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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

March 16, 2010 at 10:11 AM

A movie critic’s FAQ

On Saturday afternoon, I had a great time speaking to students at a high school journalism conference held at Mountlake Terrace High School. Kids from all over the state attended (along with a few teachers) and heard presentations from a number of media types such as myself. I gave two sessions, answered loads of questions, and didn’t see a single kid texting, which means that either they were really interested in what I was saying or just that they’re really, really good at texting. (Probably the latter, but really, these were great kids.) Here are a few of the questions I got:
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: All-time? “The Thin Man.” This past year? Oh, “Bright Star” and “Star Trek.”
Q: Which do you think is a better franchise: Harry Potter or Twilight?
A: Harry Potter. But my much-younger self might give a different answer.
Q: How long does it take you to write a review?
A: Depends on a lot of things, most notably how much time I have and how much Diet Coke I have at my desk. Some reviews almost write themselves, in less than an hour; some take a while and get revisited over several days.
Q: What do you do when you didn’t like a movie but it’s a crowd pleaser and you don’t want people to be mad at you?
A: No matter what you write, someone will be mad at you. Just try to be honest and fair.
Q: Is it unethical to write a review of a movie based on a book if you haven’t read the book?
A: No, as long as you don’t pretend you’ve read it. Some critics make a point of not reading the book, reasoning that the movie has to stand by itself. They’re right, but generally I read the book, particularly if it’s something many audience members are likely to have read, because a) I love to read, and b) I think readers of the review will want to know whether the movie is faithful to the book. (Which doesn’t necessarily dictate whether the movie is good or bad, but does tell people something they want to know.)
Q: Do you take notes in the dark?
A: Yes.
Q: How do you do that?
A: [This is a purely visual demonstration and a trade secret. There were some impressed murmurs as I demonstrated. You’ll have to come to one of my classroom presentations to see for yourself.]
Q: Do you ever get up during a movie?
A: No, because I did that once years ago, racing to the ladies’ room for a 90-second break, and missed a brief, crucial and entirely unexpected sex scene and therefore was puzzled for the rest of the movie as to why these two characters were suddenly acting weird with each other. Never again.
Lots of other questions, too, and some delightful discussions of language, metaphor, Pauline Kael, Leonardo DiCaprio, the size of Helena Bonham Carter’s head, and where I got my shoes. Hope the students enjoyed it all as much as I did.

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