Arts Desk

For Noah Coverage, D.C.’s Film Critics Were Initially Shut Out

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Paramount Pictures has been looking pretty nervous in the run-up to Friday's release of the biblical epic Noah. So nervous it attached a disclaimer to the film so that no one would confuse a nine-figure tentpole directed by the guy who made The Wrestler for something that's biblically literal. So nervous it actually sent Russell Crowe to the Vatican. So nervous it...refused to show the movie to Tricia Olszewski?

Olszewski, Washington City Paper's film critic, and most reviewers in D.C. were not invited to press showings of Noah in advance of its release. Several critics I spoke to told me they were ignored when they requested to attend one. The weekly list of screenings sent out by Allied Integrated Marketing, a firm that coordinates film viewings for local critics and manages promotional campaigns in Washington and many other markets around the country, did not include a press showing of Noah.

Certain critics had no trouble seeing the film, however. In D.C., the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday says she attended a screening for just a few people arranged by a publicist from Allied. And a couple of D.C.-based critics affiliated with publications with religious focuses—including Nell Minow of Beliefnet and Rebecca Cusey of Patheos—were also invited to see the film. (In Minow's case, the offer came from Grace Hill Media, a firm that markets movies to religious audiences, she says.)

Unlike most movies that open cold—meaning the studios do not screen them for critics because they suspect the reviews will be overwhelmingly negative—Noah was directed by a critical favorite (Darren Aronofsky), has a cast of A-listers (Crowe, Jennifer ConnellyEmma WatsonAnthony Hopkins), and was so expensive you'd have to be richer than God to finance it. Even rarer than opening cold, however, is trimming the field of critics to a select few—which, up until this afternoon, appeared to be some critics from major publications and others with religious audiences. One national broadcast critic who is based in D.C. told me he was invited to a screening this week by Allied and was told there would be just one other reviewer there. David Plotz, the editor of Slate and the author of a book about the Bible, had to ask five publicists at Paramount before one invited him to a screening in D.C., although a Slate critic in New York was invited to a screening there, Slate Senior Editor Dan Kois says.

Unlike the Old Testament story on which Noah is based, it turns out that this tale has a happy ending for everyone, not just the lucky and virtuous. When I inquired with Beth Pinker, a Paramount publicist, she told me she was "trying to figure out what's going on" but had had trouble getting in touch with Allied this morning. "To be honest, [Washington City Paper] should have been invited to the screening we’re having tomorrow," she said. "We’ve had some staffing changes over there" and screenings for Noah could have slipped through the cracks, she said. Three local and national employees of Allied—all of whom are currently away from their offices, according to their automatic replies—did not immediately return Arts Desk's requests for comment.

Asked why nearly every critic in D.C. was barred from reviewing Noah, Pinker said, "That’s an issue that we’re going to fix today, then. We’re going to fix that...Everyone who normally gets invited to our early press screenings will be in the next hour."

That screening takes place tomorrow, according to an invitation that just arrived. Rearrange your schedules, D.C. movie critics.

Update, 2:22 p.m. Allied's Gloria Jones says that D.C. critics should have been invited to the screening, and added that she didn't know why critics who inquired about seeing the movie did not hear back, nor why tomorrow's press showing was left out of the weekly Allied email. "It just must have been an oversight, and that’s it," she says, adding that press critics should have received an email about the screening. “We’re just trying to figure out why they didn’t receive the email.”

Due to a  reporting error, this post originally said Arts Desk reached out to four Allied publicists. In fact, it initially reached out to three. And Christian Hamaker, a film reviewer for Crosswalk, was not one of the critics who write for religious audiences who were initially invited to see Noah.

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