Criticwatch - Pete Hammond: Hello Kettle, You're Black
Courtesy of Fishbowl LA
by Erik Childress
On May 5, The Wrap's Alonso Duralde wrote a negative review of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. Was it so scathing as to draw attention to it as some sort of belabored takedown? Hardly. Duralde may regret the word "flop" being part of his headline, but we are still a way from labeling its financial status as an outright success. What is worthy of attention was brought to ours by The Fishbowl's Richard Horgan. According to Deadline's coverage of the Cannes Film Festival, their reporter called out Duralde as one of a group of "pseudo-critics who like to try and take down a movie." Said reporter also accused Duralde as having never read the book despite his review referring to it as an "immortal American tragedy." That is quite a list of accusations based on pure speculation. Not that you can find the section anymore in the Deadline piece. It has been deleted. What hasn't been is the by-line of who wrote those words - Pete Hammond.
Before we even write the next sentence, there is not a single person familiar with Criticwatch's coverage of Hammond that isn't coming up with their own version of kettles, pots and dark colors. This is the guy that was quoted on 88 different film ads in 2007. He was a two-time Quote Whore of the Year winner and became such a poster boy for junket soundbite film journalism that we finally had to just name an award after him. (Since Peter Travers already owns the title of the top award, we immortalized Hammond with the "Sloppy Seconds Award.") Seriously, Hammond calling anyone in the business a "pseudo-critic" sets off enough metaphors to make Dennis Miller's head explode and none of them are extreme enough to be considered out of line.
"There's never been a film like this. The 3-D is stunning"
That was what Pete Hammond added to the commercials for The Great Gatsby during its second phase of post-opening advertisements. Warner Bros. is the most notorious of utilizing their cadre of cacophonous junket critics. Mark S. Allen, Shawn Edwards and Cindy Pearlman amongst others were seen on the Gatsby ads. (Just wait until you see what they have in store for The Hangover Part III.) Hammond was the one who went all out though saying "there's never been a film like this." A statement like this should have Duralde questioning Hammond if he had ever seen a Baz Luhrmann film before. Or if he even remembers the hyperbolic bullshit he spouts on a regular basis.
"A great story that takes us to places we've never been before." (Tron: Legacy) "You have never seen a movie quite like Brick." (Brick) "Awesome! You have never seen anything like it before!" (Steep) "The best use of 3-D in any film ever and that includes Avatar." (Hugo) "A 3-D event." (Kung Fu Panda 2) "Mind-blowing 3-D animation." (Battle for Terra) "A 3-D experience like we've never seen onscreen before." (Step Up 3-D)
Get the picture? Four of those seven quotes were for movies that Hammond was on the wrong side of the critical spectrum. Just like with The Great Gatsby. The critics have spoken. They have written. We may disagree from time to time even with colleagues we respect, but the aggregate is more often telling than not. Is everyone who disagrees with Hammond a "pseudo-critic" out for blood? Let us examine Hammond's recent history.
PseudoPete has posted only two written reviews to Rotten Tomatoes in April and May; one of them for Gatsby. Against the grain of most quote whores, he does actually put his hyperbolic phrases into longer reviews. (Even longer than Peter Travers.) Consider this though. Hammond has not posted a negative review to Rotten Tomatoes since Battleship. That's a full year. 30 reviews and all of them positive. That includes such love and like towards The Magic of Belle Isle, House at the End of the Street and Alex Cross.
Let us, momentarily, give Hammond the benefit of the doubt. Forget we mentioned those three titles whose collective score STILL cannot muster up the 60% needed to be "certified fresh." Assume Hammond is just another happy-go-lucky optimist; a lover and not a fighter. Maybe he just prefers to spread happy thoughts instead of negative ones and is very selective of the titles he chooses to put into print. And if he can be selective, then so can we. Here we go narrowing down the search to look at Hammond's connection to Warner Bros. (and their New Line division) going back to 2008.
Appaloosa, Argo, The Blind Side, Contagion, Crazy Stupid Love, The Dark Knight, Dolphin Tale, Gran Torino, The Hangover, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Horrible Bosses, Inception, The Town, Watchmen
Those are the WB films that Hammond has given positive reviews to in that time. The 16 films that were also rated positively by the majority of critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Blind Side and Gran Torino notwithstanding, not a bad list there. Onward to the opposite end of the spectrum. Here are the WB films since 2008 that Hammond gave negative reviews to; an opinion also shared by the majority of Rotten Tomatoes film critics.
Arthur, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Green Lantern, The Lucky One, New Year's Eve, Speed Racer, Sucker Punch
Sorry to remind you of those. All seven of them. Mind you, there is no list of WB films that the majority of critics certified as "fresh" that Hammond went negative on. Since 2008, not one. But we now present you with the list of WB films that Hammond gave positive reviews too that were certified as "rotten" by critics.
17 Again, Body of Lies, The Book of Eli, Clash of the Titans, Dark Shadows, Edge of Darkness, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Flipped, Get Smart, The Great Gatsby, Hall Pass, Happy Feet Two, He's Just Not That Into You, Inkheart, Life as We Know It, The Losers, Lottery Ticket, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Observe and Report, Orphan, Pride & Glory, Rock of Ages, RocknRolla, Something Borrowed, Terminator Salvation, The Time Traveler's Wife, Trouble with the Curve
For the record, Orphan registered a higher percentage on the Tomatometer than The Great Gatsby. (As well it should.) Not to get off-topic but wanted to give you an opportunity to make your own count if you're into the whole numbers thing. Since 2008 up until The Great Gatsby, Warner Bros. and New Line released 112 films. Pete Hammond has reviews for 49 of them at Rotten Tomatoes. 42 of them are positive. Does that number not strike you as being remarkably generous to a particular studio? Granted, Hammond is generous to all his studio friends. But 85.7% is still rather high when you consider that only 30.6% of WB's releases on that same list were given a positive score by critics. That's a 55% markup by a single critic. Is that honesty, idiocy or something more shady? Those numbers don't even reflect the WB films he was quoted on without a Rotten Tomatoes review:
"Sensational." (The Informant) "Morgan Freeman is remarkable. Matt Damon is extraordinary. A true story that lifts our spirits and gives us hope. Morgan Freeman was born to play Nelson Mandela" (Invictus) "This Journey is a roller-coaster ride – Hang on for a great time at the movies!" (Journey to the Center of the Earth) "A reason to celebrate! It will have you dancing in the aisles." (Joyful Noise) "The comedy you don’t want to miss this holiday season." (Yes Man) "Exceptional! This film is unlike any other you will see this summer." (My Sister’s Keeper)
That puts Hammond's percentage at 87.2% (and the critical perception at 32.7%). If numbers are not enough to persuade you about his allegiance to the studio...
"A masterful triumph! Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are a dynamite screen pairing. A classic in the spirit of Unforgiven." (Appaloosa) "A riveting and explosive crime thriller. It's Heat meets The Departed. "(The Town)
...He can't even say something positive about one Warner Bros. film without referencing others. Of the 59 other WB titles we looked at since 2008, only 14 of them hit the 60% or higher on the Tomatometer. We also found five more reviews (or mentions) of these films by Hammond through various articles: Three positive (Hereafter, J. Edgar, Valentine's Day) and two negative (Unknown, Where the Wild Things Are). Spike Jonze's film is the only WB film in this whole search that Hammond broke bad on against the film critic collective. Yes, the same guy who gave a glowing review to Alex Cross.
If you want to see Hammond's "review" of The Great Gatsby, you may venture at your own risk below. But only if you want to hear him compare Daisy Buchanan to the Kardashians. Otherwise, let the above statistics stick in your head when Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and others come out from Warner Bros. Remember how little it means when you see Pete Hammond's name on an ad, especially one from the WB. And to Pete himself, a little piece of advice. The next time you have the balls to call someone in this industry a "pseudo-critic" do us all a favor: Look at yourself in the mirror, cup those nuts and cough as you try to get the studio dick out of your throat. Maybe then we'll be able to recognize the words coming out of your mouth as anything but pure self-aggrandizing hyperbolic vomit.