According to director Joshua Newton's lawsuit against Variety for breach of contract—he's mad that Variety trashed his movie after selling him on a $400,000 Oscar campaign—the paper doesn't think its own reviews matter.
Newton filed the complaint on behalf of Calibra Pictures, his production company, on Tuesday. His beef with Variety stems from Robert Koehler's scathing December review of Newton's film Iron Cross, which was published in the midst of a massive promotional campaign Calibra had purchased from Variety with the hopes of getting Oscar recognition for Roy Scheider's final screen role. Newton got Variety to take the review down from its web site after complaining, but it has since been reposted, and he now claims that Variety played him for a rube by convincing him that his film had Oscar potential and selling him on an ad campaign to take it over the top.
And when Koehler trashed the movie? Don't worry, Newton says Variety told him—"No one takes these reviews seriously."
Oddly enough, Variety had fired its chief film critic Todd McCarthy and announced that it would henceforth only use freelance critics the day before Newton filed the complaint, so for once someone in Hollywood wasn't lying about something.
We'd previously reported that Variety approached Newton with a proposal to carry his film to Oscar glory in exchange for a modest fee on the very day that the paper's editor had casually dropped Iron Cross' title in a column listing 55 movies that were generating "Oscar buzz," which sounds to us a lot like a coordinated con. (Gray has insisted that he had no idea what his ad sales department was doing.) The complaint fleshes out the tale a little, accusing the sales team of leading the charge and softening him up before Gray's column primed the pump. (Read the whole thing here.)
Newton says that Variety "commenced a campaign to induce [him] to partner with Variety and to spend substantial sums to promote the film" before it was even completed. That included an invitation to lunch with the paper's president Neil Stiles, Gray's column and a follow-up call from a salesperson, and a promise that "if [Newton] had the budget," Variety could drum up enough interest in the movie to "attract the attention of major distributors."
Newton signed the deal, and after he had forked over $226,000 toward a $427,000 commitment—not to mention spent an additional $800,000 in post-production and other costs on Iron Cross in the hopes that the Variety campaign would get it distribution and awards recognition—Koehler's review killed the film's hopes.
Gray has said that—even though he took it down—he stands by Koehler's review. But according to Newton, another Variety staffer he ran into at the Golden Globes told him that "Gray had seen the film and liked it and thought the review was unfair."
The complaint says it was "inconceivable" that after taking his money, Variety would "turn on" him and publish a critical review. This is stupefyingly naive, but no where near as clueless as the central argument of his case—that Variety staffers convinced him that his film was actually good in an effort to empty his pockets.
That's right—someone in Hollywood told him that his film was great and he was great and then asked him for money. It's truly a crime.