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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

What I Think (and How I Write) about Movies

Why do we watch movies? What do they do for us that makes us keep coming back, spending time and money on viewing them? One answer is that they offer us a story. How is that any different than a book? It’s different in the way that the story is presented. The presentation of this story is different from literature in that it is available via optical sensation. In many cases, visual stimulation is more relaxing and less mentally-demanding than reading, offering viewers a chance to learn a story without putting much effort in. Reading is much the opposite; you get out what you put in.

Movies also portray the story through its natural medium. Characters are seen as they are: living beings with facial expressions, actions, and tones. Books can attempt to capture these aspects, but can never do as well as good actors on the big-screen. Their ability to reenact reality is what makes movies so good. I appreciate these traits, and I often find myself more engaged when watching than many people I encounter. Sharing my opinions, thoughts, and interpretations of what I watch has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing. However, I never thought about writing down what I thought until last semester when I took Film Studies. Writing my film critiques is how I communicate what I think about movies in an effective manner.

The construction of these critiques followed a very similar process. The first step was always to view the movie. While viewing the movie, I took several pages of free-hand notes per movie. After the initial viewing, I gathered basic box office, production, and background information to include in the introduction paragraph. From my notes, I selected about three main points to talk about (plot, character, special effects) and just began writing. Very little revision was done after I wrote each of these because they had low priority.

I saw my film critiques as nothing more than an assignment to be completed at the time I was writing them. Reflecting on them now, I see that they do indeed contain some value greater than my initial evaluation. These essays were not purely academic, and as such, they were liberating to construct. This is evident in how I use first-person in all three of my artifacts. For example, in response to another review’s breakdown of James Bond in ‘Spectre’ I wrote “I think I agree with this analysis of Craig’s Bond”. I remember writing this as if I were having a conversation with my paper. The words I had already written were a statement, one which I had to reply to with more writing.

Another interesting trend I noticed within my artifacts is my use of the word “iteration”. As I recall, I used the word three times within two critiques. Twice the word appeared in my “Force Awakens” review, each within a paragraph of one another. “They launch an ill-prepared assault on…a new iteration of the Death Star” and “a life-size iteration was constructed [of the Millennium Falcon]” both use “iteration” in the same context with the same definition. I chalk my redundant use of the word up to my environment at the time. Not long before I wrote the Star Wars paper, I must’ve read the word somewhere. It just happened to stick in my mind at the time, and when I saw two great places to utilize it, I didn’t hesitate. This was not a conscious decision either. When I notice I’m using common words, I break out a thesaurus, but this time it brushed right past me. I’ve noticed this habit in my other work as well. I will naturally use words I’ve recently come across.

As I mentioned previously, my original motivation for writing film critiques was for a letter grade. This fact can be seen by examining my introduction and conclusion paragraphs for all three of my artifacts. This is obviously not where I placed my creativity, or even effort for that matter. I saw those vital sections as secondary for my purposes, and my papers suffer as a result. They are not as good as they could be. The introductions read like a phone book. My “Spectre” review offers the most recognizable example of this: “Spectre is the fourth, and last, installment in the Daniel Craig iteration of James Bond. Released in 2015, it is the twenty-fourth James Bond film and is Craig’s last time reprising the role of the master spy. Costing $250 million, this movie lands itself on the list of most expensive movies ever made. Alongside Craig, actress Lea Seydoux, and actors Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes play Madeleine, Blofield, and M respectively.” These first few sentences of the introduction are mind-numbingly dull.

In regards to my similarly awful conclusion paragraphs, I all but omitted any trace of synthesis. My points from paragraphs preceding are neatly summarized in the “Spectre” and “Indiana-Goonies” reviews, but fail to commit to any content above a middle schooler’s English responsibility. An excerpt from my “Spectre” conclusion, “I am not an expert on the character’s history or the Craig version, let-alone the genre. It had exciting locations, and even scenes where Bond seemed outmatched, which he was, by the power and cunning of his adoptive brother. However, failed dramatic opportunities and an ostensible Bond severely detracted from the film” conveys this note perfectly.

In contrast to my lack of attention to the front and back ends of my papers, I loved the content in between. Each review is heavy with plot and character development analysis. In “Force Awakens” I tie Rey in Episode VII to Luke in Episode IV. “On the surface, I wanted to see Bond as the epitome of the mysterious man with a melodramatic past, but it may all be a superficial representation I convinced myself was quality” is where I talk about Bond’s lack of substance in “Spectre”. My “Indiana Jones- The Goonies Comparison” is 90% character comparison. I spent time and thought in these paragraphs because I cared about them, and wanted to see them turn out at least a little better than my introductions.

One of the more interesting things I picked up when re-digesting my critiques was how I pretended to be someone I’m not. In my “Force Awakens” paper, I say “Walking into the theater, I was excited as a child in a candy store, waiting to view the next chapter in my favorite saga.” Now let me say how I would never use this phrase in real life. It is alien to me. Despite this, I still used it in my critique for some reason. Why? When I’m particularly new to a genre, I start to think of other writer’s work in that setting. I blend what I’ve seen others do or say into something I imagine my audience will be expecting to read. This is not a claim that it in fact is, just that it sounded good to me at the time.

When I was presented with the task of analyzing my own work, I was less than thrilled. It sounded like it would cost me a lot of grief to get through, and be just that, something just to get through. However, after taking a little time to browse through what I’ve written, I’m glad I did breakdown my papers. I picked up on several things that is present in all of the writing I do, as well as some insight on how I formed my film critiques. What I can garner from my analysis is that there exist subtle patterns that I unconsciously employ in my work. My knowledge of these patterns gives me a window into the way I subconsciously change my style depending on how much I care about a topic and who I think I’m writing for.


Textual Artifacts

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

New Cast: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)

Star Wars Episode VII was released in December, 2015 to critical acclaim, but does it really bring anything new to the table? The newest installment of one of the highest grossing series ever was destined to succeed; whether or not that success was warranted or not is up for debate. Without a doubt, it lived up to all commercial expectations of success with a whopping $2 billion in revenue, shattering 41 box office records. With several familiar characters returning to the big screen, a handful of new faces, and veteran filmmaker J.J. Abrams at the helm, The Force Awakens topped many lists for most anticipated movies of 2015. The Force Awakens takes place about 30 years after the fall of the galactic empire, with new heroes and a new force of evil.

Star Wars VII centers around the stories of Rey, a scavenger, and Finn, a deserting Stormtrooper as they travel throughout the galaxy. The central plot actually mirrors the original Star Wars disturbingly closely, leaving me questioning which film I was actually viewing. Rey and Finn eventually team up with old names Han Solo and Chewbacca as they launch an ill-prepared assault on—you guessed it— a new iteration of the Death Star. After completing their episodic quest of destroying the enemy’s devastating weapon, Rey moves on to find Luke Skywalker. Tracking down Skywalker was the first step in the sequel trilogy conflict. Expect much more from this over-arching plotline, as the following films are sure to focus on furthering Luke’s role.

The special effects have certainly improved since Lucas’ day, and it shows. However, it also highlights the quality of the original sagas use of size and scale on planets and gargantuan space cruisers. The largest improvement for me is the scenery in the respective settings. When the Millennium Falcon flies through an asteroid ring circling a gas giant, the light and shadow reflection aspect is breathtaking. Another example of the use of natural light to bring ultra-realism to a scene is on Starkiller Base when the Rey is walking through a frozen wasteland. The way the snow crystals refract the light makes it look like glitter, a look that’s hard to achieve even in reality. And speaking of the Falcon, a life-size iteration was constructed for the film to expand upon the cockpit and gunner seat seen in the originals. The movie shows the crew walking through the halls, and even underneath the floor of the redesigned cinematic model.

As I mentioned briefly before, A Force Awakens is essentially a shiny new skin for A New Hope. Everything from the mega-weapon, planet environments, plot development, and even the circumstances the characters find themselves in are meant to be reminiscent of Episode IV, but Abrams overdid the salute. The soundtrack is phenomenal, bringing back the epic orchestra pieces and putting a new spin on them. For a series of this magnitude, a unique and fresh soundtrack is almost required to assure success, and John Williams wonderfully fulfilled his role as score writer.

As a side thought, I will bring up the lack of information given about the New Republic. Luke, Leia and friends fought so valiantly for the restoration of the galactic senate, and all it receives in Episode VII is a cameo akin to that of Alderaan in A New Hope. It reminds me of the lack of exhibition in A New Hope, which I attributed to low budget and sloppy plot writing at the time. At this point, it may just be a part of the way the saga is visualized on the big screen. Also, Rey and Finn are allowed by military leaders to join Han Solo on an extremely dangerous covert op on an enemy base, with Rey having absolutely no previous training. Leia barely knows Finn; the very idea that she would let him in on their mission after so soon after he left the First Order is shocking. In reality, he could very easily have been sent to help Poe escape to the rebel base as a First Order spy. She has no proof otherwise. Viewing this in a different light, it emphasizes a thematic quality shared across the series: the higher valuation of heroism over capability. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; and coupled with the minority leads (Ridley and Boyega) it gives a powerful message that anyone can do anything if they believe in their cause.

Episode VII closes with a scene leaving the audience begging for more, taunting secrets to be revealed in the upcoming 8th episode. Let’s talk about the information that was actually divulged. Four new villains were introduced: Kylo Ren, General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Supreme Leader Snoke. The dynamic between Ren and Hux is symmetric to Vader’s relationship with Grand Moff Tarkin. Hux and Tarkin both went down with their respective ships as well in the end of the first movie of either trilogy. Captain Phasma is given the role of a stereotypical military captain, and she all but slips down a rank to a stock character. In my opinion, she did absolutely nothing to merit her spot on the iconic film trailer poster. It is yet to be seen whether or not she will play a role in the following movies, but as of now she doesn’t seem to comprise an important role. Kylo Ren is said to be Han and Leia’s son, and that he fell to the dark. This character origin is so barebones it bothers me, and I can’t wait to discover who he really is and what he’s about. Snoke is by far the most mysterious character in the film, with nothing more than a holographic image of him and that he has a vague relation to the dark side of the force. This lacing of mystery may have been a type of strategy; I am much more likely to go see Episode VIII the day it comes out now that I would if more secrets had been illuminated in this installment.

Walking into the theater, I was excited as a child in a candy store, waiting to view the next chapter in my favorite saga. When I exited the theater, the look of sheer suspense had turned to slight disappointment. The Force Awakens certainly delivered on its responsibility to employ returning characters, but even the way they were reintroduced was disappointing. I didn’t feel like I was expecting to when I first saw Han Solo and Chewbacca again after years, and that was very important to me. Maybe if the trailer had left out the initial scene with Han, and had shown him later in the film, that magic moment would’ve been preserved. My final decision: skip this one if you would rather remember the expanded universe. All previous cannon was wiped with Mr. Mouse’s acquisition of LucasFilm. The final product is a mediocre addition to the series, and would’ve made a standalone movie of even lesser caliber.

Spectre Review


Spectre is the fourth, and last, installment in the Daniel Craig iteration of James Bond. Released in 2015, it is the twenty-fourth James Bond film and is Craig’s last time reprising the role of the master spy. Costing $250 million, this movie lands itself on the list of most expensive movies ever made. Alongside Craig, actress Lea Seydoux, and actors Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes play Madeleine, Blofield, and M respectively. Dave Bautista even plays an important role as the assassin Mr. Hinx. Spectre is a crime syndicate thought up by Bond novelist and creator Ian Fleming, and has seen a decent amount of screen time in previous Bond films to date.

Halfway through Spectre, it is revealed that the last three Bond films have all been subplots, taking their place within a large story capped by Spectre. The film revolves around its namesake “Spectre”, a large criminal organization with incredible international power. Spectre’s plan is to create a massive international counter-intelligence agency dubbed “Nine Eyes”, with the purpose of anticipating and avoiding any investigations into their operations. Nine Eyes presents an underlying theme of the film, mass surveillance. It is a modern depiction of what-could-be from Orwell’s famous concept. Spectre’s head, Franz Oberhauser reveals himself as the mastermind behind the last three episodes in the Bond saga, pointing out that he is behind all of Bond’s pain. Now, I would like to point out that I have only seen Skyfall and Spectre thus far and am not sure if Oberhauser makes an appearance in Quantum of Solace or Casino Royale, or if there is any subtle notice of his identity in prior films. Oberhauser is James’ adoptive brother from his childhood, thought to have died along with their father in an avalanche. James learns that it was not an accident, and that Franz had killed his father and staged his death, believing his father considered Bond the better son. While this is a pretty dismal and serious point in the past of both characters, it doesn’t play as such on screen. Bond has a noticeable reaction to the news when Franz reveals what he did, but it just didn’t carry the weight I’d expected it to. It was a plot intricacy with a lot of potential, but in my opinion detracted from the film because of very poor execution.

The cost of $250 million is evident with the scene locations. Bond’s quest to uncover Spectre takes him from Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangier, and back to London. In Rome took place a fast-paced chase scene along the Tiber, Bond driving an Aston Martin DB10 and Minx a Jaguar C-X75, with a total combined cost of about $4 million. Later in Austria, Bond goes to protect Dr. Swann on the request of her father, in an Alpine clinic, which is actually 5-star hotel Das Central. It leaves the ultra-luxury of the mountaintop clinic for the arid marketplaces and slums of Tangier, Morocco where Bond and Swann stay in her father’s old honeymoon hotel. The couple eventually find Oberhauser’s base of operations in a Moroccan desert. The facility consists of glass hallways connecting modern-living spaces, large solar panels in the center, and grass in the center. The whole place came off as strange, with the grass and palm trees in the seething desert. The meteorite crater housing the facility looks so dry that the wind sweeping through the set seems to suck the moisture out of the actors’ skins. One of Franz’ butlers present two glasses of champagne to James and Madeleine, outside of the meteorite’s display. Oberhauser’s lair in reality is a $4 million villa in Marrakesh, superimposed in the meteor crater. That is an impressive feat, substituting the lush parkland of the villa with the scorched Moroccan wasteland.

Is Bond a unique, or stereotypical character? In his case, it can be both. Bond is the stereotypical spy, not from imitation but from example. All spies are based off of Bond in some way, his character being the first commercially, if not culturally (there is a list of relevant pre-1950 espionage fiction), successful agent. Another important question to ask is whether Spectre’s writing and Craig’s performance match the well-crafted persona that is Bond. Roger Ebert has an interesting opinion on the matter. Ebert states the character has “become increasingly opaque and recessive” and that the director (Sam Mendez) lost touch with Bond as a “cold but complex person” and portrayed him more as a “sinewy husk of a man” to “light and pose [as a sculptural object]”. I think I agree with this analysis of Craig’s Bond. On the surface, I wanted to see Bond as the epitome of the mysterious man with a melodramatic past, but it may all be a superficial representation I convinced myself was quality. I love sad stories, and Bond has a pretty good one, with Vesper Lynd and his adoptive father as examples of tragedy in the spy’s life. Then again, the same events can be portrayed in a completely different manner. The weight of these circumstances can be either represented fully, or downplayed like they have been, especially Oberhauser’s revelation.

Spectre was an okay film. Definitely not the best it could’ve been, but maybe I’m not seeing the film’s vision like I should be. I am not an expert on the character’s history or the Craig version, let-alone the genre. It had exciting locations, and even scenes where Bond seemed outmatched, which he was, by the power and cunning of his adoptive brother. However, failed dramatic opportunities and an ostensible Bond severely detracted from the film. Viewing Spectre as an independent movie, I was disappointed.

Raiders of the Lost Ark vs The Goonies Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Goonies: A Comparative Essay

While the original Indiana Jones film and cult-classic The Goonies appear similar on the surface, they are anything but. Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1981 by LucasFilm and grossed a whopping $389.9 million, while Goonies came out in 1985 grossing $61.5 million. Both were created by film visionaries. The legendary director/producer Steven Spielberg participated in both movies, writing The Goonies and directing Raiders, which was also written by George Lucas. The trap and adventure aspects of the two are similar, but the tone and villains are very different.

Let’s start with the similarities between the two. They both are centered around an adventure that involves ancient treasure, clever traps, and danger. Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the giant sphere stone trap so familiar in today’s pop culture. The temple escape scene at the beginning is referenced by everything from Chicken Run to Shrek 2. Indiana Jones also consolidated important characteristics of the explorer genre, which is what led it to become such a memorable film. Lucas drew ideas from many previous films, such as “Zorro Rides Again”, “Casablanca”, and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” to craft (one of) his masterpieces.

The Goonies explore an old pirate cavern, similar to the temple in Indiana Jones. One-Eyed Willy is the pirate who built the secret tunnels, planting a series of traps to ward off potential scavengers from stealing his treasure. Willy implements puzzles and deadly traps, all of which the Goonies have to maneuver around.

Indiana Jones’ rivals in Raiders are the evil Nazis and a selfish French archeologist. Indie proves he is a capable hero by using wit and his skills as an explorer to foil the Nazis and save his love-interest. While he has help from his friends, he accomplishes stunning feats almost single-handedly. Because of this fact, the bad guys really aren’t scary. You never fear for Indie. I found myself putting trust in him to find his way out of a sticky situation, knowing he could handle himself.

As for the brave group of kids who call themselves the “Goonies”, their adversaries were more frightening. The dangerous Fratellis were known criminals, shown to kill without any regret. When the kids stumbled upon the Fratellis on their quest for “rich stuff”, fear for their safety quickly set in. Mamma Fratelli is mean and has no fear of violence, and her two grown children are quick to follow her example. These villains are actually capable of harming the Goonies, which they try to do several times throughout the movie. The Goonies can’t do anything to stop the Fratellis if they had gotten to them; they are vulnerable kids, unlike the (seemingly) invincible Indie.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the culmination of a genre, put together in a splendid fashion. It offers a sense of discovery and deeper curiosity whenever Indiana makes his way through ancient, dangerous places. Its tone is fairly basic, with a simple hero structure and a predictable plot. You want Indie to win, and it’s no surprise when he does. He has a charming personality. His professorship in history combines seamlessly with his activities as an explorer. I am not sure whether Indie conforms to every aspect of the explorer character, or if he makes it.

“The Goonies” has a more complex feeling to it. The kids are all introduced within the first 20 minutes of the movie, and you quickly fall in love with their diverse personalities. They pick on each other like regular kids, but they are shown to have a wonderful friendship. They are family. When it is revealed that they are in danger of losing their homes to a land mogul set on building a country club where they live, you feel for them. They will move away and never see each other again, and the thought of such a deep bond being broken is heartbreaking. Mikey talks about One-Eyed Willy like he is alive, almost like he knows him. It’s him who holds the group together and keeps everyone going when they get discouraged. Mikey is the optimist of the group, and leads them through the pirate cave. Mikey’s older brother Brand claims that he is the leader being the oldest, but he does not have the direction or purpose Mikey holds. It is a sweet story, with amazing characters that really grow on you.

Both films are superficially similar, but upon viewing it is evident that is not the case. Aside from setting, they are completely different films, each with their own story and purpose. Indiana Jones offers an unsurpassable embodiment of the stereotypical explorer, but with his own distinct personality. You could call him a supersized version. The Goonies details the struggles of a group of adventurous kids, highlighting the strength of hope and friendship. Both are amazing, must-see movies.

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