Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

March 13, 2010

A 'Preposterous' Iraq-War Movie

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 'Green Zone,' 'Alice in Wonderland,' 'Brooklyn's Finest,' 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.

"Green Zone's souped-up high jinks leave Michael Moore looking like a, well, documentarian."—GQ's Tom Carson

Green Zone (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 61

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "An ace action thriller."
Actual line: "Nothing wrong with an ace action thriller. But the book, set after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, was more than that."
Travers gave the film, based on former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a meager two and a half stars out of four.

Tom Carson, GQ: "Entertaining as hell."
Not quoted: "For a movie whose message is 'Don't be naive,' the new thriller Green Zone plays pretty damn fast and loose with our 2003 invasion of Iraq and the hunt for Saddam Hussein's nonexistent WMDs. … It's just that the movie's souped-up high jinks leave Michael Moore looking like a, well, documentarian. … this is as exciting as it is preposterous. Even so, preposterous is the operative word. I'm not the likeliest guy to complain about Bush being unfairly maligned, but brother. … [Director Paul Greengrass is] using the gritty, ultraconvincing devices of one kind of topical filmmaking to pump up the rabble-rousing contrivances of another. … During the climactic chase, a helicopter relaying Miller's whereabouts to the Green Berets pursuing him gets brought down by an RPG; it's presumably manned by U.S. servicemen, but we're expected to cheer at the hero's lucky escape. Green Zone's indifference to this kind of thing is a little breathtaking. Not much less distasteful is the movie's readiness to depict those same Green Berets as Poundstone's ruffianly, remorseless hit men. Considering how eager Greengrass and Helgeland are to nail every Iraq-war peccadillo they can, they've also missed a bet: Wouldn't bringing in Blackwater operatives—who really are mercenaries, after all—have been more aptly damning? … If the whole shebang is as untrustworthy as the rationale for the war was, maybe you can't have everything."

Empire: "Bourne goes epic! The director of 'The Bourne Ultimatum' and Matt Damon deliver their most explosive mission yet."
Actual line: "Bourne goes epic. A wham-bam actioner, but its pointed political subtext ensures Damon and Greengrass deliver their most provocative mission yet."
Not quoted: "Amy Ryan, so brilliant in The Wire and Gone Baby Gone, is frustratingly wasted here, her journalist considerably more compelling in the first draft than the caricature of the final cut."
Not surprising that the ad writers substituted "explosive" for "provocative"—everything about this ad screams, "action thriller," and nothing mentions "Iraq."

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland (Disney)
Metacritic Score: 53

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Remarkable."
Actual line: "… has its own way of evaporating before your polarized eyes. Every scene brings something new and remarkable—if not quite wonderful—to look at, yet every scene sweeps away specific recollections of the previous one. Looked at through one lens, that's a tribute to the immediacy of the images, as well as the wizardly integration of live and computer-generated action. Looked at through another, though, it's a signal that Mr. Burton and his colleagues, like so many filmmakers before them, were flummoxed by the Lewis Carroll conundrum—not the one about why a raven is like a writing desk, but why that peerless author's enchanting prose should be so resistant to dramatization."
Not quoted: "[Johnny] Depp can be a phenomenal performer too, but not this time. Like the production as a whole, his Mad Hatter is an agreeably whimsical yet unsurprising assemblage … The most surprising thing about 'Alice in Wonderland' is its general lack of surprise. Was Mr. Burton so distracted by the demands of the complex effects that he had to settle for conventionality? It's not an unreasonable assumption; distraction has become endemic to such productions, which need the services of a field marshal rather than a director. Whatever the cause or causes, the results are showy but patchy, and initially pokey."
For taking nearly the only favorable word from a highly critical passage and presenting it as if it represents Morgenstern's overall view of the film, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Johnny Depp is a marvel as the Hatter."
Not quoted: "It's a setup for magic that only fitfully comes. Burton is a visionary, but the film was shot in 2-D and converted to 3-D, a process that lets the seams show in a way they don't in, say, Avatar. Worse, there's a character jam that lets the film go inert and lose sight of Alice's goals to kill the Jabberwocky and find self-enlightenment. The actors help enormously, but only a few are given the time to stretch out and insinuate themselves."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Enchanting."
Actual line: "The film is enchanting in its mordant way until, unfortunately, it arrives at its third act. Here I must apologize to faithful readers for repeating myself. Time after time I complain when a film develops an intriguing story and then dissolves it in routine and boring action. We've seen every conceivable battle sequence, every duel, all carnage, countless showdowns and all-too-long fights to the finish. Why does 'Alice in Wonderland' have to end with an action sequence? Characters not rich enough? Story run out? Little minds, jazzed by sugar from the candy counter, might get too worked up without it? Or is it that executives, not trusting their artists and timid in the face of real stories, demand an action climax as insurance? Insurance of what? That the story will have a beginning and a middle but nothing so tedious as an ending?"

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "When it comes to 3-D, give me Wonderland."
Actual line: "When it comes to 3-D visual splendors, give me Wonderland over Pandora any day."
Not quoted: "Though there a few moments when the plot meanders, the inventive turns mostly keep the momentum going. The only misstep comes as the credits roll, with a pop song by Avril Lavigne that sounds like a generic version of one of her previous hits and seems to pander to a teen audience. Its inclusion is unnecessary and jarring."

Brooklyn's Finest
Brooklyn's Finest (Overture)
Metacritic Score: 43

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "Snipes is back reminding everyone just how good he can be."
Not quoted: "… overcooks both its story and its stars … at its best the film only echoes the electrifyingly unpredictable thrill of 'Training Day' … Screenwriter Michael C. Martin in his feature debut brings all the passion and imperfection of a rookie to the project, with the complexity a drama like this demands too often lost amid the cliches. … it's still a bumpy ride, leaving 'Brooklyn's Finest' never able to live up to its name."

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: "We need more police dramas done right … and 'Brooklyn's Finest' can stand proudly among them."
Not quoted: "… can be overly moody and circles its final act for too long. … solid but almost too-tidy script … There's a heavy dose of '70s-style defeatism here …"

Remember Me
Remember Me (Summit)
Metacritic Score: 39

Kevin Steincross, Fox-TV: "A must-see!"
Steincross's "review" is mainly a fawning interview with the film's star, Robert Pattinston. He also, notably, gives it just three out of five "reels." "Reels," because Steincross's segment is charmingly called "Reel World."

Mother (Magnolia)
Metacritic Score: 77

Jarett Wiselman, New York Post: "A masterpiece of tension. Actress Hye-ja Kim's performance rivals anything you'll see on screen all year. I'm still reeling from what I experienced."
The guy is named Wieselman. And he's not the Post's film critic. That guy liked the film, too.

Tales From the Script
Tales From the Script (First Run)
Metacritic Score: 51

New York: "Relentlessly entertaining!"
Actual line: "Relentlessly entertaining for film buffs; others may wonder what the fuss is about."

The Secret of Kells
The Secret of Kells (GKIDS)
Metacritic Score: 83

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Extraordinary!"
Actual line: "Brendan's busy adventures load the film with a bit too much narrative for its brief running time, but the sometimes hectic plot ultimately serves as scaffolding for Mr. Moore's extraordinary visual brio."

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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