Max is set in a dry wasteland whose resources are available only to the powerful, ruled by a crazy dictator who promises his soldiers that if they die in his cause, they will go straight to heaven. It’s a metaphor for our world.

Or take Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It is practically a remake of the first Star Wars in 1977. (The prequels do not exist. The prequels do not exist.) As my friend pointed out, J.J. Abrams’ job was to heal the community that felt screwed over by those crappy prequels. Mission accomplished. The movie is full of plot holes — Rey defeats the most powerful adept of The Force the first time she picks up a light saber — but you don’t notice them while you’re watching the movie, because you’re absorbed in what’s onscreen. Or if you do notice the plot holes (Poe returned to base without even trying to retrieve BB8 from Jakku), you let them pass until the movie ends because you have to know what happens next.

On the other hand, if the plot holes and gaps in exposition prevent you from getting into the movie, and the characters are not engaging enough for you to overlook these flaws, the filmmakers have failed you. Know what you like. Make up your own mind.

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Jessica Zafra’s Writing Boot Camp is a series of workshops held every quarter at the Ayala Museum. The first workshop, “How To Write Movie Reviews,” will be held on Feb. 18 and 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. It consists of discussions, brief screenings, and quick writing exercises. Reading assignments and the viewing assignment (one movie, a fun one) are given out upon registration. Coffee and snacks are served throughout the sessions. Writing materials are provided. There is one 750-word writing assignment, to be completed on your own time, which should take two hours or less. The fee is P5,500.

Register now by emailing, calling (02) 759-8288, visiting the Ayala Museum Facebook page or inquiring at the museum front desk.

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