What I did this summer
I have been writing movie reviews for The Citizen for almost five years, and although some may think that reviewing a movie is easy, I can tell you that it’s not. Reviewing a movie means you have to see it, research who the actors, writer(s) and director are and then find a way to express your opinion to the readers in a few paragraphs. As a teenager, this especially becomes hard when big blockbusters like “Avatar” or the highly popular “Transformers” and “Twilight” franchises rear their ugly heads again and again. I have to express my opinion in a way that shows people my own personal view of the film, while trying my very best not to disappoint those on Team Edward and Team Jacob. As for “Transformers,” most teen guys will base their opinion of the movie on the number and length of the action sequences (if you haven’t seen these movies, you will know what I mean when you do), but I have to try to piece together the dwindling amount of (yet convoluted) plot in the movies, which can be very difficult.
Near the end of my freshman year of high school, Mike (Names and Faces editor Michael Boylan) called me and my mother into his office at The Citizen to discuss writing a book of movie reviews. Since I see movies almost every weekend, I said yes to the idea, thinking it would be easy. There are about 70 days in the summer and he had 50 movies for me to watch split up into different categories. I figured I would watch one movie a day and still have a few days left for relaxation.
It wasn’t that easy.
The first “week” consisted of “classic coming of agemovies” based on or around high school students and their problems. This list included such films as “The Breakfast Club,” which got me angry, and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which had virtually no affect on me at all. That week was a hard one, because almost every one of the films consisted of three things: strong language, sexual content, and a boatload of drug and alcohol use. I now see why my boss put these movies on the list. I had a problem with the amount of cursing at my school, Starr’s Mill High, but now, after hearing more “F” words then I could count over the summer, I don’t have as big a problem with its frequent usage. As the weeks continued, I saw a few comedies (“Monty Python and The Holy Grail,” “Funny People,” “Rushmore”), a few foreign language movies (“Run Lola Run” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”), and a few modern classics (“Pulp Fiction,” “The Silence of the Lambs”). I also saw one or two movies that I really hated (Adam Sandler’s “Punch Drunk Love” and “Dumb and Dumber”).
When the summer was through, I discovered that I couldn’t watch anything more complicated than “SpongeBob Squarepants” without looking at it critically (I recently watched “Flubber” and found several flaws that I hadn’t noticed before). When I told Mike this, he was very happy. Soon after this, I watched “Dunston Checks In,” a favorite film since childhood, and I reviewed that in my head instead of just sitting back and enjoying it.
Comedies are a bit easier for me to review. The reason is because I have seen some movies that I know are considered classic comedies (“National Lampoon’s Vacation”, “Zoolander”, “Blazing Saddles”). After I saw “Funny People,” I instantly became a fan of Judd Apatow, whose other films include “Anchorman,” (he served as a producer) another comedy on the list, and “The 40-Year-old Virgin,” which I have not seen yet.
Another thing that has changed over the summer is how I notice the use of music in a movie. Music in a movie can be the main focus of a scene or in the background. Either way, music can be used to set up a character’s personality before they even speak a word. An example of this is in “Bulletproof Monk,” a 2003 action film. In the scene where the sidekick is introduced, the director uses the song “Diamonds and Guns,” to imply to the viewer that the character is a punk. Another film that is older and more known to people is “Dazed and Confused.” In this movie, which was on the list, background music sets the tone for many scenes and virtually saves the movie from my dreaded 2 star rating.
I enjoyed doing the project and would like to do it again, now that I know how high the expectations are for such a project. While watching movies for pleasure was almost like a natural ability to me, I had to learn how to watch movies critically. As a result, I now pay more attention to details like music and method of character development. So in closing, that was my fun and developmental summer. I would also like to thank Mike, who saw a little Ebert in a 10 year old five years ago and who thought I was ready to progress up the writing ladder and offered me a chance to contribute to this book.
Let’s hope it sells more than Twilight.
(Editor’s note: The book, originally aimed at introducing a higher level of film criticism to a high school student, turned out to be about much more. It is still being written in some parts and revised. We haven’t decided on how to publish it yet. I am proud of what Kevin was able to accomplish this summer and can say that the book has inspired me to raise my game in movie criticism a little bit as well. I am also “very happy” that Kevin is more comfortable with profanity now. You’re welcome, world.)