Jonathan Kim used to be a hand model for Sharper Image, but since then, he has put his hands to other uses such as writing movie reviews for various media outlets. Aside from being a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Jonathan also maintains ReThink Reviews, a movie review show that focuses on the political aspects of current/past films and how they relate to current events.
What do you do?
I write/produce movie reviews for the Huffington Post, the Uprising radio show on the Pacifica Radio Network, and What the Flick. I also review movies and provide political commentary for The Young Turks online political talk show as well as my new movie review/current events show, ReThink Reviews.
When and how did you begin your career as a film critic?
I first started reviewing movies for my junior high newspaper in a suburb of the Berkeley/Oakland area, which actually got me in some trouble when parents saw that I had recommended the R-rated Tom Cruise film Born On the Fourth of July. I continued writing movie reviews in high school, then forgot about it for a while as I became more interested in making films in college and afterwards. Later, I was working at a non-profit in Los Angeles making short political videos about Fox News when they started an online show called Meet the Bloggers (like Meet the Press but for progressive bloggers). The host of the show was Cenk Uygur, the host of The Young Turks, the world’s biggest online talk show. I started doing video reviews on MTB and Cenk was a fan of them. When MTB ended, I asked Cenk if I could continue doing reviews on The Young Turks twice a month. When I got laid off from my job at the non-profit, I asked Cenk if I could review films on his show once a week, and he said okay. The non-profit had set up a Huffington Post account for me while I was there, and after I got laid off, I realized I still had access to it, so I started posting my reviews there as well, which really helped my visibility. Since I was out of work, I decided that I would try being a film critic full-time and started calling studios and PR firms to get into screenings and get DVDs to review. From there, it’s been a combination of luck, hustle and perseverance, but with the start of my own show, I feel like it’s paid off.
Your reviews specifically discuss movies and the political issues raised by them. Why is it important to examine the political angles?
I think films can be a great educational tool and a unique way to have people learn about a subject or experience the life of another person. I think both those things are inherently political. When you can empathize with people who are very different from you, it often changes your political opinions. Film deserves more respect for its ability to change minds through stories that hit you on an emotional level.
What’s your process when reviewing a movie?
Usually I watch it with my notepad out, though I generally don’t take many notes unless I want to remember a certain bit of dialogue or an interesting concept. When I’m watching a documentary at home and there are lots of interesting facts, I take a lot more notes and will pause the movie more often. The part that often takes the most time is writing the review, and I’ve found I can never predict how that process will go. I often think writing a review for a certain movie will be easy, but that rarely ends up being the case. I shoot the reviews in front of a green screen I made out of a big IKEA box and a crude teleprompter setup I created myself. My camera is actually just a standard definition miniDV camera that is over 12 years old, though I’m able to output the videos to YouTube in an HD format using Final Cut Pro, and no one seems to know the difference. Editing the video review usually takes a few hours.
What are your thoughts on Hollywood remakes of Korean films? (Spike Lee is slated to direct the remake of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.)
I’m all for it! Not a lot of people are going to watch a subtitled movie, but a good American remake might lead to someone watching the original. In the end, I think all of it can/should lead to more appreciation of Korean films, and that’s obviously a good thing.
There’s been a long-standing pro-film school vs. anti-film school debate. As a graduate of Vancouver Film School, do you think it is necessary for film critics to invest on having a film school background in order to succeed in the field? And any advice for people trying to get into film criticism?
I got a lot out of my film school experience, particularly when it comes to writing, story and dialogue. I’m sure I could’ve learned a lot of that in a book, but there’s something about the way a good teacher teaches that is hard to replicate in text. At the same time, the best way to learn to make movies is to make them, and the technology to make excellent movies is so incredibly cheap that there’s really no excuse not to if you claim you want to. When I picked up a camera and/or took footage into the editing room, I always learned something, and it’s always more powerful and meaningful when you figure it out yourself. I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule about film school vs. anti-film school. Great filmmakers can come out of both. But if you don’t have the money and time, you can do fine. You just need to be diligent about continuing to make things and learn even when you have a full-time job and don’t have real deadlines.
Regarding how to get started in film criticism, that’s another case of doing it for yourself and keeping it up. Most blogs people start fold after a month or two — it’s only through diligence and steady output that enough people will have the chance to find you and keep coming back. I think one of the most important things to be a film critic is good writing skills. Anyone can rant and ramble into a webcam, but not everyone can clearly express ideas either in writing or extemporaneously. You need to clearly explain what you liked and didn’t like about a movie instead of just saying something sucks or is awesome, and you also need to find a concise and interesting way to summarize the plot. Another important thing is being willing to track down the numbers to call studios and PR firms to get into screenings and get DVD copies of movies. When I first started, I felt like I didn’t have the credentials to ask to go to screenings etc. My friend, a lawyer, gave me the best advice: ‘Don’t ask them for things. Just tell them how it’s going to be.’ If you’re confident in considering yourself a movie critic, other people will believe you are one. Also, prepare to work for no/little pay. But being able to go to movies free or to receive them in the mail is a thrill I hope never goes away.
Lastly, what’s your favorite movie and why?
There’s a lot of movies I like for a lot of reasons, but my favorite movie and the one I never tire of is Back to the Future. Everything in it is fantastically done, from the performances to the story to the editing to the score to the effects. The idea of seeing your parents as teenagers is something everyone can relate to. It’s also hilarious! I believe Back to the Future is It’s A Wonderful Life for a new generation.
Watch Jonathan’s review of The China Syndrome:
- ReThink Reviews
- ReThink Reviews’ YouTube channel
- Jonathan’s YouTube channel
Follow Jonathan on Twitter
Melissah Yang contributed to this post.
[Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Kim]