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Criticwatch - The Savage Pete Hammond

by Erik Childress

Last week in Criticwatch we praised Universal Pictures for their early Savages ads. It contained all the words and phrases we would expect to see in one before the movie comes out. Only this one was more old-fashioned. Gone were the quotation marks and the meaningless junketeer names we're become accustomed to. It was simple, antiquated and a welcome relief from the need to acknowledge that these quotes were usually either pre-written by the studios anyway and snatched up by critics who couldn't be relied on to find a way of expressing their thoughts with a keyboard. That bravo to Universal now must go bye-bye as the big DeMille-sized letters on their commercials for Oliver Stone's latest have been replaced by ones with a name attached to them. Forgive me for not memorizing Blake Lively's definition of the term "savage" as spelled out in the film. As I have never met the person in question it would certainly be unfair to label him with brands of "rude", "cruel," or "uncivilized." But the number ten definition at the ol', "a member of a preliterate society" seems to fit Pete Hammond pretty well.

Hammond is one of the few quote whores that does actually write reviews. Unlike most critics though, insight and prose worth reading, are qualities he lacks. If you can make it past the first paragraph of his Savages review where he refers to it as "the perfect 'Stone-r' flick" you're a better person than I. Hammond's ability to turn a hyperbolized phrase just ripe for plucking for studio marketers is evident no less than three times in his opening referring to the film as a "blood-soaked, sex and drug-fueled ride," "one of Stone's best movies" and to finish the above phrase, "the perfect 'Stone-r' flick for adults who seek strong, no-holds-barred action without a single superhero in sight." Amazing that Universal's marketers would read past such obvious choices to sell their counterprogramming. In fact it takes until the last sentence for the studio to have their quote.

"Like it or not, Savages is great screen entertainment: a tough, violent, brutally thrilling movie not to be missed. Oliver Stone is back where he belongs."

With the two biggest Peters in the business - Travers and Hammond - it is always interesting to speculate on what came first - the quote or the review. Just two weeks ago, Travers' quote on the ads for Brave were nowhere to be found in his written or video review posted at Rolling Stone. Hell, even the quote he provided to Rotten Tomatoes ("a rousing, gorgeously animated good time.") was nowhere to be found. So we did a little poking around Hammond's write-ups to see if the tail is wagging the dog or the other way around.

We never got a chance to call Hammond out on one of the dumbest quotes he has had all year, so we'll ease into the list that way.

"Like Toy Story 3 this Madagascar proves 3 is the charm. It's easily the best one yet!"

This is reminiscent of his "light year" quote for Wanted where he didn't seem to understand that it's a measure of distance and not time. Here he does not seem to grasp the meaning of the phrase "the third time's the charm." The implication being of the "at first, you don't succeed..." mentality and what he is implying here is that, like Madagascar, the first two Toy Story films didn't work and it wasn't until the third chapter that the filmmakers finally got their act together and made a good movie. The third time isn't the charm if the first two times were already good. At the very least he should have learned this from My Cousin Vinny ("for me, six times was the charm.") Since Hammond only came aboard the whole "critic" scene full time in 2004, there is no evidence to suggest if he ever did like the first two Toy Storys. Perhaps he took offense to a villain being named "Stinky Pete." In our attempt to be as fair as possible though, we would have looked like a bit of an ass if we just took Hammond's ad quote as the full representation of what he said in his review, which is as follows:

"Three is the charm for DreamWorks Animation's entertaining installment of their popular Madagascar franchise. In fact, Europe's Most Wanted is so full of laughs and great characters, it's easily the best in the series. Like Toy Story 3, the Madagascar gang just gets better with time, and this new adventure is funny, exciting and heartwarming."

That clears it up a bit. Kind of. Maybe? The quote in the ad is certainly not the same. Hammond suggests that each film in the Toy Story and Madagascar series get better with each one. He still doesn't get the whole "three is the charm" point, but what is clear is that someone at Universal mashed up Hammond's words until it fit nice and snuggly on the ad; something that is normally asked for approval by the writer from the studio. Who looks like the ass now?

Sometimes it is a very simple process as from years ago when Hammond was asked to change a word from his Hannibal Rising quote so that it would be more palatable for those watching the Super Bowl that year when the ad plays. Here's another example from a few months ago.

"A treasure chest full of laughs! One of the funniest animated films in years."

The opening line of Hammond's actual review read:

"The Pirates! Band of Misfits is one of the funniest animated films in years, or to put it in terms you scallywags can understand: it's a treasure trove of laughs."

One can envision the Sony rep going to Hammond and saying, "Hey, we know people are stupid. Look how many still go to see the Underworld pictures. Would you mind if we changed it to chest? Does anyone really know what a trove is?" Sometimes the studios actually have to work a bit harder to put something together. Look at these excerpts from Hammond's review of What To Expect When You're Expecting:

"What to expect from What to Expect When You're Expecting: laughs, heart and a terrific ensemble of actors doing what they do best."

That was his opening sentence. Two sentences later he says:

"With 35 million copies sold, the must (and most) read book for prospective parents totally delivers a nice platform for an entertaining, if disposable movie experience."

This led to an ad quote which read:

"Totally delivers with lots of laughs, heart and a terrific ensemble of actors at their best."

While you may be wondering how it became "lots of" laughs, it may suddenly dawn on you that there is an awful lot of praise in there for such a "disposable movie experience." When was the last time you saw one of those that "totally delivers." Also of note is Hammond's closing remarks. After praising the male portion of this ensemble as the "best of all," he later says:

"As for the others, Banks fares best among the women but all of them do what is needed to make the thin, but agreeable material work as well as it does. Will Lionsgate decide to spawn a second? One is enough."

What part are you stuck on? The "thin, but agreeable material" that nevertheless "totally delivers" or how the "ensemble of actors at their best" merely "do what is needed" with the exception of Elizabeth Banks? He doesn't even want to see a sequel! Do you think Hammond complained to Lions Gate that he twisted his twisting words around? Or did he give them his blessing with that amalgamated quote? How about last week's People Like Us?

"People Like Us is for people who love great movies. A compelling, beautifully acted, humane and riveting motion picture experience. This is intelligent adult filmmaking at its finest. One of the year's very best!"

We broke down that quote last week as practically a greatest hits of Hammond's bullshit. This week we're going to the review itself to piece it all together. He opens with:

"Filling a welcome void in adult-oriented movies, People Like Us lives up to its title as a welcome diversion from all the comic book, superhero, testosterone-driven flicks that have filled summer 2012. This beautifully acted, humane and riveting film follows a troubled young salesman whose late father leaves him $150,000—to give to the sister he never knew he had."

We found 5 of his 34 words there with a suggestion that this is a film for adults. Skim down to his one sentence paragraph summation:

"Intelligent, adult filmmaking at its finest, People Like Us is that rare bird from a major studio: a movie that matters."

And there you have it. W-Wait a minute. Where's the inference that it is "a compelling motion picture experience?" Not in there. What about it being "one of the year's very best!?" Nope. What about his nauseating "People Like Us is for people who love great movies" as opposed to whom? None of this can be found in Hammond's review which means he either gift-wrapped them exclusively for use on the ad or he blessed the pre-written list of quotes he was given a choice from. Of course, Hammond makes it as easy as possible for them when he can. Just as he did with these previous quotes for Universal earlier this year.

"Inspiring and heartwarming. A whale of a great tale." (Big Miracle)
"Fantastic movie fun for everyone." (Dr. Seuss' The Lorax)
"Ryan Reynolds is terrific in this heart-racing smart action thriller." (Safe House)

They could find just what they needed in the opening paragraphs of his reviews for Big Miracle and The Lorax. But his Safe House review...?

"Ryan Reynolds is terrific in this smart, heart-racing thriller that toplines Denzel Washington, also in ace form as a slippery CIA traitor."

That is his OPENING SENTENCE! What film critic leads their review with a blurb-tastic non-insight into a film that will never be notable for its performances? Probably the same asshole who refers to an Oliver Stone film about drugs as a "stone-r" flick. Can we put up what Universal used on the commercials from his Savages review?

"Savages is great entertainment. A brutally thrilling movie not to be missed. Savages is one of Oliver Stone's best movies." - Pete Hammond

It should be cited that this week he also called The Magic of Belle Isle "one of (Rob) Reiner's best." We have played this game before where, at the very least, to be called one of the best of anyone's resume - particularly a director - it probably has to be a top five choice. Rob Reiner is responsible for The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, Stand By Me, The American President, Misery, The Sure Thing and A Few Good Men. See The Magic of Belle Isle and then get back to us which of those four you want to eliminate to make room to qualify it as "one of Reiner's best." Consequently, Savages is Oliver Stone's most entertaining film in a while and even as a supporter of the good, but flawed W. and his Wall Street sequel, this is still a filmmaker responsible for JFK, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers, Talk Radio and Nixon. Savages, solid enough, still isn't quite up to those standards. But when we are talking about Pete Hammond, what does standards have to do with anything?

"Terrific entertainment. A truly outstanding crime drama. Highly suspenseful." (The Lookout)
"Sensational! North Country is crackling good entertainment that also stands out as one of the year's most important movies." (North Country)
"Amelia simply soars. Director Mira Nair has crafted a big, beautiful and sweeping motion picture biography about a true American legend. Amelia is grand entertainment in the best tradition of the movies." (Amelia)
"Piercing, intelligent and literate high style adult entertainment" (The City of Your Final Destination)
"Truly Awesome. Hilarious, heartwarming entertainment for all ages." (Toy Story 3)
"The biggest and best of the series. Sensational! Pure entertainment from start to finish." (High School Musical 3)
"Pure entertainment!" (City Island)
"A rollicking good time…guaranteed! Pure entertainment with great music, wit and a dream cast!" (A Prairie Home Companion)
"The perfect summer comedy. Pure solid-gold entertainment! Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts prove to be a dream screen team." (Larry Crowne)
"Perfect summer entertainment" (Angels and Demons)
"Here's the perfect grown-up summer entertainment, packed with action served up in sleek, ultra-cool style." (Miami Vice)
"Heart-pounding action! Total entertainment from start to finish!" (National Treasure: Book of Secrets)

"Utterly hypnotic…mesmerizing and thrillingly original." (A Scanner Darkly)
"An animation triumph! Thrilling, funny, charming and inspiring." (Kung Fu Panda)
"A visual stunner that takes animated films to thrilling new heights!" (Coraline)
"King Kong rules over all the others. As big, breathtakingly exciting and relentlessly thrilling as any epic adventure the screen has seen in many years!" (King Kong)
"Magnificent! An incredible, heartwarming and 100% thrilling action/adventure you won't forget." (Eight Below)
"It's a thrilling adventure and just plain fun." (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time)
"...Thrilling...A major movie event! Rosario Dawson will knock you out!" (Rent)

"A major motion picture achievement. A Mighty Heart stands apart as a powerful, provocative and spellbinding film. Your heart pounds as you watch this story meticulously unfold under Michael Winterbottom's expert direction. This is a movie not to be missed..." (A Mighty Heart)
"Not to be missed! A great script and two beautifully matched actors." (The Guard)
"Creation is rich and involving. A fascinating movie with a wonderful lead performance by Paul Bettany not to be missed." (Creation)
"A timeless masterwork! Jarhead is one of this year's can't-miss movies, unlike any other war film you will ever see. Leading a brilliant cast Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx are simply superb." (Jarhead)
"Don't dare miss it! It's that rare achievement moviegoers around the world should be deeply thankful for." (Joyeux Noel)
"This is one of those rare gems you must not miss." (Control)
"A remarkably accomplished and moving film. An unforgettable experience you don't want to miss." (Fugitive Pieces)
"Don't miss. A pulse-pounding thriller." (The Whistleblower)
"Do not miss this film." (Zodiac)
"Whatever it takes, don't miss this movie." (Inception)
"Don't even think about missing this one." (Little Miss Sunshine)
"Finally, a really smart and really funny movie about the ups and downs of life, love and family. The can't miss it, gotta see it feel great comedy of the year." (Dan In Real Life)
"The comedy you don't want to miss this holiday season." (Yes Man)
"This summer's freshest, raunchiest, smartest comedy surprise. A movie fully charged with huge booming laughs and a big heart. Wanna have a good time, DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE!" (The Change-Up)

This next set of quotes was just from 2011. In the order of which they were released.

"A must-see movie that will have you talking long afterwards. Challenging and provocative." (Trust)
"Extraordinary! The first truly great movie in 2011. Susanne Bier has crafted a riveting movie that must be seen. A major cinematic achievement." (In a Better World)
"A must see! A towering, unforgettable epic...Director Roland Joffe returns to the stirring tradition of his greatest films, The Killing Fields and The Mission." (There Be Dragons)
"*****. Remarkable. Riveting. Oscar-worthy. This is a must-see with the ability to change hearts and minds." (A Better Life)
"The must-see movie event of 2011." (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2)
"Riveting. A must-see! Warrior packs the kind of punch-to-the-gut wallop the screen hasn't seen in years. An unforgettable experience! "(Warrior)

We now return you to the rest of Hammond's quoted quotables.

"A must-see movie. A social document for a generation that has as much relevance now as movies like On the Waterfront, Network, All the President's Men and The Graduate did in their time. Mesmerizing." (The Social Network)
"Absolutely mesmerizing! An Oscar-worthy must-see movie for our times." (Brothers)
"The must-see movie of 2008. Kristin Scott Thomas' moving and luminous performance has raw power that almost indescribable. This transcends acting. It's life." (I've Loved You So Long)
"A powerful, compelling and shocking drama that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger deliver explosive performances. A certain must-see this fall!" (The Burning Plain)
"A must see." (American Hardcore)
"A must-see! Princess Kaiulani is a rich, romantic and captivating movie experience." (Princess Kaiulani)
"A funny, romantic, seriously smart comedy. Do yourself a big favor and put this movie at the top of your must-see list." (Starter for 10)
"Razor sharp writing and direction. David Duchovny is perfect. It's a must-see movie!" (The TV Set)
"Hugely entertaining. A must-see. Peter O'Toole is simply remarkable." (Venus)
"One of the most powerful films in years. Exhilarating. A movie you must see. Adam Sandler is simply remarkable." (Reign Over Me)
"A bone-chilling, disturbing thriller. Vital and powerfully important. A movie that should - and must - be seen." (Trade)
"Mind-bending! Jim Carrey skillfully leads us on a twisted trek with hair-raising jolts. A must-see movie." (The Number 23)
"A must-see film that audiences will love." (The Bucket List)

Christ, Hammond is even qualifying The Bucket List as part of the must-see Rob Reiner canon. Where does it end? We are asking that of you now Universal (and ALL of you studios out there.) The math on this is very simple. You continue to not invite a majority of real critics to your junkets. The few whores that do attend and write reviews, you are just going to change what they said anyway to fit your marketing scheme, so why do you need them either? Whether the chosen words are given to you by the whores or provided to them, those of us in the moviegoing public who actually pay attention to such things know their name underneath is poison. Criticwatch has heard too many times about how little anyone cares about the quotes on movie ads - unless it is from a legitimate source that they recognize - that is seems pointless to continue trotting out a guy like Pete Hammond who only exists to hype as much as he can as often as he can. It might seem good business for you to have a guy like that on your list, but those you are trying to sell your movie to knows he's a joke. And that's bad for business. So it comes down to old school vs. new school, studios. There are too many good critics out there who can give you not only interesting praise for your films - not to mention solid interviews at your junkets - but lend you the kind of legitimacy you only think you are getting now. Let's get their thoughts out there on the early ads. Or, forget change altogether and just go back to the old ways. I doubt even Pete Hammond could muster up this much hype in a single minute. Oh, who am I kidding? Though you certainly wouldn't see his name under the words "INTACT..." and "UNCUT..."

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originally posted: 07/06/12 23:58:28
last updated: 07/07/12 00:23:27
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