The Quotable Renshaw

One of this film critics' favorite quotable quotes comes from Roger Ebert: "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it." Those two sentences have come in so handy when I've taught film seminars, but they've also come in handy when I've taught creative writing courses or talked about how to read poetry.I think, though, that I'll be carrying around another knockout definition of film criticism in my back pocket to help clarify matters. … [Read more...]

The Awful Truth: “Portlandia” and How to Succeed in “Journalism”

NSFW.Do I have your attention? I should warn you, this post may take more than 30 seconds to read."Don't waste my time" — that's the prevailing attitude for most readers on the Internet. But here's the thing: If you don't take time to read, re-read, discuss, and reflect on what you're reading, then you are wasting your time. I know because I'm guilty of this. I can spend hours perusing the Internet, and the next day I won't think about any of it. At all. That was time wasted.For art, … [Read more...]

In Honor of Sister Rose Pacatte

Today, The New York Times is telling the world about my fellow Patheos blogger Sister Rose Pacatte!This just makes my day.I've always enjoyed the company of Sister Rose in the community of those who love to discuss the inseparable natures of art and faith. So many who are identified as "Christian film critics" seem to spend the majority of their time complaining about the unethical behaviors they see in the movies, whether those behaviors are merely depicted or actually condoned. But … [Read more...]

A Pledge of Allegiance: In Search of Beauty at Good Letters

Today, Good Letters — the blog published by Image at Patheos — posted my reflections on Empire of the Sun, a Steven Spielberg film that I love more and more as the years pass.I'm grateful for the opportunity to write about it for Good Letters, as I'm grateful for the whole four-year experience there.As I wrote earlier, I am taking a long sabbatical in order to focus on other projects. Here is an index of all of the Good Letters posts I turned in. Some of the time I offered reluctantly at … [Read more...]

A (Temporary) Farewell to Film Review Work

On this day full of Oscar noise, I'm beginning a sabbatical from film reviewing, except for what I post here.I'm stepping down from my work at Image's Good Letters blog, from my (brand new) job at Reel Spirituality, and from all other review-related assignments outside of my day job at SPU. I do so out of necessity, and feel nothing but gratitude toward those who have encouraged me there.This will be the first time I've lived without film-review deadlines since, well... about 1997. … [Read more...]

Over the Moon: A Critic in Top Form

At this time of year, when film lovers everywhere are posting their top ten lists and talking about which films deserve Oscars, I hear a lot of moviegoers complaining about critics. They talk about critics as if critics purposefully and habitually disdain anything that a "normal person" could enjoy. They speak as if critics deliberately seek out things that are merely complicated or "intellectual."Recently, when I praised The Master, another moviegoer groaned and said, "That movie was made … [Read more...]

On “Difficult” Movies

As we're in a season busy with film festivals, I'm reading reviews of what sound like extremely challenging movies.Some of those reviews sound like the kind of comments that might provoke filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami to repeat what he said here... … [Read more...]

Mystery and Message, or What We Talk About When We Talk About Art

No one has taught me more about considering and making art than "Mr. D." That's Michael Demkowicz, who was my high school English teacher, and who remains a dear friend to this day. Demkowicz is a photographer, and several of his prints hang on the walls of my home. But he has also influenced what I read, how I watch movies, and how I listen to music. I'm making it an annual event to feature my favorite single article on art, an essay called "Mystery and Message" that he contributed to … [Read more...]

Gratitude for Thoughtful Reviews of The Ale Boy’s Feast

As a reader in a community of readers, I know that all of us have unique responses to the books we read.My opinion of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or No Country for Old Men or Never Let Me Go will be different from yours, even if we both give them a thumbs' up or a thumbs' down.As a reviewer, I know that there is a huge difference between a review — a thoughtful examination of plot, style, character development, point of view, etc. — and a reaction. (A reaction is something along … [Read more...]

“Only a Lover Can Be a Critic.”

Growing up, I loved Siskel & Ebert & The Movies, because unlike the entertainment reporters and talk-show hosts that aired earlier in the day, Siskel and Ebert talked about films. They weren't concerned with gossip or awards or politics. They focused on movies, pure and simple. They argued a film's merits and deficiencies. They praised good stories and lambasted bad ones. They knew what they liked and didn't like, and they had the ability to explain why. From Siskel and Ebert, I began to … [Read more...]