When I called out the ever-affable Pete Hammond for calling How To Train Your Dragon "the first great movie of 2010," some missed the point. In no way was I being critical of the film itself or someone who believes that it was amongst the cream of the crop, but merely questioning how that same someone could put those words together when they had already been quoted as giving equally high praise to ten other films in this very young year. Hammond's tally is up to 13 this week.
So here we are a week later with Warner Bros.' Clash of the Titans. Barely clinging to an above-30% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, Clash is hardly the worst-reviewed opening of the week. That would be the new Miley Cyrus/Nicholas Sparks opus, The Last Song, at 13% positive (including a recommendation by Mr. Hammond.) But when an unscreened Tyler Perry film is getting better reviews, you might want to be wary of anyone giving Clash a pass.
Like Kevin Steincross who called it "thrilling from start to finish" and thought The Love Guru was "hysterical." Or Maria "fantastic" Salas, who thought The Bounty Hunter featured "a hilarious combination." Rick Florino said "it's breathtaking." He also said that last year's The Haunting In Connecticut was "the scariest movie since The Exorcist." Are these the critics you really want to trust?
Studios can choose to screen their films for the press in a variety of manners. The advance press with the soft junket crowd is great on jumping the gun before the serious-minded cinematic observers have their crack at it. Of course we understand what it means when the film is hidden from press entirely. Or nearly entirely. Last December, Movieweb's Jami Philbrick got quoted on two films that didn't screen for critics. On the same weekend. Both the "explosive, fully-loaded fun" of Armored and the film still looking for a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes, Transylmania, which apparently we all missed out on as "a laugh riot that ignites the screen with sexiness!" Philbrick didn't get as grandiose a quote on Clash, simply getting on the record that it is "exciting."
Getting a bit more praise in was Chicago's own Dean Richards from WGN radio and TV, who was infamously called an "asshole" by Mel Gibson when he asked him about his controversial off-screen antics during an interview for WB's Edge of Darkness. Dean thought Clash was "spectacular" and "thrilling big fun" and "a must see!" When he reviewed the latest "James" Worthington adventure he went even further and gave it a "B-". So, as you can see -- whoa whoa WHOA -- a B-? That is barely a passing grade on the film critic scale. How does a film that only marginally passes become "a must see?" If you are not asking yourself that question, you must still be stuck on the sentence referring to the film's star as James instead of Sam. I am only the messenger. That is what Mr. Richards called him in his review.
These are all small fish in the junket pond though. One of the crown rulers of the pre-release quote hype over the years has been Jim Ferguson, a board member for the Broadcast Film Critics Association (to whom Richards, Salas and Steincross all belong.) He is telling you to "take this fantastic journey" called Clash of the Titans, "a non-stop action adventure with state-of-the-art special effects." Jeez, a big-budget studio film and it has the tippity-top of special effects technology? Who woulda thunk that a $125 million budget went towards that instead of all the wood seen in the picture - I mean, the actors. For Warner Bros. though, hooking Jim Ferguson up with as many amenities as possible to see their films early has turned out to be an equally good investment. Can't say if anyone actually listens to the guy, but they sure as heck get the words they want out of him -- or at least the words put into his mouth. For every Happy Feet, Corpse Bride or The Invention of Lying - well - take a look for yourself and remember what you saw the next time his name is on an ad.
16 Blocks - "16 Blocks of excitement!"
Firewall - "Outstanding! A taut, intelligent action thriller."
Troy - "Troy is a masterpiece. Brad Pitt's portrayal of Achilles is magnificent."
Speed Racer - "One of the most exhilarating movies you'll ever see."
Superman Returns - "Sensational!"
Lady in the Water - "Sensational! Don't miss this wonderful, unique and inspirational film."
Racing Stripes - "Stripes is the Seabiscuit of all zebras! Inspirational fun and funny for all!"
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed - "Mystery Inc does it again. This time better than ever"
A Cinderella Story - "The perfect summer comedy for the whole family. Hilary Duff makes the perfect Cinderella."
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - "A must see. This film is one of the year's biggest surprises. Outstanding drama with terrific writing and acting. One of the best films of the year."
My Sister's Keeper - "Powerful and moving."
Kangaroo Jack – "An action comedy for the entire family!"
What a Girl Wants – "Finally a great movie for the whole family."
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past - "Hilarious! McConaughey and Garner deliver."
Yes Man - "The best comedy of the year! Hilarious from start to finish. If you're in for a big laugh say yes to Yes Man."
Just Friends - "You'll laugh from beginning to end."
The In-Laws (2003) – "Nonstop fun and laughs".
Alex and Emma – "The best romantic comedy of the year."
The Lake House - "A rare and unique love story. There should be more movies like this one!"
The Blind Side - "A true story that's so good it feels like fiction."
That was not fiction. Remember.