Shazam! Review    Technical 3/5   Personal 2/5

Shazam! Review    Technical rating 3/5   Personal rating 2/5

NOTE:  This review contains Spoilers in the personal rating section! 
There will be a warning before the spoilers start. 

Writing:
Dialogue 4/5
Plotting 3/5
Acting 4/5
Cinematography 3/5
Editing 3/5
Characters:
Presentation 5/5
Progress 2/5

Theming 2/5
Costuming 3/5
Tone 2/5 
Special effects +1                             Total =  31/50    Final rating = 3.1/5 

The primary thing that I took away from this film is that it was astonishingly uneven.  What they did well they did exceptionally well.  But I am afraid that just made the places where things didn’t work stand out all the more.   As a result, I am going to do this review a bit out of order.  I am going to praise what it did well, and then talk about where it dropped the ball. 

Excellent:  Acting, Dialogue Writing, and Character Presentation
The first two aspects of this film were marvelous and they both worked together strongly in favor of good character presentation. 
Acting:  I cannot say strongly enough how wonderfully cast Zachary Levi was as Shazam.  His lighthearted goofiness, and his chemistry with Jack Dylan Grazer was brilliant and was exactly what I went to this film to see.  What surprised me even more was that the rest of the cast of children was also fantastic.  This group of child actors puts several recent films to shame.  *CoughDumboCough* Jack Dylan Grazer and Asher Angel are brilliant together and watching them through the first half of the film was a treat!  And on top of that, the entire cast of adopted siblings are not only competent in playing their characters, but many of their interactions are just delightful! I also want to praise both Cooper Andrews for his role as the foster father, who brought more heart to his small role than anyone else in the film (I would love to see much more of the future story centered around that!) and also, Mark Strong as the villain.  Mark has gotten some flack for being a “bland villain,” but I will say more on that when we get to theming. 

Dialogue:  The dialogue writing helped the acting along mightily in many places, and many of the more intimate conversations helped these characters shine.  There were several complex topics that were brought up.  While I think the themes they delved into were ultimately handled badly, the moment to moment dialogue really gave the actors something to work with, and each of them ate it up, presenting their characters exceptionally well through their lines. 

Character Presentation:  This film is a great example of why I divide out character presentation from progression.  The characters in this film are amazingly well presented.  You have a very good idea of who the main characters are, what motivates them, what they value, and why they do what they do.  And it is not just the main characters.

A great example of character presentation is how the story introduced us to Billy’s foster parents, and boy did the film use the full tool box to do this task.  From just the look and feel of the van they drive him home in we know so much about who they are, and the house they walk him into tells us even more.  Their mannerisms, clothing, hairstyles, and gait reinforce the characters we are seeing.  The way the cinematography pairs them in frame communicates subtle details about their relationship with one another, and the blocking of their movements around Billy speaks volumes about how they see him and want to care for him.   But sadly, this doesn’t keep up for the entire film, and most characters aren’t given this level of care.  Each of the foster children are given a very quick intro interaction as Billy is whisked through the house.  They aren’t bad, but that level of detail isn’t given to everything, and it really wanes as the film lengthens. 
The key is, once the audience is familiar with your characters then you can do something with them!  And the more intimately you present the character, the more powerful it is when you begin to move them.  And that is where this film begins to falter. 

Middling: Cinematography, Editing, Plotting, and Costuming
Cinematography and Editing: Both the cinematography and the Editing in this were fine but ultimately nothing special.  They did elevate several scenes, reinforcing both comedy and character and making the special effects look better, but the cinematography really fell off toward the end.  The final fight scene was especially poor. 
Plotting: The plot was nothing special.  The villain story was predictable, and the central character conflict was ultimately bland and a bit of a retread.  There was one turn at the very end that was a surprise to me and I was a bit excited for a moment.  But they didn’t really do much interesting with it.  What they did do, they did boringly in a final fight scene.  And it was done so poorly that payoff was diminished even though I liked the idea.  The thing is, it was a perfectly serviceable plot, and none the worse for wear for having been used before.  Plot is a meta structure to hang interesting things on.  And boy did they have some interesting themes to play with!  If they had kept the plot beats exactly the same, but payed out the thematic elements they had seeded into the beginning, this film could have been great. 

Costuming:  I loved the Shazam costume.  The other character costumes were solid but there was a later costume issue I ended up not being terrifically fond of. 

Problematic:  Character Progress, Theming, Tone
Character Progress and Theming
:
I tie these two together because the themes they brought up are tied to their characters.  The film has two key themes it brings to play.  The first is the question, “Who is worthy to be a superhero?” and the second is the theme of family.  The latter is the heart of the film, and is handled middlingly.  The first is brought up in a fascinating and breathtakingly unique way, and then completely dropped.  Both could have been used to highlight the villain and make him much more potent and interesting, and both would have done the same for the main characters.  And it wouldn’t have had to change the film almost at all!  The comedy, the tone, the plot, the characters, all of it could have been the same.  You just have to adjust a few character moments, highlight a few things, make it clear what caused what, or why something happened, make a motivation evident or have someone ask a single question.  But no.  It is maddeningly close to being astonishingly meaningful.  But it just isn’t. 

Instead, it’s just lackluster.  As a result, its characters don’t really go anywhere.  You get to know them, but they don’t move very far.  They change very little because there is nothing to move them from who they were.  The central conflict between Billy and Freddy is somewhat trite and forced.  The villain, instead of being a powerhouse, just feels campy but without the love of camp that makes it entertaining.  The family stuff has this sense of heart, and in a few scenes it really does get there.  But I just wish they had really used that heart a bit more if that is what they were going to focus on.  And there was one scenario to which I really object (an issue about college and family that I will address in my personal analysis). And the surprise element in the end fight scene was a really nice tie-in to that family theme in theory more than in execution.

Tone:  The tone was a bit off in a few places.  The Seven Deadly Sins were a very odd mix of really horrific and slapstick camp.  The same went for several of the villain scenes.  I would be careful about particularly young ones with this film.  Everything else about it feels very PG rated. 

  

SPOILER WARNING – Spoilers start now

Personal Review:  -1 ranking. 

This has a lot to do with expectations of things set up in the opening of the film and I am afraid I can’t discuss them without delving into what happens in the story. 

So again, SPOILERS. 
The opening of the film establishes the desire to find a hero, and the difficulty of doing so.  A wizard who is looking for someone objectively good casts a spell to bring him someone worthy to be given power.  The 7 deadly sins he keeps captive are growing stronger, and he grows weaker, so he must pass on his mantle.  The film establishes the foolishness of looking for a truly good person and the impossibility of finding one.  He searches for years as person after person fails to be purely good.  His search actually creates the villain of the story.  A child he once rejected finds his way back as an embittered and dangerous adult.  He frees the 7 demon sins, taking their power out into the world.  With no time left the wizard selects Billy, who the audience knows is neither pure nor good, and grants him the power.  


The themes set up by this introduction are fantastic.  Questions like “Who deserves to be a superhero?” “Who should be given power?” and, “How does someone become more evil or more good?” are amazing themes.  Even the issue of how we handle the question “Why not me?” which is brought up later is amazing. 

And they didn’t even try to answer any of those questions. 
The primary question I had was, “Why Billy? Why did the spell choose him?”  It grabbed him right after he did the first selfless thing we had seen him do in the entire film.  Family is also a core theme in this film and the spell brings him to the wizard right after he makes the decision to stop two bullies from beating up his new foster brother.  So far, he had worked hard to distance himself from his new foster family.  He had refused to engage, been rude, been unkind, and (although you don’t know it yet,) stolen his disabled foster brother’s prize possession.  But now he chooses to help him.  It is a big character turn followed by the sudden granting of power, so I was inclined to think it was related.  Is being a hero about choice?  I love that theme!  You could couch the entire film in that.  Draw lines of distinction between Billy and the Villain.  The test the Seven Deadlies did to each visitor was a Temptation and Choice test.  But they were gone when Billy arrived so he is untested.  That could set up tension for the entire film.  Make it about that.  Is he or isn’t he worthy? 

But that doesn’t work with the rest of the setup.  The spell chose lots of people and they all failed a test of choice, and the point was that no one is that good.  Besides, the one other person we see get chosen didn’t do anything brave or selfless beforehand.  Was Billy just the next in line?  Ok, so that is meaningful and could be explored.  Maybe being a hero is about something else. Maybe it is about family, or bravery.  Or maybe it is nothing, and any one of those people would have been fine.  But it wasn’t.  The film never asks again.  It never says.  The villain expresses a momentary curiosity and then moves on. 

Billy as a character never encounters any of this.  The idea that “These powers can only be entrusted to a purely good soul because last time an entire civilizations died” is fairly heavy stuff.  But despite it being explained to him, his super hero arc is a very simple story of progressing from, “Wow I have powers let’s use it to make money and YouTube Videos” to, “I should probably stop the bad guy from murdering my new foster family.” 

They just don’t capitalize on the big question they ask right up front.  And they spend so much time on that issue!  They build their entire villain on that premise.   This is why the villain ended up so bland.  They build a fascinating motivation into him and gave him a drive that puts him in direct opposition to Billy, both in how each of them got their power and also in their family background. But they didn’t allow either issue to drive him after his creation. 

The family theming had a lot of potential.  This theme was explored a little more but still not as fully as it could have been.  Billy’s character arc when it comes to family is more complete.  There is some deep stuff there and he is much more flushed out.  The mom story line is surprisingly well written and it went somewhere I didn’t expect.   It would have been great to see them use that to contrast Billy with the villain whose terrible family was also brought up as a major issue!  They have parallel stories and highlighting that could have thrown light on those core questions, but they don’t bother. 

 

The Rewrite: I promise you don’t have to change this movie to get the themes in here! I love the comedy in this film.  I love its light-hearted characters and its silly tone and its fun, and none of that needs to go away.  But it is so close to also being something amazing! Let me show you how light a touch that can be.   

Here is how I would have written it.  I would have personified the magic a bit.  Show it choosing people when they make a choice, a selfless one.  For the villain, make it subtle.  Show him choosing, in a very small way, choosing not to cause his brother trouble even though he is in the right, despite his abusive father, and despite his abusive brother.  Show that the magic sees and chooses him.  Then you let the scene with the wizard play out.  He fails the demon temptation, and just the same as in the film it is clear it is anger at his abusive family that causes the failure.  You keep the rest of the film the same, but have the magic searching invisibly, pass by Billy once or twice when he does the things to his foster family that make you see how bad he can be, like when he lies to Freddy or when he tells his sister not to hug him.  But when he defends Freddy the magic notices.  It follows him to the subway and chooses him.  Then everything is the same until you adjust just a few lines between Shazam and the Villain. In an early fight have him demand to know why Billy is worthy.  Leave it unanswered.  When the foster family is captive have the villain say he has it figured out.  He says it is because Billy had a loving family.  That is why he is a good person.  Billy, having just come from learning his mom gave him up, doesn’t agree.  He just met these people.  And Billy struggles with his recent actions and his foster brother’s recent accusations, wondering if he is actually more like his enemy. 

Play the rest of the film exactly like it is written but when Shazam finally has the demon artifact and is finally being subject to the temptation that every single person before him failed, have his family be the ones to pull him back.  You see, every other person who took that test was alone.  And the villain was right.  The difference may well be a loving family! 

 

Ok sorry, one last thing.  

As a teacher, I am going to go ahead and say that I have a personal problem with the statement “you should not go to a prestigious college.  You should continue living at your foster home instead” I know there was context in the film and all, but I am not sure that even that justifies it!  They wanted to make a statement about the value of family, but I really don’t think personal growth and a college education is in opposition to that! 

If you want to go to a college that is a lot closer I like that idea.  I mean I used to live in Philadelphia.  Drexel is right there and extremely well regarded!  That is a different conversation though.  If you phrase it as college-or-family and then side with family I am going to strongly disagree!   And on a more personal educator’s note, I lived in Philly and I am familiar with a very ghetto mentality that sounds an awful lot like that.  It says, “How dare you leave.  Do you think you are better than us?  Don’t you love us? Then don’t leave us.”  This small conversation, as underplayed and subtle as it is, may actually be an extremely dangerous message for many inner-city foster kids and I don’t really think the film makers had any idea.    

Captain Marvel Film Review: Technical - 2/5 Personal - 1/5

Technical rating 2/5  Personal Rating 1/5

Writing:
Dialogue 2/5
Plotting 2/5
Acting 3/5
Cinematography 1/5
Editing 3/5
Characters:                        
Presentation 1/5
     Progression 1/5

Music 2/5 
Acton Direction 2/5 
Special Effects +1 
Costuming +1       Total: 17/45 = 1.8/5

Ok, this is a controversial one folks!  So, buckle in. 

I have given this film a much more in-depth treatment than I will give many others. This is partly because I do rate it so differently from the average reviewer and I wish to defend that deviance, but also because I believe this film is particularly important!  I hope you will stick with me.

Writing – I found the dialogue poor, painful in several places and just barely passable in others.  However, it was the plotting that was even more problematic.  It was a combination of confusing, boring and scattered.  I strongly suspect this film went through some serious re-scripting and re-writing at least once.  It was pushed back several times for a total of eight months for MCU structural reasons.  In addition, there were some last minute reshoots, which are not uncommon industry practice lately.  But there were also rumors of last-minute re-writes and re-cuts resulting from extremely negative audience reactions to early screenings. Whatever the causes, the results are jumbled at best.  It looks like they had a very clear message in mind for the first draft and deviating from that proved difficult.  What they ended up with is a passable plot that goes a lot of places but doesn’t really land anywhere.  Chekhov left several guns on the wall that never got fired, and the few that do go off have very little character impact because they aren’t fully explained or they aren’t flushed out.  I have a few ideas about what the original intentions were from the negative spaces in the film, but I will save that for another time.  Ultimately, it’s is a story that drops several balls and packs less punch when its final punches do land.    

Acting – The acting highlight in this film is absolutely Ben Mendelsohn.  Both as the human version of himself, and the one under all the Skrull makeup and prosthetics.  He elevated a role that didn’t require it, in a film that desperately needed it.  Sam Jackson was fine, but he was playing a very different version of his character.  While the CG de-ageing was amazing, the characterization of Nick Fury was disheartening.  I don’t feel like I got a good bead on Brie Larson’s acting.  She acted about as much as the Queen of Naboo.  That is to say, not at all.  She remained stuck between smug, stoic, and slightly confused.  I strongly suspect that this is exactly what she was told her character was supposed to do.  Again, I am uncertain about the original plans for the character, but when your long-lost best friend is sitting across the table telling you she is a combination of sad to have lost you, glad to have you back, mad you left, and understanding it’s not your fault, and you sit there like a slightly constipated sack of potatoes, the audience should be told why!  Again, I suspect Larson really may not be to blame for this, but I can’t praise acting that isn’t there. 

Cinematography - Simply a non-factor in most scenes, and an actual detractor in many. The action cinematography was truly terrible in the later fights making the them impossible to follow.  The conversational cinematography was so bad I actually spent some leisure time after the film planning what could be done besides the most elementary shot-reverse-shot.  I have also been scripting a video essay contrasting the cinematography of similar, better-done scenes in other marvel films.  I would unabashedly describe it as offensively bad.  The strange thing was, in the first three minutes there were some beautifully done perspective shots that transitioned from dream, to sleep, to waking which displayed some creative skill.  But all of a sudden it stopped.  I don’t know what happened but whoever shot that first few minutes should have done the whole movie. 

 Editing – Many of the plotting problems are also editing problems but the micro editing has some issues.  A number of moment-to-moment character interactions have a few strange hiccups and the scene where everyone is running around the spaceship in the third act has very little cohesion.  It really looks like the latent effects of re-cutting a film to re-write a character under a time crunch.  If that is what they did I am surprised that they got as much polish in place as they did.  The editing for humor and much of the car/train chase is at least correctly done. 

 Characters – This is the big one, and the one that falls truly flat.   I talked about the re-shoots theory and the possible changes in plotting, but I think the biggest thing that was changed was the story around who and what Captain Marvel is.  But I can only fairly judge what is there on screen.   So setting all of that aside, Captain Marvel as a character is entirely mishandled.  She is simply a bland, emotionless, and highly unlikable individual.  We follow her as she puts down everyone she encounters for no reason. The writers sacrifice the coolness and likability of Nick Fury to make Marvel look a bit cooler, but it just made her look like more of a jerk and him look like a punk (Look up The Warf Effect).  But even more importantly, she has no hero’s arc.  Her goal changes every ten minutes so the payoff of each segment has no personal impact on her.  She doesn’t ever grow, experience loss, feel either pain or fear.  She never overcomes her own inner challenges, nor does she experience guilt or even a sense of responsibility for her past actions as a Kree soldier.  She has nothing that would make her an actual super hero, much less a real person. 

This is where I will touch on my personal connection to this film so I will move on, but ultimately Captain Marvel’s story arc leaves much to be desired.  Her finale ends with tensionless action and a lot of fireworks that have no meaning, followed by a resolution with the antagonist that doesn’t make much sense. I mean it really doesn’t.  It baffled me more than anything else in the film.  He spouts some nonsense at her that isn’t in character, and then she responds in a way that has no meaning to her.  It simply doesn’t hold any weight for either of their characters for any reason given in the story. And then it just kind of ends. 

As for the other characters, they were mostly political messages, one dimensional stand-ins for ideals, or punching bags. The other Kree soldiers actually looked like an interesting bunch who were enjoying playing their characters, but we never got a chance to know them beyond about one line each.  More’s the pity. 

The last thing I want to do is highlight and analyze the emotional impact of what is known as the “super hero outfit” scene.   If you don’t already know, this is often considered the most important scene in a super hero film.  The reveal of the hero outfit is always tied to what that hero does in that moment to earn the outfit.  Most times you don’t actually see the moment the outfit was put on.  You see the reveal.  This is because it is the moment of decision.  A powerful moment of becoming.  There is weight to it.  There is meaning.  What gives it meaning is a combination of personal risk, sacrifice, a choice and an acceptance to become something else.  In Captain Marvel…I just wanted to go next door and watch Alita: Battle Angel again instead.  Not only did Alita have a better version of that scene, Christof Waltz also did it better in an offhanded way in the same film! 

Music- Badly mixed – I think someone who doesn’t know sound mixing told the mixer the music needed to be more prominent. And it didn’t work.  A few of those songs were just a bit too on the nose. Go watch Umbrella Academy on Netflix to see prominent punchy music done beautifully right. 

Action Direction – A lot of it was summed up in editing, but that fight choreography was really rough, and the lighting on the darkened sets combined with the dark costuming, shaky-cam, and the music being more prominent than the sound effects made the final action scenes in particular both boring and unparsable.

Special Effects – Great but not showcased – They were absolutely there but just not used well.  The first few minutes in particular were really good!  But beyond that they were not utilized or capitalized on by the cinematography and editing or highlighted by the sound design – The Skrull makeup and effects were great! 

Costuming – Was fine and I actually really liked the look of the captain marvel outfit, especially the mohawk look when she had the space helmet up!  I thought that looked amazing and I feel like the camera really shied away from showing her much with it on.  It seems like they cut a lot of that final fight scene in space.  Sad, but I suspect there were re-write reasons for it. 

Personal Connection

So, my review of this film so far has been highly unflattering.  I have seen critics praise this film and I have been baffled.  Most of the ones who have praised it have done so on moral grounds, not technical.  The few technical praises have been based on box office numbers and special effects.  I have also seen praise of Brie Larson herself and her acting, a subjective subject on which it is hard to argue.  However, I have also seen critics I respect giving this film more moderate ratings, initially praising it based on its social value, but when they get to discussing the technical aspects they become quite a bit more critical than their rating would suggest.  While this is irritating it at least helps me believe not everyone has lost their good sense.  I suspect they fear to give honest criticism and from some of the things I have seen said even to them I believe such fear is justified. 

And to me that is what most makes this whole thing a travesty.  If something is important you should push for it to be presented well, and if someone presents something you care about poorly you should be irate at the presenter, not the honest critic.  The more important the topic, the more critical we should be of its presentation.  We should not be so desperate for a female super hero that we praise the un-praiseworthy. 

Now, if it were just that the film was technically poor I would not mind so very much.  I love many silly, poorly made films because they say something I love.  Many a badly made B film has inspired me, encouraged me, made me laugh, or taught me something important about the nature of the world.  I would be a hypocrite if I wrote off the value of any film just for being made badly.  The problem is that Captain Marvel is not only a poorly made film about a female super hero.  It is also a bad one. 

That is a strong statement and of course I must justify it.  Let me start by defending what may seem be an even more impossible statement: that it is not a superhero movie at all.

You see, the mistake made by people who don’t watch super hero movies (and occasionally by those that do) is to think that super powers are what defines a super hero.  They are wrong.  What makes a super hero is not their power set. It is the combination of their super human power and their astonishingly human failings.  The most beloved heroes, the ones that matter, the ones that are the most compelling are the ones whose powers are accompanied by their greatest challenges.  We don’t worry whether they will save the world, we worry whether they will save themselves. 

Tony Stark is Iron Man not because of his suit but because of his mind.  We know he can use his intelligence to save the day, but the real question is, will his all too human pride propel him too far, send him beyond his friends, and beyond morality?  And occasionally it has!  Captain America’s real shield is not made of vibranium, it is his unbreakable will. We aren’t afraid of the shattering of a painted metal disk, we are afraid of the loss of a man’s hope deep in his heart.  The Hulk’s battle is not with strength, but with his all too human rage.  Black Widow’s challenge is whether or not she will ever be able to stop running and hiding, not from her enemies, but from herself.  Hawkeye’s super power is not to be able to aim true at an enemy, but to be able to see clearly into the heart of his friends when they need him. And Spiderman, in all his impetuous youth, granted the physical strength of a titan and the skill to do endless good, grapples with the guilt of having done less than he could. 

It is not the power that makes the hero.  It is the challenges that are in their very soul.  Just as the power is in the hero so the challenge is also within the hero and Captain Marvel has no inner challenge to overcome.

People always say super hero movies are boring because the heroes always win. They are watching the wrong battle.  The film Avengers: Age of Ultron was not a victory for the Avengers.  It was a loss because Stark in his pride created the villain and it could be said that it was still in his pride he created the ally that saved them, and he dragged his friend into it.  Civil war was a loss because Stark’s pride and Cap’s will separated them and that rift is still there.  Spiderman has still never won the battle against his guilt for letting Uncle Ben die and the Hulk and Black Widow are still running from one another. Thor may think he is the Strongest Avenger, but he has lost everything in the last few films.  And Hawkeye is not even on the team anymore!  Nick Fury for all his plotting and planning against the powers of the cosmos was powerless against the endgame when it came.  Each of the avengers is still fighting a losing battle against themselves and each one, while they may save the world, is still fighting some inner demon, and the brilliance of the MCU is that sometimes even though the big battle is won, the hero may still loose.  And that is the beauty of where each of our Marvel heroes are right now.  None of their battles are won and many of them have been completely, devastatingly lost. 

Except Captain Marvel.  Because she had no battle.  There was no inner fight, nothing to conquer, nothing to win against.  Just a few spaceships to go through like tissue paper with no meaning at all.   Modern feminism says she can only be portrayed as a victim of oppression.  Other than that, she is perfect.  Perfect and dormant until that oppression goes away and once it does, she is all powerful.  I am afraid that was the character arc and story of Captain Marvel.  She was always perfect.  She had nothing to change.  Nothing to conquer.  She just had to realize the patriarchy was evil, and then she would be the perfect most powerful being and everything else was below her as it should be.  No stakes. No challenge, no growth.  No responsibility to anyone, no care, compassion, or responsibility for anyone around her, not even herself.  Nothing but pride and petty pride at that. 

That isn’t what a super hero is.  And it is boring. Also, she is just kind of a jerk!  Who just destroys some bartender’s jukebox for no good reason!?  Just why?  That didn’t prove you aren’t a skrull to Nick Fury at all, so why do you look so smug about it?  Wait, do you really think you don’t have to explain?  Oh God, I am so embarrassed to be a woman right now!  

When I watched Wonder Woman with my husband he looked over at me, unprompted, and said to me, “I want to be just like her!”  Wonder Woman was kind, she was gentle.  She was strong without being mean spirited.  She was smart and intelligent without putting anyone down.  In fact, she raised up the broken people around her.  She encouraged the men around her to be more masculine.  She did not judge them for their obvious faults but with a lovely determined beauty she made them want to be better just by being who she was.  She made them want to stand up and be brave like her!  That is an Icon, and a powerful female super hero. But as I watched Captain Marvel my heart ached for all the little girls who would be told that this was what they should be.  I looked over to my husband and said to him, “I want to be nothing like her!

How ThinkySushi Rates Films

Welcome to ThinkySushi! 

ThinkySushi is a place where I review films.

I deeply love the craft of film making so my reviews heavily reflect an analysis of that craft. But each review is also augmented by a bit of my own personal opinion on the film as a piece of meaningful literature in its time. Ideas and creativity will often sway my opinion strongly. As a result I have a two-part rating system. The first rating is a purely analytical one, representing nothing beyond the film-craft on display. The second is a personal rating which reflects the combination of the technical film-craft and how I feel about the film as a piece of meaningful literature.

For the technical part I will break things several categories which will receive grades to be averaged into a score from 1-5 with 5 being the best. For each category I will explain the grade I gave below in a conversational paragraph.

For the Personal grade I will simply talk about anything in particular that caught my personal interest and explain why it swayed my final rating.

Enjoy and feel free to comment and ask questions.
I delight in dialogue and the difficult question that makes me answer for myself and challenges me to either change my mind, or give a profoundly good defense!  

The Rating System:

Quick Overview
Two scores are given – Technical and Personal

These 5 key categories are always rated 1-5: 
Writing, Acting, Cinematography, Editing, Characters
Any other applicable categories may also rated 1-5 depending on the type of film
Smaller less influential categories can add a + or –
Scores are averaged and rounded to get the Technical score from 1-5.

Personal preferences and thoughts are considered and may augment the score up or down.   

Detailed Rating Description: 

There are five core categories I have found are the most important pieces in each and every one of my filmgoing experiences.

1 - Writing: Dialogue & Plotting
2 - Acting
3 - Cinematography
4 - Editing
5 - Characters: Presentation & Progress  

I have found that each of these items are absolutely essential for all film making regardless of genre, era, style or subject matter.  No matter what form your cinema takes it must do each of these things and do them well. Other things may come in to play, some more often than others! But for me these are the heart.  Do them well and it is hard to mess up too badly, do them poorly and the even if you do wonderful things surrounding it nothing can redeem the mess.    

Now, I believe Two of of those core categories deserve a bit of explanation.

Writing - I have divided this in two for a reason. Dialogue writing is a delicate and subtle skill. It requires a complex understanding of both your characters’ backgrounds, motivations, their world, their position in the story, and the actors’ particular ability to portray them. It should be both pre-planned and living. it should appear completely effortless but effortless is what it must never be. Plotting however, is a different art altogether. Much of it is not spoken, it is tied to the wide shots as closely as the personal ones. It requires the writer to map movements of various items and entities not only across space and time but across emotional landscapes and mental jungles. It has to track how each element of its story moves not just along its own path but more importantly in the minds of the audience to maximize the impact of expectation, surprise, fear, suspense, hope, and heartbreak. The plot writer ought to be a master tactician and the best films are their grand battle plans.

Characters - Characters may seem a strange choice for one of the key elements of film-craft. It may seem even stranger to divide it it they way I have. But I stand by it. The goal of every piece of cinema that I have ever seen is to tell a story. And every story, is a story about someone. In the most extreme examples it may be in the metaphorical sense, but there is always a character. And the nature of that character is crucial to communicating that story well. First the audience must understand who and what they are clearly. If the character is great, or if they are small, the story is designed to be filtered through the lens of their great or smallness, but this can not be unless we are first presented effectively with who and what they are. Character presentation is the crucial first step. Then we follow that character through the story. Now some would use the term “character arc” here but I do not. It is to restrictive. Many characters do “arc” but many do not. Some have the world arc around them. Many of our more ancient characters have a tendency to simply walk through the world and we get to see it through their unchanging eyes. But all characters progress. They bounce around the world, responding to it, rubbing off on it, having it rub off on them, changing them, or them changing it, each in turn. And handling all that progression well is no small feat for any creator.

That said many of these other aspects of film-making can have a powerful effect.  Done poorly can bring a middling film down to the level of the worst schlock, but applied with skill they can raise that same film to the level of astonishing greatness!  Music, Costuming, Sound design and editing Special effects Choreography, Martial arts, Art direction, Directorial Voice, Blocking and stage direction, Setting, And so very many others.  For each film the core 5 aspects will be rated on a scale of 1-5 along with a select few of these other categories which had a sizable impact on the film.  A few of the other categories that had a smaller impact may also give the final score a + or -1 depending on their influence.  Then the scores will be averaged and rounded to the nearest whole number giving it a simple # out of 5.

That will be my basis for a technical score, however this only reflects film craft.  I have found most films are either more or less than the sum of their part.  I have often been surprised by the beating heart found buried in a film that was from every angle of analysis poorly made.  And I have been astonished at the dryness and barrenness soul found in highly polished pieces of pretty pandering Oscar bait. I have seen substance in the strange edge cases and wanted to cry out my love love the unlovable simply because it did no more than surprise me by doing something daring when it could have played it safe. It is these little things that tend to sway my personal enjoyment of a film up or down a category suddenly and without warning.  It is not often it sways it to far.  I do so love the technical mastery of the craft.  But there are times when it does.  And at all times it deserves addressing.  So each film, after I have given it its initial treatment, I will give it another onceover and bring out all those little things, those imponderables of meaning, value, message, and downright intangibility that so often make up the little difference between good and great, poor and bad, mediocre and memorable.  I will then add it to my tech rating to give it my personal and final rating.  And allow you to judge with you find of greater value to you.