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When I was appointed The Globe and Mail’s lead film critic last summer, some people congratulated me and others said “You are going to be reviewing the new Star Wars movie!?”
I did review it, and the fan boys weren’t particularly pleased.
That’s okay; it would be a pretty boring world if everyone had the same opinion about every movie. I think a review is just a starting point for conversations about a movie, a book or a play, a bit of grit in the cultural oyster, if you will. It’s not right or wrong but a subjective opinion, although it should be a well-researched and well-argued opinion.
When not reviewing movies, I write a Saturday column for Globe Arts ─ and novels. My third, entitled Serial Monogamy, will be published by Doubleday Canada in August.
I’m happy to take your questions about movies, criticism, fiction writing or any other topic you care to name, just don’t ask me to predict who is going to win the Oscar. I will be answering questions from noon ET until 1:00 p.m. ET
You can follow me on Twitter @thatkatetaylor or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Kate-Taylor-147365211957101
Social media proof: https://twitter.com/thatkatetaylor/status/692761623627440128
what was the most disappointing movie of 2015, & why was it "The Force Awakens"?
I didn't think The Force Awakens was the most disappointing movie of 2015 -- or at least it was only the most disappointing because it had been so heavily hyped. I didn't hate it; I just thought the concept of relying entirely on reviving tropes from the original movie was limited.
What is your favorite sandwich?
Good spot to finish up and get lunch: cheese, of course.
What's the best movie you've reviewed so far? In your opinion of course.
The best film I've reviewed since I became critic is Son of Saul, a Hungarian film about a character who works in the gas chambers and crematorium at Auschwitz. It was very hard to watch but was the best Holocaust film I've seen because it was so remarkably free of sentimentality and cliche.
What is your opinion on the supposed race favoritism in the Oscars?
I think the Academy needs to diversify its membership fast (which may be a challenge since it draws its membership from an industry where power is very much still concentrated in the hands of a few white males.)
The Oscar nominees reflect the interests and enthusiasms of the membership and if we are going to see a more representative selection of movies, I think you need to change the membership rather than just hope they'll vote differently next time.
Why does it always seem like when a film gets not as favorable reviews from critics, it is a good movie and when it gets a good review, its a terrible movie?
I guess what you are pointing to is a difference between critical tastes and popular tastes. My son complains I hate everything, which is entirely untrue. If you see a lot of film you start to become more critical and more demanding; I do think there is a big difference going to a movie knowing you have to write a cogent analysis of its strength and weaknesses and curling up with a rental during which you can feel free to fall asleep.
For you what do you look for in a great movie?
Character development, follows traditional story arc etc.
Also from all the movies you have watched, ever think of making your own?
I don't really go into a movie with a checklist: I tend to experience how it's working, which maybe how characters are developed, how the story is developed, how images are relayed, and then analyze that effect as I watch. Oh, the plot is really hackneyed or oh, that character is really intriguing.
Never say never, but no, I have no ambitions to be a filmmaker. I've worked in arts journalism all my career and have a great deal of faith in criticism as an actual career not backup plan or stepping stone!
What is the worst movie that you've ever had to review?
Gee I don't know. Joy was probably the worst movie I've reviewed since I became critic.
What impact do you think Elwy Yost had on cinema culture in Toronto?
Interesting question. I think he played his part in creating a city of cinephiles. I wonder if TIFF would ever have got started if there wasn't that layer of film appreciation in the city already? He is certainly missed.
When I was a kid growing up in a very small town, I hit the TV Times or whatever it was called in the paper every week so I could set my VCR to find cool movies at 3:00a. How did you get exposure to cinema growing up?
I used to go the Bytown Cinema, an old rep house in Ottawa, now on Rideau Street but in my youth located on Beechwood Avenue not far from where I lived. I saw the old classics -- Dr. Strangelove, Casablanca, etc. -- and a lot of French film too.
What is something that online discussions about movies by enthusiasts do better than formal writing by critics? What is something they can't beat traditional film criticism on?
Obviously online discussions have the advantage of give and take and immediacy (although I often find the positions in them are fairly rigid; it doesn't seem like anybody is changing anybody else's mind.) Still, at best you have sense of debate going on.
On the other hand, I find traditional criticism is much more mindful of the difference between an opinion -- it sucks; it rocks -- and a review which must justify that opinion with example and argument.
What's the best movie experience you've had personally?
Introducing my son, now 12, to old movies and watching him pick and choose. He loves Hitchcock, although I have said we are not ready for Psycho yet.
Is there a film you love that is a guilty pleasure? Something you could watch 100 times, but clears the room when you put it on?
I do have a weakness for costume drama plus classic rom-coms, Sleepless in Seattle, that kind of thing, but I don't inflict them on anybody. My partner likes heroic solo adventures and, come to think of it, I indulge him more than the reverse. We watched All is Lost and Captain Phillips in the space of a month last year.
Really interesting, thank you.
I can only imagine how much of your waking life involves watching movies.
One more question.
When a film is based off of a book do you ever read the book first and compare off of that?
Yes, I do read a book sometimes, if I have time, mainly if it's a well-known novel and I expect the adaptation to be at issue in the review. For example, I read The Revenant because I wanted to check that the addition of a aboriginal son for the main character had been the idea of the filmmaker not of the novelist.
On the other hand, I didn't bother reading the non-fiction title on which The Finest Hours is based; it didn't seem particularly pertinent to reviewing the film.
Is being a critic all that you ever expected/hoped it would be, or has it changed your enjoyment of movies and the industry?
I've worked as a critic before -- I was the Globe's theatre critic in the late 90s and early 2000s -- so I knew what I was getting into.
Sitting through movies you don't appreciate can be tiring and hard but, whether I enjoyed a film or not, I always love the process of thinking about it and writing that up.
Any films you are surprised to see in IMDB's top ten list?
No big surprises here, but this is a list which reflects IMDB users and they seem to have very narrow tastes.
If a war would break out in the western industrialized societies, would be criticizing works of (more or less) art as important as it is now in a mostly peaceful world?
Why do you think is it important for humans to debate the objective and sometimes even the subjective quality of art, though this movie etc. can not be changed anymore?
Are numbers or percentages which give an artificial measurement of media's value not just giving prejudice or do you see an importance in the difference of 5.9 and 6.2 score?
Last Q: Why do you think is Tomorrowland so hated, though this film has the power to give hope and motivate to live and is not just brainless entertainment?
I think criticism has a real role to play in fueling audience discussions about films and I totally disagree with the notion it has no utility because the film is already made: a review is not a report card -- gee Mr. Spielberg, try to do better on your plot next time -- for a director to take home and study; it is a discussion of popular culture that hopes to be useful to audiences who may or may not see the movie in question.
I think art is important in times of war and I note that societies under pressure -- whether that is from war or from totalitarianism -- are often vitally engaged in art as a way of validating existence in difficult times.
I agree that scores are artificial, applying an objective number to a subjective assessment. Most critics dislike them; it's our readers who demand them. (And I understand why; they are a convenient shorthand.)
Haven't seen Tomorrowland so can't comment on that.
Ever make it to the original Trash Palace in Toronto?
no, unfortunately not.
What do you think about Leonardo di Caprio's acting? Do you think he deserves an oscar?
I was impressed by his work in The Revenant, the way he captured the character's evaluations and determinations without ever being able to speak. When I reviewed the film, I said I thought it put him in Oscar territory. The one criticism I have read since then, which I thought had some validity, is that the mischievousness he has as an actor -- see Django Unchained -- was totally missing from this performance. True that is one of his attractive qualities on screen, but obviously didn't have a place in this particular movie. (Some people found the film's relentless focus on pain and suffering made it drag; that wasn't my experience of it.)
His career is one of those ones that gives you hope because he has seemed so determined after Titanic not just to take the easy route to stardom.
Did you always want to be a film critic? How did you get your start, and do you have any advice for someone hoping to become one as well?
I have wanted to write criticism -- film, theatre or visual art -- since I was in high school in Ottawa, where I wrote a bit for the high school paper. I did a Masters in journalism at Western and have always worked in arts journalism. I began writing visual art reviews for the London Free Press and later the Hamilton Spectator before I wound up in the arts section of the Globe in the 1990s. I have really enjoyed writing about the visual arts and later theatre but I am particularly interested in writing about film because it has such a huge audience, so I'm writing about popular culture in its largest sense.
Do critics ever review films from a film theory and analytical perspective and get down into the many levels of a film or do most just stick with gearing their reviews towards the mainstream readers as to whether or not they should go see a movie?
I don't read a lot of film theory but I do think having some awareness of theory can form a backdrop to reviewing. The challenge for a critic in the mass media is to write about those deeper levels without getting bogged down in an analysis that is going to be too obscure for a general audience.
Here's a recent example: In the film 45 Years, I think the director's choice of setting the action in the Norfolk Broads -- an area of flat marshland cut through with canals -- was very significant although the dialogue in the film doesn't discuss the landscape. In particular, I though that landscape was chosen in purposeful contrast to the Alps, where the accident that is the trigger for the film took place. So, including that analysis of the film's symbolism is a way of going a bit deeper without actually entering a theoretical discussion of the meaning of seen and unseen landscapes in the film.
Kiarostami - Bee's knees or emperor's new clothes?
I haven't seen all his films but those I have seen impressed me, so I am much more in the bee's knees territory. I thought Close-Up was interesting, the ways in which it played with a documentary vocabulary and the meta layers to the story.
Generally, I am a fan of Iranian film. It is so different from Western film and occasionally watching films that depart from Hollywood's very strict storytelling formula is a good way of resetting the critical clock.