Endorsement quotes on movie boxes aren't always what they seem

From the March 22, 2013, Deseret News

While browsing in a local music/movie store recently I began thumbing through a basket filled with $2 Blu-rays and discovered that one had my name on the cover. It was a bit of a shock.

After all, it's no surprise to see Roger Ebert or A.O. Scott or Peter Travers or other A-list critics being quoted on movie posters or DVD/Blu-ray boxes with blurbs from their rave reviews about particular films. But I was taken aback seeing my own name.

True, it's not the first time my name has been on poster art. But over the 20 years I reviewed movies full time for the Deseret News it happened on only a handful of occasions, and then most often in ads exclusive to the Salt Lake papers, not those that went out all over the country.

In fact, at the top of this Blu-ray cover for the 1991 thriller "V.I. Warshawski" there is indeed a "Thumbs up!" endorsement from Ebert, referencing his TV program at the time, "Siskel & Ebert." And if you look up the 1991 review on his Chicago Sun-Times website, Ebert gives the film three stars. He recommends it. No misrepresentation there.

My name is lower on the box cover, under this quote: "Kathleen Turner is terrific … " And then the name of the paper: "Desert News."

That's right, it says "Desert" instead of "Deseret."

Not that that's the worst variation on the paper's name we've ever seen. For years the travel editor received press releases from an organization that sent them to "The Desert Rat News." (And for those critical of today's embattled postal service, it should be noted that these mislabeled press releases somehow managed to arrive on time.)

Anyway, the punchline to all this is that my '91 review of "V.I. Warshawski" was not a rave. It wasn't even moderate praise. It was not three stars. Not a recommendation.

Oh, the blurb is accurate. In fact those are the first four words of the first paragraph, which reads in full: "Kathleen Turner is terrific in a feminist twist on Spade, Marlowe, Harper and all those other male private eyes who have generally dominated the mystery movie genre. Unfortunately, her first film as novelist Sara Paretsky's tough Chicago detective doesn't live up to the sexy, nervy energy the actress brings to the role."

And the rest of the review is pretty much a pan.

This reminded me of the first time a review I wrote was misused this way. And in that case it was in service of a movie that I really didn't like.

Way back in 1981 there was a 3D spaghetti western titled "Comin' At Ya!" and it made so much money that it is today credited with single-handedly bringing back a brief early-1980s revival in 3D movies as it was quickly followed by "Friday the 13th, Part III," "Jaws 3D," "Amityville 3D" and the filmed-in-southern Utah "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone," among others. Even Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 "Dial M for Murder," which was filmed in 3D but never shown that way, earned its first 3D release in 1982.

In its second week of release, an ad appeared in the paper that quoted my review: " ‘Comin' At Ya!' is different . . . however it's worth it. There is a certain thrill as flaming arrows and shooting spears seem to fly off the screen and into your lap . . . this new 3D system is a great success."

In context, this is what my 1981 review said: "I gave up on spaghetti westerns years ago when I finally realized no one could duplicate Sergio Leone's style and flair, though many tried. But ‘Comin' At Ya!' is different. Oh, it's a very standard spaghetti western, but ‘Comin' At Ya!' is really just a come-on."

After describing the 1950s 3D process and the inconvenience of the glasses back then, the review continued: "With the 1981 process, however, the glasses are still cumbersome, if you tilt your head the picture still goes out of focus — and it still takes awhile to get used to it and settle into the film. In some ways, however, it's worth it. There is a certain thrill as flaming arrows and shooting spears seem to fly off the screen and into your lap. And to that extent, this new 3D system is a great success."

Of course, very early in the review it also says: "As 3D it's not too bad, but the movie stinks."

Way back in 1981, in just my second year as a full-time movie critic, I was flattered. After all, the person who put the ad together could have misquoted some major movie critic from New York or L.A. or Chicago, but instead he chose me.

After the ad showed up I wrote a story about it and referred to it as my baptism of fire: "Now I feel like a real movie critic."

These days I'm older and more jaded. But I must admit that upon seeing the "V.I. Warshawski" box my immediate reaction was simply to laugh.

And when I spotted the "Desert" News error I laughed even harder.