Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Latest 'Valkyrie' non-controversy controversy

As the puff pieces promoting the Tom Cruise WW2 vehicle "Valkyrie" become more and more prevelent, we're starting to see the first reviews... and a few columns featuring quotes from negative reviews.

A couple such columns have been penned by Roger Friedman of Fox News, who, at the earliest moment possible, did a round-up of negative commentary about "Valkyrie" in this column.

That column made sure he wasn't invited to the private New York press screening of "Valkyrie." Friedman followed it up with another column that focused on negative comments about the movie and its star, which you can read here.

I went and read Friedman's columns expecting to write a post about the habit that certain critics have in regards to watching and reviewing movies they know they're going to hate. With so many films to choose from, why bother writing up a film that you know you're going to pan? If you don't like Tom Cruise, why let your editor waste your time and his precious page space on sending you to see a movie that you're not going to give a fair shake?

The same goes for critics who pan every sci-fi or horror flick they see, no matter how good a film might be; they dump on it, because they are not the intended audience and they often don't get the film. I continue to think back with a warm, fuzzy feeling about how many critics revealed their cultural and literal illiteracy when they panned "Nacho Libre" and/or "Balls of Fury" as nothing more than a sports comedies when the first gets most of its humor from the fact that it's a blow-by-blow retelling of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" (as well as slavishly following Joesph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" theory) while the second is more of a spoof of 1970s Kung Fu flicks than sports movies. So many critics revealed themselves to be fairly ignorant and fairly untrustworthy thanks to those movies.

I'd figured I'd be able to grouse about Friedman in such terms based on his "Valkyrie" coverage. After all, Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times quoted United Artists marketing chief Michael Vollman publicist as saying, "If he'd [Friedman] indicated a desire to be open-minded and not telegraphed his intentions ahead of time, we would've acted differently. But when someone says 'I'm going to hate this movie,' you get the impression they have a closed mind."

He also stated that "Screenings are a privilege, not a right."

I agree with Vollman that screenings are a privilege not a right, and I also agree that one COULD interpert Friedman's column as telegraphing his intention to pan the movie; he was choosing his subject matter for a reason after all.

However, it is somewhat cowardly to silence potential critics before they've even really spoken out. UA's publicity department has shown themselves to have little faith in their product by not inviting Friedman to their screening. My guess is they didn't do themselves any favors, because all it got them was him writing another column full of negative quotes about "Valkyrie."

And they're not very interesting quotes at that, something that may be driving home the point that is further underscoring the sorry state of entertaiment journalism. Is that really the best Friedman could come up with for his spite-filled follow-up hit-piece on the film? Nitpicky little trifles that are neither insightful nor surprising as far as the criticism of Cruise's performance goes?

Of course, the quotes also reveal (or are out of context and thus make it appear) that Todd McCarthy is either petty or dim, because he seems to be blaming Cruise for something that's a flaw of the script. Quote the quote: "Cruise makes Stauffenberg a stalwart, flawed and honorable man, but reveals little sense of his stellar intellectual, artistic and family background."

McCarthy further coes on to kvetch about Cruise's American accent in a cast of otherwise British accents. Would he really rather that they all put on German accents like the actors in "Hogan's Heroes" and "Hitler, Dead or Alive"? I'm not sure what critic reveals himself to be the pettier--McCarthy for writing the initial criticsm or Friedman for quoting it.

I'm no fan of Tom Cruise. He surprised me in "Collatoral" and "Tropic Thunder", but otherwise I've been unimpressed by him as an actor. Yet the most insightful criticism that the oh-so-intelligent film critics can come up with is that he's not much of an actor, something that I observed long, long ago? And UA's publicist felt the need to ban Friedman from the screening for quoting a true statement?

Tom Cruise was a movie star. His star is fading. Based on the comments quoted by Friedman--comments that both Friedman and UA apparently felt were negative and damning but which I feel are words that Cruise and his agents should consider and take to heart when choosing his future roles--it seems that Cruise did a decent job as part of the ensemble cast that drives "Valkyrie." Cruise is starting to settle in where he should have been all along and in roles more fitting for his level of talent.

But, I digress.

Was it unkind of Friedman to do a column featuring quotes that said bad things about Cruise and "Valkyrie"? Sure. But that's a far cry from telegraphing that he was going to write a negative review about the movie. (He probably was going to, but I'm not convinced that one can draw that conclusion from the first column... unless one is already thinking that the movie sucks.)

UA were fools to not invite him. Hell, those who might be so inclined might even say that they were behaving true to the traditions of the Nazis that Col. Stauffenberg was so disgusted by in "Valkyrie"--they are trying to silence critics before they have a chance to speak out. Or, I suppose, one could say they are behaving like a Scientology propaganda machine. If one was prone to think such things.

Me, I'll make up my mind like I do with every movie that seems interesting to me--when I've seen it. If I thought I was going to hate, I'd not waste my time on it, something the so-called real critics and reviewers should consider doing. I will be seeing "Valkyrie" around the same time that Roger Friedman does, and we'll probably be posting our stories around the same time. (Although... please cry a tear for Roger Friedman. As he states in the second column on "Valkyrie" coverage, the poor baby will have to see the movie with the grubby hoi-poloi! Oh, the shame! Oh, the horror!)

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