More Fun with Film Review Editing!

Here are more paragraphs from recently published Christian film reviews. Get out your red pen and respond in the comments section.

Remember, the goal here is to emphasize the need for better film writing, not to ridicule anybody or put down any particular online review site.

The first ste of excerpts is from a new review of Sideways. I won’t say who wrote it. I won’t say who published it. I’ll just say it proved very difficult to read because I kept wanting to wake up the editor.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

The universe in which Alexander Payne films tend to exist in a little bubble of truth. They are heartfelt, comedic, hopeful and tragic—often at the same time. The first of his films I encountered was the dark comedy Election; second being About Schmidt. Now my history with this very talented filmmaker has expanded to Sideways, a coming of age story for old people.

And after the routine plot description, here’s the review’s home-stretch:

The story here is a quiet one. It doesn’t seek to be anything deeper than what it is, and that in and of itself makes it all the more resonating. None of the characters do anything that cries out as a false move. Jack’s womanizing is despicable to a fault, but he’s just so likeable that you can’t help but liking him for it. Thomas Haden Church, who is still largely unknown—save for his role on Wings (and to more astute viewers he is the embodiment of ignorance in George of the Jungle as Lyle)—is a great asset to this film. Other well-known actors including George Clooney wanted the part, but Payne was wise in going with someone recognizable but largely unknown. It lends a hand in his has-been status as an actor.

Paul Giamatti is the movie’s new everyman, in that he looks like it. He has a good self-pitying quality to him. He’s not hard to love either as his Miles cries out for a hug, though he doesn’t have it as bad as he makes it out to be. Throughout the film, he grows as a man. Change is capable, even in your 40’s, and Giamatti is one of the few actors out there that can make a statement like that and make us believe.

The two women, Sandra Oh as Stephanie and Virginia Madsen as Maya, are quite enticing. They embody strong independent women but are still sensitive enough to see the good traits in both the men they get involved with. I guess you could say that this a film about the performances than the story itself, but I think in discussing the characters you hopefully get a sense of how well-written and thought out the script by Alexander Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor is (working from a novel written by Rex Pickett). They have a good ear for dialogue, never betraying the characters for an interesting plot point.

The story is shot deftly and simply. There is a sequence of the four characters sitting against the setting sun in the hills—very beautiful to behold. Payne is an expert filmmaker. I didn’t mind About Schmidt, although it was a little too meandering (then again it’s about a guy in a Winnebago). Not so here. He creates the right pace for the story. Needless to say a movie like this seems to only come around once every few years.

There are problems from Sentence #1, obviously. There are little flubs like “Change is capable.” Some sentences are just painful: “He’s just so likeable that you can’t help but liking him for it.”

What else do you see?

Okay, Round Two.

Here’s an excerpt from a recently published review of The Incredibles.

One of the most powerful mediums in Hollywood recently has been animation. Starting awhile back, from Titan AE to The Iron Giant, animation has been used to tell powerful stories that are filled with spiritual and moral themes. We have seen the medium cross over from children to adults with these films and the likes of the Shrek films. Now, new from one of the founders in the style, is The Incredibles, and to say the least, this movie is simply INCREDIBLE! I don’t recall the last time I have had so much fun at the movies as I did at my screening of The Incredibles. The concept blends computer animation and comic-book-hero scenarios to come up with a wonderful, thought-provoking story. The Incredibles takes on the political correctness of today and slams it through the door with the velocity that some of us have been yearning for, for quite some time.

Whoo, boy. Off to a rough start. Here’s some more.

It doesn’t stop there though, from Holly Hunter to Samuel L. Jackson, you could say this story is star-powered.

The story starts out with the superheroes doing what most superheroes do: saving people and things. Along the way, Mr. Incredible saves an individual who was attempting suicide, but there was some property damage and also that individual sues Mr. Incredible for an injury he received. That opens up the door for all kinds of law suits, and the heroes just can’t keep up. As a result the court systems ban all superheroes from using their gifts and talents and force them into obscurity.

Now just in that paragraph is a huge sampling of issues that are addressed in this movie from a social perspective. There are these and more, but thankfully the movie instead focuses more on the love of family and the need for people to do what they are called to do in order to have fulfillment and purpose. For many, this is the concept that we are all gifted in some way, and we ought to be using those gifts to better society. Only when using those gifts, will we be fulfilled and will our families be fulfilled.

I’ll stop there. Any editors looking for some exercise? You might want to play the sleuth, find the sites that published these reviews, and volunteer your talents.

Or, you could always edit some of MY reviews. I can always use the help.

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  • Martin

    I seem to be the only one playing the game this time. About the first paragraph of the Incredibles review I’ll just say that the reviewer seems blissfully unaware of the history of animation. Someone should point out to her that animated features go back to Disney’s Snow White in 1937—looooooooong before Titan AE and The Iron Giant. Putting moral lessons into animated films is nothing new either—witness Dumbo and Bambi. And Chuck Jones was scattering “grownup” jokes throughout his Warner Bros. shorts (originally made to be shown in cinemas) before Shrek was even a little green glint in his father’s eye. The reviewer shoulda/coulda written a paragraph about how computer animation, starting with the digitally composed shots in Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, has helped to revive a genre everyone thought was dead. Instead she comes off looking as though she hasn’t seen an animated film made prior to 1999.

    Verbosity is the main problem with the rest of the review. There are omnibus run-on sentences, and four-sentence paragraphs with two sentences’ worth of ideas. On the plus side, this reviewer does seem to be striving to work from a Christian worldview. One could edit this mess down to a competent, cogent essay, if one had all the time in the world. Which I don’t.

  • Martin

    I should hasten to remark that while my edits add clarity to the review, they don’t add any depth. This review is just a step above the “David Spade video-store clerk” level: “Romantic comedy, Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, nice running time!” And I see that as an even bigger problem, given that the review comes from what purports to be a “Christian” publication. Now I know that such publications don’t want to sound too “churchified” because they hope to stay—for lack of a better word—relevant to the culture at large. But when there’s nothing, nothing in your reviews indicative of a Christian worldview, you’ve gone too far. I can read reviews like this one all day long in mainstream publications; there’s no need for a “Christian” publication to waste ink on them.

  • Martin

    Comments on the Sideways review (I found the original, and once again I am shocked but I ain’t surprised):

    For starters, that first sentence isn’t even a sentence. Methinks that second “in” was meant to be an “is”—but even at that it’d be painfully long.

    The reviewer is too self-conscious. He doesn’t need to tell us about his “history with this very talented filmmaker.” If he compares this film to another Payne film, we’ll assume he saw both films. Really. And what the heck does he mean about “a coming of age story for old people”? Paul Giamatti is only 2 years older than I am, for pity’s sake.

    He’s too fond of cliches—even of the ones he doesn’t know how to use. “Needless to say a movie like this seems to only come around once every few years”? Hey, if it’s needless to say, don’t say it. And there’s more than a little of what Daffy Duck called “pronoun trouble,” especially at the end of the first “home stretch” paragraph: “It lends a hand in his has-been status as an actor.” The reviewer means to say that Jack, Church’s character, is a has-been actor, but syntactically, it seems more likely that he’s talking about Payne—or about Church himself.

    Anyhow, here’s a 15-minute slice-and-dice job on the paragraphs Jeffrey quoted. Same ideas, fewer words, clearer language. But I’m sorry, Jeffrey—I am not volunteering to edit this stuff. If they want it edited they’ll have to pay me. A lot.


    Alexander Payne’s films tend to exist in a little bubble of truth. They are heartfelt, comedic, hopeful and tragic—often at the same time. The latest offering from the director of Election and About Schmidt is the charming Sideways, a coming-of-age story for graying Gen-Xers.

    The story here is a quiet one. It doesn’t seek to be deeper than it is—which saves it from striking any false notes. Sure, Jack’s womanizing is despicable, but he’s not; it’s no mystery that the women fall for him. Thomas Haden Church, best known for his role on TV’s “Wings” (and remembered by a few devotees as Lyle in George of the Jungle)—is a great asset to this film. Bigger names, including George Clooney, wanted the part, but the role of a has-been actor looks better on a pleasant but relatively unknown mug like Church’s.

    Paul Giamatti, as Jack’s sidekick Miles, lends his more ordinary mug to the role of a self-pitying Everyman. Miles isn’t hard to love either, and is better off than he thinks. While Jack is the same lovable jerk at the end of the film as at the beginning, Miles goes on quite the journey. Change is possible, even in your 40s, and Giamatti’s singular gifts make the trip utterly believable.

    Sandra Oh as Stephanie and Virginia Madsen as Maya both deliver a fetching blend of strength and sensitivity, asserting their independence while celebrating the good traits in both the men they get involved with. The script, adapted by Payne and Jim Taylor from the novel by Rex Pickett, is well crafted and shows a good ear for dialogue, never betraying the characters for an interesting plot point.

    Camera work is deft and simple, including one glorious sequence of the four characters sitting against the setting sun in the hills. Compared to the meandering About Schmidt, this film suggests a surer, stronger hand. With Sideways, Payne proves himself an expert filmmaker.