Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

April 22, 2007

A Hoax About a Hoax About 'Hoax'

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 Vacancy, Fracture, Disturbia, 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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"Olympia Dukakis is damned close to unbearable. I guess she's supposed to be endearing because she walks around wearing no underwear… All she does is make senility look irritating."—Rex Reed of the New York Observer on In the Land of Women

Graphic created by Paul Antonson

Hoax (Miramax)

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Alfred Molina is sensationally funny."
Not quoted: "The narrative engine leaves the rails when [Clifford] Irving, like [Howard] Hughes, plunges into paranoia (though Irving actually is the object of a high-level plot) and the style turns to the sort of intensely manipulated surrealism that Charlie Kaufman practiced, not successfully, in 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.' If truth be told, this story works best when it's allowed to tell itself.

Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News: " 'The Hoax' is the smartest movie of the year."
Actual line: "Maybe I've been scammed. I don't think so, but if I have, at least I was fooled by experts into thinking that 'The Hoax' is the smartest movie of the year by experts."
For turning this tongue-in-cheek line, playing off the fabulist theme of the film, into an unadulterated rave, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week award. This one wasn't the critic's fault, but it's a good rule of thumb to question any April ad touting the X-est film of the year.

Fracture (Castle Rock/New Line)

Scott Foundas, Village Voice: "Ryan Gosling continues to astonish…He is Brando at the time of Streetcar, or Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, and altogether one of the more remarkable happenings at the movies today."
Not quoted: "Fracture isn't a great movie—the self-serious early scenes, especially, are the stuff that Skinemax is made of…"

Perfect Stranger (Columbia/Sony)

Mose Persico, Entertainment Spotlight: "…full of twists and turns… don't miss it!"
"Entertainment Spotlight" sounds like some sort of major national feature. Turns out it's a local Montreal television feature. Persico ranked No. 10 in Hollywood Bitchslap's 2005 Critic Whore ratings. The only other blurb for the widely panned Bruce Willis-Halle Berry flick comes from KTVI-TV, a St. Louis affiliate of Fox.

Grindhouse (Dimension/Weinstein Co.)

Dennis Lim, Los Angeles Times: "Tarantino's most original since 'Pulp Fiction'!"
Not quoted: "It's an exploitation bonanza in which the most effectively exploited element is the marketing concept. … The smirking disregard for basic narrative coherence gets tiresome, and the unvarying, unrelenting pace suggests [Robert] Rodriguez misunderstood the assignment: His more-is-more attitude suggests a studio more than a grindhouse mind-set."
Lim's is the middle of three blurbs in this ad, but only if you read the small print do you notice that the top and bottom blurbs come from the same review on an obscure movie website. All in all, odd choices for promoting a film that got mostly rave reviews.

Hot Fuzz (Rogue)

Glenn Kenny, Premiere: "Hilarious!"
Not quoted: "The movie becomes almost as insensibly extravagant with its multiple climaxes and parodic action sequences as the cop movies it's sending up — what some English major types might term 'intentional fallacy.' And truth to tell, Fuzz is long for a comedy—115 minutes."

Disturbia (Paramount/DreamWorks)

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "a nail-biter. cool stuff. cool movie."
Not quoted: "plot holes and lapses in logic … Disturbia is not in the same league as that 1954 classic [Rear Window]."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "a smart and well-acted teen thriller that serves up some lively scares."
Not quoted: "… it's not likely to become a classic like the Hitchcock film … occasional lapses in logic."
Remaking a Hitchcock classic makes for tough comparisons.

Vacancy (Sony)

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Vacancy is truly scary!"
Actual line: "… though the action is sometimes over-the-top, the staging never is. That's why Vacancy is truly scary. It's also undeniably a formula flick: Once you figure out where the movie is going, it never once veers off its sadistic, don't-peek-behind-the-shower-curtain course. But this is one fear ride that almost gets you to care."

Lonely Hearts (Millennium/Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions)

Alex Chun, Los Angeles Times: "Captivating and chilling."
Actual line: "While not much of a detective story, Robinson's period film (the third based on the so-called 'Lonely Hearts' killings) does provide a captivating look at the dynamics that turn Fernandez and Beck into serial killers."

In the Land of Women (Warner Bros.)

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "Remarkable…steals your heart away!"
Not quoted: "Adam Brody is too young and skinny and green behind the ears to be convincing as a writer of skanky XXX-rated sex films. Even without collagen and a few forehead wrinkles instead of Max Factor, Meg Ryan is too beautiful and perky to be believable as a middle-aged woman with breast cancer. And in the Grandma role, Olympia Dukakis is damned close to unbearable. I guess she's supposed to be endearing because she walks around wearing no underwear, gives everyone the finger, and says things like 'Who gives a fuck?' All she does is make senility look irritating."

Year of the Dog (Paramount Vantage)

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Engaging."
Not quoted: "[Peter] Sarsgaard's character feels underwritten. Some of his actions are baffling, making it seem as if his back story ended up on the cutting-room floor. And we could also use more information about what makes Peggy tick."

Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times: "A stealthy sweetness…"
Not quoted: "… the immediate effect may be that it's a bummer of a movie."

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Touching comedy."
Not quoted: "It's a standard-issue comedy strategy, fine for Barry Sonnenfeld-level laughs, but it also suggests that there's nothing beneath these overly clean, tidy lines and, by extension, nothing much beneath Peggy, either. This being a Mike White film, I was keeping my fingers crossed for more."
The blurb comes from Dargis's altogether more-favorable take on the film from Sundance.

Smokin' Aces (Universal)

New York Times: "Blam blam blam blam. '[Expletive]. [Expletive].' Blam blam blam. Spurt of blood. Plot twist. 'F.B.I.! F.B.I.!' '[Expletive].' Blam blam blam blam blam. '[Expletive].' 'F.B.I.!' 'Hotel Security!' Blam. Exploding skull. Guy sits on a chain saw. Montage. [Expletive]. Plot twist. Roll credits."
Not quoted: "A Viagra suppository for compulsive action fetishists and a movie that may not only be dumb in itself, but also the cause of dumbness in others. Watching it is like being smacked in the face for a hundred minutes with a raw sirloin steak. By the end, there's blood everywhere, a bad smell lingering in the air, and vegetarianism—or starvation or blindness—starts to look like an attractive option."
Gelf didn't transcribe, but the above quote, from the opening paragraph of A.O. Scott's review, is the bulk of a new TV ad for the movie. It's quite brazen.

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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