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TraversWatch - The Mirth & Malice of Peter Travers

by Erik Childress

Up until last weekend, we were beginning to feel good about the Travers stats in 2011. He was still leading the pack with 22 quotes headed into June, but the number was down from 25 at the same period in 2009 & 2010. Then, thanks to four studios (including two using Travers for the first time this year), the number ballooned up to 26. Criticwatch had bigger fish to fry last week with Fox's mishandling of their X-Men praise as Shawn Edwards continues to make a play for a third Peter Travers Whore of the Year Award. So we took our time and waited this week to see if Travers' number would go up again. Which it did. On another film garnering praise from 4 out of 5 critics. A film that didn't need Travers to validate it, yet which he did in another crappy written review where his ready-made quote so stood out that I announced it on Twitter less than 24 hours ago. We have seven months to go here people and we are setting the goal. Travers must not be allowed to reach 60 quotes in 2011. And we're going to show you why...again!

Little more needs to be said about Peter Travers' necessity in getting his name and that of his publication, Rolling Stone Magazine, into as many ads as possible. Taste and opinion can be left out of the equation. Leave that argument for the Mark S. Allens and Pete Hammonds out there. According to Travers' history at Rotten Tomatoes, he agrees with the Tomatometer 79% of the time. A contrarian he most certainly is not as evidenced by his last fifty submissions and only seven of them disagree with the consensus. Compare that to rampant contrarian Armond White who has agreed precisely half the time over his last fifty reviews. Good and bad is not necessarily Travers' problem. It's that his recommendations are indistinguishable from the quote whores whom we instinctually do not trust. Look at two of his quotes last week for Fox and Fox Searchlight. 86% in the positive for both of their films and this is what they took from Travers.

"A fireworks display of action, smarts and fun, plus a touch of class from actors who can really act. Irresistible. Go mutants! You just made this summer movie the badass place to be." (X-Men: First Class)

"Brad Pitt gives a performance of indelible explosive power." (The Tree of Life)

When you look at the quotes to come out of 2011, four of the nine instances involving a variation of something exploding come directly from Peter Travers. Here are the other five:

"Explosive." (Unknown) - Prairie Miller
"Explosive 3D action like you've never seen." (Drive Angry) - Capone, AICN
"...a comedic explosion." (Hall Pass) - Joel Amos,
"Explosive. It will blow your mind." (Sucker Punch) - Rick Florino
"A hyper-charged, high octane thrill ride locked and loaded with engaging performances and explosive action!" (The Mechanic) - Rick Florino

But that is nothing compared to Travers lack of variation on the theme over the years.

"Epic fireworks." (Thor)

"Sets off sexual fireworks that leave scorched Earth..." (We Don't Live Here Anymore)

"Explosive!" (Shine a Light)

"Explosive!" (Restrepo)

"The laughs are as explosive as the screams." (Drag Me To Hell)

"A mind-blowing comedy classic…It will make you laugh till it hurts and you’ll still beg for more. Cohen’s total immersion in his character is a wonder to behold. His performance is a tour de force that sets off comic and cosmic explosions in your head." (Borat)

"Think of all the ways you can hurt yourself laughing, as in fall down, split your sides, bust a gut, blow your mind. You get it all in Tropic Thunder, a knockout of a comedy that keeps you laughing constantly. It’s also killer smart, lacing combustible action with explosive gags." (Tropic Thunder)

"James McAvoy's performance is powerfully implosive." (The Conspirator)

"Julianne Moore is explosively good." (A Single Man)

"If you want to see explosive acting, just watch Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett ignite." (Notes on a Scandal)

"Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give two of the most explosive and emotionally naked performances you will see anywhere." (Blue Valentine)

"The year’s richest, most emotionally explosive film. A towering achievement." (Babel)

"You can’t tear your eyes away from this explosion of sounds and images." (American Hardcore)

"A landmark crime saga. Explosive! One of the best movies of the year. Public Enemies comes at you like Dillinger did: all of a sudden. It’s movie dynamite." (Public Enemies)

"As the film follows its tragic course, Burton scores an explosive triumph." (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

"A total triumph! Brimming with humor and heart. If there’s a better movie around this year with more bristling purpose, I haven’t seen it. An American classic! Explosive. It will pin you to your seat." (Milk)

"Expect fireworks! Doubt will pin you to your seat. The actors could not be better. Meryl Streep is unmissable and unforgettable. You may have doubts about which side to choose, but there’s no doubt about this mind-bender. It is explosive." (Doubt)

Travers must really feel a kinship with Ryan Lee's fireworks/explosives "expert" from Super 8, or maybe even was that kid. More of that film in a minute though. We move on to quote #25 of Travers from last week.

"Funny, touching and altogether extraordinary! A never-better Christopher Plummer is simply stupendous. He has yet to win an Oscar. Here's a great excuse for the Academy to get cracking. Ewan McGregor goes bone-deep in a performance of shining subtlety. Melanie Laurent is excellent." (Beginners)

Here we have another film in the 85th percentile with a big, big quote from the master of shining subtlety. Oh, I'm sorry, that's Ewan McGregor. My mistake. See if you can play the Match Game better than I can.

"George Clooney is transfixing. Clooney inhabits this burnt-out case with haunting brilliance. It’s a bone-deep performance that raises the bar." (Michael Clayton)

"Frank Langella gives the performance of a lifetime as Nixon in a bone-deep tour de force." (Frost/Nixon)

"A juicy, career-crowning role. Bridges - a master of subtle brilliance - plays the hell out of it. Not by showing off, but by going bone-deep into a character who only thinks he's running on empty. Crazy Heart may finally win him the Oscar that's unfairly eluded him and it offers the pleasure of watching a great actor at the peak of his form." (Crazy Heart)

Wow! That could actually be good news for Christopher Plummer. It seems that when Travers points out how bone deep a performance can go, that actor is destined to wind up with an Oscar nomination. Oh, I'm sorry, that's Ewan McGregor again that he said that about. The little P.T. does call for Academy voters to pay attention to and take notes on Plummer though, which could be a good thing or a bad thing coming from this guy.

"Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, have Oscar written all over them." (Walk the Line)

"Hits the jackpot! Alec Baldwin's revelatory portrayal is the stuff Oscars are made of. A knockout!" (The Cooler)

"This marvel of a movie lives up to its buzz as an Oscar contender." (Big Fish)

"Bravo Bardem. An Oscar-worthy performance." (Biutiful)

"Jenkins delivers a master class in acting. The Visitor is a heartfelt human drama that sneaks up and floors you. Oscar take note." (The Visitor)

"And Depp is simply stupendous. He erases the line between singing and acting, fusing them into something that keeps the movie blazing. Oscar, take note." (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

"Hilary Swank fires on all cylinders. Sam Rockwell burst through with a spectacular performance - Oscar needs to take notice." (Conviction)

"Start the Oscar talk now for Bill Murray!" (Lost in Translation)

"Start the Oscar buzz now! P.S. is Laura Linney's show, and she makes it hilarious and haunting." (P.S.)

"Put Chris Cooper in the running pronto for next year’s Best Actor Oscar." (Breach)

"Mol is hot stuff! The first performance by an actress this year that deserves serious Oscar consideration." (The Notorious Bettie Page)

"Tom Wilkinson gives a towering performance of grace and grit that deserves to put him on Oscar's shortlist..." (Separate Lies)

"Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco give award-caliber performances in Tamara Jenkins’ funny, touching and vital film." (The Savages)

"A funny, touching and vital film. Clive Owen gives a heartfelt, award-caliber performance." (The Boys Are Back)

"A funny, touching, vital script by Jenny Lumet. Anne Hathaway delivers an acting tour de force." (Rachel Getting Married)

"Sally Hawkins is irresistible in this funny, touching and vital salute to women." (Made In Dagenham)

"Sarah Jessica Parker is funny, touching and vital." (Sex and the City)

"Some kind of miracle! From Sondheim to the Stones, Graff creates something funny, touching and vital." (Camp)

"Helen Mirren is acting royalty. An Oscar is long overdue. Funny and touching in ways you can’t predict. Helen Mirren’s performance is a crowning achievement." (The Queen)

If I had to predict, I might also say it was "vital." Or it could be "extraordinary" like Beginners? Enjoying those Travers puns by the way? We're going to jump ahead briefly to this week's Traversism. Paramount disappointed us again by using the Trav. After using him more than any other studio in 2010 (a Bueller-like nine times) they were doing so well this year shutting him out until sneaking in his "epic fireworks" quote onto the Thor commercials. They have three of the ten best-reviewed wide releases of the year and they have still found room for Travers on two of them. As pointed out earlier, it only took a quick glance over Travers' review for J.J. Abrams' Super 8 (another film in the 80th percentile of positive) to find the one stand-out line that he got in there to get himself quoted. On Twitter, I thought that if Paramount were going to take the bait, that they would have at least shortened it to the bare essential. Instead, they used the whole thing:

"In Super 8, J.J. Abrams makes us care. This movie, a true beauty, will put a spell on you."

Truth be told, the only real spellbinder in my mind is the one where Kelly Preston got naked. But to each his own. And over. And over again.

"A thing of beauty, hugely entertaining and way cool!" (Finding Nemo)

"A beauty of a movie." (Then She Found Me)

"...a spellbinder of breathtaking beauty and terror." (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

"…This film portrait casts a spell…" (Tupac Resurrection)

"It's a spellbinder. Prepare to be wowed." (Let Me In)

"A knockout! Spellbinding! It spins a web that will pull you in. A thriller that really thrills." (The Lookout)

"It pins you to your seat. A spellbinder! The stuff that dreams are made of!" (Brick)

"This spellbinder will sneak up and floor you. It's that good." (The Secret In Their Eyes)

"There's magic in it. Allen and Elliott perform acting miracles in this quietly devastating spellbinder. Scott has built a movie that sneaks up and knocks you flat." (Off the Map)

"What gives this spellbinder a similar raw power is the way Boyer reveals the parallels between DeLuca and Sutherland." (I Trust You to Kill Me)

"This is the bravest, riskiest role of Dench’s film career. It’s spellbinding to watch her blow the lid off." (Notes on a Scandal)

"Lou Pucci rides this spellbinder!" (Thumbsucker)

"A spellbinding true crime story. Potent and provocative." (All Good Things)

"A one-of-a-kind spellbinder that’s not afraid to shock!" (The Libertine)

"Michael Moore isn’t the only filmmaker packing enough heat to bust out of the documentary ghetto. Lores uncovers the dark heart of obsession. The electrifying result will blow you away. A shockingly fierce and funny spell-binder that leaves your head spinning." (Crazy Love)

"A spellbinder that builds unbearable suspense without losing sight of the story’s grieving heart. Fierce and fiendishly funny…A new career peak for the Coen Brothers." (No Country for Old Men)

"...holds you spellbound! Jonathan Demme directs his best film in years. Hang on for an emotional powerhouse." (Rachel Getting Married)

"Full-out, in-your-face rock & roll. A master director shining his light on the best rock band on the planet. It’s a you-are-there spellbinder." (Shine a Light)

"Ang Lee’s potently erotic and suspenseful Lust, Caution casts a spell you won’t want to break! Ang Lee is a true master." (Lust, Caution)

"Johansson is tart and terrific, exuding enough come-on carnality to singe the screen…the effect of this mesmerizing mind teaser is spellbinding." (Match Point)

Spellbinding…As timely as it is thrilling to watch. In the expert hands of director Pascale Ferran, Lady Chatterley is a sizzler in every sense of the word." (Lady Chatterley)

"Spellbinding! A chillingly intense psychological thriller! Involves God, sex and murder!" (Enduring Love)

"A crowning achievement. A potently erotic spellbinder. A vision that will be talked about for years. Sex, lies and carnal fury spark one of the year’s best films. Where Atonement is concerned, the only sin would be to miss it." (Atonement)

"There's more killer suspense in this one-of-a-kind film than you'll find in a dozen thrillers. You'll be talking about this spellbinder for weeks. It pushes every button. Don't let anyone spoil this story." (Catfish)

Maybe best not to have people talking about it then. More risk for spoilers, wouldn't you think? But, alas, we come to the piece de resistance of Travers' most recent five quotes. Up until now we have seen him repeat himself over and over, sometimes contradictory, on films of various genre with somewhat mirthless glee. If you unfamiliar with the term of "mirth," it is quite simply a fancy way of exclaiming laughter, amusement or most other displays of general merriment. It derives from the Old English term of "myrgth" and Mr. Travers will be happy to use it in a sentence for you.

"A blast! A kissing, kick-ass cousin to Shaun of the Dead. The dream team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – not to mention choice bits from Steve Coogan, Bill Nighy and Timothy Dalton – lace the mayhem with mirth." (Hot Fuzz)

"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." (The Extra Man)

"Soul Men is a chance to salute these masters of mirth and music." (Soul Men)

Thank you, Dr. Travers, but we only needed one. Now, a film opened last week in limited release called Submarine, which played at last year's Toronto and this January's Sundance Film Festivals. In January of 2010, a film called Youth In Revolt opened in theaters having played the previous year's Toronto fest. We invite you now to take a look at the IMDB page synopses for both of these films. They have not been altered or paraphrased in any way.

Youth In Revolt (2010) - "While his trailer trash parents teeter on the edge of divorce, Nick Twisp sets his sights on dream girl Sheeni Saunders, hoping that she'll be the one to take away his virginity."

Submarine (2011) - "15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life."

The films have undeniable comparisons to one another, including the shyness of its teenage heroes taking up variances of different personas in order to score the girl of their dreams. Which film does it better is up to the viewer. (I prefer Youth.) But now we want you to look at Peter Travers quotes on the same two films and you can decide again which one is better.

A tasty comic treat! Michael Cera delivers his best performance yet! Destruction ensues. Also, sex and laughs lace the mirth with malice. (Youth In Revolt) - Peter Travers

Hilarious! Blends mirth & malice with deadpan brilliance. (Submarine) - Peter Travers

Again, not altered or paraphrased in any way. Oh, studios, you just don't get it, do you?

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originally posted: 06/11/11 02:07:07
last updated: 06/11/11 02:23:04
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