Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

February 29, 2008

A Good Film, From Blurb Writers' Vantage Point

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 blurbs for 'Vantage Point,' 'Semi-Pro,' 'The Counterfeiters,' and more.

Carl Bialik

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 here.

"Watching Vantage Point only reminded me how much more fun I’ve had watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona."—Rex Reed, New York Observer

Vantage Point (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 40

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: "A pulse-pounding thriller."
Not quoted: "[Director Pete Travis and screenwriter Barry Levy are] more attached to their narrative gimmick than their characters … the actors are not much more than pawns on the chessboard: They move one square at a time."

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: "… as smooth, fast-moving and enjoyable an action thriller as you're likely to see this year."
Actual line: "Other than an annoying recurring clock graphic and a fixed scowl on Dennis Quaid's face, Peter Travis' 'Vantage Point' is about as smooth, fast-moving and enjoyable an action thriller as you're likely to see this year."

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Hold your breath. 'Vantage Point' is a nonstop thrill ride."
Not quoted: "Now, the bad news: Vantage Point keeps you guessing without ever telling you why. … Who are the terrorists and what is their goal? Described only as 'a local group' (huh?), their motives are never explained. And by the end of the fifth rerun, when the secret identity of the real assassin turns out to be the biggest shock in the film, you may begin to wonder if they've all been watching too many network reruns themselves. He's a far cry from Idi Amin, but why is Mr. Whitaker—overweight, lame and with only one eye—racing through the traffic dodging trucks and minivans to scoop up the little girl with the ice cream cone? Is this how we treat our Oscar winners? Sigourney Weaver's talent is so wasted she almost seems like an afterthought. … the sense of déjà vu I had watching so many runaway vehicles crashing and smashing through the narrow cobblestone Spanish streets only reminded me how much more fun I’ve had watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona."

Semi-Pro (New Line)
Metacritic Score: 46

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Insanely funny! Will Ferrell delivers another winner."
Edwards, a Gelf favorite, favors Ferrell flicks about sports, including Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory. In a blog post about the latter two, he asked, in all-caps, "IS WILL FERRELL THE FUNIEST PERSON MAKING MOVIES TODAY?"

Penelope (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 46

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "Wonderful! Delightful! Enchanting! 'Penelope' is the most charming and irresistibly romantic movie you'll likely see all year. I loved it."
Edwards previously has declared movies the "___ of the year" in March, June, June again, July, July again, and August. (And that's just while Gelf has been counting; in 2004, Variety noted three premature ejaculations.) One senses Edwards is a little uncomfortable handing out end-of-year awards in February these days by his insertion of the caveat, "likely."

Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines: "**** Enchanting, charming and hilarious … 'Penelope' is simply irresistible."
Dittman, every bit as enthusiastic about mediocre films as Edwards, was the star of the debut Blurb Racket.

Bonneville (SenArt/Scranton-Lacy)
Metacritic Score: 44

Armond White, New York Press: "Strong yet diverse female characters. Jessica Lange makes Arvilla fragile yet iron willed. Weathered and buckled, her beauty has turned inward; experience glows from inside."
While there were some questionable tweaks to the original review, the biggest problem here is that the blurb misspelled White's first name "Armand."

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "The script is full of warmth, tears and humorous zingers."
Not quoted: "… a pleasant, inconsequential trifle …"

The Counterfeiters (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 75

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "A swift and suspenseful thriller. Karl Markovics' performance is a tour de force of concentration and understatement."
Actual line: "His performance is a tour de force of concentration and understatement, and it gives Mr. Ruzowitzky's sometimes schematic narrative a jolt of realism. 'The Counterfeiters' is a swift and suspenseful thriller, and perhaps a little too entertaining for its own good."
Not quoted: "The grim scenes in Sachsenhausen are framed by a visit to postwar Monte Carlo that adds a queasy touch of romanticism to the tale. I suppose that is a built-in dilemma of the Holocaust movie as a genre. Filmmakers either try to take the full, horrible measure of the subject, at the risk of overwhelming or alienating a modern audience, or else, in trying to make the story bearable, they subvert its truth."

In Bruges (Focus)
Metacritic Score: 67

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Ralph Fiennes has a ball." [It's not the whole blurb, but hey, Gelf can quote selectively, too.]
Actual line: "The climax is admittedly bugfuck, though Fiennes has a ball going plum off his nut."
Has Travers gone "plum off his nut"? The phrase is found by Google only in his review of this film.
For more on Bruges, here's the most-recent Blurbs.

Chicago 10 (Roadside)
Metacritic Score: 69

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: "Provocative and audacious."
Actual line: "As exasperating as it is provocative and audacious, 'Chicago 10' is a strange hybrid of documentary and animation depicting a watershed event with minimal historical or political context."
Not quoted: "Many who weren't around in 1968 might have difficulty following the issues involved, even though Morgen has intercut some very good news footage of what Walter Cronkite called a "police state" in which Chicago cops clubbed demonstrators. In eschewing the use of a narrator or talking heads, Morgen leaves out too much crucial information—the three candidates who were seeking the Democratic nomination at the convention aren't mentioned, for starters."
This is provocative and audacious blurb wins, hands down, for Bogus Blurb of the Week.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (City Lights)
Metacritic Score: 67

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Performances are charming… warm, sweet, nostalgic."
Actual line: "Mauro’s difficult relationship with Shlomo, his friendship with a smart, rebellious girl named Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk) and his crush on a voluptuous waitress (Liliana Castro) are sweetly and sensitively depicted, but they also feel a bit secondhand. Nonetheless, the performances are charming and convincing, and Mr. Joelsas does a good job of conveying Mauro’s loneliness and confusion as well as his playfulness. 'The Year My Parents Went on Vacation' may not be terribly fresh or original, but its warm, sweet, nostalgic tone is hard to dislike."
For more on Vacation, here's the most-recent Blurbs.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (Paramount)
Metacritic Score: 63

Time: "Wondrous!"
That's from a brief summary of the film. The word doesn't appear in Richard Corliss's longer review, which lukewarmly calls it "a decent entertainment—not up there with the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings sagas, but a notch above The Golden Compass and Narnia.

Los Angeles Times: "Action-packed!"
Actual line: "… somewhat generic but action-packed …"
Not quoted: "… suffers slightly from that not-so-fresh feeling."

Carl Bialik

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

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Article by Carl Bialik

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

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