by Ryan Mackett
I’ve been asked, “Why do you get to write about movies in the newspaper?” It’s a fair question, to be honest. Truthfully, I was perseverant in convincing The Chronicle Journal that they needed a local perspective on new release movies, as opposed to (or at least in addition to) the professional reviews they publish. I’d regularly post long, rambling rants about movies on Facebook; friends commented that they enjoyed reading my reviews. My cousin Mark convinced me to try and pursue writing about movies for the newspaper, so I took his advice. I emailed back and forth with the CJ for a while, providing samples of my writing. After hearing nothing for a while, I randomly got an email from them in October 2010 asking for a review of a recent film, ASAP! They were impressed with my writing abilities and offered me the opportunity to contribute a weekly movie review, which I have been providing to them ever since.
I understand, however, that when people ask me why I get to write about movies for the paper, they aren't asking me how I got the gig. They’re really asking me why I get to. “So you like movies, big deal! I like food! Maybe I should write for the paper about food! What makes you so special that you get to write about movies?” OK, fair enough.
I don't consider myself a “Film Critic”. That’s a title reserved for Richard Crouse, Leonard Maltin, and the late Roger Ebert. I’m a “movie reviewer”. A critic, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a person who judges the merits of literary or artistic works, especially one who does so professionally.” I suppose by definition I do exactly that, but I consider myself a film enthusiast, not a film historian. I’m not approaching my reviews with the intent of academic criticism. I’m not a film scholar. I may touch on various aspects of film theory or the technicalities of filmmaking, but I’m primarily informed through my enthusiasm for and self-taught knowledge of film. I review movies not to have my little articles join the annals of film criticism history, but to try and inform average movie-goers about what’s new, what they might like, and what they may want to stay away from, from the perspective of an average filmgoer.
I do bring something to the table beyond what the average movie-goer does, though: my ability to write about art and my ability to separate subjectivity and objectivity. These two skills come from four years of studying art, art theory, art criticism and writing about art. Admittedly, the 400 words I’m allotted for my articles is not nearly enough to truly present a formal critical analysis of a film similar to how I’d have written about art during my studies, but the basics are still there. A fair portion of the movie-going public primarily cares about actors, story, connections to a franchise they enjoy and maybe the director. The general movie-going public also appreciates things like awesome special effects and beautiful cinematography. I see it as my job to present this type of information, along with interesting tidbits about a film and how it was made, in addition to my own informed opinion, all while juggling a word limit that I often exceed.
Opinion is the most subjective part of a review. My tastes may differ greatly from yours, but I always try and base my opinion from an informed place. A pet peeve of mine is when someone proclaims “that sucks.” You may prefer one thing more than something else; that is an opinion. It gets tricky when subjectivity and objectivity begin to dance together, though. For example, a guilty pleasure of mine (the Transformers franchise) objectively “sucks.” I could back that up as a statement of fact by pointing out shoddy directing, poor dialogue, bloated plots and many cringe-worthy aspects of the films. However, I enjoy them. They’re fun to watch. Cool effects, action, and favourite characters from my childhood bring back a sense of nostalgia that makes me happy.
One of the things I try to do when reviewing a film is to know what type of movie I’m reviewing. There is no single linear list of movies ranging from best to worst. I personally have two lists: my FAVOURITE movies of all time and what I think are the BEST movies of all time. Some titles appear on both lists, but for the most part they’re comprised of different titles. The trick, from a reviewer’s perspective, is to write a review that discusses the film from the context in which it was created. I’d never approach a review of Moonlight the same way that I would Transformers.
Filmmaking is an art form, but films are created for different reasons (much like how other art forms are used to create art for different reasons). Sometimes a film is a “movie”: big-budget products meant to appeal to the masses and make the most money. Sometimes a film is a work of art: challenging and not as accessible by people who aren't interested in those types of movies. I respect both types of films. It’s so easy to dismiss movies that are created as entertainments because they lack the artistic merit or integrity of films being created to function solely as art. It’s exciting when films come along that function as both, films that have mass appeal, exude artistry and challenge viewers, while receiving both critical and box office success.
There’s more to discuss, but I’ll end here with some advice: open yourself up to new film-going experiences! If you scoff at comic book movies, give one a try! If you only ever watch bubblegum popcorn flicks, try a movie you've never heard of! You’ll be surprised at what you might discover. Yes there’s tons of crap out there, but it’s so exciting to find really great films hidden amongst the dung.
Ryan Mackett was born, raised, and lives in Thunder Bay. He is an artist, photographer, writer, film enthusiast, and former teacher. Ryan graduated from Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts focusing on sculpture and printmaking; he also holds a Bachelor of Education.
When not carrying out creative pursuits, Ryan is the Community Stewardship/Public Relations Officer with the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority, a position he has held since 2011 which allows him to exercise all of his creative muscles. Ryan is a weekly contributor to The Chronicle Journal and he writes for the blog Channel 807. Follow him on Facebook @tbaymovieguy and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.