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MJ's WalkAbout Nonfiction

By Pamela Garza

Constructing the ideal review first involves having the right voice, knowing your audience, and knowing your subject. Let's examine these one at a time.

A. The right voice. This is the tone you set during construction, and it depends on the type of movie you are reviewing. Tackling a kids' movie will have a particular voice because of the ages involved. The spine tingler uses words conducive to the thriller atmosphere. A comedy like "Three Fugitives" cannot be shown in the same language-light as the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth.

B. Know your audience. Since a review should sound like you're talking to your audience, you have to know who they are. A magazine that caters to 8 year old kids couldn't publish a review that refers to Han Solo as having "a rogue personality", but a teen magazine might. Therefore, when writing for a particular publication, find out the kind of audience that reads its pages, and a way to identify with them.

C. Know your subject. To construct a brilliant review, you must have the right building materials. The more you know about movie companies, directors, actors, actresses, movies, videos, and where they came from, the more authoritative punch you'll add to your piece. You can achieve this in a number of ways.

1. Keep an Info Journal. Whenever you hear of a new tidbit coming out about a celebrity, write it down. Don't rely on your memory.

2. Watch shows as 'Access Hollywood' or 'Entertainment Tonight' with your Journal close by. Follow up with a dose of celeb magazines, such as 'People' or 'Entertainment Weekly'.

3. Purchase and have on hand a volume of movie trivia, such as 'VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever'.

By using exerpts from my review for DISORGANIZED CRIME, we can dissect the mechanics of a movie/video review.

A. Start out with the basic information about the movie:

1. TITLE (Disorganized Crime)
2. THE CAST OF STARS (Starring Fred Gwynne, Ruben Blades, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Corbin Bernsen)
3. THE DIRECTOR (Jim Kouf)
4. RATING (R-for language and anti-hero premise)
5. THE YEAR of its release/year it came to video (1989)
6. WHO PUT THE MOVIE OUT (Touchstone Pictures)
7. RUNNING TIME (101 minutes long )

B. With your opening remarks you will set the flavor of the review.

"This reviewer loves it when a cast ensemble is formed because of the chemistry among its players, and not to meet some minority, feminist, or social agenda. The cast assembled here hands in a collective performance to be proud of, and there's not a ham in the bunch."

Within the confines of this introductory paragraph, you get the impression that you'll find a favorable review addressed to the thinking adult.

C. Give a brief synopsis of the movie plot, using strategically placed comparisons, a dusting of adjectives, and perhaps a quote from the movie.

"Corbin Bernsen plays Frank Salezar, who summons four other crooks to a small, Montana town to rob a bank. As the four anti-heros convene, things start to go comically wrong.

First, Frank is picked up by two New Jersey cops, played in the perfect, big-city hyper mode by Ed O'Neill and Daniel Roebuck. When Frank escapes, the cops have to make the best of the 'snot-nose situation', by calling on the locals for help.

Meanwhile, the four pros gather in a house in the Montana woods. Between the arguments, police chases, and court appearances, they try to find out why Frank called them in."

Two or three concise paragraphs should do, depending on the word count allowed by the publication you are writing for.

D. Elaborate on the performances and the actor's characters.

"Fred Gwynne is so good as Max Green, as the cigarette-smoking, wheezing explosive and alarms expert, that you wonder how he ever got typecast as Herman Munster.

"Ruben Blades, who plays Carlos Barrios, the muscle of the group, provides belly-laugh humor with his mocking sarcasm, hot temper, determination, and Cuban accent."

This section of the review could give you a fine opportunity to refer to trivia. Notice the reference to a previous character of Fred Gwynne's.

E. The mop-up paragraphs should include your opinion and recommendation. Here's a sampling:

"The chemistry within this cast is a bold serving of perfection. The direction is wisely kept low key so that the stars are allowed to do what they do best, and the story can be told without confusion. With a twist for an ending, you'll watch the credits with a smile, for sure."

Usually, it's not a good idea to expose the ending of a movie in your review.

F. Complete the review with a rating system and its explanation. Use the publication's system, or you can use your own creativity to come up with one. Ebert uses thumbs, KIDS' HIGHWAY uses cameras, VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever uses dog bones. Make sure your rating explanation is clear.

G. Depending on the word count specified in the guidelines, you can add more trivia about the actors or what happened during the filming of the movie.

"Fred Gwynne starred in the first TV, situation comedy about cops called 'Car 54, Where are You?' It ran from '1961-'63."

While informative, a well-constructed review should have intelligence behind it, an intelligence that can inform, entertain and identify with readers as well.

Please read the Disorganized Crime review in its entirety. Ms. Garza hosts a movie review column at her Website called 'For The Popcorn Hour'. Although MJ's WalkAbout rating is ours, it is with Ms. Garza's permission that we use her popcorn-bag logo. Contact her at

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