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Criticwatch - Crazy Stupid Cowboys, Alien and Whores, Oh My!

by Erk Childress

This week we have a couple of good flicks hitting theaters. And The Smurfs too. How that film was rescued from being one of the worst reviewed films of the year with no less than 10 positive reviews is one for the ages. The ads are 100% quote-free though, so Criticwatch must ignore for now. On the more positive side is Warner Bros.' Crazy, Stupid, Love - their third straight well-reviewed film this month (alongside Horrible Bosses & Harry Potter) and their only three positively received films in all of 2011. Yet, they still haven't figured out to get out of their unholy alliance with their junket whores. In the middle of it all this week is Universal's Cowboys and Aliens, a film I actually enjoyed but was unable to have time to write a full review of due to other commitments, choosing instead to just review it on my weekly radio appearances. Now, if I didn't know me and somehow saw a quote on the ads calling it "a fun piece of escapist summer entertainment with action scenes that trump Captain America" (sorry Captain fans, it's true) I might call me out as a whore that doesn't write reviews and just strings together words in hopes of getting my name in the paper. But I'm not a whore and with the exception of the two Petes (Travers & Hammond) those that write reviews for a living do not tend to write like hyperbolic morons.

Let us dispense with the Warner Bros. side of whoredom first this week. We have kicked them well enough this year, and deservedly, for their constant need to pre-sell their product with worthless salesmen and women. Now, when I see names like Stephen Rebello and Karen Durbin on the ads, I cannot cop to knowing their writing by heart. Magazine critics for Playboy and Elle, they are nevertheless, first and foremost, writers. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman is also on the ads for Crazy, Stupid, Love. I know his work more and tend to disagree with him so frequently and vehemently that I tend to disregard his opinions outright. But he's not a whore. He's a critic. And a writer.

"Unpredictable. Richly detailed. Terrifically acted. Funny as hell. Flat-out brilliant." - Stephen Rebello
"A! The single best mainstream movie for adults this summer." - Owen Gleiberman
"A comedy like no other" - Karen Durbin

I see them on a film ad and I go OK, the writers are out front on this one for a change and the studio has bypassed their always-reliable, easy-to-please junket whores. But when I see this...

"Easily one of the best films of the year. That rare film that hits on every emotional level." - Kevin McCarthy
"You'll fall in love with this film." - Maria Salas
"What a great comedy should be. Do yourself a favor and see it." - Ben Lyons

"It's a comic knockout. Sharply funny and touching...A dream cast!" - Peter Travers

...Criticwatch has to immediately be skeptical. Especially when the whores have mixed with the writers into the second stage of the quote game. The first stage tends to be what comes out of the junket. The second is opening weekend. And the third is when the studios realize that real critics don't hate their movie and can actually grab something respectable from an Ebert, a New York Times and some other well-regarded name with recognition.

Kevin McCarthy actually does write movie reviews. 20-of-29 of them in 2011 have been of the positive variety. 82-of-115 in 2010 were positive, including 45 of his last 58 reviews. Makes it kinda hard to choose what's the best though, doesn't it?

"One of the best animated films of the year!" (Megamind)
"One of the best films of the year! You will laugh. You will cry. You will fall in love. Gyllenhaal gives the best performance of his career." (Love and Other Drugs)
"Easily one of the best films of the year. That rare film that hits on every emotional level." (Crazy, Stupid, Love)

Laugh. Cry. Fall in love. Seems like that is a film that hits on every emotional level. Which one was the "rare film" that accomplished that again? What do you expect of a guy who uses not stars to rate his reviews, but pictures of his giddy face? Probably the same that isn't afraid to pun it up when necessary to get attention.

"Hard-hitting. (The Fighter)
"A beautiful and captivating film that you will never forget!" (Water For Elephants)
"Bad-ass!" (Priest)

There's no real pun associated with the movie, Priest, unless you consider that the individual words "bad" and "ass" certainly apply to it. Over to the non-writer side where those same words also apply, we have Maria Salas, whom Warner Bros. have now used FIVE TIMES this year. In the somewhat opposite spectrum of McCarthy's numbers, of the last 14 films Maria Salas has been quoted on since 2010, only TWO of them (Red & X-Men: First Class) were rated in the positive at Rotten Tomatoes. Has Warner Bros. recently contracted her to provide one big positive quote for one of their romance stories each year?

(2004) "Sweet and romantic. A cool modern twist on the classic tale." (A Cinderella Story)
(2006) "It will touch your heart like no other film this year. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are the best on-screen couple of our generation." (The Lake House)
(2009) "A rare gem." (The Time Traveler's Wife)
(2010) "You'll fall in love with Life As We Know It." (Life As We Know It)
(2011) "You'll fall in love with this film." (Crazy, Stupid, Love)

Can't wait to see what we'll fall in love with in 2012. Certainly not Ben Lyons. Jeez, WB, did you not get the memo that nobody likes, trusts, or stands Ben Lyons as an arbiter of good movie taste? Guess not considering that you appear to be the only studio still using what he says. He's only been quoted nine times since last year and, yet, three of his last four have been printed by Warner Bros. You want great comedy, head on over to The Soup with Joel McHale, who can't help mocking the network's resident movie junket whore expert over and over again on the July 22 episode. If Crazy, Stupid, Love is indeed "what a great comedy should be," then it certainly should seem a lot rarer than what Junior Lyons suggests:

"It will make you laugh...Hard" (Hot Tub Time Machine)
"The surprise comedy of the spring...A perfect mix of humor and heart!" (City Island)
"Steve Carell and Tina Fey are a match made in comedy heaven. They're perfect." (Date Night)
"A big cast brings big laughs to this hilarious comedy!" (Death at a Funeral)
"Highly entertaining and extremely funny." (Going the Distance)
"Arthur is brilliant! It's highly entertaining from start to finish." (Arthur)

Those are six of Lyons' last nine quotes. More rareness from these yahoos. Is nothing sacred anymore? Not when it comes to Peter Travers, who gets the opportunity to use two of his most frequent terms and quote phrasing. Johnny, can we please have his quote for Crazy, Stupid, Love again?

"It's a comic knockout. Sharply funny and touching...A dream cast!" - Peter Travers

Thank you, Johnny. Now can you please put on the board the rest of the Travers list for us?

"Funny and touching." (Get Low)
"Funny and touching." (Sunshine Cleaning)
"A funny and touching tale." (Quinceanera)
"Funny, touching and altogether extraordinary!" (Beginners)
"Funny and touching, it works miracles in 3-D." (How To Train Your Dragon)
"Wonderfully funny and touching…Up works miracles." (Up)
"Richly funny and touching. It’s too good to resist." (Last Chance Harvey)
"The darkly delicious Bonham Carter is funny and touching." (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
"Funny and touching in ways you can’t predict." (The Queen)
"A gem! Funny and touching in unexpected ways." (A Prairie Home Companion)
"An absolute stunner! A funny and touching film! It’s something special!" (The Station Agent)

"A knockout!" (The Lookout)
"A knockout!" (Crash)
"A French knockout!" (A Christmas Tale)
"A knockout of a thriller!" (A Prophet)
"A knockout of a comedy that keeps you laughing constantly." (Tropic Thunder)
"Apatow builds a knockout fable of modern immaturity." (Knocked Up)
"Hairspray earns knockout status for its humor, heart and high spirits." (Hairspray)
"A knockout in every way…" (Passing Strange)
"Kinsey wanted to snap the public out of sexual ignorance. And Condon's knockout of a movie tries to do the same." (Kinsey)
"A movie that doesn't pull its punches. It's a knockout!" (Capote)
"Harris and Mortensen make a knockout team." (Appaloosa)
"A knockout performance by Matt Damon" (The Bourne Supremacy)
"Keira Knightley scores a knockout…" (The Duchess)
"One sweet sexy sting of a movie! Edward Burns gives a knockout performance…Confidence is a game worth playing." (Confidence)
"Hits the jackpot! A knockout!" (The Cooler)
"Drop-dead dazzling knockout beautiful…this movie will grab you." (Step Into Liquid)
"A knockout! A visual miracle!" (Rize)
"A game-changer. Dazzling...A visual wonderland that is literally a knockout." (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
"A knockout! Like nothing you've ever seen!" (Hanna)

Somebody please punch that guy. While TraversWatch will take aim at the original Pete soon enough, as sad as it is that he still remains a presence on the studio marketing lists, we now turn our attention to the real gunslingers of the week in Cowboys & Aliens. As aforementioned, a film that I rather enjoyed - not bored, had fun, more entertaining action and far less a mess than Captain America's second half - so there. But who am I? At the moment, just a guy reducing the film down to a sentence or two describing how I felt about it. Without the benefit of a full review to go into the details of its admitted flaws and expand upon why I liked it, that is precisely the kind of instant summation that studios are looking for on the way out of their junket screenings. Only instead of just writing ten lines of hyperbole (or closing my eyes and choosing from a pre-arranged list) I might go back to my room and write my thoughts down in a more analytic format. You know, what I'm paid to do. As a job. Not in goody bags and shwag. For example, on the ads you might see the following quote:

"The biggest, boldest blockbuster this summer." - James Rocchi

Any whore could have said that or any studio flunkie could have come up with that themselves. But James is a writer. An interviewer and a critic, he is often invited to junkets and has received the occasional quote. Studios would be injudicious to ignore his refined vocabulary. To compare with some of the others on the list this week, he has positively reviewed 19 of his last 33 films, or 57% compared to Kevin McCarthy's 69% love fest. While a number of his junket brethren are often credited with being "nice guys," James is the genuine article all around. We may disagree now and again (10 of the last 26 films I saw on his list, say) and I can't imagine how anyone could like Monte Carlo and then call Crazy Stupid Love "phony and without value." But that is a debate the two of us could have for hours as film critics who respect the medium. It is doubtful that coffee sitdown would apply to the others on the C&A ads like:

"The most amazing movie this summer." - Mark S. Allen

How do I know this having never met either of these two guys? Well, for starters, Mark "The Shithead" Allen said on his Reelz Channel show just last week that he is "not a film critic, persay." NOT a film critic. In a world where everybody is considered a critic just be a default saying, here is a guy who openly admits he is not one yet carries a job that brings with it that very definition. It's like a car mechanic convention inviting a guy who once changed a tire...badly! James' quote was part of an interview piece. Who the hell knows where Mark S. Allen got his "amazing" quote?

"Every moment, every scene, every snowflake...Amazing! Your heart will soar and you will believe. The most remarkable film you'll see for years to come." (The Polar Express)
"The best Pirates yet! Epic and amazing!" (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End)
"Amazing, remarkable chemistry and better than the original!" (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2)
"Amazing! Mind-blowing!" (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
"Amazing" (Red Riding Hood)

That's right, Universal. The same guy who called Red Riding Hood, one of the worst reviewed films of the year, "amazing" is saying the same thing now about your film. I don't care if it is a different season and one is "amazing" enough for the month of March and the other for the entire summer. You want some summer quotes from Allen?

"The summer’s biggest thrill ride!" (Terminator: Salvation)
"Awesome! The most amazing images you’ll see on the big screen this summer!" (Poseidon)
"Undoubtedly one of the best movies you’ll see this summer!" (Superman Returns)
"The funniest movie you’ll see this summer!" (You, Me and Dupree)
"The most sizzle you'll see this summer!" (Mr. & Mrs. Smith)
"Awesome! This summer's must-see!" (Bad News Bears)
"The best date movie of the summer!" (Sex and the City)
"Funny, sexy & smart, the perfect summer date movie." (Alex and Emma)

You do realize that from Poseidon to S&TC, that was just ONE summer, right? Five of those eight quotes were for Warner Bros. too. No wonder they decided to sneak him into their Crazy, Stupid, Love ads this weekend.

"Surprisingly heartfelt and hysterical!" (Crazy, Stupid, Love)
"Fun and Hysterical! The best date movie of the season." (Zack and Miri Make a Porno)
"Hysterical! Bernie Mac is at his absolute best! Perhaps the best buddy picture ever!" (Soul Men)
"Hysterical and heartwarming" (Unaccompanied Minors)
"Simply hysterical! Relentlessly funny and full of surprises!" (Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star)

All that love from a guy who is "not a film critic, per say." Yet, he represents himself as much and Warner Bros. has said "good enough for us" way too often. Guys like Mark S. Allen are a dime-a-dozen, but he's the devil we all know. Nothing further than that, just a devil we know by name. He is most certainly not unlike anything we have ever seen.

This from the opening paragraph of the review from our own Peter Sobczynski:

"Well, why not have a movie that features both cowboys and aliens? After all, in a pop culture firmament in which combining seemingly disparate elements into one has become all the rage for everything from music to chewing gum, the idea of fusing together the Western and the sci-fi spectacular into one giant cinematic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup has a certain logic to it. After all, the two seemingly dissimilar genres share a lot of thematic concerns (you don’t think the cantina scene in “Star Wars” just came out of nowhere, do you?) and it is probably no coincidence that sci-fi movies began their box-office ascendancy just as the Western was fading from view. Besides, the hybrid isn’t even that fresh of an idea as anyone who recalls such epics as “The Phantom Empire” (a 1935 serial that tried to cash in on the popularity of “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” by having singing cowboy Gene Autry discovering a mysterious alien civilization living deep in the earth underneath his ranch) “The Valley of Gwangi” (a 1969 Ray Harryhausen epic in which a cowboy captures a Tyrannosaurus Rex and puts him in a Mexican circus with the expected dire results), “Westworld” (the 1973 Michael Crichton classic with Yul Brynner as a robot gunslinger hunting down Richard Benjamin after all the machines at an A.I.-driven amusement park go murderously hunky) or the more recent likes “Back to the Future III” or “Wild Wild West” (I presume no further explanation is necessary) can attest and I am sure that there have been other examples over the years that I am somehow overlooking for one reason or another."

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originally posted: 08/01/11 01:00:39
last updated: 10/05/18 03:35:06
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