Corrigan's Short Guide has been around for some time, and I've noticed that students have decidedly mixed responses to it. My responses are mixed as well.
It is true that Corrigan tends to wax a bit loquacious, letting wordy and meandering discussion often obscure the really important things he has to say. But speaking as a professor who teaches film courses and requires students to write critical essays about film, I must say that to date this is one of the best books on the market to address specifically the subject of writing about film (I think the best book is Tim Bywater's "Introduction to Film Criticism"--which, unfortunately, is also a ridiculously over-priced Longman title). But it bears noting that there simply aren't many books available which do address this specific subject, so my praise has to be understood in that context. And it's a shame that the book is priced over $40, which is a lot of money for a thin, 196 page paperback with some arguably serious flaws.
The book is divided into seven chapters: an introductory chapter explaining differences and similarities between movie reviews, theoretical essays and critical essays; a chapter about preparing to watch a movie and write about it; a chapter on film terms, concepts and writing topics; a chapter summarizing six approaches to writing about film (history, national cinemas, genres, auteurs, formalism, and ideology) with sample essays and exercises; a chapter on style and structure; and final chapters containing research advice (including internet research) and discussions of proofing, and using / citing sources. Appendices include a list of common editorial symbols, a glossary, and an index. Notable changes to the seventh edition include some helpful advice about documentary and avante-garde films, an expansion of the internet resource section, and more information about film sound. These are all welcome and significant enhancements.
There is a lot of sound advice in the text, and the sample essays are particularly helpful. But the book tries to do too many tasks (at least three big ones) and consequently, it does none of them as well as it could--or should. First, the text is part film appreciation guide, but its limited scope prevents it from effectively competing with books like Giannetti's "Understanding Movies" or Bordwell and Thompson's "Film Art: An Introduction," so any student serious about film criticism will need to read such books anyway, making Corrigan's contributions in this area paltry and often superfluous. Second, the text is part style, proofreading and writing guide, but again, cheap and much more comprehensive volumes like Hacker's "A Writer's Reference" do that task far better than can Corrigan so his effort here is mostly wasted. Third, the text is part film writing primer. This is the task on which Corrigan should have limited himself, given the obvious desire to keep the book small, and this is the aspect of the book that works best. Unfortunately, effort and space wasted on the other two tasks unnecessarily restrict what Corrigan does on this score. For example, his discussions (in the first and fourth chapters) of different approaches to film criticism and of different kinds of essays about film are each limited to a few meager pages. But these are the very subjects his book should have addressed in greatest detail. As already noted, the 7th edition includes improvements in this area, but not enough
In the end, Corrigan's book has lots of scattered insights and bits of advice that are great in and of themselves, but the more pertinent are sometimes under-developed and often lost in a sea of verbosity and diffusive aims. So, for the time being at least, while this may be one of the best available books on writing essays about film, it has its share of problems. It is thus almost as disappointing as it is helpful.