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Monday Mouse Watch: Tis a pity that he's a "quote whore"

Monday Mouse Watch: Tis a pity that he's a "quote whore"

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Okay. You remember that classic piece of parental advice from "Bambi," right? As in: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

And maybe you know Alice Roosevelt Longworth (I.E. Teddy Roosevelt's outspoken daughter)'s somewhat mean-spirited variation of this axiom: "If you can't say anything nice about someone, come sit over here by me."

But how many of you know about the Hollywood version of this saying? Which is: "If you can't get a legitimate critic to say something nice about your new movie, maybe it's time to find a 'quote whore.' "

Case in point: "The Wild." How many of you have seen those new TV commercials for this upcoming Walt Disney Pictures release? You know, the ones where that very baritone off-screen announcer emphatically states that:

"Critics are calling 'The Wild' ... 'uproarious,' '... with stunning state-of-the-art graphics,' '... it's a leading contender for the year's best animated film.' "

And -- as you can see by the image grabs that I'm using to illustrate today's JHM article -- there actually do appear to be critics out there who have praised this CORE Digital production.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Until you look a little closer at these commercials, that is. And then you realize that it's not critics. But -- rather -- critic. As in: It's a single person who has said all of these nice things about "The Wild."

"And who might that one person be?," you ask. Jim Svejda, who reports on film for KNX Newsradio.

KNX (for those of you who don't know) is a key West Coast station in the CBS Radio network. And as for Mr. Svejda ... Well, Jim is probably best known as host & producer of that nationally syndicated radio show, "The Record Shelf." Which is a weekly one hour program where Svejda rather wittily talks about classical music and composers.

Now given that Jim is a notoriously tough grader when it comes to contemporary music (It's been said that Svejda has yet to hear anything that's been written by a 20th Century composer that he actually likes) ... Me personally, I find it curious that Jim seems so easy to please once he puts his movie critic hat on. Particularly when it comes to the motion pictures that the Walt Disney Company produces.

"What do I mean by that?," you ask. Well, Svejda appears to be the Magic Kingdom's equivalent of Will Rogers. In that it seems that Jim has never seen a Disney Studios film that he hasn't liked.

Don't believe me? Then let's take a look back at 2002. When Mr. Svejda took a shine to seven of the motion pictures that the Walt Disney Company released over the course of that year.

2002

  • "Big Trouble" -- "One of the year's funniest comedies"
  • "The Country Bears" -- "A sheer delight and the summer's best family film."
  • "Moonlight Mile" -- " 'Moonlight Mile' is a stunning acting tour de force."
  • "Signs" -- "One of the best movies of the years. Engrossing, terrifying and intelligent."
  • "Snow Dogs" -- "Warm, charming and very, very funny!"
  • "Treasure Planet" -- "A rare and amazing film that illuminates and improves upon a classic."
  • "Tuck Everlasting" -- "A magical fantasy, beautifully acted and beautifully filmed."


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Or how about 2003. When Jim seemed to be extremely fond of six of the films that the Mouse sent off to the multiplexes that year:

2003

Picking up on a pattern yet? How virtually every Disney film that Svejda sees seems to be "entertaining," "the funniest" or "the best"?

What's that you say? Maybe it's possible that Jim Svejda actually liked all of the Disney movies that I've listed above? ... Well, that very well could be, folks.

But -- if that were truly the case ... Then what are the odds of KNX's film critic having nice things to say about 13 of the Walt Disney Pictures & Touchstone Pictures films that Mickey put in theaters back in 2004?

2004

  • "The Alamo" -- "Powerful!"
  • "America's Heart and Soul" -- "One of the most inspired movies ever made!"
  • "Hildago" -- "Magnificent! A film with the look, sweep and heart of a masterpiece."
  • "King Arthur" -- "A rip-roaring adventure with action, excitement and energy to burn!"
  • "Ladder 49" -- "One of the year's best films! Heroic, heart-wrenching and utterly inspiring!"
  • "The Ladykillers" -- "Early candidate for best picture of the year. Tom Hanks' best performance since 'Forrest Gump.'
  • "The Last Shot" -- "Wonderfully funny, delightfully off-kilter."
  • "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" -- "Hilarious. 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' confirms Bill Murray's status as the great comic actors of our time. It's also Wes Anderson's best film to date."
  • "Miracle" -- "The year's first great film!"
  • "Mr. 3000" -- "Hilarious!"
  • "National Treasure" -- "The year's best action adventure!"
  • "Teacher's Pet" -- " 'Teacher's Pet' is the year's first big surprise: a charming, imaginative, laugh-out-loud winner!"
  • "The Village" -- "More gripping than 'The Sixth Sense.' More frightening than 'Signs."


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Again we have Mr. Svejda piling on the "the year's bests" and the "hilariouses." All sorts of phrases that seem ready-made to be pulled out of Jim's reviews and then dropped directly into Disney's TV commercials and/or the newspaper & magazine ads for these particular films.

Then when you consider that the Walt Disney Company only released 18 films in all of 2004 ... And yet Svejda found more than 2/3rds of Disney's movies for that year to be praiseworthy ... That does raise some red flags, don't you think?

Well, the folks over at eFilmCritic.com certainly think so. Which is why they've repeatedly placed Jim in their "Criticwatch" list. Insisting that Svejda is among the worst "quote whores" currently working in Hollywood today.

To explain that (admittedly) offensive term: A "quote whore" is a critic who specializes in writing reviews that have extractable quotes. Which is a short sentence or phrase that has deliberately been placed in each review with the hope that this ready-made marketing-tool will then be pulled out of that particular review by the studio's own marketing staff. Which will then use this extractable quote to help advertise the very same motion picture and/or television show that this "quote whore" just reviewed.

I know, I know. This all sounds so circular. Like a snake eating its own tail. But a perfect example of an extractable quote would be (to borrow one of Mr. Svejad's pet phrases) "the year's best." A snippet of a sentence that could then be prominently displayed in the TV commercials, newspaper ads and on the posters of a particular movie. With the hope that this phrase would then be enough to convince more moviegoers to go see this movie.

As I mentioned earlier, the eFilmCritic crew takes this sort of stuff very seriously. In that they keep very close tabs on all of Tinseltown's worst offenders as well as urging their site's readers to sign eFC's online petition. Which asks the major studios to stop using these blurbmeisters & the quotes that they manufacture as part of their motion picture promotional efforts.

And you'd think -- given that eFilmCritic.com has thrust Jim & his fellow "quote whores" out into the spotlight -- that Mr. Svejda might at least try to moderate his behavior a bit. Maybe cut back on his ready-to-be-prominently-displayed-on-the-cover-of-a-DVD phrasing. But Noooo ... In 2005, Jim was still out there, blurbing up a storm:

2005

  • "Flightplan" -- " 'Flightplan' confirms Jodie Foster's status as the finest actress of her generation: An endlessly intelligent, gut-wrenching performance."
  • "The Greatest Game Ever Played" -- "One of the year's best films."
  • "A Lot Like Love" -- "Smart, funny and edgy! It's this generation's 'When Harry Met Sally' "
  • "The Pacifier" -- "Vin Diesel's best movie ever! A funny, warm-hearted surprise."
  • "Pooh's Heffalump Movie" -- " 'Pooh's Heffalump Movie' is a wonderful addition to Disney's Pooh saga. A movie that kids and parents will love!"
  • "Shopgirl" -- "It’s the finest performance of Steve Martin’s career. She’ll be hard to beat at Oscar time."
  • "Sky High" -- "One of the year's most delightful surprises!"

 


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

And even though we're only only three-and-a-third months into 2006, Mr. Svejda is already aggressively talking up Walt Disney Studio's most recent releases:

 

2006

  • "Glory Road" -- "Exciting and inspiring."
  • "The Shaggy Dog" -- "Hilarious! 'The Shaggy Dog' is Tim Allen's funniest movie yet."
  • "The Wild" -- "Uproarious with stunning state-of-the-art graphics. It's a leading contender for the year's best animated film."

Now -- to be fair -- I guess I should mention that Jim Svejda isn't the only guy in Hollywood who does this. According to eFilmCritic.com, there are at least 20 other film critics out there who aggressively blurb. Who deliberately drop extractable quotes into their reviews. With the hope that the studios will then then use their names (More importantly, what these critics have written) as part of the promotional efforts for that studio's upcoming motion picture or TV show.

It should also be noted here that I'm not the only entertainment reporter out there who finds these blurbmeisters to be very intriguing. Timothy M. Gray of Variety just did an article about these guys back in January. And Tim found Jim so entertaining that he actually started his story off by quoting from a few of Svejda's reviews.

And -- again, trying to be fair here -- over this past weekend, I sent a note off to Mr. Svejda at his KUSC e-mail address. Asking Jim for some additional information about "The Wild." In particular, where & when he got to see this CORE Digital production.

"And why would you want to know something like that, Jim?," you query. Well ... According to a news item that film reporter Eric Lurio sent along to CartoonBrew.com earlier this month:

For the first time in its history, Disney will NOT, I repeat, will NOT be screening an animated feature for critics. As you know, they've screened even live action $#!% like "Meet the Deedles." I've been going to all-medias for Disney animated films for over ten years. This has never happened before.

Now if this story turns out to be true and the Walt Disney Company really isn't screening "The Wild" for film critics before this new CG feature debuts in theaters later this week ... Well, then one has to wonder why Disney allowed Mr. Svejda to see this film.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

I mean, it couldn't be because -- say -- Jim has a particular gift when it comes to turning a camera-ready phrase, now could it?

Your thoughts?

Special thanks to the nice guys over at eFilmCritic.com and CartoonBrew.com for allowing JHM to make use of information that originally appeared on each of those web pages respectively.

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  • Aside from watching out for critics on eFilmCritic's naughty list and having a healthy skepticism towards quotes from local radio reviewers you've never heard of before, there are a number of red flags to watch out for when determining the reliability of quotes in a movie ad.  Here are a few:

    "..." - Ads will often section out the most pithy and positive parts of a review that may not be as qupte friendly as Mr. Svejda's are.  But more unscrupulous ad men have been known to select key phrases to make a mediocre or even bad review sound positive.  "A terrible film that never once entertains" can easily become "A...film that...entertains!"

    Review by Who? - If an ad seems less than forthcoming about who the quote is from, chance are the ad men don't want you to know.  Look to quotes that the narration attributes to "critics" rather than a specific well known critic, or large quotes followed by tiny illegible type stating the reviewer's name.  One of the worst offenders on this fron was "Scooby Doo 2", which feature TV ads with "glowing" type that made the reviewer's names impossible to read, even on my decent sized TV screen.

    One, But Not The Other - There's probably aren't too many other examples of this, but if an ad cites only Ebert or Roeper, you can bet the other one panned the film.  Otherwise, the ad would go for the obvious endorsement "Two Thumbs Up!"

    Stupid Puns - If an ad quotes a reviewer you know to be a good writer, but the quote is a groan-worthy, obvious pun you're sure he or she would never stoop to, chances are you're right.  Newspapers will often make up their own titles for a critic's review of a film, often coming up with a less than clever turn of phrase to sum up the review.  Ads will sometimes quote this title as if it's part of the critic's review.  They often make better one line quote tha the actual text of the review and can sound more positive than the critic's actual verdict.
  • Well said, StormDragon.  You've summed this thing up nicely.  They should teach kids things like this in school.  Media wrangling, I calls it.  Admen are not your friends and never were your friends.
  • Jim, your article was hilarious. Uproarious! A masterpiece. I was wondering how many other people noticed how fast the critic's reviews are flashed across the scenes, in addition to the animals conveniently swinging across each review. That was a red flag for me. After reading your article now I know why!

    Great detective work. Thanks!
  • I said this on the old forum & I say it again here, let's watch the movie first before we rip it appart.
  • IMO askmike it's already not looking so hot for this film as things stand. Toys R Us may of turned down the toy deal for this film over track record rather than the quality of the film itself but when it seems Disney isnt actually releasing the film for critical view and it's taking comments from the one critic. It does tend to say that not a lot of confidence is really being placed in this movie.

    Of course this Jim fellow could be telling the truth though the fact we know he's a bit of a "Yes man" for Disney does seem to indicate otherwise. I'm still going to keep an eye out on the film to see what it's REALLY like though.
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