Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

January 26, 2010

A 'Book' With a 'Preachy Ending'

In this week's edition of The Blurbs—the feature in which we take a close look at those critic blurbs that are a fixture of ads for movies—see breakdowns of ads for 'The Book of Eli,' 'Extraordinary Measures,' 'Youth in Revolt,' and more.

David Goldenberg

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 movie ads from the New York Times. Movie titles link to, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"The Book of Eli isn't as exciting or funny or inspiring as it wants and needs to be."—Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 53

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Visually striking…"
Actual line: "They stage an early fight, for instance, entirely in silhouette, so that the arcs of spurting gore appear black, not red. Like all the fight sequences, this one is highly stylized: set inside a tunnel with the camera low and the sky serving as an illuminated backdrop, it looks like a page out of a comic come to animated life. The graphic simplicity of this scene works not only because it's visually striking, but also because it's a part of a meaningful piece in a story in which everything, nature and civilization included, has been stripped away."
Not quoted: "… Eli wanders into a deadwood town and the story kicks into gear, for better if sometimes for disappointing worse. … the movie, which at its most serious veers into lugubriousness … the story that the two play out, beat by beat, cliché by cliché, rarely rises to their talents. … the story takes a wrong turn once Solara enters the picture… [Mila] Kunis can work on the big screen, as she proved in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall.' But, dressed up in clothes that look as if they had been distressed for sale in a TriBeCa boutique, her white, white teeth shining and glossy hair swinging, she is flatly absurd."
Dargis's praise of one scene was misrepresented as praise for the whole film.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Denzel Washington is one cool dude who is worth following anywhere."
Actual line: "The Book of Eli isn't as exciting or funny or inspiring as it wants and needs to be, and its preachy ending is an ordeal. But Washington, a movie star who can act, is one cool dude who is worth following anywhere."
Not quoted: "… the movie is an apocalyptic tale with a religioso bent that does it no favors. … And Gary Whitta's script chokes on the dust of what came before."

Extraordinary Measures
Extraordinary Measures (CBS)
Metacritic Score: 46

Jeanne Wolf, Parade: "As inspirational and uplifting as 'The Blind Side.' "
Rating this film in the same category as one that scored 53 on Metacritic's scale counts as a rave, I suppose, given other critics' reaction.

A.O. Scott, At the Movies: "You feel not only moved but enlightened. See it!"
Scott's New York Times review wasn't quite so positive about the film: "The storytelling and the visual style are rarely more than workmanlike, and the big scenes arrive punctually and are played with minimal nuance."

Youth in Revolt
Youth in Revolt (Dimension)
Metacritic Score: 62

See why The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are calling "Youth in Revolt" hilarious and inspired!
There are no quotes around those adjectives, neither of which appear in either paper's main review. Even as paraphrases they're not particularly accurate. Both critics liked the Michael Cera vehicle but didn't love it. Manohla Dargis of the Times called it "sweet and slight and often charming" and said it "treads well-cultivated ground." The Journal's Joe Morgenstern wrote that the "the movie teeters too, but never loses its comic poise."

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Smart, cool & hysterical!"
Actual line: "Some tacky animated sequences notwithstanding, Youth in Revolt is smart, cool and frequently hysterical."
Not quoted: "… brings little new to the coming-of-age comedy genre …"

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Michael Cera's in touch with his inner badass! Fun!"
Not quoted: "… it's a minor, offbeat coming-of-age comedy …"

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Fox)
Metacritic Score: 41

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "A crowd pleaser…heartwarming."
Actual line: "[Zachary Levi is] a good addition to the cast and his chemistry with the Chipsters is touching in a bizarrely heartwarming way. With high school, romance and pop music, lots of it, the filmmakers have a formula that has worked increasingly well, particularly with young teens, creating any number of entertainment phenoms including 'High School Musical' and the Jonas Brothers, and they milk it, perhaps a little too much on occasion. What helps 'The Squeakquel' when things get artistically rough around the edges is that the tunes are sung by voices that seem to be working off a huge tank of helium, always a crowd pleaser, as any keg party aficionado can attest."
Plenty of blurbs quote adjectives critics intended for one aspect of the film as if they were intended for the film as a whole. This blurb does it twice, though, which wins it Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award. That wasn't even necessary in this case, as Sharkey clearly liked the film as a whole. Some sample quotes the blurb writers could have used: "builds on the wit, the whimsy and the shredding bass that was 2007's 'Alvin and the Chipmunks,' the blockbuster hit that would turn the musical 'Munks into 21st century pop sensations" or "it's the Chipettes' cover of Beyonce's 'Single Ladies,' you know, 'If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it…' that is not to be missed. Seriously." Seriously, Betsy?

The Spy Next Door
The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 27

Movieweb: "High-flying family fun!"
Not quoted: "[Jackie Chan] may not have the acting-chops that some have but he is a MOVIE STAR! … otherwise somewhat implausible film. … like all Jackie Chan films there is a gag reel at the end of the film and you can't help but feel a little sorry for Mr. Chan because it does look like some of the stunts that may have once been easy for him like kicking up a chair seem very painful now to do. None-the-less the action scenes are top-notch and Chan delivers every scene with complete authenticity. While Chan doesn't speak perfect English you have to give him credit for saying all the dialogue he has in this film as spotlessly as he did even if half the time you may not be sure the actor even understands what he is saying. In the end, 'The spy Next Door' is not going to light-the-world-on-fire cinematically by any means…"
As the writing above suggests, this wasn't written by a professional writer. Which doesn't necessarily mean that it was a bad review, nor that it was written about a good movie. As one of the two commenters wrote, "Great review but this movie sucked." "An irresistible crowd-pleaser!"
Not quoted: "Will Bob be able to keep his former job as a spy secret from Gillian and her kids? Will Gillian eventually forgive him if she were to find out the truth? Will there be a lengthy final battle between Bob and his enemies? Anyone who has ever watched an action comedy geared toward little kids would already be able to answer those questions without hesitation. Just because co-writers Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer and Gregory Poirier follow a standard formula filled with clichés doesn't necessarily mean the predictability and use of clichés take away from the film's entertainment value, though. … So what if the villains seem very cartoonish and often silly? … Adults willing to find their inner child and suspend their disbelief will find the film to be pleasantly diverting and amusing albeit forgivably juvenile. … It's forgivably silly, cartoonish and far from a classic, but nonetheless feels fast, funny, fresh and harmless. … Number of times I checked my watch: 1"
That rave line isn't evident in the review.

The Last Station
The Last Station (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 73

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Helen Mirren is a lusty, roaring wonder, simply astounding and Plummer is her match. Two acting giants going at each other."
Not quoted: "The film itself…can't always rise to the level of its two dynamo stars…"

David Ansen, Newsweek: "A grand display of acting fireworks."
Not quoted: "… it aims for tragedy, but doesn't quite get there …"

Fish Tank
Fish Tank (IFC)
Metacritic Score: 79

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Brilliant… nearly flawless."
Actual line: "… tough and brilliant … 'Fish Tank' goes a little astray toward the end, in a scene of breathless pursuit across a marshy seaside wasteland. (To say more would give too much away.) The sequence is powerful and skillfully filmed, but the dread and horror it injects into the story seem superfluously melodramatic. Otherwise, 'Fish Tank' is nearly flawless."
Kudos to the ad writers for leaving in "nearly."

Legion (Screen Gems)
Metacritic Score: 33

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Thrilling!"
Edwards blurbs continue to be reliable barometers of movie badness.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (Paladin)
Metacritic Score: 51

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "Lovely! A film to savor."
Actual line: "Like [main character] Fisher [Willow], the film is lovely, if flawed. … there's unfinished business here, with characters coming in broad strokes, thornier issues barely sketched out. Fisher doesn't have the depth or shadings of Blanche or Maggie or other indelible [Tennessee] Williams women, despite Howard's best efforts. Evans is given even less with which to create Jimmy, his rage in need of a lot more simmering. Will Patton as Jimmy's boozy dad and Barbara Garrick as his silently deranged mother are mere shadows of ideas. With the exception of Burstyn—her Addie trapped in a deteriorating body by strokes, hatching an opium escape plan—everyone else, filmmakers and actors alike, feels as if they are paying homage to Williams. Still, 'Teardrop Diamond' remains a film to savor, rich in ways that are all too rare today. Consider it a treasure of the unpolished sort."
Not quoted: " 'Teardrop Diamond' comes to us with its characters not fully fleshed to their breaking or boiling point, the playwright's specialty. Instead, the film is more like an old photo album that conjures up faded memories, with [director Jodie] Markell fearful of dusting off the cobwebs in deference to the master."

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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