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March 14 2006

The micromanagement of Joss Whedon. Some insight into how Universal dealt with the press when it came to the marketing of Serenity.

Can anybody explain this line to me?

"Universal imperiously demanded signed letters of intent to be granted an interview with the director"

I'm not processing that at all. What's in that signed letter of intent? Clearly you want to interview the guy: you're asking for an interview after all.
Fascinating. What Joss did was despite Universal, not because of Universal. I have this need to swear.
Very interesting article, indeed. I like the reference to Joss's "tasteless accessibility".

I also would like to see the term "fluxed" adopted - although Aeon Flux is far from the first film to be brought out this way, without press previews.
This is just so dispiriting...depressing...and such a shame.
What's in that signed letter of intent?

"I, Writer for CHAD.com, will not slag off the fan base". Or some such.

I will step up here and say one thing: if there's something I learned from the whole experience, it's that you have to try to control the flow things a bit. Those marketing managers are there for a reason.

When Joss was in the UK recently, one of my friends at Film Focus only got 10 minutes with - which they were gutted about. But, in the rest of his time they had him appear on a few TV shows, various radio interviews, and countless magazine and newspaper spots. All in a 2 day window. It was a lot of publicity. If he had used that time talking to smaller websites... Although it'd probably generate some great articles for us, not always the mass population. (Hell, my Serenity site is over the half million viewers point at the moment - and I wouldn't expect any time with Joss).

Now: Am I saying this is the best possible way to market a movie of this type? Who the hell am I to say, is my answer! I work in IT. I'm THAT guy. I will say certain parts of the 'standard' formula worked in Serenity's favour, but not everything. If Universal had also released it for pay download shortly after theatre release, for example, I'm willin' to bet it would have made a geek sized amount of money.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-14 02:26 ]
So very frustrating. Oh well. At least we can get a new WHEDONesque fun phrase out of the article - catch the zeitgeist! (and what? Win a prize?)
Not surprising really. It seemed to me that every step of the way, Universal was the proverbial "day late, and dollar short".

I think we saw it in the way the fans always seemed to be a marketing step ahead, the swag mix-ups at a couple of the cons - (right hand, meet left hand) and IIRC there were a couple of instances of what seemed to be lagging Universal acknowledgement of what was already widely circulated or known.

ACK!!! gotta get my bus...
By the way, I'm not dissing that article or it's author - it's actually a very well written article, and honestly: they have a point with nearly everything they say.

The industry is reshaping itself massively. And in doing so, they're reshaping the theatre and critic experience. The critics -- regardless of how much they like it -- are the bitches of a multi billion dollar industry.
I actually found the article rather poorly written and incomprehensible, except the political thrashing.

All I got of its point was that Universal didn't make Whedon as accessible as their site would have liked and that studios in general are trying to keep the critics from panning their movies before they're shown, or at any time. May I just say "duh."

As far as I can grasp (and I may be wrong), the author was complaining that some movies are doing well despite the fact that they suck, because the critics aren't given an opportunity to be the important ones to warn the public that they suck. May I just say again ... "duh." If I were a studio that's the way I'd want it. If they can make it happen, of course they will. I also got the gist that when a movie doesn't suck, a la Serenity, the critics aren't getting time with ... the director. Hm? Is that necessary to review a flick?
m'cookies, I think Zeitgeist has already been caught... :)
All I got of its point was that Universal didn't make Whedon as accessible as their site would have liked...

Keep in mind this isn't an article on some random website that's just a website. It's the website for Baltimore's alt weekly. A print publication.
Meanwhile, film journalists, like the journalism profession in general, have earned public mistrust with their eagerness to praise mediocrity, and paralyzing fear of losing access to all-expenses-paid junkets featuring stars tutored in parroting publicity’s party line. All of which has led to, as New York Press critic Armond White noted in 2003, “The current lunatic notion that film journalists are part of the movie industry, rather than unbiased reporters, commentators, watchdogs. You know, critics.”


Yeah huh. Guilt by association. Terrorists capture and kill "innocent Americans" for much the same reason. One can call it lunatic all they want; doesn't change the fact that film journalists ARE part of the movie industry.
Err, no. Film journalists are (or should be) part of the journalism industry in the same way that motor-car journalists aren't part of the automobile industry and crime journalists aren't part of the police service (or, hopefully, the criminal fraternity ;). Which is to say, they should be there to impart an unbiased opinion of a film. If journalists are being prevented from doing this through loss of advanced press screenings or threats of removal of access then to me that is, essentially, a mis-use of what amounts to a monopoly position.

Likewise, if journalists are not staying as objective as possible in order to get more perks then they aren't doing their job (and probably shouldn't have one).

(we can lament the fact that in today's world the film industry and the journalism industry are often owned by the same people but that's another matter)
Anwyn, I agree.

I am a film journalist, and to me, that sounds like someone venting his anger because he has to see certain films with the popcorn crowd, and that he didn't get the interview time he wanted.

Signed letters of intent? Okay, when I applied for my interview with Joss Whedon & Co, I could do it on the phone, but I still had to say which publications I was doing the interviews for. And I can tell you that in Germany, the Universal press people worked their *sses off to do that junket right. (Okay, they did grant a half-hour one-on-one to a guy who had seen neither SERENITY nor FIREFLY, but he had a big print run. I only got eighteen minutes in a group of four. But I wouldn't dream of writing articles dissing Universal because of that. It's a fact of life. Happens all the time.)

Saje, it's not necessarily perks. (What perks, anyway? The funny eyeball candy they hand out at the screening for the next Halloween horror flick?) It's the fact that if you write something that doesn't sit right with the PR people you depend on, you can suddenly find yourself being cut off from interview opportunities entirely. Or you find yourself facing a letter from the BBC, threatening to sue you (I still revel in that one, because it happened to me a couple of years ago, over a stupid documentary about _fish_.)

Still, you can always go to a normal screening. Okay, so your review will be in the paper one day late, but you won't die because of it. Won't have to pay, either, because most colleagues have free passes for their local theaters anyway.

This is a second time something like this got posted here in the last couple of months or so, and just like the last one, it just sounds like the person behind it isn't really smelling a conspiracy. He's just personally miffed.

(Urgh. That's a long one. Let's see if I can spell p-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-n-g ...)
Man, you guys get eyeball candy ? I'm so in the wrong job.

bschnell (or other journalists on here), do you find that PR people will cut you off just for writing a negative review ? Or does there normally have to be something overtly inflammatory about the article ?

I really hope it's the latter since otherwise we the viewing public stand little chance of getting a genuine unbiased view of any film if we have PR flacks wielding that kind of power. And good on Joss for short-circuiting the machine to some extent.
"tasteless accessibility"

I'm not entirely sure I understand that phrase... or that it even makes sense. I'm sure once someone explains it I'll feel like an idiot though.

[ edited by war_machine on 2006-03-14 15:09 ]
war_machine, I assumed it meant that Joss wasn't 'playing the game', instead effectively making an end run around the Universal PR apparatus and becoming 'tastelessly' accessible to press that may not have been considered worthy (i.e. showing indiscriminate taste).

Tastless is maybe a slightly strange choice in that context but then I guess that's what makes for an original phrase.
bschnell (or other journalists on here), do you find that PR people will cut you off just for writing a negative review ? Or does there normally have to be something overtly inflammatory about the article ?

No, I've never experienced that. Granted, I'm not a film critic, but I am a journalist, and have written about topics of all kind, and most reputable PR flaks understand how the industry works, know we're independent, and know they can't ask for or expect anything favorable, or be unhappy with anything critical. The only thing they can legitimately get upset about is something that's inaccurate.
Any reputable paper or media source won't be sending its reporters on "all-expense-paid junkets" in any case – they have ethics laws forbidding accepting free stuff from the industry one is covering, or from any industry, usually. (Going to movie review screenings is, obviously, an exception to that, simply beause it's necessary to get the reviews out). And no PR person would consider a reputable movie critic to be anything but that – an independent critic. (Obviously, there are people and media sources that are exceptions to that, but I'm thinking in terms of reputable journalists here).
As Gossi said above, when someone is in high demand, PR people are definitely necessary to help manage their time – that doesn't necessarily mean the person is being micromanaged. And Joss was in the media a ton around Serenity's release, so clearly they were getting him to talk with all sorts of folks.

I don't know... I don't have personal experience on this one since I didn't – alas – write about Serenity. But it reads like sour grapes to me.

On the issue of movie critics not getting advance screenings for bad movies – when that happens, I always figures it's the studios' own sign of zero confidence in the quality of their film. I can pretty much know, without having to read the review, that it will be a terrible movie. If people want to go to the theater opening night in any case, that's their risk...
It is not the best written article I will admit. However there were questions raised about Universal's approach at the time and this piece will only give fodder for the critics who thought "Universal don't know how to market this movie".
Ah, thanks acp, that's how I thought it was meant to work but I was wondering if i'd become hopelessly naive after watching 'All the President's Men' one too many times ;).

Sounds like maybe this guy just has some personal axe to grind.

Re: advanced screenings, yeah, I agree though it still feels like the studios throwing their weight around a bit. I rarely see a film on opening weekend anyway preferring to wait until things have settled down a bit but for that matter I rarely read reviews before watching a film either so this whole thread is slightly academic for me ;).
In fairness though, Simon, Universal just did the standard PR interview access for this... I don't think there was anything wrong with their approach.

That said, they did - for example - do free 'blogger' screenings shortly before the movie came out - but the company running them told people what kind of content to run. That's completely unacceptable, and so obviously caused negative press for Serenity.

Regarding this article - click on the name of the person who wrote it, and check out their movie reviews. I couldn't find a single one (there's a lot) for a movie they actually liked.
The opinion I have ,and I freely admit that it could be wrong, is that Universal were moving away as far as they could from the movie by the time the release date rolled up. I think they had lost faith in it. It might be as a result of the test screenings (of the non Browncoat variety), who knows?
My hunch is that there still is a fuzzy line for many people – both PR folks and the bloggers themselves – about how blogs fit into this journalism arena. Some are done with the highest integrity and ethics, some aren't; but there's rarely an overt policy or code of ethics the way you'd have with, say, a newspaper. Perhaps PR people feel more able to wield an axe over bloggers' content? If so, that's reprehensible, though I should say that bloggers also deserve some blame for the willingness to run unsubstantiated rumors, etc., as fact.

Don't get me wrong – I think blogging has some wonderful merits and can be great. But it is a fuzzy area without the same sort of established rules and ethics that took years to develop in more traditional journalism. I often take bloggers' postings with a big helping of salt. In the same vein, I think web journalism is only beginning to be accepted as legitimate or deserving of the same sort of attention as traditional journalism by PR people. That's not necessarily justified, but it's the way it is - so my hunch is that reporters for websites sometimes have a harder time getting access to folks. (And again, while some web news sites are stellar, others have the same lack of ethical policies or prohibitions on accepting free stuff, etc., that makes me hesitant to view them as quite as independent.)

But for the most part, saje, I really do think good, ethical, laudable journalism is still alive and thriving. That doesn't mean I don't have plenty of complaints about much of the media, though – the hype, the lack of depth or nuance, the push for sensationalism and personal trauma, the ignoring of truly important stories, etc., etc., etc...
Speaking of which, my current deadline is in 15 minutes – i should really get back to my story!
I interpreted "tastelessly accessible" as meaning that Joss being available to anyone who wanted to interview him was not suitable for someone of his stature. Some elitist notion that important people should be difficult to reach and/or are too good to have to deal with anyone who only represents a small market.
Hmmm. I guess I saw "tasteless accessibility" as simple sarcasm on the part of the writer – his term for how he assumed the Universal PR team saw Joss's willingness to talk to media, go on websites and blogs, etc., and the reason they wanted to rein him in. It's a striking phrase, but I very much doubt it's how Universal really saw him... Usually PR people and studios are thrilled to have sought-after people make themselves accessible, especially if it's to promote whatever it is they're selling.

(deadline over. I can breathe... :-) )
>>Any reputable paper or media source won't be sending its reporters on "all-expense-paid junkets" in any case – they have ethics laws forbidding accepting free stuff from the industry one is covering, or from any industry, usually. (Going to movie review screenings is, obviously, an exception to that, simply beause it's necessary to get the reviews out).<<

While I mostly agree with you, acp, that part isn't true.

The junkets are usually in one central place -- the German one for SERENITY was in Hamburg. No way would I have gone, had Universal not paid my train ticket -- I simply couldn't have afforded to. It's just the way it is done, that way equal accessibility is granted for journalists all over the place, not just those in Hamburg. It _is_, however, an unwritten law that you only ask for interviews if you liked the film, ot that you don't ask critical questions if you didn't. Not that I don't think someone like Joss Whedon couldn't cope with a critical question, but someone from the PR department will sit in on all those interviews, and _they_ won't take it.

Likewise, press screenings aren't considered freebies. Like any other kind of media launch, they are just a way to make your product accessible to the journalists.

I've been doing this for a staggering fifteen years now *s*, and there are two incidents I'm aware of when someone took official umbrage at something I wrote. The first time it was a theater owner who sent simultanous complaints to the paper I write for _and_ the film's distributor. Both the paper and the distributor defended my review, though. The second time it was the BBC, when I hated some fish'n'whale documentary and wondered in public if their camera crew had maybe disturbed the animals in question to get the behavior needed for the anthropomorphous picture they were painting. Some lawyer got in touch with the paper that published the review, but again, my editor backed me, and nothing came of it.

Usually, though, you know the PR people of the various companies, and you work with them for years; they don't bite, and they don't take it personally if you don't like one of their movies.
Well, I should say most or many reputable papers have strict laws prohibiting accepting freebies. I, for instance, can never allow travel or meals to be paid for, or accept gifts of any kind. If I need to travel to cover a story or do an interview, my paper pays for it. (It's true, though, that press screenings, tickets to a concert I'm planning to cover, etc., are not considered freebies – they're the means to get an advance look at something to review).
Most newspapers in the US have similar prohibitions. Such things are offered a lot – especially paid travel – but I and many journalists can't accept them.
I've sometimes had a PR person in the room when I interview people, and occasionally they record the interview so they have recourse if they dispute a quote, but have never had them express displeasure with critical or probing questions, even when it's a high-ranking person or a sensitive issue.

I suppose I should make a distinction, though, that I'm really speaking about a relatively small number of publications and outlets when I talk about these kind of rules. They're the ones I most frequently read, so it's what I'm most aware of, but there are certainly lots of perks and freebies out there for journalists – especially entertainment and sports reporters – and many media outlets don't have as many problems with accepting them.
Heh, as a science journalist, I haven't run into many of these issues yet (although, granted, I only have a whopping six months of experience under my belt thus far), so I won't be commenting on the questions of ethics raised here.

As for complaints about studios not holding press screenings before a movies release, I think those complaints are fair. Sure, a newspaper could publish a review the next day. But maybe your newspaper does not have a daily review section and it only has room for movie reviews once a week, on the day new movies premiere - which probably means the movies without a screening don't get a review at all. Or worse: maybe you write for a movie magazine with monthly deadlines, meaning you can't have reviews of the latest movies in your magazine, thus making it instantly outdated. I know some publications resort to online reviewing for some movies because of that, but that's no permanent sollution either, because you're not offering readers enough incentive to keep reading your magazine for fresh reviews.

So I think it's fair to have issues with having no acces and I think that that part of the article wasn't just a way to vent personal frustration, but honest worry about where the movie industry seems to be going with this. I know I, for one, am worried about this trend which seems to have been going on for quite some time now. And I've only started writing movie reviews semi-professionaly since a month and a half and write for a website where I don't even go to press screenings, but always go on the first week of release (which, yes, means that we're always a tad late - but hey, people don't pay to read us ;-)).

Of course, if I was running a movie magazine and/or paper, I'd run a regular 'expected to be crap' column (only, I'd give it a better name), listing all the movies which were not available for review before the time of premiere. If all publications did that, I think this way of avoiding bad publicity might become less affective and as such less appealing to the industry. Plus, it's a good way to keep your readers informed on what to expect.
Two things:

Regarding freebies, it's not quite as simple in media. For example, if you go to a press screening of a movie in the UK, you get free food and drink during the movie.

I think they had lost faith in it. It might be as a result of the test screenings (of the non Browncoat variety), who knows?

Will tackle this. The majority of the (actual non-fan) test screenings for Serenity happened at the very early end of 2005 - changes were made, and it went back through test screenings, but still very early in the year. They knew very early on how this was settling with people.

Now, at about August, Chris Buchanan thought (and publicly said online, hence me referencing) it'd open to over 3000 theatres in the US. Skip forward a month, and it opened to closer to 2000 theatres.

Why? Did Universal loose faith at the last minute?

I don't know. I think it was a smart move - Serenity did not, I'm afraid, turn out to be a full blown word-of-mouth movie. It had barriers - western, sci-fi. By opening bigger (2000 prints is a cost over $10m) they spend more, which is more to recoup.

I do know that right before opening weekend I got copied in on an email from people at, erm, pretty much the top where they were predicting the opening weekend. Those predictions ranged from $12m to $30m. I also know first had the exhibitors (theatres) in the UK had been told Serenity would likely open huge - because I spoke to many of them during the 2 UK screening rounds for the organisation.

After opening, everything shifted to DVD.

Serenity was a carefully budgeted film and a bit of a gamble, I think, really is the summary.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-14 19:23 ]

[ edited by gossi on 2006-03-14 19:24 ]
acp, I know what you mean, but I don't know _anyone_ who's ever paid their own traveling expenses. (In my case, it would have meant a 150 Euro train fare against sixty or seventy Euros I got for the articles I sold. Guess you can imagine how fast I'd be broke if I did that.) Plus, some movie stars now refuse to go to the trouble and do European junkets at all. So, those who wanted interviews with (I know it was) Russell Crowe regarding (I think it was) A BEAUTIFUL MIND had to travel to ... Los Angeles. Some of the big papers and magazines _would_ pay that kind of expenses, of course, but certainly not a single one of the normal dailies.

GVH, of course I have no idea how this is done in the US, but over here, press screenings are often no more than a week or two before a movie opens. Too much fear of movie pirates and whatnot. I used to work for a couple of monthlies, way back when you'd get to see a movie six weeks before it opened -- frankly, I have no idea how they get timely reviews now, except for those that have correspondents in Hollywood.
Of course, if I was running a movie magazine and/or paper, I'd run a regular 'expected to be crap' column (only, I'd give it a better name), listing all the movies which were not available for review before the time of premiere.

The New York Times always mentions which movies were unavailable for screening (though it's still a relatively rare occurrence), and I always take that as an "expected to be crap" assessment. They run their review the following day. I'm sure a few other papers do too. I agree that it's a disturbing trend, but it still seems pretty rare, and only when a movie is really really terrible. I, for one, would be extremely unlikely to go see a movie that hadn't been made available to critics because of what it tells me about the film, but I don't know if the majority of the public knows what that means, or cares....

(oh and bschnell, one difference in what we're both saying is that it sounds like you're writing as a freelancer, which obviously makes expenses decisions different. When I talk about those sort of freebie policies, I'm referring to publications that pay the expenses themselves rather than have their writers accept something from the industry they're covering. At my paper, if we agree ahead of time to a freelancer's idea, we'd pay his or her expenses as well. But many don't, and it's also clearly different when you're expecting to sell stories after they've been written - I completely understand that financial practicality trumps principles in that case).
Indeed, bschnell - in the UK, they'll only ever do movie screenings in London for press. Movie stars never leave London.

There's one exception to this in about the last 5 years: Serenity, where Fillion and friends went across the UK.
The sort of film reviewing I've dome -- most of it for a very well known website (but not a paying one!), via my own very new blog which doesn't even do reviews of new films, etc. -- doesn't really get on the publicist's radar.

However, I can tell you that a. The publicist's have a very real pecking order (I had to almost mortgage my mother to get into an advance screening of "Chicago" -- a movie they very much wanted critics to see, and I'm a big fan of musicals, so it was a good bet I'd be sympathetic, but who cared as I was only working on this website that was less well known than my usual one, despite being associated with a pretty big cult figure).

b. Roger Ebert has written about how lesser known journalists have a hard time geting interviews with stars and filmmakers whose movies they may have panned and therefore a lot of them softpeddle their opinions or go over to the dark side and become what he calls "benevolent blurbsters." (We call them "quote whores" out in the big mean world.")
acp, yes, I'm a freelancer -- but my expenses decisions aren't difficult *s*. I've done three interviews in the last couple of years. One with Rawhiri Parathene on WHALE RIDER, which I loved; one with Viggo Mortensen on HIDALGO, but really to get some soundbites for a portrait, so no sweat there (even though I liked the film enough to "justify" the interview *s*) and one with Joss Whedon and the SERENITY crew (do I have to mention that I loved that? *s*). I really only go to the trouble of doing this if I know the film is worth the hassle, or if I hope the person will be. And in those cases, I have no trouble accepting a train ticket.

If I knew that I were in for a confrontation (and still were interested enough in the job), I'd pay for my own ticket.

bobster, Roger Ebert loves the sound of his own voice (or the sight of his own words) a bit too much for my taste. Easy for _him_ to judge others or jump to conclusions. Ebert certainly is no longer part of the big mean world. *s*
Okay, sorry, but this bothered me.

Movies are expensive and getting more so. Factor in concessions, parking, and transportation and you’re easily talking about a couple paying $50 for two hours of amusement.

I live in Chicago, and when my friend and I went to see Serenity it didn't cost us $50. Tickets were $10.50, parking was $5 (validated since we purchased movie tickets) and two sodas and popcorn came to $12. That's $38, not 'easily' $50. I understand ticket prices and parking are probably higher in places like Manhattan, but for the rest of us... seems like an exaggeration.

How many concessions is he buying when he goes to a movie?
The be honest, that line made me laugh - he gets to see 99% of movies free, and 1% (probably less) he has to SHOCK HORROR pay like the rest of us. Boo hoo. Sorry, but I had to get that bit out.
Bschell --

If you think Ebert is too much in love with his own words, I can only imagine what you'd think of...well, practically anyone in this business! I admit to being a big fan of the guy's avuncular, fairly low key and funny style, and I think he's a terrific writer. So I guess I'm nearly as much in love with the sound of his verbiage as he is! In any case, there are tons of U.S. and U.K. critics who I think take this business way too seriously and who drone on like the voice of a really jaded Jehovah. Lots of Kael wannabes.

But hey, no reason writers can disagree about critics as much as they do about movies, etc. I do think that Roger would be the first to admit to his privileged position here as our only real superstar film critic. It doesn't hurt that he seems to be a genuinely nice guy when talking to us hoi polloi...sort of the Joss of film critics, if you will.

However, I do have to say that the quote-whore/benevelent blurbster is a very real problem on the American media landscape. These are the people who's quotes appear on practically every movie ad, even for movies known to all as completely rotten and often appearing long before anyone's even seen the damn movie! Most of them don't work for major print outlets and some don't seem to work for any real outlets at all, though there are exceptions even to that.

The amount of media butt-smooching of the entertainment world out here is breathtakingly immense. There is very, very little solid entertainment coverage accessible to a mass audience here and almost none at all in broadcast, with the exception of occasional public radio coverage. It's a real problem/opportunity for someone.

[ edited by bobster on 2006-03-14 23:57 ]
GVH, of course I have no idea how this is done in the US, but over here, press screenings are often no more than a week or two before a movie opens. Too much fear of movie pirates and whatnot. I used to work for a couple of monthlies, way back when you'd get to see a movie six weeks before it opened -- frankly, I have no idea how they get timely reviews now, except for those that have correspondents in Hollywood.


Heh, I have no idea how it's done in the US either. I'm not all that far away from you, over in good ol' The Netherlands ;-). Anyway, screenings tend to be closer to the date over here as well, but the bigger movies seem to have multiple screenings and some movies still get screenings quite some time ahead. I'm not sure how the Dutch movie magazines get all of their reviews either, but it seems to be working for them, so I'm sure they're getting to see these movies in some shape or form. But, of course, I'm not completely up to date with when most screenings are, seeing as I've only ever attended two (and those were not even as a critic :-p).
bobster, true, that the amount of blurbsters seems to be worse in radio and TV. In the world of us lowly print freelancers (working for daily papers, not magazines) they seem to be fairly rare, though. Plus, their way of reporting is often dictated by their employers, who don't want their audience to think too much.

As for Roger Ebert -- he _is_ a terrific writer. But he's often also ... totally out of it. He blithely writes nonsense about stuff he has no idea of (his LOTR reviews were ... curious), and he often loses himself in anecdotes that have little or nothing to do with the movie in question. And since, like Pauline Kael, he seems to have noone to haul him back to Planet Earth now and again, I find myself shaking my head over his reviews about as often as I applaud him.
Well, I did take slight umbrage at his LOTR reviews -- but I chalk that up more to the fact that I think that, collectively, it's a real cinema masterpiece on every level and he just thinks it's kind of neat, but not "his" hobbits. But I actually disagree fairly strongly quite a lot.

Personally, I enjoy it a lot when Roger goes off on a tangent -- it's usually more interesting than the movie he talks about. Still, I guess I can agree that it was both interesting AND unneccessary/mildly inappropo when his review of "Super Size Me" was almost entirely about his own (very effective) diet. He really is much thinner now and, I guess, America had to be told!

As for print blurbsters, the only critic I can personally accuse of that is shall remain nameless -- but he's been the junior critic on a very major U.S. paper for about thirty years, while better writers take the senior spot above him every ten years or so. Still, a lot of poor suckers (including me) have gone to see some extremely lame movies on his say-so.

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