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Par plays crix hardball

Studio lays down law with New York weeklies

NEW YORK — Paramount is apparently playing hardball with several New York-based weekly publications, tightening its policy against publishing reviews until a film’s opening day.

Nearly all Gotham-based weeklies — Entertainment Weekly, New York magazine, the New York Observer, the New Yorker, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Time Out, US Weekly and the Village Voice — reported having received phone calls in the last few weeks from Par publicity exec Tom Phillips.What the mags notified have in common is that they hit the newsstands prior to Fridays — New York magazine, the New Yorker and Newsweek all come out on Mondays, Time Out and the Voice on Tuesdays, for example.

Each of these mags regularly prints a mix of reviews of films opening on the previous, as well as on the following, Friday. EW will likely suffer least. As the bulk of its issues appear on Friday, it will be allowed to run reviews of that day’s openers.

People magazine, which is also published on Fridays, was apparently spared the edict entirely. But the rest, according to Par’s demand, were to begin holding their reviews until the following week.

“We’ve been told that they don’t want us to review their movies the week they open,” US Weekly associate editor and film critic Andrew Johnston told Daily Variety.

The New Yorker’s David Denby, who received the message on his voicemail, said, “In effect, we were told, ‘Review it after it opens or don’t review it at all.’ ”

Par’s policy contrasts with that at most other studios, which simply request that publications print reviews shortly before the film’s opening — anywhere between one and five days in advance is the standard.

But Par exec VP of worldwide publicity Nancy Kirkpatrick denied that the studio’s policy was new. “Our review policy always has been for reviews to break opening day. There has been no change in that policy,” she said.

The critics claim otherwise.

Village Voice film editor Dennis Lim said that he first learned of the embargo edict a few days after he’d closed the Voice’s July 6 film section, which included his own negative review of “The Score.” Message came from Par’s Phillips, who told Lim — too late, in any case — that the review should not be run until the week after opening day, Friday, July 13.

Warning issued

Time Out critic Mike D’Angelo also said he was first informed of the policy while planning a review of “The Score.” He said that Phillips gave him access to the screening but issued a caveat, which D’Angelo related as follows: “I need to inform you that there is a blanket policy that all the reviews are embargoed” until the week following opening day.

Time Out respected the embargo, but then was annoyed to see the Voice’s review run on time.

Phillips subsequently left messages for a number of New York pubs about a specific embargo on “Rat Race” — for which Par is holding an all-media screening Aug. 1, in advance of its Aug. 17 release date.

The message left at the Voice, according to Lim, implied “that we will be struck off the Paramount screening list if we break their rules again.”

According to Variety‘s weekly Crix Picks tally, Par movies have not done significantly worse among New York critics in recent years than have the wide releases of the other major studios and have had a comparable number of critical successes — “The Score,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Rugrats in Paris” and “Wonder Boys,” for example.For the present, response to the Par embargo policy among critics ranged from honoring it, as long as all publications did so, to posting an opening day review on the Web, to taking it on a case-by-case basis, to ignoring it entirely.

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