Film Title: Deception
Released by: 20th Century Fox
Tomatometer: 11% (as of Apr. 26, 2008)
Respected Critics Say:
"Can a movie title be so unthinkably bad that it single-handedly ruins the viewing experience? As it turns out, yes.." - Dustin Putman, TheMovieBoy.com
"A would-be erotic thriller with no heat and zero chills, Deception has the kind of glassy, glossy sheen and risible story that mean to suggest Basic Instinct but instead invoke lesser laughers like Jade and Sliver.." - Manohla Dargis
"If the filmmakers were expecting to dupe their audience with Hitchcock-like twists, then they severely underestimated the intelligence of the average moviegoer." - David Kaplan
What I Said:
"Wolverines and Cougars aside, there are more than one strokes responsible for violating their own rules and putting a name on the film that is only an introduction to what’s wrong with it.." – Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com
While I continued to monitor Rotten Tomatoes to see who would be the first critic to post something positive about the poker film, Deal, currently in an 0-for-25 slump (0% RT rating) I saw that the initial numbers for Fox’s Deception had risen from 6% to 11%. Despite having gone to “the next level” as Howie would say on Deal or No Deal, I didn’t give it much thought. Fox still wasn’t running any positive quotes on the ads and I wasn’t going to trouble myself worrying about some internet whackjob with really bad taste. Saturday morning when a colleague clued me that this wasn’t just any whackjob, the link to his review said it all.
Yep, Pete Hammond, posting reviews for whomever would have him at this point gave a positive review to Deception. In all fairness, Hammond isn’t the only critic to like it. (And he did contributed to Deal’s 0-for-25.) There are six other positive reviews (including Orlando Sentinel’s Roger Moore) at Rotten Tomatoes for Deception – if you can find them buried within the other 55 negative ones. His quote at the site reads:
“THe kind of edge-of-your-seat sexual thriller that grabs you and doesn’t let go.”
The director’s cut extended quote over at Hollywood.com says, “Deception is the kind of state-of-the-art, edge-of-your-seat sexual thriller that grabs you and doesn’t let go. It’s actually the kind of movie Hitchcock might have made.”
That’s true. Hitchcock might have made a film like Deception. Only it wouldn’t have sucked. At least not if he made it in the ‘50s or ‘60s. But that’s the kind of pull quote that grabs you doesn’t it? Like these from Hammond over the years.
Akeelah and the Bee - Grabs you by the heart in unexpected and wonderful ways.
Jet Li’s Fearless - Fearless grabs you with its epic scope and richly human story.
Apocalypto - Once again, Mel Gibson proves why he is one of the best filmmakers around. Clearly a fearless director who knows how to grab an audience and not let go for even a minute.
Fracture - A sleek, surprising and surefire thriller that will grab you by the throat.
Dark Water - The year’s first genuinely frightening edge-of-your-seat chiller. Even Hitchcock could not have done better.
No, only Pete Hammond could not have done better.
Despite some surprisingly positive reviews for last week’s The Forbidden Kingdom (which has garnered the necessary 60%+ rating at Rotten Tomatoes for a fresh rating), Lions Gate used none of the reviews in the ads. That all changed this week as they managed to get some heavy hitters like A.O. Scott (“Dazzling!”), David Edelstein (“Great fun!”) and Richard Roeper (“Great humor!”). But stuck right there at the end is Mike Sargent; infamous last year for basically getting caught admitting on Inside Edition that he sometimes has provided quotes for films he hasn’t even seen.
The radio host, known in his circles as “Mr. No Show”, has provided a pair for the martial arts un-extravaganza, one for the papers (“Forbidden Kingdom is pure entertainment!”) and my favorite for the television spots (“Jackie Chan and Jet Li are at the top of their game!”) Chan is 54 and the Jet is 45. Now I don’t like calling attention to age, particularly when Jackie, arguably, made the most awe-dropping film of his entire career when he was nearly 40 (Drunken Master II), but c’mon. Saying that these two legends are at “the top of their game” in a film barely worthy of Jackie’s English skills let alone his moves, is like saying Kathleen Turner today has never been more doable.
And as my current favorite mini-story of the week, the poker film Deal, directed by Gil Cates Jr. (yes, the son of the Oscar’s producer) is hitting the big doughnut at Rotten Tomatoes. Less than Prom Night’s 9% and the 6% shared by 88 Minutes and Fox’s latest stinker, Deception. ZERO PERCENT. That’s with 16 critics accounted for by 8:40 AM Friday; 6 of whom I’m happy to say are colleagues of mine in Chicago. With my review and you’ve got the Chicago 7 telling you how crappy Deal is. Who is going to be the first critic to post something positive about Deal? And a statement from the World Poker Tour (extensively promoted in the film’s final act) used on the radio spots (“An edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Deal is the poker film for poker fans”) does not count by a longshot. We will be watching, so prepare to be outed right here on Criticwatch if you are the one to break Deal’s perfect shit streak at R.T.
Universal this month pulled a very dirty trick on members of the Chicago Film Critics Association and, from what I’m told, some other markets as well. Early reports from colleagues that the studio was going to withhold their latest film, Baby Mama, from online critics until the last possible moment seemed, in a word, silly. Since we know the old-fashioned consciousness about the internet critic are mama’s fanboys in their basements with Jolt Cola I.V.’s connected to their crotches - you can understand their trepidation. After all, why would they be interested in a leading lady MILF who makes constant science-fiction references on one of the funniest shows on television? Silly.
(NOTE: Earlier in the week the Rotten Tomatoes score for Baby Mama was at 90% - 9 out of 10 of those "early reviews" that Universal hoped to avoid by inviting the onliners were positive. Since then, as we get closer to print, the score has dipped to 57% with 8 of the last 11 posted reviews negative. Good call, Universal.)
So, despite having (at least) three confirmed screenings in the Chicagoland area in public theaters with more than enough space to accommodate the membership, more than half of the CFCA were relegated to a screening the night before. And not just online critics. Print and radio were also reduced to this treatment while only a handful of select media were invited as early as April 8 and some were invited to all three (including the 10th & the 17th.) 60 members of the CFCA and, give or take, a third were invited to anything allowing a review before their deadlines.
This is the same studio that screened Forgetting Sarah Marshall at least three times before its opening in the city as well and no one, to my knowledge, was left on the chopping block; a film which got Universal its best reviews of the year - including multiple CFCA members who said it was the funniest movie they had seen so far this year. (I don’t know if its the funniest ever, Mr. Roeper, so let’s scale it back a little - but very funny nevertheless.)
Speaking of chopping blocks, the reason for this lengthy introduction is so we can congratulate Universal for getting precisely what they wanted. Few CFCA members would be so bold as to speak out loud such ostentatious prose for a studio to plaster on the film ads. But WGN Radio’s Dean Richards has let it all hang out and called Baby Mama:
"The freshest, funniest comedy of the year."
WOW! Fresh AND funny? That combo has never been utilized together in film before; and certainly never mentioned here on Criticwatch as the mark of the unintelligible blurb whore. I’m sorry, but this is more embarrassment than anything else. One of Windy City’s own who has done little, if anything, to support the organization, when asked, stays in Universal’s favor by either speaking or e-mailing those words to one of their representatives looking for a reaction to the screening that about two-thirds of his colleagues were denied. How does one sit down to write those words? Is that an honest reaction?
Having not seen the film, I cannot attest to how funny it may very well be. But exactly how fresh is it, four months removed from a year known frequently referred to as the “year of the pregnancy.” Does Knocked Up, Waitress and Juno ring a bell? Baby Mama is about as “fresh” as a Maury Povich episode. But maybe it IS the funniest comedy of the year, but how would I know as I stand with my CFCA brothers and sisters who weren’t invited.
Besides, I have it on good authority from Shawn Edwards that Drillbit Taylor was “the freshest and funniest comedy in a long time.” Good company, Dean.
Much of the time from the mainstream media we hear of interviewees complaining how their comments were taken out of context and didn’t reflect their true thoughts. Sometimes its true. Other times its just a smokescreen to cover up a huge gaffe while misplaced outrage travels the airwaves for three days or so. With film critics it’s a little different. Roger Ebert, more than most critics, frequently found a negative review of his translated into positive adjectives by the studio trying to sell their movies in ads. Remember when the single word “Funny” was taken out of his Little Nicky review? In an interview with Shawn Edwards recently, the 2007 Whore of the Year alluded that some of the things he said would be condensed in just the same way. Like when I said “I think Shawn Edwards is a critic…” Sure I said it, but my full quote would actually have been “I think Shawn Edwards is a critic who should be flushed through the shit-stormed sewers of Kansas City and see how his taste is then.”
The frequent bridge between the professional, trusted film critic and those of the junket whore media is in their ability to write. The whores don’t do it. They speak in adjectives and frequently don’t think before they do. Something to do with brains being needed. So when someone like Shawn Edwards complains that he’s taken out of context, he’s no better than the guy with a dick in your woman saying “this is not what it looks like.” I am someone who does his best to keep up on the written side of criticism, including covering film festivals like last year’s CineVegas where I saw a film called Careless. Now, I didn’t like the film but if you saw the magazine ad for the film’s forthcoming DVD release this June you would see the following quote:
That’s rather positive for a film I couldn’t even remember saying anything positive about. You can see the entire review here but I’ll save you some time and just expand on the quotes that Image and Thinkfilm chose for the ads. “A three-movie-in-one experience…” it begins, just as it did my review which read “Peter Spears’ Careless is a three movie-in-one experience with the one never developing a dominant presence.” Did it seem like I was TRYING to get quoted with that sentence? Because of whores like Shawn Edwards, Earl Dittman and dopes like Peter Travers I’ve consciously found myself ignoring uses of the various adjectives they wield like the first model of the Terminator. How about the second part? “Blanchard is cute and sweet.” OK, I flat out said that. In the context of the film, “Blanchard is cute and sweet. Hanks is insecure and aloof. Shalhoub is indifferent but caring,” referencing how simplistic the characterizations are. Maybe if Miss Blanchard was taken enough with my words to extend a dinner invitation it’d be worth it. Otherwise I hope readers will find my full review instead of just reading the ads. Hopefully they will do the same and look for reviews by Edwards and Dittman and James Thomas to match what they say on the ads. When they don’t find them, they’ll begin to understand what I’m trying to do here at Criticwatch.
They weren’t in the Sunday papers, but I was tipped off that two-time Whore of the Year recipient, Earl Dittman, was out pimping for 88 Minutes in the television ads.
It took a few days, but sure enough there he was calling it "sensational" and a "must see" giving it 4 stars.
Oh, but what’s this? He’s not alone. There’s 2008’s rookie whore of the year, James Thomas, saying that "Al Pacino is electrifying."
So here you have a movie completed way back in 2005 with an electrifying movie star, released a full year ago overseas and widely found for download over the internet. Variety’s review called it the worst film of Pacino’s career (yes, even Revolution) and seven of the nine current reviews at Rotten Tomatoes are negative. (One of the positives belongs to one of last year’s "whores to watch", Prairie Miller.)
But there’s Dittman and Thomas, up front and personal, giving it their full recommendation (each their fifth of 2008.)
Here’s the intriguing thing though. While Dittman has put his stamp of Penelope and Never Back Down and Thomas’ lineup includes Over Her Dead Body and 10,000 B.C. (13% & 9% RT approved, respectively), their other three recommendations are I-dentical. And they are all for the specialty divisions of Sony Pictures. Both are down for Screen Gems’ First Sunday and Untraceable and they are now showing their love for Tri-Star.
Does anyone imagine seeing Dittman and Thomas arrive at these screenings joined at the hip Requiem for a Dream-style?
DITTMAN: "It’s hip…and…hilarious…"
THOMAS: "The first laugh-out-loud comedy of the new year."
DITTMAN: "An electrifying, cat-and-mouse thriller."
THOMAS: "Untraceable is the Silence of the Lambs for the internet age."
DITTMAN: Sensational…****…A must see.
THOMAS: "Al Pacino is electrifying."
This just defies all logic.
After being told the anti-Uwe Boll petition (which he had previously said would force him to quit filmaking if it passed a million signatures) was up past 200,000 names, the German hacktastic ‘worst director ever’ has decided to go public with his thoughts.
And it’s every bit as moronic as any film he’s created.
In all honesty, this could be the most unintentionally hilarious YouTube video ever.
Film Title: Street Kings
Released by: Fox Searchlight
Tomatometer: 30% (as of Apr. 11, 2008)
Seen On Newspaper Ads:
“An intense, riveting thriller! Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker give powerhouse performances.” – Steve Oldfield, FOX-TV
“The best cop movie since Training Day.” – Jeffrey K. Howard, KCLV-TV
“A full-throttle thrill ride.” – Chloe Houser, KPOX-TV
What I Said:
"Despite only sharing credit as a co-writer, the story has Ellroy’s fingerprints all over it and those familiar smudges become a detriment to an otherwise well-made film by director David Ayer." – Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com
I was half-expecting not to add an update to Criticwatch today. Prom Night went unscreened for critics (and Bloody-Disgusting) so nothing to pull from that. Smart People got a nod from Paul Fischer this week ("Pitch-perfect. A comic gem") but so what? And if I was playing the game that Mr. Scott Weinberg and I frequently guess about on the Rotten Tomatoes percentages I would have dumped a low 60s number on Street Kings. Wow - was I off. 30% at the time of this writing. That’s less than The Ruins and the latest Tyler Perry film. Truth is I probably wouldn’t argue with most of the criticism of the film, but I suppose I’m as guilty as the next person who liked Street Kings this week. It’s a tempered recommendation for sure and at least I can say I wrote something to explain my position. More than I can for Steve Oldfield, Jeffrey K. Howard and Chloe Houser.
Oldfield is becoming a fast riser in the quote game. I ranked him #10 last year. He’s now nearly midway to 2007’s total and recycling his quick-lipped prose in-between throat gags. "An intense, riveting thriller! Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker give powerhouse performances," says Oldfield about Street Kings. Here’s a taste from last year:
"An intense captivating film. Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe give powerhouse performances." (Breach)
"…a smart, compelling film with powerhouse performances." (Black Snake Moan)
"An intense…riveting…adventure." (28 Weeks Later)
"Powerhouse performances!" (Georgia Rule)
"A powerful film! A riveting story, expertly directed by Peter Berg." (The Kingdom)
How DO you wash that taste out of your mouth, Steve? Does Universal give you a special cocktail of Listerine, salt and vinegar you douchebag?!!! We won’t pick on Chloe Houser too much. She’s a first-timer, admittedly using some whorish cliches, but hey sister I like the film too. But Jeffrey K. Howard - you couldn’t come up with a better quote than that? This is the phenomenon known as Memento Whory where a "critic" needs to make a comparison to make his point but only does so with his limited memory. The classic example is saying that Fierce Creatures is the "funniest comedy since A Fish Called Wanda." I don’t need to explain this to the cheap seats further, do I? David Ayer, director of Street Kings, wrote Training Day. Howard had many choices for his Memento Whory including L.A. Confidential, which is way back in that time known as 1997. What about Dark Blue? James Ellroy (co-writer of Street Kings) also penned that film. Have you ever heard of these films?
Hell, the Denzel Washington connection alone could have led you to TWO of those films. Maybe Howard really does believe Training Day to be the end-all, be-all of cop films - better than any of those five films - but that would also mean that he believes Street Kings to be better than The Departed. Do you really want to stand by that statement, Jeff? Or do you want to tap your memory a bit further? Go ahead, we’ll give you some time. Go hit your head really hard and get back to us.
Film Title: The Ruins
Released by: Paramount
Tomatometer: 36% (as of Apr. 5, 2008)
The Ruins is the 12th film this year that the studios withheld from the press in 2008. The other ten are: In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Meet the Spartans, Rambo, The Eye, Strange Wilderness, Step Up 2 the Streets, Witless Protection, Doomsday, Shutter, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and Superhero Movie. Chances are if you were invited, it was to a 10 PM screening on Thursday night. While reviews haven’t been stellar, Paramount/Dreamworks may have dropped the ball on letting critics see this. Oh wait, they did let a few. At least horror sites Bloody-Disgusting and Shocktilyoudrop got previews early enough to have quotes in the film’s ads as early as this past Tuesday.
"Intense, Disturbing, and gut-wrenching." – Brad Miska, Bloody-Disgusting
"A nightmarish spectacle. It’s a true original." – Ryan Rotten, Shocktilyoudrop.com
Granted, The Ruins is hitting 36% currently at Rotten Tomatoes (higher than ANY of the previous 10 non-screened titles this year) - but that’s still only with 25 reviews while Clooney’s Leatherheads is pulling a 54% with 105 reviews. I love a good horror film as much as the next guy, but I tend not to take the advice of the hardcore (and sometimes exclusive) horror geeks. Many believe they have some further insight into the genre they love so much, when mostly it’s just overt enthusiasm in hoping to prop up the films that generally get nothing but scorn from the critics at large. A bad film is still a bad film though and us perceived snooty critics will support horror when it works. (May I remind everyone that Slither got an 84% RT rating - and I recently sent out an e-mail telling colleagues how much I actually enjoyed the straight-to-video Wrong Turn 2.)
The Ruins is ultimately a failure and a disappointment considering how relentless the book was. (What’s the point of rationing stuff if you’re not going to play it out to its dwindling necessity?) It has its moments but Carter Smith was NOT the right director for the project and The Ruins is a story that absolutely depended on a director who could deliver a 90-minute B-picture that would beat the audience into submission once it got going. Never really happens. But that doesn’t mean that the studio should have held the film from us. As colleague Brian Tallerico told me last evening, "A horror film with a 30%+ rating at Rotten Tomatoes gets me excited."
Rambo will probably in the long run win the dubious title of highest critic percentage on non-screened titles for the year, but The Ruins is going to be up there. The studios usually tend to know when they have a crapburger on their hands, but considering they screened First Sunday, Untraceable, Over Her Dead Body, College Road Trip and 10,000 B.C. in enough time for Friday opening reviews (all films that haven’t hit 20% at RT), The Ruins deserved more of a chance than it got. It’s certainly better than the shit set to top the box office for the second straight weekend. And you can double down on that!
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.