Film Magazine Review Research – Content

To ensure my review looks as realistic as possible, I have decided to look into the format of a reputable film magazine and try and replicate it. Empire is a British film review magazine that’s released monthly. It is edited by Terri White and has been running for the past 27 years.

To get a feel of the style of writing, I went onto Empire’s website and decided to read a review on The Girl on the Train, since it’s in the same genre as my film and I’ve seen it so I will know what parts of the film the review is referencing.

Pop quiz, hotshot: what do High Fidelity, P.S. I Love You and The Secret Dreamworld Of A Shopaholic all have in common? The answer, of course, is those original novels were all set in the British Isles but the films relocated the action to the US. And you can now add The Girl On The Train to that list. So Instead of riding the train from fictional Buckinghamshire town of Ashbury into Euston, Rachel (Blunt) now travels from upstate New York into Manhattan.

Feelings towards such geographical recklessness can often be strong as fans of the original work rage against the perceived slight — the reaction to Hellblazer‘s LA relocation in Keanu Reeves’ Constantine being particularly fierce. Here, however, it turns out to be one of the film’s greatest strengths. Yes, the setting by a lake is picturesque, but it’s actually the houses — large and in typically spacious US plots of land — which really sell that Rachel would be able to focus on one building long enough to fabricate her make-believe relationship with its inhabitants. Compare and contrast with the tightly grouped housing stock typically seen from a London Midland commuter train.

A typical thriller in its set-up, the film also has the added depths of Rachel’s alcoholism (and the misery that can bring) to tackle, which director Tate Taylor does with unflinching honesty. Although her blackouts are also used as a plot device, there to serve the mystery by positioning her as an unreliable narrator. Still, it’s the thriller aspect that most lets the film down, failing to truly engage or offer enough plausible red herrings to send your mind whirring through different theories as to what could have happened. The twists rarely, if ever, have the impact that were intended.

At the centre of this is Emily Blunt, who despite the recognisable cast around her, is rarely off screen. She’s a fine actress, but obviously miscast here. It’s not her fault particularly — she simply fails to adequately escape her star power to believably portray such a damaged character.

Too often successful page-turners stumble as they’re adapted for the big screen, Before I Go To Sleep being a recent example. The Girl On The Train fails to reverse that trend.

A lot of this review talks about the novel that the film was based on, and the overwhelming differences between the two. There is also a brief mention to the miscasting of the film, which isn’t really applicable to my film as I had limited actors and the ones I did use were really convincing. The only part of the review that I could base mine around it the mention of how the thriller genre of the film is approached. Since I haven’t really found this one helpful, I will read another review which has more positive feedback, and then I may be able to get some inspiration from it.

I then read the review on 10 Cloverfield Lane, as I had also seen this film and it’s vaguely a thriller film.

As recently as the beginning of 2016, no-one had heard of 10 Cloverfield Lane. For years there was talk of a sequel to 2008 found-footage monster movie Cloverfield, but it had all but dissipated — starved of new information from J.J. Abrams or director Matt Reeves, people had simply stopped asking them about it. And (in J.J.’s case) they had the small matter of a new Star Wars to ask about instead.

In retrospect, given Abrams’ history of springing surprises, this actually made it the ideal time for him to unveil a sequel. Or “blood relative”, as he’s calling it.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (his first feature), announced via a trailer in January, and out less than two months later, it bears scant similarity to the first film — gone is the found-footage shaky-cam device. And rather than huge effects sequences set across an entire city, the action is claustrophobic — confined to a few cramped rooms underground. Also, there’s no giant, city-devouring monster. Unless you count John Goodman.

We open with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) fleeing New Orleans and a broken relationship. It’s an almost wordless sequence, punctuated only by her ex-boyfriend pleading with her on speakerphone as she drives into the Louisiana night. The near silence is especially effective — the sudden loud crash as her car is rammed into is a shock scare to jolt you upright in your seat, the first of several times the film manages that feat.

Michelle wakes up in a sparse room, a drip in her arm, but manacled to a pipe. Alive, but a prisoner. It’s here we meet Howard (John Goodman), the man who pulled her from the wreck, but is now her captor. It’s his introduction that strains credibility, as he tells her, “I’m sorry, but no-one is looking for you,” as she bargains for her release, delaying his reveal of what he claims is really going on: the country’s been attacked by enemies unknown, but they’re safe in the bunker. That information comes later, after an escape attempt and more ominous statements from Howard, but it’s clear she’s not in the immediate physical danger she believes she’s in, which lessens the effect.

But it’s the only real misstep, things picking up immediately as the bunker’s third inhabitant, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), is introduced and the central conceit is presented — is Howard telling the truth (as the evidence initially suggests), or is something more sinister going on? From this point we learn things as Michelle does, and her fear and uncertainty are projected onto us. The best she can hope for is that Howard is a good man, just not particularly normal. But as time passes, and she picks up snippets of information, it becomes clear there’s a darkness in his past that threatens what she’s been led to believe. Emmett sees it too, suggesting a potential bucket list to Howard which includes taking “a pilgrimage to Waco”.

It’s a smaller, more intimate film than the first Cloverfield would lead you to expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of action. Sequences that see Michelle crawling through ventilation ducts are particularly tense and uncomfortable (no, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs,” quipping here). The key to this succeeding is Winstead. Goodman is good in the showiest role, but it’s Winstead’s film, and she ably takes us with her on her journey of ever-changing emotions.

The impact that journey will have on you depends on how much you already know — the colder you go in, the better. So see it before someone blurts out its secrets in your earshot. Good luck.

The start of this article begins with mention to the sequel to 10 Cloverfield Lane and how people had been anticipating another film. This seems to be common as in the review for The Girl on The Train, there is mention to the novel. Therefore I’ll need to read the introduction to a film with neither a prequel or a novel to understand how to set the tone for my review. Next is a brief description of the director and it also mentions other films the director has been a part of, which therefore may encourage the reader to continue reading if they enjoyed their past films. It then reverts back to a comparison between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield lane; I could do a brief comparison between this film and Mummy’s Girl possibly in this section. The following paragraph exclusively talks about the very start of the film in great detail. There are then two more paragraphs describing what happens in the rest of the film. The next paragraph is basically an overall brief review of the film, saying its strengths and the overwhelming feel to the film, which I can easily repeat in my film. Finally, the last paragraph is a little harder to describe. Since 10 Cloverfield Lane is based on a huge mystery, the final line lends itself to that. I may be able to recreate something similar to this since my film features a bit of a twist at the end.

I then read another review for Free Fire to ensure I had a clear idea of the tone and content of an Empire film review. This film is by independent director, Ben Wheatly, and therefore may show a few more similarities between my film and the review.

The most prolific and one of the most proficient filmmakers to come out of the UK in the last decade, Ben Wheatley has already proved himself across horror, thriller and whatever genre High Rise was (period sci-fi psycho-drama?). Now he moves to America — not literally; he’s still shooting in Brighton – and establishes himself as an action director as well. Surely a nihilistic rom-com is next.

Wheatley’s economy of storytelling is impressive here. There are ten key characters and at least four groups in this story of an arms deal gone wrong, but their personalities and relationships are so briskly established that, when the bullets start flying twenty minutes in, we can predict who each person will target or protect. Or – this being Wheatley – we think we can. Comparisons to Reservoir Dogs are probably inevitable given the warehouse setting, copious firearms and endlessly quotable script, but this is a sleeker and more violent film (though perhaps less sadistic).

The story opens on a couple of Bostonian ne’er-do-wells, Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley). Stevo is bruised and sore after some sort of brawl the night before, but they’ve been hired by visiting Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) as muscle at an exchange of arms for cash, so Bernie holds him in line. The Irish pair are presumably Republican terrorists, but among this crowd, terrorists are at the more sympathetic end of the spectrum – particularly given Murphy’s shy flirtations with Brie Larson’s Justine, the fixer who has introduced the parties to this deal.

Justine’s counterpart is Ord (Armie Hammer), a nattily-dressed psychopath so calm he’s almost horizontal, and the arms dealer is Sharlto Copley’s Vernon. A peacocking braggart and obnoxious pervert in a bespoke suit, Copley commits utterly to his cringeing attempts to flirt with Justine and threatens to run away with the film. But instead, two supporting participants discover a standing grudge and a fight breaks out. Soon the air is filled with bullets – call it Chekhov’s arms cache – and everyone is nursing at least one wound.

The hour of gunfighting that follows isn’t quite as strong as Wheatley’s previous films. While he and co-writer Amy Jump do a miraculously good job of shifting up the pace regularly, there’s still a mid-film lag where the sniping threatens to become monotonous. And after a strong first half, it inches imperceptibly to its crescendo, a pay-off not quite as leftfield as his other work.

Still, unlike the familiar American slugfests, this has surprises. There are moments where everyone tries to step back from the brink of mutually assured destruction, and pauses where they look for an exit strategy. What’s more, these gunshots really hurt. A wound to the leg leaves people crawling, not running slightly more slowly like most action heroes. By the third act most of the survivors are on their bellies, grasping desperately at weapons only just out of reach. It’s astonishing how novel that seems.

Wheatley continues an unbroken run of quality, helped by a great cast and a startlingly effective premise. This is seriously cool, stuffed with great dialogue and riddled with bullets.

Again, the first paragraph of this review briefly describes the directors filmmaking history and lists the types of genres his films are; ultimately showing what a diverse director he is. I feel this is quite important as he’s not funded by a huge company like the big six, and therefore giving a little background information can be quite helpful. The next paragraph is a very brief synopsis and compares the film to Reservoir Dogs, which again helps the reader to understand Wheatley’s style of work if they have never heard of him or his films before. Similarly to the 10 Cloverfield Lane review, the following paragraph describes, in detail, the opening of the film and gives an insight into the characterisation of the main stars. The next two paragraphs then briefly describe the rest of the film, giving an opinion into the pace and style. The following paragraph again gives an overall summary and highlights the main positives of the film. The final paragraph is a final review, basically listing the best qualities of the film and suggests why people would want to view it.

From reading these two reviews I have been able to decipher quite a bit about Empire’s style of writing.

  1. The review is written in an informal, and untechnical tone. It is clear to read and can be understood by anybody.
  2. The online film reviews are a bit shorter, but an Empire magazine review is approximately 700 words.
  3. The start of the review gives a bit of background to the director and possibly their filmmaking history.
  4. The next is a brief stylistic analysis of the film.
  5. The next is a detailed description of the start of the film, which may be a struggle for me as my film is only 5 minutes long.
  6. The next paragraph will talk about the middle part of my film (we see him tend to his garden and the conflicts involved)
  7. The following paragraph will discuss the final scene of the film.
  8. The following paragraph will be an overall, evaluative summary.
  9. The final paragraph will be a short and snappy explanation into the main successes of my film.

Poster Creation

After looking over my initial poster research, I realised there were a few things I had neglected to consider when planning the lay out of my poster. I will need to shift the billing block up a little to leave room for the following aspects that I had found out during my research.

First of all, the website of the film is always shown underneath the billing block which is typically followed by the Twitter hashtag so that audiences can keep up to date with the films release. I haven’t come across a poster that reveals the films Facebook page name, so I won’t include this in my poster as I don’t want to risk my poster looking unprofessional. Underneath as you can see vaguely, the website and hashtag is shown underneath the release date of the film which is in bold.



Again, in very poor focus, it is clear that there’s a lot more symbols at the bottom of the poster. For both posters, there is an age rating to the left of the poster which is something that I will have to include in mine, meaning that I will also have to research into what is suitable to show for each age group. There are also idents on the bottom to give credit to those who contributed a great deal and also financially to the production of the film. The number of idents shown may increase if the film was made on a lower budget and not from a member of the big six. Also, on the second poster, the Lottery ident is shown which may be due to their contribution towards the films release. There is also a reference to the film quality the screening will be in, such as ‘IMAX’ or ‘Dolby Digital’, which are presented with their corresponding logos.

After looking at short film posters, there are fewer idents shown, but more awards are noted on the poster. I will also include some awards on my poster to make it look more authentic to looking like an actual short film poster. It also mentions the creators name at the top, rather than a ‘directed by’ statement.

I will work on including these factors in the production of my poster to ensure that it looks like a professional and authentic short film poster.