I got this book for Christmas, ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, published by Octopus Books. Very thoughtful present, I loved it. Thicker than the biggest Harry Potter novella and filled to bursting with short, sharp entries detailing all manner of cinematic works, from Das Boot to The Dark Knight. And from the moment I unwrapped it, a singular idea gripped me (and it’s only taken about four bloody months); why don’t I use this book as an actual to do list? I mean I’ve always loved films, like literally always. I must have been only about four years old when ‘The Lion King’ came out and I was utterly blown away by it, not just for the film itself mind you. I mean yes I loved the story and the songs and the characters, but I think some small part of me right then and there began to appreciate cinema not just as a storyteller but as an all-round experience.
As I’ve gotten older, that passion never really went away at all but rather changed form. More and more, I found myself just getting such a kick out of talking about films, breaking them down through conversation, debating creative decisions, cultivating a general philosophy on the medium. And after years and years of all that, which was only strengthened by my developing a knack for writing in general, nowadays I’m at a point where I feel my outlook on such things actually can matter. It kinda already does! I wrote a review of Disney’s live-action remake of ‘The Jungle Book’ a few weeks ago and it got published on the website of a major UK magazine! Insane! And a whole bunch of people have said to me outright that they went to see that film specifically because of my review! That, I can tell you, was a damn good feeling.
I’ve been writing reviews pretty casually for a couple of years now. It’s been a hobby that comes and goes depending on various other commitments, but no excuses. I could do better. I owe it to myself to do better. So that’s what I’m going to do. Right here. With this big book. I guess one of my frustrations with my writing has always been that I feel like whatever I do turns out sounding like some boring as hell academic essay. I don’t want that. I want these to be good reads, engaging reads, button-pressing reads. I want to show you why my first ‘submitted’ review got immediately published, why my opinion on the latest releases is pretty highly respected by most people I know.
I have this philosophy, you see, about film, when it comes to reviewing and criticising. About onscreen storytelling in general really, so including TV, YouTube, Netflix, all that jazz. It’s simple, but pretty absolute and above all it’s effective:
Storytelling is a matter of diet.
Films, TV shows, any such content, are a form of food. For the brain, anyway. Some are delicious and hook your taste buds from the first mouthful, but the nature of what you’re consuming may in fact lack genuine nutritional value. Like pizza. Equally, some may wholly lack that gratification of taste, existing wholly without flavour, yet objectively it remains ‘better for you’. Like broccoli. Both have their place. Both have their appeal, and everyone is completely free to indulge in whatever they fancy. But you wouldn’t for one second advocate that pizza is better for you than broccoli, or that broccoli is better tasting than pizza (or at least I don’t want to meet the person who does prefer broccoli, literally). Films can be fun and dumb, and they can be fine art and dull as a brick, and everything in-between. What matters is keeping it all in perspective. Dumb is dumb. Dull is dull. Just because a superhero film didn’t have an actor undergo a physical transformation doesn’t automatically mean it’s not better than half the titles gunning for that Best Picture Oscar. Just because a period drama sweeps the board during awards season doesn’t mean it can hold a candle to Pixar on a good day. Roger Ebert said it best; “It’s not what a movie is about. It’s how it is about it”.
What your eyes and your mind take in from any given story is every bit as important as what you eat, as what sustains you and keeps you going. Now I know that stories have no tangible impact on survival in the real world. A film cannot fill your stomach at the end of a working day. What it can do, however, is fill your head, maybe even your heart, and that does have an impact even if only on a subconscious level. Because what are stories, at the end of the day, regardless of medium? They’re vessels of values. We tell stories to connect with each other, to share ideas, to just make sense of the world we live in. We also tell stories so that whatever values and beliefs we deem to be ‘right’ and ‘necessary’ can be passed down to future generations, as a piece of our legacy, as a way of saying ‘this is who we were. Learn from us, mistakes and all’. Because of this, any story, regardless of subject, be it the truest of true stories or the wildest escapism ever devised, has some value. Because of this, every story has at least some degree of responsibility. That’s what I believe. Maybe, if you fancy sticking around for this, you’ll believe it too.
So, I guess now Mr Everyone’s a critic. To be honest I’ve never liked the term ‘critic’, too heavily suggestive of nitpickers, and sure a lot of reviewers do take that approach. Not me though. From me you’ll just get straightforward opinion. Where necessary I’ll try to remove any personal bias. I’ll tackle the big summer hits and the modest indie scene. There’s every possibility that not everything I post will be an actual review, but just a thought about film or storytelling or a particular piece I fancy expressing. I might even attempt a few drunk reviews. That’ll be interesting. Wasn’t it Hemingway who said ‘write drunk, edit sober?’ Good policy. However this turns out, more than anything I just hope you like it. Yes, you. I hope that I’m able to give you something to take away from my writing. A thought, an idea, a different viewpoint, a decent joke. After all, isn’t that what we’re all here for?
Alright, enough of this philosophising. Let’s do this. Cheers.