writing about films

A few weeks ago, on a post reviewing Allah Made Me Funny, Edgar left this comment:

I’d like to see a post about the process you go through for reviewing films. What are your top… tips for reviewing a film.  How do you enjoy a movie while taking notes? How do you take notes? how many times do you see the movie? Do you google actors names, facts, etc?

It’s true that I enjoy reflecting on interesting (to me) films, but I’m certainly no expert.  Here are a few things I keep in mind…

  • I tend to write about films I enjoyed and that I would recommend to friends.  Unlike a professional reviewer, this blog allows me to be very selective about what I choose to write about.  In my case these selections tend towards documentaries and independent films.  It’s a pleasure to point out lesser-known films and then hear from readers of this blog when they are able to track them down.
  • Occasionally I will take notes during a film, but generally I’m just enjoying the story.  If there is a chance that I’ll write about the film, then I try to walk away with 2 or 3 themes or ideas that caught my attention.
  • Technically, the things written about films on this blog are not reviews.  “Reflection” is probably a better word.  There are plenty of people much smarter than me who write great movie reviews.  On this blog I get to point out films that I think folks will find interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining.
  • When writing about a film I will do some online research.  I think it’s important to provide enough background so that my thoughts and opinions have some context to rest on.
  • This is kind of random, but I don’t tend to see or write about explicitly “Christian” movies, like the recent Fireproof.  (Maybe this is a good time to confess that I’ve not seen The Passion of the Christ.)  I know there are some good Christian-themed films out there, but I find it more interesting to watch other films through a Jesus-following lens.  Does that make sense?

That’s about it.  Thanks for asking Edgar.  Anybody else write about films you enjoy?  What are the types of things you look for in a review?


  • My friends at rednoW.com do a good job writing about films, music, and other elements of art and culture in ways that are both interesting and thought provoking.  They’re excellent at finding great art that probably won’t make it to the cineplex.

11 thoughts on “writing about films

  1. Thanks David. I was hoping for more “oh that’s how he does it” moments but you have left me hanging in the ether here… 🙂

    In all seriousness though, I do enjoy reading your movie reviews. Some people are just good story tellers and are able to pull in details from their own lives.

    I hope you’re doing well, and thanks for sharing some of your tips.

  2. While I don’t see it as a negative that you haven’t seen the Passion of the Christ, I would still recommend it. While I understand it simply may not be a film for you, I did find it personally, extremely useful to my walk. While I recognize what Jesus did for me on the cross, I don’t think I can ever truly comprehend the sacrifice it was. The movie, while of course, not exact (because beyond the biblical descriptions, who knows) did simply make me weep (yes, I wrote weep) in gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice for me.

    Again, I don’t think anyone is a lesser whatever by not seeing the film. So please don’t think I’m saying “you are not enriching your walk by not seeing the film, David!!!” I’m simply stating that it did enrich my walk, because the divine plan was revealed that little bit more to me, and made much more personal, through the experience, if that makes any sense…

    On a related note (to film) I finally got a chance to see Hotel Rwanda tonight. I’m, well… I’m speechless, really. I am so amazingly grieved for the atrocity, and overwhelmed by the grief that God must feel when he sees such actions by his creation… How his heart must break over the pain caused from man to man… I don’t want to be one of the people like Joaquin Phoenix mentions who “will say ‘this is terrible’ and then goes back to dinner”, but I also don’t think that realistically, there is much I can do, except keep the spirit of the film alive in my heart, and reach out to those I can effect… But it’s hard, truly… to know such atrocity exists in Darfur, and many other regions in Africa, much less the world entire, and not have the power to do anything of substance…

    Anyway, I apologize for using your blog as a place to vent that, but I kind of needed to process that a bit, and given the topic of film reviews, it seemed (somewhat) appropriate. Forgive me for the length. 🙂

    However, I would recommend that everyone should see the film, not only as an inspirational story about how much one person can help, but beyond this, to remember that this type of thing is indeed capable by people, and that it should never be assumed that “it won’t happen here” or that “no one I know would ever resort to such brutality and heartlessness” because it’s sadly within all of us to be either the “hero” or the “villain.”

    The film holds a place next to “Night and Fog” as a reminder to never allow such actions to take place ‘on our watch’ again.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. Good night. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the Passion of the Christ recommendation Larry. I keep thinking I’ll get to it one of these days, but just haven’t yet. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the film. I’m with you on Hotel Rwanda: really powerful film that is tough to watch but important given the reality of our world.

  4. Here’s a question that we’ve chewed on before, but might be interesting to throw in the mix somewhere online (not necessarily here in this comment thread). What makes a movie “Christian” or “non-Christian.” Or a book, or a song, or a piece of artwork? It’s an interesting enough label to attach to people, let alone objects.

    That said, I do second Larry’s Passion recommendation. And echo both of your thoughts on Hotel Rwanda. It’s on my list of movies to watch with my son someday, for entirely different reasons than Indiana Jones which is also on the list.

  5. Brian, now see, that’s what we need. Just to add Indy to the solution in Africa, and then everything would be solved. (See, it was secretly a Thuggi cult behind everything. That and Short Round drove a car through some boxes or something that disrupted the genocidal maniacs…)

    Okay, even joking about it sounds terrible. Ugh. Why are people so evil?!? (yeah, I know…) But I seriously cannot wait until heaven.

    And to follow up on your thoughts, on what makes a movie a Christian movie… I mean, certainly there is the idea of overtly portrayed Christianity themes, but I would venture to say that there are a lot of really good films that espouse Christian values, without being (at least intentionally) Christian films. I recommend everyone see “Red Belt” (well, perhaps not the kids, as there is language and violence), by David Mamet. It’s perhaps the most Christian film I’ve seen this year. And it’s by the same guy who wrote “Glengarry, Glen Ross.” 🙂

  6. BC,

    hate to hit-and-run comment here, but perhaps you’re asking the wrong question. i don’t think the question should be, what makes a film (music, etc.) ‘christian’, but what makes a film (music, etc.) worthwhile for christians to engage.

  7. Ok, here is my hit-and-slow-run.

    I think the word, term, or identifier “Christian” is less subjective (and/or relativistic) than using the notion of “worthwhile.” What is worthwhile to one, is certainly not worthwhile to another. It offers as much convolution as the terms “art” or “beauty” in my very humble opinion. Deciding what a Christian should engage in is like defining what a piece of art is or what beauty looks like. Sometimes we can find the most beautiful things in the ugliest of places, e.g., the heart of a man.

    Let’s just look at how the term “Christian” has been used thus far.

    “Christian” themed – This seems to be the most objective way to define an object as Christian. However, this would require it to be overtly Christian, right? Then, how would you classify the movie, “Saved” compared to something like “Fireproof”? They both deal with overtly Christian themes from two distinctively different perspectives. If we look at theme we are in danger of the same type of exclusion the GMA committed in 1998 or 1999 when they “defined” Gospel (read Christian) music for Dove Award nominations.

    “Christian Values” – If a movie (not film) espouses “Christian” values then, I would argue, that determination has been decided more from the lens of the viewer than the auteur. There are many, many values that non-Christians possess that are espoused in Christianity. I would add here that many non-Christians often live out those values far better than we Christians do.

    Let’s say that “worthwhile” is the equivalent to “recommend” in my mind and we need to be discerning about what we recommend to whom. A “worthwhile” blanket statement for Christians regarding engaging the arts is about as helpful as calling something “Christian”. At this point in the conversation

    I think there a need to engage art through a Christian lens as much as there is a need to engage art from the perspective of the artist and intent.

    This “slow-run” has turned into a mosey – sorry.

  8. Time for some legalism regarding what is Christian by trying to define what is Canadian (please forgive me for this submission). In Canada, radio and television stations must play a certain percentage of Canadian programs/music each day. It is called Canadian Content (Cancon). This was implemented during the early ’70s or late 60s. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) dictated this rule and defined what is Canadian. The following defines Canadian and Canadian Music:
    Canadian” means

    (a) a Canadian citizen,

    (b) a permanent resident, as defined in the Immigration Act, 1976,

    (c) a person whose ordinary place of residence was in Canada throughout the six months immediately preceding that person’s contribution to a musical composition, performance or concert, or

    (d) a licensee; (canadien)

    Canadian and Musical Content

    2.2(1) For the purposes of this section, “ethnic programming period” means that portion of a broadcast week during which a licensee broadcasts ethnic programs.

    (2) For the purposes of this section, “Canadian selection” means a musical selection

    (a) that meets at least two of the following conditions, namely,

    (i) the music is or lyrics are performed principally by a Canadian,

    (ii) the music is composed entirely by a Canadian,

    (iii) the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian,

    (iv) the musical selection consists of a live performance that is

    (A) recorded wholly in Canada, or

    (B) performed wholly in and broadcast live in Canada, and

    (v) the musical selection was performed live or recorded after September 1, 1991, and a Canadian who has collaborated with a non-Canadian receives at least fifty per cent of the credit as composer and lyricist according to the records of a recognized performing rights society;

    (b) that is an instrumental performance of a musical composition that meets the conditions set out in subparagraph (a)(ii) or (iii);

    (c) that is a performance of a musical composition that a Canadian has composed for instruments only; or

    (d) that has already qualified as a Canadian selection under regulations previously in effect.

    (3) Except as otherwise provided under a licensee’s condition of licence, an A.M. or F.M. licensee licensed to operate a station other than a community station or campus station shall, in a broadcast week, devote 10% or more of its musical selections from content category 3 to Canadian selections and schedule them in a reasonable manner throughout each broadcast day.

    (4) If 7% or more of the musical selections broadcast by a licensee during an ethnic programming period are Canadian selections and are scheduled in a reasonable manner throughout that period, subsections (3) and (7) to (9) shall apply only in respect of the musical selections that are broadcast during the part of the broadcast week that is not devoted to ethnic programs.

    (5) Except as otherwise provided under a licensee’s condition of licence, an A.M. or F.M. licensee licensed to operate a campus station, commercial station or community station in the French language shall, in a broadcast week, devote 65% or more of its vocal musical selections from content category 2 to musical selections in the French language broadcast in their entirety.

    (6) An A.M. or F.M. licensee may, in a broadcast week, reduce the percentage of its Canadian musical selections from content category 2 referred to in subsections (7) to (9) to

    (a) not less than 20% if, in that broadcast week, the licensee devotes 35% or more but less than 50% of all its musical selections to instrumental selections; and

    (b) not less than 15% if, in that broadcast week, the licensee devotes 50% or more of all its musical selections to instrumental selections.

    It goes on and on and on. Perhaps we can replace the term Canadian with Christian so we can determine exactly what is a Christian Movie or song. This will solve it, right?

  9. I am game if we are willing to simply remove all of the licensing points. That should do it.

    I wonder why we are so eager to want to label things “Christian” in the first place.

  10. See Thom, for me, it’s a matter of “what film do I think other Christians may like, that’s not down their typical pipeline”. Like I said about Red Belt. It’s a David Mamet script. If you couldn’t bear Glengarry Glen Ross, because of the language, then you’re likely to not consider much else of his work because you can’t get past the language thing.

    Yet, Red Belt espouses such moral codes as loyalty, honor, respect, and responsibility, values that I consider to be extremely Christian (although of course, not exclusively so). So this may not make the film a “Christian” film outright, it does make it something I consider worthwhile (there’s THAT word again) to see.

    Then again, I’m a Mamet fan, so perhaps I’m slanted one way on this one. But I feel that there are many films that are valuable for a Christian to see, for many reasons, on many levels.

    Personally, I don’t feel the need to “support” a film simply because it’s funded by a church or a Christian non-profit (or for-profit). Yet many people I talk to say “Oh, we gotta get more people to see Fireproof! This film needs support, so the studio can continue to produce more of this work!”

    And sure, while it is definitely good to have films that uplift the name of Christ and worship him in that way, is it necessarily a good thing to promote bad cinema, in the name of something ultimately good (namely, Christ)? I say no.

    Why? Because then we are only perpetuating a couple myths. (And this applies to Christian music as well!)

    1) Christian films suck. Most do. A lot of it is budget, but more often than that, I think it’s directorial vision and acting (and therefore, casting). They’d rather get that B-list celebrity Christian as the lead, to garner “support” than hire actually great actors (of which there are many, both secular and Christian). By not going to films, or buying DVDs that suck, we can instead support films that tell great stories and also have better production values, better scripts, and better acting.

    2) Christians will pay good money for crap, because it’s “their crap”. It happens all the time. People will pay more for a book at a Family bookstore, or John’s instead of buying it at say Amazon.com, even when it’s much cheaper to do so, because they want to support a Christian business. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s not very smart. And not being smart with your money doesn’t sound very Christian to me.

    3) When you see these films, do you do so out of worship? Or to be in a clique? Because all too often, it’s very clique-y. Very much some cool secret society of Christians. That’s a bad image for the world of Christianity, like we need more of that…

    4) We don’t need to evangelize or spread God’s good word. We simply need to bring our friends to the Left Behind films! (Ugh.)

    Anyway, in music it’s almost worse. Of course, I see the value in playing music that does not cause you to stumble. If it is sin for you, then of course, do not engage in it. But, again, if you settle for K-Love, then you miss out on innovative music that’s not as pop-friendly, but much more creative and expressive and usually, much more worship-minded, than something that is crafted to get a Dove award and sell records. (Again, why I’m SUCH a fan of Christian rap…sure, a lot is bad, but there’s such a better signal-to-noise ratio in rap than in (air-quotes) “rock”.

    But again, I rant. Sorry. 🙂

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