My mate was at a film press junket not long ago, one of those freebie preview screenings where reviewers get the chance to sample the latest offerings and make or break them with their appraisals. After one or two sharpeners in the bar beforehand, he was caught short soon after the movie began. Slightly embarrassed he made his way to the gents where he encountered a man who was evidently in the same predicament casually standing at the urinal next to him, whistling loudly. He was soon identified as News of the World film critic and all round bloke’s bloke Paul Ross. Unperturbed by this invasion of his privacy, he turned to my mate, gave a cheery nod and a wink, buttoned up and sauntered off without washing his hands.
Now as celebrity sightings go, I fully accept that this is not up there in the A-list, but Paul Ross has always been something of cult icon among my group of friends. OK, so he may be the ubiquitous face of every doomed Channel 5 daytime quiz show ever conceived, but he has an earthiness and humour that is refreshingly unpretentious in an industry where the norm is pompous cynicism. He’s the sort of man you can imagine breathlessly recounting the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings to his mates in the pub rather than eulogising nasally about Truffaut to some bored waitress in a wine bar in Fulham. He’s into car chases, explosions and toilet humour. Throw in an alcoholic ex-cop and a fast blonde and you are almost guaranteed to score the maximum 5 beer bottles on the Paul Ross scoring system. Great if you’ve just made Lethal Weapon 5, not so great if your film has subtitles or a homoerotic sub-plot.
While it was nice to have his laddishness confirmed it led me to thinking: Seven million people read the News of the World - granted not all of them are likely to be into French art house, but there must be some folk who demand more from their movie critics than Ross’s interminable effervescence or the chick flick triviality of his irksome column buddy Shebah Ronay.
Hell, I read the NotW (primarily for the sordid exposés and the thrilling hypocrisy of the journalism) and am often let down by the lack of range on the movies page
It strikes me that movie reviewers really do wield enormous power. Films live or die by their opinions - by the time word of mouth has the chance to kick in it is often too late. With so much money riding on the views of such a select few, I envisage a clandestine world of bribery and corruption – big studio executives taking Paul Ross into shady areas of trendy VIP rooms and plying him with fine champagne, promising him sexual favours from their leading ladies in return for a favourable review:
Warner Bros Exec: Mr Ross, I hope you received the case of claret and the box of cigars?
Ross: Oh, they were from you were they? Very kind. ‘Course, I’m more of a lager and Silk Cut man myself…
Warner Bros Exec: My humblest apologies. How about the keys to the Ferrari?
Ross (brightening): Yeah – top motor! Corners like it’s on effin’ rails!
Warner Bros Exec: Excellent. I trust we can expect a… (pause)… favourable review?
Ross: Hmm. Bit trendy for me – all that flashback stuff. Didn’t really buy it. No, I’m afraid I can’t really go anything higher than 3 beer bottles for this one.
Warner Bros Exec (losing patience): Three?? You gave four to Bad Boys 2 for Christ’s sake! Look, Nicole’s been eyeing you up all night – how about I organise for you two kids to get together later on?
Ross (looking at watch and yawning): Tell you what, throw in Halle Berry and a tub of ice-cream and you’ve got yourself a deal.
So I thought to myself: I’ll have some of that. How hard can it be? I know loads about films (well certainly as much as Mariella Fostrup). I even have a small flashlight that I could take into the cinema to help me make notes. Maybe it is time for the NotW to dump Ronay and let me saddle up with the Rossmeister: His uncomplicated enthusiasm would gel seamlessly with my affection for films that don’t star Vin Diesel.
But how to get noticed? Presumably even Paul Ross had to do a fair bit of spadework before he ascended his lofty perch. Time was of the essence though - I was buggered if I was going to spend years making the tea at some poxy two-bit regional newspaper before getting my chance. I wanted threesomes with Hollywood stars, and I wanted them now. The answer was simple: I would tout my wares on the Internet.
And where better to start than the top of the pile – The Internet Movie Database. Not only is it the self-proclaimed biggest film resource on the net, it also guarantees to screen all reviews submitted by its members and has a democratic ratings system where the best ones sit proudly and prominently just waiting to be enjoyed by grateful Sunday newspaper executives. Time to reach for the old P45 then, Shebah…
So I started doing some reviews: making copious notes, drafting and redrafting, agonising over pitch and pace and churning out a bevy of beautifully crafted (albeit lengthy) articles. Then I sat back and waited for the compliments and job offers to come flooding in.
But no. Nobody will ever read my reviews because the members of the IMDb community evidently have the ATTENTION SPANS OF GNATS. It’s Catch-22 time. If you want to get your review rated or even read on IMDb, you have to get on the front page, and to do that, your review has to be deemed “useful” (i.e. people have to have already read it).
As a result of this Heller-esque nightmare, many of my nuggets of wisdom and eloquence have been permanently buried under a steaming heap of inelegant twaddle.
Because most reviews are filed by dribbling imbeciles from Hicksville, Tennessee, the kind of morons who think that important cinematic appraisals can be properly expressed in multiple exclamation marks, childish hyperbole and a raft of bloody emoticons:
“WOW! I loved this movie! Leo is so cool! I luv Leo ;-). This movie was, like, not as good as that other movie he was in, but I would still give it 10/10 just for Leo!!!”
Bosh: “167 out of 171 people found this comment useful”
So much for my lovingly prepared eulogies to the giants of world cinema or my impassioned screeds on the ineptitude of Adam Sandler.
Maybe I should send them directly to Paul Ross in future, but, hey, he’s probably already hired the DiCaprio fan .
I guess I’ve got it wrong. People don’t want to read great long homilies about films. They want succinct chunks to whet their appetites and they’ll figure the rest out for themselves.
Editing never was my strong point, but if you have the stomach, here they are in all their overblown glory:
Anyway, I’ve tired of IMDb now. We’ve had a major falling out after I was conned into forking out $70 to upload publicity stills of my twin half-brothers Benedict and Joel, who, despite still being in nappies are fine actors and have appeared in several notable productions on both small and silver screen.
The IMDb prides itself on having pages for every industry professional ever to have worked in the movies. Sure enough, the boys were already credited for their pioneering work playing Gwyneth Paltrow’s baby in Sylvia. So I contacted the helpdesk who were extremely helpful and gleefully trousered my money in return for uploading the photos.
Great, I thought, the pages are shaping up nicely and I’ve managed to get them a unique Christmas present that will not be dribbled on, yanked to pieces and then permanently discarded. I also penned a couple of admittedly irreverent biographies to go alongside the photos, at which point my relationship with the helpdesk, and, specifically, a dour pen-pusher named Alex, turned sour.
A couple of indignant replies were ignored, and I certainly wasn’t going to write factual biographies, which would, let’s face it, have probably had to be something along the lines of. “Joel starting acting in Sylvia where he distinguished himself by puking on Gwyneth Paltrow’s shoes…”
Here’s how they should have looked – check ‘em out – sign ‘em up. They’ll work for next to nothing – a few kind words and some gentle ego massaging will usually do the trick – failing that, bribe them with Maltesers.
Ross: Threesomes in return for beer bottles?
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The IMDb - A juggernaut of cinematic trivia
"Brevity is the soul of wit."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
(You can shut up, Billy - some of your soliloquies go on for bloody hours)