In 2001, Sony advertised some of its movies with rapturous quotes from David Manning of The Ridgefield Press. He loved “A Knight’s Tale,” “The Animal,” “Vertical Limit,” and other pieces of trash that the studio released that year.
Only problem was that, while there is a newspaper in Connecticut called The Ridgefield Press, they didn’t have an employee named David Manning, let alone a movie review by that name.
Sony made him up; a fictional reviewer to review fictional movies.
Naturally, in America, that sort of deception can not go unpunished, so attorney Norman Blumenthal filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who went to see those movies, supposedly because of Manning’s ringing endorsement. Sony has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle the suit, and if you’re willing to admit having paid to see any of those movies, you’re entitled to a $5/ticket reimbursement.
The nonsense here is the claim that any quote from any reviewer is enough to convince someone to go see a movie. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Roger Ebert, Gene Shalit, James Rocchi, or me — if you don’t like a movie we liked and recommended, that’s a difference of opinion, not the basis of a lawsuit.
I wrote about this in a 1998 Just Plain Harris column, entitled “The Feel-Good Movie Review Of The Year!”…
I’m looking through the movie listings to figure out whether there’s anything worth spending my time and money on, when my eyes are drawn to the an ad for the movie, Urban Legend. There, in bold letters, is this quote from a reviewer: “A heart-pounding, edge of your seat treat!”
Now, I haven’t heard of Urban Legend, and have no idea what it’s about, but that’s the sort of quote that makes you take notice. After all, who doesn’t want to sit on the edge of their seat with their heart-pounding? C’mon, that’s the kind of movie that made Steven Spielberg rich! The ad is working just as they want it to.
So, which big name movie critic is lavishing this praise on the movie? Is it Joel Siegel, Jeffrey Lyons, Gene Shalit? Is it one of their print counterparts, like Janet Maslin of the New York Times? Richard Schickel of Time magazine? Peter Travers of Rolling Stone? Steven Hunter of The Washington Post?
No, it’s that heavyweight of movie reviews, Linda Stotter. You don’t know who Linda is? Neither do I. But according to the credit next to her big movie quote, Linda writes for something called “Entertainment TimeOut.”
Sounds like that arcade place down at the mall, doesn’t it?
Whoever she is, she probably wrote some puff-piece review of an obvious piece of trash, and since no other critic gave them anything close to a quote they could use, they went with Linda’s rave. That’s the way it works now. Take a look for yourself, and you can tell from the people they quote just how bad the movie must be.
For instance, based solely on the ads, the new Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come, must be in trouble already (although, as I write this, it may be having a record-breaking weekend). Here are three actual quotes they’re using to promote it: “Robin Williams gives the performance of his lifetime!” “You won’t believe your eyes!” “Two thumbs up!”
Of course, that last one is from Siskel & Ebert, the only ones you’ve ever heard of. The other two are from Bonnie Churchill of the National News Syndicate — which I thought Elliott Ness had busted years ago — and Sam Hallenbeck of the Theater Radio Network, which I believe is the one that plays non-stop Celine Dion songs into the theater while you stare at slides with ads for the local pawn broker.
They also include a quote from Russ Lieberman, Mr. Moviephone. What??? You mean the guy who is paid by the movie studios to promote their movies on an automated telephone line? He’s the one you’re quoting to convince me to see the movie? What was the last time he said anything even remotely negative about any movie? This guy has recommended Pauly Shore movies, fer chrissake!
There’s another reviewer quote from Brian Sullivan of something called Movie Reviews and More. I’ll bet even the people at the Thrifty Nickel don’t take this publication seriously. What’s the “and more”? A 10% off Jiffy Lube coupon? Would you like fries with that?
More actual quotes. These are for One True Thing, the new Meryl Streep movie: “Bring a hanky and an appreciation for some of the finest acting of the year” — Larry Ratliff, KABB. “One of the year’s best” — Jim Ferguson, KMSB.
Again, we’re in serious trouble here. The tipoff is those call letters, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re for a TV or radio station (and you can’t tell in these instances, nor do you have any idea what town they’re from). The point is that the movie company couldn’t get a positive quote out of anyone with a national reputation — and they apparently couldn’t get one from your own local paper’s reviewer, either!
Take it from someone who has talked about movies on the air for a long time…the only way a broadcast review can ever be quoted is if the reviewer actually sends a copy of the review to the movie’s publicist. In many cases, the publicists demand that you do this in order to continue to get the free passes to the pre-release screenings. If you had to send yours, knowing that those freebies were at their discretion, and you weren’t important enough in the media food chain to wield any power whatsoever, just how critical would you be? Bingo. Thus, the call-letter-quotes. And this especially applies to anyone from a radio station who gets quoted. We’re whores who wouldn’t do anything that might jeopardize free stuff, so you’re guaranteed something puffy.
Three more quick movie ad quotes:
For Rush Hour: “Rush to Rush Hour!” — Anne Marie O’Connor, Mademoiselle. Simple and cute, and certainly a movie that’s perfect for her magazine’s target audience, right?
For Strangeland: “Dee Snider is a horror icon for the next millennium” — Fangoria magazine. Damn, I let my subscription lapse and missed the full-length review. Oh, well, I’m sure it’s on their website, www.killyourparents.com.
For A Night at the Roxbury: The ad contains no quotes at all, which should tell you everything you need to know. They couldn’t even get something nice from Mr. Moviephone!!
I’m not saying that these people aren’t entitled to their opinion. They are. All I’m saying is that the guy who delivers your pizza has about as much credibility on fine dining as most of these ad-quote people do about what movie you should see.
On the other hand, I’ll admit I’m a little jealous. I’d love to be quoted myself, which is why I offer these evergreen quotes, perfect for any movie:
“It’s the feel-good hit of the spring/summer/fall/winter!”
“Rarely has a film been projected so well in a darkened theater!”
“Call the academy now and tell them we have a winner for best dolly grip!”
“It was almost in focus!”
And the one I like to throw in for the theater owners: “Remember, the biggest popcorn and soda are always your best value!”
Credit those to “Paul Harris, of Harris Online TimeOut Syndicate And More!”