This database features thoughtful critical responses to a wide range of film productions. The selection is Catholic, in the broad and sympathetic sense of the word. We are interested in both invention and documentation, the old and the new, the near and the far. We are interested in short and long, easy and hard, ubiquitous and obscure. The contemplation of all these things together makes for a database that suggests film’s many times and places, that reflects wide ranges of cinematic possibility, both in the production and the receiving. In this we seek to contribute to readers’ cinematic and cultural awareness, as well as to their cinematic and cultural sensitivity.

Critical Method, Critical Tone

Contrary to much critical practice, especially in popular settings, our reviews are not strictly or wholly evaluative. (Nor will they tend to bother with plot summaries. The order of story events is only one of a great many of interesting things to think about, and it too often takes precedence.) There is room for a discussion of how or whether a film might be effective, but with the understanding that effective contains much more than we often allow or realize. We proceed on the assumption that there are many, many ways for movies to be of merit or, more profoundly, of interest.

As such, we seek to combine intelligent rigour with kindly inclination. At least three models inspire us. We are interested in the tradition of the laudatory review (cf. Jean- Luc Godard, 1972); we seek the positive, believing that almost every film contains much to be positive about. We are thinking of C.S. Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism (1961), which affirms the responsibility of the reader, and the fact that the effectiveness of a book has much to do with how effectively we read it. We are thinking of Wayne Booth’s The Company We Keep (1988), which advocates approaching an honest literary effort with the same kindness and courtesy that one would extend to an esteemed friend or neighbour.

These sensibilities help us to avoid the crankiness that characterizes too much contemporary film discussion. Kindly inclination will not slide into permissiveness, however, or mere boosterism. Our work is very much informed by history and theory. Individual reviews may reflect any number of critical methodologies or critical frameworks. They will also frequently feature an intertextual component, where patterns of practice and sensibility are drawn out and elaborated beyond the individual title, or the individuals responsible for it. These patterns are of interest whether or not the filmmaker has been aware of the echo, or intended the parallel.

This multiplicity serves to open up and deepen our discussions, allowing us to move from a strictly consumerist/commercial run-of-the-mill to something more educational, and also more edifying. We hope to reach this certain something by combining knowledge and feeling. The critical voice that we seek is scholarly, but with room and reason for a personal, subjective, even passionate tone. We might describe it as enthusiasm with footnotes or, alternatively, scholarship with a place for the personal pronoun.

Selection And Subject Matter

The selection of titles reviews in this website reflects a sensibility, as well as a responsibility, that informs our conversations in the College of Fine Arts and Communications, as well as in the College of Humanities. Our work here has more than a passing interest in sweetness and light, and it includes many things that are virtuous, lovely, etc. We are also sometimes interested in artificial sweeteners, or the cinematic/literary workings of smarm, saccharine or even sanctimoniousness. None of this is particularly exceptionable. But we will also, occasionally, pursue a further interest.

Brigham Young University is a church sponsored school, and its sponsoring organization has a right to expect circumspection from us. In fact we are, we hope, both circumspect and orthodox. But if BYU is a church sponsored school, it is not a Sunday School. There are canons and currencies that are proper for us to consider, even though they may seem, may actually be quite secular. More specifically there are many films that deserve and even require discussion—think of trending hot topics and some of the things that parents might like to know about; think of man being born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards—even though they would never appear in the pages, or receive the endorsement of, The Church News.

We will explore ranges of expression, consider the complicated and even, occasionally, grapple with the unseemly. We feel a certain willingness, a sometimes necessity to plumb the depths. In doing so we would strike a delicate and, we hope, moral balance. We intend to affirm and at least implicitly defend certain fundamental principles. We would also avoid sanctimoniousness, or wrinkling our noses at the whiff of figurative or filmic tobacco smoke. Our reviews are aware of and endorse the Ten Commandments. They are also open to the possibility that films, or, even more importantly, characters in films, may not always obey them all. And they remember that representation does not always mean advocacy, especially as things are worked out by clear and comprehending criticism.

Format, length

Films in Review utilizes three distinct review formats. The first is fairly familiar, and productively conventional. Is the film good? How so? What are some of its roots, or resonances? These standard reviews are often a paragraph long, and sometimes a very brief paragraph at that. Traditionally, frequently, the capsule review is an evaluative consumer report; we are looking more toward the evocative brevity found in publications like Time Out, or the LA/Chicago Reader. We have an interest in concision, but are also inclined to elaborate when the spirit moves. Occasionally we elaborate quite a bit.

Our draft reviews are distinguished by the fact that they appear in courier type, on the mock-up of a page from a legal pad. Rather than providing a polished analysis or pointed argument, these draft reviews are impressionistic, gathering preliminary observations into rough conceptual clusters. They might be analogous to the notes you jotted down while watching a film for that class assignment, or that you simply wanted to know a little better.

Lastly, Films in Review features a number of reviews that originally appeared on Twitter. Though they’ve been edited for this setting—if you have to count, you will indeed find that individual entries sometimes exceed the prescribed 140 characters—these post-tweets seek to preserve or reflect Twitter’s blithe and glancing immediacy. Or, alternatively, to push against it. It might be too much to claim the Proverbs as a source in the fashioning of these brief responses. It wouldn’t be too much to say that J.W. von Goethe’s Maxims and Reflections were a point of reference, and an inspiration. So too, the manner and method of Bob, enjambing: from A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall to Subterranean Homesick Blues, It’s Alright Ma and the Highway 61 album; through Tangled Up in Blue and Idiot Wind, and all the way up to High Water, Po’ Boy and Thunder On the Mountain. Not just sense, in other words, but feel, and rhythm.

We hope that these strategically selected, far-reaching reviews will have cumulative power, with both centrifugal and centripetal implications. Their chronological, geographical and idiomatic expanse will both stretch and strengthen readers. The centripetal component relates to the critical sensibility that we have already enumerated, the rigorous sympathy that allows us, hopefully, to circumscribe all that diversity into one conscientious whole.


Dean Duncan
Associate Professor
Department of Theatre & Media Arts
College of Fine Arts & Communications
Brigham Young University