I am absolutely thrilled to be publishing Popcorn Previews on Huffington Post. I hope my previews will become a go-to source for finding the right movies... the ones that match your taste and mood. If you love movies but haven't heard of me, that's not surprising. But I've got a perfectly plausible alibi.
I was a theater major in college with a back-up major in advertising. In New York, I landed my first job in advertising. But theater (and film) was an old flame that wouldn't die, and I continued studies in this area. As a writer in advertising, I always had a knack for making complicated information understandable and accessible. So explaining movies to friends was no big leap. It's just that I approach it from my own perspective. I feel that I "preview" movies instead of reviewing them.
When I was growing up, we used to refer to trailers as previews. But trailers are actually selling tools. They're helpful for deciding whether a movie's possibly in or definitely out. Trailers are made by marketing people whose only goal is to sell tickets. Trailers tend to show us, for example, every explosion in the film because explosions sell tickets. Call me old-fashioned, but I want to know if the pyrotechnics serve a story I'll care about.
I also read reviews and enjoy them... especially after I've seen a movie. But when I'm trying to decide, other people's opinions can be misleading. Reviewers don't know, for example, that I love crime thrillers so much that those farfetched plot elements they're trashing won't spoil it for me... unless, of course, they spoil it for me! But that's up to me to decide.
Here's my thinking. When I go to a movie, I want to enjoy it. Critiquing it isn't my goal. So I focus mostly on what works, because that's what makes or breaks the experience. If the good parts don't match your taste, why worry about the nuances? I may mention the funky bits, but I'll let you decide if they're a deal breaker.
I have my own theory about enjoying movies, and it's about getting on the ride. When the movie first starts, we form impressions about whether or not we're going to get on the ride. But if we're not on the ride by the time we've figured out where the journey's going, the movie's not working for us. So that's my primary focus... how the filmmaker invites us to get on the ride. By the end of the movie, your opinion may have changed entirely, but that's complicated and subjective. And I prefer to discover that for myself.
I've been blessed (or cursed) with a movie appreciation that spans a wide range, from brainless fluff to socially important, from slick to gritty. I make every effort to write-up films from the point of view of a moviegoer who likes the style and genre. A crime thriller, for example, is entirely different from a social drama. I don't hold them to the same standards.
You know the kinds of movies you enjoy. I simply give you information that will help you find them. I also use tools such as Popcorn Profiles to help you quickly narrow your selection. In Popcorn Profiles, I rate each film on criteria such as mood and distribution. That way, if you prefer mainstream movies that are upbeat, you can tell at a glance if a film meets those and other criteria.
What I do is actually very simple. If it's not on the screen, I don't write about it. I leave it to others to compare the movie to earlier films. I don't analyze the literary references. I don't compare the movie to the book. I simply give you a preview of how the filmmakers will invite you to get on the ride. After that, it's up to you.
In case you missed the 2012 Oscar winner for Best Picture, here's the Popcorn Profile for The Artist:
Film: The Artist
Cast includes: Jean Dujardin (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies), Bérénice Bejo (A Knight's Tale), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), James Cromwell (Six Feet Under), Uggie (Water for Elephants)
Writer/Director: Michel Hazanavicius (OSS:Cairo, Nest of Spies)
Genre: Comedy/Romance/Light Drama (2011)
Dramatic music... Credits... Action... It's 1927, and we're watching the opening of George Valentin's latest silent film, A Russian Affair. The audience loves it, and there are many curtain calls afterward... cue the light breezy pop music. Outside the theater are throngs of fans and autograph seekers. Fan Peppy Miller accidentally bumps into Valentin. In an attempt to smooth over an awkward moment, Peppy and Valentin stage a theatrical kiss, which gets photographed and splashed all over the newspapers, with the headline, "Who's That Girl?" When Peppy takes a studio tour at Kinograph Studio, a lucky break lands Peppy a role in Valentin's new film, A German Affair. And when she comes to thank Valentin, he gives her some helpful advice on how to stand out as an actress.
Thanks in part to George Valentin's advice, Peppy Miller's career takes off. But in 1929, as movies are changing to talkies, Valentin isn't receptive to the advice others are giving him on keeping his career viable. He's an artist, and he doesn't see the artistry in making talking pictures. As his career and life spirals down, there's only one person who still values his artistry... Peppy Miller. Many of the silent film stars simply faded away... will that be Valentin's fate? Or will he compromise his artistic principles?
This is a charming film. It's shot in black and white, and it's mostly silent (with music, of course). But don't assume it's boring, esoteric or irrelevant. In between the many charming bits, there's a message about surviving in changing times, believing in true talent and loyalty. Seeing actors we know and love in the environment of a silent movie is a lot of fun. And I absolutely must mention the dog... Uggie often steals the show. In the tradition of Aster from The Thin Man series, the dog adds an explanation point to many scenes... and in the tradition of Lassie, Uggie also saves the day. When the film first starts, we notice the lack of sound, but very quickly we readjust our expectations and find we don't miss it. The filmmakers combine the traditions of early silent films with some nice surprises. Without color or sound, it takes us outside our movie-viewing comfort zone, and we have to use different mental faculties to engage with this film. The surprise is that it's actually quite easy and very enjoyable.
3 popped kernels (Scale: 0 - 4 popped kernels)
A totally charming look at the early days of talking pictures.
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Both upbeat and somber
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure entertainment & Thought provoking
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