As movies become more and more commonplace, no matter the subject matter, the junkets for journalists who review the movies are becoming more and more lavish. As the number of movies released each year increases, studios are looking for more outrageous ways to catch reviewers' attention.
It's not uncommon for movie reviewers to receive, among other things, airfare, meals and hotel accommodations for attending premieres; merchandise, whether related to the movie or not; and/or chances to meet and interview select Hollywood movie stars, unreachable to their peers.
All for the sake of a favorable review, hopefully elevating a single movie above the fray.
Now, a group of movie viewers are taking the reviewers to task in court. Ten class action lawsuits have been filed against the major movie studios, questioning the ethics of movie junkets and the reviews that the junkets spawn. The lawsuits' intended goal is to prevent studios from wooing reviewers with junkets, merchandise and interviews.
Four individuals and a group calling itself Citizens for Truth in Movie Advertising filed the complaints in the Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday. The complaints allege that the studios use endorsements by film critics that were given such perquisites as the focus of advertisements for the film.
Defendants named in the lawsuit are Sony Corp. of America, Viacom Inc., Artisan Entertainment, AOL Time Warner, The Walt Disney Co., Vivendi Universal U.S. Holding Co., DreamWorks SKG, Lions Gate Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and Fox Entertainment Group Inc.
No studio contacted would comment while the suit is pending.
The Radio-Television News Directors Association's Code of Ethics advises that followers will "[s]trive to conduct themselves in a manner that protects them from conflicts of interest, real or perceived. They will decline gifts or favors that would influence or appear to influence their judgments."
Gifts or favors, says RTNDA President Barbara Cochran, would apply to those provided for professional as well as personal use. Use of junkets, she says, "certainly raises questions."
[Full discosure: Hollywood.com does attend junkets paid for by studios, when offered.]
Reviewers were named in the suit, not as defendants but as examples of the alleged misconduct. They include Maria Salas of Telemundo/Gems Television, Jim Ferguson of The Dish Network/Fox TV, Jeff Craig of Sixty Second Preview, Mark Allen of UPN, Ron Brewington of American Urban Radio Network, and Earl Dittman at Wireless magazine.
Some of these critics have already received negative reviews in the press themselves.
The New York Post's Lou Lumineck wrote, " there are some people who doubt [Jeff Craig] even exists."
Gil Whitely of InfoDenver.com was highly critical of Maria Salas.
"Would you trust a critic who declared I Dreamed of Africa is 'the most beautiful and moving film of this year!' and called Drowning Mona a 'gutbusting laugh-a-thon!?' No? Well, then you'd better steer clear of Maria Salas."
Salas is no longer with Telemundo, and could not be reached for comment.
Anthony Sonnett of Yukevich & Sonnett, attorney for the plaintiffs, called studio-paid movie junkets Hollywood's "dirty little secret."
"Does anybody really believe that somebody saw Battlefield Earth and thought it was as good as Star Wars? Give me a break!" Sonnet said.
Specifically, the papers filed allege three infractions of California penal law: fraudulent concealment, unfair business practices and misleading advertising.
Punitive and compensatory damages are being asked for. Additionally, the suit seeks court orders barring the defendants from making "false, misleading and deceptive advertising;" requiring the studios to provide warnings, corrective advertising or public notice of their alleged violations; requiring the defendants to correct their ads; and establishing a legal duty to disclose to the public the benefits the reviewer received.
The lawsuits come on the heels of Sony's admission that the studio created a fictitious critic, David Manning, and used favorable testimonials from that critic in the marketing of certain Sony films, including The Animal.
Sonnett asserts that the Sony case just takes studio movie junkets to the next, logical step.
"They know what the people are going to write anyway. Why not just go and make it up?"
Two advertising execs at Sony have been suspended in conjunction with the fictitious testimonials and an in-house investigation was conducted.
Information from CNS contributed to this report.
Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels will wait several weeks before announcing whether he will seek re-election, Variety reports. No other candidate has stepped up to the plate for SAG's fall elections. Daniels, who won the 1999 election by taking a tough stance towards studios, last year led a six-month strike against advertisers. His term has been marked by infighting and staff squabbles, but Daniels has assembled a united front during the film-TV contract talks. Though a strike is not expected, an agreement will not likely be reached by the June 30 deadline. Daniels, who won two Emmys for his role as Dr. Mark Craig in the medical series St. Elsewhere, also provided the voice for the car in Knight Rider and played the school principal in TGIF's teen comedy Boy Meets World.
OK, let's get the burning question out of the way first: No, we still don't know who the last "Survivor" is. There were five of the blockbuster show's castoffs at CBS' fall press tour, interrogated under a hot spotlight by a roomful of overly air-conditioned journalists. But a happily reunited Sonja, B.B., Ramona, Joel and Gretchen (as well as the show's executive producer, Mark Burnett) didn't budge, although Gretchen did joke, "Everybody already knows who the winner is. It would be Mr. Burnett and CBS."
We reporters tried. We crept up from all sides, seeking clues and asking about those recent reports saying that a glitch in the CBS Web site had unwittingly revealed that the winner of "Survivor" is Gervase, the quarrelsome youth counselor.
In response, CBS Television President Les Moonves announced that the network will now post the show synopses only after each episode has aired, rather than prepare it ahead of time with system blockage (rather ineffective, since a computer hacker revealed the results prematurely).
Moonves also pledged that unused "Survivor" footage won't make its way into Blockbuster stores, a la "The Jerry Springer Show." In other words, "There will not be any more naked pictures of Richard than we already have out there," Moonves says.
By contrast, the press conference for CBS' other (and less successful) reality series, "Big Brother," was one of the most heated -- and torturous. William "Mega" Collins, the first houseguest to be voted off the show, was paraded before the press, and he was less-than-charming and confrontational as usual.
But that doesn't necessarily make him interesting. After the umpteenth roundabout spiritual oration in response to questions regarding his former association with the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a reporter scribbled his potential headline on a notepad and passed it to another to see: "Big Bore-ther."
The rest of the press tour (aka the unreality section) was mostly humdrum, as the Eye Network trotted out the stars and producers of three new sitcoms and four new dramas. Four, that is, if you count "The Fugitive," the remake of the popular 1960s David Janssen series that inspired the 1993 Harrison Ford film. This one stars Tim Daly in the title role and Mykelti Williamson ("Forrest Gump") as the chaser.
Most of the new shows read like a TV-vet reunion party: Craig T. Nelson ("Coach") as an underdog police chief in the crime drama "The District"; Christine Baranski ("Cybill") in the weatherman sitcom "Welcome to New York"; Marg Helgenberger ("China Beach") in "C.S.I.," a drama about forensic investigators.
The others are made up of short-lived sitcom refugees: The cast of "That's Life," a drama about a 30-something college student, stars Heather Paige Kent ("Jenny," "Stark Raving Mad"); and Anthony Clark, Mike O'Malley and Jean Louisa Kelly team up for the couple-y comedy "Yes, Dear." Anyone remember "Boston Common," "The Mike O'Malley Show" and "Cold Feet," respectively? We didn't think so.
The weary press were also treated to appearances by Tyne Daly and Blair Underwood for returning dramas "Judging Amy" and "City of Angels," respectively. Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames and Bruno Kirby discussed their still-filming miniseries "An American Tragedy," about the O.J. Simpson defense trial team. And let's not forget Bette Midler, who appeared via satellite to promote "Bette," a sitcom about a diva/wife/mother.
In between, the good people at CBS scheduled screenings, served fruit smoothies and root beer floats, and threw a star-filled party, without, as they said, "the island cuisine afforded the 16 castaways."
Translation? Not a fried rat in sight.
And then there was 12. The Oscar camp has announced the dozen second-round qualifiers for the Best Documentary prize. And judging by the lineup, it doesn't look like the deciding committee is experiencing its usual "forgetfulness" when it comes to potential nominees.
The list is a virtual hit parade, including some of the year's most talked-about films -- from the absurd ("Mr. Death" ) to the sublime ("Buena Vista Social Club") and the farcical ("American Movie") to the serious "On The Ropes."
The following is the complete list:
"Amargosa" "American Movie" "Beyond the Mat" "Buena Vista Social Club" "Genghis Blues" "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr." "On the Ropes" "One Day in September" "Pop & Me" "Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial" "The Source" "Speaking in Strings"
A committee of Academy members selected the docs. Final voting is currently taking place in Beverly Hills, New York and San Francisco where voters will screen the flicks before voting for five that'll earn official nominations. Overall, 55 feature-length docs were eligible for the 1999 competition.
Nominees for all 22 Academy Award categories - including Best Documentary -- will be announced Feb. 15 at 5:30 a.m. PST.
ALL HAIL NERDS: The unsung heroes of the movie business - tech heads, hardware geniuses, overworked engineers, etc. -- are getting their moment in the so-called limelight, too.
The Academy Awards folks are set to honor the behind-the-sceners for outstanding scientific and technical achievement in ceremonies March 4 in Beverly Hills. (Of course, unlike the movie-star types, the nerds will receive plaques and certificates, not shiny statues.)
Also, unlike the movie-star types, the nerds won't have to wait to find out if they've won. The Academy released its list of 12 techie awards Tuesday.
The following is a list of the recipients and their achievements.
Scientific and Engineering Awards:
Nick Phillips, for the design and development of the three-axis Libra III remote control camera head.
Fritz Gabriel Bauer, for the concept, design and engineering of the Moviecam Superlight 35mm Motion Picture Camera.
Iain Neil, Rick Gelbard and Panavision Inc., respectively, for the optical design, mechanical design and development of the Millennium Camera System viewfinder.
Huw Gwilym, Karl Lynch and Mark Crabtree, for the design and development of the AMS/Neve-Logic Digital Film Film Console for motion picture sound mixing.
James Moultrie, Mike Salter and Mark Craig Gerchman, for the mechanical design of the Cooke S4 Range of Fixed Focal Length Lenses for 35mm motion picture photography.
Marlowe A. Pichel, for development of the process for manufacturing Electro-Formed Metal Reflectors.
L. Ron Schmidt, for the concept, design and engineering of the Linear Loop Film Projectors.
Nat Tiffen of Tiffen Manufacturing Corporation, for the production of high-quality, durable, laminated color filters for motion picture photography.
Technical Achievement Awards:
Vivienne Dyer and Chris Woolf, for the design and development of the Rycote Microphone Windshield Modular System.
Leslie Drever, for the design and development of the Light Wave microphone windscreens and isolation mounts from Light Wave Systems.
Richard C. Sehlin, Dr. Mitchell J. Bogdanowicz and Mary L. Schmoeger of the Eastman Kodak Co., respectively for the concept, design and development of the Eastman Lamphouse Modification Filters.
Hoyt H. Yeatman Jr. of Dream Quest Images and John C. Brewer of the Eastman Kodak Company, for the identification and diagnosis leading to the elimination of the "red fringe" artifact in traveling matte composite photography.
NEW LOOK: The official poster for this year's Oscars has been unveiled -- and its so-called "exciting new look for the year 2000" is not as forward-thinking as one might expect.
The millennium-themed poster, designed by filmmaker/graphic artist Arnold Schwartzman for the fourth consecutive year, is based on the 1926 Fritz Lang classic "Metropolis," a flick set in the dystopian future (translation: bad days) of the 2000.
The inspiration for the poster (the encircling numerals, to be exact) can apparently be traced back to a sequence in the silent classic where a robot is brought to life by circles of electricity. No word from Schwartzman if the anti-authoritarian values of the Lang's film also informed his design.
Audiences can judge for themselves when 50,000 posters hit theaters and video retailers this week.
Does ... this ... movie ... really ... have ... to ... be ... nearly ... two
... hours ... long? By showing Basinger's character's extensive adjustment to life in the bush the film eventually manages to tell the story of one woman's quest to find strength through her pain. Not too original.
Though Basinger doesn't give the Academy-caliber performance she did in
"L.A. Confidential " she does manage to draw you in. She's most powerful in her dramatic roles and in this movie the drama comes when she attempts to deal with the loss of her loved ones. Sadly the dashing Vincent Perez as her new husband is forgettable.
In telling this story Hugh Hudson takes his time ... too much time. Easily "I
Dreamed of Africa" could stand to lose at least 20 minutes. Hudson does know however how to get the best work out of Basinger. And kudos to the cinematographer. The vastness of the African landscape and the beauty of its sunsets are a treat.