Criticwatch - Warner Bros. & The Blended Edge of Tomorrow
By Erik Childress
Posted 05/23/14 11:51:06
As we head into what was once the beginning of the true summer movie season (before The Mummy came around and just about officially made it the first weekend in May) there are a number of things that we can count on. In the season that film critics and movie lovers take with a grain of salt and occasionally apologetic recommendations we can expect passionate splits (Godzilla) and passes given to outright junk (The Amazing Spider-Man 2). We also know that this is the feeding ground for the nation's junket attendees getting their 15 minutes (or 1.5 seconds) and no one provides a greater buffet for these bottom feeders than Warner Bros. It's a shame that the studio of Gravity and The Lego Movie still feels beholden to this gaggle of giggleheads to promote the films that occasionally sell themselves even without the tune of 96-97% approval ratings from critics happy to write justifiable hyperbole when warranted. Yet they are the ones often told to shut their mouths until the movie comes out. And who does that leave the studios with?
QUOTE WHORES! Now aside from the ones mistaken for actual film critics like Peter Travers, Pete Hammond and Jeffrey Lyons (who is now a go-to for poorly-reviewed arthouse films), 2014 has spread the whoring around a bit. None of Criticwatch's usual suspects have more than five quotes this year. While that is still too high for our tastes, it is a reasonable statistic in a year where 36-of-53 wide releases have registered a "rotten tomato." Warner Bros. is responsible for six of those films with four of them on the negative side of critics. The Lego Movie remains the best-reviewed film (percentage-wise) of the year and Godzilla is a healthy #11. On the flipside they have three films in the bottom 15 including Transcendence, Winter's Tale and this weekend's Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore reunion, Blended. Those three movies together do not add up to a "fresh" tomato.
In that mix of aggregated awfulness are also two of the biggest money losers of the year. Winter's Tale's $46 million production budget (and $34 million in prints-and-advertising) only produced $27.4 million in sales worldwide. Transcendence's $135 million combined costs have only amounted to $65.9 million to become 2014's largest bomb to date. Critics registered a 19% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (and a 42 score at Metacritic) and audiences avoided it in droves. Perhaps they were not persuaded by the junket "critics" WB used to sell it.
"Mind-blowing. Thought-provoking" - Mark S. Allen
"Sensational" - Mike Androsky, Entertainers
"Powerful. Riveting" - Joel Amos
"Thrilling" - Cassia Jones, Uptownmagazine.com
"Brilliant" - Carrie Keegan
"Intense and intelligent." - Mose Persico
Those are big words that most of the 19% who reviewed Transcendence in the positive did not even use. But, hey, can't fault WB for trying right? Except we've seen this song from them before. Like two months earlier for the 13% approved Winter's Tale
"The perfect date movie." - Jeffrey Lyons
"Stunning. Moving. A beautiful love story for the ages." - Cindy Pearlman
"A magical journey of love." - Bill Zwecker
For you see, these folks are standards on the WB invite list; an invitation to pick-and-choose their quotes from a pre-approved list or provide their own overstated praise on the next film to come down the pike. Chicago Sun-Times' Cindy Pearlman apparently is on retainer from the studio since you almost never see her name on anything but WB product.
Again, as we have stated time and again here at Criticwatch it is within every studio's right to protect their product and sell it anyway they see fit. Take Gareth Edwards' Godzilla which defied all expectations from box office analysts last weekend to the tune of the second biggest opening of the year with $93 million. Surely that was a load off of WB's mind which was expecting big overseas totals but needed something more than Pacific Rim's $100 million total in the U.S. to not have another disappointment on their hand. They got that and then some as, when all is said and done, the film is going to gross at home more than half of what it needs to erase the $225 million pricetag. While everyone pondered why the film got off to such a great start, most missed the fact that the marketing of the film was quite brilliant. It held the same sort of mystery and sense of anticipation in the big reveal that Jurassic Park did over 20 years ago. You want to see Godzilla? You have to buy a ticket. And then wait nearly another hour.
That last bit is one of the issues that have helped split critics between Godzilla being a must-see to being just a giant bore. As usual the answer is somewhere in the middle, though "boring" is never a word that would escape my tongue to describe Edwards' entertaining achievement. Only 17 wide releases in 2014 have a positive recommendation from the collective. Godzilla ranks eleventh at 73%, wedged between Neighbors and Oculus (a film I would lob several "B" words at.) It has many supporters. And yet...
"Honest, exact and riveting." - Scott Carty, ABC-TV
"The most incredible movie of the year. Not to be missed!" - Shawn Edwards
"Jaw-dropping. An instant classic." - Nancy Jay, Daybreak USA
"Powerful. Amazing and original." - Mose Persico
We can focus on four-time Whore of the Year, Shawn Edwards, all we want and that one of the last movies he referred to as "incredible" was Takers, but just read all about this joker here. Look at that last quote for a moment. Go ahead. The one from Mose Persico. Anything stand out there as particularly stupid, idiotic, wrongheaded, moronic or proof of dumbassery?
In what universe would someone refer to a 2014 version of Godzilla as "original?"
We have tried to break this down every which way to give Mr. Persico the benefit of the doubt. It's the 60th anniversary of the first Godzilla film which went on to inspire over 30 different cinematic incarnations. Is Godzilla somehow now a giant bumblebee? Has he taken up a job as a contractor hired to repair broken buildings? Does he talk with the voice of Sean Connery? Where exactly do you apply a word like "original" to the context of describing this film? It's not even original for director Gareth Edwards whose terrific debut was Monsters, a film about a man and a woman trying to survive a landscape of destruction from otherworldly creatures trying to make their way into America. Mose Persico, you are hereby quarantined from talking about movies ever again.
Except just one week later, Warner Bros. has another film lined up for the Memorial Day holiday ready to give them a 1-2 punch in the 2-3 slots at the box office. Adam Sandler's best reviewed live-action starring vehicle since 2010 (and there have been six of them) has been That's My Boy. It's rating? 20%. Jack and Jill was a lofty 3%. Last year's Grown Ups 2 was at 7% while its predecessor was 10%. His latest reunion with Drew Barrymore is chalking up at 12%, bad enough to be the sixth worst-reviewed film of the year (wedged between Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return and The Nut Job.) As expected, WB's #1 quote whore Cindy Pearlman is out there calling it "laugh-out-loud funny." But notice the other folks on the ads?
"Awesome" - Scott Carty, ABC-TV
"Genuine" - Nancy Jay, Daybreak USA
"Charming." - Mose Persico
Did Warner Bros. get a package deal from these three? Or was someone so lazy in the marketing department that they just chose the same three people? Have they now made the same praise of Godzilla completely disingenuous? Well it was already coming from Persico and Nancy Jay, a morning show personality that should never be confused with "film critic." We had to look up Scott Carty as maybe he was just another in a long list of anonymous one-offs that studios have been using more frequently. Now with two subsequent weeks and two movies from the same studio, Carty could be making a serious play for the Quote Whore Top Ten this year.
The message is the same and is always very simplistic. The studio needs to sell their product. But there are better ways to do it. Anyone who follows this industry knows all the tricks of the trade by now. The earlier a film gets screened, the more confidence a studio has in it. At least enough to get professional journalists and film critics on their side spreading the word through the covert means you look the other way on. Twitter has really changed the game in that regard.
Let's bring it all home though. Warner Bros. has six more films on the docket this summer. That's a lot of potential whoring littering up the archives of Criticwatch. Their next film is the Tom Cruise sci-fi film, Edge of Tomorrow. Articles are already being written about its $175 million budget and its poor tracking. Cruise has not had a non-Mission: Impossible starring vehicle gross over $100 million in the U.S. since 2005's War of the Worlds (though his overseas take has been healthy.) What the studio could use is a little positive buzz.
No sooner does a May 15 article from The Wrap appear headlining it as potentially "summer's first big bomb" does the film get screened for a number of critics. Indiewire documented the first reviews being allowed to populate the internet while many critics (like my colleagues and I in Chicago won't get a chance to weigh in until the late Monday evening of June 2. We are starting to drift into embargo hypocrisy territory here but the cat is already out of the bag. May as well let all the mice out to follow.
Variety's Justin Chang calls it "a cleverly crafted and propulsively executed sci-fi thriller." The Wrap's Alonso Duralde says it ”feels sharper and more clever than it might have been in other hands." It has a few detractors as well and even many of the supporters seem to agree that the ending kind of stinks. Don't blame me, WB. I'm just reporting on the reviews you have allowed to go live. Actual reviews, mind you. Imagine some of the fresh ways you can find to sell your movie with people who are basically doing your job for you. They think up words every day and write enough so they don't forget what they just said about another movie the previous week. How appropriate would it be to not feed into the Groundhog Day-like plot of Edge of Tomorrow by coming up with something new? Somebody at WB already shot down the catchier title of "All You Need Is Kill" for the far more blander and uninspired "Edge of Tomorrow." Is Frank Luntz advising studios now with the Weinstein's "Can A Song Save Your Life?" becoming "Begin Again" and CBS Films' "The F Word" becoming "What If...?" Stop appealing to the lower denominators. Stop placating the quote grabbers at your junkets. We don't want to see the following on the Edge of Tomorrow ads.
"A kick-ass action thriller! Mind-blowing. Smart and exciting. An instant classic! Will keep you on the edge of your seat!"
Except unfortunately, we already have. It's not that we don't believe you, Mr. Scott Mantz, it's just that we've seen it all before.