|Criticwatch - Peter Travers and the Lone Four Stars
|by Erik Childress
Back In September, Peter Travers went on record (as he is accustomed to) that The Social Network was the first film of 2010 that he awarded four stars. Travers, of course, was one of the very first critics (if not THE first) to see David Fincher's film, a privilege he is often granted since studios know he is an easy lay to get some early praise going for their film. Not subject to the same embargoes as the rest of us for this very reason (even if we truly love the film too), Travers must have thought he was making The Social Network a true standout in calling it "better than the movie of the year," a movie which (whatever it was) only was good enough to get three-and-a-half stars to date. Certainly 2010 has been a year when most films are best left forgotten, prone to disappointments and outright disasters that stand out from, arguably, the worst summer movie season of all time. That is hyperbole that Travers can certainly appreciate. For you see, the ultimate quotable hack may have saved his highest rating for what he believes to be the best film of the year, but anyone paying attention would have believed he was giving out four star (aka: the highest) rating all year long.
Examine these 2010 quotes from Travers and see what stands out:
An ace action thriller. (Green Zone)
Affleck knocks it out of the park... (The Town)
Scott Pilgrim is a game-changer. (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
A total blast. (Iron Man 2)
No one who lives and breathes movies would dream of missing it. (Shutter Island)
One of Roman Polanski's best. (The Ghost Writer)
Let's break down the language here. Green Zone is an "ace" action thriller. An ace being the highest card in the deck, if not the highest hand one can hold. I suppose if Travers called it a "royal flush" action thriller that would be more deserving of a four-star rating than just an "ace". Though how many people have won at the World Series of Poker with an ace-high hand? Maybe it's not much of a compliment at all. Move on over to baseball. A home run is the best hit one can get, is it not? Not if you are considering grand slams. But Travers does not exactly specify the extent of Ben Affleck's hitting prowess with The Town. Just that he indeed "knocks it out of the park." Who knows? Travers could be so baseball retarded he was referring to a well-hit foul ball that went into the stands. Assuming those reading this are not, would you describe something as a home run that you didn't consider exemplary above most everything else?
James Cameron famously referred to Avatar as a "game-changer." Travers says the same thing about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Unless he was presciently referring to Comicon fan praise not being what its worth in box office dollars, then surely he was hyping up the filmmaking. A game-changer? Something that forever alters the way films are made and seen. What films come to mind when you hear that term? Jaws? Star Wars? Maybe The Matrix? Would you describe any of those as "a breathless rush of a movie that jumps off the screen, spins your head around and then works its way into your heart. Dazzling...A visual wonderland that is literally a knockout." Now he has moved into boxing. Unless he meant TKO, a knockout is the best possible result. Maybe he had to say first-round knockout for the film to get four stars. What about a film that is "a total blast" though? Total...entirety...whole. Everything you want in a film that is "a blast" Why didn't Iron Man 2 get four stars if "Robert Downey Jr. is better than ever?"
Do you live and breathe movies the way I do? Just say yes. That means you are not incredibly selective and try to see as many films as possible. It also means that your palette has consumed all kinds of movies, good and bad, and may have a more attuned radar when it comes to what is good, what is bad and what is superior. So if someone whose job it was to see movies, someone who probably sees (or at least should) see more films than you do tells you there is one film that you would not dream of missing wouldn't you think that person was giving you the creme de la creme of suggestions? A film that has to be seen above all others? A film that when you ask that person how great it is they tell you it "sizzles with so much nerve-frying suspense that it's hot to the touch?" A film so one-of-a-kind fantastic that said critic gives it his second-highest rating? Wait, WHAT? All that build-up and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is not worth the four stars that Travers' hype clearly calls for? And if we're speaking of legendary filmmakers, if The Ghost Writer is considered "one of Roman Polanski's best", a term that should only be referred when speaking of Top Five-worthy films on a resume, how does a film that apparently ranks amongst Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist and Repulsion not earn four stars?
Well, the answer is very simple. Just a few weeks back I exchanged e-mails with a reader who questioned why Criticwatch was so hard on Peter Travers. After all he does not often get quoted on films of questionable merit. And this is actually true. Numbers-wise in comparison with the usual lineup of whores like Shawn Edwards and Mark S. Allen nor even close to competing Pete Hammond. Of Travers' 54 quotes through Oct. 1, only 13 of them have been on films that failed to achieve Fresh status at Rotten Tomatoes (or: 60% critical approval or higher). Of Hammond's 36 quotes, 21 of them are for films with Rotten status, including 8 under a 40% rating. Travers' worst recommendation, quote-wise, in 2010 is for Prince of Persia which is at an (amazingly high) 37%. But it is not the numbers that cement Travers' status as a whore nor defend him as some model of critical consistency. The term "whore" as far back as the first person who coined it to denigrate the junket crowd has not altered in what it refers to.
whore (hôr, hr) n.
1. A prostitute.
2. A person considered sexually promiscuous.
3. A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.
Inside sources years ago informed Criticwatch that Travers was instructed by employer Rolling Stone Magazine to tweak his reviews enough to guarantee that the studios continued to quote him alongside their name. Honestly, when was the last time you saw anyone reading a copy of Rolling Stone? Do you know anyone outside the music industry who actually has a subscription? The only time their name appears in the national consciousness is when a film ad can start with the sentence, "Rolling Stone raves..." Consider the quotes from Travers in 2010 and ask yourself if these are the words of a real critic, a compromised one or merely just an uncreative one.
Ben Stiller is exceptional! (Greenberg)
Johnny Depp is a marvel as The Hatter. (Alice In Wonderland)
Noomi Rapace is back in action and she's spectacular! (The Girl Who Played With Fire)
Philip Seymour Hoffman directs like he acts, with a sharp eye for the small details that cut to the soul of a character. (Jack Goes Boating)
George Clooney invests heart and soul in this role. (The American)
Michael Douglas deserves serious award attention for his triumphant performance... (Solitary Man)
Diane Lane gives another performance that deserves to put her at the top of the Best Actress list. (Secretariat)
Steve Carell is a comic wonder. Paul Rudd is terrific. (Dinner for Schmucks)
The indispensable Jason Bateman is a gift to comedies... (The Switch)
Denzel Washington is one cool dude, who is worth following anywhere. (The Book Of Eli)
Patricia Clarkson's sublimely nuanced performance is in every way transporting. (Cairo Time)
Robert Downey Jr. is better than ever. (Iron Man 2)
This is DiCaprio's most haunting and emotionally complex performance yet. (Shutter Island)
Michael Cera delivers his best performance yet! (Youth In Revolt)
Catherine Keener is glorious! Oliver Platt is sublimely funny! Rebecca Hall is ever-amazing! (Please Give)
Carey Mulligan is astonishing, Andrew Garfield is mesmerizing and Keira Knightley is stellar. (Never Let Me Go)
Dynamite performances from Annette Bening and Naomi Watts ignite this strong drama. Bening is at her blistering best. (Mother and Child)
The actors are to die for. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore nail every nuance. Mark Ruffalo is dynamite. (The Kids Are All Right)
A riveting cast plays it for real. Mulligan is wonderfully appealing. Sarandon nails every nuance. (The Greatest)
Kevin Kline gives a master class in acting. He finds every nuance of mirth and melancholy in this wonder of a role and rides it to glory. You can't take your eyes off him. (The Extra Man)
Robert Duvall holds you in thrall. Bill Murray gets big laughs. Watching Murray spar with Duvall is pure pleasure. Only a fool would want to miss that. (Get Low)
No one who lives and breathes movies would dream of missing it. (Shutter Island)
Big laughs! (Get Him to the Greek)
Loaded with action and humor. (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time)
Profanely hilarious! This doc will be a revelation. Rivers is more than a pioneering funny lady. As timely as Jon Stewart and Sacha Baron Cohen. (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work)
The summer's best, most original and crazily inventive comedy. (Cyrus)
Sit back and laugh your *** off, The Other Guys is a riot. (The Other Guys)
Fun and feisty. A fitting farewell to an old friend. Shrek is the real deal in 3-D. (Shrek Forever After)
Funny and touching, it works miracles in 3-D. (How To Train Your Dragon)
Funny and touching. (Get Low)
Utterly irresistible...Garcia is comic gold! (City Island)
Hilarious and heartfelt. Irresistible. (The Kids Are All Right)
An irresistible blend of humor and heartbreak. (Cemetery Junction)
...brims over with hilarity and heartbreak. You'll laugh 'til it hurts. (Cyrus)
It's a sublimely acted movie, hilarious and heartfelt, and it stays with you. (Jack Goes Boating)
Puts a smile on your face that will last all the way home. (Despicable Me)
Hypnotic! (When You're Strange)
A haunting and hypnotic film. (Cairo Time)
Gives you good reason to be very afraid of the dark. (The Last Exorcism)
A breathless rush of a movie that jumps off the screen, spins your head around and then works its way into your heart. (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
It dares you to dive into its anarchy! (Kick-Ass)
Fasten your seat belts. (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work)
Hang on for the ride. (Salt)
Greenberg pulls you in! (Greenberg)
Relentless suspense holds you in a viselike grip... (The Girl Who Played With Fire)
Riveting. I couldn't take my eyes off it, my guess is that it will knock you sideways. (I'm Still Here)
...takes a piece out of you! (The Greatest)
The mind-blowing movie event of the summer arrives just in time. A knock-out. Inception dreams big. How cool is that? (Inception)
Dazzling...A visual wonderland that is literally a knockout. (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
A total blast. (Iron Man 2)
Kick-Ass is a roaring blast of energy! (Kick-Ass)
A rowdy blast. A date-movie must. (She's Out Of My League)
...sizzles with so much nerve-frying suspense that it's hot to the touch. (Shutter Island)
Gripping! Affleck knocks it out of the park with this blazing heist film that comes on like gangbusters. 9The Town)
This dynamite thriller shivers with suspense. In a word, wow! (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
It's a spellbinder. Prepare to be wowed. (Let Me In)
This spellbinder will sneak up and floor you. It's that good. A supremely intelligent and deeply touching thriller. Thunderously exciting! (The Secret In Their Eyes)
You'll be talking about this spellbinder for weeks. It pushes every button. There's more killer suspense in this one-of-a-kind film than you'll find in a dozen thrillers. Don't let anyone spoil this story. (Catfish)
...a red hot thriller that keeps popping surprises that shouldn't be spoiled... (Salt)
None of this takes away the opinion of many (including myself) that The Social Network is a very, very good film. It does not get any better because Peter McQuotypants calls it "the movie of the year" in any capacity. How can you take Travers seriously looking at those quotes above? Who cares if he says that Fincher's film "brilliantly defines the decade" when he was on record for the terrible, Middle Men, which should be taught in film schools as the anti-Social Network; the polar opposite way to tell a story about reckless, young brainiacs with an idea that changes the online world forever. (In Middle Men's case it was not Facebook, but disguising internet porn charges on your credit card.) Travers called that film "this summer's sleeper hit", which to date has grossed less than $734,000 (less than probably every summer film that had a television commercial) and also "a film for our time." Two films, each in many ways a different side of the same coin, referred to by Travers as defining the decade and "a film for our time."
A film for our time. (Middle Men)
...brilliantly defines the decade. (The Social Network)
Practically defines independent cinema. (Sugar)
Mathieu Amalric's performance defines the world extraordinary. (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
A new star is born in Jamal Woolard, who defines what it means to hypnotize... (Notorious)
And Peter Travers defines what a quote whore really is.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3089
originally posted: 10/04/10 12:36:21
last updated: 10/05/10 08:49:36