What’s next in the Netflix queue?
At-home entertainment is booming as we roll through eight months of the COVID pandemic. But with so many choices, it can be hard to figure out what to watch. Ashburn resident Swanka Burnette can help.
Burnette launched The Quick Critic website and social media pages in August. In just three months, he’s accumulated more than 30,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram.
“I feel like I know my audience pretty well, and I try to ultimately do reviews that not only that I will enjoy but that I feel people will want to share or comment on or go watch it themselves if they haven’t already,” Burnette said.
Burnette has found a niche in short and sweet three-minute, 300-word reviews of movies and series that are “substantive, spoiler-free and presented in a conversational and engaging voice.”
Burnette has an MBA and has worked in economic development for more than 15 years. But movies and television are his passion, and writing is his gift. This summer’s COVID-related slowdown inspired him to do something he’d been thinking about for a while: starting a website to build up his writing chops and share his love of movies and television during a challenging time. So far, he’s reviewed more than 70 movies and series on the site—in video, written reviews or both. For this lifelong movie buff, film reviews are an art form—and a form of entertainment—in themselves.
“I’ve always liked movies. I’ve also liked reading reviews of movies and entertainment. As a student of human nature, I think it’s really fascinating how we could both watch the same movies and take different things from it,” Burnette said.
Burnette has found his niche in broad, spoiler-free reviews that often focus more on emotional response than plot points.
“There’s lots of options out there for long form traditional reviews—1,000 words plus, 10- to 15-minute reviews—and that’s great,” he said. “But I thought, ‘Let me challenge myself to get down to what are the most important things about this movie or piece of entertainment and do it in 300 words.’”
Burnette divides his reviews into new releases (which have dramatically slowed down because of the pandemic) and “nostalgic” reviews of the old-school films and series that shaped his life. Burnette, who turned 40 this year, has strong GenX sensibilities and pays tribute to the iconic films and filmmakers who that shaped his generation—from “Star Wars” to Spielberg. He’s a devoted Ridley Scott fan, which shines through in his review of the 1986 classic sequel “Aliens.” And when he reviews nostalgic ’80s classics, it’s all about creating connection with his audience.
“I have to really tell people why I love this move and why you would love it to or let’s talk about how this movie has an impact culturally in 300 words,” he said.
Burnette says one of his favorite contemporary series is the science fiction hit “Stranger Things,” set in 1984. The series, created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, premiered on Netflix in 2016.
“They made that show as a love letter to Steven Spielberg and “The Goonies” type things,” Burnette said. “They knew what they were doing. Nostalgia is a very strong hook and they figured out a way to capture that.”
Burnette doesn’t focus on a specific genre on the site but admits he’s a big fan of superhero fiction. He’s reviewed multiple “Batman” movies on the QC site and says he’s always first in line for new Marvel movies. But Burnette also loves introducing his audience to the non-blockbusters he calls “outliers,” including international films.
Some of his favorite outliers include the 2001 French action/horror/period movie “Brotherhood of the Wolf” and Emmy-winning director Cary Fukunaga’s 2009 “Sin Nombre” about a Honduran girl trying to immigrate to the United States and her connection with a Mexican gang member.
“Really for me, it’s more about the filmmaking process,” he said.
Burnette grew up in Cambridge, MA and played Division 1 football for the University of Massachusetts before turning to finance and earning an MBA in energy commerce from Texas Tech. Burnette started his economic development career in Florida, but when he was looking to buy a house, he turned to Northern Virginia where he has lots of extended family. After plenty of research, he picked Ashburn where he bought his home in 2015.
“Ashburn really stood out,” he said.
Burnette worked for Loudoun County Economic Development for several years before taking a position as manager of growth and strategy for a manufacturing technology company. He also teaches business classes online for Union County College in New Jersey. But Burnette is a writer at heart and says launching QC was in part an effort to hone that skill.
“The thing that I really feel is my unique gift is my ability to write and convey through written word things that are interesting and even funny … [Quick Critic] was a way to get my foot in the door and start creating content.”
Over the past three months, he’s found that the site and social media pages are also a way to share his passion for film and video and create community.
“I’m constantly being challenged to present the information in a way that makes sense based on what it is that I’m reviewing,” he said. “That’s exciting for me, and it’s fun. It’s a way for me to share with people and get a community going—and so far so good.”
Check out Swanka Burnette’s three-minute movie and television reviews at thequickcritic.com and follow him on Instagram and Facebook at @realquickcritic.