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Criticwatch: The Whores of Summer and the Embargoes They Break

by Erik Childress

Merriam-Webster presents four definitions for the word “embargo”. (1) An order of a government prohibiting the departure of commercial ships from its ports. (2) A legal prohibition on commerce (i.e. a trade embargo). (3) STOPPAGE, IMPEDIMENT; especially : PROHIBITION (“I lay no embargo on anybody's words” -- Jane Austen). (4) An order by a common carrier or public regulatory agency prohibiting or restricting freight transportation. To a film critic, embargo has a much more simplistic and direct explanation. Don’t print, post or speak of your review until the film opens. It’s a simple rule in theory but not so much when factoring in competing agendas, scoopsters and that crazy internet sensation. Who is at fault? Who is to blame? And who really are the true whores of the summer movie season?

The embargo line is being increasingly blurred and its trivialities are enough to frustrate even the most avid of puzzle solvers. In the years before Al Gore invented the internet, the embargoes imposed on print publications had an aura of common sense. Those with a daily newspaper delivery could open up their Friday morning edition, turn to or pull out the entertainment section and find the reviews for that week’s theatrical openers. Why print the critic’s take on Monday when the reader then couldn’t jump out of his seat and head to the theater? Naturally, a negative review printed before the film’s opening could only lead to discouragement for the reader and more work for the studio to spin the marketing towards the positive. Thus brings about my “firing squad” theory about the embargo.

Say a critic, a legitimate one – not a shifty whore like Shawn Edwards – really LOVES this new movie. He’s seen it three weeks early thanks to the studio inviting them to a screening in their market and he wants nothing more than to spread the word. Except they are still bound by the embargo and are told to please hold off until the actual release date. Such praise can only help raise awareness for the studio’s product and excite anticipation for the moviegoers who pay attention to word-of-mouth they trust. Now, reverse the situation. The critic HATES the film with such a passion they’d rather commit Hari Kari then see one dollar added to its box office total. Here, the embargo makes sense. Please don’t tell your audience how much you think this movie sucks. But we’re really not telling you that. It’s just the embargo thing. We’d rather you wait if you really love the movie too. Five bullets. One blank. Nobody’s guilty.

Your daily paper though has never been the one-stop-shop for film criticism though. In my years growing up, if I was eager to see what people were saying about the movies I was most looking forward to there were two places I could look. The first was still the papers who would have these giant ads on Sunday and similar ones on Thursdays with lots of big words like “AWESOME!” or “THE BEST MOVIE OF THE SUMMER!” Cool, I thought. Then there was a second source direct from Chicago and their names were Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. The TV guide always listed what movies they would be talking about on their show and since we never regularly got the Sun-Times or the Tribune (just the Daily Herald) I was anxious to hear what they had to say. But I’d become doubly anxious when the guide listed a film on their show that wasn’t set to open for another week or two. AWESOME, indeed! Not only can I get the first scoop, but logic dictated that 98% of the time this meant a “Two Thumbs Up” was coming. (In 1995 I actually remember watching Ebert rave about Strange Days a week early while Siskel went the other way.)

At my first gig as a video store employee at the not-so-immortal Video Plus Emporium, there was a weekly magazine that would come called Variety. Fascinated by box office tabulations I was always glued to their full page of weekend statistics and would eventually find my way to advanced coverage of films playing festivals that were months away from release and even 4-day early reviews of that week’s releases. Back then I never thought twice about the discrepancy between print dates. Not until I personally suffered the fate of an embargo breaker. By four and a half hours.

That’s right. During my fourth year as a writer for this website, I was summarily dismissed from one studio’s screening list after publishing a negative review of a low-budget gimmick flick at 7:30 pm the Thursday evening before the film’s opening. My intention was not to scoop other writers. I was already too late for that anyway since Ain’t It Cool News had their (far more negative) review up on Tuesday and the Chicago Tribune’s Metromix website had their paper’s Friday reviews up by 2:30, five hours earlier than mine and a practice which continues to this day. Nor was I intending to stick it to the studio and their box office potential ($3.8 million total for those counting) with an early review. Nope, I had a 10 PM flight that evening out of Chicago to take a friend of mine to his bachelor party in Vegas. For my indiscretion, I was kept off the studio’s screening list for six months.

This was a couple years in the wake of studio memos being sent to local publicists to keep online critics out of screenings as long as possible. This usually meant evening promo screenings, sometimes as late as Thursday evening so as to keep the simple click-and-post mentality of onliners without editors or deadlines to a bare minimum. Of course that doesn’t account for any geek with a keyboard and a message board to go posting their thoughts online after winning tickets from a radio station. But how are you going to stop them?

The flow of information is clearly an unstoppable force that can only hope to be contained. Unless you sequester people after giving them sneak peeks, the word-of-mouth chain begins with the first phone call or the echo of “THAT SUCKED” heard throughout the multiplex. Whatever irresponsibility or broken trust accumulated by the online scene into a panic by the studios was just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg that now has more people blowing hot air dryers onto it than ever before.

Granting Variety and The Hollywood Reporter their age-old standard of publishing their big weekly reviews on Monday (a 4-day advantage over the majority of publications), nevertheless this summer has seen some headstarts that even Jerry Seinfeld would find unfair. But “I choose not to run” is not in the industry’s bible vocabulary when it comes to a review they can immediately publish. This summer alone, Variety went 8 days early with reviews for The Devil Wears Prada and Accepted, 9 for World Trade Center, 10 for The Break-Up, 12 for both Superman Returns and Scoop, 14 and 17, respectively, for animated offerings, Over the Hedge and Monster House, and most recently a whopping 22 days for September 8’s Hollywoodland. With the exception of Accepted, World Trade Center and The Break-Up, all these reviews were the product of head critic, Todd McCarthy.

What stands out greater than the consistency of McCarthy’s “me first” postings is that more than half of those week-plus premature bits of coverage are of the mixed or negative variety. HotButton.com columnist, David Poland, wrote back in 2004 about the “trades review first” anachronism: “The notion in the past was that the trades were doing a service of sorts inside the industry.” How precisely are the studio interests being served by early reviews such as these?

Despite a sprinkling of laughs and eye-catching moments, this adaptation of a popular comicstrip reps a middling effort from the house that "Shrek" built, a rather narrowly conceived tale that makes only modest hay from the overworked conflict between wildlife and encroaching humans.” (Over the Hedge – Todd McCarthy, May 5)

Misleadingly marketed as a boisterous comedy, "The Break-Up" may be the first "last-date movie" -- the one you see with someone that you're about to dump. Sporadic rays of sunshine emanate from the broad and gifted supporting cast, but the core story is almost relentlessly unpleasant, like sitting through a dinner party where the host couple does nothing but bicker.” – (The Break-Up - Brian Lowry, May 25)

…after "Scoop," they're going to wish the Woodman would stick to serious drama from now on. New pic reps a dismaying comic revisiting of the same themes and dramatic situations he so richly mined in his last film, "Match Point"….. But to anyone who hoped his last film promised both a new resurgence of seriousness and artistry, "Scoop" can only be a prime disappointment.” (Scoop – Todd McCarthy, July 16)

…yields lovely and touching moments but proves a slow-going, arduous movie experience, if more uplifting than Universal's earlier test of that historic day's box office potential, "United 93." (World Trade Center – Brian Lowry, July 31)

Hardly words of inspiration for studios hoping to make a buck off these films, but therein lies a key element of the “service” that Variety and The Hollywood Reporter provides for the industry. Box Office Potential. Personally it’s rather sacrilege for a film critic, reviewer or historian to equate quality with a numbers game. Gauging dollar figures from a film’s worth is one thing, but its never something that should come in contact with a professional movie critic’s assessment of the elements that go into and come out of the work of art they are assigned to appraise.

Despite Brian Lowry’s assertion that the “pic's built-in curiosity about the onscreen Vince Vaughn-Jennifer Aniston pairing should quickly dissipate faster than one of Vaughn's rat-a-tat riffs as word of mouth spreads,” The Break-Up went on to gross in excess of $118 million. Justin Chang wrote that “less-than-Marvelous repeat biz means (X-Men: The Last Stand's) legs may fall short of the $405 million grossed internationally by "X2: X-Men United." Current international total: $441 million. The same Chang said that the “Slick bubble-gum fantasy”, Just My Luckcouldn't be more effectively tweener-targeted, ensuring steady adolescent bizbiz and possibly even luckier numbers on homevid.) It’s $17 million gross suggests that Chang should be the first person to drop box office prognosis out of his reviews.

In July, McCarthy took an off-handed swipe at fans of Pirates of the Caribbean saying, “nothing can stop Dead Man's Chest from filling up with B.O. gold; pic is like a slot machine that gobbles up the public's money while giving little back, and, somehow, people don't mind.” $400 million later domestically and McCarthy looks like someone trying to backtrack on his claim that Superman Returns was “sure to rate with aficionados alongside Spider-Man 2 and, for many, Batman Begins on the short list of best superhero spectaculars” and “will pull down stratospheric B.O. around the globe.” As of August 20, Pirates was at $922 million globally and Superman $360. Which one you think is closer to the stratosphere and which one you think gave less back to audiences? Maybe the one that did 2.5 times the business?

And look at that, we’ve gone off topic. But what are the studios’ motives for the embargo? Is it box office or worrying who may be getting an unfair jump on their competitors? Back in 1999, it wasn’t onliners spreading the negative word about a little summer film known as The Phantom Menace. On Monday, May 10 of that year Variety & McCarthy called it “…Neither captivating nor transporting” and David Ansen of Newsweek printed "...A disappointment. A big one." That wasn’t soon enough for Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers though who had his review online the previous Friday saying, “The actors are wallpaper, the jokes are juvenile, there's no romance, and the dialogue lands with the thud of a computer-instruction manual.” In Joal Ryan’s account of the incident on E! Online, 20th Century Fox’s film group chairman, Tom Sherak, called the publications’ actions “devious” and how he apparently wasn’t upset that the reviews were negative, just that they were early. "I don't know what we're going to do. If we can't trust them, we'll have to do something.” Further supporting the firing squad theory, Sherak continued, “It has nothing to do with whether it's a good or bad review…there are rules and they decided they didn't want to follow the rules." In conclusion, Sherak put the exclamation point on it all – “It's not fair for the movie to be reviewed until everyone has a chance to review it together."

Ah, touché pussycat!

Straight from the mouth of a studio executive himself. Fair trade for all and to all a good night. I wonder how Sherak would respond to the understanding that the Ebert & Roeper show is allowed to run “early reviews” (so long as the thumbs are pointing upwards) or how the majority of Chicago critics were only allowed access to The Sentinel and Just My Luck at a Thursday evening screening, well past their deadlines while the Sun-Times and Tribune got to see them in plenty of time to have their reviews by Friday morning. (Or in the Tribune’s Metromix case – Thursday afternoon.)

Ebert & Roeper are not the only TV game in town though and apparently not the only one given carte blanche to pad their show with more than just that week’s releases. Anyone unfortunate enough to come across “Reel Talk with Jeffrey Lyons & Alison Bailes” in their market may have seen this pair jumping the embargo ship with positivity – which in Lyons’ case could be just about any film. Joel Siegel famously made headlines in July when he broke the all-time embargo record by announcing his review 40 minutes into Clerks II during a scene in which a character discusses hiring a woman to perform sexual acts on a donkey. He predicated his childish storm out with “Time to go! First movie I've walked out of in 30 [expletive] years!”; a bit of irony considering Siegel has been on the frontline of verbal whoring over those 30 [expletive] years.

While it may seem I am advocating some kind of goose/gander retribution for those who find it necessary to be the first on a soapbox, I prefer to look at the matter constructively. I hold no grudge over my six-month hiatus on the bench, although I may have at the time due to inconsistencies in online screening policies. But I take responsibility for it, did my time and moved on, continuing to build my relationship amongst the studios as someone who can be trusted to see something well in advance and hold my thoughts off the message boards and my website until they tell me to.

One place where embargoes are not commonplace are on the film festival circuit. I travel to four a year (Sundance, South by Southwest, CineVegas and Toronto) and attend my hometown’s of Chicago. Here the relationship between film and critic is understood. If it plays, it is covered. It’s the ultimate crapshoot for a studio, particularly at Toronto where many titles hope to start an Oscar buzz. Very rarely will members of the press be asked (not told) to hold their reviews. It happened once with me back in 2003 when a Warner Bros. rep asked us (while in line) to not write a review for A Mighty Wind and last year at Toronto, an announcement was made before Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown that we were seeing a work-in-progress that was continually going to be edited before its release a month later. The 138-minute cut was nevertheless ravaged in pieces written about the film and you were hard-pressed to see any follow-ups when the 122-minute cut was eventually screened for local critics prior to its opening. Roger Ebert on his show mentioned his thumb was down in Toronto but up for the new cut, which also happened after his multiple viewings of Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, all but left for dead at Cannes 2003.

So why blanks for some and five bullets for others? The more you look into it the embargo is as arbitrary as the midnight feeding deadline for Mogwais. If a film opens one week in NY & LA and then two weeks later in Chicago, is a critic breaking the embargo if they post online concurrent with the coastal release? If you see a great movie at Sundance, write a negative review and then a studio picks it up, have you broken a rule even though there was no rule to break? There are too many blurred lines to successfully broker a universal rule that will keep every under the necessary check and not upset journalists forced to suppress their thoughts as they watch their colleagues and competitors brazenly flaunt the rules like they don’t have any at all.

In an August 16 column this year about embargoes, David Poland writes: “For the record, only about 20% of movies I see earlier than most other short lead press are of the "if you like it, write… if not, hold" variety. About 30% have no rules at all. And about 50% are movies on which I have to hold no matter what because of studio concerns about the trades launching their reviews because I have run mine, or because the studio has a specific hold arrangement with the trades or others, or because they have withheld the film from the trades until they can see it at a festival.” Interesting statistics that help support Poland’s ability to blast Richard Corliss and Time Magazine for running pre-release “feature” reviews (where Corliss’ thoughts about the film are placed within a bubbly piece about the production) and then do the same thing himself with positive reviews of Miami Vice and World Trade Center two weeks early and School for Scoundrels a full month in advance.

Those numbers do equal the 100% embargoed until release date invites that arrive in Chicago plastered with the foreword “in conjunction with studio policy.” Not once have I ever seen or heard of an invite coming with an epilogue reading “50% of your review please hold until opening, 30% utilize your own judgment and 20% surprise us.” Dann Gire, President of the Chicago Film Critics Association chimes in by acknowledging that “for years, the CFCA has encouraged its members to observe the embargo dates for reviews theatrical releases. This was just something that we as professional journalists should do, because it makes little sense to review a movie early, insomuch as the public can't go out and see the recommended (or panned) subject of a critic's thoughts. It also made sense to enforce the embargo because it kept our competitive outlets from adopting a wild west mentality of who can write their reviews the quickest and get them disseminated first.”

Eric D. Snider, recently booted from Paramount’s local screening list (not for spilling the beans on a movie early, but for writing a lengthy blow-by-blow of a junket experience), says that there isn’t even a discussion about embargoes in Portland. “Except for the two weeklies, which come out on Wednesday and Thursday and often have reviews of films opening Friday, it's understood that nothing runs until opening day.” Imagine that – an unspoken understanding of policy that preaches both trust and professionalism between studio and critic. But what happens when the critic can’t be blamed for the breaking?

Ironically, the people who killed the embargo for us turned out to be Hollywood studio executives themselves. On one hand, they would scream ‘Respect the embargo! You can't release reviews until date and day of the movie's release!’ and expect the arts press to comply. But then, these same executives who demanded conformity on review releases turned around and disregarded their own policy. They would give special dispensation to certain critics (usually from the ranks of TV and the junket circuit) to release their reviews before opening theatrical dates, usually to capitalize on anticipated favorable critiques or to get quote fodder to decorated their print and broadcast ads with. This puts us back into the very wild west scenario we have been trying to avoid,” said CFCA President Gire and Mr. Snider agrees. “I think embargoes are silly and arbitrarily enforced -- the New York Times could run reviews a week early and obviously the studios aren't going to blacklist them -- but I don't really have any problem obeying them. Friday is when most people are looking for reviews online, so putting them up a few days earlier wouldn't increase my readership much anyway.”

One critic, who has asked to remain anonymous, regularly attends junkets and openly admits that he’s been on the hypocritical side of the embargo debate here and there but always gives the studio publicists a heads up. “I almost always ask or tell the publicists that I'd like to or plan to run my review early and they'll either say ‘okay, go for it’ or ‘wait til next week’ or ‘we can't give you permission but we won't tell you to take it down if it's positive.’ Back in 2004, David Poland wrote about a wave of early reviews for Paramount’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow:

Paramount trusted the web heads with a screening and saw embargo broken before the weekend was over by one site,” (Ain’t It Cool News was next.) “It may be that the studio is okay with this since the reviews are positive. Maybe not. But until I get a call from someone saying, ‘review if positive, hold if negative’ or ‘review at will,’ I have to assume that there was an embargo break. And, with it, a little less trust and another excuse to ban the web when the stakes involve non-geek product.”

Eric Snider reiterates how this leads to another kind of embargo: “There is one tangential way that embargoes are enforced sometimes. That's where a movie will have two screenings, a Tuesday night and a Thursday night (the film opens Friday), and the online press is only invited to the Thursday and forbidden to attend the Tuesday. The apparent reason is that if we saw it Tuesday, FOR SURE we would rush right home and post our reviews. Print critics are not usually subject to such restrictions; it's just us onliners. But that's more a story about the prejudice against onliners than it is about embargoes.” And our Mr. Junket X agrees: “Opening day is a bit strict and stringent, at least in terms of online, because people are making their weekend movie decisions on Monday/Tuesday. It's strange that print magazines like Time, Entertainment Weekly and the Daily News are now breaking the embargoes themselves, because they're the ones who complained about the immediacy of the internet to post things before them and forced many of the embargoes in the first place.”

The junket press is driven primarily by print and television, not the internet…..As far as the trades go, their product is now seen in mainstream media via the newswires and the web. So aside from tradition, why do the trades have any right to run reviews earlier than anyone else? They are no longer just an industry thing,” said Poland. It’s a new era, one that studios and publicists have been slow to embrace and even slower to understand. Just about every major newspaper, magazine, organization and anyone who can find MySpace has a website now. So doesn’t that technically make everyone an online critic nowadays? You may be able to compare the circulation of the New York Times to the total “unique” visitors of an entertainment website, but you can’t count how many subscribers actually pull out the Arts & Leisure section for a read rather than to check theater times. In the wake of the free-for-all that was once condemned by print press who are now making their best efforts to trump it, should professional arts journalists continue to be restricted by the almighty embargo? Dann Gire thinks not. “We tried. We thought that's what Hollywood execs wanted us to do. But it turns out they really don't. So how can any professional film organization possible enforce such a policy?

Based on the Chicken Little mentality I reported on in the last Criticwatch piece, many critics continue to worry about the increasing amount of films being withheld from their viewing pleasure. Or displeasure as the case would indicate. Even though EW’s Owen Gleibermangreatly enjoyed seeing (Madea’s Family Reunion) in a theater on opening weekend along with an enthusiastic audience”, an experience which “only upped (his) respect for Tyler Perry,” the sad fact remains that studios withhold press screenings when they know a turd is about to be dropped off at the theatrical pool. New Line recently tried to spin their decision to keep Snakes on a Plane from us, citing they were giving “the fans” first crack at it even though there were no promotional screenings and they still got a healthy dose of coverage from the whoring junketeers who didn’t even get to see it. Personally, I think this is a fine idea that the junket system should adopt. Those who want to attend and write puff piece interview and get quick TV soundbites, be their guest. However, you don’t get to see the movie and you don’t get to give a blurb since no one respects their opinion anyway. With New Line’s strategy though, the joke is actually on them as Rotten Tomatoes currently has it at 68% positive, higher than X-Men: The Last Stand (57%), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (54%) and Miami Vice (48%). OK, so maybe we’re the joke in that equation.

Through April, there were 14 films kept from the non-junket press. This summer, including Snakes, there have only been five. And based on the eventual critical response – See No Evil (6%), Pulse (15%), Zoom (0%), Material Girls (6%), only Snakes had any serious backing. It was also a hype film, much like the sequels (Big Momma’s House 2, Underworld Evolution, Madea’s Family Reunion), remakes (When a Stranger Calls), video games (Silent Hill) and familiarity (Date Movie, The Benchwarmers) that turned any decent bank despite the non-screening strategy and the only title of the 19 to pass the 30% positive barrier. Sept. 1 will mark the date when the “not screened for critics” banner hits the “three times as much as 2005” status as The Wicker Man, Crank and Mike Judge’s rampantly-delayed Idiocracy (which will be Fox/Fox Searchlight’s fifth no-show of the year ahead of Sony/Screen Gems pace-setting six.) Crank is being screened for the junketeers, but issued a strict POST-RELEASE DATE embargo where attendees were not allowed to post their reviews online or in print until Saturday, Sept. 2. Quite a change from the studios utilizing junket whores to get their blurbs into print the Sunday before release.

: A source in NY has updated us in saying that the NY publicist handling the film changed the embargo deadline to Friday for online and Saturday for print.)

(Note #2: It didn't stop Scott Mantz from Access Hollywood getting his name into the Friday papers for Crank saying "The Transporter's Jason Statham is the summer's coolest action hero! An adrenaline-fueled thrill ride!)

Will studios start clamping down more than ever? They do have the junket whores on the flight-and-shelter dime to thank them with stale blurbs and three-question interviews. What happens when the daily papers start breaking embargoes more regularly, as endorsed by The Hollywood Reporter’s Anne Thompson? Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times offers the alternative: "If the studios squawk, we can always review their marketing campaign, which would probably be a treat for readers and, in all too many instances, allow us to write about something far more interesting than the movie itself." Tell that to Eric Snider and Paramount.

The studios are already allowing this to happen though and have no reasons to punish those of us who play by the rules. So perhaps it is time for a new set of rules. A universal set. One that can be agreed upon and integrate all the issues that everyone has so we can all just move on, do our jobs to the best of our abilities and avoid all the conflicts and questionable ethics that Shawn Edwards breaks with each review of a Wayans Bros. Joint. Call it “the Chasing Amy solution” and we can play it one of two ways.

The most equitable solution to this whole mess is to even the playing field as best as possible. There’s no way a print edition can compete with the immediacy of the internet and no way the internet can match the respect given to the old guardians of journalistic integrity. But with everyone having an online presence, the studios have an option that will not only appease a large percentage of the critics out there AND benefit themselves at the same time. If you have a positive review to post – POST IT!

After all that’s what the studio wants – positive press. Whether it comes in a puffy interview with Hilary Duff or the foundation of buzz started with the words of a respectable critic, it’s all good. It’s already a privilege granted to the quote whores who are really only out for themselves and to keep their outlet as the real story, not the movie. The trades are read primarily by industry people and not Joe Dirt Public. The future status of Ebert & Roeper is something we don’t even want to discuss out of respect. (Get well soon, Roger!)

This is a mutual contract that can be made in all markets and all outlets and one which can be easily enforced. The worry that studios may have with the traditional embargo system, in that they are only trying to keep negative reviews from leaking early, theoretically would be increased. If respected Critic “A” doesn’t have a review up prior to Friday, then he must be down on the film. But if God be against us, who could be for us? Try any number of respected critics who DID like the movie. Hell, Gleiberman liked the Tyler Perry flick! You’d have a good share of positive reviews out there on Rotten Tomatoes and ones you could use without having to shell out countless bucks for Earl Dittman or Paul Fischer to give you the same quote they gave you a year ago.

As for those who didn’t enjoy your film, you can respectfully request them to hold their negativity until opening day. Again, it’s being done anyway. You may even get a few turncoats willing to boost up their praise just so their own name isn’t left in the dust. I mean more than Peter Travers at least. Print press with an online presence can post their reviews online as soon as its written and they can still get them in ink Friday morning. Print press without an online presence, well, just better get one because it is the way of the future.

This course of action could conceivably create further whores or, at least, certainly raise the profile of some. At the same time, those of us know a shill when we see one - particularly those who couldn't verbalize their praise in-between newsbreaks without the crutch of hyperbole and a big fake smile. Back it up with words, people. Be writers. Critique. Inspect. Study. Be constructive when necessary. Harsh when appropriate. If a critic is so without ethics that they would actually alter their opinion to tilt it favorably - either at the behest of their outlet or for the need to be quoted - than that critic should just blow Shawn Edwards and get on the daisy chain of whoredom cause you just don't matter anymore.

The only foreseeable downside is the studios taking a firmer lock-and-key on their product. Maybe they feel the only ones worth an advance look are the trades, television and junket whores. Doubtful though since the first rule of publicity is maximum exposure and critics, for better or worse, are the best kind because they are free. The non-junketeers anyway. They are out to do a job, most of them love movies and are more than happy to do it. Unfortunately that’s a rule many studio publicists have failed to recognize – that it’s better to have a happy critic than a sour one created by unnecessary disrespect and blockage. The everyday sourpusses (or is it sour-pi?) are beyond help.

Either adopt this new pattern or face the potential alternative. Once a studio allows Variety, Lyons & Bailes or Pete Hammond to file their review in some capacity – ALL BETS ARE OFF! The floodgates are open and anyone with something to say gets to say it. Here’s the catch though. You can’t punish everyone. If you’re not doing it now and you haven’t done it in the past, you can’t do it in the future. That’s a consistency that must remain. If you do want to hand down a reckoning, you create a position within the ranks and you have that person find out who started the ball rolling. Then you punish them and ONLY them. If it’s Variety, so be it. Maxim magazine, all the better. Shawn Edwards? Well, that’s your own fault and you only have yourself to blame.

The idea that any embargo should be respected past the date of the trade review is now a matter of competitive advantage for the trades…” – David Poland

There may never be a perfect solution to this matter, save for inviting every single film critic on the planet to a collective screening and then holding a 500-minimum word write-off to see who can get their review up first. Festival press will always have an advantage over everyone else in terms of scoops and there’s just as much money involved, if not more, than bankrolling the junket press for a weekend. To scoop or not to scoop shouldn’t be the case though. Critics should be counting other respected critics as colleagues, not competitors. And studios shouldn’t consider critics as “the enemy” no matter how many times they’ve seen Almost Famous. We’re all in this crazy industry together and its time to hug it out group-style. It’s time to suck it up and really look for who you can trust to follow the rules and who is just in the game for themselves. The latter can be found amongst the smattering of ad placements this summer given to the whores we hate to watch.

If you go back to Rotten Tomatoes, you will find that the worst received film was Sony’s late summer family outing, Zoom, which out of 46 posted reviews does not have a single one positive. Foresight on their part not to screen it for critics in advance. They couldn’t even find a single whore to splash their bought words across the pages of their ads either. But the next ten worst reviewed films of the summer (two which also were not screened for press) didn’t have that problem.

9 (tie). The Oh In Ohio (22%)
“Blithely blurs the line between risqué and raunchy.” – Joe Leydon
“A terrific cast. Parker Posey sizzles!” – Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru
“Hilarious – and in all the appropriate places.” – Ain’t It Cool News

9 (tie). Step Up (22%)
“The hottest movie of the summer!” – Lisa Stanley

7 (tie). The Quiet (21%)
“Scintillating sexual dynamite! Camilla Belle and Elisha Cuthbert give two of the year’s best performances. It’s a knock-out!” – Bill Bregoli

7 (tie). You, Me & Dupree (21%)
“You, Me and Dupree is hilarious! If you liked the Wedding Crashers, you’ll love Owen Wilson in You, Me and Dupree!” - Lesley Nagy
“Owen Wilson is…one of the funniest people making movies today.” – Joel Siegel
“Fun and very funny! Owen Wilson has to be one of the greatest comedic actors of all time. “Kate Hudson and Michael Douglas are outstanding.” – Larry King
“The summer’s must-see comedy!” – In Touch Magazine
“The funniest movie you’ll see this summer! Funny, charming and relentlessly honest!” – Mark S. Allen

6. Peaceful Warrior (20%)
“A movie that inspires.” – Pete Hammond

5. Pulse (15%)
“Haunting!” – Steven Chupnick, Movieweb.com
“Intense!” – Carrie Keagan, NCTV
“…Incredibly intense…” - Christy Lemire
“Pulse-pounding thrills!” – Staci Layne Wilson, About.horror.com
“An edge-of-your-seat thriller!” – Paul Fischer
“A terrifying, bone-chilling, horror masterpiece. Scariest movie of the year! It will feed your fear of technology! Unlike any horror film you’ve seen before or will ever see!” – Earl Dittman

4. Little Man (14%)
“Little Man delivers big laughs.” – USA Today
“The wildest, funniest, most hilarious movie of the year.” – Shawn Edwards

3. Just My Luck (13%)
“A funny, original twist-of-fate comedy!” – Lesley Nagy, KBWB-TV
“It’s great. Lindsay Lohan does it again.” – Kellie Gillespie, KVMD-TV, San Diego
“I loved this movie. So funny and so charming.” – Giuliana Depandi, E! Online
“Lindsay Lohan’s funniest comedy since Freaky Friday!” – National Enquirer
“A movie worth celebrating. Moms, take your daughters too. You’ll both love it!” – Joel Siegel

2. Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties (11%)
“The cat’s meow!” – Chicago Sun-Times
“A great summer treat.” – Ed Held, St. Bernard Voice
“Double the fun.” – Jim Ferguson
“Non-stop fun for the whole family. Smart and witty.” – Janet Stokes / Film Advisory Board

1. Material Girls (6%)
“The perfect comedy for moms and daughters!” – Ed Carpenter, The Dove Foundation

There you have it, folks. Joel Siegel can’t stand the discussion of donkey sex and has no problem recommending to you two of the worst reviewed comedies of the summer. If we ventured further up the critical consensus, you would see that 3-out-of-4 critics told you to avoid Barnyard, John Tucker Must Die, Lady in the Water and The Da Vinci Code. But it’s those singular critics in those equations, some whoring it up on the junkets, some with high-profile TV gigs, going against the grain. There’s a variety of opinion out there. You may think it stinks. You may think its right up your alley. But let’s see who you really agree with and whom has the taste of “ass-to-mouth.” Siegel knows what I’m talking about. He, at least, made it that far into Clerks II, good enough for 100% of other critics to sit through in its entirety and 63% to recommend.

“The first great movie of the summer.” (Cars) - Richard Corliss
“The best movie of the summer.” (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) – Roseann Rogers, KPRC-TV NBC-Houston
“The best movie of the summer!” (Wordplay) – Michael Booth, DenverPost
“…one of the best films of the summer.” (Accepted) - Paul Fischer

“The best epic adventure movie of the summer!” (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) – Maria Salas
“The most fun action movie of the summer!” (District B13) – Jim Ridley, The Village Voice
“The best comedy of the summer.” (The Devil Wears Prada) - Jess Cagle
“The funniest film of the summer!” (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) – Scott Bowles, USA Today
“Monster House is the best child-friendly movie of the summer so far…” (Monster House) - A.O. Scott
“This is the best family film of the summer.” (The Ant Bully) – Francine Brokaw, LA Family Magazine
“Best scare flick of the summer!” (The Descent) - Peter Travers
“It’s the love story of the summer.” (The Lake House) – Sarah Zapp, CN8 The Comcast Network
“THE party film of the summer.” (Beerfest) – Pete Hammond
“The hottest movie of the summer!” (Step Up) - Lisa Stanley
“The coolest movie of the summer is one of the best of the year!” (Miami Vice) - Shawn Edwards

“One of the year’s first great surprises and clearly one of its best films.” (One Last Thing…) - Jim Svejda
“One of the best movies of the year!” (Half Nelson) – Lisa Schwarzbaum
“One of the best movies of the year.” (The Descent) – esplatter.com
“One of the best films of the year.” (World Trade Center) - Richard Roeper
“One of the best films of the year.” (Superman Returns) - Earl Dittman

“Sure to be one of the most honored films of the year.” (The Illusionist) - Jeffrey Lyons
“This is sure to be among the best films of the year.” (Miami Vice) - Jeffrey Lyons
“This is headed to the best picture of the year list!” (Scoop) - Jeffrey Lyons
“#1 movie of the year.” (The Hidden Blade) – Edward Douglas, ComingSoon
“The best movie of the year is finally here!” (Cars) - Scott Mantz
“Changing Times has to be the film of the year!” (Changing Times) – Armond White, NY Press

“One of the most sensationally entertaining movies of the year!” (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) – Yahoo Movies
“The most amazing film of the year.” (Superman Returns) – Jay Towers, FOX-TV
“The most inspirational movie of the year.” (Invincible) – Lisa Stanley
“One of the best and most extraordinary films of the year.” (Click) - Paul Fischer
“Scariest movie of the year!” (Pulse) - Earl Dittman

“The best action film of the year!” (District B13) – David Poland
“The best action movie of the year.” (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) - Shawn Edwards
“One of the year’s best thrillers!” (13 Tzameti) – Boston Globe
“The steamiest, sexiest, most intense action-thriller of the year!” (Miami Vice) - Clay Smith

“The best animated film of the year!” (Cars) - Clay Smith
“Monster House is the best animated feature of the year!” (Monster House) - Shawn Edwards
“The best animated movie since Shrek and the best comedy of the year!” (Over the Hedge) - Mike Sargent
“The funniest movie of the year so far!” (Scoop) - Mick LaSalle
“The funniest movie of the year!” (Talladega Nights) – Devin Faraci, CHUD.com

“**** You won’t see a funnier movie all year!” (Nacho Libre) - Shawn Edwards
“The wildest, funniest, most hilarious movie of the year.” (Little Man) - Shawn Edwards

“A masterpiece!” (Half Nelson) - Richard Roeper
“A masterpiece!” (The Illusionist) - Lou Lumenick
“A masterpiece.” (The Devil Wears Prada) – Liz Smith

“A visual masterpiece…” (Gabrielle) – Andrew Sarris, The New York Observer
“An outright masterpiece. As powerful a piece of work as Taxi Driver was in its day!” (Dead Man's Shoes) – SF Said, Daily Telegraph

“A masterpiece of modern horror!” (The Descent) - Scott Mantz
“A terrifying, bone-chilling, horror masterpiece.” (Pulse) - Earl Dittman

“An existential ghost story with fresh blood pulsing through its veins.” (Gabrielle) – Dennis Lim
“…delivering romance in a fresh, heartfelt way.” (The Lake House) – Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Sun
“…a vigorously paced modern screwball comedy…with a refreshingly light touch.” (Only Human) – Laura Kern, New York Times
“…gives a refreshing new take on a familiar premise.” (One Last Thing…) - Jeffrey Lyons
“Scarlett Johansson brings deftness and freshness.” (Scoop) - Mick LaSalle

“…refreshingly innovative...” (Idlewild) – People
“…refreshingly crass…” (Another Gay Movie) – Michael Musto, Village Voice
“Refreshingly smart.” (My Super Ex-Girlfriend)– Jane Horwitz, The Washington Post
“Refreshing, smart and compassionate!” (12 and Holding) - Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times
“Refreshing, instructive and satisfying.” (Sketches of Frank Gehry) – Richard Schickel, Time
“Smart, funny and refreshing!” (Trust the Man) - Mark S. Allen
“Raucous, funny and fresh…” (Over the Hedge) - Claudia Puig
“Fresh, wicked and funny.” (The Devil Wears Prada) – Liz Smith

“It’s a fresh, hip and an imaginative extravaganza that will dazzle and thrill audiences from beginning to end.” (Idlewild) - Shawn Edwards

“This summer’s most super comedy!” (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) – Tony Toscano
“Strap yourself in for a blistering, super-charged ride.” (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) – Pete Hammond
“It’s supersonic star-power memorable.” (Scoop) – Rex Reed
“It’s beyond super. It’s superb!” (Superman Returns) – Richard Corliss

“Superb!” (Sketches of Frank Gehry) - Joe Morgenstern
“…superb editing…” (District B13) – Richard Schickel
“Superbly made and very scary.” (The Omen) - Jeffrey Lyons
“Superbly directed.” (The King) - Dennis Dermody
“The acting is superb.” (The Proposition) – Eleanor Ringel Gillespie
“Paul Giamatti is superb!” (The Illusionist) - Claudia Puig
“Bernal’s performance is superb!” (The King) – Carina Chocano
“Al Gore is the only real superhero at the movies this summer.” (An Inconvenient Truth) - Ben Lyons

“The perfect summer movie. “ (Poseidon) - Paul Fischer
“…the perfect summer movie! “ (Nacho Libre) - Maria Salas
“***1/2 The perfect summer movie. “ (Mission: Impossible 3) - John Anderson
“The perfect summer joyride from start to finish line! “ (Cars) – Pete Hammond
“Fun, funny and Uma Thurman...The perfect trifecta. “ (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) - Joel Siegel
“A perfectly cast comic confection…” (Scoop) - Pete Hammond
“Here’s the perfect grown-up summer entertainment…” (Miami Vice) - Pete Hammond

“…perfect for moviegoers of all ages. “ (The Ant Bully) – Christopher Troilo, Times Community Papers
“The perfect place to spend a few hours. “ (The Lake House)- Joel Siegel
“The perfect date movie. “ (Trust the Man) - Mark S. Allen
“…perfect for both men and women! “ (The Break-Up) – Bill Zwecker
“The perfect comedy for moms and daughters! “ (Material Girls) – Ed Carpenter, The Dove Foundation

“…Done absolutely note perfect. “ (Over the Hedge) - Ain’t It Cool News
“Pitch-perfect! “ (Brothers of the Head) – Tricia Romano, The Village Voice
“…a pitch-perfect portrait of life in deadbeat slackerdom…” (A Scanner Darkly) – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
“It’s just perfect! “ (Half-Nelson) - Richard Roeper
“A near-perfect film. “ (Half-Nelson) – Time Out New York
“…a near-perfect comedy. “ (Little Miss Sunshine) – Ruthe Stein
“A burp away from perfect. “ (Beerfest) – David Moss, FOX-TV

“Could very well be this summer’s hit documentary!” (Wordplay) – Gene Seymour
(RESULT: Reasonable expectation. Was the second-highest grossing doc of the summer over Who Killed the Electric Car and Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man with nearly $3 million. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth grossed $22.7 million and still counting.)

“Sure to be one of the most successful thrillers of the year!” (Mission: Impossible 3) - Jeffrey Lyons
(RESULT: Not going out on much of a limb there, Jeffy.)

“The summer’s first real hit.” (X-Men: The Last Stand) - Marshall Fine
(RESULT: The Da Vinci Code and Over the Hedge opened a week earlier to $77 & $38 million.)

“It’s going to be the blockbuster hit of the summer! “ (Nacho Libre) – Carlos Amezcua, KTLA Morning News
(RESULT: $80 million – 12th highest grossing film of the summer.)

“One of the surprise hits of the summer.” (Accepted) - Paul Fischer
(RESULT: Fischer calls Accepted a “hit” at least a week before its release. As of Aug. 28, 33 films had grossed higher than its $21 million including Step Up, Lady in the Water and John Tucker Must Die.)

“A huge summer hit.” (Clerks II) – Roger Friedman, Fox-News
(RESULT: Huge, huh? $10 million opening & $24 million total.)

“…an instant classic on the fast track to the Oscar!” (Cars) - Clay Smith
“Kevin Kline is hilarious, with a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.” (A Prairie Home Companion) - Ben Lyons
“Ryan Gosling gives a career-making performance! Don’t be surprised if his name surfaces come Oscar-nomination time.” (Half-Nelson) – Claudia Puig
“Hurt in one of the best pieces of acting you’ll ever see. An Oscar-level supporting performance.” (The King) - Richard Roeper
“Oscar caliber! Sure to be one of the most honored films of the year.” (The Illusionist) - Jeffrey Lyons

“Stand up and cheer for the latest and best of X-Men.” (X-Men: The Last Stand) - Paul Fischer
“You’ll want to stand up and cheer!” (Goal!: The Dream Begins) – Andy Culpepper, The Hollywood Beat
“Makes you want to stand up and cheer!” (The Heart of the Game) – Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press
“If this movie doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer you probably don’t have a pulse!” (Invincible) – Pete Hammond

“This smartly crafted drama radiates a gently comic pulse.” (Wah-Wah) – Jami Bernard
“Mind-blowingly exciting! Wild, non-stop action with a series of jaw-dropping moments.” (District B13) - Marshall Fine
“…loaded with state-of-the-art visual effects that will simply blow you away!” (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) - Pete Hammond
“It will blow you away.” (Superman Returns) – Dean Richards
“It will blow you away!...A heart pounding, action-packed feast!” (X-Men: The Last Stand) – Neil Rosen, NY1
“Brilliantly realized and heart-pounding.” (Poseidon) – James Verniere, Boston Herald
“…the movie to beat in the race to push your pulse rate past the danger zone.” (Mission: Impossible 3) - Peter Travers
“M:i:III delivers. It’s tense and gripping. Your pulse will race.” (Mission: Impossible 3) - Claudia Puig

“Pulse-pounding thrills!” (Pulse) – Staci Layne Wilson, About.horror.com

“A haunting and riveting work, unlike anything else you can see at the movies!” (Gabrielle) – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

“A magical experience unlike anything you have ever seen.” (Idlewild) - Shawn Edwards
(COUGH: Moulin Rouge)

“This Superman is like nothing you’ve ever seen before!” (Superman Returns) – Sara Brady, Premiere
(COUGH: BAD! Superman III & IV)

“You’ve never seen anything like it.” (Cars) - Lisa Stanley
(COUGH: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles)

“Unlike any horror film you’ve seen before or will ever see!” (Pulse) - Earl Dittman

Now I’d cough here but this calls for a full-on vomit bath. Forget for a moment that Pulse is a REMAKE(!) and look at what Mr. Dittman said in 2003 & 2005.

(2003) “…Unlike any film you’ve seen before or will likely see again!” (Paycheck)
(2005) “…a shocking, top-notch supernatural thriller unlike any you've seen before or will likely see again.” (The Exorcism of Emily Rose)


10. “A movie treat for kids, mom, pop, brothers, sisters, uncles and, of course, aunts...” (The Ant Bully) - Gene Shalit

9. “So extreme it’s good, so shrewd it’s good, so funny it’s good, so good it’s good.” (Snakes on a Plane) – Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

8. A downright sweet love letter to Latino skate kids. (Wassup Rockers) – Dennis Lim, The Village Voice

7. “Scoop is Woody Allen’s finest film in years.” - Jeffrey Lyons

6. “Columbo but hotter. Way, way hotter.” (Shock to the System) – Out Magazine

5. “A celebration of the strength it takes to be different. Halle Berry steals the show with a sensational performance.” (X-Men: The Last Stand) – David Sheehan

4. “The best superhero film since Spider-Man!” (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) – Scott Bowles, USA Today

3. “A true story you’d never expect…” (World Trade Center) - Newsweek

2. “…a fascinating Cain-and-Abel tragedy that foreshadows today’s jihads and crusades.” (Beowulf & Grendel) – Queen Ann News

1. “If you liked March of the Penguins, you’ll love An Inconvenient Truth.” – Eleanor Clift, Newsweek.com

Criticwatch will be back with our annual Whores of the Year Spectacular in December. Can defending two-time champion, Earl Dittman, mount a comeback after having less than a third of his total quotes from 2005? Can Maxim’s Pete Hammond break Peter Travers’ record of 66 quotes? Will Lisa Stanley replace Jim Svejda as Disney’s exclusive quote whore? Does anyone take Jeffrey Lyons seriously? And can anyone be a bigger douchebag than Joel Siegel this year? Track all the quotes and stats at Criticwatch each week and check back in December to find out the worst that critics have to offer while the studios hopefully come up with a better way to get out the positive word early on their films than relying on disreputable shills.

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=1925
originally posted: 08/30/06 14:24:52
last updated: 01/02/07 13:38:01
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