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i volunteer as tribute: Watching a movie is one of the simplest pleasures of the modern era.
Telling stories through film is not easy, but sitting back and enjoying a good flick is something anyone can do.
Like most art forms, however, the deeper your connection to a film, the more you can enjoy it.
You can learn to watch it with a critical, cinematic eye to learn more about movies and movie making.
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Getting the Movie On Screen
Play DVDs through your player or computer to watch movies simply and easily.
If you have a physical copy of the movie, simply put it in to play it.
You will need to appropriate device, of course.
Almost all computers and laptops can handle DVDs now, and many can handle Blu-Ray without a hiccup.
Most video game systems, too, can play Blu-Ray/DVD.
If in doubt, check your players specifics and look for the appropriate designation (DVD, HDDVD, Blu-Ray, etc.) right on the disc.
- Most computers simply need a program to play DVDs.
- If one doesn’t come with the computer, as it usually does, look up “DVD Playback Program” online.
Sign up for film streaming programs like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
If you’re connected to the internet, these are your best bets to find and enjoy films.
You can search through genres, actors, and ratings and start movies instantly, all for one flat monthly price.
There are even some free sites, including:
- YouTube: Any movie that is no longer copyright protected (including many classics from the 50’s, 60’s, and earlier), can be streamed for free online.
- Crackle: A collection of free-to-watch movies.
- Top Documentary Films: Free, legal documentaries.
- SnagFilms: An app-based movie platform for phones and tablets.
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Check your cable box or satellite programming for movie channels.
Usually found in the “On-Demand” section, there is a group of free and paid movies that you can watch anytime.
There are movie-specific channels too that show movies and film-related documentaries all day.
Hit “Menu” on your remote and search for “Movies,” often under “find channels,” “on-demand” or “programming.”
- Go online and sign in with your cable/satellite information to see a collection of all available “on-demand” movies.
Search for an illegal stream of a movie.
These streams are illegal to put up on the internet, but not strictly illegal to watch.
That is, as long as you don’t download the file or show it to many people.
Streaming is what YouTube does — showing you a copy of the video without having to download it.
While this is oversimplifying things a bit, the key point is that you won’t get in trouble for streaming, though the website owners might.
If that doesn’t bother you, simply search online for “[Your Movie] + Free stream.”
Even first-run movies are often uploaded, though the quality can be suspect.
Since the sites get taken down often, you may have to do some digging to find your movie.
- Only click on the triangular “Play” button or the “Close to Watch Movie” buttons on these sites.
- Many pop-up ads are meant to trick you with fake “Download/Play” buttons and special offers to view the movie on another site.
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Torrent movies illegally to watch them anywhere.
Torrenting gives you a digital copy of the movie that you can put on a disc/phone/tablet or watch directly from your computer.
If you’ve never torrented before, be sure to read up on safe torrenting practices.
Some tips to find your movies include:
- You’ll need a torrent client, like uTorrent or BitTorrent, to get and see torrent files.
- Always click on the “magnet link” for safer downloads.
- Only download torrents with lots of “seeds” and high reviews.
- If there are no reviews or comments, it might not be worth the risk.
- If a link doesn’t feel safe, look for another one.
Watching Movies Like a Critic
Take notes on the film as you watch.
You can write down anything that comes to mind.
Though many critics like to have small sections for the key subjects like “writing,” “acting,” and “directing.”
No matter your style, taking notes as you watch will make it infinitely easier to write and talk about the movie later on.
- Don’t worry about what to take notes on at first. Simply write out everything that comes to mind now.
- Then work on shaping the review or writing later on.
Focus your viewing on the connection between form and function.
The form is how a movie is shot — the lighting, scenery, sound effects, etc.
The function is the story being told — what information is the form trying to convey.
The best movies merge these seamlessly.
Think about Citizen Kane, whose message on the endless march of time and memory is bolstered by watery cuts, low, dramatic/weird angles, and flashbacks.
Every aspect of the movie helps tell the story.
- If you hit pause, what does this “photograph” tell you? What is the mood? How is the shot designed to be interesting (or not) even when the movie is paused?
- What do you think is the theme or point of the movie? What evidence do you have to back it up?
- Are there any original or weird artistic choices throughout the movie? Why do you think the director chose to use something unique or different in the movie?
Take a few minutes in the movie to focus on each aspect of production.
Movies are enormous, collaborative efforts.
Each department, even the small ones, must work together to make the entire movie a reality.
As such, good critics and movie watchers take time to point out all of the parts of a movie.
Not just the obvious ones like acting and directing.
When watching, take a few notes on:
- Production Design: What do the sets look like?
- How were props and scenery chosen, and how do they add or subtract from the movie?
- Sound and Music: This is easy to see when movies get it wrong, but ask yourself how the best movies get it right. Amazing sound effects and music pull you seamlessly into the picture.
- Editing: When are long takes used? What about short, choppy editing, where the image changes 2-3 times a second? Each time an editor cuts, it is to give you new information — are they succeeding?
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Consider your own opinion, but be ready to back it up.
How you feel about a movie may be the most important, but most neglected, part of any early review.
Your opinions are important — you just need to find ways to back them up with facts.
Whenever you have a gut feeling about something — “that actor ruined his lines,” “the cinematography was incredible,” “the movie was 30 minutes too long” — don’t just dismiss it as a personal preference.
Find a way to support your opinion with fact:
- “That actor ruined his lines.” Maybe he made too much of a joke out of serious lines. Perhaps he didn’t change his facial expressions, he seemed uncomfortable or out of place, etc.
- “The cinematography was incredible.” Talk about the lighting in certain scene. Find unique camera angles, or how several key shots commanded your attention.
- “The movie was 30 minutes too long.” Think about the scenes or sections you would cut. Consider the part of the movie that should have been highlighted instead, or why you wanted a certain ending instead of the one presented.
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Read up on the film’s background.
While reviews should focus on the films themselves, good critics tap into the real-life context of a movie.
- Is this movie making some sort of commentary on current or historical events?
- Look up the director’s, writer’s, and cinematographer’s other movies.
- How does this one relate to the other?
Watching Movies like a Filmmaker
Read the script along with the movie, or before watching.
The script is the blueprint of any film. That said, a filmmaker’s job is to turn words on a page into a story with cinematography, sound, lighting, actors, costumes, and much more.
A director starts with only the script as well.
When reading the script, think about:
- How would you set up a scene? What kind of props, lighting, and music would you use in the background?
- What is the key image or idea of the screenplay? How would you show it on film?
- What sort of tone would fit the dialogue? Fast, bright, and witty, or slow and dramatic?
- Are there places the movie breaks from the script? Would you have made the same choices?
Take notes on the timing and pacing of key events.
How does timing make or break key moments, like big joke or climactic emotional catharsis?
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Think about how editing choices move the movie along.
When watching great movies, try and find out the motivation between cuts and scenes that may seem unnecessary.
- There is no right answer here– you’re just trying to see other filmmakers in action.
- Even if you don’t think a scene is useful, can you see why the director might think it is important?
Figure out how they shot your favorite parts of the movie.
If you see a camera angle you love, try and break down how you would recreate it.
Think about how you might use a similar special effect in your own films.
If you’re stuck, look up behind-the-scenes clips and specials online or on the DVD.
Watch the movie again.
Once you know how a movie ends you can focus on how it got there.
You already know the main action.
You might see clues and bits of clever foreshadowing now that you know the ending.
You can catch how certain shots were set up or filmed without focusing on the acting skills.
You haven’t watched the movie until you’ve re-watched it.
Save clips, notes, and thoughts on the movie for later references.
There are many cinematographers with enormous books composed of their favorite shots and ideas.
When you’re on set trying to mimic that incredible dolly shot in The Shining, don’t just describe it to your camera crew.
Show them the shot in action.
Just like great writers hold on to quotes and ideas in journals.
You should “quote” and record great movies.