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Hack Journalism at its worst: Paul Fischer kneecaps Ben Affleck

by Chris Parry

I should start this little collection of words by announcing to the world that Paul Fischer and I have a history. He, a sad, clueless junketeer who gives his writing away for free, and I, a sad, clued-in non-junketeer who doesn’t subscribe to the ‘famous is better’ theology that seems to rule entertainment journalism these days, have tangled in the past in ways that saw Fischer become a laughing stock in his home country of Australia. I take great pride in having driven Fischer out of town once, and ladies and gentlemen, I’m about to do it all over again. For I have just witnessed an interview that Paul Fischer did with Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate to promote Surviving Christmas, and to say Fischer has decided to do a little self-promotion at the expense of Ben Affleck’s career is a distinct understatement. Knuckles cracking, let’s take apart the fat man… again.

First a little history. Paul “The Fish” Fischer has always been a hack. He once famously wrote, in a movie review of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran which appeared in his university newspaper, “the battle scenes would have been much easier to follow if everyone didn’t look alike.” Ouch. Maybe the hordes of the Japanese shoguns should have included the occasional Latino or African American? Maybe they should have color coded their uniforms – white for the good guys, black for the bad guys?

But that’s The Fish to a T. A constant embarrassment to the film criticism industry, so much so that in my old days at Filmink Magazine, we used to have a regular monthly column devoted entirely to what disgrace Fischer was pulling in print that month. One of my personal favorites was his remarkable tendency to get quoted for the worst films in release, whenever a positive review of the film couldn’t be found from anyone else. This early Earl Dittman routine worked very well, and saw many weeks go by where it seemed as though Paul Fischer was the only person working as a film critic in Australia.

His outlet at the time, a happy little website called Urban Cinefile, willfully built on Fischer’s quote-whoring, and even took it to the next level, whereupon the editors of the website could often be seen hitting their cellphones as the credits rolled at a press screening, ‘phoning in’ their quote for the film they’d just seen before the review was even written, thus ensuring their name would be featured in all the early ads. Helpfully, they also prepared a ‘guide’ for film publicists, dictating how they should be quoted (always use the full URL AND name of the website!), which is ever so thoughtful.


The Fischer fun continued unabated – getting the names of characters wrong, getting fundamental storyline facts wrong, yelling at publicists who refused to give him one-on-one interviews with whatever celebrity was in town promoting a film, writing interview articles where only three or four actual quotes were featured, quotes that had mysteriously appeared in other journalist’s interviews prior…and sweating… always sweating.

The Fish never enjoyed the fact that we made fun of his work every month, but it never seemed to actually push him to better himself. What he would do, instead, would be call us up at the magazine and leave rambling, threatening messages on our voicemail. Of course, these would usually find their way into the next issue’s column, because the day you take a threat from Paul Fischer seriously is the day you give up on life itself.

So how did we run The Fish out of town? We simply opened the Sunday Telegraph, a Sydney newspaper, and saw an article about a supposed ‘set visit’ he made on the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Sixth Day. We found it odd that Fischer had claimed he’d been on a set visit, since contacts we had on the production had insisted there were no set visits planned. But even stranger, the EXACT SAME ARTICLE, complete with headline and picture, also appeared on the same day in the competing Sydney Sunday newspaper, the Sun Herald. Fischer, moron that he is, had sold the same article to two competing newspapers – an article based on what, as far as we could tell, was a lie.

So we went large. And The Fish, rather than fight the allegations, ran to LA, shacked up with his internet girlfriend (who I’m sure was shocked and appalled when her mystery man turned up as a 5’7” tub of sweat-covered lard), and proceeded to email everyone in the entertainment journalism industry, offering his writing for FREE (we know, because he accidentally emailed us his offer too).

Now, there are plenty of people out there who write for free, but not many of them will offer the same article to ten or eleven different websites – unchanged. And not many of those go to film festivals pretending they write for an Australian newspaper that hasn’t taken their work in years. And not many of those will accost festival staff and interrogate them if they don’t get every interview they want, and not many will stand in the front row of every press screening, turn to face the assembled journalists and give a long, arms outstretched yawn as if to announce “fish in da house” before sitting down – front row center, where his short-sightedness is less of a problem.

Now, all this history is necessary, first because it’s fun to write about, and secondly because the Fish is still plying his trade. He still writes for free, he still gives the same article to multiple outlets to run unchanged, he still hits the junkets and lines up for his free T-shirt, and he still stands in front of me at Sundance press screenings and allows his unseemly BO to waft in my direction. I’ve been waiting for some time to take down this sad excuse for a film journalist, and today I believe I shall make the kill.

First, to give some context, let's look at some of The Fish's pull-quoted for the last twelve months:

King Arthur - "Spellbinding! One of the year's best. Unforgettable "
Ladder 49 – "Spectacular! Magnificent!"
Walking Tall - "An exciting, intelligent and deeply human action film"
Mr. 3000 - "A total delight from start to finish. Mr. 3000 will leave you exiting the theatre with a huge smile on your face."
Mona Lisa Smile - "The perfect holiday movie. A must-see this holiday season. "
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle – "Explosive, exciting and just out-and-out hilarious."
Paycheck – "Paycheck is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride of a thriller in the rare tradition of Hitchcock."

If this foul hack has even seen a Hitchcock film in his lifetime, I'll be very shocked, but that he can find ANYTHING good to say about those other turkeys should tell you all you need to know about what a cretin the guy is. Dark Horizons, a website I have a lot of time for, inexplicably takes Paul Fischer interviews, mostly because they’re free, but also because Fischer is starting to get quoted in film ads again. A few days ago he did a junket interview with Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate, and since that interview, Fischer has been sending out PR to places like the IMDB, telling anyone who would listen that Affleck ragged on his old pal Kevin Smith, that he had his head in his co-star’s lap, and that he acted all sorts of crazy. Here’s how the IMDB characterized the interview today:

Affleck Behaving Strangely
Ben Affleck's weird behavior baffled journalists at a press junket for his new movie Surviving Christmas. According to reports, the actor frequently swore, avoided questions about the film, waved his arms wildly and put his head in co-star Christina Applegate's lap during interviews. He also made an uncharacteristic rant against director friend Kevin Smith. Darkhorizons.Com journalist Paul Fischer says, "It was, to put it mildly, an odd experience."

Now, if you took that as gospel, you’d think that Affleck was losing it. That he was cracking up under the strain, behaving like one might if he were high, and that a big crash was not far off. In fact, here’s how Fischer opens his piece:

Ben Affleck was in a strange mood when he and his "Surviving Christmas" co-star Christina Applegate turned up to promote their holiday comedy "Surviving Christmas". Affleck was in a playful mood, not interested in taking this interview seriously, occasionally resting his head on Applegate's lap, while letting his arms wander. It was, to put it mildly, an odd experience. Since these two were partnered together and trying to make complete sense of Affleck on his own would be a considerable challenge, what follows below is the rather interesting, and often comical exchange that occurred between this probing journalist and the two stars who clearly were keen for this whole experience to be behind them. As for "Surviving Christmas", it's a comedy about a guy who rents a family in order for him not to be alone at Xmas, but somehow this interview was about more than just the movie.

Now, oh my freaking God, how does a supposed (self-professed) ‘probing journalist’ start his feature off with a sentence that mentions the name of the movie twice? And how do you follow that sentence with almost the exact same words you used in the first?

“Affleck was in a strange mood…”
“Affleck was a in playful mood…”


This is, from the very start, one of the most poorly written articles you’ll read all year. We’ll ignore the fact that this interview wasn’t actually an exchange between Fischer and the co-stars – it was a roundtable interview where questions came from several journalists, including The Fish – because if Fischer really wants to pass off ALL of these inane questions as his own, we’re happy to accommodate.

When you read the transcript of this interview, you see that what Affleck was actually doing was not ‘freaking out and having a collapse,’ but exasperatedly responding to some of the dumbest and most pointless questioning I’ve ever been privy to. Try these out for size and tell me if you think it’s possible for anyone to answer them without going cross-eyed (spelling and grammar errors are all Fischer’s, unedited from his own error-filled piece):

Question: So this your first time being paired up with Ben for interviews, Christina? …How's the experience then?

Gee, way to open up with the searing stuff, ‘probing journalist’. Questions like this are not only a waste of the celebrity’s time, but mine as a reader. What do you think she’s going to say? “Actually, I could care less about him. I think he blows.” Hardly. Instead, she says “It’s been good.” Geez, Fish, stop the presses! Applegate says working with Affleck is “good”!

Question: Now what would your boyfriend say about all this? [Referring to Ben laying on Christine's lap]

Oh, classy opening. These two have just worked together for three months on a film, they’re obviously friends, Affleck has been answering bonehead questions like yours for two days so he’s chilling. Obviously, since the room is full of journalists, he’s not engaging in a secret romance. He’s tired, you hack. Affleck’s answer to this woeful hack?

Ben Affleck: She is a married woman, please don't impugn her integrity.
Christina Applegate: He's like my brother he's like my big brother.
Ben Affleck: Big brother, you are 43 years old.
Christina Applegate: Fuck you!

Affleck’s funny. Fischer? Not.

Question: So how do you survive Christmas? …Drink a lot and drink a lot?

Oh, very nice work, Fish. Let’s discuss the man’s drinking problem. Maybe later you can work in a little talk about gambling, then you can have sex with his grandmother and force him to watch. Do you think he has a puppy you might enjoy booting? Let’s ask!

Question: So James Gandolfini was saying that one of the problems with this movie was that the script that he originally signed on to do kept on changing and that could be very frustrating.

Hmm… Yes, he did, and since you know Affleck did a rewrite on the script, let’s just pretend you don’t so you can ask a question that will piss the guy off.

Affleck: …That is one of the problems in the nature of Hollywood movies, it is like everyone has their notes and their ideas and they keep changing it and then people want to improvise and then you know. We call it evolving (laughter) but yeah it is hard. It is also especially hard if you are somebody who likes to really memorise their lines really thoroughly as opposed to like, I like to memorise the idea of what I am going to say and then just make it up.

Now, this is good. Affleck got a ‘fuck you’ question and turned it into a diplomatic, yet informative answer. Gandolfini likes to know his lines ahead of time, Affleck likes to riff. Makes perfect sense, and should end that line of questioning. But it doesn’t.

Question: [after Applegate says “I don’t even know who wrote it originally”] Did it get written - it got written by somebody though right?

“Did it get written?” No, they created it by throwing a pot of alphabet soup on the wall and seeing what it would spell. “Did it get written?” What do you fucking think?

Ben Affleck: There are six names on it.
Christina Applegate: And Ben wrote some of it too.
Question: You should know [who wrote it]. I mean when you do that kind of work with someone else?
Ben Affleck: No fuck other writers.

And fuck The Fish, who doesn’t know where to leave a comma.

Question: [On Affleck being funny] While we are expanding on the theory does this mean that you are looking at a girl or man. Would it be one of the most important qualities you admire?

I’d be lying if I even know what the hell The Fish is saying here. I don’t know if he missed a word or a sentence or an entire page of questions. It makes no sense at all, and if I were Affleck, I’d be excusing myself about now.

Question: You've heard of the Team America thing right?

Or maybe now. We have yet to get to a SINGLE QUESTION that wasn’t either looking for controversy, completely dull or completely illegible and now we’re going to get into the fact that Team America made fun of Affleck? Anyone remember the movie he was supposed to be promoting here?

Affleck stonewalls.

Question: You haven't seen Team America yet?

Affleck still not biting.

Question: There is a whole song about you in that movie.

Affleck has had enough.

Ben Affleck: Yeah I ran into those guys at a party and they were like, 'you don't mind if we make fun of you?' and I said, 'no I don't really care' but you know I would sort of be more insulted if it were coming from the masters that brought us Baseketball, you know what I mean…

Another good answer, and a fairly calm one since Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been merciless in the press about what a suck-ass actor Affleck is. But The Fish, he just won’t let it go.

Question: I thought it was very funny, and the puppet sex scene is one of the funniest you've ever seen.
Ben Affleck: Puppet sex that is funny right there.

Now it feels like time for a lame ass question…

Question: What's the weirdest Christmas you've had?

Now it feels like time for an insulting question…

Question: When was the last time you humped the bedpost?

We’re really riding the wave of important journalism here, folks. Ben Affleck, when was the last time you humped the bedpost? Maybe straddled the clothes dryer? Took a speedbump a little too fast? Enquiring minds want to know!

Let’s ask Applegate a classy question!

Question: How did you find out there was no Santa Claus?
Christina Applegate: I was six years old and...
Question: Humping the bed post?

Jesus H. Sad, what is wrong with this guy? Doesn’t he have an actual question for these people? Doesn’t he have a clue as to what you can say and shouldn’t say? Doesn’t he understand the concept of humor, or of punctuation?

Question: So you think parents shouldn't actually make their kids believe in Santa Claus?

Yes! Ram the point home, Fish. Make them accountable for their political beliefs!

Question: Do you ever look back on those days and think things.

What? "Do you ever look back on those days and THINK THINGS?" No. No, I never think things. I do like stuff, however. Big fan of stuff.

Question: You've got a great head of hair.

Answer: And you’ve got a great big beer gut.

Question: Are you and Damon going to get together and write again, or is this the end of that?
Ben Affleck: I would like to, we would like to but we both just keep working in movies.
Question: So you're writing project is postponed indefinitely?

No, “your” writing project is postponed indefinitely. Get a freaking grammar checker, you motard.

Question: And you also did a cameo in Elektra - that was a favour to your girl?

Yeah, how is “your girl?” Planning on popping out any kids soon? How are her cooking skills? Bake a mean cake does she, the little woman? Slap her around to keep her in line, do you? She’s got a nice ass, ‘your girl’. She's a tasty little filly, 'your girl'... Ugh.

Question: [After Affleck had just said he wasn't planning on doing any more action movies, and that his favorite genre was comedy] So if you don't want to do any more action movies, what kinds of films are you looking for?

Dude, were you listening? What are you, retarded?

Question: Is Kevin - are you in touch with Kevin Smith?
Ben Affleck: Yeah, I saw Kevin last night at the premier.
Question: He was upset you didn't come to the launch of the DVD for Jersey Girl.

Yeah? Your wife thinks you’re ugly. Your turn.

Seriously, what a shitbag. Hey buddy, your best friend thinks you suck! And no matter how you reply to me, I'm going to put out a press release saying you were talking about your buddy. If you say he's a good guy, I'll make it look like you're faking, and if you say he sucks, I'll tell the wooooorld!

Question: You were in Celebrity Poker. Was that fun?

Oh! There it is, we finally got around to talking about another of Affleck’s addictions. Classy question, Fish, and so well phrased. I wonder, was it fun to play Celebrity Poker? That question has been keeping me up at nights in deep thought for months. I wonder... was it fun to play Celebrity Poker… Gosh, I don’t think I can live without hearing the answer!

Ben Affleck: I played the best, but I lost anyway. It's going to happen in poker sometimes.

ZING! Mary Hart, you just got SCOOPED, motherfucker!

Question: Tell me how do you keep your relationship out the tabloids as opposed to...
Ben Affleck: Me and Christina, we travel around and we talk about the movie. And we tell them Surviving Christmas. When's it coming out?
Christina Applegate: October something.
Ben Affleck: Is there a number?
Christina Applegate: October 22nd.
Ben Affleck: 22.
Christina Applegate: A week from today.
Question: So you just don't talk about it any more?

OF COURSE he’s not talking about it. If he WANTED to talk about it, he would have answered your stupid question, douchebag, instead of clearly and obviously trying to point you back to the reason they showed up today – the freaking movie they’re promoting!

Ben Affleck: I'm not going to talk about my personal life.

See?

Question: Christina, when is your play opening?

I dunno, Paul. Why don’t you read a fucking press release?

Question: Are you working on anything at the moment Ben, or not?

I dunno, Paul. Why don’t you check the IMDB?

Ben Affleck: Yes, I'm doing a move called Man About Town.
Question: With whom?

ARGHGHHHH! Here’s the scenario: You’ve got an interview with Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate tomorrow morning at 10am. What’s the first thing you do? RESEARCH! You get on the IMDB and you find out what Affleck’s doing next, so that you don’t have to ask him the same question he’s been asked by eighteen hundred other retarded entertainment reporters over the past eight days.

Here are some questions I would have liked The Fish to have had the brain power to actually think of:

* Ben, when you started in the business, obviously you would have done just about anything to be the sort of star you are today. If you could have your time again, would you have taken your foot off the gas and maybe tried to stayed a little more under the radar?

* Ben, what are your goals in life, now that you’ve won an Oscar and accrued a giant bank account? What’s left to do in that situation?

* Ben, which character from cinema history would you have loved to have sunk your teeth into? And what director would you work with for free, if you had the chance?

* Ben, what’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked by an idiot journalist on one of these junkets?

See? It isn’t hard. It can be done. These things don’t have to be filled with moron questions that end up turned into moron articles written by morons for any moron who has enough time on their hands to actually read them.

But as long as websites like Dark Horizons take Paul Fischer’s nearly illegible garbage journalism, and as long as news sources like the IMDB will take Fischer’s press releases without actually checking the facts, and as long as publicists still invite assholes like Paul “Quote Whore” Fischer to their roundtables, people like Ben Affleck will be forced to sit and endure idiot questions, one after the other. And when they try to answer those questions with humor, grace, and occasionally impatience at some of the most heavy-handed gutter journalism around, there’ll be someone ready to spin the truth and accuse said star of being “tired” or “playful” or “weird.”

Get it into your head, Fischer. Just because you don’t get the guy’s sense of humor doesn’t mean he’s heading for a mental breakdown. If anything, it means that guys like you need to get out more. And maybe learn to spell.

We are of the sincere belief that any film distribution company that is given the task of promoting a film in the press, should tell Paul Fischer he’s unwelcome at any and all future press junkets. If he can’t engage in a roundtable interview without doing research, coming up with intelligent questions, writing up the article without third-grade spelling and punctuation errors, and then passing off the subject of the interview as nutso, he should be told he’s not up to scratch. Heinous quasi-journalism such as his should not be accepted as the price you pay for getting into Dark Horizons’ pages – it should be seen as the vile and spurious attack that it is and should be not soon forgotten. Pull the plug on Fischer, and pull it right now. Send him packing – again.

We leave the last word to Affleck’s spokesman, Ken Sunshine, who told The Scoop, "He did a full hour and a half on the red carpet at the premiere the night before the junket, and did a full seven hours for two full days of junkets. He also had a bad sore throat. In all that time he answered many, many stupid questions - and answered most of them with humor, sometimes outrageously funny humor. I would probably have walked out on these jerks when they feel they must ask about Jennifer (Garner). Behaving strangely? I behaved strangely, not him."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1220
originally posted: 10/28/04 10:41:36
last updated: 01/04/05 05:52:17
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