Movies may be in bad shape now, but the general run of books about movies is even worse. Here’s one that’s actually pretty good. Jon Boorstin’s book-length essay on what makes movies tick is refreshingly straightforward and laced with sharp insights concerning plot, documentary, realism, editing, the relationship between film and television, and lots more. There isn’t much in here that hasn’t already been covered by the likes of Andre Bazin and Rudolph Arnheim, but Boorstin, who has worked in documentaries and features for 20 years, has a more practical-minded approach to his theorizing. If the book has a central flaw, it’s that it’s too practical-minded. Boorstin separates our movie-viewing experience into three compartments: the vicarious, the visceral and the voyeuristic. It’s an overly schematic distinction, and it tends to close Boorstin off to the more unregulated pleasures of film. And, for my taste, Boorstin draws too many examples of superior craftsmanship from the films of Alan Pakula, whose films he has worked on in a variety of capacities ranging from AFI intern to associate producer to screenwriter. His “insider” status sometimes brings out a fawning quality that’s a disservice to his generally fine scholarship.