Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

September 19, 2005

2005's Best-Reviewed Steve Carell Movie

Our roundup of misleading review blurbs—in ads for movies, books, theater, and more—takes on 40 Year Old Virgin, HBO's Rome, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and more.

Carl Bialik

Blurb Racket
Paul Antonson
The critic blurb is a staple of arts advertising. Yet if you look behind some blurbs, you'll find quotes out of context, quote whores, and other questionable ad practices. Blurb Racket exposes the truth behind critics blurbs in movies, new-release videos, books, New York theater, and anywhere else blurbing can be found. The ads are pulled from the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other sources. Movie titles link to metacritic.com, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. Other links go to official sites, where available, or Amazon if not. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links.

Film

40 Year Old Virgin (Universal)

It's the best reviewed movie of the year. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Wrong. Virgin did rack up some raves, and scored 84% on RT's Tomatometer. But 19 films this year scored 90% or higher. Would you sleep with a movie that lies like this?

Everything Is Illuminated (Warner Independent)

Logan Hill, New York Magazine: "Schreiber's stylish indie adaptation is ... undeniably moving, hewing as it does to the novel's central virtue, its astounding empathy."
Actual line: "Schreiber's stylish indie adaptation is necessarily a simpler thing: less funny, less ambitious, but still undeniably moving, hewing as it does to the novel's central virtue, its astounding empathy."

Green Street Hooligans (Freestyle Releasing)

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Starts fast and rarely lets up."
Not quoted: "This pumped-up, accelerated pace works for its seemingly innumerable fight scenes, but the truth is that once you have seen one glass bottle shatter over a guy's head, you have pretty much seen them all."

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Screen Gems)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines: "... A shocking, top-notch supernatural thriller unlike any you've seen before or will likely see again."
Earl, Earl, Earl. Won't you ever learn?

Underclassman (Miramax)

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine: "100% hilarious with non-stop laughs! 'Underclassman' is exhilarating and action-packed."
Guess not.

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Mick Cannon gets an A+! He's witty, charming and fun to watch."
Shawn, Shawn, Shawn. Won't you ever learn?

An Unfinished Life (Miramax)

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "****! Classic American cinema. Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez and Josh Lucas are at the top of their game."
Just how high is the top of J.Lo.'s game?

Brothers Grimm (Dimension)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Eye-popping fun!"
Not quoted: "If you're a Gilliam junkie, as I am, you go with it, even when the script by Ehren Kruger (The Skeleton Key) loses its shaky hold on coherence."

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine: "****! Brilliant! Wildly entertaining!"

Video

These are from video boxes at my local video store.

Sahara (Paramount)

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "... A delirious escape into adventure-serial heaven. Amid its madcap derring-do ... 'Sahara' has the timing and stamina of a marathon runner. As ''Sahara'' careers between swashbuckling silliness and semi-serious comment, it builds up reserves of energy and good will that pay off when it bursts into its final sprint, a rootin'-tootin' 21-gun finale ..."
Actual line: A fusion of old and new, it both is and isn't a delirious escape into adventure-serial heaven. Amid its madcap derring-do, the movie inserts clear, simple alarms about environmental protection, African despotism, global interdependence and bureaucratic cowardice. ... The two-hour-plus film has the timing and stamina of a marathon runner. As "Sahara" careers between swashbuckling silliness and semi-serious comment, it builds up reserves of energy and good will that pay off when it bursts into its final sprint, a rootin'-tootin' 21-gun finale as satisfying as it is preposterous."
Not quoted: "It may not be 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', but 'Sahara,' the screen adaptation of Clive Cussler's sprawling African adventure yarn, is a movie that keeps half a brain in its head while adopting the amused, cocky smirk of the Indiana Jones romps. ... Once again, [Penelope] Cruz's fiery physical intensity goes only so far in compensating for her language barrier, but most of her sparse dialogue is watered-down doctor talk. ... Even with order so strictly imposed, 'Sahara' has more story than it can comfortably accommodate. It brashly, shrewdly pretends otherwise. ... It's all sleight of hand, of course, but 'Sahara' lopes into the distance with the easygoing swagger of a con man who has just pulled off a $100 million scam."

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Spectacular! It's 'Indiana Jones' and 'James Bond' rolled into one incredibly fun film to watch."

Mindhunters (Dimension)

Wireless Magazine: "A first-rate thriller that keeps you guessing 'til the end!"

TV

These blurbs are from ads in the New York Times.

Rome (HBO)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Astounding!"
Actual line: "...the attention to detail, right down to graffiti scrawled on Roman walls, is astounding."
Not quoted: "HBO's awkward stab at a series is being made with a programming weapon that's often blunt, dull and unwieldy. ... Where 'Rome' gets tripped up is in the uneven performances and lackluster writing. This is what truly causes the fall of this particular Roman empire."

Entertainment Weekly: "Fantastic ... one of the most ambitious TV series in history."
Not quoted: "Rome sometimes feels like it was written by a particularly awful color commentator who won't shut up and let us enjoy the game."
The bit about "one of the most ambitious TV series in history" comes from EW's table of contents.

People: "Magnificent"
Actual line: "... viewers can expect to do a fair amount of slogging—time is wasted on a couple of fictional centurions. But there's magnificent acting in the historical roles."

Theater

All Shook Up

Howard Kissel, New York Daily News: "A major work with major assets!"
Not quoted: "These Tin Age musicals have no higher goal than taking tourists' money, which is why they have scores drawn from familiar music and plots that resemble cartoons. ... [set designer David] Rockwell's contributions will sustain 'All Shook Up' through what will doubtless be many cast changes over the years. Would that there was half as much wit in Joe DiPietro's hack script."

Books

These blurbs come from book covers, publishers' websites, and ads in the New Yorker.

I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe (Amazon)

Henry Alford, Newsday: "Our pre-eminent social realist...trains his all-seeing eye on the institution of the American university. ... Wolfe's rhapsodic prose style finds its perfect target in academia's beer-soaked bacchanals."
Not quoted: "Clichéd and at times agonizing to read ... Wonderful details and a spirited prose style can aid, but not save, an idea that is at heart a cliché. Ultimately, a lurid carnival is a lurid carnival. You thrill to the pretty colors, and then you want to head home."

Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times: "Wolfe's dialogue is some of the finest in literature, not just fast but deep. He hears the cacophony of our modern lives."
Not quoted: "There's a lot more heat in the novel's locker room scenes than radiates off any of the females, who are either 'trolls,' 'submissive lab rabbit[s]' or girls tarted up for an evening. The boys may be Neanderthals, but at least they're alive. ... His characters are burdened, often to the point of capsizing, by his stereotypes: the insecure jock, the Jew without money, the whining intellectual. An author has to build his characters up from scratch, but so often Wolfe's seem made from a kit."

Michael Dirda, The Washington Post: "Brilliant ... I couldn't stop reading it. ... Tom Wolfe can make words dance and sing and perform circus tricks, he can make the reader sigh with pleasure."
Not quoted: "But is this an honest portrait of contemporary undergraduate life? I don't think so. ... If [Charlotte] loses her virginity or gets drunk one weekend, these must inexorably lead to mental breakdown and the ruin of her academic career. This is patently unrealistic and sexist, not to add distinctly archaic. ... [Wolfe] has grown into an unremitting scold."

Francine Prose, Los Angeles Times Book Review: "A lot of fun ... Hilarious."
Actual line: "Much of it is a lot of fun, and there are, along the way, hilarious scenes."
Not quoted: "We are distracted by doubts about the plausibility of much of what we are reading. ... Throughout, you can feel the writer's anxiety manifesting itself in an almost Tourette's-like inability to refrain from explaining the jokes."

Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel (Amazon)

Entertainment Weekly: "Kunkel has succeeded in crafting a voice of singular originality."
Actual line: "Yes, Kunkel has succeeded in crafting a voice of singular originality—one that you want to punch in the mouth."
Not quoted: "Wilmerding is a character whose mind and voice are constantly running, and large swaths of Indecision are consumed by his annoying faux-philosophical musings."
Sarcastic criticism, incompletely quoted, becomes seemingly sincere praise in Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week.

New Yorker: "Kunkel's narrator has an appealingly rascally voice, and the author is expert at depicting highbrow buffoonery—at an all-night Ecstasy party, flesh and philosophy commingle to hilarious effect...crisp prose."
Actual line: "Kunkel's narrator has an appealingly rascally voice, and the author is expert at depicting highbrow buffoonery—at an all-night Ecstasy party, flesh and philosophy commingle to hilarious effect—but the book, for all its crisp prose, can't escape the staleness of its conceit."
Not quoted: "The satirical springboard of Kunkel's first novel—a neurotically aimless New Yorker takes medication that he believes will instill in him the ability to make commitments—is rather creaky. Moreover, the Big Pharma plot only partially masks the fact that this is yet another novel in which a charming, Nick Hornby-style layabout is mechanically cajoled into semi-maturity."

Publishers Weekly: "Accomplished...This entertaining book has screenplay written all over it, from the hot Dutch Natasha to the shambling cute Dwight—not to mention Harvard-educated, New York literati Kunkel himself."
Actual line: Annoying but accomplished, this entertaining book has screenplay written all over it, from the hot Dutch Natasha to the shambling cute Dwight—not to mention Harvard-educated, New York-literati Kunkel himself.

Library Journal: "Zany...Its humor...bursts forth in several madcap and welcome scenes...A serious comment on American values and habits... A lighthearted romp through the jungle of love and life."
Actual line: The title of journalist/editor Kunkel's debut novel aptly sums up the reader's experience. Is irresolute protagonist Dwight Wilmerding annoying or appealing? Is the plot—about a privileged twentysomething from New York City who jets off to Ecuador on a lark, then shakes up a prep-school reunion Wes Anderson style—superfluous or salient? The typical accoutrements of new fiction are present in Indecision's slouchy, womanizing male protagonist and his exploratory drug use, but Kunkel adds a few zany twists and the singular, casual voice of Dwight. What saves the book from being frivolous—other than its preachy conclusion—is its humor, which bursts forth in several madcap and welcome scenes. In the end, it is Kunkel who seems undecided about whether his book should be a serious comment on American values and habits (the effect of 9/11 or our pharmaceutical dependencies, for instance) or a lighthearted romp through the jungle of love and life.

Kirkus Reviews: "Laughs, sex, and machete-wielding...well-paced."
Not quoted: "Those who don't become impossibly annoyed with the hapless, initially whiny lead will enjoy seeing this well-paced tale through to the end."

The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki (Amazon)

New York Times Book Review: "The author has a knack for translating the most algebraic of research papers into bright expository prose."
Actual line: "The author has a knack for translating the most algebraic of research papers into bright expository prose—though the swarm of anecdotes at times makes it difficult to follow the progress of his argument."

BusinessWeek: "Provocative....Musters ample proof that the payoff from heeding collective intelligence is greater than many of us imagine."
Actual line: "Surowiecki isn't an ideologue, doesn't shy from evidence that counters his theory—and isn't always persuasive. Still, he musters ample proof that the payoff from heeding collective intelligence is greater than many of us imagine."

The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch (Amazon)

Amazon.com: This absolutely luminous first novel has all the earmarks of a classic.
Amazon's reviewer, Valerie Ryan, really did write this. And publisher Bloomsbury liked it so much, it printed the line twice in Highest Tide's New Yorker ad.

Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace (Amazon)

Walter Kirn, New York Times Book Review: "He has the vocabulary. He has the energy. He has the big ideas. He has the attitude."
Actual line: "He has the vocabulary. He has the energy. He has the big ideas. He has the attitude. Yet too often he sounds like a hyperarticulate Tin Man."

Banishing Verona, Margot Livesey (Amazon)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Tantalizing ... Livesey has taken a familiar plot device and has turned it into such a delicious literary construct that it seems new."
Not quoted: "The conclusion of 'Banishing Verona' proves to be a huge disappointment, so ambiguous that it seems to require repeated readings of the final page, but with no greater insight ultimately revealed. The fate of love may be that confounding in real life, but Livesey's coy close to 'Banishing Verona' leaves a sour aftertaste that seems likely to overshadow the considerable pleasures the novel previously has provided. Readers, after their investment of 321 pages in a novel, deserve more than a Sphinx-like puzzle."

Widow of the South, Robert Hicks (Amazon)

Entertainment Weekly: "This is a sensitive account of an era that seems to fascinate readers ceaselessly."
Actual line: Hicks occasionally succumbs to melodrama and his copious research can resonate too loudly, but for the most part, this is a sensitive account of an era that seems to fascinate readers ceaselessly."

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, by Yann Martel (Amazon)

People: "Share[s] the clever plotting and rich humanism that made Pi such a smash."
Actual line: "These three stories and a novella share the clever plotting and rich humanism that helped make 2002's Pi such a smash. But here they jostle with contrived conceits..."

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee, by Mona Z. Smith (Amazon)

Kirkus: "Restore[s] a heroic figure to his rightful place in American cultural and political history."
Actual line: "The author's pedestrian prose and laundry-list approach to narrative, alas, don't spark much excitement. Nonetheless, a valuable first attempt to restore a heroic figure to his rightful place in American cultural and political history."

Spot a misleading media quote in an ad about a movie, show, book, or anything else? E-mail Gelf with your find.

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.







Post a comment

Comment Rules

The following HTML is allowed in comments:
Bold: <b>Text</b>
Italic: <i>Text</i>
Link:
<a href="URL">Text</a>

Comments

- The Blurbs
- posted on Aug 29, 12
Where to get backlinks

If you don`t know where to get backlinks for your site - try Seostatz.com !


Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Learn more about this author






Newsletter

Hate to miss out? Enter your email for occasional Gelf news flashes.

Merch

Gelf t-shirt

The picture is on the front of the shirt, the words are on the back. You can be in between.