If you’re looking for an entertaining way to mess about on the ol’ interwebz while getting a bit of an education on films, I have three YouTube channels that I recommend. The sites are satirical to varying degrees, but I think satire is a powerful pedagogical tool. Besides, who wants to sit and watch some academic explain that the non-diegetic soundtrack of Top Gun is used to evoke a mindless endorsement of Cold War jingoistic militarism in the audience?
Which brings us to our first film commentary. The ScreenJunkies channel has a feature called “Honest Trailers,” which they describe as trailers “that tell you the TRUTH about your favorite movies and TV shows.” Rather than use $20 words to critique films, they let the media speak for itself. Here’s the “Honest Trailer” for Top Gun:
If only YouTube and these videos existed, I could have saved myself 106 of the minutes I wasted in my youth on Top Gun. I’m sure I would have wasted the time in some other way, but, you know.
A slightly different approach to film criticism is taken by CinemaSins. Their series, “Everything Wrong with in X Minutes or Less,” runs through a film noting more than just run of the mill gaffes; the series highlights problems with narration, story, and characterization as well. Here’s one for a film I enjoy, “Everything Wrong With The Dark Knight In 4 Minutes”:
And, yes, since we’re through the looking glass of self-referential irony, CinemaSins does an “Everything Wrong with CinemaSins in 3 Minutes or Less” episode.
Red Letter Media
The final recommendation comes with a caveat up front. This series is told from the perspective of a “Mr. Plinkett,” who we discover is a psychopath. He has brief (< 1 second) flashbacks of the bloody bathroom where he apparently killed his wife, and he has various women locked in his basement. That latter bit in, particular, is both disturbing and gratuitous—which is a shame, because the series highlights interesting and important elements of film making. The point that RLM tries to make is that even someone with an intermittent grasp on reality can understand the fundamentals of storytelling better than the makers of the Star Wars prequels, but removing these scenes wouldn’t undercut that message in the least.
That said, RedLetterMedia’s Mr. Plinkett series offers a thorough takedown of episodes 1–3 of the Star Wars series. I know that isn’t exactly a challenge; those films are utterly terrible in almost every single respect, and there’s been lots of commentary to that effect. Nonetheless, the analysis here is so detailed and insightful that it is worth the ride if you have the time.
There are also Mr. Plinkett reviews of Avatar, Titanic, and some of the pre-J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies, but I’m partial to the Star Wars material.
Bonus: Everthing is a Remix
Let me close by recommending one serious series of videos: “Everything is a Remix.” The series makes clear the way intertextuality works through adaptation, allusion, homage, and the like. Though it isn’t limited to film—it also covers music—it offers a powerful and deep understanding of the way that texts and their authors are related to one another.