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Criticwatch - Drowning In A Sea Of Non-Critics

by Erik Childress

Whenever a story comes out about the relevancy of film critics in this day and age I often laugh it off or wave it away completely. It's a question that seemingly is asked every six months. I participated on one panel where the topic is brought up at the Chicago International Film Festival last October and this April I'll be on a panel at the C2E2 convention entitled "Your Opinion Sucks!" hosted by Rotten Tomatoes Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity and Senior Editor Grae Drake. Shameless plug aside it will be interesting to interact with an audience who I suspect will be a step above the average fanboy looking to throw feces on anyone who dares disagree with them that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the greatest film of all-time. A discussion for another time. For now we will look specifically at two studios who have gone out of their way to keep actual critics as far removed from their marketing plans as possible.

It is hard to know where to begin on David Ayer's Sabotage. The writer/director who has made a living out of writing edgy crime dramas involving men sitting in cars seems like an interesting choice for Arnold Schwarzenegger to team up with in phase three of his own career. Ayer is certainly no stranger to the kind of bloody violence that Arnold thrived in during the '80s and has begun making a return to in films like The Last Stand and The Expendables 2. Yet this is a screenplay so convoluted - and poorly-acted to boot - that the vicious blood bursts are more an awkward standout than some reminder that this is a gritty, realistic look at the DEA's war vs. drug cartels. Even a Schwarzenegger fan such as myself who can find enjoyment simply in the kind of line readings that have become historic in impression circles could not find complete solace in the momentary amusement of dialogue like "MONSTER, NO!" Apparently there were though and Open Road really opened the door wide to find some of their quotes this week. Including what may rank as one of the all-time dumb quotes to ever hit the pages of Criticwatch.

We start with a name you might recognize though. Remember Mark DeCarlo? He used to host a game show called Studs. More probably remember him as the guy with the great John Houseman name "Alec Berrrrrg" on Seinfeld as the friend Jerry refused to thank for the hockey playoff tickets. Mark has certainly kept himself busy over the years and even hosted the Chicago Film Critics Association awards ceremony back in 2013. Currently he is a contributor to Windy City Live, the daytime talk show that was originally the replacement for Oprah after she left the airwaves. However, that show's resident film critic is Richard Roeper. So why do we see this on the television spots?

"An action-packed thrill ride." - Mark DeCarlo, ABC-TV

Let it be known that DeCarlo is certainly the most prominent name being featured on the ads. But he is not a film critic. He will tell you that. Hell, he made fun of film critics hosting the dang film critics ceremony. No hard feelings, of course. But I think even Mark would be embarrassed given the company that Open Road has placed him in.

"A powerhouse film" - Carlos Trejo, Estrella TV

Now if you can find anything on a critic (and not the footballer - unless they are the same person) you're a more patient researcher than I am. Normally the easiest way to spot a quote whore is to run a Google search and when nary a written review, TV segment or even website mention comes up - you have your answer. Like Ron Burgundy, I don't speak Spanish. But in absence of hearing the term "el critico" associated with any of our findings on Carlos Trejo, let's just assume this is who Open Road found to give them a "powerhouse" quote.

"Amazing" - Celeste Santana, Acceso Total-Telemundo

The Telemundo route continues on the film about the DEA's battle against a drug cartel. Curious attempt at an endorsement, Open Road. Almost as curious as continuing to keep the non-critics as your lead source of support. Case in point, Celeste Santana, the "Venezuelan Model and TV Host" (her words in that order.) She's entitled to her opinion, just like any moviegoer. But I'm not sure that any ol' moviegoer is looking to the opinion of a Venezuelan model on an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. No Twitter responses at their disposal from when Arnold came to Chicago the night of the Oscars to introduce the film? Is that the best you could find, Open Road?

"Great" - Samantha Gutstadt, AskMen

Oh, great. Who is this now?

"Samantha is an ACTRESS, ON CAMERA HOST and MODEL." That according to her own website. "Oh and she claims she can beat almost anyone at Tennis." The co-star of Shark City is the person that Open Road has turned to in order to sell you on Sabotage. Look, nothing against models or the stars of a film called Shark City that has nothing to do with Great Whites menacing the urban landscape. But we don't expect models to be film critics anymore than we expect film critics to be models. The only model being vilified is the one where studios call upon people with an informed knowledge about cinema to be front and center on the free promotion they get on their latest release. Trust an actual film critic when I say that the words "great," "amazing," or "powerhouse" do not accurately describe Sabotage. Is there anyone out there who can give us a more dead-on description?

"Training Day meets End of Watch." - Mac Hernandez, CW33

And we have arrived at the fateful moment. That dumbest quote ever referenced earlier? There you have it. Big movie followers understand why it's ridiculous. Clearly both films about cops driving around in cars. One is about a dirty cop skimming drug money and the other takes a found footage approach to officers and their everyday lives. OK, so not exactly clear how End of Watch is like Sabotage, but that doesn't matter. Why?


It is bad enough when a quote whore is so short-sighted enough to just come up with a comparison of films involving the last one made by one of the stars. (Or see "since The Notebook" to describe any Nicholas Sparks adaptation.) But it is worse to compare two films made by the same director; the same two films that the studio is already REFERENCING to sell the film to the public. The ads may as well say:

"From the maker of Training Day and End of Watch comes...Training Day meets End of Watch."

That is not an endorsement but an accusation. It says that David Ayer's latest film doesn't have enough forward vision in his career to go beyond just copying the models of his previous works. At the NightCap TV website, Mac Hernandez is listed as a "Producer, camera operator and editor." While model is not mentioned on that resume, neither is film critic. Its understandable that Open Road would seek positivity wherever they could find it (the film currently has a 22% at Rotten Tomatoes), it doesn't mean that the quotes they choose have to be so ridiculous or that they couldn't find 1% of that 22% to say something more legitimate.

Criticwatch is not meant to be just a snarky aside that points fingers. It has tried to remain a consistent protector for film critics everywhere against the wickedness of self-aggrandizing junket reporters and studios who in their dreams would rather treat us the way Larry Levy proposes in The Player. Look at what Paramount did with Noah. Instead of getting film critics on their side they decided to nearly cut them out of the process completely in order to concentrate on the religious sectors whose mind was already made up and started spewing vitriol before ever seeing a frame. Pure numbers-wise this made no sense as The Fountain is the only Darren Aronofsky film to rank lower than 78% at Rotten Tomatoes. (Noah is currently as 78%, tied with the director's first film, Pi.)

Instead, Paramount showed it to their junket people. They got Peter "Big Ass Whore" Travers to call the film "epic." Then they withheld the film until two days before it opened to get the excitement of the critics going. And excited they should be since its one of the very best films of a very young year. I understand we are all considered heathens and all but to dismiss the story of Noah as just biblical fantasy would be to ignore both the spiritual and humanist questions that its eight columns in the good book lay the foundation for. In turn, if you choose to ignore looking at those questions under the guise of misplaced outrage that Aronofsky's film isn't a literal interpretation of that story, than you may not even qualify as human.

If Noah was meant to be to the very literal interpretation that some people wanted, the film would be 47 minutes long and feature next to no dialogue. Surely some of those would be happen to again silence the woman as the Bible often did. And if you are upset that "God" is never mentioned in the film, do not worry. He is there. His presence is felt. He has just under anonymity of "The Creator" in order to hide from YOU.

Paramount could have had the foresight to show their big spectacle to film critics early enough and then enlisted THEM to go out on the Catholic Tour to hold open, thoughtful discussions on the film, themes and literalism. Most Catholics can be very mindful of what it means to be one and the headier questions that are wrapped in fables and actions in the collection of stories found in every hotel room. Instead, the studio chose to recruit the lowest common denominator and may have left too many people off the boat to avoid drowning in the big budget they laid out for this project.

Maybe we're being too hard on Paramount. After all, the film was an enormous risk to greenlight in the first place. Not because it's a religious film; even one with great spectacle to it that cost a ton. But because Darren Aronofsky is not a filmmaker that was going to treat it as simple spectacle. Succeed or fail he was going to try to provide some greater depth to a story he's been thinking about since he was thirteen and that would fit nicely into a filmography that has been rich with the search for a higher power, whether it be science, drugs, fame or forgiveness. Catholics and moviegoers alike will find that kind of power in Noah and here is hoping that moving forward, Paramount will recognize the need to treat the film as one that can be enjoyed by those who like to think along with being enthralled visually and emotionally. Whatever the final budget actually is, the studio have invested in something that shouldn't be dismissed as a simplistic spectacle.

"If you liked Braveheart, Gladiator, and Titanic, You will love Noah." - Kathleen Parker, The Washington Post

On the other hand if we have learned anything here at Criticwatch it is to be open to differing opinions. Like disputing the earlier assumption that Training Day Meets End of Watch is the dumbest goddamn quote we were going to hear this year.

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originally posted: 03/29/14 02:41:45
last updated: 03/29/14 03:48:59
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