A few weeks back we commented on Peter Travers’ nearly full month early rave of The Dark Knight. While the rest of us sit on our embargoed praise, Travers is out there throwing adjectives around to guarantee his little Rolling Stone rag will have top placement come the first ads; a fact confirmed as he has received the sole quote in Sunday’s New York Times:
“A thunderbolt is about to rip into the blanket of bland we call summer movies. FEVERISH ACTION? Check. DAZZLING SPECTACLE? Check. DEVILISH FUN? Check. Just hang on for a shock to the system. Every actor brings his “A” game to show the lure of the dark side. The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination.”
Whether or not I agree with him is immaterial. You can read my review at the site on Thursday when most professionals get to unleash their Oscar-bait praise. But it’s the first part of Travers’ quote that I take umbridge with. The blanket of bland that we call summer movies? If Travers was some high-falutin’ critic on the arthouse beat who looked at the blockbuster season with the same pretense of those who claim not to own televisions, that would be some pretty hefty praise for The Dark Knight. Except he’s not a high-falutin’ critic. He’s Peter Travers. And reading his quotes would hardly leave you with the impression that he’s been bored with the same shit, different week of this summer. Just on quotes alone, in eleven weeks of the summer season we’ve had so far, Travers has jerked it seven times for major releases.
Iron Man - Spectacular…Iron Man kicks off summer on a blazing high note and practically dares the competition to measure up. It’s been years since a movie superhero was this fierce and this funny. You can feel the exhilaration.
Speed Racer - Visually the movie is a powerhouse.
Sex and the City - Snap out of it, guys, you just might learn something. Sarah Jessica Parker is funny, touching and vital.
Get Smart - Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway spark off of each other.
Wanted - I love it. Sexy, built to thrill.
Hancock - Hugely entertaining! Jason Bateman never makes a false move and a stellar Charlize Theron springs her own bolts from the blue…As for Will Smith, he’s on fire. There’s nothing like a star shining on his highest beams. You follow him anywhere.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Hellboy II is a surprise package of fun and untamed imagination.
OK, so that’s not every major release of the ’08 summer. Where’s WALL-E, Journey to the Center of the Earth or The Incredible Hulk. Oh wait, found them.
The Incredible Hulk - "The latest spin on the Marvel comic-book hero delivers the popcorn goods."
WALL-E - "No movie can be a downer that fills you with pure exhilaration. You leave WALL-E with a feeling of the rarest kind: that you’ve just enjoyed a close encounter with an enduring classic."
Journey to the Center of the Earth - "I don’t know if 3-D could improve all movies (nothing could make The Love Guru funny) but it sure works here."
So he didn’t like The Love Guru. What a stretch! If you check out his reviews from May until this weekend at Rotten Tomatoes, he’s gone positive on 19 of the 25 films. He also panned Meet Dave (which Jeffrey Lyons said reminded him of Being There), You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Narnia Deux and, of all things, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That’s still not a whole lot of bland, Pete. It’s been nearly two months since you panned the kind of slam-bang, blow your ass through the back of the theater powerhouse that is synonymous with the summer season. Of course, if you chose your words more carefully you wouldn’t be you. A giant hemorrhoid on the ass-end of criticism.
Warner Bros. has been a joy to work with over the years. At least since the fine people over at Terry Hines took over the account here in Chicago. Which is why I hate to call them out for their rampant use of whores. Guys like Mark S. Allen are a regular staple. Look at whom they’re quoting on their Get Smart ads right now. This one takes the cake though. And its not so much a criticism of anyone at the studio. At least not up front. Everyone knows here at Criticwatch that we named our top whoring award after Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers for writing up more positives than Deepak Chopra at an integer seminar and doing so with enough hyperbolic superlatives to guarantee his less-relevant-than-ever magazine appears in the ads.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight doesn’t open in theaters until July 18. Windy City natives are getting to see it a full 10 days early; a tactic that studios like Universal, Paramount, Sony and Disney might want to utilize to give critics time to give them better coverage. Peter Travers didn’t have to wait until after the July 4 holiday. He’s already had his screening and he’s bringing out the fireworks too. With a review over THREE WEEKS EARLY, I am going to laugh my ass off the next time a studio threatens one of our CFCA members with releasing their review before the release date.
Now, Warner Bros. may run wild with Travers review. But, ironically, to savvy observers of the industry, they are actually drawing negative attention to themselves. And not just here. Check out some of the comments over at Hollywood Elsewhere
"Knight may be a good or even great film, or at least a wild slam-banger, but there’s no trusting Travers. About anything. Especially when he’s the first one out of the gate." - Jeffrey Wells
"He’s like the Doug Henning of movie criticism - you wonder how he keeps from keeling over, he gets so giddy." - 115thdreamer
"I think I stopped taking him seriously when in his review of Mulholland Dr. he described "colors that pop like a whore’s lip gloss". Whatever, dude." - Lazarus
"Early bird reviews like this always smack of opportunism on the behalf of the reviewer. Like that kid who’s the first on the block to play with the hot new toy and can’t hold back his exhileration at doing so. Then the rest of us play with it and we find out it’s just another damn toy." - Undercover Brother
"As a rule of thumb, I don’t trust any review that’s written in a way that’s begging to be quoted in the ad campaign." - Joel
There you have it. Now, WB may not have granted Travers their blessing to print anything - but they knew what they were getting into when they granted him such early access. However, they could make a statement to this douchebag and to all embargo busters by (A) not using a single word of his review in any of the ads and (B) banning him from all early screenings. I’m sure there are a few trusted online writers out there who can hold out a little longer and still satisfy their readers.
Nineteen years ago this week, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade debuted to audiences. Chapter four of the Indiana Jones series opened this Thursday. He may be older but the reviews are still fresh, flirting with an 80% approval rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, currently making it the 4th best reviewed film of the year (minimum of 100 reviews) behind Iron Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Spiderwick Chronicles. (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Counterfeiters have 2007 roots so they haven’t been included.)
Surprisingly enough though, one critic who is on that negative side is none other than quote whore du jour, Peter Travers. The man who liked Charlie Bartlett, 21, and Speed freakin’ Racer is invoking the term of "silliness" to describe Indiana Jones. And he’s not alone.
The reigning Peter Travers Whore of the Year, Shawn Edwards, blasts Indiana Jones as being neither "fun or adventurous." Edwards says, "it’s silly and annoying" and "the worst and most anti-climactic ever in the history of the movies." Shawn, you ignorant slutwhore. You would rather sit through Fool’s Gold ("Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are this generation’s most engaging on-screen couple") than Crystal Skull? You liked Semi-Pro, Drillbit Taylor AND Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins? Did poor Shawny get denied an interview from Spielberg and Lucas? (And if anyone saw Access Hollywood’s "exclusive" interview from Cannes, more sympathetic I could not be. "Who’s better with the whip?" was one of their questions.) And here I was going to use this space to celebrate the impending two-month anniversary of our movie ads being Shawn Edwards free. He’s been absent since Leatherheads, the culmination of a period from Feb. 8 - Apr. 4 where he amassed 10 quotes with some of the gems listed above. He had 11 going into the summer season in 2007 where he picked up another 9 quotes from May-to-August. Let’s keep the streak going. I don’t know what more to say about these two idiots. Their reviews, as always, are suspect. Talk amongst yourselves.
Meanwhile, speaking of talk - feel free to tune into Nick Digilio’s show this Sunday night (May 25). At Midnight, myself and Collin Souter will be in-studio to discuss all things Indiana Jones and the resurgence of the elder action franchises. Just click below to listen online, go to www.wgnradio.com or tune into 720 AM in Chicago for what should be an entertaining and informative discussion. Maybe Travers and Edwards can call in.
Film Title: Iron Man
Released by: Paramount
Tomatometer: 94% (as of May 3, 2008)
So, Paramount, you have this film cranking a whopping 94% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. They could be mostly 3-star/solid “B” ratings, but no matter – the positive reviews are flowing. 144-to-9 positive-to-negative by this writing. Those are Pixar-like numbers. It currently is the FIFTH-best reviewed film of the year and SECOND-best (behind only 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) with films sporting over 100 reviews at the site. And, yet, these are the people you choose to hype your product in the ads:
“Spectacular…Iron Man kicks off summer on a blazing high note and practically dares the competition to measure up. It’s been years since a movie superhero was this fierce and this funny.” – Peter Travers
“A thrill-a-minute blockbuster!” – Jeffrey Lyons
“It’s a blast!” – Gene Shalit
“One of the best superhero movies ever!” – Scott Mantz
Couldn’t find anyone better than that, Paramount, seriously? You may not wanted to associate your superhero flick with the online geek sites, but at least some of them write more than just dumb-dumb phrases like Lyons and Shalit. I suppose that’s why Saturday you prefaced the ad with the big “TOP CRITICS AGREE” and replaced them with A.O. Scott (“An unusually good superhero picture”), Joe Morgenstern (“Hugely entertaining!”) and the Saturday ad’s best friend, Claudia Puig (“Entertaining and fun!”). Last week you attributed “A lot of fun” to one Mr. Roeper, but now it’s been given to his current partner, Michael Phillips and Richard was left with “Robert Downey Jr. gives a blazing performance!” Thank you for not saying “iron-clad”, Richard. But still in that “top critic” list remains Peter Travers, which remains one of the few negatives associated with Iron Man this weekend. It may have been "years since a movie superhero was this fierce and this funny," according to Travers. But just one year ago Travers said:
"This mischievous blend of The Office and Friday the 13th keeps things fierce and funny enough to give Steve Carell ideas." (Severance)
"Michael Moore isn’t the only filmmaker packing enough heat to bust out of the documentary ghetto. A shockingly fierce and funny spell-binder that leaves your head spinning." (Crazy Love)
"A radically fierce & funny fireball. "(Sicko)
"Fierce and fiendishly funny." (No Country for Old Men)
"Fiercely funny!" (Delirious)
Film Title: Leatherheads
Released by: Universal
Tomatometer: 56% (as of Apr. 4, 2008)
Respected Critics Say:
“Leatherheads is laid-back, amiable and terminally tepid.” – David Ansen, Newsweek
“Leatherheads labors so strenuously to approximate some of the old screwball spirit of the ’30s and ’40s that it winds up in traction.” – A.O. Scott, New York Times
“There’s a flatness about the whole enterprise — like drinking champagne, but from an old house slipper.” – John Anderson, Washington Post
What I said:
“It seems as if the MPAA unfairly upped a clear "PG" movie into a "PG-13". But adding numbers can’t even the score on the edge that Leatherheads lacks in the sharpness of its humor delivery and the hits on the field.” - Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com
Seen On Newspaper Ads:
"Clooney throws us a rowdy party of a movie." – Peter Travers
"Smart!" – Sandie Newton
"Charming!" – Andrea Vecchio, NBC-TV (WKYC)
"A real treat." – Jim O’Brien, ABC-TV
"Witty!" – Rusty Gatenby, ABC-TV
"Original. Pure fun!" – Rachel Smith
"Funny! A winner!" – Mose Persico
Leatherheads certainly isn’t getting horribly reviewed. It’s pretty close to split right down the middle. Just not enough to hit the "fresh" mark on Rotten Tomatoes (which is 60%.) Universal clearly had a tough time getting the cream of the crop to say anything nice about the film though and they had to go into their daisy chain of whoredom to throw out such insightful comments on the ads today.
There’s ol’ Travers on his two-quote-a-week minimum (he’s also the solo performer on Shine a Light Friday). I don’t know how a film that purports to be "screwball" and yet is so lethargically passive can be described as a "rowdy party." But I guess "lethargically passive" wouldn’t really get your name in the papers. There’s Sandie Newton & Andrea Vecchio, who among their brief appearances in 2007 dropped their panties for Universal’s Evan Almighty. Welcome to the 2008 party Mose Persico! It’s your first quote of the year!!! Took you longer than it did last year when you whored up for Universal in January for Smokin’ Aces. The last film Mose called "a winner" by the way - The Game Plan.
Film Title: 21
Released by: Sony
Tomatometer: 37% (as of Mar. 28, 2008)
Respected Critics Say:
“It has some decent eye candy, but overall this film is bluffing if they think it’s a great, intelligent blackjack film. I know I just used a poker term, but I doubt 21 would have noticed.” – Jeff Bayer, Daily Herald (IL)
“None of the main stars is remotely convincing as a smart person..” – Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly
“For high-stakes drama, stick with The Price is Right.” – Matt Pais, Metromix.com
What I Said:
"You have a director so inept that he doesn’t even understand what genre he’s working within and he’s helped destroy potentially one of the most riveting and important social statements about Las Vegas the movies could have seen." – Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com
What Peter Travers Said:
“Odds are you’re going to like this lively spin on the true story of six MIT mathletes who broke the Vegas Bank. It’s a kick to watch Kevin Spacey and a gifted young cast use smarts to deal audiences a winning hand.” - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
And thus begins the annual Travers surge into Spring, where his seemingly dormant self that’s provided hope we won’t see his name plastered on every major release, awakens to push himself into the national consciousness as a film critic that matters. If you can find five reviews for the movie 21 that doesn’t feature some sort of blackjack lingo in the positive or negative, your luck suggests you should maybe be headed to Vegas this weekend. (And I’m as guilty of it as the next.) But can you really take that quote from him as enticement to see one of the worst films of the year? In the spirit of his hamminess, trust me on this one and take the insurance. Don’t double down and if someone suggests 21 at the theater this weekend, HIT them hard and split.
Travers is also touting Stop-Loss (currently 58% at RT) this weekend as "the first major movie of the year that touches greatness." That despite calling Charlie Bartlett "a winner", George Romero "a master" and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days "a masterwork." He is joined on the ads by reigning whore of the year Shawn Edwards calling it "honest and brave" and a huge surprise appearance by none other than Bryan Erdy. If you don’t remember his name, then you haven’t been paying much attention to Disney ads because they have been his lock stock for years. No other studio has had the services of Erdy under our watch. Until now. "Provocative. A Wake-up call for America!" says Erdy. And what a self-statement that is. If you go back a few weeks to when Disney was touting its Martin Lawrence/Raven Symone auteur piece, College Road Trip, you would have seen the following words plastered across the screen:
"One fun ride." "Hilarious." "Heartwarming." "The first must see comedy of 2008."
Just those words. Who knows where they came from? No names were there to claim them. It’s almost as if someone at the studio just made those up for our expense. I suppose if David Manning is shouting praise in a forest and no one hears him then he doesn’t exist. Or something like that. But wait a moment, HERE COMES BRYAN ERDY TO SAVE THE DAY!!! "Hysterically funny! This is the perfect family movie." Not quite what the Disney folk had hoped for in their ads, but those words will do. And Erdy was happy to have his name. If you would like to drop Bryan a note and give him a wake-up call to what an inauthentic douchetool he is, check out his MySpace page and tell him how hysterically funny you think his career is.