The mind-bending success of “Da Vinci Code” and the “Pirates” sequel this summer has plunged some critics into moments of self-doubt. “What gives us the right to yell ‘bomb’ outside a crowded theater?” is the way A.O. (Tony) Scott of the New York Times puts it.Clearly it’s become increasingly hazardous for critics to get in the way of the tentpole marketing machine. Filmgoers out there are looking for pure fun and, as Scott acknowledges about his fellow critics, “we take entertainment very seriously, which is to say that we don’t go to the movies for fun.” Alas, this is true of critics across the board. John Lahr of the New Yorker hated “Billy Elliot,” the British musical, which is pure fun. Roger Ebert, who likes almost everything, hated “The Devil Wears Prada,” which is the sleeper hit of the summer (it’s adult fun). In years past, Bosley Crowther, the great New York Times critic, loathed “Bonnie and Clyde,” just as Ken Turan of the Los Angeles Times detested “Titanic.” To be sure, the stress of watching movies full time inevitably triggers brain meltdown, which is why I have always believed critics should be rotated between film, theater, books and the other arts. In the meantime, the A.O. Scotts of the world should remember that the vast first-weekend audience doesn’t give a damn what they think about a movie — recent studio marketing surveys have reinforced this point. But the more sophisticated audience — the people who take a wait-and-see attitude — still pay keen attention to the critical consensus. Because to them, going to the movies can still be fun. Now and then, that is. Scandal scramble The latest communiqué from the Pellicano Wars has now been filed. Ken Auletta of the New Yorker has written his report on what his magazine bills as “the most talked about scandal in Hollywood history.” Reading that blurb, one wonders why no one, in fact, is talking about the scandal. Not anymore. As Gabriel Snyder pointed out this past week in Daily Variety, the Pellicano noise has disappeared because, after four years, no one of importance in the industry has, as yet, been indicted. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have invested enormous amounts of journalistic real estate in the story, darkly suggesting that major Hollywood careers were about to be destroyed. The photos of Brad Grey and Ron Meyer were repeatedly run, as though to suggest that their positions were in jeopardy. Guess what? Nothing has happened to them or anyone else in the power structure. Indeed, Auletta’s piece, while typically both astute and detailed, is essentially an admiring profile of that macho litigator, Bert Fields, the man who respectabilized the sleazy, wire-tapping private eye to begin with. Auletta gives Fields the opportunity to deny that he knew how Pellicano gathered his information. He also makes it clear that Fields is a cultured man who writes books, collects art, has five homes and drives home for lunch in a $250,000 Bentley Arnage. Fields also is so ferociously determined to maintain his reputation for never losing a case that he will stop at nothing to protect that claim. Auletta’s article leaves one intriguing question unanswered: Why would two major newspapers become so obsessed over the Pellicano affair that they would run interminable page-one stories impugning reputations and presaging corporate upheavals? In short, why did the journalists allow themselves to become the center of the story?
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